21 DAYS OF PRAYER AND FASTING
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most astounding, the most monumental, the most consequential event in all of human history. There is not single event in the history of the world that has as much significance as the resurrection. It is the foundation of the gospel. It is the center point of our faith. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our faith – indeed our very existence – would be pointless.
Today is Saturday. Matthew is the only gospel that records a narrative on the Saturday between Jesus’ death on Friday and his resurrection on Sunday. This part of the story is one of the most important proofs of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection. Because the fearful Pharisees and the power-hungry Romans collaborated to secure the tomb by sealing the 2-ton stone and setting a Roman guard to keep watch, there is no natural explanation for the tomb being empty on Sunday.
The crowd that hailed Jesus as their king as he entered Jerusalem turns on him a few days later. But all according to plan. Jesus is the perfect, spotless Lamb required for the Passover sacrifice. As he breathed his last, the curtain in the temple that separated man from God is torn in two, from top to bottom, forever providing free access to God through Christ.
In this passage, Jesus instituted what we call “The Lord’s Supper” as he celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. On Thursday, the night before his death.
The Passover had been celebrated every year at this time ever since Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt 1400 years earlier to cross the Red Sea. God used 10 plagues to harden Pharoah’s heart, not allowing the Hebrews to leave.
The line to the offering box was long. Commoners emptied their small bags of coins into the metal receptacle, while wealthy old men proudly dumped in their big bags of coins. And in their midst, a widow’s cloak ducked behind the gilded robes, slipped through the line, and put in two copper coins, “plink plink.” The Pharisees snickered, the chief priests scoffed, but Jesus really saw. He didn’t just see the two copper coins; He saw her heart.
This question from a scribe (a Jewish religious leader) follows a series of questions that the religious authorities asked Jesus in an attempt to trick or trap him. However, this is actually a friendly conversation with good intentions – something pretty uncommon, considering the authorities wanted to trap and eventually kill Jesus.
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem with his disciples, he hears brothers James and John arguing over who will sit on either side of Jesus in his kingdom (Mark 10:35-41)… They’re more worried about their personal position, power and authority than they’re concerned about what is about to happen in Jerusalem (a mock trial and death on a Roman cross). It’s in this context that we come to Jesus’ words to them in verses 42-45 – and the theme of the book of Mark.
At least three times along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus shared with his disciples the plan. But even up until the last remaining moments of Jesus’ earthly life, the disciples still didn’t get it. They not only didn’t believe Him, but failed to see how Jesus’ death was part of God’s overall plan for the redemption of the world. Can you blame them?
Today, many people wear cross necklaces as a fashion statement. But for first-century Jews, the cross was the symbol of ultimate suffering. It’s striking that Jesus would use this vivid imagery in verse 34 to set criteria for following Him. Any marketing expert on gathering followers might have advised Him differently! While we might be happy to wear the necklace, none of us like the idea of denying ourselves and carrying an instrument of torture to our death.
Let’s consider two critical concepts out of today’s passage—both center around the theme of Bread (leaven) that is prevalent throughout scriptural.
The first concept is of bread as a metaphor for the ideas that feed our minds and hearts. As Jesus says in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
We don’t use the word “defile” very often, but it has synonyms like “spoil,” “tarnish,” or “desecrate.” In context, Jesus is telling us that it’s not what we eat (he’s declaring all foods clean) or what we do externally that can tarnish or desecrate us – but what comes out of our hearts…
The pharisees were considered the most religiously devout men in the land…and they were also the group most maligned by Jesus. In Matthew 23:3, Jesus tells the people to follow the pharisees’ teaching, yet on numerous occasions He calls them hypocrites – or worse. These people wanted to be godly, but they thought the most important thing was to follow God by following external rules.
As we look forward to Easter, it is good to remind ourselves what we believe as Christians: Jesus arose, overcoming death! In this passage we see a miracle and we see fear from the disciples. They were struggling, just as we struggle, to make headway in a fallen world. They witness a miracle and are afraid.
This is one of many places in the Bible we see acknowledgement from the deity of our need for rest and solitude. Discipleship is hard work. Jesus here doesn’t command his disciples to work themselves until they drop. He knows they, like us, need time to breathe, to think, to pray.
A few days ago we prayed about letting our lights shine. In this passage we have one example of what that means in the lives of Christians, making Jesus the hero of our stories. Jesus has just saved (literally) a man who now wants to hang out with Jesus and follow along. Jesus tells him instead to “go” and tell his story.
When the disciples face a powerful storm and fear for their lives, they turn to Jesus. After he commands the sea and the wind to bring about calm, he asks the disciples why they were so afraid. Didn’t they know to trust him, did they not have any faith?
A popular kids’ song sung in churches for generations asks what to do with this little light of mine: “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!” We don’t all need to preach from street corners to let our lights shine and let the light of our lives be a lamp for others.
Jesus’ parable calls us as followers to sow the word of faith, but also to tend the soil (and be good soil) for those around us. Praying about your circle of community, consider ways to improve the possibility for seeds of faith to grow up and increase yield.
Jesus always showed a heart for those who needed him the most – the broken, the needy, the sick, the hurting, the sinner. Those who considered themselves righteous and religious during his day did not understand this approach to the broken. Jesus did something unexpected – he engaged! Jesus wasn’t religious – He was connected.
The paralytic was brought to Jesus by some of his friends. They cared for him enough to do whatever it took to get him to Jesus – though they didn’t know what was in store. When Jesus saw the incredible example of their faith, he did something unexpected – and even more supernaturally powerful than healing the paralytic – which he eventually did as well. He forgave the man’s sins.
THE WORDS OF JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK Introduction We are so glad you are joining us for these daily prayer devotionals as together we seek the heart of our God. Over the coming weeks, we will focus on some of the most meaningful words of our savior Jesus Christ...