Tag Archives: #miracles

It’s not the ends of the banner that are important – it’s what it says in between (Mark 8:1-13)

We always want a sign. Sometimes its because we need to know where we fit in a world that feels big and chaotic. Sometimes its because at times of great uncertainty, we need the comfort of a signpost that shows us where we are going and what the plan is.

This is a completely normal and natural anxiety and yearning for order. It’s why horoscopes are so popular. And it’s not a new problem. Throughout the Old Testament, God warns the Israelites not to engage with spiritualists and diviners. It displays a lack of faith in God. It means they weren’t trusting in God’s promises or his faithfulness. They took things into their own hands. Without any apparent signs from God, they went to find their own signs. And, if they were anything like us, kept looking for signs until they found the one they liked.

I stopped reading my horoscope when I became a Christian (it seemed fairly pointless after you know where you’re going) but I remember when I did read them, that if one was a bit generic (funny that, eh?) then I google another horoscope. And if that one didn’t sound that good, I’d look for another one.

The thing is, the Israelites did have signs. They had God actually with them. So did the people gathered around Jesus. God was actually with them. He was performing sings and wonders all over the place. It was pretty hard to miss. And yet they did.

The place we’ve reached in our Bible studies takes us to a story that seems awfully familiar. In Mark 8:1-13, Jesus feeds the four thousand. In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus had fed the five thousand. Is this truth or literary device to make a point? Both would seem likely.

As a truth, what does it tell us?

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present.” (Mark 8:1-9)

It’s a miracle. It points to the fact that Jesus is something more than human. It’s reminiscent of God feeding the Israelites in the wilderness after the exodus – as they followed and grumbled and complained and God had compassion on them. In Jesus’ compassion, he gave in such abundance that there was seven basketfuls left over.

As a literary device, what does it say? The story and wording is very similar to narrative in Mark 6. This device is like bookends – to draw attention to to what sits between. And what sits between the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000?

  • The feeding of the 5,000
    1. Jesus walks on water and calms the storm even though the disciples hearts are hard
    2. Jesus teaches against shallow observance of surface religion and a focus on cleanliness of the heart – re-teaching the intention of God’s commands and away from human rules
    3. Jesus heals the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and teaches the order of salvation, and making it clear that the gospel will be for the Gentiles also
    4. Jesus heals the deaf and mute man
  • The feeding of the 4,000

The feeding stories are the two ends of the banner. What the stories in between tell us is the important part. It tells us that he has the same power as God (point 1), he has the authority to speak for God and interpret God’s communication (point 2), he also has the power and authority to communicate God’s plan (point 3) and his healing activities are foretold by the great prophets (point 4, as foretold by Isaiah).

Taken on their own, the feeding stories are marvelous but people could have interpreted Jesus’ role as a new Moses, who was God’s representative in the wilderness during the provision of manna, quail and water. The stories between the two ends show that Jesus’ role cannot be misinterpreted (for those who have ears to hear that is).

And yet, people do misinterpret. In verse 11-13, after the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000 and all the signs in between, the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him for a sign. He tells them there will be no sign. Not because he will not give them any, but because he has given them many but their hard hearts stop them from seeing them. They will accept no sign even though there are signs all around them and God is right in front of them.

I wonder reading this, what signs do I miss? I am a believer and (with God’s help) a growing disciple. But still, where is my hearty hardened? What do I miss? Do I get so wrapped up in my anxieties and worries that I fail to see where God has moved powerfully in my life?

Sometimes, I think we need to strip things back and re-remember who Jesus is. I need to remember how powerful and how present God is in my life. I can get so worried about not knowing whats going to happen or where I fit in that I can try to take things into my own hands. I organise and manage and change the routine and work things so I feel in control of where things are going. Obviously I need to make sure my kids are well and happy and healthy and everyone gets to where they need to be and all that. But outside of that, anything that crosses the line into taking power away from God (as if I could!) shows where I am not trusting Him. As difficult as that is, I need to stop doing that.

How? I need to develop my God-vision. I need to see the signs. I need to be observant and see the hundred little things every day that show me how God is there.

So everyday, take a moment. Think about the day. See where God moved in your life. Remember Him. Remember the cross. Remember God’s promises. Remember His faithfulness.

 

This is a stand alone blog but is also part of a series working through the Gospel of Mark. You can dip into any you have missed here.

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