Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, March 24, Chapter 3
We start chapter 3 with the fifth conflict. The others start at 2:6, 2:15, 2:18, & 2:23. Mark bundled them together and put them early in his account perhaps to help us see that his ministry rubbed people the wrong way and ultimately led to his death. He also gives us keys to understand why the conflicts occurred.
This man with a shriveled hand has the look of a setup, mainly because people with obvious deformities were not allowed in the synagogue for the same reason they were not allowed in the Temple; ritual purity. Nonetheless, Jesus has another lesson opportunity.
It was, just for the record, legal to heal on the Sabbath if the life was in danger. Jesus saw the man’s soul in danger. The Pharisees only saw a cripple.
With the man standing in front of them all, Jesus used the common argument of ‘from the greater to the lesser’. Should I do good or evil? No wonder they kept quiet. Jesus knew they refused to concede the point, thus his distress. This is the only time the Greek texts of the Gospels uses the word for anger.
Notice two things: there is no mention of sin or faith, and Jesus did not say he was healed. That adds to the idea that the man was a plant by the Pharisees. He may have confessed his sins and been forgiven another time, but not this time.
Jesus never gave the Pharisees much to work with in their plotting. He never said the words they needed to prove he was a blasphemer. He never did anything that violated the direct Word of God. So their plotting turned to false charges.
Verses 7-12 summarize the growing ministry and give us a reason for appointing the Twelve. As we learned in Acts, there were a couple of hundred disciples, the Twelve Apostles, and the innermost circle of Peter, James, & John.
Think about the men and women Jesus had as followers. They chose to become like Jesus. They loved and respected him as he did them. He was comfortable with them; they were friends. That is a powerful picture of the Church, the Bride of Christ. We fellowship together as friends, and as equals. The Pharisees concentrated on being separated from others.
Let us consider the reasons why Jesus was crazy and should be put away:
1) He abandoned a decent carpentry profession,
2) He refused any payment as an itinerant preacher/teacher,
3) He surrounded himself with questionable men,
4) He constantly said and did things that offended the leaders,
5) And now he allowed the crowds to run over him.
It is little wonder his family came to take care of him.
In the middle of that, the leaders came down the mountain to accuse him of being a devil. (Beelzebub is never used outside the Gospels.)
Verse 28, the Hebrew word for truth would be Amen, one of the names for God.
In verse 32, Mark refers to Mary this one and only time. It is a little odd given her role as a faithful follower.
Augustine (around 400 AD) Thus he spurned the earthly name of his mother in comparison to heavenly kinship.
“Whoever does God’s will….” Notice that Jesus places men and women on the same level.
Tuesday, March 25, Chapter 4
Mark did not include many parables. We have to go to Luke and Matthew for the full list. But here, Mark records 4 in a row.
Chrysostom (about 400 AD) As the sower fairly and indiscriminately disperses seed broadly over all his field, so does God offer gifts to all, making no distinction between rich and poor, wise and foolish, lazy or diligent, brave or cowardly. He addresses everyone, fulfilling his part, although knowing the results beforehand…. Why then, tell me, was so much of the seed lost? Not through the sower, but through the ground that received it—meaning the soul that did not listen…. But how can it be reasonable, one asks, to sow among the thorns, or on the rock, or alongside the road? Maybe it is not reasonable insofar as it pertains only to seeds and earth, for the bare rock is not likely to turn into tillable soil, and the roadside will remain roadside and the thorns, thorns. But in the case of free wills and their reasonable instruction, this kind of sowing is praiseworthy. For the rocky soul can in time turn into rich soil.
Verse 9, the Gospel is open to ALL. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
In his explanation to the disciples, Jesus stressed receiving the seed, as opposed to sowing the seed in the parable. And then he paraphrases from Isaiah 6:9-10.
We think that Mark was writing at a time when persecutions were starting in Rome. He may have included this section to encourage the faithful.
God is Light. We read in the second verse of the Bible, darkness was over the surface of the deep,and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said,“Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good,and he separated the light from the darkness.
Without God, there is only darkness.
The Growing Seed
The Word of God is a part of nature, a part of this world. Jesus was no alien. Neither is God. His Kingdom is growing whether we know it or understand it.
The Mustard Seed
A mustard plant, in a warm climate, will grow to about 10 feet.
All 4 of the parables describe something small or insignificant becoming something unexpected. The harvest for the Kingdom will surprise all of us.
Having given his disciples something to think about, he, the Apostles, and many disciples entered fishing boats (probably belonging to the four fishermen) and headed across the lake. It is called the Sea of Galilee, but it is a fresh water lake. The water is quite cold because it comes from snow melt in the mountains of Lebanon.
In reality, Jesus calming the water is a parable. Jesus had just explained how powerful God is and by extension, how powerful Jesus is. When the waves kick up, the disciples panic. They wake Jesus, not to calm the storm, but to make sure he knows they are all going to die. In all fairness, the fishermen among them knew of many swamped boats and men killed on the lake. As far as they knew, they were on the Titanic.
Jesus tries to remind them that they need not fear while he is with them. Time enough for fear when he leaves them, but for now, God will provide. Jesus spoke the same words he used in 1:25 to drive out the evil spirit. Psalm 107:23-30.
Jesus must have thought that his teaching had indeed fallen on rocky soil.
Wednesday, March 26, Chapter 5
Mark now moves us from storm-tossed disciples to a storm-tossed man. Crossing the lake, they arrived in the Decapolis, a group of ten independent Greek cities that had been there for centuries. Jesus had just preached about growing seeds. Now he will plant one seed in an unlikely man.
For the only time, Jesus first command to leave the man did not work. The man was filled with about 2,000 demons, so Jesus first got the name, Legion, which gave him ownership of them. They knew Jesus would order the out, so they begged to enter the pigs. Notice that Jesus simply allowed them to do as they asked.
Mark gives us a series of three unclean people for Jesus to heal. The first was the demon possessed Greek.
For the next two, Mark builds one within the other. First, Jairus asks Jesus to heal his daughter, but on the way, a woman touches him.
Dysfunctional uterine bleeding, as it is known medically, affects about 15% of women and treatment can take some months or even years. For a woman of that day, 12 years was not unheard of.
She was sure that if she touched the tassel of his prayer cloak, she would be healed, and it would not be enough of a touch to make Jesus unclean. She was right.
Jesus felt part of his healing power leave him and made a scene until the woman admitted she was the one. We do not know if Jesus knew at once who touched him or if he genuinely wanted to know. It does not matter. He wanted the woman to know that she was loved and respected. This is the only time in the four Gospels that Jesus called a woman, ‘daughter’.
Meanwhile, the daughter of Jairus died. Jesus took her hand and told her to get up. Mark has woven in a beautiful connection with these two healings. He heals a woman who has been menstruating for 12 years, calling her daughter. He heals a 12 year old who will start menstruating, calling her little girl. And he touches both. A Pharisee would grow old trying to get himself ritually clean after that.
Thursday, March 27, Chapter 6
Jesus had a tremendous problem, he was average. If he had been 6-4, 225, with silver streaks in his dark hair, with a voice like a megaphone and a brain like Einstein, people would have been more impressed. When the people of his home town saw him, they wondered what all the fuss was about. ‘You remember Jesus, the one who quit carpentry. He looks just like his brother James.’
One useful thing we get out of this visit is the names of his brothers. James became the Bishop of the Jerusalem Church, and Jude wrote a letter that made it to scripture status. They came to it later, but they were influential followers of their big brother, technically big half-brother. It is likely that none of the sisters were strong followers, or they would have been mentioned also. The second boy was named after his father, indicating to the world that Jesus had a different father. The first son would carry his father’s name.
Notice that Jesus could not do much and the reason was the lack of faith. That surprised Jesus, reminding us that he was human. God let him have the knowledge he needed when he needed it. It was necessary because no human brain could contain the knowledge of God or even a tiny fraction of that knowledge.
Having gone home and re-experienced being ‘normal’, Jesus sends his normal Apostles out to do the things Jesus generally did. This was a practice session for when Jesus went back to Heaven.
In verse 8, Jesus allows them to take a walking stick (it is the same Greek word used for the king’s scepter). They were to move quickly and depend on others for their food and lodging. Preach the Gospel from of your weakness.
Mark does something a bit strange regarding John the Baptizer; he devotes 3 verses to his ministry and 14 verses to his death.
In verse 14, the Herod of the year is Antipas, son of the Great. The Romans appointed him ruler of Galilee while Archelaus got Judea, and Philip II was stuck with Traconitis. They each held the title of Tetrarch, a word meaning four rulers even though there were just the three.
Back in verse 1:14, Mark says that John was put in prison, but he holds the rest of the story for now as a flashback. Notice as you read that there are three parallels with Jesus. Antipas stands in for Pilate, both Antipas and Pilate like what they hear and see, both John and Jesus are buried by friends, and there are reports of resurrection for both.
Jews did not celebrate birthdays, considering it a pagan ritual. No problem for Antipas.
Feeding the Five Thousand is the only miracle found in all 4 Gospels. It is helpful for us to think of it as a parable also. Check out Exodus 16 to review the Manna; Jesus is the New Manna.
Mark starts with a new word for him, ‘Apostles’. We can easily forget that they were busy traveling Galilee, preaching, teaching, healing, driving out demons, and they are reporting back to Jesus bubbling with excitement at all they have seen and done. Jesus pulls them away to eat and rest, but they become surrounded by a massive crowd.
Verse 37 speaks powerfully to us, ‘You give them something to eat.’
Notice the Apostles. They just had an incredible experience, but they cannot recognize that they still have the power to do what Jesus does in the end. Jews considered bread to be from God and the prayer before every meal was for bread, nothing else. The prayer went like this, Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who bringeth forth bread from the earth. Jesus instructed us to thank God for our bread daily. There was the belief among Jews then that whatever Moses did, the Messiah would do. Moses gave Manna, Jesus gave bread.
The manner of serving the people (verse 41) looks remarkably like the last supper.
Something disturbs Jesus, and he sends the disciples away while he prays. The Gospels record only 3 times when Jesus went away to pray, always when there was trouble.
The fourth watch was from 3 to 6 AM, so they have been on the water nearly all night and are making no headway. Jesus, though, has been talking with God all that time, so he is ready to go. Seeing their troubles, he walks out to help.
Still, the Apostles and disciples cannot believe Jesus can do this. No one can walk on water. His response to them is the same as what God says in Exodus 3:14, ‘It is I.’ Remember, it was just at the end of chapter 4 that Jesus calmed the storm.
To recap, the Apostles go out, do miracles and come back apparently brain dead. They have no understanding about feeding the people that they should have done it and could have at least have tried. Now they do not expect Jesus to calm another storm. When the Holy Spirit filled them at Pentecost, they had to feel pretty stupid every time they remembered these events.
To top it off, people saw Jesus get out of the boat at Gennesaret, and they recognized him, but the Apostles thought he was a ghost.
Friday, March 28, Chapter 7
Ritual cleanliness is the topic, one the Pharisees love. If a priest is in the Temple and slaughters a lamb for sacrifice, his hands are clean. If he is at home and he touches the dress of his wife who is having her period, his hands are unclean. The Pharisees could give thousands of examples like that.
Before every meal (twice a day then), a Pharisee would hold his fingers pointed up as a servant poured 3 ounces (a log) of ritually pure water over them. He then pounded each fist against the opposite fingers. Then he held the fingers pointed down as the servant poured another 3 ounces over the fingers. Clean!
There is nothing in God’s commands that comes close to this notion. This is an excellent example of what Jesus was working against. It helps us understand why he always seemed upset with the Pharisees.
In verse 11 we learn of a strange practice that was common among the Pharisees. If I buy a van and set it aside for driving people to church, that is Corban. But rather than give it to the church, under the Pharisees’ rules, I could continue to use it through the week for my personal ride. I could not pick up anyone else, however, unless they were going to church.
What the Pharisees did was create a huge loophole in the idea of dedicating a gift to God. They would declare all they owned to be Corban, and then they would act as the executors of the estate. They alone would decide how money was spent and how property was used. If a parent needed help buying food, the Pharisees would say, “Sorry, this is only for God.” They violated the command to honor their parents so they could follow a practice they had created.
We must be careful of using tricks to avoid God’s commands to love one another. Jesus always put human needs ahead of ritual. He healed on the Sabbath because that was when people needed him. We should worship God on the Sabbath (or Sunday in Christianity) and we worship God by serving people.
The most revolutionary verse in the New Testament is 15. Our spiritual relationship with God is first and foremost. Any ritual we attach to that is fine, but only when the ritual is either the result of the Spirit of God, or brings us closer to the Spirit.
Verse 19 is clearly intended to support what we have recently read in Acts about eating pigs and shrimp. The food does not make us unclean. It might make us sick, but still clean.
As if to prove his point, Jesus goes to gentile territory to heal a gentile girl.
Let me quote from F. F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus. Why did the woman not take offence at such an unpromising reply to her request? One obvious reason was that she was determined to get what she wanted for her daughter. In addition, what if there was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke, as much as to say, ‘You know what we Jews are supposed to think of you Gentiles; do you think it is right for you to come and ask for a share in the healing which I have come to impart to Jews?” … Again, what are we to say of the term ‘dogs’? That is a term of abuse, if ever there was one…. It is the dogs beneath the table. That in itself might suggest that they are household pets, the children’s playmates; and this is confirmed by the fact that the word for ‘dogs’ used by both Jesus and the woman is a diminutive [little dog].
Remember that Paul always went first to the synagogue when arriving at a new town. Jesus came to the Jews first and many thousands accepted the Gospel. Gentiles would receive the Gospel next. This woman was willing to ask for something that did not belong to her. She had faith in Jesus, more faith than the people he had just dealt with, including perhaps the disciples.
In any case, Jesus healed the girl from a distance without mentioning faith.
He moved on south into the Decapolis again to heal the deaf-mute.
A quote from Ephrem the Syrian (about 350 AD). That power which may not be handled came down and clothed itself in members that may be touched, that the desperate may draw near to him, that in touching his humanity they may discern his divinity. For that speechless man the Lord healed with the fingers of his body. He put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue. At that moment with fingers that may be touched, he touched the Godhead that may not be touched…. Then his mouth which had been so closed up that it could not give birth to a word, gave birth to praise him who made its barrenness fruitful.
At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, but they could not hear. In frustration perhaps, he goes to gentiles and finds faith and someone who hears and understands.
Be righteous and do good.