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The Resurrection (Mark 16.1–8)

If you are reading the New International Version of Mark 16.1–8, you will find a note after verse 8 that says, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9–20.” A note in the NIV Study Bible further explains: “Serious doubt exists as to whether these verses belong to the Gospel of Mark. They are absent from important early manuscripts and display certain peculiarities of vocabulary, style and theological content that are unlike the rest of Mark. His Gospel probably ended at 16:8, or its original ending has been lost.”

I mention this all this for two reasons: (1) to educate and (2) to reassure. Unlike today, when we have desktop printers and Xerox machines, in the ancient world, all books were copied out by hand. An ancient author’s original writing is usually referred to as the autograph (Greek for “self written.”) Copies of the autograph are referred to as manuscripts (Latin for “hand written”). The process of reproducing an author’s work by hand sometimes led to copy errors, such as misspelled words and misplaced sentences. Because we have so many manuscripts of the books of the New Testament, however, we can reliably reconstruct the autographs of the biblical writers. Indeed, the New Testament is by far the best-attested, most reliable document to emerge from the ancient world. That is, in and of itself, reassuring.

Also reassuring is the fact that no biblical doctrine depends on any textual variant, a phrase that describes the differences between the manuscripts. This is especially true of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Recently, I engaged in an informal online debate with a skeptic of the resurrection. He argued that Mark’s Gospel is the earliest and most reliable source of information about Christ. Because Mark 16.9–20 is not part of the autograph, however, he further argued that Mark’s Gospel knows nothing of Christ’s resurrection. Instead, he concluded, later New Testament writers ginned up the doctrine of the resurrection in order to advance some socio-political agenda.

Unfortunately, this skeptical argument is absolutely wrong. Even a cursory survey of Mark’s Gospel reveals three separate instances in which Christ prophesies his death in Jerusalem and resurrection three days later (Mark 8.31, 9.31, 10.34). All of these verses are part of Mark’s autograph. Even more devastating for the skeptical argument is Mark 16.6–7, which is also part of the autograph: “‘Don’t be alarmed,’ [the young man] said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

What is odd about Mark’s ending, in other words, is not that it knows nothing of Christ’s resurrection. No, what is odd is the women’s reaction: “trembling and bewildered” and “afraid.” But then again, how would you react in the presence of a Power which even death could not conquer?

Forsaken (Mark 15.21–47)

Mark 15.21–47 narrates the death and burial of Jesus Christ. It is a sparse, unsentimental narrative. The only theological comments are ironic. A sign placed on top of Jesus’ cross proclaimed, “The King of the Jews.” When Christ died, a Roman centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” A crucified king. A murdered deity. What little explicit theology Mark includes in his narrative undoes most of the theology we have learned.

Martin Luther distinguished the “theology of glory” from the “theology of the cross.” The former emphasizes God’s greatness, power, and invincibility. The latter draws attention to God’s smallness, weakness, and vulnerability — characteristics on full display in the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son, especially the vulnerability.

The word vulnerable literally means “able to be wounded.” Christ’s wounds were physical, of course, but his cry of dereliction indicates the wounding went much farther down. “My God, my God,” he cries out to the Father, “why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, Christ felt utterly alone, abandoned by his friends and forsaken by God.

And yet, even with this cry of dereliction, Christ displays his faith in God. As a Jew, Jesus learned his prayers from the Psalter, the hymnbook of Israel. “My God, my God” is the first line of Psalm 22, a lament. It accurately prophesies Christ’s predicament:

Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.


Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.


Roaring lions tearing their prey

open their mouths wide against me.


I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted away within me.


My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.


Dogs have surrounded me;

a band of evil men has encircled me,

they have pierced my hands and my feet.


I can count all my bones;

people stare and gloat over me.


They divide my garments among them

and cast lots for my clothing.

But the psalm does not end with despair, but with praise.


For God has not despised or disdained

the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help….


The poor will eat and be satisfied;

they who seek the LORD will praise him—

may your hearts live forever!


All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the LORD,

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him,


for dominion belongs to the LORD

and he rules over the nations….


They will proclaim his righteousness

to a people yet unborn—

for he has done it.

In his suffering, Christ’s teaches us how to suffer too. With honesty pain, and with God-drenched hope. Christ’s death is unique, of course, in that we are saved by it. But following him also means imitating his pattern of suffering, not to mention experiencing his resurrection in our own lives.

Four Failures (Mark 14.32–72)

Mark 14.32–72 narrates four events in the horrific hours leading up to Christ’s crucifixion: his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane, his arrest, his trial before the Sanhedrin, and Peter’s denial of him. Taken together, these four events reveal an interesting dynamic between Jesus and us. Let’s take a closer look.

First, Christ’s agonizing prayer in Gethsemane: To the disciples, he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” As Christians we confess that Jesus is God incarnate, the deity in the flesh. But we also confess—and Jesus’ statement confirms—his total humanity. Facing certain, imminent, painful death, Jesus expressed the authentic and understandable emotion of sorrow. He shared this with his fellow humans, but he also shared it with God. “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” By asking God to “take this cup from me,” Jesus prayed that he would not die. And yet, knowing that the Father had plans for him, Jesus surrendered his will to a Higher Will. Unfortunately, in this agonizing moment in the garden, Jesus was utterly alone, for his disciples had fallen asleep.

Second, Christ’s arrest. Judas betrayed the Lord with reverential words (“Rabbi”) and with a kiss of greeting. When his disciples, finally awake, realized what was happening, they drew their swords for a fight, and one of them cut of the ear of the high priest’s servant. But Jesus wanted none of their violence, either the mob’s or his disciples’. So he submitted to arrest, but his disciples fled for fear of their own lives.

Third, Christ’s trial before the Sanhedrin. It was rigged. False witnesses presented perjured and contradictory testimony about Jesus’ “revolutionary” program. Then the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus’ two word reply—“I am”—sealed his fate, and the Sanhedrin accused him of blasphemy. Had they not seen the miracles and the exorcisms? Had they not heard his authoritative teaching? Of course they had, but they did not want to repent, and so they “condemned him as worthy of death.”

Finally, Peter’s denial of Christ. After fleeing from Gethsemane, Peter made his way back into the city and planted himself in the courtyard outside the high priest’s house. People recognized him. Fearing for his life, Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times, just as Christ had prophesied he would.

What we see in these four events are four failures: a failure of spiritual power, for the disciples could not pray; a failure of moral discipleship, for the disciples took up arms to defend Jesus, in contradiction to what he had taught them; a failure of intellect, for the Sanhedrin refused to believe what they had seen with their own eyes; and a failure of nerve, for at the moment of crisis, Peter’s courage was nowhere to be found.

Are we praying? Are we conforming our lives to Christ’s teaching? Do we understand who Jesus is and what he has done for us? And are we taking a stand as his followers in a world that is often hostile to him? Mark 14.32–72 is not a story about others’ failings. It is—if we imitate them—a story about our own.

Poured Out for Many (Mark 14.12–31)

Food is biblical.

Consider how often the Bible uses food to mark a spiritually significant event. Passover commemorates God leading the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12.1–20). The Lord’s Supper remembers Christ’s death on our behalf (1 Corinthians 11.23–26). We look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb when Christ returns and raises us to eternal life (Revelation 19.6–9).

In each of these cases—and in many more throughout Scripture—the salvation God provides is celebrated with food, and not skimpy hors d’oeuvres either, but a full feast. Why is that the case? It seems to me that there are at least two reasons: sacrifice and hospitality.

Passover is the role model here in Mark 14.12–31. During Passover, the Israelites sacrificed a lamb and spread a portion of its blood over their doorposts so that the Angel of Death would “pass over” their houses when he executed judgment against their Egyptian slave owners. The Lord’s Supper, which was part of a Passover meal, portrays Jesus as the Passover Lamb whose death takes away the sins of the world. And the Marriage Supper of the Lamb—notice that allusion to Passover—is the eternal celebration of what God has done for us through Christ. In each case, the theme of sacrifice is present.

But so too is the theme of hospitality. Have you ever noticed that you usually reserve meals for family and friends? Although on occasion we must eat with our enemies, we do so as rarely as possible. Why? Because food is something to be savored, and the company we keep something to be enjoyed. It’s hard to savor your food or enjoy your company when you know that the person on the other side of the table has it in for you.

Significantly, I think, Jesus ate the Last Supper with his closest friends, the disciples. And yet, Judas would betray him to the governing authorities. Peter would deny him three times. In fact, says Jesus, “You will all fall away,” indicating that all the disciples would run and hide when Jesus was arrested and crucified. (Although John—alone of the disciples—returned to witness the crucifixion.) Jesus ate this meal with his friends, but they turned out to be his enemies, eleven of them temporarily, one of them permanently.

How tragic that Christ’s last meal with his friends would turn out to be a meal with the very people who would desert him when he needed them most! And yet, how necessary for their salvation, and ours! Of the cup, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Salvation comes not to those who are already safe, but to those who are in danger. Christ dies not for the righteous, who don’t need his righteousness, but for sinners, who do.

Christ invites us to share the Marriage Supper of the Lamb with him in eternity. To do so, however, we must stop denying and start admitting that we need a Savior. Only then do we become one of the many for whom Christ poured out his life.

A Beautiful Thing for Me (Mark 14.1–11)

Have you ever seen the bumper sticker, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”? It makes me sick. It’s full of the 1960s hippie sentimentality that I love to loathe. Unfortunately for my 1980s preppie cynicism, it’s biblical.

Mark 14.1–11 describes a beautiful kindness that a woman performed for Jesus. While Jesus was dining at the home of Simon the Leper, “a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” Now I don’t know about you, but the woman’s act seems pretty random and senseless, not to mention extravagantly wasteful.

Evidently, there were a few Georges in the room who complained along exactly those lines. “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” There’s a cold and seemingly irresistible logic to their argument, of course. Given the choice between burning a paycheck and signing it over to a worthy charity, I think most of us would choose to do the latter. After all, if we’re not going to enjoy the money, at least some unfortunate person should.



Here’s how Jesus hotly responded to the woman’s critics: “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

On several occasions, Jesus prophesied that he was going to Jerusalem to die (Mark 8.31–32, 9.31–32, and 10.32–34). Peter rebuked him for his prediction (8.32). The rest of the disciples simply didn’t understand it (9.32). This woman—and this woman alone—understood it and prepared for it. Knowing that Jesus would not be with her forever, she took the best that she had and gave it to him as a gift. It cost her a lot—a whole year’s wages. But I think this woman had learned what the Rich Young Ruler had not: Only when we give away all we have can our arms be open to receive all that Jesus has (Mark 10.29–31).

So, in the end, while kind and beautiful, this woman’s act turns out to be anything but random and senseless. It is, rather, an intentional, sensible act of worship directed at our entirely deserving Savior. According to Marva Dawn, worship is a royal waste of time. According to the cold, irresistible logic of economics it probably is, but not according to warm desirable logic of gratitude. Nothing is too good for Jesus. Not our valuables, nor our wages, and definitely not our lives. Since we can offer nothing less, let us offer Christ ourselves.

Live Like You Were Dying (Mark 13.1–37)

Several years ago, at the Academy of Country Music Awards, Tim McGraw won song of the year for “Live Like You Were Dying.” The song is about a man who discovers he is dying of cancer. His friend asks him, “How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news? / Man, what’d you do?” The man replies:

I went sky diving

I went Rocky Mountain climbing

I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter

And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying

And he said someday I hope you get the chance

To live like you were dying.

In other words, knowing that his remaining time on earth was short, the man lived life to the full.

Mark 13.1–37 records Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. New Testament scholars disagree as to whether the prophecy refers to the destruction of Jerusalem that actually occurred in A.D. 70 or to its destruction at some time in our future. Either way, Jesus offers his disciples a preview of the difficult future that lay ahead of them.

That future includes “false Christs” and “false prophets” (vv. 5, 6, 21, 22). It includes “wars and rumors of war” (vv. 7, 8a). Earthquakes, famines, and other natural disasters will multiply (vv. 8b, 24, 25). Christians will be persecuted for their faith (vv. 9–13). And false religion will take prominence over true faith (v. 14). Jesus litany of “signs” is unremittingly negative, full of danger and death.

How should we live? As Christians, we should live life to the full. And while that may include riding a bull named Fu Manchu—life is fun, after all—it also involves seriously pursuing our relationship with God.

The most important thing Jesus tells us to do is “Watch!” Jesus tells a parable about a homeowner who goes on a trip and leaves his servants in charge, but without telling them when he will return. “Therefore keep watch,” Jesus says, “because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (vv. 35–37). Life is short. Death comes quickly. Are we ready to stand in God’s presence?

The Apostles’ Creed tells us that Jesus will “come again to judge the living and the dead.” Jesus himself says the same thing in verses 26 and 27: “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” Are we ready?

As Christians, we should not fear the future. Christ’s second coming is a great and happy event after all. No, we should not fear; but we should prepare.

Being Close to the Kingdom (Mark 12.13–44)

Today’s Scripture reading (Mark 12.13–44) is long. So, instead of trying to write about all of it, I want to write about only part of it. But that part is important, perhaps the most important thing we can learn from the Bible. Let’s take a closer look at verses 28–34.

Beginning at verse 28, a teacher of the law engages in a conversation with Jesus, asking him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” The teachers of the law—together with the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, and elders—have taken quite a shellacking at Jesus’ hands throughout Mark’s Gospel. But this particular teacher seems different. While certain Pharisees asked Jesus questions “to catch [Jesus] in his words” (verse 13), this teacher asked Jesus a question because he saw that Jesus provided “a good answer” (verse 28). This should remind us, of course, not to judge a person by the label he wears; some teachers of the law were honest spiritual seekers.

The teacher’s question prompts another question: Is it possible to arrange the commandments in a hierarchy of values? According to Jewish scholars, there are 611 commandments in the Law of Moses. (Another count finds 613.) The commandments cover the gamut, ranging from laws about morality to laws about sacrifices to laws about food and hygiene to laws about political organization. Are they all equally authoritative? What happens if two conflict?

Now you may be under the impression that the laws cannot conflict. But that does not seem quite right. If your wife is pregnant and you need to get her to the hospital at 3.00 a.m., you will probably speed, run a few stoplights and stop signs, and in general take the traffic laws with a grain of salt. And if a cop pulls you over, once he realizes the gravity of the situation, he probably won’t give you a ticket. Why? Because the moral duty to rush your wife to the hospital for a safe delivery is more important than obeying traffic laws when the streets are virtually deserted. The same kind of reasoning applies to the laws of Scripture. Some are more important than others.

For Jesus, the most important commandments revolved around loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself. “There is no commandment greater than these,” he says (verse 31). In Matthew’s parallel account, he said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22.40). We often pit law and love in an antagonistic relationship, but in the bible, they are complementary. If you love God and neighbor, you will obey the law. Indeed, as Paul put it, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13.10).

Jesus’ answer impressed the teacher, who added, “To love…is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (verse 33). In other words, the moral elements of the law are more important than the ceremonial elements, which cover sacrifice and the like. Why? Because what God really wants is inward spiritual change, not outward religious show. We, like the teacher, will be near the kingdom of God when we put this insight into practice in our own lives.

Do We Respect God’s Son? (Mark 12.1–12)

The Jewish religious leadership often takes a shellacking from Jesus’ hand. Mark 12.1–12 is a good example. It is a parable about a landowner, his vineyard, and some tenant farmers who kill his son. The parable so angered “the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders” (11.27) that they “looked for a way to arrest [Jesus] because they knew the parable was about them.” What made them so mad?

Although Jesus’ parables are not usually allegories—in which each character symbolizes someone else—this one seems to be. The landowner is God; the farmers are the religious leaders; the servants are the prophets; and the “son, whom he loved” is Jesus. (“This is my Son, whom I love,” is what the voice from heaven says to the disciples on the mount of transfiguration in Mark 9.7.) The land, it seems to me, represents the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20.1–21).

Understood as an allegory, what the parable is saying is this: God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai. However, Israel’s religious leadership failed to observe the terms of that covenant. Although God sent prophet after prophet to recall them to the love for God that they pledged at Sinai, the religious leaders persecuted and cases killed the prophets. So, God sent Jesus Christ into the world as a last chance for them to repent and honor the covenant God had made with them. But—Jesus spoke prophetically here—“they took him and killed him.” In God’s providence, this unjust execution became the “capstone” of God’s plan of salvation (Psalm 118.22, 23), for Christ’s death saves us from our sins (Acts 4.10–12). And yet, from the standpoint of justice, what do the religious leaders deserve but judgment?

No wonder the religious leaders were mad. If I were them, I’d be mad too. When we read the parables, we read them as innocents. That is to say, we read Mark 12.1–12 from Jesus’ point of view. And yet, I wonder if that’s the right perspective. I wonder if we shouldn’t read it from the leaders’ point of view. After all, whom do we have more in common with: the innocent Jesus or the guilty leaders? It is easy for us to agree with Jesus against the religious leadership. It is harder, but more truthful, to realize that we too have rejected the prophets and failed to respect God’s Beloved Son.

Do we believe that we are actual sinners who have merited divine judgment? Do we obey the terms of the covenant God made with us on Mount Calvary? Do we listen to and heed God’s often-intrusive word, which calls on us to lay aside sinful thoughts, words, feelings, and actions? Have we trusted in Jesus Christ as the sole means of our salvation? Do we respect God’s Son?

Before we express easy agreement with Jesus’ judgment of the religious leaders, let’s make sure it doesn’t apply to us as well.

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