As we approach the end of our Gospel of Mark series, it would be really helpful if you would take 1-2 minutes to provide some feedback on the weekly Bible Notes. You can complete the very brief survey here.
Notes and readings (for the week commencing 26th March, 2012) are shown below, with a PDF version available here. The sermon topic this Sunday (01/04/2012) will be “The blood of the covenant poured out”.
Day 1: Read Mark 14:1-11 (Jesus Anointed)
The readings this week begin with the anointing of Jesus at Bethany (a small village near Jerusalem, also the hometown of siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus). The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are rapidly approaching as the plot against Jesus also escalates (note how Mark characterises the intentions of the chief priests and teachers of the law as underhanded – i.e., ‘sly’). By way of background, Passover (pesah) had become the pinnacle of the great Jewish feasts during which each family chose a year-old the lamb that would be killed and its blood spread on the lintel and door posts (recalling how their ancestors did this in order that the Spirit of the Lord might ‘pass over’ them during the final of the ten plagues and accordingly, win them their freedom from slavery). On the same night, the meat was roasted and eaten with any remains burnt afterwards. No bones of the lamb would be broken and the family were to be dressed for a quick departure (all of which commemorated the Exodus from Egypt, see Exodus 12-13). From here, the Feast of Unleavened bread lasted seven days, with day one and seven observed as days of rest and worship. So with this in mind (we’ll revisit it tomorrow), and with many people descending upon Jerusalem, the plotters against Jesus would need to be careful in enacting his demise due to the potential of large crowds rioting.
Mark wants us to have a heightened sense of the impending danger, yet simultaneously an understanding of who Jesus is, and how the feast and Jesus’ sacrifice are related (more on the latter later!). And here Jesus is, once again spending time with the ‘vulnerable’ (i.e., in the home of Simon the Leper) and a woman pours an extremely expensive jar of perfume over Jesus. What was she thinking?! Doesn’t she know that Jesus is ‘for the poor’ and the act has wasted a valuable resource that could have instead been sold to help many in need? But Jesus – aware of his impending death – points out to those present that the woman in fact has done something beautiful and appropriate. Beautiful because of this deep sign of affection and worship (using what is valuable to honour God), and appropriate because there will be no time for a proper anointing (as was the custom) due to the way in which Jesus will be killed. We do not of course know if the woman knew if, and how Jesus was going to die, but it is clear that she was acting out of the spontaneity and fullness of her heart. As we draw near to the cross, it is a good time to examine what is in our own hearts, not least the depth of devotion that we are willing to show Jesus. Are we glad to evict Jesus from our lives, perhaps even seeking one’s own profit like Judas? Or, are we willing to show an exuberant and passionate love for God, by honouring and trusting Jesus with all that we have?
Day 2: Read Mark 14:12-31 (Jesus Broken)
Beginning with a scene reminiscent of how two of the disciples were sent by Jesus into a village to find a colt (Mark 11:1-11), here we have Jesus sending two disciples to make preparations for the Passover meal. At the meal, Jesus not only predicts the betrayal by Judas (notice all of the disciples clambering to deny it could possibly be them!) but also now connects his impending death and the Passover meal itself. Passover connected them with the past story of Israel (their liberation and freedom from slavery in Egypt) and their identity as a people now, even amidst rule from another empire (i.e., the Romans). But this is a Passover with a difference – Jesus does not recall the story of old (or at least Mark wants to emphasise the ‘new’ thing that Jesus is doing), but instead links the bread and wine to his impending death and the coming of God’s kingdom that would be brought about through it. Jesus had of course been trying to explain to the disciples that he would be giving his life as a ransom for many (e.g., Mark 10:45), but it seems those around have failed to understand. The meal makes it clearer. The death of Jesus is a covenant sacrifice, like that of Exodus 24:8 and Zechariah 9:11, that will bring about a perfect freedom (from sin and death) for all that trust in the risen Lord Jesus. As the bread is broken at the meal, so too will Jesus’ (perfect) body be broken for many. As the wine is shared, so too will Jesus’ blood be poured out and seal a new covenant based upon the forgiveness of God that will be written on people’s hearts (see Jeremiah 31:31-34). Just as the blood of the lambs spared the people of Israel in Egypt, so the blood of Jesus is shed for the freedom of his people under the new covenant. Note the use of ‘many’ in verse 24, indicating that God’s new covenant will not just be restricted to the Jews but expanded also to the Gentiles. People had not expected that the Messiah would need to die, but here Jesus shows us that his death is an offering for all people, and victory for those who believe in him. Take some time to wrestle with the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice and the meaning it has for you to be included in God’s new covenant. The cross is not an optional extra for Christians – the horrific death of Jesus is the means through which we receive salvation. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember the meal Jesus shared that Passover, and how it reminds us of his body broken, and blood shed for us. We also recall that the story doesn’t end there(!), but in the great triumph of resurrection foretold in verse 28.
Day 3: Read Mark 14:32-52 (Jesus Obedient)
As we move to Gethsemane (east of Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives) we witness the human emotions of Jesus (scared of the death he would undergo), yet perfectly obedient to the Father. Jesus is the new Adam, and whereas the first Adam (in the original garden of Eden) succumbed to temptation, Jesus prevails to give his life for many. Jesus’ suffering is real, and his identity as God will not isolate him from the suffering on the cross. We should be greatly encouraged with the intimacy and honesty with which Jesus prays. Equally we should be challenged to take our prayer life seriously – speaking to God from the depths of our hearts, and seeking obedience regardless of the cost. We see here that such obedience cannot be drawn from our own selves, but only by a dependence upon God’s Spirit alive and at work within us. Accordingly, that is how we should pray. As Jesus is arrested and led away in such a violent manner, he tells them of how inappropriate it is by reminding them of his presence in the temple courts. Yet, we also note Jesus’ absolute obedience – to the point of death – that the Scriptures (here, Isaiah 53:7-12) must be fulfilled in order that our sin may be laid upon him. Praise God for Jesus’ obedience and we may we never abandon him.
Day 4: Read Mark 14:53-72 (Jesus Condemned)
We finish the week with two important episodes: Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Peter’s denial. First, we note in the trial before the religious authorities how the case significantly lacked evidence (the false testimonies not even matching!). Jesus does not intend to cooperate with his accusers (remaining silent as per Isaiah 53:7), but also will not deny his identity (and, his future vindication, “And you will see the Son of Man sitting…”). Whilst the Sanhedrin (whose total membership numbered 71, including the high priest) has considerable authority under the Roman jurisdiction, they could not impose capital punishment. However, if Jesus’ claim as Messiah can be conveyed as a claim to be the true King, then that is something the Roman governor will impose crucifixion for. In the second part of the passage, we see Jesus’ foretelling of Peter’s denial as being true. It’s easy for us to look at Peter with dismay, but we are also challenged not to deny Jesus in our own lives. We see respectively in the examples of Peter and Jesus, what it means to save one’s life but lose it, and lose one’s life but save it.