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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Mark 13

Christians have often disagreed over the precise interpretation of Mark 13. But whatever disagreements prevail, we cannot fail to note the stunning contrast between the perspectives of the disciples when they look around the temple complex and the perspectives of Jesus himself.

The disciples are impressed by the “massive stones” and by the “magnificent buildings” (13:1). What draws their attention is the architecture, the product of human creativity and ingenuity. But Jesus thinks on another plane. He evaluates the patterns of evil in this world, the false religious pretensions, the persecution of his disciples, the judgment that will fall. As for the stones and the buildings, he foresees judgment: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (13:2). A mere 40 years elapse before this prediction is literally fulfilled.

This passage is reminiscent of another. In Acts 17:16ff., Paul finds himself in Athens. What is striking is his reaction to the city. Luke does not say that Paul was impressed by the spectacular architecture, by the history of sheer learning, by the literature that its citizens had produced, or by the glory of her heritage. Far from it. Paul looked around this venerable old city and was “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (17:16).

In neither case, then—neither in Jesus’s estimate of Jerusalem, nor in Paul’s estimate of Athens—was the analysis superficial. In both cases, the evaluation looked at things from God’s perspective. Those who are impressed by mighty buildings and spectacular human accomplishments could profitably think through the account of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11). Doubtless there were some then who were impressed by the edifice. But God, looking at the human heart and the reasons for the building, saw it as one more evidence of insufferable hubris.

In much the same way, we too are called to understand and evaluate our culture from God’s perspective. Because human beings are made in the image of God, there is much that we can do that is worthy and admirable. Theologically speaking, this is the product of “common grace.” But it is possible to be far too impressed by wealth, power, architecture, fame, learning, physical prowess, and technology, with the result that we do not think through the moral and spiritual dimensions of the world around us. We may see the glory, and overlook the shame; we may detect human accomplishments, and neglect the undergirding idolatry; in short, we may be impressed by all that impresses God’s fallen image-bearers, but fail to assess these realities in the light of the cross and in the light of eternity. We would do far better to follow the examples of Jesus and Paul.

Devotional: Romans 13

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). Some Christians have used this verse to argue that all debt is wrong and condemned by God. Pay your way as you go. “Let no debt remain outstanding.” The strongest voices argue that it is wrong to take a mortgage for a house or for a church building.

The flow of the passage, however, argues against such an interpretation. The opening verses exhort Christians to submit to the civil authorities, not only because they are constituted by God, but also because, when they function properly, they enforce what is right and punish what is wrong (Rom. 13:1–4). So it is important to submit to such authorities, not only so as to avoid punishment, “but also because of conscience” (Rom. 13:5): Christians want to keep a clear conscience by doing what is right. That is also why we pay taxes. The civil authorities are “God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (Rom. 13:6). Like others of God’s servants, they are sometimes disobedient and foolish, but in God’s ordering of society taxes are God’s means of supporting those whose task it is to govern. So we should pay what we owe: “If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue” (Rom. 13:7).

More broadly yet, pay whatever is owed: “If respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Rom. 13:7–8).

“Debt,” then, in this context, has only a secondary reference to financial obligation. The passage has everything to do with the ongoing obligations of personal relationships in a society ordered by God. Moreover, insofar as finances are concerned, some financial obligations, such as taxes, are paid again and again; as they come due, we pay them. In precisely the same way, in a contracted mortgage, as the payments come due, we pay them. For all kinds of reasons it may be best to avoid fiscal debt of all kinds. But that is scarcely the point the apostle is making here.

The way Paul talks about love as “the continuing debt” reinforces the point. Some “debts,” such as taxes, recur; the debt of love does not so much recur as continue: it is ever with us. The commandments that bear on horizontal relationships (what today we would call social relationships) may be summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom. 13:9; Lev. 19:18). Love is thus the “fulfillment” of the Law (Rom. 13:10)—that is, love is that to which the Law points, in this time of eschatological fulfillment (Rom. 13:11–14), and this we always owe.

Genesis 43

Joseph's Brothers Return to Egypt

43:1 Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 14 May God Almighty1 grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph's house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph's house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” 19 So they went up to the steward of Joseph's house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21 And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man's money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22 and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24 And when the man had brought the men into Joseph's house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25 they prepared the present for Joseph's coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.

26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. 29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph's table, but Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry2 with him.

Footnotes

[1] 43:14 Hebrew El Shaddai
[2] 43:34 Hebrew and became intoxicated

(ESV)

Mark 13

Jesus Foretells Destruction of the Temple

13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Signs of the End of the Age

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

The Abomination of Desolation

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

The Coming of the Son of Man

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

No One Knows That Day or Hour

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake.1 For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants2 in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows,3 or in the morning—36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Footnotes

[1] 13:33 Some manuscripts add and pray
[2] 13:34 Or bondservants
[3] 13:35 That is, the third watch of the night, between midnight and 3 a.m.

(ESV)

Job 9

Job Replies: There Is No Arbiter

9:1 Then Job answered and said:

  “Truly I know that it is so:
    But how can a man be in the right before God?
  If one wished to contend with him,
    one could not answer him once in a thousand times.
  He is wise in heart and mighty in strength
    —who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?—
  he who removes mountains, and they know it not,
    when he overturns them in his anger,
  who shakes the earth out of its place,
    and its pillars tremble;
  who commands the sun, and it does not rise;
    who seals up the stars;
  who alone stretched out the heavens
    and trampled the waves of the sea;
  who made the Bear and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
10   who does great things beyond searching out,
    and marvelous things beyond number.
11   Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
    he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
12   Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
    Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
13   “God will not turn back his anger;
    beneath him bowed the helpers of Rahab.
14   How then can I answer him,
    choosing my words with him?
15   Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him;
    I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.1
16   If I summoned him and he answered me,
    I would not believe that he was listening to my voice.
17   For he crushes me with a tempest
    and multiplies my wounds without cause;
18   he will not let me get my breath,
    but fills me with bitterness.
19   If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty!
    If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?2
20   Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me;
    though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.
21   I am blameless; I regard not myself;
    I loathe my life.
22   It is all one; therefore I say,
    ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’
23   When disaster brings sudden death,
    he mocks at the calamity3 of the innocent.
24   The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
    he covers the faces of its judges—
    if it is not he, who then is it?
25   “My days are swifter than a runner;
    they flee away; they see no good.
26   They go by like skiffs of reed,
    like an eagle swooping on the prey.
27   If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
    I will put off my sad face, and be of good cheer,’
28   I become afraid of all my suffering,
    for I know you will not hold me innocent.
29   I shall be condemned;
    why then do I labor in vain?
30   If I wash myself with snow
    and cleanse my hands with lye,
31   yet you will plunge me into a pit,
    and my own clothes will abhor me.
32   For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him,
    that we should come to trial together.
33   There is no4 arbiter between us,
    who might lay his hand on us both.
34   Let him take his rod away from me,
    and let not dread of him terrify me.
35   Then I would speak without fear of him,
    for I am not so in myself.

Footnotes

[1] 9:15 Or to my judge
[2] 9:19 Or who can grant me a hearing?
[3] 9:23 The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain
[4] 9:33 Or Would that there were an

(ESV)

Romans 13

Submission to the Authorities

13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Fulfilling the Law Through Love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

(ESV)