Archives For Jesus

I could have kicked myself.  For more than ten years I’d recognized John 19:34 as the gospels climax, capstone and bloom.  I’d seen how it’s allusion to the creation of Eve brought together the gospel’s theme of new creation, marriage and oneness with God.  But until that moment I’d simply overlooked it’s relationship to the most well-known characteristic of John’s gospel, the new birth.

Like every Evangelical, I love the term “born again!”  It perfectly describes how the Holy Spirit transforms hearts and lives.  I’ve experienced it.  But until then I’d never realized how this term points to an event other than conversion.  I now see how John uses it as powerful metaphor for what Jesus did on the cross.

Have you ever seen the crucifixion as Jesus’ labor pains and his death as the moment of birth?  That may sound odd.  But its exactly what John wants us to see in Jesus’ pierced side and its flow of blood and water (John 19:34)

Apart from 1 Peter 1:22-23, the new birth is found exclusively in John’s Gospel and letters.  We could say its his whole point.  John summarizes his gospel this way,

These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)

How does this new life occur? Through a Divine birth of course. John spells it out for his readers four times.

(1) Born of God (1:11-13)

The nativity forms the heart of John’s introduction (1:1-18)  But unlike Matthew and Luke it’s not Jesus‘.  John 1:12-13 reads,

But to all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.

The significance of the believers birth is only underscored by its position within the prologue’s structure.  These opening eighteen verses form a chiasm, an ancient rhetorical pattern which rotates around and points to a central core.  And John 1:12-13 is that core.  The new birth is John’s thesis statement, a parallel to his summary on the other end of the book (20:30-31).  The gospel results in a spiritual nativity.  Reception of Jesus leads to a birth from God.

(2) Born Again (3:3-6)

The birth metaphor next appears in Jesus’ conversation with the aged Pharisee, Nicodimus.  Jesus tells him outright, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  Confused, Nicodimus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time?”  Jesus clarifies his statement by rephrasing it.  “Unless a man be born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

The rephrasing here is important.  Nicodimus has stumbled over Jesus’ use of the word again, the Greek word anothenAnothen can mean a second time, but unlike the English translation, it can also mean ‘from above.’  The new birth of which Jesus speaks is not a second physical birth but an entirely new birth from God, a birth ‘of water and Spirit” or more accurately “water which is the Spirit.”  Jesus’ here echos the words of the prologue.  This birth is not from any human being but is entirely Divine in origin.

(3) New Sight (9:1-10)

The birth imagery is again found in the opened eyes of the blind man in John 9.  Note how John over and over again tells us that the man’s blindness was from birth (9:1-2, 19-20, 32-33). Through the emphasis, John depicts Jesus’ miraculous gift of sight as the man’s birth to new life.

(4) Labor Pains (16:20-22)

The last clear use of the birth metaphor is found in Jesus’ upper room discourse.  Here, Jesus compares the sorrow of the disciples to a woman in labor.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.  When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will turn your joy from you.

In the analogy, the disciples are mother’s in labor and it’s Jesus, in his death and resurrection, who is being born.

But the analogy also implicitly and more accurately points to Jesus as the one giving birth. The disciples are sorrowful but they don’t experience anything close to the physical pain of crucifixion.  And of course their sorrow doesn’t produce the resurrection in the same way a mother’s pain produces a child or the way Jesus’ physical suffering brings about the believers new birth (1:12-13).  Jesus’ use of the word “hour” for a woman’s labor pains (16:21) also reminds the reader of Jesus’ climatic hour which he has used as a reference to the cross so many times before (John 2:4, 7:6, 8, 30, 8:20, 12:23, 27, 13:1, 17:1).

Given the repeated emphasis on a birth from God, it seems highly likely that John intended his readers to see the further implications of this analogy.  The cross is Jesus hour, his labor for our birth.  A birth which quite fittingly comes from the side of God.

If we were to look for a birth in John’s depiction of the crucifixion we would find no better illustration than the flow of blood and water from the pierced side of Christ and its allusion to the creation of Eve in Genesis 2:21-24.

To be continued…

Wow!  The History Channel is at it again. This time with Bible Secrets Revealed.  And like Banned From the Bible and other programs like it, it’s doing a real bang-up job of distorting the facts with quick sound bites and brazen insinuation.  I received this message from a troubled friend.

So they say the gospel of mark ended originally with the women going to the tomb to wash his body, but when they realized he was gone, they left & said nothing for they were afraid. Yet later on someone added the resurrection due to being unsatisfied with the original abrupt ending

You can find the segment of the program here between 19:27 and 21:21.

It’s true. I agree with the facts. BUT not the inference. Mark did originally end at 16:8 and that later Christians added a new ending because they were unsatisfied with the old. But its not at all for the reasons the program suggests.

The program implies early Christians later made up accounts of Jesus’ resurrection because of Mark’s missing ending. Wrong!  Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, writing 20 years before Mark, tells us who and in what order more than 500 people saw Jesus bodily risen from the dead.  A fact he had already received from others.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

But the writers of Bible Secrets Revealed are apparently so ignorant they feel they can rhetorically ask,

“Is it possible that the account of Jesus divine resurrection, one of the most important tenants of Christianity, was the result of a missing page? (21:09 – 21:21)


Just read Mark!  It’s obvious he knows of these early resurrection appearances!  He points to them!  Three times, he records Jesus predicting his resurrection.

And He (Jesus) began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (Mark 9:31)

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Himand three days later He will rise again.” (Mark 10:32-34)

Mark also tells us that the angel at the empty informed the women that Jesus had fulfilled these predictions and would later meet his disciples in Galilee.

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” (Mark 8:6-7)

If Mark believes that Jesus was clearly correct about His resurrection, don’t you think Mark intends his readers to trust the predictions of the angel, that they did see Jesus in Galilee.  “There you WILL see Him, just as He told you.”  Any basic introduction to Mark would reveal this.  But you won’t get this from the History Channel.  They just let this leading questions dangle out there as if no one could possibly think of a better explanation.

So WHY doesn’t Mark end with a resurrection appearance of Jesus?

It’s vital part of his message. Throughout his Gospel, Mark has shown that true disciples follow Jesus wherever he goes. And that includes to the death. But the disciples of course ran away and abandoned Jesus in the hours before his death. The invitation from the angel is that Jesus is once again waiting for them. To find him they must follow. Mark ends his gospel, with that invitation still ringing in his readers ears. And the question he wants his readers to ask is, “will I follow?” “Will I start over and follow him in His death and resurrection?”

That point has been lost on a number of people, not least many readers in the early church. It’s a bit too subtle for some. That’s why someone felt it necessary to include Mark 16:9-20, which is itself a basic summary of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances from the book of Luke and Acts. The summary is accurate. It’s just not the point of Mark’s Gospel.

I’ve dealt with this topic in a couple of posts. You might find these helpful.

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians concerned with symbolism in the Gospel of John.  They’re particularly troubled with the notion that John intended objects and images to convey a coded meaning.  They might be bothered for instance that

  • the “water jar” in John 4:28-29 points to the woman’s abandonment of tradition
  • the “night” in John 3:1 and 13:30 refers to more than just time of day.
  • the parenthetical naming of the servant in John 18:10 is included because it means kingdom.
  • Or that the water which flows from Jesus’ side in John 19:34 represents the Holy Spirit.

And they, of course, have reasons for their concern.  Two come to mind.

(1) Symbols seem the product of an overly imaginative author tampering with historical fact.  Like a story with too many coincidences, symbols rub at our confidence in an eyewitness report.  We expect witnesses to give fresh, trivial details of what they’ve seen and heard.  But the presence of meaningful objects point to a premeditated creativity.  Where might history end and the authors imagination begin?

(2) Symbolic interpretations appear to bypass the plain meaning of the text.  Good interpretation must be grounded in rules which cause readers of varying backgrounds to arrive at similar conclusions.  Since the “discovery” of symbols has all too often varied from one interpreter to the next, they appear to arise from an “interpreter’s” whim and not the text itself.

Bottom line: symbols hijack history and or the author’s true intent.

I think we should heed these cautions.  The way a symbolic reading is presented can indeed lead some to question the gospel’s veracity.  Likewise without proper criteria the claim of symbolism is open to abuse.  But while we should heed these cautions it doesn’t mean we must discount John’s or the Bible’s use of symbolism.  Symbols are not antithetical to history nor is the discovery of deeper meaning damned to be divorced from proper interpretive criteria.  Symbols can and often are faithful to the facts.


Symbolism in History

History is full of legitimate symbols.  For example, we know Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday 1865 just five days after Palm Sunday’s official end to the Civil War.  Lincoln’s final week thus corresponds significantly to Jesus’ final week.  Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and on that first Good Friday he’s executed on the cross.  But the correspondences do not end there.  Like Jesus’s life and death, which brought spiritual freedom to humanity, Lincoln’s leadership and untimely death resulted in a “new birth of freedom” for the slaves.  That authors have seen in these remarkable similarities Lincoln as a type or symbol of Christ by no means undermines their historic credibility.

Craig Koester states,

“We can discern symbolic significance in images, events, or persons without undercutting their claims to historicity, and we can recognize that certain images, events, and people are historical without diminishing their symbolic value.”

According to Xavier Leon-Dufour, Symbolism

“should be understood as putting together the surface and deeper realities rather than as evacuating the surface of the text simply to reach the deeper reality.”

Even St. Augustine saw no tension between the historical facts of John’s Gospel and the deep creativity involved in producing it.  He says John,

‘is like one who has drunk in the secret of His divinity more richly and somehow more familiarly than others, as if he drew it from the very bosom of his Lord on which it was his wont to recline when He sat at meat’

The presence of symbolism in John does not mean he was an overly imaginative author. It means he reflected deeply on the significance of the events. John can faithfully record history while highlighting its profound connections and meaning.

Interpreting Symbols

Literature, both ancient and modern, is full of real and yet implicit symbols.  We know that authors use symbols.  But we also know not everything that is claimed as symbol is truly symbolic.  So how do interpreters know which is which?

In How to Detect a Symbol, I described two ways of knowing.  First, by an initiation into the author and audiences shared knowledge and experience.   Like an inside joke, the author winks and the reader smiles while the uninitiated might simply be told, “just had to be there.”  And secondly by the author defining the meaning of symbol within the text itself.  If an author feels his audience may not readily understand his meaning, he or she will supply a definition for their audience.

In principle, people recognize the accuracy of these two criteria.  It’s the extent to which they’re used which bothers some.  Most, for instance, are not troubled by an author giving a word or an object an alternative meaning if and when they do so directly (i.e. x = 2).  It’s troubling, however, when it’s too subtle, when we can’t connect the dots. Without a carefully considered argument, the claim of symbolism can appear as perplexing as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.  But such tricks aren’t real magic, rather they’re a carefully crafted illusion arising from a systematic process.  It appears bewildering only because we don’t know how it works.

It takes more than an interpreter declaring, “this means X” for an object to be a symbol. To a person bypassing a careful engagement with the text we would rightly respond, “that’s just your interpretation.”  A true interpretation is a matter of carefully laying out the narrative evidence.

Authors can define symbols overtly (i.e. x = 2) but they can also do so covertly through such things as parallels in character’s speech or comparisons in narrative structure.  We need to recognize, unlike the world in which we live, there is no real division in a story between a character’s words and those of events, objects and images. All have been carefully shaped and edited by an author.  If a narrator or a character makes a meaningful comparison to an image in a figure of speech or the author invites comparison in the sandwiching of different scenes it opens up the the possibility that such object and images are used symbolically when they appear physically elsewhere within the the world of the story.

Its helpful to think of objects and images like words.  A single world, like “hand” for instance, can have a verity of definitions which only become apparent in context

  • the hired hand fixed the railing
  • his hand was illegible
  • he wanted to try his hand at singing
  • on the one hand…, but on the other…
  • I didn’t hold a good hand all evening
  • The hands read 3:25
  • give the little lady a great big hand
  • hand me the spoon, please
  • hand the elderly lady into the taxi

Such a list of uses for a single word come ready made in our culture.  But authors can also add their own uses to this list.  The same is true for the meaning of objects and images.  The metaphorical or symbolic meaning becomes one possible meaning which context alone helps us determine.   Just because Jesus calls himself the light of the world in one sermon does not mean that light is symbolic of Jesus everywhere it occurs.  But possibility becomes probability when a symbolic meaning is found to cohere in the images immediate context.  So if Jesus defines himself as the light in a specific sermon, then related images of darkness within the story can given a specific context take on an opposing significance.

Perhaps I should end with a parting example.

In John 18:36 Jesus declares,

“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

There is a glaring discrepancy in Jesus’ statement.  Peter had just been fighting to stop Jesus’ arrest. He drew a sword and severed a man’s ear (18:10).

It’s interesting to note that while Matthew and Mark record this earlier incident, only John names Peter as the one who attacked the man and, in a concluding parenthetical statement, Malchus as the one whom he attacked.  Is the identification of Peter and Malchus simply the fresh, trivial detail of an eyewitness? Or does John find the significance in the fact that Malchus‘ name in Aramaic truly means kingdom?  Jesus statement about fighting and His kingdom certainly drives our attention back to this scene and causes us to look at it again with fresh eyes.  It seems to me highly likely, given Jesus later statement and its apparent connection to Peter’s fighting, that John included this historic detail, not just because it was historically true but because it symbolically revealed something significant in Peter’s actions.

If you’re looking for a film to watch with a nonchristian friend this Easter you don’t have turn to an adaptation of Gospels to catch a glimpse of Jesus.  Christ figures are literally everywhere on the silver screen.

Unlike the figure of Jesus portrayed in a gospel film, a Christ figure is any character who parallels the life, death or resurrection of Jesus.  Depending on the similarities, the reference may be painfully obscure or glowingly transparent.

John Coffey, for instance, in the Green Mile is most certainly a Christ figure. Did you catch that his initials are J.C!  And if that doesn’t convince you, he also heals, raises the dead and is executed by the state for a crime he didn’t commit.

But Christ figures also play central roles in films like

  • Les Miserables
  • Shane
  • Superman
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Aliens 3
  • V for Vendetta
  • Sling Blade
  • Gladiator.

And that’s just a few.

My goal here though isn’t just to point you to films that make an implicit reference to Jesus.  For that we would need a little more time.  Instead I want to narrow the focus to films that also allude to His resurrection.

Here’s a list of ten, plus an extra thrown in for good measure.

  1. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  2. E. T. (1982)
  3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  4. Braveheart (1995)
  5. The Truman Show (1998)
  6. The Iron Giant (1999)
  7. The Matrix (1999)
  8. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2003)
  9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
  10. Thor (2011)
  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) 

What do you think?  Which of these films most suprised you?  Are there films you believe have been missed? 

And by the way half of these films found their way into a short video I put together called the Longing of Man.  Check it out!  I think you’ll enjoy it.


In preparation for my class on the Life of Christ I’ve once again been studying the gospel of Mark.  Mark focus’ on Jesus’ unflinching journey to his own death in Jerusalem and the devastating failure of those called to follow Him.

There are three things that I think most people find particularly puzzling about Mark

  1. The young man who runs away naked in Mark 14. He’s not found in any other gospel. Who is this man? And why does he appear in Mark?
  2. The ending of Mark at 16:8. The women are told that Jesus is alive and that they should go tell the disciples. But instead the woman run away afraid and say nothing. The longer ending we now have is most likely an attempt to solve the somewhat messy feeling this leaves. Why does Mark end his gospel here and in this way?
  3. The Meeting in Galilee. In Mark the disciples are told to go to Galilee in order to meet the risen Jesus but in Luke’s gospel the disciples meet Jesus outside of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives and He specifically tells them to stay in Jerusalem. Why does Mark say Jesus will meet them in Galilee?

I think I know the answers to these questions.  I want you to keep them in the back of your mind as we look closely at Mark’s message.

Mark is the shortest of the four gospels. In his succinct narrative he focus’ like a laser beam on the person of Christ and on those who follow him, his disciples. Like a modern action film, Mark uses rapid cutting. Jesus hits the ground running and never stops. He is a man with a lot to accomplish in a very short amount of time.

From the opening quotation from the prophet Isaiah, Mark defines the action of Jesus as a journey. Three times in this quotation we read of the “way of the Lord” and or a “path for our God.”

Throughout the gospel we see Jesus on a journey, a path towards his own death in Jerusalem. It is the disciples alone who called to follow Him. The first thing Jesus does, after his own calling, is to return to Galilee and call his first disciples. “Follow me,” he says to Peter and Andrew on the shores of Galilee and immediately they leave everything to “follow him.” He likewise calls to James and John and they too leave everything to “follow him.” In chapter two, Jesus calls another man, Levi the Tax collector, in much the same way. “Follow me” he says to Levi and Levi like the disciples before leaves everything to follow him. The act of following is again emphasized in Jesus choosing of the twelve Apostles. Mark says that Jesus chooses twelve men that “they might be with him…” The first objective in his selection is a call to nearness. The Apostles are to be where he is. They are to follow him on the road.

And they do follow, at least in the beginning. In Galilee we find the disciples journeying with Jesus back and forth across the Sea. They are with him when His mother and brothers come to take custody of him and when He speaks his first Parable. They are with him when he calmly quiets the storm as well as when he confronts a man possessed with a legion of demons. They are with him when He heals the woman with the issue of blood and they are with him when he raises Jarius’ daughter from the dead. The disciples are with Jesus more than anyone. But the disciples, the group closest to him, don’t have a clue who Jesus is. They are comically and ultimately tragically a dim witted group.

As Jesus abruptly cuts his way through the pages of Mark, people are impelled to wonder, “Who is this man.” The Scribes and Pharisees are confounded by him. When Jesus casts out a demon, they wonder, “What is this, a new Teaching with authority?” When Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic, they ask, “Why does this man speak that way? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The questions go on and on. “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” “Why don’t your disciples fast?” “Why are your disciples doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?

But the disciples, the ones called to follow him, marvel just as much. In Mark 4, they ask Jesus about his parables. In Mark 5, they wonder at His cool reaction to a storm. And later they are dumbfounded when Jesus, bombarded by a crowd, asks who touched me? In chapter 6 they are perplexed when Jesus instructs them to feed the five thousand and again are just as perplexed when he tells them two chapters later to feed the four thousand. When Jesus, in Mark seven speaks in very plain language, the disciples turn around and ask Jesus to interpret the parable. ITS NOT A PARABLE, a fact which underscores the disciple’s total lack of intelligence. And even after Jesus has fed the five thousand and the four thousand with a few loaves of bread, Jesus finds the disciples once again concerned about how many loaves they have.

You may not like the fact that Mark is so hard the disciples. You know we can all relate. But that’s why Mark is so hard on the disciples. That’s the very point. Mark is hard on the disciples precisely because we can relate. Mark wants us to see ourselves in this bumbling group of men.

In chapter eight the journey truly begins. Jesus asks the disciples the central question everyone’s been dying to know. “Who do men say that I am?” The disciples provide a few stock answers. And then Jesus turns the question on them, “but who do you say that I am.” Peter in his boldness shouts out “You are the Christ.” It’s the right answer but Jesus takes it in an unexpected direction.

Immediately He begins for the first time to teach that he must suffer be killed and after three days rise again. Peter doesn’t get it. Though Jesus states the matter rather plainly, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him. You see the Christ, according to Jewish expectation, was to be a conquering hero, a military leader who would kick the Romans out and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel. When Peter called Jesus the Christ, he certainly had this in mind. Jesus, however, doesn’t have the same plan. He is a suffering Christ and not the Christ of Peter’s expectations.

Jesus rebukes Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” He then gathers his disciples and calls them once again to follow.

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospels will save it.

Jesus calls his disciples to follow in his death.

With this dramatic exchange Jesus will set out on a straight path to Jerusalem, beginning in the extreme north of Israel, down through Galilee and on into Judea and Jerusalem. Three times on this journey Jesus will teach his disciples that he is going to suffer, die and be raised from the dead. Each time the disciples will fail to understand and each time Jesus will attempt to correct their faulty understanding. Jesus encounter with Peter at Caesarea Philippi is the first of these three instances.

The second instance is in 9:31. Jesus having journeyed from the extreme North enters Galilee and teaches his disciples once again that,

The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, he will rise three days later.

But the disciples still don’t understand and Mark tells us that they are afraid to ask. When Jesus enters Capernaum, a city on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, he questions them about what they were talking about “on the way.” Mark states, “But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.” Their Lord has just proclaimed the impending hour of his own death and here they are arguing about which one of them is the best. Like Peter they simply don’t understand the mission Jesus has in mind. Jesus once again sits them down and teaches a paradox. “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all.”

How many of us have seen these internal power plays, Christians envious and fighting over others prestige? Those prepared to die are never concerned about such things.

In 10:33 Jesus will enter Judea and give the most detailed information about his impending death yet.

Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.

But James and John in the very next verse approach Jesus with an astonishing request. “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” They just don’t get it. They still think that Jesus is going to be crowned king in Jerusalem. They’re looking forward to being close to an earthly king. Jesus responds, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They reply all to rashly, “we are able.” Jesus affirms that they will indeed be able but as for sitting on his right and left he cannot grant because “it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

Surprisingly, the only other people we find in the gospel of Mark that are ever on Jesus right and left are the two thieves on the cross. Jesus glory is the cross and he’s calling his disciples to once again follow him on the road. Jesus again teaches a paradox. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

But sadly the disciples never get it. When they finally arrive in Jerusalem, they show themselves to be tragically and traitorously inept. Judas, one of the twelve, goes to the leaders and offers to betray Jesus. When Jesus predicts this, Peter and the other disciples respond with oaths of loyalty. But in Gethsemane, Mark states that at the sight of the soldiers, “they all left him and fled.” At the sight of the soldiers, the disciples abandon their call. At the first sign of danger, they all run away. Jesus has called them to follow him to his death. He has called them to suffer. The disciples choose life instead.

It is here in this moment that we find the young man running away naked, leaving his linen sheet behind. Who is this man and why does he appear here? There are some interesting clues. First, a linen sheet only appears one other time in the gospel of Mark and its wrapped around the dead body of Jesus. Secondly, nakedness, after the fall, is always a sign of shame. For these reasons as well as one other that I will reveal in a moment I believe Mark uses this young man as a symbol for the very failure of the disciples. They have been called to follow Jesus to his death but in this moment they all run away in shame leaving the death that Christ has clothed them in behind.

Shocking! The disciples, the very twelve apostles, when confronted with the death that Christ demands turn around and flee. But they are our fathers, they are our representatives. And like them we Fat Christians have abandoned Christ’s call. I’m sure each of us can remember the sweetness of our conversion when Christ first called us to follow. Like the disciples we left everything. Like their time in Galilee, the beginning was trouble-free. It was easy to follow because everything was so sweet. But as the years passed life seemed to seep back in. We got married, had some kids, bought a house in which live. Now there were mortgages to pay, vacations to plan, and cars to fix and repair. We sought people and places that would affirm us. We’ve looked for glory in the eyes of others. Suffering for Christ became the last thing on our minds. And now it’s not a question whether we would follow him to his death for we ceased to follow all ready. Like the disciples we’ve already denied him. We’ve already turned and walked away. Examined in light of Christ’s own example we find ourselves totally lacking. Can we do what Jesus did? Can we walk the road he himself has blazed?

That’s the powerful question in Mark’s disturbing ending. Mark tells us that the women who go to the tomb on Sunday Morning are met by a young man clothed in white. Notice how Mark alone among the gospels doesn’t call this figure an angel. Instead he calls him a “young man.” It’s the same description used for the streaking disciple, the young man that runs away in the Gethsemane, leaving the linen sheet behind. Well, now he’s clothed in white and he has a message for the disciples. “’He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.” But again in the very next verse the women, like the disciples before, run away and say nothing for they themselves are afraid. The end? Yup, that’s it.

All the questions you had about the disciples, Mark doesn’t answer. Did they go to Galilee? Did they meet Jesus again? He doesn’t say. Why not? Why doesn’t he say? Answer: Because he leaves it to you. Without denying the difficulty, Jesus extends his forgiveness in reestablishing the call. He goes before you. Will you follow? The answer and the end is up to you.

Originally Posted October 15, 2007