July 14 – Jesus Took It All for Us

Mark 15

“Jesus’ Trial before Pilate

Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council (Sanhedrin) – met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.

“Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10 (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 11 But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.”

I am going to be referring to Steve Wilmhurst’s commentary, A Ransom for Many, several times in today’s devotions as well as some direct quotes. There were many points he made that I’d never considered before, and found so interesting and helpful.

Steve Wilmhurst talks about what Jesus went through the previous 12 hours before he was brought to Pilate.

“It is worth recalling what Jesus has already been through before he faces Pilate. In the course of a totally sleepless night, he has struggled with the horror of death and the dread of God’s wrath as he’s wrestled in solitary prayer; he has been betrayed by an ally and deserted by his friends; he has faced volleys of unjust accusations by people who hate him; and then he’s been beaten up – all in the last twelve hours. In other words, before this story even begins, he has encountered more trauma and provocation than we ever will.”

We often wonder how people could be so fickle. It was just over a week before when they celebrated Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In his commentary, Steve Wilmhurst mentions that the crowd we see in this scene is not the crowd who sang Hosanna to Jesus. Those people were Jews from all over the countryside who were on their way to Jerusalem, and met Jesus along the way. They would likely camp out outside Jerusalem at night, and not be present at this early morning hour. The crowd in this chapter probably had gathered near where the Sanhedrin met, and they followed the Temple leaders as they brought Jesus to Pilate. They were more likely under the influence of the Temple leaders.

Pilate has obviously figured out that Jesus is not really a problem. “For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy”. (v. 10) He has questioned Jesus himself, and really found nothing to convict him of. He likely thought he could avoid the whole situation by offering a release of a prisoner, a custom practiced at this time of year. Instead, the crowd calls for Barabbas, not Jesus. (“ But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus” – v. 11)

Steve Wilmhurst tells us more about Barabbas. “Thirdly, let’s look at Barabbas. All the gospel writers mention Barabbas, but while Mark’s account of Jesus and Pilate is barely half the length of what we find in the other three gospels, he tells us more about Barabbas than any of them do. Mark clearly wants us to think about this man. What does he want us to see? Whatever his precise motives, Barabbas is a murderer. In one of the frequent failed uprisings of those days, he has killed people – perhaps he even managed to kill a Roman soldier, or maybe it was just some Jewish collaborator. He is a big sinner; a certainty for crucifixion, he fully deserves what he is going to get. By rights, it should be Barabbas carrying his cross out to Golgotha with the other criminals, that spring Friday morning. But instead, the soldier who comes and takes him from his cell this morning does not drag him outside the city walls to the place of execution. Instead, he leads him to the gates of the fortress, pushes him outside and turns his back, Go on – you’re free! And that is what the cross of Jesus does. The cross substitutes an innocent victim for a guilty criminal, so that the guilty criminal walks free. Barabbas is you and me – the offenders, the criminals, the guilty ones: released from our cell, taken out into the light, and set free. Like us, Barabbas deserves his sentence. Like us, Barabbas contributes nothing to his freedom except for his sin. As with us, the action takes place somewhere else while he reaps the benefit – just outside the city, where the innocent victim is nailed to the cross and takes the wrath of God on himself; and meanwhile we walk free.”

“The Soldiers Mock Jesus

16 The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. 18 Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 19 And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. 20 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

The Crucifixion

21 A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, (a city in North Africa) was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) 22 And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). 23 They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it.

24 Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece. 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 A sign announced the charge against him. It read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 Two revolutionaries (criminals) were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

29 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. 30 Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

31 The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.

The Death of Jesus

33 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 34 Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

35 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 36 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. “Wait!” he said. “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to take him down!”

37 Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

39 When the Roman officer (centurion) who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome. 41 They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come with him to Jerusalem were also there.

The Burial of Jesus

42 This all happened on Friday, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath. As evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.) 44 Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. 45 The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. 46 Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth. Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.”

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, there were taunts thrown at him. One was the label at the top of the cross – King of the Jews. They thought – especially Pilate – that claim was ridiculous. The Roman Empire was in control, and Israel certainly didn’t have a king. The fact that Jesus did not deny it (v. 2) showed just how pathetic Jesus was, didn’t it? The temple leaders had used the term, King of the Jews, as a rough translation of Messiah, thinking Pilate would be more upset with the idea of someone who thought he was a king. That sign nailed to the top of the cross actually stated the truth. Jesus was the Messiah!

Many walked by the cross taunting by saying, “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!” (v. 29 – 30) Where did they get that idea? In John 2, we read the account of Jesus going to the Temple close to Passover time earlier in his ministry.

“It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. 15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”

18 But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.”

19 “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” 21 But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body.”

As they yelled at Jesus on the cross, you can imagine them saying the Temple looks quite wonderful. It’s still standing firm this morning. Haha. Yet that taunt was the truth. We know that Jesus raised from the dead in 3 days. Maybe that taunt was actually a calming reminder to Jesus that this horror would be over in 3 days.

Others taunted him with “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself!  “Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” (v. 31 – 32) For three years they had watched him heal many. We’ve read the stories as we’ve gone through the Gospel of Mark. Jesus had even raised people from the dead. The priests and religious leaders thought they had it right. Jesus may have done some mysterious things, but he sure couldn’t save himself now. But … actually they spoke the truth. Jesus had saved many people from disease and death. But he would not save himself. His purpose for being here on earth was to save us by his own death.

1 Peter 2:24

“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”

That day was the most important day in history. It was the day that changed everything. It was the day that made our relationship with God possible. We humans, both the Jews and the Romans, thought we were getting rid of am imposter, a pathetic man. Actually, we were the recipients of God’s incredible love and forgiveness. Why didn’t God ‘write us off’? I would have if someone I was trying to help treated me like they treated Jesus. We can never thank him enough, serve him enough, love him enough – but that didn’t matter to Jesus. He loved us so much more!

Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 22

Here is a song that expresses this chapter – At the Cross by Hillsong

July 13 – Jesus Stands Strong for Me Despite My Failures

Mark 14: 32 – 72 NLT

“Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

32 They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. 34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

35 He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36 “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

37 Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 38 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

39 Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before. 40 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

41 When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Luke 22: 40 – 46 recounts the same story, but adds some details, so let’s read Luke’s account:

40 There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”

41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.

45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”

These moments in the Garden of Gethsemane are crucial moments. Jesus is God, one of the Trinity. He could have decided to walk away. He knew where his captors were; he would have had no difficulty in avoiding what was to come. In fact, he could have struck them all dead on the spot. But … he stayed and waited.

Here we see Jesus in his full humanity as well. He knows the horror ahead, and his body is reacting to the extreme stress – sweating drops of blood. Was it just the pain and suffering of a death by crucifixion that Jesus was dreading? That would have been terrifying from scientific data about that type of death. But – no! Jesus was about to face the wrath of God on sin dumped completely on him. Every single sin that each one of us has done would be loaded on Jesus to take the punishment. Just stop and think for a moment of the enormity of that. That God was willing to place that on Jesus, and that Jesus was willing to take it for us is beyond my comprehension.

How did Jesus face this upcoming horror? He prayed. I’m going to ask that question again. How did Jesus face this upcoming horror? … He prayed. And what did he ask the disciples to do? he asked them to pray.

Was he asking them to pray for him? Maybe, since we know as humans that when we face difficult situations, we are comforted when we know others are with us and praying for us. However, I think Jesus wanted them to pray for themselves since Jesus knew what was ahead. Did you notice that in both Mark and Luke’s accounts, Jesus said, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” While Jesus was praying for God’s strength to continue in his journey to the cross, Jesus also wanted his disciples to pray for the strength they needed to face the next week.

Did the disciples pray? No. They fell asleep. In fact, they fell asleep at least twice after Jesus woke them and asked them to pray. They had had a long day with preparing for the Passover, and then the supper and the conversations at the table, the walk to the Garden late at night where the fragrance of the olive trees would have been calming. I understand their fatigue and sleep. Was Jesus angry with them? Listen to Jesus as he wakes them finally to meet the oncoming Temple police: “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Jesus’ kindness in the face of their weakness is amazing. Let’s read the rest of this chapter to see how things turned out that night:

“Jesus Is Betrayed and Arrested

43 And immediately, even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders. 44 The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss. Then you can take him away under guard.” 45 As soon as they arrived, Judas walked up to Jesus. “Rabbi!” he exclaimed, and gave him the kiss.

46 Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. 47 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

48 Jesus asked them, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? 49 Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there among you teaching every day. But these things are happening to fulfill what the Scriptures say about me.”

50 Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away. 51 One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, 52 he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked.

Jesus before the Council

53 They took Jesus to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law had gathered. 54 Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and went right into the high priest’s courtyard. There he sat with the guards, warming himself by the fire.

55 Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council (Sanhedrin) were trying to find evidence against Jesus, so they could put him to death. But they couldn’t find any. 56 Many false witnesses spoke against him, but they contradicted each other. 57 Finally, some men stood up and gave this false testimony: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, made without human hands.’” 59 But even then they didn’t get their stories straight!

60 Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” 61 But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

62 Jesus said, “I am. (Exodus 3: 14) And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

63 Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Why do we need other witnesses? 64 You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?”

“Guilty!” they all cried. “He deserves to die!”

65 Then some of them began to spit at him, and they blindfolded him and beat him with their fists. “Prophesy to us,” they jeered. And the guards slapped him as they took him away.

Peter Denies Jesus

66 Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard below. One of the servant girls who worked for the high priest came by 67 and noticed Peter warming himself at the fire. She looked at him closely and said, “You were one of those with Jesus of Nazareth.”

68 But Peter denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and he went out into the entryway. Just then, a rooster crowed.

69 When the servant girl saw him standing there, she began telling the others, “This man is definitely one of them!” 70 But Peter denied it again.

A little later some of the other bystanders confronted Peter and said, “You must be one of them, because you are a Galilean.”

71 Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed the second time.

Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he broke down and wept.”

The arrest was a little sloppy. Other gospels tell us that it was Peter who chopped off the ear of one of the guards, and that Jesus healed the man. It’s not surprising that impetuous Peter would do something like that. But as Jesus is bound to be taken away, all the disciples fled. Notice that? ALL the disciples fled. Mark is the only one who includes a brief story of a young man who fled naked. Here is what Steve Wilmhurst says about that:

“In vv.51-52, Mark presents an intriguing little episode. Who is this unexpected character and whatever is he doing in the story? Mark’s gospel is the only one that includes him, and that is always significant. We can deduce that he got dressed in a tearing hurry, because he has nothing on under his garment; and that he is fairly well-off, because he is wearing linen. The most likely explanation is that this young man is none other than Mark himself, our author. We know Mark’s family lived in Jerusalem: it was a meeting place of the early church (Acts 12:12). Tradition has always held that it’s the same house where Jesus has just shared the Passover with his disciples. So perhaps Mark has done what Hollywood film directors sometimes do and given himself a cameo role in his own production, in which case Mark is actually an eye-witness of this episode!”

The trial in the high priest’s home was a farce. They couldn’t actually get any incriminating evidence that they thought the Romans would accept. It wasn’t until the high priest asked Jesus – “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” – that they felt they had a good case they could present to the Roman governor. Jesus’ reply (“I am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”) could be interpreted as a threat to the Roman rule. The beating and harsh, disrespectful treatment began at the high priest’s house, even before they took Jesus to Pilate.

The disciples had fled, but Peter snuck into the courtyard of the high priest’s home to be able to see what was happening. When he was confronted by various servants and people in the courtyard about being associated with Jesus, Peter denied it. When that rooster crowed the second time, Peter was devastated.

The verses we’ve read today strike me in two ways. The first is our need to pray. Jesus prayed for the strength to face the horror ahead. In prayer, he went from extreme stress, sweating drops of blood and falling on the ground to being able to be kind to his disciples who kept falling asleep, and being able to treat the Temple guards with a peaceful calm. It’s from God that we get the strength to be able to face the challenges that life brings. Jesus comes right out and says, “pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”

Prayer is something we desperately need to do. I know that I struggle with prayer and I suspect that many of us do. In our busy lives, it’s hard to find time to pray. We have a tendency to think we have the mundane events of each day under control, and we just go through our day with little thought of talking with God. It’s when crisis strikes that we remember to pray. We need to realize that we need God every moment of each day, and that prayer is necessary.

The fact that Jesus was so kind to the disciples when they completely failed him is amazing. They fell asleep when he asked them to pray. They ran away when the Temple guards arrested Jesus. Peter managed to sneak in to see what was happening, but then denied vehemently that he knew Jesus at all. God’s love for us and his forgiveness for our failures is so hard to comprehend. He is so patient with us. “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2: 4 NLT) We can know in this loving relationship we have with God because of Jesus’ sacrifice, that our failure can be forgiven. Remember it’s a loving relationship, so it’s not a relationship where we keep on doing whatever we want, expecting God to put up with us. That wouldn’t work in any human relationship either. But, it is amazing that God is patient and is willing to forgive. He does so much for us.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” 1 John 1: 9

July 10 – What? What is Jesus Saying?

Mark 14: 12 –

“The Last Supper

12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

13 So Jesus sent two of them into Jerusalem with these instructions: “As you go into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 At the house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ 15 He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal.” 16 So the two disciples went into the city and found everything just as Jesus had said, and they prepared the Passover meal there.

17 In the evening Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 As they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”

19 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”

20 He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”

23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant (some manuscripts say new covenant) between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”

26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

27 On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,
‘God will strike the Shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”

30 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

31 “No!” Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the others vowed the same.”

Mark doesn’t go into as much detail about the Last Supper as John does. John includes Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and also talking to them at length (4 chapters) about life in the future without him and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Matthew, Mark and Luke all concentrate on the same details of the Last Supper together – Jesus telling them that the bread and wine refer to his body and blood, and that one of them will betray him. Those details were the most shocking things to those 12 men that night.

While eating the Passover meal, they are remembering the night Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt. All the Israelites had killed a lamb and the blood was splashed on the door posts so the angel of death would leave their home alone. It was the same night that all the first-born sons of the Egyptians were slain by God’s angels – God’s punishment for not allowing the Israelites to go free. But on this night, Jesus drops his first shocking piece of information – that one of them would betray him The next shock was Jesus saying that the bread and wine actually symbolize his death, his body and his blood. Stop for a moment and think about this. Can you imagine what you would have been thinking if you were one of the disciples? Was Jesus really saying he was going to die? Here on this freedom celebration night, was that really what he said? Was one of them – one of these 12 men who had been living together over the past three years really going to harm Jesus? That couldn’t possibly be true. Can you imagine them looking quietly around the room at each other wondering who it would be? Was it true?

And then as they are walking to the Mount of Olives to find a place to sleep – likely because it was too late at night to return to Bethany – Jesus says they are all going to desert him. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve heard some shattering bad news? Can you remember how you heard and comprehended what had happened, but yet, at the same time, it didn’t seem real? Perhaps it felt like being in a fog? Knowing, but not knowing? I wonder if that is what the disciples were feeling that night. That kind of emotional distress can be so exhausting. Peter, our impetuous disciple, immediately states he would never desert Jesus. Jesus tells him “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.” Peter swears Jesus is wrong. I think I understand where Peter is coming from. He’s just heard news he can’t believe, can’t accept. Jesus is talking about dying, betrayal, desertion – it absolutely can’t be true! Have you ever felt that way about something that shocked you?

But Jesus knows exactly what is happening. Once again, I’m going to quote Steve Wilmhurst. I think his perspective is so helpful:

The story of the Last Supper presents Jesus’ death in important ways. Firstly, Jesus’ death fulfils God’s plans. Look at how Jesus speaks of his betrayal in v.21: literally Jesus says ‘departs’. He knows that his approaching death is all in God’s plan: it is ‘as it is written’. The Lord Jesus knows the prophets: all that is written about the suffering, dying servant in Isaiah, those mysterious words in Zechariah 12:10 about ‘looking on the one they have pierced’, Psalm 22 with its depiction of horrible suffering. He knows those words have been written about him. Jesus goes to his death deliberately, freely, voluntarily, knowing that he is doing the will of God as he does so.

Jesus’ death also takes our place (vv.23-24). There can be no doubt what this means. The red wine; the mention of the blood and the covenant; the Passover setting – Jesus is identifying himself with the Passover lamb. On that final night in Egypt, every Israelite household slaughtered a lamb. Its blood was brushed around the doorposts of the house. When God’s angel came past, he passed over every home like that; and wherever there was no blood, the angel slew the family’s eldest son. The death of each lamb substituted for the death of one son. Inescapably, the Passover speaks of a substitution. Now Jesus is saying, The true Passover lamb is me. Those lambs are just a picture: the reality is before you tonight. I am the one who takes your place so that you can be set free. This is my blood! My blood, he says in v.24, is ‘poured out for many.

These verses echo Isaiah 53:12 where the prophet speaks of the Servant who will bear the sin of many. Jesus dies as our substitute.

The death of Jesus proves God’s commitment (v.24). This, says Jesus, is covenant blood. The ‘covenant’ is God’s commitment to us. In the covenant with Moses, God commits himself to forgive sins and accept his people on the basis of blood sacrifices. In the blood of Jesus, that covenant is renewed. In the blood of Jesus, in fact, those sacrifices are brought to an end. This is the only way that a holy God could ever make a covenant with sinful people like us – through the blood of the perfect sacrifice, his Son the Lord Jesus. So Jesus’ death shows us God’s total, unbreakable commitment to us – that he did not even spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32). This is the ultimate act of commitment. Do we recognise the depth of God’s commitment to us and how unreservedly he has expressed it?”

As we go through life, we often don’t understand what is happening to us. We wonder where God is leading us. We feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit, but are not sure if that is the decision that needs to be made. Jesus’ disciples were confused that night. Passover was an important religious celebration, but Jesus seemed to be saying something they didn’t want, or could comprehend, was going to happen. What we need to know is that God does know what is happening. Jesus knew that night what was going to happen, and he knew the disciples would flounder, but recover. We can trust God today even in difficult, and confusing situations.

Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 21

July 9 – Begin

“I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return].” -Philippians 1:6 [AMP]

Several years ago, I found myself golfing for the first time. Other than mini-putting I never took the time to complete a proper golf game. With some borrowed clubs, and a few pointers the golf score didn’t turn out to bad! Perhaps beginner’s luck? Over the years I can’t seem to match my initial golf score, but all it required of me was to try, to start, to begin something new.

Sometimes starting is the hardest part.

Like a plane that speeds down the runway, the craft takes a slow ascent upwards into a limitless sky. As flying requires leaping, propelling yourself forward, beginning may be all you need to do before taking off.

All good things take time, and all things have a beginning. Each day can be assumed as a new beginning. We’ve never lived this day before. We plan, but in essence, we aren’t positive what will pop up.

So, what prevents us from starting, recovering, healing? Beginnings can be filled with unknowns, fears, uncertainties and what ifs. Perhaps we fear we won’t get it perfect the first time. I’m reminded: there will always be a failure. Our lives can show us this. Yet, when we fail, we have learned much.

“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

We were created to start anew. Another chance given through grace. Our beginnings found in the God of second chances.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” – C.S. Lewis

We choose to begin, because we were made to grow. A caterpillar doesn’t stay in its cocoon. A seed is not designed to stay in the soil. Life tells us to grow. To begin again.

“But the seed planted in the good earth represents those who hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a harvest beyond their wildest dreams.” – Mark 4: 20 MSG

So, we choose to run this race called life. With the grit to stop, start, fail, yet begin again. For we were created for the long-distance race, not the sprint.

So, dare to:
Try,
Reach,
Fly,
Love,
Build,
Grow,
Believe.

“Out there things can happen, and frequently do,
To people as brainy and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along, you’ll start happening too!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Further Reading:

“Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!” – Galatians 3: 2-4 MSG

“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 MSG

July 8 – How Much Would You Risk for Jesus?

Mark 14: 1 – 11 NLT

“Jesus Anointed at Bethany

It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

3 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.

4 Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. 5 “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly.

6 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.”

The story of a woman (John’s Gospel tells us it was Mary, Martha’s sister, who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head is in the middle of a sinister plot. Verses 1 and 2 tell us that the Jewish leaders were looking for an opportunity to kill Jesus. They must have been totally angry and fed up to be considering this at Passover time. Jerusalem is full of people who have arrived for that special celebration. It would be very hard to grab Jesus quietly in a crowded city. But they are so angry, they are willing to do just that. In verses 10 and 11, we discover that Judas has decided to go to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus. Yet, verses 3 to 9 tell us this lovely story of anointing Jesus.

Mary comes into the room where several men were dining. She is carrying a beautiful alabaster jar, which she cracks open and pours an incredible fragrance over Jesus’ head. The perfume wafts throughout the room and house. Everyone notices – how could they not notice? The aroma begins a flurry of harsh criticism. Commentaries say that the ‘essence of nard’ was likely from India, and would take over a year to be shipped to Jerusalem. It was expensive! It could very well have been Mary’s ‘retirement savings’. Really, from our perspective in 2020, it was a risky thing to do. Have you ever decided to use a significant part of your savings or cash flow to help someone else? Something that would put your own financial security at risk?

But Jesus praises her for doing it. She doesn’t know what lies ahead in the next couple of days, but Jesus does. As Mark writes his gospel after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, he realizes that this was an anointing of Jesus. Mark now understands what Jesus meant when he said, “She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time.” In the middle of the plans to kill Jesus, the importance of Jesus’ death is shown. The Jewish leaders are hoping for an opportunity. Perhaps this event is what triggered Judas to do something. Judas was the disciple who looked after the money, and hearing Jesus praise Mary for anointing him with an incredibly expensive perfume, was enough to send him over the edge.

Steve Wilmhurst in A Ransom for Many talks about the personal application of these verses. I decided to copy it for you to read because it really hit home to me.

“This story raises some very searching questions.

The first question is a simple one: As we hear this story, what is our honest response? Which of the characters in the dining room is you? Do we have some sympathy with these glowering onlookers who disapprove of the woman’s recklessness? I’m frightened by the suggestion of my own heart that perhaps these people had a point. Or does the woman’s story make your heart leap at the thought of doing something so wonderful for the Lord Jesus? That is how it should be, of course. Yes, there is a time and a place for calculation – for remembering that prices can go down as well as up and for doing your sums very carefully! – but that time is not when you are making your commitment to Jesus. The measure of his commitment to us will be demonstrated within a week of this story, at the cross which fully reveals the reckless lengths of his extravagant love for us. How do our hearts respond?

That leads on to the second question. What do we value the most? Do we value money, or do we value Jesus the most? This woman’s answer, her scale of values, was clear. The perfume was probably the most precious thing she had ever owned, but with Jesus before her, she broke it and poured it out; and it was gone. Life would not be so secure from now on. That jar was her savings account. Our lives and actions reflect what is most important to us. If someone were to study our lives, what would they conclude? If they looked at the evidence of the books by your bed, or the history button on your web browser, what story would it tell? Or suppose, more searching still, they could read even your thoughts and dreams, what story would be revealed? Or, to put it another way, have you ever done anything extravagant for the Lord – anything reckless, where there was a real cost to you, a cost that made life risky and uncomfortable? Sadly, there are some who would reply, Well, I used to be like that. When I was younger, I used to give to the Lord freely and trust him to look after me. I used to tell him, Lord I will go anywhere, give anything to serve you. I used to love him like that. But not any more. Now I’m older, and I’m more sensible, and if I’m honest I’m more cynical. If you are honest enough to admit that, you need to understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to accept the kind of Christian life that will always play it safe, that needs to see before it will believe – the attitude that would always put the jar of perfume back in the cupboard and shut the door.

But there are others who will read this who have shown by your actions that it’s the Lord Jesus you value the most. You have given up your security, or left behind the people you loved, or given to the point of breaking your own lifestyle – and not to win points or to earn favour, but because you loved him. There have been times when people have questioned or mocked what you have done. They’ve told you it was pointless; they’ve asked, Why this waste? Perhaps there have even been times when you’ve wondered if they were right. But the Lord says, You have done a beautiful thing for me. You have done what you could.”

Steve Wilhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 21

July 7 – God is with Us

Psalm 138: 2 – 3 NLT

“… I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
by all the honor of your name.
As soon as I pray, you answer me;
you encourage me by giving me strength.”

Right now, we are going through a very difficult time. My heart goes out to the small business owners who are struggling to stay afloat, with closing down a possibility every day. I remember as a young woman with 2 kids and married to a teacher, the 70’s when teachers’ strikes seemed to happen ever year or two. I remember going to the bank to negotiate delaying paying the mortgage on our house. Wayne got a job delivering pizza to help pay the bills. And that usually only lasted for a month or a little more. People without jobs right now, or who own small businesses, are in the 4th month of little or no income. That is so hard!

Then just not being able to meet with friends or go to church is also difficult for many. We miss that social interaction so much. We don’t all have nice patios where we could invite friends to come over while we distanced ourselves. Many of us have family who don’t live in Essex County and right now, travel doesn’t work out that well. We may even have family that live in the States, and the future for cross-border travel doesn’t look good any time soon. Or to be honest, living in close quarters with our own family for months isn’t always the easiest thing.

But what do we know? We know that God is with us all the time. His love for us is unfailing and he is faithful all the time. He is a God of honesty and integrity; he won’t desert us. He listens to us when we pray, and he is willing to give us the strength to face whatever this broken world sends our way.

Over my lifetime – and I’m sure this is your experience too – I have faced situations that I would have preferred not to have gone through. Yet afterward, I realized my relationship with God deepened through it all. It’s not easy for sure. But, we need to remind ourselves that God is with

us. He will give us the strength to suffer through it all. And once it’s all over, each one of us will say, we learned so much, that we deepened our faith in God.

Romans 5:3-5 NLT
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

Our song for today is “The Goodness of God” by Bethel Music

Verse 1
I love You Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days
I’ve been held in Your hands From the moment that I wake up Until I lay my head
I will sing of the goodness of God

Chorus
All my life You have been faithful
All my life You have been so, so good With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God

Verse 2
I love Your voice
You have led me through the fire
In darkest nights
You are close like no other
I’ve known You as a father
I’ve known You as a friend
I have lived in the goodness of God

Bridge
Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me
Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me
With my life laid down, I’m surrendered now, I give You everything
Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me

July 6 – What Does the Future Look Like? – (Mark 13)

Today’s devotions will be a little longer. Chapter 13 is Jesus’ description of what will happen in the future. It’s not a passage that is easy to break apart in sections, so here we go:

Mark 13: 1 – 37 NLT – Jesus Speaks about the Future

13 As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.”

2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

Steve Wilmhurst in his commentary, A Ransom for Many, tells us information about the Temple in Jesus’ day:

“Jesus and the Twelve are leaving the Temple and as they look around, they are struck once more by the magnificence of the buildings (v.1). We know from the eye-witness accounts that this is a stunning building. It dominates the whole city; it’s covered with marble and gold; it’s one of the wonders of the world. Herod the Great used the top Roman engineers; archaeologists today have confirmed the quality of Herodian building, wherever it is found. From Josephus we know that the standard size of the stones in the Temple walls was over ten metres long and five metres wide. The Jews may detest the Herods, but they are fiercely proud of their Temple. This is an impressive building – and now one of the disciples invites Jesus to join him in admiration. Jesus’ reply is hardly encouraging (v.2). Not surprisingly, the disciples are speechless. Not until they reach the slopes of the Mount of Olives, on their way out of town for the night, do four of them pluck up the courage to ask Jesus what on earth he is talking about. As they sit there, just across the Kidron Valley from the city, they have a breathtaking view of the Temple; and as the sun sets, glinting off its towers and pinnacles, they put their question (vv.3-4). In what follows, we need to understand that for the disciples, if the Temple is destroyed in this way, that can only mean that their whole nation is destroyed; and if their nation is destroyed, that must mean that God is coming in judgement, with what the prophets called ‘the day of the Lord’, the end of the age. Their question embraces not just a building, but the fate of the whole world. By now they have learned to take Jesus’ words very seriously. They no longer have any doubt that if Jesus says it, it will happen.”

“3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, 4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?”

5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

9 “When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

14 “The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration (See Daniel 9: 27; 11: 31) standing where he (or it) should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter. 19 For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. 20 In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days.

21 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!”

These verses are talking about the difficulties we will face in the future. Being a Christ follower won’t be easy at all. They also include information about the destruction of the Temple in the following 100 years after Jesus’ ascension. At the end of the devotions today, I’ve included some paragraphs from A Ransom for Many that describe the historical events that destroyed the Temple. However, we can also find warnings for us today in those verses. They are not just applicable to that point in history. Let’s reread some of those verses.

“5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

9 “When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.”

Life is not going to be easy for humanity. History is going to include one disaster after another – wars, famines, earthquakes, imposters claiming they can solve the world’s problems. When we look back over history, we have to admit that is true. Right now, we are experiencing a world-wide pandemic. We are an imperfect, sinful people, and we live in a broken world. These crises won’t stop until Christ returns. In particular, Christians will be persecuted. Living in Canada, that is hard to comprehend, but all over the world, there are places where Christians are persecuted – especially in Muslim countries – but elsewhere as well. Even within families, a Christian can be treated badly by other family members who don’t agree with their faith.

But there is one thing we can know for sure. God is with us. The Holy Spirit will provide us with the appropriate words to say when we are harassed or persecuted. God wants us to continue to spread the Good News wherever we are. We will not be alone, nor do we need to be afraid.

These next verses talk about the day when Jesus returns:

“24 “At that time, after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. (Isaiah 13: 10; 34: 4)

26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. (Daniel 7: 13) 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

28 “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that his return is very near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

34 “The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. 35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”

Jesus’ second coming won’t be anything like his first visit to earth. Back then he was born in a stable to young, poor parents. He was raised in a small village where he learned to be a carpenter, and then he lived a nomadic life in poverty as he ministered to Israel. His human life ended in a crucifixion, and then he was raised from the dead and returned to heaven. The second time he comes will be very, very different.

“24 “At that time, after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. (Isaiah 13: 10; 34: 4)

26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. (Daniel 7: 13) 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.”

This will be seen and recognized world-wide. It will be a catastrophic event. No one will not know that Christ is coming. No sun, no moon, falling stars, the heavens will be shaking. Jesus will have a majestic appearance – “coming on the clouds with great power and glory”. “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.” (v. 31) This is certain to happen.

Knowing this will happen, but not telling us when, leaves us with some warnings by Jesus. “And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!” (v. 33) Once again, Jesus challenges me and you with these words. He gives the example of a property owner going on a long trip and leaving the care of his place with many servants. That example is you and me here on earth waiting for Jesus’ second coming, with these instructions – “For the Good News must first be preached to all nations.” (v. 10)

In 2020, it’s so easy to be consumed with all kinds of things that really aren’t bad things – health and fitness, jobs, family, home décor, vacations, etc. We can go to church regularly and volunteer in various capacities, but … where do my priorities lie? Personally, I find these questions hard. I am committed to Jesus, but in my comfortable Canadian home and culture, am I doing what God really wants from me? If Jesus came today, would I regret the way I’ve lived my life? Would I wish I had done more for him? Each one of us should stop and think about that – me included.

Here is the historical explanation of how the Temple was destroyed and violated from Steve Wilmhurst’s book, A Ransom for Many:

“We begin with the warning in v.14. Frankly, this sounds highly mysterious! In fact, Mark is being deliberately obscure, probably for security reasons – that’s why he adds this phrase ‘let the reader understand’. The ‘abomination that causes desolation’ is a reference to the prophet Daniel – specifically Dan 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11 – where God warns Daniel about an invader who will commit an outrage in the Temple, desecrating the sanctuary. That prophecy was fulfilled by a Hitler-like tyrant, an evil madman named Antiochus Epiphanes around 167 BC. He built an altar to the god Zeus in the Temple sanctuary and sacrificed pigs on it. Jesus’ point is that that desecration, that abomination, is going to happen again, only this time it will be even worse. When you see it happen, then get out of town! Run for the hills. Vv.15-23 expand on that warning – stop for nothing, don’t even go home to get your stuff. It will be worse still for pregnant or nursing mothers; it will be worse if it’s winter because the roads will be impassable: pray it doesn’t happen then! Terrible times are coming – so bad that if they continued for very long, death would come to everyone in the land – but even in those terrible times, Jesus says, God is still in control (v.20). He will make sure that he protects his people. The Church will survive the disaster. There will be people out to distract you, false leaders trying to lead you astray (v.22), but don’t be put off. Don’t lose sight of me and what I have told you. I have warned you: be ready, be on guard (v.23). This is the first great crisis.

History tells us that all this came to pass in the years 66 to 70 AD, within 40 years of Jesus speaking these words. The Jews rebelled against Rome. For a while it even looked as if they might prevail. But then the Romans hit back; and meanwhile the Jewish factions began to fight one another. The party called the Zealots took over the Temple and as the Roman legions approached the city, and the threat of destruction grew nearer and nearer, they permitted all sorts of outrages within the Temple precincts. They allowed criminals to wander into the Holy of Holies; there was murder in the Temple Courts; finally they enthroned a clown as High Priest The enthronement by the Zealots of the clown named Phanni as High Priest is recorded by Josephus in his Jewish War.. Perhaps that is the specific event that Jesus refers to in v.14. We can’t be sure. History also tells us that many people saw the disaster that was looming and fled the city while they had the chance. The Church in Jerusalem remembered Jesus’ warning and fled to the hills, to Pella across the Jordan; and they were kept safe. Meanwhile, the Romans arrived. They laid siege to Jerusalem; and in that siege the most appalling events took place. Hunger stalked the city. There’s an account of a mother who killed, roasted and ate her own child. The defenders fought among themselves. Finally, with the Temple in flames, the Romans broke in to the city. The priests continued the routine of sacrifice until the last possible moment when the sanctuary was destroyed. The remaining defenders were slaughtered; and then at the command of the new emperor Titus, the magnificent Temple was levelled to the ground, never to rise again. The generation that rejected the Lord Jesus was judged. The old regime of priesthood and sacrifice was gone for good, fulfilled in the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus himself. Jesus says, I have told you everything ahead of time (v.23). His word can be trusted. We have the proof.”

Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 20

July 3 – Jesus’ Final Words to the Crowds Continue to Hit Home

Mark 12: 35 – 44 NLT

“Whose Son Is the Messiah?

35 Later, as Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple, he asked, “Why do the teachers of religious law claim that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 For David himself, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said,

‘The LORD said to my Lord,
Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’ (Psalm 110: 1)

37 Since David himself called the Messiah ‘my Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with great delight.”

The words about David once again refer to Jesus’ authority. The Jewish people were looking for a Messiah, or important leader, who would restore Israel to its glory of David and Solomon’s days. This leader would be a descendant of David. In Matthew, we read the genealogy of Jesus, and he is in the line of David. However, when Jesus refers to Psalm 110, he mentions that David does not refer to this descendant of his as someone following him, but rather someone way greater and over him – LORD. Jesus is actually saying that he is God. The people like that inference, but the Temple leaders don’t. That would be blasphemy by their standards.

“38 Jesus also taught: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. 39 And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 40 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.”

What a statement for the Temple leaders to hear! It’s not surprising that they are determined to kill Jesus. Over the years from when I was a kid listening to Bible stories up to recent years, I have a tendency to think of the Pharisees and other Temple leaders as horrible people. They come across as egocentric ‘jerks’. And that seems to be the majority of them although I’m sure there were some who were serving God as best they could. For example, we do read about Nicodemus who sought Jesus out, obviously concerned that Jesus was someone special. But when we read Jesus’ criticism of them, we should take a look at what Jesus actually said. It applies to 2020.

They were obsessed with appearance. Does that sound like us? In this pandemic time, how many of us are upset with clothing stores being closed, and fear that if we do go in, is it safe to try on those clothes? Having a glitch in our desire for fashion is upsetting. How much do we care about what we look like? Even I am super excited that I have a hair appointment this afternoon.

Jesus also berated them for their passion for status. In 2020, who do we consider important people? We have to admit we admire wealthy people, pro-athletes, various media stars, etc.. We would likely admit that people like Mother Theresa are important, but we’re not that likely to aim to follow in her footsteps. In our neighbourhood, in our community, in our church, we like to be important.

Then Jesus said they “pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public”. How much of our faith is actually just a show? How much time do we spend in private prayer? How much do we read our Bible? Is church just a Sunday event, but the rest of the week is ours? I have to admit, I’m reading my Bible because I’m writing these devotions. Before that, it was a much more sporadic thing. Jesus also accused them of being greedy for wealth with his example of cheating needy people out of their means to live. Again, in 2020, we tend to put monetary success high on our list of admirable qualities. We really can’t point fingers at the Temple leaders when we look at our own priorities, and figure out if serving God is high on that list or not.

“The Widow’s Offering

41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.

43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”

I really don’t have to say anything about this. It’s completely open and honest. How much do we care about others? How much are we willing to sacrifice for others? How much are we willing to give to our churches and other Christian endeavours? Sigh!

Mark 13 is Jesus’ last conversation with his disciples, and then we head into the Last Supper. Mark 12, Jesus’ last words in public, really hit us where it hurts as he shows us how superficial we can be. How willing are we to put God first?

July 2 – Strong

“…God is strong, and he wants you strong.”
Ephesians 6:10 (MSG)

The Bible mentions the word strong various times throughout the Old and New Testaments. Stories of armies, warriors, of soldiers, including the strength of Samson. In the book of Judges, it says that Samson was given immense strength to aid him against enemies. Samson had the ability to slay a lion with his bare hands, and massacre an entire army. While physically, I don’t think I could compare to this strength, I found defining the word ‘strong’ takes on many forms.

One definition was: “having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks.” Secondly: “(of a person’s character) showing determination, self-control, and good judgment.” In summary, strong simply isn’t defined as pure physical strength, but as the strength to endure, to persevere. Perhaps you are strong physically, but when it comes to determination of the mind, maybe it’s a struggle. Our perhaps it’s vice versa?

What I’d like to focus on is the strength of mind. As even for athletic success, much of the winning starts with the mind.

“A wise man is strong, And a man of knowledge strengthens his power;” Proverbs 24:5 (AMP)

You are strong when you pause, take time to think not run or hide. You are strong when you decide to face your fears, sit in your pain, and sort out the hurt. You are strong when the entire room has all eyes on you, and you couldn’t feel more uncomfortable. Strength is found in the courage of looking at life straight in the face. Unveiling our fears, becoming vulnerable.

Our strongest selves can be discovered out of our lowest of places. That is when we are forced to rise. And when we rise, we emit strength. Strength to decide better, to choose better, to think better, to give it our all.

“A commitment to growth is a commitment to risk, courage, faith, strength, hope, and a willingness to make mistakes, get back up and try again.”
— Christine Caine

For us, we challenge ourselves to ask: are we willing to do the work and rise up, show up, be present and be vulnerable? When the answers yes, we are at our healthiest.

“…No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
John 15: 4 (NIV)

Attached to God we are full. This is where vision, drive, hope and strength lie. Confidence and courage remain in him. The one who created us, remains in us.

“ When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.” – Brene Brown, Rising Strong

With God at our centre, we learn to be strong by our actions/reactions each day. Let’s not let our fears prevent us from courage and heart.
Strength is within you.
Let’s not deny it. Let’s face it.

Rise above it, and soar.

Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted

“There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fear mongers, Than those of us who are willing to fall
Because we have learned how to rise
With skinned knees and bruised hearts;
We choose owning our stories of struggle,
Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.
When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So, we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.
We will not be characters in our stories.
Not villains, not victims, not even heroes.
We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings.
We craft love from heartbreak,
Compassion from shame,
Grace from disappointment,
Courage from failure.
Showing up is our power.
Story is our way home.
Truth is our song.
We are the brave and brokenhearted.
We are rising strong.”
– Brene Brown, Rising Strong

Further Reading:

”Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”
Ephesians 3:17 (NLT)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
John 15:1-4 (NIV)

“But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)

July 1 – Canada Day

Ephesians 5:20 NLT
“And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Colossians 4:2 NLT
“Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”

I am so thankful to be a Canadian! Especially in this pandemic time, I am thankful that our leaders ‘got on the case’ early on, and kept the rate of spread down to manageable levels. I am thankful the government has developed programs to financially assist those in need. I am thankful the majority of Canadians follow the social distancing rules and do their best to stay healthy. I am thankful for media and the ability to have face-to-face chats with family around the world. I am thankful I live in a country where the standard of living means I have clean drinking water and food is available.

Reread the verses posted today. We are asked to be thankful in “all circumstances”. I’m frustrated that we can’t have our ‘normal’ church services. I miss Sunday mornings. I miss being able to do water exercises at the WFCU pool to keep my aching back issues under control. I miss being able to grocery shop without always thinking what aisle can I use, what person do I need to avoid, is what I want even here, etc.

I am angry that the virus got out of control in long term care facilities. The thought of dying alone with shortness of breath without family members by your side is beyond my imagination – it’s so horrific. I can’t believe that the farming industry didn’t figure out there would be problems with the migrant workers living in crowded bunkhouses. Or that the government didn’t take a good look at what needed to be done as it campaigned to bring them in when our borders were closed.

Being thankful isn’t always easy. Yet that is what God wants us to do. I like the verse in Colossians – “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” It seems to me that is the answer – prayer. In prayer I can talk to God – even rant and rave to God – about the things that bother me. And I can also thank God for all he has done for me. That gives me the balance needed to keep living with a thankful heart no matter what the circumstances.

I am so thankful to be a Canadian, but I am so much more thankful that I am a child of God. “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” (Romans 8: 15 – 17 NLT)

As his child, I know he will take care of me. Nothing will happen to me that he doesn’t know about. Even in very difficult situations, he is by my side.

Psalm 121 NLT
“I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth!

3 He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.

5 The LORD himself watches over you!
The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.
6 The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.

7 The LORD keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.”

Our song for today – Grateful by Elevation Worship

This is the day, that You have made
Whatever comes, I won’t complain
For all my hope, is in Your name
And now Your joy, awaits my praise

I give thanks, for all You have done
And I will sing, of Your mercy and
Your love Your love is unfailing
Lord, I am grateful

When I was down, You brought me out
You set my feet, on higher ground
So here I stand, You are my God
Your faithfulness, my Solid Rock

I give thanks, for all You have done
And I will sing, of Your mercy and
Your love Your love is unfailing
Lord, I am grateful
I give thanks, for all You have done
I won’t forget, all the battles You have won
Your love is unfailing
Lord, I am grateful

And as we lift our hands up
The heavens open, heavens open
So let our lives declare the love
Our God has spoken over us
And as we lift our hands up
The heavens open, heavens open
So let our lives declare the love
Our God has spoken over us

I give thanks, for all You have done
And I will sing, of Your mercy and
Your love Your love is unfailing
Lord, I am grateful
I give thanks, for all You have done
I won’t forget, all the battles You have won
Your love is unfailing
Lord, I am grateful

Songwriters: Steven Furtick / Christopher Brown / Matthews Thabo Ntele / Stefan Green

June 30 – Jesus’ Last Public Speeches Continue to Hit Home

Mark 12:13 – 34 NLT

“Taxes for Caesar

13 Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 14 “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

His reply completely amazed them.”

This question was asked because there were several groups of people listening to this conversation. Depending on the answer, at least one of the groups would be upset. Steve Wilmhurst in his commentary, A Ransom for Many, explains why this question would cause some to get very angry:

“The danger in the question is that this tax is the Roman poll-tax, levied at a flat rate on everyone who owns property. This tax, which has been in force for around twenty-five years, is paid directly to the Roman authorities and is therefore a concrete symbol of the occupation of their land. Every patriotic Jew loathes having to pay it. Beyond that, their attitudes differ. From what we know of the times, the Pharisees resent it as a humiliation, but they pay up. The Herodians will support it because doing so keeps the peace. The Zealots – the extremists who are working themselves up to rise in revolt against Roman rule – refuse point-blank to pay the tax. Among Jesus’ supporters from Galilee, some of whom are no doubt within earshot at this moment, there are plenty of Zealots. It is a political trap. Jesus has a choice. He can say it is right to pay, and thus alienate many of his supporters by looking like a collaborator. Or he can say, No – an announcement the authorities will be very interested to hear, and his enemies will make sure they hear it very soon. There’s a Roman fortress (the Antonia, on the northern side of the Temple) about a hundred yards away as they speak.”

Jesus reply indicates that people need to obey government regulations, but also realize that God is actually the one in control. This idea is repeated in the New Testament in Romans 13: 1 – 7:

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” (NLT)

For those of us who are Christians, and also citizens of a country, we need to follow the laws of our country. That includes taxes. I know we all do our best to reduce the amount of taxes owing to our government. It’s OK to look for legal ways to keep the amount payable. But are we trying to cheat? Hide what we’re doing so we don’t get caught? These verses in Romans bring up another issue in 2020. As our government and health systems try to protect us from spreading the coronavirus, they ask us to do things that we’d rather not do. Social distancing is awkward, and downright difficult when we’re with family or friends. As of June 26, Essex Windsor area has been asked to wear face masks in many public places. I listen to the news, and hear people say they won’t wear face masks. Or I see people crowding parks and beaches. Many of these Covid-19 regulations are annoying and we may think they are really not needed. But reread those verses in Romans. Christ followers are instructed to follow our country’s laws.

“Discussion about Resurrection

18 Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: 19 “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. (Deuteronomy 25: 5 – 6) 20 Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. 21 So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. 22 This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. 23 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”

24 Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. 25 For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.

26 “But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of
Jacob.’ (Exodus 3: 6) 27 So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”

The Most Important Commandment

28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ (Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 5) 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19: 18) No other commandment is greater than these.”

32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

Jesus sums up the Ten Commandments in these two statements. The first 4 commandments are about loving God, putting God first. The last 6 commandments are about our relationship with others. You may read the Ten Commandments and be able to list the 10 ‘rules’, but they are actually summed up with the word – love. In our 2020 culture, it’s so easy to get caught up in securing a good job, having a nice home with lovely décor, finding fun places to vacation, being part of various social groups, staying fit and healthy, etc. As we raise our kids, we encourage them to find good friends, do well in school, play sports at school or on local teams, figure out a good career that will keep them financially stable in the future … How much do we think, for ourselves and our children, about seeking God’s direction for our lives and priorities? How much does prayer play a part in our families? How much do we talk about what God wants us to do in any given situation? How much do we think about our relationship with people? Do we talk with our children how we can help someone, or some organization, in our community? Would we encourage our children to take a career in social work, in church ministry, or any career that helps people but pays less?

Jesus instruction to us makes me stop and think about my own priorities. Where do I concentrate my time and resources?

The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

There is one thing I do know. I can’t read my Bible without a challenge to myself. I suspect today’s verses are making you think as well.

Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 18

June 29 – Do We Accept Jesus for Who He Is?

Mark 11: 27 – 33 NLT

“The Authority of Jesus Challenged

27 Again they entered Jerusalem. As Jesus was walking through the Temple area, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. 28 They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

29 “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus
replied. 30 “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!”

31 They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. 32 But do we dare say it was merely human?” For they were afraid of what the people would do, because everyone believed that John was a prophet. 33 So they finally replied, “We don’t know.”

And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Remember that Jesus is coming into Jerusalem daily in the week or so prior to Passover, and the time that he will be crucified. Various Temple leaders have been following Jesus throughout his 3 years of ministry, but now they are beginning to intensify their opposition to Jesus. Two days prior to this question about Jesus’ authority, he had come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the worship and praise of a throng of people. The next day, he went into the Temple and created a huge ruckus as he turned over the tables of the moneychangers and released the sacrificial doves. Jesus is definitely challenging their authority and the way they feel the Temple should operate. So, now on day 3 they want to know – who does he think he is? “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

Jesus often answers with a question, and he does this time too. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Jesus knows that question will stymy them because the leaders know that the people in Israel revered John, and John is connected to Jesus – so they are stuck and have to back off.

The Holy Spirit has a tendency to put questions in our minds as well. God doesn’t barge his way into our lives. He waits patiently for us to come to him. But as he waits, we each do a lot of thinking and pondering about who God is, and what does he want from me. At some point in all of our lives, we have faced the question about whether we should turn to God or not. Some think about it, and decide it’s all a hoax and can be ignored. Others realize they need God’s forgiveness and presence in their lives. Jesus is bringing the Jewish leaders to that point as well. Do they accept who Jesus is – or not?

At the beginning of chapter 12, Jesus makes clear who he is. The more the Temple leaders are confronted with Jesus’ identity and authority, the angrier they get. After he had cleared the Temple the day before Mark tells us: “When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him.” (11: 18) Now Jesus is going to tell a story/allegory that they will understand and become even more upset.

Mark 12: 1 – 12 NLT

“Parable of the Evil Farmers

12 Then Jesus began teaching them with stories: “A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 2 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. 3 But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 4 The owner then sent another servant, but they insulted him and beat him over the head. 5 The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, 6 until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

7 “But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 8 So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard.

9 “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. 10 Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.
11 This is the LORD’s doing,
and it is wonderful to see.’” (Psalm 118: 22 – 23)

12 The religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.”

As soon as Jesus said this – “A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower” – they knew what he was talking about. These Temple leaders knew the Old Testament, and here is what Isaiah 5: 1 – 7 says:

“Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
2 He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.

3 Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?
5 Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
6 I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.

7 The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.”

Isaiah was talking about Israel’s tendency to abandon God which we know is true today from the Old Testament history books. But as you read those verses, I’m sure you also realized it was a direct condemnation of the Temple leaders standing right in front of Jesus.

Jesus continues with his story of the several servants sent by the owner who were beaten or killed. That is a reference to the many prophets who came to Israel over several hundred years. But then the owner’s son came, and the vineyard workers decided to kill him too. Jesus refers to that son’s arrival with his quote from Psalm 118.

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.
11 This is the LORD’s doing,
and it is wonderful to see.’” (Psalm 118: 22 – 23)

The leaders understood the building requirements of that day to have a solid foundation. In Psalm 118, God says they rejected a certain stone as unsuitable for the foundation, but God decided that stone was the cornerstone – the key stone to the foundation of a building. Jesus was standing right in front of those men who were rejecting him, and in fact were trying to figure out a way to have him killed. I think they heard Jesus say Jesus was the cornerstone, and they were furious because they didn’t believe that was true.

The religious leaders totally understood that story. “The religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers.” (v. 12) You would think after seeing all the miracles that Jesus did – even raising Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, just a few miles away from Jerusalem – that they would be seriously thinking that he might be who he said he was. You might have thought they might reconsider their actions when Jesus finished his story with God killing all the vineyard workers and finding new ones. Again, they have watched Jesus for 3 years, and they totally understood the story of the vineyard. Why would they have remained totally against Jesus? Why would they plan to kill him?

When I read these accounts in the Bible, I realize that we in 2020 are not unlike the Temple leaders. In 2020, we still have to face whether we accept who Jesus said he is, or we reject it. Despite the reliability of the Scriptures over thousands of years, and despite the amazing things done by Christ followers over the years, many still reject Jesus. Why? If we accept Jesus, his authority has a big claim on our lives. We are no longer in control; we no longer decide what is important or not. It’s actually a huge decision that changes our lives completely.

As we continue to look at chapter 12 tomorrow, Jesus will continue to tell us what it means to follow him – and it’s not an easy path.

June 26 – Changes Are Coming

Matthew 11: 12 – 33 NLT

“Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.

Jesus Clears the Temple

15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.

19 That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.

20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”

22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

The Authority of Jesus Challenged

27 Again they entered Jerusalem. As Jesus was walking through the Temple area, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. 28 They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

29 “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. 30 “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!”

31 They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. 32 But do we dare say it was merely human?” For they were afraid of what the people would do, because everyone believed that John was a prophet. 33 So they finally replied, “We don’t know.”

And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.”

These verses in Mark 11 begin to show us that things are changing. The temple and its practices are about to end, and a new relationship with God is about to come.

Jesus and his disciples are staying in Bethany, perhaps with Lazarus, Martha and Mary. That’s a lot of guests for a household, and maybe that’s why Jesus was hungry in the morning as they left for Jerusalem. He went over to a fig tree that looked healthy with lots of leaves, but there wasn’t any fruit. The disciples heard him say “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” Later that day on their way back to Bethany, the disciples noticed that tree was withered from the roots up. This seems to be a picture of the Temple. Its splendour and rituals were still flourishing, but things are going to change. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, God will not dwell in the Temple, but in each individual who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice for them. 1 Corinthians 6: 19 – 20 says:
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.”

When they arrived at the Temple, Jesus started driving people out of the Temple courtyard. Can you imagine that scene as tables are crashing, coins are scattering, and doves are flying everywhere? Steve Wilmhurst in A Ransom for Many talks about this situation:

“To understand this story, we need to know that around the actual buildings of the Temple there is a wide area known as the Court of the Gentiles, so called because this is the only area of the Temple where non-Jews are allowed to go. This is where the action now takes place. We also need to remember that this Temple is not some kind of museum or tourist attraction. It is busy; it is noisy; it is constantly full of crowds. In the inner court, a constant stream of animals is being slaughtered and sacrificed by fire on the great altar, fifty feet square. At this point, with the Passover just a few days away, all this activity is reaching a climax. At Passover, every family in the land is supposed to come and sacrifice a lamb; the regulations are set out in Deuteronomy 16:1-8. The number of animals involved is vast. According to Josephus, at the Passover in AD 66, a generation after these events, as many as 255,000 lambs will be needed for sacrifice. They all have to come from somewhere. That’s in addition to all the regular sacrifices which the Jewish Law prescribes for so many different events. The poor – the majority of the population – are allowed to sacrifice doves at some of these occasions; but again, the doves have to come from somewhere. The Jewish authorities have solved this supply problem in a very sensible way. Over the years, several large animal markets were set up on the Mount of Olives. People can buy their animals there for sacrifice, bring them in to the Temple, and all is well. But now, as if this were not enough, additional markets have sprung up in the Temple courts themselves, in the Court of the Gentiles. Probably this has been done in deliberate, direct competition with the markets on the Mount of Olives. You can imagine the advertising slogans: Don’t walk your lambs all the way in from the hills! Buy right here on site! So the Temple itself has become a livestock market. To make matters worse, there is the problem of the Temple tax, paid annually by every Jewish man to support the ministry of the Temple. The tax is set at half a shekel – and that’s the problem. Israel is occupied territory now, and the Hebrew shekel is no more. So everyone who comes to pay his tax has to change his Roman denarii or sestertii into the nearest possible equivalent of the Hebrew shekel, which happens to be the Tyrian shekel. This means that in addition to the livestock markets, there are also lines of money-changing kiosks. There are supposed to be strict rules about what goes on in the Temple court. There is even a rule about not using it as a short cut; but the rules have been conveniently forgotten!”

It’s interesting that this account of Jesus driving out the moneychangers and sellers is in the middle of the story about the fig tree. Jesus clears out the Court of the Gentiles, a place where other nations can come to worship in the Temple. Instead of welcoming those nations, the Jewish leaders had made it into a commercial zone. Jesus reaffirms that when he says, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” In this short time before Passover, Jesus is indicating change is coming. The temple may look wonderful, but it will no longer be the place where people connect with God. The Jewish people won’t be the only people with a relationship with God. All nations, Israel included, will approach God through Jesus sacrifice for us.

There are some verses in the chapter that some people misinterpret:

“Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

Some people claim that these verses indicate the power of positive thinking. That definitely does not agree with the rest of scripture. Jesus is telling us that we need to be people who are committed to him, not people who doubt who he is. James (Jesus’ brother, not James the disciple) talks about this in his book. God does not work through people who waver in their commitment to God.

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” (James 1: 5 – 8 NLT)

Mark also adds some words about forgiveness. If we want God to answer our prayers, we need to be willing to forgive others, just as God has forgiven us. How can we have an open relationship with God as we pray, if we are carrying around grudges against others?

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1: 9 NLT)

We need to follow God’s example. He is so willing to forgive us. Paul reminds us of this in Colossians 3: 13:

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

Things are changing. A relationship with God will no longer be rules and regulations centered in a Temple where the leadership seems to have become puffed up with pride. It will be centered on a personal connection with God made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It will be about devotion to our Heavenly Father and a willingness to follow his example.

Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 17

June 25 – The Art of Becoming

“Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.”
1 Peter 1:18 MSG

I had pursued an undergrad in Visual Arts earlier in my twenties and I can recall attending classes in sculpture, painting and drawing with thirty or so other peers. For each lab we analyzed what other students had been working on, allowing each to showcase their own work. I can remember being challenged, and criticized also questioning at times, to myself, you call that art? Yet, while I enjoyed creating and accepting different art forms, I found an interesting take away from my degree. That art, with any concept to back it up, is art. Opposed to math and science, where the answer is either right or wrong –art, can be proven otherwise.

“That’s the beauty of music and art is that there’s no right or wrong. Whichever way you paint the picture, you’re still painting the picture…” – Jonathan Chandler

As I look at my 6-month old daughter each day, she is in a constant state of development. To my eyes, she seems to change by the minute, and that is how we were designed. To keep moving, growing, learning. Physically, but also in who we are, our personalities, goals, and life paths. Our lives and experiences shape the art of who we become. Yet, we can get to a certain point in life where we’d rather not change. Thinking, this idea, this look, it’s working for me, why change?

“We change not because we are failures, but because the new thing, way, practice, belief- whatever it is –serves us better, individually and collectively.” – The Practice Co.

“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as a forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach.“ – Michelle Obama

I have been taught that God is a God that transforms. That he is concerned more about our character than comfort. I have witnessed these changes, and we all find these stories inspiring: turning wrongs into right, ashes to beauty. Ingrained in our identity is the ability to overcome, and the ability to create good change.

If becoming is an art, then transforming is a masterpiece. We have been given this life to become. We have been created to create. Arriving isn’t always the goal. I believe we will always be rising, asking, learning, adventuring, treasuring, and seeking.

“You have power to transform man’s futile anger into praise.” – Psalm 76:10 TPT

We find completeness in our creator. We can create, because we were created.
Our creative ambition brought on by an artistic God. So, let’s create good, let’s create change. Paint kindness and sculpt humility. Let’s reach for the unreachable, and believe that what God has put in us, is greater than ourselves.

“…be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.”
– Romans 12:2 TPT

With the time given, we journey, until we arrive.

“And on that final day I die
I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell you that I tried
To live it like a song
And when I reach the other side
I want to look you in the eye
And know that I’ve arrived
In a world where I belong”

– Jon Foreman

Further Reading:

“First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.”
Geneisis 1:1-2 MSG

“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.” – Romans 12:2 TPT

“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.”

Isaiah 53: 1-6 MSG

June 24 – On the Way to Jerusalem and the Cross

Mark 11: 1 – 11 NLT

“Jesus’ Triumphant Entry

As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’”

4 The two disciples left and found the colt standing in the street, tied outside the front door. 5 As they were untying it, some bystanders demanded, “What are you doing, untying that
colt?” 6 They said what Jesus had told them to say, and they were permitted to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.

8 Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!

10 Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!”

11 So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.”

Try to picture this scene as Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. People are shouting as they lay garments and leaves on the road before him, a kind of ‘red carpet’. This is like a parade for an extremely important person. Look again at what they were shouting. They have seen Jesus do amazing things – feed thousands of people, heal people, cast out demons, even raise Lazarus from the dead (Lazarus who lives in Bethany about 2 miles from Jerusalem). What do you think they are hoping Jesus will do? Notice that they say, “Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!” Remember that they are coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a celebration of freedom from Egypt’s rule. At this moment in time, it’s a celebration of past freedom and sadness about the current Roman rule. Will Jesus free them from Rome? Is that what they were thinking?

Sometimes as I read commentaries, I just have to copy them for you. I couldn’t possibly say it better. Here is Francis Chan’s comment about Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem in his small group study on Mark”

“Jesus instructed his disciples to find a colt that had never been ridden and bring it back to him before he entered Jerusalem (Mark 11:1–3). Matthew and Luke tell us that it was the colt of a donkey. Why a donkey, and one that had not yet been ridden?

Animals that had never been ridden were considered suitable for sacramental purposes, as seen in Numbers 19:2 and Deuteronomy 21:3, in which they were sacrificed to atone for another’s sin. In 1 Samuel 6:7, two milk cows that had never been yoked (made to work in labor) were conscripted to pull the ark of the covenant back to Israel. By choosing to ride an animal thus far set apart from common work, Jesus added an element of sacrament and sacredness to his entry to the city.

Though we see the donkey as a lowly animal, in the Middle East it was considered a noble creature. Judges rode on donkeys (Judges 10:4, 2 Sam. 17:23) as well as royalty (2 Sam. 19:26). The donkey also denoted a king approaching in peace (whereas, a king riding a horse was declaring war).

So Jesus, by riding into Jerusalem on a never-before-ridden donkey, declared himself the Messiah—a savior coming in peace, not to overcome the Romans. He dramatically re-enacted the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The people—including the disciples—failed to recognize that he was coming not as a warrior but as the Prince of Peace. Their joyful adulation, while rightly directed at their savior, anticipated the wrong kind of salvation.”

Jesus’ view of power is going to turn the world view upside down, just as he did when talking about leadership. Jesus doesn’t enter Jerusalem riding on a horse ready for battle. His world view is about peace. He knows he is going to face torture and a horrifying death, and he won’t stop it or defend himself – even though he could. In 2020, our view of influencing others involves control. We run the show; we set the rules.

Are we willing to let God be in control of our lives? Are we willing to follow God’s leading even when it doesn’t seem to be what we had planned or expected? Something to think and pray about.

June 23 – Are You Getting Grumpy?

Do you find that you’re running out of patience a little these days? Are you tired of staying home most of the time? Are you missing your friends? Do you wish restaurants would open – so tired of making ALL the meals? Are you hoping that somehow vacation plans will come back? Are you getting annoyed at all the people who do not wear masks and bump into you at the grocery store? Are you thinking, “Good grief, now I have to find masks since the Windsor Essex area is mandating them for all indoor spaces this week”?

There are so many theories about the pandemic circulating out there. Some claim the virus is mutating to something less virulent. Others say absolutely not. Some say we should throw away precautionary measures and just let everyone get sick and build up immunity. Others say the death toll will be too high to do something like that, and that the virus will “kill off” the most vulnerable among us? Some doctors and politicians are talking about the mental health toll the pandemic is taking. It’s definitely a confusing hard time, and I suspect patience is wearing thin. (By the way, I’m on the cautionary side of the debate.)

I started looking for verses for the devotions that talk about patience. I had in mind verses that would encourage us to be patient. But the verses that struck me first were verses about God’s patience. Let’s take a look:

1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

“But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Romans 2:4 NLT

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

2 Peter 3:9 NLT

“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is
being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”

Heavenly Father, forgive me for being so irritable and grumpy about things that really don’t matter when I look at them from an eternal perspective. I have to admit that every day, I do things (or think things) that don’t live up to your standards of behaviour. I am a sinner. First of all, I thank you for adopting me as your child through Jesus’ sacrifice for me. Thank you for being so patient with me as your Holy Spirit works in my life to bring me closer to you. Thank you for your patience with all mankind, as you wait for everyone to turn to you. Help me to see where your patience is focused so that I don’t get caught up with trivial things, but rather align with you.

When I look at the things that make me irritable and impatient, I have to pray for forgiveness and for the strength to turn my pathetic attitude around. One of the ways that God helps us to grow is to put us through hard times. I know we’d prefer that wouldn’t happen, but I think we all have to admit, that we don’t learn that much from easy, good times. When life is sailing along smoothly, we tend to coast along oblivious to making any changes. We think we have everything under control. I know from my own experiences in life, the times that have changed me the most and made me more reliant on God have been the hard times. That’s when I faced the reality that I was not in control, and often that I needed to change my attitude and priorities.

James 1:2-8 NLT

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete,
needing nothing. …”

I am so thankful that during hard times, God is present – the Holy Spirit is at work in each one of us. It’s not a case of absolute determination on our part. Yes, we are thinking individuals made in the image of God, but we also must admit we need God’s help to make the necessary changes.

Psalm 40:1 NLT

“I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.”

Colossians 1:11 NLT

“We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy.”

Galatians 5:22 NLT

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”

We can be sure of this:

Romans 8: 26 – 28 NLT

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in
words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

So, if you are finding this pandemic time frustrating, let’s pray for God’s patience. As we pray, God can give us ideas of how to handle our impatience. We may need to spend some time in prayer asking God to show us what is making us so frustrated. Maybe we can start looking for practical ways that we can spread God’s love and patience to those around us – our families, our neighbours, our community. Is there a person I can help in some way? Is there any organization that I could support? (For example, could you be a driver for Miracle June 27 food drive? This is an effort to collect non-perishable food for those in need.) Is there someone who could be cheered up with a gift of home-cooked items, or with a phone call, or with an invitation for coffee in my backyard? Start thinking and praying about how God can use you in these difficult times.

Romans 12:12 NLT

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”

Our song for today is Be Still My Soul (In You I Rest\) by Kari Jobe

Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently, the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God, to order and provide
In every change, He faithful will remain
Be still, my soul, thy best thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways, leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and wind still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

In You I rest, in You I found my hope
In You I trust, You never let me go
I place my life within Your hands alone
Be still, my soul

Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last

In You I rest, in You I found my hope
In You I trust, You never let me go
I place my life within Your hands alone
Be still, my soul

In You I rest, in You I found my hope
In You I trust, You never let me go
I place my life within Your hands alone
Be still, my soul
Be still, my soul
Be still, my soul

June 22 – Jesus is Our Example

Mark 10: 32 – 52 NLT

Jesus Again Predicts His Death

32 They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear. Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to him. 33 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. 34 They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

This is the third time Jesus has spoken about his death to the disciples. The first was in 8: 31 just after Peter stated that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. The second time was in 9: 31 when the disciples were asking Jesus why they couldn’t throw the demon out of the young boy. Each of those two times, the disciples were upset and really didn’t want to talk about it. This time Jesus gives them more details. He is going to be initially betrayed by the Jewish religious leaders who will request the death sentence, but then he will end up being tortured and sentenced to die by the Romans, the Gentile rulers of Israel for the past 100 years. All people, both Jews and Gentiles will play a part in Jesus’ death, and it is for all people that Jesus intends to die.

“Jesus Teaches about Serving Others

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”

36 “What is your request?” he asked.

37 They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?”

39 “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. 40 But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

41 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Can you believe that James and John had the nerve to ask Jesus for positions of honour/authority right after Jesus talked about his death? Hadn’t they just talked about how you needed to be willing to give up everything to follow Jesus when the young rich man had left because he was unwilling to give up his wealth? I don’t know what they were thinking. Maybe they thought when Jesus talked about his death and rising again, that Jesus was really talking about some mystical Heavenly event that would result in Israel’s return as God’s chosen people and their sovereign independence. We know from many of the stories told in the gospels, that the disciples really didn’t have a clear picture of who Jesus really was and the purpose of his life on earth.

Jesus tells them that they don’t know what they are asking.

They don’t realize that high important positions mean suffering and serving. Jesus is our example. He is God! Colossians 1: 15 – 17 tells us who he really is:

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.”

Yet he was willing to take on a human body with all its physical limitations and come to a world that would reject him and treat him horrendously. Philippians 2: 5 – 8 tells us:

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

This is an attitude that we in 2020 don’t really understand. We are more like James and John who see important positions as evidence of true leadership and ability. Let’s reread how Jesus defines leadership:

“So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (v 42 – 45)

If by any chance, as Christ followers, we are given leadership positions at work or at church, we need to look at those positions as places where we serve. Places where we work hard for others, places where we are willing to do the ‘dirty work’, places where life may not be that easy, places where we may be misunderstood. It’s not a place where we pat ourselves on the back for how good we are, to make sure we have everything and everybody under our control. That’s not the definition of leadership that Jesus gives us. It’s really something to think about as we examine our own life. Am I following Jesus’ example?

“Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. 47 When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”

So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” 50 Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”

52 And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.”

Steve Wilmhurst in his commentary, A Ransom for Many, talks about the scene in these verses:

“The scene Mark paints for us in v.46 is of a noisy, bustling throng leaving the ancient city of
Jericho: Jesus himself, the twelve disciples, and a large crowd. Jesus has been on this journey for some time now. By this point he has re-crossed the River Jordan: Jericho is five miles west of the
river and just eighteen miles, one day’s walk, short of Jerusalem. Most of this crowd will be
pilgrims on their way up to the great city. The Passover festival is probably only a couple of
weeks away and thousands of people are converging on the capital: Jews from all over Israel and
beyond. This cavalcade in Jericho is just one component of that great movement of people. But
some of them undoubtedly are also keeping a very close eye on Jesus. He has done so many
amazing deeds, spoken so many startling words; and the rumours about him have flown far and
wide. They know he is heading up to Jerusalem; they have realised there is something special
about him; and now they will make sure they are travelling along with him, just to see what he is
going to do next.”

This would be a good place for a blind man to be begging for money so he can survive. It’s a road with lots of travelers at this time of year. He is likely all ears for what is happening since he can’t see, and appears to have heard that Jesus is coming sometime soon. The people around tell him to shut up. They see him as a nuisance and not worthy of Jesus’ attention, (hopefully, it was not the disciples this time again) but Jesus hears his call and asks him to come closer.

It’s interesting that the question Jesus asks Bartimaeus is the same one as he asked James and John. “What is your request?” or “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus listens to our requests. For James and John, Jesus tells them they don’t know what they are asking for, because he knows that they really don’t understand what is required for a high position in God’s kingdom. Later, James will die at the hands of King Herod Antipas. John will live to old age, but he will spend many years exiled on the Island of Patmos. After Jesus’ resurrection ascension, and the start of the church, they did understand what true leadership meant. Bartimaeus asked to be able to see, a simple request – asked of the Son of David, Rabbi. I don’t know if he really understood who Jesus was. Jesus was in the genetic line of David. He was a ‘rabbi’, a person who connected the average man with God.

Jesus listens to our prayers. Sometimes we really don’t know what we are asking for. But, Jesus does. We can trust him with the answer, whatever it is.

Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 16

June 19 – Who is Important?

Mark 10: 13 – 31 NLT

Jesus Blesses the Children

13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.”

I want you to try to picture this scene in your minds. I don’t know where Jesus and his disciples are, but let’s put them in a meadow or field with stones you could sit on while they chat with each other. Then the families show up. The parents want Jesus to bless their children. (In Jewish tradition, Pharisees would touch and bless children. Obviously, these parents think highly of Jesus because they want him to bless their children.) The disciples are annoyed. They are dealing with crowds every day; sometimes they can hardly find time to eat. Now people want Jesus to pay attention to children, the lowest on the scale of valued human beings in that historic era. In the disciples’ minds, this is a waste of precious time.

Jesus is angry with the disciples. The New American Standard Bible translates the word as “indignant”. This is a pretty strong word. Jesus then took the children in his arms. I suspect there was more than one armful. Picture those children swarming around Jesus while he hugged them. In our pandemic time with no hugging allowed, that is a beautiful picture. Can you hear the children laughing and shoving to get close to Jesus?

Jesus tells the disciples, “the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” What does he mean? Do we have to be innocent and naïve? The children who flocked to Jesus were not valued in their culture. They had nothing to offer Jesus. They didn’t even try to offer him anything. It was just his welcoming arms they wanted – something he could give them. That is how we come to Jesus. We have nothing to offer him. We may think we can impress God – that we are good people, and worthy of his notice – but we aren’t. Instead, God has everything to offer us. He wants us to come to him just because we want him in our lives – nothing else. Remember that chorus you may have learned as a child:

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so,
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong.

“The Rich Man

17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” (Exodus 20: 12 – 16; Deuteronomy 5: 16 – 20)

20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

28 Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said.

29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”

This young man was the epitome of a great person. He has done the best he could to follow the Ten Commandments. He is wealthy. He wants to follow God. He looks like your basic wonderful person – honest and caring, successful in business, religious. What more could you want in a person? The disciples were impressed with him. Even Jesus loved him. “Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him.” (v. 21) He was just your nicest guy! But …

Jesus pins down the problem right away. When it came right down to it, the young man valued his wealth more than wanting to follow God. If we are honest with ourselves, we are like that young man. When we sense God leading us in some way, do we look at what we might lose – money, time, a good job, a certain reputation among our neighbours and friends, a comfortable lifestyle, etc.?

The disciples give a sigh of relief. They have given up family and jobs to follow Jesus. And Jesus acknowledges that. They have. He assures them that those who give up precious things to follow him will be rewarded. The rewards Jesus offers are rather interesting – “a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property”. Do you want a hundred times more children or mothers? I think Jesus is telling us that we will belong to a huge family of believers, a family that has a close bond like no other. I know that I have experienced that bond between believers as I’ve met other Christians in various places, and there has been a connection as soon as we realized we both loved Jesus. But we also can’t ignore the end of that sentence – “along with persecution”. Following Jesus doesn’t mean an easy life. Jesus didn’t have an easy life, and it ended in a horrendous way on the cross. There are both rewards and difficulties in following Jesus.

In some ways the story of the young rich man has ties to the account about Jesus loving the children. We follow Jesus with nothing to offer him. Like the children, some people have nothing by our world’s standards to offer him. Like the rich young ruler, we may think we have a lot to offer him, but not according to God. Every single one of us comes to God with nothing. That verse in the middle of the young man’s story tells us that. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” (v. 26 – 27) God is the one who reaches out to us, and has paid the price for our sin. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16)

Nor one of us has anything to offer God. But, God offers us everything that matters.

June 18 – Second Start

2 Corinthians 4:1 (NLT)
Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.

Several days ago, we had some severe storms that passed through Essex County. Typical of our area, I anticipated it as the weather got increasingly hot and sticky earlier in the day. As the storm came in, it produced some powerful winds, rain and hail. I watched as the photos of storm damage spread throughout social media; it hit home as my sister and her husband lost several trees on their property that night. Grateful that none of them hit their home or car, these 60 feet spruce trees could have done deeper damage.
The storm came and went, and following it – blue skies. But the remnants were still there. Life presses on, but the clean-up begins. The skies clear up, but yet, we are still left with the damage.
We wake up each morning a new day, an option, a second start thanks to God. We’ve all dealt with differing types of damage. Damage to our hearts, relationships, reputation, careers, or even the actual physical storm damage.
We all a broken people.
Sometimes we don’t choose for these negative experiences in life to happen to us; sometimes they just happen. They’re out of our control. Other times, we’ve allowed it, turning to our regret.
However your life storm was caused – by your own fault, or no fault of your own – there lies the disarray.
Now, to move forward, to clean up. Our messes aren’t easily mopped. Our spills not easily wiped cleaned. In our own minds, the damage can haunt, the failure lingers. Yet, I hear echo in my mind:

His mercies are new every morning.

I’ve heard that way too often growing up. Do I believe it? I don’t always feel it.

“And as you speak
A hundred billion failures disappear.”

– So Will I
Hillsong Worship

The God of love, sees our failures, anticipates our failures, grieves at our failures and gives us another go.

Proverbs 17:9 (TPT)
Love overlooks the mistakes of others…

1 Corinthians 13:7 (TPT)
Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

We keep getting second chances. He makes the day begin, causes the sun to rise, something bigger is happening here. The patience of God, is giving us endless opportunities to start over, start fresh.

Proverbs 10:25 NLT
When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.

Trees will fall, and trees will get cut down.
Clean up will enviable, but the damage needs no guilt.
Our second start is covered by God.

My sister can decide to leave her backyard as is – trees uprooted, fences down. But her backyard won’t be fully functional. The wreckage done to our human heart can be painful and treacherous. We find that without that fresh slate/new mercies, we aren’t at our functional best. We’ve been given the option to clean up the storm’s damage, and plant something new.

“Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found, in you”
– Beautiful Things, Gungor

“The miracle is that we see ourselves fully, too. This includes the entirety of you-the good and the bad. It’s a brave thing to gaze upon your whole self. You’ll see the beauty and the wreckage; the success and the failure, the progress and the stagnation; the places where you are a blessing, and the places where you have been damaging. Spirit asks that you give each place equal weight. It’s easy to engage only in the things that make us feel good about ourselves just as it is easy to engage in the things that give us an excuse (however legitimate it may be) for our victim mentality. To engage our whole selves with love and power? That takes courage.”
– Liz Milani, The Practice Co.

Further Reading:
Lamentations 3: 19-24 (MSG)

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

June 17 – A Tough Topic

Mark 10: 1 – 12 NLT

Discussion about Divorce and Marriage

10 Then Jesus left Capernaum and went down to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. Once again crowds gathered around him, and as usual he was teaching them.

2 Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?”

3 Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?”
4 “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.”

5 But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard
hearts. 6 But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. 7 ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife 8 and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, 9 let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

10 Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject
again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”

Talking about divorce is a touchy subject since so many marriages end in divorce. According to Net News ledger, the average length of marriage in Canada is 14 years, and 38% of marriages end in divorce. Apparently, the divorce rate has remained steady since the 1980’s, but there has been an increase in the rate recently for newer marriages. Although divorce is fairly common, it is never an easy situation. There is always pain and regret. One of my daughters is divorced and leads the DivorceCare group at LSA. So, I’ve personally seen the grief caused by divorce.

As usual, as we’re going through the Book of Mark, I read the commentary, A Ransom for Many by Steve Wilmhurst. He had some interesting things to say about why the topic of divorce came up at this point in Mark. Jesus travelled to Judea, an area east of the Jordan River. This was the area where Herod Antipas lived, the man who married his brother’s wife, Herodias. She apparently hadn’t divorced her first husband, just took on new one. The two of them were the reasons John the Baptist was killed because he spoke out about their marriage. So, the Pharisees corner Jesus in this area to see what he would say about divorce. Maybe they hoped Herod would get rid of Jesus the way he did John.

There were two positions on divorce in Jesus’ day. One group called Shammai thought that divorce was permissible only when one of the partners was unfaithful or there was some other moral failure. The Hillel group agreed with that, but also added that divorce was possible if a man decided his wife was not suitable for some reason. Divorce is mentioned in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 24: 1 – 2 (NLT) “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house. When she leaves his house, she is free to marry another man.” They all agreed that divorce required a written paper, so that no one could argue about the status of the person. Now the Pharisees wanted to see what Jesus would have to say on this divisive subject.

But Jesus goes right back to creation in the Garden of Eden. God created men and women with a sexual nature. A marriage between them was to be a close bond – they were to become one flesh (Genesis 2: 24). That verse also mentions that the man and woman were to leave their parents, the closest relationship they had experienced in life up to that point. Marriage was designed to be a life long relationship. When talking with the disciples afterward, Jesus says that divorce is possible, but not remarriage. Some scholars think that Jesus was referring to the situation with Herod and Herodias. She walked out on her first husband and married the second without a legal divorce. That would definitely be wrong.

We may differ on what we think is allowed in the church today concerning divorce and remarriage. But, I think we can all agree that God’s original plan before sin entered the world was that marriage was for life. Now we live in a broken world. As Christ followers, when a marriage starts falling apart, we need to do all we can to repair the damage whatever it is. That is

God’s first intention for marriage. Marriage is not something we can walk away from easily. But when all our attempts have failed, we can also accept that God forgives us. We don’t have to feel that we are outsiders in the church, second-class members. Romans 3: 23 tells us:

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

Everyone one of us has sinned, failed at living up to God’s standards in so many ways. We can’t point fingers at someone else. Each one of us can only stand before God because we are forgiven through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just as God loves us, we must love one another.