Saturday 1st August
In these verses, Jesus asks the disciples what they had been arguing about as they walked along. They were very embarrassed because they had been arguing about who was the greatest among them. This showed that they had not really understood the nature of the kingdom of God and were still thinking in worldly terms. In verse 35, Jesus explains that the standards of the kingdom are quite the reverse of the standards of the world. For the Christian, humility and a sense of unworthiness are essential. In order to underline this he brought a small child and made his point very forcibly (verses 36-37). Pride is one of the most common sins, and the most dangerous, because it leads us to have a wrong view of ourselves. Only with humility can we see ourselves as we really are. Sometimes this humility is hard come by, and God has to take drastic action to produce it (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
Sunday 2nd August
This passage is very revealing concerning the character of the disciples. Yesterday, we learned that they were proud, conscious of their position as the disciples of Jesus, concerned about who was the greatest. Here we learn that they were so conscious of their position that they tried to stop another follower of Jesus from carrying on his ministry because he was not one of the inner circle. Jesus rebukes them again, and says ‘whoever is not against us is for us’. That is much the same as the verse in another place, ‘whoever is not for us is against us’. Both verses are saying this: there can be no neutrality once you have been introduced to Jesus; you are either for or against. Have you taken a clear stand either for or against Jesus?
Monday 3rd August
In this series of the sayings of Jesus, a number of different points are being made but essentially warnings are being issued. Jesus was not, of course, speaking literally about cutting off hand, or foot or eye but was using dramatic language to underline the importance of dealing with sin. William Hendriksen explains it like this: ‘Sin, being a very destructive force, must not be pampered. It must be “put to death”. Temptation should be flung aside immediately and decisively. Dillydallying is deadly. Halfway measures work havoc. The surgery must be radical… In the struggle against sin the believer must fight hard. Shadow boxing will never do.’ The warning in the passage is clear. There is a place called Hell (verse 46) and it is eternal (verse 48). Some today play down the enormity of this warning, either by denying the existence of Hell or by denying that it is for all eternity. We do so at our peril. We must not blunt the sharp edge of our Saviour’s teaching.
Tuesday 4th August
Here we have Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce. This teaching came about because the Pharisees were once again trying to catch him out. The teaching which Moses had given on the subject was interpreted in different ways by different ‘schools’ of Jewish thought. The Pharisees were trying to force Jesus to take sides. Instead, Jesus takes them back beyond Moses to creation itself and to Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. Jesus explains that what God laid down in the beginning must be the guide for us. The key point Jesus makes is that when marriage takes place, two become one. That is to say, marriage is not some convenient social custom which has grown up over the years but is a supernatural act of God, whereby he unites two people as one. Since it is an act of God, it cannot be broken and we must not separate what God has joined together. There is, however, one situation where divorce is permissable, which we shall see tomorrow.
Wednesday 5th August
When his disciples later ask Jesus about his teaching on marriage and divorce, he spells it out even more clearly. To divorce one’s spouse and marry someone else, is to commit adultery. There is, however, one important qualification to be made. Jesus did give one instance where divorce was allowed. For this we must go to Matthew 19:9: ‘I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery’. Jesus had already said the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:31-32: ‘It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.’ We must take the teaching of Jesus seriously, even in a society which does not.
Thursday 6th August
One day, some parents brought their little children to Jesus to have him touch them. These parents were met with opposition from the disciples who wanted to send them away. Jesus was indignant and insisted that they be brought to him. He said, ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ What did he mean? How can we receive the Kingdom of God like a little child? The most obvious answer is that we must accept it with a genuine, trustful simplicity. Adults often place many obstacles in the path of faith, what is required by God is a simple child-like faith. Just as small children trust their parents, so we must trust our heavenly Father.
Friday 7th August
Like many of the people who met with Jesus, this young man had a question: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ There are three things we can learn from this question. First, the man recognised that he was lacking something. He may have had many possessions but he wanted eternal life and he knew that he didn’t have it. Second, he recognised that Jesus might have the answer. Third, he believed that eternal life was to be obtained by works: ‘what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life’. Now we might have expected Jesus to say that he had to be born again or to speak about the importance of faith. Instead, Jesus pointed the man to God and to the Ten Commandments. Here was a man who believed that salvation was by works ‘what good thing must I do…’ Jesus tells the man quite rightly that perfect obedience to the law brings salvation. The problem, of course, is that no human being can perfectly obey the law because we are all sinners. Jesus wants the man to see that his obedience is inadequate.
Saturday 8th August
We think a little more today about this young rich man. This man had a superficial view of the commandments and so could say that he had kept them. The truth is that none of us can keep them. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, drove that point home (Matthew 5:21-22 and 27-28). Jesus says that at a superficial level we can say that we have never murdered anyone but have we never been angry with anyone or called someone a fool? We may say superficially that we have never committed adultery but have we never looked at someone in a sinful way and committed adultery in our hearts? This young man was very self-righteous. He genuinely believed that he had kept all the commandments but notice, he knew that there was something lacking. He knew that he did not have eternal life. This condition is quite common. There are many people who believe that they are basically good, who will tell you that they have tried to keep the commandments but these same people often have an uneasiness and an uncertainty in their hearts because they have no real assurance of salvation and no real relationship with God.
Sunday 9th August
Now we come to the final part of the story of this young man. We’re told that Jesus loved him and told him to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor and then follow him. Jesus genuinely wanted the man to understand the way of salvation but as he looked into the man’s heart, he could see that there was a problem. God simply did not have the first place in his life. That place belonged to his wealth. Jesus immediately put his finger on the difficulty and told the young man that he could become a disciple just as soon as he gave away everything he had to the poor. This was a test, and the man failed, and he went away sad. It is important to remember that this young man was told to give away his money because it was more important to him than God was. Jesus was not saying that everyone who has money ought to give it all away. He was saying that we have to get rid of anything which is more important to us than God. This requires rigorous honesty. Is there anything in your life or mine which is more important to us than God? What does your life revolve around? Is it God and the things of the faith? Or is it money, or possessions, or sport or something else?
Monday 10th August
This exchange between the rich young man and Jesus is followed by this exchange between Jesus and his disciples. Although the disciples are shocked by Jesus’ demand that the man give all his money away, there is hope in these words of Jesus. We might put it like this: Left to ourselves none of us would ever be saved but with God it is possible. This is the miracle of grace, that sinners such as you and I can be forgiven and gain entrance into the kingdom of God. The last few verses, 28-31, tell us that God rewards faithfulness and obedience, both now, and later in heaven. Jesus finishes by making it clear that there will be some surprises when we come before God and that, ‘many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ In other words, our ideas about who should go to heaven are not the same as God’s. We see only the outside but God can look into the heart. We can be sure of this, however, salvation is for sinners who know that they’re sinners and who have come to God for forgiveness and salvation.
Tuesday 11th August
At this point in Mark’s Gospel, we reach an important point in the story. Jesus and his disciples set off on the road to Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the last stage in Jesus’ life and ministry. The Gospel is nearing its climax. The disciples, however, were greatly concerned about this change of direction. As we read in the first verse of our passage, they were astonished that he was leading them to Jerusalem. All the others who followed were not only astonished but afraid. After all, the enemies of Jesus were in Jerusalem, it was a dangerous place for one who had so blatantly flouted the rules and regulations of the Jewish leaders. This astonishment and fear was made much worse when Jesus began to give a most specific prophetic description of what was going to happen in the immediate future. He explained that they were going up to Jerusalem, and when they arrived he would be betrayed into the hands of his enemies, condemned and killed. Three days later he would rise again from the dead. He knew what to expect.
Wednesday 12th August
The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus had said to them. They persisted with the notion that Jesus was going to set up a kingdom on this earth. The fact that they were looking for an earthly kingdom is underlined by the story which follows. James and John come to Jesus and request the places of highest honour in the kingdom. They wanted to sit beside him when he was on his throne, one of them on his left and one on his right. James and John were very ambitious but they had completely failed to understand Jesus. He had just explained to them that he was going to be killed and rise again from the dead, and all they could think about was the earthly kingdom in which they wanted to top places. They were spiritually blind. They simply could not see that the kingdom which Jesus came to bring was not of this world. Do we understand the kingdom of God?
Thursday 13th August
Jesus explains to James and John that their request is unreasonable. He says, ‘to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared’. In other words, he was teaching them the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Throughout his ministry, Jesus constantly reiterated this doctrine by saying that he was only doing what his father had told him to do, that he was only saying what his father had told him to say, and that even the timing of his actions was predetermined by his father. This is a most important doctrine for us too. It means that God is in control of every situation and that the world is literally ‘in his hands’. It also means that our salvation and eternal life are entirely dependent upon the free operation of his grace upon us. This is the great doctrine of predestination, a proper understanding of which is vital if we are to see all the other doctrines in their proper perspective. As Paul said, ‘God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world’.
Friday 14th August
The other disciples were indignant when they discovered that James and John had tried to ‘steal a march’ on them and had tried to get their requests for prominent positions in first, before anyone else had a chance. Soon they were arguing with each other. Then Jesus stopped them and explained a striking new principle: ‘whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’ Jesus had already tried to teach them this (Mark 9:33-35) but the message had not penetrated. Jesus helps to drive the point home by explaining that he himself was not the kind or messiah they were expecting. He says, ‘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.’ Jesus was and is God, and yet he became the ‘Servant King’ that we might be saved. Our attitude is to be the same as his (Philippians 2:5-8).
Saturday 15th August
Today we meditate on just one key verse. Jesus Christ did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. In other words, his death affects us. The crucifixion was not simply the unlawful killing of a wandering Galilean rabbi, it was a deliberate act by God with a clear and distinct purpose, to provide a ransom so that our sins might be forgiven. Jesus has paid the ransom, he has died the death on the cross and so now forgiveness and salvation are freely available to all who will call upon the name of the Lord. In the words of that great hymn by Graham Kendrick:
From heaven you came, helpless babe,
entered our world, your glory veiled,
Not to be served but to serve,
and give your life that we might life.
This is our God, the Servant-King,
He calls us now to follow him,
to bring our lives as a daily offering
of worship to the Servant-King.
Sunday 16th August
As they continued on this momentous journey to Jerusalem, Jesus and his followers come to Jericho. Crowds of people came out to meet him including a blind man called Bartimaeus who, upon hearing that Jesus was near, began to shout out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ This proved to be an embarrassment to those around him who rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he paid no attention to them and kept calling out. Jesus heard him, stopped, asked what he wanted and then healed him. There are several things we should note about Bartimaeus. First, he was persistent in seeking Jesus, nothing would put him off. Second, he responded immediately to the Saviour’s call. Third, he knew precisely what he needed from Jesus. There is a model here for each of us. We must be aware of our problem (sin), some to the one who can deal with it (Jesus) and be healed (pardoned and accepted).
Monday 17th August
If you look at Mark 10 as a whole, it is clear that there are different kinds of blindness. Bartimaeus was physically blind but James and John were spiritually blind and could not understand about Jesus’ death, or his kingdom, or his Father. Both kinds of blindness were healed by Jesus. Bartimaeus was completely healed and followed Jesus. James and John were later admitted to a fuller understanding of the Gospel and the kingdom. I believe that there is a spiritual blindness afflicting the church today similar to that of James and John. I believe that there are many people within the churches who simply do not understand the meaning and significance of the Gospel. Jesus Christ is able to cure that kind of spiritual blindness but I fear that there are many people who do not want to be cured. When was the last time you sat down and thought about the state of your own soul? Are you in a state of grace? If you died tonight would you be sure of going to heaven? Most people take more interest in the state of their gardens than they do in the state of their own souls.
Tuesday 18th August
This is the famous story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at the beginning of the last week of his life. Having spent Saturday night in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, it was now Sunday morning and Jesus was ready to enter Jerusalem. Jesus sent two of his disciples from Bethany to the nearby village of Bethphage where, he told them, they would find the young colt of a donkey which had never yet been ridden. They brought the colt to him and put their coats on as a rough saddle for Jesus. Soon everyone seemed to be throwing their coats either on to the donkey or on to the road ahead of Jesus, while other people began to wave branches and shout. In no time at all, it appeared as if the whole of the surrounding countryside was crowding round this man on a donkey and all were headed for the city of Jerusalem. They shouted ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’ The scene was set for all that would happen in Jerusalem. The crucifixion was now close.
Wednesday 19th August
This crowd of people who shouted ‘hosanna’ when Jesus entered Jerusalem must have included many of the same people who, only five days later, were among the crowd which shouted ‘Crucify Him!’ How could they change their minds so quickly? The reason was that Jesus did not turn out to be the kind of Messiah they wanted. They thought that Jesus would be a political liberator, a warrior king. Remember, this crowd was made up of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a feast which commemorated the deliverance of their forefathers from bondage in Egypt. On such an occasion, when the nation was once again in bondage, you could see how thoughts of liberation and deliverance would run in their minds. The crowd had misunderstood. Jesus was not that kind of king. His kingdom, as he had told them, was not of this world. As soon as the crowd realised this, they turned their backs on him and ultimately joined in when another crowd on another day began to shout, ‘Crucify him!’
Thursday 20th August
The over-riding theme of this passage is the authority of Jesus. As Jesus and his disciples left Bethany on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree in the distance which was in leaf. He was hungry and so went over to the tree. Discovering no fruit he said, ‘May no-one eat fruit from you again.’ The next day, the fig tree was withered. Peter was astonished and pointed it out to Jesus. What are we to make of this story? Mark tells us in verse 13 that it was not the season for figs, so it was no surprise that Jesus did not find any. To use his power to destroy a tree which was not even in season seems petulant and pointless and not at all what we might expect of Jesus. So what was going on here? There have been various suggestions but only two of them seem persuasive to me. One view says that in the Old Testament the prophets often used the imagery of the fig-tree as a symbol of Israel and that Jesus was acting out a parable of what would soon happen to Israel. The other possible view is that Jesus was simply demonstrating his authority over all things. This seems to me to be the most likely explanation. In this incident, then, we see the authority of Jesus over all of nature.
Friday 21st August
Just as we saw the authority of Jesus displayed in the incident of the fig tree, so we see it when he arrives at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus enters the temple and clears it of those who were selling birds and animals for sacrifice and the money-changers exchanging currency for the coinage in which the temple tax was to be paid. In both cases, robbery was taking place! Jesus clears the temple and throws out the robbers. This cleansing of the temple was a real challenge to the Jewish authorities and would climax in Jesus being crucified. What we see here is Jesus exercising his authority. After all, as the Jewish leaders would argue, who was he to clear the temple? What right did he have? What authority did he have? The answer is that he had all the authority of the Son of God.
Saturday 22nd August
The final verses of this passage (22-25) are about prayer. Jesus says, ‘I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’ Here Jesus emphasises the power of prayer and the importance of forgiveness. These are striking words. Jesus was again demonstrating his authority. He was saying that he had the authority to ensure that prayers were answered, the authority to speak for the Father. These words of Jesus should encourage us to be confident and persistent in prayer. Do you believe Jesus when he says that he will answer prayer?
Sunday 23rd August
The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders come to challenge Jesus. They demand to know by what authority he was teaching and doing miracles. This question of the authority of Jesus comes up again and again in the Gospels. Jesus gives them a good answer (although without answering their question). He asks them by what authority John the Baptist taught. This placed them in a quandary. The people regarded John as a prophet from God but the Jewish leaders had despised him and rejected his teaching about repentance. They couldn’t give an answer, so Jesus refused to answer the question about his own authority. The truth is that Jesus has authority because of his identity. He is the Son of the living God and so speaks with authority.
Monday 24th August
This is the parable of the tenants. In this parable, Jesus recounts the dealing of God with his chosen people, the Israelites. He begins by using the imagery of a man building a vineyard, to demonstrate that everything which could possibly have been required was provided. The vineyard was planted, a wall was put in place for protection, a watchtower was erected to look out for danger and the winepress was dug out, so the wine could be pressed and made ready. In the same way, God did everything necessary for the people of Israel. The landowner sent messenger after messenger but they were all beaten or killed. This refers to the fact that God sent many prophets to Israel, warning them of the judgement to come if they did not repent. The overall message is that the judgement of God has fallen on Israel because of their sin and disobedience, in the face of God’s kindness. We might reflect on the fact that any nation that turns away from God is likely to be judged by God. Where does that leave our nation, which has been so singularly blessed by God in past days but which has now rebelled?
Tuesday 25th August
Above all, this parable speaks about Jesus. In the parable, after various servants have been send to the vineyard, the owner of the vineyard sends his son. The son is killed and thrown out of the vineyard. Jesus is speaking of what was soon happen to him. He is the Son of God, sent to the people of Israel, after many prophets have been sent, as a last opportunity for repentance. In the parable, Jesus identifies himself as the ‘capstone.’ This is familiar Old Testament language, which also appears in 1 Peter 2:4, where Peter says that Christ is the cornerstone. This helps us to understand what Jesus is saying about himself in this parable. He is the one who was rejected by Israel but is actually the capstone, the foundation stone, the one needed for everything else to hold together.
Wednesday 26th August
The Jewish leaders knew that Jesus was speaking about them and this increased their hatred of him. So they sent Pharisees and Herodians to trap him. This is the famous encounter where they ask if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus is faced with a problem. If he says it is right to pay taxes to Caesar, many of the people will reject him because they saw the Romans as an occupying power. If he says they shouldn’t pay, the Pharisees would turn him over to the Romans. So he gives his brilliant answer, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ As Christians we must render obedience to God. We must also obey the rulers of the State (Romans 13). Only where there is a conflict between these should we disobey the State.
Thursday 27th August
The Pharisees have failed in their attempt to trap Jesus, so now the Sadducees try. The Sadducees were a Jewish religious group about whom we know very little. There are several places in the New Testament where they are mentioned but without much explanation as to who they are or what they believed. Most of our information about them comes from later Jewish writings. It would appear that most of the Sadducees were priests and they came from the more aristocratic families in the countryside, as opposed to the Pharisees who were drawn from the poorer people in the cities. Some have said that the Sadducees were very political. The one thing they shared clearly with the Pharisees was opposition to Jesus. Isn’t it amazing that most of the opposition to Jesus came from religious people? Sadly, it is much the same today!
Friday 28th August
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. You may remember the time when Paul was on trial for his faith and he used this issue of the resurrection to divide the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 23:6-8). This explains their question to Jesus about the seven brothers. The Sadducees were trying to show how foolish it was to believe in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus’ response to the Sadducees was as sharp as his response to the Pharisees. He said, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?’ They did not know the Scriptures and so did not know those passages, even in the Old Testament, which spoke of resurrection. More seriously, they did not know the power of God. God is able to raise the dead and they did not know or believe this. It is important to point out that these things, the Scriptures and the Power of God, go together.
Saturday 29th August
This is a section of Jesus’ teaching in which he gives his summary of the law. The whole law of God can be summed up in this way: love God and love your neighbour. These two things are connected and cannot be separated. We have seen over the past week how Jesus’ enemies tried to trap him with their questions and how Jesus got the better of them. Here we see that they hadn’t given up. One of the teachers of the law asked him: ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ Jesus replied in the famous words of verses 29-31: ‘The most important one, answered Jesus, is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’ Love God and love your neighbour. How do our lives match up against this simple test?
Sunday 30th August
We read this again today in order to demonstrate that Jesus’ summary of the law: ‘Love God and love your neighbour’ came from the Old Testament. In fact, he took two passages from the Old Testament and brought them together. The first was from Deuteronomy 6:4-5: ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ The second passage is Leviticus 19:18, which says, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. It is important to highlight these Old Testament passages, in order to demonstrate that loving God and loving your neighbour is not just a New Testament idea. God’s requirements have always been the same.
Monday 31st August
The lawyer who had asked the question was deeply impressed with Jesus’ answer, and agreed with him. Here was a man who had been trying to put Jesus on the spot, to catch him out, but he was honest enough to admit that Jesus had all the answers. Jesus saw this, and told the man that he was not far from the kingdom of God. Do you see how the tables have been turned? This man was trying to pass judgement upon Jesus but discovers to his surprise that Jesus was weighing him in the balance! Notice, the man had not arrived in the kingdom, but he was not far away. He had come to the place where he understood and was prepared to be taught by the Lord, but he had not taken that final step of commitment. Have you taken that step of faith and commitment, or are you outside the kingdom?