Archive for the ‘ Mark’ Category

Question Mark (1)

Wednesday March 28, 2007

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.


Question Mark (4)

Wednesday February 21, 2007

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

We’ve now finished the first half of Mark’s gospel which was all about who Jesus is and climaxed with Peter realising that he’s the Christ. The rest of Mark is concerned with what Jesus came to do and what he requires from his followers (what it means that he is the Christ). We were looking at 8:30-10:52. This does seem to be a block as at the beginning of ch11 Jesus enters Jerusalem – a new stage in the gospel. Moreover, here we see the three predictions of Jesus that he will die and rise again (8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34) which set the context for all his teaching here.

8:34-38 seem to act as a summary of the whole section. The disciples are to follow Jesus even to death, and they are to give up their lives for him. What that means will be expanded in the next couple of chapters, and it’s helpful to keep these thoughts in mind as we read.

9:1 What is the kingdom of God come with power? Some people suggested it’s the Spirit coming at Pentecost and 36 hours ago I’d have said the same (or the resurrection, but the two are closely linked). I think I’ve been persuaded, though, that it’s talking about the transfiguration (9:2-8). Few of Jesus’ followers would have died before Pentecost so it’s an odd thing to say if that’s what he means. At the transfiguration Peter, James and John physically saw Jesus in glory with Moses and Elijah and physically heard the Father speak – just as we will see and hear them in heaven. Almost all of those there (except Peter, James, John and possibly a handful of others) wouldn’t see that until after they died, but those three saw it before they “tasted death”. Similarly we shouldn’t expect to see the power of the kingdom until we die (unless Jesus comes before then!) but we know it’s real and we will see it because those three apostles are eye witnesses.

9:11-13 When has Elijah come? The parallel account is in Matthew 17, where v13 makes it plain that John the Baptist was, metaphorically, the second Elijah – preparing the way for Jesus as promised in Malachi 4:5-6. (See also Matthew 11:1-19, esp v13-14)

9:13 Where is John the Baptist’s suffering written about? Good question, I don’t know.

9:14-29 Why is this here? This is something I was wondering about – Mark’s already shown us that Jesus has power over spirits so what does this add, and specifically what is it doing in a section about the right response to Jesus’ death and resurrection? I’m not entirely sure, but the distinctive part of this story is that the disciples had tried and failed to doing it themselves (note that they were given authority over spirits in 6:7). It seems the reason they’d failed is that they were self- rather than God-reliant (v29). Part of giving up our life is giving up our pride – we need God’s help and we need to humbly ask for it. (Of course it’s also chronological, but we know that Mark didn’t include everything Jesus did – there aren’t enough books in the world! – so it’s worth asking why he selected this healing.)

9:38-41 What’s going on?! Jesus has said (3:22-27) that only he can cast out unclean spirits – Satan wouldn’t! This man, then, had to be ‘on Jesus’ side’ so shouldn’t be stopped by the apostles. While not saying that all who call themselves Christians are working for Jesus (or even all those who do exorcisms, Matthew 7:21-23) or that theological differences are insignificant, I guess we take from this that genuine followers of Jesus shouldn’t be opposed whatever ‘camp’ they’re in.

9:42-50 Should we be getting out the saws? This is hyperbole – overstatement for dramatic effect. If going to the pub with my friends on Friday causes me to get drunk I shouldn’t go to the pub. It’s better to enter life with no pub trips than with a handful of pork scratchings be thrown into hell. This is part of giving up our life for Jesus. Interestingly, since what actually causes us to sin isn’t our hand or foot or eye but is our heart (7:14-23) in order to enter life we need our heart cut out. Praise God that that’s exactly what he does when he gives us the Holy Spirit and our heart is ‘circumcised’ – the sinful flesh is cut away.

9:49-50 Again, what’s going on? Between us we came up with this, and aren’t sure it’s all the way there. Salt is a symbol of distinctiveness so one facet of v50 could be that if I get drunk every Friday night I’ll become indistinguishable from them. Once it’s lost, it’s very hard to get back to a point where I stand out from unbelievers as they will remember the ways I’ve acted exactly the same as them. In v49 we were trying to decide whether fire was symbolising judgement or refining/purity (or even the Spirit who makes us distinct) but settled with refining. So, in v49, it is God refining us which makes us distinct and, in v50, we are to remain distinct (and have peace with each other – but I’m not sure how that fits in).

10:2-12 How should a Christian treat the OT law? That’s a big question with lots of different places to go, but what we can say for sure from this passage is that the Mosaic law was less than God’s moral standard (which is no divorce – the law was changed to accommodate our “hardness of hearts”). Of course, we can’t keep the Mosaic law even with its accommodations so thank God for Jesus!

10:13-15 What’s so good about children? Think about children at Christmas time – they don’t have to be told twice to open their presents, they’re straight in there! That eagerness and single-mindedness is all part of giving up our lives for Jesus.

10:17-18 Is Jesus saying that he isn’t God? Hm. I meant to ask someone about this but forgot. A couple of possibles, though. Is he saying that the fact he’s being recognised as good means people should think about whether he’s also God? Or is he setting the context for what he’s about to say, that no one can “inherit eternal life” by anything they do? The man thinks that being good (following the commandments) will earn him eternal life, Jesus replies that that’s stupid – no one is good! This man’s morality was ticking boxes (“all these I have kept from my youth”) rather than honouring God (Jesus leaves out the commandments to do with God).

10:17-22 Did the man have to earn his salvation by giving away his money? Jesus isn’t pointing out the one rule that this guy hasn’t been following, instead he’s pointing to the man’s heart problem. If he wasn’t willing (we don’t know what he did) to sell everything he had it would be proof that he wasn’t giving up his life for Jesus – he was still trying to save his life so would lose it. The “one thing” he lacked, then, wasn’t an extra ‘to do’ item, but a childlike eagerness and joy for the kingdom.

10:29-30 What lands do Christians receive in this world? I take it that most of the things we receive hundredfold “in this time” are the relationships we have with Christian brothers and sisters in the church but I’m not sure about the lands. These verses show, though, that Christianity isn’t all about waiting for heaven (indeed, the reference to eternal life almost seems an afterthought here). Rather, despite the persecution which is clearly a normal part of Christian life, it’s far better for us even during our lives on earth to be a Christian than not.

10:46-52 Why is this here? Again, this is a question that I was asking. It is striking that this big chunk of Mark is sandwiched between two miracles where Jesus healed blind men. We know that the first of those miracles was a picture of how Jesus opened the spiritual eyes of his apostles, so I’m wondering whether this miracle also has special significance. The difference here is that the blind man started following Jesus as soon as he was healed. It could be that Mark is showing us an example of what Jesus has been telling the apostles – I’ve opened your eyes to see who I am, now you have to give everything up and follow me. Furthermore, it’s a direct contrast with James and John in the preceding passage. James and John arrogantly want “whatever we ask”, Bartimaeus wants only “mercy”. Both are asked “what do you want me to do for you?”, and again Bartimaeus is humble so receives his sight rather than a rebuke. He then immediately follows Jesus on the road – we know from 10:32 – to his death in Jerusalem. Who, Mark seems to be asking, has understood Jesus’ teaching that he was here to die, and that we must take up our cross, follow him and be slave to all?

Heavenly Father, I thank you that by your Spirit you make your word clear to us. I thank you for godly Christians who have thought deeply about these things and have shared their thinking. I praise you that Jesus knew he was going to die and rise – indeed, he’s known it since the beginning of time. Please help me not just to rely on his death as my Saviour, but because of his death to give up my life and follow him as my Lord. Forgive me for my hard, worldly heart and please transform it to follow Jesus. Amen.