Mark 16: Easter (3)

Empty Tomb on EasterBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And he said to them, Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.

He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6 ESV).

One of the most vivid memories I have as a young person was the experience of an Easter sunrise.  Easter is mysterious, earth-shattering news.  How could I sleep through it?


At my grandfather’s funeral, I was given a head of wheat which hangs now in my kitchen.  The wheat reminds me of Jesus’ saying:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV).

Resurrection Reminders

The mystery of resurrection is everywhere in nature.  Sunrise is the resurrection of the day.  Springtime is the resurrection of the seasons.  The metamorphosis from caterpillar to cocoon to adult butterfly is a beautiful, dramatic resurrection.  The Apostle Paul writes:  “all of creation groans in anticipation of our redemption” (Romans 8:19-23).

Messianic Prophecies

Prophesies of Jesus’ resurrection start early in scripture.  Systematic theologians see salvation history as creation, fall, and redemption.  Because sin is the cause of death, eternal life requires forgiveness of sin which is brought about in Christ’s resurrection.  This transition is prophesied in Genesis:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15 ESV).

Other theologians see resurrection arising out of righteous suffering.  The prophet Job writes not only of Christ, but his own resurrection:  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27 ESV).  At the birth of the church on Pentecost (Acts 2:27), the Apostle Peter sees resurrection prophesied by King David:  “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).

When asked to produce a sign Jesus himself spoke of the sign of Jonah (Luke 11:29-32).  In the belly of the whale Jonah prayed:  “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2 ESV).  And the whale spit him out on dry land, another resurrection story.

Old Testament Resurrections Accounts

Resurrection did not start with Jesus.  Some see the story of the binding of Isaac as a resurrection account [1] and a prophecy of the cross (Genesis 22:1-18).  The prophet Elisha raises the Shunammite’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37).  In the valley of bones, Ezekiel prophesied about resurrection of the Nation of Israel (Ezekiel 37:3-6).  The exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt and the return of the exiles from Babylon are both resurrection accounts where a dead nation rises to new life.

New Testament Resurrection Accounts

In the gospels, Jesus himself performed several resurrections.  He raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Mark 5:22-43).  He raised the widow’s son (Luke 7:12-17).  Most remarkably, after lying four days in the tomb he raised Lazarus from death (John 11:1-45).  Like other resurrections, Jesus’ healings and exorcisms brought hope where there was none.

Some scholars believe that John Mark’s gospel recorded Apostle Peter’s testimony while he was in Rome during AD 41-54.  Mark later traveled with Paul.  Mark’s role was to teach about the life of Jesus.  Later, Luke may have assumed this role in Paul’s missionary team.

Mark’s Unusual Ending

Interestingly, Mark did no see the gospel ending with Jesus.  Neither did Luke whose gospel was followed by the Book of Acts.  Mark’s gospel starts with:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 ESV).  Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel ends with the woman going out from the tomb to relay the angel’s message:  “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7 ESV).  Likewise, our part in salvation history is to pass on the story.  As the hymnist Katherine Hankey (1834-1911) writes:  “I love to tell the story, of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love…” [2]

Christian Hope

Christian hope starts with the resurrection: we know that death is not the end of life’s story.  And because we know the rest of the story, we can invest in life and live each day with boldness and joy.

[1] Did Abraham believe God would raise Isaac from the dead?  Why did the angel have to tell Abraham twice?


Mark 16: Easter 2

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Mark 15: Holy Saturday (3)

Frank and Gertrude Hiemstra, GraveBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud

and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.

And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” (Mark 15:46 ESV)

Jesus is buried on the Day of Preparation which ends at sundown when the Jewish Sabbath begins. This detail in Mark’s Gospel is important because burial was forbidden on the Sabbath[1] and executed criminals could not hang overnight (Deut 21:23). The Gospels mention nothing taking place on the Sabbath while Jesus lay in the tomb and the narrative resumes on the following day. In other words, Jesus rested in the tomb over the Sabbath. Holy Saturday was a day of mourning and grief.

A Grieving Holiday

Grief is more than crying. In Jesus’ Beatitudes, Matthew records: “Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4) Luke records: “Honored are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21) Both accounts of this Beatitude are written in the form of a lament which has two parts.  In the first part, one empties the heart of all grief and pain and anxiety in prayer to God; in the second part, having been emptied the heart turns to God in praise. In the lament, when we grieve, we make room in our hearts for God.

The Theology of Lament

The most famous lament in the Bible is cited by the Gospel of Mark as Jesus’ last words: “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)[2] These words come from Psalm 22 verse one which turns to God in verse 19: “But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.” At a time when much of scripture was memorized, rabbis would cite the first part of a passage knowing that the audience would fill in the missing part. Knowing this tradition[3], Jesus could cite the first verse in Psalm 22 knowing that people hearing him would know the Psalm and how it ended.

Jesus gave us a template for dealing with grief the night before during his prayer in Gethsemane. Mark records that Jesus’ prayed three times:  “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36). Jesus is aware that he stands before the cross and does not want to die; still, he yields to God’s will. Each time we face pain and grief we are faced with a decision: do we turn to God or do we turn into our grief? Our identity is crafted from a lifetime of such decisions.

Joseph of Arimathea

The story of Joseph of Arimathea is instructive. Mark records: “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43) Asking for the body of a man just crucified for sedition took guts. Yet, with no expectation of resurrection, on a day when Jesus’ inner circle was in hiding and in fear, Joseph “took courage” and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Then, he buried him in his own grave [4].

Holy Saturday Reveals our Theology

Holy Saturday is a time to reflect on Christ’s crucifixion. Are we among those happy to see Jesus in the tomb or are we looking forward to the kingdom of God like Joseph of Arimathea?


[1] Burial is work, hence forbidden on the Sabbath (e.g. Deut 5:12-15).

[2] Also: Matthew 27:46. The direct citation of an Aramaic expression—“Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” in both the Mark and Matthew accounts makes it more likely that these are the actual words of Jesus. This is because the most important expressions in the Bible are cited directly rather than translated or, in this case, the actual words are both cited and translated.

[3] Jesus does exactly that in Matthew 21:16 citing Psalm 8:2.

[4] What a picture of substitutionary atonement—Jesus was buried in my grave so that I do not have to be.

Mark 15: Holy Saturday 2

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A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Mark 15: Good Friday (3)

Paining of the crucifixion
The Crucifixion

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said,

Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV)

Second Trial

Pontius Pilate gets right to the point:  “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answers with two words–σὺ λέγεις—which means:  you say (Mark 15:2). The chief priests accuse him of many things.  Pilate asks Jesus a second question:  “Have you no answer to make?” (Mark 15:4)  Jesus does not respond (Isaiah 53:7).  Pilate is amazed.

First Trial

The night before, the high priest asked Jesus if he is the Messiah (Christ).  Jesus responded using the words God from Exodus 3:14 saying:  “I am”.  Then, in case anyone misunderstood him, he paraphrased the messianic prophecy in Daniel 7:13:  “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62 ESV).  The high priest accordingly accused Jesus of blasphemy which is punishable by stoning under Jewish law (Leviticus 24:16).  But since Rome reserved the right to decide all cases of capital punishment, the chief priests accused Jesus of the political crime of sedition—treason against Rome.  This is why Pilate asked Jesus:  “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2)

What Kind of Messiah?

Realizing that Jesus is innocent of the charge of sedition, like a good politician Pilate begins working the crowd.  In offering to release a prisoner named Barabbas, who was guilty of both sedition and murder (Mark 15:7), Pilate is effectively asking the crowd what kind of Messiah they prefer.  The crowd asked for Barabbas who was known to be a Jewish nationalist—in other words, the crowd prefers a kingly Messiah.

Messiah means anointed one in Hebrew which translates as Christ in Greek.  Three types of roles are anointed:  prophets, priests, and kings.  In his earthly ministry, Jesus embodied the first two roles (prophet and priest), but the crowd wanted a king—someone to drive the Romans out—as we saw earlier in Mark 11:10.

So Pilate gave them what they wanted (Romans 1:24-25), washed his hands of the decision, and sent Jesus to the cross.

Mark 15: Good Friday 2

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A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Mark 14: Maundy Thursday (3)

Foot washing

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread (הַמַּצּ֛וֹת), at the Feast of Weeks (הַשָּׁבֻע֖וֹת), and at the Feast of Booths (הַסֻּכּ֑וֹת; Deuteronomy 16:16 ESV).

Holy Week as we know it is often celebrated at the same time as the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread (Festival of Matzos) often called Passover.  Dates differ because of differences in the calendar rules.  In Jesus’ time, Passover was one of three festivals that required the faithful to travel to Jerusalem.  The other festival familiar to Christians is the Feast of Weeks commonly known as Pentecost.  The Feast of Booths is a harvest festival in the fall.

Passover Backstory

Passover commemorates the release of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  God instructed Moses to tell the Israelite to sacrifice a lamb and place the blood of the lamb over their door-posts so that the angel of death would pass them by.  On the night of the Passover, the angel of death struck down the first born of Egypt and passed over the Israelite households.  Pharaoh reacted immediately by expelling the Israelite slaves.  They left so quickly that there was not time to bake bread for the journey.  Instead, they prepared bread without letting the dough rise—unleavened bread (Exodus 12).  Mark 14:12-26 describes how Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal in Jerusalem now remembered as the Last Super.

Covered by the Blood

The Last Super is important to Christians because it introduces the new covenant in Christ.  The word, covenant, found in v. 24 appears nowhere else in Mark’s Gospel and alludes to the covenant meal that Moses and the Elders of Israel shared with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:9-11).  The grim symbolism of the wine as the blood of Christ is an allusion to the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:7) which alerted the angel of death to pass over households displaying the blood.  In this sense, as Christians we are (like the door posts) covered by the blood of Christ.  By Jesus’ blood our sins are forgiven and we are passed over (Hebrews 9:11-28).

Where Does Maundy Thursday Come From?

Where does the name, Maundy Thursday, come from?  One theory is that it is Middle English for the Latin word, Mandatum, which means command.  According to some traditions, Maundy Thursday focuses on Jesus’ lesson on servant leadership:  “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14 ESV).

Mark 14: Maundy Thursday

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A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Mark 11:1-11—Palm Sunday (3)

Palm Sunday Donkey

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I beg you Lord, deliver us!  I beseech you Lord, prosper us! (Psalm 118:25 SWH)[1]

Hosanna (הוֹשִׁ֨יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א):  What is in a word?

Mark’s Palm Sunday

Mark’s account of Palm Sunday is amazingly simple:  The disciples hunt around for a donkey;  they have a small parade; some people start shouting;  they scope out the temple and go home.  No palms!  No Pharisees hanging around.  No prophecy.


Still, this is no ordinary parade.  France notes that nowhere else in the gospels do we read of Jesus riding [2].  The parade fulfills the prophecy:  Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9 ESV).


The whole story builds up to v. 9 and the shouting:  Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord (Mark 11:9).  Hosanna is a transliteration of a Hebrew phrase appearing only in Psalm 118:25 cited above.  The rest of the phrase is cited from the next verse (Psalm 118:26).  Beale and Carson [3] describe Psalm 118 as a “royal song of thanksgiving for military victory” regularly sung at Passover.  The truncation of Psalm 118:25 to exclude the second half of the sentence (I beseech you Lord, prosper us), underscores the military intentions of the Palm Sunday crowd.  The next verse makes this point very plain:  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David”(Mark 11:10).

Who is really being blessed here?

The Greek in v. 9 admits a second translation:  “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa once described herself as Christ’s donkey.  When we come humbly in the name of the Lord, in some sense we too become Christ’s donkey.  And we too are blessed.

[1] אָנָּ֣א יְ֭הוָה הוֹשִׁ֨יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א אָֽנָּ֥א יְ֜הוָ֗ה הַצְלִ֨יחָ֥ה נָּֽא (Psalm 118:25 WTT).

[2] R.T. France.  The New International Greek Testament Commentary:  The Gospel of Mark.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.  P. 428.

[3] G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson [Editors].  2007.  Commentary on the NT Use of the OT.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic.   Pp. 206-207.

Mark 11:1-11—Palm Sunday

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A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Thanksgiving Praise from Psalm 103, New Living Translation

October table setting of praise and thanksLet all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.  Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.  He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.  He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.  He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.  For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.  For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.  Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.  The wind blows, and we are gone– as though we had never been here.  But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!

The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.  Praise the LORD, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out his plans, listening for each of his commands.  Yes, praise the LORD, you armies of angels who serve him and do his will!  Praise the LORD, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom.

Let all that I am praise the LORD.

Thanksgiving Praise from Psalm 103, New Living Translation

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Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-20, English Standard Version

Nativity_12212013In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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Top 10 Posts on in 2014

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

Post by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The top ten posts on appeal to surprising mix of audiences and represent a diverse set of topics and genres.

The single, most popular topic was a survey that I took of 4 prospective cover designs for my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality.  Demographic questions included in this survey revealed that about half of those responding were under the age of 30 and only 70 percent indicated their religious preference as Christian.

Seven of the ten most popular posts were book reviews.  In some sense, this is not surprising because authors and publishers often re-tweet these reviews, which dramatically expands the prospective audience for the reviews. Still, the range of topics covered by these reviews is wide extending from leadership and sexuality to family systems and from biography to modern technology.

The most popular guest post was by Thomas Smith who is a Christian missionary in Croatia.

The only Bible study to make the top ten was Galatians 2: Jews and Gentiles.  About a quarter of all my posts are Bible studies so clearly such studies are under-represented in this list.  While this post does have a beautiful graphic, it also treats a terribly important theological subject.

Two classes of posts conspicuously missing from this list are my Sunday prayers and a Spanish language post.  Sunday prayers are generally popular during individual weeks.  Spanish language posts are responsible for vastly expanding my readership geographically.  Neither types of posts, however, compete easily with book reviews which have strong social media advocates.

Happy New Year from!

Title and Link


Vote on a Book Cover for A Christian Guide to Spirituality, Results of Book Cover Survey 101
Turansky and Miller: Hope and Guidance for Parents 66
Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture 52
Metaxas: Bonhoeffer’s Times and Ours 51
Galatians 2: Jews and Gentiles 36
Detweiler: Taming the Electronic Beast 36
Heifetz and Linsky Lead through Adversity 35
Single but not Alone: Soul Virgin 30
A New Life in an Old Land by Thomas Smith 30
Friedman Brings Healing by Shifting Focus from Individuals to the Family 28


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Lift Your Eyes to the Lord

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Faith is a life-saver. One of the deadliest of lies is that we are alone, without hope.  We know from Christ that God loves us and will never leave us. Therefore, setbacks in this life are temporary—an illusion to test our faith.  As Christians, we know that the end of the story is in Christ and He is in control.

The idea of Christian faith has become unfashionable. The postmodern world we live in is often like the Sahara desert where mountains of sand blow about daily. Direction in a world of shifting sand requires a surveyor’s marker that establishes location. Standing on a marker, a map shows both direction and distance. Without the marker, however, a map becomes a puzzle—like words without definitions—whose pieces have meaning only relative to one another. Scripture is our map; our marker is Jesus Christ [1].

When King David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1), he did not just have creation’s beauty in mind. The order of the universe points to the glory and sovereignty of God. Everywhere that scientists have studied, the same laws of physics apply. Why should there only be one set of physical laws?

As David implies, the order and stability of the created universe testifies to God’s existence and sovereignty. Kurt Gödel, a Czech mathematician, who was born in 1906, educated in Vienna, and taught at Princeton University, is famous for his incompleteness theorem published in 1931. This theorem states that stability in any closed, logical system requires that at least one assumption be taken from outside that system [2]. If creation is a closed, logical system (having only one set of physical laws suggests that it is) and exhibits stability, then it too must contain at least one external assumption. God, himself, fulfills that assumption (Smith 2001, 89).

Creation is not the only closed, logical system that we care about.  The human psyche can also become a closed, logical system.  When we experience a tragedy or trauma or just do something stupid, we have a choice.  Do we cry why me? OR do we look to God for help? [3]

If we cry why me and look inward cutting ourselves off from other people and from God, we become a closed, logical system without an assumption taken from outside ourselves.  The result is a logically unstable condition.  I call it: “the pit”.  There is no ladder that reaches outside this pit from inside.  Everything that is valuable to us is in the pit.  The pity party goes on and on without resolution—like a dog chasing its own tail.  Depression not only makes us unhappy, over time our brains physically atrophy enough to show up on a cat-scan.

By contrast, when we cry to God for help, we not only look outside ourselves, we look to the source of stability for all of creation.  But God is more than a helpful abstraction; in Jesus Christ we know that God loves us—individually and collectively—like a loving father.  When we cry to God for help, he extends a hand strong enough to pull us out of the pit.  This is sometime that we cannot do for ourselves.  After all, we dug the pit.

[1] Benner (2002, 26) sees the role of a spiritual director as of pointing to God’s work in a person’s life.

[2] An example can be seen in economics is applied to price theory. The U.S. economy requires one price be set outside the economy (in the world market) to assure stability. In the nineteenth century, that price was gold, and the system was called the gold standard. Every price in the U.S. economy could be expressed in terms of how much gold it was worth. Now, the dollar functions that way.

[3] Jesus faced this same question in the Garden of Gethsemane—“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39 ESV)—offering us an example of a faithful response.


Benner, David G. 2203. Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

Smith, Houston. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper.

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