About cece.cobb

Hi, my name is Cece. I love music, sports, reading, writing, and, most of all, Jesus. I enjoy using these blogs as a ministry outlet to share devotional study thoughts.

Mark 6:30-44 – Feeding the Five Thousand

30 The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. 31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.

32 So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. 33 But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. 34 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36 Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
37 But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
38 “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.

41 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. 42 They all ate as much as they wanted, 43 and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. 44 A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. (Mark 6:30-44, NLT)

If we think back to our previous study, we remember that the disciples have just returned from going out and preaching the Gospel to the surrounding countryside. We can imagine, then, that as they return, they are ecstatic about what they have seen and witnessed of God’s power. They have performed miracles and cast out demons in Jesus’ name! They are bursting to tell Jesus all about it! But Mark 6:31 tells us that as they seek this opportunity to sit down and share everything with Jesus, “there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” The disciples can barely get out more than a few sentences at a time due to the crowd which unceasingly clamors around Christ.

And so Jesus says to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Let’s stop and think about this in terms of life-application for a second: There are times when we also need to just stop and rest. I like how the NIV puts Jesus’ words: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Jesus invites us, “Come with me… Come to a quiet place and rest with me.” We, too, should learn to listen for these words of Spirit in our lives… Listen for when He might be saying to you, “Come with me and rest for a while….”

And so, as we place ourselves back in the middle of this story, we can picture everything: The disciples finally have the opportunity to withdraw from the crowds and get some one-on-one time with Jesus. They have been craving this opportunity. Wouldn’t you? But then we read in Mark 6:33: “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (Mark 6:33, NIV). Just imagine how the disciples must have felt… They were sooo looking forward to this personal, intimate experience with Jesus, but then, here come the clamoring, noisy mobs of people! No matter where they go, the people always seem to find out and follow, making unceasing demands on the time of Jesus. I even find myself reading this story and feeling angry and frustrated at these insensitive, intrusive people!

But… “Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things” (verse 34, NKJV). Christ is able to look out among the clamoring multitude and see past the annoying insensitivity of the crowds. He is able to see their need. The disciples see unwelcomed intruders. But Christ sees sheep without a shepherd. He sees the mission of the kingdom.

I can, of course, relate most closely with the disciples. We can just imagine their annoyance at this unwelcome interruption to their personal time with Jesus. This was supposed to be their vacation! So, we can also imagine their motive as they approach Jesus with a “suggestion” — “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” Come on, Jesus, wasn’t this the whole reason we came to this place? To get some R&R and quality time together? Can’t we just tell them to go away, please!? 


Ironically, the disciples, if we remember, have just returned from preaching and sharing the kingdom of God, but their response indicates that they still had some learning to do about the kingdom.

Jesus then responds to his disciples in an intriguing way. In fact, Jesus makes a number of very interesting statements throughout each of the four Gospel accounts of this story. Let’s take a look at what He might have been trying to teach his disciples then and us today:

“They do not need to go away.” (Matthew 14:16)

Jesus patiently listens to the disciples’ suggestion, but His response is firm: “No, they don’t need to go away.” There is a gentle underlying rebuke in those words. We just talked about the necessity of sometimes “coming away” and resting. But, there’s apparently an exception to that rule. Jesus teaches his disciples that human need always comes first. Jesus had intended to retreat privately with his disciples, but when human need comes to the forefront of the picture, Jesus drops His initial plan and postures Himself to serve. He teaches His disciples to do the same. He wants us to get our priorities straight.

Next, Jesus turns the table on the disciples in a way they most certainly did not expect:

“You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16)

You see, Christ takes the need at hand, elevates it to the forefront of our priority list, and then turns it around on us as opportunity for action on our part.

In response to this, the disciples hem and haw about what to do next. Well, we don’t have enough money… We don’t have enough bread… What are we supposed to do??? It’s impossible for us to do what you’ve asked, Jesus! (We often do the same thing, don’t we?)

That’s where Jesus’ next words come into play….

“How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” (Mark 6:38)

In response to our excuses, Jesus makes things very simple for us: But what do you have? What resources are available to you? Go and see. Christ expects diligent effort on our part to “go and see.”

But, we can’t forget the very next words that Jesus says. After the disciples are able to finally scrounge up five loaves of bread and two fishes, what does Jesus say next?

“Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:18)

After pooling the resources that we do have, we must then realize that what we have gathered is dismally inadequate–unless we first submit them to God for His blessing. We gather and then we take to Jesus for His blessing!

Christ’s next words are found in John 6:10:

“Make the people sit down.” (John 6:10)

After submitting our resources to God for His consecration, we are then to prepare to receive His blessings! This is where faith comes into the picture. Do we really believe God will do what He says He is going to do? If so, then we need to position ourselves in a way to receive His blessing!

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. (Mark 6:41)

Jesus frames everything He does in prayer. For every need, He pleads in supplication with His Father. For every blessing, He expresses thanks to His Father. (Why do we so often act as if we can do less?)

Jesus’s final recorded words come from the Gospel of John. They bear beautiful significance and meaning:

“Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted.” John‬ ‭6:12‬ ‭NET‬‬

“Gather up the broken pieces…” Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from this study is that we serve a God who specializes in gathering the broken pieces! Our God fixes things. He took a broken situation in this chapter of our study and fixed it to be something beautifully miraculous, and he can fix things in your life, too. We can all look at our lives and see waste, can’t we? Wasted time. Wasted opportunities. Wasted relationships. And we can each feel the brokenness, can’t we? Broken families. Broken health. Broken dreams. But there is a God out there who desires nothing more than to gather those broken pieces of our lives and lovingly mend them back together – if we will just let Him! What seems like waste to us, God can redeem and turn into blessing! I love this quote:

“With God, nothing is ever wasted. He’ll never waste an experience; He’ll never waste a hurt; He’ll never waste a dream; He’ll never waste even a single piece of bread.”

 

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Mark 6:1-9 – Scandalized by Grace

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

1 Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6, NLT)

After his traveling circuit, Jesus returns to his hometown where we would expect the now-famous Rabbi to be welcomed by His old neighbors and friends. However, instead Jesus is met with scorn and ridicule. Who does he think he is? He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary… This statement contained a two-pronged insult. One, by calling Jesus out as a carpenter, they were bringing attention to the fact that Jesus had maintained a lower-class occupation in His early life. Two, by identifying Jesus as the “son of Mary,” they were mocking the “questionable” nature of Jesus’ birth.

“They were skandalizō by him”–they were scandalized by him–“and refused to believe in him” (verse 3). I wonder, is there anything that “scandalizes” us about who Jesus is today? Perhaps the audacity of His birth, death, and resurrection story? Or the unapologetically radical nature of His teachings? What about the kinds of people Jesus chooses to work through or interest our lives with? What about the limitless grace that He dares to offer those who we know least deserve it?

And he was amazed at their unbelief” (verse 6). The only two times we read of Jesus being amazed is, one, at the unexpected faith of a Gentile (Matthew 8:10) and here, at the astounding unbelief of his own people. We also learn here that God’s work in our lives can be stagnated and stalled by our unbelief: “And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them…” (verse 5) I’ve heard it said, God can work with no belief, but he can’t work with unbelief! Perhaps this is one of the reasons we don’t see God’s mighty works in so many of our churches today.

I don’t know about you but this passage makes me reflect and ask myself: Where in my life might I have caused Jesus “to be amazed”? Was it because of my surprising faith in an unexpected situation? Or was it because of my consistently astounding capacity for unbelief in the most obvious circumstances of God’s providence in my life? (More likely the latter, I think. Thankfully we serve and incredibly patient God!)

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Disciples

Then Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people. And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits. He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes.

10 “Wherever you go,” he said, “stay in the same house until you leave town. 11 But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”

12 So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. 13 And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil. (Mark 6:6-9, NLT)

I think it’s interesting that our story, without missing a beat, moves so quickly from a place of rejection to a platform of projection. The Gospel of Chris will not be stymied or obstructed or defeated by rejection, and neither should we! Now, there are a couple of significant observations from this passage. First of all, by instructing His disciples to pack nothing for their journey, Jesus was asking them to trust in the hospitality of the villagers they would meet along their way. (In that Middle Eastern culture, offering hospitality to travelers was a sacred responsibility!) In fact, in the longer account of Matthew 10, Jesus further tells his disciples to find a worthy home in a village and to remain there the entire time, cultivating as much as possible the newfound friendships with their hosting family. Theologian William Barclay makes a keen observation:

It was the Rabbinic law that when a man entered the Temple courts he must put off his staff and shoes and money girdle. All ordinary things were to be set aside on entering the sacred place. It may well be that Jesus was thinking of this, and that he meant his men to see that the humble homes they were to enter were every bit as sacred as the Temple courts. (William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible)

The disciples’ task on their journey was twofold: 1.) to proclaim Christ’s message of repentance, and 2.) to act as ministers of mercy in whatever village they arrived in. The purpose of Christ has always been to bring healing to the entire being–both soul and body. As His vessels of mercy, our commission is to do the same. Let’s again read the words of William Barclay’s insightful commentary:

To the people they brought the King’s mercy. Not only did they bring this shattering demand upon men; they brought also help and healing. They brought liberation to poor, demon-possessed men and women. From the beginning Christianity has aimed to bring health to body and to soul; it has always aimed not only at soul salvation, but at whole salvation. It brought not only a hand to lift from moral wreckage, but a hand to lift from physical pain and suffering. It is most suggestive that they anointed with oil. In the ancient world oil was regarded as a panacea… In the hands of the servants of Christ the old cures acquired a new virtue… the power of God became available in common things to the faith of men.

When we think of Jesus’ stern warning to abandon unbelieving towns “to their fate,” I think that warning makes more sense when we consider the disciples’ mission in the context of what Barclay just shared above. They were to be vessels of liberation and healing for these villages, for both body and soul. For a community to reject such a beautiful overture, such a marvelous invitation, is truly an affront for which there is no atonement possible. “I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.” (Matthew 10:15).

What a sad realization that we have the capacity to stand and look Love directly in the eye only to turn around and walk away, scandalized by a concept of Grace that is too big, too close, too simple for us to believe.

 

Mark 5:21-43 – The Touch of Faith

Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him. (Mark 5:21-24, NKJV)

Anytime we read that Jesus “crosses over” anywhere, we can know that He is on His way to a divine appointment–a divinely orchestrated encounter to reveal the purposes of God. And sure enough, as the multitudes eagerly gather to greet Jesus on the shore, that providential appointment immediately seems to present itself: Jairus, one of the local synagogue leaders, comes with a desperate petition for his little daughter. Jairus comes to Jesus as a prominent man, a man with a spotless reputation and powerful influence. If Jairus could be converted into a believer, he would undoubtedly help Jesus and His disciples gain a strong footing in the Jewish community. It’s a no-brainer that this is the encounter that Jesus came for! And how especially timely! In the wake of the most recently transpired “Bay of Pigs” fiasco, I’m sure the disciples were gleefully tallying the spike in Jesus’ PR ratings and excitedly prepping for the anticipated photo op!

Thronged by the multitude of spectators, Jesus slowly makes His way to Jairus’ house. Secretly, however, someone else quietly follows… “Now a certain woman…” followed from behind (verse 25). This woman has no prominent name or favorable reputation for herself. In fact, she was a woman cursed with a condition that rendered her ritually unclean and socially despised. For twelve years, she had suffered from a “flow of blood” that had been slowly draining her body of life (verses 25-26). She had spent all of her life savings on the painful, superstitious treatments of her day, yet she had only grown worse and worse until she was now a mere specter of the woman she once was. The doctors had pronounced her case as hopeless, and she had nearly lost all reason to live. But then one day she “heard about Jesus” (verse 27), and a glimmer of hope flickered in her soul.

We can imagine the nameless woman weakly trying to maneuver her way through the thick crowd. She cannot risk making her presence and condition known. As a ceremonially unclean woman, she has two stigmatizing marks against her. She is a marginalized member of society, and, unlike the prominent ruler of the synagogue, she has no right to make claims on the time of the Master. Growing weaker by the moment, the woman tries to inch her way closer and closer to the Teacher. The crowd is jolting, elbowing. But each step takes her nearer. She can see Him now. “If only I can touch His garment, I will be made well,” she whispers to herself.

Thus reasoning, she pushes her way through the crowd and with the pertinacity of despair she struggles in that dense throng
nearer and nearer
pushing and crushing.
People get in the way—not knowing her need.
Now she is desperate.
He must not pass so near and yet so far away. Was she to lose this opportunity?
She must touch Him.
(Dr. Peter Marshall)

She is so close now… But a careless foot trips her. She falls to her hands and knees. Looking up in pain, she now sees her one opportunity. Desperately summoning one last breath of energy, she lunges forward from her knees through an opening in the throng to reach for the Master! Her fingers barely reach the edge of His robe. And for one brief moment, her hand grasps one of the four tassels of Jesus’s garment, His tallit. Just as quickly as her fingers can secure the tassel, the surging crowd breaks her grip and presses forward, leaving her behind unnoticed in the street… But the opportunity had not been wasted.

It was enough! She had actually touched the Great Doctor!
With a trembling finger she had touched Him with the touch of a mighty faith! Like an electric shock there surged back into the shrunken veins
the panting lungs
the withered muscles
and the bloodless flesh
the rich glow of health and vitality.
Once again a body had been redeemed and given life.
She had touched Him with secret and trembling haste…
unnoticed, she thought.
No one had noticed her—
no one—but Christ!

Jesus suddenly stops, letting the crowd jolt to a stop behind Him. He looks around intently, searchingly. “Who touched Me?” Jesus slowly asks. The crowd murmurs, and the disciples stare at Him in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?” Peter blurts, “With all these people thronging around You, and You ask a question like that?” But Jesus had felt something beyond the bumps and bustles of the noisy crowd. He had felt the touch of faith!

Realizing that she had been exposed, the woman “fearing and trembling” steps forward and falls to her knees at Jesus’ feet, tearfully confessing her story (verse 33). She had good reason to be afraid. Not only had she defiled the Rabbi, making Him ceremonially unclean by her very touch, but she had dared to seize one of the four blue-corded tassels, or tzitzit, of His tallit, His prayer shawl! She had defiled the very garment that Moses had commanded the men of Israel to wear as a constant reminder of their holy consecration to God and to His Law! (See Matthew 9:20, Numbers 15:37-40.) The woman trembles as she waits for Jesus’ response.

But Jesus smiles. Perhaps with tears of compassion glistening in His eyes, Jesus speaks with love, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (verse 34). With that one word “Daughter,” Jesus does something astoundingly beautiful. He forever establishes the priceless value and eternal belonging of this unnamed woman—she is a daughter of Abraham, she is a member of the family of God, deeply and passionately loved in Her Father’s sight! You see, this was Jesus’ divine appointment—He came and He stopped for her!

She had no money—only faith.
She did not meet Him in a house of worship.
She met Him on the street.
She had no private audience with the Lord.
She touched Him in a crowd.
She touched Him in faith—in desperate believing faith and He stopped!
The touch of one anonymous woman in a crowd halted the Lord of glory. That is the glorious truth of this incident. She touched Him. So can we.
Let us take it into our apathetic hearts
let its glorious significance thrill our jaded souls.
The human touch has the power to arrest God.
Yes, to stop Him
to halt Him
to make Him aware of your problems
your pain
your petition.

Jesus in the subsequent passages, of course, went on to Jairus’ house and healed another beloved daughter. In fact, He brought the child back to life from death with the gentle touch of His hand and the tender words, “Talitha, cumi—Little girl, I say to you, arise” (verse 41). Jesus is ever speaking life and healing into our lives.

But here’s the takeaway: The interleaving stories of these two women is deeply intentional. Think about it—the little girl was twelve years old, the woman had suffered in affliction for twelve years. The little girl had been loved and cared for as a cherished daughter her whole life, while the woman had been rejected and ignored as a social outcast in hers. Yet, the Person of Jesus Christ divinely intersects their two stories and, with His touch, He brings healing and new life to each of them. I think the most profound lesson we learn from both of these stories today is that no matter where we are in life, we all need the touch of Christ. Whether we identify most closely with the sick, marginalized woman, or the cherished, beloved daughter, or the desperate father, or the sardonic disciples, or the calloused, unheeding crowd—we need the touch of Jesus! Unfortunately, just because we’re in the crowd around Jesus, doesn’t mean we’re actually touching Him. As Dr. Peter Marshall writes:

We need to touch Him—O how much we need to touch Him!
Most of us are thronging Him—just like the crowd…It is easy to throng the Lord and never touch Him.
A great many people in the churches, and perhaps a great many outside the churches, are thronging Jesus
seeking Him
coming close to Him
but never actually touching Him.

So, let me now ask you… Who are you in this story? Are you the woman, rejected and hurting–agonizingly seeking a miracle in your life? Are you the little girl, loved and cherished? What about the unbelieving but desperate father? Are you a spectator in the crowd? Are you perhaps one of the disciples in the inner circle, busily championing the cause of Jesus?

But have you actually touched Jesus?

…Do you want to touch Him now?

He is waiting for you to touch Him.
The hand of faith is enough. Your trembling fingers can reach Him as He passes.
Reach out your faith—touch Him.
He will not ask, “who touched me?”
He will know.

 

Italicized block quotes taken from Mr. Jones, Meet the Master: Sermons and Prayers of Peter Marshall by Peter Marshall. Pickle Partners Publishing. 1950.

Mark 5:1-20 – The Bay of Pigs

So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.
When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.”
Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” 10 Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.
11 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. 12 “Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.”
13 So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water. (Mark 5:1-13, NLT)

Wow, we need to stop for a second and catch a breath after all of that! (By the way, did you notice all of the action verbs in this account? Did you catch all of the vivid, dramatic details? These features are particularly characteristic of Mark’s authorship!) So, where are we now in our story? What’s going on? After calming the storm on the sea in Mark 4, Jesus finally makes it to the other side of the lake in a gentile-dominated region called the Garasenes (or the Gadarenes) where He is confronted by a man who has become possessed by demons. This account is unusual and perhaps even a bit unsettling for us. We aren’t usually comfortable with talking about demons in our modern Western church culture, and it certainly gets confusing for us to read about Jesus letting 2000 pigs plunge to their death! How do we start breaking down all of this information?

First of all, this chapter clearly reminds that there is most certainly an unseen dimension around us. Paul later expounds upon this reality in passages such as Ephesians 6:10-18 (“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…”) And whether we’re comfortable with it or not, one of the unique features of Mark’s Gospel is his hyper-emphasis on the accounts of evil spirits. In fact, there are no less than twelve passages in Mark which reference demons or evil spirits, see 1:23-27, 1:32-34, 1:39, 3:11, 3:14-15, 3:20-30, 6:7-13, 7:24-30, 9:14-29, 9:38-39, 16:9, 16:17 (and of course our current passage of Mark 5:1-20). Why this seemingly excessive focus?

For one thing, through these passages, Jesus’s dominion over all of creation is unquestionably established. In fact, Jesus even has the authority to grant this dominion to his disciples. (See Mark 3:14-15; 6:7-13; 16:17-18.) Mark also uses these accounts to demonstrate the true nature of Jesus’ mission. Jesus didn’t just come here to heal and work miracles. Jesus came to ultimately deal with the root of evil–to end sin itself! Through the psychotic massacre of the pigs, this passage lets us see firsthand the power of evil and sin and where it will ultimately lead–complete and utter destruction. Finally, biblical scholars point out that Mark distinctly presents Jesus as the “misunderstood son of God.” Our passage unquestionably plays into this theme. While the wicked, hellish demons recognize Jesus’ divinity (5:7, also see 1:24 and 3:11), no one else seems to get it! Jesus’ own disciples and family are confused for most of the book! And even as Jesus goes around preaching, healing, and casting out evil spirits, the Jewish religious leaders protest, “He has Beelzebub… By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons” (Mark 3:22). How tragically ironic… To say that Jesus’ mission was “misunderstood” is an understatement. Mark wants to ensure that his readers (*we*) do not make the same mistake.

Let’s continue reading…

14 The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15 A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. 16 Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. 17 And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.

I’ve often wondered why Jesus allowed the demons to enter the pigs and cause so much destruction and disruption for these poor villagers. Until I realized the palpable irony of the situation described in verses 13-15. Here we have a man, a child of God, finally freed from evil’s curse, and yet, the villagers can only think about how expensive and inconvenient their “Bay of Pigs” cleanup operation is going to be. I think Jesus knew that only something this dramatic would arrest the villager’s attention and force them to reconcile their priority list. Is it really all about material security for them? Or would they be able to recognize the beautiful, miraculous intervention in their brother’s life?

“And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone” (verse 17). How very, very sad… But the truth of the matter, friends, is that we do the very same thing. The fact is we, too, often find Jesus’ presence and Jesus’ work entirely too disruptive and inconvenient in our lives. Jesus at a distance is usually a fairly comfortable prospect for us. But when Jesus shows up and starts interfering with our personal business, with our priority list, with our career interest, with our financial portfolio, we often also say, if not with our words then in our actions, “Please, Jesus, just go away and leave me alone.”

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. 19 But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” 20 So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns [Decoplais] of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.

Notice that Jesus never forces Himself anywhere He is not welcome, and so Jesus prepares to leave. Ironically, the villagers beg Jesus to go away, but this liberated man, who a few verses earlier had begged Jesus to leave him alone, he now begs Jesus to allow him to come along. Yet Jesus responds: “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you…” It’s kind of surprising to see Jesus decline someone’s request to be personally with Him, isn’t it? For me, I am reminded of this passage when I default into this certain mode where all I want to do is shut myself off from the messiness and confusion of the world and just focus on myself, my own devotional time and my own personal development. “Can’t it just be You and me, Jesus? Do I really have to go out there and get involved?” In those times, Jesus gently reminds me that there is a commission to be fulfilled. Our job is to “go and tell.”

Another lesson in this passage is that, while we can’t be responsible for the decisions that others make, we can at least tell them what God has done for us! No one can ever argue with our testimony. And you know what the beautiful twist to this story is? Months later, Jesus finally circles back around and revisits the region of Decapolis in Mark 7:31-8:10 and, guess what… A huge crowd of over 4000 people is waiting for Him! All due to the testimony of this one man and his personal story of deliverance.

Mark 4:35-41 – The Storm

35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:35-38, NKJV)

What initially strikes me about this passage is the fact that the disciples are simply obeying the orders of their Master as they load up the boat and cross over to the other side. Yet, they follow the words of God directly into a storm! That can be a scary realization for us. We want to know that following God’s voice will be a guarantee against troubles and hardships for our lives. But that’s not how it works. The reality is that following Jesus can be the most risky thing we ever do in this world!

Let me share the story of Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her family lived in Holland during the time of the German Nazi occupation. The family felt led to open their home as a safe house for Jews fleeing the mass genocide of the Holocaust. After assisting in the rescue of almost 800 Jews, Corrie and her family were finally caught by the Gestapo and sent to die in concentration camps. Corrie never saw her father again and her sister died in the camp, but not before uttering these words: “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” Corrie was miraculously released from the concentration camp due to a clerical error, just a week before all the women of her age group were executed in the gas chambers. Corrie lived on after the war to share her story of faith with millions through her book The Hiding Place.

Corrie knew what it meant to follow God’s words straight into the middle of a storm. In “No, the ‘Safest Place’ Isn’t the Center of God’s Will,” missionary Craig Greenfied writes:

Perhaps it’s time we realized that the safest place, physically speaking, is NOT in the center of God’s will. The center of God’s will may, in fact, be one of the wildest, most dangerous places you could imagine… 
We live in this “therapeutic” culture—even in missions and ministry circles—where plenty of people will tell you that you shouldn’t have to suffer. We’ve allowed a healthy doctrine of self-care to negate a theology of suffering… We hear it all the time: You deserve comfort. You deserve perfect health. You deserve this and that.

These statements are simply not true. Nor are they helpful. Would anyone dare say these words to a soldier in battle? Would you say them to a political prisoner? Or a sailor in the midst of a vicious storm?…

So what does God promise through these trials?

His promise is simply this: He will never leave us or stop loving us. That’s all. But it’s enough. He is with you in the storm because He loves you. And He will never stop loving you.

Paradoxically, Corrie Ten Boom would later write, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” Corrie understood the double-edged truth of the words she spoke. No, the center of God’s will is not the guarantee of physical comfort and safety. (Guess what, the world doesn’t have anything better to offer!) But yes, the center of God’s will is the most secure stronghold of love, peace, and protection than anything we could ever find elsewhere

We return to our passage in Mark 4. The disciples scream out at the top of their lungs, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Perhaps we are here reminded of how many times we have cried out in our own prayers, “Lord, do You not care…?” I can’t answer why God sometimes seems to wait so long before answering our prayers. I can’t say why the storm is so often allowed to rage on as long as it does. I have absolutely no answer, and the trite platitudes and cliche quips of “comfort” are so utterly unhelpful during those times. But what our passage resolutely reaffirms is that YES, Jesus does care! Sadly, it is our own lack of faith that blinds us to the reality of His abundant care (verse 40), and it is our own lack of faith that deafens us to His reassuring whispers in the midst of our trials. And yet, the truth is that one day, even if it is at the end of this lifetime, Jesus will stand up and say, “Enough! Peace, be still!”

39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

I can’t help but chuckle a little at the disciples’ reaction here. The disciples were “fearful” at the storm, but then, in response to Jesus’ actions, they “feared exceedingly!” Who in the world is this guy that He can simply speak the sea to stillness!? I guess when the disciples woke Jesus, they at most expected Him to grab a bucket and start helping bail out water. (I think a lot of times in our prayers that’s about the most we expect Jesus to do, too.) But what Jesus actually did was something completely beyond their wildest imaginations.

Yet, seeing how dramatically and suddenly Jesus caused the storm to cease in this particular story can at times be discouraging for us. After all, we can barely bring ourselves to believe that Jesus would–that Jesus could–stop the storm that rages so fiercely in our own lives. I think this difficulty brings us back around to where we began in this study: Following Jesus is not a safeguard against tragedy in this life. You see, Jesus may have miraculously stopped this storm in a moment’s time, but a few years later, He agonizingly stumbled up a mountain dragging a cross behind Him. And He told us that we also would have our own cross to carry as we followed after Him. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “The cross is laid on every Christian… Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship). In other words, yes, we are called to die–sometimes to die to our own plans and ambitions, sometimes to take up a cross of suffering and sacrifice–but the end of our life meets the beginning of a new life of communion with Jesus. And no matter what happens in the journey, what we can know is that there will not be a moment where Jesus is not with us, lovingly holding us through it all.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39, NLT)

Mark 4:26-34 – Seeds of the Kingdom

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it?” (Mark 4:30)

Humor me and try this exercise with me: If you were asked to describe the term “kingdom” to a four-year old, how would you do it? What kinds of words would you use? I for one would use adjectives of strength, might, and authority! I’d try to convey the idea of control and and power. But that’s not what Jesus did, did He? No, instead of palaces, fortresses, and armies, Jesus redirects His listener’s gaze downward, to the tiniest of seeds…

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” (Mark 4:27-29, NLT)

There are a couple of points that stick out to me here. First of all, Jesus seems to be using this parable to dispel the illusion of control that we have of God’s kingdom-building process. No matter how hard we try—no matter how badly we want to—we can’t make a seed germinate. We can’t force the seed to grow or sprout. In fact, we don’t even really “understand” how the whole process work. For all we know, that seed is dead, hopelessly buried away forever… Until one day, we begin to see the first inkling of life, that very first green blade, begin to peep through the surface! The process is mysterious and miraculous. Even at the first sign of growth, however, we may have to wait much longer than we would want until the next stage of development is reached. We often try to speed up the process on ourselves (especially on others!), but, that’s not our job. That’s up to Someone Else. Which leads me to my second observation: We’re not in control of the seed’s growth, but we can help scatter the seeds. Notice that word scatter. It’s definition is “to throw in various random directions.” This means we’re supposed to be out there in the world liberally dispersing seeds of hope, love, comfort, generosity, and witness of the gospel message everywhere we go! Finally, in addition to assisting with the nurturing and protection of the seeds, we then get to help harvest them!

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32, NLT)

Jesus’ words here remind me that I shouldn’t be discouraged when I don’t always see the big, spectacular “God things” in my life. We may think we’re missing out on the dramatic faith moments in our lives–it seems I’m always reading about them in others’ lives, after all. But the truth is that God promises to take and work with the small mustard seeds in our own unique life journey. We just need to be willing to offer and surrender what little we do have. That way, over time, He can nurture and grow the small, seemingly-insignificant seeds into big things for His kingdom.

Likewise, the next time we’re tempted to discount ourselves or someone else, exasperatedly giving it all up as a “hopeless cause,” we should again remember this parable. The mustard seed grows invisibly, gradually, yet steadily. It keeps us guessing. We never quite know what exactly God is up to. Until one day the tiniest of seeds grows into the largest of trees, spreading its branches and offering its leaves in shelter and nourishment to those around it. With God, what once seemed impossible becomes miraculously possible.

No wonder seeds were one of Jesus’ favorite kingdom illustrations! They remind us of the need for ceaseless patience and unwavering trust. It’s not a question of whether something is possible or not with God. It’s a question of whether we’re willing to stick around long enough to see the final result.

Mark 4:1-25 – Are you listening?

In case you haven’t noticed, Jesus is very busy in the Gospel of Mark. Over the last couple of chapters, Jesus has been constantly on the move — from the city, to the lakeshore, to the grain fields, to the synagogue, to the lake again, to a mountain, to a house, and now back to the lake yet again. Notice that Jesus is no longer teaching in the synagogue. He makes a sharp departure from the orthodox methods of His day. Now, from a gently swaying boat, Jesus teaches His first parable in Mark 4:1-20. As we study the parable of the sower, I want to share the entire passage with you below. Please take time to read the complete excerpt so that we can make some careful observations together.

1 Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant. 11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they see what I do,
they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
and be forgiven.’” [*See my side note on this in comments section.]

13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? 14 The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. 15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. 16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. 20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Mark 4:1-20, NLT)

What is your initial reaction to reading this parable? What do you think Jesus’ big point is here? I had always read this passage and thought that Jesus was simply explaining the fact that some people would be real believers of the gospel and others would not. However, as I reflect more closely on this passage, I now believe Jesus is actually setting the stage for a very important development in His ministry. It is not coincidental that the Parable of the Sower is the first (formal) parable in each of the three synoptic Gospel accounts, and the placement of the parable plays a particularly interesting role in the Gospel of Mark. Notice that in the passages leading up to and following this parable, Mark places special emphasis on the almost-universal unbelief of the people, even among Jesus’ own family and followers (see for example verse 13, also 8:17-21). So, with this parable, Jesus is actually assessing the situation at hand and confronting his listeners with a decision that they each must make.

According to Christ’s parable, every individual’s belief or unbelief will come down to one simple factor: Are you actually listening? Notice in our passage that Jesus emphasizes derivatives of the word “listen” or “hear” no less than seven times. Throughout Scripture, these words carry much more weight than our English usage of the terms. To really “hear” what Jesus is saying is not merely to intellectually acknowledge what you have heard, but to carefully consider with a receptive heart, being willing to assimilate it into your very life. It means you’re ready to take action. Notice how the next few verses read (in the NKJV this time):

21 Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
24 Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. 25 For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:21-25, NKJV)

I like how the New Living Translation further clarifies the last part of that passage:

“Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” (vss. 24-25, NLT)

“Therefore consider carefully how you listen…” is how the NIV puts it. If you’re actually listening to someone, that means you’re not the one doing the talking. It means you’re not running, fighting, striving, resisting, arguing, or trying to get your own word in edgewise. We can’t just halfheartedly hear Jesus’ words with our ears and expect the seeds to stick. Only when we are really listening with open hearts, defenses down, can the words of the Gospel be truly sown in our souls. There, as we allow the Living Word to be planted in the soil of our heart and embedded in the fabric of our being, will the seeds begin to germinate and grow and bring forth a new harvest of fruit in our lives. That’s how we will know what kind of soil we have!

“And with many such parables spoke he the word to them, as they were able to hear it.” (Mark 4:33, AKJV).

 

…Are you listening?