We complete our readings in Mark’s Gospel this month. This will take us through the first half of the month. Then, in the second half of the month, we shall consider the stories of a number of people who met with Jesus.
Thursday 1st October
We begin today with the soldiers. Verses 16-20 describe how the soldiers mocked, jeered and taunted the Lord. We also have a description of the violence which he suffered at their hands. They dressed him like a king or an emperor and pretended to worship him, and then they beat him. You might imagine that these were hardened men and that the person of Jesus could make no impact on them. But this is not so. In verse 39 we find this: ‘And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”‘ A tough Roman soldier, he had no doubt crucified many people but when he witnessed the death of this man he knew that he was different. The death of Jesus had a marked effect upon him, and convinced him that Jesus was the Son of God.
Friday 2nd October
Matthew’s version of the story tells us that it was not only the centurion who was affected by the death of Christ but the common soldiers too, these very men who had taunted and beaten him. In Matthew 27:54 we are told that they joined with the centurion in confessing Jesus’ sonship. One thing is clear. This was no ordinary crucifixion, and that could be seen even by these soldiers. God revealed himself on that day in a powerful way. It is striking that, in the midst of the horror of this execution, Christ made himself known. Jesus Christ is not some figure in a glass case on the wall of a church but a real man who experienced real violence and indeed used that violence to save us, by his broken body and shed blood.
Saturday 3rd October
The next person we encounter in this chapter is Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus (verse 21). We are told that he was ‘forced’ to carry the cross of Jesus. Indeed, Luke tells us (23:26) that he was ‘seized’ for this very purpose. The whole tenor of these verses suggests a man who was unwilling and unhappy. Once again, however, there are good reasons for believing that he later became a Christian, no doubt because of the effect that Jesus had upon him. In Acts 13:1 we are told of a Simon called Niger who was one of the prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch – and many scholars believe that this is the same man who carried the cross. Also, in Romans 16:13 we hear Paul speak of ‘Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me too’ and many believe that this speaks of Simon’s wife and son. Whether these suggestions are true or not is difficult to say, but it seems a reasonable possibility that Simon later became a Christian. Once again, God working in the most unlikely of circumstances to bring salvation.
Sunday 4th October
In verses 27 and 32 we read of the two robbers who were crucified with Jesus. In particular, in verse 32 we read, ‘Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.’ But this was not the end of the story, because one of those robbers began to take a different line. In Luke 23:39-43 we learn that one of the robbers rebuked the other and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus assured the man that he would be in paradise that very day. Even on the cross, while he was suffering the agony of one of the most cruel and painful methods of execution ever invented, Jesus took time to assure that robber of salvation. This story also reminds us that those who might begin by rejecting Jesus can, by the grace of God, come to believe in him, even at the very end of their lives. We must never stop praying for unconverted family and friends.
Monday 5th October
Having spoken of those like the soldiers and Simon and the thief on the Cross, we must also note that there were many who were apparently left unaffected by the death of Jesus and who, right up until the end, gave no sign of being moved or changed or converted. There were the passers-by of whom we read in verses 29-30. They hurled insults at him and urged him to come down from the cross if he was as powerful as he had claimed to be. The paradox is that Jesus could have come down from the cross but he chose to remain there and die for the salvation of others. What they wanted him to do was not in their best interests! Only by dying on the Cross in our place, as a sacrifice for sin, could atonement be made. The Jesus they wanted was a miracle worker, what they needed was a Saviour.
Tuesday 6th October
We read these verses one more time, to see another group of people who rejected the message of Jesus. These were the chief priests and the teachers of the law (verses 31-32). These were his implacable enemies, those who had from the earliest days of his public ministry sought his death. The very words they used demonstrated their complete failure to understand him. For example, they said, ‘He saved others but he can’t save himself!’ Like the passers-by we read of yesterday, they could not see that it was in the very act of dying that he did save others. Then they added, ‘Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe’. Even had he done so, they would not have believed! They had seen Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead. He had fed the 5,000 and walked on the water. There was no shortage of miracles and another would have been dismissed in just the same way as earlier ones. The simple fact is that their hearts and minds were closed to him.
Wednesday 7th October
In verses 33-34 we read this: ‘At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”‘ This is a remarkable saying of Jesus from the Cross and it requires some explanation. How can the Son be forsaken by the Father? And yet it is crucial to any understanding of the death of Jesus. A few weeks ago at the morning service we read 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ In ‘becoming sin’ for us, Jesus was identified with sinners and took the place of sinners. God the Father then poured out upon his Son the judgement which ought rightly to have come upon us. No wonder Jesus could cry out as he did.
Thursday 8th October
This is one of the most striking and poignant verses in the Bible: ‘With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.’ As we have read through Mark’s Gospel, we have followed the story of this man Jesus but tonight we see the way in which his earthly life ended. He died on the Cross. This is a very familiar event to us but there are several points we ought to make here in order to fully understand it. First, despite the fact that he was the incarnate Son of God, it was a real death. Second, it was an agonising death, a terrible way to die. Third, it was a death which marked the end of his suffering and held open the prospect of glory ahead. Fourth, it was a death that would soon be followed by resurrection.
Friday 9th October
As we consider the death of Christ, it is also good to remember the full circle of his birth, life and death. We know the story of Jesus’ birth, which we celebrate at Christmas; and we know the story of his death, which we celebrate at Easter but do we know the relationship between them? There is a sense in which his death helps us to understand the meaning of his birth. To put it another way, it is not possible to separate Christmas from Easter. The birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus are part of the one divine event, and to divide the two is to misunderstand the meaning of both. When Jesus was crucified he won a battle over the forces of evil, but we are only able to win that daily battle against sin and evil if we do it in the power of the one who died and was raised again. The baby Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem, without the man hanging on the cross outside Jerusalem, is a God who cannot help us.
Saturday 10th October
Again, just a single verse today but a verse which speaks volumes! The Scripture says: ‘The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.’ Do you know the meaning of this strange event, this tearing of the curtain? The answer lies in thinking about the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. To understand this, read Hebrews 10:1-14. This describes how, once each year, the High Priest went through the curtain into the Holy of Holies to make sacrifices for his own sins and the sins of the people. Do you see why the curtain was no longer needed? It was because the high Priest was no longer needed. We have a new High Priest, Jesus Christ, who with one sacrifice (of himself) has put an end to all sacrifices. Everyone could now go into the nearer presence of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Sunday 11th October
Over the past two weeks, we have been looking at various people involved in the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Today we come to some of Jesus’ most loyal supporters and helpers. In verse 40 we read of ‘some women,’ among them Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. We are told that other women were there also. Now these were truly remarkable women. In particular we must say something about their courage. The disciples had fled when Jesus was arrested. Peter had denied Jesus three times rather than admit to being a follower. Later, the disciples are to be found hiding in an upper room afraid to go out but these women followed Jesus everywhere. They stood below the cross and watched him die. Later, it was they who went to the tomb to anoint his body and discovered the empty tomb. What faithful service to their Lord.
Monday 12th October
We read in verses 43-46 of another participant in the story, Joseph of Arimathea. We’re told that he ‘went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.’ Like Nicodemus, whose meeting with Jesus is described in John 3, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin who became a follower of Jesus. Mark tells us that he was ‘waiting for the Kingdom of God’ (verse 43). Now this man was clearly taking a major risk. The Sanhedrin and the whole Jewish leadership had conspired to put Jesus to death and here is one of their own asking for the body, to give him a decent burial. He was putting his own position as a member of the Sanhedrin at risk. Indeed, given the heightened tension surrounding these events, he was perhaps putting even his own life in danger. All this for the sake of Jesus. It is astonishing the courage that comes from faith and conviction.
Tuesday 13th October
In these readings in Mark’s Gospel, we come today to the story of the Resurrection. The facts of that Easter Sunday are well known. As soon as the Jewish sabbath was over, three women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salmome, went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid, in order to anoint his body with spices, as was the custom. When they arrived, they discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb and the body of Jesus was missing. Then we’re told of the meeting with the angel and the good news they received that Jesus was alive. They were instructed to ‘go, tell his disciples and Peter’ (notice the special word for the one who needed it most) to expect to see Jesus in Galilee. These are the recorded facts of that resurrection morning. What an astonishing encounter and what a glorious joy. Their Saviour was not dead, as they had imagined but was alive!
Wednesday 14th October
These verses describe the various post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Each of these is described more fully in the other Gospels. The story of Mary Magdalene and her encounter with Jesus, when she thought he was the gardener, is in John 20:11-18. When our passage goes on to speak of Jesus’ appearance to ‘two of them while they were walking in the country’, it is almost certainly referring to the incident in Luke 24:13-32 when Jesus met two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Verse 14 describes Jesus appearance to the eleven in the upper room, described in John 20:19-29. Read these stories and remind yourself of these astonishing events. The message is clear: Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!
Thursday 15th October
In these verses, Jesus commissions his disciples for their future ministry. He says, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’. His message is uncompromising: ‘Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ This Gospel has not changed in the intervening years. However much people may try to change the message, water it down, or underplay the stark choice it offers – we must be faithful to Jesus. If we preach that simple Gospel then, like those first disciples, we shall find that the Lord will help us. As we read in verse 20: ‘Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.’ Notice that, the Lord worked with them! He also works with us when we faithfully proclaim his Gospel.
Friday 16th October
Having completed Mark’s Gospel, we now turn our attention to various people who met with Jesus, beginning with John the Baptist. When an international summit is to take place, various officials and diplomats prepare the way. Margaret Thatcher, in her book The Downing Street Years, says that in the trade they are known as ‘sherpas’. The New Testament tells us that God heralded the coming of Jesus of Nazareth by sending a messenger to prepare the way. John the Baptist, however, was a most unlikely ambassador. The way he dressed, the food he ate and the message he preached were most unusual. Yet there was a stamp of authority about this man, his preaching had a ring of truth about it. The ordinary people recognised that this was a man sent from God. Even Herod, who had him executed, liked to go and hear him preach. His preaching was fierce and powerful and his message straightforward: Men and women must turn back to God and repent of their sins. Have we turned back to God in faith and repentance?
Saturday 17th October
When he was asked to identify himself John quotes from the prophet Isaiah and says that his job was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Jesus then met with John the Baptist by going down into the Jordan to be baptised. The most striking part of this encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist comes at the end. We read, ‘As soon as Jesus was baptised he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”‘. We might say that the key to this encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist is the identification of Jesus as the Son of God. John’s ministry was to point people to Jesus and to identify him as the messiah, the Son of God.
Sunday 18th October
Today we consider Zacchaeus and the message of this encounter is that meeting Jesus changes lives. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated, because they were regarded as traitors, working for the Roman authorities against their own people. He climbed a tree to see Jesus and then a remarkable thing happened. Jesus stopped, told Zacchaeus to come down from the tree and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal. The people who saw this were astonished. Thy had failed to learn the lesson which Jesus had taught on several occasions, namely, that it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick and that there is great rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15). Indeed, Zacchaeus did find salvation. The encounter with Jesus changed his life. The message of Jesus at the end of the passage is for us too: ‘For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost’.
Monday 19th October
Today we read about Jesus’ meeting with Mary and Martha. The message of this encounter is that we must get our priorities right and focus on the things that are most important. The story is very short and very well known. Jesus comes to the home of Martha. She has a sister who sits at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching. Martha becomes frustrated and angry because she is being left to do all the work and to prepare the food. She is angry at her sister and at Jesus for not telling Mary to go and help. Jesus responds by telling Martha that Mary has made the better choice. Jesus was telling Martha that, even in the midst of a busy life, she ought to focus, like Mary, on those things which are most important. Is your life like that? Do you take time to sit quietly and reflect? Do you take time with family and friends? Or is your life lived at such a pace that important things are crowded out? Do you make time for the reading of Scripture and prayer? It is important to hear the still small voice of God in the midst of a world obsessed with speed and busyness. Take time to be alone and quiet in the presence of God.
Tuesday 20th October
Today we consider the story of Nicodemus. The message of this encounter is that a Christian is one who has been born again of God’s Spirit. This story, more than any other in the whole Bible, proves that being born again is absolutely vital. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus one night and expressed his conviction that Jesus was a teacher who had come from God. Did Jesus proclaim him to be a Christian? No! Instead, he told him that it was necessary for him to be born again. Jesus could not have expressed himself more clearly. He was saying that without the new birth we have no place in God’s kingdom. Nicodemus was a religious man, but that was not enough. He believed that Jesus had been sent from God, but that was not enough. He believed that what Jesus said was true, but that was not enough. He had to be born again.
Wednesday 21st October
Our subject today is Simon the Pharisee. The message of this encounter is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Our passage describes how a dinner was being given in Jesus’ honour at the home of Simon the Pharisee. While he was there a woman came in and anointed his feet with perfume. Simon was offended because he knew that the woman had a bad reputation and was commonly regarded as a sinner. He thought that Jesus must be unaware of this and questioned whether Jesus really was a prophet of God. Jesus responded by pointing out the shortcomings in Simon’s own hospitality and then explaining the nature of forgiveness. He tells a parable (vv.41-42) and drives the point home. The woman is commended and her sins are forgiven. This is the same message to be found elsewhere in Scripture, namely, that God forgives sinners who ask. Paul summed up the message of this story in 1 Timothy 1:15: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’.
Thursday 22nd October
Our subject today is the Rich Young Man who encountered Jesus but went away sad. The message of this encounter is that nothing can take God’s place at the centre of our lives. Here was a man who seemed to have everything. He was rich, he was religious, and he truly wanted to become a follower of Jesus. We might well have rushed to sign him up before he changed his mind! Jesus, however, looked into the man’s heart and he could see that there was a problem. God simply did not have the first place in his life. That place belonged to his wealth. Jesus immediately put his finger on the problem and told the young man that he could become a disciple just as soon as he gave away everything he had to the poor. This was a test, and the man failed, and he went away sad. Money was more important to him than following Jesus. Indeed, for him, money was the most important thing in the world. Is there anything in your life or mine which is more important to us than God?
Friday 23rd October
We read this passage again today, to see the reaction of the disciples. Jesus’s words to the rich young man took the disciples by surprise (read verses 23-27). Yet there is hope in these words. Left to ourselves none of us would ever be saved but with God it is possible. This is the miracle of grace, that sinners such as you and I can be forgiven and gain entrance into the kingdom of God. The last few verses (28-31) tell us that God rewards faithfulness and obedience, both now, and later in heaven. They also tell us that there will be some surprises when we come before God. Jesus said, ‘many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ The whole of this passage can be summed up in one question: Have you received Christ by faith, like a trusting child, or is there something which is more important to you than God and which is standing in the way of your salvation?
Saturday 24th October
Our subject today is the Woman of Samaria. The message of this encounter is that we must worship God in Spirit and in truth. Jesus was passing through Samaria on the way to Galilee and met this woman at Jacob’s well in the town of Sychar. The encounter is very revealing, in every sense of the word. At several points, when the woman wants to speak more generally, Jesus turns the conversation back to central spiritual matters and to her own life. It began with a discussion about water and whether a Jew should ask a Samaritan to draw water for him but Jesus turns the conversation to ‘living water’. The conversation then turns to the woman’s troubled personal life. She tried to change the subject and argue about where worship should take place. Jesus says that the most important thing is to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Many people today are like that Samaritan woman. They enjoy a discussion about religious things but shy away whenever it comes close to their personal lives.
Sunday 25th October
Our subject today is the thief on the cross. The message of this encounter is that it is never too late to turn to God. We looked at Mark’s version of the story on 4th October but today we consider Luke’s version. Two criminals were crucified with Jesus. One of them, we’re told, hurled insults at him. The other criminal rebuked him and pointed out that they were getting what they deserved but that Jesus had done nothing wrong. Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ This man had recognised that Jesus was the one he claimed to be, namely, the Son of God. He believed that Jesus was going to ‘come into his kingdom’, and he pleaded for a place in that kingdom. Jesus promises that he would be with him in paradise that very day. What an encounter! Here was a man who was a criminal, who was without hope and without God, yet at the very end of his life he finds salvation. This is a marvellous thing.
Monday 26th October
Our subject today is Cleopas. The message of this encounter is that the whole Bible, from beginning to end, speaks of Christ. Two disciples, one of whom is named Cleopas, are returning from Jerusalem to Emmaus and discussing all that had recently happened. On their way they are joined by an apparent stranger who, professes ignorance of the events which have made them so downcast, and he elicits their story. Jesus expounded the Scriptures to these disciples and showed them all the passages in the Old Testament which pointed to him. This is marvellous, because it tells us that not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament points to Christ. Only when they invite their unknown companion to share a meal with them do they recognise that the stranger is Jesus. Are you like those disciples before they met Jesus: confused, unsure, doubting and afraid? Or are you like those disciples after their meeting with Jesus: full of faith and trust in God?
Tuesday 27th October
Our subject today is Paul. The message of this encounter is that Jesus still meets people today. The chapter tells how a campaign of repression had begun against the Christians and that this man Saul was at the heart of it. He was born as a Roman citizen in the Greek city of Tarsus but was brought up by his Jewish parents according to the traditions of Israel. He was determined to stamp out this revolutionary Christian movement. He pursued the Christians everywhere. It was while he was on his journey to Damascus that he was confronted by the risen Christ and his life was turned upside down. In the past two weeks we have considered the various encounters Jesus had during his earthly ministry. The encounter between Jesus and Paul, however, moves us to a different plane. Here we have Jesus encountering someone long after his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. This tells us that Jesus Christ is alive today and continues to encounter those who will put their faith in him. Have we encountered the living Christ?
Wednesday 28th October
While still a baby Jesus met with two remarkable people, as we shall see today and tomorrow. As devout Jews, Joseph and Mary had Jesus circumcised and named, then later brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. There they encounter Simeon. We don’t know much about this man. We’re told he was ‘righteous’ and ‘devout’ and that he was ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’. That means he was waiting for the Messiah. In fact, we learn that God had promised him he would not die without setting eyes on the Messiah. He was also a man so close to God that he was sensitive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit, who led him into the temple on this day, just at the time when Jesus was being presented. Simeon told them that Jesus would bring salvation, that he would be a light to the Gentiles and that he would divide people. What a wonderful day for Joseph and Mary and what wonderful prophecies.
Thursday 29th October
There was someone else present in the temple that day, Anna the prophetess. She was a godly old woman. Luke says that she ‘never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.’ She too was enabled by God to recognise that this child was the promised Messiah: ‘Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.’ Do you see the point? She was saying that this child would be the Redeemer. Redemption means the payment of a price for deliverance. It was used in the ancient world in a number of ways. If a slave could pay his master a certain sum of money he could buy his freedom, he could ‘redeem’ himself. In the New Testament the word means that we are delivered from slavery to sin. Have you been redeemed?
Friday 30th October
Here we read of the Centurion who met Jesus. There are several things we can say about this man. First, he was a godly man. Notice what we see in verses 4-5: ‘When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”’ His reputation was well established and well deserved. Second, he was a humble man. He did not feel able to have Jesus enter his home or even to meet him in person. Third and most important, he was a man of faith. Notice what we see in verse 9: ‘When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”’ He recognised the authority of Jesus and he recognised Jesus as someone who could meet his needs. Are we as godly and humble as this man? Do we have the same strength of faith?
Saturday 31st October
In this passage Jesus meets the people from the synagogue where he grew up. He is asked to read the Scriptures, reads from Isaiah 61 and then said that this passage had been fulfilled that very day. What a shock this must have been for those who were listening. Every good Jew knew that Isaiah 61 was a ‘messianic’ passage. By saying that the passage had just been fulfilled, Jesus was saying that he was the messiah! They listened at first but then stopped listening and tried to throw him over a cliff! They listed to Jesus expounding the Scriptures until he said something they didn’t like. That is the case with many in the churches today. They don’t like what Scripture says on some things and so they respond by ignoring or undermining or denying its plain meaning and clear teaching.