June 29, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 3:20-22

Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."
(Mark 3:20-22 NET)


After doing all the marvelous things that were mentioned before, Jesus goes home to Nazareth, to a warm reception from His family. They think he's nuts.

Now, under normal circumstances, I could understand this. If I had a brother, and all the sudden he started running around tapping people on the head and forgiving their sins, I'd probably wonder about the state of his mental health. We have to consider, though, one important thing.

They've been living with Mary their whole lives. Mary has told them all about Jesus, and the angel's visit, and the wise me and shepherds, and everything. She's talked about when they found Jesus in the temple, and the things He said there. So they know the story. They know who Mary and Joseph say that Jesus is supposed to be. And they STILL think that their brother Jesus is crazy. They are ignoring the obvious truth of who Christ is, choosing to believe something much easier.

People did that a lot back then. Elsewhere, we learn that there were people who believed that Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated (Matthew 16:14). Since many people saw Jesus baptized by John the Baptist, that coulsn't possibly be true. They chose to believe that, though, rather than accept what He told them about who He was.

People still do that today. Jesus seems to be whatever the latest scholar thinks He should be -- everything from a rebel priest to a social reformer to a revolutionary leader. We tend to see Jesus as who we want Him to be, rather than who He really is. This is a result of modern scholarship deciding that there are no absolutes when it comes to the Biblical texts -- since they aren't inspired by God, we can pick and choose which passages we want to believe. If we find other texts that talk about Jesus that we like better, then we can believe in those, too. Pretty soon, we have our own, personal Jesus, who doesn't make us stop doing what we want to do, who just sits there and tells us what great people we are, and never requires anything from us as far as worship or devotion.

We are a people driven by convenience. We want to believe in God, but we don't want all the "baggage". We don't want to have to obey anyone, to follow anything resembling commandments, and don't you DARE tell us that our way might not be right.

Jesus was telling people the same thing. He was saying that the things that the Pharisees had been teaching them weren't the right path to God. He was teaching them things about the Messiah that they hadn't been taught. And when they asked who He was to teach them things like that, what authority did He have -- He showed them. Who has the kind of authority that Jesus showed over sickness? Who has the authority that He claimed when He forgave sin? Only God -- and the Jewish leaders knew that. They had two choices -- believe that He was who He said He was, and have to change centuries of beliefs, or they could believe that He was wrong, that He was guilty of blasphemy and had to be stoned. They chose the latter.

We need to think about what Jesus we believe in. Our own, personal, be whatever we want Him to be and never inconvenience us Jesus? Or the Messiah, the Son of God, the Word who, in the beginning, was with God and was God, by whom all things were created?

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June 22, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 3:13-19

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: 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, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
(Mark 3:13-19 ESV)

The Calling of the Twelve. That's how it's listed in just about every Bible I own. It's one of the major moments in the history of Christianity -- the men who were to be the closest followers of Christ are chosen and listed for us. It's interesting that they are almost always listed in this exact order -- almost a pecking order, showing how important or famous each disciple was.

Peter, James, and John: The Big Three -- those who were closest to Christ.The travel farther with Christ into Gethsemane than the rest. They are often shown to be fairly influential. Peter, who first confessed AND first denied Christ. James, one of the first called to follow Christ, the leader of the church at Jerusalem. Along with his brother John, the disciple who would have attacked the Samaritans who did not honor Christ. John, who would be called the beloved disciple -- the only one to die of natural causes. Both called Sons of Thunder for their zeal in turning to violence.

Andrew, the first evangelist, who brought (literally) his brother Simon Peter to Christ. He stays in the background through most of the New Testament -- but without him things would have been vastly different. I can picture him listening to Peter preach, nudging a neighbor and whispering "That's my brother -- he knows what he's talking about. I was there, too, when Jesus taught". Philip, also responsible for bringing a friend (Bartholomew) to Christ, the thinker. He was more studied in Scripture than other disciples (see John 1:45). Bartholomew, also called Nathanael, who spent time with God under a fig tree, and encountered Christ. Matthew, a tax collector who nobody would ever expect to be following the Messiah, but who was worthy to write a Gospel. Thomas, the doubter, who went on to greater things for Christ. James the Lesser, possibly Matthew's brother, who was martyred for his faith. Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot -- two disciples of whom little is known outside of legend.

And Judas, the betrayer. Always last, always least in the lists.

Looking at the character of these men, we can see Christ picked men not for their ability, but their attitude. They were willing to be used. They were also very fallible. Only one was present at the crucifixion. One refused to believe the testimony that Christ had risen. All were terrified men, hiding in a borrowed room from the soldiers who were surely looking for them, on the first Ressurection Day. And all who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, were to turn the entire world upside down. We wonder sometimes why these men Christ picked were so petty at times -- as when James and John request to have the seat at Christ's right hand when He established His kingdom. Why use someone such as Peter, who swore to defend Christ to his last breath, but who denied he knew Christ before his master was even dead? Why use Thomas, who refused to believe anything but the testimony of his own eyes? And why pick Judas, when surely Christ in His omniscience knew that he would be the one to betray Him?

Christ uses imperfect vessels, so that the glory does not go to the vessel, but to Him. We are incapable, but He makes us powerful -- powerful in ways that are clearly His ways, not ours. If we learn nothing else from this passage, we can learn that Christ uses us, cracks and flaws intact, so that we can give the honor and glory to Him, and Him alone.

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June 15, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 3:6-12

Mark 3:7-12 ESV Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea ( and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. (9) And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, (10) for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. (11) And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God." (12) And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.


Jesus knows what the Pharisees planned, and He knew that it wasn't His time yet, so He left. As usual, a crowd gathers, anxious to see miracles performed. And once again, He cautions unclean spirits to not make Him known.

As we will see later in the chapter, the thing Jesus thought would happen did. The Pharisees accused Him of being a tool of the devil. I think, though, that that is only one reason He wanted the secrecy at this point.

Jews at the time of Christ were not able to understand His mission. They were waiting for a conquering Messiah, who would overthrow the Romans and free Israel from tyranny. Even the disciples thought He was going to set up His kingdom right then and there -- even after the ressurrection, they were wondering when He was going to establish the Kingdom. They didn't understand the idea of a suffering Messiah.

Christ took the next three years to explain things to them. He tried through parable, through example, through stragiht-out preaching and teaching, to get them to understand the nature of the Kingdom of God.

2000 years later, and we still don't quite understand it. Books are written about it, theologians argue about when, where, and how it will be established. The only thing we can agree on is that it will happen. And the best lesson we can learn from this is that we can't understand it all.

We're never going to totally understand everything about God. We can believe in Him, we can love Him, we can worship Him, we can study His Word and learn as much as we can about Him, but only in Heaven are we actually going to fully understand God.

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June 08, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 2:23-3:6

Mark 2:23-3:6 ESV One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. (24) And the Pharisees were saying to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" (25) And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: (26) how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?" (27) And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (2 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath." (3:1) Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. (2) And they watched Jesus,[1] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. (3) And he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come here." (4) And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. (5) And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (6) The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.


The Pharisees are so concerned about maintaining their outward holy appearance that they even prohibit picking food to eat on the Sabbath. Their traditions and regulations have perverted something God created to be a benefit to man -- the rules that were heaped onto the Sabbath were oppressive! Jesus again shows that He isn't concerned with outward shows of piety -- He can see into the heart, where it counts.

God created the Sabbath because He wants us to be able to enjoy the Creation He has given us. The rules that were put in place were designed to make sure that we set aside the time to rest and enjoy. God knows our nature, and He knows what workaholics we can be if left to our own designs. By building in a day off, He is showing concern for our well-being.

Their legalism even extended to miracle working and healing. Jesus points out their hypocracy -- "Am I allowed to do something good on the Sabbath?" They know that they've been had -- they cannot even reply as Jesus heals the man's hand. He had made them look foolish, and He was encouraging people to ignore their rules. He had to be stopped.

Notice that Jesus is not encouraging sinful behavior. He's not advocating open rebellion. He simply wants people to get back to the faith that Moses taught -- not the vain traditions that had been piled on top of God's Law.

We like to pile our own standards on top of God's. I'm not sying that having standards is a bad thing -- I'm simply saying that to elevate our own ideas of spirituality to the level of Holy Writ is dangerous if we don't have Biblical justification to do so. I may not like it when people stand to pray; maybe I'm a kneeler. Someone else may prefer to stand, hands lifted high. Someone else might simply sit down and bow, preferring not to draw attention to themselves. Who is right? We all are. Unfortunately, if the situation I've described happened in real life, there would be three new denominations -- the Kneelers, the Sitters, and the Standers. Then the Kneelers might split over whether to go to one knee or two. The Standers might argue over how high to raise your hands, if at all. Sitters might argue about proper posture. All because we've decided that the posture of prayer is something that is vital to spiritual growth, and everyone elseis totally wrong.

We like to condemn people for being fundamentalists, that they're Pharisees. We have to remember that we all have done this at some point or another. We also need to study the Word, so that we know when a standard is God's, and when it's ours alone.

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