Month: February 2016

Mark 07v24-30 “Jesus among the Gentiles”

canaanitewoman_drouais cropped.jpg

1456053183_thumb.pngWhat are we to think about stories about Jesus among the Gentiles? People have always been fascinated with Jesus. People have tried to explain him. Some cultures have claimed him. Some have told stories about him growing up in Great Britain or India, trekking across Tibet, Persia, Assyria, Greece, and Egypt. According to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, founded in the early 20th century, Jesus went to India and Kashmir after his crucifixion.[1] Some even believe that Jesus visited native Americans after his resurrection. What are we to think of these stories?

Simply this: these stories are pure fiction — nothing but fantasy. They have no historical or archaeological foundation at all. No world class historian takes these stories seriously.

Then we have to ask, What makes the New Testament accounts of Jesus any different from these other stories about Jesus going to India or America? The answer in one word is “eyewitnesses.” The Gospels were not written 18 or 19 centuries later — not 1,800 or 1,900 years after the life of Christ by people who had visions or imagined that Jesus did the things that they claim he did.

No, the Gospels were not written hundreds or thousands of years after the life of Christ; they were written by eyewitnesses like Matthew and John, disciples of Jesus Christ who lived and walked and talked with him for three years. The Gospels were written by people like Mark and Luke who knew the eyewitnesses and who as careful historians documented the facts of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Paula F. Fredriksen who “earned a Ph.D in the history of religion from Princeton University and diploma in theology from Oxford University”[2] “states that no serious scholarly work places Jesus outside the backdrop of 1st century Palestinian Judaism.”[3] In other words, serious historians know that all the earthly ministry of Jesus took place in the Middle East, not in India, or Great Britain, or America.

That is one of the reason why our passage in Mark 7 today is so interesting. Besides the healing of the man of the tombs in Mark 5, this is the only passage in the ministry of Jesus when he leaves Jewish territory and goes into Gentile territory. Here in Mark 7, we read about Jesus among the Gentiles.

Mark 7:24 ESV And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.

1.    Jesus Among the Gentiles

1.1. The Place

Jesus has gone into the region of Tyre and Sidon. This is far north of Israel. This is the region of modern day Lebanon. This was Gentile territory! This is not the first time that he has gone into Gentile territory, for we saw in Mark 5 that he went to the region of the Gerasenes, east of the Sea of Galilee, where he was greeted by a naked man with an unclean spirit.

But once again, Jesus has left Jewish territory and is among the Gentiles.

Tyre was a seat of ungodly paganism. Centuries before, Jezebel had come from Tyre and had corrupted the “Northern Kingdom with her pagan prophets and practices (1 Kgs 16:31-32).” More recently, Tyre had fought against the Jews, siding with the Syrian oppressors. The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed that the inhabitants of Tyre were “notoriously our bitterest enemies” (Ag. Ap. 1.13).[4]

1.2. The Motive

So why in the world would Jesus go to the region of Tyre and Sidon? Why would he leave his home territory to go into Gentile territory?

1.2.1.        Opposition

The first reason is opposition. We have seen over and over again how the Jewish religious authorities are increasingly hostile to Jesus. They are opposed to

  • his authoritative teaching,
  • his claim to forgive sins (2:7),
  • his healing on the Sabbath (3:2),
  • his refusal to submit to their traditions (7:5) to name just a few items on their list!

The first 23 verses of this chapter 7 show the most intense conflict with the scribes and Pharisees up to this point.

The point of contention had been the tradition of the elders. The Jews maintained that there could be no salvation apart from the Law. They had put the emphasis on external appearances, on external cleanliness, on clean and “unclean” foods. But Jesus declared that all foods were clean (Mark 7:19), that we are not defiled by the food that we eat but by what is in our hearts. Jesus shows by going among the Gentiles not only that there are no unclean foods, but that there are no unclean people. We were all created in the image of God. We were all created to know him and love him. He also shows that the Law is not our Savior; Jesus Christ himself is our only Lord and Savior.

1.2.2.        Rest and relaxation

Secondly, Jesus needed to rest. Already in chapter 6, Jesus had tried to get away with his disciples to “rest a while” (6:31). But they had been unsuccessful. The people followed Jesus into the wilderness where he taught them and feed the five thousand.

In Tyre, Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (Mark 7:24). Jesus and his disciples have been going 24/7, so to speak, and it was time for a rest, so they go to the region of Tyre and Sidon, and enter a house, not wanting anyone to know that they were there. But the plan did not work. “He could not be hidden.”

1.2.3.        Teaching of his disciples

Another reason why Jesus was trying to get away, was so that he could have some private teaching time with his disciples. Up to the point, the disciples have failed to understand who he is and what he came to do.

  • They had not understood the parable about the sower (4:13).

Mark 4:13 ESV And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

  • The disciples had been astounded when Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee because they had failed to understand the significance of the feeding of the five thousand (6:52).
  • The disciples had not understood that food entering the body does not make us unclean, but that it is the evil that comes from the heart that makes us unclean (7:17-23).

Jesus probably wanted time with his disciples to teach them things that they were slow to learn.

1.3. No Place to Hide

Jesus had “entered a house and did not want anyone to know,” but there was no place to hide. Mark tells us, “yet he could not be hidden” (7:24). Back in chapter 3:8, people from Tyre and Sidon had already come as far as the Sea of Galilee to hear Jesus. They had no doubt taken back reports of his teaching and his miracles. It was not only in Judea and Galilee that people were talking about Jesus. The news of his wonderful works had preceded him to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Now Jesus has come and though he is in a house, he cannot be hidden.

1.3.1.        Enter the Woman

Mark 7:25-26 ESV But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

This woman hears that Jesus has come and boldly makes her way to him. This woman is not a Jew; she is a Canaanite (Matthew 15:22). She exemplifies what Paul said of the Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:12 NIVO remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

Yet she comes. She is a woman who knows better. She knows all about Jewish customs. As Tim Keller explains,

She knows that she has none of the religious, moral, and cultural credentials necessary to approach a Jewish rabbi—she is a Phoenician, a Gentile, a pagan, a woman, and her daughter has an unclean spirit. She knows that in every way, according to the standards of the day, she is unclean and therefore disqualified to approach any devout Jew, let alone a rabbi. But she doesn’t care. She enters the house without an invitation, falls down and begins begging Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter.[5]

Matthew tells us in his Gospel,

Matthew 15:22-23 NIVO A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

She knows that Jesus is Lord, that he is the Son of David, and she begs for mercy. Jesus does not answer her, so she keeps begging so much so that the disciples want Jesus to send her away.

But she will not be sent away. Nothing can stop her. This woman will not take no for an answer. She knows what she needs and she intends to get it.

Again Tim Keller says,

You know why she has this burst of boldness, don’t you? There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes, and then there are parents. Parents are not really on the spectrum from cowardice to courage, because if your child is in jeopardy, you simply do what it takes to save her. It doesn’t matter whether you’re normally timid or brazen—your personality is irrelevant. You don’t think twice; you do what it takes. So it’s not all that surprising that this desperate mother is willing to push past all the barriers.[6]

She will not be denied.

1.3.2.        A Glimmer of Hope

Mark 7:27 ESV And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Jesus’ response is startling to us. It is “one of the most shocking and controversial statements He ever made.”[7]

The Jews referred to the Gentiles as dogs. It was not a term of endearment. In another place, Jesus tells us not to give that which is holy to dogs (Matthew 7:6). The Apostle Paul turned the term back on the Judaizers, those who insisted that Christians must follow the Law to be saved: “Look out for the dogs,” he said, “look out for the evil doers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2).

But Jesus is not using the ordinary term for dogs (κύνας, kunas). He is using κυναρίοις (kunariois) which means “little dogs.” It refers to small dogs that were permitted in the house. It is the word that was used for puppies.

Jesus is giving a parable here:

Mark 7:27 NIV “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Jesus is speaking to a mother, and mothers know that the children must be fed first. Notice the word “first.” In the word “first” is a glimmer of hope. First, let the children eat all they want.

The children of Abraham, the Jews, were the first ones to receive the gospel.

Romans 1:16 ESV For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Why should the Jews be the first to receive the gospel? The Apostle Paul explains,

Romans 9:4-5 ESV They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The Word would become flesh. God would take upon himself humanity. The Eternal Word would be born of the virgin and that means that he would be born as a babe.

Galatians 4:4 ESV But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

Christ was not only the son of Adam (Luke 3:38), he was also the son of Abraham and the son of David to whom the promises had been made (Matthew 1:1).

Throughout the Book of Acts, as the Apostle Paul spreads the Good News of what God has done in Jesus Christ, Paul always goes to the Jews first to let them know that the promises have been fulfilled in Jesus who is the Messiah.

Jesus concentrated his ministry on Israel, for all sorts of reasons. He was sent to show Israel that he was the fulfillment of all Scripture’s promises, the fulfillment of all the prophets, priests, and kings, the fulfillment of the temple. But after he was resurrected, he immediately said to the disciples, “Go to all the nations.” His words, then, are not the insult they appear to be. What he’s saying to the Syrophoenician woman is, “Please understand, there’s an order here. I’m going to Israel first, then the Gentiles (the other nations) later.”[8]

While Jesus does mighty works of exorcism (5:1-20; 7:24-30), healing (7:31-37) and feeding the hungry (8:1-10), …he does not teach and evangelize.”[9]

The priority of the Jews in Jesus’ mission does not mean that the Gentiles will be excluded. Jesus responded that the bread must first be given to the children of Abraham. The word “first” gave the woman hope that there would be enough bread to go around.

1.3.3.        An Audacious Argument

Mark 7:28 ESV But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

This woman understands Israel’s priority. “I’m okay with that,” she says. “I don’t have a place at the table. I accept that.”[10]

She is not offended. She does not accuse Jesus of unfairness. She does not say that Jesus owed her anything. She does not demand equal rights with the Jews. She does not claim to deserve anything. In the most respectful way, she wrestles with Jesus while refusing to take no for an answer.

Mark 7:28 ESV But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness— and I need it now.”[11]

When Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish, there were 12 basketfuls left over. There was more than enough. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” This woman is arguing her case that with Jesus, there is more than enough.

Is not this what Jesus was suggesting she do by telling her that the children must be fed first? We read that Jacob wrestled with God, but first we read that God wrestled with Jacob. God wrestles with us. He wants us to be moved with compassion as he is moved with compassion, but far too often we are passive. We do not really want what we are asking for. We pray for the lost to be saved, but there is no strong desire, no passion, no power. We pray prayers that cost us nothing.

This Syrophoenician woman was put to the test. She continued to intercede for her daughter.

1.3.4.        Faith Comes by Understanding

Mark 7:29 CSB Then He told her, “Because of this reply, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.”

This woman understood the parable. She is the first person in this gospel to really understand.

“For such a reply, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.”

James Edwards has a beautiful comment on this verse:

This believing woman submits her cause entirely to Jesus, and she is not disappointed. “’ For such a reply, you may go,’” says Jesus, “’ the demon has left your daughter.’” What an irony! Jesus seeks desperately to teach his chosen disciples — yet they are dull and uncomprehending; Jesus is reluctant even to speak to a walk-on pagan woman — and after one sentence she understands his mission and receives his unambiguous commendation (loftier yet in Matt 15:28: “ ‘Woman, you have great faith!’”). How is this possible? The answer is that the woman is the first person in Mark to hear and understand a parable of Jesus. The brief parable of the children and dogs at the table has disclosed to her the mystery of the kingdom of God. She is not distant and aloof, attempting to maintain her position and control. She does what Jesus commands of those who would receive the kingdom and experience the word of God: she enters the parable and allows herself to be claimed by it. That she answers Jesus from “within” the parable, that is, in the terms by which Jesus addressed her, indicates that she is the first person in the Gospel to hear the word of Jesus to her.[12]

Did you know that Jesus wants to walk into your town? He wants to walk into your home. He wants to walk into your life.

2.    Theological Insights

This story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is packed with biblical truth.

2.1. The Authority of the Son of God

This story reveals the amazing authority and power of the Son of God.

Mark 7:29-30 ESV And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Jesus was not present when the healing took place. He did not lay his hands on the child to heal her. He spoke no words to cast out the demon. He simply willed the child’s healing and it took place. The Son of God possesses such complete power and authority over demons that he does not need to be present or to even speak a word. From a distance, he wills, and it happens.[13]

2.2. One Plan of Salvation for All

Why did Jesus go to the Gentiles? We considered several reasons why Jesus went into the region of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory. But there is another reason that I did not mention. Jesus put an end to the distinction between clean and unclean (Mark 7:1-23). He then went to the Gentiles to show that the Church, as the Body of Christ in the world, the Church would also take the gospel to all nations. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we read the final command of Christ:

Mark 16:15-16 ESV And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

God does not have different plans of salvation for different peoples. There is only one God and only one plan of salvation for all men. There is only one Son of God and he is the one and only Savior. The Samaritans also recognized that Jesus is “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). The Syrophoenician woman recognized the priority of Israel in the plan of God and the sufficiency of God’s salvation for all.

John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

1 John 4:14 ESV And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

Acts 4:12 ESV And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 17:30-31 NLT “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

1 Timothy 2:5 ESV For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

2.3. How about you? Has Christ walked into your life?

By all standards of Jewish culture and reason, this woman was unclean. A Phoenician, a Gentile, a pagan, a woman, and her daughter has an unclean spirit. But Jesus came to town. Christ walked into her life. Has Christ walked into your life?

I know a man in this town who says that he is too unclean to come to Jesus. He claims that he is too much of a pagan. There is a lot of pride and arrogance in such a statement. You degrade the work of Christ by saying that he is not powerful enough to clean an unclean sinner like you. You think that you are the greatest pagan of all time? Jesus Christ came into the world to save pagans like you and me.

Old man John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound,” said this, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

Jesus came into the world to save great sinners like you and me.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_years_of_Jesus

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paula_Fredriksen

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_years_of_Jesus

[4] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[5] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 84). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 84-85). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[7] Akin, Daniel L.. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014.

[8] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 85-86). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[9] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[10] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 86). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[11] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 86-87). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[12] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4208-4216). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[13] Stein, Robert H.. Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Baker Publishing Group: 2008.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Mark 07v01-23 “How Can I Be Clean?”

 

How is a man to be clean before God? What puts a man right before God? What are the marks of true and false religion?

Introduction

How can a man be clean before God? This is a question of great concern, not only of religious people, but of everyone who will someday stand before God to give an account of how he has spent his life.

Job asked,

Job 15:14 ESV What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?

Job 9:2-3 ESV “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? 3 If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.

The psalmist, King David, prayed,

Psalm 143:2 ESV Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

Psalm 130:3 ESV If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?

Religion is man’s attempt to make himself right with God. But what can we do to undo the wrong that we have done? What can we do to make the wrongs right? What can we do to wash ourselves of clean from the filth of our sin?

The world’s religions have attempted to answer that question in various ways.

1.        Religion’s Attempt to Clean Us Up

1.1.     Islam’s Concern with Clean

In Islam, for example, there is a great concern about being clean before praying to Allah so there are washings called “wudhu” that are observed before prayer.[1]

  1. The hands are washed three times, the right hand then the left.
  2. The mouth is rinsed three times using the right hand.
  3. The nostrils are washed by sniffing water up into them three times, followed by blowing it out.
  4. The face is washed three times.
  5. The arms are washed three times up to the elbows.
  6. The head is wiped once.
  7. The ears are cleaned inside and out once.
  8. Finally, the feet are washed up to the ankles three times.

So there is a concern that one be clean before approaching Allah.

1.2.     Clean and Unclean in Judaism

The Jews of Jesus’ day, especially the Pharisees, were very concerned about cleanliness. This is what we find in Mark’s Gospel chapter 7.

Mark 7:1-5 NIVO The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

We have seen growing opposition to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

  • Mark 2:7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming!”
  • Mark 2:16 “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
  • Mark 2:24 “Why are [his disciples] doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
  • Mark 7:5 “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Here in chapter 7 of Mark, we have a head-on collision between Jesus and the Pharisees over what makes one clean. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this passage is more about what defiles a person. In Judaism, there was a long list of things that defiled a person:

  • Human excretion of any kind, such as spittle or urine
  • Corpses
  • Decaying flesh of dead animals
  • Creeping things
  • Idols The list would also include certain classes of people:
  • Lepers, like the one that Jesus touched and healed (1:40)
  • Tax collectors like Levi (2:13)
  • Gentiles, like the Gentile territory of the Gerasenes (5:1)
  • Menstruating women, like the woman who had the issue of blood for 12 years and who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment (5:25)
  • The dead daughter of Jairus, that Jesus raised from the dead (5:35)

But this passage is not simply about personal hygiene. It is not about germs, though there were Old Testament regulations that certainly helped to prevent disease and the spread of germs. No, this passage is all about being defiled and what one must do to be clean.

Mark describes in detail the traditions of the Pharisees.

Mark 7:3-4 NIVO (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees could watch people to know if they were holding to the traditions of the elders. They saw that the disciples of Jesus ate without washing their hands.

Mark 7:5 NIVO So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

One of the marks of false religion is the emphasis that it puts on the external. It stresses appearance. False religion says that what really counts is what one sees. “Here are the rules. Follow them and you’ll be all right. You’ll be in the group. Follow the rules and God will have a place for you in His kingdom. So…”

  • Do you go to church?
  • Okay, what day do you go to church on? Do you go to church on the Sabbath or on Sunday?
  • Do you fast?
  • Do you pray five times a day?
  • Have you gone on a mission?
  • Are you wearing the right clothes?

These traditions make it very convenient. With these traditions, we can think ourselves very righteous before God. We can see ourselves as better than others. We can look down on people who do not live according to our traditions. It gives us such a wonderful feeling of superiority!

This enables us to determine whether others are right with God. We can watch them to see if they are following the rules.

And to that, the God said to Samuel,

1 Samuel 16:7 ESV …the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

MUSIC: Kathryn Scott – Search Me, Know Me

2.        Worthless Religion

The Pharisees want to know why the disciples of Jesus do not live according to the traditions of the elders. This is an indirect attack on Jesus himself. The reason that his disciples did not live according to the traditions of the elders is that Jesus himself did not live according to those traditions as we will see. The disciples were simply following the example of Jesus himself.

But Jesus has very strong words for these religious leaders who see themselves as righteous because everything looks so good on the outside.

2.1.     First, Jesus calls them hypocrites.

Mark 7:6 ESV And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites…

The word hypocrite first simply meant an actor. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because their whole lives were “a piece of acting without any sincerity behind it at all.”[2] So what is religion for you?

  • A list of rules and regulations?
  • Certain rituals or practices that you have to observe?
  • Certain tabus that you must avoid?

Then you, my friend, are a hypocrite. You are acting a part. You believe that you are good if you do certain things and avoid other things — and here’s the key — no matter what your heart and thoughts are like.[3]

Legalism puts the accent on outward appearance, outward conformity to a code or list of rules. It does not take into account what is in the heart.

William Barclay tells the story of a Muslim — it could have been a Christian or a Hindu or a Jew or anyone — but it’s the story of a Muslim…

Who was pursuing a man with upraised knife to murder him. Just then the call to prayer rang out. Immediately he stopped, spread out his prayer mat, knelt, said his prayer as fast as he could; then rose and continued his murderous pursuit. The prayer was simply a form and a ritual, an outward observance, merely the correct interlude in the career of murder.[4]

Going to church, reading your Bible, singing in the choir, giving in the offering — these things will not make you right with God. The question is, What is in your heart toward God and toward your neighbor?

Jesus said that the Pharisees were hypocrites. They were simply acting a part. Next, he said that…

2.2.     Their worship is worthless.

Mark 7:6 ESV …as it is written, “’This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

These religious people honor God with their lips. They say the right things. They’ve got the vocabulary. They can talk about spiritual things. They can quote Bible verses. They sound very spiritual.

But…

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

They do not love God. They do not delight in God. Going to church is a chore. They pray because it is their duty. If they read their Bibles, it is because they are supposed to. But they know nothing of rejoicing in the Lord. They know nothing of hunger for God:

Psalm 73:25-26 NIVO Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Their worship, Jesus says, is all external. It does not come from the heart, so it is worthless.

Mark 7:7 ESV in vain do they worship me…

It is a waste of time.

Then Jesus said that…

 

2.3.     Their teaching has no divine authority.

Mark 7:7 ESV in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

That is part of the quotation from the prophet Isaiah. The New Living Translation puts it,

Mark 7:7 NLT Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

This controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees was all about the traditions of the elders. Six times this passage refers to the tradition of the elders which prescribed how they were to prepare to eat, what they were to do when going to market, even how to wash their dishes! These were teachings that were added to the Word of God.

Today churches are replacing the Word of God with the words of men. Oh, they may still have the Bible. They give it lip-service. But when they explain it, they explain it away. They wrestle against the plain reading of the Word. They have their own ideas and have elevated them above the Word of God.

We have our churches, our denominations, our committees, our councils and conferences, and it is so easy to just vote and do what we want to do. We make our decisions and ask God to agree with us and bless us.

Jesus gives a strong rebuke to these Jewish authorities:

Mark 7:8-13 NIVO You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” 9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Jesus gives an example of how they overturn the Word of God. One of the ten commandments was to honor our parents. But one could avoid helping a parent financially in need by saying that he had vowed to give the money to God. Jesus sarcastically accuses them of having a fine way of setting aside, making void, nullifying or invalidating the Word of God in order to observe their own traditions.

3.        Jesus Turns Religion Inside Out

This was not a matter to be left to the religious authorities. Jesus called the crowd together.

Mark 7:14-15 NIVO Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.

Wow! Jesus wants us to understand this!

15 Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’ “

The Pharisees had criticized the disciples for not washing before eating. Jesus calls into question the whole religious order. Outward appearance is not what is important. What is in the heart?

3.1.     Jesus and His Disciples

This is revolutionary! Even the disciples have not grasped it.

Mark 7:17-19 ESV And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

A right standing with God is not based on what we eat. You are not defiled or made unclean by what you eat. What you eat goes into your digestive tract and is expelled; it never enters the heart. What you eat has no effect on your heart or on your relationship with God. Notice carefully what Mark tells us in verse 19:

Thus he declared all foods clean.

Jesus is Lord. In Mark 2, he is Lord of the Sabbath and can declare his intention for the Sabbath: “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28).

As Lord, he here declares that from that point on, all foods are clean. This truth is repeated later in the experience of Peter when in a vision, he sees a sheet coming down from heaven, containing all kinds of beasts. The Lord tells him to “Kill and eat.”

Acts 10:14-15 NIVO “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans,

Romans 14:14 NIVO As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself…

Romans 14:20 NIVO … All food is clean…

False religions put the emphasis on the external, but they have nothing to do with true spiritual life.

Colossians 2:16 NIVO Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

Colossians 2:20-22 NIVO Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 NIVO The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Romans 14:17 NIVO For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

3.2.     Dirty on the Inside

The problem is not dirt on the outside. The problem is dirt on the inside. False religions are trying to clean up the outside but they have no way of cleaning the inside. We read in Luke 11 of another time…

Luke 11:37-39 ESV While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.

The problem is not dirt on the outside but filth on the inside. Dirt under your fingernails will not make you unclean. Mud on your feet does not defile you.

Mark 7:20-23 NIVO He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

This is what makes what defiles us: impure hearts.

  1. Evil thoughts and plans
  2. Sexual immorality: a broad term including all sexual activity outside of marriage.
  3. Theft: Stealing, taking from another what is not yours (the eighth commandment, Exodus 20:15).
  4. Murder: Taking an innocent life (Exodus 20:13).
  5. Adultery: More specific: violating the marriage covenant — your own or someone else’s, either physically or mentally (Matthew 5:28; the seventh commandment, Exodus 20:14).
  6. Greed: coveting, desiring more at the expense of others (the tenth commandment, Exodus 20:17).
  7. Evil actions: wicked behavior, behavior with harmful intent.
  8. Deceit: deception, dishonesty
  9. Lewdness: Promiscuity — lack of moral discernment or restraint
  10. Envy: jealousy. Belief that God is withholding His best.
  11. Slander: speaking evil of man or God.
  12. Arrogance: Pride.
  13. Folly: senselessness, spiritual insensitivity.[5]

Mark 7:23 NIVO All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

Did we leave anyone out?

Romans 3:10 NIVO As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

Isaiah 53:6 ESV All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…

“Internal impurity… cannot be washed away by external rituals.” These impurities cannot be washed away with soap and water.[6]

What are we to do?

4.        Jesus Touches the Unclean to Make Us Clean.

In the Old Testament, people would become unclean by simply touching someone or something that was unclean. Lepers warned people not to get near because they were unclean. Jesus was never afraid to touch the unclean. Instead of being defiled by our uncleanness, his holiness overcomes our filth.

  • The unclean leper came to Jesus. Jesus touched him and the leper was made clean.
  • The woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was instantly made whole and clean.
  • The dead daughter of Jairus did not render Jesus unclean when he touched her. Instead, his touch raised her from the dead.

All of us have thought and done things that have defiled us and made us unclean. There are no religious rites or actions that can make us clean. The religions of this world say, “Do this. Do that. Do it again and again and again.”

Jesus says, “Done.” “It is finished.” On the cross he did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He wiped the slate clean.

Colossians 2:13-14 NIVO When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

If you will come to him, he will make you clean. And he will begin his work in you to make you a new creation in Christ so that the old way of living is gone and the new has come.

***And you can say, “I am clean!”

MUSIC: Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: “I’m Clean”

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/galleries/wudhu/

[2] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[3] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[4] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[5] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 156). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 133.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Mark 06v45-52 “The One Who Walks on Water”

1-2015-10-02_16-20-45 Vanuatu Havannah Harbor

Introduction

What are we to believe about Jesus Christ? When we talk about faith, we are talking about believing. But exactly what are we to believe about Jesus?

In Mark 6, we find the story of Jesus walking on the sea. Jesus had just multiplied the five loaves and two fish, performing the miracle of feeding the 5,000. He makes his disciples get into the boat, dismisses the crowd, and goes up into the mountain to pray. In the middle of the night, the disciples are struggling against the wind as they try to row across the Sea of Galilee. In the midst of their struggle, Jesus comes walking on the sea. The disciples are terrified, thinking that he was a ghost. Jesus calls out to them, gets into the boat with them, the wind stops, and the disciples are astounded. Then Mark tells us why they were completely and utterly surprised: they had not understood the meaning of the miracle of the loaves.

There you have it: the disciples had not understood because, Mark explains, their hearts were hardened. Let’s read the story in Mark 6:45-52.

Mark 6:45-52 NIVO Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. 47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

1.        Separation: By Land Or By Sea

1.1.     The Misunderstood Miracle

This miracle takes place immediately after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.You remember the story: Jesus and his disciples had been overwhelmed by the crowds. Wanting some time to rest and relax, they got into a boat and went looking for an isolated, quiet place. But the people had seen Jesus and the disciples get into the boat. They followed Jesus around the edge of the Sea of Galilee so that when Jesus and the disciples arrived, there was a great crowd waiting for them. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them for, Mark tells us, they were like sheep without a shepherd. The Good Shepherd taught them through the day, but when it was getting late, the disciples suggested that Jesus send the people away to find something to eat.

Instead of sending them away, Jesus took five small loaves of bread and two fish, blessed them, multiplied them, and fed the multitude. When everyone had eaten their fill, there were 12 baskets full of the leftovers.

The people were amazed! John’s Gospel tells us that the people wanted to come make him king by force (John 6:15). What kind of a king did they want? They wanted a king to overthrow the Roman Empire. But Jesus had not come to be a freedom fighter.

The understanding the people had of Jesus and of his mission was incompatible with the real reason why he came. Jesus did not come to overthrow political powers and governments. He came to set up his kingdom in the hearts of men. Jesus could not allow his mission to be defined by the masses or by his disciples.

The people wanted to force him to be king. The disciples also wanted him to be king. They had all completely misunderstood his mission as the Messiah. Jesus had to separated the would-be king-makers. The disciples would go one way and the crowds the other way:

Mark 6:45-46 NIVO Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

1.2.     Jesus on the Mountain, Praying

Mark only records Jesus praying three times in his Gospel. That is not to say that Jesus only prayed three times, but that Mark only mentions three times when Jesus prayed. In each case, Jesus was praying at night and in a lonely place. In each case, his disciples had failed to understand his mission. And each time, Jesus was facing a major decision or crisis.

In the first case in Mark 1:35, the disciples found Jesus alone praying early in the morning. “Everyone is looking for you!” they told Jesus.

Mark 1:38 NIVO Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

The last time was the night before his crucifixion. As Jesus submits fully to the will of his Father and determines lay down his life as a sacrifice for our sins, his disciples are sleeping, unable to watch and pray with him for one hour.

Here in Mark 6, Jesus has separated his disciples from the crowds who all want to make him king. Jesus has gone up on the mountain, away from the people, to be alone with his Father.

1.3.     The Disciples at Sea

Now the disciples are separated from Jesus.

Mark 6:47 ESV And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.

“Whenever the disciples are separated from Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, they fall into distress.”[1]

Normally it would take six to eight hours to cross the Sea of Galilee in poor weather conditions, but the disciples are helpless against the wind.

Mark 6:48 NIVO He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.

They were straining at the oars, rowing hard, being battered as they rowed, because the wind was against them.

Can you imagine their thoughts?

First, they must have been troubled by the response of Jesus. Everyone wanted to make him king, but he calls a halt to the whole thing. He makes them get into the boat and sends the crowds away. Why not strike while the iron is hot? Why would he not accept to be their king? A storm is brewing in their thoughts about Jesus.

And then, here they are in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, at the orders of Jesus, doing what Jesus has told them to do, and everything is against them. “The wind was against them.”

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever done what you knew was right, you did what you knew God wanted you to do, and then everything went wrong? That’s what happened to the disciples.

Before, in Mark 4, the disciples were in the midst of a terrible storm, but Jesus was in the boat with them. Jesus rebuked the storm and calmed the sea simply by speaking the word.

But now in chapter 6, the disciples are alone. Jesus is not with them. They are facing the storm along. I can imagine Peter saying to John, “The last time we were in a situation like this, Jesus was with us!” Then Thomas speaks up, “Yeah, where is Jesus when you need him?”

Ever felt that way? You are going through a crisis, one of the great storms of your life, and you don’t see Jesus anywhere around? Where is Jesus when you need him?

I will tell you where he is. He is at right hand of the Father, interceding for you! (Romans 8:34).

Notice what the Bible says, “He saw the disciples straining at the oars…”

He saw. Jesus is on a mountain top, and in the middle of the night, he sees the disciples three or four miles away in the middle of the Sea of Galilee straining at the oars. What kind of eyesight is that? “One must assume that Jesus had supernatural powers to see them so far away in the darkness (6:48).”[2]

As you are straining at the oars of life, dear friend, Jesus sees. Jesus knows. Jesus cares. And Jesus is praying for you.

  • Jesus prayed.
  • Jesus saw.
  • And Jesus came.

2.        Reunion: Jesus to the Rescue

Mark 6:48 ESV …And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.

2.1.     Jesus Walks Where God Alone Can Walk

The fourth watch began at 3:00 in the morning. Here in the darkest part of the night, Jesus comes walking on the sea.

In the darkest part of your night, look for Jesus!

Here he comes, walking on the sea!

What is this all about? Why is Jesus walking on water? Is Jesus simply going for a walk? Jesus, hem i go wokbaot nomo? Does Jesus simply want to be on the other shore when they get there? What’s going on here?

This the centerpiece of this story: Jesus is walking on the sea. He is walking on water. Who walks on water? Who is this one who comes walking on the sea?

Mark keeps bringing us back to this question, “Who is Jesus?” Who is this one who does what only God can do?

  • Who is this man who forgives sins? Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:10).

The disciples had already asked,

  • “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).

He forgives sins (2:10) and demonstrates his power of nature (4:39). He feeds 5,000 people with five small loaves of bread and two small fish (6:31-44). Now in walking on the sea, Jesus is unmistakably identified with God.[3]

In the Old Testament, only God can walk on water. In walking on the water, Jesus walks where only God can walk.

In Job 38:16, God asks Job,

Job 38:16 NIVO “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?

The psalmist says of God in…

Psalm 77:19 NIVO Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.

Again we read in…

Isaiah 43:16 NIVO This is what the LORD says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters,

Only God walks on water.

2.2.     He meant to pass by them…

And then we read that strange phrase:

Mark 6:48 ESV …He meant to pass by them,

What does that mean? “He meant to pass by them…”

Years ago my father asked me about this verse. My father was up early every morning to read his Bible before going to work. He had read through his well-marked Bible many many times, but he was puzzled by this verse. Jesus is walking on the water and Mark tells us, “He meant to pass by them.”

These little phrases that sometimes seem to be out of place are sometimes the key to understanding the passage. In the previous story, Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them because, Mark tells us, they were like sheep without a shepherd. That’s a strange phrase in the middle of a miracle story about feeding five thousand people. But then Jesus showed that he was the Lord who is the Good Shepherd. He made the sheep to recline in green pastures in groups of 50 and 100 before multiplying the loaves and fish to feed the multitude. These phrases give us a key to understand the meaning of the miracle.

Now we read that Jesus came to them, walking on the sea, and, “He meant to pass by them…” (Mark 6:48).

In the Old Testament, when God “passes by,” he passes by to reveal himself and to manifest his glory. At Mt. Sinai, the LORD “passed by” Moses:

Exodus 33:19-22 ESV And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

Again in the next chapter we read,

Exodus 34:6-8 ESV The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

In 1 Kings 19:11-12, the Lord tells Elijah to stand on the mountain, “for the LORD is about to pass by.” In Genesis 32:31-33 (LXX), “the face of God ‘passed by’ Jacob when he was wrestling with the angel.”[4]

Job makes the connection between God’s walking on water and passing by. In fact, Mark uses the same Greek words that are used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament:

Job 9:8 NIVO He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.

Job 9:11 NIVO When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.

God had told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Job said, “When he passes me, I cannot see him…” (Job 9:11). But when Jesus “passes by” the disciples in the midst of the sea, he fully intends to make the “God of Job visible…”[5]

The God of Israel, majestic and awesome but unknowable face to face, is now “passing by” believers in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ walking on the water to his disciples is a revelation of the glory that he shares with the Father and the compassion that he extends to his followers. It is a divine [manifestation] in answer to their earlier [astonishment] when he calmed the storm, “’ Who is this?’” (4:41).[6]

John, in his Gospel, declares that Jesus is God. Mark shows that Jesus is God.[7]

Jesus “meant to pass by them.” He fully meant to demonstrate his glory. And why this manifestation of his glory? The disciples are in the boat, in the midst of the sea, struggling against the wind. More than that, they are rowing hard against what the Spirit of God is trying to show them. Their minds are full of questions. Jesus was not following their agenda. Jesus performed many miracles. Was he not the Messiah? Why would he not let the people make him king?

In the midst of their struggle, Jesus comes walking on the waves. He says in effect, “I have not come to follow your agenda. But make no mistake about it. I am the King. I walk on water. I rule the waves. The winds obey my commands. I rule the universe for I am the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

2.3.     Jesus Says What God Would Say

The disciples were terrified at this display of the glory of God.

Mark 6:48-50 ESV …He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified…

These men were professionals. They knew the sea. The lived on the sea. They made their living on the sea. They were rowing hard against the wind, but then they saw something that they had never seen before. Something was approaching them. Something walking through the storm, walking on the water and getting nearer. They were terrified for they thought that a ghost.

Mark 6:50 ESV …But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

“It is I,” Jesus says. “egō eimi” That phrase is identical to the phrase that God used to reveal himself to Moses. It means, “I am.”

“Who shall I say sent me?” Moses asked. “Tell them that ‘I am’ sent you, for I am that I am.” The Greek translation of that is exactly what we have here: ἐγώ εἰμι (Mark 6:50 BGT). “Jesus not only walks in God’s stead, but he also takes his name.”[8]

Jesus says what God says in the Old Testament: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50).

This passage needs to be interpreted in light of what the prophet Isaiah had said in chapter 43. God says to Israel:

Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

Isaiah 43:10-11 NIV “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.

Isaiah 43:15-16 NIV I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.” 16 This is what the LORD says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters,

Garland comments,

The disciples who have been called by Jesus pass through the waters, and Jesus is with them and is the one who need only say, “I am.” “The Holy One of God” (1:24), the “Son of the Most High God” (5:7), really is in the midst. For now, however, the answer sails by the disciples.[9]

2.4.     Jesus’ Presence Calms the Storm

It was not until Jesus joined the disciples in the boat that the storm stopped.

Mark 6:51 ESV And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.

Separation from Jesus brought distress. Jesus’ presence with them overcame the storms in their lives.[10]

You will pass through storms. But with Christ, you will pass through them. As we read in Isaiah 43,

  • When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
  • When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
  • When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Deep waters, rushing rivers, fiery blazes — these you may experience in your Christian life, but with Christ you will pass through them victorious.

3.        Hard Hearts, Slow to Understand

Jesus steps into the boat, the wind ceased, and the disciples were utterly astounded (6:51).

They were amazed, but they should not have been. They were completely astonished at Jesus walking on the water and the calming of the sea when he got into the boat. They were astounded because they had not believed.

By now they should have understood, but Mark says,

Mark 6:51-52 ESV …And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

What did they not understand? Mark says specifically that they had not understood about the loaves. Jesus had multiplied the loaves and the fish, but they have not understood what that meant.

3.1.     Meaning in the Miracles

When we consider the miracles of Jesus, whether it be feeding the five thousand or walking on water, we need to understand that Jesus is not doing tricks to amuse us or amaze us. There is meaning in the miracles.

In these two miracles, the multiplication of the loaves and fish, and in the walking on the sea, Mark has given us the key to their meaning. Miracles are like signs that point beyond themselves. There are road signs along the road that goes around the island of Efate. You will see a sign that tells you how far it is to Paonangisu or Saama or Epau. When you see a sign that says that it is 13km to Saama, you do not stop at the sign and think that you have arrived at Saama. The sign points to a reality beyond itself. The signs are not put up so people would admire the signs. They are put up to point people in the right direction.

Jesus did not perform miracles so that people would admire his miracles. The miracles were signs that pointed beyond themselves. They pointed to the person of Jesus Christ. They should raise questions that ask, “Who is this that calms the storm with a word? Who is this that multiplies the loaves? Who is this who walks on the sea?”

3.2.     Failure to Understand

The disciples had not understood who it was who had multiplied the loaves and the fish. They had not understood that he was the bread of life that had come down from heaven. They had not understood that he was the Good Shepherd who made his sheep to recline in green pastures. They had not understood that he was himself the very source of life.

The disciples had not yet come to believe that Jesus was God in the flesh. They had failed to understand who he was. Had they believed that he was the Son of God, they would not have been surprised that he could walk on water. They would not have been astonished that the wind suddenly stopped. Had they understood the great might and unlimited power of the Son of God, they would not have feared.[11]

3.3.     Hearts that Were Hard

The disciples had not understood, but they were nonetheless without excuse. Mark says that they had not understood because their hearts were hardened. We have seen the hard hearts of the Pharisees and the Herodians when Jesus healed the man with the deformed hand (3:5). But these are his own disciples. And they have hard hearts.

What does that mean? That means that they have their own idea about who Jesus is supposed to be. They know what kind of a Messiah they want him to be. Like the rest of the multitude that wanted to make Jesus king, the disciples wanted a Messiah that would get rid of the Roman government and give them all the social welfare benefits that comes with multiplied loaves and fish.

Maybe you want a Jesus who will always make you happy, or well, or rich, or who will get you a wife or a husband. That’s the Jesus that you want and not another. You want a Savior on your own terms. The disciples were not the only ones to have hard hearts.

The disciples knew Jesus and had spent time with him, but they had hard hearts that kept them from knowing Jesus for who he really was and is. Their ideas about who he was kept them from truly knowing him. These men

  • had a unique calling (1:16-20; 3:13-19).
  • They had had privileged instruction (3:31-35; 4:13-20, 34).
  • They had been commissioned, and
  • Given miracle-working power, and
  • Had participated in Jesus’s ministry (6:7-13, 30, 35-44).

Still they do not understand.[12] Because they have hard hearts. They think they know how things ought to be. They know what they want in a Messiah.

Faith is not automatic; it is the result of a choice to let go of who we want Jesus to be and to accept what the Word of God reveals about him.[13]

The cults today promote a different Jesus. They have a smaller Jesus. A created Jesus. A Jesus who was simply an angel. A Jesus who was not equal with God (John 5:18). A Jesus who had some of God in him, but not one who was filled with all the fulness of God (Colossians 2:9).

They have not understood the infinite greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ. They do not want the Jesus that is revealed in the pages of the Bible. They have hard hearts.

That’s why they have their own books that they add to the Bible, or why they have their own translation of the Bible, or why they have their own prophets or prophetesses who change the meaning of the Bible.

3.4.     Hope for Hard Hearts

The disciples had failed to understand who Jesus is. But there was hope for them, and there is hope for us. Just as they came to understand who Jesus was and put their full faith in him, as we open and read the pages of the Bible and accept what the Scriptures tell us about Jesus, we can grow in faith. God will forgive us for our unbelief as we embrace what he has revealed.[14]

There is nothing more astounding than the fact that Jesus was actually God in the flesh. “The Word was God… The Word became flesh, and we beheld his glory…” (John 1:1, 14).

John 1:18 ESV No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

When you understand and accept the fact that Jesus Christ was God manifested in the flesh, then it is no longer a mystery how he could forgive sins, or heal the sick, or raise the dead, or how his death on the cross could atone for our sins.

Our God is an astounding God! Why would you want anything less than an astounding, amazing God? This is the God that evokes worship from us. This is the God who is truly awesome and worthy of our praise.

[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3800-3801). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 294.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3816-3820). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[4] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 297.

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3835-3844). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[6] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3835-3844). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[7] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3835-3844). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[8] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3816-3820). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[9] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 298.

[10] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3855-3857). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[11] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 8508-8511). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[12] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 8533-8545). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[13] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Location 3863). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[14] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 8533-8545). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

See also “Gospel of Mark”: