Friday, February 26, 2010

Reflections on Acts 7

    Acts 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The high priest asked Stephen, "Are they telling the truth about you?"
  2. Stephen answered: Friends, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he had moved to Haran.
  3. God told him, "Leave your country and your relatives and go to a land that I will show you."
  4. Then Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, Abraham came and settled in this land where you now live.
  5. God didn't give him any part of it, not even a square foot. But God did promise to give it to him and his family forever, even though Abraham didn't have any children.
  6. God said that Abraham's descendants would live for a while in a foreign land. There they would be slaves and would be mistreated four hundred years.
  7. But he also said, "I will punish the nation that makes them slaves. Then later they will come and worship me in this place."
  8. God said to Abraham, "Every son in each family must be circumcised to show that you have kept your agreement with me." So when Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him. Later, Isaac circumcised his son Jacob, and Jacob circumcised his twelve sons.
  9. These men were our ancestors. Joseph was also one of our famous ancestors. His brothers were jealous of him and sold him as a slave to be taken to Egypt. But God was with him
  10. and rescued him from all his troubles. God made him so wise that the Egyptian king Pharaoh thought highly of him. The king even made Joseph governor over Egypt and put him in charge of everything he owned.
  11. Everywhere in Egypt and Canaan the grain crops failed. There was terrible suffering, and our ancestors could not find enough to eat.
  12. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there for the first time.
  13. It was on their second trip that Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph's family.
  14. Joseph sent for his father and his relatives. In all, there were seventy-five of them.
  15. His father went to Egypt and died there, just as our ancestors did.
  16. Later their bodies were taken back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor.
  17. Finally, the time came for God to do what he had promised Abraham. By then the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased.
  18. Another king was ruling Egypt, and he didn't know anything about Joseph.
  19. He tricked our ancestors and was cruel to them. He even made them leave their babies outside, so they would die.
  20. During this time Moses was born. He was a very beautiful child, and for three months his parents took care of him in their home.
  21. Then when they were forced to leave him outside, the king's daughter found him and raised him as her own son.
  22. Moses was given the best education in Egypt. He was a strong man and a powerful speaker.
  23. When Moses was forty years old, he wanted to help the Israelites because they were his own people.
  24. One day he saw an Egyptian mistreating one of them. So he rescued the man and killed the Egyptian.
  25. Moses thought the rest of his people would realize that God was going to use him to set them free. But they didn't understand.
  26. The next day Moses saw two of his own people fighting, and he tried to make them stop. He said, "Men, you are both Israelites. Why are you so cruel to each other?"
  27. But the man who had started the fight pushed Moses aside and asked, "Who made you our ruler and judge?
  28. Are you going to kill me, just as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?"
  29. When Moses heard this, he ran away to live in the country of Midian. His two sons were born there.
  30. Forty years later, an angel appeared to Moses from a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.
  31. Moses was surprised by what he saw. He went closer to get a better look, and the Lord said,
  32. "I am the God who was worshiped by your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Moses started shaking all over and didn't dare to look at the bush.
  33. The Lord said to him, "Take off your sandals. The place where you are standing is holy.
  34. With my own eyes I have seen the suffering of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now I am sending you back to Egypt."
  35. This was the same Moses that the people rejected by saying, "Who made you our leader and judge?" God's angel had spoken to Moses from the bush. And God had even sent the angel to help Moses rescue the people and be their leader.
  36. In Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the desert, Moses rescued the people by working miracles and wonders for forty years.
  37. Moses is the one who told the people of Israel, "God will choose one of your people to be a prophet, just as he chose me."
  38. Moses brought our people together in the desert, and the angel spoke to him on Mount Sinai. There he was given these life-giving words to pass on to us.
  39. But our ancestors refused to obey Moses. They rejected him and wanted to go back to Egypt.
  40. The people said to Aaron, "Make some gods to lead us! Moses led us out of Egypt, but we don't know what's happened to him now."
  41. Then they made an idol in the shape of a calf. They offered sacrifices to the idol and were pleased with what they had done.
  42. God turned his back on his people and left them. Then they worshiped the stars in the sky, just as it says in the Book of the Prophets, "People of Israel, you didn't offer sacrifices and offerings to me during those forty years in the desert.
  43. Instead, you carried the tent where the god Molech is worshiped, and you took along the star of your god Rephan. You made those idols and worshiped them. So now I will have you carried off beyond Babylonia."
  44. The tent where our ancestors worshiped God was with them in the desert. This was the same tent that God had commanded Moses to make. And it was made like the model that Moses had seen.
  45. Later it was given to our ancestors, and they took it with them when they went with Joshua. They carried the tent along as they took over the land from those people that God had chased out for them. Our ancestors used this tent until the time of King David.
  46. He pleased God and asked him if he could build a house of worship for the people of Israel.
  47. And it was finally King Solomon who built a house for God.
  48. But the Most High God doesn't live in houses made by humans. It is just as the prophet said, when he spoke for the Lord,
  49. "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? In what place will I rest?
  50. I have made everything."
  51. You stubborn and hardheaded people! You are always fighting against the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors did.
  52. Is there one prophet that your ancestors didn't mistreat? They killed the prophets who told about the coming of the One Who Obeys God. And now you have turned against him and killed him.
  53. Angels gave you God's Law, but you still don't obey it.
  54. When the council members heard Stephen's speech, they were angry and furious.
  55. But Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. He looked toward heaven, where he saw our glorious God and Jesus standing at his right side.
  56. Then Stephen said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!"
  57. The council members shouted and covered their ears. At once they all attacked Stephen
  58. and dragged him out of the city. Then they started throwing stones at him. The men who had brought charges against him put their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
  59. As Stephen was being stoned to death, he called out, "Lord Jesus, please welcome me!"
  60. He knelt down and shouted, "Lord, don't blame them for what they have done." Then he died.

Stephen, one of the seven men appointed to serve the needs of the widows in the church, as we read in the previous chapter, proves himself to be fully worthy of the assessment made by the congregation of his character. He was full of the Spirit and wisdom. We also read in the previous chapter of Stehen's encounter with the members of the Freedmen's Synagogue. For whatever reason, they came forward and started to dispute with Stephen. It is possible they were jealous because he "was performing great wonders and signs among the people." Or they may have disagreed with what Stephen was saying to the people. But they found that they were "unable to stand up against the wisdom and the Spirit by whom he spoke." At this failure the Freedmen shifted tactics and induced men to make accusations against him of blasphemy. They also stirred up people to drag Stephen off to the Sanhedrin where false witnesses brought the charge of blasphemy, leading to the first verse of chapter 7 where the high priest asked Stephen whether the charges were true.

Stephen did not answer the question of the high priest. Instead, he continued the pattern we see in Acts to this point in which every encounter was an opportunity to be Jesus' witnesses. Stephen seemed to understand his purpose in all this. It was not to defend himself and be freed of the charges, but to give witness of Jesus as the Messiah. This he did at his own peril. In lieu of his own defense he launched into a lengthy message setting forth Israel's history of receiving God's blessings but rejecting His messengers. It is significant that Stephen established a pattern with Israel of being 'saved' by those they first rejected. This was true with Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery and who returned to save them from the famine and provide them a home in Egypt. It was also true of Moses whose first efforts to defend His Israelite brothers was rejected and he was sent into the wilderness for 40 years. He also returned to rescue the Israelites from Egypt and lead them to their promised land. Then Stephen came to the point saying that these leaders of the Sanhedren had done the same thing with Jesus. Their fathers had killed the prophets who announced Jesus' coming beforehand, and now they, themselves, had betrayed Him and murdered Him.

Stephen could not have been ignorant of the response he would receive at these words. The men of the Sanhedren were immediately enraged and "gnashed their teeth at him." But Stephen was filled by the Holy Spirit and gazed into heaven where he would soon be. He was dragged from before the Sanhedrin and thrown out of the city where they began to stone him. His dying words were a prayer of forgiveness on behalf of his accusers.

Those of us who are followers of this Jesus must ask ourselves how we best serve our Lord. Is it to defend our cause and ourselves through activist activities, court actions, and legislative processes, or has Stephen modeled a more effect way?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reflections on Acts 6

    Acts 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. A lot of people were now becoming followers of the Lord. But some of the ones who spoke Greek started complaining about the ones who spoke Aramaic. They complained that the Greek-speaking widows were not given their share when the food supplies were handed out each day.
  2. The twelve apostles called the whole group of followers together and said, "We should not give up preaching God's message in order to serve at tables.
  3. My friends, choose seven men who are respected and wise and filled with God's Spirit. We will put them in charge of these things.
  4. We can spend our time praying and serving God by preaching."
  5. This suggestion pleased everyone, and they began by choosing Stephen. He had great faith and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they chose Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and also Nicolaus, who worshiped with the Jewish people in Antioch.
  6. These men were brought to the apostles. Then the apostles prayed and placed their hands on the men to show that they had been chosen to do this work.
  7. God's message spread, and many more people in Jerusalem became followers. Even a large number of priests put their faith in the Lord.
  8. God gave Stephen the power to work great miracles and wonders among the people.
  9. But some Jews from Cyrene and Alexandria were members of a group who called themselves "Free Men." They started arguing with Stephen. Some others from Cilicia and Asia also argued with him.
  10. But they were no match for Stephen, who spoke with the great wisdom that the Spirit gave him.
  11. So they talked some men into saying, "We heard Stephen say terrible things against Moses and God!"
  12. They turned the people and their leaders and the teachers of the Law of Moses against Stephen. Then they all grabbed Stephen and dragged him in front of the council.
  13. Some men agreed to tell lies about Stephen, and they said, "This man keeps on saying terrible things about this holy temple and the Law of Moses.
  14. We have heard him claim that Jesus from Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses gave us."
  15. Then all the council members stared at Stephen. They saw that his face looked like the face of an angel.

The church by this point was experiencing growing pains. Two reports have been given by this point of first 3,000 and later 5,000 who became believers in addition to other statements such as Act 2:47, "And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved," and Act 5:14, "Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers." Although we were told in Act 4:32 that "those who believed were of one heart and soul," we should not surprised that problems accompanied this growth. Chapter 6 introduces one of those problems. This group of believers was culturally diverse, and, to some extent, ethnically diverse. Most were Jewish but from different cultures, speaking different languages as mentioned here.

Since they were in Jerusalem, the group was probably made up predominately of Hebraic Jews. It would not be unusual that the minority group would be overlooked in one way or another, and in this case it had to do with the care provided the widows. This passage is thought by many to be the introduction of the office of deacon in the church. Whether or not this is accurate, there are some important leadership principles to be learned here for use in the church. One is the quick response by the leaders to this issue. There was no defensiveness or excuses but rather a direct course of action. A second, and important, principle was the expansion of leadership. The apostles, who were the church leaders, did not try to hold the leadership to themselves nor did they try to keep the leadership within their cultural conclave. Still another principle was the involvement of the congregation in resolving the problem, allowing it to have ownership of the solution. Another principle was the criteria for selecting these leaders. To select leaders without the credentials of a good reputation, being full of the Spirit and wisdom, would only buy more problems.

Possibly the most important principle in this account, though, was the priority the apostles placed on key functions of their office. These functions were prayer and the preaching ministry. By appointing others to this matter with the widows, they protected their ability to continue giving priority to these functions which, I believe, resulted in the report given in verse 7, "So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith." Had the apostles been diverted from prayer and preaching I don't believe they would have seen these results. The church is continually confronted with the temptation to pursue urgent matters that divert it from its primary role of being Christ's witnesses throughout the world. The apostles showed extreme wisdom in taking the action they did and not allowing themselves to be diverted.

In the account that follows this issue within the church, we see the issues that are cropping up outside the church. This account demonstrates the illogical opposition that can arise when witness of Christ is actively pursued. Members of the Freedmen's Synagogue for some reason felt threatened by the Christian witness and chose to launch a dispute with Stephen. This was not a friendly debate nor even a mischievous attempt to get the best of these Christians. To the members of this synagogue this was serious business. So serious that when they could not "stand up against the wisdom and the Spirit" by whom Stephen spoke, they brought a charge of blasphemy against him to the Sanhedrin. A charge punishable by death. Stephen or the other Christians posed no physical or material threat, so what threat could he possibly be to them? The only possible threat he could pose was to their ideology, their theology, and their customs. But an ideology, theology, and custom that must be protected by deceit, injustice, and murder should be brought into question.

Such illogical opposition to Christian witness may cause problems, but it will not prevail.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reflections on Acts 5

    Acts 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold a piece of property.
  2. But they agreed to cheat and keep some of the money for themselves. So when Ananias took the rest of the money to the apostles,
  3. Peter said, "Why has Satan made you keep back some of the money from the sale of the property? Why have you lied to the Holy Spirit?
  4. The property was yours before you sold it, and even after you sold it, the money was still yours. What made you do such a thing? You didn't lie to people. You lied to God!"
  5. As soon as Ananias heard this, he dropped dead, and everyone who heard about it was frightened.
  6. Some young men came in and wrapped up his body. Then they took it out and buried it.
  7. Three hours later Sapphira came in, but she did not know what had happened to her husband.
  8. Peter asked her, "Tell me, did you sell the property for this amount?" "Yes," she answered, "that's the amount."
  9. Then Peter said, "Why did the two of you agree to test the Lord's Spirit? The men who buried Ananias are by the door, and they will carry you out!"
  10. At once she fell at Peter's feet and died. When the young men came back in, they found Sapphira lying there dead. So they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
  11. The church members were afraid, and so was everyone else who heard what had happened.
  12. The apostles worked many miracles and wonders among the people. All of the Lord's followers often met in the part of the temple known as Solomon's Porch.
  13. No one outside their group dared join them, even though everyone liked them very much.
  14. Many men and women started having faith in the Lord.
  15. Then sick people were brought out to the road and placed on cots and mats. It was hoped that Peter would walk by, and his shadow would fall on them and heal them.
  16. A lot of people living in the towns near Jerusalem brought those who were sick or troubled by evil spirits, and they were all healed.
  17. The high priest and all the other Sadducees who were with him became jealous.
  18. They arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail.
  19. But that night an angel from the Lord opened the doors of the jail and led the apostles out. The angel said,
  20. "Go to the temple and tell the people everything about this new life."
  21. So they went into the temple before sunrise and started teaching. The high priest and his men called together their council, which included all of Israel's leaders. Then they ordered the apostles to be brought to them from the jail.
  22. The temple police who were sent to the jail did not find the apostles. They returned and said,
  23. "We found the jail locked tight and the guards standing at the doors. But when we opened the doors and went in, we didn't find anyone there."
  24. The captain of the temple police and the chief priests listened to their report, but they did not know what to think about it.
  25. Just then someone came in and said, "Right now those men you put in jail are in the temple, teaching the people!"
  26. The captain went with some of the temple police and brought the apostles back. But they did not use force. They were afraid that the people might start throwing stones at them.
  27. When the apostles were brought before the council, the high priest said to them,
  28. "We told you plainly not to teach in the name of Jesus. But look what you have done! You have been teaching all over Jerusalem, and you are trying to blame us for his death."
  29. Peter and the apostles replied: We don't obey people. We obey God.
  30. You killed Jesus by nailing him to a cross. But the God our ancestors worshiped raised him to life
  31. and made him our Leader and Savior. Then God gave him a place at his right side, so that the people of Israel would turn back to him and be forgiven.
  32. We are here to tell you about all this, and so is the Holy Spirit, who is God's gift to everyone who obeys God.
  33. When the council members heard this, they became so angry that they wanted to kill the apostles.
  34. But one of the members was the Pharisee Gamaliel, a highly respected teacher. He ordered the apostles to be taken out of the room for a little while.
  35. Then he said to the council: People of Israel, be careful what you do with these men.
  36. Not long ago Theudas claimed to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him. But he was killed. All his followers were scattered, and that was the end of that.
  37. Later, when the people of our nation were being counted, Judas from Galilee showed up. A lot of people followed him, but he was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
  38. So I advise you to stay away from these men. Leave them alone. If what they are planning is something of their own doing, it will fail.
  39. But if God is behind it, you cannot stop it anyway, unless you want to fight against God. The council members agreed with what he said,
  40. and they called the apostles back in. They had them beaten with a whip and warned them not to speak in the name of Jesus. Then they let them go.
  41. The apostles left the council and were happy, because God had considered them worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus.
  42. Every day they spent time in the temple and in one home after another. They never stopped teaching and telling the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

In this chapter we see the futility of opposing God. Our first demonstration of this futility involved a couple in this early church. A husband and wife, for whatever reason, followed suit with what was happening in the church at that time. Acts 4:34-35 says that "all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet." Did Ananias and his wife Sapphira feel pressure by what everyone was doing to sell their own property and bring the proceeds to the apostles? We are not told their reason, but the couple brought only a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their property to the apostles. The fact that it was only a portion was not the real problem, however. The problem was that they misrepresented their offering, indicating that it was the full proceeds. As Peter pointed out to Ananias, the proceeds were at his disposal to do with as he wished. He didn't have to bring it to the church. So why bring it and then lie about it? Again, we do not know the reason. Even Peter wondered why they did it. But we do know it was motivated by Satan who had "filled (their) heart to lie to the Holy Spirit."

It seems that the reason for this deception is unimportant. What is of significance is the contrast here between being "filled by Satan" and being "filled by the Holy Spirit." Is there no middle ground? It seems not. Our hearts are either filled by one spirit or the other - either Satan's spirit or God's Spirit. But we hold the key to our hearts. Neither of these spirits fills our hearts without our permission. Satan may gain entry through deceit, but not without our permission. Our perception, then, is affected by the spirit that fills our heart, and if it is Satan's spirit that fills it our perception will be tainted. We will not see things as they really are. But we can choose to give access to God's Spirit instead, and this will be the best deterrent against Satan's spirit. As long as we seek God and the things of God, it will be His Spirit that fills our hearts and He will give us a true perspective of things, including a recognition of the lies of Satan.

The actions of Ananias and Sapphira may well have been an attack of Satan from within the church, opposing God's work through the church. But it was futile. What happened next was opposition from outside the church. Despite the warnings of the Sanhedrin not to teach in Jesus' name, the members of the church were boldly meeting regularly in the temple complex, in Solomon's Colonnade, performing "many signs and wonders" among the people. This caused the high priest and his colleagues to be filled with jealousy, and so they took action by arresting the apostles and putting them in jail. But again, God was not going to be opposed. "An angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 'Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.'" When the Sanhedrin convened the next morning to deal with the apostles' offense, they found that the guards were guarding an empty jail and that the apostles were back out teaching in Solomon's Colonnade.

This refusal to obey their orders, along with Peter's accusation that they "murdered" Jesus, whom God raised up, enraged the Sanhedrin to the point of wanting to kill the apostles. At this point a respected Sanhedrin member, Gamaliel, cautioned them against taking such action by saying if "this work is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God." So instead of killing the apostles they flogged them and then released them.

So, also, was this opposition to God futile. The religious leaders could not stop what God was doing. They needed to take the advise of Gamaliel and consider whether this movement was of men or of God. If it was of God, not only should they stop opposing God, they should also join Him.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reflections on Acts 4

    Acts 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The apostles were still talking to the people, when some priests, the captain of the temple guard, and some Sadducees arrived.
  2. These men were angry because the apostles were teaching the people that the dead would be raised from death, just as Jesus had been raised from death.
  3. It was already late in the afternoon, and they arrested Peter and John and put them in jail for the night.
  4. But a lot of people who had heard the message believed it. So by now there were about five thousand followers of the Lord.
  5. The next morning the leaders, the elders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses met in Jerusalem.
  6. The high priest Annas was there, as well as Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other members of the high priest's family.
  7. They brought in Peter and John and made them stand in the middle while they questioned them. They asked, "By what power and in whose name have you done this?"
  8. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and told the nation's leaders and the elders:
  9. You are questioning us today about a kind deed in which a crippled man was healed.
  10. But there is something we must tell you and everyone else in Israel. This man is standing here completely well because of the power of Jesus Christ from Nazareth. You put Jesus to death on a cross, but God raised him to life.
  11. He is the stone that you builders thought was worthless, and now he is the most important stone of all.
  12. Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone.
  13. The officials were amazed to see how brave Peter and John were, and they knew that these two apostles were only ordinary men and not well educated. The officials were certain that these men had been with Jesus.
  14. But they could not deny what had happened. The man who had been healed was standing there with the apostles.
  15. The officials commanded them to leave the council room. Then the officials said to each other,
  16. "What can we do with these men? Everyone in Jerusalem knows about this miracle, and we cannot say it didn't happen.
  17. But to keep this thing from spreading, we will warn them never again to speak to anyone about the name of Jesus."
  18. So they called the two apostles back in and told them that they must never, for any reason, teach anything about the name of Jesus.
  19. Peter and John answered, "Do you think God wants us to obey you or to obey him?
  20. We cannot keep quiet about what we have seen and heard."
  21. The officials could not find any reason to punish Peter and John. So they threatened them and let them go. The man who was healed by this miracle was more than forty years old, and everyone was praising God for what had happened.
  22. (SEE 4:21)
  23. As soon as Peter and John had been set free, they went back and told the others everything that the chief priests and the leaders had said to them.
  24. When the rest of the Lord's followers heard this, they prayed together and said: Master, you created heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.
  25. And by the Holy Spirit you spoke to our ancestor David. He was your servant, and you told him to say: "Why are all the Gentiles so furious? Why do people make foolish plans?
  26. The kings of earth prepare for war, and the rulers join together against the Lord and his Messiah."
  27. Here in Jerusalem, Herod and Pontius Pilate got together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel. Then they turned against your holy Servant Jesus, your chosen Messiah.
  28. They did what you in your power and wisdom had already decided would happen.
  29. Lord, listen to their threats! We are your servants. So make us brave enough to speak your message.
  30. Show your mighty power, as we heal people and work miracles and wonders in the name of your holy Servant Jesus.
  31. After they had prayed, the meeting place shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and bravely spoke God's message.
  32. The group of followers all felt the same way about everything. None of them claimed that their possessions were their own, and they shared everything they had with each other.
  33. In a powerful way the apostles told everyone that the Lord Jesus was now alive. God greatly blessed his followers,
  34. and no one went in need of anything. Everyone who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money
  35. to the apostles. Then they would give the money to anyone who needed it.
  36. Joseph was one of the followers who had sold a piece of property and brought the money to the apostles. He was a Levite from Cyprus, and the apostles called him Barnabas, which means "one who encourages others."
  37. (SEE 4:36)

The healing of the lame man at the temple complex and the gathering of a huge crowd of over 5,000 was bound to catch the attention of the temple authorities. Peter and John were arrested and placed in jail overnight. On the next day they found themselves standing before the highest leaders of the land. This was no small threat these two fishermen posed. After all, the movement that these leaders had supposedly stopped with the death of its leader, Jesus, was now facing them once again in even greater force. But this movement was only a threat to them if they continued to oppose it. Each of these occasions on which they arrested Jesus' followers was an occasion for them to change their chosen course. The evidence was before them of the authenticity of this movement. Their reasons to oppose the movement was not lack of evidence but a desire to protect their positions and their way of life. What they failed to recognize is that to choose our own way of life in opposition to God offers absolutely no security, nor does it assure our way of life.

With the healed man standing before them and the approval of this movement from the 5,000 new believers still ringing in their ears from the day before, what choice did these leaders have but to release Peter and John? This they did, but in an attempt to keep the upper hand, they threatened them "against speaking to anyone in this name again." Peter was not intimidated by this threat and in reply said to them, "Whether it's right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Upon their release, Peter and John returned to the fellowship of believers and reported what had happened. Then they all prayed together, recognizing God as the Creator of the heavens and earth and all that is in them. This is foundational for any believer. By joining forces with the Creator of the universe we are aligning ourselves with the One who is the giver of life and whose cause will never fail. They also recognized in this prayer that the movement they had joined was God's plan and had been "predestined to take place." Nothing would stop it. Therefore they were choosing to join God in His unstoppable plan rather than to oppose it. In view of this choice to join in God's plan, they asked that God would, "grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness." That God granted this request was made evident in the next instant when "the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God's message with boldness."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Reflections on Acts 3

    Acts 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The time of prayer was about three o'clock in the afternoon, and Peter and John were going into the temple.
  2. A man who had been born lame was being carried to the temple door. Each day he was placed beside this door, known as the Beautiful Gate. He sat there and begged from the people who were going in.
  3. The man saw Peter and John entering the temple, and he asked them for money.
  4. But they looked straight at him and said, "Look up at us!"
  5. The man stared at them and thought he was going to get something.
  6. But Peter said, "I don't have any silver or gold! But I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, get up and start walking."
  7. Peter then took him by the right hand and helped him up. At once the man's feet and ankles became strong,
  8. and he jumped up and started walking. He went with Peter and John into the temple, walking and jumping and praising God.
  9. Everyone saw him walking around and praising God.
  10. They knew that he was the beggar who had been lying beside the Beautiful Gate, and they were completely surprised. They could not imagine what had happened to the man.
  11. While the man kept holding on to Peter and John, the whole crowd ran to them in amazement at the place known as Solomon's Porch.
  12. Peter saw that a crowd had gathered, and he said: Friends, why are you surprised at what has happened? Why are you staring at us? Do you think we have some power of our own? Do you think we were able to make this man walk because we are so religious?
  13. The God that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and our other ancestors worshiped has brought honor to his Servant Jesus. He is the one you betrayed. You turned against him when he was being tried by Pilate, even though Pilate wanted to set him free.
  14. You rejected Jesus, who was holy and good. You asked for a murderer to be set free,
  15. and you killed the one who leads people to life. But God raised him from death, and all of us can tell you what he has done.
  16. You see this man, and you know him. He put his faith in the name of Jesus and was made strong. Faith in Jesus made this man completely well while everyone was watching.
  17. My friends, I am sure that you and your leaders didn't know what you were doing.
  18. But God had his prophets tell that his Messiah would suffer, and now he has kept that promise.
  19. So turn to God! Give up your sins, and you will be forgiven.
  20. Then that time will come when the Lord will give you fresh strength. He will send you Jesus, his chosen Messiah.
  21. But Jesus must stay in heaven until God makes all things new, just as his holy prophets promised long ago.
  22. Moses said, "The Lord your God will choose one of your own people to be a prophet, just as he chose me. Listen to everything he tells you.
  23. No one who disobeys that prophet will be one of God's people any longer."
  24. Samuel and all the other prophets who came later also spoke about what is now happening.
  25. You are really the ones God told his prophets to speak to. And you were given the promise that God made to your ancestors. He said to Abraham, "All nations on earth will be blessed because of someone from your family."
  26. God sent his chosen Son to you first, because God wanted to bless you and make each one of you turn away from your sins.

Tracing the events from the first chapter of Acts, we have Jesus' ascension at which He gave a commission to His followers of all time to be His witnesses throughout the world. For them, and us, to carry out this commission the Holy Spirit was to be given them and us to empower and enable them to carry out this task. Following Jesus' ascension the followers remained together in prayer and waited for the Holy Spirit to be given them. This took place in the events of Acts chapter 2, and in these events the church was birthed with the conversion of 3,000 people who believed through the witness of this initial group of followers. All of this was made possible through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 3 opens with Peter and John going about their daily routine of prayer at the temple. They did not plan what happened that day just as they had not planned what happened on the day of Pentecost. God provided the events and they responded through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. It is of interest to note that inspite of the previous chain of events leading up to and following Jesus' crucifixion, these disciples were still practicing their Judaism, participating in the daily prayers at the temple. This they were doing even though they had been commissioned by Jesus to launch a new movement. But their commission began in Jerusalem, which presumably would be aimed at Jews, and if they were to be Jesus' witnesses to the Jews they must continue to congregate with them. To withdraw from Judaism would be to withdraw from the community, and this they could not do if they were to be Jesus' witnesses to these people. Besides, these people were their friends and family.

The events God provided them on this particular day brought to them a man who was lame. Although God provided healing for this man that day through Peter and John, of greater significance was the opportunity this man's healing offered these disciples to be Jesus' witnesses. As Jesus' acts of healing gave evidence of who He was, so also did such miraculous acts give evidence of these disciples as followers of Jesus and of the legitimacy of their witness. The people who were in the temple area on that day had seen this lame man for years in this place seeking help of those who passed by. To see this man now "walking, leaping, and praising God," impressed them to the point of "awe and astonishment." Quickly a crowd gathered around Peter and John and this healed lame man and Peter recognized his opportunity to be Jesus' witness and used it. He not only had a crowd, but a crowd that had been primed to hear what he had to say.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reflections on Acts 2

    Acts 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. On the day of Pentecost all the Lord's followers were together in one place.
  2. Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting.
  3. Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there.
  4. The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.
  5. Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem.
  6. And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages.
  7. They were excited and amazed, and said: Don't all these who are speaking come from Galilee?
  8. Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages?
  9. Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia,
  10. Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome,
  11. Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.
  12. Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, "What does all this mean?"
  13. Others made fun of the Lord's followers and said, "They are drunk."
  14. Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd: Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say!
  15. You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o'clock in the morning.
  16. But this is what God had the prophet Joel say,
  17. "When the last days come, I will give my Spirit to everyone. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams.
  18. In those days I will give my Spirit to my servants, both men and women, and they will prophesy.
  19. I will work miracles in the sky above and wonders on the earth below. There will be blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
  20. The sun will turn dark, and the moon will be as red as blood before the great and wonderful day of the Lord appears.
  21. Then the Lord will save everyone who asks for his help."
  22. Now, listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders, and signs. All of you know this.
  23. God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you. So you took him and had evil men put him to death on a cross.
  24. But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power.
  25. What David said are really the words of Jesus, "I always see the Lord near me, and I will not be afraid with him at my right side.
  26. Because of this, my heart will be glad, my words will be joyful, and I will live in hope.
  27. The Lord won't leave me in the grave. I am his holy one, and he won't let my body decay.
  28. He has shown me the path to life, and he makes me glad by being near me."
  29. My friends, it is right for me to speak to you about our ancestor David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is still here.
  30. But David was a prophet, and he knew that God had made a promise he would not break. He had told David that someone from his own family would someday be king.
  31. David knew this would happen, and so he told us that Christ would be raised to life. He said that God would not leave him in the grave or let his body decay.
  32. All of us can tell you that God has raised Jesus to life!
  33. Jesus was taken up to sit at the right side of God, and he was given the Holy Spirit, just as the Father had promised. Jesus is also the one who has given the Spirit to us, and that is what you are now seeing and hearing.
  34. David didn't go up to heaven. So he wasn't talking about himself when he said, "The Lord told my Lord to sit at his right side,
  35. until he made my Lord's enemies into a footstool for him."
  36. Everyone in Israel should then know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, even though you put him to death on a cross.
  37. When the people heard this, they were very upset. They asked Peter and the other apostles, "Friends, what shall we do?"
  38. Peter said, "Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit.
  39. This promise is for you and your children. It is for everyone our Lord God will choose, no matter where they live."
  40. Peter told them many other things as well. Then he said, "I beg you to save yourselves from what will happen to all these evil people."
  41. On that day about three thousand believed his message and were baptized.
  42. They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together.
  43. Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked.
  44. All the Lord's followers often met together, and they shared everything they had.
  45. They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it.
  46. Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely,
  47. while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.

Events of this chapter mark the beginning of the church, Christ's instrument of proclaiming the gospel throughout the ages. And what an awesome beginning it had. We have problems, though, if, or when, we try to normalize the events of this occasion for the church for all time. Those groups that have tried to do this end up placing greater emphases on activities that were not the greater emphases even on this great day. And when greater emphases if placed on activities than should be, those that should have greater emphases are de-emphasized. For instance, what is of ongoing importance in this event is that the Holy Sprit gave power to the church to be Christ's witnesses as He commissioned the church to do in 1:8. The events of this day were a fulfillment of what is recorded in that verse, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." The fulfillment had begun in Jerusalem.

To insist that the power of the Holy Spirit will always be poured out on the church with signs of speaking in different languages is to miss the point of this occasion. Although this ability to speak in different languages provided a sign both to the church and to the others gathered of the working of God's Spirit through these disciples, it also served a practical purpose. There were people in the crowd who would not understand the witness of these apostles if it were spoken in only one language, be it Greek or Arabic or whatever. As the church continues to carry out this commission today, the Holy Spirit will also give it power to accomplish its mission, though this power may not be accompanied with obvious sign miracles as on this occasion.

The sermon Peter preached that day testified that this Jesus who was crucified was the Messiah, of which His resurrection is evidence. This message pierced the hearts of the people and they asked, "what must we do?" Peter told them they should repent and seek the forgiveness of Jesus the Messiah and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift being their evidence of salvation.

Being Christ's witnesses is one activity of that day the present day church should normalize. Another is found in the later verses of the chapter. For those who accept the message of repentance and accept Christ as the Messiah, there should be the devotion of the church to "the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers." (2:42)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reflections on Acts 1

    Acts 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Theophilus, I first wrote to you about all that Jesus did and taught from the very first
  2. until he was taken up to heaven. But before he was taken up, he gave orders to the apostles he had chosen with the help of the Holy Spirit.
  3. For forty days after Jesus had suffered and died, he proved in many ways that he had been raised from death. He appeared to his apostles and spoke to them about God's kingdom.
  4. While he was still with them, he said: Don't leave Jerusalem yet. Wait here for the Father to give you the Holy Spirit, just as I told you he has promised to do.
  5. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
  6. While the apostles were still with Jesus, they asked him, "Lord, are you now going to give Israel its own king again?"
  7. Jesus said to them, "You don't need to know the time of those events that only the Father controls.
  8. But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world."
  9. After Jesus had said this and while they were watching, he was taken up into a cloud. They could not see him,
  10. but as he went up, they kept looking up into the sky. Suddenly two men dressed in white clothes were standing there beside them.
  11. They said, "Why are you men from Galilee standing here and looking up into the sky? Jesus has been taken to heaven. But he will come back in the same way that you have seen him go."
  12. The Mount of Olives was about half a mile from Jerusalem. The apostles who had gone there were Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon, known as the Eager One, and Judas the son of James. After the apostles returned to the city, they went upstairs to the room where they had been staying.
  13. (SEE 1:12)
  14. The apostles often met together and prayed with a single purpose in mind. The women and Mary the mother of Jesus would meet with them, and so would his brothers.
  15. One day there were about one hundred twenty of the Lord's followers meeting together, and Peter stood up to speak to them.
  16. He said: My friends, long ago by the power of the Holy Spirit, David said something about Judas, and what he said has now happened. Judas was one of us and had worked with us, but he brought the mob to arrest Jesus.
  17. (SEE 1:16)
  18. Then Judas bought some land with the money he was given for doing that evil thing. He fell headfirst into the field. His body burst open, and all his insides came out.
  19. When the people of Jerusalem found out about this, they called the place Akeldama, which in the local language means "Field of Blood."
  20. In the book of Psalms it says, "Leave his house empty, and don't let anyone live there." It also says, "Let someone else have his job."
  21. So we need someone else to help us tell others that Jesus has been raised from death. He must also be one of the men who was with us from the very beginning. He must have been with us from the time the Lord Jesus was baptized by John until the day he was taken to heaven.
  22. (SEE 1:21)
  23. Two men were suggested: One of them was Joseph Barsabbas, known as Justus, and the other was Matthias.
  24. Then they all prayed, "Lord, you know what everyone is like! Show us the one you have chosen
  25. to be an apostle and to serve in place of Judas, who got what he deserved."
  26. They drew names, and Matthias was chosen to join the group of the eleven apostles.

During the 40 days following Jesus' resurrection, He made numerous appearances among His disciples. We learn in passages such as this of the number of true followers He had. Verse 15 of this chapter refers to 120 followers who were gathered in Jerusalem praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit. 1Corinthians 15:6 refers to as many as 500 to whom Christ appeared following His resurrection who we presume to also be followers. All of His post-resurrection appearances seem to be to believers. While we might think it expedient that Jesus validate His true identity to those who crucified Him and the general populous by means of a post-resurrection appearance, that was not His way. We are inclined to think that faith comes from seeing and that such visual evidence would bolster the number of Jesus' followers. But those who do not wish to believe are not convinced by evidence, regardless of its magnitude. Jesus provided ample visual evidence of His identity during His days of earthly ministry and they chose to crucify Him inspite of this evidence.

Jesus' instructions to His disciples in this last earthly session with them was comprised of three things: (1) The promised gift of the Holy Spirit would be given them in "not many days from now," (2) they were to remain in Jerusalem, in prayer, as they awaited this gift, and (3) following the receipt of the Holy Spirit, they were to be His witnesses throughout all the earth. In this last discourse with Jesus the disciples wanted to return to an earlier topic they had discussed with Him, namely the coming of Jesus' kingdom. They asked Him on this occasion, "Lord, at this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?" In response to this question Jesus gave them His "commission." Our concern as Jesus' followers is not about God's timetables but about furthering His kingdom. And when we speak of furthering Christ's kingdom, we should note that the motivation and intent behind the furthering of His kingdom is the opposite of the motive and intent of furthering the kingdom of an earthly king. The earthly king is concerned with the increase of his own powers and wealth. Christ, on the other hand, is concerned about increasing the number of those who are benefitted by His kingdom.

The final verses of the chapter concern the selection of a disciple to replace Judas, the traitor. We wonder what this was about, particularly since the one selected is not mentioned again in scripture. But verse 22 seems to provide the purpose for this action which was to add another eye witness to the group of Jesus' resurrection. It is true that Jesus appeared to this group of 120 people and to others, but it seemed important that the group of Apostles number 12 and that they all be eye witnesses to the resurrection. We should keep in mind that this action comes on the heals of Jesus commission to them to be His witnesses throughout the world and also that the resurrection is the very foundation of our faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reflections on Mark 16

    Mark 16 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James bought some spices to put on Jesus' body.
  2. She left and told his friends, who were crying and mourning.
  3. Even though they heard that Jesus was alive and that Mary had seen him, they would not believe it.
  4. Later, Jesus appeared in another form to two disciples, as they were on their way out of the city.
  5. But when these disciples told what had happened, the others would not believe.
  6. Afterwards, Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples as they were eating. He scolded them because they were too stubborn to believe the ones who had seen him after he had been raised to life.
  7. Then he told them: Go and preach the good news to everyone in the world.
  8. Anyone who believes me and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe me will be condemned.
  9. Everyone who believes me will be able to do wonderful things. By using my name they will force out demons, and they will speak new languages.
  10. They will handle snakes and will drink poison and not be hurt. They will also heal sick people by placing their hands on them.
  11. After the Lord Jesus had said these things to the disciples, he was taken back up to heaven where he sat down at the right side of God.
  12. Very early on Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up, they went to the tomb.
  13. Then the disciples left and preached everywhere. The Lord was with them, and the miracles they worked proved that their message was true.
  14. On their way, they were asking one another, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance for us?"
  15. But when they looked, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. And it was a huge stone!
  16. The women went into the tomb, and on the right side they saw a young man in a white robe sitting there. They were alarmed.
  17. The man said, "Don't be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who was nailed to a cross. God has raised him to life, and he isn't here. You can see the place where they put his body.
  18. Now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, that he will go ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you."
  19. When the women ran from the tomb, they were confused and shaking all over. They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.
  20. Very early on the first day of the week, after Jesus had risen to life, he appeared to Mary Magdalene. Earlier he had forced seven demons out of her.

A pattern of unbelief concerning Jesus' resurrection is seen in this last chapter of Mark. Each instance in which an eyewitness told of Jesus' resurrection, the testimony was not believed. Prior to the eyewitness accounts, though, the three women bought spices with which to prepare the body. They did so without any expectation of His resurrection. They fully expected His body to decay, thus the need for the spices. As for the eyewitness accounts, the first recorded in this chapter was that of Mary Magdalene who saw Jesus in His resurrected form early on Sunday. She reported this to the other disciples, but they did not believe it. Two others, who were walking into the country (presumably on the road to Emmaus), saw Jesus, but when they told the rest, they were not believed. Finally, Jesus appeared to the Eleven and rebuked them for their unbelief. It was not as if He had not told them of His resurrection before His death, for He had on several occasions. But inspite of His telling them, they not only failed to anticipate His resurrection, they failed to believe the eyewitnesses who told them of it.

This problem of unbelief concerning the resurrection, even by Jesus' closest followers, was a problem to be overcome, though not a problem that caught the Lord by surprise. In verses 15 & 16 Jesus commissioned His disciples, both then and now, to preach the gospel throughout the world. What credibility could they possibly have had trying to preach a message that included Jesus' resurrection when they themselves found it so hard to believe? This problem was addressed in the verses following the commission. As the disciples went about preaching, their preaching would be accompanied with signs. That is, they would be given power for such things as driving out demons, speaking in new languages, picking up snakes, drinking poisonous liquids, and healing the sick. Not only would these powers be given the disciples who heard Jesus' commission, they would also be given those who believed their message and also preached it.

Some mistakenly attempt to make these powers normative for all Christ-followers in all periods of history. By all indications, these signs did not accompany preaching of the Good News beyond the Apostalic age. However, there remain isolated groups who practice such things as handling snakes and drinking poison. By doing so, they overlook the purpose for these signs, that purpose being two-fold: To validate the preaching of the disciples, and to protect them from persecutors who would try to kill them with poisonous snakes and forced drinking of poison.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reflections on Mark 15

    Mark 15 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Early the next morning the chief priests, the nation's leaders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses met together with the whole Jewish council. They tied up Jesus and led him off to Pilate.
  2. Pilate knew that the chief priests had brought Jesus to him because they were jealous.
  3. But the chief priests told the crowd to ask Pilate to free Barabbas.
  4. Then Pilate asked the crowd, "What do you want me to do with this man you say is the king of the Jews?"
  5. They yelled, "Nail him to a cross!"
  6. Pilate asked, "But what crime has he done?" "Nail him to a cross!" they yelled even louder.
  7. Pilate wanted to please the crowd. So he set Barabbas free. Then he ordered his soldiers to beat Jesus with a whip and nail him to a cross.
  8. The soldiers led Jesus inside the courtyard of the fortress and called together the rest of the troops.
  9. They put a purple robe on him, and on his head they placed a crown that they had made out of thorn branches.
  10. They made fun of Jesus and shouted, "Hey, you king of the Jews!"
  11. Then they beat him on the head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt down and pretended to worship him.
  12. He asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Those are your words," Jesus answered.
  13. When the soldiers had finished making fun of Jesus, they took off the purple robe. They put his own clothes back on him and led him off to be nailed to a cross.
  14. Simon from Cyrene happened to be coming in from a farm, and they forced him to carry Jesus' cross. Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.
  15. The soldiers took Jesus to Golgotha, which means "Place of a Skull."
  16. There they gave him some wine mixed with a drug to ease the pain, but he refused to drink it.
  17. They nailed Jesus to a cross and gambled to see who would get his clothes.
  18. It was about nine o'clock in the morning when they nailed him to the cross.
  19. On it was a sign that told why he was nailed there. It read, "This is the King of the Jews."
  20. The soldiers also nailed two criminals on crosses, one to the right of Jesus and the other to his left.
  21. (SEE 15:27)
  22. People who passed by said terrible things about Jesus. They shook their heads and shouted, "Ha! So you're the one who claimed you could tear down the temple and build it again in three days.
  23. The chief priests brought many charges against Jesus.
  24. Save yourself and come down from the cross!"
  25. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses also made fun of Jesus. They said to each other, "He saved others, but he can't save himself.
  26. If he is the Messiah, the king of Israel, let him come down from the cross! Then we will see and believe." The two criminals also said cruel things to Jesus.
  27. About noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until around three o'clock.
  28. Then about that time Jesus shouted, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you deserted me?"
  29. Some of the people standing there heard Jesus and said, "He is calling for Elijah."
  30. One of them ran and grabbed a sponge. After he had soaked it in wine, he put it on a stick and held it up to Jesus. He said, "Let's wait and see if Elijah will come and take him down!"
  31. Jesus shouted and then died.
  32. At once the curtain in the temple tore in two from top to bottom.
  33. A Roman army officer was standing in front of Jesus. When the officer saw how Jesus died, he said, "This man really was the Son of God!"
  34. Then Pilate questioned him again, "Don't you have anything to say? Don't you hear what crimes they say you have done?"
  35. Some women were looking on from a distance. They had come with Jesus to Jerusalem. But even before this they had been his followers and had helped him while he was in Galilee. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joseph were two of these women. Salome was also one of them.
  36. (SEE 15:40)
  37. It was now the evening before the Sabbath, and the Jewish people were getting ready for that sacred day.
  38. A man named Joseph from Arimathea was brave enough to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus. Joseph was a highly respected member of the Jewish council, and he was also waiting for God's kingdom to come.
  39. Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead, and he called in the army officer to find out if Jesus had been dead very long.
  40. After the officer told him, Pilate let Joseph have Jesus' body.
  41. Joseph bought a linen cloth and took the body down from the cross. He had it wrapped in the cloth, and he put it in a tomb that had been cut into solid rock. Then he rolled a big stone against the entrance to the tomb.
  42. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were watching and saw where the body was placed.
  43. But Jesus did not answer, and Pilate was amazed.
  44. During Passover, Pilate always freed one prisoner chosen by the people.
  45. And at that time there was a prisoner named Barabbas. He and some others had been arrested for murder during a riot.
  46. The crowd now came and asked Pilate to set a prisoner free, just as he usually did.
  47. Pilate asked them, "Do you want me to free the king of the Jews?"

Is life a series of random events which all began with an initial set of random events that, by chance, brought order out of chaos resulting in the universe that now exists? Only a person with an agenda to paint God out of the picture could come up with such a ridiculous scenario! It is a choice one makes, rather than evidence, that brings one to such a conclusion. It was God's very intentional plan that brought about creation and it was His intentional plan that brought about the events of Jesus' passion. However, as pointed out in our reflections on the previous chapter, it was personal choices that placed the various players in their particular roles in His passion. And each had personal responsibility, and were accountable to God, for their choices.

Thus we see in chapter 15 a continuing enactment of the choices made earlier by the chief priests, elders, and scribes. And, it becomes increasingly apparent the further we go into these court scenes of Jesus' trial that the motives driving their choices were far from pure. It became apparent even to Pilate that it was envy driving their actions. But Pilate was also, himself, a player in these events. Though it was not his choice to become involved in Jesus' trial, he had a choice concerning the outcome of the trial which handed down the verdict of crucifixion. But none of this was random. God had a plan. It was a plan for the redemption of mankind. And it succeeded. All of the players in these events could have, and for their own good, should have, made other choices. But God's plan would still have succeeded.

Jesus also made voluntary choices. We read in the previous chapter of His prayer to His heavenly Father asking that this cup (referring to the crucifixion) be taken from Him, but He also prayed that the Father's will be done. He willingly submitted Himself to this ordeal. And it was His cooperation in the trial that contributed to a verdict of crucifixion. The charges against Him were obviously flimsy, which was apparent even to Pilate. Had Jesus attempted to defend Himself, He could very likely have avoided the guilty verdict. But He chose to cooperate which amazed Pilate.

I have to wonder what each player in these events must have thought when darkness came over the land during the crucifixion and the curtain of the sanctuary was split and the earth quaked? I should think it must have caused them to wonder at what they had just done. But continuing events indicate that if any wondered at whether they made good choices concerning their part in Jesus' crucifixion, they also chose to defend their actions rather than admit guilt.

God has a plan that has been playing out since before the creation of the universe, and creation was a part of that plan, as was Jesus' crucifixion. We each must choose the role we wish to have in God's plan. We can choose to be a part of His plan, to ignore it, or to try to thwart it. But we will be responsible before God for the choices we make. And, as with the events of Jesus' crucifixion, the motives driving our choices will become increasingly apparent. If we choose also to defend bad choices we will then find ourselves sinking further and further into life that is a lie.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Reflections on Mark 14

    Mark 14 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Thin Bread. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses were planning how they could sneak around and have Jesus arrested and put to death.
  2. Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples. He went to the chief priests and offered to help them arrest Jesus.
  3. They were glad to hear this, and they promised to pay him. So Judas started looking for a good chance to betray Jesus.
  4. It was the first day of the Festival of Thin Bread, and the Passover lambs were being killed. Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal?"
  5. Jesus said to two of the disciples, "Go into the city, where you will meet a man carrying a jar of water. Follow him,
  6. and when he goes into a house, say to the owner, 'Our teacher wants to know if you have a room where he can eat the Passover meal with his disciples.'
  7. The owner will take you upstairs and show you a large room furnished and ready for you to use. Prepare the meal there."
  8. The two disciples went into the city and found everything just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover meal.
  9. While Jesus and the twelve disciples were eating together that evening, he said, "The one who will betray me is now eating with me."
  10. (SEE 14:17)
  11. This made the disciples sad, and one after another they said to Jesus, "You surely don't mean me!"
  12. They were saying, "We must not do it during the festival, because the people will riot."
  13. He answered, "It is one of you twelve men who is eating from this dish with me.
  14. The Son of Man will die, just as the Scriptures say. But it is going to be terrible for the one who betrays me. That man would be better off if he had never been born."
  15. During the meal Jesus took some bread in his hands. He blessed the bread and broke it. Then he gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this. It is my body."
  16. Jesus picked up a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He gave it to his disciples, and they all drank some.
  17. Then he said, "This is my blood, which is poured out for many people, and with it God makes his agreement.
  18. From now on I will not drink any wine, until I drink new wine in God's kingdom."
  19. Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
  20. Jesus said to his disciples, "All of you will reject me, as the Scriptures say, 'I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'
  21. But after I am raised to life, I will go ahead of you to Galilee."
  22. Peter spoke up, "Even if all the others reject you, I never will!"
  23. Jesus was eating in Bethany at the home of Simon, who once had leprosy, when a woman came in with a very expensive bottle of sweet-smelling perfume. After breaking it open, she poured the perfume on Jesus' head.
  24. Jesus replied, "This very night before a rooster crows twice, you will say three times that you don't know me."
  25. But Peter was so sure of himself that he said, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never say that I don't know you!" All the others said the same thing.
  26. Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he told them, "Sit here while I pray."
  27. Jesus took along Peter, James, and John. He was sad and troubled and
  28. told them, "I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me."
  29. Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt down on the ground and prayed, "Father, if it is possible, don't let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want."
  30. (SEE 14:35)
  31. When Jesus came back and found the disciples sleeping, he said to Simon Peter, "Are you asleep? Can't you stay awake for just one hour?
  32. Stay awake and pray that you won't be tested. You want to do what is right, but you are weak."
  33. Jesus went back and prayed the same prayer.
  34. This made some of the guests angry, and they complained, "Why such a waste?
  35. But when he returned to the disciples, he found them sleeping again. They simply could not keep their eyes open, and they did not know what to say.
  36. When Jesus returned to the disciples the third time, he said, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough of that! The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to sinners.
  37. Get up! Let's go. The one who will betray me is already here."
  38. Jesus was still speaking, when Judas the betrayer came up. He was one of the twelve disciples, and a mob of men armed with swords and clubs were with him. They had been sent by the chief priests, the nation's leaders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses.
  39. Judas had told them ahead of time, "Arrest the man I greet with a kiss. Tie him up tight and lead him away."
  40. Judas walked right up to Jesus and said, "Teacher!" Then Judas kissed him,
  41. and the men grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
  42. Someone standing there pulled out a sword. He struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.
  43. Jesus said to the mob, "Why do you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like a criminal?
  44. Day after day I was with you and taught in the temple, and you didn't arrest me. But what the Scriptures say must come true."
  45. We could have sold this perfume for more than three hundred silver coins and given the money to the poor!" So they started saying cruel things to the woman.
  46. All of Jesus' disciples ran off and left him.
  47. One of them was a young man who was wearing only a linen cloth. And when the men grabbed him,
  48. he left the cloth behind and ran away naked.
  49. Jesus was led off to the high priest. Then the chief priests, the nation's leaders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses all met together.
  50. Peter had followed at a distance. And when he reached the courtyard of the high priest's house, he sat down with the guards to warm himself beside a fire.
  51. The chief priests and the whole council tried to find someone to accuse Jesus of a crime, so they could put him to death. But they could not find anyone to accuse him.
  52. Many people did tell lies against Jesus, but they did not agree on what they said.
  53. Finally, some men stood up and lied about him. They said,
  54. "We heard him say he would tear down this temple that we built. He also claimed that in three days he would build another one without any help."
  55. But even then they did not agree on what they said.
  56. But Jesus said: Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing for me.
  57. The high priest stood up in the council and asked Jesus, "Why don't you say something in your own defense? Don't you hear the charges they are making against you?"
  58. But Jesus kept quiet and did not say a word. The high priest asked him another question, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the glorious God?"
  59. "Yes, I am!" Jesus answered. "Soon you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right side of God All-Powerful, and coming with the clouds of heaven."
  60. At once the high priest ripped his robe apart and shouted, "Why do we need more witnesses?
  61. You heard him claim to be God! What is your decision?" They all agreed that he should be put to death.
  62. Some of the people started spitting on Jesus. They blindfolded him, hit him with their fists, and said, "Tell us who hit you!" Then the guards took charge of Jesus and beat him.
  63. While Peter was still in the courtyard, a servant girl of the high priest came up
  64. and saw Peter warming himself by the fire. She stared at him and said, "You were with Jesus from Nazareth!"
  65. Peter replied, "That isn't true! I don't know what you're talking about. I don't have any idea what you mean." He went out to the gate, and a rooster crowed.
  66. The servant girl saw Peter again and said to the people standing there, "This man is one of them!"
  67. You will always have the poor with you. And whenever you want to, you can give to them. But you won't always have me here with you.
  68. "No, I'm not!" Peter replied. A little while later some of the people said to Peter, "You certainly are one of them. You're a Galilean!"
  69. This time Peter began to curse and swear, "I don't even know the man you're talking about!"
  70. Right away the rooster crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had told him, "Before a rooster crows twice, you will say three times that you don't know me." So Peter started crying.
  71. She has done all she could by pouring perfume on my body to prepare it for burial.
  72. You may be sure that wherever the good news is told all over the world, people will remember what she has done. And they will tell others.

Chapter 14 describes the movement of events leading to the crucifixion, beginning with a statement about the determination on the part of the chief priests and scribes to seek a way to arrest and kill Jesus. This is followed by an account of Jesus being anointed for burial with an expensive oil in the home of Simon and then of Judas' conspiracy with the chief priests to betray Jesus. Next comes preparations for Jesus to observe the Passover meal with His disciples. During the meal, two significant events occurred: While the group was dipping bread in a bowl together, Jesus pointed out that one of the Twelve - one who was dipping bread with Him - would betray Him. The other event was Jesus' observance of the first communion, using the bread and the wine to signify His body and blood that would be sacrificed for all.

Following the meal Jesus took His disciples with Him to the Mount of Olives. There He told them of their desertion and denial of Him in the coming events. Then they moved on to Gethsemane where Jesus had the disciples sit while He took Peter, James, and John with Him to a place where He prayed. The disciples seemed not to grasp the urgency of the hour or of the anquish Jesus' was experiencing and slept through most of the time Jesus was in prayer with His heavenly Father. In His prayer, Jesus asked the Father if this "cup" might be taken from Him, but also submitted Himself to the will of the Father.

Then Judas arrived in the garden with a mob from the chief priest to betray Jesus and arrest Him. At this point the disciples ran as Jesus said they would. Through the night Jesus was questioned by a hurriedly convened Sanhedrin and eventually condemned to death by this group. Meanwhile, Peter had entered the courtyard and was waiting the outcome of this "trial" with the servants of the high priest. Repeatedly they identified Peter as a follower of Jesus, and repeatedly he denied it. Then the rooster crowed and Peter remembered what Jesus said about his denial and was suddenly very sorrowful.

Throughout these accounts it is made plain that God had a predetermined plan that would be fulfilled. Nothing would deter it. But what is also clear is that every player in these events had a choice as to their part in the plan. This includes the chief priests, scribes, and sanhedrin, Judas, the disciples, and even Jesus. Each made choices and each were given opportunity to change their choice before it was carried out. This truth should not be lost in the evident truth that God had a plan which none could alter but God Himself. In reality, God has always had a plan. He enacted creation with a plan and that plan has been in motion ever since and continues to move toward its fulfillment. And we all make choices as to how we fit in His plan. The fact that God has an unalterable plan does not diminish our responsibility for the choices we make. This is made clear with Judas' choice to betray Jesus. Concerning this, Jesus said, "the Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." (14:21) Judas did have a choice and he chose wrongly. Jesus also gave Him an opportunity, when He announced the betrayal to His disciples, to change his choice. And Judas paid dearly for his choice.

We are each faced with choices that have eternal consequences. But as with Judas and the others in this passion scenario, God offers us options from which to choose that lead to life rather than death. Past choices need not determine those choices we will make today and the days following. We are always given a chance to change our course. We will be wise to choose the course that leads to life.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Reflections on Mark 13

    Mark 13 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Teacher, look at these beautiful stones and wonderful buildings!"
  2. But before the end comes, the good news must be preached to all nations.
  3. When you are arrested, don't worry about what you will say. You will be given the right words when the time comes. But you will not really be the ones speaking. Your words will come from the Holy Spirit.
  4. Brothers and sisters will betray each other and have each other put to death. Parents will betray their own children, and children will turn against their parents and have them killed.
  5. Everyone will hate you because of me. But if you keep on being faithful right to the end, you will be saved.
  6. Someday you will see that "Horrible Thing" where it should not be. Everyone who reads this must try to understand! If you are living in Judea at that time, run to the mountains.
  7. If you are on the roof of your house, don't go inside to get anything.
  8. If you are out in the field, don't go back for your coat.
  9. It will be an awful time for women who are expecting babies or nursing young children.
  10. Pray that it won't happen in winter.
  11. This will be the worst time of suffering since God created the world, and nothing this terrible will ever happen again.
  12. Jesus replied, "Do you see these huge buildings? They will certainly be torn down! Not one stone will be left in place."
  13. If the Lord doesn't make the time shorter, no one will be left alive. But because of his chosen and special ones, he will make the time shorter.
  14. If someone should say, "Here is the Messiah!" or "There he is!" don't believe it.
  15. False messiahs and false prophets will come and work miracles and signs. They will even try to fool God's chosen ones.
  16. But be on your guard! That's why I am telling you these things now.
  17. In those days, right after that time of suffering, "The sun will become dark, and the moon will no longer shine.
  18. The stars will fall, and the powers in the sky will be shaken."
  19. Then the Son of Man will be seen coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
  20. He will send his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the earth.
  21. Learn a lesson from a fig tree. When its branches sprout and start putting out leaves, you know summer is near.
  22. So when you see all these things happening, you will know that the time has almost come.
  23. Later, as Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him in private.
  24. You can be sure that some of the people of this generation will still be alive when all this happens.
  25. The sky and the earth will not last forever, but my words will.
  26. No one knows the day or the time. The angels in heaven don't know, and the Son himself doesn't know. Only the Father knows.
  27. So watch out and be ready! You don't know when the time will come.
  28. It is like what happens when a man goes away for a while and places his servants in charge of everything. He tells each of them what to do, and he orders the guard to keep alert.
  29. So be alert! You don't know when the master of the house will come back. It could be in the evening or at midnight or before dawn or in the morning.
  30. But if he comes suddenly, don't let him find you asleep.
  31. I tell everyone just what I have told you. Be alert!
  32. They asked, "When will these things happen? What will be the sign that they are about to take place?"
  33. Jesus answered: Watch out and don't let anyone fool you!
  34. Many will come and claim to be me. They will use my name and fool many people.
  35. When you hear about wars and threats of wars, don't be afraid. These things will have to happen first, but that isn't the end.
  36. Nations and kingdoms will go to war against each other. There will be earthquakes in many places, and people will starve to death. But this is just the beginning of troubles.
  37. Be on your guard! You will be taken to courts and beaten with whips in their meeting places. And because of me, you will have to stand before rulers and kings to tell about your faith.

This chapter of Mark is both intriguing and perplexing. We are intrigued as Jesus touches on future events, seeking answers to the same questions asked by the disciples: "When will these things happen? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to take place?" We become perplexed, however, when we discover that Jesus' answers are not clearly delineated. There is a mixture of near future and distant future elements in His answer and it is difficult to determine when He refers to each. The one who is well-versed in Old Testament prophecies will find more meaning in Jesus' answer than others, but still no clear-cut conclusions. In fact, as one reads from various commentaries they find that each draws different conclusions from this passage.

So what are we to do with this? We will do what Jesus instructs us to do - watch and be alert! Jesus did not intend to give a clearly defined answer to the disciples. To do so would be to encourage slothfulness on the part of His disciples. If we knew precisely how these events would play out, we would do as our human nature is prone to do, and be tempted to do wait until we see a clear sign denoting the coming of one of these events before doing anything. Then we would be caught off-guard. But Jesus wants His followers to be ever ready and ever diligent.

What is the purpose of Jesus' warnings to "watch" and to be "alert?" First, He does not want us to be deceived by false prophets and false messiahs or caught by surprise with coming events. If we understand and read the signs, we can recognize those who make false claims. Some of those who make these claims will actually be able to "perform signs and wonders to lead astray" but we need to know that the true Messiah is not coming until after the appearance of cosmic disturbances when the sun is darkened and stars are falling from the sky, and the celestial powers are shaken. The appearance of wars and earthquakes and famines will happen, but they do not denote the appearance of the true Messiah. These are the appearance of "birth pains" but not the sign of the coming Messiah. We are not to be deceived.

Further, we are to watch and be on our guard so we are always ready to give witness to the Messiah. There will be times when Jesus' followers will be thrust into situations that provide opportunity for witness. These need to be recognized as occasions God is providing us to proclaim the good news to all nations. And when these occasions come we should not be concerned for what we will say for the Holy Spirit will speak through us. But if we are to be used on these occasions we must keep our heads about us. We must not be caught off-guard. We need to watch and be alert. Otherwise we will get caught up in questioning why God is allowing these things to happen to us instead of proving to be faithful witnesses. What we don't need to be doing, though, is becoming caught up in trying to predict exactly when all of these things will happen. Neither Jesus nor the angels in heaven know the day or the hour.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reflections on Mark 12

    Mark 12 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Jesus then told them this story: A farmer once planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it and dug a pit to crush the grapes in. He also built a lookout tower. Then he rented out his vineyard and left the country.
  2. When it was harvest time, he sent a servant to get his share of the grapes.
  3. The renters grabbed the servant. They beat him up and sent him away without a thing.
  4. The owner sent another servant, but the renters beat him on the head and insulted him terribly.
  5. Then the man sent another servant, and they killed him. He kept sending servant after servant. They beat some of them and killed others.
  6. The owner had a son he loved very much. Finally, he sent his son to the renters because he thought they would respect him.
  7. But they said to themselves, "Someday he will own this vineyard. Let's kill him! That way we can have it all for ourselves."
  8. So they grabbed the owner's son and killed him. Then they threw his body out of the vineyard.
  9. Jesus asked, "What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? He will come and kill those renters and let someone else have his vineyard.
  10. You surely know that the Scriptures say, 'The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone of all.
  11. This is something the Lord has done, and it is amazing to us.' "
  12. The leaders knew that Jesus was really talking about them, and they wanted to arrest him. But because they were afraid of the crowd, they let him alone and left.
  13. The Pharisees got together with Herod's followers. Then they sent some men to trick Jesus into saying something wrong.
  14. They went to him and said, "Teacher, we know that you are honest. You treat everyone with the same respect, no matter who they are. And you teach the truth about what God wants people to do. Tell us, should we pay taxes to the Emperor or not?"
  15. Jesus knew what they were up to, and he said, "Why are you trying to test me? Show me a coin!"
  16. They brought him a silver coin, and he asked, "Whose picture and name are on it?" "The Emperor's," they answered.
  17. Then Jesus told them, "Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God." The men were amazed at Jesus.
  18. The Sadducees did not believe that people would rise to life after death. So some of them came to Jesus and said:
  19. Teacher, Moses wrote that if a married man dies and has no children, his brother should marry the widow. Their first son would then be thought of as the son of the dead brother.
  20. There were once seven brothers. The first one married, but died without having any children.
  21. The second brother married his brother's widow, and he also died without having children. The same thing happened to the third brother,
  22. and finally to all seven brothers. At last the woman died.
  23. When God raises people from death, whose wife will this woman be? After all, she had been married to all seven brothers.
  24. Jesus answered: You are completely wrong! You don't know what the Scriptures teach. And you don't know anything about the power of God.
  25. When God raises people to life, they won't marry. They will be like the angels in heaven.
  26. You surely know about people being raised to life. You know that in the story about Moses and the burning bush, God said, "I am the God worshiped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
  27. He isn't the God of the dead, but of the living. You Sadducees are all wrong.
  28. One of the teachers of the Law of Moses came up while Jesus and the Sadducees were arguing. When he heard Jesus give a good answer, he asked him, "What is the most important commandment?"
  29. Jesus answered, "The most important one says: 'People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God.
  30. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.'
  31. The second most important commandment says: 'Love others as much as you love yourself.' No other commandment is more important than these."
  32. The man replied, "Teacher, you are certainly right to say there is only one God.
  33. It is also true that we must love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and that we must love others as much as we love ourselves. These commandments are more important than all the sacrifices and offerings that we could possibly make."
  34. When Jesus saw that the man had given a sensible answer, he told him, "You are not far from God's kingdom." After this, no one dared ask Jesus any more questions.
  35. As Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, "How can the teachers of the Law of Moses say that the Messiah will come from the family of King David?
  36. The Holy Spirit led David to say, 'The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right side until I make your enemies into a footstool for you.'
  37. If David called the Messiah his Lord, how can the Messiah be his son?" The large crowd enjoyed listening to Jesus teach.
  38. As Jesus was teaching, he said: Guard against the teachers of the Law of Moses! They love to walk around in long robes and be greeted in the market.
  39. They like the front seats in the meeting places and the best seats at banquets.
  40. But they cheat widows out of their homes and pray long prayers just to show off. They will be punished most of all.
  41. Jesus was sitting in the temple near the offering box and watching people put in their gifts. He noticed that many rich people were giving a lot of money.
  42. Finally, a poor widow came up and put in two coins that were worth only a few pennies.
  43. Jesus told his disciples to gather around him. Then he said: I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others.
  44. Everyone else gave what they didn't need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn't have a cent to live on.

Jesus' conflict with the religious leaders was heightened with His entry into Jerusalem, the seat of Judaism and location of the temple. His bold actions in cleansing the temple and bold teaching confronted them on their own turf and could not be ignored. His actions forced them to either accept Him or reject Him, and they made their choice, solidifying that choice by "looking for a way to destroy Him." (11:18) Now, in chapter 12, we see an effort on the part of the leaders to accomplish their plan to destroy Jesus. Repeatedly they confronted Jesus with questions designed to trap Him and thus discredit Him before the people and also give them reason to arrest Him. These challenges, however, became teaching opportunities for Jesus to instruct the crowd and the leaders.

Following a challenge to Jesus, beginning in 11:28 and following, Jesus responded by telling a parable, which is recorded in the opening verses of chapter 12. The challenge to Jesus in the last verses of chapter 11 questioned His authority. Basically it was questioning who He was. This parable at the beginning of chapter 12 is essentially telling them that He is the Son of the vineyard owner, who represents God. In other words, He is the Son of God. In addition, it serves as a warning to them to reconsider the course they have chosen. The message to them is that if they kill the Son of God, God will do to them what the vineyard owner did to the tenant farmers. He will destroy them and give the vineyard to others. Israel's privelege would be given to others. A further message, both to these Jewish leaders and also to us, is that to reject God's Son is also to reject God. Many assume to seek God while rejecting Jesus, but Jesus is the way to God, and there is no other way. As Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

The religious leaders responded to Jesus' warning about trying to destroy Him by plotting further attempts to do just that. Each attempt to trap Jesus proved unsuccessful while also providing a teaching opportunity for Jesus and another opportunity for themselves to accept rather than to reject Jesus. Through these challenges and Jesus' responses, we learn:
  • We are to respect governments, even evil governments, and give them what is due them. (verses 12-17) However, we are not to give them what is due God. For instance, in the question brought to Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar, the coin Jesus had brought to Him had not only Caesar's image but also the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus,” on one side and, “Chief Priest,” on the other side. This was a claim to divinity by the emperor and came from the cult of emperor worship. So Jesus' answer to give Caesar what was his referred to paying taxes, and giving to God what belonged to Him referred to whom we should give our worship and recognition of divinity.
  • There is, indeed, a resurrection of the dead, and that resurrected body will be like those of the angels. (verses 18-27) In this resurrected state we will no longer enter into marriage, for procreation will not be a concern. Death will have been defeated and the need to replenish the population no longer present.
  • All of the commandments are summed up in just two - Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . ., and Love your neighbor as yourself. (verses 28-34) In the accounts of this encounter found in other gospels, we learn that these two commandments actually summarize all of scripture. An accurate interpretation of all scripture must be passed through this filter - Love God and love your neighbor. But we also learn in Jesus' response to this question about the most important commandment that our efforts to obey these two important commandments is insufficient to gain entry into kingdom of God. Acceptance of Jesus as God's Son and as the Way into the kingdom is the key to entry. This was the piece the scribe in this account was missing. And although he was close to entering he needed this piece to gain entry.
  • The significance of our offerings to God are not based on the amount but on the proportion of our offering to our total wealth. (verses 38-44) The widow's offering was of no consequence compared to the large sums given by the rich. But it was greater, by far, in comparison to all she had, for it was all she had. The large sums of the rich were only a small portion of their total wealth.
Again and again, we find that the values of God's kingdom turn our human values upside down. If we are to be citizens of the kingdom we will also need to adopt the values of the kingdom.