Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, March 31, No reading
Tuesday, April 1, Chapter 8
We should not concern ourselves with the existence in both Mark and Matthew of two feeding-the-multitudes stories. Some people believe there was only one such event and that this one is a duplicate. It does not matter because the message is the same either way; Jesus feeds people. In this account, he feeds people in a non-Jewish region. His concern for people is the same whether they are Jewish or not.
A difference in the number of loaves and fish probably has no meaning. Seven is one of the numbers representing perfection, but Mark does not do anything with it. In this case, seven may mean seven.
What is more meaningful are the Greek words used my Mark in the two stories to name the baskets. In the account of the 5,000 (chapter 6), the word means the small basket people commonly kept food in, like our putting apples in a basket on the kitchen counter. In the current story, the word means the largest basket, like the one used to lower Paul over the wall in Damascus.
Moving to Dalmanutha, back in Galilee, Pharisees approach Jesus again to ask for a sign. In verse 12, Mark writes that Jesus ‘sighed’. The Greek word used is never used anywhere else in the New Testament. It expresses grief and bitter disappointment. Little wonder, Jesus just fed 4,000 men; what kind of sign did they want? More importantly, he lived out every sign promised by the Scriptures; why could the Pharisees not see them?
The Pharisees and most of the people following Jesus lacked faith. They wanted the Hand of God to write a message on the mountain side, or at least speak to them from a thunderous cloud saying that Jesus is the Messiah. How often I have thought of the same thing. It would be easier to believe if God would do that for me.
Or would it? Consider how God works in the world. He always uses people to do His Will. When He sent His Son to the world, he made him human, not superman. In fact, Jesus seems to have been an average person in appearance. But he meets the needs of people. That is God at work. If I believe in God and in Jesus as the Messiah, I must spend my life helping people as best I can.
Finished with the Pharisees, again, Jesus returns to the other side of the lake. In the boat, Jesus warns his disciples to, ‘watch out for the yeast.’ He was speaking of how the Pharisees were always puffed up with their own importance, like bread rising from yeast. Their belief was in their own abilities to follow the Commandments of God. They knew they would be first in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is telling Peter and the gang that they must believe only in him. Otherwise, they will puff up like the Pharisees and fail to understand even the most basic message from God.
Now, putting bread back into the story, the disciples are upset because someone forgot to bring food along, so they just had one loaf of bread. I can hear them whispering, “Jude, why didn’t you get some bread.” “Me, Thomas was supposed to get it.”
Jesus had just fed 4,000 and his own Apostles are thinking just like the Pharisees. He quotes Jeremiah 5:21 and Isaiah 6:9-10 to a lesser extent. Peter, you are still not using your faith eyes.
The message: make do with what you have.
To add punch to his words, Jesus gets out of the boat at Bethsaida and heals a blind man.
It is a different approach, perhaps because the man himself lacked faith; again, like his disciples. Whatever the reason, Jesus heals the man with mud, in stages, not all at once.
We are at the very center of the story.
Jesus spends time teaching, preaching, healing, feeding, and giving signs.
Now for the test: “Who do you say I am?” Peter has that flash of understanding. You are not any of the forerunners. You are the Messiah, the Promised One.
Jesus never claimed the rank of Messiah, much less the title of Son of God. He claimed Son of Man, a mysterious figure in the Scriptures, but one linked to the Messiah. Ezekiel used the name 90 times, but Daniel 7:13-14 is the key. Even being the Son of God, Jesus could not risk the yeast of the Pharisees. He would not use any title but the least regarded one. Yet, he accepted, with at least an inner smile, the title of Messiah on the lips of the Rock.
Now Jesus can move on to the end of the story. ‘I will suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise from the grave three days later.’ Now Jesus can come out with the whole story, no more parables and puzzles. He knows the Apostles do not fully understand and will not until God sends the Holy Spirit, but they understand enough for now.
Peter had such a short mountain top experience, just three verses in Mark. Jesus has to tamp down the yeast in Peter. ‘Think only the things of God.’ Peter is not Satan, but the Evil One is using the thinking of Peter, and probably all the other followers, to pry Jesus away from depending on God; to get him to think, even for a second, that God might not expect him to go through all that suffering. Jesus was tempted yet again.
Verses 34-38 give as concise a summary of the Gospel as you will find anywhere. The way of the cross is death to self.
Wednesday, April 2, Chapter 9
The statement in verse 1 seems to refer to Pentecost.
The fact that Peter, James, and John are the only ones to witness the transfiguration would suggest to us humans that they were slated to be the greatest leaders of the church. But, according to Acts, it did not play out that way. Jesus had a reason for selecting them as his inner-most circle; we can only guess what it was.
Mark makes a big deal of the dazzling white clothes, sounding like a Tide commercial. It is crucial though because white is always associated with God. Also, white was seldom worn in ancient days because it was so hard to clean.
Peter again tempts Jesus by suggesting the three shelters. The Greek word generally means, ‘holy shrine’. Verse 6, I think, came directly from Peter to Mark. ‘I was so scared, I had no idea what I was saying.’
In verse 7, the three Apostles were baptized by the Cloud of God. In verse 9, we learn that the three are to teach the others after the resurrection. They alone had a vision of eternal life.
Verse 11 shows the disciples are past thinking of Jesus as Elijah, but they then wonder why he must come first, and if so, who was he? Jesus does not answer directly, but does say he has come, meaning John the Baptizer, of course.
Jesus, Peter, James, and John walk back to the other Apostles only to find them in an argument with some rabbis while a boy sits with an evil spirit. We see at once that the disciples did not have enough faith to heal the boy and that the rabbis preferred arguing to helping.
Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 95:10. For Jesus, the frustration had to be with his disciples who had already come to understand their own faith, but now could not do something as simple as driving out an evil spirit.
The most significant verse in this story, in this chapter, perhaps in the whole Gospel, is verse 24. ‘Help my unbelief.’
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had this to say on the idea of belief:
We do believe in all sorts of things, far too many things in fact. We believe in power, we believe in ourselves and in other people, we believe in humankind. We believe in our own nation and in our religious community, we believe in new ideas—but in the midst of all those things, we do not believe in the One—in God. And believing in God would take away our faith in all the other powers, make it impossible to believe in them. If you believe in God, you don’t believe in anything else in this world, because you know it will all break down and pass away. But you don’t need to believe in anything “else,” because then you have the One who is the source of all things, in whose hands everything comes to rest.
Why can we not believe?….But the one honest answer to this questions that we basically do not want to believe….
You do not have your faith once and for all. The faith that you will confess today with all your hearts needs to be regained tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, indeed, every day anew. We receive from God only as much faith as we need for the present day. Faith is the daily bread that God gives us. You know the story about manna. This is what the children of Israel received daily in the desert. But when they tried to store it for the next day, it was rotten. This is how it is with all the gifts of God. This is how it is with faith as well. Either we receive it daily anew or it rots. One day is just long enough to preserve the faith. Every morning it is a new struggle to fight through all unbelief, faintheartedness, lack of clarity and confusion, anxiety and uncertainty, in order to arrive at faith and to wrest it from God. Every morning in your life the same prayer will be necessary: I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief.
“Why couldn’t we drive it out?” The Apostles had tried and failed because they forgot one key ingredient, talk to God and ask Him to drive the demon out.
Jesus is finally able to get away from the crowds and talk with his true followers, giving them another account of what is to come.
The Apostles argue among themselves about who will sit at Jesus’ right hand, so Jesus gives them a lesson in humility. Verse 35 repeats in 10:45.
When the Apostles complain that some man was taking credit for driving out demons, Jesus responds the way Moses did in Numbers 11:24-30.
The Greek word in verse 42 can refer to a child, but just as often it refers to the lowest people of society; the least among us.
A little background on Hell. In Greek, the word is ‘gehenna’. In Hebrew, the word is ‘geh’innom’, meaning, ‘valley of Hinnom, the steep valley between the Temple and the Mount of Olives. Jeremiah 7:30-8:3 describes the bodies buried there. After the return from exile, geh’innom became the preferred name for the dwelling place of Satan. The place also became the dumping ground for all dead animals, including the blood and unacceptable parts of sacrifices. If you have been to a slaughter-house or rendering plant, you have some idea of the constant smell just outside the city walls.
The very last verse of Isaiah (66:24) reads: “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” This is exactly the way gehenna was described in the time of Jesus.
Do not rush to the kitchen for a knife to cut off body parts. Jesus did not mean that literally. We must give up those things to God. Only by turning our whole lives over to God can we avoid gehenna.
We will then be baptized with both the Spirit and with the salt that purifies the sacrifice. Salt and fire destroy impurities.
Thursday, April 3, Chapter 10
This is the last chapter before Jesus enters Jerusalem. Jesus teaches and closes with his last healing.
The first lesson is on divorce, though actually it was about Herod Antipas’ marriage to Herodias. Remember her? John the Baptizer shouted about their immoral marriage because she had divorced Herod Philip I to marry Antipas. Oh yes, she was the daughter of Aristobulus the brother of both Antipas and Philip. No wonder John was upset.
The Pharisees generally accepted the divorce of Herodias based on Deuteronomy 24:1. The key word there is ‘indecent.’ Pharisees debated for centuries about what was indecent and finally agreed that a man could declare a woman indecent without listing a reason. A woman had to go to court and prove her case.
The Pharisees decide to see if they can trick Jesus into saying something against Antipas and get him killed like John. Jesus first asks them what Moses commanded in the Scriptures. Jesus could have stopped there, but he attacked Moses’ words by going back to Genesis before the fall of humanity. Two people unite forever—in the perfect world. Then to his disciples he said divorce is equal to adultery.
Children come to Jesus eagerly, ready to respond to his every word. If only we could respond as easily. But notice something in Jesus’ words. We have to receive the Kingdom like a child. No child can earn the Kingdom, nor can any adult. The Kingdom of God is given out of God’s mercy. It is given as a blessing to those who do not deserve it.
Having told us that all we have to do to receive the Kingdom of God is accept it, the rich man comes with a practical question about getting into the Kingdom. We learn that he keeps all of what we call the interpersonal commandments, 5-10 (Ten Commandments, Exodus 20, Leviticus 19, Deuteronomy 5).
Then Jesus loves him. That is a beautiful picture. Jesus loves a man who rejects him, a man who has faith, but his unbelief overcomes him. Jesus loves the man who is so close to the right faith, but cannot give up the one thing that will keep him out of the Kingdom.
God expects total commitment.
When the disciples questioned Jesus about the teaching, he promised, starting in verse 29, three things, a family in Christ, persecutions, and eternal life.
For the third time, as they are on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus tells the followers what will happen in that city, this time with even more detail.
James and John lay claim to the right hand seat in heaven, being puffed up with the yeast of working with the Messiah. Jesus asks them if they can drink the cup (the cup of sorrow) and take the baptism of Jesus. The word bapto is the root word in Greek for baptism, and it is generally used outside the New Testament to describe being overwhelmed or submerged in debt or deep in grief over a great loss. This is much more the meaning Jesus has in mind.
When the other ten heard about the Sons of Thunder, they were ready to lay on hands. Jesus stepped in and reminded all of them that they had chosen to become slaves, not noblemen.
This healing of Bartimaeus comes in opposition to James and John. They asked Jesus to give them positions of power; Bart asked to have vision so he could look upon the Son of David (yet another name for the Messiah). We assume he walked along with the followers to Jerusalem where he went through the purification sequence to rejoin the people of God.
Friday, April 4, Chapter 11
More than 1/3 of Mark describes the last week of Jesus, even though it is just six chapters. We begin with the Triumphal Entry to the city, most likely through the Lions Gate just north of the Temple mount.
Jesus rode a colt of a donkey. Picture a man riding a gray hound and you will be close to the ridicules image of this procession. Jesus humbled himself as much as possible while still fulfilling the image of a King arriving triumphantly at his capital (Zechariah 9:9, see also Genesis 49:10-11).
The fig tree is a truly hard saying. Why would Jesus put a curse on a tree when it was months away from ripe fruit? Gregory the Great (around 600 AD) wrote, The figs which the Lord had sought were the fruit of the synagogue, which had the leaves of the law, but not the fruit of works.
Augustine adds, Did Christ really want physically to relish and consume fruit himself when he sought the fruit of this fig tree? And if he had found it there, would he then even have eaten it? Did he really want to drink water when he said to the woman of Samaria, “Give me a drink”? When he was on the cross saying “I thirst,” was this really all about his physical thirst? For what does Christ hunger more than our good works? For what does Christ thirst more than our faithful response?
The fig tree represents Jerusalem, the Pharisees, the rabbis, and all that is wrong with Judaism. Now that Jesus is in the Holy City, that tree will wither and be replaced.
Jesus ruined a beautiful entrance to the city by disturbing the peace and destroying free enterprise. Jesus was trying to send a message to the Temple authorities that what they had allowed violated God’s directions. The entire Temple, including the Court of Gentiles, was sacred. It was for worship only. But greed overruled worship and the entire western part of the Court of Gentiles had been turned into a market selling all manner of Temple related products, including trading common coins for those used in the Temple, at a profit, naturally.
In addition, people used the Temple courts as shortcuts because the grounds took up an area equal to twenty football fields. Instead of going around, people would walk through. That would save a considerable walk. The Pharisees came up with the rule that you could do it if you carried no more than a few pounds of items and that you stopped to pray facing in the direction of the altar.
Jesus took exception to God’s home being used as a business house. We do need to concern ourselves with the question within our own church buildings, but there is one very big difference, a church is not the Temple. A church is a synagogue and the rules for synagogues allow for more freedom of use. Still, when worship is in progress, we should not interrupt with non-worship business.
By cleansing the Temple, Jesus fulfilled Malachi 3:1-5. He also quoted Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.
In verse 24, Jesus gives us the secret of real power; ask in prayer. Only when we wait for God to tell us what He wants, and we accept will it happen. Jesus used the mountain of corruption in the Temple as an example. He did a symbolic cleansing to show us that we must avoid corruption.
The authorities made another run at Jesus by asking him for his credentials. They hoped to show the people that he was either dangerous or foolish. Jesus turned it around and asked about John’s creds. He knew what they wanted him to say, but he refused to give it to them. John’s popularity was higher after his murder than before so the authorities could not afford to have another popular martyr on their hands. They would have to resort to lies.
Schedule change again: Chapter 12
Mark does not include many of Jesus parables. In reality, the New Testament probably has only a small fraction of the parables Jesus told. Mark selected some that fit with the preparation for crucifixion.
Jesus told parables because people find it easier to remember a good story. But also to avoid getting himself arrested too early. The parable of the tenants is a thinly veiled account of the Temple leadership, especially the High Priest. But he could not be arrested for telling a story about growing grapes.
In verse 6, Mark uses the Greek word dodi for son, a word used for kings of the line of David.
In verses 10 & 11, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23, but also read Isaiah 5:1-7 and Acts 4:7-12. The Temple leaders did believe that Jesus claimed Messiahship and probably also the Son of God. That is why they plotted against him because such a claim is blasphemy.
Stones play a role in the Old Testament as symbols associated with both God and the Messiah. The prophets spoke of the Messianic stone in Soloman’s Temple. They refer to other stones such as the stone of Jacob at Bethel and the Shepherd, the stone of Israel in the blessing of Jacob. Isaiah 8:14 speaks of the stumbling stone, echoed in Luke 20:18. Isaiah 9:10 speaks of rebuilding with stone. Isaiah 28:16 has the cornerstone. Ezekiel 3:9-10 has the Son of Man being made as hard as stone. Ezekiel 28:13 gives an image of the stone being a ruby or emerald.
The next section has the Pharisees and Herodians teaming up to trick Jesus. Please note that the two groups hated one another. I am sure the Pharisees stood as far away from the followers of the Herods as possible.
They hoped to force Jesus to choose one of two offensive sides: pay or not pay. Either choice would put Jesus in danger. Jesus did not take either choice; he went for the middle ground of actually getting at the truth. That is a lesson for us, there is typically a third option, or fifth or tenth.
The Sadducees were perhaps happy to see the Pharisees fail, but they still wanted to get Jesus, so they took an unusual approach. Sadducees did not worry much about theology; in fact, they were known for their lack of Scriptural knowledge. Add to the fact that most priest of the Temple were Sadducees and we end up with religious leaders who do not know their religion. What they knew was Temple worship, and they believed only Temple worship would save the people.
In this account, they pose a Pharisee-like question, but it is so sorely lacking in Scriptural understanding that Jesus does not have to pull out one of his ingenious evasions. He just calls their question seriously mistaken. ‘Come back when you have actually read the Torah.’
Next in line is a scribe. Matthew tended to lump them in with the Pharisees, probably because they were well-educated and often worked with Pharisees. But they also worked with Sadducees, rabbis, bankers, butchers, and anyone else who was willing to pay to have some writing done. Remember that formal education extended to five or ten percent of the population. Few businessmen could read or write. Most rabbis learned the scriptures by hearing it.
At the time of Jesus, The Pharisees had developed a list of 613 laws and were still in the process of listing them in the order of importance. This scribe seems to have a genuine interest in what he asks, and is probably not a member of the plot against Jesus.
Jesus gave him a straight answer. The first quote is from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. It is also the first part of the Shema, the daily prayer for every Jew from Babylon to today. Every synagogue service begins with the Shema. The full Shema is Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-24; Numbers 15:37-41. No doubt, Jesus and all his disciples started every day reciting the Shema.
The second commandment is from Leviticus 19:18. Consider Paul’s comments in Galatians 5:1 and Romans 13:10.
And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
With verse 35, Jesus seems to reverse the trend by asking a question that could put the religious leaders in trouble. Everyone knew that the Messiah would come to reestablish the throne of David, but they could not say that in public because it meant overthrowing the Romans who kill people for saying it publically.
The common folks are always delighted in seeing the high and mighty so afraid to respond to Jesus’ puzzle. While Jesus did not explain, it is clear that David was calling the Messiah Lord and that the Messiah was greater than David.
It is amusing that Mark has Jesus comment on widows losing their homes to greedy men, and then contrasting that with the widows’ offering. The copper coin was called a lepta. The value in today’s terms is difficult to determine. We know that it would take many of them to match the buying power of our penny.
This ends Jesus’ public ministry.
Be righteous and do good.