Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Photo of the Week

Splendor and majesty are before him;
Strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

- Psalm 96:6

Monday, January 30, 2017

Quote of the Week

"It is not trouble that troubles you, but discontentment. Water outside a ship does not sink it. It is the water that leaks inside that is a problem. Outward affliction need not sadden life. A contented spirit can sail above these waters."

- Thomas Watson, 17th-century Puritan father and the author of The Art of Divine Contentment

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday Scripture - Mark 14:53-65

Mark 14:53-65

14:53-65 – The trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin reveals the guilt not of the man on trial, but of the judges. Instead of seeking to ascertain the truth of what Jesus had said and what he meant by it, they instead begin with a desire to have him condemned and sentenced to death. Some of this, no doubt, was due to his public rebukes of many of their practices; some of it was certainly due to their envy of the crowds of religious seekers that he was attracting. But something even more inflammatory was going on: the priests and the Sanhedrin had clearly heard in Jesus’ teaching a proclamation that threatened the very core of their religious system. He had been speaking out about the end of the Temple, of its destruction and of his act of replacing it with a new, spiritual temple. This, in fact, is the only bit of content from the witness testimony of the trial that Mark records for us (vv.57-58), so it must have been important. We must remember that the Temple was the absolute heart of Jewish religion at that time, particularly for the sect of Sadducees (whom most of the priests were aligned with), and so Jesus’ proclamations against the Temple and his act of kingly authority in cleansing the Temple courts were perceived as an existential threat to the priests’ way of life and to the very fabric of Israelite religion. But, because of disagreeing witness testimonies, they couldn’t make any capital charge stick against Jesus. So the high priest challenges him directly to answer one of the rumored identity-claims that had been circulating about Jesus: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (v.61) In phrasing the question this way, the high priest is probably not implying the same sort of theological content that we understand in the title of “Son of God”; rather, he probably had in mind a common designation of a messianic figure, much as Israel’s kings, like David and Solomon, had occasionally been referred to in such terms, in a wholly symbolic manner. Jesus’ answer, however, goes far, far above and beyond such a simple conception of “Son of God.” Mark depicts Jesus as replying directly, and in terms that led directly to the blasphemy charge: “I am.” The fact that this two-word phrase is isolated, and that Jesus didn’t say, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” but instead used it as a standalone response, is a clear indicator that he is claiming the divine name for himself, YHWH, the great “I AM” who revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush. And just to make sure that the priests haven’t missed his point, Jesus then makes it unmistakable—he is claiming to be “the Son of Man,” the divine figure from Daniel’s vision (Dan. 7:13-14), who is coming on the clouds of heaven, enthroned with the Ancient of Days/Mighty One, and to whom all nations will render worship (see Dan. 7:14). The high priest clearly understands what Jesus is claiming here, because is reaction is one of having heard the highest sort of blasphemy. Presumably he would not have reacted this strongly if Jesus was just making a case for being a human messiah, a “Son of God” in the symbolic manner of the old kings. But Jesus is claiming to be God, and the priest understands that quite clearly. This, in the eyes of Jewish religious jurisprudence, was a crime worthy of death. A further point is worthy of reflection, as we seek to apply this passage. There are many times in the Christian life where we sinfully put our motives first, where we seek to corner God into doing or saying things such that we can do what we wanted to do in the first place—must as the priests are doing here. There are even times when we might accuse God—perhaps for failing to answer a prayer in the way we wanted, perhaps for a perceived absence of his presence in a time when we needed him. Like Jesus at his trial, God hears our accusations and sees all our hidden motives, and to all these things, he simply proclaims the truth beyond all truths—that he is God alone.

Sunday Scripture - Mark 15:1-15

15:1-15 – There are a number of interesting things about Jesus’ trial scene before Pilate. We see that the priests have cleverly changed the charge against Jesus. A blasphemy charge might be punishable by death under Jewish religious laws, but at that point in history, they were under the administration of the Romans, and the Jewish religious courts did not have authority to carry out executions (although this sometimes happened anyway as a result of mob violence, as in Acts 7). Only the Romans were permitted to execute criminals, and the priests knew that they would not consider a blasphemy to be a capital crime. So they changed it to a charge that Jesus was claiming to be king. This would have been an appropriate theological-political claim for Jesus to make within the context of Israel, given his Davidic descent and his position as God’s Messiah—but it’s not actually a political claim he ever laid down for himself in the Gospels, at least not in so many words (but probably implied in his actions). It would have been seen as a treasonous offense by the Romans, and would have summoned an immediate execution. Pilate, though he has been informed of this charge, is unimpressed, and sees through the priests’ motives fairly easily. As in the other Gospels, Mark makes a point of Jesus’ silence in the face of his accusers. In this he fulfills the prophecies in the Old Testament about the suffering servant (see Isaiah 53), but he also indicates his submission to the will of God the Father. Certainly there was more that he could have said—as in John’s account, he could easily make clear to Pilate the nature of his kingship. But he knows that Pilate is more concerned with avoiding a riot than with administering equitable justice, so nothing that Jesus could have said would have made any difference. Pilate bows to the will of the crowd, because Passover week was an inflammatory time, and there are records of other murderous insurrections during that holiday at various junctures in Pilate’s term of office. The great irony of this passage, though, has to do with the prisoner that Jesus is traded for. The crowd asks to have Barabbas released to them, a known insurrectionist. The irony has to do with the fact that Barabbas’ name, which is Aramaic, literally means “Son of the Father.” In a moment of blindness, the crowd cries out for the “Son of the Father” to be given to them, not realizing that they are condemning the true Son of the Father to his death.