Mark chapter 13

Be on the alert!'” – Vs 33, 35, 37

This is one incredible chapter. If you’ve got a red-letter edition Bible, then your page probably contains very little black ink. Because this chapter is almost all the words of Jesus from beginning to end. He is sitting opposite the eastern walls of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, probably in one of His favorite spots, the Garden of Gethsemane. Back in January of 2008, I had the privilege to go to Israel and sit in that very garden, surrounded by ancient, gnarled olive trees that have been in that spot since the days of Jesus. Across the Kidron valley you can still see the walls of Jerusalem. What’s missing is the Temple. In its place sits the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim mosque. But the scene is still breathtaking for any believer. And here sat Jesus with His disciples, enjoying the shade of the olive trees. The disciples want to continue a conversation Jesus had begun as they passed by the temple on their way out of the city. They had commented on the beautiful stones and buildings that made up the magnificent Temple Complex.

A model of the Temple as it would have appeared in Jesus' day.

A model of the Temple as it would have appeared in Jesus' day.

Rather than comment on the beauty of the buildings, Jesus surprises them by saying, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” This had to have come as a shock to the disciples. After all, this was the Temple, the dwelling place of God Himself, and Jesus is saying that it is going to be destroyed. It must have left the disciples dumbstruck, because it is not until they sit down to rest on the hillside across the valley that they are able to continue the conversation. They want to know when this is going to happen and what the signs will be that it is going to take place. Jesus then goes into a rather lengthy monologue regarding the future. He tells them about events that are going to be fulfilled in the not-to-distant future and those that will not take place until the end of the Tribulation, just prior to His second coming. The Temple would be destroyed in A.D. 70 and we saw the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy when we stood at the base of the Temple mount and saw gigantic stones lying on the ground, the remains of the once-glorious Temple.

But as bad as the news about the Temple had to be for these men, the more devastating news had to do with them. Jesus tells them they are going to be delivered over to the courts, flogged in the synagogues, stand trial before governors and kings, be arrested, imprisoned, and hated. Now that had to make their day! So he tells them to “be on their guard” (Vs 9), to “take heed, keep on the alert,” (Vs 33), to “be on the alert,” (Vs 35), and to warn others to “be on the alert!! (Vs 37). These guys had no idea when any of these things was going to happen. And neither do we. Oh, we know that some of these things have already been fulfilled, but there is much that Jesus discusses that has yet to happen. And even as bad as things may appear to be right now, many of these things could be a long way off. And some of these things will only happen at the end of the Tribulation period, and we will have been long gone due to the rapture of the church at the beginning of the tribulation. So what are we supposed to take away from this? The same thing the disciples did. Be on the alert.

We are to remain in readiness. We are to be prepared for anything and everything. Paul tells us, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). He encourages us to “… pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). He reminds us to “be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong” (! Corinthians 16:13).

We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to remain diligent and mindful of what is going on around us. Just like the disciples of Jesus’ day. We are on a mission. We are soldiers in the army of God, and we must remain battle-ready at all times. Paul warned Timothy, “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4). Are you ready? Are you on the alert? Or are you tangled up in the affairs of life? Let’s constantly remind each other what Jesus said, “What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!'” (Vs 37).

Father, I want to be ready. I don’t want to fall asleep on my post. I don’t want to get distracted by the things of this world and lose sight of the war that you are waging all around me. You are at work, and I want to be ready to be used by You for whatever role You might have for me. So help me heed the call of Jesus to “Take heed, keep on the alert!” Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Mark chapter 12

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.'” – Vs 29-31

In this chapter we see Jesus in a number of discussions with the religious leaders of His day. It starts our with Jesus’ stinging indictment on the people of Israel – faintly veiled in the form of a parable. But we know they got the message because verse 12 says, “they understood that He spoke the parable against them.” So they went away only to return with a plan to trap Him through the use of a series of questions, each designed to expose Jesus as a fraud. One had to do with the unfair taxation of the Romans. Another had to do with the resurrection. A third had to do with which commandment was the greatest or most important. Each time they were trying to put Jesus in a predicament where any answer He gave would get Him in trouble. Jesus handles all their attempts at entrapment with ease, frustrating their plans and feeding their growing contempt for Him.

But the one exchange that stands out from them all is found in verses 28-34. Jesus has already been confronted by the Pharisees, the Herodians, and some Sadducees. Each group had their own “trick” question  for Jesus answer. Now along comes a scribe. He is a member of a well-respected occupation, whose job it was to copy the law. But he was more than a mere copyist. By constant and careful copying of the Old Testament laws, he would have become an expert. In the New Testament period the scribes were learned teachers and authoritative leaders, who were drawn from the priests and Levites, as well as the common people. Mark portrays them as high officials, advisors to the chief priests, and teachers of the Law. They were well-educated and well-informed in matters of the law.

So this guy comes up to Jesus and asks Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” It is impossible to know the intent behind this man’s question. We assume he was trying to trick Jesus just like the others. But something leads me to believe he was looking for a legitimate answer to his question. Verse 28 says that he recognized that Jesus had answered the other questions well. So it seems that, as an expert on the law, he was anxious to see if Jesus could answer a question that had probably haunted him for all his professional life. Jesus’ answer does not surprise him, because Jesus quotes directly from the Old Testament. Surprisingly, the scribe actually agrees with Jesus when he says, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated…” (Vs 32). But there is something in the man’s statement that is worthy of closer inspection. He requotes the very same passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, but makes an important addition.

“The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” – Vs 32-33

Do you see it? This expert on the law states that loving God and loving others is more important to God than an abundance of burnt offerings and sacrifices. Basically, he is saying that the intentions of the heart are more important than efforts of the flesh. Anyone can offer sacrifices and burnt offerings and be going through the motions. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus said this of the Pharisees, “”These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Love comes from the heart. Love for God and love for others is impossible without something happening in the heart. You can’t fake love God or others. But you can certainly DO all the right things that make it appear as if you love God and others.  So we tend to concentrate on the outside, focusing of acts of sacrifice that are the result of self-effort more than they are a natural outflow of legitimate love for God and others.

So how’s your love life?

Sounds kind of personal doesn’t it? But love is personal. It’s intimate. And it has to come from the heart for it to be real. But some of us have a hard time loving ourselves, let alone others. We have a hard time believing that God loves us, so we find it hard to love Him in return. We withhold love from others until they show love to us. But fortunately for us, God doesn’t love that way. He just loves. And according to Jesus, the two greatest commandments He gave us are to love Him back, and to share His love with others. This journey we call the Christian life is not about rules, rituals, and religious creeds. It isn’t about accomplishing things for God with our hands. It is about the heart. It is about love. It is about relationship. It is about loving because He has loved us. But it’s hard to love others when you don’t feel loved. It’s impossible to love others when you can’t even love yourself. But God does love you. He sent His Son to die for you. Not because you were lovely or lovable, but because love is the essence of God. And His undeserved, unmerited love for us is what motivates and empowers us to love Him in return and all those He brings into our lives.

“We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” – 1 John 4:19-21

It is interesting that after this exchange with the scribe, Mark records, “After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions” (Vs 34). Why do you think that is? I think Jesus had just nailed down the real issue going on with the religious leaders. It was their hearts. They didn’t truly love God and they didn’t love others. They had missed the point altogether and had made their lives nothing more than a list of religious rules and rituals to keep. But how easily we can fall prey to the same kind of mentality. But God calls us to a life of love.

Father, forgive me for not loving more. I confess that I often find it easier to offer you my sacrifice of self-effort and offerings of self-righteousness when all you are asking for is love. Love for You and love for my neighbor. May these two commandments truly become the greatest in my life. May I learn to be loved and love. May I extend to others the kind of love You have given to me. Sacrificially and selflessly. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men