over-realised eschatology

October 2015 (13)Mark 9:11-13

11 Then, in order to ask him, they said “Why are the scribes saying that Elijah has to come first?” 12 He said to them, “Elijah is definitely coming first to restore all things. How then can it be written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they wanted to, just like what is written about him.”

over-realised eschatology

Perhaps the disciples thought that they were actually participating in the fulfilment of the Elijah prophecy. They would think that once that detail is out of the way, next Jesus could reveal himself as Messiah, and begin his reign. Jesus set them straight about that. Elijah had come, in the person of John the Baptist – not as a reincarnation, but as a forerunner. But that did not mean that the reign could happen. There was this matter of the cross that had to happen first.

Some are convinced that they can usher in the new age just by proclaiming it. But what if the next generation of Christians are not going to be known for their victory and power, but for their faithfulness in suffering and persecution? Both realities are prophesied of the church. We should be ready for either.

LORD, we do not know what this generation will experience. But we want to be faithful to you, whatever we face.

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pluralism meets perfection

October 2015 (12)Mark 9:5-10

5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here; we will make three tents, for you one, for Moses one, and for Elijah one.” 6 He did not know what to say, because they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This one is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 When they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had been raised from the dead. 10 So they kept the word, debating among themselves what this being raised from the dead could mean.

pluralism meets perfection

The disciples realised that it was Moses and Elijah with Christ in the transfiguration vision. Peter’s offer to make three tents would fit quite well with the modern pluralist mind-set. He knew that the whole group would have benefitted from spending time with each of these great religious leaders. But the Father’s rebuke came from the cloud. When pluralism meets perfection, it needs to stop asking for insight from the less-than-perfect.

In many parts of the world today, societies that were formerly Christian are starting to seek wisdom and input from other religions and ideologies. The voice from the cloud is speaking to us, telling us that such searching is a bad idea.

LORD, give us the wisdom to seek your counsel, because you are God’s Son, the Beloved.

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already – not yet

October 2015 (11)Mark 9:1-4

1 And he said to them, “I guarantee you, there are some standing here who will not experience death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” 2 Then, six days later, Jesus took Peter and James and John with him, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And Elijah with Moses appeared before them, discussing something with Jesus.

already – not yet

Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus was not referring to his second coming here. He was referring to his transfiguration, which revealed to his disciples that he was the kingdom – come in power. The vision which demonstrated this fact also showed Elijah and Moses discussing something with Jesus. We do not know exactly what they said. But we can be sure it was not about Elijah and Moses. Jesus is the already.

Your life is full of “not yets.” The most prominent “not yet” of all our lives is the return of Christ. When that happens, it will reshape all of us. But we can get a head start of that future reality by shaping our lives according to the Jesus of Scripture. Living like he told us to live, and focusing our efforts on reaching people for him – that is the message of the transfiguration. When the vision was over all the disciples saw was Jesus. He is enough.

LORD, show us how to shape our lives according to Jesus – the already.

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losing our souls for Jesus

October 2015 (10)Mark 8:34-38

34 He summoned the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to follow after me, let them reject themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For the one who wants to save his soul will lose it, and the one who loses his soul for my sake, and for the sake of the excellent message, will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 Indeed, what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 The man who is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

losing our souls for Jesus

In the teachings of crazy, mixed up popular Christianity, we are taught that it is impossible to do what Jesus tells us to do here: to put our souls at risk. That is because we have swallowed Satan’s lie, and believe that our souls cannot die. But soul mortality was a given for Jesus. But that truth does not fit with popular theology, so the translators who believe that theology have to use some other word to translate the word “soul” here. Usually the use the word “life” which – to be fair – does convey Jesus’ meaning. He was talking about being serious enough about our faith in Jesus to put our lives (souls) on the line.

Meanwhile, there is an entire generation of unbelievers who are familiar enough with the Christmas and Easter stories, they might even consider themselves Christian. But they would never join a church, and accept any Christ denying “fact” their society throws at them. They do exactly what Jesus warns against here. They deny Christ instead of losing their souls for him.

Reaching those people just might mean sacrificing our lives. Do we believe in Jesus enough to lose our souls for him?

LORD, give us the faith to stand for Christ, even when our world turns against him.

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October 2015 (9)Mark 8:31-33

31 Then he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to undergo extreme suffering, and be declared counterfeit[1] by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days be raised. 32 He told this word boldly. And Peter, taking him aside, began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on the purposes of God but on human purposes.”


It was necessary for Jesus to suffer and be rejected and mistreated and killed. It was also necessary for the Peter and the other disciples to stop telling themselves that following Christ was the path to only blessing and good things.

You and I need to undergo the same reorientation. There is among us a tendency to believe that faith will solve every problem, and that God never wants us to experience pain or failure. But When Jesus talked about the purposes of God here, he was talking about that.

This side of the resurrection, God actually intends for us to glorify him by being faithful to his purposes, even if those purposes are not positive or encouraging. Any religion that refuses to accept that is guilty of the same thing that Peter was guilty of here: setting his mind on human purposes instead of God’s purposes. Such a religion is not Christian. Jesus himself called it Satanic.

If you think “God is good all the time” means that he will never bring you to the cross for his glory, you are in the wrong camp. Repent!

LORD, we surrender our purposes, and seek to follow you – even to the cross.

[1] αποδοκιμαζω

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when truth gets in the way

October 2015 (8)Mark 8:27-30

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he warned them not to say this to anyone about himself.

when truth gets in the way

Christ came openly preaching a new kingdom – a kingdom over which he would reign. Why, then, would he warn his disciples not to reveal that he was God’s promised Messiah? There were a few reasons. One of those reasons is that there was a task for him to do – a terrible task that he must complete before taking up his destiny as humanity’s eternal king. He had the cross in view. Even the truth of who he was could not get in the way of his mission.

There are some truths we are learning about ourselves in the Bible. Truths about our eternal destiny, God’s covenant love for us, and our value to him. All the unbelievers and those who reject Christ will suffer eternal destruction, and will cease to exist for eternity. But God has promised that nothing will ever snatch us from his protective hand. Knowing such truths, we may be tempted to devalue the lost world around us. But Christ challenges us to keep our minds and hearts on our current mission – to love the lost into his kingdom. The truth of who we are in Christ must take a back seat to the truth of God’s love for everyone – even those who will ultimately reject him.

LORD, may we live consumed by your sacrificial love for others.

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times of partial success

October 2015 (7)Mark 8:22-26

22 They came into Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him and pleaded with him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I do see men that are like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything normally. 26 Then he sent him away to his house, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

times of partial success

I have been exploring Mark’s Gospel with the assumption that the book can be used as a sort of manual for training those who will serve others in Jesus’ name. This story shows how such an assumption would affect the application of the text. Obviously Jesus did not need to heal this blind man in stages. But he chose to do so. Perhaps he was showing his disciples that at times those we serve will need a second touch. Not every problem will have an immediate solution. Sometimes we will have to revisit the issue and slightly change our approach. Other times all it will take is persistence and trust that no one is to blame for lack of success. God has a plan, and even those times of partial success fit into that plan.

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seeing, hearing and remembering

October 2015 (6)Mark 8:14-21

14 They had forgotten to take bread; so they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he gave orders to them, saying, “Watch out– beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16 They reasoned to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 And understanding this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you reasoning that you have no bread? Do you still not perceive or comprehend this? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken scraps did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken scraps did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them, “Do you not yet comprehend?”

seeing, hearing and remembering

There was a battle going on in the hearts of these disciples. They were being challenged to question their faith in Christ. The Pharisees came to Dalmanutha seeking proof that Jesus was who he said he was. They wanted one more sign or else they would not agree with the disciples. Now, Jesus warns his disciples that they also would be tempted to lose their confidence in Jesus. He reminded them of the two feeding miracles, each ending in baskets full of leftovers. Twelve and seven: the number of months in a year, and days in a week. Jesus was saying he is sufficient all the time. We do not need more evidence. We need to reject the yeast of doubt that would infest our faith, and lead us to reject our Saviour.

Jesus asked his disciples if they had not seen, heard and remembered. He was referring to their past experience of him. In a Christian’s life, challenges will come to our faith. We need to hang on to our memories of past experiences of his power and faithfulness. If our hearts harden, and we refuse to remember what we have seen and heard, we are in danger of being invaded by doubt, just like a loaf of bread, invaded and permeated by yeast.

LORD, help us to see, hear and remember our past experiences of your touch, and your faithfulness.

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catch-22 generation

October 2015 (5)Mark 8:10-13

10 And just then he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. 11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking him to get a sign[1] from the sky, to test him. 12 And sighing deeply in his spirit, he said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? I guarantee you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And leaving them, he got into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

catch-22 generation

If you think that everywhere Jesus went, miracles just happened – think again. He didn’t demonstrate his power on cue for everyone who asked, even in the time he lived on earth in the flesh. This passage explains why. Demanding a sign before you believe in Christ negates the faith which Jesus looks for before giving a sign. People who are on the verge of faith but are holding out for proof are not likely to see any proof. It is a paradox situation, a catch-22.

The challenge of Christianity is for anyone looking for the answer to find that answer in Christ. If you dare put your faith in Christ, you will not only find the answer, but you will also see his power at work – in miracles and the personal miracle of a changed life. But staying on the other side of the line until you see that power will only result in an empty, powerless life.

LORD, we surrender to your kingdom. The only proof we ask for is the change you want to make in us.

[1] σημειον 8:11f; 13:4, 22; 16:17, 20.

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again again

October 2015 (4)Mark 8:1-9

1 In those days when there was again a large crowd without anything to eat, he summoned his disciples and said to them, 2 “I feel sympathy for this crowd, because they have stayed with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away to their homes, having not eaten, they will give out on the way– and some of them have come from a long distance.” 4 His disciples replied, “From where can one satisfy these people with bread here in the desert?” 5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7 They also had a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that they should be distributed also. 8 They ate and were satisfied; and they took up the broken scraps left over, seven baskets full. 9 Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

again again

This is not the same event as the feeding of the 5000. It is a separate event, at a different time, with a different crowd. The amounts of bread and fish are different, and the amounts left over are different. Other than that, it is basically a rerun. So, why would the Gospel writer include it, particularly Mark, whose Gospel is the shortest?

Well, if my hypothesis about Mark’s purpose as a ministry manual is correct, he might have included this story to teach us that ministry is usually not a one shot deal. It is OK to do the same thing again and again as long as it is the right thing in the first place. Jesus fed these people because he had compassion on them. Showing compassion for the hungry is ministry, and it is worth repeating.

LORD, give us ministry that works, and the wisdom to keep doing it as long as it is needed.

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