Lent, the End of the World, & the Coming of the Son of Man | Mark 13.1-27


This meditation on Mark 13.1-27 is expanded from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook

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If you participated in Ash Wednesday a few weeks ago, you may have felt the shocking way Lent sneaks up on us. It refuses to ease us into its contours and instead hits us in the face with as much blunt force reality as it can: You are ash. You will die.

For those uncomfortable with these sorts of truths, the text  below does not let up. It is a scary and confusing one, speaking of death, torment, wars, and destruction–even among those most innocent in society. The confusion of this text led some Christian traditions (especially the 19th-century American Church) to separate these words from their original context and history and see them as terrifying images of the end of the world. Perhaps you grew up in such a tradition and read these words with that filter.

To the extent there is good news in this, it is that these words are not in fact talking about the end of the world. The bad news? Well, the truth of what it is saying is even scarier.

Jesus is not talking about an end-of-the-world Armageddon here. Instead, he is predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened at the hands of the Romans 35 years later) and telling his people what to do when it happens. Just look at the verses immediately preceding the scary ones. Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed, his disciples ask when that’s going to happen and what will it be like, and then Jesus says all this stuff. When you start reading it that way, it’s pretty straightforward. But why does this matter?

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Jesus Heals the Bethesda Pool Paralytic: Misc Thoughts | John 5.1-9



Reading through the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethesda, I was struck by a series of things I wanted to share with you all today, in no particular order. (But first, read the story in John 5.1-9):

First, the man doesn’t go to Jesus or ask him anything–he doesn’t even request the healing himself! Jesus just goes to him and heals him.
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Shame and The Unforgivable Sin Against the Holy Spirit | Mark 3.28-30


Some Thoughts on Blaspheming Oneself

I’m going to talk some theology today, but first let’s talk about some feelings. I’ve got a dear friend that struggles from time to time with deep fears, shame, and insecurity around his relating to God and the state of his soul, and his anxious heart tends to latch onto religious and theological reasons for these feelings.

In the years I’ve walked with him, different aspects of Christian faith and theology have shaken his assurance that he is, in fact, a Christian and that he can have a hopeful belief in his present and future relating to God.

Recently, he’s been struggling with an idea that’s gone by a few different names throughout history: “The Unpardonable Sin”, “Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit”, “The Unforgiveable Sin”, among others. It’s repeated and reframed in a few places of the Bible, but here is Mark’s version:

[And Jesus said,] “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they [his enemies, the Jewish leaders] had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Many, many of you out there may brush this aside as one more cryptic saying of Jesus on which you can’t base the whole weight of eternity. Others may think this is such theological minutiae or so random out of everything in the Bible that they find it confusing someone would be overly concerned with it.
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Tender words for a terrified father | Mark 5.35-36


While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Mark 5:35-36

Jesus first offers comforting words to this father. He doesn’t put down his lack of faith, as he does with the disciples on the boat in the previous chapter, nor does he brag of his own authority to raise the dead. Instead, Jesus simply gives him a call not to fear, only to trust. What sensitive, heartfelt, loving words these are.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Anna, the Prophet of the Lord | Luke 2.36-38


There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2.36-38

What a powerful testimony. She was only married for seven years before her husband died. She had been a widower for 84 years. What pain and loneliness she must have felt. And yet, how did she spend it? Serving God’s people as a prophet, being especially in tune with those “looking for Israel’s redemption” and then proclaiming Jesus to them. Even before the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus was the answer for the longing of God’s people for redemption.

Also, Luke said he went through all of the accounts and picked and chose what would get “in” and what wouldn’t. Of all the little anecdotes he chooses to keep in and keep out, he chooses this. What a powerful woman she must have been for her to have been seered into the collective consciousness of God’s people retelling this story.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Is There No Rest for God’s Weary Ministers? | Mark 6


Lucien Simon-Christ Performing MiraclesReading through the sixth chapter of Mark, I recently noticed a way that Jesus relates to his disciples which is, at first, incredibly encouraging, but then gets exceedingly hard.

This is right after he had sent his disciples out, two by two, to try out this whole “ministry thing” by themselves. According to Mark, it was an incredibly powerful and effective time of ministry for them. They saw powerful things done, and they were able to play a part in them. They return from their first “ministry internship”, and this is where we pick up the story.

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Mark 6.30-31

Jesus’ pastoral concern extends not only to his flock but also to the shepherds. They have done so much ministry and now he insists that they withdraw and rest and eat. Also, they shouldn’t simply do this by themselves as individuals, but with those who are also doing ministry. The leaders of the church should rest together as fellow weary workers.
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Jesus Getting Snarky Over the Sabbath | Luke 6.1-5


One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”

Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
Luke 6.1-5

I’ll be honest, I really don’t understand Jesus’ logic here. Yes, I get that Jesus is referencing this David story to simply say that there is precedent for eating food (even holy food) on the Sabbath. But if that’s the case, his logic is this: “You don’t like what I’m doing? Well, based on a very simplistic reading of the Bible, someone else did it, therefore I can do it.”

He does know that David also did the whole adultery and murder thing with Bathsheeba, right? Just because someone else did it, doesn’t explain why you have the right to do it. Secondly, after saying saying all this, he goes ahead and says that it doesn’t even matter anyway because he is “lord of the Sabbath”.

So, in the end, it seems to me like Jesus is just trying to be snarky here.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Jesus in His Father’s House: Rebuke, Encouragement, & Promise | Luke 2.46-51


After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Luke 2.46-51

These are Jesus’ first words in Luke. I wonder if this is a prophetic word for all of us looking for redemption, salvation, peace, and God’s presence. I wonder if he looks at us, and says “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?” In two short and simple questions, Jesus gives us a rebuke (Why have you run yourself ragged looking in all the wrong places?), an encouragement (You have found me nonetheless.), and a promise (And I’ll always be right here for you to find me.).

No wonder this was something for Mary to treasure. We should treasure it as well.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Name the Darkness: Jesus & Our Persistent Demons | Mark 5:6-9


When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”
Mark 5:6-9

Well this is interesting. It seems like Jesus had said words of exorcism earlier and it, in a sense, hadn’t “worked”. I wonder if the tradition behind this story was of a man so demon possessed that Jesus’ first try at getting rid of them failed. That certainly seems to be the case here. Jesus had commanded the demon to leave the man, and it didn’t.

Now, I don’t like pulling what seems like “self-help lessons” from things like this, or appealing to pop psychology, but this could be instructive in a ministry context. Jesus has appealed to his word and his authority to bring healing and to cast out the disorder and evil in this person’s life. It hasn’t worked. It is so big, it goes so far back into the past, and the issues seem so numerous, that it just isn’t going to take a quick shot to the soul.

So in light of this, how does Jesus respond? He asks the person’s name. Yes, the demon responds, but there’s no indication that Jesus is only talking to the unclean spirit here. He asks the man name, and he answers by identifying himself by his evil. But this is still progress. He gives name to what is haunting and hurting him, and this diagnoses his soul and gives Jesus the insight on how to bring healing to this man.

Giving name is powerful for healing and change and even getting rid of demons.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

As Jesus said: the Bible is NOT “the Word” | Mark 4:33


With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it…
Mark 4.33

Those that are not Christians can still do righteousness. But Take note: it is within the parable that the “word” is found. It is not the parables themselves. It is a vehicle for “the word” even as it is not that word itself. The “word of God” is not as simplistic as one ancient text or book. It must be discerned, sought after, and found. The Word is within the Bible’s words–“behind them”, in a sense–it is not the words themselves. We can’t confuse this.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

John, the Holy Spirit, & Prenatal Worship| Luke 1.12-15, 41-45


When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Luke 1.12-15

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
–vv.41-45

The angel’s prophecy might be a foreshadow of John’s leaping in Jesus’ presence before he is born. If that’s the case, then being “filled with the Holy Spirit” being overjoyed in the presence of God. This is surely a theme throughout the Gospel and Acts: who has the Holy spirit and what that causes in those people, namely joy.

Secondly, this is such a beautiful passage and an evidence that children can experience spiritual things before their born. David says elsewhere that he loved God even while in the womb. This should (hopefully) mess with the heads of those that deny the place on infant baptism in God’s Church.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Sometimes God’s Heart breaks mine | Mark 4:10-12


When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables in order that

‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
    and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

Mark 4.10-12

I simply don’t understand what this says about the heart of God. It seems at odds with everything else Jesus does. Is this just a temporary thing in order for the Gentiles to join in the mystery of redemption? Or is it truly as cold and calloused as this seems? Any help here would be appreciated.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Timothy’s Tears: A Holy Week Pre-Game | 2 Tim 1, Acts 16 & 20


paul-and-timothy

This is part of our Lent series, “The Weeping Word“, where we look at different moments of crying, lament, and tears in the Scriptures.

To Timothy, my beloved child…

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.
2 Timothy 1.2-4

Next week is Holy Week, the high (or low?) point of Lent, leading to the crescendo of Easter. It will be a time of darkness, reflection, lament, and meditation. But we’re not there yet. Before the seriousness of Holy Week arrives, I thought I’d share with you a funny memory that’s connected to our Lent series on tears in the Bible.

I was sitting in the little campus ministry Bible Study my junior year of college. Our style of Bible Study was simply sitting down with an eloquent, wise, and gifted pastor, and then walking verse-by-verse through a given book of the Christian Scriptures.

Having just finished nearly a year in the book of Romans, we were just starting our next book: 2 Timothy. Many scholars believe it was Paul’s last letter he wrote before he died. And he wrote it to the man he mentored more than any other we know about: Timothy, a young elder at the church in Ephesus who was still struggling to get this little church plant off the ground.
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Where on Earth is Jesus’ Bethlehem? | Luke 2.1-5


In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2.1-5

Recent archaeological evidence suggests that this Bethlehem is not the traditional site, but “Bethlehem of the Galilee” (which would make sense). The traditional site is 150km from Jerusalem, whereas this other, newer proposed site is only 7km. A lot easier for Mary. Although some dispute this, pointing out that Justin Martyr in the 2nd-century identified the traditional site as the correct site. Who knows?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The Useless Details of Mark | selections from Mark


Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. —Mark 4.1

Mark is famous for useless details like this. He “sat there”? Seems to imply an eyewitness dimension.

And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. —Mark 4.36

Another useless detail implying eyewitness sources here. Peter?

[After raising a little girl from the dead,] He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5.43

Haha. another useless, funny detail hinting at this coming from an eyewitness. That is so funny. Reminds me of the statement early on in Mark about how after fasting for 40 days, Jesus was hungry.

Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. —Mark.6.39

“Green grass”?

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.Mark 14.51-52

Forget the Nephilim, this is the oddest thing in the Bible.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.