Christianity 201

April 4, 2018

Disrupting the Disruption

John 2 (The Passion Translation)

12 After this, Jesus, his mother and brothers and his disciples went to Capernaum and stayed there for a few days. 13 But the time was close for the Jewish Passover to begin, so Jesus walked to Jerusalem.  14 As he went into the temple courtyard, he noticed it was filled with merchants selling oxen, lambs, and doves for exorbitant prices, while others were overcharging as they exchanged currency behind their counters. 15 So Jesus found some rope and made it into a whip. Then he drove out every one of them and their animals from the courtyard of the temple, and he kicked over their tables filled with money, scattering it everywhere! 16 And he shouted at the merchants, “Get these things out of here! Don’t you dare make my Father’s house into a center for merchandise!” 17 That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture: “I am consumed with a fiery passion to keep your house pure!”

18 But the Jewish religious leaders challenged Jesus, “What authorization do you have to do this sort of thing? If God gave you this kind of authority, what supernatural sign will you show us to prove it?”

19 Jesus answered, “After you’ve destroyed this temple,  I will raise it up again in three days.”

20 Then the Jewish leaders sneered, “This temple took forty-six years to build, and you mean to tell us that you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But they didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking of the “temple” of his body.  22 But the disciples remembered his prophecy after Jesus rose from the dead, and believed both the Scripture and what Jesus had said.

Today we’re again back with Jon Swanson at the website 300 Words a Day. Click the title to read at source, and also check out the link at the end to another post on the same scripture passage.

Three days later

One day at the temple, during the celebration of Passover, Jesus disrupted the disruption. In the space of the temple where gentiles could visit and worship, people were selling animals and exchanging money. It was work that had a right to be done, but it was disrupting the purpose of that space.

God had said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.” Jesus looked at what was happening and said, “That’s what my Father said this was supposed to be, but you are making it a den of thieves.”

And he turned the tables over. And he grabbed what he could and whipped at the people.

And he stopped for a moment when his work was done, when the disruption was fully disrupted. And some people approached him, with a mixture of hesitation, like you show to an angry person, and of anger of their own.

Like a teacher who calls you Mr: “Mr. Swanson. What do you have to say for yourself?”

They asked Jesus, “What gave you the right to do this?”

Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” I think they laughed. What else are you going to do?

Everyone walked away shaking their heads.

The people in the temple. AND the disciples.

The people in the temple resolved to keep their eyes on this passionately irrational young man. He went on the watch list. The temple security kept a picture of him.

But it’s worth noting that the people who knew him best didn’t know what he was doing or why he was doing it.

The people who had followed him to Jerusalem from Galilee resolving to stick close. They didn’t know why he was up to all this, but he had known their names back home. He had turned water into wine. He had come to Jerusalem and acted on behalf of the underdogs.

They wanted a part of whatever this was. But they didn’t understand. Yet.

Why do I say that?

Because of the way John writes this. “When he was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered what he had said.”

In the middle of our despair, we want a sign. In the middle of our frustration, we want something that makes sense, that is reasonable.

If we are going to trust him, we think we need to know why we should.

And Jesus looks at us quietly, gently, without judgment, and says, “Because they destroyed this temple,” and he holds out his hands, “And it was raised in three days.”

And the hands that knew excruciating pain reach out to hold ours. And the voice that was ignored still speaks.


► Related article by Jon Swanson based on a parallel passage in Mark 11.

February 8, 2018

Who Then is This Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:41

When Jesus stills the storm, the first question of the disciples was not “could this be the a prophet?” or “could this be the promised Messiah?” What had just happened was completely beyond what was expected from either a prophet or the Messiah. It was not just that the wind suddenly died down, which could be chalked up to coincidence, but that the sea went into a “dead calm” (Mark 4:39). The sea does not respond to a drop in wind in that way. Who simply speaks and nature responds? Well there is Genesis 1 which is our first clue.

The question “who then is this?” is one that reverberates throughout the Gospel of Mark, including the passages that follow in Mark chapters 5 and 6.

Who then is this in 5:1-20 when Jesus casts out a legion of demons?

2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Mark 5:2-4 (emphasis added)

No one could ever subdue this man, and no chain could ever restrain him. Jesus does something far better than just subdue him. He frees the man. Who then is this who can do far beyond what anyone else only hoped to do?

Who then is this in 5:21-43 when a girl is raised from the dead?

41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. Mark 5:41-42

Who can restore to life except the One who gives life in the first place?

Who then is this in 6:7-13 when Jesus sends out the disciples?

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Mark 6:7

It is amazing enough that Jesus has authority over unclean spirits. It is even more amazing that Jesus can give authority to others also. Who then is this who has even the authority to grant authority?

Who then is this in 6:30-44 when Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fish?

32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. Mark 6:32-33 (emphasis added)

The fact that Jesus will provide for such a great people in the wilderness takes us back to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt. Who then is this who is acting out a scene from Israel’s story of being rescued by God?

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34 (emphasis added)

This brings to mind another chapter from the history of God’s people. In Ezekiel 34 God points out the failure of Israel’s leaders to shepherd the people. He has a plan to correct this:

14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 34:14-15 (emphasis added)

Who then is this who shows himself to be the good shepherd?

38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. Mark 6:38-39 (emphasis added)

Here we have another reference to the Old Testament:

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . Psalm 23:1,2 (emphasis added)

Not only can the 5,000 relate to “I shall not be lacking” thanks to Jesus, but we should not miss the reference to being made to sit down on green grass. Who then is this who reflects Psalm 23?

Who then is this in 6:45-52 when Jesus walks on water? There is a rather odd moment with this miracle:

When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. Mark 6:48 (emphasis added)

Though Jesus sees the disciples struggling, he intends to “pass them by”. That may seem quite un-Jesus like. However, I recently heard an insight from a Jewish scholar who saw the connection with the Old Testament. Moses had asked to see God’s glory but because of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of Moses, God protected Moses, then

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . Exodus 34:6 (emphasis mine)

Who then is this who recalls how God passed by Moses at Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 33 and 34? There is another point of contact with Moses:

49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Mark 6:49-50

While it is difficult to see in the English, in the Greek is as plain as day. Jesus in calling out to the disciples says more literally, “Take heart. I am. Do not be afraid”. The “I am” reflects the identity of God:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14

“I Am” sent Moses. “I Am” is present in Jesus. Who then is this who reflects the identity of God?

Mark answers the question “who is Jesus” all the way through his Gospel. Jesus himself is the answer to the question “Who is God?”. He is the One Who calms the storms, Who destroys the demons, Who raises the dead, Who shepherds and provides, Who comes to us by the cross and says “Take heart, I Am, be not afraid”.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more in the Gospel of Mark series at Clarke’s blog

January 8, 2015

The Longed-For Leader

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We had already formatted yesterday’s archived devotional by Clarke Dixon when this newer one appeared online, so with his permission, we’re giving you Clarke two days in a row!  Have your Bibles open to Psalm 72 or click the link in the first paragraph.

What a Really Great Ruler Really Looks Like

A longed-for leader devotional Bible studyWhether we think of heads of state, or heads of families it seems so many rulers are prone to questionable, even unconscionable, decisions. What does a really great ruler really look like? Psalm 72 points the way (I encourage you to read it by clicking the link). There are some things to note:

First, this psalm is a prayer. And so we are reminded to pray for people in authority. We may hear of decisions made by dictators and elected officials, mums and dads, and shake our heads in disgust. But do we bow our heads in prayer for them? What a great change there can be for many people when there is godly change in the life and thinking of a person in authority. And if you and I stand in places of authority, we stand in the need of prayer.

Second, what is the key word of this prayer? Let us consider the first two verses:

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. Psalm 72:1-2 NRSV

While justice and righteousness are important words, there is one word in the first two verses that shows up more often: ‘Your.’ Here is a plea for a ruler not to rule with their own sense of justice and righteousness, but to rule with God’s. Also, we are directed to the think of the people we have authority over not as ‘our’ people, but God’s. Rulers may think they are tops, but they are really stewards accountable to a higher authority. I might be pleased with how my young boys are becoming young men. But is God? They are His, my leadership in their lives needs to please God, not me. And it needs to be according to God’s standards, not mine. Notice too, that the call is made for the authorities to take special notice of the poor. Yes they are God’s too, and how they are treated will not go unnoticed.

Third. What rulers throughout history have shown themselves to be answers to this prayer? Sadly, far too many have fallen far too short of a godly rule. This is true within nations and within families. But there is one who fits this prayer precisely, Jesus the Messiah.

In the Christmas story, the magi serve a theological purpose, they point to Jesus as being the ruler this Psalm longs for. Though not precise in the details, the nations have arrived bearing gifts:

10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. Psalm 72:10-11 NRSV
11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 NRSV

The book of Revelation paints a picture of the ruler this Psalm longs for. The king’s reign is eternal. The king reigns with justice and righteousness. The reign of the king is good news for the oppressed. The kingdom is secure. People blossom. These are things common to the king longed for in Psalm 72 and the King of kings and Lord of lords revealed in Revelation.

Jesus points to himself as the one who fulfills the longing of this prayer. He describes himself as the good shepherd. He is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherd, Herod, who killed off many young boys in an effort to rid the world of Jesus. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherds, the religious leaders, who would seek his life. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherd, Pilate, who would authorize his death. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves people, who helps people. The psalm longs for a king who

…delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Psalm 72:12-14 NRSV

So precious is our blood in His sight that He shed His own blood to help us in our greatest need. All our earthly needs come and go, but our need for salvation from the sin that separates us from God is something we carry into eternity, unless of course there is an authority that can help. In Jesus there is.

If you are a person in authority, are you an answer to this prayer? Whether you are a person in authority or not, do you know the One who is the greatest answer to this prayer?