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 to present a desperate petition for his little daughter. Jairus comes to Jesus as a prominent man, a man with a spotless reputation and powerful influence. What a no-brainer! I’m sure the disciples were frenziedly tallying the spike in Jesus’ PR ratings! This would be a fabulous photo op! (And 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… Someone who isn’t so much of a PR opportunity. “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 through an opening between the legs of 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. 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-woven 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 every speaking life and healing into our lives.

But here’s the big picture: The interleaving stories of these two women is beyond coincidental. 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 this story 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 father trying to impress Jesus? Are you in the crowd trying to get blessed by Jesus? Are you perhaps one of the disciples in the inner circle trying to protect Jesus? Are you a modern-day believer 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.

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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?

 

 

 

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?