Mark 15 – We Want Barabbas!

Read Mark 15

The people of God have a long history of wanting what they shouldn’t want, and denying the thing they need most.  From the very moment that they  were released from captivity in Egypt, the people of Israel immediately begin complaining and wondering whether or not they should just go back.  Every time they met an obstacle, whenever things got rough, no matter how faithful God had been to them, they always talk about going back to Egypt.

Even after they settle into the promised land, when they have received the inheritance God gave them, still they wondered at going back to Egypt.  Sure, life was difficult, the work was hard, but it certainly was familiar.

As the religious leaders of Jesus’ day make plans to capture and kill Him, they do so because Jesus is threatening the very same thing: freedom.  Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven and speak negatively about the religious elite.  They have recognized Jesus as a threat to their power and control; they want none of it.

I wonder at some of the similarities that are taking place in our cultural context today.  Looking at the landscape of the church and culture, over the last 100 years, a slow turn as been taking place, leaving the church and the transformative power of the Gospel on the side of condemnation and the greater culture, including many church-going Christians, turning to away from Jesus and the Gospel as the source of freedom and salvation, and to many other things and people that the world has to offer.  Whether it is a politician running for president, high educational achievement, or success, each of these, when compared to the transforming power of the Gospel is the proverbial “Barabbas” that America seems to be collectively calling for.



Mark 14 – Why the Waste?

Read Mark 14

Admittedly there have been times in my life where I have seen people do things or give money where I wondered, “why waste time/money on that?”  Like the disciples, we think we know where other’s priorities should be and what they should be doing with the things God has blessed them with.

However, Mary’s actions here, Jesus points out, have a much deeper significance than what they saw on the surface: preparation.

In the sequence of events unfold here at the end of Jesus’ life, there is a great deal of parallelism between His sacrifice and the Passover feast.  What we don’t get here is that, when the Priests prepared for these events, there was a considerable amount of preparation and washing that needed to take place so they would be clean.  There was also specific things that needed to be done by each family to prepare the Passover meal which included what needed to be done to the Passover Lamb.

Jesus Himself is our Passover Lamb, the one who would die and whose blood would cover our sins and grant us eternal life.  Jesus functions in the position of the priest, performing the sacrifice before God in representation of all humanity.  In both cases, Mary’s actions serve as preparation for what was about to take place.

It is important for us to be willing to open our eyes to a bigger picture.  We don’t always know what God is up to when we see people do things that we wouldn’t necessarily agree with.  Why give so much to a university when you could give to the church or the poor?  What if that money went to a scholarship for someone who came to know Jesus through a campus ministry?  It wouldn’t seem so wasteful then would it?



Mark 13 – Permanence

Read Mark 13

Visiting Europe last summer I suspect that some of my responses to the old buildings that we saw was similar to that of the disciples at the temple.  “Jesus, look at the big stones!”  “Look at these great buildings!”  Europe has no shortage of them either.  Whether old castles or cathedrals, they are quite a sight to behold and stand as a testament to their builders and the ingenuity and creativity of humanity.

St. Paul's Cathedral (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

St. Paul’s Cathedral
(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

However, what struck me about these buildings, particularly the cathedrals, is how their incredible design and structure was contrasted by their lack of function for what they were intended to do… namely worship God and be the body of Christ.  It was striking to me that we toured castles and palaces in the same way we toured churches.

Westminster Abbey (Photo Credit: chsrentals.com)

Westminster Abbey
(Photo Credit: chsrentals.com)

I wonder if this was, at least somewhat, what Jesus was referring to when He responded to His disciples’ comments about the Temple.  When He begins to talk about the end times, the discussion changes but the point Jesus makes doesn’t: what we look at with awe and wonder really is nothing compared to what is coming.

Notre Dame Cathedral (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Notre Dame Cathedral
(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The same is true for people, something Jesus cautions His disciples about.  “Watch out that no one [or nothing] deceives you.” Lately, it seems, there has been a great deal of talk about making America great again, as if this is what will save us and the rest of the world.  While I am in favor of a prosperous country, I think it is important to keep things in perspective.  “Not one of these stones will be left on another.”  Shouldn’t we instead be focusing on building God’s Kingdom that will truly last?



John 8:2-11 "Am I Accepted?"

The question of identity is one that we grapple with our entire lives. From the very beginning of life, we seek to answer the question: “Am I Loved?” Throughout youth and even into adulthood we are always wondering, even if it is at a subconscious level, “Do I Belong?”
In Jesus Christ, the answer to this question before God is always “Yes!”



Mark 12 – The Greatest Gift

Read Mark 12

Sermons on giving and tithing are probably the most difficult sermons to preach and to hear.  I think that, at least on some level, they seem somewhat self-serving coming from the pastor and that can often get in the way of how we listen and hear the Spirit moving in that time.  Jesus takes on this subject, though, without hesitation, and does not flinch at pointing out the truth in giving: it too is a matter of the heart.

Watching all of the people giving their offerings, Jesus reflects on what He sees.  Many people giving large sums of money.  Their offerings would have made loud noises as coins were placed into the containers.  Many would have known what they were doing and the large amounts that they were giving.

Yet I am reminded of what Jesus says in Matthew 6, talking about our posture when we seek to be obedient to God through fasting, praying, and giving.  In each subject, those who do things publically, drawing attention to themselves “receive their reward in full.”  Perhaps, Jesus is thinking about Psalm 51, that the truer sacrifice is that of the heart.

Jesus points out the widow’s offering to His disciples, one given in humility, with no fanfare or self-promotion.  She gives all she has; truly the greatest gift anyone can give.

I wonder if there is any relationship here between the gift that this widow gave and that which Jesus was about to give?  His gift, that of His own life, came in a form not expected by the religious leaders and yet it was the greatest gift of all.  John writes, referencing Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this: that he/she lay down their life for a friend.”  Maybe, more important than tithing, is self-sacrificially loving our neighbor?



Mark 11 – Moving Mountains

Read Mark 11

Jesus speaks very pointedly about faith in this passage.  There is true power in faith to change things; no doubt is left here that faith is incredibly important.  However, this passage has been used many times in ways that have been painful and damaging for our brothers and sisters in Christ and it is important that we take this passage in context with the rest of Scripture as well.

I’ve heard Christians say that, when a person’s relative failed to get better, or when treatment for a disease didn’t work, that it was “obviously because someone didn’t believe enough.”  What an awful thing to say to someone!  We leave them questioning both Go and their faith.

So what does Jesus mean here?  Could we actually move a mountain if we had pure faith and no doubt?  Probably!  Jesus did say that.  However, I wonder if that is really the point here.

The purpose of faith is not so that we can gain power to do mighty things like  throwing mountains around, the deepening of our faith aligns our hearts with the heart of God.  As we grow deeper in relationship with Him, our hearts begin to reflect the heart of God, our desires begin to reflect the desires of God.  What we begin to see and experience, then, is God’s love for all people, His desire to show His grace, redemption, and reconciliation to the whole world.

Sure, mighty acts like throwing mountains around will get people’s attention, but what about the humble acts of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick?  God has a special place in His heart for the marginalized, and as our faith deepens, our hearts will begin to reflect God’s heart for them as well, and moving mountains won’t really seem that important.



Mark 10 – The 1%

Read Mark 10

A lot of emphases is often placed on the “top 1%” of our society.  People in this category range from Hollywood stars to successful business people, athletes to politicians.  Often, these folks are idolized for their wealth and success, sometimes even envied, yet there are things, the most important things, that money and material wealth cannot buy.

In his interaction with Jesus, the “Rich Young Ruler” does everything he can to give the impression that he has his life all together.  It seems as though he is looking for Jesus to verify that he is on the right track for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus’ answer, however, stuns him.

Scripture says, “He went away sad because he had great wealth.”  Literally reading this, it means that he “owned much property.”

This seems to be the story of his life.  He did everything right, followed all the laws, and even obtained vast material blessing.  However, what He missed was the very core of what God desires from us: our heart.  The true nature of this man’s heart is revealed when he is asked to give up the things he has many of.

Jesus’ answer, though, indicates the priority of the heart of God too.  Not only does God want us to give Him our hearts, He also desires our hearts to be for those around us.  Never in Scripture do we find encouragement to gain wealth for our own sake, to horde money and resources for gaining power for ourselves. God’s heart and His desire for the hearts of His people is to care for the marginalized.  Perhaps, though, there is a not so hidden truth here: when our heart is for God and for others, blessing and wealth, that of the God’s Kingdom, will truly be found.



Mark 9 – Choosing Sides

Read Mark 9

The famous phrase “whoever isn’t for us is against us” is seen here in Jesus’ words to His disciples.  They are not, however, as exclusive as we tend to make.  We do, consciously or unconsciously, choose sides whether for ourselves or for those around us, thinking about who is “in” and who is “out.”  This is true in our personal lives, deciding who we associate ourselves with and who we don’t.  It is also true in the church.

Throughout the world, it is estimated that there are over 40,000 Christian denominations.  40,000!!!  That means that a minimum of 40,000 times, Christians have decided at some point that other Christians were “out” and that they were the “in” group.  While the number itself can be staggering, the implications of such division are even worse.  It isn’t any wonder, then, that the world looks to our preaching on unity and reconciliation with a bit of a smirk, pointing out the irony with perhaps a slight side of hypocrisy.

Strides have been made recently to bring unity to this somewhat fragmented vision of Christ’s body, a promising start for us the Church.  Some would say we live in a “post-denominational” world, but even as denominations join together it still is based on the boundaries we have created.

When Jesus’ apostles bring to Him the question of others acting in His Name, Jesus, instead of questioning their worship style, doctrinal approach, or their political affiliation, makes one clear and concise statement: “whoever isn’t for us is against us.”

Maybe its time that we stop worrying about which churches have the correct “this or that” and celebrate the fact that we all worship One God and serve one Lord, Jesus Christ.  Then, maybe, we can work together for the Kingdom, celebrating our unity and our diversity.



Mark 8 – Desolate Place

Read Mark 8

We have all seen fads come and go many times in our lives.  Whether it’s a diet, a lifestyle, a game, or some technology, there are things in our life and culture that look like, and feel like they are leading us down a fulfilling and enjoyable path.  However, there will always come a point when we feel like we somehow stumbled into the middle of nowhere, and we find ourselves hungry and wondering when we will next be able to be nourished.

Everything in our life takes us places, whether we are aware of it or not.  We travel down the proverbial road, following it wherever it leads us.  Think about a marathon of watching your favorite show on Netflix, how you get wrapped up in the characters and begin feeling for them and with them.  But at some point, that show or series will end and you are left with a bit of an empty feeling, something this commercial calls the “show hole.”

Sure, you can start watching another show but they all lead to the same desolate place.

Jesus recognizes that there have been many people following Him all over the countryside, many have come from long distances.  For many of them, He isn’t the first teacher to come along and offer hope, yet He will not leave them, or us, in the wilderness with no nourishment.

Jesus’ call to take up our crosses daily is one in which we will find ourselves in desolate places, feeling alone and hungry, yet we are never abandoned.  Jesus is the only one who will truly give us the nourishment we need and not leave us stranded and hungry, left to fend for ourselves and find our own way home.  He always provides it for us.



Mark 12:28-34 "What Matters Most?"

There are a lot of things that we consider to be important; sometimes too important.  We make big deals about little things, promoting them to be the true test of orthodoxy (right faith).  Jesus says here that the most important thing is relationships:

  1. Our relationship with God
  2. Our relationship with our neighbor


Mark 7 – Traditions

Read Mark 7

The word “tradition” has become one of the most overused and misunderstood words in the church in recent years.  Some people hear this word and cringe, their minds rapidly moving toward visions of hymnals, organs, and hard wooden church pews.  Others hear it and are drawn by warm feelings to the “good ole days” where they sung familiar songs, had notes to read and music to follow, and sung in 4-part harmony.  While each group tends to have considerable disdain (though we wouldn’t necessarily name that) for the other,  neither inclination is, in itself, a bad thing.

However, as is often true, when our priorities get mixed up and we uphold the thing we cherish (musical style, way of doing things, etc.) over and above that to which those things point (namely: Jesus Christ), we fall into idolatry.  Indeed, much of the struggle with worship style actually falls into the label of idolatry, worshipping worship… or at least the way that we want to worship… which is actually worshipping ourselves.  Sadly, this has been applied more readily to the “traditionalist,” but is just as true for the “contemporary-ist.”

At the root of the problem for us and for the Pharisees here is where the heart is.  The Law was meant to be a guide for the hearts of the people, much like Sunday services are, in large part, meant to be a time to corporately direct our hearts toward God.  Yet we have a funny way of trying to make that time be more about us whilst making it sound like we are trying to make it about God.

Jesus’ words here are a gut check for Christians: when something we do to “worship” God is divisive, it may be “that which defiles” more than “that which honors.”



Mark 6 – Abundance

Read Mark 6

If there is one thing that we could say defines America, it would be that we pride ourselves on having more than enough.  Maybe this is not something we like to claim, but the reality of how we act, what we own, and how we eat shows this to be true.  We don’t like to rely on anyone for anything.  Americans fulfill their own destiny, provide for themselves, and create their own abundance.

Jesus, however, creates a different picture of abundance; that of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It isn’t a picture of self-help books or 3-step guides to a better life, neither is it a list of rules and regulations you must follow to earn their keep, it is an image of full and complete dependence on God who provides far more than we could ask or imagine.

Our Savior provides food, more than they could possibly eat, out of scarcity.  Yet the lesson that is meant to be taught here is not one of physical nourishment, but rather the nature of God’s Kingdom which is illustrated in the following two narratives as well.

In all three cases, Jesus provides for the needs that they have.  This, I believe, is the true nature of God’s Kingdom economy, full provision.  There is never scarcity in the Kingdom of Heaven and never need.  God provides for it all at every moment and Jesus shows this as He provides for physical nourishment, safety, and healing.

The catch, if you could call it that, is our trust and dependence.  While the feeding of the 5,000 did not depend necessarily on the disciple’s trust in Jesus’ ability, nor did the calming of the storm, but healing, like that of the women in the previous chapter, happened because of faith, trust, and dependence on Jesus.



Mark 5 – Recognize

Read Mark 5

There seems to be an increase in the recognition of the spiritual realm and its influence and impact on our lives in today’s culture.  As we move out of the age of modernity, marked by the attainment of knowledge, scientific advancement, and the need for concrete evidence for proof, culture has seen a much wider acceptance of a reality that is both coinciding with ours and also beyond our vision and understanding.  This truth, however, is not one that took Jesus by surprise.

I am struck by the recognition that takes place from different characters in this narrative.  The demons see Jesus and instantly recognize who He is and are aware of what His presence means for them.  Jesus is quite aware of them too.  Whether or not the man they possess knows Jesus is uncertain, but what we do know is it took much more than human strength to bring him healing.  Yet the reaction of the people in that region is puzzlingly similar to that of the demons, both want to get away from Jesus.  Why, after such healing had taken place, would the people be fearful to the point of sending Jesus away?

Sometimes I wonder if people are actually afraid of healing, afraid of the light.  When we are confronted with our sin, and shown the way toward healing, it can be uncomfortable… even scary.  Our current way of living may not be the best, but it’s certainly familiar.  This is a constant theme in the Old Testament.  Israel complains everytime the going gets rough, wanting to go back to Egypt because at least they knew what to expect.

I wonder if our churches today engage in these same reactions, settling for the safe and familiar rather than the abundant healing Jesus offers us?



Mark 4 – Parables

Read Mark 4

I know a good number of people who like to tell stories.  Whenever I get together with them I expect to hear at least one story about something, whether hunting or fishing, building or other life experiences, these stories are reminders of lessons learned and wisdom gained.  Jesus often spoke in parables which were something like mini stories.  In talking to my friends, they could tell me of wisdom gained from their experiences, but without a context, I have no way of recognizing how they arrived at their conclusion.

Jesus used metaphors that the people following Him would understand.  In an agriculturally dominated society, people could relate to sowing seed and harvesting a crop.  Yet there is a much deeper meaning contained within these seemingly simple stories, truths that we repeatedly turn to and learn from.

For seed to be sown, there must be a sower; for seeds to grow, they must be tended.  However these are not explicitly mentioned in all of these parables.  The size of the seed doesn’t seem to matter either, but rather the soil is important for growing.  That has often been a comfort for me as a pastor, especially when I am feeling uneasy about how I shared God’s Word on a particular day.

Maybe I am taking the metaphor too far, but I realize today that, though we often talk about being good soil, in agriculture the farmer is responsible for both the soil and the seed, another wonderful truth that is not explicitly mentioned here.

The Holy Spirit is always at work within us, working on our hearts to prepare them to receive the seed of the Word of God and then tending those seeds to carefully cultivate them within us, producing faith and fruit many times what was sown.



Mark 3 – Divided Kingdom

Read Mark 3

After healing a man with a shrivled hand, the religious leaders have trouble finding a way to accuse Jesus and destroy His ministry.  Interestingly, and somewhat ironically, they finally decide to accuse Jesus of being on the side of the enemy, working for satan himself.  Sometimes the words of the pharisees remind me of the ways that our politicians act, accusing each other of different things so as to gain the upper hand, to retain their power and status.

Jesus is not so easily swayed or overcome by these arguments.  Whereas it seems today that the accusation of anything in today’s political arena would garner a recant, reversal, or otherwise change of action or statement, Jesus stands firm in His mission, His Kingdom focus.

Sometimes it feels like the church faces this sort of division in our culture.  We desire to advance the Kingdom, to be on mission with God, and yet we fear the reprisal and accusations of those around us.

The Kingdom of Heaven in not one of timidity, it is not one of scared political correctness or middle of the road decisions.  Jesus doesn’t, in the face of questions about keeping the Sabbath or any such thing, decide to heal the shrivled hand tommorow, He takes action now.  This is the nature of God’s work of grace, healing and transformation.

This doesn’t mean biligerence.  Scripture says often to remember the “weaker brother.”  Jesus doesn’t get in their face, He doesn’t start a protest movement against the religious leaders or an “occupy the Temple” movement against the observation of the law.  Rather, calmly and consistently, He brings healing in God’s name, and teaches about the true nature of God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom that above all finds it’s foundation on God’s unquenchable love and desire for reconciliation.