Are You Bearing Fruit?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week as we look to Isaiah’s Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5. God uses the imagery of the nation of Israel and the people of Judah as a vineyard that God himself had planted. He did everything to make sure that it flourished, but no good grapes were found. Then through Isaiah’s prophecy, God tells the listeners what will happen.

“Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Isaiah 5:5-7 NIV

Isaiah’s prophecy did come to pass. The people were carried off into captivity. Their cities, including Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed as well. But God did promise to restore his people and to do so by sending the Messiah (Isa. 11).

Now fast forward about 700 years. Jesus is born and begins his ministry. He goes around teaching people about God’s kingdom, healing people doing the things that only the Messiah could do. When the religious leaders question his authority, Jesus references John the Baptist, but then goes into a parable to explain what his ministry is about (Mk. 12).

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

Mark 12:1-2 NIV

Jesus uses the exact same language of Isaiah 5, but places himself into the story. Jesus says the vineyard owner sends his son (Jesus) to those who rented the vineyard after they had beaten and killed many other representatives. Instead of responding to the son, they kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Mark 12:9 NIV

Mark tells us that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they knew he was speaking against them. In these two texts we discover that twice God has planted a vineyard, and twice the vineyard and its caretakers have been destroyed and removed because they failed to manage the vineyard for God. How are we doing?

Now go read John 15. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches, but we can only bear fruit if we remain in him. Think about your life for a moment. Think about the ministry that God has called you to. Are you bearing fruit? If not, perhaps you need to consider the words of Jesus:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5 NIV

Daily Psalms – Psalm 22

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 21-25

Psalm 22 is a psalm every follower of Jesus should meditate on frequently. It’s one of my “go to” places for meditation on the crucifixion of Jesus. Just a quick reading should draw the minds of most people to the cross, but the writers of the Gospel specifically wanted their readers to recognize that Jesus was the suffering Messiah of Psalm 22. The Gospels quote this psalm extensively throughout the Passion narrative.

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Psalm 22:1 CSB

Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:33 include Jesus quoting these words from the cross. I read somewhere that this psalm was “the death psalm” and every devout Jew wanted to die while reciting it. But I think there’s more to this quote than just that. When the one who had no sin was made sin for our benefit (2 Cor. 5:21), it distanced Jesus from the Father in a way he had never experienced. A closeness we can only dream of was destroyed because of our sin. And in that moment Jesus felt the distance, felt alone, and felt abandoned.

Everyone who sees me mocks me;
they sneer and shake their heads:
“He relies on the Lord;
let him save him;
let the Lord rescue him,
since he takes pleasure in him.”

Psalm 22:7-8 CSB

Matthew 27:39-44, Mark 15:29, and Luke 23:35 all include elements of these mockers shaking their heads and hurling insults. Part of the crucifixion process was public shaming. If they wanted you dead they could just use a sword. Crucifixion usually lasted a long time and included being stripped naked (see 22:17), as well as insults from accusers being hurled upon you as you died.

It’s always struck me that Jesus could have done exactly what the accusers said. “Let the LORD rescue him.” It certainly could have happened, but would the accusers really have believed? And if Jesus did come down from the cross and the accusers did believe, then our sin would remain because Jesus would not have conquered death. No doubt Jesus wanted them to believe, and Satan knew that too. Even on the cross there is a temptation for Jesus to take the easy way out. Yet his love for us held him there.

My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.

Psalm 22:15 CSB

NIV renders the first line of this verse: “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd…” but both translations show that there seems to be a dry mouth at play. No doubt Jesus would have been dehydrated and thirsty. John 19:28 recalls Jesus crying out because of thirst.

For dogs have surrounded me;
a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.

Psalm 22:16 CSB

We read verse 16 and instantly think of the cross. What we may not realize is that crucifixion wasn’t even invented when this psalm was written! What would it mean to pierce hand and foot? The Holy Spirit knew as he inspired these words to be written in a time when they didn’t make sense in their immediate context.

They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.

Psalm 22:18 CSB

All four Gospels include this detail about the soldiers at the foot of the cross. (Mt. 27:35, Mk. 15:24, Lk. 23:34, Jn. 19:23-24) Cloth was valuable. Jesus certainly didn’t have much in the way of earthly possessions, and even what he had was taken from him. Afterall, what good will clothes do for a dead man?

They will come and declare his righteousness;
to a people yet to be born
they will declare what he has done.

Psalm 22:31 CSB

We now have the responsibility of fulfilling Psalm 22. Jesus went to the cross for us. We don’t have to worry about that part. But we do have the responsibility to tell future generations of his goodness! We must declare what Jesus has done!

Every verse of this psalm points to something in the ministry, death, or resurrection of Jesus. I praise God for passages like this that tell the story of the Messiah hundreds of years before his birth. Now let us tell his story hundreds of years after his death and resurrection! Blessings.

Caesar is lord? Not really!

(This post was published in our church bulletin on 6.6.18)

The reading for this week is Mark 15 & 16. This passage covers Mark describing the crucifixion to a Roman audience (who were well acquainted with crucifixion) and he does so with a very Roman theme…the theme of the Emperor’s Triumph.

When an emperor was coronated, there was a procession called a Triumph that evolved from a practice by the ancient Greeks. The entire procession was to show that Caesar was lord, savior, and a son of the gods. In many ways it was a deification ceremony for the new emperor.

In his retelling of the crucifixion, the Spirit inspired Mark to record the events in a way that mirrored the Emperor’s Triumph, ultimately declaring that Jesus is Lord, Savior, and the Son of God…not Caesar. Nero’s Triumph took place only a few years before Mark’s Gospel was written. (By the way, “gospel” was a Roman political term that conveyed a message from Caesar as a diety. The very idea that one would have a “gospel” that wasn’t from Caesar might incur a death sentence.)  

Here I will list the events in a Roman Emperor’s Triumph, and the scriptures that mirror these events in Mark’s narrative. Try reading Mark 15 in light of this.

  • The entire Praetorian Guard would assemble and stand in formation. (15:16)
  • Caesar would appear and a robe and wreath were placed on Caesar. (This act came from ancient Greece and declared Caesar is a god) (15:17)
  • The soldiers would cheer “Hail Caesar, lord and god!” (15:18-19)
  • A parade would happen, leaving the Praetorium and follow the Via Sacra through the center of the city of Rome. An animal for sacrifice was led through the streets, and someone would carry the instrument of death for the sacrifice. (15:20-21)
  • The procession arrives to Capitoline Hill (commonly called Head Hill by Romans in that time because supposedly Romulus’ head was discovered there). (15:22)
  • The new emperor would be offered wine mixed with myrrh, which would always be refused. (This can be found in history, but nobody knows why it was done.) (15:23)
  • The instrument of death is brought, the sacrifice is made and placed on the altar as a way of inviting the gods to pay attention to this event. (15:24)
  • The emperor would climb the steps of the temple with two people who represent the administration’s mission on his right and his left. The crowd would shout “Hail Caesar, lord and god.” (15:26-32)
  • Prisoners were brought to the steps below. Caesar would choose who lived and who died. Soldiers would step up and kill those who were sentenced. This would show that Caesar holds the power of life and death. (Luke 23:40-43)
  • A gospel is sent far and wide declaring the new Caesar is lord and savior, the son of the gods. (1:1; 16:6-7)

Mark’s entire Gospel message is that Jesus is above all. Caesar is not lord, savior, or the son of the gods. Jesus is. It would have been very difficult to live in Rome as a Christian during this time because so much of the society focused on deifying someone or something other than Jesus. Today in the U.S. it isn’t much different. So who are you going to choose as Lord and Savior? Jesus, or whomever your nation promotes?

(By the way, the second half of Mark 16 is not in the oldest and best Greek manuscripts. It probably wasn’t part of Mark’s Gospel originally, but there is nothing in that passage that the other Gospels, or even Mark’s Gospel, doesn’t cover elsewhere. Everything there is covered in Scripture elsewhere.)

Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-72)

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 14:32-72. This passage covers Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, and the unjust trial of Jesus. Because there is so much material to cover here, I will simply provide a list of things to consider while reading this passage.

  • “Gethsemane” means olive press, a place where great pressure was placed on olives to extract useful fluids (oil). (vs. 32-34)
  • This is the night of Passover, where everyone was to stay awake and “keep watch/vigil.” (Ex. 12:42; Mark 14:34, 37-38, 41)
  • The Passover utilized 4 cups, but a 5th cup was used by some to represent God’s wrath that would be poured out at judgement. Jesus had already had the 4 cups at the Passover earlier that night (14:12-26). Was this the cup he was thinking about at Gethsemane? (14:36)
  • Judas had shared many meals with Jesus, one on this very night. It was beyond human reason at the time that someone who had shared a meal with you would ever betray you, let alone with a kiss. These were all signs of commitment, and covenant. (14:44) Yet as we know from Mark and the other Gospels, Jesus still washed Judas’ feet, and gave him a place of honor (sitting next to him) at the dinner that evening. (14:20)
  • The Sanhedrin broke many of its own rules and laws that night. The Sanhedrin was never to meet at night (This all happened during the dark hours as Passover took place at sunset, and Jesus was taken to Pilate at daybreak – 15:1). No case was to be considered unless there was ample evidence (14:53). Cases were to be dismissed if conflicting testimony was presented (14:56-59) There were to be 2 or 3 witnesses who confirmed a charge before it was to be considered (14:63). By their own rules, this trial should have never happened the way it did, and should have been dismissed immediately when false and conflicting evidence was presented.
  • Peter is often criticized for disowning Jesus during his trial, but he deserves some credit. While it seems all the other disciples were hiding (with possibly the exception of John, per John 18:15), Peter was getting as close to Jesus as he could safely get. He ultimately failed Jesus with his denial, but we have to ask ourselves the question honestly: Would we be there with Peter, or would we be hiding somewhere?
  • The difference between Judas’ denial of Jesus (14:10-11, 44-46) and Peter’s denial (14:66-72) was that Peter came back to Jesus (John 21:15-19).  Judas gave up (Matthew 27:1-5).  In moments of weakness in this life, we will likely deny Jesus with our words and our actions. But let’s have the spirit of Peter, seeking forgiveness and reaffirming our commitment to Jesus, not just giving up like Judas.

QUESTION: What do you think about when you consider the words and actions of Jesus at Gethsemane?

The Apocalypse: What Jesus Wanted You to Know

Today’s article will focus on part of our reading for this week, Mark 13. In this passage Jesus addresses two questions posed by Peter, James, John, and Andrew (v. 3-4). They had just left the Temple complex, and Jesus informed them that the Temple would be destroyed (which did happen some 40 years later in 70 A.D. by the Romans).The two questions they ask are as follows: 1) “Tell us, when will these things happen?” 2) “And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” In addition, Jesus is going to speak about his eventual return at the end of time while warning the disciples that false messiahs would come. Keep in mind, these are three different questions Jesus is going to address throughout his response. To understand this passage correctly, we must be aware which question he is addressing when.

Jesus begins by answering the second question first. Wars will not be the sign as is mentioned, “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (7) He mentions famines, earthquakes, nations rising up…all these things happened in history around Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and shortly after. He informs his followers that they will face personal persecution in the synagogues, and in front of kings. This did happen, but Jesus informs them… “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” (10) In other words they will be protected long enough to accomplish the mission God has set before them. The Gospel would reach “all nations” of that day and time before they are harmed. This obviously happened because the church is still with us, and has a global footprint! Along with other warnings, Jesus includes reference to “‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong.” This is a reference to prophecy by Daniel, as well as an event that took place during the intertestamental time. Daniel foretold of an event that occurred around 167 BC when Antiochus IV sacrificed a pig on the altar of the Temple, tried to force Jews to eat pork or face torture, and then outlawed sacrifice. You can read about this in the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees, chapter 7. This was an event the people were quite familiar with, and Jesus is saying the Temple would be desecrated again, and sacrifices would come to an end again. This occurred when Jerusalem, and the Temple were destroyed by Rome in 70 AD. This was to be a warning for those in Judea (area surrounding Jerusalem) to flee the area (vs. 14-20)

Then Jesus addresses false messiahs. Every time something major happens in human history, deniers of Jesus will point to it as a sign the Messiah is coming. Many who believe Jesus is the Messiah will point to the events claiming Jesus is about to return. Jesus is saying, in reference to the fall of Jerusalem, don’t be deceived. He then quotes Isaiah with this statement: “But in those days, following that distress…”, and then indicates the Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite name for himself, and a reference to Daniel) will return and gather the believers (vs. 24-29). But we are reminded that the destruction of Jerusalem will happen before the generation living during the time of Jesus would not pass away until Jerusalem had been destroyed (v. 30).

As for when Jesus will return? Nobody knows that except for the Father. Therefore, all the followers of Jesus must be prepared for his return. Jerusalem has been destroyed. We are now in the days “following that distress.” We must be prepared! We must make sure that we, and those we love are saved by the blood of Jesus because he is coming soon.  The impact Jesus wants to leave us with is this: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”  

Divorce is Not the Unforgivable Sin – Mark 10:1-12

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 9:30 – 10. This article will focus on what Jesus taught concerning divorce in Mark 10. It’s a topic that we often avoid teaching, and perhaps this avoidance contributes to the pain and embarrassment we all feel surrounding this painful reality of life. Divorce isn’t a new problem, as you’ll find out by reading Mark 10. If you haven’t done so, please stop reading this article and read Mark 10:1-12, then read the rest of this article. Also, feel free to reread the parallel passage in Matthew 19, and also 1 Cor. 7.

The Pharisees during this time argued and debated among themselves about legitimate reasons for divorce. This can be seen in Matthew 19:3 by the question posed to Jesus:

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”  Matthew 19:3

Here in Mark, the setting and point of the teaching is different. The question is simply about the lawfulness of divorce. Jesus refers them to Moses, who permitted divorce.

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Mark 10:5-9

We shouldn’t desire to unjoin what God has joined. In marriage, two become one in the eyes of God, and it should be viewed this way by us humans as well. Sadly, we often view marriage as a “joint venture” rather than a covenant. We don’t get this. We still think of them as two individuals, not as a binding covenant in the eyes of God. Jesus says we shouldn’t separate this relationship. We should be so committed that nothing would break our marriage apart.

At this point we usually come up with a list of things that would make a marriage untenable, and there certainly are legitimate issues that lead to divorce.  That’s why I would encourage anyone thinking about getting married to take plenty of time to thoroughly know the other person.  If there’s anything there that you think might lead to divorce down the line…walk away.  Don’t enter the marriage unless divorce is absolutely no option. Yes I know that issues develop later in marriage. Jesus does to.  But marriage is a covenant before God, and we should do everything we can before the covenant, and during the covenant to maintain that covenant.

Jesus elaborates for his disciples…

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:11-12

Notice that Jesus clearly indicates divorce is against God’s will. Matt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7 have more to teach on valid reasons for divorce, but the fact remains that God expects us to honor our commitment, our covenant, to our spouse.

God expects marriage not to be broken, and Jesus’ teaching here on adultery reinforces it. Our society may want to throw away marriage for any reason, but God doesn’t view it that way. Those marriages are indissoluble.

The point of Jesus’ teaching here?  The marriage covenant is serious and shouldn’t happen unless both parties are fully committed.  Then, as far as it depends on you, maintain the covenant. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. Remember that.  Jesus is teaching us to honor our marriage covenant, not condemning those whose marriages have failed.

Mark 8 – 9:29

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 8 – 9:29.

Mark 8 begins with Jesus feeding the 4,000. Please keep in mind this is a separate event from the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6, though there are certainly similarities. One of the biggest differences is the location of this miracle, and the result. If you recall, the feeding of the 5,000 was feeding a Jewish crowd, and 12 basketfuls of leftovers were collected, indicating Jesus provides both physical and spiritual food, enough for the 12 tribes of Israel.

If you follow Mark’s narration from 7:24 to 8:1, we will find that Jesus speaks to the Syrophoenician woman (a Greek Gentile) in the vicinity of Tyre, way north of the usual area to which Jesus ministered. Here he casts out a demon possessing the woman’s daughter. Goes further north to Sidon, then back down toward Galilee “…into the region of the Decapolis.”

The Decapolis was a collection of Hellenistic (Greek/Gentile) cities and towns in the region of Syria. This is where Jesus cast out the demon Legion (Mark 5). Jews of the time referred to this region as the “Land of the Seven,” a negative comparison to the seven nations that frequently attacked their ancestors.

Jesus feeds the Gentile crowd in the so-called “Land of the Seven” and the disciples collect seven basketfuls of leftovers. Here Jesus is saying that his salvation and message are not only for the 12 tribes, but also for the Gentiles as well. This would not have set well with the Pharisees who kept and enforced rules on others pertaining to eating, sleeping, or having anything to do with Gentiles unless absolutely necessary. In 8:14, Jesus picks up on the “bread” theme and warns the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees…” Jesus further clarifies his point to his disciples:

“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” – Mark 8:19-21

Jesus never intended his ministry to leave anyone out. There was an order in which he had to go first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. He did this in his ministry, and specifically in the feeding miracles. The Apostles followed this as well in Acts as Jesus called them in

Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The message was first going to Israel, then Samaria (whom Israel hated), and to the ends of the earth…Gentiles (also whom Israel hated).

Obeying Jesus in this would be difficult, and would be despised by many. Truly loving all people in this world will bring outrage and condemnation from some. That’s why Jesus reminds us that… 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34

Jesus is offensive to those who have no interest in following him. If we are truly his disciples, we will offend people too. We should never seek to offend, but in all things, follow Jesus. And this will make you offensive. The Gospel is for everyone, and some don’t like that truth. Follow him anyway…even into the hated Land of the Seven…follow him.