Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 2, Matthias Replaces Judas

The disciples decide they need a replacement for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the Lord and then committed suicide.

"Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." (Acts 1:12-14) This group has seen the risen Lord. According to His instructions, they remain at Jerusalem waiting for the power of the Holy Spirit. The group is comprised of the eleven remaining disciples, "the women" who may be the wives of the married disciples along with the women who have followed Jesus from Galilee and perhaps even the sisters and sisters-in-law of Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the brothers of Jesus. Prior to the resurrection Jesus' own brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). But now even the siblings of Jesus, who previously thought He was mentally unhinged (Mark 3:21) believe on Him as their Lord.

These believers spend their time praying together, waiting for further instructions from the Lord through the Holy Spirit. It is so important that we don't ever make major moves in our lives without praying and waiting for further instructions from the Holy Spirit! My husband and I have several decisions to make this year in regard to our work and some opportunities that look like they will be coming our way. We don't know what is best for us, so we have to start praying now for the Lord to guide us into the right decisions when the time comes. The followers of Jesus set a great example for us to follow by praying for guidance.

Prior to the crucifixion we noted that Peter has a bold personality and the gift of leadership, but at that time he trusted in his own power instead of in the Lord's power. After denying the Lord he knows he has to lean on Jesus every minute of every day. He knows the power to do anything worthwhile for the kingdom of God has to come from the Lord, so as he begins to step out in a leadership role in the church he does so with humility instead of with pride. "In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, 'Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.' (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)" (Acts 1:15-19) Luke, since he is a physician, adds some gruesome medical details in parenthesis regarding the fate of Judas' body. We discussed this matter on day 81 of our study of the book of Mark and we talked about how Luke's account of Judas' death is not in contradiction to Matthew's account. We won't repeat that discussion here, but it is available for reading in the blog archives.

Peter continues to make his case for electing an apostle to replace Judas. "'For,' said Peter, 'it is written in the book of Psalms: 'May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, 'May another take his place of leadership.'" (Acts 1:20) Peter quotes from psalms 69 and 109 in which David is speaking as one who has been accused and betrayed. David endured false accusations and betrayal by those close to him; because of these experiences the Holy Spirit was able to help him understand, at least in part, how the Lord Jesus would feel when He was falsely accused and betrayed. I don't know how well Peter knew the Scriptures before he became a disciple of Jesus, but he certainly has an extensive knowledge of them now. Peter was listening as Jesus sowed the seed of the word in his heart, and now that seed is bearing fruit.

Peter goes on, "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." (Acts 1:21-22) Peter says it is vital that they choose a man who is qualified to testify to everything that has happened from the day Jesus was baptized until the day He ascended to heaven. All along Jesus has had other disciples who were not of the Twelve; the man they choose will be one of them.

"So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, 'Lord, You know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two You have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.' Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles." (Acts 1:23-26) The eleven choose two men that to their eyes are equally qualified to take the place of Judas, but they don't know which man is right for the job, so they ask the Lord (who knows the men's hearts) to choose the right man. In the Old Testament the casting of lots was done by the high priest, who carried two objects known as the urim and thummim in his breastplate (Exodus 28:30, Leviticus 8:8). The casting of lots was done to ascertain the Lord's will as the high priest prayerfully and respectfully appealed to the Lord for guidance. The apostles aren't simply rolling a pair of dice when they make their decision. They are prayerfully and respectfully requesting the Lord's guidance. I don't feel this indicates we are to make our own decisions in this manner, for the apostles used this method before the Holy Spirit began to indwell believers in Christ. We are living in a time after the Holy Spirit has become present in the world in this new way, and we are to be guided by Him, not by a roll of the dice.

Some commentators have criticized the apostles by saying they were out of the will of God when they chose Matthias, stating that God Himself actually chose the Apostle Paul to replace Judas. But there's nothing in Luke's account that would lead us to think the disciples are doing anything wrong. They have been together in prayer with other believers for a number of days now. They sincerely desire the Lord's help. They truly seek His will in the replacement of Judas. If the Lord had not wanted them to appoint Matthias as an apostle, I feel He would have shown them they were in error. In addition, Paul doesn't meet the qualifications to be one of the Twelve; he has not been a follower of Jesus from His baptism until His ascension, and he has not seen or spent time with the resurrected Lord. Paul himself will say that the Lord appeared to him last, as to one born "out of due time", and that he did not deserve to be called as an apostle because he persecuted the church. (1 Corinthians 15:8-9) Paul says that he was not with Jesus from His baptism to His ascension. Paul says he did not see the risen Christ over a period of forty days as the other apostles and believers did. Paul saw Him later, unexpectedly, undeservedly, and he does not consider himself a part of the Twelve but, it would seem, as an extra apostle.

We don't know what happened to Matthias after he was chosen, but then we don't know what happened to the majority of the other disciples either. We don't know which twelve the Lord meant when He prophesied, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matthew 19:28) Jesus obviously wasn't making this promise to include Judas, for He could never have truly said Judas was His follower, but whether He intends for Matthias or Paul to be one of these Twelve we cannot say. This is one of those matters that is the Lord's business, and He will choose the proper man for the job as a judge of Israel. As we discussed yesterday, we are to be doing the work we've been commissioned to do: getting the gospel out to the world. We need not get caught up in details that don't concern us, because God knows what He's doing, and He can be trusted to do what is best.

When Peter spoke of choosing a man who had witnessed all the things that concern the Lord Jesus Christ, I was reminded of a particular song, so I'm including a link to it below. I hope it will be a blessing to you.
Were You There?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles, Day 1, Many Convincing Proofs

Luke begins the book of Acts by saying, "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen." (Acts 1:1-2) Luke addressed this same man, Theophilus, at the beginning of his gospel account. The identity of this person is unknown. He appears to have been a close friend or highly respected acquaintance of Luke's, but beyond that we can't speculate. 

The contents of the book of Luke were gathered by its author by interviewing eyewitnesses and by thoroughly investigating all the claims of Jesus' miracles and His resurrection. (Luke 1:1-4) The information Luke gathered was enough to convince him that Jesus is the Son of God, and so he calls the gospel "the certainty" in Luke 1:4. Luke didn't witness these events himself, but he is certain about what he believes in regard to Jesus Christ. In the book of Acts we will find Luke relating many events he actually witnessed himself, but as we begin today he finishes his gospel account by describing why the apostles are about to risk everything to preach the resurrection of Christ. They are ready to do this because Jesus has provided them with many convincing proofs that He is alive. 

Luke is not an apostle himself, never having seen the risen Christ, but he has heard the stories of those who saw Him in the flesh following the resurrection. He interviewed the apostles and they told him this, "After His suffering, He presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3) The apostles are convinced that Jesus rose from the dead. They are going to stake their lives on it. These men who formerly trembled in fear behind locked doors have been transformed by their faith in the risen Christ. They are going to boldly share the gospel even if it kills them.

"On one occasion, while He was eating with them, He gave them this command: 'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 1:4-5) This is going to be fulfilled in the second chapter of Acts. Until then the apostles are to remain at Jerusalem. 

"Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, 'Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'" (Acts 1:6) These men want to know, "What happens next? You've been promised the throne of David. You've been promised a kingdom that will never end. Is this going to happen now? Are You going to overthrow our oppressors and restore our sovereignty?"

The kingdom of God is going to come in all its fullness at the proper time. The kingdom began with the advent of Christ, and it continues to grow as the gospel goes out to the world, but the day when Christ is crowned with many crowns and is the head of all nations and rules the world in love and righteousness is still ahead. Before they receive the Holy Spirit, the apostles are still thinking according to worldly ways. They are looking for a worldly kingdom. They believe Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore their Messiah and King, but they are still somewhat more concerned with political matters than with spiritual matters. This is why they must wait at Jerusalem until they are baptized by the Holy Spirit. They are not ready to go into all the world and preach the gospel because they still lack enough understanding to do so. But the Holy Spirit will guide them into the proper type of "kingdom thinking". They will stop concentrating on political freedom and will place all their focus on the spiritual freedom that is available through Christ. 

At their question regarding the kingdom being restored to Israel, "He said to them: 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'" (Acts 1:7-8) He advises them, "It is the Father's job to fulfill all things at the proper time. Your job is to testify to the world about Me."

"After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.'" (Acts 1:9-11) The angels remind the men of their commission. Jesus has now gone to sit at the right hand of the Father, having completed the work He came to do. Their job is to tell the world about Jesus. Their job is to tell the world that Jesus is going to return and set up an eternal kingdom. When Luke began the book of Acts, he said that in his gospel account he "wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach" (emphasis mine). The work of Jesus began while He walked the earth, but His work continues through believers like you and me. 

Christ will indeed return in the same manner in which He departed, but we are not to stand gazing into the sky. We have work to do. We have been commissioned by our great King to be about His business, and that business is telling the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 90, The Great Commission

The most ancient manuscripts of the book of Mark don't contain the verses that we are going to study today. It is believed that something happened to the original manuscript and that another author wrote the concluding remarks. Verses 9 through 20 read like a summation of what must have once been part of the manuscript but they are written by someone whose Greek vocabulary differs somewhat from that of Mark's. Nevertheless, verses 9 through 20 line up with the other gospels and we need not be concerned that these events didn't take place.

"When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen Him, they did not believe it." (Mark 16:9-11) The Apostle John relates this account to us in John 20:11-18.

"Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either." (Mark 16:12-13) Luke describes this encounter between Jesus and two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.

"Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen." (Mark 16:14) Luke tells us that while the two disciples were still telling the others, Jesus appeared in their midst. They were desperately frightened and believed they were witnessing a manifestation of a spirit, but Jesus said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your minds? Look at My hands and My feet. It is I myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." (Luke 24:38-39) To further prove that He is a living, breathing human being, Jesus asked them to give Him something to eat, and He ate a piece of broiled fish in their presence. (Luke 24:41-43)

The Apostle John records more post-resurrection appearances of Christ than do the other gospel writers. He tells us of an early morning fishing expedition and a meeting with the Lord on the shore in which Jesus reinstated Simon Peter by asking him three times if he loved Him. At Peter's each affirmative reply, Jesus commissioned him to feed the flock, signifying that he was to preach the word of God and the truth of the gospel to a world that hungers for hope. (John 21:15-17)

The Apostle Paul, while preaching the truth of the resurrection, invited his listeners to question the witnesses themselves. To paraphrase the verses of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul said, "Don't just take my word for it! The risen Christ appeared to Peter privately because they had some things to talk about that needed to be kept just between the two of them. Peter is now a great preacher of the gospel because he believed the proof that was right in front of him: Go and ask Peter if you don't believe me. Jesus also appeared privately to His brother James, who is now a leader of the Christian church at Jerusalem because he too believed what he heard and saw. Go and ask James if he hasn't seen the risen Lord. Jesus appeared to all the disciples as a group, and they are now all working hard to share the great hope of the gospel with the world. These men, who previously hid terrified in a locked room, are now boldly telling the world that Jesus Christ is risen. Before His ascension, the Lord appeared to a gathering of more than five hundred believers, and nothing on earth can convince them they did not see the risen Lord. Most of them are still alive; go and ask them what they saw and heard. Last of all, He appeared to me on the road to Damascus, and I too believe. I risk my life daily for what I know to be the truth: that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son Of God, that He died for our sins, that He rose from the dead, and that He is alive forever."

Mark tells us about the great commission. "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.'" (Mark 16:15) This is what we are to be doing today. Every human being on the face of the earth needs to hear the good news of the gospel of Christ.

"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16) Unbelief is the only unpardonable sin. It is belief that saves and unbelief that condemns. Some have used verse 16 to insist we are saved by baptism, but clearly the author is saying we believe first and then are baptized. Should we have any doubts about that, as we move on into the book of Acts we will see things taking place in that exact order. The hearers of the gospel believe first and then are baptized. Baptism should not be neglected, but it should take place as an outward display of what has already taken place in our hearts.

Verses 17 and 18 have been used contrary to their original purpose. These verses are speaking of the signs of the apostles, the signs that would be displayed by those who had seen the risen Lord, "And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." The apostles were able to cast demons out in the name of Jesus. The apostles could lay their hands on the sick and heal them in the name of Jesus. The prophecy about "new tongues" was fulfilled in Acts 2:1-12 when on the day of Pentecost the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to tell the truth of the gospel in various other languages so that the foreigners and pilgrims visiting Jerusalem heard the gospel in their own tongue. An unfortunate translation is made in some versions of the Bible by saying they spoke in "unknown tongues" which has led some to think the believers spoke in languages no one knew, perhaps very ancient and extinct languages, but this is not the case. The believers spoke in languages unknown to them, but the languages themselves were not unknown. Visitors to Jerusalem heard the gospel in their own languages and were able to understand the words the apostles were speaking.

The Lord Jesus is not telling us to handle snakes or drink poison. He's saying to the apostles that until their mission is complete, nothing will be able to harm them. The Apostle Paul once picked up a snake while gathering kindling for a fire. The poisonous snake bit him but he suffered no side effects. (Acts 18:1-6) Paul picked up the snake by mistake, not on purpose, and we are not going to find any examples in the Bible of the apostles deliberately performing acts like this. The Scriptures don't mention any of the apostles being given poison, but considering how many enemies they had, it's safe to assume there were numerous plots against their lives. None of the apostles would have drunk poison on purpose, but I wouldn't put it past some of their enemies to slip something poisonous into their food or drink. If so, the plot must have failed. 

"After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it." (Mark 16:19-20) The proof that the apostles have seen the risen Lord, and the proof that the gospel is true, is that they are able to do in Jesus' name the type of things Jesus did. They heal the sick, cast demons out, and raise the dead. People bring the sick and place them where just the shadow of an apostle might fall on them, or they bring an item belonging to the sick person for an apostle to touch it. This is how powerful the signs were that accompanied the preaching of the apostles. We don't see this type of thing in our times, not because we lack the faith, but because these signs were meant to accompany the apostles. The apostles have all gone on to be with the Lord, and you and I may not be able to lay our hands on the sick and heal them, but we are able to do something even more important: tell the gospel to the world. This is the great commission. There is no greater commission than to tell a lost and hopeless world that Jesus Christ loves them and gave His life for them and rose from the dead so they can have eternal life with Him.

Join us tomorrow as we move on into the book of Acts and study how the apostles taught the great hope of the gospel to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 89, The Resurrection: The Most Hopeful Day In History

It seems so fitting that our study of the book of Mark would arrive at the account of the resurrection on a Sunday. We get to have some Easter on this cold January morning. I need a little Easter in my life, don't you? Without the resurrection morning, no morning of our lives would have any real hope, as the Apostle Paul points out, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 1 15:17) If Christ had gone to the tomb and remained there, nothing would have changed for us. But He is alive forevermore, and He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us who believe in Him, and because He lives we have a hope that can never be taken from us. To quote the Apostle Peter, a man who denied the Lord three times and who once believed the crucifixion meant the end of all his hopes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade." (1 Peter 1:3-4a) Because Christ is alive, our hope is alive.

As soon as the Sabbath ends at sundown on Saturday, some of the women who were followers of Jesus got their spices ready to take to the tomb, "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." (Mark 16:1) These women are not expecting a risen Savior at the tomb; they're expecting a dead body. They are no longer certain who Jesus really was because they can't reconcile the idea of a dead Messiah with the King who will reign forever. All they know is that He did great things for them and for countless others. In return they want to do for Him what they can, so they intend to give Him the dignity in His death that He did not receive on the cross.

"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?'" (Mark 16:2-3) As they walk sadly toward the garden tomb, carrying a load of spices and an even heavier load of grief, the women wonder how they will gain access to the body. The stone covering the doorway would have been quite heavy; some examples of these stones still exist and they are estimated to weigh anywhere from 3/4 ton to 2 tons. Such stones were put in place by rolling them downhill into a groove in front of the door. The stone in front of Jesus' tomb would not only have been very difficult to move, but it would have had to be rolled away at an uphill angle. The three small women know they don't have the strength to do it. They've brought no men with them because the disciples are too frightened to appear in public. They may or may not know Roman guards have been posted at the tomb, but they can hardly expect the soldiers to be sympathetic to them. Nevertheless, although they have no idea how they are going to accomplish their task, the women set out to do it. Their faith might not be strong enough to believe in the resurrection, but it's strong enough to trust that God will help them to perform a final loving service to a man who served Him.

"But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away." (Mark 16:4) Matthew tells us that an angel rolled back the stone and that at the appearance of the angel the guards "shook and became like dead men". (Matthew 28:2-24) I don't know whether Matthew means the guards freeze in place out of fright or whether they actually pass out. Because the doorway is open to them, the women enter the tomb. "As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed." (Mark 16:5)

The women are almost as frightened as the soldiers at the sight of the angel. "'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.'" (Mark 16:6) The tomb was sealed and under guard until just a few moments ago. No one has tampered with it. No one has stolen the body of Jesus. Jesus was gone from the tomb before the angel rolled the stone away. The angel didn't roll the stone away to let Jesus out, but to let others in. He says something like, "You saw where His body was placed late on Friday afternoon. No one has had an opportunity to remove it. And yet, when I rolled the stone away from the door, He was already gone. This is the proof you need to believe He has risen just as He said He would."

Matthew tells us that while this is going on the guards run into the city to report what has happened. They appear before the chief priests, shaking like leaves on a tree in a high wind, and relate a hysterical account of the ground shaking beneath their feet and a man in shining clothes coming to roll the stone away and a tomb that cannot possibly be empty and yet is. This is the last thing the enemies of Jesus want to hear. Despite all their precautions, the body is missing. They have been unable to prevent its disappearance so now they quickly move into damage control mode. "When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day." (Matthew 28:12-15) It was an offense punishable by death for a soldier to fall asleep at his post or to lose the person or object he was supposed to guard. Herod Agrippa put sixteen guards to death when an angel miraculously let Peter out of prison in Acts 12. The situation is dire indeed when a soldier would rather admit to sleeping on the job than tell the truth. The money involved must have been considerable. The assurances of the chief priests to keep them out of harm's way must have been trustworthy, perhaps because the soldiers know their governor (like them) will accept an enormous bribe and keep his mouth shut.

Back at the tomb, the angel is still speaking with the women, "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.'" (Mark 16:7) We cannot know for certain why the Lord worded His instructions to the angel in this way, "tell the disciples and Peter". Is it because Peter no longer considers himself worthy to be called a disciple? Is it because the Lord doesn't want Peter to think that when He says "the disciples" He intends to leave Peter out? Whatever the intention, this specific mention of Peter's name displays the awesome mercy of a Savior who still loves the one who has denied Him. This is the same mercy Jesus shows us when He says, "Okay, you messed up. You and I both know it. But I also know how sorry you are that you messed up. Let me pick you up, dust you off, and set you back on the path again. Don't keep lying there wallowing in self pity. Put your eyes back on Me and keep moving forward. We've got places to go together, you and I."

The four gospel accounts differ somewhat when describing the events at the tomb. None of the writers were actually there and so they had to relate the details as they were told to them by various participants in this earth-shaking drama. Mark concludes his account of the women by saying, "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." (Mark 16:8) Matthew doesn't tell us what the women did after speaking with the angel. Luke says the women did end up going to the disciples but that the disciples didn't believe them because "their words seemed like nonsense". (Luke 24:11) John says the empty tomb was reported to the disciples, but he only mentions the name of Mary Magdalene and not the names of the other women. (John 20:2) There's no reason for us to become unnerved by the slight differences in these accounts. Matthew and John were disciples but neither of them actually witnessed the early morning events at the tomb. When the women recovered enough from their experience to tell the disciples what had happened, Matthew and John, along with the other disciples, dismissed their tale as the ramblings of hysterical and grief-stricken women. (We must keep in mind that in those days the testimony of women was considered worthless. A woman could not appear in court, not even if she were the only person who witnessed a crime.) Because they did not believe the women, it's understandable that Matthew and John might not have remembered their exact words or the exact order of the events of Resurrection Day. This is no way casts any doubt on the resurrection itself.

In addition, Luke and Mark were not present at all during the events of Resurrection Day. Mark is believed to be the John Mark who was a cousin to Barnabas and who accompanied Barnabas and Paul on some of their journeys. He was probably a convert of the Apostle Peter, for when Peter is miraculously released from prison in the book of Acts we find him returning to the house of John Mark's mother where believers are gathered. Mark was not present at the resurrection and he didn't see the women finding the tomb empty and he wasn't in the room when the women told the disciples the tomb was empty. He relates the story to us as it was told to him by various participants. Luke was a Gentile who became a believer probably through the preaching of the Apostle Paul. Luke wrote his gospel account based on his interviews with eyewitnesses, and when it comes to eyewitness testimony we have to keep certain things in mind. For example: let's say ten people witness a bank robbery. All ten of them are going to remember that the bank was robbed. All ten of them will remember that the robbers wore masks and carried guns. But all ten of them may not agree on the exact order in which the events unfolded or the exact words the robbers spoke. This is what we have when we read the gospel accounts. Everyone agrees Jesus died on the cross. Everyone agrees that He was buried in a tomb. Everyone agrees that the tomb was empty on Sunday morning. Everyone agrees that the women were the first to find this out. Everyone agrees that Jesus appeared in the flesh following the resurrection and spent time with the disciples and others. Various miscellaneous details of Resurrection Day may differ here and there, but the fact remains that on Sunday morning the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, everything is changed. Remission of sins, salvation by faith, and the hope of eternal life in the presence of the Lord became a reality. Hope was born, a real and living hope based on fact: the fact of the resurrection.

Our worship song link for today is below. Let's listen to it together and celebrate the hope we have in our risen Lord.
In Christ Alone

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 88, The Most Hopeless Day In History

Saturday, the day in between the crucifixion and the resurrection, was the most hopeless day in history. We take a few minutes today to consider what must have been in the minds and hearts of those who mourned for Jesus.

The Bible doesn't tell us a great deal about what the disciples and the women who followed Jesus were doing on Saturday other than observing the Sabbath. The Bible doesn't tell us what they were doing when the Sabbath ended at sundown on Saturday, but we know what they weren't doing: they weren't on Resurrection Watch. Not a single one of them went to the tomb on the third day expecting to see Jesus perform the greatest miracle of all. None of the disciples, none of the women, and not even Jesus' own mother stood in front of the tomb waiting breathlessly for the stunning sight of Jesus emerging victorious over death. Many times Jesus predicted His death, but He also predicted His resurrection. The prophecies about His death have come true. Did those who loved Him not yet understand that the prophecies about His resurrection must also come true?

That would appear to be the case, but lest we frown on their unbelief I think we have to consider how many times we ourselves have doubted the word of God. How many times has God rescued us? How many times have we doubted He would rescue us once again? How many times have we read the promises of the Scriptures and thought to ourselves, "Well, I can see God coming through for people who do extraordinary things for His kingdom. But why should He do it for me? I'm just an ordinary believer. I'm not a pastor or a teacher or a missionary. I'm just an ordinary person living an ordinary life." But the truth is, everyone in the Bible was just an ordinary person living an ordinary life. What made their lives extraordinary was the presence of the Lord in them. We can all have that!

The Bible tells us that the remaining eleven disciples are gathered together behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. (John 20:19) So we know the disciples are afraid for their lives during the long hours between the crucifixion and the resurrection. But these are not cowardly men and we mustn't think they are. They gave up their former occupations to follow Jesus. They stood with Him against the repeated verbal assaults of the religious leaders. They endured weariness, hunger, and thirst while working alongside Him as He healed the sick and taught the word of God for hours and days at a time. But now, as their Master lies dead in the tomb, they must be thinking, "If the Jewish leaders were bold enough to execute Jesus, the leader of our group, surely they won't think a thing of having all of us executed. We may soon be dragged before Pilate and sentenced to death! Tens of thousands of people revered the name of Jesus of Nazareth, yet the chief priests and Pharisees managed to have Him killed. Who is going to care if we are killed too? We are former fishermen and tax collectors. We may all be on crosses soon!" The Lord knew what He was doing when He built an instinct for self-preservation into all of us. Without the desire to protect our lives, most of us wouldn't live very long. It's natural that these men would want to preserve their lives if they can. It's natural that they wouldn't be sitting at the tomb, waiting for a resurrection they aren't sure is coming, when Roman guards are standing there. For all the disciples know, there are warrants out for their arrest. If so, showing up at the tomb would be like turning themselves in.

I picture these men stunned and disbelieving that all their dreams have come to this. They were certain Jesus was the Messiah. They staked their reputations on it. They left everything to follow Him. (Matthew 19:27) As the popularity of Jesus grew, as He performed more and more miracles, as He bested the religious leaders time and again, they could see nothing ahead but good things. They pictured Jesus restoring the kingdom to the Jews and ruling over it as King of Israel. They pictured themselves as His top officials. They were like the guy who wrote the lyrics of the 80s song that says, "The future's so bright I gotta wear shades." Now they don't know if they even have a future. If they make it out of Jerusalem alive, what's next? How can they go back to living ordinary lives after experiencing the extraordinary?

We don't know for certain whether Mary the mother of Jesus and the other women were at the same place as the disciples. We know the women were aware of the disciples' location, because after Mary Magdalene sees the risen Lord, she goes to tell the men what has happened. (John 20:18) It's possible that everyone who was closest to the Lord was gathered together in the same place following the crucifixion, trying to draw comfort from knowing they all shared the same shock and grief.

Some of my readers may have lost a child, and if so you know what the mother of Jesus was feeling. She witnessed the death of her precious son. She was helpless to do anything to keep Him in this world. She expected, as all parents do, that He would outlive her. Never did she imagine Him being executed in the prime of His life. After all, when the angel Gabriel announced that she would miraculously bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, he said, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; His kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:31-33) Where is the crown Mary's son was promised? Where is the throne Jesus was meant to inherit? All Mary knows is that her son wore a cruel crown of thorns and was nailed to a cross. She must have wondered, "Did God lie to me or change His mind? Or did I misunderstand what the angel said to me? Or did an angel appear to me at all? Maybe I'm insane and none of those things ever happened to me. I expected Jesus would be declared King of Israel, but yesterday I wept inconsolably as I watched Him being placed in a tomb that isn't even His. What is wrong with this picture? How can my precious son Jesus reign over Jacob's descendants forever if He's lying dead in a tomb?"

I think that up til now Mary had concentrated on all the positive things that were said to her about her son while pushing to the back of her mind the things she didn't understand. When Mary and her husband Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, a man named Simeon recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah and he made this prophecy to Mary, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35) Simeon, through the power of the Holy Spirit, saw in his mind the piercing of Jesus' heart by the sword of the Roman soldier and he knew that Jesus' mother would be pierced to her very core by the death of her son. He knew Mary would witness the death of a child. But Mary had no idea what to make of Simeon's prophecy and so she concentrated on the promise of a throne for her beloved son.

The women who followed Jesus from Galilee, such as Mary Magdalene out of whom He cast seven demons (Luke 8:2) never expected to be mourning His death. They never expected to spend the Passover weekend preparing spices to take to His tomb. They must have thought, "But we saw Him heal the sick! But we saw Him cast out demons! But we saw Him raise the dead! How can He be dead Himself? How could He save all these others and be unable to save Himself? Did He not have the power to escape death? Could He not have called down legions of angels to fight for Him? And if He could not do these things, does this mean He isn't who we thought He was?"

As we have so many times in the past few days, we turn again to the words of the prophet Isaiah who foresaw the death of the Messiah seven hundred years before His birth and asked, "Who would have thought God's saving power would look like this?" (Isaiah 53:1b) The disciples, Mary, and the women who followed Jesus never thought God's saving power would look like this. They can't reconcile the idea of a suffering Servant with a conquering King. But that's alright, because everything will soon become clear. They will soon understand how a Messiah who died can still someday inherit the throne of David and reign over the whole world in righteousness. They will soon be comforted, invigorated, and renewed by the miracle of the resurrection.

Below is a link to a video that my church plays every Easter morning. It talks about the things that went on during and after the crucifixion of Christ, prior to the resurrection. It talks about the most hopeless day in the history of the world, but it also reminds us that the most hopeful day in the history of the world was just around the corner. Friday was dreadful. Saturday was hopeless. But Sunday came and everything changed.
It's Friday

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 87, The Tomb Placed Under Guard

We will look to Matthew's gospel this morning for an account of the guards being placed at the tomb, for Mark skips over this event and goes straight to the events of Sunday morning.

"The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate." (Matthew 27:62) According to several Bible scholars, and William Barclay in particular, this means the Pharisees went to Pilate on the Sabbath. Barclay explains, "Now Jesus was crucified on the Friday. Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath. The hours from 3pm to 6pm on Friday were called The Eve, or The Preparation. Therefore, the Sabbath began at 6pm on Friday, and the last hours of Friday were The Preparation. If this is accurate, it can only mean one thing---it must mean that the chief priests and Pharisees actually approached Pilate on the Sabbath with their request." If Barclay and those scholars who agree with him are correct, the enemies of Jesus broke the Sabbath by continuing their work of eradicating Him not only from the face of the earth, but by attempting to eradicate Him from the memories of the people.

Jesus died on the cross at 3pm and as we learned yesterday, Joseph and Nicodemus hastily prepared Him for burial as best they could before the Sabbath began at 6pm. They placed His body in a new tomb Joseph intended for the future use of his family, then they rolled the stone across the entrance. The followers of Jesus aren't the only people who watched His body go into that tomb. His enemies watched the proceedings as well. They knew exactly where the body of Jesus was placed and, as soon as they saw Him interred, they went straight to Pilate on that same evening with a request. "'Sir,' they said, we remember that while He was still alive the deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.'" (Matthew 27:63-64)

It's ironic that these men call Jesus "the deceiver" while they themselves stand before Pilate and either knowingly or unknowingly reveal that all along they knew Jesus was never speaking of the literal temple when He said, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." (John 2:19) Jesus has never been a threat to the temple or a threat to Rome, as they have claimed. He was only a threat to the authority and power the religious leaders held over the people. Now that He is dead, these men no longer care whether Pilate sees through their charade.

The enemies of Jesus have listened as closely to Him as anyone else. They've followed Him, questioned Him, and accused Him throughout the years of His ministry. They fully understand that He repeatedly predicted His death and resurrection. While they don't believe He will actually rise from the dead, they do think it's possible the disciples will come secretly and remove the body in order to claim Jesus has risen. Right now these men have only one goal in their lives: to keep the body of Jesus in the tomb. It's an impossible goal, for no power on earth or in hell is going to be able to keep Jesus in that tomb!

"'Take a guard,' Pilate answered. 'Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.' So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard." (Matthew 27:65-66) I am grateful to the chief priests, to the Pharisees, and to Pontius Pilate for sealing the tomb and placing soldiers there to guard it. No claim can ever be legitimately made that anyone came and stole the body of Jesus. The very thing these men sought to prevent (a resurrection "myth") actually proves the validity of the resurrection. No one came and stole the body of Jesus. Early on Sunday morning Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is going to walk out of the tomb under His own power.

Our worship song link for today is below. This is a beautiful song about the fact that nothing was ever going to be able to keep Jesus in the tomb.
Rise Again

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 86, The Burial Of Jesus

Today's passage fulfills the words of Isaiah, that Jesus would be "with the rich in His death". (Isaiah 53:9) He is going to be laid in a rich man's tomb, but as an old song says, "He'll only need it for the weekend."

"It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath)." (Mark 15:42a) Jesus died at 3pm on Friday and the Sabbath was about to begin at 6pm. In order to keep from breaking the Sabbath, the interment of His body needs to be accomplished before 6pm.

"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." (Mark 15:42b-43) Joseph is a member of the Council, meaning the Sanhedrin. Luke says he is "a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action". (Luke 23:50-51) Some scholars speculate that Joseph wasn't even invited to the illegal nighttime trial of Jesus, and that the Sanhedrin only called together those they could count on to vote for Jesus' execution. Luke's words may indicate that Joseph was present but voted against the majority of his peers.

John tells us that Joseph is accompanied by Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin who once visited Jesus at night to question and examine Him regarding matters of the law. (John 19:39) Nicodemus spoke out against the decision of the religious leaders to take Jesus out of the picture, asking, "Does our law condemn a man without first hearing Him to find out what He has been doing?" (John 7:51) In other words, "You've already decided He's worthy of death. You've never really stopped to listen to anything He's saying. You've never stopped to consider the great works He's doing. In your minds He's already a dead man walking. We know of no crime He's committed. He's been convicted of nothing. Yet you've already decided He doesn't deserve to live. That is against the laws of man and God!"

"Pilate was surprised to hear that He was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died." (Mark 15:44) Crucifixion could take an entire day or even several days, so Pilate doubts whether Jesus could have perished so quickly. He doesn't want a person taken from a cross unless he is truly dead, so he calls for the centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus. The centurion confirms that Jesus died at 3pm. Though it's unusual for a crucifixion victim to die in only a few hours, Jesus has been through more in the past twenty-four hours than most crucifixion victims. He's been given no food or water since the Last Supper. He's been struck repeatedly in the head and face by both the high priest's guards and Pilate's soldiers. It is believed that His flogging with Roman whips was more severe than normal because Pilate hoped that the sight of Him would make His enemies conclude enough punishment had been carried out. It was not customary to beat a condemned man so much that he could not carry his own cross, but Jesus was too weak to carry His. He was already suffering from shock and extreme blood loss before He ever arrived at Golgotha, which is why John tells us both blood and water came out when a soldier pierced His side. (John 19:34) This indicates pericardial effusion: the build-up of fluid in the heart and lungs. Pericardial effusion will occur following a sustained period in which the person has lost 20% or more of his blood and bodily fluids, causing the heart to pump rapidly in an effort to circulate through the body the insufficient volume of blood.

We don't want to be graphic here, but we do want to prevent any doubts from creeping in that Jesus might not have been dead when Joseph took His body down. Over the centuries there have been skeptics who suggested Jesus was not dead and therefore did not rise from the dead, but the Roman soldiers knew the difference between a dead man and a live man. They were experts at execution; they would never have allowed a living man to be taken from a cross. To prove Jesus was indeed dead as He appeared to be and had not simply fainted, a soldier pierced His side. The fact that blood and water poured out proves that the soldier pierced His heart, and He would not have survived that.

Pilate is satisfied with the centurion's account of Jesus' death, so he releases the body. "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." (Mark 15:45-46) Matthew adds the information that this tomb was Joseph's "own new tomb". (Matthew 27:60) Tombs were not intended for only one body but for a whole family. A wealthy man like Joseph would have a tomb cut out that would someday receive his own body along with that of his wife, his children and their spouses, his grandchildren, and so on. A body would be laid on a slab inside until it became skeletal, at which time the bones would be gathered into a box called an "ossuary". This allowed for many generations of a family to use the same tomb because a large number of ossuaries could be stacked inside a tomb.

John says that Nicodemus helped Joseph to wrap the body with about seventy-five pounds of spices that Nicodemus brought with him. (John 19:39-40) After placing the body inside, the stone was rolled over the opening, and Mark concludes today's passage by saying, "Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where He was laid." (Mark 15:47) These women followed Jesus all the way to the tomb, marking the spot so they can return and perform more proper burial rituals later, "The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment." (Luke 23:55-56)

Unbelievers have tried to claim that the women, and everyone else involved, made a mistake about which tomb Jesus was placed in. They attempt to discredit the accounts of the resurrection by saying the empty tomb was not Jesus' tomb at all. But that doesn't hold water. Joseph certainly knew which tomb was his. Nicodemus knew which tomb he helped place Jesus' body in. The women knew the correct tomb because they intended to come back to it following the Sabbath. Even the enemies of Jesus knew the correct tomb, for later we will find them asking for guards to stand in front of it so that the disciples can't steal the body. No one involved in this matter, whether friend or foe, made any mistake whatsoever in regard to the location of Jesus' body. No one involved in this matter, whether friend or foe, will be able to deny the fact that Jesus' dead body is no longer there on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 85, The Death Of Jesus: It Is Finished

When we concluded yesterday we found Jesus crying out to the Father, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Those standing near the cross misunderstand and think He is calling for Elijah. "When some of those standing near heard this, they said, 'Listen, He's calling Elijah.' Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 'Now leave Him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take Him down,' he said." (Mark 15:35-36)

Wine vinegar comprised part of each Roman soldier's rations of daily food and drink. It was considered more refreshing than water and was often used when a person had been perspiring heavily, maybe because it replenished some of the depleted electrolytes. An example of using it as a refreshing drink can be found in Ruth 2:14 when, after she has been working in the fields, Boaz offered her bread and wine vinegar. The soldier who offers Jesus a drink is offering it out of his own rations. Some commentators consider this an act of mercy toward the Lord. The Apostle John, who is present at the crucifixion comforting Mary the mother of Jesus, tells us that the supplying of the drink was made in response to Jesus saying "I am thirsty." (John 19:28-29) John says this was done to fulfill the Scriptures, and by that he means these prophetic words, "They put gall in My food and gave Me vinegar to drink." (Psalm 69:21)

It is now three o'clock in the afternoon. "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.' When He had said this, He breathed His last." (Luke 23:46) Mark does not tell us what Jesus said when He cried out; he simply says, "With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last." (Mark 15:37) The Apostle John adds, "Jesus said, 'It is finished.'" (John 19:30) What Jesus literally says is the Greek word tetelestai, which means "paid in full". The transaction that occured on the cross between the Father and the Son paid our sin debt in full. The wrath of God should have fallen on us, but because Jesus gave Himself in our place, it fell on Him instead. As He breathes His last, His work is accomplished. Salvation is secured for all who will believe on His name. There is no more to be done. We can add nothing to the work of Christ. We are not saved by works and we do not remain saved by works. We are saved, and remain saved, by Christ's work on the cross....nothing more, nothing less.

"The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how He died, he said, 'Surely this man was the Son of God!'" (Mark 15:38-39) Matthew adds that an earthquake occurred at the moment of Jesus' death. (Matthew 27:51-52) At the time of the evening sacrifice, while the sacrificial lamb is being offered, while the priests are going about their work at the temple, while the ram's horns are blowing, Jesus completes the sacrifice of Himself. God the Father reaches down from heaven and takes hold of the curtain that keeps everyone but the high priest from going into the Most Holy Place, and He tears it from top to bottom, signifying that by the tearing of Jesus' flesh "a new and living way is opened for us through the curtain". (Hebrews 10:20) The wall of division between man and God due to man's sins is now torn in two because Christ has made a way for all of us to enter the Most Holy Place with Him, our High Priest.

The Roman centurion is standing at the foot of the cross to be a legal witness to the death of Jesus of Nazareth. In the shadowy gloom that has fallen over the land, he looks up at the Lord and hears Him tell the Father "it is finished". He witnesses Jesus handing over His spirit to God. At that same moment, as the shofars blow for the evening sacrifice, the ground shakes. A cry goes up from the temple as the veil is torn in two. And as he beholds the One who makes His life an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10), the centurion realizes something different has taken place. This centurion has likely witnessed many crucifixions, but never one like this. We don't know precisely what it is that makes him conclude Jesus is the Son of God, but I think this realization comes to him in the same way it comes to all of us: through the Holy Spirit. Early church tradition states that this centurion became a Christian, boldly shared the gospel, and was eventually martyred for his faith.

We will conclude today with the full chapter of Isaiah 53, the chapter which foretold the crucifixion of Jesus Christ before Judah ever went into captivity in Babylon and returned, before the Roman Empire existed, and before the Romans perfected the art of crucifixion as a method of capital punishment. The suffering of the Messiah was revealed to Isaiah by the Holy Spirit, and Isaiah majestically describes for us the work Christ accomplished on the cross. We are going to look at this portion of Scripture as it is rendered in The Message Bible because its plainness of speech somehow throws an even brighter spotlight on the way Jesus our Savior paid for us a debt we could not pay.

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
    Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The Servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,

    a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about Him,
    nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at Him and people turned away.
    We looked down on Him, thought He was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains He carried—
    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought He brought it on Himself,
    that God was punishing Him for His own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to Him,
    that ripped and tore and crushed Him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through His bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
    We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
    on Him, on Him.
 He was beaten, He was tortured,
    but He didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
    and like a sheep being sheared,
    He took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and He was led off—
    and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for His own welfare,
    beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried Him with the wicked,
    threw Him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though He’d never hurt a soul
    or said one word that wasn’t true.
 Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
    to crush Him with pain.
The plan was that He give Himself as an offering for sin
    so that He’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
    And God’s plan will deeply prosper through Him.
 Out of that terrible travail of soul,
He’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad He did it.
Through what He experienced, my Righteous One, my Servant,
    will make many “righteous ones,”
    as He himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward Him extravagantly—
    the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because He looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
    because He embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on His own shoulders the sin of the many,
    He took up the cause of all the black sheep.

It is finished. Do you believe?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 84, The Crucifixion, Part Three

"At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon." (Mark 15:33) At Passover the moon would have been full, meaning the moon is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun so that the sun fully illuminates it. The moon cannot cross between the sun and the earth at this time, so a complete solar eclipse is not possible at Passover. However, according to NASA a partial lunar eclipse occurred on April 3 in 33 AD, which would correspond well to the date Christ may have been crucified. Some scientists think this eclipse would have been visible from Jerusalem while others disagree. It's quite possible that the three hours of darkness did not occur as the result of an eclipse at all but as the result of some other phenomenon, even a miraculous phenomenon. During the plagues of Egypt, darkness fell on the land for three days as a sign of God's judgment. (Exodus 10:21-23) During the Great Tribulation in the book of Revelation, the kingdom of the Antichrist is plunged into darkness as a sign of God's judgment. (Revelation 10-11) So if the darkness on the day of the crucifixion also represents judgment, what type of judgment is it?

We could interpret the darkness as God's judgment upon Jerusalem for rejecting the Messiah. Psalm 69 speaks of the agony and shame the Messiah would endure at the hands of His own people, and then the psalm includes a curse upon those who have so sadly mistreated Him, "Pour out Your wrath on them; let Your fierce anger overtake them. May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents." (Psalm 63:24-25) Jerusalem is going to fall within forty years following the crucifixion and the temple is going to be destroyed, so in part I think we can conclude that the darkness over Jerusalem on the day Christ was crucified could be interpreted as a sign of God's coming judgment on that city.

But in a broader sense I think the darkness represents God's judgment upon sin. We have all sinned. From Adam and Eve on down to you and me today, we have all sinned. As the prophet Isaiah said while relating to us his vision of the suffering Messiah, "we all, like sheep, have gone astray". (Isaiah 53:6a)

How is God judging sin on the day of the crucifixion? By placing all the sins of the world upon His Son. "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6b) "God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus literally became sin in our place, while the judgment of God fell on Him in our place. God the Father shrouded this transaction between Himself and the Son in darkness because it is too private, and perhaps too awful, for human eyes to witness.

Because He took our sin and shame and punishment on Himself, Jesus Christ experienced a darkness none of us will ever have to experience if we have placed our faith in Him. He experienced a separation from the Father that you and I will never have to experience if we have placed our faith in Him. As darkness reigns over the land, and as He drinks the bitter cup of God's wrath, Jesus calls out to the Father whose presence He cannot feel. "And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' (Which means "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?") (Mark 15:34) Jesus quotes the words of King David who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, foresaw the suffering of the Messiah. (Psalm 22:1a)

If we have placed our faith in the One who bore our sins in His own body on the cross, we will never call out from a dark eternal destination of separation from God, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" Christ experienced a darkness of the soul that we can't even imagine so that we would never have to experience it for ourselves. The work of salvation has been done for us. Let's be like the rebel we studied yesterday who, as he hung on a cross beside Jesus, believed to the saving of his soul. That rebel had rejected the laws of God and the laws of man, earning himself a death sentence for his body. But because he accepted Jesus as the Christ, he gained eternal life for his soul.

Below is a link to today's worship song which contains some of the Scripture we've studied this morning.
Jesus Messiah

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 83, The Crucifixion, Part Two

The prophet Isaiah, when he foresaw the suffering of the Messiah, said, "He was assigned a grave with the wicked." (Isaiah 53:9a) In today's passage we find Isaiah's prediction coming true as Jesus hangs on a cross between two men who are guilty of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. He has been "assigned a grave with the wicked" in that He is receiving the same treatment as those who are sinners.

"They crucified two rebels with Him, one on His right and one on His left." (Mark 15:27) The gospel writer Luke describes for us the conversion of one of the rebels. "One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: 'Aren't You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.'" (Luke 23:39-43)

The picture of Jesus hanging on a cross between two criminals, with a hand outstretched toward each of them, is an illustration of what Jesus has always done: Jesus reaches out for the lost. It's also an illustration of what man has always done: some accept Him, some reject Him. The one rebel admitted and repented of his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord, to the saving of his soul. The other crucifixion victim retained his rebellious attitude and, as far as we know, perished in his sins.

This scene also illustrates for us the fact that salvation is by faith and not by works. (Ephesians 2:8-9) The rebel who comes to faith while on the cross can do nothing for Jesus. He's going to die this day and be buried. He can perform no good deeds or acts of penitence. Yet because of his faith, Jesus says to him, "Today you will be with Me in paradise." Good works will naturally follow spiritual conversion (if a person continues to live on this earth) but good works do not save souls. Faith in Christ saves souls.

The one unrepentant rebel is not the only person who mocks Jesus as He hangs on the cross. "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 Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.'" (Mark 15:29-32) Matthew adds that the religious leaders said this, "He trusts in God, let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (Matthew 27:43) The suffering of the Messiah was revealed to King David, who wrote in Psalm 22, "All who see Me mock Me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads, 'He trusts in the Lord,' they say, 'let the Lord rescue Him. Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him.'" (Psalm 22:7-8)

As Jesus hangs in agony, enduring insults, He realizes that the hatred toward Him is really directed toward God. Though they may not know it, those who are rejecting Him are rejecting the God who told them through the prophets how to recognize the Messiah. They are rejecting the Lord's authority over their lives. They are rejecting the idea of submitting themselves to the Lord's will. This is the same thing that is happening today when unbelievers mock us for our faith. It's not really us they are rejecting, but the gospel message and the idea that anyone has authority over them. King David, in another Messianic psalm, understood this. David knew it would be for His righteousness, and because of their own rebellious hearts, that some would hate Jesus. David said in the voice of the Messiah, "Zeal for Your house consumes Me, and the insults of those who insult You fall on Me." (Psalm 69:9) Jesus previously told His disciples, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father." (John 14:9) When the enemies of Jesus revile Him and spit in His face they are spitting in the face of Almighty God. Something in their spirits rebels against God and so they are unable to recognize the Lordship of Jesus over their lives.

Let us not belong to those "who shrink back and are destroyed", but let us belong to those "who have faith and are saved". (Hebrews 10:39)

The link for our worship song for today is below.
Jesus Saves

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Gospel According To Mark. Day 82, The Crucifixion, Part One

The Roman soldiers have beaten Jesus so severely that He can't carry His own cross. Mark tells us, "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." (Mark 15:21) We find parallel accounts of this in Matthew 27:32 and Luke 23:26. By the time Mark writes his account of the gospel, Simon and his sons are apparently well known to the early church since he speaks of them as if his readers will immediately know who they are. It is widely believed that Simon's son Alexander is the Alexander mentioned in Acts 19:33 and that Simon's son Rufus is the Rufus of Romans 16:13.

Simon is probably on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover and the last thing he expects is for a Roman soldier to seize him and force him to carry a heavy cross behind a beaten and bloody man who is wearing a twisted crown of thorns. Simon has likely never laid eyes on Jesus before and we don't even know whether he's ever heard of Jesus. How confusing this scene must have been for him, but if his sons really are those men mentioned in the New Testament, we can conclude that Simon and his family became believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke tells us that the soldiers "put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus". (Luke 23:26) On that Friday Simon literally carried a cross and followed the Lord. Sometime during that awful day or after he heard of the resurrection, Simon spiritually became a man who carried a cross and followed the Lord, fulfilling this requirement of a disciple, "Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me." (Luke 9:23)

"They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means "the place of the skull")." (Mark 15:22) There is a hill situated northwest of the old city of Jerusalem that bears a vague resemblance to a smooth skull with eye holes and a mouth. This may be the place Jesus was crucified.

"Then they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it." (Mark 15:23) This drink is intended to dull the pain, but Jesus refuses to drink it. He has committed Himself instead to drinking the bitter cup of God's wrath all the way down to the dregs and He will endure every ounce of the pain of the cross on behalf of mankind. No one will ever be able to say that Jesus does not understand or sympathize with excruciating pain, for He had the opportunity to experience a measure of relief from it and He refused it.

"And they crucified Him. Dividing up His clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get." (Mark 15:24) It was customary for the soldiers carrying out crucifixions to take for themselves any items of value the condemned men possessed. This scene was prophetically described in Psalm 22 in the voice of the One hanging on the cross, "Dogs surround Me, a pack of villains encircles Me; they pierce My hands and My feet. All My bones are on display; people stare and gloat over Me. They divide My clothes among them and cast lots for My garment." (Psalm 22:16-18)

All four of the gospel writers tell us the charge written above Jesus' head, "The written notice of the charge against Him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS." (Mark 15:26) A condemned man would have his offense written on a plaque that was nailed to the cross above his head. Jesus committed no crime and so the charge above Him is the charge upon which the Sanhedrin found Him worthy of death. They found Him guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God, the Messiah, thereby making Himself equal with God and laying claim to the throne of Israel. These are not the charges they brought against Him before Pilate, but Pilate saw through their charade, and as a jab at the religious leaders Pilate saw to it that the charges above Jesus' head said: THE KING OF THE JEWS. The religious leaders take offense at the way the sign is worded, protesting to Pilate, "Do not write "the king of the Jews" but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews." (John 19:21) Pilate is done with these men. He wants them out of the palace and out of his sight. He refuses to make any changes, saying, "What I have written, I have written." (John 19:22)

Jesus hangs on the cross with the truth written above His head. He dies for the truth, and He dies at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles because He is giving His life for both Jews and Gentiles. Members of the children of Israel and members of the pagan world all had a hand in His death because "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". (Romans 3:23) The Jews aren't to blame any more than the Gentiles for the death of Jesus, nor are the Gentiles more to blame for the death of Jesus than the Jews. All of mankind fell from grace. All of mankind needed redemption. Jesus gave His life to redeem all people of every nation and every language. In Christ we all have equal standing as the children of God. "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

Below is our worship song link for today. It goes wonderfully with our passage today.
Blessed Redeemer