August 11, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 4:21-34


And he said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."And he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth,yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
(Mark 4:21-34 ESV)

We're continuing with Christ teaching his disciples through parables.

The first is that of a lamp, or candlestick. If you want to illuminate a room, do you hide it, or place it on a stand? Obviously, you place it on a stand. Christ's teachings to the disciples, though, were often under a basket -- he taught them secretly about many things. His point to this particular parable, I think, is that His mission was to 1. give Himself a sacrifice for us all, but 2. to train his disciples to spread the Good News of His kingdom. His teachings weren't for everyone -- that's why he taught so often in parables. His mission could only be understood in the context of Calvary -- before that time, people wouldn't be able to understand what He was doing.

The second teaching really is not a parable -- in fact, it's an explanation to the parable of the talents. When God gives us much, He expects much from us. Christ is preparing the disciples for their roles in spreading the Gospel to the world. They have been given much -- more than any other men in the world, for who can say that they learned at the feet of Jesus? Much will be required -- their very lives, ultimately.

Christ then makes another allusion to planting and harvesting, but to make a different point. We sow the seed of the Gospel. After we sow, we see results. We don't know why people are responding the way they are, and we don't know why other people aren't responding. it isn't for us to know. We accept that God is sovereign, and that His plan is in place. We rejoice that we have a harvest, not that we didn't get as many plants as we thought we would.

We then see the kingdom of God compared to a mustard seed. WHen planted, it seems small and insignificant -- much like our efforts in sharing the Gospel. But when the plant matures, it can grow into a huge tree. We never know who we have influenced by our faithful proclaiming of the Gospel. We cannot stop doing it simply because we see no big results right away. We may never know what lives we have touched, so we must continue to be faithful in our work, trusting that God will grant the increase.

Parables are tough to study, because of the simple fact that they are not always clear in what they are saying. Hopefully, I have been able to faithfully explain some of these parables of Christ. I look forward to hearing from others, who have their own ideas.

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July 24, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 4:1-20


4:1Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 Â“Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,and may indeed hear but not understand,lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.  18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”


This is a BIG passage to study, but I've included Christ's explanation of the parable, so I don't have to comment there.  What I want to do is talk a little about Christ's use of parables.

Sometimes we think that the purpose was to make things easier to understand.  But it's clear from this passage that his parables were NOT easily understood by those who heard them.  In fact, it seems that Jesus is using parables so that people CAN'T understand Him.

The people who followed Him to see the miracles and to be healed couldn't handle the implications of His being the Messiah.  They had an idea of the Messiah as a political hero, who was going to free Israel from the oppression of the Romans.  Christ didn't want them to think He was going to do that -- he wanted to make clear that His kingdom was not of this earth, and He was here for a totally different purpose.  The twelve He had chosen had been given understanding by God, so that they could see His role (and as we read in Acts, they STILL didn't get it), so He taught them in a way that only they would be able to understand, or so that they would receive the explanation later on. 

The Holy Spirit has been given so that everyone might be able to believe -- one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to help people to understand God's message.  The religious leaders of Christ's time couldn't understand that message fully because they had closed their minds off to Him.  They had decided what Messiah was going to be, and they weren't going to be persuaded otherwise.  This is what Jesus was talking about when He talked about new wine in old wineskins -- the new message of the Gospel wouldn't fit into the Jews' existing religious program.  A new wineskin had to be made, and that is what Jesus was training His disciples to do.  Our mission now is to take that new wine to the world -- and give them the new wineskins to hold it as well.

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July 14, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 3:31-35

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you." And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."
(Mark 3:31-35 ESV)

I'm not going to jump into the "They were his brothers/they were his cousins" debate here -- I believe they were his brothers, and I don't think it's inconsistant to say Mary and Joseph had kids after Jesus. So there.

So Mary and Jesus' brothers (some versions also add "and sisters" to that) came looking for Him. Mary probably heard that His siblings thought He was nuts, and was going to try to prove differently. Jesus' reaction always used to bother me -- it is almost a "Who? This is my family right here, not them!" And though it might have been appropriate for His brothers, I never thought that was fair for Mary. But I don't think that was Christ's point.

He was trying to show the importance of following Him. He wanted to say that as close as people are to their own families, that is how close He is to those who believe and follow Him.

We are the family of Christ. We who follow Him are His brothers and sisters, adopted by God, and joint heirs with Christ Himself (Romans 8:15, 17, 23, among others).

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July 10, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 3:22-30

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28 "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— 30 for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

This is a tough passage. We don't WANT there to be a sin that God won't forgive. We don't want to think that there is a line that cannot be crossed. Giving Satan credit for the work of God is over that line.

We tend to focus on the negative in this passage. Look at the positive -- all sins will be forgiven, except that one. And to be honest, if anyone is giving Satan credit for the finished work of Christ, they aren't even looking for a way out. They aren't repentant.

No matter what you have done, no matter what sins you have committed, if you are searching for the forgiveness of Christ, you will find it. He has promised that.

This passage is another example of people wiling to believe anything about Jesus except the truth. He has been defeating demons, and they claim He is one. He points out that he has been damaging Satan's work -- why would He do that, if He was in league with the devil? He also points out the purpose of His early work -- he is weakening Satan's hold, so that He can deliver the crushing blow at Calvary. He is showing that He has the power to "bind the strong man".

It's easy to forget that Satan is defeated. He lost at Calvary, but he continues to deceive, convincing people that Christ wasn't who He claimed to be. Our job is to show and tell -- show the world that Christ lives within us, and tell them that He can live within them as well.

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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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May 31, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 2:18-22

18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 19 And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins."


A little bit about the fasting: Jews in Christ's time were expected to fast twice each week. Old Testament law only established one fast day each year -- the Day of Atonement. Jesus didn't expect his disciples to follow the extra-biblical rules and regulations of the Pharisees. Fasting was commonly associated with mourning -- Jesus made the point that there was no reason to fast, since He was still with his disciples. There would come a time when He wasn't with them, and that would be the appropriate time to fast and mourn.

Jesus then teaches in two parables -- the cloth and the wineskins. The point of both parables is the same -- the Gospel cannot be associated with or tied to the self-righteousness and man-made traditions of the Pharisees. God's grace made any man-made attempts at pleasing God irrelevant, and in fact showed that any such attempts always fell short.

Old wineskins didn't have the elasticity to hold new wine as it fermented. In the same way, the traditions of men often hampered the spread of the Gospel, as Judaizers tried to keep believers bound to the letter of the law. as Christians, we must be careful that, while teaching believers that there is a lifestyle of holiness that we are called to, we do not make holiness a condition of salvation -- as many tend to do. Christ forgives us of our sins, and His righteousness is imputed to us -- it's nothing that we can do ourselves.

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May 29, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 2:13-17

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Jesus takes on a controversial disciple in this passage. Tax collectors were NOT looked on with high regard; in fact, most of them were known to augment their salaries with extra taxes charged to people. And He catches some heat for it.

This happens a lot in the Church today. Hang out with fellow Christians and nobody has a problem. Start hanging around with "those people" and there will be trouble. Whether it's a bus route with underpriviledged kids, or simply people from a lower economic or social class, befriending people who are "below" us can result in a lot of complaints from the people of God.

We forget that none of us are righteous on our own. Our righteousness only comes from Christ -- and His righteousness can be imputed to anyone, even the worst of people in the worst of circumstances. Too often, in our zeal to show how good we are, we cause people who need Christ in their lives to ignore the message of Christ.

Christ reminds us why He came. NOT to call the righteous -- they should know their sins, and know that they need to confess. He has come to call the sinners -- the people who need Him the most. The people who we meet every day. It is our calling to reach out to these people, but we may lose our chance simply because they aren't "our kind" of people.

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May 17, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 2:1-12


Mark 2:1-12 ESV And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. (2) And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. (3) And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. (4) And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. (5) And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." (6) Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, (7) "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" ( And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? (9) Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? (10) But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the paralytic -- (11) "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." (12) And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

People are still bringing the sick to see Jesus -- he's nothing more than a healer to many. I love the story of the paralytic whose friends brought him to see Jesus -- they knew that Jesus could help their friend, and they got him to Jesus however they could!

They got something rather unexpected. Instead of healing, Jesus forgave the man's sins. People were in shock. They knew what Jesus was claiming, even then! It amazes me that people claim Jesus never said He was God -- right here, He is claiming a power that God alone has -- the power to forgive sins. He doesn't say "God has forgiven you". He doesn't say "Be good and you'll be OK". He actually, right then and there, forgives the man's sin. And then confronts the people around Him with their own thoughts!

Which is easier to say? Neither one is particularly difficult to pronounce, so that isn't Jesus' point. I can walk around all day and say to people "Your sins are forgiven", and it means nothing. I can still say it, though. Nobody will know I'm lying until they stand before God and He informs them that they were deceived. How do you show authority? How do you show people that you are the One who can forgive sin? Jesus shows them. He has power over illness and disability.

He also shows us why He did the healing miracles. It wasn't just to make people well -- I'm sure there were many people in Israel at that time who never received healing. He wasn't doing it because people aren't supposed to be sick, or that believers aren't supposed to be sick. He did it so that the people would know that He had the authority from God to forgive sins. It was a calling card, so to speak. To emphasize His point, He heals the paralytic, who walks out of the house praising God.

I've noticed that repeatedly, the people who Christ heals leave Him praising God. They knew Who had healed them. These Jews, who had never worshipped anyone but God, left praising the God who had healed them. Maybe they thought that Jesus was merely His instrument. That all changed that day in Capernaum. Jesus laid claim to the authority to forgive sins, and His ministry was never the same. People had to decide to follow Him NOT based on His healing, but based on who He said He was.

We have to make the same choice today. Do we simply follow Christ because we wnat to have the 'Get Out of Hell Free' card? Because Jesus is "the Good Guy"? Or do we follow Him because we believe His claims to be God. We accept Who He is, and we have faith in what He did for us, and trust only in that for our eternal salvation. Following a God that is simply a cosmic gumball machine is not an option. That god is not the God of the Bible, or of Christianity. I'm not really sure that god is worth worshipping at all. Thankfully, my God is much more than that.

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May 10, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 1:40-44



Mark 1:40-45 ESV
(40) And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean."
(41) Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean."
(42) And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
(43) And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once,
(44) and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them."
(45) But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Look at the faith of this leper! He knows that Jesus can make him clean. He has heard of the miracles that Jesus has been doing, and he knows that the same can happen to him. On the other hand, we usually have faith that something isn't going to happen. We follow a Saviour who defeated death -- we should expect Him to perform miracles. But we should expect them to be for His glory -- not ours.

Jesus touches the man. This doesn't seem like much to us, but to the people of Christ's time, it was a major deal. By touching the leper, Jesus made Himself ritually unclean, by the standards of the Pharisees. This is a great picture of what He did for us at Calvary -- "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.(2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)".

And still, Jesus doesn't want to draw attention to Himself because of the healing. He commands the man to tell nobody what happened, but to present himself to the priests, so that he could be declared clean. He doesn't want a horde of people following Him trying to see what new trick He's going to do -- He wants people to follow Him because they believe in His teachings, and know Him for who He is. He wants them to understand the mission of the Messiah.

As before, when the news gets out, Jesus doesn't capitalize on it. Instead, he goes out alone, to wait for the buzz to die down so that He can get on with the business that His Father has planned for Him.

We spend a lot of time trying to put on a show. We want people to notice us, to pay attention to us. We even write blogs thinking that people all over the world want to read what we have to say. We need to remember our mission -- to go into all the world, to preach the Gospel, to baptise, to disciple. Some of us are better at certain parts of that than others, but we all need to remember that it's not only the Great Commission. It is (if I can go all Star Trek nerdy on you for a minute) the Christian's Prime Directive. Our continuing mission. And we don't do it for our own glory -- we do it to give honor and glory to God, who has chosen to allow us to take part in His plan.

That finishes up Chapter 1 of Mark. Next Monday, we go on to Chapter 2, and I'll start using bigger sections of Scripture than I have been so far. Otherwise, this study will take a LOOOONG time to finish.

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May 09, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 1:35-39


Mark 1:35-39 ESV
(35) And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
(36) And Simon and those who were with him searched for him,
(37) and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you."
(3 And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out."
(39) And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

In verse 35, Jesus is setting the example we are all to follow -- pray. Things are going GREAT for Him right now -- His popularity is increasing, He's making an impact on people, He's healing and casting out demons -- and He stops to pray.

Not like us. We don't pray until we hit a speed bump. People often wonder why bad things happen to Christians -- I think that many times, they happen because God wants us to talk to Him, and He knows the only time we'll pray is when something bad happens. I DON'T think that only good things happen to us when we're doing what God wants us to do -- the Bible teaches that Satan will be against us when we are doing what we're supposed to do -- but I DO think that we open ourselves up for more abuse, more bad things, when we don't pray.

The second thing I notice is Jesus' reaction to His popularity. Peter comes running to Him, saying "What are you DOING out here all alone?? Don't you realize there are people LOOKING for you? You are in demand!! We need to take advantage of this -- we can have this whole town behind us! Nothing could stop us!!".

Jesus looks up at him and says, "We're leaving. We've got more towns to preach in -- that's what I'm here for."

It would have been easy to just stay there. Jesus knew what was ahead; He knew what people were going to do to Him. He knew that the arguements with the Pharisees were coming. He knew that people would be calling for His death. He could have stuck around where people liked Him, and taken His time. But He didn't.

He knew God's timetable. He knew that the Father knew best. And maybe He knew that some of the people who were looking for him, who thought He was the best thing ever to happen to their town, were some of the people who would, in just three years, be calling for His death. He got back to business, no matter what.

How often are we content to stay where we are, rather than go where God wants us? I was pretty content three or four years ago -- decent job, decent benefits, teaching in a school district that was building new schools every day, so there was always a chance to get a better position, the works. Then God started telling me that I wasn't quite where He wanted me, and that I'd need to step out on faith and head off to school again. I didn't want to do it. I argued. He won. I start seminary this summer.

We like to have things our own way. We want God to work on our terms, rather than being willing to work on His. God's way isn't the easy way -- ask Christ. God's way isn't the popular way. But it IS the right way. We need to follow it.

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April 29, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 1:29-34


Mark 1:29-34 ESV
(29) And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
(30) Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her.
(31) And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
(32) That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.
(33) And the whole city was gathered together at the door.
(34) And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Mark starts detailing Jesus' ministry in Galilee with the account of Christ healing Peter's mother-in-law. Partially because Mark is telling Peter's story of Christ, partly because it shows Christ's ministry starting close to home, the story is fascinating to me. As soon as Jesus heals her, she starts ministering to the disciples. She sees the work that God has for her, and does it gladly.

Our position is a lot like Peter's mother-in-law's position. We need healing -- healing that can only be provided by Christ. He comes to us, and heals us. What do we do then? Are we like the ten lepers, nine of whom never bothered giving thanks to the one who healed them? Or are we like Peter's mother-in-law, knowing what we are called to do, and doing it gladly? Or do we sit somewhere in between -- knowing what God wants us to do, and yet not quite ready to do it. Wanting to do something else. Like the ear saying "I want to be an eye. If I can't see, I'm not doing anything". God has something for each of us to do for His kingdom -- but we are responsible for doing it.

Christ has more trouble with demons in this passage. He casts them out, commanding them to be silent. He doesn't want people to hear about Him from demons -- that is the job He has for His followers. He also doesn't want there to be any question about the source of His power -- if demons are testifying to His true identity, there may be some confusion about who He realy is. And, as we will see later, there was.

As Christians, we need to make sure that we are the ones who are telling the world about Christ. Otherwise, we end up with the John Dominick Crossans and John Shelby Spongs telling people about a Christ that they aren't sure even existed, based on a Bible that is completely flawed and unreliable. We have Peter Jennings assembling a group of scholars who don't believe in the topic of their search. We have The Last Temptation of Christ and other Hollywood blasphemies. The Church needs to speak out, and not worry that we will be mocked (as we have been for the reaction to The DaVinci Code).

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April 25, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 1:21-28


Mark 1:21-28 ESV
(21) And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.
(22) And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
(23) And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out,
(24) "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are -- the Holy One of God."
(25) But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!"
(26) And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.
(27) And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
(2 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark starts right in on the teaching and preaching ministry of Christ. Note that Mark does not follow any chronological order -- he records events more in a thematic order. The ministry in Galilee is recorded first.

The first thing I noticed is that the people were all astounded by his authority. They were used to being taught by the scribes, whose teachings were largely based on the teachings of others. Their authority resided in their education. Jesus' authority was different. He relied on nobody (see verse 27 -- 'A new teaching with authority!').

The people weren't the only ones who noticed. Verses 23 and 24 tell us of a man who had an unclean spirit -- a demon. The demon knows exactly who Christ is. It knows why Christ is there, and it knows it's in trouble. Hoping to buy a pardon, it bears public witness to Christ's identity. Jesus doesn't want that kind of witness.

The demons of Hell know Jesus is the Christ. They oppose Him for that reason. This attempt by a demon to escape judgement shows that Christ knows the motivations behind everything that we do -- he knew the demon was being self-serving, hoping to avoid punishment. He rebuked the demon, and cast it out of the man.

This brought about more amazement and speculation about Christ's authority. The people in the synagogue knew of only two entities who had that kind of power over demons -- God and Satan. Christ had to be one of the two. Unfortunately, as we will see later, many people chose the wrong option, and attributed Chrits's miracles to the power of Satan, rather than God. People are always trying to find other sources for God's blessings on us, rather than giving praise to God. We need to be careful that we are not giving Satan credit for more than he is capable of accomplishing, and that we give God proper honor and glory.

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April 23, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 1:12-20

Mark 1:12-20 ESV
(12) The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
(13) And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
(14) Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,
(15) and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
(16) Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.
(17) And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men."
(1 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
(19) And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.
(20) And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Verses 12 and 13 contain all that Mark has to say about Christ's temptation in the wilderness. I'm not sure why Mark doesn't go into the detail Matthew does in Matt. 4 -- I'd speculate that it was because he had read Matthew and didn't want to repeat information, but that theory really doesn't hold water -- there are other things that Matthew and Mark treat almost identically. Mark mentions this early stage of Christ's ministry simply to set the stage -- he spends a lot more time talking about Jesus' actual ministry.

Verse 14 kicks off the opening stage of Jesus' ministry in Galilee with the calling of the disciples. Simon, Andrew, James, and John are the first four. Andrew (according to John 1:35-40) was a follower of John the Baptist, and was prepared for the coming of the Messiah.

Andrew is one of the more underrated disciples. We don't read much about him in the Bible, he wasn't one of the "big three" (Peter, James, and John). But we read in John 1 that after he met Christ, he ran to tell Simon (Peter) about Him. The very first evangelist -- and his convert became one of the leaders of the early Church.

James and John are interesting case. They are aparantly wealthy, because their father has servants to help on the boat. Not just fishermen -- these two owned their own business, and so were probably highly educated. That will come back to haunt them later on, when they start competing for the position of Christ's "right-hand man" when His kingdom is established.

The thing to notice is that all four of these men had important jobs that they were doing. They were responsible for feeding not only their families, but the families living around them. They provided food each day for the community. And when Christ called them, they dropped what they were doing to follow Him. How often do we put off doing what Christ wants us to do because we can't afford it, or we're too busy, or something like that. I've used those excuses before -- God has a way of making us unbusy when He needs us.

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April 21, 2004

Study of Mark: Mark 1:6-11

Mark 1:6-11 ESV
(6) Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
(7) And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
( I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
(9) In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
(10) And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
(11) And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Today, we're reading about the baptism of Christ. We first see a continuation of John's description -- more emphasis on how poorly he was clothed, and how poorly he ate. The emphasis is on how God sustained John -- and how He will sustain us all, as well.

John is very popular at this time -- he is attracting crowds that the megachurches in the US can only dream of -- and NONE of these people are following John because its a status symbol. They follow him because he is authentic. Sometimes, we try too hard to get people to listen to us. We want them to hear the Gospel so badly that we'll do just about anything to get them there -- gimmick Sundays (how often did I sit through 'Wild West Sunday,' 'Pack a Pew Sunday,' etc. when I was growing up?), "seeker-friendly" services, contemporary worship, you name it. I am not saying these things are bad things. I am saying that if we really want people to pay attention to us, we need to show that we are real. Our faith needs to be a faith that is authentic. As I read
this response to my post (and others' posts as well) about truth claims and Christianity, one of the things I noticed was the characterization of Christians. Our faith says that we should be a people of love, compassion. Our practice often contradicts this.

I don't believe for even a half-second that Christians should be tolerant toward sin. All you have to do is read the accounts of Jesus cleansing the temple to realize that He wasn't all that tolerant. He did, however, love people. He went to Zaccheus in the tree. He went to the Samaritan woman at the well at a time when Jews wouldn't have anything to do with Samaritans. He went to people, and showed He cared, without sacrificing His message. He never watered down His message, and doesn't expect us to, either. When we live our faith, and show that it's real, people are attracted. That is what John the Baptist did.

Even at the height of his popularity, John was pointing people to Jesus. Later on, many people thought that Jesus was competition for John -- that they were preaching a different message. John makes it clear that this isn't true. John makes it clear that Jesus' ministry is far superior to his and, as I mentioned yesterday, that Christ would increase, while John would have to decrease.

Why did Jesus go to John to be baptized?

Matthew 3:13-15 ESV
(13) Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
(14) John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
(15) But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.

Albert Barnes has this to say about the phrase "fulfill all righteousness":


"There was no particular precept in the Old Testament requiring this, but he chose to give the sanction of his example to the baptism of John, as to a divine ordinance. The phrase “all righteousness,” here, is the same as a righteous institution or appointment. Jesus had no sin. But he was about to enter on his great work. It was proper that he should be set apart by his forerunner, and show his connection with him, and give his approbation to what John had done. He submitted to the ordinance of baptism, also, in order that occasion might be taken, at the commencement of his work, for God publicly to declare his approbation of him, and his solemn appointment to the office of the Messiah."

This is NOT Jesus becoming God's Son, or becoming the Messiah. He was born both of those. This is God declaring to the world who Jesus was, and what role He came to fill.

Then the Heavens opened up -- literally. As Hyppolytus would later say, creation was reconciled with its Creator through the Redeemer. Christ made it possible for us to get into Heaven. The entire Trinity were there at this baptism -- the Father bearing witness, the Son receiving witness, and the Holy Spirit giving confirmation. This is the mark of the beginning of Christ's work on Earth, which ties directly to verse 1 -- the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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April 20, 2004

Study of Mark -- Mark 1:1-5

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' " John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
(Mark 1:1-6 ESV)

The first two verses point directly to the Old Testament. Mark illustrates the relationship between the Old and New Testament, which the church fathers were VERY interested in. Irenaeus especially used these verses to show that the OT God and the NT God were the same -- the prophets, after all, didn't foretell the coming of a new and improved deity. This conflicted with Marcion's teaching that the God of the Old Testament was a vengeful, angry God, but the God of the New Testament was a loving and merciful God of grace.

It is interesting that Mark attributes the prophecy to Isaiah, when it's actually two prophecies in two books.
Malachi 3:1 is the prophecy of the messenger, while Isaiah 40:3 mentions the voice crying in the wilderness. I've heard a lot of different things about this -- that Malachi and Isaiah were on the same scroll, but the scrolls were referred to by the name of the major prophet, that many writers conflate (merge together) prophecies and only credit the major prophet. Of course, some manuscripts attribut the prophecy to "the Prophets", rather than to any specific one. There's a great treatment of this issue here.

The thing I got the most out of this passage comes from the description of John. I wondered why he had to look this way, why he had to be a "voice crying in the wilderness". When the Jews saw someone looking like him, who ate very little, had poor clothing, and no "hometown" (he had lived in the wilderness for most of his life). He had no reputation, nobody knew who had taught him. Yet he spoke with the authority of someone who had been with God. They knew there was only one way that John could have survived living the way he did -- God was with him, supplying him with everything he needed. THAT is what gave John his credibility with the people.

I was fascinated at the way the church fathers dealt with John. They saw him as a type of the Law -- clad in filthy rags, just as our righteousness is as filthy rags, sustained by God, meant to point us all toward the Saviour. They pointed especially to John's statement that "He must increase, and I must decrease" to show not only Johns feeling about his ministry after Christ's appearing, but that the Law must diminish while Grace abounded. I think this view, more than any other, shows the true relationship between Grace and Law. The Law shows us how good we really need to be to merit heaven, and shows us that we cannot do it ourselves. That's when Grace comes in, and gives us a Way.

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Study of Mark -- Introduction

The best way to introduce Mark is to take a look at an outline. This shows the dating, the authorship, etc. I've found bible.org to be a great reference source, btw, so it would make a great bookmark.

I'm doing this study following closely the Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures. I especially like the way the text is broken into pericopes, so I'm going to blog each day based on the pericope, or section of Scripture, that is next. The first section is Mark 1:1-5, so that will be in the next entry.

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