Last night a lady shared with me a story about how God had answered a life-long prayer in her life. It was a great story about God’s grace, providence, and timing, but it was an even greater story of the intimate, lasting relationship that God had established with her in the midst of some of the most difficult challenges of her life. As she shared with me, she was moved to tears. And, I wasn’t far behind her as she said, “You know God is a sovereign and great God, but he is also our loving Father and best friend who is there when we need him the most. I will give my whole life to him because I know it is safe and secure.”
This story was on the forefront of my mind as I read Mark 14 this morning. I couldn’t help but think about the intimate relationships that Jesus lovingly forms with those in his inner circle. His friends have full access to him while experiencing and enjoying the warmth of his heart as it is given fully to them. Mark illustrates this reality beautifully with the story of Mary’s worship of Jesus.
While Jesus reclined at the table with his disciples after a banquet thrown in his honor by Simon the leper, Mary (John 12:3) walked in with a small alabaster jar filled of costly perfume, broke the jar, and poured its contents on Jesus head. Some of the disciples reacted angrily as the aroma of the perfumed filled the room. Most likely Judas, speaking for the group (John 12:4), said, “Why was this ointment wasted…it could have been sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor.” But Jesus rebuked him and them saying, “Leave her alone.”
Bold Worship and Devotion
Mary took bold action. She entered a room full of men, and she broke an incredibly expensive jar of perfume so she could poor it on the head of Jesus. I have long admired this act as an act of sacrificial worship. Mary had no regard for herself nor her possessions in this instance. She brought it all before Jesus and gave it to him! This is an expression of her heart before her Savior. She gave her most expensive and prized possession to him in worship because she had already given him her entire being. Giving the perfume to honor him was a natural consequence of her heart’s devotion. Everyone present was touched by her worship.
Jesus’ Intimate Love
When Mary engaged in this extravagant worship, Jesus warmly and lovingly accepted her, an acceptance that is proven by the promise he made about her — “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (14:9). As I’ve already stated, Mary offered this worship to Jesus because she had given herself fully to him. But, the opportunity to give herself fully to him would not have been possible had Jesus not, first, lovingly given himself to her and entered into an intimate relationship with her by his own will and pleasure. Jesus gave himself to her; therefore, she could give herself to him. John says it in this way, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have a section in which they tell of Jesus’ prediction of the “signs of the close of the age” (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). And, though these are some of the most difficult passages to interpret in the Gospels, they are perhaps the most quoted and discussed among Christians and non-Christians alike. People seem to be preoccupied with the end of the world.
Much ink has been spilled and much time has been spent trying to figure out when and where the Lord should return and what his return will be like. Yet, none of the Gospel writers give us a definitive answer on either of those questions. I believe that this is because Jesus’ purpose in teaching his disciples about the end of time was to prepare them to live faithfully, expectantly, and missionally (Daniel Wells should be proud) in the time between his ascension and his return.
Preparation and Promise
Matthew and Luke agree with Mark that Jesus taught these things during his “Olivet Discourse” just prior to his deliverance into the hands of the authorities for his crucifixion; therefore, these are some of the last words that Jesus taught his disciples. This point is significant. Jesus knew that his time with them was limited — He knew that he was to be handed over to the authorities, that he was to be crucified, that he was to die and be buried, that he was to be resurrected, and that he was to ascend into heaven. They would soon be left on this earth without him. So, he prepared them for this coming time by warning them of the struggle that lies ahead and by giving them the hope-filled promise of future certainty and glory.
Faithful, Expectant, and Missional
If we rightly apply the sum total of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13 to our lives, then our Christian lives could be easily summarized with three adjectives — faithful, expectant, and missional. And, this is why.
We are faithful because of our refusal to be led astray by the circumstances and distractions of our lives that are a reality of the age in which we live, the age between Christ’s ascension and his return. Though we do not presently see everything in subjection to him (Hebrews 2:8), we, as those who have responded to his call in faith and have been sealed by his Spirit and have received the grace of adoption as sons of God, are called to endure faithfully until the day in which we rest in the presence of our everlasting God.
We are expectant because we would be ready for his return at any moment. Jesus said that no one knew the time or the place of his return. Therefore, we are to be ready for it in a moment’s notice. As expectant disciples, we are to be always “expecting” Christ’s return and our lives are reflect that “expectation.” We do not want to be caught off guard; so, our lives are lived in such a way as to always be prepared.
We are missional because we want to hasten Christ’s return and because we want to se his glory revealed throughout the world. Jesus gave one definitive sign that will precede his return — “And gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations” (13:10). If we wish to hasten the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom, we should get busy proclaiming to gospel to all peoples throughout the world. We should be focused on testifying to the greatness of the king who is to return. We should also be about the business of preparing folks for his return. This is the essence of missional living.
I pray that our reading of Mark 13 encourages us to be more faithful, expectant, and missional disciples of Christ. How can you practically realize these qualities in your life today? How can you be more faithful? Expectant? Missional?
When I was in the 10th grade (it may have been 11th), my English teacher assigned the Elie Weisel’s classic book, Night, for us to read. (If you’ve never read it, you should!) As I read the tragic story of Weisel’s firsthand account of the atrocities of Nazi imprisonment at Auschwitz, I was deeply moved. I was inspired by humans’ ability to overcome the most dire circumstances and to survive in the midst of death, but I was deeply convicted, saddened, and challenged by the reality of humans’ other side. We are capable of great things and doing great good; we are also capable of horrific things and doing great evil.
Though not nearly as emotionally extreme, I had a similar experience while reading Mark 12. The story of the widow’s offering (vv. 41-44), the Parable of the Tenants (vv. 1-12), and Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment (vv. 28-34) both inspired and encouraged me. Here’s why.
First, in the parable, the owner promised judgement to the wicked tenants who have rebuffed his oversight while plotting against him and beating and killing his servants and his son. The wicked will receive their due punishment. This is a grace of God and a wonderfully encouraging promise to the faithful people of God. Presently, it may not always appear that the wicked will be judged. In fact, it may even seem as if they are the ones who receive blessing. But, we can rest assured that eternal judgement will come their way by the hand of a righteous and faithful God. And, if this is the case, then eternal reward will be given to those who remain faithful to God and his calling upon their lives in Christ Jesus.
Second, the teaching on the greatest commandments communicates the simplicity of the Christian life. It is really as simple as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We (at least I do) have a tendency to make the Christian life a lot more difficult than it really is. But, it is simple: Love God in faith and love others as we love ourselves. Get rid of all the other stuff and just start living a life of love for God and for other people. What an encouragement!
Third, the story of the widow’s offering inspires me to live a life of simple devotion to God. The woman had nothing more than two little coins to give to God, and she gave them. According to worldly standards, that’s not a big gift. It wouldn’t have accomplished much, but in the eyes of God it was precious. Why? Because she gave all she had for the sake of the glory and kingdom of God. Her gift demonstrated her heart’s devotion to God and her heart’s commitment to his purposes and kingdom. She gave her all, and she would be rewarded. It’s not about how much we have to give; it’s about giving all we have to the glory of God.
These same stories and the others contained in the chapter, however, brought deep conviction to my soul. As I finished reading this morning, I had some burning questions on my mind. They were:
I pray that you have been or will be both inspired and convicted when reading Mark 12. And, I pray that the Holy Spirit will minister to your soul through his word and bring you closer to Christ.
Throughout my life and ministry I have heard many Christians talk about the importance of prayer in their daily lives. They tell me that prayer is an essential component to their daily routine, that it gives them perspective for the day, that it gives them strength and comfort, that it encourages their soul to know that the sovereign God of Heaven is listening to them when they speak to him. I couldn’t agree with them more, and I imagine you couldn’t either. There is something special about being able to interact with the sovereign, covenanting God while he sits on his everlasting throne and know that he has promised to act according our faith-filled requests. It is a beautiful thing!
Prayer is an act of faith in a powerful God (Mark 11:12-14, 20-26).
After the disciples (at Peter’s leading) noticed the withered fig tree and remarked on it (11:20), the first thing Jesus said to them was, “Have faith in God.” In this short statement, Jesus emphasized the work and power of God above everything else in prayer. The disciples were amazed at the sight of the withered fig tree because the curse Jesus had placed upon it had come true (8:14). It was withered. It was done producing fruit. (I can only imagine what my response would have been.) How could this possibly be? God did it, that’s how! He does the impossible. When we come to him in prayer, we come to the one who has the power to do whatever he chooses, even power to pick up mountains and throw them into the heart of the sea.
Also, by emphasizing the power of God to accomplish great and amazing things, Jesus deemphasized the work or the “measure” of the faith of the prayer. Many people would argue that effective prayer is directly tied to the “measure” of faith the prayer possesses. In other words, the more faith a prayer has, the more faithful God is going to be to answer those prayers in big and powerful ways. Perhaps you’ve heard it said like this, “If you would just have MORE faith, then God would hear your prayers MORE and answer them accordingly.” That’s not what Jesus teaches here or anywhere else. The faithfulness of God to answer the prayers of his people depends upon his grace, goodness, and will. Our encouragement to pray, then, is found in the fact that God has promised these things to us and in our faith in him to do what he has promised. The amount of faith is not the key because it is not the cause of great and awesome things. The cause of those things is the power of God. Therefore, the faith of a mustard seed can uproot and replant a mulberry tree in the sea (Luke 17:6).
Prayer and You
Is your prayer life empowered by this kind of faith — faith in the sovereign, powerful God to do awesome and impossible things according to his grace, goodness, and will? This kind of faith is dependent faith. It is faith that rests in the power and work of God. It is not faith that places the effectiveness of prayer in its own strength. It is faith that recognizes its inability and weakness and trusts in the powerful God of Heaven to do the impossible. This kind of prayer changes lives and will change the world. E.M. Bounds said it this way:
“Men and women are needed whose prayers will give to the world the utmost power of God; who will make His promises to blossom with rich and full results. God is waiting to hear us and challenges us to bring Him to do this thing by our praying.”
The second half of chapter 8 (beginning in verse 27) through chapter 10 are a turning point for Mark as he shifts from a narrative that illustrates and proves Jesus’ ultimate authority to his passion narrative (his final week before his resurrection). In these chapters, Mark clearly explains Jesus’ expectations of discipleship — that is, what he expects from his followers who have answered his call to follow him in faith.
Three Predictions and Instruction
The way he does this is interesting to me. He tells us of three instances in which Jesus predicts his death and resurrection and follows those predictions with Jesus’ instruction about the cost of following him. Accordingly, these chapters can be united under one common theme: Jesus’ disciples are to humbly trust him and live lives in which they put him and others before themselves. I’ll explain briefly.
Demonstrated in the Life of Jesus
These chapters are a microcosm of Mark’s Gospel. For the first 8 chapters Mark tells of Jesus’ authority and power, and in the last 5 chapters he tells of Christ’s willing self-sacrifice on our behalf and his triumphant establishment of his kingdom in his resurrection. Jesus lives these chapters of transition. He is the one who willingly and humbly gives himself for the glory of God; he is the one who trusts his father in heaven completely; he is the one who welcomes the children; he is the one who lives a life in which he puts others before himself. He did it because he loves his father, and he did it because he loves us.
Now, you go and do likewise. Do it because you love him. Do it because he has told you to do it. Do it because he is glorified when you do it. Do it because people see his love for them in your love of him and them.
Mark 8 is strikingly similar to Matthew 16. Actually, the two chapters are basically identical. Mark, however, includes the story of “the feeding of the 4000” and further warning from Jesus to his disciples regarding the Pharisees’ teaching. Since these two chapters are so similar, I decided to reblog my thoughts on Matthew 16. This series of stories of central to the unfolding story of Jesus’ life with his disciples and his call to discipleship. We cannot think on them enough.
The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 16
When I started thinking about “The NT365 Experiment” my goal was to make one observation, one interpretation, and one point of application of each chapter in the New Testament. I have found that to be extremely difficult. Some chapters simply don’t lend themselves to such a simple cyclical format. Matthew 16 is a prime example. It is not possible to think on the text in one cycle of observation, interpretation, and application. It takes three cycles.
Pharisees and The Demand for a Sign (Matt. 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-13)
Observation: The Pharisees and scribes demanded that Jesus give them a sign from heaven in order to trick (test) him. Jesus would give them a sign, the sign of Jonah.
Interpretation: People often demand signs from God in order to test his faithfulness and his goodness. Their goal is not to seek validation of God’s kingdom, but to find a place to trap God, and thus give themselves a way out of submitting to him. God has given us his sign — the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Application: Don’t demand signs from God. Trust the one he has already given you. There is no greater and secure sign of God’s faithfulness than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
A Rock Solid Confession (Matt. 16:13-20; Mark 27-30)
Observation: Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you think that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon… I tell you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
Interpretation: Every person who follows Jesus must answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” The only proper answer to that question is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is upon this confession of faith that Jesus has built his church. Only those who rightly confess, “You are the Christ.” will be allowed in his kingdom.
Application: You have to answer the question for yourself. Can you say in faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Have you made that confession of faith?
Costly Discipleship (Matt. 16:21-28; Mark 8:34-9:1)
Observation: Jesus knew that he must suffer many things at the hand of the Pharisees and scribes. He informed his disciples that these sufferings would lead to his eventual death. And, he told them that to be his disciples they would have to be willing to suffer the same thing.
Interpretation: Jesus had to die in order to purchase our salvation. He had to give his life up, and he came to do just that. Our salvation is free to us because he made the costly sacrifice. It isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus his life. And, those who seek to be his disciples must be willing to offer themselves as a sacrifice for his glory. We must be willing to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.”
Application: Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of his glory out of love for him and others? In a demonstration of self-sacrifice today, take $10-20 (at least) and give it to someone in need or to a gospel-focused charity as an intentional act of Christ-following discipleship.
Jeremiah 17:9 is one of the most familiar prophecies of Jeremiah. There Jeremiah prophesies, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” These words are a part of a larger prophecy against Judah and her sin in which Jeremiah differentiates between a man and his life that trusts in the Lord and one who doesn’t. The preceding verses read, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. he is like a tee planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah’s point is simple: The man who trusts in the Lord has life and bears fruit while living that life even in drought; the man who doesn’t trust the Lord has a deceitful heart and withers away while bearing no good fruit. Jesus takes this same image and applies it to the Scribes and Pharisees (the Religious Leaders) in Mark 7.
Hypocrites and Their Traditions
The Scribes and Pharisees noticed that some of his disciples did not follow the Jewish ceremonial and ritual traditions regarding the washing of hands, utensils, and furniture (7:2-4). They had a problem with this. So, they asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” That was a mistake! Jesus seized this opportunity to rebuke and correct them and to defend his disciples (7:6-23).
The long and short of Jesus’ response is that the scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites, and they were “hypocrites for two reasons: (1) their actions are merely external and do not come from their hearts, which are far from God; and (2) their teachings are not from God but reflect the tradition of men” (ESV Study Bible). Let me briefly explain.
Mere External Actions
Jesus applied Isaiah’s prophetic words about hypocrisy to the scribes and Pharisees of his day (7:6-7). In doing this, he claimed that the scribes and Pharisees were concerned with drawing near to God through external action rather than heart humility. They wanted to please men and God with their external actions, but they were full of deceit and pride. They were not interested in humbly relying upon God. Behavior modification was their way “to get” to God. But, behavior modification without heart change will not work. The real problem is the nature of our hearts before God, not our behaviors. Behavior flows from the heart.
Teachings of Men not God
Because the scribes and Pharisees were so concerned with behavior modification and ensuring that they stood right before God in their actions, they had a tendency to elevate the teachings and traditions of their forefathers to the same place as the teachings of God. What were supposed to be interpretations, applications, and traditions derived from God’s law had become equal to God’s law itself. They had allowed the teachings and traditions of man to usurp those of God.
A Dangerous Position
This is a very dangerous position to be in and to hold. Not only are the traditions of men not the same as God’s Word and therefore useless in cleansing our hearts, they also lead to a disregard of God’s Word. As they replace God’s Word in our hearts and lives, they lead us away from it all together. This is a REAL danger! Confusion abounds in our lives about what is actually required of God and what is not, about what is God’s Word and what is not. We must be careful that we do not follow in the footsteps of the Scribes and Pharisees by confusing the Word of God and the traditions of men and that we do not buy into the notion that external religion is the same as “heart-changing” Christianity.