Tag Archives: #gospel

Bible studies in Mark

Each Monday, we have been working out way through the gospel of Mark. You can follow along each week or jump in and out. You can read it like a devotional or work through it with me. You can post any comments you like and ask questions – this study allows us to create an online community!

Each blog is a stand alone piece but you can also follow the whole series. If you miss any, here’s where you can find all the studies to date (just click the week number and it will take you straight there!):

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  9. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)
  10. Week 10: Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)
  11. Week 11: The only person who could save her was him (Mark 5:21-43)
  12. Week 12: Misunderstood, disrespected, unloved, written off (Mark 6:1-13)
  13. Week 13: How can something be a tragedy and a triumph (Mark 6:14-29)
  14. Week 14: I admit it, I want to be led, but not by anyone (Mark 6:30-56)
  15. Week 15: In the mess of the world, how can I feel clean (Mark 7:1-23)
  16. Week 16: Ever felt like a nobody? (Mark 7:24-30)
  17. Week 17: Loved, freed and given a voice (Mark 7:31-37)
  18. Week 18It’s not the the ends of the banner that are important – it’s what it says in between (Mark 8:1-13)
  19. Week 19: Sometimes the disciples remind me of my kids when they’re being really annoying (Mark 8:14-21)
  20. Week 20: I am the most unlikely Christian. But aren’t we all? (Mark 8:22-26)
  21. Week 21: The choice that affects your life here and your eternity. I know what I choose (Mark 8:27-9:1)
  22. Week 22: If God is real, why hasn’t he shown himself? (Mark 9:1-13)

Misunderstood, disrespected, unloved, written off (Mark 6:1-13)

We want to be seen – to be really understood. We want to be valued, without conditions, without hesitations. No “ifs” and no “buts”. We don’t want to be left with the idea that people are thinking “I like you but you’re kind of selfish and annoying” or “I would respect you more if you were closer to my idea of godly”. We want to be accepted by the people around us as we are. Sure, we all have rough edges and sinful areas that we need to be working on, but generally we would like people to accept us, love us and walk with us.

At the root of this is a difference in how people see you and how you understand yourself. People seem to understand us based on their understanding of the facts, or their judgement of the truth, or how they would have react in life, or working to a set of expectations that are theirs but not yours.

See the pattern? People are self-centric. They primarily see the world from their own point of view. This is natural and normal. The problem occurs when this is all they can see. It means that you can be misunderstood and then treated without value, without respect, without love and eventually, just written off.

This is a horrible feeling. What averts this is empathy, kindness and humility. We can all do better imagining where the other person is at and treating them with grace instead of judgement.

Now imagine the person who is lacking understanding, respect and love is Jesus – actual God. In Mark 6:1 Jesus and his disciples head to Jesus’ hometown. Remember, they have just come from healing massive amounts of people and even raising them from the dead. He starts to teach in the synagogue and “many who heard him were amazed” (6:2). The Greek word here for “amazed” is exeplēssonto is utter astonishment, even with a little hint of panic. They ask a rapid fire of six questions – the first three and the second three are starkly different:

  • First set of three:
    • Where did this man get these things?
    • What’s this wisdom that has been given him?
    • What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?
  • Second set of three:
    • Isn’t this the carpenter?
    • Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? 
    • Aren’t his sisters here with us?

The questions end with “And they took offense at him.” So amazement has turned to offense. What has happened here? “Offense” is eskandalizonto and relates to seeing in someone else something you disapprove of and which stops you from accepting them or what they say – its more than just being offended. These people are self-centric. That initial sense of fear-underpinned amazement turns to attack. Isn’t he a nobody?

Jesus notes that “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town” (verse 4). It’s interesting Jesus identifies himself as a prophet – in this gospel he usually self identifies with more Messianic terms. But here, he is saying they are rejecting him and the message he bears. We also know from Old Testament prophets what happens when God’s message is rejected. Judgement comes. This is a strong connection for Jesus to make.

They misunderstand and write off the man but concurrently that means a rejection of the message. The man and the message are the same thing. Rejecting either is a rejection of both – and will lead to judgement.

Is Jesus angry with them? Strangely not. He wonders as their unbelief. In some translations, this is rendered as “amazed” as well but the original Greek is a different word and gives a sense of confusion – a sad scratch your head moment, rather than deep astonishment.

And does Jesus give up? Of course not. He goes on teaching from village to village. And he sends out his disciples in twos (two witnesses are required to substantiate a testimony). And he instructs them: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (vv8-11)

His instructions reveal two things: First, he instructs them to rely on God. They are to take nothing. Second, it instructs them to do what Jesus evidently did in response to the people in his hometown – he left that place. It doesn’t describe his feelings about it. If it was me I can imagine my feelings being rather petty “Screw you guys then….grumble grumble grumble….”

But what we do see here is the humanity of Jesus. He experienced something that we know well. He was written off by people who made assumptions about him. He was disrespected by them. They looked down on him. He was de-valued not because of anything he had done but on the basis of what people assumed about him, his message and his motivations.

Oh yes, we know this. What this means is that Jesus has experienced what we face. It means he understands our struggle, understands our fear, understands our pain.

He knows us. Not only can we learn from him and follow him, our Lord and saviour and treasure, we can have faith in him and his ability to know us down to our very deepest thoughts.

 

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  9. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)
  10. Week 10: Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)
  11. Week 11: The only person who could save her was him (Mark 5:21-43)

The only person who could save her was him (Mark 5:21-43)

Sometimes it seems impossibly hard to be a woman. I have no doubt that its hard to be a man too – but I can only speak for those females among us. For us females, it can feel like an up hill climb all the way sometimes. We have uniquely female medical issues – which are never dignified. We have hormonal fluctuations and emotional swings (that aren’t even hormonal). We have anxieties and paranoias, we have hidden fears and brooding worries that we are, or will, or have, failed. And we carry on. Even when we feel like we are a complete outsider. Even when we feel like we are completely alone. Even when we feel like life will never get any better. We carry on.

Maybe this is you. Maybe you where a face to make everyone think you’re doing fine,  but on the inside you’re wracked with doubt and pain. Or maybe it’s been weeks, months, even years, and you feel like you just can’t get things to go right. You’ve tried, you’ve fought, you’ve endured, but the battles you’re fighting are on every front and feels like its never going to end. And maybe this follows you to church. You sing the songs, you pray the prayers, you listen to the sermon, but you just feel somehow separate to everyone else.

One of the characters in today’s passage was completely separated.

In Mark 5:21, we see Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee again into Jewish territory and as the crowds press around him, a synagogue leader called Jairus pleads with Jesus to come and save his dying daughter. On the way, Jesus has an encounter with a woman:

“A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” (Mark 5:24-29)

This story is in the gospels of Matthew and Luke also, but Mark provides the most insights into the woman. Even so, we get precious little about her. We don’t know her name, her situation or even her specific medical condition. What we do know is that she has been bleeding for 12 years and, under the Levitical laws, that means that she has been ceremonially unclean for all that time:

“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Anyone who touches them will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15:25-27)

What we need to remember is that all purity laws (male and female) were linked to the temple system – what that means is that the temple, the priests, temple gifts and so on had to be guarded from ritual impurity. Nothing tainted by impurity could be offered up in the presence of God. Just touching, or being touched by, someone who was unclean, communicated the impurity to the other person.

And as an unclean person, you had to keep away. Its interesting that the Hebrew word for “menstruation” here is niddatah, which has as its root ndh, a word meaning “separation”. An unclean person could not go to temple, and couldn’t really be around other people in case of making them unclean and they would have to be purified.

So this woman must have been lonely – and paranoid. Given the separation from people and temple, her condition must have been very public. Everyone would know. Nobody would want to touch her or be near her. She was an outsider (ceremonially speaking), and would have been made to feel like an outsider in every other cultural and social way.

On top of that, physically she must have been supremely debilitated. Bleeding constantly for 12 years. And without modern hygiene products or pain killers. She may have experienced anemia, dizziness and a number of other physical ailments. She must have been exhausted, depressed and emotionally drained.

The gospel says she had suffered greatly at the hands of various doctors and instead of getting better, had got worse. To give us an idea, Adam Clarke’s 19th Century Commentary on the New Testament quotes 17th century Dr Lightfoot who had studied the medical machinations of 2nd Century Rabbi Jochanan.* What Rabbi Jochanan outlined was a series of treatments (if you can call them that) for just such a complaint:

  1. Take of gum Alexandria, of alum, and of crocus hortensis, the weight of a zuzee each; let them be bruised together, and given in wine to the woman that hath an issue of blood. But should this fail:
  2. Take of Persian onions nine logs, boil them in wine, and give it to her to drink: and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this fail:
  3. Set her in a place where two ways meet, and let her hold a cup of wine in her hand; and let somebody come behind and affright her, and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this do no good:
  4. Take a handful of cummin and a handful of crocus, and a handful of faenu-greek; let these be boiled, and given her to drink, and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this also fail:
  5. Dig seven trenches, and burn in them some cuttings of vines not yet circumcised (vines not four years old); and let her take in her hand a cup of wine, and let her be led from this trench and set down over that, and let her be removed from that, and set down over another: and in each removal say unto her, Arise from thy flux.

And apparently there were many others to try if this last one didn’t work either!

Can you imagine? On top of the physical, emotional and mental burden, she had been poked and prodded and no doubt with each prospective cure, her hopes had been raised. And yet, the Bible tells us, she got worse.

And then she hears about a man who can heal.

She doesn’t even approach him face to face. Shame? Possibly. After 12 years of being an outcast I can imagine she’d want to remain as invisible as possible. Of course Jesus realises he’s been touched.

Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”” (Mark 5:33-34)

This is such a beautiful scene. He could have turned round and called her out for touching him – for making him unclean too. But he doesn’t even mention it. Elsewhere in Mark we have seen Jesus changing the understanding of the old covenant law (the sabbath laws in chapter 2 and later food laws in chapter 7). His refusal to rebuke her – his complete lack of attention to purity laws in fact – is a stunning omission here. And this was liberating, for all Jews and particularly women.

Whats also interesting here is the Greek word for “healed” here is the same as “saved”. This is complete restoration. Complete. Restoration.

Who else could give her that?

Who else could give us that?

The doctors could not heal her. The purity laws could not save her. Only Jesus could heal her. Only Jesus could save her. Only Jesus could give her her life back.

Just after this, Jesus completes his journey to Jairus the synagogue leaders house. Jairus’ daughter has died. But Jesus brings her back to life. He gives her her life back.

Who else could give her that but God?

Who else could give us that but him?

I’m not saying everything in our lives will miraculously get better. I’m saying Jesus sees us, saves us and restores us. In the middle of our mess, Jesus restores us. And we follow. We follow because he saved us first. He loved us first.

When you feel exhausted and disappointed and frustrated and hurt and betrayed and confused, when the rest of the world feels relentlessly difficult, the one safe place we have is in him. We are cleansed in him. We are perfected in him. We can find our peace in him.

 

* https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/mark-5.html

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  9. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)
  10. Week 10: Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)

 

 

Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)

Sometimes to me, the concept of “Jesus loves you” can feel a bit impersonal. It’s not an impersonal concept of course, but there can be something in us that stops us from thinking it applies individually and personally to ourselves. We might understand it intellectually – I understand that Jesus loves us as a group, enough to die for us even. But I find it harder to apply the concept to myself personally. Jesus loves me? With all my issues and sins and general losing-at-lifeness?

If this is you too, I feel you. I know it because the Bible tells me. But I find it hard to believe it because I know me.

But what today’s Bible passage shows us, is not someone telling us that Jesus loves us. It’s Jesus showing us he loves us – and specifically seeks people out, even in all their worst kind of mess.

In Mark 4:35, after teaching the crowds on the kingdom of God, Jesus says “Let’s go over to the other side.” That is, he wants them to cross the Sea of Galilee and go to the Decapolis, a series of 10 towns in what was a Gentile area. When a violent storm erupts, the disciples are terrified and Jesus sleeps soundly. They wake him and he calms the storm with a word.

Once he was rebuked the storm, Jesus turns and rebukes the disciples. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?

I find this very challenging. Because I fear a lot. I fear for a million things over my kids. I fear not having enough money to pay all the bills. I fear making mistakes at work.

What Jesus says is that the disciples fear is evidence of a lack of faith. If they understood who he was, they would not fear. The disciples do not yet fully understand who Jesus is, and Mark uses this to great effect as a literary device to bring the reader along the same journey. The way the disciples pose the question “who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” places the reader in their shoes so they too are asking the same question.

Of course only God rules the waves. In Psalm 89:9 it says “You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.” It’s similar to the the Pharisees having asked “who has the authority to forgive sins but God alone?” when Jesus interacted with the paralysed man. So the reader is starting to get it, even if the disciples are a still a bit slow.

For me though, I need to re-remember who Jesus is – because I do know, and yet I still fear. Fear is very natural, and it’s not as though we’re not supposed to fear. But for us, fear should be a prompt to take things to God. Mental note to self: when I feel the fear, don’t start furiously plotting and planning and organising. Take it to God.

When they get to the other side, they are at a cemetery and a man possessed by demons comes to meet them. This figure is one of the most tragic in the whole Bible. He had been bound hand and foot with chains, but in his demented state had torn them off. Can you imagine? So tormented that he had actually torn iron shackles from himself. He must have been covered in cuts and scratches and blood and dirt. He was so anguished that at night he would cry out and self-harm, cutting himself with stones.

He sounds terrifying and tragic. If I saw him on the street – a drunken crazed man covered in cuts, I would avoid him and get away as quickly as possible. Everything about this man should have made any Jew run a mile – he is demented, he’s a gentile, he lives among the dead and he is covered in blood. Jews are not supposed to associate with Gentiles. Blood and death make Jews ritually unclean. And yet Jesus has specifically gone to find this man. How do we know this? Because they broke away from teaching the crowd to come here, and when Jesus has healed the man, they get back in the boat and go back (5:21). Which means Jesus had done what he went there to do. Which means that Jesus specifically went there to find and heal this man, and then leave again.

This isn’t me being told Jesus seeks out individuals. This shows me.

This shows me he has and will come specifically to find me where I am. It shows me that in all my mess, in all the things in my life that I see as unclean, impure, messy, shameful and embarrassing Jesus will walk through them to save me. To save me.

I need to remember that Jesus is that personal. I need to remember that he is that powerful. I am his and he is mine and when I fear, I am lacking in faith in who he is. When I fear (which I will) I need to remember who he is and the power he has. He has the power to calm the wind and the waves. He has the power to calm me and my fearful heart.

I need to practice this so the trigger to turn to God (instead of relying on my own ability to overcome the fear with planning and organising things) becomes instinctive. This is a part of the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus. It is part of re-visiting who Jesus is and what he came to do through Bible studies like this. I must always keep reminding myself that God is far bigger than I imagine him and far more personal.

Huge and transcendent, and yet close and personal.

Everywhere for eternity and yet close by my side.

Loudly present in our world, and yet quiet and still in my heart.

This is who Jesus is. This is our God. And this is who came to find us, personally and individually. This is the God who specifically sought you out.

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  9. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)

What will the “kingdom of God” be like? (Mark 4:21-34)

I like to think about what heaven will look like. Partially that’s because my kids ask me, and partially it’s because when I’m really tired – like, really tired – I like to imagine what it will be like when there is perfect rest and peace. I’ve written about this before (you can read “Praying for peace when you can’t even finish this sentence” here). This is a very human approach though – I’m tired, what will heaven be like? That is not really the question that Jesus answers though.

Jesus, in this passage, gives four parables that specifically describe the kingdom of God. And they don’t answer the question I have. Jesus however, does provide answers.

The first parable is the Parable of the Lamp: “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” (Mark 4:21-22)

A lamp is to bring light. The kingdom, the gospel, is not meant to be hidden. In addition, there is an ambiguity in the Greek grammar and what has been translated “whatever is concealed” is more correctly “whatever was concealed”. If this is the case, what this parable describes is the kingdom (in Jesus) is now being brought into the open in these parables.

The second is the analogy of the Measure: “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (vv 24-25)

The easy way of saying this is that you reap what you sow. If you listen openly and eagerly, Jesus’ teaching will provide enormous insight. For those who listen with hardened hearts, they will hear but not understand. To this we’ll return.

The third is the parable of the Growing Seed: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (vv 26-29)

Just because every day seems the same, doesn’t mean the kingdom isn’t growing. But if they are complacent, the harvest when it comes will be a surprise. We must know that the kingdom is growing – and that at some point judgement will come. We must be aware and ready and help others be ready too.

The fourth is the parable of the Mustard Seed: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (vv 31-32)

This final of the four images shows us the kingdom growing disproportionately to its small beginnings. In this, we see God’s sovereignty clearly at work.

So when we wonder “what is the kingdom of God like?”, the answer is, from this passage:

  • It is a light, meant to illuminate;
  • It is to be revealed, and so we need to listen expectantly and responsively;
  • Once sown, it keeps growing, slowly but surely – and there will be a last day of harvest/judgement;
  • The kingdom will be enormous and disproportionate to its small beginnings.

On the face of it, this could seem disappointing. I want to know whether the kingdom looks like its in a nice rural setting or by the sea, and if everyone I know will be there. But I don’t need to know that. I need to know what Jesus is telling me. I need to know that the kingdom is the light by which the rest of the world can be seen. I need to know that I need to listen in great measure, because great measure will be given to me. I need to remember that there will be a last day, even though every day seems the same and I need to look to explosive and inexorable growth of this kingdom to remind me of God’s unstoppable power.

But lets talk about having ears to hear. Jesus repeats this in Mark 4:9 and again in 4:23 saying “let them hear”. And yet, he had also said in Mark 4:11-12 (quoting Isaiah 6):

The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

Why speak in parables? Doesn’t Jesus want people to be able to immediately understand the gospel?

As Mark L. Strauss says in his commentary, the clauses and grammar in the Greek “makes this passage one of the most difficult in the NT, since Jesus appears to be saying that he teaches in parables in order to blind the eyes of the listeners.” (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Mark, 2014, p184). In exploring the many possible interpretations, Strauss settles on a negative function. In Isaiah chapters 5 and 6, God uses the unbelief of the Israelites to accomplish his judgement. Through an allegory of a vineyard, Isaiah relays God’s warning of pending judgement and describes that the prophesy will fall on deaf ears – because his judgement is set. In this way, says Strauss “He will use their rejection to accomplish his sovereign purpose.” just as he did with Moses’ Pharoah and others throughout scripture. So Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah specifically links what he is saying to a time when God was visiting judgement on his people.

What that means here is that on one hand, parables are easy to remember for those with ears to hear. For others, their hardened hearts are the very thing that God will use against them for their judgement. This is hard teaching. It shows us that Jesus’ arrival, while a sign that the new age has come, is also an instrument of judgement – those who will hear and believe, and those who will reject him. The wheat and the chaff. As Jesus is quoted in Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

BUT we don’t know who is chosen. We don’t know who is predestined. We don’t know what soil people are. We don’t know which road and which gate they will go through. So we can only be faithful and obedient. We follow Jesus. We grow in our discipleship. We remember what Jesus tells us about the kingdom – not what we want to know. Because the kingdom will be enormous, and provide us all with a place to rest and nest in the shade.

I feel comforted just hearing that.

The other stuff? That makes me feel queasy. The whole hardened hearts as an instrument of people’s judgement thing. But I think that sense of unease is a prompt to act. Because if we don’t know people’s destination, but we know it is one of two places, it gives us a sense of urgency in our interactions with others. It compels us, in obedience, and knowing there will be a harvest, to live authentically to our beliefs. This should show in our words and our behaviours as our hearts and minds are shaped by Jesus’ teaching. I find these passages hard. But they give me a boost to avoid being complacent as a Christian.

We cannot be sleepy in our faith.

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)

Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be (Mark 3:1-12)

I find it an interesting quirk of human nature that we turn on our celebrities when we find out they’re different to how we thought they’d be. If a hot superstar turns out to be gay, or a stunning model turns out to have cellulite, or a Hollywood couple get divorced and publicly scrap over the kids or if a mega-church pastor turns out to have problems with humility. We turn on them like a lynch-mob as if they had deliberately lied to us.

Of course what this means is that these people are normal. What it also means is that we somehow want them to not be normal. We want them to be something else. Something we don’t see in our ordinary, mediocre lives. We want to believe that perfection is real, that the hunky movie stars don’t smell when they sweat and they always look like they walked out of the gym. We want them to be their movie characters. We want them to be what we imagine them to be.

We want them to be what we want them to be.

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In Mark 3:1-12, we see two sides of this. We see the Pharisees wanting Jesus to be a bad-guy. And we see the people wanting Jesus to be a rock star savior.

Last week we saw Jesus communicate that he is the Messiah and the Lord by communicating he is the Lord of the Sabbath. As the Lord, he is the new wine. The old wine has been superseded, which was dangerous teaching. He was publicly saying that the established order was being renewed in him.

In that instance, it was Jesus’ disciples who had “broken” the sabbath (according to Jewish regulations). That’s why, in Mark 3:2, the Pharisees watch Jesus closely to see if he will heal on the sabbath (and thereby break it). They want him to break it. They want an excuse to accuse him. According to scripture, sabbath breaking was a capital offence (cf. Numbers 15:32-36). It should be noted here that what Numbers describes is not a prescriptive response to sabbath breaking. The man is punished for breaking the sabbath insofar as his attention was deliberately not on God – which was the purpose for the sabbath in the first place. The Jewish leaders had taken this to be prescriptive and so death was the punishment for all sabbath breaking. Again, we see the history of minimising God’s relationship through a misguided attempt to maximise obedience.

But since the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into sabbath breaking, why would Jesus make the man with the shriveled hand stand up in front of everyone? why wouldn’t he be a bit quieter about it? Doing it publicly seems to play into the hands of the Pharisees. Perhaps to highlight the point above. Jesus is performing a public sign for the purposes of teaching. The Pharisaical approach would be to do nothing in the face of need so as not to break the sabbath. What Jesus shows is the hypocrisy of their approach. What is lawful on the sabbath? To do good or evil? To save a life or to kill? If Jesus is saying that doing good and saving life is lawful, the corollary is that the Pharisees have made evil lawful.

It’s interesting that Jesus is angry and distressed. Even in the divinity with which he heals the man, we see the ragged humanity of his emotions.

The Pharisees, faced with the hideous truth of what they do, go away and plot in secret, away from light where their deeds could be seen clearly. To accuse Jesus of sabbath breaking at that point, would be to publicly admit that Jesus is right.

And think about that. The Pharisees need Jesus to be the bad guy. If Jesus is right about this, their whole approach to the Sabbath crumbles. And if that crumbles, fractures appear in their whole system of maximising obedience/minimising relationship.

Interesting side note: The Herodians and Pharisees were enemies. The Pharisees wanted the restoration of the kingdom of David. The Herodians were a political party and supporters of the Herodian dynasty: the client kings installed by the Romans. What each party wanted therefore was completely different – and yet in this they were united. They needed to get rid of Jesus. Jesus was a threat to both. If he ushered in the kingdom of God, the Pharisees and Herodians were out of business and out of power.

After this, we see Jesus withdrawing to the lake (that is, the Sea of Galilee) and people come from as far north as Sidon and as far south as Idumea to see him. “Beyond the Jordan” even refers to the area around the Decapolis. What we see here is people coming from great distances, and even from Gentile areas.

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Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:First_century_palestine-es.svg

What we see here is like a scene at a movie premier that everyone knows the star of the show is going to. The crowds are pressing and they all want something. They want to be healed. They want to be touched. They want to touch Jesus. They all want a piece of him.

What did they want of him? They wanted something he had, but not what he came to do. They wanted him to save them, but not in the way that he had come to do.

I guess I look to some people the same way. Bobby Kennedy is one of my heroes. I wanted Barack Obama to be the next Bobby Kennedy. I wanted him to bring light into a dark and dismal world. I wanted to believe that change was possible. I wanted to feel that there was something better, aspirational, inspirational. I wanted to believe.

The way the people press forward to Jesus feels familiar to me. There is a hunger in the crowd – a need. What Jesus was doing had spread by word of mouth so far and so quickly that people were coming from everywhere to see him. Were they coming because they believed? Or because they wanted to believe? Perhaps both. But what they wanted was only a tiny slice of who he was and what he had come to do. Because while they might have flocked to him as I would have to Bobby Kennedy had I been around in the 1960s, Bobby Kennedy was just Bobby Kennedy. The person they had in front of them was God himself.

But Jesus seems content to let them follow for the moment. When he casts out evil spirits, he commands them not to tell anyone. Why? Surely he would want to bring his followers along with him – we have seen previously how he was carefully controlling how his ministry was communicated. Surely now he can start communicating more clearly as the crowds press towards him?

I don’t think it was that simple. In John 6 we see Jesus starting to be more open about what his message is and what following him truly means and people turn away from him. Jesus knows that this will happen, but his ministry is too new for this to happen just yet. He needs his followers to learn as they follow at this point. In fact Mark as a gospel takes this approach – as we follow the story, we learn for ourselves the truth of who Jesus is.

Humans are horribly flawed. We have enormous expectations and we hold to them rigidly. Changing them requires time and gentleness, and largely we have to decide to change our expectations for ourselves. If others change them for us, we feel attacked and betrayed. For the moment, Jesus needs his followers to gradually learn the truth. As his teaching becomes more explicit, their expectations will already have been shaped and molded. People will still turn their backs when he turns out to not be who they thought (or wanted him to be), but more of them will represent the fertile soil in which seeds can grow.

This is why we still need the gospel of Mark. Today we like to see Jesus as the guy who is all about love and forgiveness. This is true – but before love and forgiveness comes knowledge of our sin. Just look at the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. There’s a woman convicted of her sin and comes to Jesus in repentance. After that, there’s justification but there’s also sanctification. There is work to be done in our relationship. This isn’t easy.

Some of us want Jesus to be the love guy whose name we can pray to God in for the things we need. This is normal and valid – because he is the love guy we pray to God in, and we are supposed to bring our requests to God. The problem occurs when he is only that.

Who do we want Jesus to be?

The answer is, Who is Jesus telling us he is. The work and person of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what we want him to be. He is who we need him to be.

And who do we need him to be? This is what we’ll explore as Mark leads us through the nuance of Jesus as a man, as God, as the Messiah and our Lord.

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel

Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20

Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45

Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17

Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28

There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan (Mark 2:18-28)

When I’ve had super high anxiety in times of deep distress, I developed some tendencies that bordered on OCD. I don’t say this lightly. At one point, I became so panicked about money and how I was going to make ends meet, I developed a “thing” about how I made the boys sandwiches for lunch. When I noticed it, I tried making the sandwiches a different way – make the honey sandwich first and then the vegemite sandwich. And I couldn’t. And I froze. It’s very hard to explain but the mere thought of doing it out of order made me panic and burst into tears.

Of course it had nothing to do with sandwiches or even the boys. It had to do with control and creating order in a situation I felt I didn’t have any control over. Thankfully I have an excellent psychologist who helps me work through these issues. Because if left un-checked, suddenly you have a “system” for dealing with everything you have no control over – and a deep anxiety about then not doing it that way, otherwise the thing you are trying to control won’t happen/will happen.

This could be money, relationships, work, the home and even our faith. We saw last week that the Pharisees had turned legalism into an art form. I’m not saying they were OCD but the effect was much the same. We must meet all these rules and regs or God won’t come – to the point where they fail to see that God has, in fact, come.

In our passage this week, we see this on steroids and the Pharisees see two of their most sacred cows (and yes, I’m aware of the irony) come under threat.

Fasting and the sabbath are two things which the Pharisees believed would actually hasten the coming of the Messiah. To not observe them was not just an insult to God, it would inhibit his coming.

What we see in Jesus’ handling of these issues however, is that the kingdom, which is centred on God, is therefore centred on Jesus himself. This starts to illuminate for us who Jesus is and, that if the kingdom is centred on Jesus, it does not cease to be centred on God – far from it.

So in 2:18 we see that the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist are fasting but Jesus and his disciples are not. This makes me wonder. The Pharisees fasting is obvious. Jesus actually is the Messiah and so he and his disciples don’t need to fast. We are not sure at this point if his disciples understand that, but they follow what he does. But John’s disciples? Surely they knew the Messiah was coming? So why are they still fasting? I wonder if John’s disciples only part-understood. John has come to prepare the way with his baptism of repentance. Given that that’s only part of the story though, his disciples understanding may have been stunted – especially as John has been imprisoned by this point (cf. 1:14) and so wasn’t around to explain it to them. But maybe they were doing it because it was habit – because that is how it had always been done – and not doing it…..well, maybe that was a step too far. There’s no real rhyme or reason. It’s just the way it always has been.

Anyway, enough of my musings. Jesus explains clearly that they have no need to fast because the “bridegroom” (ie the Messiah”) is already there – there is no need to fast anymore. In fact, to do so would be an insult to him, because it denies that the Messiah has come, but also it gives the people a demeanour of mourning when they should be rejoicing.

Now the Old Testament has many references to God as the bridegroom. It denotes a consummation of a covenant between two parties that cannot get any closer. It is a time of trust and relationship and festivities. So in saying he is the bridegroom, Jesus is saying two things – first, he’s saying he is God, and second, he is saying that new age has come.

Look for example at Joel 1:8 where the prophet says “Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the betrothed of her youth.” meaning that Israel grieves for God with whom they had a covenant (and which they have broken with their disobedience). Then in Joel 2:12 he says “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” And in 2:19, after the people have rent their hearts (ie repented) God says “I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully.” What is described at the end of Joel is a wedding feast, a celebration with the two parties reunited in a new covenant.

The Pharisees are stuck in Joel 2:12. Jesus knows they are at the wedding feast.

After giving a portent of his impending death, Jesus doubles down to explain more. He describes “new cloth” and “new wine”. In parable-speak, we see Jesus’ relationship to the old establishment. Let’s unpick this, because it’s significant. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said that he didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them. And yet here he says that he is a new wine, not poured into the old wine skins but needing to be poured into new. Can both be right? If he came to fulfil the old, isn’t that him (new wine) being poured into old wine skins (the law)? This is more nuanced. He is the new but he is not new in and of himself. He is not a single final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. He isn’t a final piece that just finishes off the old. He brings a new age, a new era. And the old itself needs to become new with him. The new era brings with it a new framework that is linked to the old, that is a culmination of the old but which supersedes it.

What does this mean? Well, in the next episode, we see that the old is cherished for what God intended, but Jesus gives a new interpretation. I saw this with a hint of a smirk because his interpretation is not new – he’s actually reminding the Pharisees of what the sabbath is supposed to be about, but that in all their legalism, they have forgotten.

In trying to obey God to a tee, the priests had long before tried to set a list of dos and dont’s for the sabbath. This included things like not walking further than 1km from ones own house. And deliberate sabbath breaking was punishable by death – that’s how seriously it was taken. Breaking the sabbath was an obstacle to God’s deliverance of his people.

In a cornfield, Jesus’ disciples pick some ears of corn to eat. This breaks the sabbath. Jesus relays a story of David when the High Priest of the tabernacle gives David and his men consecrated bread from the altar because there is nothing else to eat, on condition they we ritually clean (which they probably weren’t). So Jesus shows that the local Pharisees are stricter than the high priest of the actual tabernacle was on King David. That’s how far their legalism had got.

He reminds them that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath. If man was created for the sabbath, that would place the sabbath above God – and this is how the Pharisees were treating the sabbath. They had idolised it. The sabbath was created for man by God for them to rest and remember him. That’s the point of the sabbath. By the way, if you’re interested in some history of the sabbath, you can read here one of my previous blogs.

So, where does this leave us? Jesus gradual revelation of himself is beautiful and simple. He is the bridegroom. He is the Messiah. This is not a time for fasting but for rejoicing. But he is also bringing in a new era. The obvious corollary is that the law and the Pharisees are old, fulfilled – superseded. This is dangerous. We can see why the Pharisees would be so determined ultimately to dispose of Jesus.

Jesus’ final words in this passage are “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28). He is the Messiah – and he is God. The sabbath was made for man. So if Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, he is also Lord of all man. This seemingly innocuous statement has such depth, and such significance that’s its earth shattering.

Don’t forget, they are on the other side of the cross and even though God is standing literally right in front of them, they are still waiting for him to appear. In addition, they are doing everything they possibly can to hasten his coming – fasting, observing every rule, squeezing the most out of every regulation so they can (supposedly) get closer to God.

But nothing they do, or could ever do, could bring God to them. Nothing that they did, or that we can do, can push “go” on God’s plan for salvation. By the same token, nothing we can do can stop it either. Jesus came. The plan has already happened – it happened at the cross. Nothing we do can possibly change the fact that God’s single act of salvation is already done.

We are in Jesus’ new era. We’re already in it. What we do now, is based on love and gratitude. We are obedient. We seek to grow in Christ likeness. We nurture our discipleship. We depend on God for everything, in humility. This is a work in our hearts that affects what we do, because our salvation is already done. The Pharisees wanted what they did to affect their salvation.

But it’s already done. And frankly, thank God. Because if I, in my anxiety, can’t make sandwiches a different way when my finances are out of control, I have got no chance of getting into heaven on my own efforts.

The new era has already come and it is in our hearts and in our relationship with God. That doesn’t mean we do nothing. He did it all, but we still progress in our growth to christlikeness. There is a work happening in us. Our sanctification is ongoing but our salvation is fixed. Once we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and saviour, there is nothing we can do but follow.

Note: This is a stand alone blog that doesn’t depend on any other piece. But it runs as part of an online Bible study in Mark and throughout there are links to previous observations. You can dip in and out or start at the beginning if you like. If not, that’s also fine – you don’t need to have started at the beginning to be able to get into this blog.

If you want to start at the beginning though, it starts in Mark 1 and you can follow along from here.

Jesus didn’t come for the super religious – he came for you (Mark 2:1-17)

I often think I should be more religious. I should pray more, read my Bible more, meditate on God’s word more. I spend too much time on inconsequential things, I think. I should be doing more, doing better. I become filled with doubt. Is my faith active? Is it enough?

Partially I suppose this is my own insecurity. Partially this is an inherited view of what it looks like to be “worthy”. Me? I’m just me. Nothing special, mostly spiritually limping through life and just managing to get through every day.

Maybe you feel like this too. I should be doing more. I should be doing better.

Note: This is a stand alone blog that doesn’t depend on any other piece. But it runs as part of an online Bible study in Mark and throughout there are links to previous observations. You can dip in and out or start at the beginning if you like. If not, that’s also fine – you don’t need to have started at the beginning to be able to get into this blog.

Thankfully, we’re exactly the people that Jesus came for. He said so quite clearly.

Last week we saw that Jesus has communicated some things about himself, and is controlling how the information is delivered so his ministry is not hijacked by those who are desperate for a military and political overhaul of the Roman Empire.

Jesus had been in Jerusalem, but when John the Baptist is arrested, Jesus and his followers head north to Galilee, which is quite some distance away.

Source: https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/maps/palestine/capernaum.cfm

There’s still a sense that people’s understanding of Jesus is fledgling. In verses 2-5 we see the friends of a paralysed man bring their friend to Jesus to heal. They have enormous faith in Jesus ability to heal him – but not necessarily anything else.

What’s also interesting is that Jesus heals the paralysed man, not because of his faith but because of the faith of his friends. The Bible is silent on the thoughts of the paralysed man. We don’t know if he was a person of faith or if he was even ok about being dragged all over the place and lowered from a great height through the roof.

Jesus sends a powerful message by forgiving the mans’ sins, even though he knows they came for physical healing.

Why would he do this? This is not what they came for. But this is part of Jesus’ communication. First, what you think you need, is not what you need. Second, I have the power and authority to meet both needs.

In large part, this is a demonstration for the Pharisees. When Jesus forgives the mans sins, they accuse him of blaspheming because none but God can forgive sins. So is Jesus saying he has the same power as God? Or is he saying he is God? For those experiencing this first hand, this is what they are trying to work out. Who is this man?

Jesus makes it even clearer for us. He uses his power to heal an irreversible physical state to prove his ability to forgive sin.

He also uses a specific name for himself – “the Son of Man” is taken from Daniel 7 as a means of communicating that he has authority on earth to forgive sins:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

That’s HUGE.

Take a moment. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new Christian or have been one for 60 years. This truth of what Jesus is communicating about himself is mind bending.

Well, this leaves us amazed and wondrous, just like the people in Mark 2:12. And even though Jesus has demonstrated his power and authority, he has come into conflict with the establishment. In the next episode, he comes into conflict with them again.

Jesus calls Levi the tax collector. Tax collectors are the “baddies” of the Roman Jewish world. They are collaborators. They collect the taxes of their own people to give to the Romans and along the way, skim kick backs for themselves. In our world, this would be the corrupt landlords we see on A Current Affair – the low lifes who only care about lining their own pockets. And Jesus calls this guy??

This is not a comment on favouritism or that bad people get all the good stuff with no penalties. Levi got up and followed him. Levi had an encounter with the living God and he followed him. The implication is that he changed. He didn’t keep his horrible life and then take more. He left his horrible life to follow Jesus – and you only follow Jesus when you have become aware of your own sin and the deep need you have to be saved.

I think the juxtaposition of this story with the last one is interesting. The paralysed man got up and walked out. Levi got up and followed Jesus. I don’t want to push the analogy too far as it’s a different Greek word for each instance of “got up”. But I think it’s interesting that a man who has very visible issues on the outside who is physically healed and forgiven, is juxtaposed with a man who is outwardly OK but carries his darkness on the inside. Jesus heals physically. But the point is that he heals spiritually. In both cases, the object of Jesus actions walk away into a new life.

The conflict with the Pharisees – our resident super religious types – continues as they question Jesus eating with sinners.

We see this as obvious. Of course Jesus would eat with sinners. But back in the day, the legalism of the Pharisees had a genuine intent. They believed that their religiosity and strict adherence to the law, would bring them closer to God and hasten the coming of the Messiah. It was that important. So Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, where purity at the feast table could not be assured, was not a matter of being snooty. It was a question of creating barriers between Israel and God. Without adherence to the law and regulations around food and purity, God’s presence was inhibited and there was a serious impact to his coming.

Of course the irony is that God had already come and their religiosity was creating barriers between them and the living God. It was even inhibiting their ability to see him.

The trouble with religion is that it becomes the focal point of faith. It stops you seeing the wood for the trees. You become so intent on following certain rules and regulations that you forget to have a heart for God and a relationship with Christ.

And Jesus didn’t come for those people. He came for us. Sinners.

We may not be the corrupt land lords who get chased down the street by a roving camera reporter, but we are in the same category. We have our darkness on the inside. We are sinners.

But being a sinner who has the opportunity of forgiveness from God, is infinitely better than being a super religious type who thinks they will earn their way to heaven by following rules.

We must never forget that we are sinners, and while we already have our salvation, we depend totally on him. We look to him in faith for our growth in Christ likeness. And we only keep growing because we have an awareness that we are prone to sin. We must always remember not to rely on rules and regulations, thinking we are better than others or that it will get us closer to God – it will alienate people and it will take us further away.

There are things that we will do regularly – church, small groups, praying, reading our Bibles and so on. But we do these because we are already saved, because we already have a relationship with Christ and we want to grow to be like him. We don’t do those things because we get salvation points, like it’s a crazy rewards program.

Rules and regs, or a relationship with the Son of Man. Ponder what Jesus said about himself and know that he came for you.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)