Morning Musing: Mark 14:6-9

“Jesus replied, ‘Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me. You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Have you ever been the victim of unfair criticism? That’s never a fun place to be. I once had someone come sit down with me in my office to offer “constructive” criticism. He came prepared a 4×6 note card filled front and back with everything he thought I was doing wrong. His complaints were all rooted in personal preferences of pastoral style rather than anything biblical, but he was convinced, as he told me, that I just didn’t preach the Gospel. Maybe you’ve been through something similar. Much to this man’s credit, he did not air his grievances publicly nor share them with a small group of others in an effort to build a coalition against me. And when it became clear we were not going to find common ground on some of them, he left quietly and found a church more to his liking. Other folks with less character and genuine intent to honor Christ with their life would have made a production of leaving. I respect him for that. Being criticized, no matter the source, is hard. When a woman made an incredible gesture of worship to Jesus, she faced intense criticism for it. Fortunately, she had Jesus in the room to defend her actions. Let’s look at the results this morning.

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Digging in Deeper: Mark 14:3

“While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

At various times in the church’s history, there have been certain places the current culture of the church expected believers not to go. For a long time in our fairly recent past, one of those places were bars. It was simply understood that Christians in good standing didn’t go into bars. Those were places of sin and you didn’t want to be associated with that. Of course, cultural expectations and personal behaviors are two different things. And, when desired behaviors and cultural expectations aren’t in sync for some reason, the result is often a twisted mess of hypocrisy and deception. That’s a sermon for another time. Starting as early as the 1970s and accelerating from there, some young believers began to have entirely different attitudes as to what was and wasn’t appropriate for followers of Jesus to do. Alcohol gradually became one of the things they were okay with where their parents and grandparents were not. One of the consequences of this was that they began to see places like bars as fair game for ministry. Some even went so far as to plant churches in them. Well, plunking the Gospel down in a place most folks don’t expect to find it can lead to some interesting, but powerful, ministry encounters. That’s what we see here as we continue in Mark’s story about Jesus’ life.

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Digging in Deeper: Mark 14:1-2

“It was two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priest and the scribes were looking for a cunning way to arrest Jesus and kill him. ‘Not during the festival,’ they said, ‘so that there won’t be a riot among the people.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

All good spy movies let viewers in on both sides of the story. What I mean is this: Rather than telling the tale from only the perspective of the hero, they let us peek behind the curtain on the villains as well. It gives viewers the sense that we know more than the characters do. Of course, the best ones manage to keep a few surprises waiting for the end just to keep things exciting. When I read the Divergent series a few years ago, the whole thing drove me crazy because it was entirely written from the main character’s perspective. The whole thing was in first person. We never knew anything more than she did. It didn’t add any drama to the story for me; it just made it boring. Well, here at the beginning of Mark 14, as we are preparing now for Jesus’ final hours on earth, Mark gives us a quick glance behind the scenes at what the “bad guys” were planning. If we do some careful thinking here, though, there’s even more than meets the eye.

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Morning Musing: Mark 13:28-33

“Learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, recognize that he is near – at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place. heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Now concerning that day or hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven nor the Son – but only the Father. Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Do you know what a paradox is? Unless you’re boned up on your literature lessons from middle school, it may be one of those words you know, but not really. I’ll help you out. A paradox is a statement that takes two ideas often considered to be opposites and puts them together in a way that makes them both true at the same time. For example, take the adage, “The louder you are, the less they’ll hear.” On its face, that seems totally counterintuitive. If something gets louder, it seems you would be likely to hear it better. When I’m watching TV and can’t hear what’s being said very well, I’ll turn it up louder to fix the problem. And yet, when when I get angry enough that I yell at my kids, they don’t really hear anything I say to them. A quiet conversation with someone is more likely to convey information accurately than if you shout at them. It’s a paradox. In this last part of Mark 13, Jesus is summarizing His conversation with the disciples about future events. As He does so, He offers them a paradox. Let’s explore this together.

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Morning Musing: Mark 13:21-23

“Then if anyone tells you, ‘See, here is the Messiah! See, there!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, the elect. And you must watch! I have told you everything in advance.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Do you remember the Easy Button commercials from Staples? (Here’s a classic one.) The idea was that offices need an easy button when things get tough. Whenever a thorny challenge comes up, you just tap the button and like magic, the problem is solved. In the context of the commercials, it was often a Staples employee who showed up offering solutions for whatever was the problem. The ad campaign was wildly successful not necessarily in that it generated so much business for Staples (although it probably did), but because it successfully registered the idea of an easy button into the pop cultural lexicon. When your ad becomes a cultural movement, you know you’ve hit it out of the park. The reason the campaign was so successful, though, was that it tapped into a longing all of us have for easy solutions to tricky problems. We don’t like facing resistance to our forward progress. When we do, we want someone to come along, wave a magic wand, and make them all go away. This goes whether we are talking about traffic jams, or challenges entirely more significant than that. Jesus here warns us that such a desire can lead us down the wrong path if we’re not careful. Let’s talk about it.

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