If you’ve read even one gospel, the events of John 18 will seem pretty familiar to you. There are passages in John which read like him whispering, “Come hear this thing about Jesus that you never knew!” But between Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s three denials, the inquisition at the Jewish temple, and Jesus’ questioning before Pilate, this chapter feels like John’s just hitting all the events that everyone knows happened. What is this: four chapters of John-exclusive content at the Last Supper, and then suddenly a synopsis of the synoptics? Not quite. The events may be the same, but John includes a few new details about them. Let’s take a look at one such detail.
Ah, the third chapter of John: home to the favorite verse of sports fans everywhere! If you’ve ever gone to a football game or channel-surfed for more than ten seconds (remember television?), you’ve doubtless seen the “John 3:16” signs in the crowds, pointing sports enthusiasts to perhaps the most concise statement of the gospel in all scripture. You’ll find this verse situated in the midst of a covert dialogue between Jesus and a powerful Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus has questions, and Jesus has answers.
And Nicodemus has more questions in response, because dang if Jesus’ answers don’t seem unnecessarily cryptic.
Did I already talk about how the night before the crucifixion is Judas’ fifteen minutes of fame? I did? Great. I guess I’ll have to find something else to talk about. And that shouldn’t be too hard, because while there is a lot of Judas in Mark 14, there is also a lot of other things, because it’s a big chapter. At 72 verses, it’s cleanly the biggest chapter in Mark. Let’s see what else it contains.
Today’s chapter is Mark’s Endgame Debates Chapter. Each synoptic gospel features the Jewish religious leaders’ ongoing contention with Jesus during his last days in Jerusalem, and Mark packs it all into pretty much a single chapter. But among all the theological judo, we see one guy who isn’t looking for a fight. And we’ll get to him in a moment, but first I want to note a couple irrelevant trivialities from the Parable of the Vine-growers.
The events of today’s chapter are as follows: the Jewish authorities go before Governor Felix with their grievances against Paul. Paul gives his defense, asserting his innocence of any crime except believing in the resurrection of the dead, which of course is no crime at all. Felix dismisses the charges under the pretense of postponing his judgment, and Paul remains in protective custody for two years, during which time he has several opportunities to discuss religion and morality with the governor. But when the governorship passes from Felix to Porcius Festus, Felix decides to give the Jews a freebie and leaves Paul in prison. Now, having stated the events of today’s chapter, let us dissect them.
Matthew 24 is basically Luke 21, and I’ve already talked about Luke 21, so I guess we’re done here.
I feel like Matthew 4 is mostly setting the stage for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus retreats to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, begins preaching and healing, and calls the fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Most of the narrative here paints Jesus’ activity with a broad brush, and even when it gives us the specific scene of the fishermen’s calling, it’s a quick-and-dirty details-light account that’s over before you know it.
But something in Jesus’ wilderness temptation caught my attention: some quality of specificity that’s absent from the rest of the chapter. Matthew is setting the stage here, as in the rest of the chapter. But with the temptation, he’s not breezing past it, summarizing, or glossing over. Satan is making a play here, and Matthew thinks it’s important to get into the details of it. Perhaps he thought Mark’s account was too sparse? And where did he get his information concerning Jesus’ forty days alone in the wilderness? From Luke, from one of the other disciples such as Peter, maybe even a first-hand account from Jesus himself? I could speculate, but one thing’s for sure: Matthew wants us to know about Jesus’ dialogue-duel in the desert with the devil.