Can You Do Me a Favor? (Palm Sunday, 6th Sunday in Lent)

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.” (Mark 10:35-45)

Can you do a favor for me?” What is your response to such a request? It varies, doesn’t it? If it is my wife, my answer is, “Of course, what do you need?” If it is a co-worker, my response is more likely to be, “What do you need?” before I say, “Of course.”

In today’s text, Jesus gives the second answer. James and John, the beloved brothers, were among his closest disciples. John even refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in his version of the Gospel. But something in this situation causes Jesus to pause before agreeing. He does not trust their judgment to make a reasonable request. Jesus does not expect the request to be along the lines of, “Would you heal our sick mother?” or “Would you teach us more about prayer?”

Jesus’ caution is justified, because their request is audacious and disappointing. James and John seem to sense that something big is going to happen. Maybe their miracle-working teacher will throw down with the Romans and become King of Jerusalem. If so, they want to be first in line for the best jobs in the new Jesus Administration.

All is not lost, however, for while Jesus refuses the request, he uses it as a teaching point. This appears to be partly a strategy to protect the brothers from their indignant fellow-disciples (who are maybe wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that first!”).

Jesus’ lesson is about leadership, and this is the primary text for the popular agenda today of being a servant-leader. We should admit that “servant-leader” is every bit the oxymoron today as it was in Jesus’ day. Leaders don’t look for people to serve, they want followers. Before we discard the idea of a servant-leader, two things should be noticed:

  1. For Jesus, being the Servant of All did not compel him to grant the brothers’ request. Being a servant of others does not mean you attend to their every whim. It means you care about others.
  2. For Jesus, his own role as Servant of All was tied to his willingness to die on the cross as a “ransom” for human sins. Being a servant of others means you care about others more than yourself. Way more.

As we come to the end of our Lenten season, may we examine our attitude to others. Do we truly care about them? Do we care about them more than we care about ourselves? Way more?

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The opinions of this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of his employer.

Predicting Death (5th Sunday in Lent)

Let us continue on our Journey to Jerusalem with Jesus.

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)

When will I die? As I get older, this question takes on more urgency.

A few years ago, we visited the cemetery in my hometown where my parents are buried. It was a beautiful, late summer day, but a somber moment. I’m not sure what we expected to find, but what was there surprised me. This was a newer part of the cemetery and I wandered a bit, seeing who else was there. What surprised me was to find a couple dozen other gravestones telling me that people I had known in high school were also there with my mom and dad. When we are young, we think we will live forever. As we get older, not so much.

But I am about twice the age that Jesus was in this week’s text. He not only knew that he would die, but he had a good idea of when, where, and how. He knew this was his last trip to Jerusalem, a predestined journey that held the fate of humanity in its outcome. He was going to Jerusalem to die, a sacrificial death to take away the sins of those who believe in him.

I was recently interviewed for a story in the Omaha newspaper about the traditions of Easter. Many are a mix of pagan and Christian ideas: bunnies, hot-crossed buns, palm branches, lilies, eggs; the list is long. But it struck me that most of them have to do with the idea of resurrection or renewal. To be sure, the death of Jesus means little without his resurrection, but what does resurrection mean without Jesus’ death? Catholics have long been criticized for the omnipresent crucifix, accused of leaving Jesus on the cross. Protestants present a clean cross, no longer occupied by our crucified Lord, for he is risen, we say. Orthodox folks often have a depiction of the Risen Christ as the central feature of their worship area.

But let’s think a little more this week about the death of Jesus. He knew that death awaited him in Jerusalem, but his face was “set like flint” to go to the holy city. He knew that his death would be painful, shameful, and terrifying, yet he went.

When will I die? When God calls me home. My death is likely to have significance for a small number. Jesus’ death changed everything for billions. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift to us, his Son willing to die for our sins.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The opinions in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of his employer.

Riches and Relationships, part 2 (4th Sunday in Lent)

As we continue our pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Holy Week, we have just left Jesus and his unsatisfying encounter with a young man who loved his riches more than the opportunity to follow Jesus.

If we are unfamiliar with this story, we would be surprised when we first read it. Turning away a rich person? What church or pastor would engage in such foolishness! We need such folks and their wealth to finance our operations, don’t we?

This week, we find a similar reaction from Jesus’ disciples:

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:24-31)

Bear with me as I make three Lenten observations from this text:

  1. First, there is a stream in evangelical Christianity that wants us to believe that faithful Christians should be materially blessed. Christians who live in poverty, we are told, do so because of a lack of faith. We call this the “prosperity gospel” (See this link for John Piper’s take on this teaching). This text is sometimes used in presenting the prosperity gospel. We are told that if we “leave everything” (give a large gift to a church or ministry) we will receive back “a hundred times as much.” This misses the figurative import of Jesus’ words and the historical reality of Peter’s life. Peter did not become rich. He died in Rome about 35 years later on a Roman cross, having lived a vagabond life of ministry for three decades. There is nothing in Peter’s letters to indicate riches as a reward for faithfulness.
  2. Second, Jesus reveals the “Great Reversal” here, that the “first will be last and the last will be first.” How can this be? Specifically, how will the poor become rich? Jesus deals with true riches here (see Luke 16:11), our relationship with God and others. Wealth does not cause or cure an impoverished soul. Only a relationship with the Lord can do this. Wealth is neither a sign of God’s blessing nor is poverty a sign of God’s curse.
  3. Third, there is no teaching here that rich people are excluded from “entering the kingdom of God.” To do so is difficult, like a camel entering the eye of a needle. From ancient times, the “eye of the needle” was understood to be a small, after-hours entry door into the wall or gate of a city. For a camel to enter this door meant that it had to be unloaded and get on its knees. If we understand Jesus’ words this way, a rich person must humble himself and detach himself from his love for wealth. This is not impossible, but possible for God who can change a person’s heart.

The drive to be wealthy is strong in our society today. As we live the Lenten season of sacrifice and devotion, let us take time to rethink our attitudes toward wealth. Let us be thankful for the blessings we receive. Let us be generous with the wealth we possess. Let us serve the Lord rather than riches. And let us love Jesus more than anything in this world.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily those of his employer.

Riches and Relationships (Third Sunday in Lent)

Rich people? How should we understand them?

As we continue our Lenten walk to Jerusalem with Jesus, we meet people from ancient Palestine who seem familiar to us.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We feel like we have met him before. Maybe some of you who read this are him.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:17-22)

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The last line of this is particularly striking. He went away sad? I thought money made us happy!

When it comes to religious behavior, this guy is without blame. He has not murdered, committed adultery, stolen, lied in court, or dishonored his parents (behaviors based on the 10 Commandments). He is also not guilty of fraud, meaning his business dealings have been honest.

Yet Jesus tells him he is still lacking something. Jesus prescribes a needed behavior, something in keeping with the Law of Moses, but going far beyond it. The rich man should shed his wealth and direct the proceeds to poor people. Then, Jesus says, he will find true wealth, riches in heaven. Then, he will be a suitable follower of Jesus.

This seems harsh, very harsh. But Jesus does not care about this man’s money and the good it could bring to poor people as much as he cares about the man himself. He loves him. What is amiss is that Jesus suspects the man loves his wealth more than God. His heart religion is not worship of the Lord but adoration of wealth. And, the reaction of the man (who had probably never faced this choice before) confirms Jesus’ suspicion. Choose this day whom you will serve? I’m a slave to my money.

The wrong application of this lesson is that we all need to liquidate our material possessions and write a final big check to a charity for the homeless before we join their ranks. Maybe this is what you need to do, personally, but that is not Jesus’ intent. The right application, a great Lenten lesson, is that we cannot love anything more than God and expect to have treasure in heaven. This is not referring to our final reward after death, but to our crucial relationship with the Lord God here and now.

One of the entailments of “giving up something for Lent” is the idea of donating the cost savings to a charity. I have my “giving up” idea in place. I can’t say it has been without challenge, but I am calculating the personal savings and intend to send a donation to the Open Door Mission. I don’t think this will cause me to walk away sad, but rather give me the joy of choosing service to God over self-pleasure. I encourage you to do the same.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The contents of this blog are the opinions of the blogger, not necessarily his employer.

Blessing Children (2nd Sunday in Lent)

There are cultural efforts to counteract this, of course. Commercial forces have tried to make Easter about candy, stuffed animals, baskets, and candy (did I mention candy?); things that would be attractive to children.

I don’t think it has to be this way. I don’t think children need to be left out of our Lenten season.

The second stage of Mark’s record of Jesus’ final Journey to Jerusalem tells this story:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

This is a remarkable story for several reasons. First, there seems to be a desire from “people” (parents) to introduce their children to Jesus. They have heard him teach and heal, and they want him to lay hands on him as a blessing. Yet this is not an elderly, grandfatherly person. This is not like having your child sit on Santa’s lap in the mall. This is a Galilean man in his 30s with a big bushy beard, a bachelor with no children of his own. Mark wants us to know that Jesus was/is attractive to children. May we never make him unattractive to these little ones.

Second, the disciples block access to Jesus for these parents and children. I want to think this is well-intended, but I’m not sure. It comes across as an undervaluing and underestimating of a child’s capacity to love and appreciate Jesus. May we never doubt the sincerity of childlike faith and love for Jesus.

Third, Jesus is having none of it. He opens his arms and the “kingdom of God” to the little ones. Christian faith is not for adults alone. Those who advise waiting for children to grow to adulthood before making faith commitments are as guilty as the hindering disciples. May we be Jesus’ open arms to even the youngest child in our communities.

Fourth, and most remarkably of all, Jesus reverses the roles in his world to say that we should look to children for understanding. They are his example of the ideal kingdom members. In the church, we are often experts in making the simple complex. We want sophistication, not innocence. In this Lenten season, may we strive to strip away the tedious history we have allowed to encumber our faith. If we are asked, “What is your relationship with Jesus?” may our answer not be “it’s complicated.” Just say, “I love him with all my heart.”

The end of this story is that Jesus obliges by giving a blessing to the children. A “blessing” in this sense mean both approval and support rather than condemnation and criticism. So, as we come to the second Sunday in Lent, take this assignment: find a child in your sphere of influence and give her a blessing. You will make Jesus smile.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The views in this blog are those of its author, not necessarily his employer.

Divorce (1st Sunday in Lent)

lent-2017Mark begins the Journey to Jerusalem like this:

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

The “that place” Jesus is leaving is the lakeside city of Capernaum, almost a second home for Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Mark records Jesus and his disciples taking the non-Samaria route to Jerusalem, crossing the Jordan River and heading south. This was a pleasant way to go, but led to Jericho and the long climb to Jerusalem, an elevation rise of 3,400 feet. Mark show us Jesus as the perpetual, eternal teacher, and this journey did not stop his teaching ministry.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

jesus-and-the-phariseesSurprisingly, the first stop on the Journey to Jerusalem concerns the issue of divorce, a controversial topic in Jesus’ day. We get a dose of creation theology as a reminder that God has created us with a pattern in mind when it comes to marriage. Jesus recognizes, though, that divorce is a long-standing practice among his Jewish nation, going back to at least the time of Moses.

From the perspective of his determined trip to the cross, however, Jesus’ answer rings a different bell than the divorce controversy. God’s plans will not be thwarted. If God has planned it, we are foolish to try and stop him. Jesus has already told his disciples what awaits him in the city (and will tell them again). Now there is no turning back.

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

To be sure, there is valuable teaching here about marriage, divorce, and adultery. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is something else here, though. Adultery was a common way for Israel’s prophets to describe the nation’s unfaithfulness to her God. Jesus himself referred to his peers as a “sinful and adulterous generation” (Mark 8:38).

We, too, play the adulterer when we act unfaithfully and shamefully in our relationship with God. As we begin the Lenten season and travel with our Lord, my we leave behind our “cheatin’ hearts” and trust in him.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen our marriages and our commitment to marriage. May you also strengthen our wayward hearts and point them to Jesus, the pioneer of our souls. Amen.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The view in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of his employer.

Following Jesus to Jerusalem (Lenten Series)

lent-2017For several years I have blogged weekly during the Lenten season. I plan to do so again in 2017.

This year I would like us to imagine we are with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem for the last time. We are going to the Holy City for Passover and to fulfill prophecy concerning Jesus’ atoning death on a Roman cross.

Luke follows Mark’s basic outline for his Gospel, including this final Journey to Jerusalem. Luke announces the beginning of the trek this way:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)

What follows is a travel narrative, taking Jesus and his band about 10 chapters to arrive in the holy city.

In Mark, this is a single chapter, chapter 10. This is the one we will follow with a blog for each of the six Sundays in Lent and a seventh blog for Easter Sunday. I invite you to join me as we make the journey to Jerusalem with our Lord Jesus, a journey of destiny and fulfillment. It is the beginning of the final days of Jesus’ life on earth, days that changed human history forever.