The Suffering Servant

This Sunday we’ll be reading about the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate as we continue our study in Mark. We’ll be reading Mark 15:1-20.

This is the moment when Jesus is confronted by the combined forces of broken religion, politics and social behavior. In a sort of perfect storm, as religion and politics vie for superior power and control, Jesus is caught in the middle of the machinations – suffering injustice, prejudice, accusation and condemnation, which will lead to his death on the cross.

Here, is radiant contrasts, we see the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of humanity.

As you read through this section, what do you notice about Jesus? What does he do, and what is done to him?

Consider the accusations, the prisoner exchange and torture piled up on Jesus; what picture might it give you about what it is that God was accomplishing through Christ on our behalf? Think about that crown of thorns laid on his head. It was a parody of Caesar’s wreath crown. It was intended as ironic mockery. I believe God was communicating something else. Read Gen 3:17-19. What else might that crown symbolize, and what can it tell us about the purpose of Jesus’ suffering this way as our substitute?

I don’t understand the mechanics of all of this. I still find it fascinating that for 2,000 plus years people of faith have found something powerful and life-changing in this scene of brutality. I’m one of those. I can’t explain exactly what happened that terrible Friday, but I believe it changed the world, and I know it changed me.

We’ll contemplate the implications of this on Sunday – hope to see you then!

What a Trial Reveals

Hey everyone! After taking a break over the holidays, we’re ready to get back into our study of the Gospel of Mark. This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 14:53-72 – and the drama has really intensified.

After being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is taken to the High Priest’s palace where he will experience his first trial. But Mark does a “meanwhile” segue, picking up Peter’s location, which is in the courtyard outside the trial. He’ll come back to Peter at the end of the section, so it’s another Markian sandwich…meaning we’re supposed to connect the two stories.

We’ll cover some of the ways in which this trial before the Sanhedrin was preformed illegally. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how far religious systems are willing to violate God’s own values in order to maintain power. I think there’s a lesson in that.

Why do you suppose Jesus doesn’t answer any of the false accusations made against him? How would you be tempted to respond, if people misrepresented you this way?

At the end of the trial, the veil is finally lifted and Jesus plainly self-identifies as God’s Messiah. It offends the High Priest so much that he tears his robes. Here’s a fun insight: read Lev 21:10 – it seems the High Priest wasn’t too well acquainted with the Law he was supposed to be upholding.

Jesus stood quietly confident before the highest ruling authority in Israel – but at the end of the story, Peter caves under the pressure of one person. Who was that person, and what sort of authority would that person have in a patriarchal society such as 1st Century Israel? What differences do you note? What might Peter have done differently that night? When have you felt like Peter during times of pressure from this broken world?

Hopefully, we will be both encouraged and challenged by this study. Hope to see you Sunday!

Christmas is Around the Corner


We’re going to take a break from our study in Mark, since it’s the last Sunday before Christmas. We’ll be reading Luke 1:25-38, and looking at the account of Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will carry the Messiah into the world. We’ll pay close attention to the details and see what encouragements we can glean from them, especially for those for whom Christmas may bring more pain than joy. It should be good for all of our souls.

See you then, but if don’t see you: Merry Christmas, you Child of God!

Why Our Hope is in Jesus

We’ll be continuing our study in Mark this Sunday – we’ll be reading Mark 14:26-52.

This is the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane – but it is also another Markian Sandwich -Because Jesus’ warning to his disciples that they will abandon him and the account of them doing just that, brackets the account of Jesus’ prayer of surrender in the garden alone.

There is a lot happening in this section – more than what can be covered in one teaching. My focus this Sunday will be centered on why placing our hope in Jesus alone is highlighted in the events that unfold in this text.

Peter is bold in his assertion that he would never betray Jesus. If you know how the story goes, how did that work out for him? Do you identify with Peter? What was he putting his trust in when making that statement? What can we learn from that, coupled with 1 Cor 10:12?

Think about the parallels between Jesus in the Garden and Adam in the Garden. What is different about Jesus’ response to God’s will and Adam’s? What does this tell us about Jesus and his ultimate mission?

When the mob comes, one disciple (identified as Peter in John’s gospel) jumps into action. Was it the right action? What might his behavior teach us about self-reliance?

We’ll put it all together and hopefully be encouraged as well as challenged. See you on Sunday!

The Meal of Mission

It’s almost universal that important moments and significant occasions are marked by sharing a meal. We incorporate meals into our three main holidays here in the U.S. – Thanksgiving, Christmas and Superbowl Sunday. There’s just something inherent in us as humans that we commemorate things by sharing a common sustenance.

That’s probably why God incorporated meals into the great festivals prescribed in the Law of Moses. They served as a reminder of Israel’s heritage and calling, but also as a means of binding groups of people together. Meals communicate something.

This Sunday we’ll be reading about the most famous meal of the New Testament, and surely the most significant. We’ll be reading Mark 14:12-26 as we continue our study of Mark’s gospel.

Mark locates this meal at the beginning of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which would make this a Passover Meal. Jesus goes about re-purposing some of the integral elements of this most important Jewish observance.  If liberation is central to the theme of Passover, and Jesus ties his upcoming death to the Passover, what is that communicating to us about his mission and the mission of the Good News? What sort of liberation do you believe he had in mind?

Why do you think Jesus didn’t “out” Judas at the table? Why do you suppose he prompted all of his disciples to inquire if they were the one?

Jesus took the Afikomen bread and the Cup of Redemption and gave them new designations for us, saying they now represent his body and his blood. Clearly he’s pointing to role which the Passover Lamb typified – he would be our sacrifice. In v24 he states what that sacrifice will accomplish. What do you understand a covenant to be? How does that inform you about Christ’s mission, and our mission as Good News people?

It should be an interesting and comforting study – hope to see you there!

A Contrast of Loves

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. This Sunday we’ll be starting chapter 14 as we continue on in our study of the gospel of Mark. We’ll be reading the first 11 verses.

This will be another Markian sandwich – where one event is tucked in between two other, connected events. In this case, it’s the plotting of Jesus’ arrest and execution surrounding an account of a woman performing an extravagant act of devotion and worship of Jesus.

We’ll consider it a contrast of loves.

As we consider the “bread” of this sandwich – the plot to kill Jesus and then initialization of it by Judas – what do you think these characters love, which would motivate them to do such an insidious deed?

The woman does something altogether different. Obviously, we live in a different culture, so some things are hard to understand in this.  Pouring oil on a guy’s head wouldn’t go over quite so well in our culture (at least since the 1950’s).  In that time and culture, taking baths wasn’t something a person had the opportunity to do as often as we do.  People would quickly develop a certain odoriferousness (funk) about them.  So, this sort of thing was a welcome way to put a sheen on the hair and diffuse the pungency of human odor.

The point is, it was a good thing – and not only that – it was costly to her. Clearly, Jesus is the object of her love, which prompts her actions. How would you describe her action? What does it teach us about how our own love for Jesus is demonstrated?

Jesus interprets her act as a forecast of his coming death. How would his death and her sacrificial devotion be connected to each other?

Jesus declared that this woman would always be remembered. Interestingly, Judas would also be forever remembered, but not in such reverential ways. Think of all the contrasts you can of what the woman is remembered for compared to what Judas is remembered for.

The core question if this text is: Who do you want to be?

This Sunday, before the teaching, Dave Pierce and Mel Land will be sharing about their recent trip to South Sudan. Hope to see you then!

Assurances in the Finale

Every time I watch a fireworks show, I’m always gearing up for the finale, aren’t you? I love them – they are more dramatic and powerful than the whole rest of the show.  Jesus will has been talking about a finale of sorts, in the chapter we’re reading in our study of Mark. This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 13:14-37.

Remember our introductory remarks about the first thirteen verses…while end time events and prophecy is cool and all, obsessing over current details and trying to fit them into some prophetic model is pretty ill-advised. Jesus will be continuing to talk about ongoing crisis’ on this earth – but I believe there are assurances we can find in his words – that’s what we’ll be focused on.

Jesus begins this section pointing to a prophecy from Daniel 9 which references “the sacrilegious object that causes desecration”.   From the Jewish perspective today, and back in Jesus’ time, this was a historic event, not something yet to be fulfilled.  What does that tell us about Jesus’ statement here?

In v19, what will the world be like in the time period he’s describing?  What does that tell us about the direction the world is taking…and how does it effect our expectations about the state of the world?

As you read this section over, who or what seems to have the upper hand through it all?  Yet what is the final outcome that Jesus predicts?

Verses 28-31, of Mark 13, tell us that we can expect an intensifying of troubles, leading up to the grand finale…just like we see buds and leaves sprouting and leading into summer and harvest.  In v31, Jesus makes a prediction about his predictions…what is it that he says?  What assurances do you find in that?

The final section, v 32-37 sort of put the final qualifier on the issue.  What does He say about these events?  What do we need to factor in because of this qualifier?

That should give us plenty to mull over and chew on this week. Hope to see you on Sunday!