All of it

From today’s reading of Matthew 26, Mark 14

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” – Mark 14:3-9 (ESV)

I love these close, tender moments in the gospels. This episode is one of the last of its kind; almost immediately after this the plot already hatched by the Jewish leaders is put in motion, and Jesus will be arrested and killed. That adds an incredible poignancy to what is described here.

John 12 tells us that the woman who broke the alabaster flask is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She is the one who sat at Jesus’ feet while her sister bustled about, she is the one who wept in the house when Jesus arrived to grieve for her brother Lazarus and to show God’s glory. She is the one who groaned through her tears “if you have been here, my brother would not have died.” And she witnessed as our Lord commanded death to flee and called her brother forth to life.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem in kingly procession just a few days before this dinner in Bethany. It seems that only Mary understands that a King deserves anointing, even at the expense of a year’s worth of a laborer’s wages. Her King deserves absolutely all of the precious ointment poured on his royal head, a head that would very soon be bloodied by the blows and the thorns of those he came to save. Her King deserves all her love, all her devotion. All.

Those of a more practical mindset (John 12 implicates Judas in this) were more focused on the loss of 300 denarii that might have been used to more noble, less wasteful purpose. The Lord Jesus will have none of it.

“Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Such honor from the Savior of the world! I’ve written before of my respect and admiration for Mary’s sister Martha. Here Jesus honors Mary with kingly decree. She has done a beautiful thing for him by anointing his body beforehand for burial.

Everyone else has missed that. You get the sense that they are all thinking about next week, next month, where they were going to go, what they were going to do, continuing on in the ministry with Jesus. The plan of the Father is about to blow that to pieces. Jesus is about to die and be buried and rise again. There is no next week, at least not when it comes to their plans. Everything is about to change.

It’s time to throw plans and schemes aside, our system of priorities, our trust in our own abilities to evaluate what’s important. Jesus has made it clear: where the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. Yes, because what she did was amazing and she was unfairly raked over the coals for it by those who should have known better. Yes, because Jesus loves to exalt those who have been placed low by the world’s system. Yes, because it was a beautiful act of love (and the only act of true perception recorded here) toward Jesus himself.

But also because in her act the gospel and a right response to it is beautifully depicted. The one who has brought the dead to life is anointed for his own death and burial, not with just part of what she has at hand but with all. He will be raised and in him so will she, and so will we. What manner of love is this?

Break the jar. Pour the oil, all of it, over the beloved, blessed head of our Savior.

“They will see the Son of Man coming in clouds”

From today’s reading of Mark 13

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. – Mark 13:24-27 (ESV)

I don’t generally have a strong confidence in my ability to interpret eschatological texts.

But let’s set aside interpretation for a moment. As Augustine said, “Let others wrangle, I will wonder.”

Our dear Lord Jesus; you are going to come back to earth some day, making your royal entrance in clouds, power, and glory. What a privilege it will be to see that! I may already be dead by then and if so that will be my moment of resurrection. If I am still living, I will be caught up to meet you in the air.

“. . . and so we will always be with the Lord.” – 1 Thessalonians 4.

Always with you! Lord when you return to make all things new, dear Savior, we will be forever in your presence as you forever reign.

Wonderful Counselor! Mighty God! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace! You who bring us wisdom in our darkness, you who battle passionately and victoriously on behalf of your people, you who have always been and always will be! You, dear Jesus, author and finisher of faith, bringer of the peace that passes understanding.



You, creator of the universe, sustainer of all, rescuing hero, sacrificing Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords. You will reign forever judging all things rightly. making all things new.

You who chose the lowly over the mighty, who chose the last over the first, who honored widows and prostitutes and tax collectors and spoke in righteous anger against the powers of this world who were eating up your people. You who toiled and suffered and prayed and strove and fed and healed and taught and loved. You who were delivered up for my many sins and the sins of all the earth, to be tortured and killed. You who were raised up on the third day and appeared to your astonished followers, the Risen Lord. You who sent the promised Holy Spirit to your people and gave them the power to turn the world upside down in your name.

You! We can’t wait to see you!

Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Overturning our sense of what makes sense

From today’s reading of Matthew 19, Mark 10

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10: 15-16 (ESV)

. . .

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.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. – Mark 10:21-22 (ESV)

. . .

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” – Mark 10:31 (ESV)

. . .

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45 (ESV)

. . .

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. – Mark 10:51-52 (ESV)

Jesus overturns our sense of what makes sense, doesn’t he? The natural self want to grow out of the powerlessness of childhood into the power of well-integrated adulthood. The natural self pursues possessions as a divine right. The natural self see a lot of good in being first in line (who doesn’t love that?). Boss or servant? Which seems more appealing?

Jesus keeps repeating this theme, because we need to have it repeated: pursue dependency on God and simplicity in spirit. Pursue generosity versus things. Pursue service rather than lordship.

Jesus always, always lived what he taught. Though he was God, he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2). He lived a life marked by absolute dependency upon God. He left heaven and all its riches to become the riches of God toward us. He gave himself to the poor. He associated with and befriended the “lasts” and “leasts”, the ones, like the beggar, blind Bartimaeus, that no one else had time for. They weren’t nuisances to Jesus.

I love the last part of the passage quoted above: And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Jesus said “go your way”. No-longer-blind Bartimaeus saw his way very clearly; following Jesus. What other way could he choose but to follow the Master who willingly made himself Servant and lavished upon him the riches, the healing, the love of his Father?

No brainer.


From today’s reading of Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9:28-62

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God. – Luke 9:37-43 (ESV)

In the parallel passage in Matthew 17 the disciples ask Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the demon. His explanation to them is very simple: “Because of your little faith”. This is as good an explanation as any for almost every failure and misstep in my life. Oh, this great puzzle of faith!

Have you ever thought that Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples here, and in many other places, is harsh? It reads that way, doesn’t it? “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you?” He seems exasperated, and there’s no doubt he is. But why?

I don’t know about the disciples, but I do know about me. Perhaps my problem is similar to theirs. I think I often get faith wrong. I see it as a work, as something to conjure. After all, if I need more of something, I need to work for it, right? I often see faith as currency, and the more the better so that I can buy God’s successes.

It’s illustrative that just a few verses later in Luke 9 Jesus places a child in front of the disciples as an example of what it means to be great in the Kingdom. And in the next chapter of the Matthew passage he says this:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3-4 (ESV)

One of the great shocks of being a parent is realizing how much faith your little ones have in you. It is a pure faith. They know you have what they need, and they aren’t shy about asking for it, smiling and eyes wide with expectation. In a healthy family there is no fear in the asking, and there is acceptance (albeit with some drama inevitably) of the answer, yes or no. Most importantly, there is no sense of work in the asking. The child knows she has no money on her own to buy the toy, so she goes to the only one who does have the money and might be willing to buy it, her mom or dad. A child’s faith is bold, because the focus of a child’s faith is squarely on her mom or dad. This faith is also wise; placing faith in the one with the resources is the only thing that makes any logical sense.

I think this simplicity of faith is often lost as we grow older and begin to take on resources of our own. The focus begins to shift from the Lord to ourselves, and this begets the effort, the work, the mental gymnastics that masquerade as faith so often, not to mention the caution, the hedging of the bets that accompany these wolves of work wrapped in the sheep’s hide of faith.

Jesus is exasperated by his disciples’ lack of faith, I believe, because they had, for quite some time, been physically with the Incarnate Faithful One, Jesus himself. Jesus was engaged in living a faith-filled life before his Father and pointing them to the same life of dependency and childlike trust. They had seen the results of this true, pure, golden faith over and over again.

Mark 9 records this interaction between Jesus and the demoniac boy’s father:

“if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:22-24 (ESV)

Amen brother. Lord help my unbelief.

I think Jesus is exasperated with me because faith is, in ways I still need to fully grasp, very simple. I’m the one who’s making it hard. I need to put my faith in Jesus. Because he can do it. He can do anything.

Worth it

From today’s reading of Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9:18-27

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:34-38 (ESV)

It’s hard to know what to do with this. I would follow after Jesus. I am following after Jesus, and pursuing him, but this pursuit fights against every fiber of my flesh and has many zig-zags, stoppings, trippings, and side-streets.

For a long time I thought of faith in terms of believing in certain facts, like believing in the theory of relativity or that the country of China exists. In other words, believing in something based on the available evidence but where I didn’t have the tools at hand, necessarily, to fully verify what I believe in. So faith in Jesus was believing that he is, and that he came to earth as a man, lived a perfect life, paid for my sins on the cross, died, was buried, was risen to life and is coming again.

It is very good to believe in those things. And it touches upon faith to believe in them. But that belief is not exactly, or completely, faith.

Faith is leaping off a cliff and trusting in the one who has promised to catch you to do what he said. Faith lived out is, from a fleshly point of view, self-destructive and dangerous. I think in the past I have read Jesus’ words above wrongly. I have seen them as transactional, and – hear me out here – threatening. What I have heard him saying is “if you don’t give me everything, I’m going to leave you and eventually kill you.” Again, be patient with me and bear with my foolishness here.

I believe I had that wrong. I think what Jesus is saying is that he is life, and there is ultimately no life to be found anywhere else. What will I chase? What will I pursue? To whom will I go? He alone has the words of eternal life. If I don’t deny myself, I am indulging myself. I am feeding the idol of Self, and there is no life there. I’m going to die and lose everything if I go that way. Our world is rife with examples of people who have done just that. Jesus is not making a deal with me with his words. He is just speaking the truth about who he is and who I am, and what I am without him.

Jesus calls me to self-abandoned devotion to and single-minded focus on him, because he desires to give me life. This is so important, because it gets at the core of the call of God, calling me toward life in a way that will seem like death to my befuddled and sinful soul. I hear him calling me to carry a cross and deny myself – which is true – but he says that is the way leading to life for all who would follow him.

The words he says are not necessarily easier to integrate or live out knowing this. Jesus doesn’t call me to easy. But he does call me out of idolatry, out of shame, out of needless pursuits and into himself, into love, into purpose, into life. And those are things worth running hard after.

He is completely worth it.

Lord, convince my divided heart and doubled mind to run hard, and with self-abandon, after you.

“Feed my sheep”

From today’s reading of Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

– Mark 6:34-44 (ESV)

This is our Lord, our great Shepherd.

If you’ve been a Christian for any time at all you have probably heard about how dumb sheep are, how lost they are on their own. It’s an apt comparison to the human condition, and that’s probably the reason God employs the sheep metaphor so much in scripture. I’m no expert on sheep, but I’m pretty sure that without a shepherd sheep are dead. They don’t survive very long on their own.

Humankind had been so lost for so long when Jesus arrived; Lost and alone and wandering, like sheep without a shepherd. God had compassion on us, and sent Jesus, who is the compassion of God. The relentless nature of this compassion can be seen in the surrounding context of the passage above. Jesus’ disciples are back from the mission he has sent them on, tired and needing rest, yet no rest is to be found. This comes hard on the heels of the execution of John the Baptist, which was most likely foremost on everyone’s mind, and an ominous portent for the future of this little band.

Jesus and the disciples are looking for somewhere to be alone, to no doubt decompress and debrief and take a small break, but the desolate place that they were heading to turns out to be overrun by people seeking Jesus.

Compassion is not just a feeling. It is costly. It changes plans. Jesus has compassion on the crowd and begins to teach them until it grows late. They are in the middle of nowhere and people are hungry. The pragmatists think it’s time to bring today’s ministry to an end and send the crowds away so they can buy their own food.

Jesus reply to them is basically “No, you feed my sheep”. And they do, bringing the little they have and placing it into the wonderful, compassionate, blessing, multiplying hands of the Lord. Everyone ate and was satisfied.

They didn’t have a lot, but they had Jesus, their Great Shepherd, who has compassion on his sheep and prepares for them a feast in the wilderness.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

Psalm 23 (ESV)

Talitha cumi

From today’s reading of Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:35-43 (ESV)

“. . . they laughed at him. But he put them all outside . . .” may be my favorite line from this narrative. It comes shortly on the heels of Jesus’ tender exhortation to a grieving father: “Do not fear, only believe.” Words to live by. To really live by.

Jesus has no time in this narrative for the pragmatists, the cynics, those who laugh (literally) in the Face of faith, hope and love. He puts them all outside.

The miracle of the raising of this little girl is not for show; indeed, Jesus allows only a very small audience for it and strictly charges them to tell no one afterwards. As with all of Jesus’ signs, there is both a near and far impact. The “near” is, of course, the joy-drenched raising of a beloved daughter, not to mention the effect this would have had on Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus gently called her back from death and she immediately responds to him. There is Jesus’ thoughtful request that she be fed. We are witnesses here to a wonderful and wondrous, gracious gift of life from Jesus to this family.

It prefigures the farther, wider impact of Jesus’ gracious gift of life to us. As the pragmatists thought that the little girl was too far gone, so were we. She was dead, after all. So were we.

No. After all the despair and destruction that the curse of death wreaks on us, there is Jesus to call us back. He calls us when we are dead in our trespasses and sins, enemies of God, pragmatically without hope or a future, with no way to rise to him. In a moment, from dead to immediately – I love Mark’s repeated use of that word throughout his gospel – alive, walking, being fed. This is what Jesus has done for those who are in Christ, for those who have heard his call.

Talitha cumi.