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Three Places, Three Fails, One Lesson: The Importance of Place in Reading Scripture

I love traveling. Growing up we moved every 4 years because of my dad’s research job at various universities. We actually moved so much my grandma was actually worried that my dad couldn’t keep a job – she was born in the 1800’s and I guess moving a lot for your job wasn’t a thing back then. But I digress. If you have moved frequently, or traveled, you know how different things can be in different places. Culture, foods, driving habits (or lack thereof), interpersonal relationships, even how sports are conducted – all these vary tremendously based on where they occur.

The point I’m trying to make is that place matters. It always has. But we don’t often pay attention to place in scripture. Take for example Mark 8-10 where Jesus straight up tells his disciples that he’ll suffer, be killed and then rise from the dead. He tells them this not once, not twice but three times! Yet they still don’t get it (8:31-31, 9:30-32, 10:32-34).

I find it fascinating to see how Jesus used place or location to teach his disciples. Each time Jesus made a prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection it was in a different place – and that place plays into the disciple’s lack of spiritual discernment.

First, Jesus takes his disciple way up north to Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27), the home to Herod Philip. In a place where the pagans confessed that Caesar was Lord, Peter confesses his belief that Jesus was Lord. Caesarea Philippi was the virtual capital of shame. It was the NT version of OT Baal worship. In a place of great shame Jesus announces he will endure great shame, suffer and be killed and rise from the dead. The question that arises based on this location is: Will the disciples be ashamed of Jesus? Peter is, in fact he’s so ashamed and fearful of the path Jesus is talking about that he actually rebukes Jesus!

  • In a place characterized by great shame, Jesus reminds the disciples to endure shame.

Then in Mark 8:33 Jesus takes them to Capernaum. Capernaum was where the best Pharisaical school were – it represented the Harvard or Yale of Pharisaical studies. Naturally the disciples wanted to jockey for position, status and recognition when they were around other learned rabbi’s and disciples. In a place of prideful learning, Jesus ironically announces that in his kingdom, he who wanted to be first must be last and be a servant of all (9:35). The question that arises based on this location is: Will the disciples humbly serve and accept outsiders (represented by children)? No, they literally argued about who was the greatest!

  • In a place characterized by prideful learning, Jesus reminds his disciples to humbly serve.

Finally, Jesus takes his disciples to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32), the heart of Pharisaical power and control. James and John eagerly (and erroneously) anticipate the new political power that will soon be theirs. Yet, in a place of power and control, Jesus announces - ahead of time with complete power and control - that he will suffer and be killed and rise from the dead. The question that arises based on this location is: Will the disciples give up their version of Jesus and their expected power and serve everyone else? No, James and John actually tell Jesus to give them power – “Do whatever we ask” (10:35).

  • In a place characterized by power and control, Jesus reminds his disciples that the greatest power is to willingly lay down your life for others.

Three fails, one lesson: Greatness doesn’t come through the praise or approval of our culture, nor the pride of being super smart, nor of the power and control that some possess. It comes in embracing the shame that may come from following Jesus and serving others.

What messages is your location feeding you about shame and success?


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