At the risk of sounding too depressing, I would like to focus a bit on how bad people are. This is in response to the response of many regarding the recent school shooting in Florida. What should be done with guns, with people, etc.?
At times like this it is a good reminder that we really need God’s Word to tell us how bad we REALLY are. We can gauge how bad we are, based on our feelings. We can gauge how bad we are, based on our actions—whether in ‘thought, word, or deed’. But the scriptures tell us that it is even worse than what we think.
In the Gospel text for this Sunday, Jesus says to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan (Mark 8:33)!’ Initially, that does not strike me as being too nice, Jesus calling one of his disciples Satan. But Jesus knew how evil the world was. And he knew what he was talking about was important; Jesus had just given his first prediction of what would be coming with his Passion, death, and resurrection. This is critical, life-saving stuff.
I would imagine that, since many people do not believe in God, they also do not believe in Satan. They do not think that there is someone out there who would delight in the destruction of all humankind.
Obviously keeping some guns tucked away for emergencies is not going to solve this problem. A much bigger solution is needed.
I would propose that the solution which this gospel account proposes is even much bigger than Jesus. The early Christians had heard some initial stories about Jesus, the so-called ‘Son of God’, and immediately their minds could have jumped to the conclusion that they would be helped out of their situation, their persecutions.
On this very night (February 24, 2018), at 6 pm, the Colosseum in Rome will be lit in red to remember the Christians who are being persecuted around the world, but especially in Syria and Iraq (the photos of this are amazing). That is, admittedly, a nice response to the situation.
Jesus, in his response to Peter, says that ‘whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake AND THE GOSPEL’S will save it (Mark 8:35).’ I used capitals for the phrase ‘and the gospel’s’ because that does not appear in the other accounts (cf. Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24).
Christianity is not just ‘me and Jesus’. For one thing, we should remember that the devil is out there and that he is totally against us. More importantly, this is not just about having Jesus on our side. The word ‘gospel’ encompasses the huge plan of salvation that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has for his people.
We needed a Savior, and his death on the cross in our place is at the heart of this gospel, this good news, that has come to us.
Especially in light of the recent violence, I would like to start out by mentioning that this is a difficult time of the year for many. The combination of overspending at Christmas, the cold weather, and even the lack of daylight make for a significant amount of pain in the lives of many people. Many will turn to violence, alcohol, or other things to lessen that pain.
Lent is here also to remind us of the pain in our lives. Lent is here also to remind us of the pain in the life of Jesus. And it will last for forty days, a significant amount of time here on earth (with its ‘four corners’).
And although we take a step back chronologically in the life of Christ, the gospel text for the First Sunday in Lent is an appropriate one—Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. And although the account of that temptation in the Gospel according to Mark is incredibly small, it is also incredibly interesting.
Mark 1:12 contains the first occurrence of what is often called the ‘historical present’. Usually something that happened in the past is described in the past tense. But sometimes an author will change the tense and describe certain events as if they were happening in the present. This certainly creates an emphasis, but what kind?
A comparison between the gospel accounts in a somewhat literal translation will certainly help to clarify. (And the Christian’s early use of the codex [or book] for the bible helped to promote these kinds of comparisons.)
Matthew 4:1: ‘Then that Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit….’
Luke 4:1: ‘And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness….’
Mark 1:12: ‘And, straightway, the Spirt throws him out into the wilderness….
Using the same word when Jesus cast out the demons, he himself gets cast out into the wilderness. This work of the Spirit, in a sense, is a significantly brutal action. There is a big difference between leading and throwing out someone—you are on opposite sides of the person! The use of this verb prepares us for some of the violence to follow.
Please pardon me for going back to this theme, but one of the ways in which a king showed his authority is by power, action, and even violence. A king without a power is not a true king.
One of the living creatures of God’s throne is the lion, and you do not want to mess with a lion. The Gospel according to Mark is most often connected to the lion, and this is an appropriate connection. In this account, God will often show his power—still in a unique way of course.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, at the end of the temptation, the text says that the devil leaves him. In the Gospel according to Luke, it says that he leaves ‘until an opportune time (4:13).’ There is no talk of the devil leaving in the Gospel according to Mark. The battle rages on.
The threat of violence is clear. God says that things on earth will get worse, not better. We are not talking about evolution, but devolution.
But Jesus already walked this path. He made it safe for us. And he bids us to follow him.
The last Sunday in Epiphany is always Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday where the focus is Jesus being transfigured or, as the Greek says it, ‘metamorphosed (I don’t think that is a new word)’. In simple words, Jesus is changed.
I think it is interesting that each gospel account has a different way to describe how Jesus looked. This year, in the Gospel according to Mark, his clothes are described as ‘intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them (ESV, 9:3).’ Matthew’s description could be connected to creation (17:2), while Luke’s could be connected to another person (9:29). And Mark’s description could be connected to, of all things, a CANDIDATE!
Since most of the media is talking about politics these days, I thought I would join in as well.
If I knew this before, I had forgotten it—that the word ‘candidate’ comes from the Latin word, ‘candidus’, meaning ‘white’. It described the white toga that candidates would wear when they ran for a political office in ancient Rome. (Since this gospel account was written in Rome, I would think that this is a deliberate connection.)
I hope no one thinks that the ancient Roman politicians were extremely nice people and that we have devolved into a very cruel and ‘heartless’ society. Politics has ALWAYS been political. (Et tu, Brute?)
I can imagine young senators wanting to get their toga the whitest so that they would literally stand out amongst the rest. I can also imagine those people paying a lot of money to do that.
But what is that compared to our Lord and how he looked on that day? Any talk about Jesus—or even simply God—helps to keep things in perspective.
In our two-party system in America, we depend on CIVIL conflict—since we are part of a civilized society, much like the Romans. The conflict between those two parties should often resolve itself into a positive outcome for many, if not all.
It might be nice sometimes to retreat to the mountains and have a vision of Jesus in his intensely white garments. But he certainly did not stay up there very long. And, when he finally came down from the mountain, went up to the cross, and then he went down into the tomb. There were a lot of things on his calendar!
After Jesus rose from the dead, many people who wanted to see him were not able—and that still is true today.
But his unique and precious promises also still hold true in today’s reality.
The Gospel text for this Sunday continues to describe that special Sabbath in Capernaum where Jesus just healed the man with the unclean spirit, then proceeds to heal Peter’s mother-in-law, and then, after the sun had set, proceeds to heal many more people.
There is a whole lot of healing going on! But I believe it is unique to this gospel account that it never says that ALL were healed. This phrase appears in both the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke. And the Greek word ‘heal’ (where we get the word ‘therapeutic’ from) only appears six times in the Gospel according to Mark (and the last time is in chapter six), and it is at least double that in the other two accounts (and the word also appears much later in those accounts).
While I admit that I might be reading too much into that perspective, I would like to share a little bit about the archeological work going on in Pompeii.
What does Pompeii have to do with Jesus and healing? More than you might think! First of all, there is the tradition that this gospel account was written by Mark, secretary to Peter, when both were in Rome. The tradition was also that Peter died sometime in the decade starting in 60 A.D.
Pompeii is only about a hundred miles from Rome. It was the city that was destroyed by the great volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D (it also had a devastating earthquake several years before this). And, although the eruption of Vesuvius was a great tragedy and many lives were lost, the site provides a unique look into an ancient civilization. There have been some artifacts that would lead archaeologists to believe that some people were Christians.
A strong connection between Christianity and Pompeii has been made by Bruce Longnecker. He has written a couple things on this topic. And, after evaluating the data, he has suggested that the Christians in Pompeii were definitely interested in the benefits of Jesus’ power to enhance their lives, to protect them from evil. And it was almost as if the cross was a good-luck charm.
One of the pictures available from Pompeii is that of a small cross carved out of stone, and it struck me that the cross was quite elegant. It was not an ugly, basic cross, but it was if it had waves radiating out from its center. Again, I might be reading too much into this, but it seemed like a cross that spoke more about power than about love.
I would say that there can be little talk about power when Jesus is hanging there, dead on the cross. But THAT is when the centurion describes him as the Son of God. And, after his resurrection, the angel has the women focus on Jesus’ words—that he promised that he would be seen. This perspective is helpful for those who might want a ‘stronger’ ending to this account—and in their own lives.
I am not surprised that things went so quickly in such a wrong direction for the early Christians in Pompeii. That is the story in Genesis with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, as well as with Abraham, Isaac, AND Jacob. That is also the story of the nation of Israel under Moses, under the Judges and under the Kings. That is the story in the New Testament as well. Peter said he would follow Jesus until death, and then, just a few hours later, denies that he knew him three times.
Thankfully, that is not the entire story. And that is why Jesus, our Savior, showed his great love for all people. He healed many in the city of Capernaum, but then he moved on. The world’s problem is much bigger; his battle will be much bigger.