Lent — Week 3

Monday, March 25

Read: Mark 10:35-40

Consider: “Be careful what you ask for.” That’s a common statement we use when we speak about a certain kind of arrogance mixed with ignorance. It’s the arrogance that claims to know what it does not know, and yet is too ignorant to know that it does not know.

James and John were Zebedee’s sons, but Jesus liked to call them the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). They came to Jesus with the request that they be given places of honor in Jesus’ new kingdom. Jesus was pretty straightforward with them. He said, “You don’t know what you are asking” (10:38). And then he asked them a question…

“Can you drink the cup I drink?” (10:38)

Their naiveté was evident in their bold assertion. “We can,” they answered.

Oh, if the Sons of Thunder could only have seen the future. If, at that moment, they could have known that, in intense agony, Jesus would plead to the Father saying, “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (26:39). Perhaps then they would have understood the nature of their selfish and misguided ambitions and would not have been so confident in their ability to drink his cup.

Jesus didn’t chide them, but he told them something they could not understand in that moment. It was a statement they would certainly look back on with wisdom born of experience and tragedy. He said…

“You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with…” (10:39)

That was a statement of love and affection. Jesus was telling them that he had called them to be like him—in his suffering, death and resurrection. He was assuring them that they would be true to their calling. Of course, they couldn’t see it then, but Jesus was affirming their faithfulness, even though they had a lot to learn about humility.

Pray: “Lord, I don’t want to copy James’ and John’s self-assurance and self-importance. But I do want to hear you say, ‘You will drink the cup I drink.’ Help me to place my confidence in you, knowing that you will be with me and in me as I face the life to which you called me. Thank you for inviting me to share in your suffering and in your life (Philippians 3:10-11).”

 

Tuesday, March 26

Read: Mark 10:35-41

Consider: One of the most telling moments of this event is seen in Mark’s statement about the rest of the disciples — “When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John” (10:41).

It is easy for us to see the ego problems James and John exhibited by trying to secure the best seats—the most honorable positions—in Jesus’ kingdom. But the rest of the disciples displayed the same outsized ego, as they determined that those two were not going to push to the head of the line. They felt justified in their judgement of James and John, not realizing that they were really revealing a great deal about themselves.

We need to see ourselves in those ten disciples. Many times, the sin that offends us the most is our own sin when we see it in other people. The problem is, when we keep looking at that sin in others, we don’t see it in ourselves.

How many times have I said that someone was judgmental, not realizing that, in saying so, I was judging them? How many times have I decried the hate speech of someone else and have done it with spiteful words?

This is an important spiritual exercise. Look at the sins that cause you the greatest outrage and ask the Holy Spirit to show you if those same sins are present in your life. Lent is a time for this kind of nakedness before God. This kind of humility—and confession—liberates us.

Pray: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

 

Wednesday, March 27

Read: Mark 10:42-45

Consider: Two of the disciples had come to Jesus wanting to be elevated above their peers. The other ten got wind of it and took personal offense at their brothers, pointing out their arrogance, but not seeing their own pride. (See yesterday’s meditation.) And, of course, in all this jockeying for position, they all missed the point.

They missed the point of Christ coming to them. They missed the point of how God would transform our world. They missed the point of their assignment once Jesus placed the work of the kingdom in their hands. They missed the point.

So, Jesus called them together and explained it—again. He had been teaching the good news of the kingdom. He had been living the good news of the kingdom. But now he had to, once again, connect the dots for them. And he did it with a powerful phrase — “Not so with you” (10:43).

The rulers of this world use force — “Not so with you.”

This culture honors strength and intimidation — “Not so with you.”

This world says to watch out for yourself — “Not so with you.”

People think happiness comes from being first and best — “Not so with you.”

Humility and servanthood are seen as weakness — “Not so with you.”

It is unthinkable to lay your life down for someone else — “Not so with you.”

He continued…

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45)

Pray: Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”

“…who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)

 

Thursday, March 28

Read: Mark 4:26-29

Consider: Jesus’ parables are always intriguing. And it’s not by accident that they are sometimes difficult to understand. Many times, it was his intention to bring the truth in a manner that would cause us to wrestle and struggle to comprehend his words. And sometimes he didn’t even intend for everyone to understand, because the hard of heart, those who would not recognize the Messiah, certainly could not comprehend his words.

So, in reading the parables, sometimes we must look for clues. Was Jesus referring to something those people understood, but we might miss? That’s the case in today’s reading.

Most of the people Jesus addressed were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament. So, when Jesus made reference to those scriptures, his listeners would try to ascertain how Jesus was interpreting them. Many times, Jesus was telling the people that the One the prophets foretold—the Messiah—had arrived. Their scriptures had been fulfilled.

Today we read Jesus’ simple account of seed growing to full maturity. Jesus pointed out that the farmer “does not know how” it happens. It’s going on right under his nose (or, at least, out in his field) all by itself. Then Jesus said…

“As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (4:29)

I wonder how many of his listeners recognized his reference to Joel 3:18, where the prophet said, “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.” That passage from Joel describes the judging of the nations and the liberation of God’s people.

Jesus was telling them that judgement was coming. But the judgement Jesus spoke about would be much different than what they had always expected. Jesus himself would take the judgement on his shoulders and in his body. The liberation of God’s people would then be offered to everyone.

We usually think of God’s judgment as condemnation on sinful people. But our New Testament teaches us that…

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Pray: “Lord, thank you that you came, not to destroy us, but to destroy that which destroys us. Thank you that you judge evil in order to liberate us. Thank you for the freedom you offered and then gave to me.”

 

Friday, March 29

Read: Mark 4:26-29

Consider: As we saw yesterday, Jesus told a simple story about seed that is planted, grows on its own, imperceptibly reaches maturity and then is harvested. It feels like a rather ordinary story with nothing to make it compelling. But he began this short parable by reminding us that “This is what the kingdom of God is like” (4:26).

Jesus was speaking about the judgment of evil and the liberation of God’s people—liberation offered to everyone. And he was assuring us that this kingdom is advancing.

God is always working. Sometimes his work is obvious. Often it is not. Behind the scenes, in the shadows, gradually and imperceptibly, God is making all things new. But we must have eyes to see.

And what God is doing in the cosmos, he is also doing in you and in me. Daily he is drawing us to himself, teaching us, revealing himself to us and guiding us. Like the farmer in Jesus’ parable, we don’t know how. And even though we know a harvest will come, we’re often oblivious as to what God is doing in us today—right now.

The Season of Lent is a good time to ask God to open our eyes and unstop our ears. We’re not willfully ignoring him, but life often dulls our spiritual senses. As we spend time with him and try to clear the clutter from our minds, we’ll begin to see how his love is operational in our lives every day. You are growing, even if you can’t see it right now.

Pray: “Lord, thank you for your active love in my life today. Help me to recognize you everywhere—in nature, in those who are created in your image, in beauty and in your whispers to my spirit. Thank you that you have a journey for me and thank you that I never walk it alone.”

 

Saturday, March 30

Read: Mark 4:30-34

Consider: The parable of the mustard seed is familiar to many of us. (It appears in three of the gospels.) It helps us gain a new perspective of the kingdom of heaven on earth. What seems small and imperceptible, is the powerfully advancing work of the One who created all things, the One who is “over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).

What I love about Mark’s account of this parable is his comment that follows it.

“With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.” (4:33)

We should remember that our understanding of Christ and his way is an ongoing journey. We have so much to learn, but he is patient with us. He gives us as much as we can comprehend. He teaches us, mentors us and then leads us to new levels of understanding.

Take this one parable as an example. Over time the Holy Spirit will reveal to you how God is working in you and through you. You can see, in small ways, the mustard seed growing before your eyes. Then he can enhance your vision and you’ll see new avenues that he is opening and expanding in your spirit and in your actions. These are those thrilling moments in life when we see God in ways we’ve never seen him before.

The next verse is exciting. Mark told us that…

“He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.” (4:34)

If we sit with him long enough, he’ll “explain” it—he’ll reveal himself—to us.

Pray: “Lord, teach me how to quiet my heart, slow my racing mind and listen to you. Thank you for your patience as I learn how to learn from you.”