Starting to read the Bible through is like getting into a novel or streaming a TV series: you explore a brand-new world, learning more about it the deeper you go. Characters start as strangers, then become familiar to us; eventually they may become our treasured friends.
Our Bible readings have introduced us to Abraham and Sarah; now we follow their family saga, wondering how things will turn out for each new generation. Likewise, each scene of Mark’s Gospel is adding to our picture of Jesus, dramatizing the urgency of God’s saving work and revealing the character of this divinely-appointed savior.
How are you doing in this reading? Do you feel yourself getting caught up in the grand story of God’s salvation of our world? Perhaps it’s captivating for you, and you’re proud of yourself. If so, great: praise God! And if maybe you aren’t quite yet fully into the flow, please hang in there. If you miss a day or two, just pick back up where we are! Give yourself grace, and don’t ditch: you don’t want to miss the opportunity to hear God speak to us as we read and reflect on these scriptures.
Old Testament Readings: Genesis 28-40
This stretch of Genesis focuses mainly on Jacob, the scheming younger twin brother of Esau. Having tricked Esau out of his birthright and his blessing, Jacob must flee for his life, and he heads east to the land of his mother’s family. As Jacob deals with his uncle Laban, he gets a taste of his own trickery, but he ends up thriving by God’s providence, with abundant blessings of family, livestock, and possessions.
The saga spends much time in portraying the growth of God’s family in this generation. Jacob loves the beautiful Rachel and commits to marrying her, but Laban craftily substitutes the older sister, Leah. Great tension embroils Leah and Rachel, as well as their female servants, as they overcome the threat of infertility to provide children to fulfill God’s covenant promise. [Followers of Britain’s royal family will recognize the national rejoicing at a dynasty’s succession through the birth of a new child.]
This generation, of course, is formative for Israel’s sense of identity. Jacob, who strives and struggles throughout his life to grab hold of God’s blessing, acquires the name Israel, “he who strives with God” (32:28). The twelve tribes of Israel take their names from Jacob’s twelve sons. The values portrayed in this generation—and throughout the saga—connect with the nation’s sense of itself as a people who amidst great struggles nonetheless enjoy God’s favor and blessing.
The story artfully dramatizes the threat to family (and national) unity posed by internal conflict. Jacob’s years of fearing Esau’s revenge leads to a thrilling face-to-face encounter (read it in chapters 32-33). In the next generation, Jacob’s sons treacherously leave Joseph for dead before selling him into slavery (ch.37). How will this family survive if brothers cannot learn to love each other? How can God’s people live out our calling and destiny if hatred consumes us?
Questions to consider:
- What kind of national hero is Jacob? Why does God choose someone with such doubtful character to be one of the “founding fathers” of Israel?
- We can imagine that Jacob spent most of his life fearing his inevitable encounter with Esau. Have you ever feared something greatly that ended better than you expected? What lesson do we take away from the story of these brothers?
- These chapters offer difficult stories about women. Look at the stories of Dinah (ch.34) and Tamar (ch.38). What do we learn from these stories about God and God’s people? How and why did they become part of the recorded history of the nation?
New Testament Readings: Mark 11-15
Throughout the gospel Mark has introduced us to Jesus by showing him in powerful action. We have seen him heal the sick, cast out demons, calm a storm, and feed a multitude. As the disciples begin to explore more seriously the question of Jesus’ identity, he tells them that his powerful mission must conclude in apparent weakness, as he suffers death at the hands of the leaders in Jerusalem. Inexplicably Jesus does not seek to avoid this fate: he purposefully heads to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
Our readings begin with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: the traditional Palm Sunday story. The week is filled with dramatic tension, as Jesus insistently challenges the religious life in the holy city. He cleanses the Temple of its bustling commercial activity so that it may be “a house of prayer” instead of “a den of robbers” (11:17). Challenged by the chief priests, scribes, and elders, he turns their doctrinal questions upon them, exposing their lack of authentic insight into God’s rule. He offers an extended reflection on the times to come after his death, instructing his followers about the trials they will face. These teachings invite us to look beyond the rulers of this world and prepare for “the coming of the Son of Man.” All these scenes display the divine authority Jesus brings to his confrontation with the leaders in Jerusalem.
And yet these leaders will succeed in killing Jesus. Chapters 14 and 15 give us a slow, deliberate account of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. As the nation celebrates the Passover—Israel’s salvation at the Red Sea—the religious leaders incite the Roman authorities to crucify the messiah appointed for the salvation of Israel.
Questions to consider:
- These readings show the culmination of Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish authorities. What motivates the religious leaders’ desire to silence Jesus and to seek his death?
- The account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (ch.11) depicts his acclamation by the crowd as Messiah, God’s anointed savior for Israel. What kind of salvation did they expect, and what kind did God accomplish through Jesus? If you had been in Jerusalem when Jesus arrived, how would you have responded to him?
Psalms: 11, 145, 12
Psalm 11 expresses confidence in God’s protection during times of crisis. When fear bids us “flee like a bird to your mountain,” we can choose to stand fast, trusting the steadfast rule of God: “The Lord’s is in his holy temple.” God’s righteousness ensures a judgment that punishes the wicked and rewards the upright.
Psalm 145 is a magnificent call to praise the Lord, depicting all creatures joining to celebrate the mighty deeds of God. The psalm is composed as an acrostic (each verse starting with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet). This structure reinforces the comprehensive call for all creation to join in praising God.
Psalm 12, like Psalm 11, deals with the problem of wickedness, focusing particularly on deceptive speech: “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” The psalm’s answer is trust in the Lord, whose “words . . . are pure words, like silver . . . purified seven times.” The Lord’s way is right, and the Lord guards the faithful from the wickedness around them.