Tuesday 27 May 2014

John 12:1-19 - Entering Jerusalem

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Jesus returns to Bethany shortly before Passover. This village just outside Jerusalem was one of his favourite places especially the house of Lazarus; Martha served the meal while Mary anointed him with nard. This perfume was widely used in India and in the Greco-Roman world at the time; it was used to season foods but also, and significantly, as incense in the Temple worship in Jerusalem. Jesus is himself a 'fragrant offering' acceptable to his Father; he is the One in whom the Father says he is well pleased (Matthew 3:17).

Although Judas complains about the waste, Jesus understands what Mary is doing and why. He knows that she is fulfilling a greater purpose than she fully understands. We are like her in this; sometimes we act on the prompting of the Spirit without really knowing what we are doing. The obedient action is far more important than our knowledge or understanding.

Many Jews turned up because of Jesus past action in calling Lazarus out from the grave, and the chief priests' response was entirely predictable. Even in his entry to the city, Jesus is fulfilling the Old Testament writings. People are talking about him and the Pharisees are frustrated and worried.

Have you thought that our task is also to fulfil the old prophesies? We can only do so in Jesus name and filled with the presence of his Spirit. But like him we are called to redeem the broken world in which we live [Tweet it!]. He calls us to share the good news, to love and heal the people, to speak the truth in love, to act as his body in this world by responding to his commands as our head. He is the way, the truth and the life. So we must follow him, believe in him and live his life of service. We are ambassadors of truth and light and freedom and a more abundant life.

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Monday 28 April 2014

John 11:45-57 - Dealing with Jesus

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Many of the people who'd been mourning Lazarus and saw what Jesus had done began to follow him. But some of them reported the events to the Pharisees. The chief priests and the Pharisees called a Sanhedrin meeting to discuss their response.

From their perspective this is a very dangerous situation. They clearly don't believe Jesus is the Messiah, but they can see that many of the people do. And if the people follow Jesus as the Messiah there will, they believe, be riots and an attempt to rise against the pagan Romans. They consider that such an uprising would be fatal, to the Temple, to Jerusalem and even to the Jewish nation. They are right! When there was an uprising in 66 AD, the Romans reconquered the land, demolished the Temple in 70 AD and ejected all Jews from the city of Jerusalem.

The High Priest, Caiaphas, speaks prophetic words about Jesus although he doesn't realise it. His intended meaning seems to be purely practical and politically motivated. But from John's perspective and from ours as believers, the deeper significance is clear. Jesus died in my place and in your place.

Knowing that they are plotting to kill him, Jesus avoids public appearances in Judaea and stays in a safer area. The scene is set for the final act, at the right moment Jesus will appear again in Jerusalem one more time and his life amongst us in bodily form will come to its conclusion, fully accomplished.

How many of us will be able say that at the end of our lives we will have fully accomplished everything that the Almighty called us to do? And what does that really mean? If, like Jesus, we only do what we see him do and only say what we hear him say, then we will be able to end our lives on Earth in fulfillment of his purpose. Ultimately, what he wants is obedience. And our obedience will bring life to others as we demonstrate the love and life of the Son as essential parts of his body.

Our role is smaller and more limited than his; the head decides what the body will do. But make no mistake that you, we are part of his redeeming work [Tweet it!] - not in our own strength but relying on Christ who is the head.

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Wednesday 2 April 2014

John 11:17-44 - Lazarus lives!

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Yahshua arrives late, Lazarus has been dead for four days. Martha shows extraordinary trust in him; she knows he could have saved her brother if he'd come sooner, yet she rules nothing out. All things are possible for Jesus, and Martha believes it. So should we.

Their conversation is brief, but is focussed on who Jesus is and on the idea of returning life following death. Martha believes in eventual life at the last day and she knows who Jesus is - the Messiah. Mary and others were in tears, mourning for the loss of Lazarus and Jesus is greatly moved by this. He was troubled and he, too was tearful. It's very clear that Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, is also a very normal human being. He loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha, he is touched by their distress. If ever we doubt that Jesus is human we can turn to this passage for a powerful reminder.

When he asked them to move the stone blocking the tomb, Martha objected. The body would have begun to decay by this time. But he reminds them that he has told them that Yahweh's glory will be revealed if they believe - and they roll back the stone. Notice his words here. Jesus speaks for the benefit of those around him; he wants them to believe.

All it takes is a direct and loud command, 'Come out'. And Lazarus, dead Lazarus, decaying Lazarus obeys! Here is a deep insight, I am dead and touched by the decay and sin of a spoiled world. But when Jesus commands me to come out of this world and follow him, I obey. Out I come, and all the glory is the Father's. And, like Lazarus, once I am alive in Christ I need to be dressed as one who is living, not as one who is dead [Tweet it!]. I know what this means for me. What does it mean for you? And, having come out and had the grave clothes removed, I am free to go. Free to go in Jesus name! HalleluYah!

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Friday 21 March 2014

John 11:1-16 - Lazarus dies

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When Jesus hears of Lazarus' illness he says it will not end in death but that it has a purpose. Through this illness, the Son will be glorified. Jesus waits a couple of days, and then decides to head back to Judaea where the religious leaders had so recently wanted to stone him. When the disciples query the wisdom of going back he mentions light and darkness. This would have puzzled them greatly!

Although the disciples misunderstand much that Jesus tells them, they also seem to know that he is their only hope. They know that he has the words of truth, even though they are confused. They know they must continue to follow him even if, as Thomas says, they must die in the attempt.

Their failure to understand the things Jesus teaches yet their willingness, even determination, to follow him is a real example to us. We should be the same. When we think we understand we should follow Jesus, and when we are confused or puzzled we should also follow him. Obedience doesn't depend on knowledge, it depends on trust followed by hearing and doing [Tweet it!]. If I really trust Jesus I will do anything he asks, even if it involves serious danger.

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Thursday 20 March 2014

John 10:22-42 - Hanukkah

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The Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) commemorates the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple after the Maccabean revolt against Greek rule. It's also known as the Festival of Lights and takes place in winter time. Re-dedication marks the Temple as holy (set apart for Yahweh's purposes).

Jesus, the Son, is also holy and set apart for his Father's purposes. So at this time when he is in the Temple, the Jewish leaders quiz him about these purposes. Surely if he is the Messiah he will remove the pagans from the city and from the nation and restore Israel. Isn't that what the Messiah was supposed to do?

But Jesus just says that he has already told them he is the Messiah and they disbelieved him. The miracles he performs show clearly that he is the Messiah. He disowns them saying, 'You are not my sheep'; and he makes it abundantly clear again that his sheep hear his voice and are obedient and he gives them eternal life.

These religious leaders don't understand any of the things he says, but they are angered by his claim to be one with the Father. He slips from their grasp and returns to the far side of the Jordan where they are not able to pursue him. And many people who remembered John the baptist came to him and believed the very evidence the religious elite had failed to understand.

Once again we see how important it is to hear Jesus and to follow him. And we are reminded that people with strong religious thinking are unable to understand, let alone follow him [Tweet it!]. Jesus says who he is and provides evidence; our place is to believe him, follow him, obey him and become more and more like him.

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Saturday 15 March 2014

John 10:1-21 - The work of a shepherd

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David was a shepherd before he was anointed the king of Israel, and Jesus who is the King of Kings is also the good shepherd. He says so in verse 11, and he makes it clear that a good shepherd is one who values the lives of the sheep more highly than his own life.

Jesus is speaking fundamental truth to his disciples. He is being completely logical; everything he says hangs together and makes perfect sense. Clearly, the Jews (ie the religious leaders) are divided. Some of them think Yahshua is demon-possessed and crazy; the others are sure his healing power demonstrates otherwise.

The fact is, everything depends on our assessment of who he is. If we think he is crazy and misled we can have no part in his final victory. If we think he is the Son of the Most High and has authority to lay down his life and also to take it up again, we become co-heirs with him of the kingdom and everything that includes and implies.

And for us as Jesus' disciples in the twenty-first century, if we truly follow him we too will be good shepherds [Tweet it!]. This is why he said to Peter, 'Feed my sheep'. If we love him, we will indeed feed his sheep. And feeding a sheep involves leading it to a place where there are green things to eat. We need to be constantly leading one another to the place of healthy nourishment, helping one another to be and remain in Jesus' presence and will.

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Monday 3 March 2014

John 9:20-41 - Be like a Pharisee?

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The parents affirm that the man is their son, and that he was born blind, but they tell the Pharisees that their son will speak for himself on the matter of how he is now able to see. They are being cautious and want to avoid trouble.

The man himself answers that he only knows that he can now see. He irritates them by pointing out that such a miracle is unheard of and concluding that Jesus must, therefore, be a holy person.

They throw him out, but Jesus goes to find him. These are opposite actions; who will we emulate in our own lives - the Pharisees or Jesus? Sometimes we are frustrated by people and no longer want to listen to them or spend time with them. People hurt us, disappoint us, annoy us, are unkind to us; it's tempting to throw such people out of our lives and bar them from returning. That's just human nature, isn't it?

Well, yes it is! But if we follow Jesus and believe in him we are called to be like him. In fact, we are to be like our Father in heaven [Tweet it!], who sends his rain and sunshine on all alike - evil and good. Jesus came to show us the Father, and in our lives it's important that we go to show people the Son. If Jesus lives in me, how can I behave unlike him? He goes out to find people, he draws people to the truth. And I must do the same.

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Wednesday 12 February 2014

John 9:1-19 - Seeing the light!

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Blindness is normally caused by a problem with the eyes, the optic nerve, or the part of the brain that processes visual information. But just as we may be physically blind, we may also be spiritually blind. In this case a person is unable to grasp or process spiritual things.

According to Jewish religious teaching, only the Messiah would be able to heal a person who was born blind. This was one of the ways the Messiah might be identified when he came, so such a miracle should have persuaded an open-minded Jewish leader. But the Jewish authorities had already decided that Jesus was not the Messiah so they had to satisfy themselves by finding fault in some way.

The disciples wanted to know why the man was born blind. Most people think this way, the blindness must be punishment for something the man or his parents had done. But Jesus knows that it's not a matter of sinful behaviour, but is rather an opportunity to glorify the Father who heals.

Jesus does not, in fact, heal the man. He merely puts mud on his eyes and tells him to go and wash. When the man is brought to the pharisees, they listen to his story and quiz him but are confused. Either Jesus is a law-breaker or he is the Messiah. It almost seems that he must be both and surely that's quite impossible! The blind man's own opinion is that Jesus must be a prophet.

Who are you most like in this story? Are you like a person who was blind but now sees? Do you obey Jesus in the things he tells you to do? Or are you like the disciples, thinking that bad things happen to people who do bad things? Perhaps you are like the Jewish teachers and can't decide whether Jesus is the real deal?

Or are you like Jesus? Do you want to bring glory to the Father, be a channel for his love and healing [Tweet it!], and open up dark places to let in the light?

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Monday 10 February 2014

Mark 16:1-8 - Jesus is alive!

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This is the final chapter of Mark. Early manuscripts contain only the first eight verses, the rest of the chapter seems to have been added at a later date. Not only that, there is an obvious conflict between the older and later parts. In verse eight, the women say nothing because they're afraid. But in verse ten, Mary of Magdala tells what she has seen.

In the evening (Sabbath ends at sunset), the women buy the spices they need. As soon as there is enough morning light they head for the tomb to anoint the body, wondering how they will move the heavy stone. Seeing the tomb open and the young man sitting inside makes them very anxious and they run away. And although they have been given a message to pass on, their fear prevents them from doing so.

Can we see ourselves in these grieving women? I think we can.

Look at it like this. Their world has been turned upside down. The one they trusted and followed has been killed, and now all they know to do is follow tradition. They buy the necessary materials and do the right thing. But they find something unexpected and disorientating. The body is not there!

A stranger tells them what to do next but they run away and are too afraid to say anything. The message makes little sense to them, they're distraught, nobody will believe them, they'll be ridiculed. So they say nothing.

When we are in default mode we revert to doing the traditional, habitual, familiar things. When we are afraid we freeze up and do nothing. Like these women, we need time to process the unexpected and the distressing. The fear passed and they told their story eventually; it is recorded here in Mark's gospel for us.

To be of value to the Lord of the harvest we will need to act in new ways that are appropriate to the new circumstances [Tweet it!]. The old, familiar, traditional thoughts and actions are rarely what is needed in a time of great change. Maybe the short article 'Fail to succeed' will help to move you forward. Be of good heart, be very excited and very bold. Jesus is alive! Nothing can hold him down or hold him back. Be like him!

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Tuesday 4 February 2014

Mark 15:21-47 - Dead and buried

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In Mark 15:21-47 we read about Jesus death on a Roman cross, and his burial. What more, really is there to say?

Let's look at some of the details.

Simon the Cyrenian - The Roman soldiers would have commandeered anyone nearby to help them when extra labour was needed. Simon was from North Africa and was called to assist; it would have been foolish in the extreme to argue.

Myrrh - Myrrh is the dried gum from a spiny Mediterranean tree. Mixed with wine, the resin acts to relieve pain and was used in this way in ancient medicine. Jesus refused it and therefore died from crucifixion without anything to reduce his suffering. Myrrh was also used in the Jewish holy anointing oil as well as the incense used in Temple rituals. It was used by the Egyptians in embalming the dead.

Insults were added to his suffering as he hung there naked and dying. Clearly the Jewish religious elite thought he was finished with once and for all.

Jesus was  crucified at nine in the morning and died six hours later. Darkness fell on the land halfway through his suffering, at midday. There is much symbolism in all of this.

His last words were in Aramaic, the ordinary language of the people in Galilee and still spoken in a modern form in certain parts of this region. 'Eloi' means 'Almighty' and is closely related to 'Elohim' in Hebrew and, indeed, to 'Allah' in Arabic. The confusion with the name 'Elijah' is understandable, particularly if Jesus' voice was indistinct as it might well have been just before he died. At this moment he had clearly lost the connection with the Father, a connection that had enabled him to say 'I only do what I see the Father do' and 'I only say what I hear the Father say'. He really felt abandoned and perhaps confused in this awful moment of death. He is every bit as human you and me.

When he died, the Temple curtain was ripped in two from the top to the bottom, surely symbolic of a new relationship between the Almighty and us humans. It is a new relationship that comes from the top, Yahweh initiates and completes this act of opening. The holy place is now visible to anyone in the inner court, a dreadful thing for the Jewish religious leaders to see.

There are plenty of witnesses that Jesus really died that day. There are the Roman soldiers, the centurion who was so impressed at the manner of his death, the onlookers who had been abusing him verbally, and many other men and women who were his followers and were watching from further away.

The body was taken down promptly after one of the religious leaders asked for it to be done. Joseph was one of Jesus' followers and dealt with the body properly and carefully, placing it in a rock-cut tomb.

Jesus came to live amongst us, and he was prepared to die to bring us into a living relationship with his Father. Are we willing to follow him? Will we live among the people around us? Will we become part of their culture, their daily lives? Will we be truly present for them? And how far are we prepared to go in blessing them and helping them? Are we willing to give our lives? Will we give our time, our resources our wealth, our abilities to touch their lives?

Or will we remain distant and aloof? Will we separate church from the world and make it an institution? Or will we, the church, take the love of Jesus and the presence of Jesus into the brokenness that is all around us? [Tweet it!]

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Tuesday 28 January 2014

Mark 15:1-20 - The Roman view

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Jesus has been arrested and brought before the Jewish religious authorities. They have sentenced him to death as a blasphemer and fraud, but under Roman rule they are not permitted to carry out a death sentence. If Jesus is to die as a criminal, the Jewish leaders will have to persuade or force the Roman governor to have him executed.

They therefore pass him to Pontius Pilate who asks him if he is, indeed, the king of the Jews. Presumably the Sanhedrin told him this as it's likely that anyone usurping Roman power would be put to death. But Pilate is not easily fooled, he seems to understand that Jesus is not guilty of any capital crime under Roman law. Notice that he doesn't defend himself or present his case before Pilate. Can we learn something from that? How are we to behave when we are criticised or persecuted? Jesus tells us to love our enemy; what does that mean in practice?

In the end, Pilate hands Jesus over for crucifixion not because he believes he deserves it, but to satisfy the mob [Tweet it!]. Much to his credit, he tries quite hard to have Jesus released, but like any politician he can't ignore strong public opinion.

Once the Roman troops have him to themselves they taunt him and mock him, dressing him in royal robes and finally leading him out for crucifixion.

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Monday 27 January 2014

Mark 14:53-72 - Jesus on trial

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Jesus is taken to the High Priest, and other religious leaders gather to take part in the questioning. Peter follows into the High Priest's courtyard, a bold action. Although he will soon deny that he knows Jesus, even coming this far is clear evidence of his intention of standing by the Master.

Although they're wanting the death penalty for Jesus, the Sanhedrin is stymied as it can find nothing against him. Even the false witnesses don't agree with one another. Finally, replying to a direct question from the Chief Priest, Jesus condemns himself in their eyes by pronouncing the Holy Name 'Yahweh'. The Hebrew words 'I am' sound similar to the name Yahweh, and the High Priest takes Jesus' words as sufficient evidence. Speaking the forbidden name, as well as claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of the Most High are more than enough.

He tears his robe, the specified response to hearing the name Yahweh spoken aloud. Jesus is condemned, insulted and beaten up.

It is at this point that Peter denies Jesus, and the cock crows again. He remembers what Jesus had said to him just a few hours before and he breaks down in shame and utter frustration.

As Jesus' followers, we may face the same sorts of hardships he did. But whether we face injustice or persecution or even death, we know he has experienced these things already. Think of the people of Syria during the last few years, pray for them in their dire need, and remember those who follow Isa (Jesus) and are suffering because of their faith. Pray for all the men, women and children who are suffering there, Christians, Muslims, Druze and others alike.

Jesus leads us in all things, including pain and suffering. And he is with us in all things. If we are to grow to be more and more like him we must also lead and encourage people in all things. In the end fear prevented Peter from keeping his word. Sometimes fear may also prevent us. But Jesus said that perfect love casts out fear. Perhaps we just need love that is more like his perfect love.

We can never fully emulate Jesus, we all fall short, but we can (and must) grow more and more like him day by day and year by year [Tweet it!]. We must grow in love, in compassion and gentleness, in faith and in steadfastly walking in truth and light. He is the Way.

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Tuesday 21 January 2014

Mark 14:27-52 - Jesus arrested

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Jesus tells the disciples very clearly that they will all fall away. And despite Peter's determined insistence that he will not, Jesus knows better and tells him so. Why would Jesus insist on making his point? They will find out that he's right soon enough! What else is going on here?

And then Jesus went to pray, and the disciples slept. They have already failed to support him, despite their claims not to fall away, even if they must die with him. Of course, Jesus knows that they cannot die with him. They are the carriers of the good news of the kingdom. Jesus needs them to live so that they can continue and extend his work. He will build his church through these men and through all the other men and women who were following him. To do so, they must survive.

And then, assisted by Judas Iscariot, they come to arrest him. But notice the subtlety of what happens. Jesus tells the disciples that the moment has come before Judas appears. This is a prophet unlike any other and far exceeding them all. He knows the hearts of all people, he knows the real meaning of the Biblical writings, and when he speaks there is always action. One word from Jesus and water becomes wine, the blind see, lepers are cleansed, demons are forced to leave and people follow him. This is authority. In fact, Jesus is Authority, even as he is being arrested.

Why did the guards need someone to show them which of these people is Jesus? I have always thought that he would stand out clearly because of his stature, demeanour, dress, or in some other way. Surely anyone could pick Jesus out from a crowd?

But no, the truly extraordinary thing is that Jesus did not stand out in a crowd. Have you ever thought about that? [Tweet it!] He needs to be pointed out by someone who knows him (Judas) because he looks just like his companions. There is nothing about his appearance or dress that marks him out as special or a leader or a teacher.

Sometimes in church life, we think that our leaders should stand out. Perhaps they dress differently (think archbishop or vicar) or they are identifiable in some other way. This should not be, my friends. Jesus is different, not from his followers, but from the ways of the world. And we should be like him in this.

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Friday 17 January 2014

Mark 14:1-26 - A final meal

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It's good to eat together. Something about the act of sharing food brings us closer to one another, so this final meal with his twelve closest followers must have been a poignant and very special occasion for Jesus. For the disciples it may have seemed no more than just another Passover meal, although they surely sensed from the Master that this was somehow a special and unusual event.

Mark 14:1-26 records the occasion for us. But Mark first explains how two days before this meal, the religious leaders were planning to kill Jesus and how a woman had anointed him with precious perfume. And it's clear from his reply to some who criticised her that he knew he was about to die. He wasn't executed accidentally; he didn't miscalculate; he knew what was coming and when.

There is so much here of deep significance. Even the man carrying the water seems to have meaning; Jesus is the One carrying an inexhaustible supply of living water.

In the evening, as they ate together, Jesus told the disciples plainly that one of their number would betray him. They were saddened and perhaps nervous about this. Everyone wanted to be reassured that he didn't mean them.

The symbolism of the broken bread and poured-out wine is well known to all of us. Here it represents something that was about to happen whereas now it is all about remembering. And notice that the last thing they did was sing a song of praise.

What can we learn about Jesus here? What does this passage tell us about his love, his determination, his obedience to the Father and his care for his friends [Tweet it!]. See how he goes about laying down his life. Seeing him as he appears in these verses, how can we fail to love him, to trust him, to follow him? He has always been the Lord and Master of the universe. Soon he will be the crucified Lord, and then the risen Lord. Death will take him but cannot hold him.

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Wednesday 15 January 2014

Mark 13:20-37 - Be ready

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Jesus has been talking about the distress that is to come on Jerusalem in 70 AD, and here in Mark 13:20-37 he says that it will be so severe that if the time of trouble wasn't cut short, nobody would survive. And he warns against false messiahs and false prophets.

He also mentions a time of his returning, when he will draw people to him from all over the earth and in heaven too. A great gathering-in will come at a time when even the sun, moon and stars will fail. Nobody knows when this will happen, but he mentions signs and when these are seen the end won't be far behind. So he says we should be on our guard, we should keep watch and we should be ready.

Be prepared for the Master's return.

It's easy to argue endlessly about the precise meaning of Jesus' words. Is he talking about something that happened in the past or something that is still to happen, or both? But for practical purposes it really makes very little difference. Jesus makes it very clear in these verses that he may invade our space in a major way at any time [Tweet it!], and there will be no time to prepare for that.

The time to prepare is now, while we still have time. Even if we face only the same things as past generations (death by violence, accident, through disease or because of old age), we should still prepare now. We cannot prepare after we die, so now is our only certain chance - today!  Read verses 36 and 37 again. Don't be asleep when he comes. Watch!

How are we to prepare?

One way (and it's a good way) is to use the time we have to become more like Jesus himself. We will never have the fullness of his power and authority, we'll never attain his level of insight, and our love will always be an uncertain shadow of his. But let's grow in those things! Our preparation should consist of lovingly serving others, regarding ourselves as least in the kingdom, growing in the fruit of the Spirit and being obedient to his commands. Especially we are to love one another and go into all the world with the good news that Jesus has set us free and wants to do the same for everyone else too.

Then, when that day comes and we finally meet him, he will see that we have been actively following him, and we won't need to say, 'Lord, Lord', and hope for the best.

Be ready. Be ready today.

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Wednesday 8 January 2014

Mark 13:1-19 - The end of the Temple

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The time of Jesus' death is now very close and in Mark 13:1-19 he responds to his disciple's awe about the Temple in a way that must have puzzled them at the time. These massive buildings 'thrown down', what did he mean by that?

In 70 AD, only four decades after Jesus spoke about it, the Roman troops under Titus would do just what he had said. They killed many Jews and ejected the rest from the city of Jerusalem, rebuilding it as a Graeco-Roman town. And as part of the process they utterly destroyed the Temple complex, throwing the massive stones down over the side of the Temple Mount. Some of them are still visible there to this day.

The Romano-Jewish historian, Josephus, lived through these terrible times and provides a description of what happened in considerable detail. Mark's report of Jesus' words in these nineteen verses fits the later events very well indeed. However, as with much prophecy his words may also refer to other events too, still to take place.

But what are we going to learn from Jesus here? For one thing he is clear that people are of more value than buildings, however magnificent they may be. Some of his closest disciples want to know when it's all going to happen. Jesus tells them not to be taken in by others who come claiming to be him. Nor are they to be troubled by wars and rumours.

And Jesus speaks clearly about standing firm to the end in the face of persecution. We in the West have little idea what persecution means. But believers living in North Korea, or Syria, or Iran, or Pakistan know all too well what it means to 'stand firm to the end'.

And what is 'the abomination that causes desolation'? (Luke 13:14) It is spoken of by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 11:31). In Daniel's day a powerful imperial force entered Jerusalem, stopped the daily Temple sacrifices, and set up an altar to Zeus in the Holy Place. Jesus is saying that something similar will happen again. This time the powerful imperial force will be the Roman legions and not only will the daily sacrifices be stopped, but the Temple itself will be pulled down. And from 70 AD until now, there has been no Temple and no daily sacrifice.

But there is also hope in Jesus' words. He says it will be a terrible time, worse than anything that has happened previously. Yet he also says that nothing this terrible will ever happen again.

Jesus the Messiah, Yahshua ha'Mashiach, is the same yesterday, today and forever. He knows the end from the very beginning. This is true, not only of history, but also of our individual lives [Tweet it!]. He knows where you are coming from, he knows your heart today, and he can already see your tomorrows even before you live them. And although he knows everything about us, he still loves us. John says that Elohim is love! (1 John 4:8)

Terrible things may happen in our lives, yet he remains with us. Jesus said, 'Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'. (Matthew 28:20).

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Saturday 4 January 2014

Mark 12:28-44 - Close to the kingdom

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In Mark 12:28-44 we read more of Jesus teaching, but there is a different emphasis this time. Unusually, one of the teachers of the Law understands what he means and is close to the kingdom of heaven in his thinking.

This teacher had been listening to the conversation with the Sadducees and was impressed with Jesus' answer. Presumably, as someone who believed in resurrection, he would not have been sympathetic to Sadducee opinion. But he has a question of his own and asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest.

Jesus gives him the greatest (loving Elohim) and the second greatest (loving other people). Clearly, love is a common factor here, more than anything we are called to love. The Law teacher understands and agrees; he states that love is more important than temple sacrifices. And Jesus commends him.

Why do you suppose nobody else dared to ask him questions after this? Might it be that they were afraid of the answers they might get? This man gave an unconventional answer and was told he was close to the kingdom. But nobody wants to risk being told they are far from the kingdom.

And what do you suppose would have been necessary for the wise teacher to come into the kingdom rather than merely remain close to it? Might that have something to do with the difference between words and actions? Speaking the truth is one thing, living the truth is something else entirely.

Notice in the rest of the passage how Jesus seizes opportunities as they arise. He offers alternative thoughts about what people have said. He warns against outward grandeur. And he explains that sacrificial giving doesn't depend only on how much we give, but also on what we have available to give from.

How can we best encourage others to come into the kingdom? One way might be to tell them these stories [Tweet it!] and others like them. What stories could you tell this week, and who might you tell them to?

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Thursday 2 January 2014

Mark 12:1-27 - Tenants, tax and marriage

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Having just used the example of a fig tree to show how Israel will wither away, Jesus now elaborates by telling a  relevant story (Mark 12:1-12). The vineyard in the story also represents Israel, it is well equipped for every circumstance and is left in charge of people who know how to manage it.

The Jewish leaders knew that Jesus was referring to them as bad tenants, and they were furious. The only reason they didn't act was that the supporting crowds intimidated them.

Instead they tried a different ploy, if they could get him to speak against the Roman occupation and against Caesar in particular they could hand him over as a rebel calling for disobedience and tax evasion. But Jesus is not easily caught, even when there seems to be no way out (Mark 12:13-17).

Next the Sadducees come with a tough legal issue, but they, too, get nowhere (Mark 12:18-27).

Jesus has not only parried three different attempts to question him, he has also answered in ways that engage and amuse the crowds. Isn't this what every great speaker wants to do? See what an amazing man he is in terms of his speaking; nobody can expound the truth as he can. And his use of stories is extraordinarily skilful.

We'll never equal Jesus in skill with words. But we can learn from him; I'd argue that he wants us to learn from him. The art of story-telling has not been lost, but perhaps it's underused in western countries.

Here's a suggestion. Rehearse a few stories in your own words until they are really familiar. Choose some stories that Jesus told, include some events from the Bible, and add in a few stories from your own life. Try telling relevant stories to people who need to hear them - just like Jesus did [Tweet it!]. Ask others to tell you their stories too.

You might be surprised at the opportunities that will open up in this way.

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