Question Mark (1)

I’ve had the privilege of going through Mark with a group of guys from the CU. In the process I’ve heard answers (or partial answers) to some of the obvious questions that arise from the text. Before my brain forgets them all I’m going to try to whack some of the good stuff up here.

Part 1 — Part 2 — Part 3 — Part 4 — Part 5 — Part 6

The first chunk we looked at was 1:1-3:6. In the first verse, Mark begins by giving the whole game away – he tells us that the Jesus he will be talking about is the “Christ” and the “Son of God”. The characters in the story don’t realise these two facts until much later (the first in 8:29, the second in 15:39) and the moments when they do are key to the way Mark unfolds his gospel. But Mark lets his readers in on the secret from the very beginning, and then proceeds to prove the importance of Jesus by showing again and again his power and authority. In these first chapters, then, we see Jesus mightier that John (1:750 ), endorsed by God in heaven (1:11), with authority to teach (1:22), authority over demons (1:27), power to heal (1:34), authority to forgive sins (2:5) and authority as lord of the Sabbath (2:28). Clearly this Jesus is a remarkable man. Let’s get into it…

1:2-3 Where in Isaiah can I find this? Verse 2 is actually quoted from Malachi 3:1. I don’t think it’s a big problem that Mark labels it as Isaiah (though I guess this is why some manuscripts have “in the prophets” – see ESV footnote) and Isaiah was the first of the prophetic books and so often used as a title for all of them. Further, Mark then does quote from Isaiah 40:3 and strings the two quotes together as was apparently common practice. It is hard to see what problem this could cause anyway – it can’t be used as evidence the Bible is prone to error, for then we would have to believe that Mark was an idiot who hadn’t read the OT, which after reading the gospel we clearly can’t accept.

1:6 Why mention John’s dress sense? It paints a picture of the OT prophets (particularly Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8) so begins to prepare the reader to understand that John is the fulfillment of the promise that Elijah would return (9:13).

1:8 What does it mean “baptise you with the Holy Spirit”? This is, of course, controversial and is not a primary (ie. central) issue of the faith. My take, though, is that here John refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers from the moment of first faith, not a subsequent event or experience. To justify this, I would point out that John directly compares his baptism and Jesus’ in 1:8 (“I have baptised…he will baptise…”) so it seems reasonable to suppose that Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit is also “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4). Since repentance is required to become a Christian and forgiveness is immediately granted, I believe that this baptism must also be an expression for conversion. Secondly, John seems to point to this as a central ministry of Jesus (it’s the only thing he says about what Jesus will do!) whose purpose was to “give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). Again, I think this more naturally refers to the moment of conversion than a later stage.

1:14 Why was John arrested? Mark will tell us later (6:17-18) but for now refers to it to set the context of Jesus’ time of ministry. It perhaps also serves to warn the reader that Jesus’ preaching that we must be forgiven and then turn from sin will often be badly received.

1:15 What was the message of Jesus? This is more something that I would ask if I were leading a Bible study here, as it’s often suggested that it was “”love your neighbour as yourself”, a new morality or a message of love from God. Some of these are truer than others, but Mark won’t let us have them as Jesus’ chief message. He tells us that Jesus preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”.

1:22 Why didn’t the other teachers have “authority”? As I understand it (and I could well be wrong) the scribes would simply quote other Rabbis, so they never had any authority of their own but relied on that of other scholars. Jesus, by contrast, had authority to teach without being backed up by other humans – though of course he had the authority of the Scriptures to back him up as he was fully in line with them.

1:25 Why wouldn’t he let the unclean spirits (or even people, see v44) talk about him – isn’t it good publicity? We see in verse 37-38 that his aim wasn’t popularity. All the people were looking for him but he didn’t head for the crowd but wanted to go and preach in other towns for “this is what I came for”. The more people heard about him the more they turned up wanting to see (or receive) a miracle, and the harder it became to preach – as we see in v45.

2:5-12 Why doesn’t Jesus heal the man? Firstly it’s worth noting that in the end he did (v11-12)! Secondly, Mark doesn’t actually tell us why the four men brought their friend (nor do Matthew or Luke) – it could have been so that he could hear Jesus, rather than hoping for a healing. Whatever the details, Jesus knew that the man’s most pressing need was forgiveness from God (see his mission statement in 1:14-15) and provided it. The scribes were furious as only God can forgive sins, so Jesus was claiming to be God. To vindicate himself Jesus offers a visible miracle, so they can see whether he is successful or not – and he is. The logic should run like this: healings come from God, God wouldn’t work with a blasphemer, therefore Jesus isn’t a blasphemer. But Jesus did claim to be God so if he’s not lying then he must be telling the truth and must be God. The scribes wouldn’t have liked that, though, and presumably weren’t among those who “”glorified God” at the end.

2:17 Are there people who are righteous enough that they don’t need Jesus? No. Jesus reveals that we are all “sick” and sinners, primarily by living out in his own life what the moral standard is and letting us see how far we fall short. He also has some very harsh words, especially for the religious leaders (for example 7:6-8, 12:24, 12:38-40). But, as a sick man who won’t admit that he is ill can’t go to a doctor for help, the “righteous” that he speaks of are the self-righteous who won’t admit they are sinful so can’t go to Jesus for help.

2:18-20 What is Jesus saying about fasting? I’ll let Rico Tice take this one, as he’s answered it neatly in the ‘Study Guide Leader’s Edition’ of the manual for the Christianity Explored course. Between p10 and p11 (the numbering is weird!) he says:

Jesus is making the point that, for the disciples, fasting is totally inappropriate in his presence, just as it would be for wedding guests to mourn at a wedding. Jesus is identifying himself as the bridegroom of God’s people, promised by the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5; 62:4-5; Hosea 2:16-20).

Clearly, Jesus does expect that once he’s returned to heaven, his followers “will fast”.

2:21-22 What’s with the garments and the wineskins? This seems to be further explanation of the previous teaching on fasting, but honestly the details confuse me! The consensus seems to be that he is teaching that the current system of following rules (including prescribed fasts) isn’t compatible with the genuine, personal worship of God that he wants. This also helps us to understand the teaching on the Sabbath in 2:23-3:6, where nit-picking observance of rules is not the point.

2:23-3:6 Were Jesus or his disciples breaking the Sabbath? Yes and no! No, they certainly weren’t breaking God’s law by plucking some corn or healing a man’s hand. But yes, they were breaking the religious rules that people had built around God’s command – a rigorous check list of things which could and could not be done. This seems to be the chief point, that the Pharisees are more concerned with their own rules than God’s standard. As an example he cites the case of David – who the leaders’ rules would have condemned though God surely didn’t. Moreover, the Son of Man (the most important of men, for whom the Sabbath was made) is lord of the Sabbath and has authority over it and over the rules surrounding it.

Heavenly Father, I thank you that in Jesus you sent your promised Christ and your promised Son. I praise you for the authority that he demonstrated on earth – to teach, to forgive sins, and over sickness, spirits, nature and death. Please help me to submit to his authority, and to always remember his message to the world: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. Amen.


One Response to “Question Mark (1)”

  1. goffashley65868 Says:

    Electra: Thanks, it’s actually very desperate and almost personal. Click

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