Review and Reflect on Mark 11:1-11 – Jesus brings together the promises God made to Israel.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem with his followers. This wasn’t such a big deal because lots of people were heading that way, because it was almost time for the great feast known as Passover. People from all over came to Jerusalem for Passover. But on his way, Jesus passes through Jericho and heals a blind man. As the crowds going to Jerusalem are increasing, more people are recognizing Jesus and not only going to Jerusalem, but going with him. His reputation as a healer and teacher with great authority was everywhere. Everyone knew him. So now that he was headed to Jerusalem, he heals a blind man who was calling him the Son of David.

David was Israel’s great King. He was a great warrior defeating giants and taking on God’s enemies. In allowing this man to refer to him as the Son of David, Jesus was no longer keeping quiet the fact that he is Israel’s Messiah. In fact, the crowd had tried to keep the man quiet, but it was Jesus who told him to speak, asking him “What do you want me to do for you?” There had been subtle hints and murmurs about Jesus being the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, but nothing this explicit or public until blind Bartimaeus is given his sight. And once the crowd hears this, the momentum of his ministry grows and Jesus continues to Jerusalem.

Jesus had been teaching around Israel for nearly 3 years by now. He has been teaching that the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingly authority was coming close enough to experience. The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. And Jesus has not only taught this, but acted it out in his compassion healing people and feeding people. Now he is bringing this teaching and this action to Jerusalem. This is where we pick up the Story in Mark 11:1-10.

This scene has traditionally been called the Triumphal Entry and is often preached on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter. Mark’s version differs slightly from the other 3 Gospel accounts because they are emphasizing different aspects. Mark is using this story to bring together the message Jesus has been proclaiming which he calls the Gospel, or the Good News – The Time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. In this story we see this same message, this Gospel, presented in another way. Here, Jesus is acting out the Gospel that he is fulfilling the promises of God to Israel and through Israel to humanity.

God is coming to live with his people and rule his people himself. In these few verses, there are a number of Old Testament allusions and references that all point to this one specific truth: Jesus comes to fulfill the promised Time and he does this as the King bringing his Kingdom with him.

Jesus connects his own story with the Old Testament story in several ways. The first reference has to do with where Jesus is, before coming into Jerusalem. Verse 1 says that he was on the “Mount of Olives” which is to the east of Jerusalem. Zechariah 14:4 is a prophetic passage about God rescuing Israel from her exile and her oppressors and doing so from the Mount of Olives. There’s significance in the details here. Jesus is intentional about what he is doing because what he does and what he says are teaching the same thing.  He is bringing together in himself all of the promises of God.

A second Old Testament reference can be seen in verse 2-7. In verses 2-6, Jesus sends his disciples to get a donkey or a colt. Perhaps this was pre-arranged so the people knew that Jesus would be sending his followers to get it. But, kings had the right to commandeer whatever they wanted. So this is meant to be a demonstration of Jesus’ authority to take the colt, use it, and return it. In verse 7 they bring the colt to Jesus and place their cloths upon it for him, and he rides on it. A King demonstrated the position of being a servant of the people by riding on a donkey or a colt during a royal demonstration. This practice is seen around 900 years earlier with Solomon in 1 Kings 1:38-40. Here Solomon rides on the royal mule to demonstrate his claim to the throne of Israel. The people see this and begin shouting and cheering. The scene in Jesus’ day was not so different from Solomon’s.

Matthew includes Zechariah 9:9 in his retelling of this event in Jesus’ ministry, but Mark only alludes to it. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt or a donkey to demonstrate that he is Israel’s King. Just like Solomon and others did, Jesus is showing he is Israel’s King. As Jesus rides this humble animal into Jerusalem, the people lay down their coats and palm branches and other things as a covering for the road.

This is a third Old Testament allusion seen here in Mark 11. In 2 Kings 9 a man named Jehu is made King over Israel by the prophet Elisha. Jehu is talking with some of the officers of the army he’s commanding and Elisha takes him inside a house to speak with him. Elisha tells Jehu that God has selected him as King and he pours oil on him which was the practice of anointing someone as King. Then, in a kind of funny way, Elisha takes off running out of the house and down the road. Then Jehu comes out of the house back to his officers and we read in 2 Kings 9:11-13 that Jehu’s men take off their coats and spread them on the ground before their King.

So, when the people do this on the day Jesus rides into Jerusalem, they aren’t just honoring him as a prophet or religious teacher, the crowd is hailing him as their King. With his actions, Jesus is making claims to being the King of Israel. In verses 9-10, we see the people singing and cheering in response to what Jesus is doing. These phrases they are shouting are also references to Old Testament passages. In verse 9 their words come from Psalm 118:25-26. The word “Hosanna”, means “Save us”, but many translations don’t translate it because it can also be simply a word of celebration or excitement. Kind of like when something good happens, some people say “thank God” but they don’t mean it in the literal sense of thanking God, it’s simply an exclamation. However, this is the reason that Jesus came. He came to save his people. So whether they are simply shouting a word, or not, they are shouting the purpose of their King. God had come to save them.

The other phrase they were shouting in verse 10 points to Jesus’ fulfillment and Kingship as well. In verse 10 they are saying “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David”. God told David that he would have an heir on the throne of Israel forever. The people are proclaiming that Jesus is that heir who would once again rule Israel and bring in Israel’s golden age of peace and prosperity. In 2 Samuel 7 God tells David “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. ’” This is repeated in 1 Kings 2; 1 Kings 8, and 2 Chronicles 6. In Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and other places, there is an idea that someone like David, descended from David, is going to do God’s work in rescuing Israel from her oppression and establish a Kingdom like David’s. So, when they say this in verse 10 they are proclaiming that Jesus is the one like David who is establishing God’s Kingdom. They are saying that the Time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come.

There are 5 or 6 allusions to the Old Testament in these 10 verses as Mark tells the story of Jesus riding a colt into Jerusalem. Jesus does this as a way of illustrating that the promised Time is fulfilled and he is fulfilling it. The promises God made to Israel are coming true in him. The Kingdom of God was coming because he is the King and he is bringing it with him. Jesus brings together the Old Testament themes in his teaching and actions. Jesus brings together the promises to God made to Israel. This is what fulfillment is.

It’s important to understand this if we are to understand we mean when we call him “Messiah” or “Christ”. He is the one who is “anointed” in the sense that he receives and fulfills God’s promises to his people. It’s also important to understand this in order to get the most out of reading the Old Testament. We read it in light of who Jesus is and what he has done.

Now, some of us may fail to see how this affects our lives on a day-to-day basis. There are a bunch of random verses, some with funny names and you are wondering how in the world this helps you with the struggles you are facing in your life, your work, your health, your family, or any number of other places. An Old Testament history lesson doesn’t do a lot for you. You’re still stressed and worried. But have you considered how God orchestrates history so that Jesus enters into it at just the right time?

And what do they do? They kill him. He ties all of history up into a neat little bow and they crucify him. But he rises. It looks tragic, but it was his plan all along. He came to fulfill God’s promises to Israel and humanity and it cost him dearly. He suffered and died, but he rose again. So whatever you are dealing with, whatever struggles you are up against, you can find rest and hope in our Sovereign God who is guiding history to its end. We look around and we see some crazy things, some messed up things. We know it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Our world is broken. It’s sad and it’s tragic at times. But Jesus has risen. It’s only a matter of time before our King restores his kingdom. It won’t always be like this, one day he will set everything right and we will only see love, and justice, and mercy. He says he’ll never leave us nor forsake us, he says that we can cast all our cares on him for he cares for us. He gives us promises and we know he will keep them, because we can look back for thousands of years even to the promises he made to Abraham and see that he keeps his promises. He keeps his promises to the point of the cross, and he will keep his promises until the resurrection when we see him face to face.

So, maybe Old Testament history isn’t that exciting or relevant to you, but it demonstrates that God keeps his promises. Jesus fulfills God’s promises to Israel and through him, we are promised eternal life.

After Jesus rides into Jerusalem amid the cheers of the crowd, he goes to the Temple. In Matthew and Luke’s accounts, he cleanses the Temple here, but in Mark, he looks around and then leaves. Why does Mark separate the Entry and the Temple cleansing?

Jesus comes to the Temple and sees commerce and manipulation rather than worship. Here in Mark’s Gospel, his response isn’t rash or abrupt, he takes the night to sleep on it and returns in the morning to set things right in the Temple. Jesus takes the time to inspect the Temple, and observes all that is happening.

There is separation because of what is being emphasized in the passage. Jesus is fulfilling the promises God made to Israel for a King who sits on David’s throne forever. This is the point of verses 1-10. Jesus is also restoring the Temple, this is what will happen next.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:1

Chapter 8 is a turning point for the story of the book of Mark. Up to this point, we have seen the concern has been over Jesus’ identity. Who teaches like this, heals like this, has authority like this? And in 8:29, we see the question finally answered by the disciple Peter when he says “You are the Christ, the Messiah”. Yet, their understanding of Messiah wasn’t necessarily the type of Messiah Jesus was and is. Popularly, the scribes and religious teachers taught all kinds of things about the conquest of the coming Messiah. Jesus is leading his disciples away from that type of understanding of Messiah to something quite different. The focus is now changing from identifying Jesus’ identity to identifying Jesus’ purpose. He says he must be rejected, he must suffer, he must die, and he must rise again.

This is very different from the way in which the people of that era were speaking of the Messiah. But, this is what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. We finished chapter 8, but the context spill over to include 9:1. It’s anyone’s guess as to why the chapters are divided this way here, but let’s review the context and include 9:1 this time: Read Mark 8:34-9:1.

Jesus is speaking to the crowd, not only his disciples, and he says that some of them are going to see God’s Kingdom come with power. He is using military oriented words in 9:1, but he is not talking about rebellion. He is going to show that the Kingdom of God will come in power, after it has come in humility and weakness. This is where its power lies. The King submits to the kingdoms of this world and is rejected, suffers and dies. But, the Kingdom of God has such power that its King cannot remain in the grave. He is speaking here of the crucifixion and Resurrection.

The King will triumph over all the power that this world and the Kingdom of Satan has to muster in putting him to death. He will prove the Kingdom of God victorious when he triumphs over the grave. This is what it means for the Kingdom of God to come with power. It means resurrection. Many in that crowd remained to see Jesus rise from the dead. The resurrection is the demonstration of the power of God’s Kingdom. Bringing the dead back to life can only be done by the one who gives life. Jesus gives his life over to death and demonstrates his power by taking his life again. In doing this, he also demonstrates his authority to raise up all who believe in him.

He applies this understanding of the power of the Kingdom of God to his followers. He says triumph is found through dying to ourselves and pursuing the cross. The power comes when we realize that we can let our lives rest in the hand of God and live for the glory of God because even if we lose everything we can gain in this life, we will see our King at the resurrection.

In a time of turmoil and tragedy, we find hope in Jesus’ resurrection because we know that when we identify with him in his death, we also identify with him in his resurrection. Dying to ourselves, means living with Jesus. We have hope for this life and the life to come in Jesus.

 

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:27-30

The disciples are cast in the light of continually misunderstanding and misinterpreting what Jesus has been doing and teaching. But Jesus continues with them, not abandoning them, rather he teaches them and leads them. At this point in Mark’s Gospel, they have travelled to the Northern Region of Israel to proclaim the Gospel there.

Read Mark 8:27-30.

As they walked along the road, Jesus raises a question for his disciples. Several times so far in the book of Mark, we have heard the question “who is this?” asked. Having heard Jesus teach, or seeing him perform a miracle, people ask one another “who is this?” Who is Jesus? Finally, he comes out with it and asks his disciples about what people say. Wherever Jesus goes, his reputation has precedes him. Nearly everyone in Palestine has heard of him at this point. The disciples respond by saying that people believe he is someone like John the Baptist or Elijah. Others equate him with the great prophets. He is not just a prophet, but one of the prophets. People recognize Jesus is different from the other religious teachers and prophets that they have heard about because he has greater authority to perform miracles, to heal, and to cast out demons. Jesus brings the question close to home though, and asks his disciples, “who do you say I am?”

In verse 29, Peter speaks up, presumably as the representative of them all, and says, “You are the Christ”, “You are the Messiah”. They finally recognize that when Jesus has said the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come, that he was referring to his own identity as the one who would fulfill promise and demonstrate God’s authority on earth as King. As Jesus has healed people and cast out demons we have heard him tell them over and over to be quiet and not say anything. He even does it here with his disciples. They finally have a moment of clarity where they understand who Jesus is, and he says, be quiet about it.

Why does he do this?

Well, just because they understand Jesus to be the Messiah doesn’t mean they understand who the Messiah is. Just because you understand who Jesus is, doesn’t mean you know him. People have all kids of beliefs about God, but that doesn’t mean they know him, that doesn’t mean they walk with him or worship him. As I have mentioned before, there were lots of messianic notions and would-be Messiahs in the generations surrounding the time of Jesus (A great read on this is N.T. Wright’s book, “Simply Jesus“). However, there is nothing in the historical record, outside of the Bible, where anyone interprets who the Messiah would be the way Jesus does. Most conceptions of the Messiah involved political and military influence. Many if not most people thought the Messiah would be the King who would come like David, and overthrow the oppressive regime through military might.

Our day is no different. People have all kinds of beliefs about who Jesus is. These beliefs are affected by desires, politics, economics, suffering, oppression, health, and many other factors. We cannot control how our circumstances force our minds and hearts to interpret things. But, we can seek to align our beliefs with what Jesus says about himself, and what his earliest followers say about him. Beliefs we form about Jesus outside of the Scriptures have only our minds and circumstances as a foundation. Yet, with the Bible as a foundation for forming our beliefs, we have a fixed point of truth whereby our belief systems, though they vary greatly, may grow in their proper response to Jesus.

Jesus tells his disciples to be quiet about him being the Messiah because he had no intention of rousing a rebellion or raising an army. But, he certainly could have. Remember he had fed huge crowds of people – 5000 at one point and 4000 at another. Jesus could have raised an army of several thousand people had that been his intention. But it was not. So the disciples finally grasp who Jesus is, but they still only grasp it in part.

It will take time before they fully understand who Jesus is, but as they follow him they will grow in understanding. All of our theologies will be corrected in eternity, but as we follow Jesus, we will grow in our understanding of who he is. Our belief will be clarified and developed. But the disciples understood some basics. Jesus is the Messiah. How it affects our particular circumstances may change, but that fact remains. This is where belief and repentance join together properly. As we follow Jesus it will bring us to points of time where repentance is required. As we believe more adequately and our understanding of Jesus grows, so will our practice of repentance align our lives closer to him as we follow him. This in turn affects our hearts and our actions, our mind and our relationships. This is the road to restoration that will find it’s destination at the resurrection.

Knowing who Jesus is and knowing Jesus are two different things. The former requires historical and biblical knowledge, the latter requires belief and repentance. Knowing Jesus means following him.

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:22-26

Read Mark 8:22-26.

Jesus comes to a town called Bethsaida on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. In typical fashion, he meets someone who needs him to heal them. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus. He took the blind man away from the village. Similar to the story of the deaf and mute man in chapter 7, Jesus speaks to him in a way that he can comprehend. The man cannot see, so Jesus touches him. He spits in his eyes, as disgusting as that is, and then puts his hands on him. He takes the man away from the crowds and Jesus leads him through a two-stage progression of regaining his site. We should again be reminded of Isaiah 35:4-6, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened…”

Jesus is demonstrating what happens with the Kingdom of God comes. The deaf hear, the mute speaks, and the blind see. This story is certainly illustrative of the disciples’ blindness in a figurative manner. In verse 18 it says their eyes do not see and their ears and do not hear, but this is a sign that soon they are about to begin to regain their sight. It won’t be immediate, but will come progressively. But more importantly, this passage is teaching us who Jesus is. All through Mark’s Gospel we have learned different aspects of Jesus’ character and identity. In chapter 7 and here in 8 we are learning in a new way that Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God with authority because he is the King. Because he has come, the Kingdom has come. Because he has come, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see. But he didn’t just come for this. These physical signs are pointing to the time of redemption and restoration that Jesus is bringing. Very soon in Mark’s Gospel, we are going to learn, that this restoration doesn’t happen through Jesus overthrowing the Pharisees, Herod, and Rome to take their throne. Jesus does not overthrow them, but submits to them, and they kill him. The King dies at the hands of his usurpers. But, Jesus rises from the dead, to take a heavenly throne, higher that Rome or any other Kingdom. In his resurrection he works redemption for all who believe and repent and makes a way for us to be included in his heavenly Kingdom. For those who believe and repent, we wait for him to finish his work, and we pray, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:1-10

This chapter marks a significant turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry as we will see over the next several posts. He has travelled all around the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee teaching about the Time being fulfilled and God’s Kingdom coming. This is the message that goes by the name Gospel or Good News in Mark’s writing (see here). According to Jesus, the proper response to this Gospel is to believe and repent. Jesus has substantiated his teaching by performing incredible miracles and demonstrating his authority over the demonic. He teaches with an authority that the crowds of people find amazing. But his words and actions have put him at odds with the religious and political leadership of his day. At this point in the story we have this feeling that if Jesus doesn’t stop saying and doing these things, he is going to get himself in serious trouble. But, chapter 8 begins in familiar fashion; Jesus is teaching and performing a miracle. In Mark 8:1-26 we learn that in spite of our lack of understanding, our doubting and our continual turning away to lesser things, God is compassionate and has remained faithful to us. This will be seen in the next few blog posts.

Let’s start today by reading Mark 8:1-10.
This is a very similar story to what we read in chapter 6 at the feeding of the 5000. There are some differences in the numbers – here Jesus feeds 4000 people with 7 loaves and a few fish. Verse 2 lets us know that Jesus is moved with compassion because of the needs of these people so he instructs his disciples to meet their needs. We’ve been here before in chapter 6, so you would expect the disciples to remember that. But, in verse 4 we read the disciples’ response “How do you expect us to do that!?!” So Jesus goes through the same thing he did when he fed the 5000. In Verse 5 he asks “how many loaves do you have?” In verse 6 he tells the crowd to sit down and he gives thanks for the bread and gives it to the disciples to distribute. In verse 7 he does the same thing with the fish. The result is seen in verse 8, everyone ate and was satisfied. They even took up 7 baskets of leftovers. Then Jesus sends everyone home, and they get in their boat to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

Why include this story since it is so similar? I think there are at least two reasons why we have such a similar story retold.

Remember the purpose of the feeding of the 5000 was primarily to show Jesus is Israel’s True King because he has compassion on his people and provides for them unlike the false kings.  So what is the purpose of this story?

One reason this story is included is to show the Gentiles get the “Bread” too. The Decapolis, or area of 10 cities was not Jewish territory so it’s likely that this crowd was made up of non-Jews. This crowd may have gathered because of Jesus healing the deaf and mute man at the end of chapter 7, because even though he told them to be quiet, they spoke about him openly. One reason this story is included to show subtly Jesus’ inclusion of the Gentiles. In addition to being in the Decapolis, the word used for “basket” is different in this story than the word used for “basket” in chapter 6. It would relate more to a Gentile culture than a Jewish one. An additional reason to deduce this, is the overall context of the story includes the story of the Syrophonecian woman and the deaf and mute man of chapter 7.  This is the feeding of the 5000 equivalent for Gentiles. Jesus is the compassionate King who not only has mercy on his own people, but on other people who are far from home. All who comes to him is satisfied – Jew and Gentile alike.

A second reason this story is included is to continue to show the disciples as following Jesus without fully understanding Jesus. When we read this it’s almost laughable when Jesus says to feed the crowd. In verse 4 they say “How are we going to do that?” We almost expect Jesus to say “are you serious, don’t you just remember what I did not so long ago?” But he doesn’t. His response is patient and he explains the directions to them again. We see that the disciples still don’t get it after more miracles and more teaching. We are left with a question in our minds, “What is it going to take for them to understand who Jesus is and what he is doing?” The character development of the disciples is another reason to include this story. Their understanding will require more teaching, more miracles, and more patience on the part of our Lord. This is pointing forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Last time when they left the crowd, Jesus sent his disciples across the lake, then met up with them walking on the water. This time, in verse 10, he gets in the boat with them and they go to another region around the Sea of Galilee.

In Jesus, we have a way to be forgiven and accepted by God irrespective to our race or background. There is equality at the foot of the cross. God extends his offer of forgiveness and new life to all of us, no matter how far from him we may be. Even those of us who are close, often misunderstand, disobey, and doubt. But God is patient with us. He calls all of us to repentance and belief in his Son. Through him, we are made clean and we are given citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

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 7:24-30

At this point in the story, Jesus has been continually travelling, teaching, and healing as he has gone about proclaiming the Gospel. When we read “Gospel” in this particular book of the Bible, we are to understand it as Jesus’ message that the promised Time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come close enough to experience. And since chapter 1, we seen that the response we are to have to this message is belief and repentance. Proclaiming this Gospel and calling for this response has been the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. As we began to see in chapter 6, his schedule is wearing on him, and he has tried to take time to get away for rest and refreshment, but people keep showing up. So he leaves town again, but this time he heads out-of-town and goes to a neighboring non-Jewish territory.

First, read Mark 7:24-30.

Verse 24 shows that Jesus retreated to a place to hide, but he couldn’t. Even in the non-Jewish region near the cities of Tyre and Sidon which were along the Mediterranean coast, Jesus’ fame has spread so that he cannot hide. He wasn’t even in the city, but in the vicinity, he was out in the country and his reputation was known there. In verses 25-26 A woman, who was a Gentile (not Jewish), and had a daughter with a demon, which was the mark of uncleanness, comes to Jesus begging for help. These are three strikes against her, yet Jesus hears her.

The fact that he even had a conversation with her went against multiple acceptable norms of his day. Yet, she was in need, so he pauses to hear her. Each time Jesus has addressed the crowds in Israel, or even his disciples, he is met with astonishment. They see what he is doing, and they hear what he is saying, but they have no clue what it means. Yet, here, in a non-Jewish land, Jesus is met by a non-Jewish woman who has understood what he is saying and doing. Verse 26 says that she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And Jesus responds to her in a way that when we hear it we think, “man, that’s harsh”. Partly, this is conducive of the Jew/Gentile relationship in which there is a mutual disregard on racial grounds. The other part is this is a parable. He speaks to her in what may be derogatory, but he doesn’t outright call her a dog, although he uses the example of a dog in the parable.

When we come to Jesus, part of believing and following him is understanding what he says about us. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. A lot of people take offense when they are told that in their hearts and with their actions they have offended God. Our pride often causes us to try to justify ourselves rather than agreeing that our hearts are turned away from God. We say things like, well I’m not as bad as other people, or as bad as I could be. Or “I try to do the right thing” or “I’m nice to people and I help people and do good things”. Just because we are not hateful or as bad as we could be doesn’t mean we haven’t offended God. Our pride causes us to declare that God must accept us, but even this is an affront to God’s holiness. When Jesus says, believe and repent, this is included in what he is talking about. If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to believe what he says about the condition of our lives, and we have to repent from our pride and our attempts at self-justification.

This woman reacts humbly when Jesus compares her with a dog in his parable. She lived in close enough proximity to Jewish people and culture that she would have known that even speaking to Jesus was violating multiple different social and religious customs of the day. (By way of clarification, I’m not saying that women are inferior, but in the culture of 1st century Palestine, women were not treated with equality, to say the least.) She, no doubt, knew well who she was, a woman, a Gentile, and unclean by association with her demon-possessed daughter. This women comes to Jesus because she didn’t allow her inferiority to prevent her from coming to him. She didn’t say to herself, “I’m just not the kind of person that follows Jesus.” She had no thought that he might not accept her. Many people refuse to come to Jesus because they refuse to recognize who they are in light of who he is because of their pride. Other people refuse to come to Jesus because they fully understand who they are and don’t believe that they can be forgiven. They think they are just too sinful, or too messed up for God to love them. This refusal is no different from the refusal of the prideful person. If you don’t believe that God can love you, if you don’t believe that God’s mercy extends to even you, then you have refused it. We are invited to put ourselves in this woman’s shoes. Unclean and unworthy as we may be, we can come boldly to Jesus because his love and mercy are far greater than our estimation of them. We are more wicked than we like to admit, but we are far more loved and have received far more mercy than we would ever hope to believe (Keller).

This is the double-edged sword of responding in belief and repentance to the Gospel of Jesus. We have to agree with what he says about us, but in responding properly we also experience love and mercy like we could never have expected. This woman approaches Jesus with no pride, nor doubting his mercy for a person like her.

About this, Tim Keller writes:

You know why she has this burst of boldness, don’t you? There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes, and then there are parents. Parents are not really on the spectrum from cowardice to courage, because if your child is in jeopardy, you simply do what it takes to save her. It doesn’t matter whether you’re normally timid or brazen – your personality is irrelevant. You don’t think twice; you do what it takes. So it’s not all that surprising that this desperate mother is willing to push past all the barriers.

A mother will do what it takes to do whatever needs done for her children. So, Jesus responds to her in this harsh way, because he has come as Israel’s Messiah and she is not Jewish. But this is a sign pointing forward that even though he is Israel’s Messiah, he is not ONLY Israel’s Messiah. In verse 28, she speaks to him about the dogs being able to eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. The Bread is clearly meant to point to the blessings of the Messiah’s ministry. It is first offered to the Jews, then the Gentiles. But, Jesus’ affection is won by this Gentile or non-Jewish woman. This, along with the healing of the man possessed by an army of demons, and the teaching on the dietary laws (here and here) are all pointing together toward including non-Jews in God’s plan. Those who are not children will eat the Bread as well. The disciples are continually cast in the light of not understanding Jesus’ teachings or actions, but here this woman who is not even Jewish understands Jesus well enough to convince him to help her. It would have been unacceptable for Jesus to enter a gentile house so he pronounces this exorcism even though he is nowhere near the demon-possessed girl. This further shows how Jesus’ word has authority even where he himself is not present.

Verse 28 is the only time in Mark’s Gospel when someone calls Jesus “Lord”. Although this would be a normal way to address a stranger, the fact that this is the only example should call more to our mind. This woman understands Jesus’ authority even better than the men who are his Jewish disciples. This passage is a subversive one to say the least. The woman is a model of humility and faith. She is not Jewish, but she believes in Israel’s Messiah. So this passage seems negative, reads negative, but it’s actually not. She is a sign that the Gentiles will soon have access to the redemption, rescue, and restoration that comes through Israel’s Messiah Jesus.

Review and Reflect on Mark 6:45-56

The early church theologian Augustine is famous for saying in his book “Confessions” (which I highly recommend), “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Jesus shows the crowd of 5000 people what this means. Only he can satisfy and he is the True King, the True Messiah, who shows compassion to his followers. After this miracle, Jesus and his disciples really do need the rest they were seeking. The broad context that this passage is found in is primarily concerned with answering the question “Who is this?” Everyone seems to be asking this question, trying to figure out how Jesus can so these things, teach this way, heal this way, and act with such authority. And his disciples who just witnessed this miracle, are trying to make sense of it all as well and then we get to the next part of this story.

Read the story in Mark 6:45-56.

One thing that stands out in this passage is the comparison or association of Jesus with Moses. This is an association that is seen in other places also. The purpose of this association is to aid in the effort to help us answer the question “Who is this?” in reference to Jesus. When Jesus goes up to the mountain in verse 46, this is a pretty obvious allusion to Moses. One of the great things Moses is known for doing in the book of Exodus is what? Parting the Red Sea. So when we read about Jesus going up on the mountain, it should call to our memory the events of Moses’ life. He is one of the greatest figures of Biblical history. God used him to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt and to bring them into the land of promise. But when we read this story, we see Jesus sending his disciples to the other side of the lake in the boat, and rather than parting the water, in verse 48, we see Jesus walking on the water. Who is Jesus? Well, he’s greater than Moses, and we all know how great Moses was. Moses may have parted the sea, but Jesus walked on it. The disciples don’t seem to be grasping these clues though.

In addition to this association with Moses, the main thing we should consider when answering the question “Who is this?” is Jesus’ care for his followers. In Chapter 6 we see Jesus sending out the disciples to proclaim the Gospel that the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come. When he does this, he tells them not to take extra clothes or food because they will be provided for. Why don’t they have to take provisions? They are fulfilling Jesus’s ministry so he is providing everything they need to do it. In the feeding of the 5000 Jesus is moved by his compassion for the crowd of followers. Even though the disciples were worried about what it would cost to feed such a crowd, Jesus said, feed them. He took the bread and loaves and provided for his followers. There was even leftover, because he had completely provided and then some. As it says in Psalm 23, the cup runs over.

The primary point of the story of the feeding of the 5000 is that Jesus cares for his followers and this passage is an extension of that. So we read a passage like this one in Mark 6 and we ask, Why is it here and what is it telling us? As we’ve mentioned, it’s here to help answer the question “Who is Jesus?” And it’s telling us that the same thing we have been reading, just in a new way: Jesus is the King who has fulfilled the promised Time and brought his Kingdom because he cares deeply for his followers. He sends his disciples across the lake, but he stays behind to pray. This shouldn’t be seen as unusual since he sent them away in earlier in chapter 6 to expand the ministry of the Kingdom. Jesus comes to them walking on the water. Verse 48, in my opinion, should have been translated, “and he meant to come to them” rather than “pass by”. Why is he walking out to his disciples? Because he saw the difficulty they were going through to get across the lake to the place he has sent them. Jesus sent them to a place and it was hard for them to get there. But it wasn’t too long before he showed up to show his care for them.

I think there is some great encouragement for us here. The place that God wants us to go as individuals and as a church probably won’t be with an easy journey. But Jesus stands on that mountain overlooking the sea and sees his disciples struggling. It got bad enough that he intervened and he went to them walking on the water. God will allow us to go through some struggles. We may have to fight the wind and sail through some storms. But God cares so deeply for us, that we can have the confidence that we are under his watchful care. No trial, no sorrow, not struggle that we go through happens outside of the watchful eye of our Strong and compassionate King. We know he cares for us and when our circumstances SCREAM the opposite we have to hold to this truth.

This is such an important characteristic to grasp about the heart of God, that it is a big deal when his disciples misunderstand it. They don’t get it. The disciples see Jesus walking on the water and they freak out thinking he’ a ghost. Verse 49 says they saw Jesus, but thought he was a ghost. When they see him walking on the water, they have no way of processing this and respond with fear. They should have known that Jesus would be coming. After all, he had already calmed a storm for them. He had already demonstrated his compassion. But they missed it.

I love these stories, because it helps me see that I’m in good company. No matter how many times God demonstrates his goodness to me, or his care for me, I still forget. I mistakenly think at times that God’s purpose in my life should be to make me happy when really it’s to make me holy, like his Son.

So Jesus says, in verse 50, “Guys, it’s me, don’t be afraid” And when Jesus enters the boat, the storm stops, just like in chapter four. So this should have just been a reminder to them of that situation when they asked Jesus,” Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Of course he cares. Have you forgotten already? After that event, when Jesus calmed the storm, they ask themselves “Who is this?” Since then, Jesus has healed people, confronted an army of demons, raised a little girl from the dead, and fed 5000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. And the disciples still don’t get it. They were utterly astounded it says in verse 51. Those two words don’t translate well. What is being conveyed here is a mingling of confusion, misunderstanding, fear, terror, and amazement at what they have just seen. Who is this guy walking on the water? They are terrified and amazed. Verse 52 says the reason they react this way to Jesus is because they didn’t understand the reason he fed the 5000 the bread and fish. What didn’t they understand? They didn’t understand that Jesus cares for his followers. Jesus has compassion on his people and provides for them. Because he is the true King, he protects and provides for those who are his. After all they had seen, why didn’t they understand this? Verse 52 goes on to say they didn’t understand because their hearts were hardened. They didn’t want to believe that Jesus is who he is so they couldn’t believe it. He has been explaining things to them all along. He has demonstrated his authority over and over. He’s done everything from raise the dead to walk on water, and they still haven’t come to the point of believing that he is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. He’s shown that he’s greater than the prophets, the priests, the kings, and even Moses and yet they still don’t believe that he is the Messiah, the one who would fulfill the time and bring God’s Kingdom to earth. They have even proclaimed this message and they still don’t grasp it. They still don’t understand that there is no reason to be afraid of Jesus, he cares for his people. He has done all of these things and they still don’t get it. What else is it going to take for them to believe that he is the Messiah? Is there anything left that he can do to show them he is the Messiah?

We who know the whole story know what it had to take. Jesus would have to give his life, and die on a cross, and then rise from the dead before his followers would finally understand who he is and how much he loves them.

At this point in the ministry of Jesus though, his disciples are continually missing who he is and what he is doing. They simply don’t understand him. They don’t understand that he is the Messiah, or that he cares for them. There are people everywhere that aren’t so different. Maybe you like Jesus just fine, but you have no understanding of what it means for him to be your King, Messiah, and Savior or you have no understanding of just how much he cares for you. Until you come to the point of believing in Jesus and giving your life over to him, you won’t understand these things. As long as you are content to do your own things in your own ways, you won’t know Jesus as your compassionate King. For a lot of people it’s not a matter being convinced, you know who Jesus is, you know it in your head, but you don’t understand it in your heart. This is why it says we must believe and repent. Believe that he is God who has come in the flesh to demonstrate his great love and care to us. He’s the great King, the creator of heaven and earth. He has authority over storms, demons, and even death. And yet our Great King is no cold and heartless tyrant. He is a compassionate King. One night he saw his disciples struggling to get across the sea, and he walked out to them on the water to help them. Be he would do much more to prove his love. He saw his people struggling, so God took on flesh in the person of Jesus and submitted to death on a cross. Three days later he rose again so that sin and death would no longer have authority over us. And the day is coming when he will prove his love again, and he will return and be our King. We will see him face-to-face and he will set everything right and restore us to our intended place with him. But first, we must believe that our King has come. And we must repent, or align our lives with his Kingdom.

Are you doubting God’s love and care for you today? Do you understand his care for you? Do you know how much he loves you? He has moved heaven and earth to prove it. He told his disciples “Don’t be afraid” and he says it again to us today. Turn from doing your things your ways and give your life to Jesus. If you have already done that, then remember his care for you and align those things that are out of sync with a person who is friends with the King. Repent in your thoughts, actions, and attitudes that are not in line with the Gospel.

He is our compassionate King who has come to rescue us and one day his rescue mission will be finished.