Friday, April 24, 2015

"The Olivet Discourse" (Mark 13)

In Mark the ‘Olivet Discourse’ (Mk 13) comes after the ‘Parable of the Tenants’ and after Jesus confront the ‘teachers of the law’ in the temple courts. Watch the story being told and then read the comments below.

One of Jesus’ disciples draws his attention to the ‘massive stones’ that made up the temple.  Jesus says that every stone of those ‘great buildings’ would be thrown down. The temple was one of the most impressive structures in the Ancient world. So when Jesus said it would be totally demolished the disciples were amazed. So they ask Jesus when ‘these things’ would happen and what would be ‘the sign’ it was about to be fulfilled (Mk 13:1-2). Jesus explains the coming destruction of the Temple—and what would happen to his disciples in days leading up to it.   

Jesus warns them that many deceivers would come. There would be political upheavals, earthquakes and famines but these were ‘birth pains’. The disciples would be handed over to local councils, flogged in the synagogues and have to testify before governors and kings. First the gospel would be preached to all nations (See Acts 2:5, Rom.1:8, Col. 1:6, 23). They would be hated for being Christians. All of this happened in history under the Roman Emperor Nero. One can read about how horrendous the days of the Jerusalem War were in the Jewish historian Josephus. People starved, fought over their food supply and even ate their own babies.  

In verse 14 Jesus tells them to flee Judea when they see the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it doesn’t belong. Remember Jesus is addressing the destruction of the temple. If this was about the end of the world, what would be the sense of fleeing? In Luke it talks about foreign armies surrounding Jerusalem which happened in ad 70 (Luke 21:20-21). The ‘desolating abomination’ in Daniel is about armies invading Jerusalem and the cessation of the sacrifices (Daniel 11:31, 12:11). These verses pointed to Antiochus IV and the events of the ‘Maccabean Revolt’. Here Jesus refers back to them to explain what was coming within a generation. When his disciples saw this ‘sign’ they were to flee Judea.

Jesus says that, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavens will be shaken.’ They would see the ‘Son of Man’ coming in the clouds with great power and glory. Then he would send his messengers to the ends of the earth to gather his elect. Jesus said that all ‘these things’ would happened to his contemporary generation and he confirmed this by saying that his ‘words would never pass away’.

According to Josephus the Romans completely destroyed the temple in AD 70 and not one stone was left on another. The Romans crucified thousands and over a million people died. In fact more Jews were killed in the infighting of the various Jewish factions than by the Romans. Mark speaks of the Temple’s demise in the language that Isaiah used to describe the fall of Babylon and Edom (Isaiah 13:10, 34:4). These events happened in real history in the past though the ‘cosmic upheaval’ described didn’t happen literally. The sun grows dark, the moon no longer shines and the stars fall from the sky (Mark 13:24-25). Israel refused to follow Jesus and chose a path of revolutionary violence against Rome only to be destroyed.

Jesus quotes Daniel 7:13, “They will see “the son of man coming on clouds with great power and glory”.  Here the ‘the son of man’ enters into the presence of the ‘ancient of days’ and sits at God’s right (Mark 12:35-37, Psalm 110). The fig tree in leaf signals the arrival of summer. Jesus was encouraging his disciples to watch for the approaching Roman armies (Luke 21:20). In the parable of the wicked tenants the vineyard owner brings destruction upon the generation that rejected his son. Mark 13 ends with the command to ‘keep awake and watch’ which is equally applicable for us today. We must be alert because the judgment upon the Temple is a foretaste of the judgment coming upon the world at Christ’s second coming. But it is not our business to look for signs. We are to stay awake and make disciples while we wait for our Lord’s return (Matthew 24:39, 48-50, 25:1-13, 14-30).

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

This parable is found between the story of Jesus clearing the Temple (Mk 11) and his foretelling of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13). In the parable a man plants a vineyard rents it to tenants and sends various servants to collect some of the fruit, but the servants are treated harshly. Watch the story being told and then read the comments below. 
Jesus tells a parable using a story from Isaiah 5 where God plants Israel like a vineyard, watches over it, hoping to find good grapes. Israel goes bad, despite God’s care so Israel goes into Exile. Jesus tells the same story but in Jesus’ story God patiently sends Israel His servants, the prophets, over and over again. Finally God sends his last messenger, His beloved son, but the rebellious tenants killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.

In Jesus’ parable a man plants a vineyard, puts a fence around it, digs a pit for the wine-press and builds a tower. He leases the vineyard to tenants and goes away. The tenants, Israel, were the stewards of God’s vineyard.  At harvest the owner sends a servant, His prophet (Amos 3:7), to collect some of the fruit. The tenants beat the servant sending him away empty-handed. The vineyard owner (God) sent another servant (a prophet) to the tenants (Israel) but they hit him in the head and treated him shamefully. Another servant was sent who the tenants killed. Many other servants were sent, some were beaten others were killed. 

The vineyard owner sent his final servant, His own beloved son. The God sends his beloved son, Jesus, thinking the tenants (Israel) will respect his son. But the tenants killed the heir thinking the inheritance would be theirs. The killed the vineyard owner’s son and threw him out of the vineyard. Israel,  God sends his final prophet, Jesus, who was announced at in his baptism and confirmed at the transfiguration to be God’s son. In defiance of God’s express purpose, they killed God’s final messenger. 

The parable asks, ‘what will the owner of the vineyard do?’ The owner (God) will come and destroy those tenants (AD 70) and give the vineyard to others. Jesus makes this clear by quoting scripture: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” The psalmist foretold that God would send his final messenger who by being killed would became the ‘cornerstone’. This was God’s plan foretold in scripture and fulfilled in Jesus and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Jesus entered Jerusalem to the singing of Psalm 118 just a few days before. This psalm also mentions the rejected stone which became the cornerstone (118:22, 26). The chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law wanted to arrest Jesus but they feared the crowds. Moreover, they knew that Jesus had told the parable against them, so they left. Jesus would be rejected by ‘builders’ so that this story leads from Jesus’ clearing of the Temple to his arrest and execution. The builders would reject the stone, and the stone would become the capstone and this was God’s plan all along to redeem the world. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

An Empty Tomb & the Emmaus Road.

Luke 24 has a long middle story (the Emmaus Road) with a story of about the women and the Apostles before and after it.
1. The Women and the Empty Tomb.
The death of a messianic hopeful leading a kingdom of God on a Roman cross meant the end of the movement. This is ‘what happened’ in over a dozen such first century movements. But this opening story reveals that the cross was not the end of Jesus.   

But this was difficult for the disciples to believe, even though they were told over and over again. The two angels tell the women how Jesus had told them that he would be delivered over to sinful men, be crucified and then rise from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:6-7). Jesus had told his disciples that he must die and rise again on numerous occasions (Mark 8:31, 9:9, 10:33-34)  Jesus ‘told them so’ but his disciples simply did not hear what Jesus was trying to tell them.

For most Jews in Jesus’ day ‘the resurrection’ was something that God would do for all the ‘righteous’ at the ‘last day’ (John 11:23-24). So it wasn’t just a lack of faith that kept them believing what Jesus had said. One isolated individual being resurrected to a new bodily life, while the rest of the world continued as is was not in their thinking.

The women carried spices to the tomb expecting to find the dead body of Jesus (Luke 24:1). The Apostles didn't expect Jesus to die or rise again from the dead. When the women told the Apostles that they found the tomb empty and how the angels said Jesus was alive their words seemed like nonsense (Luke 24:11-12). Such a wild story might be expected from women overwhelmed with grief over the death of a loved one.

That this was hard for the women and the Apostles to believe actually makes this story more believable. In the ancient world women were not considered credible witnesses. Also the story portrays the apostles not as models of faith; but full of doubt and unbelief. You see this is not the kind of account someone would make up if they were trying to start a religion.

Like many moderns, the Apostles found the story of the empty tomb and the testimony of the angels that Jesus had risen from the dead to be nonsense. They knew just as much as people today know that ‘dead people stay dead’. They were not inclined to believe it even though Jesus ‘told them in advance!’ Let’s be clear, the gospel of the ‘resurrected Messiah’ is not something man would make up (Gal. 1:11). The empty tomb and the testimony of the angels is the beginning of the good news that turns the over wise tragic death of Jesus on a Roman cross. But it was good news that none of Jesus’ disciples expected!
2. The Emmaus Road and the Resurrected Christ.
The first account reveals that the story of Jesus isn't over. The Emmaus road story unfolds what happened and shows how what happened to Jesus opens all of scripture.  
Jesus comes up beside Cleopas and his companion on the Emmaus road but we are told that they were kept from recognizing Jesus. Jesus asks what they were discussing, and they stop with their faces downcast (LK 24:16-17). They can’t recognize Jesus and they can’t believe that he doesn’t know what had happened to the prophet they hoped would redeem Israel. They longed for someone to lead Israel in a New Exodus out from under Roman oppression like Israel had been ‘redeemed’ from Egyptian slavery. They wanted Jesus to liberate Israel from Rome but Rome crucified Jesus. In their thinking Jesus should have defeated the Romans, not die on a cross! That’s why they were so downcast

They failed to recognize Jesus along the Emmaus road at least in part because they couldn’t understand why the Christ would be crucified. They couldn’t see past the cross to the resurrection because they didn’t understand their own need for the cross. Jesus leads a new Exodus but the slave-masters who have enslaved us all are sin and death. Jesus came to deal with their real problem which was not merely the Romans outside them but the sin that was in them. A crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah; the resurrection changed everything!

Jesus explained how all scripture spoke about him, but not just in a few isolated texts. Jesus is the ‘seed of the woman’ that would crush the serpent (Gen.3). Jesus is the seed of Abraham through whom God would bless the world (Gen.12). Jesus is the priest forever after the order of ‘Melchizedek’ (Gen.14, Heb.7). Jesus is the prophet like Moses who we must listen to (Dt.18). Jesus is the Passover lamb who takes away the sins of the world (Ex.12). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins that that the entire Mosaic sacrificial system pointed to. Jesus is the one who came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Jesus is the Son of David who would have God as his father and reign over God’s kingdom forever (2 Sam.7). Jesus is the temple that Solomon’s temple pointed to and the one who said ‘destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days’ referring to his body. Jesus is the one who was declared with power to be the ‘son of God’ by his resurrection of the dead.

Jesus explains how his death and resurrection unfolds and fulfills the whole Biblical Story. The crucifixion tells me that Jesus’ death made satisfaction for all the sins of all God’s people, and the resurrection was the beginning of God’s new creation. As the ‘very image of God’ Jesus is the second Adam who, even now, is filling the world with redeemed images.   All the promises of God are ‘Yes and Amen’ in Jesus and the resurrection means that Jesus really is the ‘Messiah of Israel’ and the ascension means Jesus is the world’s TRUE Lord.

We need the ‘resurrected Lord Jesus’ to open the scriptures and unlock the Biblical story. This story encourages us to know the story to know Jesus and to know Jesus in the ‘breaking of the bread’. We must pray that Jesus would open our ‘foolish and slow to believe’ hearts and open the story to us so that our hearts will the burn within us (LK 24:32). 

Happy Easter 2015!
Jay, Laura, Clara, Katherine and Lauren Stoms