The Apocalypse: What Jesus Wanted You to Know

Today’s article will focus on part of our reading for this week, Mark 13. In this passage Jesus addresses two questions posed by Peter, James, John, and Andrew (v. 3-4). They had just left the Temple complex, and Jesus informed them that the Temple would be destroyed (which did happen some 40 years later in 70 A.D. by the Romans).The two questions they ask are as follows: 1) “Tell us, when will these things happen?” 2) “And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” In addition, Jesus is going to speak about his eventual return at the end of time while warning the disciples that false messiahs would come. Keep in mind, these are three different questions Jesus is going to address throughout his response. To understand this passage correctly, we must be aware which question he is addressing when.

Jesus begins by answering the second question first. Wars will not be the sign as is mentioned, “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (7) He mentions famines, earthquakes, nations rising up…all these things happened in history around Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and shortly after. He informs his followers that they will face personal persecution in the synagogues, and in front of kings. This did happen, but Jesus informs them… “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” (10) In other words they will be protected long enough to accomplish the mission God has set before them. The Gospel would reach “all nations” of that day and time before they are harmed. This obviously happened because the church is still with us, and has a global footprint! Along with other warnings, Jesus includes reference to “‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong.” This is a reference to prophecy by Daniel, as well as an event that took place during the intertestamental time. Daniel foretold of an event that occurred around 167 BC when Antiochus IV sacrificed a pig on the altar of the Temple, tried to force Jews to eat pork or face torture, and then outlawed sacrifice. You can read about this in the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees, chapter 7. This was an event the people were quite familiar with, and Jesus is saying the Temple would be desecrated again, and sacrifices would come to an end again. This occurred when Jerusalem, and the Temple were destroyed by Rome in 70 AD. This was to be a warning for those in Judea (area surrounding Jerusalem) to flee the area (vs. 14-20)

Then Jesus addresses false messiahs. Every time something major happens in human history, deniers of Jesus will point to it as a sign the Messiah is coming. Many who believe Jesus is the Messiah will point to the events claiming Jesus is about to return. Jesus is saying, in reference to the fall of Jerusalem, don’t be deceived. He then quotes Isaiah with this statement: “But in those days, following that distress…”, and then indicates the Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite name for himself, and a reference to Daniel) will return and gather the believers (vs. 24-29). But we are reminded that the destruction of Jerusalem will happen before the generation living during the time of Jesus would not pass away until Jerusalem had been destroyed (v. 30).

As for when Jesus will return? Nobody knows that except for the Father. Therefore, all the followers of Jesus must be prepared for his return. Jerusalem has been destroyed. We are now in the days “following that distress.” We must be prepared! We must make sure that we, and those we love are saved by the blood of Jesus because he is coming soon.  The impact Jesus wants to leave us with is this: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”  

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What I Wish Everyone Knew About Hope

Genesis 1:1–2 (NIV): In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Isn’t that powerful? That’s the way the Bible begins. But that story isn’t over. Do you see those words “formless” and “empty?” They can also be translated as “chaos” and “desolation” respectively.

“Now the earth was chaos and desolation, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Sounds more like our world today, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: God’s Spirit is still hovering over the waters. God is still active and alive. His Spirit is not dead, or hiding in witness protection somewhere. It’s here with us to this day (John 14:6). And because of this we can have hope. Honestly, He’s our only hope.

This is what we will be talking about at East Side starting this week and going throughout the summer months. I hope you will join us in person, or online through podcasts or live stream as we rediscover the God who is with us and in his believers to help us navigate the chaos and desolation of this world.

Blessings! – Matt

Divorce is Not the Unforgivable Sin – Mark 10:1-12

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 9:30 – 10. This article will focus on what Jesus taught concerning divorce in Mark 10. It’s a topic that we often avoid teaching, and perhaps this avoidance contributes to the pain and embarrassment we all feel surrounding this painful reality of life. Divorce isn’t a new problem, as you’ll find out by reading Mark 10. If you haven’t done so, please stop reading this article and read Mark 10:1-12, then read the rest of this article. Also, feel free to reread the parallel passage in Matthew 19, and also 1 Cor. 7.

The Pharisees during this time argued and debated among themselves about legitimate reasons for divorce. This can be seen in Matthew 19:3 by the question posed to Jesus:

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”  Matthew 19:3

Here in Mark, the setting and point of the teaching is different. The question is simply about the lawfulness of divorce. Jesus refers them to Moses, who permitted divorce.

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Mark 10:5-9

We shouldn’t desire to unjoin what God has joined. In marriage, two become one in the eyes of God, and it should be viewed this way by us humans as well. Sadly, we often view marriage as a “joint venture” rather than a covenant. We don’t get this. We still think of them as two individuals, not as a binding covenant in the eyes of God. Jesus says we shouldn’t separate this relationship. We should be so committed that nothing would break our marriage apart.

At this point we usually come up with a list of things that would make a marriage untenable, and there certainly are legitimate issues that lead to divorce.  That’s why I would encourage anyone thinking about getting married to take plenty of time to thoroughly know the other person.  If there’s anything there that you think might lead to divorce down the line…walk away.  Don’t enter the marriage unless divorce is absolutely no option. Yes I know that issues develop later in marriage. Jesus does to.  But marriage is a covenant before God, and we should do everything we can before the covenant, and during the covenant to maintain that covenant.

Jesus elaborates for his disciples…

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:11-12

Notice that Jesus clearly indicates divorce is against God’s will. Matt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7 have more to teach on valid reasons for divorce, but the fact remains that God expects us to honor our commitment, our covenant, to our spouse.

God expects marriage not to be broken, and Jesus’ teaching here on adultery reinforces it. Our society may want to throw away marriage for any reason, but God doesn’t view it that way. Those marriages are indissoluble.

The point of Jesus’ teaching here?  The marriage covenant is serious and shouldn’t happen unless both parties are fully committed.  Then, as far as it depends on you, maintain the covenant. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. Remember that.  Jesus is teaching us to honor our marriage covenant, not condemning those whose marriages have failed.

Mark 8 – 9:29

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 8 – 9:29.

Mark 8 begins with Jesus feeding the 4,000. Please keep in mind this is a separate event from the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6, though there are certainly similarities. One of the biggest differences is the location of this miracle, and the result. If you recall, the feeding of the 5,000 was feeding a Jewish crowd, and 12 basketfuls of leftovers were collected, indicating Jesus provides both physical and spiritual food, enough for the 12 tribes of Israel.

If you follow Mark’s narration from 7:24 to 8:1, we will find that Jesus speaks to the Syrophoenician woman (a Greek Gentile) in the vicinity of Tyre, way north of the usual area to which Jesus ministered. Here he casts out a demon possessing the woman’s daughter. Goes further north to Sidon, then back down toward Galilee “…into the region of the Decapolis.”

The Decapolis was a collection of Hellenistic (Greek/Gentile) cities and towns in the region of Syria. This is where Jesus cast out the demon Legion (Mark 5). Jews of the time referred to this region as the “Land of the Seven,” a negative comparison to the seven nations that frequently attacked their ancestors.

Jesus feeds the Gentile crowd in the so-called “Land of the Seven” and the disciples collect seven basketfuls of leftovers. Here Jesus is saying that his salvation and message are not only for the 12 tribes, but also for the Gentiles as well. This would not have set well with the Pharisees who kept and enforced rules on others pertaining to eating, sleeping, or having anything to do with Gentiles unless absolutely necessary. In 8:14, Jesus picks up on the “bread” theme and warns the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees…” Jesus further clarifies his point to his disciples:

“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” – Mark 8:19-21

Jesus never intended his ministry to leave anyone out. There was an order in which he had to go first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. He did this in his ministry, and specifically in the feeding miracles. The Apostles followed this as well in Acts as Jesus called them in

Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The message was first going to Israel, then Samaria (whom Israel hated), and to the ends of the earth…Gentiles (also whom Israel hated).

Obeying Jesus in this would be difficult, and would be despised by many. Truly loving all people in this world will bring outrage and condemnation from some. That’s why Jesus reminds us that… 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34

Jesus is offensive to those who have no interest in following him. If we are truly his disciples, we will offend people too. We should never seek to offend, but in all things, follow Jesus. And this will make you offensive. The Gospel is for everyone, and some don’t like that truth. Follow him anyway…even into the hated Land of the Seven…follow him. 

Mark 7:1-23

Our reading this week comes from Mark 6:14 through the end of chapter 7. I want to focus on one passage specifically from chapter 7.

Mark gives us a little background on how the Pharisees had created traditions and laws that God did not, and gives us an example of how they tried to bind these traditions on others (similar to what we talked about in our sermon Sunday.) The particular tradition in question here had to do with ceremonial hand washing. We know from history that Pharisees often monitored the washing jars (these are the same that Jesus used to change water to wine in John 4), and would threaten and punish anyone who didn’t observe this tradition.

Notice the question that they ask in verse 5:

“Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” Mark 7:5

Notice this has nothing to do with honoring God, but the tradition of the elders. Jesus condemns their actions, and addresses the problem with their hearts by quoting Isaiah. He summarizes this by saying

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7:8

Do we ever put our traditions over God’s commands? There is nothing wrong with a tradition until we start holding that tradition just as sacred as the words of God. I have seen some Christians come unhinged at the very idea of altering anything we do. You wouldn’t believe the outrage I received years ago when suggesting we move the Lord’s Supper to a different time in the service! And when the silver colored communion trays were replaced with gold colored ones? Yes…we’re often guilty of this as well.

The Pharisees were refusing to help their own families, specifically their fathers and mothers, by dedicating something their families need to God. Follow this scenario with me. You wake up tomorrow and find someone starving to death in your yard. He begs you for some food, but you decide you can’t buy him a breakfast because you might give that money to God someday. This is basically what the Pharisees were doing, and teaching others to do…even when those in need were their own parents.

But Jesus works to address their misinterpretation of the Scriptures. He tells them that people aren’t defiled by what they eat, which is a huge departure from Jewish practice. This is such a departure from the norm that Mark includes a parenthetical clarification:

“(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” – Mark 7:19

Instead, Jesus clarifies that what comes out of someone makes them unclean…their actions, their words, their thoughts. To summarize the teaching of Jesus here: Don’t focus on the external, but the internal. Get your heart right, then the external will correct itself.

Seek God, and work to get your heart inline with what God truly calls us to.

A Faith that Does

These series of posts are directly linked to our read through Gospels this year. If you haven’t started, but would like to join us you can download the reading/devotional list by clicking here.

In Mark 3 we are discovering two groups of people who have opposing views of Jesus. The crowds that follow Jesus love him because of his teachings, and miracles. They are amazed by the power of God displayed through him. We read in verse 8 that this was a very diverse crowd from all over the region. They believed in him and his message, and even the demons acknowledged him as the Son of God. (11)

Then we meet the religious leaders of the day. They refuse to see the good in what Jesus is doing, and only seem to notice that he isn’t doing things the way they have always been done. He perfectly keeps the law, but interprets it differently than they have. Of course Jesus is right in what he’s doing, but they can’t see that. Jesus asks them in verse 4:

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or kill?” – Mark 3:4

In general, Jewish teachers during this time taught that anything that could be done before the Sabbath should not be done on the Sabbath. But they did accept life-saving procedures, and important medical treatments for the wellbeing of the patient as well. Jesus here is acknowledging their rules…actually he’s playing by them, but they still have issue. Notice that verse 4 indicates “…they remained silent.” It appears they really didn’t want Jesus to heal this man. Perhaps they felt that professing faith in God and not changing the status quo were more important.

Jesus challenges this type of assumption at the end of chapter 3 by saying “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” In other words, you’re my family if you do God’s will. Then Jesus gives us examples of doing God’s will. He tells the Parable of the Sower in which we all should identify as a type of soil, but we are also the sower. We need to improve the soil of our lives, but at the same time we need to be slinging the seeds of the kingdom anywhere we can…even to the undesirable soil! This is a faith that does. Then Jesus compares our faith to a lamp on a stand. A lamp is worthless unless it gives light. This is a faith that does. The Parable of the Growing Seed couches us as the sower again. We need to throw seed. God will make the seed grow (and does today in the lives of many in our community), and we need to be sure we’re ready to harvest it as it is ready. After all, crops that aren’t harvested die in the field. This is a faith that does. Jesus gives us another view of the kingdom. Even though it’s as small as a mustard seed, it will grow to be a large fruitful plant. We’ve already been told to grow the kingdom. This is a faith that does.

And then we have the disciples on the boat with Jesus. He is asleep as a “furious squall” batters their boat. The disciples are afraid, but Jesus was not.

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:39-40

Instead of panicking like the disciples, Jesus remained calm in the storm. This is a faith that does. Jesus then has the power to calm the storm. And this is who we have faith in! We are called to have a faith that is full of action, good deeds, and seeks to spread that faith everywhere we can. And we’re called to do this because of our faith in Christ. We must obey him because: “Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The Gospel of Mark

If you are following along with our Gospels Reading Plan for the year, you just completed Matthew’s Gospel last week, and this week we begin reading Mark’s Gospel by reading chapters 1 & 2.

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Gospels and was written first. As you read Mark, you will have the feeling you’ve read this before. That’s because about 90% of Mark’s Gospel appears in Matthew’s Gospel as well, although Matthew treats the stories and order differently than Mark. Keep in mind that the Gospel writers were not trying to create a chronological biography of Jesus, but rather a theological narrative geared at the needs of the audience to which it was written.

Early church history tells us that Mark was a helper of Peter, a member of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, an Apostle, and a close eyewitness of most of the events Mark records. It is possible that this is the same Mark (listed as John Mark) who was a cousin of Barnabas and worked with Paul on his missionary journeys (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37, 39), and again later in Rome (Col. 4:10). Peter also mentions working with Mark in Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Though we can’t be sure that these Mark’s are the same person, early church tradition presents it as such. This would certainly explain why Mark would write his Gospel to the Gentile Christians in the church at Rome.

Mark will use many Roman themes, as well as Roman imagery when we get to his recounting of Jesus’ last week (commonly referred to as the Passion), which makes up roughly 40% of the overall Gospel. Mark is writing in a time where great persecution had broken out against Christians, especially in Rome, and writes to encourage Christians to persevere through the suffering and persecution they face. The main them is Jesus as the suffering servant who died for us. The key verse to the Gospel is Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  In essence, Mark is calling us to be more like Jesus as we face similar situations in our own lives.

Most of chapter 1 & 2 are covered by Matthew, but I’d like to look at one short passage in 1:35-39:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

When was the last time you spent time in a solitary place and prayed? When was the last time you sought out quiet to just be with God in prayer? We will see Mark mention this practice by Jesus several times, and Mark is calling his readers to be more like Jesus. I encourage you to spend some quiet time with God’s Word (why not read Mark along with us?) like Jesus did, and let that time focus your mind and thoughts on being more like Jesus. May you be blessed as you seek to be more like Him.