Jesus has come to be unrecognized, yet he is a true witness (Mark 14:53–72)

Words are cheap. Emotions are cheap. There’s a difference between youthful infatuation and true, loyal love. And there’s a difference between saying you’ll be faithful to Jesus and then truly acknowledging him when the people around you begin to get hostile.

Jesus has been arrested and is being led off to a preliminary hearing at the home of the Jewish high priest. Following him “at a distance” is Peter, the disciple who claimed that he would never deny Jesus. We’ll get back to Peter in a moment.

Mark records that “the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death.” In most trials, the charges are already in place, and the question is whether or not the defendant is guilty, and if so, what his sentence should be. In this hearing, it has already been decided that the defendant is guilty and the sentence is death. Now, his judges simply need to find a charge. They need an excuse to get rid of Jesus, who is a threat to their authority.

False witnesses are paraded before the Council, each one accusing Jesus of wrongdoing. But they are contradicting one another. Things are not going well for this kangaroo court.

The high priest takes control of the situation. He confronts Jesus, asking, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” Jesus says nothing, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:7. The charges are absurd and don’t deserve a response. Jesus is totally innocent of wrongdoing.

Finally, the high priest demands, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus has never said so publicly, but his actions and his parables have strongly implied it. Finally, his enemies challenge him to reveal how he sees himself. Will Jesus back down in order to save his own life?

“I am,” he replies, “and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Not only does Jesus agree that he is the Messiah, God’s anointed king, but that he is the Son of God. He also claims to be the Son of Man, a divine figure whom God grants authority over the whole earth (Daniel 7:13–14). He is both God and man, deserving all power and authority as the Lord over all creation.

“You have heard his blasphemy!” the high priest shouts as he tears his garments in rage. The Council has been standing in judgment over this maverick Galilean preacher, and now he claims to have authority over them! And he even sets himself up as equal to God!

He deserves to die, they decide. The members of the council spit on him; they blindfold him and slap him, mocking him by demanding that he prophesy to them. They release him to the guards, who beat him with closed fists.

As Jesus is being abused and condemned to death, Peter is also facing a deadly threat: the teasing of a servant girl. The poor man is just trying to keep warm by a fire while waiting for news of Jesus, but this girl recognizes him as a Galilean and pipes up, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” Peter denies it and abandons the fire for the safety of the darkened gateway, while a rooster crows ominously. The girl finds him and identifies him again, and others agree, “This man is one of them.” Peter denies it again, but they persist in identifying him with the criminal, Jesus. Finally, he begins to lob curses, and he swears, “I do not know this man of whom you speak!”

The rooster crows a second time, and at once Peter remembers what Jesus told him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Peter was brimming with self-confidence at the time, and he refused to believe it. Now, his self-esteem has been stripped away, and he sees himself for what he really is. He is a failure, a coward and a traitor; he has abandoned his Lord to avoid disgracing himself. He is ashamed of Jesus and his words (Mark 8:38).

Peter breaks down and weeps. For the first time in Mark’s gospel, he is broken. There is no more hiding from his sin.

We leave Mark’s account at a dark and miserable place, and the story is only going to get uglier. But there is hope here. We know that Peter has failed to confess Jesus as his Lord. But Jesus has not failed. He has insisted on his Lordship even when faced with death. He succeeds where Peter fails.

That’s where our hope comes from. If you see yourself as a stalwart defender of the Christian faith and an all-around great person, you’re going to be broken. God loves you; he will not let your self-confidence harden you into a creature fit for hell. He will break you down first. And then you will see that Jesus is your only hope. You cannot remain faithful to him; you will fail to acknowledge him as your Lord in your actions and words. That’s why Jesus did it all for you that night. And this act of courage and faithfulness belongs to you now; it’s what God sees when he looks at you. Jesus stood in your place before his bloodthirsty enemies, and when asked if he was their Lord, he declared, “I am!” Then he was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3) so that you would never be despised and rejected by God.

You are not good. You are not strong. But Jesus was. And that’s all that matters.

Augustine of Hippo, Satan comment on the Vancouver riot

[Analyst Bob Whitelaw] says the riot would’ve likely happened whether the Canucks won or lost.

“With the loss, that seemed to give people the right to set police cars on fire, turn vehicles over, but the excitement of winning would’ve spilled over,” Whitelaw said, adding that it appears some of the instigators were not hockey fans.

—Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun article

There was a pear tree near our vineyard, heavy with fruit, but fruit that was not particularly tempting either to look at or to taste. A group of young blackguards, and I among them, went out to knock down the pears and carry them off late one night, for it was our bad habit to carry on our games in the streets till very late. We carried off an immense load of pears, not to eat—for we barely tasted them before throwing them to the hogs. Our only pleasure in doing it was that it was forbidden.…

What did I enjoy in that theft of mine? Of what excellence of my Lord was I making perverse and vicious imitation? Perhaps it was the thrill of acting against Your law—at least in appearance, since I had no power to do so in fact, the delight a prisoner might have in making some small gesture of liberty—getting a deceptive sense of omnipotence from doing something forbidden without immediate punishment.

—Augustine of Hippo, Confessions II.iv.9, II.vi.14

[Augustine’s] thought went like this. “Everyone knows there is a divine law which forbids theft, so if I can steal and get away with it this will show that I am not subject to God or to any divine law. And if I am not subject to any law which defines what is good, then the good will simply be what I say it is. Hence I will be free and omnipotent. I can do what I want and what I want is the good.”

—Colin Starnes, Augustine’s Conversion, p. 42

Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?…You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

—Satan, Genesis 3:1, 4–5

Jesus’ obedience is mine

The pattern of my life is not pleasing to God.
But Jesus pleased him to the fullest extent possible. (Mark 1:11)

I don’t make much of an effort to spend time alone with God. I don’t think praying with God is a good use of my time.
But Jesus got up early and left everything to be with God. He was convinced that God would lend his limitless power to those who pray. (1:35; 9:29; 11:22–24)

I want people to think highly of me. I want to get them to do the things I want so that I will feel happy and fulfilled.
But Jesus put other people first and saw himself as their servant. (9:33–37; 10:35–45)

I like to supplement God’s law with a few of my own.
But Jesus refused to accept any manmade law that interfered with God’s will. (7:1–13)

I’d rather keep my life back for myself instead of giving it to God.
But Jesus gave up his life, submitting to the will of God. (8:34–38)

I like using my time and money in intelligent and practical ways.
But Jesus prefers inefficient and awkward displays of devotion to him. (14:3–9)

I only like to do God’s will if it’s easy.
Jesus was willing to do God’s will even if it meant being abused and forsaken by everyone he knew and loved. (14:36)

I tend to get focused on the daily grind, on projects and goals and minor details.
But Jesus cared about people and wanted to save them. (1:17)

I prefer simple, rigid rules and laws.
But Jesus understood that God’s law is all about giving people what is good for them. (2:23–28; 3:1–6)

I don’t want to allow suffering people to complicate my life.
But Jesus acted out of pity for them even if it inconvenienced him. (1:40–45)

I like being around attractive, well-mannered people who have their lives together.
But Jesus would much rather be around dirty, messed-up sinners. (2:13–17)

I don’t think about other people’s needs; I’m obsessed with my own needs.
Jesus was concerned about other people’s needs for food and rest. (6:31; 8:2)

I don’t worry much about people who have no spiritual leader.
Jesus longed to fill the void for people who didn’t know he was the Good Shepherd they should follow. (6:34)

I focus on physical problems more than the real problem of sin in my life. I don’t think it’s a big deal.
But Jesus knew that sin was the most fundamental problem that people have. He was horrified at the danger which sin posed to people and the judgment they would face for it. (2:4; 9:42–50)

I tend to think of myself as a pretty decent person who sometimes does bad things.
Jesus knew that people are rotten deep down and that bad things come from bad hearts. (7:14–23)

I keep thinking I can get eternal life by being a well-mannered, well-meaning person.
But Jesus knew that only humble, childlike, desperate people will enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:13–31)

I want to exclude people who don’t belong to my church or theological tradition.
But Jesus knew that God’s kingdom includes people who aren’t just like me. (9:38–41)

I don’t like it when people challenge my ideas about who God is and how he acts.
But Jesus loved to turn people’s beliefs about God upside down. (12:35–37)

Sometimes I get into arguments with stubborn people who refuse to change their minds.
But Jesus knew when it wasn’t worth the fight. (8:11–13)

I shy away from demanding change from people who need to change.
But Jesus was bold in proclaiming repentance and the gospel. (1:15)

I’d rather back down when confronted by spiritual forces that hate me and people who don’t want me around.
Jesus beat up the spiritual forces and rescued a suffering man. (5:1–20)

I often don’t know how to respond when people challenge my beliefs about God.
But Jesus knew exactly how to challenge the mindset of his accusers. (11:27–12:34)

I’m easily impressed by religious people and powerful institutions made by men.
But Jesus couldn’t stand religious people and declared that the kingdoms of man would be torn to the ground. (12:38–13:37)

I sometimes worry that the church will eventually be smothered by the world.
But Jesus was confident that he is stronger than Satan. (3:23–27)

I don’t get upset when people treat casually the things God says are holy.
But Jesus became incensed when he saw the temple treated as a marketplace. (11:15–17)

I treat marriage casually, as simply another important relationship in life.
But Jesus insisted that marriage was God’s special creation. (10:1–12)

I’m not so sure that God will always be there to rescue me.
Jesus wasn’t bothered by little things like life-threatening storms. (4:35–41; 6:45–52)

I doubt that God has much power to heal people who are sick or raise the dead to life.
Jesus himself has the power to heal chronic illness and raise the dead. (5:21–43)

What wondrous love, what mysteries
In this appointment shine:
My breaches of the law are his,
And his obedience mine!
—John Newton

Jesus loves the wrong people (Mark 2:13–17)

One of the great joys of the Internet is the ability to access endless reams of useless information, such as an incredible list of Yogi Berra quotes. Of course, some of them are real, and some are fake, so you can’t believe everything you read. As Yogi himself put it, “I didn’t say everything I said.”

If you’re still reading this and haven’t yet fluttered off to Google in search of more Yogiisms, I really appreciate it.

One of the classic Yogi quotes is this gem: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Well, we all know that vague, unsettling feeling that somehow we’ve been here or done this before. That sense of déjà vu is what we should be getting when we read Mark 2:13–17. Here, we find Jesus passing alongside the Sea of Galilee. He sees a man hard at work and tells him, “Follow me.” The man drops what he’s doing and immediately follows Jesus.

Sound familiar? That’s how Jesus called his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James, and John. When he did it the first time, nobody really minded. Sure, it was a little odd for a rabbi to seek out his followers and not vice versa. And it was a little odd for a rabbi to choose grown men already devoted to a particular line of work. However, nobody seemed too offended by it. Maybe the people of Capernaum were proud that this sensational teacher had hand-picked some of their own to be his followers.

As proud as they were then, they sure must be upset now. This time, Jesus has chosen a man named Levi—a tax collector. Now, in American culture, nobody is really a fan of tax collectors. In fact, a man made headlines recently for crashing a small airplane into an IRS office building in Austin, Texas. Most people, however, won’t get too mad at someone for being an IRS agent.

The difference between American tax collectors in the present day and Jewish tax collectors in the first century was the degree of corruption. Most IRS employees are just doing their job. However, tax collectors in Jesus’ time were well-known for overcharging, for skimming off the top, for essentially running a crime syndicate. Worse yet, they worked for the hated Roman oppressors; most Jews viewed them not only as thieves but as traitors. They were treated as outcasts from Jewish society; anyone who associated with them was considered to be defiled. So naturally, the only companions of a tax collector were prostitutes and other “sinners” who were fellow outcasts. Jesus’ countrymen probably would have loathed tax collectors and their ilk to the same degree that we loathe inner-city gang members.

So, of course, Jesus picks one of these scoundrels to follow him. Then he throws a party and invites all of Levi’s disgusting friends.

The religious teachers, who serve as the conscience of the community, are not happy. They already got ticked off the other day because Jesus claimed to have authority to forgive sins, which is something only God can do. Now, this man—who had seemed so much like the Messiah!—is not behaving like even a respectable Jew ought to behave. Something must be done about this rogue teacher. They corner a few of his disciples and question them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” You can almost hear the contempt dripping from their mouths. And who can blame them? These sinners are absolutely rotten; they’ve gotten rich by cheating and stealing money from poor villagers, making a lot of people in Capernaum utterly miserable. These are sick people whom Jesus is treating like friends.

Jesus hears that the religious leaders are upset at him. Their attitude bothers him so much that he steps outside the house to confront them. He doesn’t apologize for what he’s doing; and he certainly doesn’t try to convince them that deep down inside, these tax collectors and sinners are basically good people. They aren’t. And that’s the point. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” Jesus explains. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus has come for one group of people: sinners. Broken people. Scum of the earth. If you’re not in that category, then Jesus isn’t really interested in you. If you do fit that description, then Jesus wants you to drop your old way of life, trust him, and follow him. He isn’t ashamed to be seen with you. Your sin is not holding him back from asking you to be with him; it’s the very reason why he’s calling you. Jesus is in the business of rescuing sinners. If you’re a sinner, this is really, really good news.

If you’re not a sinner, then this is really, really offensive news. It means that Jesus doesn’t want to be around you. It means that Jesus isn’t interested in calling you to follow him. It means that Jesus is going to pass you by and call people that disgust you. He will love them, he will throw a party for them, and you’ll be left outside—cynical, bitter, and fuming.

Do you want to know Jesus and understand his love? Open your eyes and see the truth: you are a sinner. You are dirty, rotten, revolting, and sick. Then you’ll see that Jesus has come for you.

The Broken Rose

~ ~ ~

The Broken Rose

Who would love the blossomed rose—
Luster her alluring pow’r,
Fragrance of arousal crowned?
Lovers all ablaze surround—
Bloom and root and stem devour.

Who would want the broken rose?
Seared in sin, in ashes grown;
Tortured pale, her petals torn;
Leaves are lost and left the thorn
Naked on the stem, alone.

Jesus wants the broken rose
While her twisted shape is thrown,
Shriveled, to the wilting scorn:
“Leave, oh, leave her not forlorn,”
Wept and whispered for his own.

Jesus loves the broken rose,
Waters with a bleeding show’r;
Root has gripped the sanguine ground;
Drops of blood, their riches found,
Rise through stem and red the flow’r.

~ ~ ~

Dead rose

Photo by David Garzon