Deity of Christ

Mark 12v01-12, Parable of the Wicked Tenants

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Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngWhat are you going to do with Jesus? That may be a question that you have ignored for far too long. The question of what you will do with Jesus may seem irrelevant to you. The importance and relevance of a man who lived nearly 2,000 years ago may escape you. You may not think that it matters to you, or has any bearing on your life. But the question of what you do with Jesus and how you relate to him cannot be ignored indefinitely. Sooner or later, too late perhaps, you will face that question.

In Mark 12, Jesus responds to the religious authorities who have already made up their minds about him. They have not considered the evidence; they have simply considered their own positions and comfort and have concluded that Jesus is too dangerous to have around. They have come to the conclusion that Jesus cannot be ignored.

1.      First, Let’s Trace Some of the Background

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus faced opposition from the religious leaders of the nation of Israel. From the first chapter of Mark, people began comparing Jesus with the Jewish religious leaders. People were “astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). The scribes did not appreciate the comparison.

So the scribes question Jesus’ authority to forgive sins:

Mark 2:7 (ESV) “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

  • The scribes question his association with tax collectors and sinners (2:16).
  • The Pharisees question his apparent lack of spirituality since his disciples did not fast (2:18).
  • When his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees question his understanding of the Sabbath (2:24).
  • When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees join forces with the Herodians, their political enemies, to try to destroy Jesus (3:2-6).
  • When he casts out demons, the scribes say that he is possessed by Satan and that he gets his power from Satan (3:22).
  • They even oppose Jesus because his disciples did not wash their hands before eating! (7:2-5).

What would they do about Jesus?

Up to this point the opposition had been limited. The opposition was mostly in Galilee, not Judea, far from Jerusalem. But some of the scribes had been sent from Jerusalem to oppose Jesus.

Now, Jesus has come to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. This is not the first time that he has been to Jerusalem, nor is it the first time that he has faced opposition in Jerusalem, as we learn from the other Gospels. But never has the opposition been so intense. Never has the opposition been so united against him.

Until now, Jesus has been opposed by the scribes and the Pharisees. But now that Jesus is in Jerusalem, we read for the first time in the Gospel According to Mark that “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” are joined together in their opposition against Jesus. Hostility to Jesus has risen to a new level of intensity. It is no longer just the scribes and Pharisees who are opposing him; Jesus is now facing real political power. The chief priests and the scribes and the elders are plotting together how they will eliminate the competition. This will be the last week of Jesus.

On Sunday, Jesus made his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem to the shouts of acclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk. 11:9-10 ESV).

On Monday, Jesus entered the outer court of the temple, the Court of the Gentiles. The Court of the Gentiles was the place where Gentiles were supposed to be able to pray, but instead it had become a marketplace full of oxen and sheep and pigeons and money-changers. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. By his action, he condemned the temple practices because the religious authorities had turned his Father’s house into a den of thieves (11:17).

On Tuesday, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders demanded to know what right Jesus had to do these things. They asked Jesus where he got his authority. They were not honestly interested to know where Jesus got his authority; they simply wanted to silence him, and they would silence him by any means possible.

Jesus responded by asking them where John the Baptist got his authority. The religious authorities discussed what answer they should give. Rather than giving a straightforward answer, they calculated that a decision for John would imply support for Jesus, but a decision against John would alienate the people. So they answered, “We do not know.”

These men were not interested in entering into an honest dialogue with Jesus. They had their positions to think of. John’s Gospel reveals their real concern:

John 11:48 (ESV) If we let him go on like this [they said], everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

The truth is that they did not want to know. They were unwilling to know. They were unwilling to commit themselves.

Perhaps you are trying to keep an open mind about Jesus. You want to keep your options open. You are opting to suspend judgment. You want to wait and see. Let’s face the truth: you are opting for “skepticism, unbelief, and cowardice.”[1] Like these men, you are more concerned about your position and power and prestige. You are more concerned about what your family will say. You are looking at what it might cost you to follow Jesus.

What will you do about Jesus?

The religious authorities had followed Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. On numerous occasions, the Sanhedrin had sent scribes to gather information. They had asked many questions. They had made accusations, all in their attempts to undermine this man who was gathering great crowds wherever he went. Now that Jesus was in Jerusalem, he was in their territory. This was their temple. This was the place where they wielded their greatest authority. They had opposed him from the beginning. They had opposed him from a distance. But now it was time to get rid of Jesus once and for all.

What would they do about Jesus?

These men, the chief priests and scribes and elders, represented the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was “a buffer organization” between the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation. It was composed of 71 members and “held near complete freedom in religious matters and restricted freedom in political matters.”[2] These men held the fate of Jesus in their hands. Or so they thought.

What would they do about Jesus?

Mark 11:18 (ESV) And the chief priests and the scribes … were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.

2.      The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12)

We now arrive at Mark 12. We might have thought that Jesus would be intimidated when confronted with the political power of the Sanhedrin. We might expect him to avoid the controversy. We might expect him to defend himself. But Jesus does not adopt a strategy of evasion and escape. He goes on the offensive. Jesus further reveals his own self-understanding as the Son of God through the Parable of the Wicked Tenants:

Mark 12:1-12 (ESV) And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture: “’The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” 12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

 

2.1.     Interpretation

Jesus uses an illustration from absentee land ownership. The absentee landlord would lease (or hire) his land to “tenant farmers.” At harvest, he would send a hired hand to collect his produce. But instead of sending the landlord his due, the farmers paid their rent in blows: they beat the landlord’s servant. The landlord then sent others who received the same treatment or worse. Finally, he decides to send his son. Surely they will respect his son! But no! The farmers see things differently. If they kill the son, there will be no heir and the property will be theirs. They kill the son and thrown him in the ditch and seize the property. Will their plan work? No. The landlord comes and destroys the wicked tenants and then leases the land to others who are more deserving.

Mark tells us that that the chief priests and the scribes and the elders “perceived that [Jesus] had told the parable against them.” That means that this parable is not a judgment upon the Jewish people as a whole. Rather, it is a condemnation of the Jewish leaders, the shepherds of Israel, particularly the Sanhedrin.

This is the first time since chapter 4 that Jesus has told a major parable. It is “a story of Israel’s relationship to the Son of God.”[3] The Jewish authorities understood this parable because it was drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah, the prophet, identifies Israel as the Lord’s vineyard:

Isaiah 5:1-4 (ESV) Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

Isaiah 5:7 (ESV) For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

God complains of Israel in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 2:21 (ESV) … I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?

Jeremiah 8:13 (ESV) When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”

Jeremiah 12:10 (ESV) Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.

The landlord is God himself. He planted the nation of Israel:

Psalm 80:8 (ESV) You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.

He wanted the fruit of righteousness, but…

2 Chronicles 24:18-19 (NLT) They decided to abandon the Temple of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead! Because of this sin, divine anger fell on Judah and Jerusalem. 19 Yet the LORD sent prophets to bring them back to him. The prophets warned them, but still the people would not listen.

2 Chronicles 36:15-16 (NLT) The LORD, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly sent his prophets to warn them, for he had compassion on his people and his Temple. 16 But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the LORD’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done.

Nehemiah 9:26 (ESV) “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.

So God planted the nation of Israel as a choice vine, and sent prophets to bring about the fruit of righteousness. But they mistreated the prophets and even killed some of them.

Mark 12:6 (ESV) He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

The landlord “had still one other, a beloved son.” This is the third time we find the phrase “beloved son” in the Gospel According to Mark. At the baptism of Jesus in Mark chapter 1,

Mark 1:11 (ESV) And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Then on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John,

Mark 9:7 (ESV) And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

The landlord would send his beloved son. The tenants recognize the son: “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours!” (Cf. Genesis 37:20a.) Their recognition of the son “only intensifies the gravity of the crime.”[4]

The tenants are shrewd and wise in their own eyes.

Isaiah 5:21 (ESV) Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

The Jewish authorities will do away with the Son. They will look out for themselves. They will protect their own positions of power and prestige. They will brook no competition to their position as leaders of Israel. All competitors must be eliminated.

The tenants took the son and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard to be devoured by the birds. This was Tuesday. On Friday, Jesus would be crucified outside the city walls. They would be rid of Jesus once and for all. Or so they thought.

The Jewish authorities think that they will have won the day once they kill the Son. But they seem to have forgotten that they will still have to deal with the owner, God. How self-defeating it is to try to “outmaneuver the owner of the vineyard.”[5]

2.2.     Warning

How unlikely it seems that a landlord would send servant after servant, and then finally his son, all in the hope that the wicked tenants would respect his son. And yet, that is exactly what God did. Through the centuries, with great patience and compassion, time and again, God sent his prophets to warn the people and to call them back to himself. Now he speaks to the Jewish authorities and to us through his Son:

Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV) Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Jesus tells this parable of the wicked tenants to warn these Jewish leaders that their shameful failure to fulfill their duties will bring God’s judgment upon them. They cannot escape by killing the Son, for God himself will bring judgment upon them.

God’s warnings are evidence of his patience and love for us. How careless we would be to ignore his warning and turn away from his voice.

What will you do with Jesus?

2.3.     Jesus’ Consciousness of His Sonship

Mark 12:6 (NIVO) “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“Last of all” points to the finality of Christ. Yes, in these last days, God “has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2). We are not looking for more prophets. Christ has spoken the final word.

Last of all, he sent his beloved son. Jesus knows who he is and where he came from and what he came to do. He knows exactly what is going to happen to him. He has already told the disciples on three separate occasions what would happen to him in Jerusalem.

Mark 8:31 (ESV) And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

 

2.4.     Rejection: The Rejected Stone Becomes the Cornerstone

So how does the parable end? Jesus caps it off with a quotation from Psalm 118:22-23

Mark 12:10-11 (ESV) Have you not read this Scripture: “’The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

“Have you not read?” Jesus asks. “Do you not know your Bibles? Do you not know that your plan will be overturned? You are the religious leaders of Israel and you do not know this?”

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

On the previous Sunday, as Jesus made his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the crowd had chanted from Psalm 118:25,

Psalm 118:25-26 (ESV) Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.

Now on Tuesday, Jesus quotes from the same Psalm (118:22-23). The Son of Man would be rejected, but the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

In Hebrew, the word son is ben. The word stone is eben.

The rulers of Israel would make a decision about Jesus, but God would overturn that decision. The Son of Man would “be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” He would be crucified on that Friday, but raised from the dead on Sunday. For forty days, Jesus would show himself to be alive by many infallible proofs. Ten days later, on Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would be outpoured and Apostle Peter would preach that God had overturned the decision of sinful men:

Acts 2:23-24 (ESV) this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Again he would preach in the next chapter,

Acts 3:15 (ESV) and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

These men who rejected Jesus and put him to death, demanded to know by what authority Peter and John had healed a lame man. Peter boldly proclaimed,

Acts 4:11-12 (ESV) This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 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.”

The temple would soon be no more. But the cornerstone for the spiritual temple was laid. Jesus is the stone that the builders rejected. But he is now the cornerstone. He is the foundation upon which the church is built. Everything must line up with Christ. According to Ephesians 2, the Church is

Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Writing to Christians, the Apostle Peter described Christ as the cornerstone and Christians as living stones being built up as a spiritual house:

1 Peter 2:4-8 (NLT) You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. 5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. 6 As the Scriptures say, “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” 8 And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

So what will you do with Jesus? God is patient, not wanting any to perish, so he warns us, calling us to himself. So it is time to make a decision. You cannot live in the land of indecision. Refusing to decide is a decision against Christ. Is he a rock of offense to you? Is he a stumbling stone? Or is he your cornerstone, the foundation of your life. Reject him no longer. God has made him the cornerstone, and it is marvelous in our eyes.


[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Location 6422). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 6374-6376). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Location 6439). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[4] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 151.

[5] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 151.

Image: http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/hm-parable-tenants/


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

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Mark 11v01-33, The Triumphal Entry and Judgment on the Temple

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngIn the Gospel According to Mark, chapter 11, we find some of the best known stories of the life of Jesus Christ. We read about his so-called Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This even took place the Sunday before his crucifixion and is celebrated by the church every year on what we call Palm Sunday.

This story of the Triumphal Entry is followed the next day by the cursing of the fig tree and the condemnation of the temple when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple and declared, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mk. 11:17 ESV)

In the meantime, the chief priests and scribes were seeking a way to destroy him (Mark 11:17), so this chapter concludes with a confrontation between Jesus and the religious authorities. They demand to know what right Jesus had to condemn the temple.

So this eleventh chapter of Mark starts with the Triumphal Entry of the King to the shouts of “Hosanna!” And it finishes with the hostility of the Jewish authorities who are determined to do away with him.

Leading Events

Already in Mark 8, we arrive at the turning point of this gospel. On three occasions, Jesus has told his disciples what to expect. He has told them in detail exactly what is going to happen to him. He has told them that he will suffer many things and be rejected and be killed and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33).

First Announcement of His Death

Jesus first announced his death in the far north of Israel in Gentile territory. When Peter made his famous confession that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus then responded by telling his disciples that his mission as the Christ was to die, Peter rebuked him and told him that he was wrong to think such thoughts. Jesus in turn rebuked Peter that he was setting his mind on the things of man, rather than the things of God.

The Bible teaches us that we must abandon our ways of thinking and embrace God’s thoughts:

Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV) “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Second Announcement of His Death

After Jesus and his disciples returned to Jewish territory in Galilee, he taught them a second time,

Mark 9:31-32 (ESV) … “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Third Announcement of His Death

Jesus announced his death to his disciples a third time when they were in Judea on the road to Jerusalem.

Mark 10:32-34 (ESV) And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

No one wants to be crucified! Anyone else would have avoided it. Anyone else would have gone into hiding. People hide when their lives are in danger:

  • Baby Moses was hidden from Pharaoh.
  • The 12 spies hid from their pursuers in Jericho.
  • David hid from King Saul.
  • Elijah hid from King Ahab.

But Jesus, knowing everything that would happen to him, set his face like a flint toward Jerusalem. On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem. By Friday, he would be crucified, dead, and buried. And on Sunday, he would rise from the dead.

1.      Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry

Mark 11:1-10 (ESV) Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus and Muhammad

Steve Lambert is a Christian brother who lives in Washington, D.C., and is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He reflects on the differences between Christianity and Islam:

In no other manner are the differences between Muslims and Christians more sharply contrasted than in the difference between the characters and legacies of their prophets. Perhaps the contrast is best symbolized by the way Mohammad entered Mecca and Jesus entered Jerusalem. Mohammad rode into Mecca on a warhorse, surrounded by 400 mounted men and 10,000 foot soldiers. Those who greeted him were absorbed into his movement; those who resisted him were vanquished, killed, or enslaved. Mohammad conquered Mecca, and took control as its new religious, political, and military leader. Today, in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Mohammad’s purported sword is proudly on display. . . . Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, accompanied by his 12 disciples. He was welcomed and greeted by people waving palm fronds— a traditional sign of peace. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the Jews mistook him for an earthly, secular king who was to free them from the yoke of Rome, whereas, Jesus came to establish a much different, heavenly kingdom. Jesus came by invitation and not by force (Dever, It Is Well, 65)[1]

Fit for a King

Jesus normally walked wherever he went, but he does not walk into Jerusalem. Nor does he ride in a horse. Jesus sent two of his disciples to the village to get a colt “on which no one has ever sat” (Mark 11:2). Jesus demonstrates through the use of this symbol that he is claiming to be the king of Israel. Matthew specifies that this colt is a donkey (Matthew 21:2, 5, 7) and says that “this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” Zechariah (Matthew 21:4):[2]

Zechariah 9:9 (ESV) Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

They brought the colt to Jesus. No one had ever sat on it. According to the Jewish Mishnah (m. Sanh. 2:5), no one may ride a king’s horse.[3] The disciples spread their robes on the colt and Jesus sat on it. The King of Israel comes riding into Jerusalem, “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

People spread their garments on the road leading into Jerusalem, just as the Jews had done when Jehu was anointed king (2 Kings 9:12-13). They spread palm branches on the road and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10).

Mark wants us to know that these acclamations are addressed to Jesus, the Son of David. He is the Lord who had need of the colt (Mark 11:3). “He, the Son of David, has come and has brought the messianic kingdom of David, as he has proclaimed from the beginning (1:15).”[4]

Passover would take place that week. It was a time of celebration, a time of remembering that God had delivered his people from Egypt. It was a time to pray that God would once again deliver his people and establish the kingdom for Israel. But Jesus was a different kind of a king, and his kingdom was not of this world.

Unlike Muhammad, Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom, but the rule and reign of God in the hearts of men. He did not come to conquer and kill, but to be killed on a cross to bear the sins of all men everywhere.

Yet, “[O]ur King has come, and our King is coming again. And what a difference there will be in His first and second advents.”[5]

The First Coming of Jesus The Second Coming of Jesus
He came to die. He will come to reign.
He came on a little donkey. He will come on a warrior horse.
He came as a humble servant. He will come as an exalted King.
He came in weakness. He will come in power.
He came to save. He will come to judge.
He came in love. He will come in wrath.
He came as deity veiled. He will come as deity revealed.
He came with 12 disciples. He will come with an army of angels.
He came to bring peace. He will come and make war.
He was given a crown of thorns. He will receive a crown of royalty.
He came as the Suffering Servant. He will come as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

 

2.      The Lord of the Temple

As Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, we might have expected something spectacular to happen. But the Lord’s arrival in Jerusalem seems anticlimactic:

Mark 11:11 (ESV) And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Jesus enters Jerusalem. He goes to the temple. He looks around. It’s late. He goes to Bethany.

But there is more here than meets the eye. Jesus is focusing on the temple. He does not simply look around. He is looking at everything that is going on in the temple. The same word is used in Mark 3:5 when Jesus looked around at the synagogue leaders with “anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” It is used several times to indicate that Jesus was inspecting the temple (Mark 3:34; 5:32; 10:23). Jesus has come to the temple. He has weighed it in the scales of God’s divine justice and found it wanting.

“It was already late.” Not only was it late in the evening, on God’s timetable, it was already too late for the temple.

The Cursing of the Fig Tree

Mark 11:12-14 (ESV) On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

This is the last miracle in the ministry of Jesus, and it is a miracle that brings death, not life.[6] Jesus and his disciples spent the night in Bethany where we can imagine that they enjoyed hospitality in the village of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. It is Monday morning, and they are returning to the temple. Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree in full leaf. It was not the season for mature figs, but with the full leaf, there should have been early or unripe figs. But when Jesus came to it, he found nothing but leaves. It had the appearance of fruitfulness, but that appearance was deceptive. Jesus cursed the tree, saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

The Condemnation of the Temple

This story is not about a fig tree; it is about the temple. “The barren fig tree represents the temple that is unprepared for the coming of its Lord.”[7]

Jesus is acting out a parable. The fig tree often represents the nation of Israel. For example, in reference to Judah, we read in Jeremiah,

Jeremiah 8:13 (ESV) When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”

The temple is like a fig tree without fruit. Jesus has inspected the temple and is on his way to pronounce his judgment upon it.

Mark 11:15-16 (ESV) And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

Jesus comes to the temple. The outer court of the temple was the court of the Gentiles. The Court of the Gentiles was the only place in the temple area where Gentiles could gather and worship God. The Jews had transformed it into a noisy, smelly public market where people changed money and purchased cattle for their sacrifices. How could the Gentiles pray in such a place?[8]

Mark 11:17 (ESV) And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

The Jews expected the Messiah to purge Jerusalem and the temple of Gentiles. Jesus came to do the opposite. “He does not clear the temple of Gentiles…” He clears the temple for Gentiles.[9] God’s house must not be a house of commerce; it is a house of prayer, and not for Jews only, but for all nations.

Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Malachi 3:1

Malachi 3:1 (ESV) “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. [That’s John the Baptist.] And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

Jesus comes suddenly to the temple. Yet the next verse of Malachi continues,

Malachi 3:2 (ESV) But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? …

It is “already late.” It is too late now. Judgment is being passed.

Jesus does not intend to reform the temple. He is not cleansing the temple. Jesus is bringing God’s judgment of rejection upon the temple. Time’s up. It’s all over.

Before the week is finished, Jesus will teach about “the coming judgment upon the temple, Jerusalem, and the nation.”[10] Before the week is over, at the crucifixion of Jesus, “the curtain of the temple is torn in two from top to bottom (15:38).”[11] Israel’s privileged position will be taken away and given to others (Mark 12:1-12). Jerusalem itself will be destroyed.

Singlehandedly, Jesus drives out the merchants and money-changers. He does not merely predict the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem; it is something that he will do.[12]

Mark 11:18-21 (ESV) And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”

The fig tree was withered to its roots. There was no hope of renewal. The cursed tree was a symbol of God’s judgment upon the temple. It was already too late.

Too often we miss life’s greatest opportunities. We think that there is always more time, always one more chance. There’s always tomorrow. But that it not true. There is not always tomorrow. You only have this moment. You have no guarantee for tomorrow.

The Israelites were brought to the border of the Promised Land, but in spite of God’s miraculous signs and provision, they did not believe that they could take the land. They refused to enter the Land of Promise. That generation was condemned to perish in the wilderness. The next day they had a change of heart and decided to go up against the Amorites. But it was too late. God was not with them. They were defeated and condemned to perish in the wilderness during the next 40 years (Deuteronomy 1). They had missed their opportunity.

So God continually appeals to you on the basis of today.

Hebrews 3:7-8 (ESV) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,

Hebrews 3:13 (ESV) But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Hebrews 3:15 (ESV) As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Hebrews 9:27 (NLT) And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,

You may not have tomorrow:

2 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT) … Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.

3.      A Challenge to Jesus’ Authority (11:27-33)

Jesus had prophesied that the chief priests and scribes would reject him (8:31) and condemn him to death (10:33). They are now looking for a way to destroy him because, above all else, they wanted to preserve their own religious and political power (11:18).

Mark 11:27-28 (ESV) And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”

These are the chief priests and elders. They oversee the operation of the temple. None of them gave him the authority to drive out the money-changers. None of them gave him a license to preach or teach. This is their territory and they intend to keep it that way. So they demand to know what right he has to do these things. They assume that “no one possesses authority on his own to carry out such an outrageous sign of judgment on God’s temple.”[13]

Jesus boldly presumes to have divine authority to But Jesus seizes control of the situation.

Mark 11:29-30 (ESV) Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”

The question is easy enough. Everyone knew about John the Baptist. And the question was multiple choice: heaven or man? Was the baptism of John from God or from man? Was it of divine origin or human origin? Did God send John the Baptist, or did he come of his own accord?

The question would have been easy for men of integrity. But these men are calculating, conniving men, who do everything and who answer every question in terms of its impact on their own power and position.

Mark 11:31-32 (ESV) And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.

It is a horrible thing when religious leaders become politicians, when they are more concerned with protecting their position than with proclaiming the truth. These men were corrupt through and through.

Mark 11:33 (ESV) So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”

Jesus has them. If they say that John’s ministry was from heaven, Jesus will ask them why they did not believe him. If they say that it was from man, the people will see them as spiritually unfit to lead. So they say that they do not know. But that only shows that these spiritual leaders “cannot tell the difference between what is from God and what is from men.”[14]

Mark 11:33 (ESV) … And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

But Jesus is not simply avoiding the question. He has revealed the spiritual bankruptcy of the Jewish authorities. At the same time, he points to the baptism of John. Jesus himself was baptized by John. And when he was baptized by John,

Mark 1:10-11 (ESV) And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open 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.”

“By what authority do you do these things?” As the Son of God, Jesus is Lord of the Temple and has every right to condemn it.

Because of Jesus, we Gentiles are no longer kept in the outer court. Because he went to the cross, we Gentiles can enter the Most Holy Place that only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year. Because of Jesus, you and I can freely enter today and every day.

Hebrews 10:19-22 (NLT) And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean…

[1] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 242). B&H Publishing Group.

[2] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 148.

[3] Garland, loc. cit.

[4] Stein, Robert H. Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). 2008.

[5] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 248). B&H Publishing Group.

[6] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 149.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Walter W. Wessel, Mark in EBC, v. 8, p. 727-728.

[9] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 23.31.

[10] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Kindle Locations 13467-13468).

[11] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Kindle Location 13472).

[12] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Kindle Locations 13476-13478).

[13] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 306.

[14] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 150.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Mark 08:38-09:13, “A Risk Worth Taking”

Transfiguration-Hagopian copy-2.jpgIntroduction

Is the Christian life really worth the risk?

1456053183_thumb.pngJim Elliot had dedicated his life to Jesus Christ when he was six years old. In October of 1949, at the age of 22, Jim Elliot wrote the words in his dairy by which he would always be remembered:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” (October 28, 1949)

Jim became a missionary to Ecuador in South America and married Elizabeth on his 26th birthday (October 8, 1953). Less than three years later, in January 1956, Jim and four missionary companions were killed by the Auca Indians, when Jim was just 28 years old. He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Elliot, and a child not yet one year old.

Was Jim Elliot a fool? Did he lose everything? Or did he gain what cannot be lost? Jim Elliot staked his life, and his death, on these words of Jesus:

Mark 8:35 ESV For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Is the Christian life really worth the risk?

Follow Me!

Jesus had called the disciples to follow him. They followed him through his ministry. They saw him heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, cause the lame to walk, make the deaf to hear, and enable the mute to speak. Jesus’ disciples followed him as he taught, and forgave sins, and cast out demons, and calmed the storms, and fed the multitudes. It was an amazing experience to follow Jesus.

Everyone was talking about Jesus and trying to figure out exactly who he was and how he fit into God’s great plan. Was he Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets? Was he John the Baptist raised from the dead? Jesus had not said. He simply called himself the Son of Man.

But the disciples needed to know who he was. Jesus needed for them to know who he was. And yet, whatever they thought of him, they certainly had no idea of his mission. They had walked with Jesus for many months. He shared his ministry and authority with them. The disciples knew Jesus, but did they really know who he was?

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.

“You are the Christ,” Peter answered.

Exact. Jesus was the Christ. The Christ-Messiah. That means that he was the anointed one, the chosen one, the one whom God had promised to send. And he had come.

The only problem was that the people including the disciples, thought that the Christ-Messiah would be a freedom-fighter to set Israel free from the domination of the Roman Empire.

The Christ had indeed come to set men free, but the freedom that he offered was not political in nature. It was freedom from the slavery of sin. But to set men free, the Christ would have to pay the penalty for sin and break the power of sin by going to the cross. The Christ-Messiah would be crucified. That was a scandal for the Jews. That was not the kind of Messiah that they had expected or wanted.

As soon as the disciples declared that Jesus was the Christ,

Mark 8:31 ESV And he began to teach them [the disciples] that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

The death of the Christ was not on the disciples’ radar screen. But they and everyone who would follow Christ, had to know that the way of Christ was the way of the cross:

Mark 8:34-35 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

The message was incomprehensible. The disciples could not understand. What kind of talk was that? Was Jesus talking in parables? What kind of mystery was this? Jesus will tell them two more times (Mark 9:31; 10:34) that he is going to be killed and after three days rise again,

Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

This is not what they expected. This is not what they had signed up for. But then again, they had not chosen him; he had chosen them (John 15:16). “Follow me!” he had said. And so they did.

But now things were becoming clear. Or rather, they were more confused. Before, the disciples thought that they understood, but they had not. Now that they were beginning to understand, it seemed all too confusing. Jesus had talked about a kingdom, the kingdom of God. That sounded great. But now he was talking about suffering, and rejection, and dying, and rising. What did that have to do with the kingdom of God? Denying yourself? Taking up your cross? Losing your life in order to save it? Really? What was that all about?!

Was Jesus really worth the risk?

1. The Three Disciples

Mark 9:2 ESV And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves….

We sometimes have the idea that God loves us all the same, that there are no favorites with God. That seems to be a nice idea, but it flies in the face of the facts. There were the multitudes that followed Jesus. Within the multitudes, there were 72 disciples that Jesus sent out (Luke 10:1,17). Of the 72, there were 12 that followed him more closely and whom he appointed “so that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14). And of those 12 disciples, there were three who were the closest to him. These three disciples, Peter and James and John, were the inner circle. They saw things and experienced things that the other disciples did not experience.

  • Jesus had only allowed Peter and James and John to be with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:37).
  • The night before his crucifixion, Jesus took Peter and James and John to be with him while he prayed, telling the other disciples to wait and “Sit here while I pray” (Mark 14:32).
  • And here in Mark 9, just one week after telling the disciples that he would suffer and be rejected and die and on the third day rise again, Jesus takes Peter and James and John, the inner circle, to the top of a high mountain, leaving the other disciples below.

These disciples were the core within the core. They were the inner group. Jesus would show them things that he would not show the others. Peter and James and John would be the ones who would help to keep the other disciples together.

1.1. The Transfiguration

Jesus led Peter and James and John

“up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2).

Notice that the text says that Jesus was transfigured “before them.” Now before we consider the meaning of the transfiguration, we should note that it did not take place for Jesus. The transfiguration was for Peter and James and John. Jesus was transfigured “before them,” Mark tells us

Jesus knew what he was all about. He knew what his mission was. He knew why the Father had sent him. He knew before ever creating the universe, that he was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV).

In coming into the world, he said to his Father, “A body you have prepared for me” so that we might be “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:5, 10).

John 6:38 ESV For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Jesus knew what he was all about. He knew what he was doing. He knew where he had come from. He knew what he had to do. And he knew where he was going.

But the disciples did not understand it. They were in great confusion about the matter. Jesus was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah that they were expecting or had hoped for. Even John the Baptist had asked,

Matthew 11:3 ESV … ”Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Now the disciples were wondering if they should look for another.

The transfiguration was not for Jesus; it was for the disciples. The transfiguration was for Peter and James and John. Again, Mark tells us that Jesus was transfigured “before them.” It was for the benefit of the inner three. It was for the benefit of Peter and James and John. The transfiguration was to strengthen their faith. The message of the transfiguration for the disciples was that though Jesus and his disciples would take the way of the cross, following Jesus was a risk worth taking. Whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake and for the gospel, will save it.

1.2. Jesus Was Transfigured

Mark 9:2-3 ESV …And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.

Luke tells us that

Luke 9:29 ESV And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.

Matthew tells us

Matthew 17:2 ESV And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

John, who was one of the three with Jesus on that mountain — John sees something of Christ that he will see again when the resurrected and glorified Christ appears to him in the Book of Revelation:

Rev 1:16 ESV and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter and James and John saw something of the glory of Christ that was his before the foundation of the world. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed,

John 17:5 ESV And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Luke tells us

Luke 9:32 ESV Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory

These three disciples are seeing the glory of Christ, both his past glory before coming into the world, and his future glory.

The Apostle Paul says of him,

Philippians 2:6-8 NLT Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

But now, temporarily on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter and James and John are allowed to see the glory of Christ. They are given a vision of his majesty.

It was before these three disciples, Peter and James and John, that Jesus was transfigured, so that they might see the glory that was his before the foundation of the world, so that they would realize that following Christ on the way of the cross was a risk worth taking.

First we see the three disciples. Then we see the two prophets:

2. The Two Prophets

Mark 9:4 ESV And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Now this is most remarkable! For what reason do Moses and Elijah need to appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus? Once again, just like the transfiguration of Jesus was for the sake of the disciples, the appearance of Moses and Elijah was for the disciples.

Moses was the famed Law-giver. Moses had climbed up Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God. He had received the Law and had given it to the nation of Israel. But Moses had never entered the promised land before. Because of his sin of failing to obey God and honor God before the people, God had not allowed him to enter with the people that he had led for forty years through the wilderness. Moses had climbed Mount Nebo and looked over into the land, but there he died on the mountain, and God buried him. Centuries passed, and now by the grace of God, Moses stands in the land of promise with the very Son of God who had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

Elijah was the bold prophet who had called the people back to the Law. Moses had died, but Elijah did not die. Elijah was carried into the presence of God by a whirlwind. Now Elijah who had not died is back on earth talking with the one who would die for the sins of the world.

2.1. Passing Prophets

It is important that the appearance of Moses and Elijah was temporary. They appear with Jesus on the mountain, but soon disappear. They were not permanent figures. Their work pointing to the coming One, Jesus himself. Their presence on the mountain with Jesus shows the continuity between the Law, the Prophets, and Jesus. Their presence show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

After his resurrection, Jesus would appear to two of his disciples…

Luke 24:27 ESV And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus would tell his disciples,

Luke 24:44 ESV … ”These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Peter would preach at the house of Cornelius,

Acts 10:43 ESV To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Here on the Mount of Transfiguration appear Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets. But their appearance is temporary. Just as the Apostle Paul would say in Galatians, now that Christ has come, we are no longer under the Law (Galatians 3:23-25), Moses and Elijah will disappear. Their purpose was fulfilled with Christ. Christ has come.

Romans 10:4 ESV For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Campbell Morgan comments,

Moses’ presence signified that in Jesus the shadows of the law were all fulfilled and now withdrawn. In Jerusalem men were still fighting, not merely for the law of Moses, but for the traditions of the elders, and priests and leaders were still arguing about the tithe of mint and cummin, while here upon the mount was the great law-giver himself, by his presence acknowledging that this glorified One, Who should presently be crucified in the name of the law, did in Himself gather up all that was hinted at, suggested, included in the economy of the past.[1]

Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the mountain to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. But then, a cloud of glory overshadowed them and Moses and Elijah were removed. Their work was completed in Jesus Christ. “There was no further need for Moses, nor yet for Elijah.”[2]

2.2. A Message from Heaven

In this appearance of Moses and Elijah, we see not only the temporary provisional nature of the Law and the Prophets pointing to Christ, we also see something of the nature of our future heavenly existence.

  1. We do not become angels.

Let’s also note that Moses and Elijah did not have wings. Only Luke spells this out so clearly:

Luke 9:30 ESV And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah,

Moses and Elijah are still men. We will ever remain human beings. God did not create us to become angels or gods. There is no evolution from one form to another. God created us to be men and women and thus we will ever be.

  1. Moses and Elijah are in a conscious state. They are not unconscious. They are not asleep. They are not dead, though Moses had died. As the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8,

2 Corinthians 5:8 NAU to be absent from the body [is] to be at home with the Lord.

Jesus told the Sadducees that…

Matthew 22:32 ESV …the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob…is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

The presence of these men suggested not merely existence after life, but conscious existence, and not conscious existence only, but the continuity of the same existence with enlarged powers.[3]

Peter, James, and John knew Moses and Elijah. Our existence and identity and personality on the other side of this life is not absorbed into a state of nothingness or nirvana. We will know believers that we have known and believers that we have never met before. And we will be known. Our personality and identity will continue in the world to come.

We have seen the three disciples, and the two prophets. Now we turn to the one and only Son.

3. The One and Only Son

Mark 9:5 ESV And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Peter frequently put his mouth in gear before engaging his brain. His method was to act now, think later. One week earlier, he had rebuked Jesus for saying that he would suffer and be rejected and be killed and after three days, rise again.

Matthew 16:22 ESV And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Now, as the three disciples see the glory of Christ, Peter suggests that they make three tabernacles: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.

Immediately, Mark tells us,

Mark 9:6 ESV For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Peter had misspoken. In his attempt to honor Christ and Moses and Elijah, he had dishonored Christ. By suggesting that they make three tents or tabernacles for them, Peter had put his Master on the same level these men of the past.

Today, people are still attempting to put up tabernacles, one for Christ, one for Buddha, one for Confucius, one for Muhammad, one for the Bahá’u’lláh. Some religious leaders are calling for unity. Unity is an important value for the Christian. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one. The Apostle Paul tells us to make every effort to maintain the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:3). God’s purpose is “to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).

But that is where some religious leaders have it so wrong. These leaders want the various religions to deny their distinctives. They call on Christians to deny the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. They say that if we can deny what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ, what Jesus said about himself as the only way to the Father, and what God has said about his one and only Son as the one that we must listen to and obey, then and only then, can we have unity. They tell us that only if we deny the teachings of Christ, can we be united. That is blasphemous.

Christ is the only one who is great enough to save and unite people from every nation, as Revelation 7:9-10 tells us he will, people

from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Peter was absolutely wrong. No one compares with Jesus. God the Father would rebuke Peter.

3.1. The Father Speaks

Mark 9:7 ESV And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

3.1.1. The Identification of the Son

First, God says, “This is my beloved Son.” Moses and Elijah were servants, but Jesus was the Son of God.

Hebrews 3:5-6 ESV Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

God says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son.”

3.1.2. The Statement of Divine Satisfaction

In Matthew’s account, we read that God said,

Matthew 17:5 ESV … “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…”

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he is baptized by John the Baptist and his private life draws to a close, God declares from heaven,

Mark 1:11 ESV … ”You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Now as he approaches the end of his public ministry, again, the Father expresses his divine approval of his Son, but this time God adds, “Listen to him.”

3.1.3. The Father’s Command

Mark 9:7 ESV And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Build no tabernacles to Moses or Elijah. Their work is finished.

The message of the Book of Hebrews is the supremacy of the Son.

Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…

No other voice is needed. Let all others be silent. No one supersedes the Son of God. No one replaces the Son. Not Muhammad, not Joseph Smith, or Ellen G. White, or the Bahá’u’lláh.

No further prophets will be sent by God to add to his message or modify it or abrogate it or take away from his message. False prophets will come. But what further need have we of prophets when God has spoken by his Son and has told us to listen to him: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

3.1.4. Jesus Only

Mark 9:8 ESV And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

Peter, James, and John look, but Moses is gone. Elijah is gone. The Law and the Prophets had pointed to Christ, but their work is finished. Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. He alone remains. “They no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”

“Jesus only” churches will use this verse while forgetting the previous verse. The voice from heaven did not say, “I am my beloved Son; listen to me.” The Father clearly drew a distinction between himself and the Son: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

The Father makes a distinction between himself and the Son who because he is the Son is of the same nature as the Father. He is not a god, but is “very God of very God.”

Nonetheless, the message of the Transfiguration is “Jesus only.” Peter understood that. He boldly told the religious authorities of Jerusalem:

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.”

John understood the message of the Transfiguration:

1 John 5:11-12 ESV And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Jesus leaves no room for another other way to God:

John 14:6 ESV Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The testimony of the Word of God is this:

1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all…

3.2. The Testimony of the Three

Is following Jesus worth the risk? Peter and James and John certainly believed that it was. Seeing the Lord transfigured before the eyes with the glory that was his before the foundation of the world, convinced them that if they lost their lives for Christ sake, they would save them.

James would seal his testimony with his blood. He would be beheaded by Herod.

John would live a long life, but he would testify,

John 1:14 ESV And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

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.

Peter speaks of this experience in his second epistle:

2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

Do not ask for a vision. Do not ask for special revelations. Jesus only takes who he wants to take. In the next verse, Peter tells us,

2 Peter 1:19 ESV And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,

The glory of Christ convinced them that “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

The Transfiguration tells us that following Jesus is a risk worth taking.


 

[1] G. Campbell Morgan, Crises of the Christ, p. 238-239.

[2] G. Campbell Morgan, Crises of the Christ, p. 241.

[3] G. Campbell Morgan, Crises of the Christ, p. 243.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

 

Mark 08v27-38, “Who do you say that I am?”

Detail of  Mosaic in Hagia Sophia

2001 — Detail of Mosaic in Hagia Sophia — Image by © Hanan Isachar/CORBIS

1456053183_thumb.pngThe most important question that you can ever answer is the one that Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”

What you believe about a person determines your relationship to that person. What you believe about Jesus determines your relationship with him. It determines your relationship with God, and it determines your eternal destiny.

This passage begins with a question: Who do you say that I am?

1. Some Already Know Who Jesus Is.

1.1. The Reader of Mark’s Gospel Knows Who Jesus Is.

This passage is a crucial turning point in Mark’s Gospel. The question of Jesus’ identity was raised from the first chapter of this gospel. The reader of Mark’s Gospel already knows what he is to understand about Jesus because Mark has told us in the very first verse, what we are to understand about Jesus. This is…

Mark 1:1 ESV The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark begins by telling us that Jesus is the Christ, and that he is the Son of God. Those are two different things. Jesus is at one and the same time both the Christ and the Son of God.

The next verses introduce John the Baptist who was the forerunner of Christ. John’s ministry as the forerunner of Christ was announced by Isaiah the prophet, more than 700 years before Christ’s birth:

Mark 1:2-3 ESV As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

This is how we read it in Isaiah:

Isaiah 40:3 ESV A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

When Isaiah writes, “…prepare the way of the LORD,” he uses the very name of God: Yahweh. Translated into English, it is written capital L O R D. Isaiah says that the messenger who is John the Baptist, would prepare the way for the coming of Yahweh. Then he says the same thing another way: “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” So when Mark quotes Isaiah, he is telling his readers that they are to understand that John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus who is Yahweh, God in the flesh.

Then just a few verses later in Mark 1, Jesus is baptized,

Mark 1:11 ESV And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

So the readers of Mark’s Gospel already know who Jesus is.

1.2. The Demons Know Who He Is.

Mark 1:23-24 ESV …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.”

When Jesus rebuked the demon and cast him out simply by commanding him, the people

Mark 1:27 ESV …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.”

Again in,

Mark 1:34 ESV 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 3:11 ESV And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”

Again in chapter 5, the man with a legion of demons cried out

Mark 5:7 ESV …with a loud voice…, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?…”

1.3. The People Do Not Yet Know Who Jesus Is.

The demons know who Jesus is, but the people do not seem to have understood the scream of the demons; they do they know who Jesus is.

Mark keeps bringing us back to this question through this Gospel. Who is this Jesus?

1.3.1. The Scribes Do Not Know Who Jesus Is.

When Jesus tells the lame man that his sins are forgiven, the scribes complained,

Mark 2:7 ESV “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Yes, who but God can forgive sins? And since Jesus claims the right to forgive sins, Mark is showing the reader who Jesus is, but the people have not yet understood that.

Mark 6:14 ESV King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”

1.3.2. King Herod Does Not Know Who Jesus Is.

In chapter 6, King Herod Antipas is trying to figure who Jesus is and where he gets his power to heal.

It is one thing for the scribes and the Pharisees and King Herod and others to be confused about the identity of Jesus, but what about his disciples?

Up to this point, Jesus has not said that he is the Christ, the Messiah, the one that the prophets had promised. He has claimed to be the Son of Man who has authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10. And he has claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath with the right to interpret its meaning (2:28), but after the very first verse where Mark tells us that Jesus is the Christ until we get to the end of chapter 8, the word Christ has not been used again.

1.3.3. What about the disciples?

We have seen that up to this point, the disciples did not get it. They are with the Lord. They have heard his teaching but do not understand it.

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

At the end of chapter 4, the disciples are in danger of perishing in a storm tossed sea, but Jesus rebukes the wind and the sea, saying, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Mark 4:41 ESV And [the disciples] were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Who is this, indeed?

They failed to understand his teaching and the failed to comprehend his miracles. They were astounded to see him walking on the sea,

Mark 6:52 ESV for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Over and over again, they just do not get it. They have have failed to understand his teaching. They have seen his miracles but have not been able to discern the meaning of the signs they have witnessed.[1] Jesus asks them,

Mark 8:18 NLT ‘You have eyes– can’t you see? You have ears– can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all?

Yet, Jesus does not give up on them. Even as he opened the ears of the deaf mute, he will open the ears of his disciples. Just as he opened the eyes of the blind man who at first saw men as trees walking, before receiving a second healing touch, so the disciples will yet see, though at first not so clearly, as we will see!

2. Some Think They Know Who Jesus Is.

2.1. Public Opinion: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Mark 8:27 ESV And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi…

This is pagan territory. Caesarea Philippi was

famous for its sanctuary to [the god] Pan… Half man and half goat, [the god] Pan was revered as the guardian of flocks and nature…[2] It is here in the outer regions of paganism and even hostility to Judaism that Jesus is first proclaimed Messiah!

Mark 8:27-28 ESV…And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”

Jesus, the Master Teacher, is beginning to open the eyes of the disciples. Up to this point, they have failed to look beyond the signs. He wants them to think about what the signs signify, what they mean. But before asking who they think he is, Jesus asks them who others say that he is. He is provoking them to think about his identity.

Just like today, people had different opinions about Jesus. Some, like King Herod, thought that he was John the Baptist returned to life. Others thought that Jesus was Elijah or one of the prophets. The idea was not that Jesus was simply a prophet, but that he was one of the prophets of the Old Covenant.

Moses had foretold that God would “raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18). The Jews were waiting for that prophet. When they compared Jesus to John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the famous prophets of the Old Covenant, they believed that Jesus was a prophet of great rank.

And yet, these comparisons showed that the people had also completely failed to understand who Jesus was. Jesus was not a recycled prophet. He was not another prophet of the Old Order, the Old Covenant. Just like today, people will say that Jesus was “the greatest teacher or moral example who ever lived.” That “may seem like an honor and compliment,” but it is a case of mistaken identity. It robs Jesus of his absolute uniqueness as the Christ, the Son of God. Mark is showing us that Jesus can only be defined in terms of “himself and his relationship with the Father.”[3] He cannot be compared to anyone else. He is the incomparable Christ.

2.2. Jesus’ Disciples: Jesus is the Christ

Jesus is not really interested in opinion polls. His primary concern is not what others say about him. His primary concern is about his disciples, those to whom he will entrust his mission. The others—the outsiders—have their various opinions about Jesus. But the disciples—the insiders—to them “has been given the secret of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11). It is essential that these men who will carry on the work, it is essential that they know who he is.

Mark 8:29 ESV And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” …

That is the ultimate question. It is the question that Jesus asks his disciples. It is the question that he asks you and me: “But who do you say that I am?”

Mark 8:29 BSN …”?Be yufala, yufala i stap tokbaot mi, se mi hu?”

Your answer is crucial. Who do you say that Jesus is?

This is a question that you must get right. Your answer will not change who he is. He does not change and adapt himself to your opinion of him. But your answer to that question will determine your relationship to him which will determine your eternal destiny. Your relationship to Jesus impacts not only your life now in the present; your understanding of who Jesus is and your relationship to him determines your eternity. This is a question that matters. This is one that you must get right or all is lost.

If I call you by the wrong name, you will be quick to correct because no one likes to be called by someone else’s name. If I mistake the head of state for someone else and address him with the wrong title, that will show that I do not really know him. How much more is that true of the One of the Highest possible rank? If we do not know who Jesus is, we will not be able to worship him in spirit and truth.

Mark 8:29 ESV And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

 

This is the first time since the very first verse of this Gospel that the word Christ has been used. People had wondered and guessed at who Jesus was, but no one had gotten it right. At no time in this Gospel does Jesus state that he is the Christ or accept that title, until now.

This had been a long time coming. The disciples had not understood his teaching or his miracles. They had been blind to the fact that Jesus was the Christ. But now, ever so slowly, their eyes are being opened. Their vision is not yet clear as the following verses will show, but this is a beginning and it is the promise that they will yet see clearly.

Mark 8:29-30 ESV And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

2.3. The Order of Silence

We may wonder why Jesus so strongly charged the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. The answer lies in the misunderstanding of what the Christ would do.

The Jews had gone through difficult times. For nearly 600 years they have been under the Babylonians, then under the Persians, then under the Greeks, and finally under the Romans. There was a period when they threw off the bonds of oppression under the Greeks, notably the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, but that period of self-rule had not gone well either.

The Jews were waiting for the promised Messiah, the Christ. The one who would be the Son of David the king. The one who would set up his throne and restore the kingdom to Israel. The Jews were looking for a Christ who would overthrow the Romans, but they had failed to see that the Messiah, the Christ, would first be the Suffering Servant, the one who would take our sins upon himself, bearing the iniquities of many, as Isaiah had prophesied. Jesus did come to bring liberation and peace, but not with military power and rule.

Jesus will don the servant’s towel rather than the warrior’s sword; he will practice sacrifice above vengeance. He will not inflict suffering, but suffer himself as a “ransom for many” (10:45). As God’s servant, Jesus must remain hidden if he is to complete God’s appointment (Isa 49:1-6).[4]

In declaring Jesus as the Christ, Peter has supplied the proper title, but he has the wrong understanding.[5]

Jesus orders the disciples to tell no one that he is the Christ because the Jewish people had misunderstood their own Scriptures and failed to see that the Christ would fulfill the Old Covenant of the Law and enact the New Covenant in his own blood.

This now, Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly.

Mark 8:31-32 ESV And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly…

This is the first of three times when Jesus will tell the disciples of his death and resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). From this point on, Jesus tells his disciples “plainly” that this is his mission. He is going to suffer many things, and be rejected, and be killed, and after three days, rise again.

This is absolutely shocking! This is not what the Jews believed that the Messiah would do. This is not what the disciples thought they were getting into!

The meaning of his life and mission is not about victory and success, but about rejection, suffering, and death. When Jesus finally speaks to the issue of his identity and mission it is summed up in [this phrase:] “The Son of Man must suffer many things.”[6]

The word must means that his sufferings are necessary to fulfill the will of God. James Edwards remarks in his excellent commentary:

The prediction of Jesus’ passion conceals a great irony, for the suffering and death of the Son of Man will not come, as we would expect, at the hands of godless and wicked people. The suffering of the Son of Man comes rather at the hands of “the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law.” It is not humanity at its worst that will crucify the Son of God but humanity at its absolute best. The death of Jesus will not be the result of a momentary lapse or aberration of human nature, but rather the result of careful deliberations from respected religious leaders who will justify their actions by the highest standards of law and morality, even believing them to render service to God (John 16: 2). Jesus will not be lynched by an enraged mob or beaten to death in a criminal act. He will be arrested with official warrants, and tried and executed by the world’s envy of jurisprudence — the Jewish Sanhedrin and the principia iuris Romanorum [the principles of Roman law].[7]

3. “You are the Christ” — Right Title, Wrong Idea

3.1. Peter Rebukes Jesus

Mark 8:32 ESV And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us,

Matthew 16:22 ESV And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

This is not Peter’s understanding of what the Messiah would come to do! He is expecting a triumphant Messiah, one who will conquer, one who will sit upon the throne of his father David, one who will restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). So Peter pulls Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him: Do not say such a thing! That’s never going to happen! How can you say that? You are the Christ!

This word for “rebuke” is the same word that is used when Jesus rebuked demons (1:25; 3:12). Peter rebukes Jesus strongly, believing that this talk of suffering and rejection and death must be silenced.

Peter had used the correct title, recognizing that Jesus is the Christ, but he has misunderstood it. He is beginning to see, but does not yet see clearly.

3.2. Jesus Rebukes Peter

Peter has expressed not only his own misunderstanding, but the misunderstanding of all the disciples.

Mark 8:33 ESV But turning and seeing his disciples, [Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus turns and sees his disciples. They had the same thoughts as Peter. They must hear him as he rebukes Peter.

Just as Satan had tried to turn Jesus away from the cross by offering him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would bow down and worship him, Peter has attempted to turn Jesus aside from suffering. In Peter’s mind, Jesus must not choose the path of suffering, but the path of glory. In ways that he cannot understand, Peter has opposed “a deep mystery of God, for suffering is the only way to destroy the stronghold of Satan…”[8]

Jesus had come to destroy the works of the devil (Mark 1:24; 3:27; 1 John 3:8). This was the purpose of the Incarnation.

Peter is thinking in human terms. He is thinking as men think and not as God thinks. To think as men think is to “no longer be [a] disciple of Jesus but a disciple of Satan.” Jesus turns the rebuke on Peter and says exactly what he had said to Satan when he was tempted in the wilderness: “Get behind me, Satan!”

It is not Jesus’ concept of the Messiah that is satanic. Rather, Peter’s attempt to turn Jesus aside from the cross was satanic. Jesus rebukes him strongly. This rebuke is stronger than the series of questions Jesus had asked in 8:14-21,

  • Don’t you know or understand even yet?
  • Are your hearts too hard to take it in?
  • You have eyes– can’t you see?
  • You have ears– can’t you hear?
  • Don’t you remember anything at all?
  • Don’t you understand yet?

3.3. Non-Understanding and Misunderstanding

Failing to understand is not as bad as misunderstanding. Peter has the right word, but the wrong idea. He has the right title, but he has not understood it. This stronger rebuke “suggests that a near-truth is more dangerous than an obvious error, since a partial truth is more believable.”[9]

Liberal Theology and the Cults

This is the grave error and danger of both liberal theology and the cults. Both liberal theology and the cults use biblical terms, but they twist them to mean something else. They redefine the biblical terms. They give them a meaning that is different from what the authors meant. Liberal theologians will talk about faith and the divinity of Christ, but they mean something quite different from what the Bible means.

The cults that we have here in Vanuatu will use biblical terms. They will say that Jesus is the Son of God, but they do not mean that Jesus is of the same nature as God. Or they will say that they believe in God the Father, but they may actually believe in many gods while saying that they only worship one of them. Or they will say that Jesus was only a man who was anointed by the Spirit. They will use terms like faith, and salvation, and Savior, but they have their own special definitions and special teachings and perhaps even their own special translation of the Bible that says things that no other translation says. These cults are most dangerous because they appear to be Christian but they preach a different Jesus. There is one thing that all cults and false religions and liberal theology have in common: they diminish Jesus. They make him smaller than he really is.

Is there any hope for them? Yes there is. Just as there was hope for the disciples. If they will put away their other books and carefully read the Word of God to discern the intention of the authors of the Bible, they too can have their eyes opened and come to the knowledge of the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.

Peter had said that Jesus was the Christ, but he meant something very different from what Jesus meant. Now Jesus lays out the terms of discipleship.

4. The Way of the Discipleship

Mark 8:34 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

“A wrong view of Messiahship leads to a wrong view of discipleship.”[10] Jesus will take the way of the cross and so must his disciples. But this word is not just for the Twelve. Jesus called the crowd to him with his disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus said that if we are to come after him,

  1. we must deny ourselves. This does not mean the denial of things, but the denial of ourselves. We surrender the right to determine our own goals, aspirations, and desires.[11]
  2. We must take up our cross. The cross is an instrument of death. It means putting to death the old way, the old habits, the old customs.

Romans 8:13 ESV For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Mark 8:35 ESV For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

  1. We must follow Christ. It means that Jesus becomes the Lord of our lives.

Luke 6:46 ESV “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?

Jesus asks you, “Who do you say that I am?” He calls you to understand that he is the Christ, the one that was promised from the first book to the last book of the Old Testament. He calls to you understand that he is the Son of God, the one who by his very nature is God in the flesh. He calls you to understand that he became a man so that he might take your sins upon himself and pay the price for your sins. He calls you to deny yourself, to take up your cross, and to follow him in living a life of obedience to his commands. He is the Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 414.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4610-4613). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4646-4649). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[4] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4716-4717). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4714-4715). 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 4737-4739). 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 4747-4754). 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 4774-4775). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

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

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

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

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Mark 08v22-26, “Men As Trees, Walking”

20160411

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngHave you ever felt like you could see something, but you could not see it clearly? If you have had good eyesight and are in your mid-forties, you may have noticed that things are not as clear as they once were. You probably need glasses.

When I was about 40 years old, my father told me that I would soon need glasses because at about that age, eyesight begins to change and it becomes harder to read. I somehow thought that I would beat the odds and would not need glasses, but by the time I was 45, I was having a hard time reading. I wanted to pretend that the words on the page were clear, but I could not see them very clearly. My arms did not quite seem long enough to hold the book in a place where I could see the text. Reading increasingly gave me a headache. I finally gave in and got a pair of glasses. Once again, I could see clearly.

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, we find a man who went from being blind, to seeing but not seeing clearly, and finally to seeing everything clearly. It is one of the most remarkable miracles ever performed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and it has great lessons for all of us.

Mark 8:22-26 NLT When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. 23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?” 24 The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” 25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him away, saying, “Don’t go back into the village on your way home.”

1. The Miracle

The healing of this blind man is quite unlike any other healing that took place during the earthly ministry of Jesus. It seems that this healing of the blind man took place in stages. At first he could not see at all. Then he saw men that looked like trees. And finally, he saw clearly.

1.1. The Healing in Two Parts

We have to ask ourselves what is going on here. This is not the way that Jesus normally healed people. When Jesus healed people, the healings were normally instantaneous.

For example, when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law,

Mark 1:31 ESV And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Mark 1:40-42 ESV 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.

In chapter 2, we read that four men lowered a paralytic down through the roof because they could not get through the door because of the crowd of people. Jesus said to the paralytic,

Mark 2:11-12 ESV “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!”

In chapter 3, Jesus said to a man with a withered hand,

Mark 3:5 ESV … “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

In chapter 5, a woman who had suffered with a discharge of blood for twelve years pushed her way to Jesus through a great crowd of people,

Mark 5:28-29 ESV For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Now, in chapter 8, we have a blind man that some people brought to Jesus. They begged Jesus to touch the man. But this time, the healing was not instantaneous. He did not recover his sight immediately. Jesus touched the man, but when he looked up he said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

Mark 8:25 ESV Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Since this healing took place in two stages, so unlike any of the other healings of Jesus, we have to ask ourselves why the man was not completely healed the first time. Why was his vision so unclear after the first touch? Why did he need Jesus to touch him a second time?

Was the healing of a blind man that much more difficult than

  • the cleansing of a leper,
  • or the healing of a paralyzed man,
  • or the restoration of a withered hand?

We will find later in Mark 10, that Jesus said to blind Bartimaeus,

Mark 10:52 ESV …”Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Why was this blind man of Bethsaida not healed immediately? Did Jesus fail the first time and have to try again?

1.2. Reading the Bible

This story shows the importance of reading the Bible in context, and of reading entire books of the Bible. We cannot understand this story in the Gospel of Mark if we are not reading the entire Gospel of Mark. When we look at our Bibles we see them divided into chapters and verses, but we need to understand that none of the books of the Bible were written that way. All 66 books of the Bible — 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament — all 66 books were written as books or letters and were meant to be read from the beginning to the end. Everything must be understood in its context.

The Bible is not a magic dipping well that we dip a bucket into to pull out a verse or two.

  • Every verse has to be read in the context of its chapter.
  • And every chapter has to be read in the context of the book.
  • And every book has to be read in the context of the entire Bible.

The divisions that we find in the Bible were not part of the original text. The 40 authors of the Bible did not write verses and chapters; they wrote books and letters. The chapter divisions were added to the Bible by Professor Stephen Langton of the University of Paris in A.D. 1227. The verse divisions were by the French printer Robert Estienne (Stephanus) in 1551. The chapter and verse divisions help us to find the same passage, but they were not part of the original text.

So the Bible is not to be read by picking verses here and there. It is to be read as any other book. Everything has to be read in context. The big difference between reading the Bible and other books is that the Bible is the Word of God. We read it to know how to obey God. How much more we should be careful to read God’s Word in its context so that we do not misinterpret what God is saying to us through His Word.

This is where we have to be very careful not to be fooled by false cults and false religions that take verses out of context and try to prove their false teachings. The one thing that all the false teachers have in common is that they take verses out of context to try to make the Lord Jesus Christ smaller than he really is.

The Bible warns us in…

Colossians 2:8-9 NLT Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. 9 For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.

So if all the fullness of God lives in Christ, then the healing of this blind man in two stages was not because Jesus had to try again to get it right! Something else is going on here.

1.3. Understanding the Context: The Context of Understanding

Remember that some of the people of Bethsaida brought this blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village.

Jesus never made a show of his miracles. He never put up posters about holding a miracle meeting somewhere. The focus of his ministry was teaching and preaching the Word of God.

And yet in his compassion, he did the works of the Messiah, healing the sick, opening blinded eyes, and preaching the good news to the poor.

Jesus has compassion for this blind man and wants to deal with him privately.

Mark 8:23-24 ESV And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

He saw, but he could not see clearly.

One of the important themes in the Gospel of Mark is that of seeing clearly, the importance of understanding.

In Mark 4, Jesus told the parable of the man who went forth sowing the seed. Some of it fell on the pathway, some on stony ground, some among thorns, and some on good soil. But even the disciples of Jesus failed to understand the parable:

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

Jesus then explained to them that the seed was the Word of God. The good soil represents those who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit.

In Mark 6, Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and fed a multitude of 5,000. But the disciples completely failed to understand what the miracle indicated about Jesus himself. So when Jesus came walking on the Sea of Galilee that night, they were, as we say, “blown away.”

Mark 6:51-52 NLT Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, 52 for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.

In chapter 7, Jesus had told the Pharisees that people are not made unclean by what they eat; they are made unclean by what is in their heart. When the disciples asked him about this,

Mark 7:18-19 ESV 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.)

Now we come to chapter 8. It is here in chapter 8 that we find the story of the progressive healing of the blind man. Just immediately before this story, we read that Jesus and the disciples had just left the Pharisees who

Mark 8:11 NLT …demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.

Jesus and his disciples are now in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee when Jesus warns them to “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”

But the disciples completely missed the point.

Mark 8:17-18 NIVO Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? … 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see…?

Mark 8:21 NIVO He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

In the very next verse, they arrive at Bethsaida and the blind man is brought to Jesus. Jesus could have healed the blind man instantly by simply saying, “Receive your sight.” Our Lord had that power. Nothing is impossible for him.

But Jesus did not heal the man that way. It was no accident that Jesus healed this blind man in two stages. He is quite deliberate in what he does. He spits in the eyes of the blind man and lays his hands on him. Then he does something that he never does at any other time. He asks the man a question: “Do you see anything?”

Jesus never asks the deaf if they can hear, or the lame if they can walk. But he asks this man, “Do you see anything” (v. 23).

Mark 8:24 ESV And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

Jesus had asked the man, “Do you see anything?” Just a few verses before, in verses 17 and 18, as Jesus and his disciples were arriving in the boat, Jesus had asked his disciples,

Mark 8:17-18 NET …Do you still not see…? … 18 Though you have eyes, don’t you see? …

Jesus now performs a parable. Yes, it is a miracle, but he heals this man in a way to demonstrate a parable to his own disciples. Just as Jesus begins a process of enabling this blind man to see, he will begin the process of moving his own disciples from blindness to sight.[1]

The disciples have not understood who Jesus is or what he came to do. ***In the verses following this story, Peter will make his confession that Jesus is the Christ of God, but he does not understand what that means. He has moved from non-understanding to misunderstanding. Only after the cross and resurrection will Peter and the disciples arrive at complete understanding, seeing “everything clearly” (8:25).[2]

2. The Message

2.1. Not As Things Should Be

So many people are at this first stage. It is hard to describe their spiritual condition. Jesus asked the man, “Do you see anything?” He responded, “Yes, I do see, but I see men as trees, walking.”

Do you understand the position? It is difficult to describe this man. You cannot say that he is blind any longer. You cannot say that he can see because he sees men as trees, walking. What then—is he or is he not blind? You feel that you have to say at one and the same time that he is blind and that he is not blind. He is neither one thing nor the other.[3]

Now there are people like that. You may meet them and think, “Yes, that person is a Christian.” But the next time you are with them, they say something or do something, and you wonder how a Christian could do such a thing.

These people are rather unhappy with themselves. On Sunday they will believe the preaching of the Word and believe themselves to be Christians, but then something happens and everything is put in doubt.

There is a positive element to their condition: just as the blind man recognized that he should not see men as trees, walking, they realize that things are not as they should be. They see something. They see that something is not quite right. They are on the path to seeing clearly, but they have not yet arrived. Things are not yet clear for them.

These people have come to recognize the truth of the Scriptures. They see that if everyone lived according to the principles in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this world would truly be a paradise.

They may have come to see that Jesus is the only hope for the world. They may have seen that he is somehow the Savior, though they do not understand exactly how he is the Savior or why they need a Savior. But they are interested in him and believe that somehow they need him.

These people have not clearly seen the biblical teaching about justification by faith. They are trying to put themselves right with God. They are trying to be good enough to be accepted by God. But they see that it is not working. They have set a standard, but they cannot live up to that standard. They are trying to save themselves but they see that they cannot.

These people see, but they do not see clearly. They see as this blind man saw: they see men as trees, walking.

Let’s look at a few areas where these people do not see clearly.

2.1.1.  First, they do not clearly see their need for a Savior.

They do not understand that Jesus had to take our sins upon himself and to die in our place. They do not see that he had to take the punishment of our sin for us in order for us to be declared just before God. They do not understand that the cross is the demonstration of the love, the grace, and the righteousness of God.

They are not clear about the biblical teaching about the new birth. They say that they do not see it, and they are right! They do not see it! They are in a state of confusion and they are quite unsatisfied with their own lives. They “are troubled and unhappy and miserable.”[4] They see, but they do not see.

2.1.2.  Second, their heart is divided.

They are not fully committed to Christ. They are somewhere between complete darkness and the light. They are in the grey area. Their heart is not fully engaged. They do not find their joy in Jesus; they are continually trying to find joy, but it is always elusive, just beyond their reach.

2.1.3.  Third, their will is divided.

They do not understand the biblical teaching of repentance. They want to hold on to the pleasures of this world. They do not understand why they should do certain things and stop doing other things. They will argue about what they think a Christian should or should not do. They always want to know if it is okay for a Christian to engage in this or that activity. When it comes down to it, they are rebellious. While acknowledge in general that the old life needs to go and the new should come, they do not want to let go of the old and they are not ready to embrace the new. They do not see clearly.

2.2. Diagnosing the Cause

In the verses leading up to this miracle, Jesus had asked his disciples a series of eight questions such as:

  • Do you still not see or understand?
  • Have your hearts been hardened?
  • Though you have eyes, don’t you see?
  • And though you have ears, can’t you hear?
  • Don’t you remember?

2.2.1.  These questions require clear-cut answers.

But many people today do not like clarity. They do not like black and white answers. They want the “50 shades of grey.” But there is not grey with God. We live in a world today where we see men as trees walking and want to pretend that we see clearly. They want to believe that that is how things ought to be.

As someone said, “When Moses came down from the mountain, he did not give us the Ten Suggestions.” But today we do not even want suggestions. In the name of tolerance, anything goes. You need not worry too much about terrorists destroying civilization. We are doing a very good job of destroying it without their help.

2.2.2.  The real trouble with people who do not see clearly, is that “they never fully accept the teaching and the authority of the Scriptures.”[5]

There are churches in the world today that give lip service to the Word of God but believe that it has to be modified and adapted to the modern world. The Bible may be a guide, but the principles have to be updated to keep up with the changing pace of our world today. “The world is changing,” they say, so they modify and reinterpret the Scriptures here and there to suit their own desires.

But God is not out of date, no matter what the world says. God’s Word is timeless and we must submit to it, or bear the consequences of our disobedience.

2.2.3.  Another cause of this lack of clarity is that people do not want clarity.

They do not want the clear teaching of the Word of God. They want an experience, a warm fuzzy feeling, but not teaching. You see, the teaching of the Word of God is clear. As the psalmist said,

Psalm 19:8 ESV the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;

2.3. What Is the Cure?

2.3.1.  First, when we see men as trees walking,

we must not say that we see clearly. This blind man had enough wisdom to realize that though he saw, he did not yet see as he should see.

When God begins to open our eyes and to give us understanding, we must not think that we have arrived. We are tempted to announce that we can see, and often we encourage others to announce that they see when they do not yet see clearly. Let us not stop the Savior’s healing work before we see clearly.

2.3.2.  Second, we must never lose hope. 

While we must not prematurely claim to see clearly, neither should we give up hope when we realize that we do not see clearly. Recognizing that things are not yet clear, we must not despair. We must not stop reading the Bible. We must not stop praying and seeking the face of God. The devil would want to stop you in your progress, but you must not listen to him.

2.3.3.  So what do we do? We must be honest

and answer the Lord truthfully. “Do you see anything?” “Yes, Lord, but I do not yet see as I ought to see.” The man did not make some kind of false faith claim: “Yes, I see by faith.” No, he was completely honest with the Lord.

Where do you stand? What is your condition with God? Do you see clearly or are you still confused about things? Are you full of joy, or still bothered with doubts and fears? Do you know God? Not simply believe in him, but do you know him? Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ?

2.3.4.  Finally, submit yourself to Christ

just as this man did. Jesus touched him once and he touched him again. The man did not object to the second touch but rather rejoiced in it. And had Jesus not touched this man a second time, I believe that this man would have asked him to.

You can do the same. You can ask the Lord to touch you again, to continue his work in you. Tell him, “I want the truth, whatever it costs me.” Submit yourself fully to him. Let him be the Lord of your life, all your life. Plead with him to give you clear sight, perfect vision. He will do it.

Ask him in the words of the hymn:

Holy Spirit, Truth Divine,
Dawn upon this soul of mine,
Word of God, and inward Light,
Wake my spirit, clear my sight.

If you will do that, then as the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:6,

Philippians 1:6 ESV And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.


[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4576-4577). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Location 4594).

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 39.

[4] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 43.

[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 44.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

The Reality of the Resurrection

Christ Raised cropped.jpg1456053183_thumb.png

A very happy Resurrection Sunday to you! On this Resurrection Sunday morning, I would like to ask you a question. Just how important to the Christian faith, is Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead?

If archaeologists were to discover the bones of Jesus tomorrow, would you walk away from Christianity? What difference would it make if Christ were not raised from the dead?

Some Christians claim that if it could be proved to them beyond any doubt that Jesus did not rise from the read, their faith would nonetheless remain intact, that they would continue to love and serve Christ, knowing that he had never risen from the dead.

Other Christians understand that our faith is not some mystical experience but that it is rooted in history, that Jesus lived a real human life and died a real human death and was raised from the death with a real human, though glorified, body.

On several occasions, Jesus not only predicted his imminent death; he also predicted his resurrection.

Mark 8:31 ESV And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:31-32 ESV for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Mark 10:33-34 ESV saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

As Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has said,

If Jesus had been a fake, he would have said that he would rise again spiritually, and they would never be able to falsify it. But he did not. He said that he would bodily rise from the dead. That is empirically falsifiable. All they would have had to do was to show the body.

Christianity is unique. No other religion claims that its founder was not only a man, but also God. No other religion claims that its founder not only died, but was also resurrected. And no other religion stakes everything on the historical resurrection of its founder. Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ.

The Apostle Paul said it like this,

…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV).

…if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless (1Co 15:14 NLT).

What does it matter if Christ was not raised from the dead? Christianity stakes everything on the literal physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Disprove the resurrection of Christ, and you have disproved Christianity.

1.        The Reality of the Crucifixion

But before the resurrection, there is the fact of Christ’s death.

The crucifixion of Jesus is one of the best-attested facts of history. No serious historian doubts the existence and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Islam denies the death of Christ by crucifixion. Coming along 600 years after Christ’s death, Muhammad said, “That can’t be! I don’t believe that God would allow his prophet to die such an awful death.” And so, he denied Christ’s death by crucifixion. Muslims don’t believe Jesus actually died on the cross; they believe that it only appeared that he died.

However, those who were much closer to the historical setting than Muhammad, affirmed that Jesus did indeed die by crucifixion.

It is to be noted that the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ were public events. His death and resurrection were not private affairs. His death and resurrection were not done in a corner somewhere and proclaimed elsewhere. He died for all the world to see, and his resurrection was well attested by hundreds of witnesses.

Eyewitnesses verified the facts of Christ’s death:

  • Roman soldiers who specialized in putting criminals to death attested that Jesus was dead (Matthew 27:27, 36, 54).
  • The chief priests, scribes, and elders watched him die (Matthew 27:41).
  • The mother of Jesus, her sister, Mary Magdalene, and the wife of Clopas were witnesses.
  • The apostles including Matthew and John witnessed his death.
  • Mark was also a likely witness, and Luke carefully researched his gospel so that his readers would know the certainty of all that was reported.
  • Roman historian Tacitus (55-120 A.D.) wrote that “Christus… suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”[1]
  • Lucian of Samosata (115-200 A.D.) refers to early Christians as those “who worship the man in Palestine who was crucified…”[2]

Yes, the crucifixion of Christ is one of the best-attested facts of history. One historian wrote, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”[3]

As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3 ESV).

Christianity is a religion that is rooted in history. It is not rooted in anyone’s dreams or visions or imagination. Its claims can be investigated historically. It is not necessary for the historian, in coming to the New Testament writings, to regard them as inspired. He may merely regard the New Testament as a collection of Greek documents that serve as sources of ancient history. The majority of New Testament critics, even those teaching at secular universities and non-evangelical seminaries, accept the central facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christian apologist William Lane Craig gives a number of historical facts about the resurrection of Jesus that are accepted by most historians.

FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.

This means that Jesus was buried at a site that was known to both those who followed Christ and those who did not. The disciples could never have proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty. Not only did the disciples know where Jesus was buried, the enemies of Jesus knew where he was buried. In fact, they sealed the tomb and posted a guard of soldiers at the tomb of Jesus.

According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”1

FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.

This is significant. Again, as the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).

To state that a dead man was buried and that he was raised implies that his grave was left empty. The reference to the third day — he was raised on the third day — refers to the visit of the women and others who went to the tomb on the third day and found it empty.

In reading the accounts of the empty tomb, we find that they are told with simplicity and without embellishment — without additional elements. In other words, the four Gospels simply tell the story without adding anything to what happened. This is quite different from the wild legendary stories found in apocryphal gospels that were written in the second century, a hundred years later. For example, one so-called gospel (the Gospel of Peter) has Jesus coming out of the tomb with his head reaching up above the clouds. He is followed by a talking cross! That is what a legend looks like! But the New Testament accounts of the resurrection are told with simplicity: nothing but the facts.

It is important to note that the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women. The Jews considered the testimony of women to be worthless and would not allow it to be admitted into a Jewish court of law. The only reason that the Gospels tell us that the first witnesses were women is because that is how it must have happened. The Gospel writers would never have invented such a story that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. If the Gospel writers were inventing the story, they would have had some prominent and well respected person being the first witness to the resurrection.

It is interesting to note that the Jewish authorities themselves acknowledged that the tomb was empty. When the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was risen from the dead, the authorities did not point to his tomb and say, “Look! What do you mean, he’s risen from the dead? There’s his body!” They could not, for the tomb was indeed empty. Instead, they paid the guards to say that the disciples had stolen the body. They thus admitted that the tomb was empty.

FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

The Apostle Paul gives a list of witnesses to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8,

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 ESV).

Paul is writing this in the early 50s, about 20 years or so after the resurrection of Christ. He tells the Corinthians that the risen Christ was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, and that most of those witnesses are still alive. Paul says, in effect, “You can check this out. The witnesses are still alive. Hundreds of them. They will tell you that Christ was raised from the dead. He is indeed alive.”

Some have said that the disciples hallucinated. But no serious historian accepts that theory. Hundreds of people don’t have the same hallucination at the same time.

One of the cults operating in Vanuatu today claims that Christ was not raised from the dead with a real body, but that he evaporated! But that is not what the records say. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples in the upper room that first Sunday night of the resurrection, the disciples could not believe their eyes and wondered at first thought that they were seeing a spirit, but Jesus told them,

“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them (Luke 24:38-43 ESV).

Evaporations don’t have scars, eat fish, or have flesh and bones.

John tells us that before the resurrection, even the brothers of Jesus did not believe in him (John 7:5). There would be no reason to invent such a story. But after the resurrection, James became a believer and a leader in the Jerusalem church. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in Christ in the late A.D. 60s. What would have convinced him to die for his belief in his brother? Paul tells us, “Then he appeared to James” (1 Corinthians 15:7).

Even Gert Lüdemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”3

FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.

  1. Their leader was dead.
  2. He died the horrible death of crucifixion.
  3. He was executed as a criminal.
  4. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “that is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”5

 

2.        The Reality of the Resurrection

What about the resurrection? Does it really matter? What difference does it make?

This is what the Apostle Paul says about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15,

And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world (1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NLT).

If Christ was not raised from the dead,[4]

2.1.        We Worship a Dead Man

If there is no resurrection, then Jesus Christ has not risen from the dead. We worship a dead man. Jesus went to the cross, he died, he was buried, and his body decayed to dust just like everyone else’s. Christians are followers of a dead man.

If Christ did not rise from the dead, Christianity is hardly different from any other religion. We have put our hope in a spiritual leader, a guru, who lived and died. We may try to follow some of his teachings, but we would have to reject much of what he said about himself and about why he came.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.2.        We Preach a Useless Message

And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless… (1 Corinthians 15:14 NLT).

We are wasting everyone’s time. This is nothing but idle talk, worthless myths and legends.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.3.        Our Faith Is Empty.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV).

We have faith in a Christ who is dead.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.4.        We Misrepresent God

We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised (1 Corinthians 15:15 ESV).

We are false witnesses.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.5.        We are lost in sin.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.

We are still dead in our trespasses and sins.

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.6.        We have no hope beyond this life.

We have hope only in this life:

19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life…(1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT).

If Christ was not raised from the dead,

2.7.        We are pitiful.

we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world (1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

We are living an illusion.

All this is to say that the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ really matters.

Pastor Timothy Keller said,

If Jesus rose from the dead, you have to accept all he said, if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about anything he said…. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.[5]

  1. It is not a dead man that we worship, but the living Lord of Life!
  2. It is not a useless message that we preach, but the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.
  3. Our faith is not empty, but rooted in the foundation of historical reality and directed to the One who has a name that is above every other name, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  4. We do not misrepresent God, but bear witness to the truth of what God has done in Jesus Christ.
  5. We are not lost in sin, but are saved by the One who was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification.
  6. We are not among those who have no hope, but have in Christ’s resurrection the guarantee of our own resurrection on the day that he shall raise our mortal bodies and this mortal will put on immortality.
  7. We are not pitiful but hugely blessed of God with many great and precious promises.

3.        The Importance of the Resurrection

Christ is risen. His resurrection is one of the best-attested facts of ancient history. So what?

Don’t we have to ask ourselves what implications this has? Why does it matter? Or is this some dry, dusty old piece of history that has no relevance to our lives? I believe that the resurrection is the most important truth in the world. It has far reaching implications on our lives.

Matt Perman sums up the importance of the resurrection of Christ:[6]

3.1.           First, the resurrection proves that the claims Jesus made about himself are true.

What did Jesus claim? He claimed to be God. One might say, “I don’t believe that He claimed to be God, because I don’t believe the Bible.” But the fact is that even if we take only the passages which skeptical scholars admit as authentic, it can still be shown that Jesus claimed to be God.

3.2.           Second, have you ever wondered what reasons there are to believe in the Bible?

Is there good reason to believe that it was inspired by God, or is it simply a bunch of interesting myths and legends? The resurrection of Jesus answers the question. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we have seen this validates His claim to be God. If He is God, He speaks with absolute certainty and final authority. Therefore, what Jesus said about the Bible must be true. Surely you are going to accept the testimony of one who rose from the dead over the testimony of a skeptical scholar who will one day die himself—without being able to raise himself on the third day. What did Jesus say about the Bible? He said that it was inspired by God and that it cannot error.

3.3.           Third, many people are confused by the many different religions in the world.

Are they all from God? But on a closer examination we see that they cannot all be from God, because they all contradict each other. Jesus is the only religious leader who has risen from the dead. All other religious leaders are still in their tombs. Who would you believe? Some dead prophet or prophetess, or the Living Lord of Life who died but rose again and showed himself to be alive to hundreds of people over a period of 40 days before returning to heaven as his disciples watched him ascend. I think the answer is clear: Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates that what He said is true. Therefore, we must accept his statement to be the only way to God: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6).

3.4.           Fourth, the resurrection of Christ proves that God will judge the world one day.

The apostle Paul said, “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). The resurrection of Christ proves something very personal and significant to each of us—we will have to give an account of ourselves to a holy God. And if we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we do not measure up to his standard. We are sinful, and therefore deserve to be condemned at His judgment.

3.5.           Which leads to our fifth point. The resurrection of Christ provides genuine hope for eternal life.

Why? Because Jesus says that by trusting in Him, we will be forgiven of our sins and thereby escape being condemned at the judgment. The New Testament doesn’t just tell us that Christ rose from the dead and leave us wondering why He did this. It answers that He did this because we are sinners. And because we have sinned, we are deserving of God’s judgment. Since God is just, He cannot simply let our sins go. The penalty for our sins must be paid.

The good news is that God, out of His love, became man in Jesus Christ in order to pay the penalty for sinners. On the cross, Jesus died in the place of those who would come to believe in Him. He took upon Himself the very death that we deserve. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 4:25 that ”He was delivered up because of our sins.” But Paul goes on to say “He was raised to life because of our justification.”

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus looked beyond the cross to his resurrection and told the disciples, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19 ESV).

3.6.           Let me close with the sixth reason why the resurrection is significant.

The Bible says that Christ’s resurrection is the pattern that those who believe in Him will follow. In other words, those who believe in Christ will one day be resurrected by God just as He was. The resurrection proves that those who trust in Christ will not be subject in eternity to a half-human existence in just their souls. It proves that our bodies will be resurrected one day. Because of the resurrection of Christ, believers will one day experience, forever, the freedom of having a glorified soul and body.

Is the resurrection of Christ important? Nothing could be more important. Unbelievers will face Christ as their judge on the Day when God will judge the world through the One that He has raised from the dead. Believers will be invited to enter into the eternal life that we have already begun to experience because Christ is alive.

Sign-Off

This Resurrection Day, and every Sunday, I urge you to turn to Christ the Savior. Find a church where the Bible and only the Bible is taught, preached, and lived. Walk with Christ in the power of the resurrection.

Thank you for tuning in to FM 107 and listening to the Joyful News Broadcast. This has been a ministry of Joy Bible Institute. You can visit our website at joybible.wordpress.com. Our prayer is that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.

10 SIGN-OFF JOYFUL, JOYFUL, WE ADORE THEE

 

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-great-offense-was-jesus-really-crucified?utm_source=Desiring+God&utm_campaign=9b080eac96-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da5f8315b-9b080eac96-99525301

[2] http://radicaltruth.net/index.php/learn/radical-truth-christianity/117-was-jesus-crucified

[3] Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#cite_note-fox-6

[4] http://www.challies.com/articles/if-dead-men-dont-rise

[5] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 202, quoted by Adrian Warnock, Raise with Christ, 27.

[6] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection

Mark 08:01-21, “Do you not yet understand?”

Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes

Christians of the early Byzantine period built monasteries, churches and shrines in Galilee and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to commemorate the ministry of Jesus and the miracles ascribed to him. Mosaics that is preserved from the Byzantine period at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes July 23, 2009. Photo by Rishwanth Jayapaul/FLASH90

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngWhat does remembering have to do with understanding and faith? Today we want to consider an event in the life of Christ and his encouragement to remember and consider the things that he has done, and how that impacts our faith.

Quick quiz:

  1. When Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish, how many loaves were there? Five or seven?
  2. How many fish were there? Two or a few?
  3. How many people were fed? Five thousand or four thousand?

A number of years ago, one of my students suggested that there was a contradiction in the Gospels. In one place we read that Jesus fed a multitude of five thousand men, not including the women and children. In another place, we read that he fed four thousand. One passage said five thousand while another passage said four thousand. So the student concluded that there was a contradiction.

Was he right? Well, some scholars would think so. Some scholars tell us that within just a few pages of the Gospel of Mark, the author has repeated the same story using different details. Now this would be amazing because there are only 49 verses with separate the two stories. The feeding of the five thousand takes place in Mark 6 and the feeding of the four thousand is told in Mark 8. Only one chapter out of 16 chapters stands between the two stories. For Mark to accidentally tell the same story twice so close to each other would be an amazing lapse of memory.

So what are we to say about these stories?

One of my purposes is to encourage your confidence and trust in the Bible as the error-free Word of God. That is a big claim to make today when skeptics abound. But most people who claim that the Bible contains errors have never read it themselves. They simply parrot what they’ve heard someone else say. They dismiss the Bible without any serious consideration of what they are dismissing: the very Word of God.

The Bible is trustworthy. The questions that liberal scholars ask have repeatedly been answered by conservative scholars. There is abundant evidence pointing to the truthfulness of the Bible.

So when we come to the question of Jesus feeding the multitude in Mark 6 and again in Mark 8, we need to look carefully at the details. We need to understand that Mark, the author, is writing with intention. He has a purpose. And we need to read at a deeper level to understand that purpose.

That means that we are not simply reading isolated stories. The Bible is not a book of short stories. The Bible is what scholars call a “meta-narrative.” It is THE BIG STORY from the creation of the heavens and the earth in the Book of Genesis to the new creation of the new heavens and the new earth in the final pages of the Bible in the Book of Revelation. Everything else fits in that big story. It is the story of God. It is God’s story. It is HiStory.

1.        The Feeding of the Four Thousand (Mark 8:1-10)

Let’s look at the text:

Mark 8:1-10 ESV In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

1.1.     Two Stories Compared

Mark starts this story of the feeding of the four thousand with the words “In those days.” This tells us immediately that this miracle took place in the region of the Decapolis where we find Jesus at the end of chapter 7 (see 7:31).

CHAPTER 6 CHAPTER 8
Feeding of the 5,000 Feeding of the 4,000
Mark 6:44 ESV And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

The term for “men” (ἄνδρες, andres) is gender specific. It means men or husbands. That means that there were 5,000 men plus women and children. Most commentators estimate that there were between 15,000 and 20,000 people who were fed.

Mark 8:9 ESV And there were about four thousand people.

The text simply says that there were about 4,000 people. This crowd was much smaller.

The people in chapter 6 had been in the wilderness for only one day. In chapter 8, the people had been in the wilderness for three days.
Jesus began with five loaves and two fish. Jesus multiplied seven loaves and a few small fish.
Jesus blessed the food one time. Jesus blessed the bread and distributed it, then he blessed the fish.
There were 12 basketfulls of leftovers. There were 7 basketfulls of leftovers.
In the first feeding, the multitude was mostly Jews. In the second feeding, the multitude was mostly Gentiles.[1]

The main objection against the feeding of the 4,000 is the argument that since the disciples had already seen Jesus feed more than 5,000, they should not have asked, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” But that is to misunderstand the disciples.

In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus had told them to give the multitude something to eat. They wonder how they are to do it.

In the feeding of the 4,000, they simply confess that they are powerless to meet the need and left the solution to Jesus.

William Lane says: “It would have been presumptuous for the disciples to have assumed that Jesus would, as a matter of course, multiple a few loaves as he had done on an earlier occasion.”[2]

Most importantly, Jesus refers to both miracles when probing the understanding of his disciples.

1.2.     Mark’s Purpose: Gentiles Are Included!

We need to consider Mark’s purpose in including this story. Remember that the authors of the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), do not tell us everything that Jesus ever did. John tells us that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that he does not include in his Gospel. He tells us that he chose certain signs so that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that through believing, we would have life in his name.

Each of the authors of the Gospels write to a particular group of readers and they chose from an abundance of events in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ to accomplish their purpose.

Mark is writing for Romans. He is writing for non Jewish people. That means that he is writing for most of us. Mark is showing us that Jesus came not only for the Jews; he also came for Gentiles like you and me.

In the previous chapter (chapter 7), Jesus leaves Jewish territory and goes into Gentiles territory. There the Syrophoenician woman asks him to heal her daughter. Jesus tells her that the Jews have priority because the promises were made to Abraham that through his descendant — that is through Jesus Christ, the many times great grandson of Abraham — all the families of the earth would be blessed. The bread, Jesus said, must first be given to the Jews. But this Gentile woman has faith. She asks for the crumb of bread that fall from the table. Jesus marveled at her faith and healed her daughter.

Then we read that Jesus went to the Decapolis, again, Gentile territory. The Gentiles bring to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Once again, Jesus heals this man so that he hears and speaks plainly. The Gentiles declare that Jesus “has done all things well, He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mark 7:37).

Jesus is still in Gentile territory when he feeds the 4,000. He has already fed the multitude of Jews. The children of Abraham were served first, but the rest of the world is waiting. In this eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus feeds the Gentiles and points to the time with the gospel will be taken to Gentiles all around the world. “They will not have to scrounge for crumbs that might fall from the table, but they will receive food in abundance and also will be satisfied.”[3]

Jesus and his disciples are freely moving among the Gentiles. Jesus has already “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:31). It does not matter what you eat, and it does not even matter who you eat with under normal circumstances (but compare 1 Corinthians 5:11; 10:21).

Here Jesus and his disciples are surrounded by Gentiles. For three days they have been with Jesus and they have nothing to eat. Jesus has compassion on them and tells his disciples,

Mark 8:3 ESV And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”

The disciples do not ask, “How can we eat with these people?” Instead, they ask, “Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” (8:4).[4]

Jesus himself is the answer. Jesus is able to meet the great need. He is moved with compassion and that compassion is not limited by ethnic boundaries. He is not only the Savior of the Jews. He is also the Savior of the World, even as the Samaritans declare in John 4:42.

Later in Mark 14, when Mary anoints Jesus for his burial, Jesus says,

Mark 14:9 ESV And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus tells his disciples,

Mark 16:15 ESV And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

The feeding of the 4,000 is not the same as the feeding of the 5,000, and it is good news for us. Jesus is the bread of life, not only for the Jews, but also for us Gentiles.

Here are three reasons why Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish on two separate occasions:[5]

  1. Jesus wants everyone to understand that he is the bread of life, the “bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4). John tells us that following the first miracle, Jesus gave his great discourse on the bread of life.

John 6:48-51 ESV I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

  1. Christ wants us to understand that he is not just Bread for the Jews. He is the bread of life for us Gentiles as well. We are tempted to think the life is having things: a new phone or a new truck. But “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
  2. Jesus wants us to understand that “the supply always meets and exceeds the demand.” There is always more than enough.

Mark 8:8 ESV And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.

Christ is more than enough to satisfy the hunger of the world.

2.        The Blindness of Those Who Will Not See (8:11-13)

In the following verses, Jesus and his disciples have crossed the Sea of Galilee back into Jewish territory. There he is accosted by the Pharisees.

Mark 8:11 ESV The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.

There is a certain combative attitude that will receive nothing from God. The Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus. They question him. They test him. But their minds are already made up.

  • They no doubt knew of the leper that he had cleansed (1:42).
  • They knew about the paralyzed man who had been let down through the roof. Jesus forgave his sins and restored his health so that he rose up and carried his bed home (2:11-12).
  • They had seen him heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). It was then that they made up their minds to destroy him (3:6).
  • They attributed his power to Satan and said that he cast out demons by the power of Satan (3:22).

They had heard of many of his miracles, but they found ways to explain them away. They are asking him here for a sign from heaven. A sign from above that would leave no room for any possible doubt about the source of his power.

What kind of sign are you waiting for? There are people who are always looking for one more sign. One more piece of evidence. They say they would follow Jesus if they could only believe.

The great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on the judgement day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’”[6]

Not enough for what? To force you to believe? That God will not do. He will not force you into a relationship with him. But there is plenty of evidence for those who are willing to see.

When it comes to the biggest truth of all, people who are normally reasonable and rational become totally unreasonable and irrational. Ask them, “Why is there something rather than nothing at all? Why does the universe exist?”

“Well, it just happened,” they say. “There was a big bang and it happened.”

Really? What caused the big bang?

“Nothing. It just happened.”

So there was nothing, and everything came out of nothing, and nothing caused everything to come out of nothing, it just did it by itself even though it did not exist to do anything by itself. And now we have this orderly universe with the one place in the entire universe that supports life, and everything is perfectly balanced with all its amazing complexity and beauty, and it just happened?! And it all came from nothing and was caused by nothing? If you believe that, you believe in magic. Do not pretend that it’s science or scientific. It is not. It is a worldview that refuses to see the evidence.

Mark 8:12 ESV And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

No gat! Jesus says. He is grieved and angry at the hardness of heart. Matthew tells us that Jesus said,

Matthew 16:4 ESV An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

The only sign they would get was that signified by Jonah — the Resurrection![7]

Mark 8:13 ESV And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

What a terrible thing it is to have Christ turn his back on you and sail away. But that is ultimately what he does to those who continually refuse his revelation. There comes a time when he gives no more signs, no more help in understanding.[8]

The Pharisees turn and walk away; the disciples follow Jesus into the boat. Eduard Schweizer draws an insightful conclusion from this closing description: “faith comes when one steps into the boat with Jesus and does not prefer to remain in safety on the shore.”[9]

3.        The Danger of Being an Unbelieving Believer (8:14-21)

Mark 8:13-15 ESV And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. 14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

Jesus is in the boat with his disciples. They have left the unbelieving Pharisees behind. But how much better off are the disciples? They have seen the miracles, but have the understood? Have they understood the signs? Have they understood the miracles and the message of Jesus? The conversation in the boat indicates that unbelief is in the boat with them.

Jesus gives them a strong warning: “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Leaven or yeast is almost always understood in a negative sense in the Bible. It has to do with corruption, unholiness, and danger. It infiltrates, penetrates, and infects everything that it touches. The Pharisees are seeking to find any explanation for the miracles that Jesus performs — any explanation except the truth. They refuse to believe that he is the Son of God.

What have the disciples understood? They’ve seen the miracles, but they have been slow to understand. They had not understood his parable about the sower:

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

When Jesus came walking on the water…

Mark 6:51-52 ESV And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

They had not understood what Jesus taught about food not being a source of defilement:

Mark 7:18-19 ESV 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.)

He is warning them not to allow the hardness of heart of the Pharisees to influence them.

But they have missed the point.

Mark 8:14 ESV Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.

Mark 8:16 ESV And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.

Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and they think that he is rebuking them for not bringing enough bread with them!

Jesus was aware that once again, they had missed the point! He hits them with a series of questions:

Mark 8:17-21 ESV And Jesus, aware of this, said to them,

  • “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?
  • Do you not yet perceive or understand?
  • Are your hearts hardened?
  • 18 Having eyes do you not see,
  • and having ears do you not hear?
  • And do you not remember?
  • 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”
  • 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”
  • 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

That is a powerful rebuke, but in the midst of that correction, Jesus gives us instruction: Remember. “Do you not remember?” (8:18). And now he mentions both occasions when he fed the multitudes, the 5,000 and the 4,000.

  • 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”
  • 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”

Remembering what God has done is the best defense against spiritual weakness and unbelief. That is why we are to break bread and drink the cup together at the Lord’s Table:

1 Corinthians 11:24-25 ESV and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Jesus is telling the disciples to remember what he has done. He multiplied the loaves and fish and fed 5,000 plus women and children. Again, he multiplied the loaves and a few fish and fed 4,000 Gentiles.

We are prone to forget. The psalmist David tells us not to forget:

Psalm 103:1-5 ESV Of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

He forgives, he heals, he redeems, he satisfies, he renews!

We are to remember what Christ has done and we are to consider what that means. The Israelites in the desert did not remember or consider:

Psalm 106:7 ESV Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.

The Pharisees in the Gospels did not consider the works of Christ. The disciples who were with Christ had not adequately considered who they were following.

Who is this man?

From the beginning of this Gospel, Mark has told us what he wants us to understand. This is the “Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). Jesus rebukes his disciples because they have not yet understood. Who is this man who

  • Casts out demons with a simple command (1:25)?
  • Cleanses lepers (1:42)?
  • Forgives sins (2:7)?
  • Heals the sick (1:34)?
  • Raises the dead (5:42)?
  • Commands the wind and the sea (4:41)?
  • Walks on the sea (6:48)?

Who is this Jesus of Nazareth who like God can abundantly feed the multitudes miraculously in the wilderness? Truly, he must be the Christ, the Son of God![10]

That is why you need to find a Bible-believing church where Christ is exalted and worshiped, and the Word of God is preached, taught, and lived, and where the Bible and only the Bible — not someone’s vision or some other book — but the Bible and the Bible alone is the one and only final authority for what we believe and what we do. There is no other foundation than the Word of God.

Thank you for tuning in to FM 107 and listening to the Joyful News Broadcast. This has been a ministry of Joy Bible Institute. You can visit our website at joybible.wordpress.com. Our prayer is that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.


 

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

[2] Quoted by Hughes, R. Kent. Mark Vol.1 Jesus, Servant & Savior. Crossway Books: 1989, p. 185.

[3] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 466.

[4] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 466.

[5] Hughes, R. Kent. Mark Vol.1 Jesus, Servant & Savior. Crossway Books: 1989, p. 186-188.

[6] http://www.bethinking.org/is-christianity-true/the-evidence-for-christianity

[7] Hughes, R. Kent. Mark Vol.1 Jesus, Servant & Savior. Crossway Books: 1989, p. 189.

[8] Hughes, R. Kent. Mark Vol.1 Jesus, Servant & Savior. Crossway Books: 1989, p. 189.

[9] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4472-4474). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[10] Stein, Robert H.. Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). (Kindle Locations 10024-10026). Baker Publishing Group: 2008.


 

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Mark 07v31-37 “He does all things well!”

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 6.23.34 PMIntroduction

1456053183_thumb.pngSome studies have found that men speak an average of 7,000 words a day. They may seem like a lot, but this radio broadcast averages about 4,000 words each week. So 7,000 words would be like a man talking nonstop for close to an hour. Those same studies say that women speak on average 20,000 words a day. There you go! Nearly three times as much as men. But you always knew that, didn’t you?

One cartoon pictures a man holding a newspaper with the headline “Females Speak 13,000 More Words a Day.” The man exclaims, “Good grief! Is that all?!”

Sorry ladies! But that might be more of a compliment than you think. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of communication, and we must not forget that it is the very nature of God to communicate, as John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word…”

Those statistics that women speak 13,000 more per day than men… those statistics have been contested. With many words, no doubt, they have been contested! And we have all met men who talk a lot and women who are rather economical with their words.

But what if we could not communicate through the spoken word? What if we could not hear one another? Imagine being in the deaf world. Hearing nothing… Radio stations do not like dead air time. You probably wondered what happened just then. Did the station go off the air? Was there an electrical power outage? That’s the way it is for deaf people. The only sound they hear is “the sound of silence.” No noise. No sound of wind, or music, or babies crying, or people laughing, or birds singing, or waves splashing. Our world is made up of sounds, but for the deaf, it is a silent world.

It is through sounds, vibrations formed in larynx — the voice box — sounds shaped and produced by the entire vocal apparatus including the tongue, teeth, palate, lips — the entire mouth — it is through these sounds that we communicate to one another.

But that is only one side of the process. That is the transmission side by which words are transmitted. The science of communication involves both transmission and reception. The words are transmitted by mouth, but they are received by the ear. The ear includes not only the external ear that we see, but a whole complex of funnels and bones and fluid-filled semicircular canals and the auditory nerve that make it possible to hear the world around us.

As the Scripture says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

But what if you could not hear the words that others were speaking to you? What if you saw the movement of someone’s mouth but could hear nothing?

Have you ever tried to read someone’s lips? Your wife is across a crowded room and she wants to tell you something. She mouths her message to you. If you are like I am, you don’t have a clue what she wants to say. You might as well be deaf.

Enter the world of the deaf. A driver honks his horn, but the deaf person hears nothing. Thunder claps and the deaf person may feel the change in atmospheric pressure, but he hears nothing.

The man in our story today was not only deaf; he had a speaking impairment. He had a speech difficulty and could not communicate properly.

We find our story in Mark 7:31-37.

Mark 7:31-37 ESV Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Jesus (still) among the Gentiles

We find in the previous verses of Mark that it was there in the region of Tyre and Sidon, that Jesus cast the demon out of the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman.

In Mark 7, Jesus is facing increasingly hostile opposition from the Pharisees and from Herod Antipas, so he leaves Jewish territory and enters Gentile territory in the region of Tyre and Sidon, near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. But there is another reason why Jesus has gone into Gentile territory: he purposefully includes the non-Jewish world in his ministry.

Jesus shows that while the Jews have priority in terms of receiving the gospel, the gospel is for Jews and Gentiles alike. There is more than enough grace for everyone. As the Apostle Paul tells us, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

In this story of the healing of the deaf man, we see that Jesus continues to avoid the Jewish territory and returns to the region of the Decapolis, the region of ten Gentiles:

Mark 7:31 ESV Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

Jesus had been in the region of the Decapolis in Mark 5. There he had been met by the demon-possessed man of the tombs. That man had many demons that Jesus cast out and allowed to enter a herd of pigs. Some two thousand pigs “rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea” (Mark 5:13 ESV).

But the people of the region cared more about their pigs than they did about the man, so they begged Jesus to leave. The man who had been set free wanted to come with Jesus, but

Mark 5:19 ESV …[Jesus] did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

This man became the first Gentile missionary.

Mark 5:20 ESV And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Now Jesus has returned to the Decapolis, and it seems that the witness of this first Gentile missionary had been fruitful. Jesus returns to the Decapolis, the region that had asked him to leave before, but this time he is warmly welcomed.

Mark 7:32 ESV And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

Doing What the Man Could Not Do For Himself

Here is a deaf man who had difficulty speaking. He could not hear, and he could hardly talk.

Now right away, we understand that this “man’s malady made it impossible for him to have heard about Jesus or to ask him for healing had he learned about him. Others must intervene on his behalf.”[1] So he is deaf and cannot have “heard” about Jesus. If he has somehow learned about Jesus, he cannot even ask him for help because he cannot talk. This man is totally dependent on others for the help that he needs.

There is no mention that this man had any faith. It seems that he did not even know why he was being brought to Jesus. What could he have heard about Jesus? Nothing. He was deaf. What did he know? He does not seem to know much.

Romans 10:17 ESV So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

The deaf man had heard nothing. What he might have learned we do not know.

But notice that the people are bringing this man to Jesus. These Gentiles are begging Jesus to lay his hand on the deaf man. Immediately, two things seem clear:

  1. These Gentiles are doing a loving act of kindness toward the deaf man. No doubt they sometimes felt frustrated at their inability to communicate with him, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt: They are showing compassion on him. They want to help him, but they are limited. They cannot restore the man’s hearing and they cannot loosen his tongue to enable him to talk.
  2. Second, in their limited ability, they turn to Jesus. While they can do nothing to heal this man, they believe that Jesus can do something for their deaf friend. They have a certain level of faith in Jesus. They have seen or heard of what Jesus can do. Perhaps they knew the man of the tombs that Jesus had delivered or had heard his testimony. Perhaps they had heard of other miracles that Jesus had done in Galilee. We can only guess, but two things are clear: (1) they knew that they could not help the deaf man, and (2) they believed that Jesus could.

We frequently come to the end of our resources. We are stopped by our limitations. We come to an end of ourselves and must turn to God. Perhaps we may be concerned for our own children but we realize that while we may have done our best, our best was not good enough. Our best cannot bring about the best results. And so we must turn to Jesus and ask him to do what we cannot do. We beg him to lay his hand on their lives, to change their hearts, to do what he alone can do.

These Gentiles demonstrated compassion toward the deaf man and faith toward Jesus.

The Act of Healing

Mark 7:33-34 ESV And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

A Private Encounter with Jesus

Jesus led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone. Why does Jesus do that? Wouldn’t he want everyone to see what he was going to do?

Well, imagine this man as he grew up. He’s always been a spectacle. He’s deaf, and therefore he can’t produce proper speech. Just imagine the way people made fun of him all his life. Jesus knows this, and refuses to make a spectacle of him now. He is identifying with him emotionally.[2]

Jesus shows that this man is not simply one of the crowd. He is not simply a problem. He is a unique individual.

But now we find something quite unusual in Jesus’ method of healing:

  • Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears.
  • He spit.
  • He touched the man’s tongue.
  • He looked up to heaven.
  • He sighed.
  • He said, “Ephphata.”

What’s this all about? Is Jesus doing some kind of a ritual to bring about the healing?

No, Jesus does not need to perform any rituals to summon his power. This is different from every other miracle that we have seen so far.

  • Jesus calmed the storm by a simple command: “Peace. Be still” (Mark 4:39).
  • He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead by telling her to get up (Mark 5:41).
  • He healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter simply by willing it to be so (Mark 7:29-30).

[T]here was no arm-waving, no incantation, no mumbo-jumbo. Jesus obviously does not need to perform a ritual in order to summon his power. Which means Jesus is doing all this not because he needs it but because the man needs it.[3]

This healing is different because this man’s need is different. This man is deaf. This deaf man had been shut out of the world of sound. He had certainly not heard anything about Jesus with his ears. He may not have even known why the people had brought him to Jesus. Jesus cannot speak to him as he would speak to someone else, so he identifies with the man by entering his world of silence and speaking to him in a language that the deaf man can understand. Jesus speaks to him in a kind of sign language.

Jesus placed his fingers in the man’s ears and removed them. He was telling the man, “I am going to remove the blockage in your hearing.” He spit and touched the man’s tongue. He was telling him, “I am going to remove the blockage in your mouth.” He looked up toward heaven to tell the man, “It is God alone who is able to do this for you.” “Jesus wanted the man to understand that it was not magic but God’s grace that healed him.”[4]

Then Jesus sighed. This could be translated that Jesus groaned. He groaned because of the pain. He identifies with us and feels our pain.

Hebrews 4:15 NIVO For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

This man had suffered the pain of silence, the pain of trying to communicate, yet being unable to talk. Jesus felt the pain. He felt the pain of our sin and the terrible consequences that sin has brought upon the world. Jesus knows. Jesus cares. Jesus would go to the cross to bear the pain of our sin. Christ loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

As he looked up to heaven to let the man know that it was God alone who was doing this for him, Jesus spoke the first words that this man heard: “Ephphatha.”

Mark 7:34 ESV And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

“Ephphatha” was not a magic word. This was simply the Aramaic that Jesus was speaking. In chapter four, he had said in Aramaic to Jairus’s dead daughter, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” Now he says to the ears of this deaf man, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.”

Mark 7:35 ESV And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

Immediately, the silence ceased. Sounds filled the void. The auditory nerves suddenly experienced intense activity. The man could hear!

Not only could he hear, he could also speak. The impairment was gone. Literally, the text says that the shackle (chain) on his tongue was broken. Not only could he speak, but he spoke plainly.

We can only imagine the first words that came from this man’s mouth. His tongue is loosed and for the first time he speaks clearly. “No doubt he was praising and glorifying God.”[5]

Perhaps it was this miracle that inspired Charles Wesley to write the hymn

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Text: Charles Wesley

  1. O for a thousand tongues to sing
    my great Redeemer’s praise,
    the glories of my God and King,
    the triumphs of his grace!
  2. Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
    your loosened tongues employ;
    ye blind, behold your savior come,
    and leap, ye lame, for joy.
  3. My gracious Master and my God,
    assist me to proclaim,
    to spread through all the earth abroad
    the honors of thy name.

The Command to Be Silent

Mark 7:36 ESV And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

Jesus tells the people to tell no one! You will remember that when he healed the man of the tombs, he told him,

Mark 5:19 ESV …”Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

Now he tells the people to keep quiet. What’s going on here?

The first time that Jesus went to the Decapolis, the people rejected him. They asked him to leave. So he left, but he left the man who had been set free to be a witness to the people.

Now he is strictly charging the people to tell no one. Why?

This is not the first time that Jesus ordered people to be quiet.

  • Jesus told the leper that he had cleansed to “say nothing to any man” (Mark 1:44).
  • When he raised the little girl from the dead, “he strictly charged them that no one should know this” (Mark 5:43).

Now among the Gentiles, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone.

“The command to silence to both Jew and Gentile is a reminder that knowledge of Jesus by his wonders alone is inadequate knowledge… The great differences between Jews and Gentiles on points of law, purity, and [ethnic identity] fade before the truly human question and most significant issue of all, which is the question of faith in Jesus.”[6]

It is not enough to know that Jesus works miracles. It is not enough to believe in his miracle working power. We must come to an understanding of who he is and why he came. We must understand the truly human problem of sin and our need of a Savior. It is not until we come face to face with Christ on the cross bearing our sin and shame — it is not until then that we arrive at saving faith.

Earlier in chapter 7, Jesus had called on the people to “Hear me, all of you, and understand” (7:14). His own disciples are slow to understand. Again and again, Jesus asks them why they do not yet understand:

  • “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (4:13).
  • “They did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (6:52).
  • He will yet ask them again, “Do you not yet perceive or understand?” (8:17, 21).

James Edwards comments that…

The hearing and understanding commanded by Jesus are made possible only by Jesus. Faith in Jesus is a difficult matter; indeed, it is the most difficult matter in all the world. Some, like the disciples, are in close and constant contact with Jesus but still cannot see. Others like the Syrophoenician woman and this speech- and hearing-impaired man are in dark and distant lands… What does it mean for all these to hear and understand (7: 14)? It means that whether Jew or Gentile, near or far, knowledgeable or [new disciple], only the touch of Jesus can enable true hearing, seeing, understanding, and witness.[7]

The One Who Does All Things Well

Mark 7:37 ESV And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Jesus does all things well. The Bible tells us that Christ was the agent of creation.

Colossians 1:16 ESV For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

When God created the world, day by day through the six days of creation, he saw that “it was good.” He does all things well.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the region of the Gentiles and of the time when God will come:

Isaiah 35:4-6 ESV Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

The word for mute (μογιλάλων) in this passage is only used one more time in the Bible and that is here in Mark 7:32, “a speech impediment.” The people are declaring that Jesus “has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” But Isaiah says that this is what God will do: “the ears of the deaf are unstopped… the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

“Salvation thus comes to the Gentile world in Jesus… the only categories adequate for Mark to describe the person and work of Jesus are ultimately the categories of God.”[8]

Has Jesus done all things well for you?

a.         Given you rest for your soul?

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

b.         Saved you from you sins? – Mk 16:15-16

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.

c.         Given you the peace the world cannot give?

John 14:27 ESV Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Come to Jesus. Let him open your ears that you may hear and understand what he has done for you. Your tongue will be loosed to give praise to God. You, too, will be…

Mark 7:37 ESV …astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”


 

[1] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 464.

[2] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 91). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 90). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Ferguson, Mark, 116 in Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (pp. 161-162). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 162). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4297-4298). 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 4308-4312). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[8] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Location 4267). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

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 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”: