Review and Reflect on Mark 10:32-52

At the end of Mark 10, Jesus continues to teach and heal and expand his ministry. The last few posts have looked at how he has dealt with his disciples’ desire to be given positions of prominence and influence in the new Kingdom that Jesus was going to bring. Jesus has placed a child in front of them on two different occasions to contrast their desire for power and authority. The first time he says whoever welcomes those like children welcomes me, and the second time he says we are to receive the Kingdom of God like little children. But the disciples still believed that Jesus was going to launch a rebellion and overthrow the government in order to establish his own Kingdom militarily and politically. They understood Jesus to be the Messiah, but their understanding of Messiah needed fixed. Jesus doesn’t leave them in their ignorance, but he continues to be patient with them and teach them. In last verses of Mark 10 we see yet again, Jesus telling his disciples the kind of Messiah he is.

Jesus tells them what he is going to do for them, but they fail to understand it completely. In Mark 10:32-34, for the third time, Jesus foretells what he will do. This time he says it will happen in Jerusalem and verse 32 says that’s exactly where they are heading. This isn’t some distant someday, Jesus tells them again about his death because it is going to happen very soon. He describes his death more graphically this time as well. He says he will be mocked, and spit upon. He will be beaten and killed. But, it also says he will rise. This goes against everything the average person believed about the Messiah, yet Jesus continues to teach that as the Messiah, he has to die and he has to rise.

The disciples still don’t understand. It’s almost as if they completely ignored what Jesus was saying about what he was going to do. As soon as Jesus tells them this, two of them, James and John, ask Jesus for a favor. Their request is borne out of a misunderstanding of Jesus’ purpose. He wasn’t going to establish an earthly rule, but since they thought he would, The Disciples’ ask Jesus to make them great. Jesus says, I’m going to die and rise, and the disciples respond by asking for positions of prominence and greatness. In Mark 10:35-45they ask Jesus for a favor and he replies, “What do you want me to do for you?” In Verse 37 they say “When you are in your glory” in other words, “when you become our King, let us sit on your right and left”; “Let us hold the highest positions of power and prestige”. He tells them in verse 38 that they don’t even know what they are asking. Even though he has just explained it to them again, they don’t even realize that he is going to die, so what they are asking is to be killed with him. If they realized that, they certainly wouldn’t have asked it.

In verses 39-40, he asks them if they can drink the same cup and have the same baptism as him. This again is a reference to his death. They say they can, and Jesus says they will. Jesus predicts their deaths. Acts 12:2 says that King Herod put James to death by the sword – this means he was beheaded. Peter was arrested right after this but an angel set him free so he escaped death. John and James were part of the inner circle with Peter. John is not heard of in the book of Acts after chapter 8 so it is assumed he was martyred as well since he was one of the prominent 3 disciples. Jesus told them they would drink the same cup that he drank, and in the book of Acts we see they were killed because they proclaimed Jesus as the Risen Messiah.

But this is far away from Mark 10. Jesus is still teaching them what it means for him to be the Messiah. In verses 41-44, the other disciples are furious that James and John are trying to gain such status so Jesus intervenes and brings perspective. He says that the rulers of this world use their authority for their own purposes, but in the Kingdom of God this will not be the case. The greatest will be the servant and the first will be the slave. Once again, Jesus subverts our understanding of authority, power, and influence. Previously, we talked about the Rich Young Ruler who Jesus told to sell everything because he loved his wealth more than God. The Rich Ruler used his wealth for himself, Jesus says in the Kingdom of God, wealth is for serving others.

Here he says power and influence are demonstrated in humility, sacrifice, and service. Like wealth, power and influence are also to be used for others. Sometimes this is twisted into the idea of a Servant Leader. Some will say that in order to have true influence you have to serve. Jesus isn’t saying this. You don’t serve and act humbly to gain power and influence. Jesus says true power and influence are displayed in humility and service. Where is real power found? In pouring yourself out. A man named Oswald Chambers once said, “The great hindrance in spiritual life is that we will look for big things to do.” Jesus says, receive the Kingdom of God like a child. He put on a towel and washed feet. He doesn’t call us to do great things for God, he calls us to understand the mercy he extends to us as the Messiah. Any greatness achieved individually or as a church will only come from that.

Do you understand what he has done for us and how it affects every aspect of life? If you cry out for his mercy, he will respond. When we understand that mercy it will be translated into a life of humility and service that is powerful enough to change lives, and families, and communities, and even countries. But all of that is secondary. The place we begin, is rightly understanding our Messiah in the way he reveals himself in the Bible, not in any popular misconceptions or personal preferences.

In verse 45, Jesus says one of the greatest statements in the Gospel: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He expressed his power, authority and influence in sacrifice and service. Jesus leveraged his position to gain eternal life for us. Although he is the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth, when he walked on earth he didn’t demand service or submission even though they were rightly due to him. Instead, he served and submitted even to the point of dying as a ransom for us. We typically think of “ransom” in terms of kidnapping, but its more appropriately understood in the Bible in reference to prisoners or slaves. Jesus paid the price of our slavery so we could be set free. Jesus paid the price of our penalty so we could be released. In his death, he rescues us from the penalty of our sin and the slavery to our sinfulness. So when James and John ask Jesus for a favor in verse 36 and Jesus says, “What do you want me to do?” they reply by saying “Make us great!” And Jesus says, you don’t know what you are asking. Ratherthan doing what you ask me to do, I’ll do what you need me to do. Jesus died for James and John and for us, to pay our ransom. James and John eventually come to understand properly Jesus as Messiah and he makes them great through martyrdom as James is beheaded and John is never heard from again after a trip to visit another disciple who was preaching the Gospel. In asking Jesus to make them great, they showed they didn’t understand what Jesus was going to do.

Our church is small, we don’t have much influence in our town, and we are praying for God to grow the church and make us great. But when we pray for this, let us fully understand what we are asking. We’ll be made great by sacrifice, service, selflessness, and humility, not through power and influence. This has very little to do with the size or span of our ministry and everything to do with knowing Jesus.

As Jesus and his disciples continue on toward Jerusalem where all of this is going to happen, they go through Jericho. Here, Jesus has someone else ask him for a favor in Mark 10:46-52This man asks Jesus for a favor to, but this favor is quite different from the one for which the disciples asked. Rather than asking to be made great, this man is asking to be shown mercy.

When he calls out to Jesus, he says calls him “Son of David”. Whether or not the man fully understood what he was saying, the title certainly has Messianic qualities to it. He recognized Jesus’ authority by equating him with David. Instead of asking to be made great, he confesses Jesus’ greatness and asks for mercy. Hearing his cry for mercy, Jesus stops in verse 49. Remember that Jesus is the True King who shows compassion for his people, so even though many people told this guy to be quiet, Jesus hears him. In verse 52, he replies with the same question as in verse 36, “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John wanted power and authority, Bartimaeus wants Mercy.

What do you want me to do? Display your Mercy and make me whole!

The Rich Ruler from verses 17-31 wanted to keep doing his things his own way and also get eternal life. He had everything this world offers and he refused to give it up. Bartimaeus had nothing and he is given everything. Verse 52 says he recovered his sight and followed Jesus. He was a blind beggar, but now he is a friend of the King. The disciples asked to be made great, and Jesus tells them their greatness won’t come in this life. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus asks for mercy and sight, and Jesus gives it to him out of his great compassion. To both his disciples and this beggar, Jesus replies, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you want Jesus to do for you? Do you want Jesus to give you the American dream and make you healthy, wealthy, and wise? Do you want everything this world offers and eternal life and a place of authority in the Kingdom? The Rich Ruler, the Disciples, and the blind beggar all wanted different things and Jesus offered them all only one thing: Himself. Are you content with him and the mercy he gives? Do you want Jesus, or only the blessings and prosperity you believe he can give you? Jesus’ compassion is directed toward me and you. His greatest display of his mercy is forgiving people like us and restoring people like us. He is glorified in taking people who have been broken by sin and restoring them. What will Jesus do for you? He will forgive you based on the work he accomplished on the cross. He will make you the person you were created to be and that process will begin now and be completed at the resurrection.

Look at what he has done for you already! Mercy, forgiveness, provision, love, purpose. Who we are and what we have are for his glory and his Kingdom not our own. Be careful of the temptation of thinking of Jesus as existing for our prosperity and pleasure. We exist for his glory and his pleasure. When we live for that end, our lives find their full and true purpose and we experience the peace and joy that comes with it.

Acknowledgements and Sources

Review and Reflect on Mark 10:13-16

It seems a little odd that the story about children in Mark 10:13-16 is sandwiched between teaching about divorce and wealth. Jesus welcomed the children and the occasion provided for an illustration. He did the same thing at the end of chapter 9 when the disciples were arguing who would be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. Here he uses the children not only to teach about dependence and humility as in chapter 9, but to teach about the Kingdom of God.

Children have no status, no influence, and no wealth. Children are dependent upon others for their well-being, their security, and their care. Jesus says this is how we are to receive the Kingdom. This is how we are to approach the Kingdom. Those that belong to the Kingdom of God recognize that they can’t earn entrance. We have to recognize, we are completely dependent upon our King for our well-being, our security, and provision. Jesus’ parable here opposes the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Children can’t help themselves. His parable opposes the modern attitude that says, “I will pull myself up by my own bootstraps.” Children can’t even tie their shoes. To possess the Kingdom, we have to recognize that our position is not one of pride, self-sufficiency, and authority. In other places something similar is seen as the root of all temptation – the world, the flesh and the devil. In this little parable about children Jesus instructs us to accept and believe the way they do. We are to trust the way they do. We are to hope the way they do. Children approach life with innocence, raw faith, expectation, and dependence. Jesus says we are to approach the Kingdom that way.

So why is this story in this spot in Mark’s Gospel?

This story is here as a point of contrast for what the Kingdom of God is like. Jesus has just finished talking about hard hearts resulting in sinful outcomes such as divorce. And now in the next passage he is going to talk to a young man about finances and eternal life. Citizens of God’s Kingdom have hearts that are clean, humble and self-giving, not hard and self-absorbed. Citizens of God’s Kingdom completely trust in their King for life, security, and for any provision. They don’t concern themselves with trying to leverage for position, or to find or maintain wealth and success. So this story is a good contrast to what we read about divorce in verse 1-12 and what is coming in verses 17-31.

 

Acknowledgements and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:34-38

Read Mark 8:34-38.

Wherever Jesus went, crowds gathered to see him perform miracles and to hear him teach, but this time he explains to them, that following him is not a spectator sport. Jesus says if you want to follow me there are two things that need to be done: 1) deny yourself, 2) take up your cross. This is one of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. This discipleship Jesus calls people to, is not half-hearted or easy. Denying yourself is a refusal to be guided by your own interests and a decision to NOT attempt to control your own destiny. Jesus says, discipleship means you give up control of your life to him and it means that your destiny is not what makes you influential or great in this world, but our destiny is a cross.

Practically speaking, this may not cause all of us to live the same way, but it does call all of us to a radical manner of living. The comfort and prosperity of cultural Christianity in our age must constantly be compared to Jesus’ call for us to deny ourselves and set his sacrificial and humble death on a cross as our prize to attain. We cannot explain away the intensity and the seriousness of this call to discipleship. We’ll continually be tempted to placate this call and find balance or moderation, but this is not a message of moderation.

Most of the 12 disciples followed Jesus to their death literally. There are disciples all over the world who have followed Jesus to their deaths in recent history. Our situation in America may not lead us to martyrdom, but we cannot ease the sting of these words to our lifestyle, our motivations, and our goals. Jesus explains further what this means in a few different ways.

For clarity’s sake in this passage, the words “life” and “soul” are the same word translated two different ways. I don’t know why a translator would do that, but they did, so when you read this passage, reads the word “soul” as “life” because that’s what it says. He describes discipleship, or following Jesus, with three different concepts.

First, discipleship is related to what we lose and gain. We can lose our lives to this world and gain the next, or we can live for this world and lose the next. Secondly, discipleship is related to profit. We can invest ourselves in this world, and our return will be at most, gaining the things of this world. He asks in verse 37, “what can a man give in return for his life?” What can a person invest his or her life in and not lose their investment? The glaring answer that is unspoken is the same Kingdom of God that Jesus is ushering in, and will bring about through his death and resurrection. The third aspect of discipleship is where we place our pride and our identity. In verse 38 jesus tells us we can shrink back from identifying with him and his message or we can follow him. There are two roads before us. One leads to merely the potential for prosperity and success and comfort in this life but being rejected by the King in the next. In choosing the other road, you may lose prosperity or success, but you gain the Kingdom of God. Whichever road we choose, we experience hardship and injustice in this life. But by refusing to pursue the “ideal life” here, and instead pursue the Ideal Savior, we’ll have a constant companion in this life and a promise for the life to come. And if in God’s grace you do experience physical prosperity in this life, you will understand it’s temporary nature and you won’t place your how in those things, but your hope will remain in the Messiah. Jesus says in verse 38 that he will come in the Glory of the Father and with the Angels. The day will come when he will set everything right, but he calls us to begin to set our hearts and lives right today. Jesus’ call to discipleship in this passage is a description of what he means when he says the proper response to his message is belief and repentance.

This is what repentance looks like. It looks like denying ourselves and pursuing the life of the cross.

Lest we think this isn’t practical and applicable, let’s think about it. Are you denying yourself in your marriage or pursuing your own pleasure and your own rights? Are you denying yourself at work, at home, in your friendships, in your neighborhood? This may look different in each of our circumstances, but the Gospel is more practical than we like to admit. It’s easier to give 3 steps to a healthy marriage, or 5 ways to raise kids, or 2 ways to be successful at work. But Jesus says deny yourself and pursue the life of the cross.

Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah who came to die and will one day return to set everything right? If you do, then repentance is mandatory for we who call ourselves disciples, Jesus followers, or Christians. And that repentance looks like dying on a cross in every circumstance, decision, motivation, attitude, and relationship in our lives.

This is immensely difficult, but this is the life he’s leading us to, and when we believe and repent, it leads us to a life better than we can conceive in our minds. It leads us to heaven.

Review and Reflect on Mark 7:31-37

Jesus doesn’t seem to find the rest he was hoping for, so he returns again to the area around the Sea of Galilee in Mark 7:31-37. In every miracle that Jesus has performed from the calming of the storm to the raising of the little girl from the dead, there was no incantation, no arm waving, nothing. Jesus merely spoke, and whatever he said happened. So when he encounters this man who could not hear, nor speak, we have come to expect the same thing. But this time it’s different. This time, he first, in verse 33, takes him away from the crowd. Jesus is careful to give this man some privacy. Then he puts his fingers in his ears, spits on the ground, and touches the man’s tongue. Jesus doesn’t do all of these things to put on a show, remember he isn’t around a crowd, it’s just him and this guy. This man can’t hear, so Jesus uses something this man can understand, he uses touch. He uses non-verbal speech to help this man understand. Sign-language didn’t exist, so Jesus works in that realm of communication. The word used to explain this man has “deaf and with a speech impediment”  is only found here in the New Testament. The only other place it is found is in the Old Testament in Isaiah 35:5.

Read what this passage says in Isaiah 35:4-6 and note particularly where it says, “the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

Mark has included this story in his retelling of Jesus’ ministry to carefully teach who Jesus is. He isn’t a miracle worker who has come to heal people. Remember that over and over the question “Who is this?” has arisen about Jesus. Well, you see the deaf man hear and the mute tongue shout for joy. This Jesus is none other than the King of Heaven. He has come to bring salvation and judgment. When the King comes, the blind will see and the deaf will hear. He will bring retribution. In other words, he will set everything right. This story along with the story of the Syrophoenician woman work together to teach this theme. The King has come. He is the great King, not only of Israel, but of heaven and earth. He brings salvation to any who come to him. He sets everything to rights. And he will forgive and restore us if we come to him in belief and repentance. If we don’t let our pride keep us from living with the King, he has made a way for us to be forgiven and to live with him forever. And, we can begin to experience this forever kind of life today when we respond to Jesus by believing in him and aligning our lives with his plan.

Review and Reflect on Mark 6:7-29

Mark 6:7-13

As Jesus has begun to expand his ministry outside the town of Capernaum he has enlisted the help of his disciples. When Jesus called his first disciple in 1:16-20 he told them that soon they would be fishing for men. He also told them in 3:14-15 that their primary task was to “be with him”. They needed to understand who he was and what he was doing, and they have grown in this understanding as they have travelled with Jesus and witnessed his work. Now Jesus says it’s time for them to take their role in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus gives them certain instructions. “Don’t take anything with you”, he says. If they go to a place that receives the message of the Kingdom of God, they will be provided for. If they go to a place that rejects the Kingdom of God, they are to move along to the next place. Verse 12 tells us the content of their message. They proclaimed that people should repent; people should align their lives with the coming Kingdom. Their message is the same message Jesus was preaching. Verse 13 says they performed many of the signs of the Kingdom just like Jesus did. But, the result is not their popularity, but the increased popularity of Jesus. They didn’t go in their own authority like Jesus did, but they went in his authority. As Jesus becomes more popular than even before, the powers-that-be hear the rumbling of rebellion.

In this time in history in this part of the world, rebellions happened often. So, the increased popularity of a man such as Jesus would be noticed by the authorities. The last time someone was this popular was when John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River. So by this time, the King ruling over this part of Palestine heard about Jesus.

Read Mark 6:14-29.

Herod was the King of this region of Israel, but since he was still under Roman authority, he was simply a “puppet”. His primary objective from the Roman Government’s standpoint is to keep the peace. So when he hears of Jesus and the things he is doing, he begins to wonder if a rebellion is stirring or if, like with John, someone is going to threaten his authority in Israel.

John made the mistake of telling the King he was committing adultery so he was arrested and then killed. This seems like an odd place in the Gospel of Mark to place a story about John the Baptist being killed. But as Jesus’s ministry continues to expand and people everywhere are responding to him in belief, this story serves as a reminder to what happens to those who oppose the Kingdom of Man. John the Baptist dared to stand against Herod’s Kingdom, and it cost him his head. Jesus reminded Herod of John, in fact he thought Jesus might be the reincarnation of John. Jesus comes, similar to John, and Mark’s Gospel reminds us here about the direction that this story is going. Jesus’s message has begun to offend people. He offended his family and people he grew up with. If he continues to preach this message, he is eventually going to offend the wrong people. If God’s Kingdom is going to come, this means that Herod’s Kingdom will be supplanted. Herod wouldn’t allow John to speak against his governing practices, and he certainly won’t stand by idly while another comes pronouncing a coming Kingdom. Back in chapter 3:6, the Herodians, or religious leaders loyal to Herod, were beginning to plot Jesus’s death. In other words, if this is what happened to John the Baptist, it’s only a matter of time before something like this happens to Jesus. Verse 29 is also important. When John was killed, his disciples laid his body in a tomb. End of story. It’s a little odd that back in verse 26 Herod thinks that Jesus might be John resurrected. John’s disciples never claimed that he had risen from the dead. These are important elements of the story as we move forward.

Those of us who have read it know what will happen. Jesus will leave Herod’s jurisdiction as he and his disciples proclaim the Good news of the Time being fulfilled and God’s Kingdom coming. Eventually, they will make it to Jerusalem which is under the authority of another puppet King named Pontius Pilate. It is there that the Kingdoms will finally collide. The Kingdom of God will confront the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of Darkness. And it will appear that the Kingdom of God will be defeated. But after three days, Easter comes, and we see that the Kingdom of God will be triumphant. Jesus’s enthronement and victory is so different from what the Kingdoms of Man and the Kingdom of Darkness expect that he is able to overthrow them through their own devices of the treachery of sin and death. He overthrows them through death into resurrection.

He has accomplished this victory and one day we will follow his lead. Because we follow him, we will also be raised triumphant over sin and death. So, like his first disciples, we have to first believe and repent.

The placement of this story may seem odd, but one of the purposes is so we see that Jesus is different from the earthly kings. He is the King bringing the Kingdom with him, but God’s people had Herod as a puppet King. Jesus was coming to be their true King. He would not use the authority for his own pleasure and advantage like earthly kings, but in his great compassion would protect and provide for his people as their True King.

Review and Reflect on Mark 4:35-41

Jesus has just finished teaching about responding to the Gospel in belief and repentance. He has taught how this response relates to those who are inside and outside the Kingdom of God. And lest we forget who this is who is saying these things, there is one final story in the context in Mark 4:35-41.

After spending the day teaching, they set out on the Sea of Galilee to cross to the other side in the evening. As they are sailing across, a storm blows up suddenly, which happens in the Sea of Galilee, and it was so violent that it started filling the boat with water.There is a contrast in verse 37 to Jesus sleeping in verse 38 that is almost humorous if you think about the situation. So they wake Jesus up, and ask him a question that all of us will probably eventually ask God if we haven’t already: “Don’t you care?!” They say “don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Don’t you care that I can’t pay my bills? Don’t you care that I’m sick? Don’t you care that someone I love has died? God, Don’t you care about what I’m going through?! This is not a new question for God, so we have it recorded here in Scripture so we know we aren’t alone in asking it. This is an important question that we have to answer. Does he care or doesn’t he? This is where the depth of our theology intersects with human suffering. All of a sudden God isn’t just an abstract idea anymore but someone who can affect my circumstances if he wants to. Remember, Jesus’ message is that God’s kingdom has come. He can help me if he wants to, but if he doesn’t want to, why not? These are tough questions.

Does God care about our suffering? Let’s think about it. If God didn’t let bad things happen to people to he loves, then only good things would happen to people he loves. Then, since bad things happen to everyone this means God would love no one. This is where many people stop, so they reject God and believe that either there is no God, or if there is one he certainly doesn’t care about me, and if he does care about me, he’s mad at me. Bad things do happen to everyone, even the billionaire who invented Red Bull died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 89. Bad things happen to billionaires, bad thing to happen to people in poverty. We can either stop there, or we can keep going. I want to keep going.

By definition, what makes God, God, is that he is all-powerful among other things. If God is not all-powerful then he is not God. If he is all-powerful, he must be stronger than our circumstances. Since God is God, his love is expressed and enacted in ways that are greater and more profound than our understanding of why good or bad things happen to good or bad people. If you have a God to be mad at for causing your suffering or sorrow, then you also have a God who understands things that you possibly cannot and loves you more than you can possibly know. We can’t have it both ways. If God caused it, he is strong enough and loving enough to have his reasons. If he’s not strong enough or loving enough, then he couldn’t do anything about it, and this is not the God of Christianity, but a mere idol. We are either at the mercy of the storm, or in the hands of an all-powerful, all-loving God.

So our premise that God won’t let his people go through peril and suffering is wrong. It’s bad theology. Good theology understands that God can let bad things happen to people he loves because he is God and he has loving purposes that are greater than even our suffering. So in the midst of our suffering, no matter how horrible, we cannot doubt that God loves us and cares deeply for us. This is why the Bible says, “cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you”.

We may not understand our suffering, and we might even be angry at God for allowing it, but we cannot think that he doesn’t care for us in infinite ways that we will spend eternity with him learning. Those who reject belief in God, are forced to be victims of Nature. Nature is going to wear you down and destroy you, it doesn’t love you. We will all fall victim to tragedy, or illness, or the wearing down of the body in old age. Nature is violent, overwhelming and unmanageable. We can fight against it, but we cannot endure forever. Jesus also lets things happen to us we don’t understand. He allows or even causes Nature to exact a toll on us. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. There is a crucial difference though. Nature is indifferent to humanity, Jesus is filled with love for us. He is great enough to have reasons to make us endure tragedy and trial even if we don’t know those reasons. Of course this is not simply an exercise in reasoning, this truth of God’s love for us even in suffering must be believed and we must feel it within us, it’s not just a matter of being convinced.

(Tim Keller’s book “The King’s Cross” was instrumental in helping me think through these things in light of this passage, I highly recommend it.)

So the disciples ask him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” And Jesus responds. Jesus speaks to the storm like you speak to a belligerent child. He says, “Enough” or “Stop” or “Quiet”. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t perform an incantation. He simply speaks, and like a compliant child, the storm obeys, and everything is calm. Then he asks them a question, “have you still no faith?” or “do you still have no faith?” They hadn’t yet understood that this man preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God was the King himself. This is what his parables were about. When the one who created the wind and waves commanded them, they obeyed. A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus teaching about the Sabbath day and saw that as it relates to Sabbath, Jesus says, “I don’t just instruct you to rest, I am rest.”Here he says, “I don’t just display power, I am power”. They were afraid of the storm, but now they are terrified of Jesus. And the disciples respond by asking one another, “Who is this?”

And we are left with this question for ourselves as well. Who is this Jesus to us? To you? to me? Is Jesus really the King who is bringing his Kingdom and one day, perhaps soon, it will come in all of its fullness and completion.  Who is this Jesus? Is he the all-powerful, all-loving God who rules over our joy and our suffering? If not, who is he then? Don’t reject or accuse him, believe and follow him. We rest in his strength and in his love for both today and for the future. Will you follow him?

Review and Reflect on Mark 4:1-20

(Another sermon on the Parable of the Sower from 1/26/14 can be heard here.)

Other than a few verses here and there, at this point in Mark’s Gospel, we haven’t read much of Jesus’ teaching. Of course we have the general statement in Mark 1:14-15 telling us that the overall theme of his teaching is that the promised time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom has come near. The response we are to have to this is, first, belief in it, and, secondly, repentance to align our lives with this message. We read in a few places that people were amazed at the authority Jesus taught with, and how he was able to capture the attention of great crowds of people. But it’s not until chapter 4 that we get to actually read something Jesus taught. Mark 4 begins with what is called the Parable of the Sower although it may just more accurately be called the Parable of the Soils or even the Parable of the Seed because the emphasis doesn’t lie on the sower but on the nature of the soil as it encounters the seed.

Read Mark 4:1-9.

The last time Jesus gathered at the seaside, he had his disciples ready a boat so he could climb into it if he needed to. Remember that he was concerned he might get hurt as people climbed over each other to try to get to him. This time when he goes to the seaside to teach, he climbs into the boat before he begins. Apparently the crowd has gotten even larger than before. This time, the crowd gathers for the specific purpose of hearing Jesus teach rather than heal and cast out demons, although that is certainly not ruled out. Jesus taught in parables often. Simply defined, a parable is a story that has a different meaning than the obvious one. They are often like allegories, or riddles, but not always. Jesus gives this parable and expects the people to understand what he is talking about. He tells this story that we can all easily picture even in a culture that doesn’t revolve around farming. We can imagine a man walking through a field and casting seed everywhere to plant his field. He throws some all the way to the edges, some in the not-so-good soil, and some everywhere else. Many of the people in the crowd would have understood his parable because this type of teaching wasn’t completely foreign to them. “Sowing” is a concept found more than 50 times in the OT and it is often used figuratively rather than referring literally to farming. These uses included the idea of “reaping what you have sown”, meaning there are repercussions for unjust and ungodly actions. There is also the idea of God bringing blessing and restoration because he has chosen to bring it forth as a seed sprouts after it is sown. Some of the passages say, as God has allowed Israel to reap judgment and exile because of what they have sown, they will reap restoration and blessing because of what God has sown. Here are a few examples:

1) Jeremiah 31:27-28, 31-34 – God says that as he has watched over Israel in their destruction, he will watch over them in their rebuilding. He will sow “man and beast”. In other words, the people will return to the land and their livestock will increase. This is being fruitful and multiplying which is a sign of God’s blessing. But it doesn’t stop with physical blessing, this sowing will result in a new covenant in verse 32, and in verse 33 a new Law: he will restore Israel. This is precisely what Jesus is talking about when he says the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. He is bringing the heavenly Kingdom to earth which will result in a new Law, and a new People. Verse 34 says they will all know God and Jesus is showing that The Divine King has come close enough to know.

2) Ezekiel 36:8-11Here again sowing leads to restoration, but in verse 11 we see that in this time to come, there will be more to it than just rising to the days of Israel’s former glory. When Jesus speaks about time being fulfilled and God’s Kingdom coming, his audience must have remembered passages like this that speak of a restored Glory to Israel.

3) Zechariah 8:11-12God says he is going to do something new in verse 11. With that first line, you see that there was an expectation of something more than what had been in the past. There will be peace along with this fruitful blessing in verse 12. The last phrase is a reference to God’s people returning from Exile to experience this new thing and this time of blessing. These are the ideas swirling around in the heads of the Jesus’ audience as he teaches this Parable.

The Jewish people in general have great expectations in mind for God coming to release them from the exile of Roman oppression. They are awaiting God to send his Messiah. But their conceptions of this Messiah are tainted. So Jesus teaching a parable like this would have awakened these ideas in his audience. So, there would have been varied responses; some might have believed, some might have misunderstood. The disciples didn’t understand exactly what Jesus was getting at, so when they get a chance to ask Jesus about it, they do.

Read Mark 4:10-20.

Verses 10-12 show again a division between those inside and those outside the Kingdom of God. Jesus says these parables show the distinction between those on the inside and the outside. What causes the outsiders to remain outside is what Jesus describes in these verses. He quotes Isaiah 6:9 here which helps us to understand the meaning of what he is saying about these people. The reason they are outside is because they do not believe, the response Jesus says must happen for those who hear the Gospel. This is a case where the disobedient responses of sinful people do not thwart the plan of God. God’s plan will move forward in spite of man’s rejection, and also because of man’s rejection of God’s will.

Jesus goes on to describe the reasons why people reject God in his explanation of the parable. Verse 14 tells us who the sower is. I have heard this parable explained by putting us in the seat of the sower, but it is God who sows the seed, not us. The seed is the Gospel that Jesus has been preaching – The time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom has come.

Verse 15 shows the first place the seed is sown: along the path. When the sower casts his seed, some of it lands close to the path. The response of some to this Gospel that Jesus preaches is that they quickly reject it. They see it, they hear it, but the respond by rejecting. The work of the devil is involved with these people’s response. This is the first type of soil. It doesn’t have anything in it to sustain growth.

Verses 16-17 show the second place seed is sown: on rocky ground. There is a superficial response to the Gospel. It is recognized that it is Good News so the initial response is joyful. These are the spectators, the people who think spiritual things are important as long as you don’t go overboard. But when difficulties come in life, which they always do, they don’t have enough depth to their understanding of the Gospel to endure life’s difficulties. Eventually and inevitably, following Jesus will cost something. They leave the Gospel in favor of living more comfortably, or more easily. When they recognize that continuing in the Gospel will cause them to have to sacrifice something, they refuse it and reject it in favor of their own path. This is the second type of soil. It allows a plant to begin, but it does not mature.

Verses 18-19 show the third place seed is sown: amongst thorns. A few years ago, I got some manure to put in my garden to help it to become soil that yields better vegetables. At first, my squash, beans, and cucumbers began to grown and they looked good. But, I noticed all around small green sprouts. The sprouts grew quickly and eventually, overtook the other vegetables and caused them to wither and they produced very little. I tried to pull the weeds, but when I did I pulled up the vegetable plants too, so eventually I just let them be and the vegetable all died off. The soil was corrupted by the weeds. This verse says the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things are like weeds that choke out an otherwise thriving plant. I’ve known people who were so passionate about the things of God, but when they realized they could not have everything this world offers and everything God offers together, they decided to forsake the Gospel. It’s not so difficult to be religious when it’s acceptable or when it can actually benefit your standard of living, but when that changes, many people leave it. This is the third type of soil, a plant can grow fully, but it is overcome with weeds which render the plant useless.

These three types of soil illustrate a theme that can be seen throughout the New Testament. Those who reject the Gospel fall prey to a threefold deception – the devil, the flesh, the world. The devil is active to prevent the Gospel from taking root. Our own sinfulness causes us to desire anything except the Gospel. And our world offers so many things that seem more attractive than the Gospel. This is why there are comparatively few people who come to believe it.

But Jesus tells of a fourth type of soil in Verse 20. As the sower walks through the field scattering seed everywhere, some of it lands on the path, some of it in rocky soil, some of it where it is overcome by weeds, but some of it lands where it can take root, grow, and bear fruit. The point of verse 20 is not how much yield this seed brings forth, the point is that it brings forth more grain or fruit. Jesus says, some will respond properly through belief and repentance and it will result in new life.

I think it is helpful for us in applying this Scripture to consider who we are in the passage. As important as it is to spread the word of the Gospel, we are not the sower, God is. We are also not the seed, this is the Gospel. We are the soil. We are those who respond to God and his Gospel, his Good News.

So the question for us is, “What kind of dirt am I?”

The point of this passage isn’t about how much “fruit” you produce, but it’s about our response. There are lots of ways we might respond, but ultimately we either reject the Gospel, or we believe and repent.

What will your response be?

Review and Reflect: Mark 3:20-35

First, read Mark 3:20-35.

Jesus and his followers go back home. It’s likely that they went back to Simon’s house in the town of Capernaum. They settle in and get ready to eat for what appears to be the first time in quite a while, and again the crowd finds him. His family has heard about what is going on, and they come to get him because he they believe him to be “out of his mind”, it says in verse 21. Remember how Jesus’s reputation has spread all over the region so that, now, even his family back home has heard about all that Jesus is doing and saying. No doubt they have also heard about the problems he is causing with the authorities and how if he’s not careful he’s going to get himself killed. His family comes to get him, to take him back home so he will stop causing such problems. It’s clear that his family didn’t understand his message or what he was doing. The only way they can respond to what Jesus has been saying and doing, and the reputation that he is gaining, seems to be to think that Jesus is delusional. They may have had intentions that were good. It’s likely that they were concerned for Jesus safety or possibly just the reputation of their family. Never mind that his followers, and crowds of people seem to think Jesus is a miracle worker, a healer, or a great teacher, his family thinks he’s nuts. But, there is something worse than being thought of as delusional…

Verse 22 says that some Scribes have come down from Jerusalem. These weren’t the local Scribes who have questioned Jesus before; these were the big wigs from Jerusalem. Apparently news of this Jesus fellow has reached the seat of religious authority in Jerusalem so they send an envoy of their best Scribes to confront him. Because they believe Jesus to be teaching false doctrine, they believe he cannot be a messenger from God. That means the miracles that coincide with his teaching can’t be empowered by God, but they happen from some source of power. What else can they logically conclude than that Jesus is performing these great signs by the power of Satan himself?

So his family thinks he is delusional, and the religious authorities think he is demonic. Jesus responds to these two accusations. First, he responds to being accused of being in league with Beelzebul. Beelzebul was a pagan god and in this context the name is used to refer to Satan. Jesus addresses the Scribes with a question, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” He says in verse 25, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. In other words, if he was satanic, Satan would be waging war against his own army, and this is not a military strategy that will bring victory. You don’t win a battle by taking out your own soldiers. Then, as part of his argument, in verse 27, Jesus tells them this odd illustration about a “strong man” being bound. The “strong man” in the parable is Satan (Here is a good example of allegorical interpretation!). Jesus has already overcome Satan’s temptation in the wilderness for 40 days in chapter 1, but soon the time will come when Satan will accomplish his greatest achievement, killing the Son of God. Even then, though, Jesus will overcome and rise from the dead proving again that his authority is superior to even Satan’s. Though evil accomplish its greatest feat, God will still triumph. The “goods” that Jesus will plunder will be the people of God who are bound to death and Satan’s power. No longer will death reign over humanity because those who are in Jesus will not be bound by it. Jesus will overcome Satan and reclaim from him what rightfully belongs to him. Remember how Jesus has been teaching that God’s Kingdom has come? When this happens, Satan’s Kingdom is overwhelmed. As you might expect, Jesus brings this idea from the OT. There is a passage in Isaiah 49:24-25 that talks about God rescuing his children who are the prey of a tyrant. Understanding Isaiah 49 in its context helps us to read Mark 3:27. In Is. 49 God says that he will personally rescue those who have been taken captive by the tyrant of Babylon who relocated God’s people in the early 6th Century BC. God says he will take back the captive and rescue the prey. God says he will personally end their exile. This is a similar story to Mark 3. The “Goods” of the strong man must be God’s people who have remained under Satan’s power, just like the “prey” of Is 49 are children under the tyrant, who Jesus says is Satan. The point of this Parable that Jesus tells is that rather than working for Satan, like the Scribes accuse, he is undermining Satanic authority and robbing him of it. In each interaction with a demon Jesus is “Binding” or opposing Satanic authority. He is casting out demons and setting people free from the demonic oppression. This should be understood in the context of the Scribes accusing Jesus of being empowered by Satan. Some have interpreted this as a way to pray, that when we are asking God for a victory, we should ask him to “Bind Satan”. In this context, what is meant by binding is that Jesus is overcoming Satanic authority. So if we are praying for Jesus to “bind” Satan, we are praying for him to overcome his authority, which he has already done on the cross and through the resurrection. So, if you are feeling like you being oppressed by the demonic, you don’t need to ask God to bind Satan. What you need to do is understand Jesus’ authority over your life, and walk in faith and obedience. Without a doubt there is more to the trials and struggles of our lives than what we see. Demonic activity and influence is at play around us. But we don’t need to fear or worry about this. We need to walk under Jesus’ authority by walking in obedience and repentance. So, I wouldn’t recommend you criticize anyone who prays that God would “Bind Satan”, but I would recommend, you know understand what you are praying, and if you want to pray that way, at least know why. Jesus is arguing with Scribes here, and he tells them a parable which is kind of a mix between a story and a riddle. He tells them with this story about the “strong man” that he is overthrowing Satan in order to establish the Kingdom of God. This is what makes the accusation of the Scribes blasphemous. He is establishing God’s Kingdom, and they accuse him of establishing Satan’s Kingdom.

Then, as if understanding verse 27 wasn’t difficult enough, Jesus speaks of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit being an eternal sin in verses 28-30. We talked about this passage in small group a few weeks ago after it was brought up. Some people believe that this passage means there is a sin that you might commit that God won’t forgive you. This isn’t what the passage says though. I think it helps if you look at verse 30 first – the reason Jesus says this is because they were accusing him of being demon possessed. They were attributing the work of God to Satan. They said Jesus was demon possessed. No one who believes this belongs to the people of God. Remember Jesus says Belief and repentance are the way we are supposed to respond to the Gospel, and these people respond by unbelief and accusation. Verse 28 says every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven except for the sin of believing that Jesus was not empowered by the Holy Spirit, but by demonic spirits. This also doesn’t mean that if at one point in your life you believed this, you cannot be forgiven. It means that if you remain in this belief, you cannot be forgiven. An example of this would be for us to consider the Apostle Paul who persecuted followers of Jesus then ended up following Jesus himself. It’s helpful to understand that Jesus is speaking to the Scribes particularly, who were making this claim. So, you don’t have to worry about unknowingly committing a sin that will cause you to get rejected from heaven. This passage doesn’t mean that, it means that you cannot believe Jesus worked in the power of Satan and be accepted by God. If you used to believe that, but you have repented of that, then you don’t remain under that curse.

After Jesus finishes this discussion with the Scribes, his family comes back into the picture.Verse 31 says that they called for him. Jesus then addresses the crowd saying, “Who are my mother and brothers?” In verse 35 Jesus answers his question before the crowd, “Whoever does the will of God is my mother, brother, and sister”. What is will of God? It’s what we have been saying: believe and repent. To believe the Good news that Jesus fulfills God’s promises and brings God’s kingdom to earth and to repent and align your life with his! This is what the crowd needed to do to move from curiosity to faith, from spectator to belonging. He uses his families’ actions to teach this crowd that has gathered, that they must believe and repent, not simply like Jesus or be enamored with his miraculous signs. This statement Jesus makes in verse 35 is a further description of who the true people of God are. They are those who do God’s will. The Pharisees and Scribes thought they were doing God’s will, but in reality they opposed it. And, they thought their religious observance made them God’s people, but in rejecting Jesus they reject God and show that they are outside of God’s true people and God’s true family. Again there is this division between those who belong to God’s true people and those who do not. The issue that divides them is their response to Jesus’s message: belief and repentance or accusation. Notice, how Jesus’ family stands outside when the call for him in verse 30 while his disciples are inside the house. Later, some of Jesus’ family comes to believe in him, but at this point in the story his family thought he was a lunatic.

The Scribes thought he was a demon possessed liar. There are not too many other options for us to have today in our response to Jesus. Some believe that he is a myth or a legend. But the historical record, the testimony of Christians from that day to this one, and other things argues against this. Like his family at this point in the story, some people think Jesus was simply a lunatic that persuaded many people to follow him. But he didn’t teach like a lunatic. His teaching is among the most profound in history. He engaged in thoughtful debate with some of the great minds in his community. The authorities would not have felt threatened by someone who was insane, but they were very concerned with Jesus’ authority and ability. This is not the sign of a crazy person. The religious leaders believed he was a false teacher, or a liar. He can’t be a great moral teacher and a liar. If his teachings are great, then he can’t be a liar. He opposed them to the point of death and then so did his followers. People don’t allow themselves to be killed for something they know to be a lie, yet Jesus continues in his teaching even though they brought him death.

So what is our response to Jesus? He is not a legend or a lunatic or a liar. We know Jesus to be the Lord. He was everything he said he was. He fulfilled promises and brought God’s Kingly authority to earth. If he is the Lord, we can’t ignore him or pretend like what he did and what he said has no impact or relevance to our lives today. He says his true family, the family of God, are those who do God’s will. Will you follow Jesus with your whole life and do God’s will? Or will you reject him and follow your own will? The choice is yours. Following Jesus isn’t something you need to be convinced of, its something you must decide to do, you must believe that he is everything he says he is. This will leave no part of our life untouched by God. What is your response today? Will you believe and repent, aligning your life with God. Our will you accuse him of being something other than who he says he is?