What follows is a 16-week sermon series from the Gospel of Mark entitled “The Journey; Chronicles of a Follower of Christ.” Because of the way Mark wrote his Gospel, it is appropriate to cover it at a brisk pace with a view to grasping the book as a whole rather than dissecting its individual components. I encourage you to begin your study of Mark by reading through the entire book in one sitting; this will only take about 40 minutes. Then, to gain the most benefit from our study, I suggest you read each chapter on your own prior to listening to/reading these lessons. Before we begin in chapter one, I thought I would whet your appetite for the things we will be encountering in this Gospel along with some background information.
Author: John Mark was related to Barnabas and traveling companion of Paul (see Acts 15:37; Colossians 4:10; and 2 Timothy 4:11). He received his instruction from Peter, who referred to Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). Thus most think Mark recorded Peter’s perspective on Jesus’ life.
Date & Setting: Mark was probably written in the early/mid 60’s. Possibly written to Christians in Rome during the severe persecution by Nero beginning in
Purpose: The purpose of Mark’s Gospel is to evoke from the reader a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus (much, much more on this in the lessons that follow).
Jesus’ Galilean Ministry (1:1-8:26)
Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
Jesus’ Jerusalem Ministry (11:1-16:8)
Noteworthy Characteristics (look for these during your personal study time):
Markan Motifs (see if you can begin to identify these in your reading before I point them out):
Those who “follow” (ἀκολουθέω)—or refuse to “follow”—Jesus:
In characteristic form, Mark anxiously tells his readers the answer to the riddle in the first verse of the book. Who is Jesus? He is the “Son of God.” In fact, the Gospel has this creed as bookends for emphasis—the centurion by the cross confesses in Mark 15:39, “Truly this man was God’s Son” (NET Bible). Enjoy your journey with the Son of God through the Gospel of Mark.
1 Matthew S. DeMoss and J. Edward Miller, Zondervan Dictionary of Bible and Theology Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002), 150-51.
I think I speak for most men when I say that there are very few redeeming things about shopping. In fact, I can think of only two: 1) the electronics department, and 2) the food sample tables. Have you learned about the sample tables? These are tables—seen all over many large supermarkets—manned by one individual cooking sample foods on the spot and inviting you to partake. Now the host’s goal for the sample table is different from my goal for the sample table. Their goal is to get me to purchase something; my goal is to fill up on free samples. Sometimes I’ll go to the supermarket just to get a free meal. I’ll tour the sample tables in a strategic circuit over and over again until I begin to receive threatening glances from those manning the tables. Then I move on to the electronics department.
We sometimes treat Jesus like a supermarket sample table. We partake for our own good, but we’re not interested in “buying in” to the product itself. Why do you follow Jesus? Is it for self-interest or divine interest? The Gospel of Mark compels us to answer the question, “Do I follow Jesus because of who He is, or because of what He can do for me?”
Mark chapter one provides a multiple choice question for the reader: How have you responded to Jesus? Mark provides us with four possible responses, challenging us to determine which response to Jesus most resembles our own. Mark wishes to quickly establish why we are following Him, because if we are following for the wrong reasons, ours will not be a lasting response.
1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way,
1:3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
1:4 In the wilderness John the baptizer began preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 1:5 People from the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. 1:6 John wore a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 1:7 He proclaimed, “One more powerful than I am is coming after me; I am not worthy to bend down and untie the strap of his sandals. 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
1:9 Now in those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 1:10 And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 1:11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.” 1:12 The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. 1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, enduring temptations from Satan. He was with wild animals, and angels were ministering to his needs.
In characteristic form, Mark anxiously tells his readers the answer to the riddle in the first verse of the book. Who is Jesus? He is the “Son of God.”
The best verbal responses to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark come from demons (1:24; 3:11; 5:7) and the centurion (15:39), each of whom recognize Jesus as God’s Son. In Mark 1:1-13, those who have a broader perspective have the right view of Jesus, namely that He is God’s Son: Mark (1:1), the Father (1:11), and demons (1:24). Notice that the angels attend Jesus in the wilderness—they certainly know who this Guy is and respond well.
John the Baptist responded well to Jesus in word and deed, ultimately giving his life for the Gospel (6:27; only John and Jesus die for the Gospel in Mark’s Gospel). John held a high view of Jesus and confirmed his faith at Jesus’ baptism. John believed rightly about Jesus, and he served his Savior to death. In the Gospel of Mark, John is lifted up as a good example of one who follows Jesus and suffers for him to the end. John knew that whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake would find it. He humbly welcomed Jesus onto the public scene, knowing well that shadows were starting to fall over John’s popular public ministry. He had a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus (the purpose statement of Mark). John followed Jesus for who He was. Nothing more, nothing less.
Does John’s response to Jesus resemble yours? If so, select #1—“An exemplary response to Jesus”—as your answer to the question “How have you responded to Jesus.” If not, just wait: There are three more responses to look at in chapter one.
1:14 Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. 1:15 He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” 1:16 As he went along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). 1:17 Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.” 1:18 They left their nets immediately and followed him. 1:19 Going on a little farther, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother in their boat mending nets. 1:20 Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Jesus can say that the kingdom of God is near because He, the King, is near. Jesus will revisit this subject in chapter four, where this kingdom will be described in detail.
Peter and Andrew, James and John—they all responded with haste. While their initial response is immediate, the text later demonstrates that they certainly didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Although these disciples follow Jesus immediately, the rest of the Gospel shows that they failed to consider the cost. And the cost turned out to be too high; they all abandoned Jesus before ultimately coming back to him.
Can you think of anyone else in the New Testament that endeavored on a journey without fully considering the cost? That’s right—John Mark, the author of this Gospel. You remember the story. When Paul and Barnabas embarked on their first missionary journey, they chose to take along Barnabas’ cousin Mark. During the first leg of the journey, however, Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas, presumably when the going got tough. Could it be that Mark had signed on too hastily? Could it be he had failed to consider the cost? It is speculative, but likely. Fortunately, Barnabas saw fit to permit Mark to join him on another challenging journey later, and Mark succeeded. Likewise, the same disciples that follow Jesus “immediately” in this chapter will abandon him just as quickly at Gethsemane. There is nothing wrong with following immediately; there is everything wrong with following immediately without counting the cost. The Gospel of Mark places a higher priority on a lasting response than an immediate one.
Does the disciples’ response to Jesus resemble yours? If so, select #2—“An immediate response to Jesus”—as your answer to the question “How have you responded to Jesus.” If not, just wait: There are two more responses to look at in chapter one.
1:21 Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 1:22 The people there were amazed4 by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law. 1:23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, 1:24 “Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, “Silence! Come out of him!” 1:26 After throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 1:27 They were all amazed so that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits and they obey him.” 1:28 So the news about him spread quickly throughout all the region around Galilee.
The scene here is a Jewish Synagogue (at least four times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus will enter a Synagogue to teach). Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit.5 Note the contrast here, the demon knows who Jesus is and refuses to follow; the people flock to Jesus but don’t know who he truly is. News is spreading about Jesus; there is intrigue. These people come to Jesus because they are impressed with 1) his authoritative teaching, and 2) his ability to command demons.
Several years ago I spent a summer in Colorado at a training institute. Another trainee at the same institute was an amateur magician, who offered weekly pro-bono magic shows—mainly for the kids. The first time my wife and I saw his performance, I was amazed. Even though I was an adult (by most standards) I began to dream about doing such amazing things myself. I dreamed of large audiences, of laughter, of applause, of jaws dropping. I took those dreams to the store with me and bought my very own magic set and practiced nonstop until I came to realize that I was a terrible magician. I remember distinctively being disappointed. That is, until I attended the next week’s magic show. Suddenly I was not so impressed with his performance. Most of his tricks were repeats from the week before. After I saw the magic show for the third time, the newness was gone; I was no longer impressed. I left looking for a new dream to follow.
That’s what happens to an emotional response: It begins with enthusiasm but peters out in just a short period of time.
Does the crowd’s response to Jesus resemble yours? If so, select #3—“An emotional response to Jesus”—as your answer to the question “How have you responded to Jesus.” If not, just wait: There’s still one more response to look at in chapter one.
1:29 Now as soon as they left the synagogue, they entered Simon and Andrew’s house, with James and John. 1:30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying down, sick with a fever, so they spoke to Jesus at once about her. 1:31 He came and raised her up by gently taking her hand. Then the fever left her and she began to serve them. 1:32 When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and demon-possessed. 1:33 The whole town gathered by the door. 1:34 So he healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
1:35 Then Jesus got up early in the morning when it was still very dark, departed, and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer. 1:36 Simon and his companions searched for him. 1:37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” 1:38 He replied, “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came out to do.” 1:39 So he went into all of Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
1:40 Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” he said. 1:41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” 1:42 The leprosy left him at once, and he was clean. 1:43 Immediately Jesus sent the man away with a very strong warning. 1:44 He told him, “See that you do not say anything to anyone; but go, show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” 1:45 But as the man went out he began to announce it publicly and spread the story widely, so that Jesus was no longer able to enter any town openly but stayed outside in remote places. Still they kept coming to him from everywhere.
Miracles have a higher purpose than healings and exorcisms. They are meant to authenticate the teachings and identity of Jesus. To seek Jesus for His ability to heal is simply not adequate. This is partly the reason for the Messianic Secret: Jesus’ tendency—especially in the Gospel of Mark—to command people not to tell anyone who He is (e.g., 1:25; 1:34; 1:43-44).6
Jesus didn’t want to be viewed merely as a miracle-worker.
In this passage, Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law precipitates “all who were sick and demon-possessed” coming to Him. When the disciples notified Jesus that everyone was looking for Him, Jesus communicated that He preferred to go elsewhere. Not a very good church growth strategy! Why would He do such a thing? Apparently because the motives of those seeking Him were impure. They sought Him for selfish reasons, nothing more. Even the man that Jesus has compassion on disobeys Jesus’ “strong warning” by announcing Jesus’ whereabouts publicly.7
Remember, the goal of the food sample table at your local supermarket is that you would buy the product. The samples are not designed to satisfy completely; they are meant to authenticate the quality of the product on the shelf or in the freezer and thus persuade you to purchase. Likewise, Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms are not intended to satisfy completely; they are designed to authenticate the true identity of Jesus and thus persuade you to embrace Him. Jesus desires for us to do more than merely sample for our own good. He wants us to consume, to purchase, to entirely buy in. Do you treat Jesus like a sample table?
Why are you following Jesus? Are you in it to get something from Him, or are you in it for Him alone?
Does the selfish response to Jesus resemble yours? If so, select #4—“A selfish response to Jesus”—as your answer to the question “How have you responded to Jesus.” How did you do on the multiple choice test?
Each lesson will conclude with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We will refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for chapter one is Mark 1:1.
“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
With this verse, Mark summarizes the message of the book. That is the true identity of Jesus; reflect on that, and determine today to have a lasting response to that true identity in word and deed.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
3 Εὐθὺς (“immediately”) occurs 41 times in Mark, and only 19 times in the NT outside of Mark. It occurs 12 times (30% of the Mark occurrences) here in this first chapter.
4 Mark uses “amazed” or “astonished” about 20 times to describe people’s reaction to Jesus, and shows that these aren’t sufficient responses to God’s Son.
5 Mark speaks of “demons” or “unclean spirits” about 25 times in his Gospel.
6 Matthew S. DeMoss and J. Edward Miller, Zondervan Dictionary of Bible and Theology Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002), 150-51.
7 Jesus had commanded him to show himself to the priests. A leper was not welcomed back into a community until he had been declared clean by a priest, and had offered appropriate sacrifices according to the book of Leviticus.
One of the most powerful movies in recent years is the epic film Gladiator. At the beginning of the film, the aging Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius has a private conversation with Maximus, his most trusted and successful military commander. During this dialogue, the Emperor communicates his desire that Maximus succeed him as “Protector of Rome” instead of the Emperor’s evil son, Commodus. Shortly after this conversation, Marcus Aurelius privately gives Commodus the same information. But the ambitious Commodus doesn’t react well to the news. He quickly murders his father, thus securing the throne before anyone else learned of his father’s plans for Maximus. He then gives the order that Maximus and his family be disposed of.
Unbeknownst to the young Emperor, Maximus escapes and rushes off to save his family. But he doesn’t make it. He finds them murdered and his beautiful home destroyed. His desire to live now absent, he is gathered up by a slave trader and sold as a gladiator. But after experiencing success as a gladiator—and learning of the potential to fight in the Roman coliseum before Emperor Commodus—Maximus has renewed hope . . . and vengeance. The climactic moment of the movie occurs after the Emperor has witnessed this masked gladiator’s spectacular performance and, accompanied by his guards, walks out onto the floor of a packed coliseum to meet him. Let’s join the scene:
Commodus: “Why doesn’t the hero reveal himself and tell us all your real name. You do have a name.”
Maximus: “My name is gladiator.” (turning his back on the Emperor to show his disrespect)
Commodus: “How dare you turn your back on me! Slave! You will remove your helmet and tell me your name!”
Maximus: (removing his helmet while turning to face Commodus) “My name is Maximus Desimus Meridius, commander of the armies of the north, general of the fearless legions, loyal servant of the true emperor—Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will have my vengeance in this life or the next!”
Commodus was offended by the gladiator’s audacity to turn his back on him. He wondered, “Who does this guy think he is? Does he have a right to do such a thing?” But after Maximus reveals himself, everyone in the coliseum responds: “Ohhhhh.” Now they realize who this guy is, and that he does have the right to do such a thing.
In Mark chapter two, Jesus is going to say and do such audacious things that those around Him are going to ask, “Who does this guy think He is?” Jesus will attempt to answer that question in four ways. And once He does, many present will respond: “Ohhhhh.” They will realize who this Guy is, and that He does have the right to say and do such things.
Recall that the purpose of the Gospel of Mark is “to evoke a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus.” Today’s lesson clearly unpacks the true identity of Jesus for us.
In Mark 2:1-3:6 you should notice a great deal of controversy between Jesus and the religious leadership of His day. Pay careful attention to the response of these 3 groups:
Experts in the Law: Also known as scribes, these Jewish leaders were professional interpreters of Scripture. Scribes could also be Pharisees.
Pharisees: Numbering about 6,000 in first century Palestine, these defenders of Judaism were known for their knowledge of the Law and its application to life.
Herodians: Mentioned only three times in the Gospels (Mark 3:6; 12:13; Matthew 22:16), these Jewish leaders were politically loyal to Herod and the Herodian dynasty. They never appear without the Pharisees.
“Who does this guy think he is?” Jesus has four responses:
2:1 Now after some days, when he returned to Capernaum, the news spread that he was at home. 2:2 So many gathered that there was no longer any room, not even by the door, and he preached the word to them. 2:3 Some people came bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 2:4 When they were not able to bring him in because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Jesus. Then, after tearing it out, they lowered the stretcher the paralytic was lying on. 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith,9 he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 2:6 Now some of the experts in the law were sitting there, turning these things over in their minds: 2:7 “Why does this man speak this way? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 2:8 Now immediately, when Jesus realized in his spirit that they were contemplating such thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? 2:9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, take your stretcher, and walk’? 2:10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man10 has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—he said to the paralytic— 2:11 “I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” 2:12 And immediately the man stood up, took his stretcher, and went out in front of them all. They were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Anyone who saw this paralyzed man would have known his most urgent need, right? I’m confident that if a survey had been taken of those present that day, the consensus would have been that this man’s greatest need was physical restoration. Not so. Sometimes our greatest need is below the surface. Augustine once said, “One need not be paralyzed bodily to be paralyzed inwardly.” This man happened to be paralyzed both inwardly and outwardly. You and I may not be paralyzed physically, but each of us was born paralyzed inwardly. Our greatest need, regardless of our physical condition, is healing of our fallen spiritual condition.
Please note that Jesus does not ask, “Which is easier to do: forgive sins or heal?” Clearly the answer to that question would be that it is easier to heal. There have been many people throughout history with the ability to heal physically. However, no person in history has had the ability to forgive sins, let alone the audacity to claim that ability for himself.
Rather, Jesus’ question was, Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up. . .’ It is certainly easier to heal than it is to forgive sins, but it is easier to say that someone’s sins are forgiven than it is to say that someone is healed. That is, the statement “you are healed” is falsifiable—it can be proven wrong. Who can prove you wrong if you claim you have forgiven someone’s sins? It is an invisible act. Thus, Jesus proves He has accomplished the invisible act by likewise accomplishing the visible act.
Jesus claims for Himself the ability to forgive. Who alone but God has the authority to forgive? In characteristic form, Mark packages this story by first zooming in on Jesus, and then panning out to record the audience’s response. And they responded right—they accuse Jesus of blasphemy11—reproaching the name of God rather than honoring it. Only God could forgive sins. Only God could make such a claim without it being blasphemous. Unless Jesus is God, He is speaking blasphemy.
The point of this text is that folks had gathered to see Jesus work a miracle, and they left with the awareness that there may be more to this man than the ability to heal. The audience gathered that day was given pause: If the paralytic was healed when Jesus said he was healed, then perhaps his sins were forgiven when Jesus said they were forgiven. Then who is Jesus?
“Who does this guy think he is?” He is the Lord of Forgiveness.
2:13 Jesus went out again by the sea. The whole crowd came to him, and he taught them. 2:14 As he went along, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. 2:15 As Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s home, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 2:16 When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 2:17 When Jesus heard this he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Levi is the first of two individuals (along with Bartimaeus in chapter ten) pictured sitting by the road as Jesus passes by. Each one is called by Jesus, and each rises, steps onto the path behind Jesus, and “follows” Him on His journey.
Levi is a tax collector. Tax collectors were Jews who were despised for two reasons: 1) they collected taxes for the Roman government and were thus viewed as traitors to their own people, and 2) they were known for collecting more taxes than required, and pocketing the profits. They were the chief sinners according to first century Judiasm. And yet this tax collector receives a personal invitation to follow Jesus. Even worse, Jesus is seen eating—fellowshipping—with this guy and other well-known sinners! Who does this guy think He is?
Jesus answers this question by stating that He did not come to call the righteous (the self-righteous, that is), but sinners (those who recognized their need). That is THE prerequisite to forgiveness and redemption. God has never saved a person who didn’t think he needed saved, and in this Gospel the Pharisees didn’t think they needed saved. Just as a sick person goes to a doctor to receive health, so a sinner goes to Jesus to receive righteousness. If that sick person refuses to visit the doctor, he will remain sick. Likewise, if a sinner refuses to acknowledge his own sin, he will remain a sinner.
“Who does this guy think he is?” He is the Lord of Redemption.
2:18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. So they came to Jesus and said, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?” 2:19 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they do not fast. 2:20 But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and at that time they will fast. 2:21 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear becomes worse. 2:22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be destroyed. Instead new wine is poured into new wineskins.”
Fasting in the first century was closely associated with mourning. To fast with the bridegroom present at a wedding would be insulting to the bridegroom, who wished for you to celebrate with him upon the special occasion. Jesus is the bridegroom; the Man of honor.
New material is incompatible with an old tattered garment. It would be inappropriate to attempt to bring the two together. Jesus is the new, superior material. He is incompatible with the old garment—the Old Testament religious system. He is bringing about something entirely new.
New wine and old wineskins were incompatible, and it would be inappropriate to put new wine into old wineskins. Old wineskins were already stretched from the fermenting gas of the wine it had already carried. New wine would likewise release fermenting gas that would burst an old wineskin which was already stretched to its limit. Jesus is the new wine that proves incompatible with the old wineskins—the Old Testament religious system. Jesus is the Guest of honor about to affect radical change that will overshadow the Old Testament way of life. The time of fulfillment has come in Jesus. The old is past; new things have come by virtue of His arrival. The wedding, the garment, and the new wine are all symbolic of the newness Jesus brings. Jesus is going to establish the Age of Grace in place of the Age of the Law. Who is this that thinks He can overshadow the Old Covenant and inaugurate a New Covenant?
“Who does this guy think he is?” He is the Lord of Change.
2:23 Jesus was going through the grain fields on a Sabbath, and his disciples began to pick some grain as they made their way. 2:24 So the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 2:25 He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry— 2:26 how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest12 and ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to his companions?” 2:27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. 2:28 For this reason the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
3:1 Then Jesus again entered the synagogue, and a man was there whose hand was withered. 3:2 They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. 3:3 So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” 3:4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were silent. 3:5 After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 3:6 So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the Herodians, as to how they could assassinate him.
Jesus and the disciples are gleaning food from a grain field, which is entirely permitted by the Law—even on the Sabbath (Deut. 23:25). When the Pharisees object to such activity on the Sabbath, Jesus explains that the Sabbath was designed for mankind and not the other way around (just as the bread that David ate was made for mankind, and not the other way around).
Traditionally, only if one’s life were in danger could you rescue or attempt to heal on the Sabbath. There is no such restriction in the Old Testament. These are simply examples of the Pharisees placing additional legislation upon the Jews to protect them from breaking the Law.
First, Jesus explains the purpose of the Sabbath (it was made for people, not people for the Sabbath), and then He claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath.13 In fact the reason Jesus can state with authority the purpose of the Sabbath is because He is Lord of the Sabbath. After all, He authored it.
I recently attended a seminar at a conference with a friend of mine. As was the custom at these seminars, a thirty-minute paper was read arguing for or against some biblical or theological position. This particular paper was written in response to a recently-published article. After she had read her paper, the seminar leader invited ten minutes of questions from the 50 or so in attendance. My friend raised his hand and began to defend the published article against which she wrote. Back and forth they disagree until she finally cut him off.
“I beg your pardon,” she began, “but I think you’ve misunderstood the intention of the author of that article.” My friend replied, “I beg your pardon, but I am the author of that article.”
Doesn’t it make sense that the author would know best? If you know your New Testament, you know that Jesus—as an instrument of the Father—was actually the Creator of the universe. Thus when the Bible says that on the Seventh Day God rested from His work, it was Jesus—the eternal Second Person of the Trinity—resting from His creative activity. Jesus is the author of the Sabbath. Doesn’t it make sense that He would know its purpose?
And here we end, as those with the titles of authority plot to kill the one possessing genuine authority.
“Who does this guy think he is?” He is the Lord of Sabbath.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for chapter two is Mark 2:17.
When Jesus heard this he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
8 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
9 Four times in Mark someone is healed because they act on faith: This paralytic and his friends (Mark 2), Jairus’ daughter and Jairus (Mark 5), the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5), and Bartimaeus (Mark 10).
10 Fourteen times in the Gospel of Mark the designation “Son of Man” is used of Jesus. It is Jesus’ favorite self-designation in the Gospels.
11 The notion of “blasphemy” will occur seven times in Mark.
12 The priest at the time David took bread from the temple was actually Abimelech, the father of Abiathar (1 Samuel 21:1). This is a challenging exegetical problem. Some have attempted to rectify the problem with a translation that implies that this event took place “during the lifetime of Abiathar the high priest” rather than “during the priesthood of Abiathar the high priest.”
13 This must have been one of the boldest claims Jesus ever made. The Sabbath was protected aggressively by the religious leadership of the first century. It belonged to no man; the Sabbath belonged to Yahweh. It was His day, and His alone.
Families are a bitter-sweet reality of life. There is no better place to receive unconditional love and care than from one’s family. “Home,” it has been said, “is where they have to let you in when you want to go there.” Rudyard Kipling once wrote this about families:
“All of us are we—and everyone else is they. A family shares things like dreams, hopes, possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, and gladness... A family is a clan held together with the glue of love and the cement of mutual respect. A family is shelter from the storm, a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No person is ever alone who is a member of a family.”
Yet sadly, many cannot relate to such a warm and positive description of family. Because of our deep love for our families, they have the potential to hurt us the most. While no family is perfect, some experience greater levels of harmful brokenness than others. Divorce, verbal or physical abuse, disapproval, abandonment, favoritism, and neglect—these and more threaten to rob us of God’s plan for the modern family. In Mark chapter three, Jesus will not only encounter trouble in His family, but He will also redefine for us the notion of family. He will show that there is a stronger bond than that of flesh and blood. This stronger bond rests with one’s spiritual family. It is to this family that Jesus calls His disciples in this lesson. It is the same calling that every Christian receives—not to a specific vocation or mission field or ministry, but to the family of God and our responsibilities within those relationships.
3:7 Then Jesus went away with his disciples to the sea,15 and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and from Judea, 3:8 Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan River, and around Tyre and Sidon a great multitude came to him when they heard about the things he had done. 3:9 Because of the crowd, he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him so the crowd would not press toward him. 3:10 For he had healed many, so that all who were afflicted with diseases pressed toward him in order that they could touch him. 3:11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 3:12 But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
3:13 Now Jesus went up the mountain and called for those he wanted, and they came to him.16 3:14 He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles17), so that they would be with him and he could send them to preach 3:15 and to have authority to cast out demons. 3:16 He appointed twelve: he gave the name Peter to Simon; 3:17 to James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, he gave the name Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; 3:18 and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, 3:19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
The reason for Jesus’ withdrawal in Mark 3:7 is obvious: The authorities were after him (3:6) and it wasn’t yet time for him to be arrested. Mark 3:7-12 is meant to summarize Jesus’ ministry (see also 2:13). He was teaching the large crowds, performing miracles, and casting out demons whom He commanded not to talk about Him.18 One might get the impression from what Mark has recorded thus far that Jesus was rather aloof, not allowing folks to talk about Him and not getting too close to anyone. What follows will certainly put an end to such thoughts.
Jesus chooses a motley crew of followers: Four blue collar fishermen, one hated tax-collector, one radical member of a violent political party, one doubter, and one betrayer (known to Jesus). We know virtually nothing about six of these men, whose names never appear again in Mark’s Gospel. Although the word “family” has not yet occurred in this chapter, Jesus has nevertheless established the pattern of a family with these disciples. This pattern has three components.
First, Jesus “names” them apostles. The text does not say that He “called” them apostles, nor that He “appointed” them apostles. It uses the specific Greek word meaning “name.” Furthermore, Peter, James, and John receive additional “names” from Jesus. Isn’t that the first step for a new member of a family? Isn’t that what happens when you enter a family? When we are called into God’s family, He gives us a new name. What name has God given to you? I like to think that when a person is born again the Father breaks open His book of baby names and states, “Ah, a new precious child. What shall I name this one?” I would imagine that book contains names such as “Patient One,” “Joyful One,” “Servant,” “Trusting One,” “Courageous One,” “Honest One,” “Faithful One.” What name has the Father bestowed upon you? Are you living up to that name?
Second, these disciples are called to “be with Him.” Isn’t this the next stage for a member of a family? A child is born, named, and then “with” the family for a period of time—usually about 18-20 years. During this time the children are taught, trained, and prepared for life. In the same way, Jesus seeks to teach, train, and prepare these disciples for ministry.
Finally, after a period of time “with Jesus,” these disciples will be sent “to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.” After receiving the training and preparation, the disciples will be sent out to accomplish ministry. In the same way, children are born, named, with their family for a period of time, and then sent out into life. While you and I are not apostles in a technical sense, our job is quite similar. Are you and I following that pattern within God’s spiritual family? We have been born again, named, and with Jesus. Are we now accomplishing the ministry we have been trained and prepared for? I wonder how many of us like the “be with him” part but not the “going out” part. You and I are irrevocably called into God’s family just as these disciples were.
3:20 Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. 3:21 When his family heard this they went out to restrain him,19 for they said, “He is out of his mind.” 3:22 The experts in the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons.” 3:23 So he called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 3:24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand. 3:25 If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 3:26 And if Satan rises against himself and is divided, he is not able to stand and his end has come. 3:27 But no one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house.20 3:28 I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. 3:29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin21 3:30 (because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit’).”
Note the opposition. The ones who oppose Jesus are precisely the ones who should have known better: The religious leadership and His own family. Note the parallel verses:
“ . . . [his family] said, ‘he is out of His mind.’” (3:21)
“ . . . [the experts in the Law] said, ‘he has an unclean spirit.’” (3:30)
Have you ever been falsely accused? How did it make you feel? In this passage, Jesus is accused by His family of insanity and accused by the religious leaders as satanic. He was neither.
The text here is rife with implied and stated division: Satan vs. Satan, Jesus vs. His family, Jesus vs. the scribes, kingdom vs. itself, house vs. itself. Jesus states that where there is division, a house or a kingdom will not be able to stand. He is emphasizing the necessity of standing together as a family—just when His very own family was divided! Typically, families seek to stick together. In fact, if a family does nothing else, it at least tries to stand together! Having four older brothers, I understand the necessity of standing together. Practically every day of my adolescence one or other of my brothers beat me up. The trade-off, however, was that I knew I would be protected should anyone outside of my family threaten to lay a finger on me. Why? Because families seek to stand together. My wife can talk bad about her parents from dawn until dusk if she wishes to, but the moment that I begin to agree with her . . . she turns on me! She can talk bad about her parents but I cannot. Why? Because families stand together.
If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you are a child of God. We are a family, and families stand together. The following list was initially written by Tim & Diane Wulburn as rules to live by in their house. Yet I believe they apply just as well—if not better—to a church. Standing together as a church requires that we follow these rules:
In our church...
1. We obey our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. We love, honor and pray for one another.
3. We tell the truth.
4. We consider one another’s interest ahead of our own.
5. We speak quietly and respectfully with one another.
6. We do not hurt one another with unkind words or deeds.
7. When someone needs correction, we correct him in love.
8. When someone is sorry, we forgive him.
9. When someone is sad, we comfort him.
10. When someone is happy, we rejoice with him.
11. When we have something nice to share, we share it.
12. When we have work to do, we do it without complaining.
13. We take good care of everything God has given us.
14. We do not create unnecessary work for others.
15. When we open something, we close it.
16. When we turn something on, we turn it off.
17. When we take something out, we put it away.
18. When we make a mess, we clean it up.
19. When we do not know what to do, we ask.
20. When we go out, we act just as if we were here.
Let’s seek to follow these rules as the family of God, and let’s stand together.
3:31 Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers came. Standing outside, they sent word to him, to summon him. 3:32 A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.” 3:33 He answered them and said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 3:34 And looking at those who were sitting around him in a circle,22 he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 3:35 For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Having concluded that He has gone insane (Mark 3:21), Jesus’ family has now arrived to collect Him (3:32). When notified that His family awaits Him outside, Jesus redefines for us the notion of family while conveying an allegiance to those who acknowledge and do the will of God. There is a stronger bond than that of flesh and blood; even Mary’s relationship with Jesus was not close enough. She had to become His follower. Who is the true family of Jesus? Those who follow him with a lasting response in word and deed, of course. Put simply, those who do the will of God. Remember that in the Gospel of Mark, actions speak louder than words. As members of the family of God, you and I have been called to obedience within that family.
I am always impressed when I see folks walking dogs without leashes. What marvelously obedient animals. When I see a dog on a leash I know two things about that dog: 1) he has a master, and 2) he doesn’t know that he has a master. Remove the leash and your dog is sure to get himself into trouble. He will run out into traffic, eat something he will later regret, eat something you will later regret, bite someone or frighten someone, destroy something, or simply run away. Hence, the leash.
Peter T. Forsythe was right when he said, “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master.” Have you found your Master? Are you a member of God’s family? Then as one “dog-on-a-leash” to another “dog-on-a-leash” I ask: When will we begin to obey our Master? Why is it that every time the leash comes off we get ourselves into trouble? How long before God can trust us enough to remove the leash, knowing we will walk in obedience by His side?
One of the most profound prayers I’ve ever heard simply states:
“Dear God, Your will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Amen.”
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for chapter three is Mark 3:14.
“He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles), so that they would be with him and he could send them to preach.”
14 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
15 Jesus’ later Galilean ministry begins in Mark 3:7.
16 A recurring theme in the Gospel of Mark is Jesus getting alone with his disciples for teaching, instruction, and training. Twice we see it here (3:7, 13).
17 “Apostle” simply means “one who is sent.” By giving His disciples this name, He is suggesting that their future will include going out to spread the Message about Jesus.
18 Jesus is pursued by the crowds for healing. While they don’t grasp His true identity, the demons certainly do. They state plainly who Jesus is in an attempt to rule over him, as knowledge of a person’s name was thought to confer power over that person.
19 The Greek word translated “restrain” carries the meaning “physically detain.” It is translated elsewhere as “arrest” or “seize.”
20 When they can no longer discredit His miracles, the religious leaders attack Jesus’ character. They accuse Jesus of being in collusion with Satan. Jesus’ response is that if He is casting out demons then He certainly isn’t working with Satan but against him. Jesus claims that He is out to destroy Satan’s work. In the strong man analogy, Satan is the strong man and Jesus the stronger man.
21 This is the so-called “unforgivable sin,” which has been defined as “shorthand for ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,’ about which Jesus warned his listeners that it would not be forgiven (see also Matt. 12:31-32; Luke 12:10)” [Matthew S. DeMoss and J. Edward Miller, Zondervan Dictionary of Bible and Theology Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002), 252]. The $25,000 question: “What is the unforgivable, unpardonable, eternal sin?” First, notice that the text does not say that anyone had, in fact, blasphemed against the Holy Spirit—only that doing so had eternal consequences. In other words, this may have been more of a warning than a pronouncement. Having said that, many think that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is persistent and defiant resistance by unbelievers to the work of the Holy Spirit. Others teach that it occurred only when a miracle performed by Jesus was attributed by onlookers to the power of Satan. After all, Jesus performed miracles in order to authenticate his true identity. To conclude that He was acting under the influence of Satan is to entirely miscalculate Jesus’ true identity.
22 Those sitting around Jesus were probably the apostles He had earlier named (3:14).
“What animal do you most closely resemble?” This question makes up a game that most of us have played at a party or some other social event. It’s an exercise to build relationships and get to know one another a bit better. Perhaps you think of an animal that you physically resemble, such as a giraffe if you have a long neck, a leopard if you consider yourself sleek, or a hippopotamus if you think you have the spiritual gift of leverage. But most often it’s a character trait that we share in common with an animal: an elephant is able to remember, a fox is clever, a snake is an introvert (if bothered in your secret grotto you may bite), a bird enjoys freedom and resists structure, a monkey is highly trainable, a dog lives for entertainment, a bear loves sleep, a pig is notoriously messy, a cat is aloof, a donkey stubborn, a squirrel resourceful, a tiger aggressive or protective—you get the idea. From these animals or others, which animal do you most closely resemble?
In Mark chapter four, Jesus plays a very similar game. But the choices are limited and the consequences far-reaching. Jesus describes for us four different types of soil that vary according to their receptivity to sown seed, and begs the question: “Which soil does your life most closely resemble.” Chapter four is one of only two places in Mark where Jesus teaches extensively (also chapter 13). Here He uses parables—short instructive stories that contain analogies from everyday life. Parables disclose information and conceal it at the same time—depending upon the receptivity of the listener’s heart. This indirect approach attracts some and provokes others. Some of the best known biblical passages are parables. The first parable in today’s passage is the Parable of the Soils.23
4:1 Again he began to teach by the lake. And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there while the whole crowd was on the shore by the lake. 4:2 He taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching said to them: 4:3 “Listen!25 A sower went out to sow. 4:4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 4:5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. 4:6 When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have a root, it withered. 4:7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked it, and it did not produce grain. 4:8 But other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some bore thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” 4:9 And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!”
4:10 When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 4:11 He said to them, “The secret26 of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables,
4:12 so that although they look they may look but not see,
and although they hear they may hear but not understand,
so they may not repent and be forgiven.”27
4:13 He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand any parable? 4:14 The sower sows the word. 4:15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: whenever they hear, immediately Satan comes and snatches the word that was sown in them. 4:16 These are the ones sown on rocky ground: as soon as they hear the word, they receive it with joy. 4:17 But they have no root in themselves and do not endure. Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately they fall away. 4:18 Others are the ones sown among thorns: they are those who hear the word, 4:19 but worldly cares, wealthy pleasures, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it produces nothing. 4:20 But these are the ones sown on good soil: they hear the word and receive it and bear fruit, one thirty times as much, one sixty, and one a hundred.”
Earlier Jesus had his disciples prepare a boat in case the crowds became too great and threatened to force Him into the water. Here the crowds had grown so large that Jesus has to use that boat as a platform (though He sits as was customary for a teacher) while the listeners gather by the edge of the sea. At the beginning and end of the Parable of the Soils, Jesus invites these listeners to listen carefully, suggesting that the meaning might not be self-evident. The four soils share in common the “hearing” of the Word—they each receive seed. The contrast lies in their varying levels of receptivity to that Word. While Jesus is not often given to explaining His parables, here He chooses to do so for those close to Him.
Like the social game in which we identify which animal we most closely resemble, Jesus now describes four different types of soils and asks which soil we most closely resemble. Which soil best represents the condition of your heart?28
Soil sample #1:
Soil sample #2:
Soil sample #3:
Soil sample #4:
Remember, in the Gospel of Mark Jesus calls His followers to a lasting response. This parable is a warning to the soil. It conveys the importance of lasting fruit—fruit that remains. Only soil that produces fruit pleases the Father. Has the Word of God affected you? Are you an influenced follower?
The moral of the story: Be the right soil.
4:21 He also said to them, “A lamp isn’t brought to be put under a basket or under a bed, is it? Isn’t it to be placed on a lampstand? 4:22 For nothing is hidden except to be revealed, and nothing concealed except to be brought to light. 4:23 If anyone has ears to hear, he had better listen!” 4:24 And he said to them, “Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive, and more will be added to you. 4:25 For whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is like someone29 who spreads seed on the ground. 4:27 He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 4:28 By itself30 the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 4:29 And when the grain is ripe, he sends in the sickle because the harvest has come.”31
4:30 He also asked, “To what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to present it? 4:31 It is like a mustard seed, that when placed on the ground is the smallest of all the seeds scattered on the ground.32 4:32 But when it takes root, it grows up and becomes the greatest of all garden plants, and grows large branches so that the birds of the sky can nest in its shade.”
4:33 So with many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear. 4:34 He did not speak to them without a parable. But privately he explained everything to his own disciples.
Mark 4:21-25 describes for us the purpose of the Message. In the same way that the purpose of a lamp is to provide light for many, so the purpose of the Message is that it not be hidden away but broadcast widely. That same Message that has transformed your life is not to be retained, but to be given away. Global influence begins with individuals and moves to influenced individuals and moves to influenced individuals influencing others with that same Message that first influenced them. Thus, as good stewards, we are to “take care about what we hear.” It cannot stop with us; it moves through us to others. That’s the purpose of the Message.
Mark 4:26-29 describes for us the power of the Message. Perhaps someone might misunderstand Jesus to be giving us the responsibility to change others’ lives. Not so. Jesus makes it crystal clear that the sower is not responsible for any resulting growth. Rather, “he does not know how” the seed spouts and grows, for it does so “by itself.” Who’s going to influence this vast kingdom that Jesus speaks about? These 12 unlikely candidates? If they were responsible for the result, then rest assured that the mission is doomed from the start. Instead, their responsibility is merely to scatter the seed (and to remain good soil for the seed itself to grow from). As sowers of the Word of God, it is not our power that affects change in others’ lives; it is the power of the Message Itself that does so. The seed holds within itself the secret power for growth. You may doubt weather you could possibly contribute to such growth in the present kingdom. Remember, your job and mine is merely to remain faithful and available sowers of the Message. We are not responsible for the growth of the hearers.
Mark 4:30-34 describes for us the potential of the Message. Although small and seemingly insignificant now, it will one day be global. If you doubt that such a glorious kingdom could grow from such humble beginnings—remember the mustard seed. It was common knowledge that God’s kingdom would one day fill the earth; Jesus here teaches that Jesus and this small band of close followers, though obscure, would continue to spread His Word until such kingdom is established. Certainly the glory of the kingdom is for the future age, but there is still the sowing and growth in the meantime.33 These parables are meant to be encouraging to the sower. Has the Word of God affected others through you?
I am a teacher by design. I have taught at junior high and high school levels and above. In my days as a teacher I would often observe the ritual of passing out papers by standing at the front of each row, counting the number of students in that row, and matching that number with papers I would hand to the first person in that row. Like most teachers, I am rather meticulous about numbers. When I counted six students in a row, you can rest assured that I counted out precisely six papers for distribution. Still, part of the ritual requires that before we can go over the material I’ve passed out, someone must raise their hand and inform me that they did not receive a paper. It always happens. Usually it is someone toward the back of a row. When this happens, I never go to my desk to retrieve for them another paper, for I am supremely confident that I’ve passed out enough for everyone to have a copy. You can guess what has happened: Someone has misunderstood me. My instructions to the class were to take and pass on. Yet someone in the room has a stack of duplicate papers on their desk, and they are so enamored by the brilliance that the top copy contains that they have neglected to pass the others on to the person behind them. In other words, someone is hoarding a whole stack of papers that were meant to be given away. You and I are students in Christ’s classroom. He has meticulously counted out the papers to ensure that there is enough for everyone. And yet so many today are raising their hand claiming to have been overlooked because you and I are so fascinated about what the paper means for us, that we neglect to pass on the other papers. We are influenced, but we are not influencing others with the Message entrusted to us.
The moral of the story: Be a faithful sower.
The title of this lesson is deliberately ambiguous. It could refer to the influence upon the follower; it could also refer to the influence wielded by the follower. In fact, it refers to both.
It is no coincidence that Mark 3:14 was our meditation verse in the previous lesson. Jesus appointed them to be with Him and to go out to preach and to accomplish ministry. In fact, that verse serves as the outline for today’s message. When we are with Jesus, we are being influenced by Him; when we are sent out we are being influential for Him. The disciples are with Jesus now; what do you think might happen in the next couple of chapters? That’s right—they will be sent out equipped with nothing but the Word of God. Look for it.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for chapter four is Mark 4:20.
“But these are the ones sown on good soil: they hear the word and receive it and bear fruit, one thirty times as much, one sixty, and one a hundred.”
23 This title is more accurate than the common designation, “Parable of the Sower,” since Jesus’ emphasis is not on the sower but on the contrasting responses of the four different soils.
24 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
25 Literally, Jesus’ call to attention reads, “Listen, behold.”
26 The word translated “secret” here is literally “mystery,” elsewhere in the Gospels occurring only in Matthew 13:11 and Luke 8:10.
27 Does Jesus deliberately conceal the truth? Apparently. He probably does so because of those who are persistent in their unbelief? Thus it can be said that parables disclose information and conceal it at the same time, depending upon the receptivity of the listener.
28 In the original context, Jesus was depicting varying responses to His Message. The first three should be taken together as differing responses that all displease Him. Only the good soil represents a believer’s heart—a life changed beyond pretense. Nevertheless, the soils contain strong applications for Christians, reflecting different responses that even believers might have to God’s Word.
29 “Someone” is deliberately ambiguious, thus Jesus is no longer pictured as the lone bearer of the Message.
30 “By itself” translates the one Greek word, “αὐτομάτη,” from which we get “automatic.” Together with the preceding phrase “though he does not know how,” Jesus is trying to convey the power of the seed apart from any influence by the sower.
31 The parable in 4:26-29 is only found in Mark’s Gospel.
32 While the mustard seed was the smallest seed that Jesus’ hearers would have been familiar with, the orchid seed is nevertheless smaller.
33 See Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1993), 251-54, for a helpful discussion of the relationship between the present growing “kingdom” and the consummate, eschatological kingdom established by Christ at His Second Coming.
I like working on cars. In fact, at the risk of bragging just a little, I am very good at working on cars. I do feel compelled to tell you, however, that I draw a firm distinction between “working” on cars and “repairing” cars. I am quite familiar with the former, though the latter remains a mystery to me. Our church recently sent some men to Central America on an unconventional mission trip to repair cars. Those men are skilled at fixing cars, not just working on them. I was not invited on that mission trip. About six months ago my car broke down about a mile from my house. I called my wife and asked her to get in her car and meet me beside my car alongside the road. “And honey,” I added with a note of confidence, “bring the toolbox” (can you hear a person rolling their eyes over the phone?). I worked on my broken car for about thirty minutes—tapping this, jiggling that, listening to that thingamajig over there. At the end of thirty minutes I had entirely exhausted my perceived capabilities, and my patience was wearing thin. I retreated home—thereby admitting defeat—and called a friend from church who knows how to repair cars. He graciously offered to come over, tow my car back to my house, and help me work on it. After three evenings I was up and running again. By his own admission, the entire problem could have been fixed in a matter of two or three hours had I called my friend first and not tinkered with the car myself. Before we could begin on the original problem, we had to spend two evenings repairing the extra damage I had done while “working” on the car during those thirty overzealous minutes.
Sometimes I do the same thing in my walk with Christ. When I encounter an obstacle or face some difficulty in life I will exhaust all of my power and skills and resources attempting to fix the problem before turning to the Lord. Usually I only succeed in making matters worse. And then, when I reach the end of my rope—when I am undeniably in over my head—I turn to Him to bail me out. He becomes my last resort rather than my first resort. Mark 4:35-5:43 records four miracles of Christ. Their common thread is that in each case the resources of the people are first exhausted before they turn to Jesus.34 He becomes their last resort. These miracles are designed to authenticate—to prove—the teaching of Christ in the previous section (4:1-34). Remember, in the Gospel of Mark actions speak louder than words. Thus, Mark’s selection of parables (4:1-34) is followed by a series of miracles (4:35-5:43), indicating that what Jesus did (His works) authenticated what He said (His words).
4:35 On that day, when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” 4:36 So after leaving the crowd, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat, and other boats were with him. 4:37 Now a great windstorm developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped. 4:38 But he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” 4:39 So he got up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Calm down!” Then the wind stopped, and it was dead calm. 4:40 And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?”36 4:41 They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!”
The vivid details suggest an eye witness account, namely that of Peter (see background on Mark). These were experienced fishermen who were frightened and overcome by a squall. They were in a boat on the same lake they had spent half their lives; they were in their element, in their backyard, and yet they were sinking. It would be hard to imagine that before waking Jesus these men hadn’t utilized every skill they had acquired. Certainly they had tried every tool in their aquatic toolbox. Their every resource must have been exhausted. They could find no safety, until Jesus. Perhaps they thought it futile to awaken this carpenter—a dry-land handyman—and ask His assistance in battling these waves. They learned that day that trusting in their own experience and skills accomplished little. Their trust needed to be in Jesus, who demonstrated—proved—that He is Lord over the seas (Psalm 65:7; 89:9; 107:23-32; Job 12:15).
Mark is showing that the closer one’s proximity to Jesus, the safer he is from even the most perilous of danger. A soldier in the Persian Gulf War one said, “Safety lies not in our distance from danger, but in our nearness to God.” The fear of the disciples was unfounded.37 Had they listened to Jesus’ words they would have known that He had said, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” He didn’t say, “Let us go to the middle of the lake and be drowned.” They should have been saying to the howling wind and raging waves, “We have no fear of you, for you can do us no harm. Christ our mighty Savior is aboard!”
Are you facing a storm? Trust in Him before exhausting all of your own resources.
5:1 So they came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes. 5:2 Just as Jesus was getting out of the boat, a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 5:3 He lived among the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 5:4 For his hands and feet had often been bound with chains and shackles, but he had torn the chains apart and broken the shackles in pieces. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5:5 Each night and every day among the tombs and in the mountains, he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 5:6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him. 5:7 Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God—do not torment me!” 5:8 (For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of that man, you unclean spirit!”) 5:9 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 5:10 He begged Jesus repeatedly not to send them out of the region. 5:11 There on the hillside, a great herd of pigs was feeding. 5:12 And the spirits begged him, “Send us into the pigs. Let us enter them.” 5:13 Jesus gave them permission. So the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs. Then the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake, and about two thousand were drowned in the lake.38
5:14 Now the herdsmen ran off and spread the news in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 5:15 They came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind—the one who had the legion—and they were afraid. 5:16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demon-possessed man reported it, and they also told about the pigs. 5:17 Then they asked Jesus to leave their region. 5:18 As he was getting into the boat the man who had been demon-possessed asked if he could go with him. 5:19 But Jesus did not permit him. Instead, he said to him, “Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that he had mercy on you.” 5:20 So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed.
Rather than put up any sort of fight, the demons surrender to Jesus at once. Thus far in this text, the wind, the sea, and the demons have all obeyed Jesus. On the other hand, the townspeople—perhaps more concerned about their swine and their economy than one man’s restored health—request that Jesus leave their region.
Two surprising features surface in this pericope. First, Jesus refused this man to follow Him.39 Second, Jesus doesn’t prohibit him from speaking openly about the miracle (remember, the “Messianic Secret” is a prominent theme in Mark; see background on Mark). Why would Jesus refuse to allow him to follow and then permit him to speak openly? By accompanying Jesus he would only have his own words to depend on (“this is what I used to be like but now I’m different . . .”). Jesus knew that his witness would be much more powerful among those who had known him as a demoniac. By going to his own people in the Decapolis (the “10 cities” in that region), the former demoniac would be talking about Jesus to the very same people who had chained his hands and shackled his feet. He would explain the miracle to the very same people who had heard him cry out day and night among the tombs and in the mountains. He would proclaim Christ to the very same people who had watched him cut himself. In the Gospel of Mark, actions speak louder than words. The man went away in obedience to Jesus and declared the message of which he was the living proof.
The out-of-control demoniac resembled the chaotic, raging storm in the previous section; likewise the stillness of the demoniac after his exorcism corresponds to the stillness that follows Jesus’ meteorological miracle. It is difficult to understand the precise meaning associated with the title “Legion” (in military, it indicated a squad of 6000 soldiers). In the least it conveys possession by a number of demons rather than just one. Perhaps the number of pigs that were destroyed (namely, about 2,000) indicates the precise number of demons involved. The herd that drowns itself, coupled with the possessed man’s self-destructive behavior of cutting himself, suggests that the purpose of demon possession was the destruction of its host. And every thinkable resource had been exhausted trying to restrain this man possessed by this “Legion.” Nothing worked until Jesus.
The demoniac was living a life of confusion; he was out of control. Harry S. Truman once said, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” I tend to think that if Satan cannot convince someone to reject God and a life of righteousness—and there are many he cannot convince—then his next-best strategy is to confuse them. He seeks to confuse our lives and spin them so out of control that we are rendered ineffective in our relationship with Christ.
Are you living in confusion? Trust in the Lord before exhausting all your resources to figure it out. Let Him sort out your life and offer you peace.
5:21 When Jesus had crossed again in a boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him,40 and he was by the sea. 5:22 Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came and when he saw him he fell at his feet. 5:23 He asked him urgently, “My little daughter is near death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be healed and live.” 5:24 Jesus went with him, and a large crowd followed and pressed around him.
5:25 Now a woman was there who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. 5:26 She had endured a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet instead of getting better, she grew worse. 5:27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 5:28 for she kept saying, “If only I touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 5:29 At once the bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 5:30 Jesus knew at once that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 5:31 His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 5:32 But he looked around to see who had done it. 5:33 Then the woman, with fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 5:34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
In characteristic form Mark tells a story-within-a-story: The encounter with the hemorrhaging woman is couched within the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. The cause of the woman’s loss of blood is unrevealed. However, if her condition resulted from a uterine discharge then she was not merely in pain, but also in a chronic state of ritual impurity (Lev. 15:25-27). In that case she was prevented from leading a normal social life; she was never invited to parties, and no one could embrace her to comfort her from her pain.
The “power” that goes out from Jesus may give a hint about the entire chapter—Jesus has the power to accomplish that which you and I cannot. No one could control the storm; no one could control the demoniac; no one could heal this woman. Like the sea and the demoniac, others had tried to fix the problem with no success. All of her resources had been exhausted. She had spent all of her money on several doctors, but after 12 years her illness only grew worse. She had no relief from her pain, until Jesus. C.S. Lewis once wrote in The Problem of Pain: “Pain is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.”
Is that how you live? Must you do everything in your own power before turning to invite His?
Jesus confronts every crisis situation with power and He overcomes.
Don’t cope with pain on your own. Trust in Him to offer you relief through your pain.
5:35 While he was still speaking, people came from the synagogue ruler’s house saying, “Your daughter has died. Why trouble the teacher any longer?” 5:36 But Jesus, paying no attention to what was said, told the synagogue ruler, “Do not be afraid; just believe.” 5:37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 5:38 They came to the house of the synagogue ruler where he saw noisy confusion and people weeping and wailing loudly. 5:39 When he entered he said to them, “Why are you distressed and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” 5:40 And they began making fun of him. But he put them all outside and he took the child’s father and mother and his own companions and went into the room where the child was. 5:41 Then, gently taking the child by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” 5:42 The girl got up at once and began to walk about (she was twelve years old). They were completely astonished at this. 5:43 He strictly ordered that no one should know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The delay caused by the hemorrhaging woman proved fatal for Jairus’ daughter. Mark picks up this story with an abrupt message that Jairus’ only daughter had died.41 Jesus had the power to calm the sea, to exorcise the demons, and to heal the woman, but certainly death would be too difficult to reverse. The people who bring the devastating news suggest that involving Jesus further would simply prove futile. Every resource was exhausted. No hope remains, until Jesus. After reassuring Jairus, Jesus raises the girl from the dead in front of a select and captive audience.
Have you experienced a tragedy? Have you found hope in Him to sustain you through that tragedy?
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 4:41.
They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!”
34 Three other themes find their expression in today’s text. First, faith is a central component in three of the four miracles Jesus performs in this passage. Second, the notion of fear will appear repeatedly in this passage, especially in response to the miracles of Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, fear and awe are not inappropriate responses when the supernatural power of God has come near. Three times in this passage folks will respond to a miracle with fear. By way of preview, the very last verse in the Gospel of Mark (16:8) likewise portrays folks as fearful after learning of a miracle (namely, the resurrection). Finally, look for Christ’s compassion. Jesus will be ministering to hurting people in this passage. While these are not the primary subjects of the lesson, I invite you to look for these and consider their implications for your life.
35 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
36 This is the first of many rebukes Jesus will hand to his disciples on account of their denseness (see also 7:18; 8:17, 18, 21, 33).
37 Two different words for “fear” are used in 4:40-41. Jesus accuses the disciples of δειλόσ (4:40), meaning cowardly fear (used elsewhere in the New Testament only in Matthew 8:26 and Revelation 21:8). The disciples then respond with φοβέομαι (4:41), meaning paralyzing fear. In the Gospel of Mark, responding to the power of God with “paralyzing fear” is not altogether inappropriate (see also 5:15, 33; 16:8).
38 This event has caused some to surmise a “Gadarene Swine Law”: Just because the group is in formation does not mean that the group is on the right course.
39 The man asked if he could “be with” Jesus, the same language used of the disciples in 3:14.
40 On the eastern shore the people asked Jesus to depart; on the western shore the people flocked to Him.
41 The professional mourners misunderstand Jesus to be speaking literally when he says that the girl is sleeping. Instead, with that expression Jesus hints at the fact that the girl will awaken. Luke, however, makes it clear that the girl was in fact dead (Luke 8:55). Luke also provides the colorful detail that this was Jairus’ only daughter (Luke 8:42).
I enjoy a good movie. But I’m not a fan of Hollywood’s constant attempts at thematic spirituality in film. Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing like good spiritually-based movies—but most of Hollywood’s attempts are nothing like good spiritually-based movies. They are simply poorly-written or poorly-acted, or both. Still, even Hollywood strikes oil every once in a while. Take the Indiana Jones trilogy for example: with Stephen Spielberg and Harrison Ford—how could they go wrong? Add Sean Connery to the mix and voila—magic! In the final scene of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” our hero Indiana Jones42 (played by Harrison Ford) is making his way through three booby-traps in order to secure the Holy Grail—the only device that can save his father (played by Sean Connery) from a gunshot wound. After successfully navigating the first two obstacles, Indiana finds himself beside a stone lion head at the edge of a precipice—a bottomless pit with no foreseeable way around it. The room containing the coveted Grail rests about 50-feet on the other side of the precipice. The only clue he has about conquering this obstacle states: “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.” Upon recalling this clue, Indiana knows what is required of him. After mustering all of his strength—including symbolically placing his hand over his heart—he dramatically raises his foot high and slowly steps out over the dark abyss. Just when one thinks he will go tumbling into the darkness, Indiana finds himself on solid ground—a firm pathway extending across the precipice but virtually invisible to the naked eye. What was required of him? Faith? No. Faith alone—mere cognitive belief—would not have conquered the abyss. Rather, Indiana was required to demonstrate his faith in action. That’s what Hollywood did well in this film. Immobilized belief was not sufficient; faith-based action was required. Indiana retrieves the Grail and rescues Sean Connery, who lives to make another film.
Today’s message is not about “believing” as you and I think about it—cognitive faith, sitting in a dark room with our eyes closed. Remember, in Mark’s Gospel actions speak louder than words. Today we are taking about faith in action. And our primary teachers—for better or for worse—are the disciples. We will see the disciples play more and more of a prominent role as Mark’s Gospel unfolds. Many of Jesus’ teachings and miracles will be performed for their benefit alone. The question that today’s text begs is this: What action does your faith in Jesus Christ demand of you today?
We encountered the theme of faith in the previous lesson, “A Follower’s Proof.” It surfaced explicitly in three of the four miracles Jesus performed from Mark 4:35 – 5:43. First, the disciples arouse Jesus to save them from the tumultuous storm on the sea. After calming the waves and hushing the winds Jesus asks them, “Do you still not have faith?” Second, after Jesus heals the hemorrhaging woman He tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Finally, messengers approach Jairus to inform him that during his journey to retrieve Jesus his daughter had died: “Why trouble the teacher any longer?” Jesus (“paying no attention to what was said”) then said to Jairus, “Do not be afraid; just believe.” Today we are going to pursue that theme of “faith” and, in particular, faith-based action. Mark will disclose five scenarios, each highlighting a different dimension of faith.
6:1 Now Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 6:2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue. And many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did he get these ideas? And what is this wisdom that has been given to him? What are these miracles that are done through his hands? 6:3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 6:4 Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown, and among his relatives, and in his own house.” 6:5 He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6:6 And he was amazed44 because of their unbelief. Then he went around among the villages and taught.
Once again our passage begins with people trying to identify Jesus. They simply haven’t the categories. This time it is those in His own hometown of Nazareth and His family. Five questions of unbelief are expressed by those who hear Jesus teach. These were astonished by his teaching because He didn’t act like this when He lived there before. They think it is all new stuff and wonder what sort of act He is putting on. Whether Joseph was living or dead, it was still an insult to identify one as the son of his mother. This could also be a subtle reference to Jesus’ alleged illegitimacy.
Imagine, here was the eternal Son of God right before their eyes performing miracles and teaching authoritatively. He wanted to be there; He wanted to teach these friends and family that were so dear to Him; He wanted to perform miracles for His loved ones. Yet because of their unbelief—and perhaps their scoffing—He chooses to go elsewhere with His message and miracles.45 These people who should have welcomed Him with open arms are the very ones who miss the opportunity of a lifetime. How sad.
A few months ago I attended a conference in Toronto, Ontario. While there, I took the opportunity to visit the CN Tower. Roughly two million people visit the CN Tower each year. At 1,815 feet, it is the world’s tallest building—standing proudly more than four hundred feet taller than the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Twin Towers that once cast shadows over New York City. At 1,122 feet the tower features an observation deck with a glass floor that begs the bravest of heart to walk across. After much hesitation (and some gentle taps with my foot to ensure stability) I mustered up the courage to step out over the city of Toronto with my feet suspended in mid-air46—150 feet higher than the tip of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and 200 feet higher than the tallest building in Dallas, Texas (the Bank of America building). As trite as it may sound, it was faith that enabled me to walk out onto the glass floor: Faith in the engineers who designed the tower, faith in the builders who constructed the tower, faith in the materials used to erect the tower, and (most importantly) faith that larger men than me had walked out over the glass and lived to tell about it. When I asked one of the women working there what percentage of the folks who visit the tower actually walk on the glass floor, she said a very small percentage do so. How sad. Folks come from all around the world to visit the CN Tower, and only some of them have the faith to take advantage of a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Those who were closest to Jesus likewise had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and sadly their lack of faith likewise prevented many of them from experiencing the eternal Son of God in the way He wanted them to. Does God want to do something miraculous in your life, but you lack the faith He requires to do so? Do you suffer from unbelief—a deficiency of faith? You just might be missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
6:7 Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 6:8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 6:9 and to put on sandals but not to wear two tunics. 6:10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the area. 6:11 If a place will not welcome you or listen to you, as you go out from there shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6:12 So they went out and preached that all should repent. 6:13 They cast out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Mark 6:12-13 is in direct fulfillment of 3:14-15 (also 1:17), where it is said that the disciples would preach and exorcise demons. These were sent as official representatives, as apostles.47 Jesus prohibits them from packing for their trip, and instead commands them to take only what they currently have (staff and sandals).48 In doing so, Jesus stresses the necessity of utter dependence upon God to supply their every need and to bring about the fruit. Thus faith is required from those sent out, and they are sent out demanding others to respond in faith. Jesus tells them to accept hospitality, and not to seek better accommodations once settled (“Wherever you enter a house, stay there . . .”). He also warns that some will not respond well to the message. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the recent rejection He had received in His own hometown (6:4).
This passage is appropriately used by many churches as a blueprint for evangelism training. The principles here are relevant even for today. First, notice that the disciples had been with Jesus first. They themselves were disciples before they attempt to make their own disciples. Next, notice that Jesus sends them out in pairs. Far too often a church’s evangelism training program involves a 2-hour course on how to witness and nothing more. Evangelism training in the classroom must be followed by on-the-job training in evangelism—pairing up and going!49 Next, notice Jesus’ emphasis on relying on God. Evangelistic efforts in our own strength with ultimately fail. Furthermore, we are not to rely on our own style of evangelism or smooth delivery, but in the power of the message itself. Next, Jesus prepares them for rejection. It is important to remind people that when a door is slammed in their face it is the message of Jesus Christ that is being rejected, not the messenger. Finally—as we will see in 6:30—it is important to regroup after an evangelistic outreach to hear others’ stories about how God worked and to celebrate together.
Are you involved in any such evangelism strategy? Does your church have anything that resembles the duplication of faith described in Mark 6:7-13? Perhaps today your faith in Jesus Christ demands that you tell someone else about Him.
6:14 Now King Herod heard this, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead, and because of this, miraculous powers are at work in him.” 6:15 Others said, “He is Elijah.” Others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets from the past.” 6:16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 6:17 For Herod himself had sent men, arrested John, and bound him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her; 6:18 for John had repeatedly told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 6:19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against him and wanted to kill him. But she could not 6:20 because Herod stood in awe of John and protected him, since he knew that John was a righteous and holy man. When he heard him, he was thoroughly baffled, and yet he liked to listen to him.
6:21 But a day of opportunity came, when Herod gave a banquet on his birthday for his court officials, military commanders, and leaders of Galilee. 6:22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 6:23 He swore insistently, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” 6:24 So she went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother said, “The head of John the baptizer.” 6:25 Immediately she hurried back to the king and made her request: “I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter immediately.” 6:26 Although it grieved the king deeply, he did not want to reject her request because of his oath and his guests. 6:27 So the king sent an executioner at once to bring John’s head, and he went and beheaded John in prison. 6:28 He brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 6:29 When John’s disciples heard this, they came and took his body and placed it in a tomb.
Confusion over the identity of Jesus is far-reaching (is He Elijah, some other prophet, John the Baptist back from the dead?). Herod believes Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead.50 Herod Antipas is the son of Herod the Great who had tried to kill the infant Jesus by slaughtering all children two years old and under. He was not technically a king. He was a proud man (not wanting to embarrass himself before his guests) and fearful of losing face.51 He was officially dismissed from office and exiled in
In the Gospel of Mark, only five verses are given to the ministry of John the Baptist, while fourteen are dedicated to his death. Does that seem backward to you? Not if you understand the message of the Gospel of Mark. In this Gospel, finishing well is just as important as starting well (see Mark 9:9-13). John the Baptist is held up in the Gospel of Mark as an example of one who finished well. In fact, in Mark only two people die for the Gospel—Jesus and John the Baptist. He is heralded as a hero to Mark’s persecuted Roman audience. He harbored no fear of the establishment, and no fear of death. He did not waiver in unbelief when imprisoned, nor did he waffle when the executioner arrived for his head. He remained faithful—and full of faith—until the very end.
Perhaps today your faith in Jesus Christ demands that you vow to finish strong the way John did. He demonstrated a faith that endured. There are many like him today, folks who have walked with Jesus Christ for decades and are still walking strong. Will you be counted among their number one day?
6:30 Then the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. 6:31 He said to them, “Come with me privately to an isolated place and rest a while” (for many were coming and going, and there was no time to eat). 6:32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to some remote place. 6:33 But many saw them leaving and recognized them, and they hurried on foot from all the towns and arrived there ahead of them. 6:34 As Jesus came ashore he saw the large crowd and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he taught them many things.
6:35 When it became late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place and it is already very late. 6:36 Send them away so that they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 6:37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “Should we go and buy bread for two hundred silver coins and give it to them to eat?” 6:38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” When they found out they said, “Five—and two fish.” 6:39 Then he directed them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 6:40 So they reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties. 6:41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the bread. He gave them to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. 6:42 They all ate and were satisfied, 6:43 and they picked up the broken pieces and fish left over, twelve baskets full. 6:44 Now there were five thousand men who ate the bread.
There is no indication that the crowd understood that a miracle had occurred. Rather, the text makes it clear that this was done for the disciples’ sake. They are charged with finding food for the crowd, inventorying the food, serving the food, and collecting the leftovers (according to John 6).53 Just as the disciples had just been sent to spiritually feed the people, now they are sent to physically feed the people. Both are instigated by Jesus’ compassion for the people.54
A few years ago, my wife and I attended a conference at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. The 5,000 conferees had prepaid for the conference, and in turn the organization had arranged for everyone to eat at the numerous campus cafeterias. At around 11:20 a.m., about thirty minutes before our lunch break, CSU experienced a campus-wide electrical blackout. It was then that the organization hosting the conference demonstrated their excellence. They knew that the cafeterias would not be able to prepare lunch and that ultimately the host organization was responsible for feeding these 5,000 hungry people. A delegation of about twelve people was sent just off campus in pursuit of telephones from which they could order food. Equipped with a short script describing the urgency of the situation, they began dialing restaurants. Twelve pizza places were called, along with Burger King, Taco Bell, and Macdonald’s. Domino’s was told, “Whatever you can make and deliver in 30 minutes we’ll buy.” When all was said and done, the conference purchased 170 burritos, 170 tacos, 600 Quarter Pounders, 70 large fries, and an entire truckload of Pepsi. 504 pizzas were delivered—140 from Domino’s alone! None of the twelve pizza places delivered less than 20 pizzas. All was delivered and eaten in less than 90 minutes. What was left over? 6 Pizzas and 6 Quarter Pounders—about 12 baskets full.
Jesus performs some miracles because of peoples’ faith; the feeding of the 5,000 was performed in order to cause people to have faith. This miracle was done for the development of the disciples’ faith. Had their hearts not been hardened (see 6:52), they would have realized that a miracle had taken place and acknowledged Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God. Perhaps today your faith in Jesus Christ demands that you trust Him to provide for your needs.
6:45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dispersed the crowd. 6:46 After saying good-bye to them, he went to the mountain to pray. 6:47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea and he was alone on the land. 6:48 He saw them straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. As the night was ending,55 he came to them walking on the sea for he wanted to pass by them. 6:49 When they saw him walking on the water they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 6:50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” 6:51 Then he went up with them into the boat, and the wind ceased. They were completely astonished, 6:52 because they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
6:53 After they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and anchored there. 6:54 As they got out of the boat, people immediately recognized Jesus. 6:55 They ran through that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever he was rumored to be. 6:56 And wherever he would go—into villages, towns, or countryside—they would place the sick in the marketplaces, and would ask him if they could just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
This miracle is related to the feeding of the 5000 (as indicated in Mark 6:52). The multiplying of the bread was intended to show the disciples once again who Jesus was and that God was working through Him. They didn’t get it. If forced to characterize the disciples’ relationship with Jesus throughout the Gospel of Mark, it would have to be one of non-understanding.
Jesus’ intention was to “pass by them.” Probably this language is meant to evoke epiphany language from the Old Testament, where God “passes by” while revealing His glory. It is doubtful that Jesus merely meant to “walk past” them. Thus Jesus intended to disclose His glory to these men by “passing by.” This is further substantiated by the language Jesus Himself uses when He addresses the frightened disciples in the boat. “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid” is literally, “Have courage! I am. Do not be afraid.” Did you hear that? Jesus identifies Himself with the title, “I am,” meant to convey His deity. But because of the hard hearts of the disciples, the plan backfires. They do not understand the epiphany nor the self-disclosing title. If they had, they would surely have redirected their faith and placed it in Jesus.
I am convinced that very few people suffer from a lack of faith. In my experience, most folks have plenty of faith to go around, but their faith is misdirected. God is not pleased with abundance of faith if it is misguided. What is the direction of your faith? In our culture there are many possible answers to that question. Some have faith in plants, animals, crystals, the stars, fate—the list goes on and on. Probably the most common misplacement of faith is in ourselves. What is the direction of your faith? Perhaps today the Lord is asking that you redirect your faith and place it in the great “I am.”
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for chapter six is Mark 6:6.
And he was amazed because of their unbelief. Then he went around among the villages and taught.
42 Perhaps part of my intrigue with the “Indiana Jones” trilogy rests in the fact that I was born and raised in Indiana.
43 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
44 Jesus is “amazed” (used of Jesus only here in Mark) by their unbelief (6:6), presumably because of His own peoples’ high level of rejection.
45 One should not presume that their unbelief rendered Jesus incapable of working miracles. On several other occasions Jesus performs miracles where the text gives no hint of faith (e.g., feeding of the 5,000, feeding of the 4,000). Rather, Jesus chooses not to exercise His supernatural power in the face of such closed-mindedness.
46 I took a great picture from this vantage point of looking straight down—with my feet in the foreground and the ground some 1,122 feet in the background.
47 The designation “apostles” appears only twice in Mark—3:14 and 6:30.
48 Matthew and Luke prohibit even a staff and sandals, though what is probably meant is that the disciples were not to acquire anything additional.
49 Pair an inexperienced evangelist with an experienced one and send them out with the message of the Gospel. Watch how the Holy Spirit ignites a passion for the lost in that inexperienced evangelist.
50 Herod probably thought this because Jesus and John shared a similar message of repentance. Part of the reason for the Messianic Secret was to prevent such widespread confusion over the identity of Jesus.
51 The text means to contrast the fear of Herod and the faith of John. Faith was required for John to stand against the establishment and publicly denounce the marriage.
52 William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 211.
53 The 12 baskets full of leftovers served two purposes: 1) To show that everyone was full and 2) to provide a tangible symbol to each disciple of the miracle Jesus performed. Nevertheless, they still fail to understand (6:52).
54 Mark uses the verb σπλαγχνίζομαι (compassion) three times of Jesus (1:41; 6:34; 8:2; see also 9:22).
55 Jesus came walking on the water sometime between 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.
What thoughts enter your mind when you hear the words, “Complete Physical Examination?” What feelings does the phrase evoke? I recently read some comical doctors’ notes taken from actual physical exam reports, though reading them may make you question the wisdom of visiting your local family doctor for that overdue, looming check-up:
We commonly associate the complete physical examination with the decades of our life, beginning at age thirty. Every ten years we are due to undergo that intense scrutiny that few look forward to. I have a friend who is about to turn forty and is simply dreading his impending trip to the doctor. Some are afraid of the physical exam because they fear the doctor will discover something bad that will require some change in lifestyle. Others reluctantly submit to the exam—whether afraid of them or not—but completely ignore the doctor’s suggestion of a life-change. We like our life the way it is, after all. We don’t want to change our diet—we like to eat all things at all times. We don’t want to exercise—it’s hard work. We don’t want to begin popping that regulatory pill—it’s a daily admission that I’m no longer twenty and physically fit. We don’t want to submit ourselves to that medical procedure (the most frightening words to a middle-aged man)—it certainly can’t be comfortable. My friend is admittedly both afraid and unresponsive to instructions. Therefore, this year his wife has decided to go with him and speak with the doctor herself. She wants to find out if he is healthy and, most importantly, make him follow the doctor’s instructions if he is not.
In today’s passage, Jesus will conduct a physical exam on His hearers, especially the disciples. In particular, Jesus is going to test the health of His audiences’ heart, ears, and eyes. Some in Jesus’ audience do not want to be examined. They get squeamish when He administers His exam of these body parts. And some of them don’t respond well to Jesus’ instructions when He discovers unhealthy body parts. They like their life as it is, thank you very much. They want to hear that they are in perfect health, but Jesus has other news for them. Let’s listen in as Jesus the Great Physician administers examinations of the heart, ears, and eyes. But beware; you just might see yourself in this text. . .
7:1 Now the Pharisees and some of the experts in the law who came from Jerusalem gathered to him. 7:2 And they saw that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their bread with unclean hands, that is, unwashed. 7:3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they perform a ritual washing, holding on to the tradition of the elders. 7:4 And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. They hold on to many other traditions: the washing of cups, pots, kettles, and dining couches.) 7:5 The Pharisees and the experts in the law asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with unwashed hands?” 7:6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.57
7:7 They worship me in vain,
teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’
7:8 Having no regard for the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.” 7:9 He also said to them, “You neatly reject the commandment of God in order to set up your tradition. 7:10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ 7:11 But you say that if anyone tells his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you would have received from me is corban’ (that is, a gift for God), 7:12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother. 7:13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.”58
7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand. 7:15 There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.”59
7:17 Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 7:18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 7:19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 7:20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 7:21 For from within, out of the human heart, comes evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 7:22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 7:23 All these evils come from within and defile a person.”
If you read the passage above, then you just witnessed a heart attack. Jesus attacking the hearts of the Pharisees, that is. We often think of heart attacks as sudden, obvious, physical attacks where someone grabs his chest and falls over (thanks again, Hollywood). This is simply not true in the vast majority of heart attacks. Probably this describes a cardiac arrest, which differs from a heart attack.60 A heart attack occurs when an inadequate supply of oxygen-rich blood reaches the heart muscle and damage results. Most heart attacks occur because over a long period of time, fatty materials build up inside the arteries that supply blood to the heart. These arteries are called coronary arteries, and the buildup of fatty material is called coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease. When the buildup prevents adequate supply of blood to reach the heart—presto, you experience the symptoms of a heart attack. Heart attacks usually show gradual symptoms: Pain in the chest area that lasts for more than a couple of minutes, discomfort in neck, stomach, arms, etc. Because of the symptoms, you can usually benefit from a heart attack—but it requires responding appropriately to the symptoms.
The Old Testament only required priests to wash their hands, and only priests serving at the tabernacle (Exodus 30:18-21). Here Jesus is explaining that appearing clean on the outside does not necessarily mean that we are clean on the inside. In the same way that having clean hands does not indicate genuine cleanliness, so also following the rules does not indicate genuine obedience. Jesus teaches that one’s heart is not regulated by behavior; rather, one’s behavior is driven by one’s heart. You and I can appear at times to have it all together. Like the Pharisees, we can give the appearance of purity but remain vulgar on the inside. We, too, can be hypocrites.61 Which is important to you? Do you want people to think you are pure; or is it more important to you that you are pure indeed? The Pharisees were masters of appearance. Are you?
Last year a book that I co-authored was released in the U.S. and Canada. The title of the 265-page book is Zondervan Dictionary of Bible and Theology Words. If you’ve never written a book—especially a dictionary where each part of each definition must be meticulously crafted—let me caution you not to assume the process is terribly pleasurable. Along with the co-author, I spent about 18 months working on this book, at about 15 hours each week. In order to define 1,800 words, we divvied up the words to be defined and set some rather ambitious deadlines. We would each define roughly 60 words in a matter of twenty days. I can remember times when I sat with fifteen references open before me as I attempted to arrive at an accurate, 40-word definition that captured the essential meaning of a term. Some words took up to an hour and a half to satisfactorily define. At the end of the twenty days, we would exchange words and spend an additional ten hours editing one another’s work. Then we would exchange again and edit one another’s edit. You get the picture. By the time we submitted our “final” draft to our publisher, each word had been dragged through six edit cycles. Then the day came not long after we delivered the final draft to our publisher. The marketing-design department sent us two handsome cover jackets to choose from. They had obviously expended much effort, and both designs would do well. After about three hours consulting with one another, and of course with our wives, we decided upon a cover-jacket. Did you hear that ratio? Eighteen months on the contents, and three hours on the cover.
I wonder how many of us live out that ratio in our Christian lives. Instead, how many of us spend the vast majority of our time focusing on our cover, our appearance, our marketability? I’m convinced that we’ve grown into a culture of individuals that want to be judged by their cover! Where are you spending your time? Are you focusing on your contents—your guts, your insides, your heart? Or are you preoccupied with your cover—your appearance, your reputation, your marketability? Perhaps you could benefit from a heart attack.
7:24 After Jesus left there, he went to the region of Tyre. When he went into a house, he did not want anyone to know, but he was not able to escape notice. 7:25 Instead, a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him and came and fell at his feet. 7:26 The woman was a Greek, of Syrophoenician origin. She asked him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the dogs.” 7:28 She answered, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 7:29 Then he said to her, “Because you said this, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” 7:30 She went home and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.63
7:31 Then Jesus went out again from the region of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis. 7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking, and they asked him to place his hands on him. 7:33 After Jesus took him aside privately, away from the crowd, he put his fingers in the man’s ears, and after spitting, he touched his tongue. 7:34 Then he looked up to heaven and said with a sigh, “Ephphatha” (that is, “Be opened”). 7:35 And immediately the man’s ears64 were opened, his tongue loosened, and he spoke plainly. 7:36 Jesus ordered them not to tell anything. But as much as he ordered it, that much more they proclaimed it.65 7:37 People were completely astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The healing of the deaf-mute occurs only in Mark. Jesus is sensitive to remove this man from public distractions and takes him aside by himself. Jesus touches the man’s ears to indicate to the man that they would be opened; He touches his tongue to indicate that it will work again; and then He looks up to heaven to indicate that God is the one accomplishing this.66
This miracle serves as a visual parable. There is more than a healing to this story. I think Jesus says to you and me—listen! Let your ears be opened. If only our spiritual ears were as tuned as that man’s physical ears from that day forth.
Psychology tells us that there are four types of selective listening: 1) Selective exposure, 2) selective attention, 3) selective understanding, and 4) selective retention. I’m convinced that most of the times Jesus spoke, most of the times you and I open our Bibles, and most of the times you and I listen to a sermon, one or more of these types of selective listening is taking place:
The first type, Selective exposure, is what occurs when you turn the station on your radio and begin listening in the middle of a broadcast. You have not been exposed to the entire program, and thus you only hear part of the conversation. You experience this when you read your Bible by starting in the middle of a particular context and thus fail to be exposed to the overall idea of the passage. You experience this in church when you arrive late and miss the beginning of the sermon or when you go to the restroom or to check on your child in the nursery in the middle of the pastor’s second point.
The second type, selective attention, is when you zone out while listening to a radio program. You are exposed to the entire program, but you’re distracted through parts of it. It happens when you read your Bible, but your eyes gloss over the words without engaging your mind. You give selective attention on Sunday morning when you are distracted from the sermon by the overweight lady sleeping in the next row, doodling on the bulletin, or daydreaming.
The third type, selective understanding, occurs when you correctly process only some of the information you’re exposed to. Psychology has proven that we all at times deliberately misinterpret certain data in order to make it fit our own liking, although we do so unconsciously. This happens when you sing along with the radio while filling in the unknown lyrics with familiar phrases they sound like. It is misinterpreting the strong teachings of the Bible or a sermon to endorse your actions, but to condemn the behavior of the person sitting next to you.
Finally, the one most of us are perhaps guilty of, selective retention. This happens when you’ve listened to and understood all of the radio program, the Scripture passage, or the sermon, but you live tomorrow as though you weren’t even exposed to it today.
Which of these types of selective listening are you most often guilty of? Perhaps you require Jesus’ healing hand to touch your ears and make them listen more effectively.
8:1 In those days there was another large crowd with nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples and said to them, 8:2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days, and they have nothing to eat. 8:3 If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way, and some of them have come from a great distance.” 8:4 His disciples answered him, “Where can someone get enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” 8:5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied, “Seven.” 8:6 Then he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. After he took the seven loaves and gave thanks, he broke them and began giving them to the disciples to serve. So they served the crowd. 8:7 They also had a few small fish. After giving thanks for these, he told them to serve these as well. 8:8 Everyone ate and was satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 8:9 There were about four thousand who ate.67 Then he dismissed them. 8:10 Immediately he got into a boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
8:11 Then the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven to test him. 8:12 Sighing deeply in his spirit he said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to this generation.” 8:13 Then he left them, got back into the boat, and went to the other side.
8:14 Now they had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 8:15 And Jesus gave them orders, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!” 8:16 So they began to discuss with one another about having no bread. 8:17 When he learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? 8:18 Though you have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? 8:19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They said, “Twelve.” 8:20 “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They said, “Seven.” 8:21 Then he said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
8:22 Then they came to Bethsaida. They brought Jesus a blind man and asked him to touch him. 8:23 He took the blind man by the hand and brought him outside of the village. Then he spit on his eyes, placed his hands on his eyes and asked, “Do you see anything?” 8:24 Regaining his sight he said, “I see people, but they look like trees walking.” 8:25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again; then he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.68 8:26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”
The healing of the blind man here and the deaf-mute in chapter seven are the only two miracles that appear only in Mark’s Gospel. Also, this healing of the blind man is the only two-stage miracle that Jesus performs. This entire section is building up to the two-stage healing of the blind man. Why a two-stage healing? Jesus does this deliberately because He is trying to communicate something; He is not merely trying to heal this man. Like the healing of the deaf-mute, this is a visual parable. Sight often represented understanding, and Jesus is depicting the foggy understanding that the disciples had concerning Him. It is performed to depict the denseness of His disciples.
In Mark, only three of Jesus’ miracles are performed before private audiences: Jairus’ daughter, the deaf-mute, and this blind man. However, Jesus was not entirely alone with the blind man, for the man saw “people, but they look like trees walking.” Presumably it was the blurry disciples that the man saw. Perhaps Jesus was trying to let them know what it felt like to only be partially seen (just as the disciples had only partially understood Jesus). Do you have a distorted view of Jesus?
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 7:37:
7:37 People were completely astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
56 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
57 Four times in this lesson we will encounter the word καρδία, “heart.” This word occurs eleven times in Mark’s Gospel.
58 What’s Jesus talking about? Mark typically explains words and customs that might not be readily understood by his reader. By introducing the notion of “corban,” Jesus is describing a potential contradiction between the 5th commandment and the traditions of the elders. Should these contradict, which will the Pharisees follow? Corban described something that was dedicated to God. What happens if a person dedicates his resources to God (i.e., the temple), but then his aging parents later need these resources? The Pharisee taught that they could not benefit from them; Jesus taught that something could be used by the parents and still be “dedicated to God.” More than 67% of parents recently interviewed believe that children have no obligation to parents regardless of what their parents have done for them.
59 Mark 7:16 is missing from many of your Bibles for good reason. Simply put, the earliest and best manuscripts omit the verse, and there are better reasons to believe that a well-meaning scribe inserted the verse deliberately than that he omitted it unintentionally.
60 The best distinction I’ve heard between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest is that while a heart attack is a plumbing problem, cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. During cardiac arrest, the electricity that reminds the heart to beat malfunctions and ultimately causes the heart to stop beating.
61 In Mark 7:6, Jesus cites Isaiah 29:13 when He calls the Pharisees “ὑποκριτήσ”—hypocrites.
62 A closed-captioned program is a broadcast with captions for those screens with receivers equipped with a decoder, and “closed” to those TV sets that lack a decoder. A caption is a motion-picture subtitle.
63 The healing of the Syrophoenician’s daughter is the only healing in the Gospel of Mark performed from a distance. It is also one of the most misunderstood miracles. The key to understanding the miracle is the emphasis placed on “first” in 7:27, intended to convey priority, not value. In other words, it is the privilege of the children (i.e., the Jews) to eat the bread first. After they eat, then it is appropriate for others to enjoy leftovers. Paul likewise says that the Gospel will go first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. The Syrophoenician woman is from a particularly affluent class of Greek-speaking Gentiles. Thus the contrast between the children and dogs was one of priority and privilege, not worth. Furthermore, in this context dogs are house pets, not the wild scavenging dogs that were considered unclean to Jews. Jesus is declaring that the Jewish claim to privilege has past; let’s consider others who may wish to come to dine. This story has strong ties to Acts 10:34-35, where Peter acknowledges that the Gentiles are benefactors of the Gospel alongside the Jews. Implication: The food has been offered to the children and they have refused it; it now goes to the hungry awaiting their turn!
64 In Mark 7:35, the ear is called ἀκοή, from which we get acoustic.
65 Like blowing on hot embers only makes the fire burn hotter, Jesus hushes the crowds and they only speak about Him more.
66 Many thanks to my friend, Doug Fischer (a man full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit), for pointing out these details.
67 Some have made the accusation that the feeding of the 5,000 was the same event as the feeding of the 4,000. But when the two stories occur only two chapters apart in a book by one author—we have to give the author the benefit of the doubt that he is not reporting contradictory accounts of the same event. Plus, Jesus mentions both feedings in his rebuke of the disciples. Notice that the reason for Jesus’ compassion differs in the two accounts. The type of basket described in the feeding of the 4,000 is actually larger than that of the feeding of the 5,000.
68 Four times in 8:1-26 the word “see” appears, (e.g., “watch out” for the leaven of the Pharisees). The word for eye in Greek is ὀφθαλμόσ, from which we get ophthalmology.
I recently came across a list entitled “The World’s Thinnest Books.” These are books whose content is so sparse that it fills but a few pages. See if you recognize any of these titles:
Burger King Items That Start with “Mc”
Female Driving Heroes
Intelligent Things Men Say69
Tic-tac-toe: A Strategy Guide
Bin Laden’s Tips on Personal Hygiene
Things I Can’t Afford by Bill Gates
What I Wouldn’t do for Money by Dennis Rodman
Al Gore’s Wild Years
Dr. Kevorkian’s Collection of Motivational Speeches
EPA Recipes for the Spotted Owl
The Amish Phone Directory
O.J. Simpson’s Plan to Find the Real Killers
I have another title that I would like to add to this prestigious list of thin books:
The Disciples’ Guide to Understanding Jesus [taken from the Gospel of Mark]
It’s true! As much as any other chapter in the Bible, the denseness of the disciples will be highlighted Mark 8:27 – 9:29.
Jesus predicts His own suffering and crucifixion in three famous passages in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). In this lesson, we will encounter the first of these. It is important to note the improper response of the disciples when Jesus predicts His own suffering and death. They have an improper view of Jesus as the Christ. Because of this misunderstanding, they also misunderstand their role as followers of Christ. In today’s passage, Jesus is going to clarify His role as the “Messiah,” while clarifying the role of those who wish to be called His followers. He does so by delineating the cost of discipleship.
8:27 Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 8:28 They said, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.” 8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”71 Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 8:30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
8:31 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 8:32 He spoke openly about this. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 8:33 But after turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”
8:34 Then Jesus called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it. 8:36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 8:37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 8:38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
Reading Mark 8:34-37 in Eugene Peterson’s The Message (published by NavPress), offers some additional color:
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
You just read the price tag of discipleship. How much does it cost? Everything.
Jesus asks who others say that He is only to create the opportunity to ask the disciples who they think He is. Most people had a misguided view of who Jesus was (see also Mark 6:14-16). The theories about Jesus (John the Baptist, Elijah, some other prophet) all involve preparatory roles. Jesus was not preparatory; He was the real thing. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew, Messiah, meaning “anointed one.” Mark 8:29 is the first time the word has resurfaced since Mark 1:1 (and it will appear 5 more times in Mark after 8:29). Those in the Old Testament that were anointed were prophets, priests, and especially kings. Jesus was all of the above. The disciples had the vernacular right, but still didn’t fully understand what was meant by “Messiah.”
Most (including the Twelve) were expecting a victorious Messiah by conventional means. The Jewish understanding of the Christ (i.e., “Messiah”) was that He would bring deliverance through conquest. Here, Jesus explains that He will bring deliverance through the cross. He would achieve victory through suffering. He would take up the cross, not the crown. Thus Jesus requires His listeners to adjust—and raise—their expectations of the Messiah. He is more, much more, than they had anticipated. God’s means of deliverance was through suffering and death. Jesus knew that His followers still viewed His Messiah-ship incorrectly, thus He immediately sets out to correct their mistaken view.
He is met with disapproval and rebuke by Peter. Peter “rebukes” Jesus—the same strong language that is used of Jesus elsewhere to silence demons. Why Peter’s negative response? Because the identity and destiny of Jesus will determine the identity and destiny of His followers. What will the disciples receive in return for following Jesus? If He is going to reign, they will partake in His glory. But if He is going to die, they will partake in His suffering. If your military commander predicts that he will suffer and die in an upcoming battle—how willing would you be to enter the battle with him? If your basketball coach declares that he will not be victorious in the upcoming game—wouldn’t that discourage the players? That’s why Jesus tells Peter that he is interested in the things of men (namely himself) and not that of God. Peter is interested in saving his own neck! The “things of God” indicates that God’s plan includes Jesus’ suffering.
Mark 8:34 is the only time in this Gospel that Jesus calls the crowds together with the disciples—he is about to say something important. In fact, what he says is the hinge to the entire book. How much does it cost? What is the price tag for discipleship? You must deny yourself. It means treachery or disavowal of oneself. The closest opposite of the notion of “self-denial” is “self-allegiance”—concerned ultimately for one’s own good, looking out for number one. Discipleship, Jesus informs us, costs everything. Jesus had challenged many of his disciples to follow him prior to this (see chapter one), but they were evidently not clear on what was required.
Are you aware of the personal cost of discipleship? What has it cost you personally? Are you willing to pay such high tuition? Is there an area of your life that you are refusing to submit to Him? Then you are delinquent on payment. What are you holding back from God? Write it down, put it in an envelope, and give it over to Him. Does it hurt? Absolutely. But there is comfort on the other side, and peace because you know you’ve done the right thing. What are you holding on to in allegiance to yourself? Jim Eliot spoke some famous words that continue to challenge us today: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
If allegiance can no longer be paid to ourselves, then who does it rightly belong to? To put it another way, “Who do I pay?”
9:2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John and led them alone up a high mountain privately. And he was transfigured before them, 9:3 and his clothes became radiantly white, more than any launderer in the world could bleach them. 9:4 Then Elijah appeared before them along with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.72 9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 9:6 (For they were afraid, and he did not know what to say.) 9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my one dear Son. Listen to him!” 9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more except Jesus.
9:9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 9:10 They kept this statement to themselves, discussing what this rising from the dead meant.
9:11 Then they asked him, “Why do the experts in the law say that Elijah must come first?” 9:12 He said to them, “Elijah does indeed come first and restores all things. And why is it written that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be despised? 9:13 But I tell you that Elijah has certainly come, and they did to him whatever they wanted, just as it is written about him.”
After discovering how much something costs, you then must determine who you will pay. Jesus is worth our reliance and allegiance.
Many scholars hold the Transfiguration to be the fulfillment of Mark 9:1. In fact, in each of the Synoptic Gospels (there is no record of the Transfiguration in the Fourth Gospel) the Transfiguration is immediately preceded by this prediction (Matthew 16:28; Luke 9:27). The Transfiguration of Christ was done for the benefit of the disciples—“before them” (9:2, 4), “enveloped them” (9:7), a voice addressed them (9:7). It is meant to confirm for them the true identity of Jesus as God’s Son. The voice from heaven repeats that Jesus is “My beloved Son” (compare with the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:11), but adds that the disciples are to “listen to Him,” suggesting that they had hitherto not been doing so (see Peter’s rebuke of Jesus in 8:32). Imagine how foolish Peter felt when, after rebuking Jesus in Mark 8:32, the Father instructs him to “listen to him.”
Who do you pay? Who’s receiving your allegiance? Who are you following? As you try to live this life of self-denial, who are you listening to? According the revelation of the Transfiguration and the voice from heaven, Jesus alone is worthy—follow Him! The Apostle Paul perhaps understood this more than any other writer of the New Testament. Paul understood that the suffering Messiah had indeed come, and had accomplished salvation that demands a response of self-denial and Christ-allegiance.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:14, “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
He writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Finally, in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 the great Apostle writes, “For the love of Christ controls us, since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.”
9:14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and experts in the law arguing with them. 9:15 When the whole crowd saw him they were amazed and ran at once and greeted him. 9:16 He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 9:17 A member of the crowd said to him, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that makes him mute. 9:18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they were not able to do it.” 9:19 He answered them, “You unbelieving generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him to me.” 9:20 So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 9:21 Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 9:22 It has often thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 9:23 Then Jesus said to him, “‘If you are able?’ All things are possible for the one who believes.” 9:24 Immediately the father of the boy cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
9:25 Now when Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 9:26 It shrieked, threw him into terrible convulsions, and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He is dead!” 9:27 But Jesus gently took his hand and raised him to his feet, and he stood up.
9:28 Then, after he went into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” 9:29 He told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
After learning an item’s cost and purchasing it, you then take it home and try it out to determine how it works. The disciples haven’t learned to deny selves and rely solely on Him.
This text describes the disciples’ inability to cast out a demon. Why were they unable to do so? After all, they had experienced success at casting out demons when they depended upon God (Mark 6:13). Jesus informs them that the demon could only be exorcised “by prayer,” indicating that the disciples were relying on themselves instead of God. They had not yet learned to deny themselves, and they still retain a fair measure of self-confidence.
The disciples’ failure stems from their limited perspective. They simply haven’t learned their own limitations and the limitless power of Christ. They are living lives of self-dependence and self-allegiance. They have not learned to deny themselves, sacrificing their self-interests for the sake of the cross. Do you struggle to maintain the right perspective regarding the way you live your life? Perhaps this story from one man’s life—and death—will assist you in your struggle.
Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was a man who seemed to have everything. According to one of his closest assistants, “He was six feet four inches tall, and built to scale. He had blond hair, animated eyes, a powerful nose ... a presence ‘always stately and dignified.’”
Charlemagne went to Rome on Christmas Day in
Charlemagne never submitted himself to the medicine of his day. Therefore, in
He had, however, made all of his last arrangements with meticulous care and specificity. At his request, he was buried in the vault of the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle. His body was dressed in imperial purple and seated upon a throne inside the unusual tomb. With a crown on his head, a scepter in his hand, a sword by his side, and an open Bible on his knees, the great Emperor sat in all of his glory, and the vault was closed. Charlemagne had prescribed all of this in his will, and had besides given instructions that his tomb should never be opened.
But a German emperor, wishing to secure the regalia (the crown, scepter, and other royal and imperial ornaments), had the vault opened in
How does it work? How is it possible to deny one’s own interests for the sake of the cross? It’s realizing that this world is not all there is. There is more to this life than having the highest-paying job or the fastest car or the most money or the greatest reputation or the most attractive figure. We are citizens of another world. Some of you have grown comfortable here; you have grown deep roots in this world. In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul writes,
“But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.”
Can you say with Paul in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”? Did you hear that? To die is gain! The fee that is requested for this ride with Jesus—the tuition to enter into His school of discipleship—is your very life. Anything less would be a slap in the face to the Savior who bought you.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 8:34:
Then Jesus called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
69 How true! I must admit, however, that this was a political move to minimize the pain caused by the previous title in the list. A thousand pardons to those I offend.
70 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
71 It has been said that the most important thing about a person is what he believes about God. This question on the lips of Jesus is the most important question any person has ever asked, and the answer one gives has direct eternal consequences.
72 Moses is often associated with a mountain (Sinai) as is Elijah (Carmel). Moses showing up is perhaps reminiscent of Deut. 18:15; and Elijah was popularly viewed as the one to prepare the way as the end was drawing near. Jesus claims that Elijah had already come (see Malachi 4:5-6) in the person of John the Baptist (see Matthew 11:14).
The other day I was speaking with a friend of mine who happens to be a new Christian. This middle-aged man has a powerful testimony: God has rescued him from a life of worldly pursuits, drugs, alcohol, addictions, broken relationships—you name it. As we spoke of the great things God was doing in His life, he said something absolutely profound and fundamentally biblical. I’ll paraphrase him here:
“As I pray and read my Bible everyday, I almost feel as though I’m having to unlearn my former way of life. I’m beginning to rethink everything and to look at things from the Bible’s perspective.”
Praise God for such alertness and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in Romans chapter twelve about a “renewing of the mind”—thinking not only the things of God, but thinking about things the way God thinks about them; embracing God’s perspective. Today, we are going to examine our perspective on things. We are going to discover if you and I have the need to rethink things and begin to look at them from the Bible’s perspective. This lesson will prove irritating for some of you, because the Gospel of Mark is going to teach us things that are quite contrary to the way we have been taught. Our culture teaches us that our interests are the most important, but this lesson is about dismissing our own interests in favor of others. Our culture teaches us that we deserve—indeed are entitled to—the best, but this lesson is about choosing to be last so that others can win. Our culture teaches us that “if we believe it we can achieve it” (or “where there’s a will there’s a way” or “we can do anything we set our mind to”), but this lesson is about depending on others in acknowledgment that we are unable to do it alone.
En route to correcting his disciples’ (and our) perspectives, Jesus will also articulate his second of three Passion Predictions.73 We’ll encounter the third and last one in the next lesson. In today’s lesson, Jesus challenges His disciples to adjust their perspective in three areas.
9:30 They went out from there and passed through Galilee. But Jesus did not want anyone to know, 9:31 for he was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 9:32 But they did not understand this statement and were afraid to ask him.75
9:33 Then they came to Capernaum. When Jesus was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 9:35 After he sat down, he called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 9:36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
After the second prediction, the disciples discussed which among them was the greatest. In other words, they still didn’t get it! How dense they seem. Jesus is spelling out for them His own future suffering and impending death, and they are preoccupied with comparing themselves with one another in an attempt to discover which is the greatest, the most important, the most significant.
Twice in this lesson, Jesus uses children to teach lessons. The Greek word παιδίον (used in Mark 9:36-37; 10:13-15) often refers to very young children, but can mean children of any age up to early teens, and without regard to parental relationship. In the first century, children were especially regarded as insignificant. They had no power and no status, and were not considered full persons. Thus to embrace a child publicly was to embrace that which was insignificant. Jesus was choosing insignificance by association. In contrast to the discussion the disciples shared about being the greatest, Jesus characterizes “kingdom greatness” by showing them a helpless, self-denying child. Children recognized their own insignificance. Only someone with a true servant’s heart—voluntarily taking last place—could receive an insignificant child. Following Christ and denying ourselves involves becoming insignificant because of the Kingdom of God.
I have a friend in full-time ministry named Thomas. He is an influential ministry leader, speaker, writer, etc. He had a marked impact on my life and still does as he heads up a ministry he has been a part of for twenty years now. When you think of Thomas you usually think of a man of integrity, discipline, perseverance, consistency, and family. He works hard in ministry and is actively involved in others’ lives. He arrives home each evening to spend time with his children and wife after being away since dawn. When I lived closer to Thomas a number of years ago, his evening routine included something else during the long winter months in Kentucky. He would disappear into his bedroom, and his family all understood why. He would change out of his business casual attire and replace them with coveralls, a hat, and gloves. Then he would walk out the back door, down the alley behind his house, to a house a few hundred yards away. It was the home of Mr. Idsen. Mr. Idsen was an impoverished, physically handicapped, elderly man. While Thomas lived in an average middle-income family home, Mr. Idsen lived in a drafty shack that could hardly be described as a home. There was no electricity, the dirty wooden floors were uneven, and the cracks in the windows and siding permitted the wintry breezes to blow through virtually unrestrained. Each cold winter night Thomas would suit up and journey down to visit briefly with Mr. Idsen. He would find him predictably laying on his twin-sized bed next to the wood-burning stove in the center room of the house. He would ask about the events of the day and inquire about his needs. Then Thomas the ministry leader would step outside to chop firewood for Mr. Idsen. He would carry two or three armloads inside the drafty house—enough to guarantee Mr. Idsen’s warmth through the night and the next day. After stoking the fire and reminding Mr. Idsen that the wood is there by the stove if he gets chilly in the middle of the night, Thomas would again head home. Not many people knew the service Thomas rendered to Mr. Idsen. It was a ministry of insignificance.76
What is your ministry of insignificance? Are you fearful for your reputation or your status. Remember, even Jesus, for the joy set before Him, became insignificant and endured the cross for you and me. That’s what a disciple of Jesus will do. He chooses insignificance over recognition.
9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” 9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say anything bad about me. 9:40 For whoever is not against us is for us.77 9:41 For I tell you the truth, whoever gives you a cup of water because you bear Christ’s78 name will never lose his reward.
9:42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone79 tied around his neck and to be thrown into the sea. 9:43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than to have two hands and go into hell, to the unquenchable fire.80 9:45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 9:47 If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 9:48 where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. 9:49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 9:50 Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
10:1 Then Jesus left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan River. Again crowds gathered to him, and as was his custom, he again taught them. 10:2 Then some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 10:4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 10:5 But Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your hard hearts. 10:6 But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female. 10:7 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, 10:8 and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10:10 In the house once again, the disciples asked him about this. 10:11 So he told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 10:12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”81
Notice that John describes the person as not following “us.” Clearly, he has selfish motives in this text. We learned about denying ourselves in the previous lesson and redirecting our allegiance onto Christ; this week we learn to deny ourselves in consideration of others. The main message of this passage is self-denial or sacrifice over selfishness and self-allegiance. The kingdom of God belongs to those who sacrifice.
I’m going to zero in on Jesus’ illustration. I believe that the reason Jesus teaches against divorce in this context is to portray divorce as a purely selfish act. He begins by correcting John’s selfishness and affirming any who sacrifice for the name of Christ (9:39-41). He transitions to talk about selfless living around others so as to prevent them from stumbling and one’s willingness to sacrifice life and limb for the Kingdom (9:42-48). Salt, Jesus says, at times represents judgment upon people (9:49). But the salt of selflessness and sacrifice is the secret to “peace with each other” (9:50). The very next line begins the pericope on divorce. No one in antiquity spoke out against divorce more strongly than Jesus does here.
Several weeks ago I visited another church with some friends to celebrate the dedication of their child. Much can be learned about a church just from its bulletin. But as I read over their bulletin, I was troubled by something I didn’t see. My attention was first drawn to a large ad promoting their popular “Divorce Care” class. I reflected on how wonderful of a ministry that was to those who are hurting. But something was missing. I next noticed their ad for a class on how to succeed as a step family. “Of course,” I thought. Becoming a step family has got to be one of the most difficult things in life to do. But something was still missing.
Then it hit me. There were no classes being offered on strengthening your marriage or marriage success or marriage rescue. Balance was sorely absent. There was lots of emphasis on recovery after the fact but no emphasis on rescue before the fact! How different that is from Scripture’s treatment of the subject. Of course the Bible teaches grace and to care for those hurting and broken. But the emphasis in Scripture is on obedience in the first place.
I’ve been married for eight years—not decades, but we’re not newlyweds either. I also have two children. I’ve been married long enough to experience the good times and the bad. It is commonly known that the divorce rate among Christians is virtually identical to the divorce rate among the unsaved. Furthermore, the average marriage today in the U.S. lasts 7.2 years. California leads all states in divorces annually, followed closely by Texas. Finally, eighty percent (80%) of all divorces claim “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for the divorce.
Irreconcilable differences has been described thus:
“The most common ground for dissolving a marriage is dissolution of matrimony based on irreconcilable differences which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage. The irreconcilable differences ground is broad for a reason. It is intended to represent the actual reasons underlying marital breakdowns, simply stated, it is a “no fault” basis for terminating a marriage. Once the court finds that irreconcilable differences have indeed caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage, the court must grant the requested dissolution of marriage.”82
At least six times I have sat across from a couple who told me they were constantly fighting and that divorce would be the best thing for them.83 Other times couples have informed me that they were divorced because it was the best thing for their kids. I may offend some when I abjectly disagree with that proposition. Divorce is never the answer when a couple fights too much. And divorce is never the best thing for your children. Taking that step is giving a geographical solution to a heart problem—it just doesn’t work. You know what would be best for your kids? Stop fighting! Divorce is never “better for the kids.”
Finally, the Bible makes it clear that divorce is always the result of sin. Did you catch that? Perhaps that statement needs to sink in a little for some of you, as you may have never heard such a bold statement pertaining to divorce. I’ll say it again; Divorce is always the result of sin. Whether adultery, neglect, selfishness, or any number of other sins. If this is true, then why does the divorce rate among believers remain so high? Perhaps it’s because we refuse to listen to God’s Word and acknowledge the firm stance it takes on the issue. If the reason you wish to get divorced is not permitted in Scripture, then it is not permitted. Now, before you sit down to write that angry letter to me, please remember two important things: 1) I am not the one who is strict about marriage—Jesus is. I’m simply in agreement with Him. 2) If you plan to defend your right to a divorce, you’d better be able to defend yourself from Scripture, because I’m going to ask you for a chapter and verse from the Word of God that justifies your decision.84 A disciple of Jesus Christ chooses sacrifice over selfishness, even (especially?) within the family.
10:13 Now people were bringing little children to him for him to touch, but the disciples scolded them. 10:14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 10:15 I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 10:16 After he took the children in his arms, he placed his hands on them and blessed them.
10:17 Now as Jesus was starting out on his way, a man ran up to him, fell on his knees, and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 10:19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 10:20 The man said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things since my youth.” 10:21 As Jesus looked at him, he felt love for him and said, “You lack one thing. Go, sell whatever you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 10:22 But at this statement, the man looked sad and went away sorrowful, for he was very rich.
10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 10:24 The disciples were astonished at these words. But again Jesus said to them, “Children,85 how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 10:26 They were even more astonished and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 10:27 Jesus looked at them and replied, “This is impossible for man, but not for God; everything is possible for God.”
10:28 Peter began to speak to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you!” 10:29 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 10:30 who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions86—and in the age to come, eternal life. 10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
The characteristic that Jesus wants the disciples—and us—to learn from these children is that of dependence. In a culture where 6 of 10 children died before the age of 16,87 Jesus communicates His love for the helpless and dependent. The issue is one of dependence over self-reliance. Children must depend upon others. In contrast to these dependent children, the rich man was relying solely on himself (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”). The kingdom of God belongs to those who depend on God rather than the self-reliant.
I spent three years as a school teacher. As a teacher, I was often asked my position on the modern teaching theory that instructs children that they have the potential to do anything. Rather than damage a child’s fragile self-esteem, the theory says, we should assign the highest grades to each child while whispering in their ear that they’ve earned it. A teacher should only be affirming, never negative. “If you believe it, you can achieve it!” is the rallying cry for today’s youth. “Where there’s a will there’s a way!” “You can do anything you set our mind to!”
As a teacher, I cannot subscribe to such a theory. As a reasonable human, I realize how hopelessly flawed and unrealistic such teaching really is. Reality proves that such statements are absurd. No child has such potential, and each child has his or her own unique potential. To falsely convince a child of his limitless potential in order to save his self-esteem today is to set him up for failure and damage his self-esteem tomorrow—because inevitably he will fail. And when he fails, who does he have to blame but himself? He did, after all, have all the potential to succeed.
Moreover, such a theory fails students in another crucial area—teaching them their limitations. Children today can do amazing things and they have enormous (albeit not unlimited) potential. We must teach them that. But we must also teach them their limitations and what cannot be done. The word “can’t” seldom comes up anymore, because we want folks to believe so they can achieve. But when appropriate, the word “can’t” is a great teaching tool, for it shows limitation. It balances what they are able to do with what they are unable to do. And it discourages isolationistic Lone Rangers while creating a need for healthy dependence—upon others and upon God. You and I must depend on God because we “can’t”—in God’s ears it is one of the most beautiful words, as it communicates dependence on Him. Thus we are perfectly positioned for His miraculous hand to work. Have you told God lately that you can’t do it? With people it is impossible; but with God, all things are possible.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 9:35:
After he sat down, he called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
73 Jesus predicts His own suffering and crucifixion in three famous passages in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). These fortellings are labeled “Passion Predictions.”
74 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
75 Hmm. If you had been rebuked as harshly as Peter was after misunderstanding the first Passion Prediction, wouldn’t you think twice about asking Jesus about subsequent ones?
76 Mr. Idsen went home to be with the Lord a few years ago.
77 Even Cicero, a 1st century b.c. author, quoted this proverb, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
78 There it is: Jesus uses the designation “Christ” of himself—extremely rare in the Synoptics.
79 Literally in Greek, a “donkey’s millstone”: This millstone is a very large type weighing several hundred (perhaps thousands) pounds and turned by a donkey.
80 Mark 9:44 and 9:46 are missing from many of your Bibles for good reason. Simply put, the earliest and best manuscripts omit the verses, and there are better reasons to believe that a well-meaning scribe inserted the verses deliberately than that he omitted them unintentionally.
81 According to Jewish tradition, a woman could not divorce a man. According to Roman law, she could.
82 Quotation taken from the website of Kraffert and Shaffer, attorneys at law (www.kraffertschaffer.com).
83 For the record, none of these couples are affiliated in any way with Trinity Bible Church.
84 Some have broadened the boundaries on what are biblically-permissible grounds for divorce to include things the Bible simply does not address. My position is that if the Bible does not permit you a divorce, then you are not permitted a divorce. Thus, if you are being physically abused (for example), I counsel you to seek safety, perhaps even seek separation. But divorce is not an option for you.
85 The Greek word τέκνον (used in Mark 10:24, 29-30) usually denotes offspring—children of any age who belong to someone. Thus the phrase in Scripture, “children of God,” usually employs τέκνον. [Mark 10:24 is the only place in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus calls the disciples “children” (τέκνον; see also John 13:33)]. Why does He do so? He’s telling them to depend on God like children.
86 This section is perhaps best understood as a principle, not a promise. Don’t claim it as a promise. Rather, living this way will often lead to such generosity (and persecution) in return.
87 Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, pg. 264.
What images come to your mind when you hear the word “servant”? Perhaps you envision that waiter or waitress at your favorite restaurant. Maybe you think of that mechanic that you’ve built a relationship with through years of broken cars. Some may even think of their mother who worked tirelessly to care for her family. When I hear the word “servant,” I recall my days working in a pharmacy. It was a special needs pharmacy, concentrating particularly on menopausal and postmenopausal, hormonally-imbalanced women. For two years I learned what it meant to truly serve others. Countless times I had to tolerate a thorough chewing out; countless times I had to bite my tongue; countless times I had to acquiesce when I knew I was in the right. When I was promoted to HR Manager, I began to look for the qualities of a servant when hiring new employees—knowing that they would never survive without them.
Another image conjured up by the title “servant” is “minister.” The word is derived from a Latin term meaning “servant” or “minor.” The Bible talks candidly about the minister’s primary role of serving others. But in an age of domination and faulty ideas about leadership, it is difficult to discern the true servant from a false one. How would I know a servant if I saw one? You will know whether a person is a servant or not by the way they act when they are treated like one.
In today’s passage, we learn two essential characteristics of a true servant.
10:32 They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was going ahead of them, and they were amazed, but those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was going to happen to him. 10:33 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and experts in the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles. 10:34 They will mock him, spit on him, flog him severely, and kill him. Yet after three days, he will rise again.”
10:35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said, “Teacher, we want89 you to do for us whatever we ask.” 10:36 He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 10:37 They said to him, “Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.”90 10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?”91 10:39 They said to him, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience, 10:40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
10:41 Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John.92 10:42 Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 10:43 But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 10:44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all. 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom93 for many.”
This passion prediction is the most detailed of the three. Jesus mentions for the first time that Jerusalem is His destination. He also adds that he will be turned over to the Gentiles (implying that His death will be by crucifixion—a prominent Roman form of execution), and that He will be mocked, spit upon, and flogged severely.
After the first prediction, Peter rebuked Jesus and was rebuked in return. After the second, the disciples discussed along the way who was the greatest, and Jesus had to instruct them that whoever wishes to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Here, after the third, James and John approach Jesus requesting to partake of His coming glory. Mark 10:35-40 clearly shows the mistaken view the disciples had of “Christ”—and again Jesus seeks to correct them by challenging them to be “servant” and “slave.” They still don’t understand. And Jesus once again responds by instructing them that if it is greatness you seek, then you must be a servant and slave of all. Again, not what they were expecting. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die; the disciples’ response conveys that they still think Jesus is going to Jerusalem to reign.
James and John94 were not mistaken in recognizing that they were especially favored by God, but they were mistaken in imagining that this would come at no cost. They sought close association with the future king of Israel—and all the rights and privileges that accompany such proximity. They were anticipating all of Jerusalem bowing before Jesus and paying Him homage; instead they bowed before Him mockingly and spit upon Him. They were anticipating a crown of gold; instead He received a crown of thorns. They were anticipating a throne; instead He received a cross. They were anticipating sitting at his right and left; instead criminals were hung there.
The Son of Man did not come to be served. If the Son of Man did not come to be served—how wrong it is for you and me to seek to be served. Rather, we should dedicate our very lives in service to others, and look out for others’ interests over our own. The Apostle John who requested this privileged position beside Jesus would later understand servant-hood. He who penned John 3:16 also penned 1 John 3:16:
“We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians.”
Jesus was choosing to suffer unjustly for the sake of the Gospel. A servant will allow others to treat him unfairly for the sake of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-19). He will not instinctively defend himself, but will supernaturally serve others without expectation of remuneration. Why would a servant relinquish what’s best for himself? It’s not that a servant seeks last place out of self-deprivation, but that he wishes others to receive first place and promotes them over himself. It is not for self-punishment. Don’t deprive yourself for deprivation’s sake. Do so for others. Others will be in first place by virtue of your taking last place. Jesus didn’t go to the cross because He was a masochist; He went for you and me. True greatness in God’s kingdom is found in the servant.
10:46 They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho,95 Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road.96 10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David,97 have mercy on me!” 10:48 Many scolded him to get him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 10:49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up! He is calling you.” 10:50 He threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 10:51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied, “Rabbi, let me see again.” 10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has healed you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the road.
The healing of blind Bartimaeus is Jesus’ last healing miracle of in the Gospel of Mark. The cloak that was thrown off was a beggar’s cloak used to collect hand-outs by spreading it out before him as he sat begging. By casting it aside, Bartimaeus was forsaking his former way of life, completely confident that Jesus would heal him. In contrast to the rich man (10:17-22), Bartimaeus leaves everything he has and follows Jesus. He is the picture of true discipleship—He recognized his own need for a Savior, calls out to Jesus, receives healing (lit., “your faith as saved you”), and then follows Jesus. The sight of Bartimaeus stands in contrast to the spiritual blindness of the disciples and the religious leaders Jesus is about to encounter in Jerusalem.
Twice in this passage Jesus asks the servant’s question: “What do you want me to do for you?” The question is asked of the disciples in 10:36, and then of Bartimaeus in 10:51. Of course, this question is always on the lips of a servant, and never on the lips of one who seeks to be served. How often do we ask the question, “What will you do for me?” Or, we ask the right question with all sorts of strings attached. We ask it for recognition or we ask it because we are paid to ask it.98
My wife is a servant, always asking others what she can do for them. I can’t count the number of meals that have been cooked in my house for other families. She is thoughtful and considerate of even the smallest detail, and puts her compassion to practice by serving others—usually without recognition (the last thing she is interested in).
Is there someone in your life that could benefit from being served? Consider asking them the servant’s question this week. What do you want me to do for you?
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 10:45:
10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
88 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
89 The notion of “wanting” (θέλω) appears five times in our text today (Mark 10:35, 36, 43, 44, 51)—primarily contrasting wanting greatness vs. wanting to serve.
90 To the right of the king is the highest position; the left is the next highest position.
91 Jesus speaks of the cup of his suffering—in the Old Testament the “cup” often symbolized suffering and trouble. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus will pray that if it is God’s will that God would let the “cup” pass from Him (14:23-24, 36).
92 The ten were indignant because each of them wanted that position of privilege—James and John had called dibs and had gotten there first; the others were jealous.
93 The word “ransom” appears only here and in Matthew 20:28 (though it occurs in 1 Tim. 2:6 accompanied by a prefix). Interesting that Jesus instructs us that we are to become slaves (10:44), but then declares that His life will be given as a ransom to free us from slavery (10:45).
94 Incidentally, these two represent the extremes as far as persecution. James was the first of the disciples martyred and John was the last to die, after living out his natural life of persecution.
95 According to Mark 10:46, a “large crowd” was leaving Jericho. Apparently, they were traveling to participate in the festival in Jerusalem, about 15 miles southwest of Jericho.
96 Jericho was a prosperous town with a mild climate, ideal for a beggar who spent his days sitting alongside the heavily-trafficked road begging.
97 “Son of David” is a Messianic title. Jesus is still the Messiah—the disciples must simply change their understanding of that role.
98 When a company promotes the slogan, “Your satisfaction is our highest priority,” I’ve often been tempted to respond, “I’d be most satisfied if I didn’t have to pay for this service.” For some reason, I get the feeling that serving others is simply the best strategy they’ve found for making a profit.
With Mark chapter eleven, we begin the final division in the Gospel of Mark: Passion Week—where Jesus prepares for His own suffering and death. We also begin here a new mini-series leading up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. The next three lessons focus on the notion of Israel’s failure and consequent judgment. In the next lesson, Jesus will demonstrate his rejection of Israel (11:27 – 12:44). And in the following lesson Jesus will describe Israel’s rejection (13:1-37).
In this lesson, we see the declaration of judgment upon Israel for her lack of fruit. The reader is intended to understand that a similar declaration of judgment will be pronounced upon all who produce no fruit.
11:1 Now as they approached Jerusalem, near Bethphage100 and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 11:2 and said to them, “Go to the village ahead of you. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 11:3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here soon.’” 11:4 So they went and found a colt tied at a door, outside in the street, and untied it. 11:5 Some people standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 11:6 They replied as Jesus had told them, and the bystanders let them go.101 11:7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 11:8 Many spread their cloaks on the road and others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 11:9 Both those who went ahead and those who followed kept shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 11:10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11:11 Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. And after looking around at everything, he went out to Bethany with the twelve since it was already late.
Mark 11 records the beginning of what has traditionally been called “Passion Week.” Beginning with Palm Sunday (named this because the people spread palm branches out before Jesus during His so-called Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem), this final week of the Savior’s life is filled with unpleasant interactions with Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, culminating in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Up until this point in the Gospel of Mark, most scholars agree on its basic meaning. At chapter eleven, scholars each take their own road with this difficult text.
Accompanied by several powerful Old Testament citations and images, this passage has very strong Messianic overtones. The primary Old Testament passages drawn from are cited here:
Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Look! Your king is coming to you:
he is legitimate and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey—
on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey.
2 Kings 9:13 Each of them quickly took off his robe and they spread them out at his feet on the steps. The trumpet was blown and they shouted, “Jehu is king!”
Psalm 118:25 Please
118:26 May the one who comes in the name of the
We will pronounce blessings on you in the
The crowd probably responded to Jesus because they saw Him riding on a donkey. Thus, in accordance with Zechariah 9:9 they hailed him as the Messiah king, even placing branches (palm branches according to John’s Gospel) before his path (see 2 Kings 9:13).
The temple that Jesus sees was quite a sight indeed! This temple was enormous, standing 150 feet tall and 150 feet long—roughly the size of a 15-story building. At this time, merely one week before a major Jewish Feast—all the eyes of the world were upon Jerusalem, which swelled to double or perhaps triple its normal population of 30,000. But especially, all eyes were upon the Temple as the center of religious activity. By entering the temple, Jesus is sizing up the playing field for the battle that will commence the next day. It is a fierce battle which, according to the Synoptic Gospels, ultimately leads to His arrest and execution.
11:12 Now the next day, as they went out from Bethany, he was hungry. 11:13 After noticing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it. When he came to it he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 11:14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
11:15 Then they came to Jerusalem. Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and the chairs of those selling doves, 11:16 and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise25 through the temple courts. 11:17 Then he began to teach them and said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a den of robbers!”103 11:18 The chief priests and the experts in the law heard it and they considered how they could assassinate him, for they feared him because the whole crowd was amazed by his teaching. 11:19 When evening came, they went out of the city.
This passage has proven to be one of the most difficult passages in all the Gospels. The cursing of the fig tree is Jesus’ only recorded miracle that results in destruction rather than restoration. The passage, however, becomes clear when understood in its literary context.
Mark has several interrupted accounts. The fig tree incident is yet another one. On a number of occasions, Mark begins one story and concludes it only after another story in interjected and resolved. This is almost always a literary device designed to tie two incidents together thematically. In this passage, two encounters with a fig tree are deliberately sandwiched in between Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. There is apparently a relationship between the two incidents, and the reader is left to discover that relationship.
The temple cleansing is a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-3. Moses commanded that folks were to purchase sacrifices conveniently, so the purchasing of sacrifices was not the impetus for Jesus’ actions. There seem to be two reasons for Jesus’ abrupt behavior: 1) the Gentile court was not functioning as intended: it was supposed to be a house of worship and instead these worshippers were being crowded out by merchandisers, and 2) It was supposed to be primarily a place of worship, not primarily a marketplace.
Although leaves would commonly appear in March or April, figs normally sprouted in June. The fully developed leaves on this tree, however, suggested that fruit would also be found. Jesus approaches the leafy fig tree fully expecting to find fruit there (if any tree is going to have fruit, this tree certainly would). When He finds none, Jesus responds in righteous anger. Likewise, Jesus enters the temple fully expecting to find fruit there (if any place is going to produce spiritual fruit, this temple certainly would). When He finds none, Jesus responds in righteous anger.
The fig tree incident, then, is a visual parable. Clearly Jesus is indicating judgment, but judgment on whom? Since the tree had leaves, one would expect that fruit accompanied them. Jesus expects to see fruit, and is visibly disappointed when He finds none. The tree was “pretending” to bear fruit. What a terrific picture of the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day. They “pretended” to have fruit. What a great picture of countless believers today.
The point lies in the difference between the appearance of the temple and the tree from a distance and their true condition, which a closer inspection reveals. Does that sound like your life? To most people you appear to be genuine. But what if we examined you closer? What if we could follow you around for a week? Would we find fruit, or have you grown adept at giving the appearance of fruit from a distance?
11:20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 11:21 Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered.” 11:22 Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God. 11:23 I tell you the truth, if someone says to this mountain,105 ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 11:24 For this reason I tell you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 11:25 Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your sins.”
Jesus is here giving a summons to faith and to action consistent with one’s faith. He mentions two specific fruits of genuine faith: Prayer and forgiveness—two of the most difficult fruits to counterfeit. Incidentally, the first fruit Jesus describes (namely, prayer) is the primary fruit He found missing at the temple (“My house will be called a house of prayer . . .”). Just as a pulse is the sign of a heartbeat, so fruit is the sign of internal spiritual life.
Charles Ryrie says on the inevitability of producing fruit”
“Every Christian will bear spiritual fruit. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Otherwise that person is not a believer. Every born-again individual will be fruitful. Not to be fruitful is to be faithless, without faith, and therefore without salvation.”
Perhaps you should take some time today to do some fruit inspection in your life. Are you skilled at appearing fruitful from a distance, or does a closer examination reveal true, lasting fruit? You may find it helpful to begin your examination using the words of David recorded in Psalm 139:23-24 (taken from The Message, a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson):
“Investigate my life, Oh God.
Find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
Get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for Yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
Then guide me on the road to eternal life.”
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 11:9:
Both those who went ahead and those who followed kept shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
99 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
100 Bethphage literally means “house of unripe figs” and Bethany “house of figs.”
101 Jesus predicted everything accurately, including the colt tied up and the questioning of the disciples upon taking the colt. Jesus will later send two ambassadors to make arrangements for the Passover meal in the Upper Room. Those who inquire of the disciples taking the colt are, according to Luke’s Gospel, its owners.
102 Literally, “Hosanna,” carrying the meaning, “save us.” Traditionally, Ps. 118:26 was quoted each year at festival time (a Hallel Psalm) and originally referred to those who attended the festival.
103 Mark 11:17 comes from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.
104 Mark 11:26 is missing from many of your Bibles for good reason. Simply put, the earliest and best manuscripts omit the verse, and there are better reasons to believe that a well-meaning scribe inserted the verse deliberately than that he omitted it unintentionally.
105 When Jesus says “this mountain,” He is probably gesturing to the Mount of Olives. “The sea” is perhaps a reference to the Dead Sea, visible from the summit of the Mount of Olives.
On November 27th 2002, Resolution 1441 was passed in the United Nations. This resolution called for immediate and complete disarmament of certain Iraqi weapons, including any nuclear, chemical, biological, and bacteriological weapons and any long-range missiles. When Saddam Hussein failed to disarm, U.N. inspectors were sent in to locate these illegal weapons. It wasn’t long before a cat and mouse game began; Hussein refused to cough up the illegal weapons. As the world looked on in nervous anticipation, we asked “Who is really in charge?”
On March 19th 2003, after months of attempted negotiations and scores of unsuccessful inspections, a “decapitation attempt” was made on Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. Following this initial surprise bombing of several government buildings, the world looked on to see if Hussein and his sons had indeed been removed. The answer, however, was unclear. Iraqi television quickly began broadcasting images of Hussein and his sons, but their authenticity was disputed. Again, we asked “Who is really in charge?”
In the personal battles of your life today you may be asking “Who is really in charge?” So many today are experiencing pain and discouragement that could never have been anticipated. A sick loved one, a car accident, a pink slip appearing in our work mailbox. Is life merely a series of coincidences or disconnected letdowns? Or is there a Sovereign God of the universe that maintains His authority—even on our worst day?
11:27 They came again to Jerusalem. While Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the experts in the law and the elders came up to him107 11:28 and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do these things?” 11:29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question. Answer me and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: 11:30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from men? Answer me.” 11:31 They discussed with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 11:32 But if we say, ‘From men—’” (they feared the crowd, for they all considered John to be truly a prophet). 11:33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
12:1 Then he began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 12:2 At harvest time he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his portion of the crop. 12:3 But those tenants seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 12:4 So he sent another slave to them again. This one they struck on the head and treated outrageously. 12:5 He sent another, and that one they killed. This happened to many others, some of whom were beaten, others killed. 12:6 He had one left, his one dear son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 12:7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours!’ 12:8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw his body out of the vineyard. 12:9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 12:10 Have you not read this scripture:
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
12:11 This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”108
12:12 Now they wanted to arrest him (but they feared the crowd), because they realized that he told this parable against them. So they left him and went away.
On January 15th, 2003, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on thermostats. According to the article, some companies have instructed their HVAC technicians to install dummy thermostats in an effort to minimize employee complaints. Employees are thereby given the illusion of control, and complaints have grown to a minimum as a result. The rumor is that the next investigation will look into the “close door” buttons in elevators that never seem to function.
In the same way that these employees possessed the illusion of control, this passage will expose the “illusion” of many in the first century that they possessed ultimate authority. If the previous lesson was a declaration of judgment, this is a demonstration of judgment by the one who has authority to judge. Four times in this passage the word ἐξουσία (“authority”) appears. There are those who seem to be in authority, and God who is in fact in authority.
These three groups mentioned together—the chief priests, the experts in the law, and the elders—make up the Sanhedrin. It is the legislative Jewish body—the highest Jewish authority. They ask where Jesus received authority to act with such boldness in cleansing the temple (this same Sanhedrin will sentence Him to death this very week). After saying that He would not answer their inquiry, Jesus proceeds to answer them in the form of a parable. Chapter twelve, then, is an unhelpful chapter break.
In this parable, the vineyard is Israel, the owner is God, the tenant farmers are the Jewish leaders, the servants are the prophets that are sprinkled throughout Israel’s history that the leadership has always rejected (see also Acts 7:51-53), and the only son is of course Jesus (literally, “beloved son”; see Mark 1:11). Here we have a veiled prediction that Jesus would be killed by the religious leadership of His day. Jesus’ authority comes from His Father who sent Him just as the son in the parable received his authority from his father. Thus Jesus was claiming higher authority than those in the Sanhedrin, who were mere renters in the unfolding plan of God. The claim of any one man to have authority greater than the Sanhedrin would have shocked a first century Jew.
12:13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to trap him with his own words. 12:14 When they came they said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and do not court anyone’s favor, because you show no partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” 12:15 But he saw through their hypocrisy and said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 12:16 So they brought one, and he said to them, “Whose likeness109 is this, and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” 12:17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
The Pharisees opposed Roman rule while the Herodians supported the Roman appointed Herodian Dynasty. The Pharisees despised paying taxes; the Herodians were in favor of it. These two groups rarely agreed with one another and seldom associated together. What brings them together here is not a common bond, but a common enemy.
These two groups approached Jesus with a denarius to test Him. The denarius contained Caesar’s inscription. It was probably that of Tiberius Caesar (
In Jesus’ day there were two prominent views on authority: Either the religious leadership (especially the Sanhedrin) was in authority or the Romans (especially Caesar). Jesus dismisses each of these possibilities. While these entities certainly give the appearance of authority (the “illusion of control”), God alone possesses the rights and privileges as the one in control.
Jesus outsmarted these religious leaders, but He also out-authorized them.
12:18 Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) also came to him and asked, 12:19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us: ‘if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, that man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.’ 12:20 There were seven brothers. The first one married, and when he died he had no children. 12:21 The second married her and died without any children, and likewise the third. 12:22 None of the seven had children. Finally, the woman died too. 12:23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” 12:24 Jesus said to them, “Aren’t you deceived for this reason, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God? 12:25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.112 12:26 Now as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 12:27 He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
12:28 Now one of the experts in the law came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 12:29 Jesus answered, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 12:31 The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 12:32 The expert in the law said to him, “That is true, Teacher; you are right to say that he is one, and there is no one else besides him. 12:33 And to love him with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 12:34 When Jesus saw that he had answered thoughtfully, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Then no one dared any longer to question him.
12:35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he said, “How is it that the experts in the law say that the Christ is David’s son? 12:36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
12:37 If David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
12:38 In his teaching Jesus also said, “Watch out for the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, 12:39 and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 12:40 They devour widows’ property and as a show make long prayers. These men will receive a more severe punishment.”
The Sadducees were just as hostile to the Pharisees as the Herodians were, yet they too unite with the Pharisees to bring down a common enemy. They were a small but influential group that would cease to exist following the destruction of the temple in
The Sadducees accepted only the Book of Moses—the first five books in the Old Testament—as authoritative. They did not believe in life after death, as they found no evidence for it in the Pentateuch. Jesus affirms a future resurrection by affirming from the Book of Moses the doctrine of life after death. God is (present tense) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Although these were all dead when this was spoken, Jesus suggests that they lived on. Thus, Jesus proves that His understanding of the Law is superior to that of the Sadducees.
Likewise, Jesus demonstrates His superiority over the expert in the law by assessing verbally the thoughtfulness of his comments on the Law. After Jesus answers Him well, the expert attempts to assume a superior role by positively assessing Jesus’ answer. However, Jesus reassumes authority with the last word when He tells the expert that he is not far from the kingdom of God.
Jesus then begins an excursus on a difficult passage to remove any doubt that He is the Master of the Scriptures. The Christ is going to come from the line of David. If so, the Messiah is the son of David and could rightly be called his son. A son could refer to his father as lord, but never a father to a son. But David realized that this descendent would be superior to himself, and so calls Him Lord. Thus, Jesus is greater than a typical Israelite king, and even greater than the great king, David. The only answer that can be given is that David’s son is also David’s Lord. This hints at the dual nature of Jesus, the human and divine.
12:41 Then he sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. 12:42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. 12:43 He called his disciples and said to them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. 12:44 For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.”
In contrast to the presumptuous authority of certain pompous religious leaders, Jesus commends the action of a sacrificial woman who recognizes that God is really in control. This woman has only two small copper coins—the least valuable coins in circulation during the time of Jesus. Their total value measured about 1/64th that of a denarius (a day’s wage). If this is all she had, then she was poor indeed. What could compel this impoverished woman to courageously yield all she had to live on? She must have been leaning entirely on the care of a Sovereign God. If you were to ask her that day, “Who’s in charge?”—she would not have spoken of the reigning Jewish leadership or the security of the always-stable Roman Empire. She would have spoken of her God.
Having claimed authority over competing rulers, Jesus points out a woman who lives her life under the authority of God. She exhibits at least these traits:
What would it look like if the Lord Jesus were your authority in life? You would love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You will love Him and trust Him with everything you have and everything you are—like this poor woman does.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 12:30:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
106 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
107 Notice the many categories of religious leadership that appear in this lesson’s passage: Chief priest, expert in the law, elder, Pharisee, Herodian, Sadducee.
108 Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 about the rejection of the stone which became the cornerstone. Thus, Jesus switched from the image of the son and tenants to the stone and builders.
109 “Likeness” is literally εἰκων, image.
110 Roughly equivalent to the slogan on U.S. currency, “In God We Trust.”
111 The Roman Empire proved to be a six-hundred year dynasty—perhaps the greatest world power in history.
112 Those in heaven are like angels in heaven, in that they do not marry or procreate. We do not become angels when we die—a common misconception. By mentioning the angels, Jesus was correcting another Sadducee miscalculation: They denied the existence of angels.
Since 9-11, our nation has learned a great deal about preparation—on both a personal and a national level. The Department of Homeland Security has released levels of terrorism anticipation as evidence of their extensive preparation:
1. Low Condition (Green). This condition is declared when there is a low risk of terrorist attacks.
2. Guarded Condition (Blue). This condition is declared when there is a general risk of terrorist attacks.
3. Elevated Condition (Yellow). An Elevated Condition is declared when there is a significant risk of terrorist attacks.
4. High Condition (Orange). A High Condition is declared when there is a high risk of terrorist attacks.
5. Severe Condition (Red). A Severe Condition reflects a severe risk of terrorist attacks.
For every genuine sign of terrorism, however, there are scores of false ones. Two opposite and equally harmful extremes exist among the general population pertaining to preparation for terrorism. The first is complete lack of preparation, to abandon any state of readiness, and to go about our days with the naïve illusion of invulnerability. This was our general condition on September 10th, 2001. The opposite extreme associates virtually anything out-of-the-ordinary with terrorist activity: plane crashes, fires, power outages, car wrecks, milk expiring before expiration date, etc. (you get the point). This was our general condition on September 12th 2001. Balance is necessary.
Just as there are two negative extremes regarding preparation for terrorism, there are also two opposite and equally wrong views Christians can hold on the end times: The first is complete lack of preparation, and failure to give any thought to the return of Christ.
On September 6, 1941 journalist Clarke Beach recorded these words:
“A Japanese attack on Hawaii is regarded as the most unlikely thing in the world, with one chance in a million of being successful. Besides having more powerful defenses than any other post under the American flag, it is protected by distance.”
The opposite extreme interprets too many events as “signs” of the end: earthquakes, the United Nations, the Eurodollar, a meteor shower, near miss of Mars, the internet, flooding, el nino, etc. Balance is called for.
For centuries, well-meaning Christians have spent countless energies attempting to do something the Bible never asks them to do: Predict the end times. Rather, much ink is spilled in Scripture exhorting believers to do one thing pertaining to the end times: Prepare. The nineteen imperatives recorded in Mark 13:5-37, indicate that the passage is not as concerned about revealing signs of the end times as it is with promoting faith and obedience in light of such events. The passage could almost be summarized this way: “You focus on obedience to God and faithfulness, and let God handle the end of the world.”
Furthermore, many have instilled fear in their listeners by wrongly teaching the prophetic and eschatological texts of the Bible. The primary goal of biblical prophecy has never been to evoke fear, but obedience.
This passage is the longest discourse in Mark’s Gospel. It is called the “Olivet Discourse” because it is a discourse that takes place on the Mount of Olives. The message was delivered by Jesus on either Tuesday or Wednesday before His Friday execution. Here, Jesus will predict a far-future event (His return) by comparing it to a near-future event (destruction of the temple).113
13:1 Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look at these tremendous stones and buildings!” 13:2 Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!”
13:3 So while he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 13:4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that all these things are about to take place?” 13:5 Jesus began to say to them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. 13:6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will mislead many. 13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come. 13:8 For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines. These are but the beginning of birthpangs.115
Jesus predicts the destruction of the massive temple in Jerusalem. Josephus, the Jewish historian, compared the temple to a mountain. He said some of its stones measured 25 x 12 x 8 cubits! The temple was destroyed in
When the disciples ask for the sign that will indicate when “these things” will take place, Jesus responds by listing the false signs. In other words, when Jesus is asked about the end, He begins His answer by saying when it will not be. His first comment is to watch out! Yet many over the centuries have ignored this warning. Countless Christians have been misled by false predictions of pinpoint accuracy.
Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth was such a book. According to the New York Times, Lindsay’s book was the number one best-selling non-fiction book in the decade of the 70’s. However, rather than teach believers how to better prepare for the Lord’s coming, Lindsay played the dangerous game of “this is that,” pointing to future people, nations, and events as depicted in biblical prophecy and naming their contemporary fulfillment. The Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain countries favor prominently in this cold war scare novel. Libya, Vietnam, and Iran have more than a little representation.116 Those who found confidence in the accuracy of the Bible because of Lindsay’s pinpoint accuracy must certainly be disillusioned today.
Jesus warns against confidence in identifying modern phenomenon with biblical prediction. We are to wrestle with such deception.
13:9 “You must watch out for yourselves. You will be handed over to councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them. 13:10 First the gospel must be preached to all nations.117 13:11 When they arrest you and hand you over for trial, do not worry about what to speak. But say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.118 13:12 Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death.119 13:13 You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.120
Suffering and persecution do not mean the end has come, although persecution is sure to increase as the end draws near. Jesus’ encouragement to persevere was certainly a challenge that the early readers of Mark’s Gospel understood. Here as much as anywhere Jesus seeks to prepare His followers for the age to come.
And Christian persecution isn’t limited to the early church.
The 20th century was the bloodiest Christian century in history. What does the 21st century hold for us? Will it surpass the 20th century in persecution of Christians? Are we prepared for that contingency?
It is estimated that as many as 160,000 Christians die for their faith each year. Christians die for their faith every day. They are sold into slavery and buried alive in Sudan. They are raped and executed in Central America and the Balkans. They are burned alive, beaten and stoned in India, Indonesia and the East Timor. They are imprisoned and abandoned by their families in the Middle East.
Today violence against Christians is widespread primarily on the continents of Africa and Asia, but Christian persecution exists in every country on the planet every day of the year. When you and I are challenged about our faith, we are to speak boldly by the Spirit in our answer.
13:14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. 13:15 The one on the roof must not come down or enter to take anything out of his house. 13:16 The one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 13:17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 13:18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 13:19 For in those days there will be suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, or ever will happen. 13:20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved. But because of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut them short. 13:21 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe him. 13:22 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the elect. 13:23 Be careful! I have told you everything ahead of time.
What is the “abomination of desolation” (see also Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11)? It seemingly had a partial fulfillment in 167
It will certainly be a terrible day, but Christians are promised that we will be spared from God’s wrath (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9).
13:24 “But in those days, after the suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; 13:25 the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.121 13:26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 13:27 Then he will send angels and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
13:28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree: whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 13:29 So also you, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, right at the door. 13:30 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.122 13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
13:32 “Now about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, except the Father. 13:33 Watch out! Stay alert! For you do not know when the time will come. 13:34 It is like a man going on a journey. He left his house and put his slaves in charge, assigning to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to stay alert. 13:35 Stay alert, then, because you do not know when the owner of the house will come—whether during evening, at midnight, when the rooster crows, or at dawn— 13:36 or else he might find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 13:37 What I say to you I say to all: Stay alert!”
The moral of the story: Be prepared! It is precisely at this point in Matthew’s Gospel that Matthew records Jesus’ parables about preparation (lamps) and stewardship responsibility (talents).
“Drop-in visits” are not as common in today’s culture as they were in the time of our grandparents. It is considered poor etiquette to surprise a friend or neighbor without calling them ahead of time. Although our home is not always perfectly tidy, my wife and I enjoy drop-in guests. Usually we say something like, “I wish I’d known you were coming, and I would have straightened up a little.” The Lord is a drop-in visitor. He promises to drop in unexpectedly; He will not call ahead. Is your house in order? He will not accept excuses. He has warned us in advance that we should be prepared.
Do you experience restlessness, knowing that you are not precisely where God wants you? Do you have in the back of your mind plans to change someday—to begin to pray or to read your Bible or to share your faith or to attend church more regularly? Are you ready to give an account today? Sixty-two percent of Americans claim to believe that Jesus is coming back; I wonder how many of them are prepared for His return.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 13:35:
13:35 Stay alert, then, because you do not know when the owner of the house will come—whether during evening, at midnight, when the rooster crows, or at dawn.
113 Pay attention to the Greek word for “watch” or “look” (13:2, 5, 9, 23, 33). Also, 13:34, 35, 37 each use the Greek word meaning “watch” or “beware” that Jesus later uses for His disciples at Gethsemane.
114 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
115 Mark 13:7-8 suggest that the end is still a long way off. Jesus claims that the future unfolding of many severe events will be only the beginning of birth pangs—a common symbol of a coming monumental event.
116 I can’t help but wonder what countries Lindsay would identify if he produced a sequel today: Iraq, Afghanistan, China, North Korea?
117 A common misunderstanding about end times—even in Bible-teaching churches—pertains to the preaching of the Gospel to all nations. Many believe that Jesus cannot return until the Gospel is preached to every living soul. Some seek to bring about the return of Christ by preaching to every soul—as if Jesus will immediately return the very moment that last person hears the Gospel. Note the interesting difference between Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14.
118 Many find the fulfillment of this prediction in Acts 4:8ff.
119 Mark 13:9b-13 finds it parallel in Matthew 10:17-22, instead of in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse (24-25).
120 He is also not teaching that endurance is a necessary prerequisite to salvation, but that you will know those who have truly been saved because they will still be standing after persecution. This is especially important to Mark’s original reader—Christians persecuted by the Romans. Remember the purpose of the Gospel—it is a lasting response Mark is attempting to evoke.
121 Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 are in view with the celestial bodies.
122 Jesus promises that “this generation” will not pass away until all these things take place. Yet then He claims to not know the day or the hour. This suggests to me that “this generation” is a broader designation than merely those alive at the time.
My daughters are not only beautiful, but they are proving to be exceptionally smart. The other day my wife and I took our girls out to eat at the type of restaurant that features those small paper ketchup cups that you fill at the dispenser. While we sat waiting for our food, I began to play a game with our nine-month-old. I hid a cheerio (her absolute favorite food) beneath one of two upside-down empty ketchup cups and, after showing her where the cheerio was, I challenged her to pick which one covered the cheerio. Imagine my delight when she successfully passed the test, lifting the appropriate ketchup cup and revealing the cheerio beneath it. For a moment, I knew I was in the presence of genius. The moment ended, however, when my brilliant daughter began to eat the paper ketchup cup rather than the cheerio.
I love tests. I did fairly well in college and graduate school because I am by-and-large a good test taker. As a teacher, my students did not appreciate my affinity toward tests since they were the benefactors of my affection. Are you a good test-taker?
I believe that you and I undergo occasional tests that are custom made for us by God Himself. Are you a good test-taker? God tests us to reveal our true character, primarily so that you and I can realize our weaknesses and those areas of our character that still need desperate work.
In this lesson of Mark, the disciples undergo four tests, and they fail each of them. If the Gospel of Mark was written to evoke a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus, this chapter teaches us how the disciples respond when the heat is turned up. Remember to pay particular attention to the responses of those witnessing the action in this story. Mark enjoys painting the overall scene for his reader.
Let’s look at the disciples’ four tests:
14:1 Two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the chief priests and the experts in the law were trying124 to find a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 14:2 For they said, “Not during the feast, so there won’t be a riot among the people.”
14:3 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of costly aromatic oil from pure nard. After breaking open the jar, she poured it on his head. 14:4 But some who were present indignantly said to one another, “Why this waste of expensive ointment? 14:5 It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” So they spoke angrily to her. 14:6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a good service for me. 14:7 For you will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want. But you will not always have me. 14:8 She did what she could. She anointed my body beforehand for burial.125 14:9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
14:10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus into their hands. 14:11 When they heard this, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him.
This bottle of costly oil was worth about a year’s wages. That’s a lot of money to pour out! I’ve often read this story and reacted with these onlookers: What a waste! How much good could have been accomplished if only the oil had been sold and the money properly budgeted? In fact, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that those who were disgruntled about the seeming waste were the disciples themselves (26:8).
Judas Iscariot was the designated treasurer of the Twelve and Jesus, according to John’s Gospel. The record of his betrayal of Jesus immediately follows the incident of the “wasted” perfume in Mark and Matthew, leading many to conclude that the two were related incidents. He, representing the disciples’ misplaced priorities, was overly financially minded. And they all failed to realize a person of Jesus’ true stature deserved more than flavored water. The God-man was worthy of even more than this expensive oil.
This unnamed woman responded appropriately to the true identity of Jesus, though His closest followers did not. She alone passed the test of her priorities. She was preoccupied with Jesus alone, evidenced by her eagerness to sacrifice such a valuable commodity for Him.
There are many good things vying for our preoccupation. The disciples were preoccupied with the poor, wanting to sell the oil and care for the poor with the proceeds. What good things threaten to steal your preoccupation away from your Lord? Are you preoccupied with the poor? Your family? Education? Evangelism? The Bible? These are all very good things, but, as Christians, we have only one top priority: the Lord Jesus Christ. Preoccupation with anything else indicates that our priorities, like those of the disciples, need rearranging.
14:12 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 14:13 He sent two of his disciples126 and told them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14:14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 14:15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 14:16 So the disciples left, went into the city, and found things just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
14:17 Then, when it was evening, he came to the house with the twelve. 14:18 While they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me will betray me.” 14:19 They were distressed, and one by one said to him, “Surely not I?” 14:20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips his hand with me into the bowl. 14:21 For the Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.”
14:22 While they were eating, he took bread, and after giving thanks127 he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it. This is my body.” 14:23 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 14:24 He said to them, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many. 14:25 I tell you the truth, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 14:26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
14:27 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’128
14:28 But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 14:29 Peter said to him, “Even if they all fall away, I will not!” 14:30 Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today—this very night—before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 14:31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” And all of them said the same thing.
In this passage, Jesus and the disciples celebrate the Last Supper. The Last Supper is a celebration of the Passover, which involved a sacrifice of blood so that the Lord would not pour out His wrath. The Lord’s Supper or Communion is a commemoration of the Last Supper. In some traditions, the Lord’s Supper or Communion is sometimes labeled “Eucharist,” derived from Jesus’ offering of “thanks” (Greek, εὐχαριστέω ) in Mark 14:23. Tradition has it that the Last Supper was hosted in the home of Mark’s father.
Dipping the hand in the bowl (v. 20) was like an appetizer—it took place before the meal itself. In this first century Jewish culture, those you ate with were regarded as your closest friends. Jesus was claiming that someone allegedly very close to Him would betray Him.
Four cups were imbibed at the traditional Passover meal, each representing a different aspect of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. The cup mentioned in our text was the third cup of the meal. Exodus 6:6-7 gives the four-fold outline for the four cups:
a. “I will bring you out”
b. “I will rid you of bondage”
c. “I will redeem you”
d. “I will take you for my people and I will be your God.”
After singing a hymn, the group retires outside, where Jesus claims that all will “fall away” (Greek, σκανδαλίζω, meaning they will desert Him because they are offended by Him; see Mark 4:17; 6:3; 9:42-47). The essential meaning, virtually every time this word is used in the New Testament, is that something happens that negatively affects one’s walk with Christ, or reveals that there was no relationship to begin with. It is the same word used in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 on how to carefully handle your weaker brother so as not to cause him to stumble. With a scandal, we are offended and refuse to participate.
Peter takes issue with Jesus’ prediction. Peter’s pride blinded him from recognizing that Jesus was telling the truth. Jesus perfectly foresaw that Peter and John would find the arrangements for the Passover meal. Jesus had been right in everything He had foretold to this point. Peter had no reason to doubt Him, but his pride got in the way. You’re right Peter. You will not deny me once; you will deny me three times. Probably, Peter thought that remaining with Jesus and not denying Him meant fighting for Him. Peter was ready to fight, but certainly not willing to be arrested. Previously, Peter refused to believe Jesus when Jesus told Peter that He would be killed. Here Peter once again mistrusts Jesus when he is told that he would fall away. You’d think he would learn. But he failed the test of overconfidence. In the previous test, they didn’t know Jesus; here they don’t know themselves.
Why do you think the Last Supper is couched immediately between Jesus’ predictions of betrayal and abandonment by the disciples? What is the relationship? Jesus’ sacrifice—symbolized in the Passover meal—is the solution to their problem of falling away. In fact, Mark 14:28 is a verse of ultimate forgiveness. Just as Jesus had predicted that all would fall away, with this verse He predicts that He will reunite with His deniers after He is raised from the dead.
When it comes to trusting in God or yourself, which will you choose?
14:32 Then they went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 14:33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and became very troubled and distressed. 14:34 He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay alert.” 14:35 Going a little farther, he threw himself to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour would pass from him. 14:36 He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 14:37 Then he came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake for one hour? 14:38 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 14:39 He went away again and prayed the same thing. 14:40 When he came again he found them sleeping; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to tell him. 14:41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough of that! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 14:42 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching!”
As hard as it was going to be, Jesus was thoroughly prepared to obey the will of the Father. Let’s contrast this with the behavior of His disciples.
Jesus knows that it is impossible to cram for this type of a test. He knew He had to prepare beforehand. The disciples, on the other hand, were remiss in their preparation. The greatest test of their lives would take place the next day, and they could not stay up to prepare.
Cramming for tests can sometimes prove helpful in the short run, but dangerous in the long run. In college, I would occassionally stay up all night and cram for the next day’s test. Sometimes I would actually do well, but in the long run I would forget virtually everything I’d learned during those wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, I was not a premed student! Imagine a medical student who crams for their tests and medical boards but forgets most information in the long run! The disciples fail their test of preparation, and they all fall away the following day.
14:43 Right away, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him came a crowd armed with swords and clubs, and sent by the chief priests and experts in the law and elders. 14:44 (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him and lead him away under guard.”) 14:45 When Judas came, he went to Jesus immediately and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 14:46 Then they took hold of him and arrested him. 14:47 One of the bystanders drew his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. 14:48 Jesus said to them, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like you would an outlaw? 14:49 Day after day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me. But this has happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled.” 14:50 Then all the disciples left him and fled. 14:51 A young man was following him, wearing only a linen cloth. They tried to arrest him, 14:52 but he ran off naked, leaving his linen cloth behind.129
Peter (according to John 18:10) pulls his sword in an effort to defend Jesus. However, his demeanor changes when he learns that Jesus is going to go peacefully. Peter is willing to fight for Jesus, but he is not willing to go to trial for him.
Notice the contrast between the beginning of this section and the end. At the beginning, the disciples were confident by His side, enjoying a meal without a care in the world. At the end, Jesus is alone.
Even though they maintained the best of intentions, when put to the test every last disciple abandoned Jesus. What would it take for you to fall away (Greek, σκανδαλίζω, “scandalize”) from Jesus? A “scandal” is an offensive thing in which we refuse to participate. What are you unwilling to do for God? What area of weakness would prevent you from persevering in your faith and finishing strong? Fear, pride, lust, greed, money?
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 14:27:
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’”
123 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
124 The verb here is an iterative imperfect, meaning the religious leaders “kept trying” to find a way to apprehend Jesus. The religious leaders did not want to apprehend Jesus publicly because the crowd thought that He—like John (11:32)—was a prophet.
125 This is the second time in Jesus’ public ministry that He is anointed. The first was an act of worship; this one is in preparation for His death.
126 Just like He sent the two to locate for Him a fowl for the Triumphal Entry, now He sends two (Peter and John; see Luke 22:8) to make arrangements for the Passover meal. They noticed the “sign”—a man did not customarily carry water jars, only women.
127 The better translation in 14:22 is “blessed” not “gave thanks.”
128 A quotation from Zechariah 13:7.
129 Tradition has it that the young man who fled naked was Mark.
This lesson features the climactic moments in the Gospel of Mark: The crucifixion of Jesus. We will also learn the message of the Gospel in three words (sin, substitution, and faith), as demonstrated by three figures that Jesus encounters in this passage. Perhaps a review of Passion Week would be helpful at this time. Passion Week began when Jesus entered Jerusalem (the Triumphal Entry) exactly one week before His resurrection. This Sunday has traditionally been called Palm Sunday, so named for the palm branches spread out before our entering Lord. On Monday of Passion Week Jesus entered the temple and cleansed it. On Tuesday or Wednesday of Passion Week Jesus delivered the Olivet Discourse. On Thursday the events of the Last Supper, Gethsemane, betrayal, arrest, and abandonment all took place. Today’s passage records the dark events of Friday of Passion Week, beginning in the wee hours of the morning.
Mark enjoys describing individuals who encounter Jesus. In this lesson, three such encounters will be highlighted. One person had known Jesus for more than three years; one never met Jesus, but nevertheless benefited from His death; one responded perfectly to Jesus after his first encounter with Him.
14:53 Then they led Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests and elders and experts in the law came together. 14:54 And Peter had followed him from a distance, up to the courtyard of the high priest. He was sitting with the guards and warming himself by the fire. 14:55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find anything. 14:56 Many gave false testimony against him, but their testimony did not agree. 14:57 Some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 14:58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days build another not made with hands.’” 14:59 Yet even on this point their testimony did not agree. 14:60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” 14:61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 14:62 “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 14:63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 14:64 You have heard the blasphemy! What is your verdict?” They all condemned him as deserving death. 14:65 Then some began to spit on him, and to blindfold him, and strike him with their fists, saying, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him and beat him.
14:66 Now while Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the high priest’s slave girls came by. 14:67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked directly at him and said, “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus.” 14:68 But he denied it: “I don’t even understand what you’re talking about.” Then he went out to the gateway, and a rooster crowed. 14:69 When the slave girl saw him, she began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 14:70 But he denied it again. A short time later the bystanders again said to Peter, “You must be one of them, because you are also a Galilean.” 14:71 Then he began to curse, and he swore with an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 14:72 Immediately the rooster crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Two witnesses were required for capital punishment, according to Numbers 35:30 and Deuteronomy 17:6. Those who accused Jesus of claiming He would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days were perhaps misunderstanding Jesus’ statement in John 2:19 (mixed with Mark 13:2). Otherwise, Jesus never claimed to do such a thing.
Jesus had two trials, a religious one and a civil one. The religious one was overseen by Annas, then Caiaphas; the civil one by Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again (Luke 23:6-12). Jesus had by-and-large veiled His messiahship until now. He first responds with “I am,” but then lets them have it with a very bold—and obvious—claim to messiahship (v. 62; note especially the reaction of the Jewish leadership).
Apparently, Jesus and Peter were both undergoing interrogation. “Following” Jesus has been a recurring theme in Mark’s Gospel.
Those who “follow” (ἀκολουθέω) Jesus in Mark’s Gospel:
For the first time, however, someone is following Jesus “from a distance.”131 Sure, the literal meaning suggests a physical distance between Peter and the one he was following, but the notion of “following” in Mark’s Gospel almost always means more than merely walking behind someone. It suggests loyalty and allegiance. Peter was still following Jesus, but he want to distance himself from Jesus to ensure that he was safe from the danger. Notice what happens to Peter because he has permitted distance to develop in his relationship with Jesus. He denies his Lord . . . three times. He thought he was protected from the danger, but found that more danger lurks when distance separates us from the Lord. Does distance exist in your relationship with Christ?
15:1 Early in the morning, after forming a plan, the chief priests with the elders and the experts in the law and the whole Sanhedrin tied Jesus up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 15:2 So Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He replied, “You say so.” 15:3 Then the chief priests began to accuse him repeatedly. 15:4 So Pilate asked him again, “Have you nothing to say? See how many charges they are bringing against you!” 15:5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
15:6 During the feast it was customary to release one prisoner to the people, whomever they requested. 15:7 A man named Barabbas was imprisoned with rebels who had committed murder during an insurrection. 15:8 Then the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to release a prisoner for them, as was his custom. 15:9 So Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?” 15:10 (For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy.) 15:11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas instead. 15:12 So Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?” 15:13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 15:14 Pilate asked them, “Why? What has he done wrong?” But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!” 15:15 Because he wanted to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them. Then after he had Jesus flogged he handed him over to be crucified.
15:16 So the soldiers led him into the palace (that is, the governor’s residence) and called together the whole cohort. 15:17 They put a purple cloak on him and after braiding a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 15:18 They began to salute him: “Hail, king of the Jews!” 15:19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Then they knelt down and paid homage to him. 15:20 When they had finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Who are Pilate and Herod? Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea (
They chose to release Barabbas over Jesus. I find it ironic that when Jesus proved to be a different type of Savior than they wanted, they chose to replace Him with one who was what they wanted—a political insurrectionist. Many thought Jesus, as the Messiah, would lead a revolt and conquer Rome; Barabbas had done just that. Do you serve the Christ who is or the Christ you want?
Flogging was not necessarily a part of crucifixion. Pilate was probably trying to disuade the crowd from crucifying Jesus (John 19:4-5). When they persisted, though, he had no choice.
Mark 15:16 describes the whole cohort, which comprised hundreds of soldiers. They struck him on the head with the staff after they had placed the crown of thorns on his head. Mockery ensued, beatings, etc. The crucifixion of Jesus was a lengthy, painful process, not a point in time. Perhaps the most painful part of the episode was their kneeling before Jesus in mockery, though it certainly foreshaddowed everyone’s kneeling before Him one day (Phil. 2:10-11).
Mark’s details pertaining to Barabbas paint a vivid picture of what Jesus did for you and me. Barabbas had been judged and legally condemned. Barabbas was guilty. Barabbas deserved death. Barabbas could do nothing to free himself. Jesus took the place of Barabbas and died on Barabbas’ cross. Barabbas was released. I am Barabbas.
15:21 The soldiers drafted a passer-by to carry his cross, a man coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 15:22 They brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which is translated, “Place of the Skull”). 15:23 They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.132 15:24 Then they crucified him and divided his clothes, throwing dice for them, to decide what each would take. 15:25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 15:26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The king of the Jews.” 15:27 And they crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left. 15:29 Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 15:30 save yourself and come down from the cross!” 15:31 In the same way even the chief priests—together with the experts in the law—were mocking him among themselves: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! 15:32 Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him.
15:33 Now when it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 15:34 Around three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 15:35 When some of the bystanders heard it they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah!” 15:36 Then someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down!” 15:37 But Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last. 15:38 And the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. 15:39 Now when the centurion, who stood in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 15:40 There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 15:41 When he was in Galilee, they had followed him and given him support. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were there too.
Note the brevity in the passage—“And they crucified him.” The event that all of history hinges on is given only cursory treatment. It is almost too sacred to elaborate upon; or too sacrilegious to consider that the second person of the Trinity was undergoing such cruelty. What they witnessed on the cross was a complete contradiction; it blew all of their categories. By definition, the Messiah was the furthest thing from a crucified criminal.
Mark records only one of Jesus’ seven sayings from the cross. He quoted the first verse of Psalm twenty-two (much of this Psalm is victorious, leading some to speculate that perhaps He quoted the rest of the Psalm the moment He arose).
Mark customarily records an act or saying of Jesus, and then pans the audience to record their responses. Here, he merely records that Jesus was crucified, then he pans the crowd to record the response of the soldiers (15:24), the passers-by (15:29-30), the chief priests and experts in the Law (15:31-32), the criminals with Jesus (15:32), bystanders (15:35-36), the righteous centurion (15:39), and the women (15:40-41). He gets everyone’s response.
The Centurion is one of only a handful of people in the Gospel of Mark that respond appropriately to Jesus. A Centurion in the Roman army has charge of one hundred soldiers.
In Mark, the right response to Jesus is described in the very first verse: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The Centurion nailed it. And the Gospel demands such a response of faith every day. We exercise faith in the Gospel the first time for salvation, but every day after that we must walk by faith.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 15:39:
15:39 Now when the centurion, who stood in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
130 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
131 It was Peter who followed Jesus at a distance. Though, according to John 18:15-16, another disciple accompanied Peter.
132 Jesus refused a mixture that would have deadened the pain.
In the days before modern harbors, a ship was forced to wait for the flood tide before it could make it to port. The term for this situation in Latin was ob portus (ob, toward; portus, port), that is, a ship would approach its port and wait for the moment when it could ride the turn of the tide to harbor.
The English word opportunity was originally derived from this term. The captain and the crew were ready and waiting for that one moment, for they knew that if they missed it they would have to wait for another tide to come in. Shakespeare turned this background of the exact meaning of opportunity into one of his most famous passages. It’s from Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Before finishing his story, Mark wants to provide his reader with three very simple but important truths, and one very important opportunity.
15:42 Now when evening had already come, since it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath), 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea, a highly regarded member of the council,134 who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 15:44 Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him if he had been dead for some time. 15:45 When Pilate was informed by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 15:46 After Joseph bought a linen cloth and took down the body, he wrapped it in the linen and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone across the entrance of the tomb. 15:47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed.
Friday of Passion Week (or Holy Week) was preparation day, and the Sabbath traditionally began at sundown on Friday.
One should always ask when approaching a text of Scripture, “Why is this text here?” This passage exists simply to highlight that Jesus was truly dead—not mostly dead, not dead tired, not even just critically wounded, but dead. Five different proofs are given here that Jesus was in fact dead (the other Gospels include more):
There is a humorous story of a lawyer questioning a doctor on the witness stand:
Lawyer: “Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?”
Lawyer: “Did you check for blood pressure?”
Lawyer: “Did you check for breathing?”
Lawyer: “So, it is possible that the patient was still alive when you began the autopsy?”
Lawyer: “How can you be so sure, Doctor?”
Doctor: “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.”
Lawyer: “But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?”
Doctor: “Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere . . . ”
Jesus was dead. No one who saw Him questioned this fact. As was customary, Jesus’ body was supposed to remain in the tomb for one year and one day, after which His bones would be collected and placed in a small stone box called an ossuary.
16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him.135 16:2 And very early on the first day of the week, at sunrise, they went to the tomb.136 16:3 They had been asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 16:4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back. 16:5 Then as they went into the tomb, they saw a young man137 dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 16:6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. 16:7 But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”
These three women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. In fact they were commissioned to go and tell the disciples, who had apparently not collected their courage after “falling away.” But who were these women? Let’s take a closer look at them.
The purpose of the aromatic spices was not to preserve the body; Jews did not practice embalming. It was designed to reduce the stench of decay and, perhaps, served as a gesture of worship (in this instance).
“He is risen” (Greek, ἠγέρθη). He has conquered; He is victorious. Mark juxtaposes two words in Greek to drive home the point: “the one who was crucified” (one word in Greek) is followed immediately by “he was raised” (also one word).
All four Gospels include the resurrection; it was an historical event that serves as the height of each Gospel. Just as Jesus was really dead, now He was really alive again.
Some theorize that a literal, physical resurrection did not take place. Over the centuries, great men of understanding have sought other plausible solutions to the empty tomb. Let’s consider some of these “empty explanations” and why they fall short of the facts:
1. Jesus’ Body was stolen by his disciples. This is the oldest false explanation for the empty tomb known to exist. In fact, this explanation began almost immediately (Matthew 28:11-15). Could it be true? Sure. It’s possible. But would the disciples have died (knowingly) for a lie that they themselves began and perpetuated? It seems unlikely.
2. Jesus’ Body was stolen by his enemies. The first question that comes to my mind is why the Jewish leadership would want the body in the first place. For them, the headache ended the moment Jesus’ heart stopped beating. Besides, if they did know the location of the body of Jesus, wouldn’t they have produced it when Jerusalem began believing en mass (Acts 4:1-12 would have been a great time to produce a dead body)?
3. The women, and subsequently everyone else, went to the wrong tomb. Again, possible but highly unlikely. The women had followed Joseph and Nicodemus and watched where Jesus was laid in the tomb. Besides, if the women had been confused, wouldn’t the right tomb have been found and the body produced by someone when Jerusalem began believing?
4. Jesus did not die on the cross, but merely swooned. Again, several eyewitnesses concluded that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44-47). No one thought to call in a doctor after Jesus was taken down from the cross; nor was a doctor called when Jesus appeared to the disciples on Sunday evening following His resurrection. If He had been alive on the cross before they took Him down, He certainly didn’t survive the spear in the side that pierced his pericardial sac around His heart spilling out water mixed with blood. The spear was administered to ensure He was no longer living (see John 19:33-34).
5. Jesus’ Body was devoured by wild animals. Romans placed a large stone in front of grave openings to prevent wild animals and grave robbers from entering the tomb. Jesus’ tomb was protected by such a stone.
The tomb was really empty, and the best explanation is the one reported by eye witnesses. This Jesus, who had truly been dead, was now truly alive and surprisingly in great condition.
16:8 Then they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
And there the story ends. The Gospel of Mark ends in open-ended fashion, at v. 8. Later manuscripts exhibit scribal tendencies to smooth out the abrupt ending of Mark by adding extra verses. These extra verses contain “happy endings,” where Jesus appears to the emboldened disciples and commissions them. However, the earliest and best manuscripts end abruptly with v. 8. The earliest and best biblical manuscripts do not contain 16:9-20, and the style and vocabulary of this section are not characteristic of Mark’s Gospel. Thus, Mark probably finished his Gospel with verse eight. Due to the abrupt nature of this ending, however, well-meaning scribes appended the Gospel with an exciting (though fabricated) conclusion and commission by the risen Lord (similar to the other Gospels). Of course, the story doesn’t end there. These witnesses eventually did tell the disciples and the disciples did tell the world (as the other Gospels rightly explain).
Why would Mark end his Gospel so abruptly? It is a literary device designed to involve the reader to the highest degree. The reader is left to complete the story with his own response to this Gospel. Remember, the Gospel of Mark was written to evoke a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus. We’ve examined dozens of responses to Jesus over the last several weeks. Mark leaves the story open-ended for the reader to enter the picture and take over where Mark leaves off. It’s now our turn to participate. This is our opportunity. What will we do with this story? What will we do with Jesus?
The Gospel of Mark was written to evoke a lasting response to the true identity of Jesus. What’s your response? You and I have the awesome privilege and responsibility to fill in the remainder of the chapter. As I see it, we have three choices: Reject Jesus, Embrace Jesus, or Ignore Jesus in hopes that he’ll go away.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 16:6:
But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him.”
133 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
134 If Joseph was a member of the “Council” (i.e., the Sanhedrin), then didn’t he vote for Jesus’ execution (cf. 14:53, 55, 64)? Not necessarily (see Luke 23:51). By requesting Jesus’ body, Joseph was aligning himself with this dead Messiah.
135 This verse describes Saturday’s events (though after sundown, so technically Sunday for the Jew). Since this was after sunset on the Sabbath, they were permitted to engage in commerce. Also on Saturday—according to Matthew 27:62-66—the stone was sealed and a guard was placed at the tomb.
136 Pay careful attention to the time of the event. I’ve always found it interesting that Jesus arose at the first hour He could, while still remaining faithful to prophecy. The third day was Sunday. He could have arisen any time on Sunday, but as though death could hold Him no longer, it happened very early in the morning—BEFORE the women arrived.
137 This “young man” dressed in white clothes is an angel, according to Matthew 28:2.