Three Musketeers (part 2)

41855E78-5DFE-4CCF-A287-4C868050C67C“It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it. (40.59 – 40.60)” — Alexander Dumas

D’Artagnan was a young man whose dream was to join the Kings body guards.  When he goes to Paris, he is given the run around.  When he runs into a few of the Musketeers, unbeknownst to him, by challenging them each to duels. They end up teaming up to defeat the Cardinals guards who had interrupted their duels.

D’Artagnan befriends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, the Three Musketeers.  Athos is a calculated man.  “Athos…never gave his advice before it was demanded and even then it must be demanded twice. ‘In general, people only ask for advice,’ he said ‘that they may not follow it or if they should follow it that they may have somebody to blame for having given it’” writes Dumas.  The strong, reserved, soft spoken leader.  He becomes a father-figure to D’Artagnan.

Unlike the Disney version, Dumas’ novel paints a more chaotic plot.  It’s not the Cardinal vs. the Musketeers in the book.  The Cardinal, near the end of the book offers D’Artagnan the commission and leadership he has been seeking from the beginning…all he had to do was sign on the line.  He paused as he left the room, weighing the results of his decision  and this was the thought that went through his mind: “It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it.”. The great character was Athos he was thinking of.  The influence was the decision not to sign the commission.  He knew that should he sign, Athos would renounce him.  Truly great characters change the actions of everyone around them!

Mark 9.2 begins with the words “after 6 days”.  What is the deal with waiting almost a week?  As discussed previously, Mark is a fast paced book.  And also discussed elsewhere, Mark is all about identifying Jesus as the Son of God.  His book begins with the statement: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”(Mark 1) and climaxes with the Roman Centurion at the base of the cross exclaiming “surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15).  Right smack dab in the middle of the book, Peter makes the confession “You are the Messiah.” (8.29)  So there is the confession. 

Then Jesus begins to tell his disciples about his death.  He would do so in chapters 8, 9, 10.  Mark 8 serves as a tipping point in the Gospel.  It is the fulcrum that balances the entirity of the book.  The confession and the prediction are where the two purposes of Jesus come together.  His action and identity.  In Mark 1, Jesus declares: “I have come to preach.”  (1.38)  In Mark 10, Jesus says that he came “not to be serve but to serve and give his life up as a ransom for many.” (10.45)  The middle of chapter 8 begins a section of the book that serves as central teaching to Jesus’ ministry.

Finally, on top of the confession of Peter and the prediction of Jesus, there is the teaching of Jesus at the end of chapter 8.  The confession and prediction mean little if there isn’t anything that becomes of it.   Jesus reiterates that this is not just a teaching or a lesson, it is a pattern of life.  Jesus wants his disciples to know that it doesn’t end with his cross, but ends with ours.   “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34)

The whole book has been racing along and now all the information about Jesus that is needed has been communicated…then he hits the brakes for 6 days.  For an impatient man like Mark, I bet 6 days seemed like eternity.  If you have ever taught 6th graders or trained a horse, you would understand what Mark is doing.  Its called “think time”.  Letting the message sit and rest for a period, preventing overload of information.  If you have ever tried to teach someone how to play pitch, you know the look of overload.  So he takes a break.

Then the story picks up with the Three Musketeers.  They head up the mountain, alone, with Jesus.  Think of how many great moments have happened on mountain tops.

  • The Ark came to rest on Ararat (Gen 8.4)
  • Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22)
  • Moses was given the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20)
  • The Blessings and Curses came from Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (Deut. 11)
  • David built his city, Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion (2 Samuel 5.7)
  • Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18)
  • Jesus gave his sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5)

Every ancient culture, the pyramids of Egypt, the Ziggurats of Sumer, the temples of the Mayans, the gods on Mt. Olympus for the Greeks, believed that Mountains were where man met with God.  So there is some theology wrapped up in their trek up the mountain.

When the reached the summit, Jesus was transfigured before them.  Essentially, he started radiating.  There isn’t a whole lot more to this word than what comes to your mind at first.  He became really shinny.  That’s when two other men showed up: Moses and Elijah.  Neither were unfamiliar with mountain top moments as seen above.  The list above, however, left off two very important moments.  The first being Moses’ Mt. Sinai experience in Exodus 34.  The second was Elijah’s Mt. Sinai moment in 1 Kings 19.  I will deal with each in turn.

Exodus 34 recounts a 40 day stay atop Mt. Sinai by Moses.  The purpose of this ascent was two-fold.  Primarily it was to make good on God’s promise to Moses in the previous chapter to show him His glory.  Second, it was to renew the 10 commandments and the stones Moses had broken in anger the first time he was up on Sinai.  God meets Moses and “passes by” him making a statement about his identity.

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (34.6-8)

This meeting has been discussed more elsewhere, but for the purpose of this piec it can be said that Moses met God in Sinai.

On the same mountain, many years later, Elijah stands after a 40 day journey (1 Kings 19.8).  He too meets with God.  He is exhausted standing and speaking for God against a corrupt royalty and a stubborn nation.  He had wished for death before coming to the mountain (19.4) but now he has a hearing with God where he offers his complaint.  He says that he is the only faithful one in Israel and that won’t last long if Ahab gets his way.  So God responds:

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (19.11)

And God did so in the following verses.  He wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the subsequent whisper.  There it is again; the idea of God “passing by” which brings us to Mark 9.

Peter and the guys are frightened by the dazzling sight before them.  Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking in front of them.  So Peter speaks up while scared.  He wants to build shelters for them.

God ends up speaking in verse 7, putting a halt to Peter’s idea, with His statement: “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The two men on the mountain with Jesus are no strangers to mountain top moments.  And with each of their encounters there was the presence of the Lord and the voice of the Lord.  Mark 9 has God speaking and God presence, through and in the person of Jesus.

The Three Musketeers were shown Jesus identity as the Son of God and his relationship with God.

And once again they were told to keep it quiet (Mark 9.8).

 

Three Musketeers

41855E78-5DFE-4CCF-A287-4C868050C67CThe previous post mentioned 4 exceptions to the public healings of Jesus and the proceeded to list only 3.  This was by design.  As the prior post mentioned: “to understand what Jesus did, follow the crowds.”  That statement is on only a partial thought.  It’s compliment is: “to understand who Jesus is, follow the three.”

The three: Peter, James, and John.  They were three of Jesus’ first followers.  They were fishermen by trade and pastors in training.  They would someday be authors and speakers, but for the time being, they were working through some issues.  James and John had anger and pride.  Peter was foolish and loose with his tongue.  They failed at discipleship a lot.  So much in fact, that it is a dominant theme in the book of Mark.  Still, Jesus saved his most revelatory moments for the Three.

Instead of a public healing, the Three were pulled aside by Jesus for a revelation.  A girls father had caught up with Jesus as had many others.  Jesus is met after his return from the Decapolis by a crowd of people. A synagogue ruler gets his ear and tells him of his daughters illness.  He knew that if he could get Jesus to her, he could heal her.  Jesus grants his request and goes along with crowd in tow.

One in the crowd, a woman, was sick herself.  The similarities between the two sick ones are inescapable:

  • both female
  • Immediately”
  • One was sick 12 years and the other is 12 years old
  • Faith/belief led to healing
  • It was Jesus touch that instituted healing
  • The thoughts that led to their healing were similar.  The bleeding woman thought: “If I can just get to him…”.  Jairus’ thought: “If I can just get him to her…”

The main difference between the two was where it happened and who it was in front of.  The bleeding woman was healed right in front of the parade.  Jesus even brought attention to it.  “Who touched me?”, he asked as he felt the power leave him.  He made sure the crowd knew what was happening and how the healing happened.

When he arrived at the scene of the dead girl, he was not only a leading a procession, he interrupted a procession.  The corresponding verses in Matthew, those recounting the same story, tells us that the funeral has began: “When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes…” (Matthew 5.23)  Mark adds that there was crying and wailing.  It was a fiasco.  The first thing Jesus did was send everyone out.  Taking the Three Musketeers with him, he visits the girls bedside, where she lies dead.

Jesus touched her.  This time, unlike the bleeding woman, the power left him by his own ambition.  He told her to get up and, again just like the bleeding woman, “immediately” she was healed.  “Immediately” is one of Mark’s favorite words.  Mark is a fast paced narrative, that scurries the reader along.  When two or more gospel writers tell the same story, as is the case here with Mark 5 and Matthew 9, Mark is usually the longer more in depth version, but still his gospel is quite shorter than the others.  He doesn’t tell as many stories, but when he does, he does it thoroughly.

This story, told by all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, put the identity of Jesus on display.  John, tells the very public resurrection of Lazarus and the public response.  Luke precedes this account with the raising of the widows son at Nain (Luke 7) and the crowds awe and wonder concerning the event.  But only the Three Musketeers are privy to this event.  They are even given orders “not to tell anyone” (Mark 5.43) a cry that would be echoed throughout the book.

But lets end with this question.  Why the three?  Was the room too small for everyone else?  Was Jesus just wanting some more quite and three people are always quieter than 40 or 100?  Perhaps there is according to some more liberal interpreters a “messianic secret” contained in Mark, where Jesus is desperately trying to keep his identity unkown?  These can all be answered in the negative!

The reason for the Three is simple, this is the only resurrection in Mark outside of Jesus’.  This is a key event revealing the identity of Jesus to his closest followers.  Two more times these three men would be specifically chosen to witness a deep truth of the identity of Jesus.  Jesus has the power to raise the dead; he has power to give life.  This lesson was on display before their very eyes.

 

100 Grand

s643667121527569464_p68_i3_w640“Turkeys flock, but Eagles soar.”

”In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” — Thomas Jefferson

”If everyone else jumped off a bridge…”

Ancient proverbs, founding fathers, your Mother; all have their advice about succumbing to peer pressure and following the crowd.  Nature understands the safety in numbers: the adjectival crash of rhino’s or murder of crows (nod to Poe); the aptly named tower of giraffes or bloat of hippos; or the alliterated leap of leopards or prickle of porcupines.  If you have ever watched one of those nature documentaries on Nat. Geo or the Discovery channel, before reality mechanic shows and survival shows took over, of the wildebeests crossing the river in front of the crocodiles, the principle is fully on display.  But success, especially in America and contrary to all of history, is all about standing out and swimming upstream.  Mike Rowe put it best in this video (if you watch until the end).  That American ideal is also contrarian to understanding Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. To understand what Jesus did in the book of Mark, follow the crowd.

Much of Jesus ministry was done in view of the crowds.

  • He led them
  • He fed them
  • He taught them
  • He performed miracles before them
  • He was praised, arrested, sentenced and mocked by them (all in a week)

His public ministry was just that: it was public.  Despite some of his best efforts, he was with people most of the time.  He was forced “to get up while it was still dark, very early in the morning” in order to pray (Mark 1.35).  The only times that Jesus is recorded to be alone in Mark, he is either praying (1.35; 6.42; 14.35) or healing (7.53).

One of the biggest things he did in front of them was healed.  On 8 different occasions Jesus healed before the crowds. Sixty-six percent of the time he healed someone, it was before the people.  Only 4 times did he not follow this pattern.

  • He healed a deaf and mute man privately (7.53)
  • He raised a girl from the dead in front of Peter, James, and John (Mark 5)
  • He healed Peter’s mother-in-law with Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 1.31)
  • He drove the Evil Spirits out of the Gadarenes Demoniac with the Twelve watching on (Mark 5) because the crowds couldn’t get around the lake fast enough.

The pattern had been set as healing was meant to be seen publicly.  All the times it wasn’t on display, the connecting ties are few and far between.  The number of people who were either healed, witnessed his healing power, or saw the result of his healing power would have stretched exponentially both in geography and in time.

  • Every marriage that is saved through repentance and submission has been touched with his healing.
  • Every man who finds recovery from a porn addiction has felt it.
  • Every middle school student who has felt the sting of depression and loneliness, who finds grace and compassion in Jesus arms, knows his healing.
  • Every parent who has lost a child, but finally is able to pen a letter to them, knows the power of his healing.
  • Every victim of disaster who has ever received a warm meal and a warm blanket as they begin to piece back together their life, has felt his touch of healing.

Healing was communal.  It is communal.  It was public and it was celebrated.  Jesus lived this out.

Indications point to a population of 500,000 in Palestine during the Second Temple Period.  I think this easily puts a 100 grand within 2 degrees of seperation of Jesus and his healing ministry.

While Jesus was alone, he prayed.  While he was with the Twelve, he explained, corrected, and taught.  With the crowds, the 100 grand, Jesus was the compassionate healer, who’s arms were open to all who came.

But what about the Three Musketeers?

To be continued…

Leverage: This Life

Leverage (vb.) to use something for its maximum force

Mark understood how to leverage this life.  At a turning point in his book, he included an interaction between Jesus and Peter that contains some kernels of truth, that when planted, give rise to a leveraged life.  Near the end of the encounter, Jesus speaks these words: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8.35)  Jesus knew how to use his time on earth, his life on earth, for the maximum effect.

To live a life of leverage, one used to the fullest extent, first off, we must understand the identity of Jesus.  Mark begins the narrative with a question from the mouth of Jesus: “who do people say that I am?”  This is a vital question for Mark who begins his Gospel with “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”(1.1) and arrives at his pint in chapter 15 with a Roman Soldier confessing “Surely, this man was the Son of God!” (15.39). Linking these two confessions, there were multiple partial-confessions throughout the book.

  • After he stilled the stormy sea, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him?” (Mark 4.41)
  • After teaching in the Synagogue, the people of his hometown asked, “Where did this man get these things?  What’s the wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles?  Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (6.2-3)
  • After healing the deaf and mute man, people were amazed and said, “He has done everything well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (7.37)

The identity of Jesus was a high point on Mark’s list of things that he wanted his gospel to communicate.  Many in Mark’s gospel missed the point.  In John, everyone who walked away knew exactly who Jesus was…not so for Mark. They may have walked away healed, but they walked away from Jesus, leaving life with Jesus on the table.  When and only when we understand and can answer the question “who is Jesus?” will we be able to leverage our lives to the fullest.  Peter’s answer sums it up.  “You are the Christ!”  A few words with thousands of implications.  Christ is the greek equivalent of the hebrew word Messiah.  Messiah was the one sent from God to save his people.  He is the one who would hear his people, fight for his people, and ultimately bring rule to the people.  Peter is saying: “Jesus you are the Messiah.”  It was as close to the true identity of Jesus as any human confession seen in Mark’s gospel up to this point.

The real identity of Jesus changes us.  When I understand the power that Jesus has, over the spiritual world of demons in this particular case or over the physical world’s greatest attempt to dissuade us, death, does it begin to resonate that it too lives in me.  Only when I understand that Jesus stopped for little children, reached out and touched lepers, took time for a desperate father, and spoke to a broken woman, will I realize that he has promised to do the same for me.  When I understand his humanity, after all Mark does paint a more “human” figure of Jesus than the other gospel writers, only then do I bear my own soul to him for his working.  “Who Jesus is” changes the way we live.

The second thing needed to live a life of leverage, is an understanding of his mission.  Following Peter’s confession, Jesus begins to teach about his betrayal, death, and resurrection.  It is no coincidence that when we first learn of Jesus true identity, as the Christ, is when he first predicts his death.  It is true.  He came to die for us!  Let that be known.  In the next two chapters, 9 and 10 respectively, we will learn further of his death.  But for now, he sticks to the bare bones of it.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8.31)  Jesus mission had taken on different forms starting early in Mark’s book.  He came to preach (1.38), then to call sinners (2.17).  Then he came to be killed (8.31; 9.31) which you would think would be the pinnacle of his mission.  But its not.  See dying for no reason has no effect.  Jesus death would have meaning, purpose…leverage.  He came to be served up, sold out, and handed over (10.33-34); ultimately he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10.45)  His mission was revealed in greater detail as the book progressed.

Peter, upon hearing the news of Jesus ultimate demise, rebuked him.  For all the progress he had made in the prior paragraph, now he seems to be sliding back into his old ways.  He didn’t understand Jesus’s ultimate mission.  For a man who understood Jesus’ identity, he missed the mission of Jesus.  If we are to life a life of leverage, it has to center around the mission of Jesus.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came to testify to the truth and show us the light.  He came as a ransom, a peace offering, a sacrifice.  He came in order to give us life.  He came, his mission, was to let us leverage this life.

The third necessity of a leveraged life, is following Him. (Mark 8.34-37) Jesus turns the private rebuke of Peter into a public teaching to the crowd.  The message is: “Follow”.  It is made clear that this teaching is not just for Peter, but for everyone.  Crowds were essential to the “following” in Mark’s book.  Sixteen times, Mark uses the word akouloutheo, when translated to English is “follow” and it breaks down this way.

  • Twice, it is used in the context of two men [Simon/Andrew and 2 unnamed disciples] (1.18; 14.13)
  • Twice, it is used in the context of the disciples (6.1; 9.38)

and here are the important two:

  • Once it is used of an individual.  Peter follow’s “from a distance” in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest.  Not a good thing. (14.54)
  • Eleven times, it is used in the context of the crowd.  Either the crowd “followed Jesus” or heard Jesus teach on “following”, or watched someone “follow” (2.14,15; 3.7; 5.24; 8.34; 10.21, 28, 32, 52; 11.9; 15.41)

Crowds were essential to Mark’s understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  Discipleship is a communal effort; a team sport.  For sure, the path to Jesus was as varied and individualized as the people themselves, but the work of following is every bit a group movement.

Discipleship of Minor Characters in Mark

If we follow Jesus with passion, joining with others who are like-minded like ourselves, we will begin to live a leveraged life.  Following Jesus gives a purpose and meaning to this life.  When we pour out our life in service to others, following his example in Mark 10.45, we will find our life.  Jesus says it plainly: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  (Mark 8.35)  Taking up our cross is a request to die.   When we die to ourselves and follow Jesus, we are embarking on a journey that is unparalleled.  Those who get the most out of life are those who hold onto it the least.  Only in welcoming the risk, taking the steps, and engaging in the call to follow, will this life have ultimate meaning and purpose.

Leverage (vb) to use something for its maximum force

 

 

Leverage

Leverage (vb.) to use something for its maximum force

I have had the pleasure of coaching middle school football for a few seasons and involved for many more.  Last season we won the city championship.  Frankly, we were more talented than the other teams by far.  When asked “what team are you most proud of?, that team doesn’t warrant the #1 spot.  Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of that team and what they accomplished, but I am more proud of the team 2 years ago and here’s why: leverage!

Two years ago, the team was less talented and less experienced.  We finished 3rd in the city.  Not as great of finish as this years team, but respectable.  Still, they leveraged their talent.

Our fourth game of the season, against our arch rival, Jardine, we lost by 30.  It wasn’t even close.  Three weeks later, on a chilly night on the turf at Hummer Sports Park, we faced Jardine again in the 3rd-4th place game.  The coaches were hyped; the kids were hyped; our fans were hyped.  Man for man, they out talented us nearly across the board.  We may have had the edge at running back but that was all. That night we took it to them and avenged our 30 or beating with our own 14 pt victory.  That group of players leveraged their talents to the max.  They wrung out every bit of ability they had and achieved all they could. That is what makes coaches proud!  John Wooden once said: “Success is the piece of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

That team achieved success because they leveraged all they had to do everything they could.

We are given only so much time on this earth.  God asks that we leverage this life for His glory.  he desired that we make the maximum impact on the world around us.  That is what leverage is after all, using something for its maximum force.

James reminds us that our life here on this earth is a “mist”.  So the question is, “what will we do with our mist?”

Jesus makes it quite clear that our life is leveraged in pouring it out for others.  The maximum impact of our 80+ years on this earth is found in laying our lives down for others.  Set in his example (Mark 10.45), the lives that we have are leveraged in service to others.

James, Jesus half-brother, reminds his readers: “Religion that is pure and faultless is too look after orphans and widows.”

Looking out for others, serving others, laying our lives down, is the very best way to leverage the time we have on this earth.  It is completely contrary to what the world tells us this life is for.

“What can I gain?” “How much stuff can I accumulate?”  “How much wealth can I attain?”  “What is in it for me?”  The purity has been lost on this world.  Selflessness has been replaced with a me-first mentality.  Amazon’s catered for you, recommended-for-you, shopping experience has left us bereft of an others first mentality.  Facebook’s friends you may also know and stories-you-may-like, had led us to believe that we are the center of our relationships.  I fear that someday the shopping experience may spill over into the church, where we try to cater to the individual believer, at the expense of the community, in a gross misapplication of Paul’s famous verse: “When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9.22)

Certainly, Paul did bring the gospel to different people in different ways, however, the message never changed form. (1 Cor. 9.22)

I am reminded of a story told to me by my friend Scott Brooks.  A man named George Steinberger, who was quite renowned in the rodeo world, especially around these parts, was moving from his home in Olathe to Richmond.  On his ranch in Richmond, atop a hill, stood a massive steel cross.  George had no qualms about letting you know what he believed.  But this Cross had be built at his home in Olathe and followed him down to Richmond.  The problem was that his gates were bigger in Olathe than they were in Richmond.  The cross wouldn’t fit through.  So they cut the cross down to a manageable size to get it  on the ranch.  Immediately, after getting it on the ranch, they went to welding it back together, to its full size.  It sets on his property, full and robust, as a sign to everyone who George served throughout his life.

Want know what I think of every time I see it: “God, let me make the cross as accessible to everyone, but never let me cut it down to size to fit anyone!”  George understood to get it in he had to work at it, but once it was in someone’s life, it couldn’t be changed, cut down, or transformed.

The words: “If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me” are not words that are to be altered, changed, or softened.  It is a call to pour out this life in service to another. In other words: leverage this life to the fullest.

The problem is that this life isn’t all peppermints and unicorns.  There are every day obstacles that challenge and oppress us.  “Look on the bright side” is how the world has chosen to advise us.  But  scripture says, in the same advice of our life, we should leverage these things in the same way.

Doubt, suffering, and injustice are the products of living in a fallen world.  Still, they are arrows that point us to God.

Over the next few weeks, I want to discuss how to leverage these topics to their fullest in our walk with Christ.

Isaiah 53: Mark’s Added Verse

Erie Ks 2013In Sunday School classes across the country, there was a game that was played as I was growing up.  They called it “Sword drill” after the Hebrews 4 passage comparing God’s Word to a sword.  The game is quite simple.  The Bible is held on top of the students head until the teacher calls out a scripture.  Students slam their Bibles on the table and frantically search for the scripture that was called out.  The first to arrive at the passage and begin reading would get a point.  I have better and kinder Sunday School teachers than I was as a teacher.  My two favorite verses to call out to my students were: Acts 8.37 and Mark 15.28.  Most likely they are quoted in the footnotes of your Bible, but it is not often they are found in the actual text of your Bible.  They are called textual variants (more on that later) and scholars don’t really know what to do with them.  It brought me great joy to see the confusion on some of my kids faces…kinda mean right.  I always gave them doughnuts to make up for it.   

The quotation of Isaiah 53.12 is the textual variant, the added verse, of Mark 15.

Prior to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1439, manuscripts, books, and correspondence was copied by hand.  It was an arduous, time-consuming, and precise.  Errors in copying, both intended and unintended, happened.  Sometimes, scribes hust heard things wrong.  At other times things were misspelled.  Think back to a time before word check and spell check.  Sometimes, the scribe felt background information was needed for the reader to understand (see John 5.4).  Or the scribe wanted to harmonize two passages (Luke 11.2-4 and Matthew 6.9-13).  It wasn’t an exact science nor is it an easy topic to study.  But what does this have to do with Mark 15.28.

It too is a textual variant that most scholars would argue was not in the original text of Mark.  Mark was the first gospel written.  It lacks the intricate structure that the other gospels possess.  It show signs of being written rather hastily.  It also doesn’t use OT prophecy in the same way, nor the volume of the other gospels.  Mark is like a 6th grader on Red Bull, bouncing around telling the story at a fast pace, hoping his readers can keep up!   One of his favorite words is euthus meaning “immediately”!  The oldest, most complete, and best preserved manuscripts, codices, and papyri, do not have this verse in them.  Some later families have the verse inserted.  It is doubtful that Mark wrote this verse.

So if Mark didn’t write it, who did?

This is not meant to weaken anyone’s faith in the Bible or the accuracy of Scripture.  To the contrary, I think it can strengthen it.  The Bible is more complex yet so simple.  It is a simple story of God loving the World, with a storied history.

The early church’s used to get letters and books from writers, make copies, and then send them on to the next one.  People would copy down reports and books for their own personal libraries.  They shared with one another, traded with one another, and compared libraries.  With the same veracity of a 9 year old with Pokemon cards, men of ancient renown collected volumes of documents.

There is no doubt in my mind that John Mark wrote the original gospel of Mark.  Ancient historians attest to it, the content seems to point to him, and I believe that he even wrote himself into the book (Mark 14.51-52).  But once Mark wrote down his gospel and made his own copies (however many there were); he sent them out to the Church’s as a testimony to the identity of Jesus.  And somewhere along the way, someone inserted this verse and it got copied over and over and over.  Many later copies of Mark have this verse.  It is in both manuscripts and papyri.  It is wide spread.    

So if it wasn’t original to Mark, and someone else inserted it after the fact, why worry about it here?  Why Easter?

First off, Isaiah 53 is finally put in the “right” place.  It’s a passage about the sacrifice of the servant in place of the people.  And every other place its been quoted, it wasn’t at the crucifixion!  Some early scribe, probably thinking about Luke 22, put this verse about “counted with the transgressors” at the cross.  Some early believer knew this was something that needed to be spelled out to the readers of Mark.

Secondly, it connects with the mission of Mark.  The main point Mark is trying to make is communicated in Mark 10.45: “For the son of Man came not be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  If that isn’t the thrust of Isaiah 53, I certainly don’t know what is.  If that isn’t the main thrust of the Crucifixion in Mark 15, I certainly don’t know what is.  Some early scribe connected the two and took away the doubt.

Finally, it says something about Isaiah 53.  All of the major New Testament authors drew from Isaiah 53 in vastly different ways and for many different purposes.  Mark, or should I say the scribes and copiers of Mark, used it in the most straight forward way possible.  Jesus hangs between 2 criminals…which is exactly what Isaiah said.  Could it possibly be that a scribe, who knew that they did not have apostolic authority or the direct access to an apostle, shouldn’t stray to far from what would be called direct application?  Just a thought.

The point is that Isaiah 53 has more than just crucifixion in mind as evidenced through the last week.  But when it comes down to it, the major application, the major point of Isaiah 53 is straight forward: a servant took on our sin.

“For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.45)

 

A Look at the Cross: Mark

Mark’s cross illuminates the identity of Christ.

One of the major questions answered by Mark is: Who is Jesus?

It starts with the opening of the book.  “This is the beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1.1)  Mark, the author, knows who Jesus is.  With the end in mind, Mark takes the reader on a journey of discovery about the identity of Jesus.   Through the next 16 chapters, Mark gives an introduction to the person of Jesus Christ.  It is not comprehensive, he leaves that job to others, but it is enough to see who Jesus really is.

The Spiritual World knows who Jesus is.  Twice in the book of Mark, God will speak audibly about the identity of Jesus as the Son of God.  At his baptism (1.11) and at the transfiguration (9.7), God proclaimed him to be the Son of God.  Three times his identity was declared by evil spirits.  The first were the spirits inhabiting a man in the synagogue.  As Jesus was teaching they cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are–the Holy one of God!” (1.24)  The second sounds like a series of encounters.  Mark says that every time the spirits saw him during a period of his Galilean ministry, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” (3.11)  The final declaration by demons comes from the legion that took residence in the Gadarenes Demoniac.  He fell on his knees before Jesus and the demons spoke out: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you wont torture me!” (5.7)  The Spiritual world knew without a doubt who Jesus was and the power he possessed because of his identity.

Humanity is discovering who Jesus is.  The verdict is still out on his identity.  Whereas Mark knew the ending, and both God and the demons knew the truth, Mark takes the reader, the disciples, and the people on a fast-paced journey of discovery about the real identity of Jesus.  Mark shows more of the humanity of Jesus than any other Gospel.  Mark also discloses more details about the stories he communicates than any other writer.  He is dead set on showing the real person of Jesus and letting us realize in pieces who he is and what he is doing.  The journey begins in chapter 4.

The first potential confession begins with the question Mark is getting at.  Jesus has been asleep in the boat while the disciples are trying to keep it afloat in a storm.  They wake him up as they are about to capsize and ask him to do something.  Jesus rouses himself and immediately quiets the storm and the waves with just the words: “Quite! Be still!” (4.39)  And from the lips of the disciples comes this question: “Who is this?” (4.41)  Is that not the most important question ever offered?  Is that not the greatest decision that we will ever have to make?  A determination of who Jesus is?  Their question comes from the curiosity that “even the wind and the waves obey him!” (4.41)  Who is Jesus? A man with power over nature.

The second potential confession comes from his hometown crowd.  He has been teaching in the synagogue and the people begin to notice that this isn’t the same Jesus who was running through the narrow streets and playing with the other kids.  He has grown up.  The problem is meshing the two images: of boy playing in the street with the man-teacher before them.  Their amazement leads them to question: “Where did this man get these things?   What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!  Isn’t this the carpenters son?…” (6.2-3)  Their confusion is rooted in their familiarity with him?  Could it be that we sometimes get so comfortable with the Jesus next door that we forget that he is the Jesus who Created the Universe?

Thirdly, Jesus had come to the region of the Decapolis, where people again met him with the physically handicapped.  He pulled a deaf and mute man away from the crowd and healed him.  The crowd was “overwhelmed with amazement” [ekplesso hyperperissos] at the healing that he performed.  Their amazement was put into words and the third potential confession as to the identity of Jesus: “He has done everything well…He even makes the eaf hear and the mute speak.” (7.36)  He is more than just a weather changer and more than just a miracle worker; now “he does all things well.”  The journey of discovery is continuing.

Peter provides the most intriguing of potential confessions in just the next chapter.  Jesus asks his disciples point blank: “Who do people say I am?” (8.27)  The disciples can handle this question.  They just go through a Who’s Who of leaders in response: Elijah, John the Baptist, some unnamed prophet.  But Jesus wants to know about them and their hearts.  “Who do you say that I am?” (8.29)  Peter, always the first with a response, replies: “You are the Christ.” (8.29)  That is God’s Anointed…the Messiah and the one sent by God.  A great confession.  But the thing is, Cyrus was the Messiah (Isaiah 45.1) but he wasn’t the Son of God.  There is a difference between being the Ambassador (the one sent) and the Prince (the Son of the King) and discovery still awaits.

Fifthly, as Jesus is walking towards to Jerusalem, as he enters Jericho, they come across a blind man.  Bartimaeus is his name.  His occupation was begging.  Many passed by him every day without a scene, but on this day, as Jesus approached, he confessed, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (10.48)  “Son of David” meaning King David of the Old Testament.  Jesus has gone from miracle worker to sent one to now King of Israel.  Jesus heals him and he begins to follow the kingly parade that would culminate with a title above Jesus head declaring him “King of the Jews.”

Still all these times they missed it.  Mark started his book to reaveal Jesus as the Son of God (1.1) and 10 chapters in they are still falling short.  That is until a Roman Soldier sees the death of Jesus.

The Centurion knows who Jesus is.  He is first mentioned in Mark 15.39 but he has been on the scene for some time.  He was in charge of the detail that would ensure the death of Jesus and the two criminals.  It was common place in those days, especially for a detachment of soldiers in a backwoods province like Palestine, to perform crucifixions.  This man was hardened to the process and had seen it all.  But something was different about this one.  Mark 15.39 says:

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

When he saw “how” he died.  That word is puzzling.  What made Jesus death so different?  Could I posit one of probably many answers?  Could it be that Jesus death brought together seamlessly his identity and his purpose?  The “how” that the Centurion saw could be a man’s death meeting with a man’s identity and purpose.

Not only has Mark been peeling away at Jesus’ identity, but his purpose has been slowly being revealed through out the book.  Look at Jesus own statements:

  • “I have come to preach.” (1.38)
  • “I have come to call sinners.” (2.17)
  • “I have come to suffer.” (9.31)
  • “I have come to be betrayed and to suffer.” (10.33-34)
  • “I have come to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (10.45)

All of these things, Jesus accomplished on the cross.  This was not lost, without a doubt through God’s revelation, on the Centurion.  The confession that Mark has been searching for since 1.1, is found when Jesus identity, as the Son of God, and his purpose, “to give his life” are brought together in an instant.  That is what caused the centurion to confess, the same thing that we can confess today: “Surely, this was the Son of God.”  And that is why it took 15 chapters.