Through the Bible, July 28

Reading: no scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflections: With no scheduled reading for today, this is a good time to catch up if you have fallen behind. Otherwise, here are some thoughts drawn from this past week’s readings.

  1. Mark leaves no question about where he is headed with this Gospel. Though the climax is reached at Peter’s identification of Jesus as the Christ in 8:29, he begins by stating that He is the  Christ, the Son of God (1:1).  With that fact boldly stated, he sets out to establish that truth through the presentation of teaching, miracles, and other events of Jesus’ ministry.  Compare this approach to John’s who at the end of his Gospel says, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31)
  2. Mark gives great emphasis to the last week of Jesus’ life as evidenced by the fact that six of the sixteen chapters of this book are devoted to this one week of Jesus’ three-year ministry.
  3. There appears to be a special bond between Mark, the author, and Peter. Peter refers to Mark as “my son” (1 Pet. 5:13).  Many believe that Mark relied heavily on Peter as a source while writing his Gospel.  One early church writer even referred to the Gospel of Mark as the “memoirs of Peter.”

Devotional Thought:

What A Foolish Young Man

Evidence points convincingly to John Mark as the author of the Gospel of Mark.  If so, this man is the cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10), and a companion of Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey who then also deserted them at Perga (Acts 13:13).  This act left a sour taste in Paul’s mouth as he refused him as a companion on the second journey, leading to Paul and Barnabas parting ways (Acts 15:36-39).  Later, though, Paul’s opinion changed and he desired Mark’s companionship and service (2 Tim. 4:11).

Many believe John Mark to be the young man, wrapped only in a linen sheet, in the garden at Jesus’ arrest who escapes apprehension only by leaving the sheet behind and fleeing naked (Mark 14:51-52).  Further speculation has Jesus and the apostles having met in an upper room of Mark’s parent’s home and when Judas led the mob to where he last left Jesus—the house of the upper room—curious Mark followed them to the place Jesus was found.

Yes, that’s quite a bit of speculation.

What is not speculation is that this young man grew to make a lasting contribution to the kingdom in service with Paul and as author of this Gospel.  It was not a smooth path from the sometimes foolish and rash acts of a young man to that of mature and useful ministry.

This should remind the older to be patient with the younger, for the younger to be patient with themselves, and for all of us to know that our past does not have to define our future.  We’re forever indebted to the work of a formally immature and impetuous young disciple.

Through the Bible, July 27

Reading: Mark 11-12

Summary: Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem had begun as recorded in 10:1.  Beginning in chapter 11 is His “triumphal entry” which marks the beginning of the week leading to His crucifixion, often called the “Passion Week”.

Jesus’ days are spent in the city while each night He returns to neighboring Bethany.  He teaches the crowds who gather to hear Him and has sporadic verbal jousts with curious and jealous religious leaders.

Devotional Thought:

Praise of Men

Jesus knew His final trip to Jerusalem would fill with conflicting emotions of praise and hatred, and would finally, not end well.  He’d been warning them about His rejection and death and saying it “plainly” (Mark 8:31-32).

That must have been the furthest thought from their minds as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt saddled with loving disciple’s garments and the way strewn with more garments and leafy branches.  Voices shouted praise, using terminology understood to apply only to God’s promised Messiah, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9).

What was said and done to and for Jesus as He entered Jerusalem was wholly appropriate.  About no one else could these things be said.  Yet He was also aware of the animosity already present and to be further stirred as the next few days unfolded.  Sure enough, the authorities were seeking for ways to arrest Him and destroy Him (11:18; 12:12).

The crowds showered Him with praise during His “Triumphal Entry.”   Crowds would also shout—less than a week later—“Crucify Him” (15:13-14).  No wonder Jesus put such little stock in men’s praise.

So why do we clamor for it?  Why do we choose what we say, how we act, what we do, how we think, what we wear, what we drive, and so on just to gain the approval of men?

Jesus had only one agenda: please God and do His will.  Period.

How different would my life be if mine were the same?

Through the Bible, July 26

Reading: Mark 9-10

Summary: Only two miracles are recorded in these two chapters—healing of the boy with an unclean Spirit and blind Bartimaeus—though the miraculous transfiguration is found here as well.  Much teaching of Jesus is related, touching on familiar themes like greatness in the kingdom, divorce, children, temptation, and wealth.

Devotional Thought:

Faith That is Blind is No Faith

Faith is grossly misunderstood, by believers and unbelievers alike.  The very idea of believing without ample reason is foreign to Scripture.  The very concept of faith is often rejected by men as being baseless and superstitious.  It’s often assumed that examples of faith in the Bible are demonstrations of blind acceptance.  This is not true.

If nothing else, Scripture shows that even Jesus’ apostles often struggled with the things they heard from Him.  They did not merely embrace immediately what He said.  For instance, coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus told Peter, James, and John to tell no one of what they had witnessed on the mountain “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Notice this; “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean” (Mark 9:9-10).

Certainly, the time would come when they would understand.  But it wasn’t until Jesus had shown Himself alive to them.  Reason was provided for them to believe.

Just because we may not know exactly how God will work and what He will do, we do know what He can and has done.  He’s shown Himself—countless times—to be powerful, good, benevolent, and faithful. He’s given us every reason to believe.  He’s fulfilled His promises.  So why would I not have faith that He will continue to do so?

Yes, faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” but that does not mean faith is blind (Heb. 11:1).  Things “hoped for” and things “not seen” may sound like a lot of wishful thinking.  On the contrary, they are a certainty, because the God who has promised them has proven just how reliable He is.

I have every reason to believe!

Through the Bible, July 25

Reading: Mark 7-8

Summary: In these chapters, Jesus continues to teach, perform miracles, and engage in confrontations with religious leaders.

The watershed event for Mark’s gospel comes at the end of chapter 8 (the same event serves the same purpose in Matthew’s Gospel as well) with the confession by Peter of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son.  This is followed by the first public explanation of His suffering and death, coupled with instruction regarding the demands of discipleship.

Devotional Thought:

What Do You Have?

Is God able to take care of the problems in your life?  Resolve your issues?  Overcome your obstacles?  Alleviate your pains? Answer your needs?

Of course He is.  That is not the question.  What is a question is whether or not we’ll participate in what God does?  When Jesus fed the hungry multitude He first asked the apostles how many loaves they had (Mark 8:5).  The seven in their possession were hardly sufficient to feed the twelve, much less 4,000 (v. 9).

It’s not that Jesus needed those loaves to feed the crowd.  No more than God needed Moses’s staff to part the Red Sea or David’s stone to fell Goliath or Israel’s trumpets to topple Jericho’s walls.

He doesn’t need me or what I have to be able to do His great work.  But He does want me to be a part of the process.  He wants me to do what I can and contribute what I am able.  He then uses that and does so much, much more.

So, what do you have?  Whatever it is isn’t sufficient.  And that’s wholly beside the point.  God is more than sufficient and He may just be waiting for what you have to offer.

Through the Bible, July 24

Reading: Mark 5-6

Summary: These two chapters record a series of Jesus’ miracles (actually begun in 4:35).  Interspersed among these miracles are accounts of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth, sending out the twelve (called the “limited” commission), and the death of John the Baptist.

Devotional Thought:

Strange Worship

This has to be considered one of the most bizarre worship events in all of the Bible.  A man, seeing Jesus approaching from a distance, ran to him and “bowed down before Him” (Mark 5:6; NASB).  Some other translations actually say “worshiped.”

It’s not strange that one would do this, as similar actions are seen several times during Jesus’ life.  Rather, the strangeness is the one who did it.  This was the man possessed of many demons—perhaps even thousands? (see v. 9)—at Gerasenes.  Because of this, this poor man lived a horrible, violent, uncontrollable, self-destructive life.  Immediately following his act of obeisance, he fully acknowledged Jesus as “Son of the Most High God” and His complete authority over him (them?).

Here’s a question: who prompted the act of worship, the man or the demons?  Certainly, we know these demons had full knowledge of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son.  But did that knowledge prompt them to worship?  Or was it the man who lived a wrecked, ruined, and desperate life?  Was it this man who fully realized that Jesus was the only one who could rescue him?  If so, has there ever been a more pure and sincere moment of worship?  Has there ever been a more conflicted worshipper—one desperate for Jesus’ help all the while controlled by Satan’s minions?

How many despairing and distraught souls want nothing more than to find the salvation from their anguish and torment that only Jesus could provide?  Who, in the midst of it all, would simply and sincerely bow at His feet?

Am I that person?  Or am I one who could somehow either help or prevent them?

Through the Bible, July 23

Reading: Mark 3-4

Summary: Confrontations with Jesus and opposition to Him intensify in response to some of Jesus’ miracles.  Taking issue with Jesus are not only the religious leaders, but His family as well.

Here, in chapter 4, Mark also relates a series of Jesus’ parables.  The end of the chapter also contains the first of a series of miracles Jesus performs.

Devotional Thought:

Big Deal

It’s an unsettling thing to see so much animosity toward Christianity and Jesus in our world–not surprising, but unsettling.  Jesus Himself said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

Consequently, it’s hard not to be excited when someone professes faith in Jesus Christ.  That really is something.  After all, the acknowledgment of that truth is exactly what Jesus blessed Peter for confessing (Matthew 16:16-17).

But…don’t make too big a deal out of it.

What?  Really?

Yes.

The Bible says that “whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God’” (Mark 3:11).  Surely that reminds us of James’ statement that “even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).  Yet, their faith, as with ours, is of no value when that understanding of Jesus’ true identity is not coupled with action and obedience.

So, on the one hand, it is a big deal to recognize that Jesus is God’s Son; on the other hand, if it goes no further than that, it’s no big deal at all.

Through the Bible, July 22

Reading: Mark 1-2

Summary: Mark moves very quickly to the ministry of Jesus.  No introduction is given to this Gospel other than the very first verse: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  No record is given here of His birth, much less John the Baptist’s.  He moves immediately and briefly through the ministry of John, the baptism and temptation of Jesus–all in thirteen verses.  He marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with the imprisonment of John.

Mark begins with Jesus preaching and healing in the region of Galilee, particularly in and around the city of Capernaum.

Devotional Thought:

I Wonder

The Bible sometimes raises questions for which it provides no answers.

Jesus famously called James and John to be “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).  They had up to that time been fishers of fish.  Their time had been spent engaged in the gainful employ of commercial fishing. They left that to follow Jesus, which offered no prospect of monetary compensation.

They left their father, Zebedee, in the boat along with the hired servants.  They had been mending nets, but abandoned that task.  I wonder how Zebedee—and we can only imagine how he got his nickname, “Thunder” (Mark 3:17)—responded to his sons walking away from their jobs in the family business.

Later Peter would claim, “We have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28).

That was all quite a commitment, wasn’t it?  It causes me to wonder.  What have I left to follow Jesus?  From what would I walk away to devote myself to service for Him?   Is my following Christ sacrificial or have I adjusted my discipleship to fit my comfortable lifestyle?

I have more questions than answers.

Week Four Bible Reading Introduction

Week 4: Jesus’ Ministry—Mark

July 22-28

         This week’s reading will move from Matthew to Mark.  We will also use two of the Supplemental Reading days (29th & 30th) to complete our reading of this Gospel.

While Matthew’s original audience was Jewish, Mark’s appears to be Gentile.  This is evident as Mark provides interpretations and meanings of Hebrew and Aramaic words (languages familiar to Jews but not to Greek-speaking Gentiles; see 3:17 as one instance).  He also explains Jewish customs (see 7:3-4).

The gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four.  Hence the individual accounts of the events recorded are typically much briefer in Mark as compared to the others (where the same event is recorded).  Additionally, Mark frequently uses the word “immediately”.  It’s found eleven times in chapter one, 29 times in the first 11 chapters, and 39 times overall.  This in itself creates a sense of urgency in reading this Gospel. Thus, Mark has been described as a “fast-paced” account of Jesus life and ministry.

Through the Bible, July 21

Reading: no scheduled reading

Thoughts and reflections: With no scheduled reading for today, this is a good time to catch up if you have fallen behind. Otherwise, here are some thoughts drawn from this past week’s readings.

  1. Matthew’s Gospel, as we’ve noted previously, is primarily for a Jewish audience. One of the key themes for this account of Jesus’ life and ministry is God’s interest in and love for all mankind.  This counters one of the strongest Jewish beliefs that they above all others, even to the exclusion of others, are God’s chosen people.

Notice how the Gospel begins and ends.  It starts with Jesus’ genealogy where He is identified as the “son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1).  Abraham, remember, is the one to whom God promised that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).  Jesus, obviously, is the means by which that would be accomplished.  At the Gospel’s end, Jesus commissions His apostles to “make disciples of all nations” (28:19).  These two are not unrelated.

  1. An interesting study is a contrast and comparison of the Gospels to each other, finding the areas of similarity, as well as contrasts and uniqueness. One point of Matthew’s uniqueness is his use of the phrase “kingdom of heaven”.  Though the idea of “kingdom” is found in all four Gospels, this particular phrase is used only by Matthew.  Though the phrase is unique it is used in two primary ways; as a reference to heaven itself (the eternal kingdom) and of the believers present citizenship in God’s kingdom (thus as synonymous with “church”).

Devotional Thought:

Jesus Failed?

Jesus had at the beginning of His public ministry affirmed that the kingdom is “at hand” (Matt. 4:17).  As He traveled and preached, He proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 9:35).  He also promised to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:19).  What is more, the kingdom was a very frequent theme both in His private discussions with the apostles as well as public teaching (see 18:1, 4; 19:12, 23; 20:1; 21:31; etc.).

Here’s the question we’re forced to ask based on the ideas taught and promoted by too many today; did Jesus succeed in ushering in this kingdom?  Some, incredibly, would have us to say, “No”.  They would have us believe that His death was not planned and effectively thwarted His intention of setting up His kingdom.  To put it another way, He failed.

Even without going through all the effort of addressing each Bible reference related to this, to suggest that all that Jesus preached, proclaimed, prepared for, and promised did not come to pass is a major affront to our Lord.

So much of Christianity’s clamoring for an earthly kingdom, yet to be established, notwithstanding, Jesus did succeed and that kingdom does now stand.  This kingdom is one in which we now have our place and over which Christ now reigns (Col. 1:13, Rev. 1:6; 1 Cor. 15:24-25).

Through the Bible, July 20

Reading: Matthew 26-28

Summary: These chapters, of course, tell the final climactic events of Jesus’ life.  The plot to secretly apprehend Jesus and kill Him is set.  He’s anointed by a grateful disciple in Bethany, which Jesus says is actually in anticipation of His burial.  He celebrates the Passover with the disciples in the upper room and also institutes the Lord’s Supper. He goes to Gethsemane to pray and there is also betrayed and arrested.  His trial commences (illegally) through the night time hours.  Judas hangs himself. Pilates efforts to free Jesus fail and so He is crucified, then buried.

On the third day, Jesus raised from the dead and showed Himself alive to the disciples.  The last words of Matthew’s Gospel are Jesus’ final charge to make disciples of all nations.

Devotional Thought:

All Authority

Jesus was once questioned by the religious authorities about His actions. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they wanted to know (Matt. 21:23).

Good question.  They were unwilling to know and accept the answer, but still, a good question.

Now, at the very end of His earthly time, Jesus lays it all out—all authority belongs to Him (Matt. 28:18).

Have you thought about the implications of that claim?  Think about yourself and how limited your own authority is.  There are places you cannot go, things you cannot do, people—many, many people—over which you have no sway or control, all due to the lack of authority.

Jesus has no such limitations.  And having been raised from the dead, death itself is under His power.

Some don’t believe this because, they say, “I can reject and deny Jesus if I choose.”  The statement is true but the conclusion is not.  The fact that I can disregard Jesus now is no indication that all authority is not His.  The time will come when at His voice all of the dead will rise, including myself (John 5:28-29).  Everyone will stand before His judgment throne (Matt. 25:31-32).  Every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Php. 2:11).  And every person will be assigned their eternal destiny (Matt. 25:34, 41).

Just because Jesus is not wielding His power and control over me at this moment, does not mean all authority is not His.