The Anointing of Jesus

While He was in Bethany at the house of Simon who had a serious skin disease, as He was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head. (Mark 14:3, HCSB)

Mark doesn’t name this woman, but John tells us that it was Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, the man whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  She took a very expensive perfume—worth almost a year’s wages to a working man—broke the bottle it was in and poured it over his head and body.  It was such a volume of perfume that it reached all the way to his feet, and Mary wiped his feet with her hair.  It was an extraordinary moment.

Judas the betrayer [we know from the passage in John] is NOT HAPPY with this waste of money! “Why didn’t she sell that expensive perfume and give it to the poor?” He asks. Now, if we didn’t know any better we would think at this moment that Judas Iscariot is the chief disciple.  He has been listening to Jesus; Jesus’ teaching has entered his heart and he has compassion for the poor.  What a great guy!

John explains for us: “He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.” (John 12:6, HCSB) Ouch.  Chief disciple award, revoked!

Back to Mary because I want to think about her for a moment.  Why did she anoint Jesus?  None of the gospel accounts tells us why she anointed him.  We do know that anointing was a common cultural habit.  The NIV Application Commentary on Mark says: “Anointing was common at feasts in the ancient world. Is she extending to him customary courtesy with uncustomary extravagance?” We obviously cannot know for sure, because no one explains.  However, Richard Lenski raises an interesting possibility.  He comments: “Jesus had again and again announced his death by violence, by crucifixion at the hands of the Gentiles. What if the disciples failed to grasp just what Jesus meant? Why should not one heart at least realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said? The character of this woman is such that it ought not to surprise us so much that, where dull-witted men failed, she saw that Jesus was now going straight to his death-by crucifixion as he had said.”

Perhaps when Jesus replied to the disciples who were indignant at the perceived waste of money and said she has anointed my body in advance for burial (vs. 8), he meant that Mary was the only one who actually took to heart what he had said repeatedly about having to die.  We cannot know for sure, but it is an intriguing possibility.

What we do know from the accounts of this incident is that Mary did not defend her actions to the disciples. Lenski writes: “Mary herself is silent and offers no defense. We learn from her that it is not always necessary to defend ourselves-our good actions speak for themselves, and the only thing essential is that Jesus approves them.”

It’s also amazing to me that Jesus makes this weird comment at that moment: “I assure you: Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”” (Mark 14:9, HCSB) Huh?  What?

Amazingly, here I am at Clairmont Coffee in St. John’s, Michigan, fulfilling that exact prophecy as I drink excellent coffee and eat donuts from Cops and Donuts [Side note:  Great coffee shop.  Highest Recommendation.  Great people.] I’m not the only one either.  We’ve been talking about what Mary did since almost the moment that she did it 2000 years ago.  Chrysostom, who died in 407 AD, writes: “The Persians, the Indians, Scythians, Thracians, Samaratians, the race of the Moors and the inhabitants of the British isles celebrate a deed, performed in a private family in Judea by a woman who had been a sinner.”

Indeed, Mr. Chrysostom, they certainly do.  And they do in St. Johns, Michigan also.

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Will You Pray for the Chinese Church?

Pastor Wang Yi, with more than 100 members of his church, has been arrested in China, mainly because he loves Jesus and is willing to tell anyone that they too can have eternal life  in Jesus.  He wrote a statement to be released in case he was detained more than 48 hours.  Read it, it is humbling and powerful. It’s entitled My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience

He writes in part:

” I must point out that persecution against the Lord’s church and against all Chinese people who believe in Jesus Christ is the most wicked and the most horrendous evil of Chinese society. This is not only a sin against Christians. It is also a sin against all non-Christians. For the government is brutally and ruthlessly threatening them and hindering them from coming to Jesus. There is no greater wickedness in the world than this.”

And continues:

“If this regime is one day overthrown by God, it will be for no other reason than God’s righteous punishment and revenge for this evil. For on earth, there has only ever been a thousand-year church. There has never been a thousand-year government. There is only eternal faith. There is no eternal power.”

And this, wow!

“Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ.  When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me. Pray that the Lord would use me, that he would grant me patience and wisdom, that I might take the gospel to them.

Separate me from my wife and children, ruin my reputation, destroy my life and my family – the authorities are capable of doing all of these things. However, no one in this world can force me to renounce my faith; no one can make me change my life; and no one can raise me from the dead.”

I am humbled by this Chinese pastor.  We are praying for this Chinese church at 8 p.m. EST tonight.  Will you pray for our detained brother?

 

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Mark 13: Why?

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:3–4, NASB95)

Let’s see if we can figure out why Jesus gave a detailed glance at the future to Peter, James, John, and Andrew. In the course of this chapter, he tells them:

  • See that no one leads you astray – vs. 5
  • Be on your guard – vs. 9
  • Be on guard – vs. 23
  • Be on guard – vs. 33
  • Keep awake – vs. 33
  • Stay awake – vs. 35
  • Stay awake – vs. 36

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that Jesus really! wanted his disciples (and those of us who follow in their footsteps) to pay attention to world events and watch for things he had said would come to pass.  He gives the four all of this information about the future, so that they will be prepared when it comes.

Amazingly, the Christians took Jesus’ words very seriously.  Eusebius, an early church historian explained that when Titus’ army approached Jerusalem in AD 70, bent on destroying the rebellious Jews once and for all, the Christians, remembering Christ’s words, fled to Pella and escaped the siege and consequent destruction of Jerusalem.

There is a couple of things to remember here about prophecy, for that is what Jesus is doing in Mark 13. First, both Jesus and the four disciples all believed that Jesus could (and did) tell about events before they happened.  Jesus speaks throughout this chapter as if he really did know these events were coming, and acted as if they would indeed come to pass.  Jesus made this prediction about AD 30 or so, and his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was fulfilled in AD 70.

The second thing to remember as we take up a chapter of prophecy is that even though people have the prophecy and know the prophecy, they rarely recognize that a prophecy has been fulfilled until afterwards.  Despite all of the prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament, only Simeon and Anna appeared to have really understood what was going on at Jesus’ birth.  Indeed, not even Mary, Jesus’ mother, seems to have understood that she had given birth to the Messiah until during Jesus’ pubic ministry when he was about thirty years old.

If we are the last generation of Christians, alive when Jesus returns, will we even recognize that fact until the very last minute?  Based on prophecy already fulfilled, perhaps not.

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Don’t Waste Your Persecution

“But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. (Mark 13:9, NASB95)

As followers of Jesus we know that Jesus promised us we would face persecution (John 16.33), and we think of it as something to be endured, but rarely do we look at persecution as an opportunity.  Amazingly, opportunity in persecution seems to be exactly what Jesus implies in our passage.  Jesus makes this statement after explaining to four of his disciples that the great temple standing on the highest point in Jerusalem would be torn down so completely that not one stone will be left here on another (vs. 2). So prophesied. So done.  In 70 AD the Romans destroyed the temple so completely that today there is no agreement on where it actually stood!

Notice what Jesus adds at the end of this verse.  His disciples would be delivered up to the courts; they would be flogged; they would stand before leaders of governmental entities all because of Jesus, because of their commitment to him, and then this little statement: as a testimony to them.

Did you catch that?  There is purpose in the persecution that Jesus’ disciples would endure.  In the process of being arrested, flogged, and beaten for the sole reason that they were committed to Jesus, they would stand before rulers for the express purpose of witnessing to them, of sharing exactly why they insisted on doing what they were doing.

We have a great example of this in Acts 26, when Paul stands before King Agrippa and testifies of his zeal to persecute Christians, of his meeting with the living Jesus on the road to Damascus and of his growing realization that his zeal was working against the purposes of God! King Agrippa’s response is telling: “Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”” (Acts 26:28 NAS95) Paul was doing what Jesus had commanded his disciples to do here in Mark 13.

Paul is an excellent example to us of how not to waste our persecution.  Are we arrested because of our faith in Jesus?  Are we flogged?  Are we dragged before the authorities?  Perhaps not here—not yet at least—but in many parts of the world followers of Jesus are.  Jesus told us to see this as an opportunity to witness on behalf of him.  This is a high privilege.

 

 

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On the Resurrection

And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”” (Mark 12:25–27 ESV)

We learn a lot from Jesus here when he condemns the Sadducees for not believing in a bodily resurrection.  For one thing we learn that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Somehow, in some way, those who follow God and die are still living.  This truth goes to our understanding of life after death so we need to be sure that we understand what the Bible says about the resurrection. The NIV Application Commentary on Mark points out: “The media gives its fantasy version of what happens in death through popular movies. Those images have an enormous subliminal effect on both Christians and non-Christians. The church must give its answer.”

This clip from the movie Ghost is a good example.  Molly’s boyfriend has died, but he comes back as a ghost using a black woman to convince Molly that he is still around because he still loves her:

Wouldn’t it be cool if this were true, but of course it is all made up.  It appeals to our desire to connect with loved ones who have passed away, but it is not a biblical picture of life after dying.

Another problem we have, and this is true of many followers of Jesus, is that we see life after death mainly in terms of reconnecting with our loved ones who have died before us.  Sure, Jesus will be there, and it will be cool to see him and hang out with him, but what we are really looking forward to is seeing our dad/brother/wife/son/daughter/grandma/etc.  In this version of events, as the NIV Application Commentary points out, the afterlife is “a continuation of life on earth without all the problems that hamper our happiness.” Perfect! Am I right?  Unfortunately, while appealing, this is also not the biblical picture of life after death.

We will be raised from the dead to life in Christ, to fellowship with him, to worship of God the Father with our loved ones who have died before us.  Yes, those who have died in Christ will be with us, but our desire will not be for them (though I assume we will be happy to worship Jesus with them), but for Jesus.  What does this look like?  I don’t really have a clue, Scripture only gives us hints.

I remember having a conversation at work when I was in college with my buddy Leon that went something like this:

Leon: “Wait a minute.  There won’t be any sex in heaven?”

Me: “Nope.  The Bible says that we won’t be married in heaven.”

Leon: “What could be better than sex?”

Me: “I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.”

Poor Leon was in such slavery to the sexual desire that he couldn’t imagine anything better than sex.  This reminds me of a great quote from C. S. Lewis:

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

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When “The Conservatives” Were Wrong

“Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (Mark 12:24 ESV)

This is a statement that Jesus made to some Sadducees who came to him with a question so bogus and outlandish that one can hardly imagine how they asked it with a straight face.  “So this very unlucky woman has a husband who dies, then she marries another who also dies, then another, and another, and…” The thing is, they think they have Jesus nailed to the wall on this one.  He will have no answer and have to admit that there is indeed no resurrection.

The Sadducees saw themselves as the “conservatives” of their day because they only believed what was written in the Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament, or Tanakh.  If it wasn’t to be found in the Torah, then it wasn’t true.  Because they thought that the resurrection of the dead was not in the Torah, then it could not be true.

Jesus condemns the Sadducees on two accounts: they did not know the Scriptures and they did not understand the power of God.  Jesus then proceeds to refer to a passage from the Torah to prove that there is indeed a resurrection from the dead (“And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.””(Mark 12:26–27 ESV)

The NIV Application Commentary on Mark succinctly points out: “Jesus is not interested in carrying on a dialogue with those who disbelieve.”  Jesus refutes the argument of the Sadducees from the Torah, and he does it directly and with finality.  He wasn’t going to debate the issue, the Sadducees claimed that they believed the Torah, but they had interpreted incorrectly and were quite wrong.

There are a couple of important takeaways for us from this encounter.  First, if we are to have a correct understanding of God and his ways, then we must understand the Scriptures.  There is a lot of mumbo jumbo going around these days concerning heaven and how to get there and what is actually in heaven, but Jesus refers us to Scripture to understand what happens after we die, and he refers us to nothing and no one else.  Second, we not only need to understand the Scriptures, but we need to understand them correctly.  An appeal to Scripture for your favorite hobby horse does no good if in fact, you’ve interpreted the Bible incorrectly.  The Sadducees thought they believed in the Torah, unfortunately, they had not interpreted it correctly and Jesus tells them directly: You are quite wrong. You can believe with all of your being that your favorite hobby horse is the “true” interpretation of the Bible and still be quite wrong.

 

 

 

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God’s Things

“But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.” (Mark 12:15–17 ESV)

Here is something awkward.  When the Herodians and Pharisees drop the most brilliant question ever on Jesus, his response is this: Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.  So one of his questioners produces a denarius.  On the front side was a picture of Tiberius’ (Caesar at the time) face and the words: “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus.” The coin was claiming that Tiberius was divine.  This was blasphemy to the Jews and yet they still used the coin!  The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary points out: “The Pharisees and Herodians possess a coin oozing idolatry and blasphemy.” Like I said, awkward.

Jesus gives the most brilliant answer to his questioners:  Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. So much for trapping Jesus, they couldn’t accuse him of supporting the tax and they couldn’t accuse him of not supporting it.

What Jesus does say is quite unexpected.  He says that there is a legitimate sphere of government and to the extent that we don’t disobey God, we are obligated to obey that government [So yeah, dear reader, you’re going to have to pay those taxes you owe]. However, Jesus goes on beyond just talking about the Roman government, he adds that there is a sphere that is God’s and you must render to God those things that are his.

What belongs to God?  Well, whose likeness was on a denarius?  Tiberius.  Whose likeness is stamped on every human being?  God’s.  Jesus is saying that the Herodians and the Pharisees and every other person on the face of the earth, belongs to God, which they absolutely do because he created every one of them. [see Psalm 139] Indeed, the more one thinks about the ramifications of this statement the more we discover  what belongs to God. Paul must have had something like this in mind when he asked the Corinthians: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV) From whom did you receive it?  God.

Tertullian, writing in the 2nd century says: “You give to Caesar only money. But to God, give yourself.”  I think that sums it up quite well.

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