For several weeks we’ve been looking at the gospel-writer Mark’s description of Jesus; his impressions of Jesus as Teacher, as Healer, as Includer, as Reformer. Today we’re going to combine Mark’s description with that of an imaginary disciple, who we’ll name Isaac.
Now Isaac, the way we’re imagining him, was not one of the twelve central disciples. He’s better described as one of the “fringe” disciples—with Jesus sometimes, but not at others; being interested, but not totally committed; still fence-sitting, in a way, as to whether he believes all this talk about Jesus being the Messiah. Isaac, we’re going to suppose, kept a diary, and today we’ll read excerpts from the Gospel of Mark, and excerpts from the imaginary fringe-disciple Isaac’s diary.
“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’”
Isaac’s diary: Day One – Sunday.
“Things have started happening now; this is the day we’ve been waiting for. After months of following Jesus of Nazareth, hearing whispers and rumors about his being the Messiah, today we finally saw him take the first solid steps toward claiming his throne. He entered Jerusalem, the capital – the place from which the Messiah will rule – and he entered it to the shouts and praise of the people.
“They’re with him now; it’s obvious. Now he can rally them. Now he can lead us to the palace. Now it’s only a matter of time until he grabs the Romans and throws them out and begins Israel’s glorious destiny of freedom and leadership.
“You should have heard the excitement in the people’s voices; you should have felt the power of their support. I know it’s beginning. Now Jesus will save us. Now he’ll expel the Romans and set us free. Now we’ll become a great nation again. Today, he begins to save us from captivity and the domination of Rome; he finally becomes the Messiah, the Savior.”
From Mark chapter 11:
“On the following day, Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?
But you have made it a den of robbers.’”
Isaac’s diary: Day Two – Monday.
“Well it wasn’t exactly what we expected. We thought he’d charge on up to the palace, while he had the momentum, and go straight after those Romans. Why can’t Messiahs ever do what you expect them to? They always have these little quirks and eccentricities. In Jesus’ case, I guess, he wants to start his cleaning-out with the Temple, because that’s where he went today instead of the palace. And he went after those little cheats and con men, the moneychangers and animal sellers, instead of the Romans. I guess he wants to start small and work his way up to the Romans.
“Well that’s OK. We always knew he had that “Reformer” streak in him, that he wanted to set our religious practice straight as well as our political situation. If he wants to start with the Temple, that’s OK.
“But I can’t wait till tomorrow. ‘Cause I’ll bet tomorrow we’ll go after the Romans. That’s when he’s going to save us, you wait and see.”
From Mark 12: We read that Jesus is talking with the religious authorities called the Sadducees about resurrection and then. . .
“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall 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, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,” and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself,”—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.”
Isaac’s Diary: Day Three – Tuesday
“We spent the day in the Temple again.
“No, he wasn’t throwing tables around and “reforming” again. This time it was back to teaching.
“We’ve had months of teaching; it’s time for action. He’s going to blow our momentum. He’s going to bore the crowds. Why waste our time talking about God when we could be revolting against Romans and making Jerusalem our capital again? Where’s his sense of priorities? Of timing? ‘Love God. Love your neighbor.’ That’s old news; we’ve heard that. Let’s move- let’s get on with the saving of Israel.
“I remember the shouts of ‘Hosanna’ on Sunday so well; doesn’t he? Let’s attack, while the people are with us. It’s time to act, not time to teach. It’s time to strike, not time to love.”
From Mark chapter 14:
“While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’ ”
Isaac’s diary: Day Four – Wednesday.
“It’s getting worse.
“We weren’t even in Jerusalem today, but back in Bethany. We weren’t out in public, but hidden away in a private home. It was back to the old days of a few weeks ago, as if Sunday never happened: dinner with a leper, discussion with a woman. OK, Jesus, we get it – we’re not supposed to turn anyone away. Lepers are all right; women are fine; sinners are to be welcomed. We’ve been with you; we know to include them all. But enough’s enough. The festival begins tomorrow night; it’s time to rally our support.
“Yeah – tomorrow night! That’s it. I’ll bet we’re going to wait until tomorrow, when everyone’s in town, and then enter Jerusalem again, just like on Sunday, but with everybody there. That must be what we’re waiting for. That must be the plan. Give ‘em a taste on Sunday, and then come back for the big rally when all the crowds have arrived. Then we can take all these people we’ve included, these poor and women and children and tax collectors, and put them all to work getting rid of Romans. Yeah!
“So tomorrow’s the big day. Tomorrow he begins to save Israel.”
From Mark chapter 14:
“On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as Jesus had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!’ While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’”
Isaac’s diary: Day Five – Thursday
“He didn’t do it today, and from what “the twelve,” that smug “inner circle,” tell me, he’s beginning to lose his confidence that he’s going to succeed at all. ‘This is my blood, poured out for many,’ he said tonight. What kind of talk is that for a king? What kind of words are those for a conqueror? What kind of speech is that from a Savior? Saviors triumph. Saviors drive out the enemies and spill their blood. Saviors don’t talk of pouring out their own, for other people.
“We blew it. I knew it. We should have moved Sunday. Now he’s never going to save us.”
From Mark chapter 5:
“And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, were mocking him saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.”
Isaac’s diary: Day Six – Friday.
“It happened even faster than I imagined. They struck first. They took him. They killed him. I barely got away with my life. So much for a Messiah. So much for a Savior. ‘He saved others, he could not save himself’? He didn’t save anybody. All he did was die.”
And that’s where Isaac’s story ends: “He didn’t save anybody. All he did was die.”
Isaac wanted a savior for the country of Israel. He wanted a king who would drive out the Romans and establish a new and mighty kingdom. And when Jesus didn’t do that, he concluded he was no savior. Isaac must have had lots of company, for crowds of people in Jerusalem, we are told, were praising Jesus on Sunday, and by Friday crowds of people were calling for his death.
They weren’t satisfied with his continuing what he had been doing all along during that Monday through Wednesday – teaching, healing, reforming, including. They wanted something more, and something specific – a political king. And when Jesus didn’t become king, then Jesus, Isaac concluded, must have been no savior
But Mark knew otherwise. For Mark picked up on a clue that Isaac, apparently, never heard. He relays it to us in chapter 10, verse 45: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark knew that Jesus’ saving activity did not have to do with raising armies and driving out Romans, but instead with giving his life so that we might live, so that we might be saved.
Christians believe, with Mark, that Jesus’ death on a cross is part of accomplishing the forgiving of our sins, and our salvation. We can believe in him instead of having to live perfect lives. The consequences of our sins were laid upon him instead of upon us. He gave up his life so that we could have eternal life with God.
Isaac wrote “He didn’t save anybody. All he did was die.” Mark wrote “He gave his life as a ransom for many.” It was by his death, and life, and resurrection, that he saved us.
And Paul wrote it most succinctly of all, in Romans 5:
“6 While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.
10 While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”
It is in part through Jesus’ death that we are saved. It is through the cross, through the events of this week, not a political revolution, that he became Jesus the Savior.
Thanks be to God.