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.

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 imagination.

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. 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). No matter what happens, however, 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)

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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?

 

 

 

Mark 3:7-19 – “That they might be with Him”

But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him… So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. (Mark 3:7-10, NKJV)

We like to think of of the ministry of Jesus as being characterized by the tender miracles of healing, the thoughtful teachings on a peaceful mountainside. But this passage reminds us that the ministry of Christ was not always a pleasant affair to be a part of. Jesus was essentially mobbed everywhere He went. People smothered Him—seizing, grabbing, grasping at Him! He even had to take precautions so that the multitude wouldn’t trample Him! Sometimes it’s not pretty for us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus either. We’re called into messy situations; we sometimes have to get involved with dysfunctional people and sticky relationships. However, whatever the challenges we might be facing on our path, we can know that our faithful Master has gone before us.

And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known. (Mark 3:11-12, NKJV)

This is a good place to discuss an important thematic element in the book of Mark which is sometimes referred to as the “Messianic Secret.” Why is Jesus so insistent that His identity as the Messiah not be publicly revealed? We saw this peculiar situation for the first time in Mark 1:43-45 when Jesus heals the leper and instructs him not to tell anyone. Other examples can be seen in our Mark 3:12 passage, as well as in Mark 5:43; 7:36; 8:26; 8:30; and 9:9. What could be the reason for all of this? What we have to remember is that we are the “privileged reader” in Mark’s Gospel narrative— we have “inside information” about Jesus’ identity. At this point in the Markan story, only Jesus, John the Baptist, and we as the reader know of the heavenly voice which spoke, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). So this information is not yet public knowledge, and Jesus apparently does not want it to be. Why? We have to remember what the arrival of the Messiah was believed to mean by the Jewish nation. The Messiah was understood to be a conquering warrior, a hero that would mobilize a full-scale rebellion and defeat the Roman oppressors, ushering in a new socio-political reign of Jewish independence. And yet Jesus comes as as a suffering servant, the misunderstood Son of God. The Jewish people—even Jesus’ own disciples—are simply not ready to receive their Messiah as a suffering Servant-King. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NLT). The “messianic secret” of Jesus will continue to act as a one of the primary themes throughout the Gospel of Mark, climaxing in the Confession of Peter in chapter 8, verses 27-30.

We continue reading in verses 13-19:

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew [or Nathaniel], Matthew [or Levi], Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus [or Jude or Judas], Simon the Cananite [or the Zealot]; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. (Mark 3:13-19, NKJV)

Jesus now begins the official inauguration of His kingdom. As theologian William Barclay writes, “It is significant that Christianity began with a group. The Christian faith is something which from the beginning had to be discovered and lived out in a fellowship.” But why this particular group? Fishermen, tax collectors, revolutionaries… What in the world was Jesus thinking? What could He possibly hope to do with this ragtag group of social misfits? Despite their different backgrounds and different viewpoints, the one all-important attribute that these men all shared in common was that they were with Jesus. “They would have their tests, their grievances, their differences of opinion; but while Christ was abiding in the heart, there could be no dissension. His love would lead to love for one another” (E. G. White). In the context of community, Christ’s love would transform these men (those of them who were willing) from the inside out.

And Jesus called them not to be His slaves or His subordinates, but to be His friends…

They were very ordinary men. By our standards of judgment, not a single one of them would have been considered disciple material. Tax collectors. Fishermen, peasants, simple folk, unlettered for the most part with no special qualifications. But as Christ chose them He was seeing, not so much what they were, as what they were to become. The clue to their selection was that they were to be with Him. That was the beginning of their development and their transformation. He created a fellowship which was a deep content for Him, but for them was all in all…. For three years they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears. They heard the music of His voice. They watched His slow smile. They saw the sunlight dancing on His hair. They saw Him perform miracles. They heard Him tell unforgettable parables. He told them that when they had seen Him they had seen the Father.

And then same ebbing popularity and the shadow of the Cross. Was their fellowship to end with His death? Their testimony is that it did not—that the fellowship not only survived death, but was consummated after it through His Resurrection. It is an astounding claim to make. They claim that in the days between the Resurrection and the ascension Jesus established this friendship so that it would be available to men in all ages. (Dr. Peter Marshall)

He called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. He chose them, that they might be with Him… The truth, friends, is that Jesus is still choosing… He is calling each one of us, even now, that we too might be with Him. The question is, will we come to Him?

 

Mark 2:1-3:6 – The Kingdom Agenda

The events of Mark chapter 2 (and part of chapter 3) are meant to show us what Jesus’ kingdom agenda is all about. It’s an agenda that is revealed by way of direct contrast with the counter-agenda of the established religious order. Jesus is here to turn the paradigm of religion upside down! After studying this chapter for a number of weeks, I finally noticed the fascinating common structure to the “controversy passages” that take place in these verses. For this particular blog entry, I just wanted to explore some of these study notes together. Let’s take a look:

Jesus forgives/heals a paralytic, Mark 2:1-12

  • The Pharisees’ accusatory question: “Why does this Man speak blasphemies?”
  • Jesus’s response, as a question: “Why do you reason like this in your hearts?”
  • Key points: Jesus demonstrates His divine power to forgive as well as to heal. He also claims the messianic title, “The Son of Man.”

Jesus attends a feast with sinners, Mark 2:15-17

  • Accusation: “Why does He associate with sinners?”
  • Response: “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (NLT)
  • Key points: Jesus shows that sinners are accepted by God, thus deeply threatening the socio-religious constructs that the Pharisees have imposed.

Jesus’ disciples do not fast along with Pharisees, Mark 2:18-22

  • Accusation: “Why don’t your disciples fast?”
  • Response, as a question: “Can a bridegroom’s friends fast while he’s with them?”
  • Key points: By implication, Jesus is ominously warning the Pharisees that they themselves are missing out on God’s great wedding feast. And there is no place for meaningless, self-imposed religious rituals. The old system, the old spirit, cannot live on with the new. “New wine cannot be put into old wineskins.”

Jesus’ disciples pluck grain to eat on the Sabbath, Mark 2:23-28

  • Accusation: “Why do your disciples do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
  • Response, as a question: “Haven’t you read what David did when he was hungry?”
  • Key points: Human need is always the most important factor in God’s eyes. As the Son of Man, Jesus claims divine lordship over the Sabbath and frees it of its burdensome, man-made restrictions. Echoing back to the creation account, Christ places the Sabbath back in its proper relationship to mankind within God’s Law — as a gift from our Creator for our enjoyment and spiritual/physical renewal.

Jesus heals a man’s hand on the Sabbath, Mark 3:1-6

  • This healing miracle/controversy acts as a chiastic counterpart to the first miracle in Mark 2. Once again, the Pharisees do not make a verbal allegation against Jesus, but they “watch Him closely so that they could accuse Him.” Jesus responds once again with a pointed, motive-exposing question: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
  • Notice the parallel language with the prior Sabbath controversy: The Pharisees accuse Christ’s disciples of doing “what is not lawful” on the Sabbath, but now Jesus turns their own accusation around on them, exposing what is truly “not lawful” in God’s eyes.
  • This is also the second time in Mark’s Gospel that we read of Christ experiencing strong emotions. In Mark 1:41, we read that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (splagchnizomai) and now we read that Jesus looks around “with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts” (3:5, NKJV). Other versions read the He was “deeply hurt”, “sorrowful”, “saddened”, “distressed” at the “callousness of their hearts.” I think we sometimes think of Jesus as placid, controlled, and stoic, that He lived above the volatility of human emotions. But I believe these passages show us the Christ experienced the depths of human sorrow, anger, and joy on a scale more extreme than we might ever be able to imagine.
  • Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (verse 6). The implicit irony here is strong. The Pharisees despised the Herodians (supporters of Herod), considering them corrupt sell-outs. Yet, the two opposing sects come together in their unified purpose of destroying Jesus. It is also darkly ironic that, on the sacred Sabbath day, these two groups “immediately” went out and began to plot how to kill their own Messiah. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

So what do we learn from all of this? Jesus is here to forgive the unforgivable, heal the untouchable, call the unwanted, and befriend the friendless. He’s here to turn religion on its head and redefine what it really means to live out the Law of God. Despite the mounting opposition, in the coming section of Mark chapter 3, we will see Jesus officially inaugurate His kingdom in the appointment of the twelve apostles.

Mark 1:21-45 – The Touch of the Savior

We concluded our last study with life’s single most important question: Why should I also follow Jesus? This is the bottom-line question that each Gospel writer seeks to answer by telling us who Jesus is and why He should matter to us. Matthew, for instance, introduces us to Jesus by letting us listen to what Jesus says via the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). But Mark chooses to introduce us to Jesus by letting us watch what Jesus does.

21 Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23 Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. 27 Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28, NKJV)

From here, the pace of the story rapidly picks up! Right after church, Jesus goes straight to Simon’s house and heals his mother-in-law with a simple touch. It doesn’t take long for the entire city to figure out that something wonderful is happening in their neighborhood: “At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door” (verses 32-33). I like how Luke expands on this: “and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40). On every one of them… I love this. Not one of us is excluded from the touch of our Redeemer’s hand! Not one of our situations is too far gone, too wretched, too advanced, or too difficult for our Savior’s healing: “No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one” (verse 40, NLT).

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (verse 35, NKJV). The pace of the story has been fast and intense up to this point, but finally as the reader, we catch a break. We can finally take a deep breath… And what an appropriate opportunity to do so. It is crucial that we don’t skip past this verse. Take a moment with me to simply pause and drink the scene in… Jesus, finally alone with His Father. At last, the opportunity to rest in God’s Presence and to listen for His Father’s comforting whisper. Jesus is preparing Himself for what will come the following day. He is “storing up” the Spirit-given wisdom that He will need to discern His Father’s will in every coming challenge and circumstance. If Jesus, the sinless Son of God, needed His quiet, alone time in the secret place with the Father, how badly must we need it, too?

Yet, Jesus quiet hours of solitude and prayer are interrupted all too soon. Jesus will now put into action the discerning direction given by His Father from His night of prayer:

36 And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. 37 When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”

38 But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

39 And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons. (Mark 1:36-39)

Although the community pleads with Jesus to stay, Jesus knows that His true mission has begun and He must move forward in His ministry. Those who carry the mission of God cannot—must not—remain comfortably, stagnantly in the same place. We must learn from Jesus’ example. Sometimes we, too, must say “no” to the din of demands and competing “responsibilities” in our lives. Sometimes we must say NO to a hundred reasonable, logical obligations “to ourselves” and “to others,” so that we can say YES to the one call that really matters. I love what Oswald Chambers writes:

“My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest.” To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender… An overweening consideration of ourselves is the thing that keeps us from that decision, though we put it that we are considering others… Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only—my Utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone. (Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest).

As we follow Jesus and His small band of followers as they continue their journey, we are next confronted with one of the most dramatic and shocking accounts in the Gospel story. Bear with me for a moment as I attempt to imagine the scene:

Jesus and his followers carefully make their way down the rough Galilean trail. As dusk begins to settle, they reach the outskirts of their next city. Peter, Andrew, James, and John are excitedly conversing about the miraculous events they have witnessed over the last few days. Suddenly, a cloaked shadow plunges in front of their path. What is it? Is it an animal? A man? The figure stops for a moment, as in a daze, and then stumbles straight toward Jesus. In the clumsiness of his effort, the figure’s hood falls back behind his head, exposing one of the most revolting sights to be seen. A leper! (Luke describes this man as “full of leprosy” which means he was in the most advanced stage of the disease!) The disciples recoil in disdain and disgust. The man’s exposed face looks like that of a demonic monster, half of his disfigured face has been eaten away by the putrefying infection. Andrew stands back in paralyzed silence, but Peter, James, and John quickly grab heavy and sharp stones to hurl at the repulsive creature, a man cursed by the very finger of God! Only the quick and decisive hand motion of Jesus stops them from heaving their stones.

The air hangs heavy with unnerving silence. Only the quiet, gentle, unflinching stare of Jesus gives the leprous man the courage to take the last few steps forward. He collapses to his knees and prostrates himself on the ground. Groveling at the feet of Christ and struggling to control his labored breathing, the man hoarsely wheezes, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (verse 40). Jesus doesn’t say anything at first. The disciples take this as their signal to ready their arms for strong, swift blows at the man—a man who has blatantly broken the Jewish laws of leprosy, daring to contaminate others with his curse. The disciples await the slightest signal from Christ to heave their weapons. The man presses his face to the dirt and braces himself for the sharp impact of hurled stones. But Jesus doesn’t give the awaited signal. Instead, Jesus slowly closes his eyes in distress and His face contorts, as if in pain… Jesus is experiencing splagchnizomai—literally in Greek, to be moved to the bowels with gut-wrenching compassion.

The disciples watch in shocked horror as Jesus then slowly stoops to the rotting, living corpse and extends His hand to do the unthinkable.  Instead of the painful blows of stones, the man feels a touch. A gentle yet firm touch. Jesus’ hand tenderly unfolds on the man’s bare head and then lovingly, almost-caressingly moves down his neck, finally resting in a firm grip on the his shoulder. The man shudders beneath the touch. He has not felt the hand of a human hand in years.  The touch is horribly uncomfortable to his benumbed body, almost painful. The man quivers in silence, not even daring to hope for what might come next. Jesus then speaks for the first time. His words pierce the oppressive silence: “I am willing; be cleansed.”

Emanating from the heavy hand on his shoulder, an electrifying shock of sensation pulses through the man’s entire being. In an instant, he feels everything—the tingling skin of his fingertips, the coarse rub of his tattered garment, the ticklish trace of the shoes on his feet, even the pain of his tender face pressed against the stony ground! The man abruptly looks up and his eyes are immediately met with the loving gaze of Jesus. He is cleansed; he is healed!

In that moment, the gospel is proclaimed—a more dramatic, exhilarating demonstration of the gospel message than could ever have been imagined! Friends, this is the unfolding revelation of the good-news message that Mark so desperately wants us to see. Mark chapter 1 begins with a vague hope, barely a whisper, of the good things that we might be able to expect from this Man who claims to be the Son of God. The chapter then progresses through the escalating miracles that this Man can perform and authority that this Man holds. And it all culminates to the unthinkable touch of the Savior’s hand –a touch that has the power make the sick well, the demoniacs restored, the broken whole, and the unclean cleansed. A touch that can change the course of history!

Mark chapter 1 ends in a cliff-hanger, I guess you could say. From such a fast-paced, short-term exposure to the narrative, we as “the first time reader” still know hardly anything at all about this Jesus guy. But one thing is certain: We absolutely must find out what happens next!

Final Instructions

By Exodus 31, God has been giving instructions to Moses for the last ten chapters – instructions for social laws, ceremonial feast days, the construction of the tabernacle, the garments of the priests, and nearly everything in between. Finally, God wraps up the conversation by telling Moses who has been chosen to build the holy tabernacle:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.

And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you…” (Exodus 31:1-6, NKJV)

I find these words to be of special importance. We so often think of God pouring out His anointing Spirit on pastors, ministers, evangelists, and missionaries. We think of the work of the LORD as encompassing preaching, teaching, and witnessing – but not much else. Yet here we have a beautiful illustration of God’s Spirit being poured out on an ordinary workman. “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri,” the text reads. “That’s my guy!” God says. “This is the one I have specifically called and chosen to build My holy tabernacle.” What an overwhelming privilege! I would think that this passage offers encouragement and affirmation to those of us who may not have been called to a specific vocation of church ministry. We may not be pastors or foreign missionaries, but, guess what, we’ve still been chosen and anointed to do a very special work of the LORD. You have received a unique calling that only you can fulfill! When you look at it that way, you realize that every single activity of your daily labor—no matter how menial it might seem—can be turned into an act of worship! The New Testament admonishes us to live out this “true worship” which comes by surrendering every facet of lives—whether at work or home or church—to God’s will. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV; see also 1 Corinthians 10:31.) It is both an encouraging realization as well as a sobering mandate of responsibility.

The final set of directions that God gives Moses is in relation to the Sabbath day: “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’” (Exodus 31:12-13, NKJV). At first I found this repetition of the Sabbath commandment a little strange. Hasn’t God already given clear directions for the Sabbath in Exodus 20? Why the need to repeat? It then occurred to me, however, that the placement of the Sabbath reminder here is indeed very significant. God and Moses have just been talking about all the things that the people will need to do to prepare a dwelling place for the LORD: they will need to build the tabernacle, they will need to craft the sacred furnishings, they will need to prepare the priest’s garments, they will need to perform the dedication ceremony – and the list goes on… Perhaps God wanted to use this last repetition of the Sabbath promise as a way to remind the people that it is not their works, but God’s work, that will make them holy. God wanted His children to take a break every single week on the Sabbath day, to stop and remember – “that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (verse 13).

It’s almost as if God has intentionally book-ended this entire mountain-top discourse with the Sabbath. We first read about it in Exodus 20, at the heart of God’s proclamation of the Ten Commandments (the “Ten Promises”). And here we are reading about the beautiful Sabbath promise once again at the end of Exodus 31. I think God wants us to learn something today as well. As we discussed in our previous lesson “The Law, Part 2 – Sabbath,” Sabbath is so much, much more than a mere day of the week. It’s an attitude. We can either live our lives striving to get something that we already have, or we can begin abiding in the promises that God has bestowed upon us. (See John 15:1-8.) The Sabbath signifies a salvational rest. It’s a day we observe every week, where we remember that we can stop working to earn anything with God. We can’t impress Him. We can’t earn our way to heaven. Instead, we simply rest in His self-sacrificing and eternally-lasting love for us.

And with that last reminder, God delivers to Moses His holy law and covenant – the transcript of His very own character of love:

“When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18, NLT).

Written with God’s very own finger! The question we are now left with is, “What will Moses and Israel do with this overwhelmingly-beautiful token of God’s covenant relationship?” We wait until the next chapter to find out.