On this Christmas Eve, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to the world as fully God and fully man. Yet centuries before the birth of the Messiah, there was no person to declare, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). There was only an expectation of God’s promise, with some prophetic puzzle pieces that could not be truly assembled without the full revelation of Jesus Christ. However, that expectation had fallen into deep depression during the Babylonian captivity.
I recently had the privilege of teaching Sunday School, and the lesson centered on the story of the bronze serpent in Numbers 21. It was the perfect illustration of God as just and the justifier, and it was exactly what I needed after our lesson two weeks before on the divine execution of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10).
There was one child in the class who exclaimed, “Why was God so hard on those people? It was just one little mistake. That’s not fair!”
Now, that exclamation stuck with me for two weeks because I had to answer it in more detail than my short time allowed. At the heart of the question was this: how can God be both just and the justifier? How can he save sinners when he must punish iniquity?
I don’t know what time it happened. The apostle John tells us that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was still dark. The other three Gospel writers say that sunrise was at hand. Either way, it must have been dark outside when the eyes of the Savior first opened. It must have been very damp when he took his first breath. He may have sat up, neatly folded his burial cloth and linen wraps, then walked out of the tomb with authority and purpose.
“This is the course that I have adopted in the case of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if they are Christians. If they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, threatening capital punishment; if they persist, I sentence them to death. For I do not doubt that, whatever kind of crime it may be to which they have confessed, their pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy should certainly be punished…[those] who denied that they were or had been Christians I considered should be discharged…especially because they cursed Christ, a thing which, it is said, genuine Christians cannot be induced to do.” – Pliny the Younger, appointed governor of Bithynia c. 110 AD, in a letter to the Roman emperor Trajan
Do you ever struggle with confidence? I know I do at times, and I’m sure you do, as well. We all have moments where we doubt what we’re going to do in the future, feel insecure about how we’re perceived by others, or allow worry and anxiety to take control of our lives when it seems that our world is spinning out of control.
If you skim through the book of Mark, you’ll have a fairly accurate idea of Jesus’ personality: concise, witty, humble, wise, and calm. But if you’re paying close attention, you’ll likely notice the calmly authoritative manner in which the Lord carries himself. His rebukes are direct and flawlessly delivered (e.g. Mark 2:27-28). His orders are strict and non-negotiable (e.g. the frequent commands to silence). His teachings are clear and spiritually sound (e.g. Mark 3:28-29). Every miracle he performs inspires awe (e.g. Mark 4:41). And his sense of timing – knowing when something will happen, knowing when to go and leave somewhere, knowing when to speak and remain silent – is impeccable.
The book of Mark is direct and dynamic, action-filled and dialogue-light. Mark begins his book with a flashback to an ancient prophecy by Isaiah, then transports us to a barren wilderness where John the Baptist preaches the powerful message of repentance. Immediately after, Jesus appears. Not once is there a reference to Jesus’ birth or genealogy.
Why is this? Because Mark’s primary focus is on Jesus as a servant. A servant is lowly. A servant requires no royal introduction, no grand entrance, and no detailed record of ancestry. A servant’s words are often unrecorded, though his deeds may be remembered.
For two millennia, Christians have faced the question of how to engage in politics. Some Christians have advocated complete abstention from political discourse. Others have advocated full political participation. Still others have advocated only getting involved when absolutely necessary. Indeed, politics is one of the largest sources of contention for believers, causing church splits, anger, and divisiveness. I have seen this firsthand.
But we need not shy away from this proverbial “elephant in the room”, because the Bible tells us exactly how Jesus responded to politics in his day, and through his example, we can learn how to live in these troubled times.
The very first lesson we learn is that Jesus condemns rules without righteousness, and he detests the rote observance of religious rituals without a heart that truly desires to obey God.
What was originally set apart as a day of rest and spiritual refreshment had been transformed by the Pharisees (the Jewish religious leaders of the day) into a tedious observance of thirty-nine mostly extrabiblical rules on what not to do. They missed the entire point of the Sabbath: to symbolize the covenant between God and Israel (Exodus 31:12-17) and to refresh God’s people (Exodus 23:12).
Last Easter, we established that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ did, in fact, occur. Today, as we celebrate the Resurrection once more, we will resolve aspects of the Resurrection story in all four Gospel accounts that are often viewed as contradictions. From this, we see, once and for all, that the story of Easter is not a hoax, but an accurate retelling of the greatest miracle in human history. He is risen indeed!
In Mark 8:22-25, Jesus heals a blind man – twice. Among all four Gospels, this is a unique healing account. But what was going on here? Why was the man unable to perceive objects clearly after Jesus touched him the first time? Did Jesus make a mistake the first time, thus necessitating a second healing?
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