Monday, February 27, 2017

Seeking The Truth

Mark 12:28-34

“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?” (Mark 12:28)

Many times television interviewers deliberately asked questions that it impossible to answer honestly exactly as asked in a deliberate effort to trip up and discredit a person who holds a political or moral viewpoint they oppose, and both the Pharisees and the Sadducees has attempted to do the same thing to Jesus.  Realizing Jesus had answered their questions while avoiding their traps, the scribe asked Jesus and honest question.  About which of the commandments they should give the most priority. 

“And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Nowhere in the Old Testament does the scripture say exactly what Jesus described as the first commandment.  The Ten Commandments , in Exodus 20:2-6 start with, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”  Jesus paraphrased the entire passage.  He also paraphrased the second commandment.   He said there was no greater commandment than those.

“And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33)

The scribe thought about what Jesus had said, that essentially all the law, even including the laws about the sacrifices was about demonstrating our love for God by obeying his commands.  The commands about not stealing, or committing adultery, etc., were about demonstrating our love for other people by avoiding things that would hurt them.  They were also about demonstrating our love for God by obeying his commands about how we were to treat others.  Jesus had summarized the entire law with those two commands. 

“And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.” (Mark 12:34)

Because he was seeking the truth, and willing to listen honestly to what Jesus said, and think about it seriously, there was a far greater likelihood of this scribes understanding the truth and being saved than there was for those who were only interested in convincing people Jesus was wrong.   People who set out to prove a certain point or position tend to downplay or ignore information that does not support their position, without regard for whether it is true or not.  They are not interested in the truth.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Sadducees Challenge Jesus

Mark 12:18-27

“Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.  Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.  And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.  And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.  In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.” (Mark 12:18-23)

After Alexander the Great conquered Israel in 320 BC, Many of the wealthy Jews had adopted Greek customs and culture in an effort to be accepted by the people around them, often accepting even the Greek religious belief but unwilling to give up their positions in Israel.  The Pharisees had arisen in an effort to counter that influence, leading to an ongoing struggle for control.  When the Pharisees’ efforts to discredit Jesus failed, the Sadducees saw an opportunity to strengthen their standing with the people by discrediting him.

Though they did not believe in the Jewish faith or tradition, they knew it well and decided to challenge Jesus on his teachings in an effort to convince those who followed the Jewish religion they still believed and practiced the old traditions.  Referring to the command in Deuteronomy 25:5, which stated that if a man died without children, his brother was to marry his wife and raise up a child to be his heir.  They asked whose wife the woman would be in eternity if she had been married to all the brothers and never produced a child. 

“And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?  For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.  And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.” (Mark 12:24-27)

Jesus said that they were making a serious mistake, because they only knew some of the scriptures and ignored others with the result that they had no real understanding of God’s word, or his power.  They had never stopped to think about what it meant when God told Moses he is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, 400 years after Jacob’s death and 600m years after Abraham’s death.  He did not say he was, but that he is presently their God.  their bodies might be dead, but their soul and spirit were not. 

The Sadducees were like many today who cling to some of the old traditions and teachings but do not believe the word of God as a whole.  As an example who insist we must accept all the refugees who come without question, quoting  passages such as Leviticus  19:33-34, “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.  But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”  They are opposed to any vetting of those refugees, completely ignoring passages such as Numbers 15:15-16.  “One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD.  One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.”   If refuges or immigrants come, they have to be willing to obey the same laws as the natives.   They could not insist on keeping their own laws. 

The conflict between the Sadducees and Pharisees was the same conflict we see today between liberals and conservatives, with both sides determined to have their own way.  Both sides attack those who try to stand for what is right, because they would rather fight over the things they blame the other side for than to admit their own faults.    


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Paying Taxes

Mark 12:13-17

“And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.  And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?  Shall we give, or shall we not give?” (Mark 12:13-15a)

Frustrated that they had had to give up their challenge of Jesus authority, and resenting his warning that they were doing wrong, the religious leaders selected some of their top debaters, from both the Herodians and the Pharisees to debate Jesus and discredit him.  The Pharisees were focused on Jewish law and custom, while the Herodians would be focused on Roman Law.  The hope was that between them they could get Jesus to say something that one side or the other could use against him. 

After making a special effort to flatter him in hopes of catching him off guard, they asked whether the law required them to pay taxes to Rome or not.  It was a loaded question, because if he said yes, the Pharisees could point out that in fact the law said wrote only about giving to God and make him appear ignorant to the crowd.  If he said no, the Herodians could accuse him of breaking Roman law and stirring up trouble with Rome.  Either way, they could turn the people against him. 

“But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.  And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

And they said unto him, Caesar's.

And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.” (Mark 12:15b-17)

Jesus knew they were just trying to trap him and really didn’t care about the truth, despite their statements.  Instead of answering the question directly, he asked them to show him a coin.  When they did, he asked whose picture was on it and whose name was on it.  They said it was the Roman rulers.  Jesus said since it had his name and picture it obviously belonged to Caesar, and they should give it to him.  If it belonged to god they should give it to God.  They should pay both the tithe and their taxes.  Failure to do either one was in effect stealing. 

For years, the Jews had argued that they should not be taxed because they paid tithes to the support the temple and their leaders, so the Roman government did not have to support them.  The Roman government didn’t count the tithe as part fo their taxes.   They expected Jesus to take one side of the other.   His answer was totally unexpected, and left neither side any grounds for argument. 

The issue is still debated, and Paul addressed it in Romans 13:6-7.  “For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”    While I appreciate the privilege of receiving a deduction for donations to a church, the entire non-profit system needs to be reformed to eliminate serious abuses.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Questioning Jesus’ Authority

Mark 11:27-12:12

“And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?” (Mark 11:27-28)

Jesus had thrown all the vendors of religious items out of the temple.  When he came back, the religious leaders demanded who gave him the authority to kick them out, totally ignoring what the law said about bringing things that were unclean into the temple.  Under the law, only those who had been sanctified were to come into the temple.   Ezekiel 22:27 says, “Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.”  Leviticus 10:10-11 specifically commanded, “And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;  And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.”  Though they were angry at Jesus, they were the ones doing the wrong, while claiming to do what God commanded. 

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.

And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him?  But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.  And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell.” (Mark 11:29-33a)

Instead of answering their questions, Jesus asked them where they thought John got his authority to teach as he didThey knew that John had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, and that he had accused them of violating God’s command.  If they said his power came from God, they would be clearly indicting themselves for not believing what he said.  If they said his authority did not come from God, they would lose all credibility with the people, who had seen John’s miracles.  They refused to answer, claiming there was not enough information. 

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.  And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.  And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.  And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.

But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.  And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.

What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.  And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:  This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?” (Mark 11:33b-12:1i)

When they refused to answer with so much evidence, it was obvious the leaders were not willing to consider any claim he made.  Jesus refused to waste time trying to explain to them.  Instead, he told a story about a man who prepared a farm and leased it out for a share in the profits.  When it came time to collect the rent, the renters refused to pay, even beating up those who tried to collect.  Finally they had his son murdered, believing he would just give up and let them have the property. 

Instead of discouraging the father, Jesus said the murder of his son would harden his resolve and he would not stop until the murderers were punished.  He then made it clear the story was about God and his chosen one being rejected by the world.  God will put him as the ruler over everything, despite the world’s efforts to prevent it. 

“And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.” (Mark 12:12)

The rulers clearly understood the warning Jesus was giving, that they would be punished if they killed God’s son.  Instead of listening, they got angrier.  Matthew, Luke and John indicate that this parable and the following teaching actually took place on Monday rather than on Tuesday, and Mark 14 supports that.   

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Using The Power Of Prayer

Mark 11:20-26

“And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.  And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.” (Mark 11:20-21)

Tuesday, morning, as Jesus and the disciples were headed back to Jerusalem, Peter noticed that the fig tre had completely dried up overnight.  Even our most powerful herbicides take several days to completely kill a tree.   Peter was amazed, not only that the tree died, but that it had dried out so quickly.  It would have taken days to dry up even if they had cut the tree down. 

“And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.  For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.  Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:22-24)

Here we see another example of the importance of Peter’s statement in II Peter 1:20-21.  “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”   Praying in faith does not simply mean believing something will happen, if we use Jesus name, as many have inferred from the English translation of this and other verses.   It is the same basic teachings as the ancient pagan idea of manifesting, or causing something to happen by just believing , just “Christianized” by insisting it has to be “in Jesus name.”

I John 5:14-15 tells us, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.   James 4:3 tells us, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”   In other words, Praying in faith is not simply about Praying in Jesus’ name and convincing ourselves god wil give what we asked for, but about praying in accordance with his will as led by the Holy Spirit.  It is not about getting our way, but about seeking his. 

“And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.  But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25-26)

In Matthew this statement comes much earlier, just after Jesus had given the model prayer, also known as the Lord’s prayer as an example to illustrate how we should pray.  One of the requests I that our sins be forgiven, but as Jesus tells us, unless we are willing to forgive others and put away our grudges, there is no use praying for God to forgive us.  Dwelling on what others have done to us or our ancestors will keep us from receiving God’s blessings today.   We can’t change the past, but by focusing on the present, obeying God now, we can change both our present, and our future.    

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Cursed Fig Tree

Mark 11:12-19

“And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.  And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.” (Mark 11:12-14)

Monday morning, Jesus and the disciples left Bethany on their way to Jerusalem.  Jesus was hungry, and when he saw a fig tree that was leafed out.  Figs bloom and begin developing fruit about the same time as they begin making leaves, and the fruit can be eaten long before it is ripe.  Figs have rather large leaves, making them relatively easy to identify from a distance.    Even though it not time for the figs to ripen, the fact that the leaves were well developed indicated there should be some fruit on the tree.  When he got there, there was no fruit and Jesus cursed the tree, commanding that no one ever eat fruit off it, because he had been deceived by the growth of the leaves.  The disciples overheard what he said. 
“And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.“ (Mark 11:15-17)

Seven hundred years before the Assyrians conquered Israel and relocated them.  About a hundred years later the Babylonians conquered  Judah and relocated them.  When Judah was allowed to return after seventy years. Many stayed in the lands where they had been moved to.  In Jesus’ day many of them still traveled to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple.  It was impractical to carry sacrifices such long distances, so they brought money to buy sacrifices in Israel.  To make things easier, the priests allowed livestock dealers and bankers to set up stalls inside the courtyard where people could exchange their money for Roman or Jewish coins and buy the things they needed for sacrifices right there. 

Because it offered such convenience, they were able to charge much higher prices than other people would get for their livestock.   Jesus accused them of using God’s house as a way of ripping the people off, overcharging for the sacrifices and fudging on their exchange rates.   He refused to allow them to carry any kind of supplies such as salt, oil, or flour around the temple for people to buy.  Matthew and Luke indicate this actually occurred on Sunday rather than on Monday.   It is helpful toe remember that neither Mark nor Luke were disciples at the time, and so they wrote what others told, some twenty five years later.  Such minor discrepancies are to be expected, if there has not been collusion between the writers.   About sixty years after the crucifixion, Papias quoted John as saying that Mark had gotten  the basic stories correct, but that some of the stories were out of order. 

“And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.” (Mark11:18)

The scribes and priests had been charging for the privilege of setting up booths inside the Temple grounds, and making quite a lot of profit.  They really resented Jesus forcing them to stop making all that money.  Afraid he was going to destroy their incomes, they began to actively plot to get rid of him, because it was obvious the people liked what he told them.   They were as desperate to stop him as the Liberals are to stop Donald Trump after the 2016 election. 

Jesus spent most of the day teaching the people there in Jerusalem before returning to the hills around Bethany for the night, according to the other gospels. 

“And when even was come, he went out of the city.” (Mark 11:19)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Palm Sunday

Mark 11:1-11

“And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,  And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him.  And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.” (Mark 11:1-3)

Thursday evening, six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived Bethany.  Friday, Martha and Mary served a dinner in his honor and Mary washed his feet with ointment, according to John 12:1-10.    At night Jesus and his disciples camped out in the nearby hills.  Saturday, the Sabbath, the people went to Jerusalem and spread the word that Jesus was there.  Many people came out to Bethany to see both Jesus and Lazarus. Sunday morning, on their way back into Bethany, Jesus sent two of his disciples to Bethphage  To get an untrained donkey.  They were to bring him , telling anyone who questioned him that it was for the Lord. 

“And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.  And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?  And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.  And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.

And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strowed them in the way.  And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.” (Mark 11:4-7)

The disciples found the donkey and brought him to Jesus, placing their coats on him so that Jesus’ clothing would not be sweat stained when he got to Jerusalem.   As a show of respect, many of the people spread palm branches on the road to help hold down the dust, treating him like royalty.  Some went before him and others followed after him, all singing and rejoicing that God had sent him.   Four days later, some of the same crowd would be shouting “crucify him,” at the priests’ instigation. 

And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.” (Mark 11:11)

Jesus spent most of the day looking at how things were done in the temple, healing people and teaching them and his disciples.  According to Matthew and Luke, this was the day Jesus cleansed the temple for the second time, and the priests and religious leaders challenged his authority to do so.  That evening he returned to the hills around Bethany to camp.