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God’s Word for You

Mark 13:9-11 Bear witness before them

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, August 16, 2023

9 “But watch out for yourselves. They will hand you over to the councils. You will be flogged in the synagogues. You will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.

When summer begins to give way to fall, mothers around the world tell their children things like, “Wear your coat—it’ll be cooler.” They care about their kids. Before Jesus departed from the earth, concerned about his disciples and his many other followers, he warned them from the same compassionate heart: “Watch out for yourselves.” And maybe we could add: “It’s going to get hot out there.” Things would get so hot so quickly that the disciples would no longer be able to enter a synagogue safely. The worship places that at first had welcomed Jesus, where “everyone praised him” (Luke 4:15) were going to become courtrooms for Jesus’ followers. Anyone who tries to say that Jews and Christians worship the same God don’t know anything about theology or history. Not since the crucifixion has anyone truly been able to use a term like “the Judeo-Christian God,” because the Jews rejected the very God they were seeking. He came among them, healed their sick, drove out demons from their friends and their own children, he taught them, opened up the Scriptures to them, fed them, and he loved them, but they conspired against him and killed him. They rejected him utterly.

That’s why he warns the Twelve: “You will be flogged right there in their synagogues!” What greater shame could there be for a house of worship than to beat and whip a preacher who is proclaiming forgiveness through Jesus?

But it isn’t just the Jews who would oppose the gospel. It’s the whole sinful world. The conflict isn’t hard to see for anyone who can open their eyes just a little. Jesus is the one who forgives sins. To proclaim Jesus is to point to everyone, including myself, and pronounce judgment on everyone’s sin. The world throws up its hands in horror. How dare you tell me I’m a sinner! How dare you refuse to accept me for who I am! Who are you to say such things?!

From time to time, an honest person, a person whose conscience is not killed, will be convicted by the preaching of the law of God, and will be turned to faith by the gospel of Jesus Christ. From time to time, such people are brought to faith. They are brought to life by the Holy Spirit. They put their trust in Jesus. It is in the hope that there will be many of them, or at least some of them, or at the very least, one of them, that we keep reaching out, keep proclaiming, keep carrying the message of Christ our Lord to the world.

10 But the gospel must first be preached to all nations.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus continues this statement by saying, “and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). But let’s take Mark’s account as he gives it, because otherwise we’re really meditating on Matthew 24 and not Mark 13, and the Holy Spirit caused Mark 13:10 to be written and passed down to us as it is.

When God stood in person outside Abraham’s tent, he said to the pair of angels who were with him, “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him” (Genesis 18:17). Faith in God includes some sort of knowledge of God, imperfect though it might be. The blessing given through Abraham is his descendant, Jesus Christ, who took away the sin of the world. But the world needs to know, for faith means agreeing with the knowledge one has about Jesus Christ. Those are the three parts of faith: (1) knowledge that the message is true, (2) assent or agreement that the message is for me; the forgiveness is for me, and (3) faith or trust in that assented-to message.

So how will the blessed nations know that they are blessed? How will they learn about their Savior? The gospel must be preached to them all. Jesus adds “first” to this sentence to show his disciples that this is the matter that will bring about their arrests, beatings, floggings, and in some cases, even worse. But there is comfort even in this:

11 Whenever they arrest you and put you on trial, do not worry ahead of time about what to say. Just say whatever is given to you at that time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

Even in ancient times, it was unusual for a Christian to be put to death on account of their faith. Today more Christians die because of Jesus’ name than ever before, but this is partly due to the growing number of Christians and the growing intolerance of certain countries to the gospel. But the Scriptures tell us about the deaths of two apostles, Judas and James.

Judas Iscariot we know about from the Gospels (Matthew 27:5)—he died in unbelief, rejected the Savior who died for his sins.

The more reliable legends about the deaths of the apostles generally agree that John the Apostle died of old age. James the brother of John was killed with a sword (this is recorded in Acts 12:1-2). Clement of Alexandria (born about a century later) is quoted as saying: “It appears that the guard who brought him into court was so moved when he saw him testify that he confessed that he, too, was a Christian. So they were both taken away together, and on the way he asked James to forgive him. James thought for a moment, then he said ‘I wish you peace,’ and kissed him. So both were beheaded at the same time.”

The same source tells us that Peter was crucified with his head downwards. His brother Andrew also appears to have been crucified on a cross shaped like an X, which is the symbolism behind the X in the background of many flags in Europe and the United Kingdom.

Philip seems to have been put to death, but traditions differ on how (beheading, stoning, crucifixion). His place of burial (therefore of his death) is known, however, to be Hierapolis in Asia Minor (mentioned in Colossians 4:13). Philip’s friend Bartholomew suffered a gruesome death; he may have been flayed and then beheaded.

The records about Thomas’ death are scanty, but they all agree: He was pierced with a spear (or spears) in Mylapore (Chennai, India) on July 3, 72 AD. Matthew appears to have died in Ethiopia in about 60 AD, killed perhaps with a weapon called a halberd.

The other James (the son of Alphaeus, Mark 3:18) is thought to have been crucified on the north shore of the Sinai Peninsula on the way to Egypt (the ancient Roman city of Ostrakine). Simon the Zealot and the other Judas (“not Iscariot”) may have been murdered in Syria when they destroyed false idols there.

But let’s return to our beautiful text. Jesus tells his apostles that when they will be put on trial, they don’t need to fret about what to say. They would be given their words by the Holy Spirit. This is the same as the doctrine of divine inspiration that Peter records in 2 Peter 1:21: “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This speaking was not the invention of the speaker, but the very word of God. To be sure, the Holy Spirit worked through the speech and grammar of each man. John had a love for Jesus’ “I am” statements; Mark had a habit of using the word “immediately,” Jeremiah the prophet was at first hurt by his nickname, “Old ‘terror on every side’” (Jeremiah 20:10) but then just embraced the phrase as his own refrain when preaching (Jeremiah 46:5, 49:5; Lamentations 2:22).

But do Jesus’ words still apply to us? We should be careful about this. Jesus was speaking to his twelve apostles about their own particular future and divine inspiration. Some others enjoyed the same grace of being given their words by God (such as Moses, Acts 7:35), “but the promise is nowhere made to apply to all Christians thus persecuted. That being the case, how much more earnestly we should devote ourselves to the teaching of the apostles and prophets in the Scriptures! For only then, with a thorough knowledge of God’s Word, will we be ready also to speak the gospel… as the occasion calls for it” (Deutschlander, Your Kingdom Come, p. 430).

Keep reading your Bible and keep reviewing the basic truths of the Catechism. Use your sanctified Christian good judgment when you are asked a question. Be patient but unafraid if your doctrine is attacked or questioned. Those questions are often answered by a simple, straightforward reach for the Bible and the words, “Let’s read what God says about it.” If you’re not sure where to look, that’s where your Catechism may help, but you might be surprised at your own Christian instinct about where to search, in the Gospels, in Romans, or elsewhere.

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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