During this month, we shall continue our Bible readings in the Gospel of Mark. We shall complete the final few readings in Mark next month.
Tuesday 1st September
This passage comes in a chapter where Jesus is being challenged by the teachers of the law. Once again Jesus silenced them with a hard question. These people were waiting for a messiah descended from David. Jesus quotes one of David’s own psalms, Psalm 110, where he speaks of the coming messiah as his ‘Lord’, one who would be greater than he. The teachers of the law could not understand this because they refused to believe that Jesus was the messiah, and they refused to believe that he was divine. The teachers of the law could not properly interpret the Scriptures because all of the Scriptures point forward to Jesus. By rejecting Jesus, they could not make sense of the Scriptures that prophesied his coming. If we want to understand the Bible, we must always remember that believing in Jesus opens up its meaning and interpretation.
Wednesday 2nd September
Jesus then turns on these teachers of the law and accuses them of all manner of sin and hypocrisy and tells the people to beware of them. They wanted to be important, they wanted to be highly regarded by the people and they wanted all that they could get for themselves. Perhaps the most serious criticism is that they ‘devour widows’ houses’. The commentators suggest that these teachers of the law abused their position of trust by taking a huge ‘cut’ when they were involved in selling the houses of the poor widows, or otherwise involved in their financial affairs. Their love for money showed that personal gain was more important to them than love for God. Is love for God the most important driving force in our lives? Does it take first place, above all of the other things we love?
Thursday 3rd September
This passage, which we looked at yesterday, has one central message, about how we show our love for God. It is clear from the whole Bible that love for God and love for our neighbour cannot be separated. Indeed, we might say that we can only prove we love God by loving our neighbour. Those who pretend to be very religious and pretend to love God but who do nothing to help those around them, are hypocrites. The teachers of the law were just like that. They had no love for either God or their neighbours. Jesus condemns them because, although they seemed to be very religious and preoccupied with the things of God, they were proud, greedy, and stole from the poor and the helpless. Is our religion only skin deep or does it lead to a desire to show the love and compassion of Christ to our neighbours?
Friday 4th September
In contrast to the teachers of the law, who thought that they were a cut above everyone else, Jesus tells the story of a poor widow who was going into the temple and put her offering in the plate as she went in. She put in only ‘two very small copper coins’, amounting to a fraction of a penny but it was worth more than anyone else had put in because it was all that she had. The rich might throw in a few gold coins worth a hundred times what the woman put in but they had so much to begin with that there was no sacrifice involved. Alan Cole, one of the commentators on this passage put it very pointedly like this, ‘the Lord measures giving, not by what we give, but by what we keep for ourselves.’ How does our giving match up to that standard?
Saturday 5th September
The principle which is being established in the story of the poor widow is proportionate giving. We are expected to give to God a portion or percentage of what he gives us. In the Old Testament God commanded his people to give him 10% of their income. This was regarded as belonging to God. Consider Leviticus 27:30. Then read the strong words in Malachi 3:8-10 where the prophet says that those who didn’t tithe (give 10%) were robbing God. This is not just Old Testament teaching. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Paul tells the Christians that money was to be put aside on the first day of the week and the sum given had to be in keeping with income, that is, a percentage of income. Paul also says that the spirit in which the money is given is important. For example, in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, where he says that Christian giving should be willing and generous. The widow gave sacrificially, do we?
Sunday 6th September
Now we begin what is probably the most difficult chapter in the whole of Mark’s Gospel. It has sometimes been called ‘The Little Apocalypse’ because, like the Book of Revelation, it is concerned with prophecies about the last things. The chapter begins with a discussion between Jesus and his disciples about the temple in Jerusalem. The disciples were admiring the magnificent building. Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach them not to place too much confidence in outward appearances and he tells them that, before very long, the temple will be completely destroyed. In fact, this was fulfilled in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem to her enemies. The disciples had to learn that astonishing things were going to happen, in line with God’s plan for the world. They also had to learn to trust in God and not in a temple or any other earthly achievement, however magnificent it might be.
Monday 7th September
In these two verses, four of the disciples: Peter, John, James and Andrew, ask Jesus when the temple would be destroyed, as Jesus had prophesied. In the verses which follow, it is significant that Jesus does not attempt to give times and dates, or to provide them with a table of forthcoming events. Instead, he tells them to be prepared, to watch out and to trust God. As Alan Cole says in his commentary, ‘The Lord makes no attempt to satisfy morbid curiosity. His aim is practical and ethical.’ Those who constantly speculate about the last things ought to bear this in mind. Jesus warns his disciples of the dangers of being distracted by turmoil in the world into thinking that the end of the world was about to come. In other words, the proper question to ask is not, ‘When will the end come?’ but rather ‘Am I ready for the Day of Judgement, whenever it comes?’
Tuesday 8th September
Jesus tells his disciples that they must bear witness to Jesus, even before governors and kings, until the Gospel reaches all nations. This will not be an easy task because they will be arrested and put on trial. Nevertheless, they are to stand firm to the end. If they do, they will be saved (verse 13). We might say that true Christians will be recognised by their perseverance whereas others, only nominal in their Christianity, will fall away. The warning that Jesus gives them about this impending persecution also comes with a promise of help and support. When they are put on trial, they do not have to worry about what they will say. When we face difficulties and opposition, this should give us confidence. We can trust in the Lord to help us through.
Wednesday 9th September
When we come to these verses we are faced with a problem. Which parts refer to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and which parts refer to the second coming of Christ? In trying to solve this problem, we need to remember two things. First, Jesus was speaking about the whole period from the very day he said these words until his return. That involves a certain ‘telescoping’ of events. Second, as we know from the Old Testament prophets, sometimes a passage has a ‘double meaning’. The prophet might have been speaking about Israel but later the passage was understood to also have been a messianic passage, speaking about Christ. This means that Jesus might well have been speaking about the fall of Jerusalem and about his return, at the same time.
Thursday 10th September
Whatever else this passage might mean, it does seem to indicate that, immediately before the return of Christ, there will be terrible days for the Christian church. This does not mean that everything is going to get worse and worse until Christ returns. Indeed, there is evidence from the New Testament that there might be days of great revival (perhaps including the conversion of Israel) before the end. We have looked at some of the evidence for that recently at the Midweek Meeting, in our studies in Revelation. That having been said, these verses do suggest that immediately before Christ returns there will be days of unprecedented suffering. As Jesus says, there will be, ‘days of distress unequaled from the beginning’ (verse 19). Whether we live through days of revival or days of great suffering and distress, we must keep our eyes focussed on Christ whose we are and whom we serve. He will see us through.
Friday 11th September
In the midst of this great tribulation of which we read yesterday, Jesus Christ will return. He will come ‘with great power and glory’ and he will gather together the elect of God. This doctrine of the second coming of Christ is well attested in Scripture. Take time to consider the following references: Matthew 13:40-42; Mark 13:26; John 14:3; Acts 1:11; 3:20; 10:42; 17:31; 1 Corinthians 15:23ff.; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11; Hebrews 9:28; James 5:7; 2 Peter 3:8-13; and 1 John 3:2ff.. It will be sudden and unexpected (Matthew 24:37-44) and it will mark the end of time as we know it (1 Corinthians 15:24).
Saturday 12th September
Jesus points to the fig tree and offers an analogy to drive home his message about the future events of which this chapter speaks. He points out that, when you see leaves on a tree, you know that summer is near. There are two ways that we could understand this. First, when the disciples saw the events described in this chapter taking place, then they would know that the end was near for Jerusalem. Second, when later Christians saw the great tribulation and suffering of the church, they would know that the return of Christ was near. The key point for us is to remember that the second coming of Christ will usher in the Day of Judgement. As we read in Hebrews 9:27,28: ‘Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.’
Sunday 13th September
This section is the key to the whole chapter and it is why Jesus spoke in such a prophetic manner. Essentially the message is that we do not know when Christ will return, since the date is not known by anyone, not even Christ himself (verse 32 and Matthew 24:36). Nevertheless, although we do not know when the return of Christ will take place, we are to ensure that we are ready. In other words, we must prepare ourselves for that coming. The illustration Jesus gives is of a man who leaves servants in charge of his house and goes away on a journey. The servants have no idea when the owner might return, so they must be ready and vigilant at all times. Would we be ready to face our Lord were he to return today?
Monday 14th September
Having looked at this chapter section by section, we read the whole chapter again today, in order to get the full flow of the ideas and themes and to see how each thought passes into the next. It is a complex and difficult chapter but is also profound and challenging. The note we should finish on, however, is one of hope. The teaching of this chapter ought to bring us joy and hope because the clear message is that all will be well for God’s elect people, no matter what trials there may be in the meantime. The elect is the name given to all those who, through faith, have been brought into the kingdom of God. Have you come to Christ in faith and been pardoned and accepted by the Father?
Tuesday 15th September
We come today to the story of Jesus being anointed at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. Whenever people met Jesus they were divided. Either they followed him and trusted in him or they rejected him and worked against him. There was no middle ground. In this passage we see people divided. Indeed we see here the extremes of love and hatred which were provoked by the presence of the Lord. On the one hand, the utter devotion of this woman. On the other hand, the bitter hatred of Judas Iscariot. We too have a choice. Either we accept Jesus or we reject him and our choice has serious consequences. It puts us either on that narrow road which leads to life or on the broad road which leads to destruction. What is our response to Jesus?
Wednesday 16th September
This story is contained in all four Gospels but if we use Mark and John we get more or less the complete picture. Taking Mark 14 and John 12 together, then, we can say the following. A dinner was being given in Jesus’ honour at the home of a man called Simon the Leper. While he was there a woman came. This was Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha. Mary had been devoted to Jesus for a long time, but no doubt her devotion increased a hundredfold when her brother Lazarus was raised from the dead. Her heart was full of love and gratitude. To demonstrate this love she poured a very expensive ointment on the Lord. This ointment was very expensive because it was made from a herb which grew high up in the Himalayas between Tibet and India, and so was very rare. Do we love the Saviour? If so, to what lengths do we go to express that love?
Thursday 17th September
Today, in reading this passage again, we see the other character involved. Judas Iscariot objected strongly to what he called a waste of perfume. He argued that it could have been sold and given to the poor. In John 12:5-6, however, we learn that Judas was a thief. John tells us why Judas Iscariot objected to the ‘waste’ of perfume: ‘He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.’ You know that Judas Iscariot was the one who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver but did you know that he was also a thief? John tells us that he was the keeper of the money bag, for distribution to the poor. He was stealing from this bag. It is clear from what John says that Judas was not concerned about the poor, rather he was concerned that the money was not going into his bag where he could get his hands on it.
Friday 18th September
We read these verses for a final time, in order to highlight one of the main lessons of the story, which is that we must get our priorities right. This was a lesson which Mary understood very well. On two occasions in the New Testament we find Mary in the company of Jesus and being accused of getting her priorities wrong. In today’s passage, she was accused of wasting expensive ointment which could have been sold in aid of the poor. In an earlier story, she was accused by her sister Martha of being lazy, when she sat at the Master’s feet while Martha rushed around preparing everything. On both occasions, Mary was commended by Jesus and he said that she was the one who had her priorities right. Many Christians spend their whole time rushing round doing a thousand different things, involved in dozens of worthy causes and don’t take the time to sit and learn from Jesus. I have met Christians who are so busy going to meetings, working for the church, doing good works, that they do not have any time for regular prayer and Bible Study. Have we got our priorities right?
Saturday 19th September
This passage describes what has come to be known as the Last Supper, when Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples, shortly before his crucifixion. We are told of the arrangements which were made for a room in which to share the meal and how they all gathered. Then the mood changes and Jesus tells them that one of them was going to betray him, one of those who were sharing the meal with him. As we know now, Jesus was speaking about Judas Iscariot, who was soon to betray him. What a tragedy, that a disciple, someone who had been with Jesus for three years and who had heard Jesus teach and seen his miracles, could be guilty of such betrayal. Have we ever been in danger of betraying our Lord, either by what we have said (or failed to say) or by our actions?
Sunday 20th September
It was during this meal that Jesus used bread and wine to illustrate his death. Ever since that night, Christians have continued this tradition of sharing bread and wine to remind us of Christ’s death. It is both a symbolic reminder of what Christ did on the Cross, when the body of Jesus was broken and his blood was spilled. It is also an assurance that when we come to the Table, the Lord himself is truly present in a special, albeit mysterious way. We must note, however, that there is no ‘automatic’ benefit. As Dr Terry Johnson, a friend of mine from Savannah, Georgia put it, ‘Don’t think that all one need do is place one’s body in the right building at the right time, where the right ritual is being performed.’ Simply to attend a Communion service and take bread and wine will do us no spiritual good on its own, if we are not in a right relationship with God, if we do not come in the right Spirit, if our hearts are not filled with worship. If, however, we come to worship in spirit and in truth, we shall enjoy the spiritual blessings which God gives us in this sacrament.
Monday 21st September
Just as Jesus had predicted Judas Iscariot’s betrayal, so here he predicts Peter’s denial. Jesus describes how they would all give way. Their faith would be damaged by the unexpected sequence of events which would befall Jesus (despite the fact that he had told them precisely what was going to happen in Jerusalem). Peter asserts his loyalty and says that he was ready to die with Jesus. He was full of pride in his own strength and courage. He had still to learn humility and the need to rely on the strength of Christ rather than on his own strength. He was not alone in this. As we read in verse 31, ‘And all the others said the same’. There is all the difference in the world between ‘being confident’ and ‘being confident in the Lord’. Peter would soon learn the difference and be broken in the process.
Tuesday 22nd September
Jesus took his disciples to a place called Gethsemane and asked them to wait while he prayed. He then took three of the disciples (Peter, James and John) and went a little further. Clearly in a state of severe distress he then asked these three to wait while he himself went still further, to pray. He was, in effect, creating a double circle of prayer around himself as he went through this agony of soul. Several times during this period of prayer he returned to his disciples and found them asleep. They had not realised the significance of what was about to happen, and Jesus warned them of the danger of weakness. While Jesus was praying by himself he prayed that if possible he might be delivered from what was about to happen. He said, ‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ In other words, Jesus was asking God his Father to permit him a way of escape from the suffering and the crucifixion which lay ahead of him. Nevertheless, he was prepared to go the way of the cross if that was what his father wanted. Are we always ready to do the will of God?
Wednesday 23rd September
The agony of Gethsemane and Jesus’ desire to be free from the obligation to go to the Cross were not because he was physically afraid but because he was to bear sin and receive in his own person the punishment for sin which was rightfully ours. The most significant aspect of Gethsemane was the obedience which Jesus rendered to the Father. Or, to put it another way, the victory over self which Jesus won at Gethsemane. He was willing to endure the Cross because it was the will of his Father. He was prepared to be the Lamb which was sacrificed for sin. He was prepared to shed his blood in order that we might be saved. Gethsemane was the last point on the way to the Cross at which Jesus could have turned back. It was at Gethsemane that he struggled against the world, the flesh and the devil before taking that long, lonely journey to Calvary. It was at Gethsemane that he determined to go the way of the Cross. Do we understand fully the meaning of the Cross?
Thursday 24th September
In John 13:30 we learn that Judas had slipped away early from the Last Supper. He now returns and he brings with him a well-armed company of priests and temple guards. The worst part of what followed is that Judas used the signs of love and discipleship as the means of betrayal, namely, the kiss of peace and the word ‘rabbi’. When we read the Gospel stories and see all the miracles that Jesus did, and hear the words he spoke, and recognise the love and compassion which he displayed is it not astonishing that one of his closest friends could desire to see him arrested and killed? What made Judas betray his Master? One verse in the New Testament certainly helps us to understand Judas, and that is 1 Corinthians 2:14 where we read, ‘The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ Judas was not a spiritually enlightened man and because of this he could not understand what Jesus was doing, and he could not understand his purpose. Have we been enlightened by the Holy Spirit?
Friday 25th September
They come in the dead of night and take Jesus away. We must not think, however, even at this stage, that things were out of control. As we read this account, we see a man who was completely in control of the situation, who was calm, who was apparently unafraid and who was quite prepared to accept what he knew was going to happen. Gethsemane is past. Jesus had asked for the cup to be taken from him yet indicated that he was prepared to do God’s will; and in this passage we see him doing that will with absolute poise and dignity. Jesus had won through to the place where he was willing to die. He was entirely ready to lay down his life for others. The awful conclusion to this episode is described in the cold and stark words of verse 50, ‘Then everyone deserted him and fled.’ Jesus had told them this would happen (verse 27), yet at the time they all protested. Nothing would prevent them from following Jesus. They were brave, they would stand firm. Jesus was now alone with his captors and enemies. Can you imagine the loneliness of that moment?
Saturday 26th September
If we want a record of the exact sequence of events following upon the arrest of Jesus, including a description of the various individuals and groups before whom he was taken, then we must go to one of the longer Gospels. Mark’s intention is simply to show the injustice of what took place and the sheer speed of the proceedings. Jesus is taken before the Sanhedrin, ostensibly to be tried but, as verse 55 makes clear, they had already made up their minds. They were not seeking justice, they were seeking evidence to put him to death. They did not want to discover the truth, they only wanted his execution. They were like a pack of wild jackals baying for blood. They could not find any evidence against Jesus but that did not deter them. They wheeled out a series of witnesses who would testify against him irrespective of the truth but even their statements did not agree. Why were they so hostile? One simple answer is that they were being used by Satan. He has always been the enemy of God’s servants and of God’s Son.
Sunday 27th September
Finally the High Priest intervened and began to interview Jesus. The key question was, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ When Jesus answered ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest declared this to be blasphemy and we read, ‘They all condemned him as worthy of death’. This was the critical point. When Jesus claimed to be the Christ, the trial was over. That was all that was needed. Then began the insults and the beatings, and this entire process of judicial murder was taken a step further. These men understood the significance of this claim and what it meant for them. The Jews expected Messiah to come and if the people believed that Jesus was the one, they would listen to him and not to the chief priests. Their power base was being challenged and the control they had over the people was threatened. They were not interested in the truth or otherwise of the claim of Jesus to be messiah. Do we believe that Jesus was the promised messiah? If so, have we given our lives completely to him?
Monday 28th September
As we saw last Monday, Jesus had prophesied that Peter would deny that he knew Jesus. More than that, he specifically said that Peter would deny him three times ‘before the rooster crows twice’ (Mark 14:30). Now we see the fulfilment of that prophecy. All of the disciples had run away, despite their assurances that they were willing to die with Jesus. Now Peter denies three times that he even knew Jesus. What a tragedy, what a downfall. We must recognise the enormity of this betrayal. As Alan Cole has said, ‘It is fashionable to make excuses for Peter, as some do for Judas… but unless we see the heinousness of his sin, we cannot understand the bitterness of his remorse, nor the depth of his repentance, nor the riches of grace in his restoration.’ As soon as the rooster crowed a second time, Peter remembered what Jesus had said and he broke down and wept. There was still hope for Peter and a place in God’s plan but he did not know this at that point. All he knew was misery and guilt.
Tuesday 29th September
The first fifteen verses of chapter 15 of Mark’s Gospel describe Jesus’ encounter with Pilate. The chief priests, elders, teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin had brought Jesus before Pilate. The encounter which follows is fascinating and we learn a good deal about this man Pilate. At the time of Jesus, Judea was under the control of the Roman Empire with an occupying army. The Emperor appointed governors in each of the provinces which were under Roman control, and Pilate was the Governor of Judea. His official title was ‘Procurator.’ He was the fifth procurator of Judea and he was appointed by the Emperor Tiberius. He was in complete charge of Judea and the occupying forces acted under his authority. This force probably amounted to several thousand men, some of whom were stationed in Caesarea with the remainder in Jerusalem. Pilate had great power, and whether a convicted criminal lived or died was entirely up to him. Even capital sentences passed by the Sanhedrin had to be referred to him for ratification. The scholars tell us that, ‘He also appointed the high priests and controlled the Temple and its funds…’ In short, this was a very important man in Judea, even although he was insignificant in terms of the Roman Empire.
Wednesday 30th September
Jesus was brought before him, to answer the charges laid against him by the Sanhedrin and to hear Pilate’s decision as to whether or not to uphold the demands of the Sanhedrin for his execution. You can see that this was a crucial moment. The remarkable thing is that Jesus refused to answer any of the charges brought against him. This astonished Pilate and he was completely at a loss to know what to do. The key thing to understand about Pilate is that he wanted to satisfy the crowd. As we see in verse 15: ‘Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.’ It’s not uncommon for political leaders to want to satisfy the crowd. That’s why we have ‘focus groups’ and that’s why politicians will promise just about anything in order to get elected. Only very brave and principled leaders will stick to their guns in the face of hostility – especially from the media. The truth of the matter is that Pilate did not want to crucify Jesus. This is clear from Luke 23:20-23. Here we see the weakness of the man. He did not believe that Jesus had done anything deserving death. Indeed, he could find nothing at all that Jesus had done wrong. But the shouts of the crowd grew louder ‘and their shouts prevailed.’ He knew the right thing to do but he didn’t do it.