Monthly Archives: January 2015

Today’s Scripture – January 30, 2015

Mark 14:10-11 (NIV): Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Many kind-hearted souls try to make excuses for Judas, teaching that he was simply misguided, or even that he was someone whose intentions in betraying Jesus were actually honorable – that he was simply trying to force Jesus’ hand, encouraging Him to take the strong actions needed for Him to become the king.

But Judas was not an honorable man, let alone an altruistic one.  As John pointed out in his gospel, even before the incident at Simon the Leper’s house (Mark 14:3-9), which seemed to be a tipping point for him, Judas had been stealing from the bag of money that had been donated to help with the needs of Jesus and His disciples (John 12:6).  It was no noble desire that moved him to go to the chief priests with the offer of betrayal, but the desire for money.

Theologians have long debated why Jesus would ever recruit someone like Judas to be His disciple, let alone one of His twelve closest followers.  And if Jesus had known that Judas would steal from the money bag, why did He entrust it to Him.

The simple answer to both of those is that God told Him to do it, and He simply obeyed (cf. John 5:19).  God had always known which of Jesus’ followers would ultimately betray Him, so when Judas began to follow Jesus, he was brought all the way into the inner circle.  That seems counterintuitive to many, but there were two key reasons that this was the right thing to do.  First, by bringing Judas into a close and even trusted relationship with Jesus, he had every possible opportunity to change tracks.  If he had opened his heart, he could have grown to love Jesus like the others did, developing a bond and loyalty to Him that would have drawn him toward Jesus and the kingdom that He had come to bring.  But even demonstrations of conspicuous trust, such as entrusting him with the money bag, even giving him power and authority to heal diseases and cast out demons (cf. Matthew 10:1), failed to melt his hard heart, which was strongly attached not only to money, but to the glory and power that he hoped would come to him through being so closely attached to someone like Jesus.  With so much opportunity to change, so many chances to turn away from the pursuit of the world and its riches, Judas’ ultimate refusal to change brings his condemnation on his own head.

Secondly, if Judas had not been in the inner circle, he would not have been in as strong a position to betray Jesus, bringing about everything that was foretold.  He would not have had as strong a credibility with the chief priests, and he would not have been as likely to have known where Jesus would be camping that night.  He might not have even been with Jesus in Jerusalem during that Passover.

The plain truth is that Judas was a man with a bad heart, a heart that even the unconditional love shown to him by Jesus was not able to touch.  His priorities were not those of the kingdom of God, and when he realized that following Jesus was not going to lead to wealth and power, he turned elsewhere, even if it meant betraying the one who had loved him and shown him the light of God’s glory.

Father, this is a sad story.  It is hard to imagine how one who had lived with Jesus for years, who had listened to His teaching, seen His mightiest miracles, and even been empowered by Him to do his own miracles, could ever betray Him.  But there are still people like that in the world today.  Their hearts are hard, their priorities are of this world, and even unconditional love doesn’t seem to make a dent.  But, Lord, help us to always remember that there are also many with bad hearts, even hearts that are desperately bad, and who have terrible priorities, who CAN be changed by Your love, Your grace, Your salvation.  (I was one of them!)  Help us, like Jesus, to not write people off who seem to be so hard, but to draw them in, to show them Your love, Your wonders, Your trust, and allow You every chance to work in their lives.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 27, 2015

Mark 14:3-9 (NIV):  While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. ”Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

On this night, a simple act of devotion quickly turned into an occasion for conflict and a clash of worldviews.  The disciples still had no idea what was coming – that in just a couple of days their Lord and Master would be hanging dead on a cross, so badly beaten that He was barely recognizable.  All they knew was that things seemed to be going pretty smoothly.  Jesus had been hailed as a conquering hero just a few days ago, and he had handily won every debate with the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, and even the chief priests.  As they saw it, things were looking up!

They were at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany having dinner when Mary, the sister of Lazarus walked in (cf. John 12:1-8).  She was carrying a very expensive alabaster jar of pure nard, a distillation from the root of the spikenard plant, but nobody paid much attention to her.  That was until she walked over to where Jesus was reclining at the table, pulled out the jar, and broke the wax seal.  The strong aroma of the perfume immediately filled the room, drawing the attention of everyone.  She then poured the precious perfume on Jesus’ head, and on His feet, wiping his feet with her hair (John 12:3), and act of staggering devotion and honor.

It was a precious moment, one that could have served as an immediate object lesson to everyone gathered in the room.  But a clash of worldviews erupted almost immediately.  Judas (John 12:4) focused on the cost of the perfume – 300 denarii, or a year’s wages for a common laborer – protested that instead of just being poured out on Jesus, the perfume could have done so much more if it had been sold, and the money given to the poor.  And others joined him in his opinion.

But Jesus quickly put a stop to the discussion by His terse, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her?”  Mary knew how much the perfume was worth, how precious it was.  In fact, that was precisely the reason that she had chosen to use it as she had.  She owed Jesus so much.  Just a short time ago He had restored her brother, Lazarus, to life after he had been dead for four days!  She was so profoundly grateful that nothing was too precious for Jesus; nothing was too costly.  Every drop poured out on Him was a song of thanks to the one who had saved her brother and changed her life.

But in all of this Jesus saw a deeper meaning, one that even Mary was not consciously aware of.  Jesus knew that in just a couple of days’ time, as the sun was setting on the upcoming Friday, His cold, lifeless body would be being taken hurriedly down from the cross, and quickly placed in a borrowed tomb, all done hastily so as not to extend past sundown, when the Sabbath would begin. Even though Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would quickly pack some spices among the wrappings, there would be no time to properly wash and anoint His body, showing proper respect for the dead.  So Jesus accepted this sacrificial outpouring of love, devotion, and fragrant oil as the anointing of His body prior to His burial.

Father, Jesus told His disciples that those who wanted to follow Him should first count the cost, and make sure that they were willing to pay it:  “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33 NIV)  Mary understood that.  She had committed her whole life to Jesus, and everything that she had, she was willing to lay at his feet, regardless of the cost, regardless of the value.  Lord, help us to remember how much we have received from You:  blessing upon blessing, Your love, Your presence, and most of all, salvation and eternal life paid for by the precious blood of Jesus.  Lord, if that doesn’t make our hearts as generous toward You as Mary’s was toward Jesus, we are in bad shape!  Thank You, Father, again, and again, and again for all You have done for us.  Amen!

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Today’s Scripture – January 25, 2015

Mark 14:1-2 (NIV): Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

The Passover, one of the three most holy days on the Jewish calendar, was near, only two days away.  Even so, the attention of the chief priests and teachers of the law was not on preparing themselves for the celebration.  Instead, they were focused on Jesus – how to arrest Him and kill Him, in order to rid themselves of Him once and for all.

The only indication that that they were even aware of the coming feast was the fact that they discussed that it would be a bad time to arrest Jesus.  They feared that the people, many of whom considered Jesus a prophet or more, would riot.

These men who claimed to be among the holiest, most God-fearing people on the planet, had completely lost track of God in their anger and frustration at Jesus (ironically, the one who had been sent by God Himself to show them just how ungodly they really were!)  Even on the very eve of their feast that celebrated God freeing their ancestors from bondage, they had no idea that they had allowed themselves to be bound up in chains far stronger and heavier than anything ever worn by those who had gone before them – chains of hatred, anger, pride, judgmentalism, coveting, and even murder.  They were oblivious to the state of their own hearts.

It’s no wonder that Jesus‘ primary response to these men was sadness, accurately mirroring God’s own broken heart over them.  It was just a few days earlier that Jesus had wept over the city of Jerusalem, crying out, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:42-44 NIV)  It was just hours earlier that He had cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37-39 NIV)

It was a real tragedy when these same men, after they had beaten Jesus, condemned Him, an innocent man, of blasphemy, and pressured Pilate to condemn Him to death, after they had seen Him hanging on the cross pouring out His lifeblood on the ground, after all that, they went to the temple and sacrificed their Passover lamb, feasting and celebrating, smug in their sureness that God was well pleased with them, and would surely pour out His blessing into their lives.

Father, it is easy to see the application to our own lives of this chapter from history.  Help us to never get so caught up in our religion, our sacred practices and spiritual disciplines, help us to never feel so sure of our own righteousness that we completely miss the point where we have turned off of Your way.  Help us to never have our eyes so focused on ourselves and our agendas that we end up actively working against You and Your agenda without even realizing it.  Help us instead to walk in step with You, to keep our whole attention and the whole force of our will focused on what You are doing around us.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 23, 2015

Mark 13:32-37 (NIV): “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!‘”

Many people spend a lot of time and energy studying the Bible trying to figure out when Jesus is going to return.  And in every generation, there have been those who profess to have figured out the day and hour of His return.

But Jesus’ emphasis, and the emphasis that He tried to instill in His followers, was completely different than that.  Jesus knew that God always tells His people everything that we need to know, clearly, and at the precise time that we need to know it.  Jesus did not spend His life, or any portion of it, poring over ancient texts, trying to sort out the threads of various prophecies, using numerology and “hidden wisdom” to try to figure out when things were going to happen.  He merely pointed out that “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

This statement has caused impassioned debate among theologians about the nature of the incarnation and the balance between Jesus’ divinity and His humanity, but that wasn’t Jesus’ point.  He was simply stating that, even for Him, knowledge of the day and hour of His return was not need to know information.  And He, in His complete submission and obedience to His Father, was fine with that.

Jesus refused to focus on or become obsessed with what the Father had not divulged to Him.  Instead, He simply focused on doing the job that He had been given to do, on obeying the Father day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, and was content to leave all the rest in the hands of the Father.

And that’s the approach that He recommended for all of His disciples, as the parable He told clearly shows.  When a man goes away and leaves his servants with work to accomplish before his return, he does not want those servants to spend a single moment searching through his papers looking for clues as to how long he might be gone, and arguing among themselves as to when his return might happen.  Nor does he want to find them sleeping or goofing off, figuring that they’ll get right on the job as soon as they see him coming up the walkway.  He wants to return at his own time and find those servants hard at work on the job that he left for them.  The work left with the servants is important to the master, more important than anything else that the servants could do in his absence, or he wouldn’t have commanded the servants to do it in the first place.

In the same way, Jesus has left a very important job for all of His disciples to do in His absence:  to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).  And He wants us to be focused on that work while He’s gone.  He wants to find all of those who go by His name hard at work at it when He returns.  If someone spends all of their time and energy trying to figure out the day and hour of His return, and neglecting that most important work, even if they get the date and time exactly right, they are most likely to hear from Jesus’ lips not “Well done good and faithful servant,” but “That’s nice, but did you do the work that I commanded you to do?  Did you go and make disciples of all nations?  Where are the ones who have come to me through your work and your witness?”

Many believe that evangelism is only the work of a few in the Church, the professionals, or those called specifically to be evangelists.  But all we need to do is to look at the lives of those first-century disciples to see that the vast majority of them excitedly spread the gospel wherever they went.  Whole communities of believers sprang up all over the Empire (including Rome) from those who received Jesus at Pentecost and carried their faith back to their homes with them.  And even after the stoning of Stephen, when persecution broke out, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1 NIV), Luke goes on to tell us that those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:4 NIV).  They understood that the work of making disciples was vital.  If people didn’t hear about Jesus, they couldn’t believe.  And if they didn’t believe, they would end up separated from God in hell for all eternity.  They didn’t know when Jesus would return, but that wasn’t so important to them.  They had been given a job to do, to go and make disciples of all nations, and when Jesus returned, whenever that might be, they were determined that He would find them on the job, with fruit to show from their labors.

Father, forgive us for letting this job too often fall by the wayside, while we allow ourselves to get pulled aside into other things: our work, our entertainments, our hobbies, and even trying to figure out when Jesus is coming back.  Instill in us anew a deep understanding of how vital it is that we be making disciples, each and every one of us.  And vital not just for those we help into the kingdom so that they can be saved, but vital to us as well, that when Jesus comes back, whenever You determine that will be, He finds us faithfully on the job.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 14, 2015

Mark 13:24-27 (NIV):  “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”

Jesus moves back and forth seamlessly between the coming destruction of Jerusalem and His return at the end of all things.  He can do this because of the similarities between those times (and between those times and previous instances of God’s judging both His people and those of other nations).  The details of those times and the time of the end differ primarily in scope.

In the days following the great distress of the siege of Jerusalem, God’s judgment was destined to fall on those who survived.  The end of the siege was not going to be relief, but destruction and captivity.  It seemed to them that all light had gone from the earth, as if the sun, moon, and stars had all lost their ability to give light.

And then God’s judgment fell on them, all who had rejected Him by rejecting His Messiah.  It was just as it had been during the first fall of Jerusalem. All of those who had rejected God by turning away from Him and His laws to worship idols found themselves captives in the dark of His judgment.

And that is how it will be at the end as well, except that God’s judgment will not fall on a single city or land.  Instead, all of those who reject God will find themselves terrified by the signs that appear in heaven and on earth, and will feel as if they are running in the dark.  The things that they have used for safety and security will prove to be of no use at all on that day.  Even bomb shelters and bullet-proof houses and vehicles will provide no safety or shelter at the end of the world.

And then, just when it seems like things could not be more terrifying, all mankind will see Jesus coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  Those whose lives have been lived in Jesus will rejoice as they anticipate being caught up with him, but those who have rejected Him, denied Him, and have even convinced themselves that He never existed, will suddenly be overcome with a terror like nothing they had ever known.

At that time it will be too late to turn.  Those who have lived their lives apart from Jesus, in rebellion against His salvation and His teachings, will not think of repenting or admitting their error.  Instead, they will be completely overwhelmed with terror at the sight of the One they have rejected.  They will be consumed with their useless efforts to flee from the presence of the One who fills the universe.

Father, this is a terrifying picture, especially for those who reject Jesus, those who live carelessly, unheeding of Your warnings that all of this will come to an end when Jesus returns.  And it is troubling to those of us who have family and friends who have rejected You.  Lord, help us not to be made immobile by this troubling picture.  Instead, help it to move us boldly out into the harvest fields, steadfastly doing the work of making disciples of all nations, including our families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and everybody we care about, so that they will not be on the wrong side when Jesus returns.  Amen.

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Today’s Scriptures — January 13, 2015

Mark 13:21-23 (NIV): At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect–if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

Whenever there is trouble in the world or in a nation, people are easily drawn to those who claim to have the solution.  And the more desperate the trouble, the quicker we are to turn to whoever seems to have the most charisma, the smoothest line, or who tells us what we want to hear in the most convincing tones.

As Gamaliel pointed out to the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:35-39), before the days of Jesus there were leaders who claimed to be the solution to the problems of the people.  And some even received these men as their Messiah, their deliverer.  But in the end, they proved to be mere men, they were destroyed, and their followers, who put such stock in their promises, were scattered.

Jesus saw that, as the tide turned against the Jews, and as the net closed in around Jerusalem, there would again rise up people who would claim to be the answer, the One, even the Messiah Himself.  And, because the times would be desperate, many people would turn to them.  Some of these men would even seem to do signs and miracles that would deceive many, drawing them into the deception.  These miracles would be spectacular enough to draw the attention of even the elect!  But, in the end, they will not be able to deceive them.  And a key reason why the elect will not be deceived is that Jesus is warning them in advance so that they will be on their guard against these charlatans and pretenders.

Modern times are not immune to the same deceptions.  When times get hard, people flock to leaders and politicians who promise to lead them to better days, even promising to pull off miracles if only the people will support them or elect them.  And as has always been the case, these men and women never turn out to be the deliverer that they claim to be.  Programs fail, problems get worse, or the side-effects of their solutions cause problems of their own.

Only Jesus, the real Messiah, was able to completely deliver what He promised:  restoration of relationship between God and whoever is willing to turn away from their sinful lifestyle.  And only Jesus is able to save in the day of trouble, the day of disaster.

Father, sometimes I think that the reason we turn to human “messiahs” for solutions to our problems is that they promise easy solutions, and the cost of following Jesus is too high for many.  After all, following Jesus requires us to turn away from sinful behaviors that we have grown to enjoy, to relinquish control of our lives to You, to take up our cross daily, and to take on Your agenda as our own instead of trying to persuade You to bless our agendas.  That seems like such a steep price to many.  But in the end, we really lose nothing of eternal value when we come to You.  Instead we gain an eternal inheritance that thieves cannot steal, and that moth and rust can never destroy.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 10, 2015

Mark 13:14-20 (NIV): “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong–let the reader understand–then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now–and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.”

Many of the people who read this Scripture today see it as applying solely to the days of Jesus’ return.  But it, like many other prophecies, is multi-layered, and is relevant to more than one place and time.

In this case, the immediate context of this prophecy is the coming destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  This was what the disciples had asked most directly about (13:2-4).  And this prophecy was amazingly fulfilled at in just a few years’ time.

According to Eusebius and Josephus, the siege that led to Jerusalem’s fall was preceded by a Roman campaign in Judea to put down several rebellions that had sprung up.  After a short siege of Jerusalem, the general, Cestius Gallus, inexplicably withdrew.  The Jews pursued him, killed some of the retreating soldiers, and captured their weapons.  Nero then sent another force to crush the rebellion for good.

In AD 66, just after Gallus withdrew from Jerusalem, some of the Christian leadership in the Jerusalem Church saw the siege as a sign from God, a warning shot over the bow.  Despite the upbeat message of the Jewish people that they had succeeded in ousting the Romans, the Christian leaders saw this as the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, and sent word to the Christians to use the opportunity to leave, which they did immediately.  They moved across the Jordan to the Decapolis region, to a town called Pella.  There they remained, establishing a strong Christian community that lasted for several centuries.

By the time that Vepasian came along, laying waste to the whole countryside, the Christians were already long gone.  This was followed by the disastrous siege by General Titus which resulted in profound suffering among those trapped in the city, comparable only to the suffering during the Babylonian siege.  After the long siege, Titus managed to breach the wall.  He burned the city, put the survivors to the sword, and demolished the temple.

The Christians who fled before all of that happened credited God and this prophecy of Jesus with their salvation from this disaster that fell on the city.  They were confident of Jesus’ ability to know the future, so when the word came that the prophecy was coming true, they immediately obeyed, leaving behind their homes and most of their possessions, being willing to start afresh with God’s guidance.

Whether in the days of the Roman Empire, or in the future days before the return of Jesus, the vital thing for God’s people is not to spend time compiling and studying charts and graphs detailing what they believe will happen.  The vital thing is for us to know God’s word, to be about the work of expanding His kingdom through making disciples of all nations, to know God’s voice intimately, and be immediately obedient to His leading.

Father, it is often tempting to get mired in the charts and graphs of end-time prophecies, and in doing so, to neglect the job that You have given us of making disciples.  Help us to keep our focus on the things that matter most to You, and then to keep ourselves unencumbered and light on our feet, so that we can be immediately responsive to Your leading.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 7, 2015

Mark 13:9-13 (NIV):  “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

The disciples were consumed with curiosity about the events that would lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem that Jesus had just foretold (v2).  They wanted to be told about events that they would be able to see and identify, that would tell them that it was approaching, so that they could be ready.  But Jesus began by sharing with them things that would not only happen to them personally, but that would also be true for followers of Jesus all through the ages, far beyond Jerusalem’s fall, all the way to the time of Jesus’ return.

The “time between” would be a time of great power in the lives of Jesus’ followers as the gospel spread out and was preached all over the known world.  But it would also be a time of great trial for them as well.  They will be handed over to courts and councils, and flogged in the synagogues, treated as blasphemers and renegades.  They will even be betrayed by their own family members, and sentenced to death.  They will be hated by all people because they bear the name of Jesus.

This is a pretty dark picture.  And it is strikingly accurate, as the disciples themselves would be able to attest to in just a few short weeks.  All of the apostles except John suffered death by martyrdom.  And even John was persecuted and imprisoned.  It’s accuracy can also be attested to by many modern day disciples, who are persecuted for the sake of the gospel.

But into that dark scene, several rays of bright light shine.  Jesus urges all of His followers to not buckle under the pain and stress of persecution.  Instead, “he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (v13b).  But the disciples do not have to stand firm in their own strengh.  Just as Jesus promised that as they go and make disciples of all nations, that “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV); just as he promised that the Father “will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16 NIV); Jesus now promises that even when they are on trial for their lives, they will not be alone:  “do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

Even though the times will appear very dark, Jesus will still be working.  Even though it looks like the end of the world is very near, the work of the kingdom must go on in the power of the Holy Spirit until Jesus returns.  Today, as 2000 years ago, it is very tempting for followers of Jesus to take our eyes off of the vital work that He calls us to, and begin to spend time and energy focusing on and discussing the signs of the times, to worry beforehand about what to say, instead of trusting in the Holy Spirit to give us all that we need at the time.  God will provide us as His people with all that we need to do the work He has called us to, no matter when we live, no matter where we are, no matter how dark things appear.  The vital thing for all of God’s people, then and now, is to keep our focus on the work of God’s kingdom, and leave the future in His hands.

Father, it does sometimes feel like things are spinning out of control in our world.  We see persecution increasing in other parts of the world, oppression of Christians happening in our own nation, and it is so easy in times like that to get our eyes off of our assigned kingdom work, and to get fixated instead on these events, wondering how they relate to the end of the world.  Help us, Lord, to always stay on task for You, to keep Your agenda at the forefront of our lives, and to just trust that You are still in control.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 6, 2015

Mark 13:3-8 (NIV):  As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”

Jesus’ brief prophecy about the looming destruction of Jerusalem was nothing short of earth-shattering in the minds of the disciples.  They all knew the history of the city and the nation – that nearly 600 years before their day, God had allowed the city to be destroyed and the people carried off into exile in Babylon.  But after the exiles returned 70 years later, rebuilt the temple, and reconstructed the walls, popular opinion was that God would never punish His people or reject His temple again.  So when Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple (which implied the destruction of the city), the disciples were stunned.  Two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, came to Jesus hungry for more information:  when would those things happen, and what would be the signs that they could look for that would tell them that it would happen soon?

The first part of Jesus’ answer was that many things would happen in the near future:  people would appear claiming to be the Messiah, or even claiming to be Jesus returned, and they would succeed in deceiving a lot of people; wars would come and go; earthquakes and famines would occur.  For many people those kinds of confusing and frightening events would make people believe that the world was spinning out of control toward the end of all things.  But Jesus cautioned that those things were merely the beginning of the birth pains; much else would happen before Jerusalem fell, let alone before the real end of the world.

Even today many people are looking for signs that the end of the world is near.  And they can see plenty of things that convince them that it must be on track to happen very soon.  There are still false Messiahs, claiming to be either Jesus or one better than Him.  There are still wars and rumors of wars, all piped live into our homes through our televisions.  And there are plenty of earthquakes and famines, and all kinds of other natural disasters.  But the fall of Jerusalem and its timing were not dictated by man’s wars (even though the Lord used warriors to accomplish it in AD 70), or nature’s disasters.  The destruction was God’s judgment on the people for refusing to receive God’s Son when He came.  And, in the same way, the end of all things will not come by the decision of people to make war, nor will it come because of the natural occurrence of earthquakes or famines.  Instead, Jesus’ return and the end of the world will come at a time that God Himself decides, and it will be His final judgment on those who have persisted in their rebellion against Him.

Father, we do freak out from time to time over the events and disasters that are constantly kept before us on our televisions and radios.  But the time of the end will never be determined by those things, but by You alone.  Help us, Lord, to never allow ourselves to get fixated on events, but to keep our eyes steadfastly on You, simply trusting You to choose the absolutely correct time to draw things to a close.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 3, 2015

Mark 13:1-2 (NIV):  As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus left the temple for the day with His disciples, they were struck afresh by the grandeur and beauty of the temple complex.  Even though the original structure of the temple, built after the return from captivity in Babylon, was much less impressive than the one built by Solomon and torn down by the invading Babylonians, the building was still impressive.  It had huge stones that made many wonder how they had ever been hoisted into position.

The kings of the Herodian Dynasty had also left their imprint on the temple grounds.  Herod the Great, the king who tried to execute the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:13-17), had redone much of the temple and the surrounding courtyards and buildings, a work carried on by his son, Herod Antipas, and still going on in Jesus’ day.

The temple was beautiful, breathtaking even, and the sight of it gladdened the heart of every pilgrim who came within its precincts.  But Jesus squashed the disciples’ enthusiasm immediately with His terse statement: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Jesus was looking ahead four decades to AD 70, the year that the Romans, led by General Titus, would besiege and conquer Jerusalem, tearing and burning down all of the principal buildings, including the temple itself.  The massive stones, fit together with such great skill, were torn apart, huge levers prying each layer off the one below it, until literally one stone was not left on another.

It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t appreciate the architecture and workmanship of this place.  But He clearly could see that all of this beauty and majesty would soon be cast down to earth by mere men.  No matter how sublime its original purpose, the temple was earthly, temporary, and able to be destroyed.  Jesus had come, not to give credibility to what was temporary, but to establish that which will never be shaken or destroyed.  He had come to initiate the kingdom of God, a kingdom with no geographical limits, but composed of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9) who have entered through faith in Him.  He came to establish the capital of this new kingdom, the New Jerusalem, a city not built by human hands or of earthy materials, but built by God Himself of heavenly, non-perishable stuff.  By that one statement, as harsh to our ears as it was to those first disciples, Jesus was turning the disciples’ attention away from that which would ultimately fall, so that their eyes could be turned to focus on that which was even then being created, which would last forever.

Father, we still get overly impressed by things built with human hands, and in the process we lose sight of Your kingdom, which will last forever, and which is grander by far than anything the mind of man can conceive.  Lord, give us heavenly eyes that can see Your kingdom clearly, so that the things of this world, no matter how grand and beautiful they are, will never gain a foothold in our hearts.  Amen.

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