Fair Weather Friends
Wednesday, 27 July 2022
Jesus and his disciples were likely on their way to Gethsemane after their time in the Upper Room. He was teaching them about what was to come—that He was to die and that He would be raised from the dead. But they missed that point and only heard His words that they would deny Him. Isn’t that how we are? In our selfishness, significant words are lost because our minds get stuck on ourselves?
Peter, the impetuous one, could not contain himself at the words, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’" (Matthew 26:31). Jesus, being the gentle shepherd that He was, did not use the opportunity to correct them. Also, He knew this prophecy of Zechariah would need to be fulfilled. But Peter, in his pride, didn’t think he would ever deny his Lord.
The disciples were accustomed to His leaving them to go away and pray. This night didn’t appear to be as significant to them as we know it to be today. Jesus knew this was a time when He wanted Peter, James, and John, His closest friends, to surround Him. They had been with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17) and at the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Luke 8:49). Of all the disciples, Jesus chose them to keep watch and to pray as he was facing his betrayal by Judas, the trial, and ultimately his crucifixion.
He began to be sorrowful and troubled. "Then he said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me'” (v. 38). Jesus in His humanity might have wanted the encouragement of His close friends, or He might have wanted to test them to teach them about following through on their promise that they would never leave Him. What kind of friends are we to our fellow Christians going through the valley of the shadow of death? Are we willing to watch and pray?
Jesus went on a little further to be alone in prayer with His Father. He fell with His face to the ground praying for God to make another way for the redemption of mankind, and yet showed his submission to whatever God’s will would be for Him. “May your will be done,” He said. When a major crisis is looming, are we willing to submit our will to God’s? Are we able to gently encourage our suffering friends to submit to God’s plan even though it involves deep waters of anguish?
Jesus prayed three times to His Father and each time after the struggle, He came back to His close friends and found them sleeping. He was sweating drops of blood in this difficulty and His friends couldn’t be faithful to pray for Him for an hour at His request. Again, His approach with them was gentle, warning them to also watch and pray that they would not yield to temptation while acknowledging their spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak. When our friends can’t support us the way we feel we need support, are we gentle with their fair-weather friendship? If even Jesus’ closest friends did not remain faithful in the hour of temptation, will we?
The Winds of Change
July 26, 2022
Change brings uncertainty bathed in hope and perhaps a little fear. Change was a part of the Israelites’ past, it was whispered in the teachings of Jesus, and our lives are also impacted by the winds of change. How do you respond to change in your life? C.S. Lewis stated, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.”
The Egyptians certainly did not want the Hebrews’ slavery status to change. Moses insisted on change and demanded that Pharaoh set the people free. Yet the Hebrews, once freed from Pharaoh’s tyranny, were fearful complainers with only a glimmer of hope left. Change is uncomfortable. As the remnant began to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, they were fearful and had to be reminded that God was with them. The wall would provide security and represent God’s faithfulness to His people, and yet this change was met with uncertainty and fear. What changes have occurred in your life that have had uncertainty, bathed in hope and perhaps a little fear?
Jesus brought his inner circle together for the Passover feast, “When the evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve” (Matthew 26: 27-28). This very night, their world was about to dramatically change. Jesus gives them a foreshadowing of what is to come when: “…He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). What was the old covenant? What was the new covenant that Jesus was referring to? Did the disciples understand what the new covenant was? A new covenant was going to change everything the Twelve knew to be true. Change brings uncertainty bathed in hope and perhaps a little fear. No longer would the rhythm of their lives include temple sacrifice. They would have instant access to the God of the universe without the intermediary assistance of a priest. How would these changes be difficult for the Jewish Christ followers? The Passover pointed ahead to the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). The Lord’s Supper announces that this great work has been accomplished.
We live under the new covenant. We, also, live in a world that can change quickly. We long for stability and quake inside when “things” change. The Twelve experienced hope in the Passover and hope in the supper gathering in the upper room. Breaking bread with the very Lamb of God must have filled them with fear, hope, and wonder. They may not fully have understood this new covenant and the winds of change swirling around them, but they knew that “this teacher” held out the very words of life. Do you find hope in the new covenant? When the winds of change blow through your life, how will you face them?
History Lesson or Life Lesson?
July 25, 2022
You did read the lesson, didn't you? So—what did you take away from these sixteen verses?
Perhaps you saw events unfolding like the plot in a movie. But not a Hallmark movie or an old Perry Mason TV show, where you already know what's going to happen. And even though Jesus had been laying out the plot of his life almost from the beginning, few seemed to get the picture. Most of the players in this real-life drama were oblivious to the fact that they were nearing the end of the story. Really? Jesus had just told them, "As you know, Passover begins in two days and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified" (v. 2).
Meanwhile, (v. 5) the disciples and Jesus were eating dinner in the home of Simon the Leper when a woman, carrying a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume, interrupted dinner and poured the contents over Jesus' head. In those days, only the men ate at the table, so for a woman to do such a thing was definitely not in the script. But the indignant disciples didn't have a clue. So, Jesus told them again, "She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial" (v. 12).
It’s a little frightening, isn’t it, to realize that the men closest to Jesus did not recognize the significance of Mary's devotion or that Jesus was again revealing the plot of his life? It seems that their mindset was focused more on current material concerns than on the far-reaching eternal purposes of Jesus' life and ministry.
If you read this as a history lesson, what did it teach you?
This retelling of events, i.e., a history lesson, contains a very important life lesson.
Jesus is teaching us to be prepared to die. Facing your mortality may be easier for you than for your family and friends, especially if you're a Christian. As Jesus approached his death, he gave us some principles to live by as we approach death—ours or a loved one's.
First: Live as if you were going to live forever. A friend's husband was very ill, but he continued to be as active as possible. After he died, she told me, "I would have hated for him to have died without living." Jesus was doing that, teaching life lessons (the parables of previous chapters) to his followers and now sending his disciples to prepare for the traditional Passover celebration.
Second: Be ready for death—yours or a loved one's. When you've lived a life of devotion to God (like Mary), it will be evident by your actions and your attitude toward death. Somehow, the disciples didn't seem to realize that the woman who anointed Jesus was doing so in preparation for his death. Their minds were focused on the present and they weren't ready for Jesus' death. In years to come, however, many of these same men gave their lives for their faith.
Third: The future may be hard. Jesus knew what was ahead for him. We don't know about our future. Given the world's attitude and actions toward Christians, however, we can expect to face betrayal and even death at the hands of evil people who hate Christ followers.
It's important to be prepared to die, whenever and however it might happen. And perhaps it’s even more important to live an active and full life of devotion to Christ.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
gmd & jbd
Extra Faith Needed
22 July 2022
Spoiler alert: This blog addresses a problem that Christians face for which answers do not come easily. It’s about waiting. Unfortunately, long periods of waiting lead some people to question their faith (even de-convert, as it were).
Waiting is commonplace. People with physical problems wonder how long they must endure pain. People in parts of Africa wonder how long until they starve to death. Christians being persecuted wonder how long they must suffer for their faith. Waiting is difficult.
An especially challenging “How long” question is the years waiting for Jesus’ return. Early Christians were convinced he would return within their own lifetime. Isn’t that what Scripture seemed to say?
For some Christians today, their faith is strong enough that they accept the “wait,” though they cannot explain it. Others question whether Jesus will ever return. Maybe it would help to think about the “wait” from God’s perspective rather than our own. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?" (Numbers 14:11).
Backing up to the Garden of Eden, God made clear that the consequences of sin are enormous. In other words, everything that’s wrong in the world wouldn’t be wrong were it not for sin. So God is the one waiting. He waits for people to recognize that the horrible problems of our day are our own fault. And the sooner we come to him in repentance and turn from sinful ways, the better (see 2 Peter 3:9).
Regarding the Chosen People, God also waits. The majority of Jews live in darkness because they have rejected Jesus as their Messiah. And God waits for them to see the Light.
God is also waiting for Christians. The bride of the Lamb needs to get herself ready and her attire bright and clean—referring to her righteous acts (Rev 19:7-8). And not doing so can delay Jesus' return. You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming! (2 Peter 3:11-12).
Life Application Questions
Name, date of birth, and death are cleanly cut into the stone. One word appears beneath the name—Waiting.
Chaos tortures life. Shootings blot the American landscape almost every day. Deaths from the guns of evil continue to increase. Children and other innocents are dying. There is little peace and quiet in the American nation, or the lands of Europe. We are waiting.
Please give careful consideration to our Lord’s words recorded in Mark 13:1-23, as well as the other passages in this week’s reading guide. Jesus spoke of such chaotic times with his close followers and some of them appear in these Scripture portions.
Jesus’ apocalyptic precision proclaims, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22). Many will propose solutions which will not be solutions. The number of spiritual charlatans will increase, while we wait.
Other disciples have also seen such times. Their tombstones bear witness. Six feet beneath a cemetery lawn, with feet oriented toward the eastern sky, sleeps a disciple of Jesus. A testimony trenched into granite affirms this disciple’s faith: Waiting.
Some glad morning, in a sky filled with clouds, the Lord of Heaven and Earth returns. We, as it was for the disciples of generations before us, as it will be for those who follow us, wait.
We do not always wait patiently. Our anticipation often exceeds our ability to form just the right words. Our prayers are sometimes groans, words which cannot contain the grief. We are waiting, O Lord.
Life Application Questions
During your times of waiting what personal challenges do you encounter?
Which spiritual resources have helped you while waiting?
Do you have a particular prayer or portion of Scripture which sustains you in hours of disturbance?
While awaiting the foretold apocalypse what do you believe persists as the work of God’s people?