Tag Archives: Mark

Mark 8-11

92523845      Donkey and colt

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.

Mike Lawrence

Mark 3-7

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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.

The Sower

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.

A Lamp

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 JesusWhy 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.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 26- Mark 2

file7781250745849        An Ancient Prison

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, March 17, Chapter 26

Paul is in chains before Agrippa, but he manages to take the classical Greek oratorical stance by holding a hand out.  He again assures Agrippa that he is a good and loyal Jew, even a Pharisee.  This is not something he made up for his defense.  In his letters, he also claimed to be a Jew.  He lived as a gentile only when he was with them.  He lived as a Jew when he was with Jews.  My personal belief is that he ate with gentiles, but never ate pork.

Verse 8 is a terrific question for all times.

Paul appeals to Agrippa’s status as a Jew by reminding him of the promise of the prophets.  Note that it is Festus who accuses Paul of being crazy.  Agrippa at the end says that Paul is not guilty and should be released, but he asked to go to the Emperor, so must go.

This shows the big picture.  When Paul claimed Roman citizenship, he saved himself from being killed in Jerusalem, knowing he was intended for Rome.  By claiming the right for a trial before the Emperor, he assured a trip to Rome.  Paul knows that he will die, and he would have been personally thrilled to die at Jerusalem where his Master also died.  But God wanted him to minister in Rome before his execution.

Tuesday, March 18, Chapter 27

We see Luke again in the first verse.  It is likely that he traveled some while Paul was in prison.  Paul was well cared for by the Christians in Caesarea.  As is the case today in many countries, people in prison depend on family and friends to feed, cloth, and nurse them.  The prison is only there to lock the prisoners away.  If no one feeds them, they die, which makes space for new prisoners.

The Mediterranean has claimed tens of thousands of ships over the centuries.  It is more unpredictable than the other oceans because odd-shaped land masses surround it.  Winds sweep down mountains and blast ships into to danger without a hint of clouds.  This trip is an excellent example of what can happen.

It might be helpful to find a map to follow the adventurous journey.  Twice, Luke tells us that they sailed to the lee.  The leeward course simply follows the wind, rather than to sail across the wind.  By doing that, the ships they were on failed to follow the course they wanted.

In verse 12, we see that the ship intended to sail along the coast of Crete, a distance of perhaps 30 miles.  The storm blew them south past the tiny island of Cauda, about 100 miles south.

The storm continued so long the captain ordered all cargo and non-essentials thrown overboard.  They were at the mercy of the winds.  Paul assured them they would live.

After 2 weeks, the ship arrived at Malta and Paul saved them again when the crew tried to abandon them on the ocean.  He became the acting captain.  Thanks to him, all 276 men made it to shore.  It is likely that most of the men were prisoners.

Wednesday, March 19, Chapter 28

Regarding the serpent, Basil the Great (died 628) wrote, If you have no faith fear less the beast than your own faithlessness through which you make yourself susceptible to every type of corruption.

Publius received the power of Paul in the healing of his father.  That led to many others.  No doubt, they left many Christians on the island.

When they finally arrived in Rome, Paul had proven himself to such a degree that the commander allowed him to live where he wanted with only one soldier to guard him.  We can safely assume Paul converted more than one of those guards.

The Jews received and treated him respectfully with several becoming followers of the Way.  Luke gives us a pleasant, if incomplete, end.  Paul preached in Rome for two years.

The record is not clear about what happened to Paul after those two years.  The most widely accepted notion is that he had his head cut off at about the time Peter arrived for his upside-down crucifixion.  Neither account has scriptural support.

There are some hints that Paul may not have faced a trial and did make another missionary journey in Asia and Greece.

It is also possible that he went to Spain.

The truth is, we do not know.

JOHN77_edited-1

Thursday, March 20, Mark Chapter 1

We begin the study of Mark with the same statement used to end Acts, we do not know.  Specifically, we do not know who wrote the Gospel.  None of the Gospels have titles; we have attached them over the years.  However, we do have a written source from about 140 AD that names John Mark as the author, and he is quoting an older source, Papias who was alive when most of the New Testament writers were working.  So, I feel safe in assuming it is John Mark, the same young man who deserted Paul.

Most scholars believe that Mark was the first of the Four Gospels  written, and that both Matthew and Luke used his book as a template for their own, each adding points they believe were relevant, but left out of Mark.  Scholars generally believe that John Mark spent most of his missionary life with Peter and wrote down accounts given by Peter as he preached.

Mark begins with the Gospel.  In Greek, the word is evangelion, literally, Good News.  He next uses a neat rhyme in Greek: Iesou Christou. Huiou Theou; Jesus Christ, Son of God.

He next moves us to Isaiah.  Mark wants his readers to know immediately that Jesus is the Promised One and that John the Baptizer prepared the way.  If you are keeping score, verse 2 is a quote from Malachi 3:1, not Isaiah.

John preached repentance; literally an about-face.  ‘You have turned away from God; do an about-face and come back to Him.’

2 Kings 1:8 describes Elijah much the same as verse 6.

People who owned slaves had them untie the straps of their sandals, yet John is not even worthy to do that for Jesus.  It is intriguing that the word used by Mark for strap is also used for prisoner.

The early church struggled with the idea of Jesus’ baptism; he did not need to repent because he was without sin.  We generally say that he took on the sins of the world; it seems likely that this was the moment when that happened.  Baptism for him was a kind of reverse process.

The Trinity is present when the Holy Spirit comes to touch the Son of God and the Voice of God claims him as His own.  It seems a little odd at this point that it took the church 300 years to accept the idea of God in 3 forms.

Mark deals quickly with the forty days before moving to verse 14 with the arrest of John.  Mark has Jesus doing remarkably little until John is off the stage of history.  Now he begins to collect disciples, starting with those who would be his inner circle: Simon, Andrew, James, John.  It is at least possible if not likely that the four were in business together and may have been cousins.

Jesus ministry through chapter 10 will take place in Galilee, so check your map to see where Jesus is.  You will find him in Capernaum a good deal.  The religious leaders see that alone as a sure sign Jesus is not the Messiah.  No man who is ritually pure would go near the disgusting place with its Greeks, Romans, fishermen, and other lowlifes we will meet from time to time.

Mark does something awesome starting in verse 21.  He gives us a series of open and closed doors, all dealing with ritual purity.  The door first opens with an invitation to comment on the scripture read that day at the Sabbath service.  Jesus’ teaching stuns people.

Then a man possessed by an unclean spirit (the proper Greek word) calls Jesus the Holy One of God.  Jesus immediately closes that door.  Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but the evil one is trying to tempt him with the claim, get him to think more highly of himself than he should.

Driving the spirit out quickly reopens the door and amazes people.  He becomes the talk of Galilee.

Jesus has already shown us that ritual purity is a waste of time if the Holy Spirit has not cleared away the sin inside us.  Think about why you go to church, read the Bible, give money, give up ___ (fill in the blank).  All too often, we step into church to cleanse us.  ‘I go every Sunday, so I’m a really good person.’

Becoming famous is another temptation for Jesus, so he leaves that and goes to Simon’s house.  Simon’s wife’s mother, sick in bed, gets Jesus’ attention.  Notice, Jesus closed the door by leaving the public and quickly opens the door to help someone.  He goes to her bed and holds her hand to help her stand healing her.  But do not miss the fact that Jesus violated two purity rules, he entered the bedroom of a woman and he touched a sick woman.  And you thought it was bad that he was hanging out with stinky fishermen.

Yet, in verse 32, Mark makes it clear that Jesus did not receive the others until the Sabbath was over.  Jesus will get in trouble for healing people on the Sabbath (he did heal the mother-in-law), but he does not look for trouble.

Jesus sneaks off to pray early Sunday morning.  Closing the door on the popularity.  Mark mentions going off to pray two other times (6:46 & 14:32-41), and in all 3 cases, there is a kind of crisis going on.  Not a bad example for us to follow.

This time, Jesus closes the door more firmly by leaving and walking around the region.  The leper represents very nearly the bottom of the ritually pure ladder; a dead person being the bottom.  Jesus could have healed the man without touching him, but he is giving everyone another lesson in purity.  Touching people is not a sin, why we touch people sometimes is a sin.

Jesus follows with instructions to go to the Temple for the ritual cleansing.  That was no small order.  The Temple was a two-day walk at best, through bandit country.  It was necessary because God had commanded that it be done and Jesus NEVER violated God’s Law.  God did not say, ‘Never touch a leper’

Nu 12:9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.

Nu 12:10 When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, 27 like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy;

Nu 12:11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed.

Nu 12:12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

Nu 12:13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, please heal her!”

Nu 12:14 The LORD replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.”

That is the Word of God.

Friday, March 21, Chapter 2

Middle Eastern hospitality involved opening the door of the house in the morning and closing it at night.  Anyone who wanted to come in could do so.  The wealthy generally placed a servant at the door as a guard, especially if they were Pharisees.

Back in Capernaum, Jesus was likely at the home of Simon Peter where we know he often stayed.  It was standing room only, even outside and around the open windows.

A roof in those days was built by laying thick beams or tree trunks across the opening, then crisscrossing with smaller and smaller wood or tree limbs.  The finish was a thick coat of mud to seal it.  Mud mixed with urine can create a surface impervious to rain.

Imagine how disruptive those men were by digging through the roof, dirt and debris falling on everyone in the room.  I guess Peter would have had a word or two for them.

Why did Jesus not heal the man?

Two reasons.  Most important, that is not what the man needed.  Sin can paralyze.  Doctors see it all the time.  Today we call it psychosomatic, but it is real.  If forgiveness of sin can heal a physical malady, why not do it?

Reason two is that Jesus knew there were religious leaders in the crowd who would object to forgiving sins.  He knew who they were, and he knew what their reaction would be.  Therefore, he created a teaching moment.

Notice, Jesus did not say, ‘I forgive your sins.’  In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus say that.  He did say, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’  Only God can forgive sins, and even the Messiah did not choose to boast by saying he could do it too.

What is the teaching moment?  Again, two things; Jesus proved his Messiahship by letting the scribes know that he could read their thoughts.  Then he healed the paralytic.

The Lesson: Jesus Is The Messiah.

Jesus, however, never called himself the Messiah and certainly never God.  He almost always called himself the Son of Man.  In Hebrew, it is Ben Adam.

Ezekiel used a form of the name more than 90 times, always showing God’s work being done through the weakness of man.

Daniel used it in 7:13,14,18.

The Book of Enoch, not a part of the Bible, but considered close in the First Century, spoke often of the Son of Man and described him replacing all the kings of the earth.  The book was as popular as it was widely known in Jesus day.  Everyone knew he was claiming the Ezekiel-Daniel-Enoch meaning of the title.  They also knew that it was another name for the Messiah.

Calling Levi is intriguing.  A tax collector was only a notch or two above a leper in purity, not because of money, but because he had to deal with Romans and Greeks every day.  Having the fishermen follow him was tolerable, but not Levi.  The fact that Levi was sitting in the toll booth (it was a tax to use the road) suggests that he was not making enough money to hire others to do the collecting for him.  Remember that any tax collector could ask for any amount above what Herod and the Romans required.  Collecting two or three times that amount was typical.  It was a get-rich-quick position.

The Pharisees could not understand the idea that a person could be free of sin without doing something.  ‘You have to earn it’ they would say, and did.  Jesus says, “No one ceases to be a child of God because of sin.’

Most of us do not get too excited about fasting, perhaps we should.  Leviticus 16:29 calls for a fast on the Day of Atonement.  That is the only one required in the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses.  Four more were added after the return from the Babylonian exile (Zechariah 7:5 & 8:19).  But by Jesus time, the Pharisees did those fasts plus every Monday and Thursday.

Jesus did fast according to the command of God.  The Pharisees complained that Jesus was not fasting as they had decided it should be done.

Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom here; that is a vital image throughout the New Testament, but especially in Revelation.  Jesus says here in Mark that his followers should feast while he is with them; there will be time for fasting when he is gone.  He is also promising a Great Feast in Heaven when we become his bride for eternity.

Should Christians fast?  Yes, if it brings you closer to God.  If all you think about is hunger, no.  In verse 21, Jesus tells us that the form of worship is not as powerful as the willing heart.

Colossians 2:16-23 speaks to the topic above and below.

The Oral Tradition listed 39 acts that were forbidden on the Sabbath.  Almost none of them mentioned in the Bible.  Reaping or harvesting grain was one.  Yet, in Deuteronomy 23:25, God said we can pick grain by hand.

Jesus followed the Scriptures.  But rather than debate with them about it, he, once again, claimed the title of the Son of Man.  If he is the Son of Man, the Messiah, why can he not do what he wants?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence