Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, April 7, Chapter 13
In this chapter, Jesus is not concerned that the disciples know what is going to happen. He tells them enough about the future to prepare them for it. He does not want it to be such a shock that they all run to the hills. They have to remain strong enough to stay until Pentecost.
This chapter draws heavily on Daniel and on the Maccabees, the inter-testament books considered almost scripture.
The Big Four ask for signs, but Jesus gives commands. 1) verse 5; 2) verse 7; 3) verse 9; 4) verse 11; 5) verse 13; 6) verse 14; 7) verse 15; 8) verse 16; 9) verse 18; 10) verse 21; 11) verse 23; 12) verse 28; 13) verse 33a; 14) verse 33b; 15) verse 33c; 16) verse 34; 17) verse 35; 18) verse 36; and 19) verse 37.
The word Jesus uses for watch is a typical Greek word used in the markets, meaning to watch for customers.
Jesus gives us a list of things to watch for. There have been a thousand generations (literally) since Jesus spoke these words and every one of them has experienced these signs. The point is: the end is close now, be ready. For someone living in 1014, the time is near, be ready. For someone living in the year 3014, the time is near, be ready.
In verse 33, the Greek word is different, meaning to stay awake and fully alert. The prayer is a listening prayer, listening to what God has to say.
Tuesday, April 8, Chapter 14
The anointing of Jesus is a beautiful moment with deep meaning. First, the detail of nard. It was a perfume made in India. It was transported (about 10 months by camel) in small glass jars with long tapered necks that were broken to open the bottle. That way, the scent was not lost in the long journey. As you might expect, the price was way beyond what working people could afford.
From a sermon by Paul Tillich:
What has she done? She has given an example of a waste, which, as Jesus says, is a beautiful thing. It is, so to speak, a holy waste, a waste growing out of the abundance of the heart. She represents the ecstatic element in our relation to God, while the disciples represent the reasonable element. Who can blame the disciples for being angry about the immense waste this woman has created? Certainly not a deacon who has to take care of the poor or a social worker who knows the neediest cases and cannot help, or a church administrator who collects money for important projects. Jesus felt differently and so did the early Church. They knew that without the abundance of the heart nothing great can happen. They knew that religion within the limits of reasonableness is a mutilated religion, and that calculating love is not love at all….
The history of mankind is the history of men and women who wasted themselves and were not afraid to do so….They wasted as God does in nature and history, in creation and salvation….Luther’s God, who acts heroically and without rules—is He not the wasteful God who creates and destroys in order to create again? Has not Protestantism lost a great deal by losing the wasteful self-surrender of the saints and the mystics?…
Jesus connects this anointing of His body with His death. There is an anointing of kings when they begin their reign and there is an anointing of corpses as a last gift of the living to the dead. Jesus speaks of the latter kind of anointing although He might easily have spoken of the former. In so doing, He turns both the ecstasy of the woman and the reasonableness of the disciples into something else. By His death the reasonable morality of the disciples is turned into a paradox: the Messiah, the Anointed One, must waste Himself in order to become the Christ….The Cross does not disavow the sacred waste, the ecstatic surrender. It is the most complete and the most holy waste.
Jesus is in command of the Passover events. He sends two to find a man carrying water. A man. In a society where only women carried water. Tertullian (about 200 AD) gives us these thoughts on the importance of water in this scene.
The Passover affords a more than usually solemn day for baptism. For that is the day when in effect the Lord’s passion, into which we are baptized, was completed….Nor will it be incongruous to interpret figuratively the fact that, when the Lord was about to celebrate the last Passover, he told the disciples who were sent to make preparation that they would meet a man bearing water. He thus points out the place for celebrating the Passover by the sign of water.
Notice in verse 13 the sending of two disciples to prepare the Passover, and in verse 17 Jesus arrival with the Twelve. Clearly, the two disciples were not Apostles. Since the room had been furnished, food preparation was all that was left. It is entirely possible that the two disciples were women sent to prepare part of the meal.
The main part of the meal was the Passover lamb which was taken to the Temple for sacrifice, and then roasted in special ovens set up just for the day all over the city. If the two disciples mentioned had that task, they were men. They may have gone to check out the room and then taken care of the meat.
But the other food was prepared by several women. Personally, I think verse 16 suggests that the two disciples stayed in the house to cook the meal, except for the lamb brought in just before eating.
Ten men make the minimum required for the feast. Generally, it was a family affair; an extended family affair, with the oldest man leading the events and all the men (13 and up) eating together, with the women and children eating in another room, or at another table.
Mark refers to the upper room as large. It is possible that other disciples ate with Jesus and the Twelve. If that did happen, it seems most likely that the Apostles ate with Jesus and the other men ate in another part of the upper room, with the women and children downstairs. It is just as likely that the upper room was on the flat roof with a tent set up for the meal. Many thousands ate the Passover that way.
Look at the Passover this way. On Thursday, April 17, everyone living in Kansas City goes to Topeka, without any Topekains leaving, 100,000 lambs are butchered, roasted and eaten in the city. Every house filled to overflowing. The feast is so momentous that even slaves share.
God’s covenant with the Chosen People is based on the blood of circumcision, and the blood of the sacrifices shed on the twelve stones of the altar. Jesus stands between the Old and the New. Those who eat the bread and wine are binding themselves to God through Jesus.
The New Covenant is a family affair. Jesus celebrated with his family of the Twelve, and possibly others. The Old Covenant followed the pattern of a wedding where wine represented the blood sacrifice. The New covenant used the same symbol and added the bread to stand in for the once-in-for-all sacrificed Lamb. Bread had always been the symbol of life.
Judas does mess up the beauty of the evening. Consider that Jesus knew what Judas would do, but still ate with him. He also knew what each of the others would do. Peter, we know, the others deserted Jesus no less. The difference between Judas and Peter was that one asked for forgiveness and the other did not.
Consider these words from Origen (about 240 AD):
If the eleven apostles were of good conscience, having not in any way betrayed their teacher, why were they grieved, as though it might have been that he was speaking of one of them? I think that each of them knew from Jesus’ teaching that human freedom is infinitely changeable and may easily be turned toward evil. It may happen, in the struggle against principalities and powers and rulers of this world of darkness, that one may fall quite unexpectedly into evil, either being deceived or overcome by demonic powers. Thus, each disciple feared lest it might be he who was foreknown as betrayer.
Something else to consider at this point: if John Mark is the author of this Gospel as I think he is, he may have witnessed many of the events of this section. In other words, much of this could be his personal recollections mixed with those of others who were there. His mother was Mary, an important leader in the early church in Jerusalem. Her home was always available to the Apostles. If she was one of the women preparing the meal, it would have been natural for her to take Mark to help. He was twelve at the time, not quite a man, but old enough to be in and out of the room. We will see him again in the Garden.
There, Jesus goes alone to pray. Perhaps Mark slipped past the not so watchful Apostles to get close enough to hear the prayer of Jesus. If you think about it, no one else could have heard.
The theme of three continues. Peter will deny Jesus three times, the Apostles will fall asleep three times, and Jesus will arise three days later.
In verse 41, Jesus says, Enough! The Greek is apechei, which can mean the account is closed, or it is settled, as in business deals.
In verse 43, we read that the men who came were armed, a violation of Passover. Judas kissed his Master, the Greek word meaning with great love.
In verse 51, the young man is seen, nearly caught, and runs home naked. I think this is John Mark who trailed along after the Apostles, wearing his sleeping gown and watching what they did. I wonder what Mary had to say when he came home minus a gown.
At verse 55, the Sanhedrin consists of 70 men plus the High Priest and several other priestly leaders. Nicodemus was a member and the likely source of what went on.
Jesus, for the first time, said I am the Messiah. He added quotes from Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1. The penalty for blasphemy is stoning, Leviticus 24:14.
Chrysostom (about 400 AD):
O what strange and remarkable turns occur in these ironic events! When Peter merely saw his master seized, he was so ardent as both to draw his sword and to whack off the servant’s ear! But—alas, then when it might have been even more plausible for him to be even more indignant, and to be inflamed and to burn, upon hearing such revilings against his Lord, then he became a cringing denier…and that in the presence of a lowly and diminutive maidservant, and not only once but a second and third time.
Wednesday, April 9, Chapter 15
Pilate, you should know, hated Jews and in his first years as governor stirred up endless trouble. Rome threatened him, so when Jesus came to trial Pilate was on his best behavior. But we also see a man who does not believe what he is seeing and hearing. Jesus seems to have affected Pilate.
There is no record of an uprising in the early 30’s when this trial took place, but minor ones occurred so often that they were not recorded. The crowd was most likely brought in by the leaders, probably even paid, just to encourage execution.
Flogging was done with a whip, like a cat-o-nine. Leather strips with jagged bits of bone or metal on the ends. The Romans had no limit to the number of lashes and men often died of blood loss before they could be crucified.
The soldiers of verse 16 were mostly from Palestine and Syria, led by Roman citizens who may or may not have been from Rome. The Greek word translated as company means cohort. A cohort contained six centuries, 80 men per century for a total of 480 when full strength, which was rare. It seems strange that 400 men would be called in just to tease one prisoner. We have no idea if this was established or if it was done only in Jerusalem, or only for Jesus.
The purple robe was probably an old Roman issue scarlet cloak faded to purple, kept for just this purpose. The thorns hammered into his flesh with every blow in verse 19.
Simon was pulled out of the crowd to carry the patibulum, the 40 pound crosspiece. The skin on Jesus’ back was practically ripped off, and he did not have the strength to carry it himself.
Jesus struggled through the streets of the city to the place of execution outside the city. There are numerous sites that are possible, including on the Mount of Olives. The soldiers stripped him naked and tied his arms to the patibulum, to insure he stayed in place as the heavy spikes drove through his wrists. The spikes were placed directly over the median nerves running through the carpal tunnel of each wrist. The pressure caused immense pain in the hands and arms, even though the ropes supported most of the weight of the body.
Once the patibulum is lifted to the post, one foot is placed over the other, and a nail driven through to hold them in place. While Jesus lets his body hang from his arms, the pain builds to level 10 until when he pushes himself up on his feet. When the pain again reaches unbearable, he reverts to arms for support. Hanging from his arms puts undue pressure on his heart by ensuring a buildup of fluids in the pericardium, the sack surrounding the heart. That is likely how Jesus died; the pressure was too great for his weakened heart to push against it.
Verse 32 reads that both of the thieves insulted Jesus, but one probably repented as the day wore on.
Jesus’ last words quoted Psalm 22:1. Jesus felt that void because the unbroken connection he had always known was suddenly gone. Jesus had to die alone; God could not die with him. But now, when we die, Jesus is there because he has already been through death. He can hold my hand and lead me through the shadow of death.
The curtain in the Temple ripped, at least symbolically. There were 13 curtains hanging inside the Temple, each the size of a wall and weighing 200 pounds. If they were all torn, they would have been sown back together because it would have taken 13 years to weave new ones.
There was a sizable cluster of women disciples watching from a safe distance. Mark does not name Jesus’ mother, but John does. Mark does indicate that his mother saw him buried.
Joseph of Arimathea took over and had Jesus placed in his own tomb. The actual work was probably done by servants; otherwise Joseph would not have been able to participate in the rest of the festival for the week of his ritual impurity.
Thursday, April 10, Chapter 16
Joseph rushed the burial of Jesus to see him in before the sun set on Friday. Otherwise, they would have had to wait until the Sabbath was over on sundown Saturday; meaning Sunday morning.
Was Jesus in the tomb three days? Yes, by Jewish counting in those days. Some people today argue that if it was not 72 hours, it was not three days. What can I say to that?
The women (the Four Gospels disagree on who) went to the tomb to finish the burial process; that is to finish what they did not have time for on Friday.
Notice Mark does not include anything about guards. He does have the angel appearing, and the odd statement that the women told no one what the angel told them.
It is likely that Mark stopped writing after verse 8 and that the remaining 12 verses were added several centuries later. In the past two centuries, many older manuscripts have been discovered. None of the oldest ones includes our current ending. It is believed that the church added the ending to agree with the other Gospels and to add the Great Commission of verse 15. Even if Mark did not write the words, they are consistent with what he did write and with the other Gospels. There is no reason to throw them out.
Friday, April 11, Romans 1
Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was probably written about 57 AD while he was in Corinth on his last missionary journey.
Paul calls himself an Apostle along with dozens of others at that time. The Greek word started as a seafaring term applied to merchant and military ships. The captain represented the owner or commander to the extent that he could make any deal that was binding on the owner.
The early churches followed the Jewish practice of being ordained involving, among other things, laying on of hands. We know that Paul ordained others, but his meeting with Jesus on the Damascus road was probably accepted by others as ordination.
His apostolic function was to bring Good News to the Gentiles. It is the image found in Isaiah 52:7 and elsewhere. How beautiful on the mountains s are the feet of those who bring good news. The Holy Scriptures for Paul were the Torah, Prophets, and Writings; our Old Testament. Everything Jesus said and did can be found in those scriptures.
The phrase, obedience of faith, is found as far back as Genesis 49:10. Psalm 2:7-8 pictures the Messiah bringing the Gentiles into the Jewish nation. We need to consider the word obedience more than we generally do.
To be beloved is synonymous with chosen, called, saints.
Paul writes in verse 14 to both the Greek and the barbarians. We know there were Jews in the congregation because he names some later as being leaders. In Corinth, the conflicts had been primarily between Jews and Greeks. In Rome that problem was not significant. The terms Greek and barbarian simply meant civilized and uncivilized.
I am not ashamed uses a word for ashamed that is based on Isaiah 28:16. So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. Paul uses this idea several times in the letter.
The Power of God is expressed in Exodus 20:18-21. That is the image Paul has in mind. That power is the Wisdom of God that Paul will preach to the Romans when he joins them. Jeremiah 23:5-6 expands the wisdom to include the Messiah. The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name m by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.
Notice that the Messiah will bring righteousness. That is a common theme regarding the Messiah. To be righteous is to food and cloth the poor, touch the untouchable, heal the sick, visit the lonely, to do what Jesus did. A Jewish teaching is that God gave Moses 613 commands, David reduced them to 11, Isaiah to 6, Micah to 3, Isaiah then to 2 and Amos and Habakkuk to 1: the righteous will live by his faith.
Paul believes everyone can come to know God without hearing the message or reading the scriptures. In verse 21 he states For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him. The early Greek philosophers developed the idea of natural law and is still forms the basis for much of our own law. We say today, “It’s just common sense.” Paul uses many ideas and terms familiar to the Romans to develop his letter.
Verse 24 has a difficult phrase, God gave them over. Isaiah 64:7, No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden a your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. Paul seems to follow this idea of God turning away from those who are lost in sin, allowing them to lead their own lives. Paul never uses the idea that God will cause a person to sin.
Remember that Jesus never gave up on Judas Iscariot. He was the only apostle Jesus called friend. Just before Judas left for the betrayal, Jesus dipped bread in the sauce and offered it to Judas a powerful demonstration of love and affection in that part of the world, even today.
Be righteous and do good.