Question Mark (1)

Wednesday March 28, 2007

I’ve had the privilege of going through Mark with a group of guys from the CU. In the process I’ve heard answers (or partial answers) to some of the obvious questions that arise from the text. Before my brain forgets them all I’m going to try to whack some of the good stuff up here.

Part 1 — Part 2 — Part 3 — Part 4 — Part 5 — Part 6

The first chunk we looked at was 1:1-3:6. In the first verse, Mark begins by giving the whole game away – he tells us that the Jesus he will be talking about is the “Christ” and the “Son of God”. The characters in the story don’t realise these two facts until much later (the first in 8:29, the second in 15:39) and the moments when they do are key to the way Mark unfolds his gospel. But Mark lets his readers in on the secret from the very beginning, and then proceeds to prove the importance of Jesus by showing again and again his power and authority. In these first chapters, then, we see Jesus mightier that John (1:750 ), endorsed by God in heaven (1:11), with authority to teach (1:22), authority over demons (1:27), power to heal (1:34), authority to forgive sins (2:5) and authority as lord of the Sabbath (2:28). Clearly this Jesus is a remarkable man. Let’s get into it…

1:2-3 Where in Isaiah can I find this? Verse 2 is actually quoted from Malachi 3:1. I don’t think it’s a big problem that Mark labels it as Isaiah (though I guess this is why some manuscripts have “in the prophets” – see ESV footnote) and Isaiah was the first of the prophetic books and so often used as a title for all of them. Further, Mark then does quote from Isaiah 40:3 and strings the two quotes together as was apparently common practice. It is hard to see what problem this could cause anyway – it can’t be used as evidence the Bible is prone to error, for then we would have to believe that Mark was an idiot who hadn’t read the OT, which after reading the gospel we clearly can’t accept.

1:6 Why mention John’s dress sense? It paints a picture of the OT prophets (particularly Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8) so begins to prepare the reader to understand that John is the fulfillment of the promise that Elijah would return (9:13).

1:8 What does it mean “baptise you with the Holy Spirit”? This is, of course, controversial and is not a primary (ie. central) issue of the faith. My take, though, is that here John refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers from the moment of first faith, not a subsequent event or experience. To justify this, I would point out that John directly compares his baptism and Jesus’ in 1:8 (“I have baptised…he will baptise…”) so it seems reasonable to suppose that Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit is also “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4). Since repentance is required to become a Christian and forgiveness is immediately granted, I believe that this baptism must also be an expression for conversion. Secondly, John seems to point to this as a central ministry of Jesus (it’s the only thing he says about what Jesus will do!) whose purpose was to “give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). Again, I think this more naturally refers to the moment of conversion than a later stage.

1:14 Why was John arrested? Mark will tell us later (6:17-18) but for now refers to it to set the context of Jesus’ time of ministry. It perhaps also serves to warn the reader that Jesus’ preaching that we must be forgiven and then turn from sin will often be badly received.

1:15 What was the message of Jesus? This is more something that I would ask if I were leading a Bible study here, as it’s often suggested that it was “”love your neighbour as yourself”, a new morality or a message of love from God. Some of these are truer than others, but Mark won’t let us have them as Jesus’ chief message. He tells us that Jesus preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”.

1:22 Why didn’t the other teachers have “authority”? As I understand it (and I could well be wrong) the scribes would simply quote other Rabbis, so they never had any authority of their own but relied on that of other scholars. Jesus, by contrast, had authority to teach without being backed up by other humans – though of course he had the authority of the Scriptures to back him up as he was fully in line with them.

1:25 Why wouldn’t he let the unclean spirits (or even people, see v44) talk about him – isn’t it good publicity? We see in verse 37-38 that his aim wasn’t popularity. All the people were looking for him but he didn’t head for the crowd but wanted to go and preach in other towns for “this is what I came for”. The more people heard about him the more they turned up wanting to see (or receive) a miracle, and the harder it became to preach – as we see in v45.

2:5-12 Why doesn’t Jesus heal the man? Firstly it’s worth noting that in the end he did (v11-12)! Secondly, Mark doesn’t actually tell us why the four men brought their friend (nor do Matthew or Luke) – it could have been so that he could hear Jesus, rather than hoping for a healing. Whatever the details, Jesus knew that the man’s most pressing need was forgiveness from God (see his mission statement in 1:14-15) and provided it. The scribes were furious as only God can forgive sins, so Jesus was claiming to be God. To vindicate himself Jesus offers a visible miracle, so they can see whether he is successful or not – and he is. The logic should run like this: healings come from God, God wouldn’t work with a blasphemer, therefore Jesus isn’t a blasphemer. But Jesus did claim to be God so if he’s not lying then he must be telling the truth and must be God. The scribes wouldn’t have liked that, though, and presumably weren’t among those who “”glorified God” at the end.

2:17 Are there people who are righteous enough that they don’t need Jesus? No. Jesus reveals that we are all “sick” and sinners, primarily by living out in his own life what the moral standard is and letting us see how far we fall short. He also has some very harsh words, especially for the religious leaders (for example 7:6-8, 12:24, 12:38-40). But, as a sick man who won’t admit that he is ill can’t go to a doctor for help, the “righteous” that he speaks of are the self-righteous who won’t admit they are sinful so can’t go to Jesus for help.

2:18-20 What is Jesus saying about fasting? I’ll let Rico Tice take this one, as he’s answered it neatly in the ‘Study Guide Leader’s Edition’ of the manual for the Christianity Explored course. Between p10 and p11 (the numbering is weird!) he says:

Jesus is making the point that, for the disciples, fasting is totally inappropriate in his presence, just as it would be for wedding guests to mourn at a wedding. Jesus is identifying himself as the bridegroom of God’s people, promised by the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5; 62:4-5; Hosea 2:16-20).

Clearly, Jesus does expect that once he’s returned to heaven, his followers “will fast”.

2:21-22 What’s with the garments and the wineskins? This seems to be further explanation of the previous teaching on fasting, but honestly the details confuse me! The consensus seems to be that he is teaching that the current system of following rules (including prescribed fasts) isn’t compatible with the genuine, personal worship of God that he wants. This also helps us to understand the teaching on the Sabbath in 2:23-3:6, where nit-picking observance of rules is not the point.

2:23-3:6 Were Jesus or his disciples breaking the Sabbath? Yes and no! No, they certainly weren’t breaking God’s law by plucking some corn or healing a man’s hand. But yes, they were breaking the religious rules that people had built around God’s command – a rigorous check list of things which could and could not be done. This seems to be the chief point, that the Pharisees are more concerned with their own rules than God’s standard. As an example he cites the case of David – who the leaders’ rules would have condemned though God surely didn’t. Moreover, the Son of Man (the most important of men, for whom the Sabbath was made) is lord of the Sabbath and has authority over it and over the rules surrounding it.

Heavenly Father, I thank you that in Jesus you sent your promised Christ and your promised Son. I praise you for the authority that he demonstrated on earth – to teach, to forgive sins, and over sickness, spirits, nature and death. Please help me to submit to his authority, and to always remember his message to the world: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. Amen.


A little of my own medicine…

Wednesday March 28, 2007

It was about six months ago that I had the privilege of being on a Q&A panel for Christian students just about to move to university, to find answers to some of the things they were wondering about. To wrap up, we were each asked to say one thing that hadn’t been covered yet and mine was this: “Make sure you eat properly and sleep properly. It can be hard to look after yourself well, but it’s much harder to be joyful and eager to work hard and serve if you’re low on energy.” Not the most profound statement of the day, to be sure, but it is true and I’ve realised it again over the last few weeks, and realised how bad I am at keeping to it. Being busy makes me think I don’t have time to cook – then having little energy means I lose my appetite and don’t cook. From there it just gets worse!

Of course the holidays are a great time to catch up on eating, but I want to use them for more than that. So I’m going to spend time cooking to remind myself that cooking is quite fun, and really pretty easy. (I should caveat that – making nice food takes a lot of work and often is a long way beyond me, but simply making a meal out of food isn’t hard.) As I do (though probably not actually while frying, boiling or baking) I’m going to write the successes and failures to remind me the next time I use the ‘making food takes effort excuse’ to avoid it.

I started by last night making a chicken curry – something which I assumed was totally out of my league until I found that you get jars of stuff that do it for you! It really is as simple as starting to fry the meat, then adding in the paste and whatever else you feel like and leaving it to cook through. A bit of rice and naan on the side and you’re all set. Well, unless you mess it up. For a start, I wasn’t paying attention when I got the chicken so picked up thighs which were very nice, but (what with being on the bone) would have taken more effort than I wanted to chop up. So I put them in the oven for about 20 minutes until they came easily off the bone (not my good idea, I’ll admit). Then I did the sauce separately and assembled at the last minute. It meant the meat didn’t have as much flavour, but saved a lot of time! Also, adding flaked almonds and coconut milk to the sauce is nice, but be careful. It was a slightly unusually wet curry due to a slip while pouring…

We started with a vegetable soup that Mum made – literally chopped veg boiled in very little water and with a stock cube. Good and filling, and probably the easiest way I know to have a lot of good-for-you.

PS. One thing I’ve been suspecting for a couple of weeks and confirmed a few days ago – a tin of baked beans makes for a perfectly respectable (and incredibly quick and easy!) pasta sauce.

To the Father

Sunday March 18, 2007

As the CU committee meets up to pray together we also want to learn more about prayer so that we can lead the CU in praying better. As part of that, I’m hoping to go through a short series over the next three months looking at what Ephesians 2:18 (in context) means by praying to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. First up, then, is praying “to the Father”. This is roughly what I’m hoping to say on Wednesday – it’s a huge subject so we have to skim over it, but if anything is unclear or I’ve missed anything important do comment!

Say what Ephesians 2:18 says and introduce what we’re going to do over the next three prayer meetings.

If you open up Matthew 6 that’d be helpful. While you’re going there, I should say that this doesn’t mean that praying to Jesus is wrong – in 1 Timothy 1 Paul says that he thanks Jesus – but the vast majority of prayers in the Bible, and the message of the teaching on prayer, is that we pray to the Father. What does that mean? I think Matthew 6:5-8 give us two lessons to learn about this.

Firstly, in verses 5 and 6, don’t be like the hypocrites, pray to the Father who sees. Religious people want everyone to know that they’re praying, so they pray where everyone can see them. And they are rewarded for it, but the only reward they receive is the praise of other men. By contrast, we should pray in our rooms – in private – to the Father. The Bible commends praying together, but coming to prayer meetings should be the tip of the iceberg of our prayer, and most of it is hidden where nobody sees except the Father, who sees what is done in private. It also means that when we pray together we still pray to the Father, not to each other – if the reason you don’t want to say anything out loud is that you’re worried what the rest of us will think about it then your heart may be more concerned with the praise of other people than the approval of God. Don’t be like the hypocrites, pray to the Father who sees.

Secondly, in verses 7 and 8, don’t be like the pagans, pray to the Father who knows. If your God is a distant God rather than a Father, you will think that you need to impress him with your theology or your endurance in prayer. But our God is our Father so we don’t need to twist his arm, we just pray to him. Moreover, God already knows what we need and what’s best for us, so we don’t need to lay out every detail of what we want him to do. Theology is good as it allows us to relate to God more appropriately, but you’ll never convince God by babbling about it. So while we’re praying together, if someone says a really “good” prayer don’t be afraid to follow it with something very simple, even “Father, please would the CU serve you better”. And don’t measure someone else by the length of their prayer – God doesn’t. Don’t be like the pagans, pray to the Father who knows.

Once he’s explained what it means to pray to the Father, Jesus begins his model prayer with: “Our Father in heaven”. Know that your God is your Father, who loves you and knows what you need. Know that your God is the awesome God in heaven so do fear and respect him appropriately. Let’s pray to our Father…


Sunday March 11, 2007

C.J. Mahaney is an American pastor I think you really should know about. I’m really not the right person to write his biography but I can tell you that he has lead Sovereign Grace Ministries for some time now, he’s one of the Together for the Gospel (T4G) guys and he is the husband or father of the girls at the Girl Talk blog (which is, I think, well worth reading even if you don’t fit into the “girl” category). Oh, and read his “Living the Cross Centered Life” soon!

There are many things I love about Mr Mahaney and his ministry – chief of which is how obvious it is that everything he says is built on a conviction of the centrality of the gospel and the authority of the Bible, and his love of each is impossible to miss. Another key to his work is that he seeks after clear and practical applications, so I wasn’t surprised that his recent talk at the Shepherds’ Conference on humility ended with several helpful ways of finding and dealing with pride. There are applications specific to pastors (the audience he was speaking to) and then those which will apply for everyone. Can I commend the talk (sumarised here by Tim Challies) to you if you’re someone who is prone to pride (otherwise known as a person) as a reminder of God’s hatred of our pride and an encouragment to cultivate humilty. For myself, I’m going to try to take his advice to remember first and last thing in the day that I am dependent on God and to vocalise that as I wake up and as I sleep.

Habakkuk 1:1-11

Sunday March 11, 2007

Habakkuk is clearly a man of faith, a man of God and his cry to God in v1-4 is an example well worth trying to follow. Firstly, he was grieved by what he sees around him. In particular, violence (v2) and injustice (v4) are rampant and Habakkuk is not content with the way the world is. In a country where the poor are often ignored and people can be shot in their homes, how often do I care enough to repeat Habakkuk’s words? Secondly, Habakkuk went to God. Where he could have blamed the government, the ‘youth of today’ or any number of causes, he knew that God was in charge, and God was letting this happen. Do I believe that God is grieved by violence and injustice in this country, and when did I last cry out like Habakkuk? Though Habakkuk didn’t have all the facts (we’ll see God wasn’t idle as Habakkuk says in v3) he was full of righteousness and faith.

God’s response is stunning. He starts by saying that Habakkuk wouldn’t believe what God’s going to do. God is going to use the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to destroy Jerusalem and so bring justice. Habakkuk may have hoped that people would get nicer, or that he would raise up a really good leader, but he wouldn’t believe God’s chosen solution – to wipe out the source of the problem by having Judah invaded.

The description of the Chaldeans is terrifying. They live for conquest, they are “dreaded and fearsome”, swift, violent, single-minded and powerful. They come for one purpose only – for violence – and to them people are as insignificant as a grain of sand. No ruler or fortress can stand in their way, they cannot be stopped. Even their horses are scary, simply by association with the army. Once they are done, they’ll be straight onto their next campaign, leaving nothing behind but flattened ruins and bodies and blood. I can’t begin to do the language justice – but just reading v6-11 and imagining what it would be like to be tiny Judah in the face of this army is terrifying. They are going to be annihilated.

How can God do this? He is (through the Chaldean army) destroying his own people the Israelites. However much we might want a fluffy, happy, nice God the Bible (New Testament as well as Old) simply will not allow us to avoid that God is terrifyingly angry with sin and will have justice and will punish. God’s people had turned away from him – Habakkuk could see the violence and injustice that resulted – and God’s punishment is serious. He will not (as Habakkuk thought in v3) “idly look at wrong”.

What of us? If we cry out like Habakkuk, we can know God’s answer. He sees the violence and injustice in our world and he is not idling. There is a Judgement Day coming when he will destroy the earth, wipe it out, flatten it. Justice will be done for every injustice, all violence will be paid for, every wrong righted. God is not idling, it will come. And if it weren’t for Jesus, I would be in the line of God’s judgement. Thank God for Jesus, thank God that he has already been judged for my violence, thank God that Jesus has borne God’s anger for me. This means that when I pray for justice (and I should, because while I don’t like to think about, it is what we need and it is right) I have to be very humble. I must recognise that I deserve God’s great wrath and it is only through his great grace that I have been saved from it.

Heavenly Father, it is so sobering to be reminded of your anger against sin and the coming judgement. Thank you that you are just and you have decreed that there will be justice in the end – and help me not to forget the certainty with which it is coming. Thank you for saving me though Jesus death in my place. Please would you save many, and please give me an urgency in warning people to flee the judgement day and to find shelter in Jesus. Amen.

Slow down

Tuesday February 27, 2007

As much as I love spending time thinking things through as I write, I don’t have the time over the next few weeks to do it as much as I’d like. So I’ve set myself a rule not to spend time here apart from on Sundays – that way I can hopefully feast on the Bible and the gospel and be ready for church in the evening, and the rest of the week focus on working and serving. I’m currently working on the first chapter of Habakkuk which is sobering stuff, but I’m going away for the weekend so it’ll be a while before I get to finish it. That means I have something to look forward to while I’m in circuits lectures, though.

Saturday 24/02/07

Tuesday February 27, 2007

Yet another chance to hang out with good friends and laugh about silly things – how else are we going to make sure we don’t take ourselves seriously?! Seriously, though, if your friends told you (late at night, after a lot of batner and teasing) that there was an animal called a manatee which looks like a dolphin, is a close relative to the elephant and is also known as a sea-cow would you believe them or think they were pulling your leg? I went for the second option, and called their bluff to the point of typing “manatee” into the search box in Wikipedia – at which point I ended up with a very large amount of egg on my face. I think I may also have been signed up to adopt a manatee, so I have a feeling this isn’t going to go away for a long time… Oh well, that means there should be plenty more chances to laugh at myself.

At the worst, I can just pull up a picture of a manatee and have a laugh at that. It looks pretty stupid!

Friday 23/02/07

Saturday February 24, 2007

It was just yesterday I was musing that I hadn’t come across anything that really made me laugh for a little while. I really shouldn’t have been too surprised, then, that today brought plenty of opportunities for a giggle. The first was a friend of mine recounting her story of getting stuck in the lifts. Probably wasn’t funny at the time, but it’s the way she tells it! Another not-funny-at-the-time one was a different friend coming up behind me, grabbing me and yelling ‘boo’ as I was reading. It had me chuckling as he left, though.

But this evening things really started going. My prayer triplet came round and after the chatting and praying we got down to making some pancakes. Now, it was after 11 and we aren’t culinary geniuses so we were pretty sure it was going to be fun. Somehow we managed to make 6 pancakes out of a recipe for 16 and they just kept getting thicker. By the end we had a rolled up jam pancake which was aptly described as ‘more like a swiss roll’. We also passed the ‘everything becomes funny’ time of night and spent a lot of time laughing at dried fruit (“Sultans’ wives are called sultanas – stands to raisin”, “that joke’s so dated – it’s just not currant”) and expanding foam (our handy man has put it everywhere to stop mice, including sealing one door so it now won’t open).

To round off the evening, one of us – no names! – absently mindedly dropped a pan of very hot oil into the sink of cold water and we had a firework show before going to bed. Thank God for good times, good friends and good laughs.

Question Mark (4)

Wednesday February 21, 2007

I’ve had the privilege of going through Mark with a group of guys from the CU. In the process I’ve heard answers (or partial answers) to some of the obvious questions that arise from the text. Before my brain forgets them all I’m going to try to whack some of the good stuff up here.

Part 1 — Part 2 — Part 3 — Part 4 — Part 5 — Part 6

We’ve now finished the first half of Mark’s gospel which was all about who Jesus is and climaxed with Peter realising that he’s the Christ. The rest of Mark is concerned with what Jesus came to do and what he requires from his followers (what it means that he is the Christ). We were looking at 8:30-10:52. This does seem to be a block as at the beginning of ch11 Jesus enters Jerusalem – a new stage in the gospel. Moreover, here we see the three predictions of Jesus that he will die and rise again (8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34) which set the context for all his teaching here.

8:34-38 seem to act as a summary of the whole section. The disciples are to follow Jesus even to death, and they are to give up their lives for him. What that means will be expanded in the next couple of chapters, and it’s helpful to keep these thoughts in mind as we read.

9:1 What is the kingdom of God come with power? Some people suggested it’s the Spirit coming at Pentecost and 36 hours ago I’d have said the same (or the resurrection, but the two are closely linked). I think I’ve been persuaded, though, that it’s talking about the transfiguration (9:2-8). Few of Jesus’ followers would have died before Pentecost so it’s an odd thing to say if that’s what he means. At the transfiguration Peter, James and John physically saw Jesus in glory with Moses and Elijah and physically heard the Father speak – just as we will see and hear them in heaven. Almost all of those there (except Peter, James, John and possibly a handful of others) wouldn’t see that until after they died, but those three saw it before they “tasted death”. Similarly we shouldn’t expect to see the power of the kingdom until we die (unless Jesus comes before then!) but we know it’s real and we will see it because those three apostles are eye witnesses.

9:11-13 When has Elijah come? The parallel account is in Matthew 17, where v13 makes it plain that John the Baptist was, metaphorically, the second Elijah – preparing the way for Jesus as promised in Malachi 4:5-6. (See also Matthew 11:1-19, esp v13-14)

9:13 Where is John the Baptist’s suffering written about? Good question, I don’t know.

9:14-29 Why is this here? This is something I was wondering about – Mark’s already shown us that Jesus has power over spirits so what does this add, and specifically what is it doing in a section about the right response to Jesus’ death and resurrection? I’m not entirely sure, but the distinctive part of this story is that the disciples had tried and failed to doing it themselves (note that they were given authority over spirits in 6:7). It seems the reason they’d failed is that they were self- rather than God-reliant (v29). Part of giving up our life is giving up our pride – we need God’s help and we need to humbly ask for it. (Of course it’s also chronological, but we know that Mark didn’t include everything Jesus did – there aren’t enough books in the world! – so it’s worth asking why he selected this healing.)

9:38-41 What’s going on?! Jesus has said (3:22-27) that only he can cast out unclean spirits – Satan wouldn’t! This man, then, had to be ‘on Jesus’ side’ so shouldn’t be stopped by the apostles. While not saying that all who call themselves Christians are working for Jesus (or even all those who do exorcisms, Matthew 7:21-23) or that theological differences are insignificant, I guess we take from this that genuine followers of Jesus shouldn’t be opposed whatever ‘camp’ they’re in.

9:42-50 Should we be getting out the saws? This is hyperbole – overstatement for dramatic effect. If going to the pub with my friends on Friday causes me to get drunk I shouldn’t go to the pub. It’s better to enter life with no pub trips than with a handful of pork scratchings be thrown into hell. This is part of giving up our life for Jesus. Interestingly, since what actually causes us to sin isn’t our hand or foot or eye but is our heart (7:14-23) in order to enter life we need our heart cut out. Praise God that that’s exactly what he does when he gives us the Holy Spirit and our heart is ‘circumcised’ – the sinful flesh is cut away.

9:49-50 Again, what’s going on? Between us we came up with this, and aren’t sure it’s all the way there. Salt is a symbol of distinctiveness so one facet of v50 could be that if I get drunk every Friday night I’ll become indistinguishable from them. Once it’s lost, it’s very hard to get back to a point where I stand out from unbelievers as they will remember the ways I’ve acted exactly the same as them. In v49 we were trying to decide whether fire was symbolising judgement or refining/purity (or even the Spirit who makes us distinct) but settled with refining. So, in v49, it is God refining us which makes us distinct and, in v50, we are to remain distinct (and have peace with each other – but I’m not sure how that fits in).

10:2-12 How should a Christian treat the OT law? That’s a big question with lots of different places to go, but what we can say for sure from this passage is that the Mosaic law was less than God’s moral standard (which is no divorce – the law was changed to accommodate our “hardness of hearts”). Of course, we can’t keep the Mosaic law even with its accommodations so thank God for Jesus!

10:13-15 What’s so good about children? Think about children at Christmas time – they don’t have to be told twice to open their presents, they’re straight in there! That eagerness and single-mindedness is all part of giving up our lives for Jesus.

10:17-18 Is Jesus saying that he isn’t God? Hm. I meant to ask someone about this but forgot. A couple of possibles, though. Is he saying that the fact he’s being recognised as good means people should think about whether he’s also God? Or is he setting the context for what he’s about to say, that no one can “inherit eternal life” by anything they do? The man thinks that being good (following the commandments) will earn him eternal life, Jesus replies that that’s stupid – no one is good! This man’s morality was ticking boxes (“all these I have kept from my youth”) rather than honouring God (Jesus leaves out the commandments to do with God).

10:17-22 Did the man have to earn his salvation by giving away his money? Jesus isn’t pointing out the one rule that this guy hasn’t been following, instead he’s pointing to the man’s heart problem. If he wasn’t willing (we don’t know what he did) to sell everything he had it would be proof that he wasn’t giving up his life for Jesus – he was still trying to save his life so would lose it. The “one thing” he lacked, then, wasn’t an extra ‘to do’ item, but a childlike eagerness and joy for the kingdom.

10:29-30 What lands do Christians receive in this world? I take it that most of the things we receive hundredfold “in this time” are the relationships we have with Christian brothers and sisters in the church but I’m not sure about the lands. These verses show, though, that Christianity isn’t all about waiting for heaven (indeed, the reference to eternal life almost seems an afterthought here). Rather, despite the persecution which is clearly a normal part of Christian life, it’s far better for us even during our lives on earth to be a Christian than not.

10:46-52 Why is this here? Again, this is a question that I was asking. It is striking that this big chunk of Mark is sandwiched between two miracles where Jesus healed blind men. We know that the first of those miracles was a picture of how Jesus opened the spiritual eyes of his apostles, so I’m wondering whether this miracle also has special significance. The difference here is that the blind man started following Jesus as soon as he was healed. It could be that Mark is showing us an example of what Jesus has been telling the apostles – I’ve opened your eyes to see who I am, now you have to give everything up and follow me. Furthermore, it’s a direct contrast with James and John in the preceding passage. James and John arrogantly want “whatever we ask”, Bartimaeus wants only “mercy”. Both are asked “what do you want me to do for you?”, and again Bartimaeus is humble so receives his sight rather than a rebuke. He then immediately follows Jesus on the road – we know from 10:32 – to his death in Jerusalem. Who, Mark seems to be asking, has understood Jesus’ teaching that he was here to die, and that we must take up our cross, follow him and be slave to all?

Heavenly Father, I thank you that by your Spirit you make your word clear to us. I thank you for godly Christians who have thought deeply about these things and have shared their thinking. I praise you that Jesus knew he was going to die and rise – indeed, he’s known it since the beginning of time. Please help me not just to rely on his death as my Saviour, but because of his death to give up my life and follow him as my Lord. Forgive me for my hard, worldly heart and please transform it to follow Jesus. Amen.

Jeremiah 8:8

Sunday February 18, 2007

I spent about two and a half hours Friday night talking with Muslims and trying to persuade them that Christianity and Islam are completely different. As I often find when I’m talking to Muslims it was frustrating and heart-breaking and all I can do is pray that God will show them what grace really is. Part of the problem is that whatever a Christian says the Muslim will respond, “but the Bible’s been corrupted”. The overwhelming evidence that this isn’t the case (I was at the British Museum and Library on Wednesday looking at archaelogical and manuscript evidence which paints an overwhelming case for the Bible being historically reliable and textually preserved) and the fact that the Qu’ran gives no suggestion that this is the case aren’t my point here – yesterday I found out that they can make the case from within the Bible.

Thankfully it was Joel who showed me on the way home rather than a Muslim bringing it up during our discussion. Jeremiah 8:8 is the verse that Joel’s been confronted with before, and it says:

How can you say, “We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us”? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.

This doesn’t seem good – it looks like the Bible itself says that parts of it have been corrupted by unscrupulous scribes. Joel, though, also showed me what the verse really means. We need to take a trip to 2 Kings 22, with a brief layover in Jeremiah 1:3 to see that Jeremiah received this prophecy during the thirteenth year of Amon’s son Josiah, the king of Judah.

It is after two kings who did “evil in the sight of God” and led the Israelites in idolatry (Manasseh and Amon in 2 Kings 21) that the eight year old Josiah became king. 2 Kings 22 recounts how he paid for the restoration of the Temple and how during this work the Book of the Law was found. The book had been lost and as soon as Josiah heard it he was distraught at the state of Israel, found God’s will and, in chapter 23, started to make reforms. So where does Jeremiah fit into this? 2 Kings 22:3 tells us that the Temple renovations were in the eighteenth year of Josiah – five years after Jeremiah’s prophechy. Suddenly everything falls into place.

God was angry with the scribes because they said they had the “law of the LORD” when they didn’t even know where the book was! Instead, the scribes were teaching (and writing) whatever they felt like – which presumably included that Israel’s idolatry was okay. Jeremiah prophecies that they will be punished for this – which happens – but through it all we can see that God made sure his law was preserved, even though it was completely ignored for a while. In its historical context, then, not a proof that what we now have in our Bibles differs from what was originally writen by Moses.