The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Gospel (page 2 of 7)

Not Drunk Like You Think (Sermon 1)

P.Allan” . . . do not get drunk on wine . . . but be [drunk] with the Spirit.”  With tongue in cheek (I think), John Piper says that’s what Paul meant in Ephesians 5:18.  Drunk instead of filled.  Peter faces the same mix-up.  When they hear the believers ” . . .  speak in other tongues” (2:4),  some in the crowd mock, “They are filled with new wine” (2:13). Here’s Peter’s “sermon” response . . . 

Too Early to Be Drunk.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (2:14,15a).

An odd answer.  What would he have said if it was 6 p.m?  Whatever, Peter quickly moves on to his . . .

Sermon Text.

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (2:15b-21).

This “telling the mighty works of God” (2:11) in different languages, Peter explains, is God’s fulfillment of that prophecy.  There are four primary points to see . . .

First, since Peter was preaching around  30 A.D., “the last days” began at least about that time—and we are living in them today.  Chronologically divide history however you wish; these are the end of days.  I know, mockers scoff:  “Life goes on as always” (2 Peter 3:3).  But we’re in the closing chapter of this world’s time.

Second, these last days are marked by the pouring-out of the Holy Spirit.  The Lord is empowering his people to bear witness of him “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).  This is no time to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19, NRS) with doctrine that disallows the gifts of the Spirit!  This is time to “pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen [us] with power through his Spirit in [our] inner being (Ephesians 3:16).

Third, these last days are marked by universal chaos.  Joel prophesied it (Joel 2:1-11).  And whatever else these signs may mean—“blood, fire, billows of smoke”, darkened sun, blood moon—they spell chaos on earth.  Sounds eerily like today’s news.

Fourth, these last days climax in “the day of the Lord”-a day of final judgment for unbelievers, but for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” a day of glorious, eternal salvation!

Jesus Lord and Christ.

The Spirit always points to Jesus. He does that through Peter here.  Note these highlights about Jesus as you read Peter’s sermon below.

  • God certified Jesus by miracles, wonders and signs
  • According to God’s purpose, they put Jesus to death
  • God raised Jesus from the dead according to David’s prophetic words
  • God exalted Jesus to his right hand in heaven
  • Jesus received the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him out
  • God has made Jesus both Lord (Yahweh) and Christ (Messiah, Anointed One).

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  David said about him:  ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,  because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’  Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.  But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact .  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.  For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand  until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’  Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:22-36).

What Every Preacher Would Love.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (2:37-41).

In four decades of preaching, never once did a congregation ask what this crowd did.  Yet even without the asking, this what we must do:  “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of [our] sins.”  “Repent” means we change our mind about who we thought Jesus is to who he really is.  And we live that repentance out by being baptized in his name and by obeying his commands in this “corrupt generation.”

Peter promises that those who do “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  He will come to live in us.  There will be times when he sweeps us up and overwhelms us with his powerful and loving presence.  He will progressively transform us into Christ’s likeness. And he will make us his witnesses to this corrupt generation.

Exalted Lord Jesus Christ,
the believers that day weren’t drunk on wine as the crowd supposed.
They were drunk with the Holy Spirit.
You have received the Spirit from the Father.
Please pour him out again on us,
that we may be empowered to prophetically speak your Good News,
and that many may repent and be added to our number.
For the fame of your name I pray.  Amen.

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O PreacherI can’t imagine visiting a best friend’s grave and finding it empty.  Headstone moved.  Dirt shoveled.  Open hole.  No casket.  Empty grave.  Actually, the three women who visited Jesus’ tomb didn’t find it completely empty.

Mark’s report.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb  and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid (Mark 1:1-8).

Before analyzing that, a textual issue demands attention.  After verse 8 in my ESV Bible, a note says, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.”  Then it records those verses in double brackets ([[).

Textual criticism (16:9-20).

Textual critics try to determine the original wording of a text, like the original ending of Mark 16.  Did Mark write it?  Or did someone else add verses 9-20 later?  The bulk of textual critics (has nothing to do with their weight!) believe the latter.  Here’s the story . . .

Mark wrote the Gospel, 1:1-16:8.  Professional scribes hand-copied it (no Xerox) for distribution to churches throughout the Mediterranean world.  Copies were made both from the original and from copies.  Despite meticulous care, copyists occasionally made an error.  Most were minor (spelling of a name, location of a town, etc.)  We have almost 5700 Greek-language copies  (“manuscripts”), not including thousands in other languages (far more than of any other ancient document).  Textual critics determine the original wording of the text by comparing manuscripts and following certain principles (such as, earlier-in-time manuscripts are considered more reliable than later ones—fewer chances of copying errors).  We can be over 99% sure that what our New Testament contains is what the authors originally wrote.

Verses 9-20 didn’t appear in manuscripts until the fourth century.  Where did it come from?  It’s thought that the abrupt ending of verse 8 may have prompted some scribe to suppose that a longer ending had somehow been destroyed.  So he gathered information from the other Gospels and summarized what he thought Mark might have written.  Naturally copyists copying from that copy copied that longer ending.  Hence the explanatory note in our Bibles and my comments on verses 1-8 only.  (This information is provided free and will not be on the test!)

The “empty” narrative.

As noted above, the women didn’t find the tomb completely empty.  Here’s the story in my words . . .

The sun has just risen on Sunday, the day after Sabbath.  Mary Magdalene, Mary (James’ mother) and Salome are on their way to properly anoint Jesus’ body with spices (Joseph of Arimathea’s didn’t have time because he had to bury Jesus Friday before sundown).  They know which tomb because two of them had watched the burial (15:47).  Theirs, of course, is a sad task, and one not without risk, since Jesus had been crucified for treason against Rome and the Jewish Court had judged him a blasphemer.

Not until they neared the tomb did the women wonder who would roll away the huge stone that sealed the entrance.  (A tomb like this was actually a small room cut into the rock with “benches” on three sides where a family’s stone coffins—“sarcophagus”—would be laid.)  The “door” was a huge wheel-like stone that fit in a slot that could be rolled open and closed.)  The women approach the tomb and see the stone rolled open.

Cautiously entering, they find a white-robed young man.  (It wasn’t empty.)  Naturally they’re shocked and frightened.  (Where is Jesus’ body?  Who’s this guy?)  The man tries to calm them.  He tells them Jesus has risen.  He points: “See the place where they laid him.”  He gives them instructions:  “Tell the disciples and Peter  (yes, especially him who denied Christ) Jesus will meet them in Galilee.”

The women are literally shaking for fear.  This is a nightmare.  First Jesus is horribly crucified and buried and now maybe an evil enchanter is spinning a cruel tale about dear Jesus’ missing corpse.  They run for their lives, saying nothing to anyone.  (THE END)

The take-away.

I feel like the copyist—there should be more.  Why would Mark end the Gospel with scared-to-death women running from Jesus’ empty tomb?  Any answer is a guess.  But maybe Mark wants us to feel something of the same fear and amazement those women felt.  Maybe he wants that abrupt ending to sort of  shock us.  Maybe he wants us to stand in awe of the Resurrected Christ who had been the Crucified Christ.

I know I don’t.  Too many Easter sermons.  Ho hum.  Risen.  When Jesus stilled the storm with a word, disciples fearfully asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (4:41).   Maybe Mark wants to wake us from mental fog to fearfully ask, “Who then is this, that even his own death obeys him?”

And maybe, even more importantly, he wants me to ask, “Will I, a mere mortal inevitably facing my death, run away from Jesus?  Or,  will I, with unanswered questions about suffering and the death-process and when and why, trustingly run to him?”



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P.AllanThis is holy ground.  This blood-stained, dusty, rock-hard earth.  This killing-hill where Romans crucified dozens, maybe hundreds, of Jewish law-breakers.  This skull-mound, outside Jerusalem city walls, infamous forever because of One prisoner executed here.

We reach this place, Mark writes,  “When [the Jewish soldiers] were finally tired of mocking [Jesus], they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again.  Then they led him away to be crucified (15:20).  Mark continues with a report that reads like choppy headline news with few details. 

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross (15:21).

Jesus would have been boxed in by four Roman soldiers with a servant carrying a placard:  THE KING OF THE JEWS.  At some point en route, it became obvious Jesus was too weakened to carry his cross.  Simon was a Jew from North Africa present for Passover.  If Simon’s Rufus is the Rufus Paul mentions in Romans 16:13, this family became believers.  Did being forced to carry Christ’s cross eventually lead Simon, and then his sons, to faith?

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.  And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.  It was the third hour when they crucified him.  The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.  They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left (15:22-27).  

“They” were Jerusalem women who offered crucified Jews a drug to dull the pain.  The Greek tense suggests they  tried several times to give Jesus a drink.  Jesus refused it.  Mark doesn’t explain why.

Such awful agony Mark glosses over when he writes,  “And they crucified him”!  The Jewish historian Josephus calls it “the most wretched of all ways of dying.”  Not the nails, but his body sagging as he hung, made breathing an unrelenting struggle. (For a further description of Christ’s crucifixion, see Eventually death would come from suffocation.   But not yet; according to Mark it’s 9 a.m.

Humiliation accompanied suffering.  Before they drove the spikes, soldiers stripped the prisoner.  Then, after hanging Jesus up, they gambled for his clothes beneath his cross.  A  perk for the soldiers’ assigned despicable work.  Over Jesus’ head they posted the placard with his crime.  Common thieves flanked him on both sides.

We might claim the charge false.  But in fact he was “the King of the Jews”, even King of the Romans.  He was, and remains today, a deadly threat to every authority that refuses to bow.  Yet, that day, he was merely a message from Pilate declaring what Rome did with “would be” kings.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”  In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!  Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him (15:28-32). 

Humiliation continued.  Passover pilgrims,  packing the nearby road, threw Jesus’ supposed words in his face.  Chief priests and law-teachers jeered. “Messiah, Israel’s King, jump off the cross so we can see and believe in you!”  Even the dying thieves sneered between suffocating breaths.

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”– which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (15:33-39).

From noon until three eerie darkness shrouded the city.  An angry storm erupting.  Creation itself revolting.  As if God the Father turned away the light of his face from his Son.  Suddenly a heartrending, mournful voice cried out:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Literally hell for the King of heaven.  Some misunderstood, thinking he was calling Elijah.  They  looked for a miracle from the long-gone prophet.  None came.

Instead, in the anguish of suffocating death and with a loud cry, “Jesus breathed his last.”  The temple curtain tore open top to bottom.   At the cross a silent moment.   Mourners looked closely.  No, Jesus wasn’t breathing.  Finally, the Roman centurion, closest witness,  pondering the fearful awe of the moment and how Jesus had died, declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.  It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached,  Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.  When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.  So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid (15:40-47), 

Mark reveals here what he hasn’t throughout his writing:  several women at the cross “had followed [Jesus] and cared for his needs.”  Many other women also were there.  Unheralded they have played a vital role in Jesus’ ministry.  They will again.

But now, according to Jewish law, Jesus had to be buried before sundown.   Joseph of Arimathea, of whom we know nothing except that he belonged to the Jewish Sanhedrin and obviously honored Jesus, approached Pilate for Jesus’ body.  After ascertaining Jesus was indeed dead, Pilate permitted it.  Joseph painstakingly lowered the body, carefully wrapped it in newly-bought linen, and gently laid it in a tomb, which he sealed shut with a large stone.  Both Marys looked on.

* * * * *

Unless Mark totally made up this narrative, there can be no doubt Jesus died.  The question is:  why?  Certainly he had the power to blow away his enemies the way he’d driven out demons!  And why didn’t Mark explain?

I think Mark didn’t tell us why Jesus died because he wanted us to stand at the cross confused and shaken and ask what the disciples must have:  Why?  Why did Jesus who claimed to be Messiah, who announced God’s kingdom at hand, who opened blind eyes, stilled a storm, and raised a dead girl . . .


Still of Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Easy to spout out learned answers.  Better to ponder them with our mind focused on Mark’s narrative.  If it stuns a bit, so much the better . . .


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The Empty Christmas Chair

O PreacherAround many tables this Christmas an empty chair will sit.  A most-loved one will be missing.  Nothing will fill the chair nor the heart.  If all your chairs are full, some Christmas soon they won’t be.

” . . . it is appointed for mortals to die once”
(Hebrews 9:27, NKJV)

My brother died this year.  My sister-in-law wrote recently how some things don’t seem to change for the Christmas season, “but others are oh, so different.”  I can’t fathom the depth of the loneliness.  I’m not even sure that’s the correct word, nor that I can find it.  After so many Christmases, especially those with her son, how does she—how do they—“celebrate” Christmas?

It comes like a blow to the stomach, the thought that their story is replayed again and again and again.  Sometimes the circumstances of the passing are far worse, sometimes less so.  But surely all bear some brokenhearted void.

I dread the thought of Lois’ chair being empty, as I know she dreads the thought of mine.  After 53 years of a loving marriage beyond our dreams, how will one of us endure it?

Christmas tree in front of window

We’ll all come to that Christmas with the empty chair.  But  , , ,

. . . there was a baby in a manger . . . a sinless God-Man on a cross . . . an empty grave and an ascension into heaven.  Without the baby, we have no hope.  Without the cross, we’re  dead in our sins.  And . . .

. . . if we have hope in Christ only for this life,
we are the most miserable people in the world
(1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
. . . he was buried,
he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
(1 Corinthians 15:3,4, ESV).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16, NIV)

“There are many rooms in my Father’s home,
and I am going to prepare a place for you.
If this were not so, I would tell you plainly.
When everything is ready, I will come and get you,
so that you will always be with me where I am.”
(Jesus, John 14:2,3, NLT).

There is, because of Jesus, another emotion, when we see the Christmas empty chair.  Emptiness, yes, but also longing.  C. S. Lewis wrote of it . . .

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

It’s our desire “for our own far off country”, he wrote, saying that sometimes we call it “Nostalgia” or “Romanticism” or “Adolescence” or “Beauty”.  But . . .

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—
are good images of what we really desire;
but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,
breaking the hearts of their worshipers.
For they are not the thing itself;
they are only the scent of a flower we have not found,
the echo of a tune we have not heard,
news from a country we have never yet visited.

At present we are on the outside of [that]world,
the wrong side of the door . . .
But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour
that it will not always be so.
Someday, God willing, we shall get “in” . . .

And when by God’s grace through simple faith in Christ we do, we will find the empty Christmas chair filled with the one we love—forever.

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A Politician & the Crucifixion

P.AllanPilate found himself in a precarious place.  Early that morning the Jewish Sanhedrin had brought him a prisoner.  Mark reports . . .

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1). 

Mark, in his keep-it-simple style, gives few details.  Between verse 1 and verse 2 presumably the chief priest told Pilate the charge.

Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”(Mark 15:2a)Actually they had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy (Mark 14:64).  But, since Pilate wouldn’t have cared, they “upped” his crime to treason.

He answered him, “You say so” (Mark 15:2b).  

The original Greek is, “You say.”  That’s either a local idiom for “yes” or an ambiguous answer because “king” meant something different to man.  Either way, the Sanhedrin is too steamed to stay silent.

Then the chief priests accused him of many things.  Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.”  But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed (Mark 15:3-5).

What kind of prisoner is this?  Why in the world didn’t he defend himself?  By now a  crowd has gathered.  (Pilate held court outside, because the Jews didn’t want to defile themselves by entering Pilate’s headquarters.)   Some in the crowd approached Pilate and asked him to keep his Passover-prisoner-switch-custom.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked.  Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection.  So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.  Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over (Mark 15:6-10).

Here’s Pilate’s predicament escape.  He knew this “king” wasn’t guilty of treason.  He heard  jealousy in the priests’ voices.  And, if there were any people Pilate hated more than Jews, it was the Jewish authorities.  Besides, clearly some in the crowd wanted this “king” dead, while others wanted him freed.  Either way they might riot.   So, hoping for a peaceful outcome that would spare him trouble with the Emperor,  Pilate shouted to the crowd:  “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

Unbeknownst to Pilate, while he’s holding court, priests are working the crowd.  Once cries for crucifixion start, crowd-mentality would rule until the whole mob would want blood.

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.  Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”  They shouted back, “Crucify him!”  Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified (Mark 15:11-15).

Jerusalem was like Jupiter—really far out “nowhere.”  When the Emperor appointed Pilate Prefect in Israel, he wanted a wise leader who would keep the repulsive, upstart Jews quiet.  Pilate started about the time Jesus began his public ministry.  He ruled harshly and the Jews despised him and everything about Rome he represented.  If he hoped for a better post or at least to retire with full benefits, he had to make the best of his situation.  He headquartered at the seaside city of Caesarea, but as usual he visited overcrowded Jerusalem for Passover to keep the peace.

Now, all he can do to stop a riot is to hand Jesus over to his soldiers for crucifixion. Mark spares us the gory details of the beating that came next, focusing instead on the humiliating mockery Jesus endured . . .

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.  And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him.  And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.  After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him (Mark 15:16-20).

* * * * *

This “trial” leaves me with two thoughts . . .

First, politicians haven’t changed much in 2000 years. Sounds cynical.  All politicians aren’t “politicians”.   And, strictly speaking,  Pilate wasn’t a run-for-office politician.  But he was a bureaucrat.  And, when it came down to a choice between administering justice and keeping his powerful office, well, you know. Thank the Lord our hope for a better future doesn’t lie in hands like his!

Second, Pilate the politician (and the politician-like Sanhedrin) didn’t win.  In fact, they didn’t control the outcome at all.  John tells us that when Pilate bragged he had authority to release or crucify Jesus, Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Since God the Father—together with his willingly submissive Son—was in control, why then did Jesus submit to such injustice at the hand of a self-serving politician?  Jesus himself had answered the question months earlier.  His disciples had been fighting like politicians for the most powerful, prestigious positions in Messiah’s kingdom.  Jesus reminded them how Gentile rulers lord it over their subjects.  He insisted if they wanted greatness, they would have to be servants.  Then he gave the reason why and at the same time told us why he submitted to a selfish bureaucrat . . .

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,


Christ Before Pilate, Mihaly Munkacsy

Those who believe him are among the “many”.  Are you?
















































































































































































































































































































































































































































Events like this often make me wonder what would happen if Jesus had been born on earth thirty years ago in our country (or in yours, if you reading this outside the USA).  Would our government—whether a democracy, a dictatorship, or some other type—treat Jesus any differently?  Would Jesus threaten the nation’s leaders as he threatened Israel’s then?  Would government leaders today want Jesus out of the way as they did then?  Would politicians, to protect their own power and position, unjustifiably execute Jesus?

I think any government today would treat Jesus essentially the same as Israel’s and Rome’s did then.  Why?  Because Jesus would be bringing a different kingdom (Mark 1:14,15) that would threaten every government today.  They’d have to do away with him.

But here’s what’s incredible: Jesus didn’t die just because the Sanhedrin was envious and Pilate was threatened.  ” . . . Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel [did] whatever [the Sovereign Lord’s] hand . . .  had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27,28).

or the Mark predictions and ransom—Jesus wins over politicians







Politics played a pivotal part in Jesus’ crucifixion.  Clearly ).  But the Sovereign Lord used a typical politician to bring about Jesus’ crucifixion.






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Just Who’s On Trial Here?

P.AllanThe fix is in.  The Sanhedrin (the 70-member Jewish Supreme Court) holds all the cards.  Jesus doesn’t have a chance.  After arresting him that night at Gethsemane . . .

They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire (Mark 14:53,54).

The first hint the fix is in:  instead of taking Jesus to the temple (where trials were normally held), they take him to the high priest’s house (Peter follows them “into the courtyard of the high priest”). 

The second:  looks like Sanhedrin members were ready to come at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night.

According to Mark, the third is no hint at all . . .

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any.  Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.  Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him:  “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'”  Yet even then their testimony did not agree (Mark 14:55-59).

The fix-hints are piling up.  Take the matter of Jewish law.  It required a minimum of two independent eyewitnesses whose testimony agreed in every detail.  Mark (probably getting this information from two Court members who followed Jesus—Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea) reports . . .

“Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.”  It’s starting to look like the Keystone Cops.  No two could get their stories straight.

So the court apparently had their witnesses lined up, but somebody dropped the ball when it came to coaching them.  There were other “witnesses” who claimed they heard Jesus plan to destroy the temple—a serious charge since the whole Roman world considered destroying a place of worship a death-penalty crime.  But, as before, the charge didn’t stick:  one said Jesus planned to burn it, another that he would tear it down with bare hands (or something like that).  No agreement; no credible witness.

Can’t you see the high-priest’s red face?  His blood pressure’s rising to the red zone.  What kind of idiots are these “witnesses”?    Everything had gone so well.  They had Jesus.  But now they can’t even find two schmucks who can tell the same story!  He’ll have to do it himself . . .

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:60,61).

To be acquitted Jesus had to answer charges against him.  But Jesus knew the charges were fabricated.  He was innocent.  The sure-thing trial had crumbled into an embarrassing fiasco.  The high priest shot his strongest salvo:  “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  This one Jesus answered . . .

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

I’m guessing several seconds of silence reigned with not a few mouths hanging wide.   He was calling himself Messiah according to prophecies like , , ,

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13,14).

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Psalm 110:1).

Then, the instant it all sunk in . . .

The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked.  “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death.  Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him (Mark 14:63-65).

Meanwhile, Peter is doing precisely what Jesus predicted–what Peter vehemently dismissed . . .

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by.  When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.  But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.  When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.”  Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”  He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”  Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept (Mark 14:66-72).

Despite our promises how weak we are!  And how merciful Jesus is!  After resurrection, the angel specifically names Peter as one disciple Jesus wants to welcome back (Mark 15:7).  For now, Peter weeps.

* * * * *

Here’s the compelling question:  Just who’s on trial here?  Clearly Jesus.  He stood bound and accused and finally condemned before the Jewish authorities.  I suggest, though less clearly, it was the Sanhedrin members who voted Jesus worthy of death.

This was their last, official opportunity to acquit Jesus.  They knew his miracles and teachings.  They knew the witnesses offered fabricated testimony.  They knew Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah based on Scripture.  Nothing he had done proved any different.  The high priest was actually obligated to recognize Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Yet in their pride and greed they incited each other to a guilty verdict and actually beat him.  At his Coming, Jesus  will stand in judgment over them.

We assume, when we hear the Gospel, that we evaluate Jesus, that we sit on the judge’s bench and Jesus in the defendant’s chair.  But in reality, Jesus judges us.  What he decides is truly a life-or-death matter.  We’d better understand just who’s on trial here.

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Jesus Alone

P.AllanFrom The Last Supper to his last breath, Jesus was alone.  Not without people, without friends.  Not solitude for renewal, desertion for death.

Sheep Scattered.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “Today– yes, tonight– before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”  But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same (Mark 14:26-31).

After singing a final hymn , Jesus leads his disciples to the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem.  There,  under the night sky, he tells them they will all desert him and be scattered like sheep (in  fulfillment of Zechariah 13:7).  But, he promises, he will rise and gather them again in Galilee.

Peter (the one whose foot seems permanently planted in his mouth) declares he’ll stay, even if he’s the last man standing.  Jesus, however,  predicts Peter will deny knowing him three times. Peter found room for his second foot when he insisted no way that would happen.  All the rest shouted “Amen!”

How often I’ve prayed prayers of devotion and sung songs of allegiance to Jesus.  (” . . . and nothing I desire compares with you.”)  With shame, I’m reminded how often I’ve chosen something other than Jesus or been silent when I should have spoken his name or withdrew because he didn’t do what I wanted.  How firm my faith before the test!  When the fearful, the unexpected, the irrational hits, only then I realize how like Peter I am.

But What You Want.

Image result for Gethsemane

Gethsemane was a  tree-grove on the Mount of Olives.  There, Jesus prayed alone.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”  Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.  Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42).

Mark has reported Jesus healing the incurable, stopping a killer storm, driving out fierce demons, and out-debating his public enemies.   Here he shows Jesus in a different light:   terrorized (“deeply distressed”) and tormented (“troubled”).  Jesus, admits he feels as if his soul is drowning to death in grief.

When he walks further into the darkness, he leaves the three disciples to stand guard and pray.  Instead, with hour late and stomachs full, they fall asleep.  Jesus is alone.

He prays like a child: “Abba (“Daddy”), Father, you can do anything.  Take this cup from me.”  Three times.  Lying prostrate on the ground. Pleading that his destiny of suffering might by taken away.  The cross’ shame and pain. The weight of the world’s sin.  The separation from the Father.  Devastating, drowning distress.

I understand why Jesus would pray, “Take this cup from me.”  But I can’t comprehend what he prayed next:   “Yet  not what I will, but what you will.”  Such love for the Father and us—it’s  beyond me.  I can’t say, “It’s like
__________”,  because there is no ‘like’.”


Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him.  The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 

Christ Arrested by Soldiers

Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?  Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”  Then everyone deserted him and fled.  A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him,  he fled naked, leaving his garment behind (Mark 14:43-52).

A dark comedy.  The Sanhedrin commissions an armed mob of temple police, maybe with a few rented Roman soldiers added.  Like sending the National Guard to arrest a handful of book readers protesting a library’s shut-down.  But they didn’t succeed due to the size of the mob.  It was because ” . . . the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”   And that fulfillment included ” . . . everyone deserted him and fled.”  Jesus alone.

Oh, the young man who ran off naked?  Probably Mark.  Either too humble or too ashamed to name himself.  (I would have omitted me entirely.)

For Us.  My disability often leaves me feeling weak and vulnerable, especially when I’m  by myself around  even a handful of other people.  So I’m always glad when Lois comes with me.  I don’t know if Jesus felt weak and vulnerable on the Mount of Olives that night.  But I do know this . . .

Jesus was alone so, no matter how I feel, I never have to be.

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Blood-Real Gospel

O PreacherJust finished listening to  morning news on TV. ( I was exercising and shaving—not at the same time.)  Terrorism topped the reports:  ISIS’ threat spreading globally , , ,  Complaints growing over the president’s response , , ,  A poll showing most Americans think terrorists will strike soon again.

I turn it off and open my Bible to Mark 14:12-25.  There I find quaint ceremonies—Passover and the Lord’s Supper.  Compared to radical Islamists killing to take over the world, they seem irrelevant.  So I wonder:  when I steal away from the news to the Good News of Passover and the Lord’s Supper, am I leaving reality for fantasy?  Or am I leaving what will soon pass away like a dream for a better-than-dream reality?


On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”  So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him.  Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’  He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”  The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.   (14:12-16).

Jesus’ instructions sound like a spy story.  Why the intrigue?  Jesus is a wanted man.  Jewish authorities are on alert, anxiously awaiting the traitor’s tip-off to arrest Jesus and kill him.  So in secret two disciples prepare the Passover in a real guest room in a real house in Jerusalem.

Passover commemorated a genuine historical event.  It was about 1400 B.C.  The Hebrew people were slaves to the Pharaoh of Egypt.  Despite nine devastating plagues, which Moses claimed came from the Lord, Pharaoh refused to let his free labor go.

So Moses announced the Lord would send one final plague.  He told the people’s elders to instruct the people to slaughter a lamb for their family, spread its blood around the door frames of their homes, then eat the roasted lamb with unleavened bread, ready to leave Egypt.  That night, Moses warned, the Lord’s death angel would sweep through the land and kill every firstborn in Egypt.  Only homes marked with blood would be spared.  So as the Hebrews ate, the death angel slaughtered, and wailing was heard in every Egyptian home that night.

This is the saving act of God in the Old Testament.  It’s what Jesus commemorates with his disciples now.  But early on it’s a Passover tainted with treason . . .

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.  While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me– one who is eating with me.”  They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?”  “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me.  The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (14:17-21).

“Surely not I?” The anxious question circled the table one by one. When it came to Judas, was he dipping his bread in the bowl?  When Jesus warned, But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born”,  did Judas cringe?

So Jesus and the Twelve celebrated a Passover that had been born in harsh slavery, devastating disasters, a ruthless ruler’s contempt, and blood from countless sacrificial lambs that ran the earth red on a night death dreadfully visited every Egyptian home to set the slaves free.  This isn’t a “once upon a time in a land far away” story; it’s authentic history, as real human trafficking, terrible tornadoes, ruthless dictators, and bloody battles we read about today.

The Lord’s Supper.

Jesus would have celebrated the typical parts of Passover—prayers, Psalms 113–118, cups of wine, unleavened bread and roast lamb.  At one point, however,  Jesus interrupted tradition with what has become known as “the Lord’s Supper”—and what essentially fulfilled what Passover only anticipated.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, “This is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.  “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” (14:22-25).

So Jesus initiated the Lord’s Supper during days of harsh Roman rule in Israel, being verbally and soon violently attacked by jealous and hostile Jewish authorities, suffering betrayal at the hands of a chosen disciple, facing imminent arrest, mockery and unspeakably cruel execution.  The Supper wasn’t a religious, make-believe party;  it was a solemn anticipation of Jesus’ very real death—as real as the State’s execution of a guilty criminal, as real as ISIS crucifying Christians today.

 “Real” World Reality.

It’s critical we view the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of a real, historical event.  I think we tend not to.  Somehow we see it as separate from “real life”, an important religious doctrine but one reserved for the “religion closet” of our lives.  It’s a little space on the top floor of our house at the end of the hall that we visit once a week (unless we have an emergency).

And when we see the Lord’s Supper as a quaint ceremony fenced off from “real life”, we don’t allow what it recalls to influence how we view and how we live all of life.  What does that quaint in-the-sanctuary-ceremony have to do with my job, with my money, with my time, with my sex life, with how I relate to my husband/wife or children, with my entertainment, with my friendships?  If we let it be walled off as a “religious ceremony”, nothing. 

But if we see it for what it is–a remembrance of the turning-point event of all human history and our salvation from corrupting sin and consequential death–it becomes more important than the latest news alert and more influential than radical Islamist terrorism or who will be the next American president or how the stock market performed last week.  It becomes the defining lens through which we see all of life.










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Kill-Plot & a Beautiful Thing

P.AllanThe air turns ominous and the pace picks up as we step into Mark’s Gospel chapter 14.

At week’s start Jesus had triumphantly entered Jerusalem.   The paraders hoped he was Messiah.  Yet  why a little donkey, not a majestic stallion?  The next day Jesus had angrily shut down the temple business, which led to Jewish authorities debating him in the temple courtyard the following day, hoping he’d incriminate himself.  He hadn’t (11:1–12:44).  Leaving the city late Tuesday afternoon and stopping on the nearby Mount of Olives, Jesus predicted wars, famines, earthquakes, false messiahs, persecution for the future, and then the temple would be ravished (13:1-23).  It fell to the Romans 40 years later.  Finally, Jesus told of an indeterminate period after which heavenly bodies would quake before the Son of Man’s coming with great power and glory for his chosen ones (13:24-27).  They must “stay awake” (13:28-36).

Now in 14:1-11 Mark  shows us an unexpected scene of beautiful adoration sandwiched between two covert kill-plots.

Kill-Plot Scene One.  It’s Tuesday night.  Chief priests and law-teachers are meeting privately . . .

Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.  “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot” (12:1,2).

The Greek word translated “sly way” is dolos—literally “bait for fish.”  The authorities still want to “bait” Jesus so he’ll “hook” himself on his own words and they can arrest him.  He’s been on their kill list for years , way back when he first  broke the Sabbath law (3:6).  According to Exodus 31:14, that called for the death penalty.  But now, since he desecrated the temple, their plot takes on greater urgency.  Still, they must wait until after Passover and the seven-days of Unleavened Bread or his followers will riot and bring down the Romans on them all.

A Beautiful Thing.  Meanwhile, Jesus and his disciples are spending the night, as usual, in nearby Bethany.

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.  “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”  (14:3-9).

Mark (informed by Peter) doesn’t identify the woman.  Who she is is less important than what she does.  She carries a white, translucent jar of very valuable perfume extracted from the nard plant (native to India).  Approaching Jesus at the table, she breaks the top of the jar and pours the costly oil on his head.  As the scent fills the room, disciples rebuke her for such waste when the oil could have been sold to help the poor.

Jesus silences them.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Ignorance:  the disciples are ignorant of the authorities’ plot; the woman is ignorant of the hour’s darkness.  Events  rush inexorably toward Jesus’ death.  Unknowingly, the woman  has “poured perfume on [Jesus’] body beforehand to prepare for [his] burial.”  A beautiful thing.  An act of adoration.  She has played a precious part in the heart of the Gospel.  “She did what she could.”  At worst, it seemed a waste.  At best, an inconsequential act.  Jesus called it “a beautiful thing to me.”  And promised her humble homage would be told wherever the gospel would be preached.

Kill Plot Scene Two.  That same night, while the chief priests were meeting . . .

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.  They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over (14:10,11).

Judas would find a way to hand Jesus over.  The priests were delighted and they would pay the traitor.  From that moment on, he would watch for the right moment.

The Continuing Contrast.  The authorities, whatever their motivation, are assassins.  They’re asking, “How can we kill Jesus?”  The woman, whatever her motivation, is a worshiper.  She’s asking, “How can I show Jesus my love?”   And both are acting at the same moment.

Except perhaps for radical Islamists, I doubt many people want to do away with Jesus today.  More typically, Jesus gets treated with indifference (except for emergencies).  Like clicking “off” on a TV remote, people mostly turn him off.  A bloodless form of rejection by people who want to manage their lives as they wish.

Are there many unknown women today?  Women who approach Jesus with whatever their best is?  Women who break open their hearts and pour out words of devotion and praise?  Doing what they can to honor him, even if no one else understands?

I’m an old man of little consequence.  In the world’s cities the wealthy and powerful rule the nations—and fight to keep their prominent places .   They don’t know whom they’re rejecting.  Meanwhile, let me be content to go to Jesus in a simple house and bring  him the best I have.  Let me give him words of adoration and a life of love that spring humbly from my heart.   And may Jesus say in response, “He’s done a beautiful thing to me.”

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Fig Tree Alert! Stay Awake!

O PreacherSounds like a traffic alert.  Fig trees on the highway!  Be alert!  Jesus talks about fig trees and staying awake in today’s text (Mark 13:28-37).  But, before we go there, let’s recall how we got here.

How We Got Here.  On the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. Jesus answered disciples’ questions.  It all started when Jesus prophesied the towering temple would all come tumbling down.  “When?” they wanted to know.  “And what sign will point to it?”  (Mark 13:1-4).

Jesus identified signs.  False messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution (13:5-13).  The sign of the temple’s imminent destruction would then appear:  “the abomination of desolation”  (a reference to  the Roman army besieging the city and ravaging the temple).  Then, after an indeterminate time, cosmic signs would appear:  dark, falling and shaking bodies in the sky.  Finally, “they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send out the angels and gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (13:26,27). 

Notes About the Signs.  As I see it, all the signs up to the cosmic pertain to the first century, climaxing with the temple’s destruction in 70 A.D. (13:5-23).  Cosmic signs and Second Coming remain future, even to us.

But those pre-cosmic, first-century signs (13:5-13) seem to mark the entire period from the first century to the Second Coming.   They appear in that indeterminate time between Mark 13:23 and Mark 13:24, which includes our time.

Look at the news.  Wars in the Middle East, terrorism metastasizing globally, famine on the African continent and earthquakes all over the place.  (No kidding.  Google “earthquakes” and see.)  These current events, then,  have sign value.    That brings us to Jesus’ . . .

Fig Tree Alert!

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree:
As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out,
you know that summer is near.
Even so, when you see these things happening,
you know that it is near, right at the door.
I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away
until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will never pass away” (13:28-31).

A blossoming fig tree signified summer’s start (the fig tree being a late-Spring bloomer), so“these [signs} happening” show “it is near, right at the door.”  In fact, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things happen”.

Jesus’ fig-tree-alert raises three puzzling questions about what Jesus means(1) by“these things”   which signify “it is near”?  (2) by “it”  that “is near, right at the door”?  (3)  by “this generation”?  that “will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened”?

Commentators are as divided as Congress and suggested interpretations as numerous as Obamacare regulations.  I’ll just set out what I understand.  Two things lead me to believe the pre-cosmic, first-century signs continue throughout these last days until the end.  One, is history (including Acts) and current events.  Two, Jesus said, “These are but the beginning of the birth pains” (13:8),   implying “birth pains” will continue.

Then, we have the questions what “it” and “this generation” refer to.  Remember Jesus is answering “When will the temple be destroyed?” and “What signs will precede its destruction?”  Therefore, I take “it” (which “is near, right at the door”)  as referring to the temple’s and city’s fall in A.D. 70.  In that case, ” . . . this generation” which won’t pass away “until all these things happen”, then refers to the disciples’ generation.  “These things” would happen within 40 years.  Cosmic signs and Second Coming lay outside that time frame.

Stay Awake! 

“No one knows about that day or hour,
not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert!
You do not know when that time will come.
It’s like a man going away:
He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge,
each with his assigned task,
and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
Therefore keep watch
because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–
whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.
If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'” (13:32-37).

It seems to me (not a polished,professional prophecy professor) that what Jesus taught here refers primarily to his Second Coming (13:24-27), though it can include the temple destruction secondarily (13:14-23).  (Interpreting prophecy is like being a politician:  I try to cover all the bases!)

In the 1840s, William Miller proclaimed Jesus would return and the world would be burned up between March 1843 and March 1844.  As many as 100,000 “Millerites” sold their belongings and headed to the mountains to wait for the end.  Needless to say, they were disappointed, though Miller came up with a later date—and was wrong again.

This is precisely what Jesus warns us not to do with his prophecy.  Since no one but the Father knows the day or the hour, it’s useless to waste time trying to figure it out.  Miller, Harold Camping, Hal Lindsay are only a few who refused to see that.

What Jesus does urge us to do with his prophecy he states three times in this paragraph:  “Stay awake.”  Does that mean always have someone on duty watching the sky?  Of course not.  Each of us is a servant of our Lord with our own work to do.  That means preaching, praying, driving a truck, teaching school, changing diapers, running a business and so on, in ways that bear witness of the good news of the kingdom of God at hand in the Son.  And it means doing it aware that our Master is returning to call us to account.

I laugh at the prophecy professionals with their wall-to-wall charts onto which they squeeze and stomp everything in Scripture and life.  But it’s not really funny.  Become obsessed with prophecy and you overlook what Jesus wants us to do with it.

We may disagree about the details of Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13.  But there are three things we must not do . . .

  1. Fight, criticize and divide.
  2. Ignore the urgent lesson of the fig tree.  Jesus will fulfill his prophecies soon, even if his “soon” seems slow.
  3. Fall asleep at the wheel or be distracted by the trivial.  Instead, “stay awake” in a world that yawns at Jesus.  In other words, faithfully do what Jesus calls us to do as his servants who one day soon will give an account to our Lord.


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