On the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Kenny Washington takes us through Mark 15.
On the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Kenny Washington takes us through Mark 15.
Dear Father in heaven,
What can we ever say or do to thank you for your great love for us? In truth, we can never repay you, and can never match Christ’s sacrifice, which was offered for our sins.
The best we can do is give you our lives, our abilities and our possessions and ask you to use us to accomplish your will.
Help us to express complete obedience to you without relying on ourselves.
Like the woman in the story of the fragrant ointment, help us to offer you all that we have.
Like Jesus in the garden, help us to see that your will for us is better than our own will, whatever that may be.
Help us to live our the words, “Thy will be done.”
In Christ our Lord,
15 So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. 17 Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”
In the week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus went up on the Temple Mount and was upset by what he saw. Money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice were taking advantage of a captive crowd.
Both law and custom dictated that Jewish travelers would make their way to Jerusalem for certain holidays. Passover was one of those. The “Next year in Jerusalem” wish goes back to ancient times.
In those days, when there was a temple, people coming from far away would have to buy their sacrifices on site. Who, after all, was about to travel with their doves or lambs that great distance? The new arrival had to exchange currency, likely at a bad rate, as is still the case today with money changers. They then used these newly acquired local coins to buy their sacrifice, likely at an inflated price since demand was high.
Jesus calls them out for their unfair practices and presumptive sense that everything would always be okay. That presumption might have been expressed in thoughts like, “Don’t we have the temple of the one true God in our midst?” or “Aren’t we favored above all cities and all nations here in Jerusalem?”
We should ask ourselves in what ways we might be exhibiting a similar overconfidence. Have we or our church become wealthy, hindering simple trust in the Lord? Are we proud of our doctrine, imagining ourselves to be the purest church on planet earth? Has any spiritual accomplishment taken the place of humility and utter dependence on God’s grace?
It happens. It happened repeatedly the nation of Israel throughout its history and it happens to God’s people today. Think of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, or the scandals of celebrity preachers in modern America. May we always seek to serve God in complete obedience, in full reliance upon his ability, mercy and revealed truth to make us whole.
Most Christians and many others are familiar with the story of the Rich Young Ruler, which, by the way, takes data from the combined Gospels to know these things (rich, young, a ruler) about him. Here it is from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10.
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The man was obviously religious. He was certainly concerned about the state of his soul and his standing before God, but his commitment also had its limits. This fellow, by his own assessment, is not guilty of anything scandalous at all. Jesus does not argue will that. Christ does, however, point out that there is that one thing, his possessions, that are standing in the way of this man and eternal life. His stuff had become his idol.
Based on this story alone, it would be going too far to say that wealth is a problem for everyone or that it is always a problem wherever it is found. It certainly can be, though, so it makes a good place for us to start in assessing ourselves. Even poor people can be covetous and overly tied to their belongings. For rich people the temptation is even worse.
Once we look at the areas of wealth and covetousness, we might actually determine that areas like these are not our biggest besetting sins. Maybe we are truly generous. Maybe riches are not, for us, an idol. Fine, but maybe something still is.
The thing that impresses me most about this encounter of a random inquirer and Jesus is Christ’s ability to see beyond his generally high level of obedience to the commandments of God. OK, so maybe he is no thief, murderer, adulterer or deceiver in any major way. But maybe there is something else. His riches, perhaps? There is no commandment against owning stuff, only commandments not to be covetous or greedy and to be generous in considering the poor, etc.
It’s not a simple rubric to use in giving ourselves a grade. I my give regularly, but do I give enough? I guess I want this thing or that, but is that covetousness or just a reasonable desire? How am I supposed to know? We may not know for sure, but in the case in question, Jesus did. He pointed out to the man that one thing and it happened to be his possessions.
Perhaps for us there is also that one thing. Maybe the right question to ask is, “If God asked me to give up anything, is there some request that would cause me to say no?” Or worded differently, “Is there something Jesus might ask me to sacrifice that would so dishearten me that I would go away sorrowful rather than throw the thing away?” If there is, we are in the same position as this man in the story.
Any relationship, possession or position that I might consider more important than Jesus is probably my real god, my dead, debilitating idol. As we know, God hates idols. Therefore, so should we.
Thank you for the love that you expressed by sending your Son to save us from our sins. We are forever grateful that our salvation depends upon your love and Christ’s death and not on anything that we can do for ourselves. He alone has conquered sin and death by rising from the grave.
Left to ourselves, like Peter, we would deny him.
Left to ourselves, we would sleep rather than pray.
Left to ourselves, we might even betray him.
But because of what Jesus did, we can come to you and call you Father. We can put our trust in you when we know that we cannot trust ourselves.
Help us to always give to you that which is most precious to us. Thank you for your great love.
In Christ’s name,
30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
This verse does wonders to correct our outlook on life. First, it discourages the bigger, better, faster, more mentality that we so often engage in. If only … and everything would be all right. And so we strive with all our might for whatever “…” is, on the assumption that if we achieve it, we would be happy, or finally attain our rightful position in life. Sometimes this is really about seeking to be first. If so, we can be pretty sure God is not pleased with it. The verse come right after a verse on self-sacrifice or self-denial.
29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
If self-sacrifice or self-denial involves putting ourselves last for the sake of Jesus, then we can do so happily, trusting that we lose nothing in the process. It will likely even lead to long-term gain.
Second, we sometimes feel “last” unintentionally. Despite our best efforts, things just have not gone our way. This may be a blessing in disguise. If we had our way, we might have succeeded and been able to put ourselves first, and then what? In the Great Future Reversal of Status (a term I just made up), we would lose. Honestly, we would rather be last now. There is little advantage to the attainment of visible status at the present time. So says Jesus.
Our goal must be to put Jesus first no matter what. There may be an “opportunity” to give something or someone up for him, though it may be disappointing in the present moment. Then, of course, we can often give priority to others. Let their needs be met, even if we do without, for Jesus’ sake. That’s often hard and doesn’t feel right or enjoyable most of the time. The point is we should not live for the present, but for eternity. Going last is the way to do it.