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 blessing and 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 horrifying 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 simple, too close, too big for us to believe.

 

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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 Jesus “crosses over” anywhere, He is on His way to a divine appointment–a divinely orchestrated opportunity to reveal the purposes of God. And sure enough, as the multitudes eagerly gather to greet Jesus on the shore, the perfect opportunity seemingly presents 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. It’s a no-brainer that Jesus would want to help a man like Jairus! I’m sure the disciples were gleefully tallying the spike in Jesus’ PR ratings and excitedly prepping for the anticipated photo op! (And how especially timely considering the most recently transpired “Bay of Pigs” fiasco!)

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, of course, in the following passages 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 with the sick, marginalized woman, or the cherished 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 4:26-34 – 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 3:20-35 – The Family of God

Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” (Mark 3:20-21, NJKV).

It isn’t too difficult to see why Jesus’ family thought he was crazy. Jesus had thrown away a steady career and any hope of financial security. He was assaulting the socio-religious order of his day. His so-called followers were comprised of crude fishermen, tax collectors, and other disreputable individuals. And He was basically generating a mob of people wherever He stepped foot. It’s not hard to see the family’s point of view! I feel that Jesus’ example, however, serves as a reminder to us that we, too, may be called to do things that may look to well-meaning friends and family like we are also “out of our minds.” At least we can know that we are in good company. 🙂

“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub,’ and, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons’” (vs. 22). The family simply thinks that Jesus is crazy, but the religious rulers accuse Jesus of something far more insidious. In their viewpoint, the only explanation for Jesus’ unprecedented spiritual power is that He must be in alliance with Satan himself.

So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand… No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.” (Mark 3:23-27)

In His response, Jesus first points out the logical fault in the scribes’ accusation. Next, Jesus pulls back the veil on what is actually going on in the unseen spiritual realm. Satan seeks to control his dominion as a strong man guards his house, but One who is stronger is actually in the process of binding Satan in order to plunder his goods and release his captives! And that should be very, very good news for us!

As Jesus continues His response, however, He makes a subsequent statement that has left many unsettled and disturbed: “’Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation’— because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit'” (vss. 28-30).

What is Jesus talking about here? Is a word or thought of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit really the unpardonable sin? Most theologians agree that the “unpardonable sin” is understood in Scripture as a continual (rather than a one-time) rejection of God’s influence on our lives. It is a repeated “grieving” of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) to the point that we are no longer even capable of discerning God’s voice in our hearts—to the point that our consciences become “seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:19). In our churches, we almost always discuss this topic in the context of obedience and avoiding sin. Now, while I don’t necessarily disagree with that premise, I think Jesus is actually making a slightly different point here that we don’t want to miss. Mark here makes a very clear connection between Jesus’ warning about the unforgivable sin and the Pharisees’ accusation of Jesus’ power originating from Beelzebub. So what the Pharisees are actually being condemned for here is that they were looking directly at a manifestation of God’s power and calling it the working of Satan! That means that Jesus is sternly warning His listeners (us) that we can also be in danger of grieving the Holy Spirit anytime we see at an outworking of God’s power and yet condemn it as a manifestation of evil!  Interestingly enough, in the parallel passage in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus drives this point even further by adding: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). The Greek term here for “idle word” (rema argos) can also be rendered “unprofitable word,” and, in our passage’s context, this would encompass unjustly condemning or accusatory words as well. Among other things, Jesus’ statement should be a sobering warning for us to be slow in judgment when our brothers and sisters in Christ do something differently than us, whether in worship style or faith practices. Just because something doesn’t fit nicely into our narrow theological “God box,” doesn’t mean the Spirit isn’t working… Rather, we should always carefully examine the “fruit” (Matthew 12:33) while prayerfully “dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

This last passage of chapter 3 focuses in again on the disapproval of Jesus’ family. Jesus uses this opportunity to point out that a new life in Christ can sometimes mean the loss of earthly relationships. (Jesus makes similar statements in Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:35.) But rather than focusing on the possibility of loss, I want us to see the beautiful promise of gaining new relationships which Jesus is offering. Jesus is extending an invitation to be a part of the very family of God! In fact, I like to imagine that I am sitting in that very circle as Jesus looks at each and every individual around Him and says, “Look, here are My mother and My brothers and My sisters!” It’s an invitation that Jesus is still offering each of us. And it’s an invitation to a reality that doesn’t have to wait until heaven. Jesus is willing and ready to make good on the offer today!

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,  who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

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.