Gospel of Mark

Mark 12v01-12, Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Scaled Image

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”:

 

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 10v32-45, Walking with Jesus on the Way to the Cross

Santo road

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngSometimes Christians fantasize about what it would have been like to walk the roads of Israel with Jesus. What would it have been like to hear him teach? to witness the miraculous healings? to hand out the loaves and the fish to the crowd of 5,000 plus? What would it have been like to walk with Jesus? In Mark 10, we get a glimpse into what it was like to walk with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

In Mark 10, Jesus is making his last trip to Jerusalem. What awaited him in Jerusalem? Was it a Triumphal Entry of the King? Or would the King of the Jews be nailed to a cross? Both would happen. Jesus makes this final voyage to Jerusalem in the shadow of the cross. We read in…

Mark 10:32 NLT They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear…

Opposition against Jesus had been building. From the beginning of his ministry, the religious authorities had increasingly opposed him…

  • They opposed him when he forgave sins (Mk. 2:7).
  • They opposed him when he ate with sinners and tax collectors (Mk. 2:16).
  • They opposed him because his disciples did not fast (Mk. 2:18).
  • They opposed him because his disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath (Mk. 2:24).
  • They opposed him when he healed on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:2).
  • They accused him of using the power of Satan to cast out demons (Mk. 3:22).
  • They opposed him because his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders (Mk. 7:5).

The opposition had become so intense that for a while, Jesus went into Gentile territory. There he healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, unstopped the ears and loosened the tongue of a deaf mute, opened the eyes of a blind man, and fed a crowd of 4,000 plus. The gospel was for the Jew first, but not for the Jews alone.

But now, Jesus had left Gentile territory. He had returned to Jewish territory and was, in fact…

1.      On the Road Again… to Jerusalem

Mark 10:32 ESV …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…

Jesus is walking head on to Jerusalem, the seat of the opposition. Jerusalem was the not only the seat of opposition; it was also the seat of political power. And Jesus is walking ahead of them, leading the way.

Luke 9:51 ESV …he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

He set his “face like a flint” to fulfill the purpose for which he came (Isaiah 50:7).

The Third Announcement of His Death

Mark 10:32-34 ESV …And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him…”

This is the third time that Jesus has told the Twelve that he would be killed and after three days, rise from the dead.

1.1.     The death of Christ was not an accident.

Jesus’ foreknowledge of his death shows that it was no accident. The death of Christ on the cross was not a tragedy. It was not a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus tells his disciples in detail exactly what is going to happen to 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.”

This is the third time that Jesus tells his disciples about his imminent death, but it is the first time that Jesus announces the place of his death. It would take place in Jerusalem.

He calls himself the Son of Man: “the Son of Man will be delivered…” “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite title. It refers to his incarnation and his mission. He is the Word that became flesh. He is the God in the flesh. He is the God-man.

Hebrews 10 tells us that the Son of God became a man in order to offer his own blood as a sacrifice for our sin.

1.2.     The Son of Man will be delivered.

Several times in the Gospels, the religious authorities tried to arrest him. They even tried to kill him, but it was not his time. On one hand, he would give his life:

John 10:17-18 ESV For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

On the other hand, he would be delivered: “the Son of Man will be delivered.” He would be delivered by God the Father. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached

Acts 2:23 ESV this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

This is what we mean when we quote John 3:16,

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.

God gave his only Son. He delivered him up for us.

Romans 4:25 ESV who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 8:32 ESV He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave himself.

1.3.     Jesus has exact knowledge of what awaits him.

This third announcement of his death is the most detailed. Jesus announces that two groups of people will be involved in his death: the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities:

  1. The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and
  2. they will condemn him to death and
  3. deliver him over to the Gentiles.
  4. And they will mock him and
  5. spit on him, and
  6. flog him and
  7. kill him.
  8. And after three days he will rise

“Jesus’s prophecy concerning ‘the things [that] were about to happen to him’… is not portrayed by Mark as coming via a revelation from God.”[1] No, Jesus has direct and precise knowledge of the various details of his death. Mark wants us to know that…

Jesus’s death was neither a tragedy nor an unfortunate turn of events. Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing full well that he would be put to death. He knew the precise details of what would be involved, but he nevertheless went because this was a divine necessity (8:31; cf. 14:21a), and he desired to fulfill his Father’s will (14:36).[2]

Mark 8:31 ESV …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 14:21 ESV For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him…

He will pray in the garden,

Mark 14:36 ESV …”Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The prophet Isaiah had said of Christ, 700 years before,

Isaiah 53:10 ESV Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

 

2.      The Jesus Holdup: Give Us What We Want!

The disciples still understand none of this. On the one hand, they follow Jesus with great fear and trepidation, not understanding what he is talking about. They are blinded by their own misunderstanding of what they expect and hope the Messiah to do, and by their own ambitions. They are blinded by their lust for power.

In Mark 9:31, when Jesus teaches the disciples a second time about his death and resurrection,

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

Then Jesus asked them what they had been discussing on the way,

Mark 9:34 ESV But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

Arguing about who was the greatest? They are not arguing about theology or the best methods of healing. They are arguing about who is number one![3]

Who is the greatest? The answer is obvious. Jesus is the greatest. Now he must show them true greatness.

Mark 9:35 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

What do they know about greatness?

We fast-forward back to chapter 10 where Jesus has just told his disciples that he will be delivered in Jerusalem to be killed.

Mark 10:35 ESV And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

That’s quite a request! They want a guarantee from Jesus that he will give them whatever they ask. They are asking Jesus for a blank check.

Mark 10:36-37 ESV And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

James and John are asking for positions of power along side Jesus in his coming kingdom. They want to be number two and number three in the line of authority. They are asking for the best seats in the house.

Where was Peter in all this? You will remember that Peter and James and John were the closest of the 12 disciples. Those three disciples had accompanied Jesus when he raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus. Jesus had taken Peter and James and John with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. But Peter is not mentioned in their request. Where they trying to shut him out? Where they afraid that he might get in line before them?

It is no wonder that we fail to understand suffering and rejection and the cross when we are carried along by blind ambition, trying to be number one. We want to get ahead of everyone else in line. We want first place. Jesus’ determination to go to the cross is totally incomprehensible to us, and yet, he said,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus told James and John,

Mark 10:38 ESV … ”You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

2.1.     Leadership involves suffering.

“Are you able to drink the cup?” Jesus is not asking if they will become his wine-tasters. “Nor is the cup the cup of victory (Pss 23:5; 116:13), though the disciples might hope that it were so. They will not be drinking from a silver chalice.”[4]

In Scripture, the “cup” almost always refers to suffering. Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

Closeness to Jesus means sharing his suffering and death, just as he has said that anyone who follows him must deny himself and take up his cross.

James and John gave a quick and easy response:

Mark 10:39 ESV And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,

Suffer, they would. James would be beheaded (Acts 12:2), and John would be exiled.

Leadership involves suffering.

2.2.     Leadership involves a divine assignment.

Mark 10:40 ESV but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

We do not choose our positions or the conditions of our service. We deny ourselves and submit to the will of God.

We can and should prepare ourselves and offer ourselves for service.

Abraham Lincoln was the sixteen president of the United States of America. Over 150 years ago, before Lincoln became president, slavery was lawful in the United States.

Long before Abraham Lincoln was in public life, he saw a slave being traded at a public market in New Orleans. The sight, he said, went like “steel into my soul,” and he told himself that if he ever had a chance to do something about it he would. “I will prepare myself,” he resolved, “and some day my change will come.” And his time did come.[5]

It is one thing to prepare for service; it is another thing to seek for promotion.

Mark 10:41 NET Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John.

Who did James and John think they were? Did they think that they were better than the other disciples? Self-promotion breeds division. When people begin to grab power for themselves, trouble begins. But the reaction of the other 10 disciples was no better. They were upset “because James and John thought of the idea and got to Jesus first!”[6] They are “still clinging to the same values of the world in terms of power-seeking and self-assertion.”[7]

It is interesting to note that Jesus said that it was not his place to assign those positions. Though he was God, he was not the Father. He distinguishes between his position as Son and his Father’s position. The Scriptures everywhere affirm three things about God:

  1. There is only one God.
  2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
  3. The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons within the one true God.

It is mystery, but it is not contradictory.

2.3.     Leadership involves servanthood.

Mark 10:42-44 ESV And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

Jesus describes leadership principles according to the world’s standards. The rulers of this world use power and authority to lord it over others. The so-called “great ones exercise authority over” others.

We do not force our views upon others. We do not force or coerce faith. That is actually impossible, for faith comes from the heart. We do not take up the sword to convince people to convert. When Peter took up his sword to defend Jesus, Jesus rebuked him, told him to put up his sword, warned him that those who take up the sword will die by the sword, and then Jesus healed the man that Peter had injured.

Sinful man exalts himself to the place of God. The serpent in the Garden of Eden promised that we could be like God. Man has displaced God and wants to be his own god and to lord it over others. We have turned everything upside down, so Jesus has come to turn things right side up.

There are great problems when we bring worldly methods into the church, when we run the church following the methods of the world. But when that happens, we are no longer the church! Jesus said, “But it shall not be so among you.” Jesus is not encouraging us to behave in a certain way. He is not telling us that his kingdom does not operate according to the world’s methods of leadership. Those who operate according to the world’s methods are not part of his kingdom; they are not following Jesus: “It shall not be so among you.”

Now, there are many who claim to follow Jesus but who lord it over others and exercise authority over others. The Apostle Peter tells us that pastors are not to lord it over the people assigned to their care but to lead them be their own good example (1 Peter 5:3).

James Edwards comments on this verse,

Thus, to fail in being a servant is not simply to fall short of an ideal condition but to stand outside of an existing condition that corresponds to the kingdom of God.[8]

The highest virtue in God’s kingdom is not power. It is not even freedom. The highest virtue in the kingdom of God is service. “Greatness belongs to the one who is not great.”[9] Greatness belongs to the one who serves.

This is not about me, and it is not about you. It’s about Christ in us serving others through us. “Service is love made tangible.”[10] Service is love in action.

The church does not exist for the benefit of the ministers and leaders. Pastors and congregational leaders exist for the sake of the people. The Christian leader is not above the congregation; he is part of it. “The congregation does not belong to him; rather he belongs to it.”[11]

3.      Why Jesus Came

Jesus has now told the disciples for the third time that he must die. Now, for the first time, he tells them why he must die.

Mark 10:45 ESV For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

First, Jesus came to serve. Those who follow Christ will not be driven by lust for power and authority. Rather, they will follow him to the cross, as Jesus explains: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”

The Apostle Paul explains…

Philippians 2:5-8 NLT You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 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.

Again,

2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Those who follow Christ will seek to serve.

Second, Jesus explains that he came to give his life as a ransom for man. He did not come to grab power. He came to give his life.

John 10:11 ESV I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Romans 8:3-4 NLT The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Jesus offered his life as the ransom price for all.

As God’s own delegate, and through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus freely and obediently offers his life as a substitute in behalf of humanity. Jesus is supremely conscious of offering a payment to God that can be offered by no one else… The death of the Son of Man on behalf of “the many” is a sacrifice of obedience to God’s will, a full expression of his love, and a full satisfaction of God’s justice.[12]

The Justice of God

God is a God of justice. As the Judge of all the earth, he cannot finally allow sin to go unpunished. There is a penalty for sin. A great price was paid for you to be set free from sin. God himself bore the penalty and paid the price for your freedom. Will you not walk with Him on the road to the cross?

[1] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12427). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12427-12433). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ford, Leighton. Transforming Leadership. 145.

[4] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 424.

[5] Ford, Leighton. Transforming Leadership. 150.

[6] Op. cit.

[7] Garland, David E. quoting Lee-Pollard in A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 424

[8] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5973-5974). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[9] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). Mark (Kindle Locations 5976-5981).

[10] Op. cit.

[11] Op. cit.

[12] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). Mark (Kindle Locations 6008-6015).


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

Mark 10v17-31, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

You lack

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngHave you ever felt like something was missing?

  • Let’s say that you are working on a project such fixing the engine on your truck, but one of the bolts that holds it together is missing?
  • Or you are reading a story in a book, and suddenly the story does not make sense — because a page is missing?

Life is like that. Most people live with the feeling that something is missing. They feel that there is a void, an emptiness. They keep trying to find the missing piece of their life, but just cannot seem to find it.

That’s why the nightclubs are full. That’s why people turn to alcohol. That’s why drug abuse is on the increase. People are looking for that missing something.

But this is true, not only of non religious people; it is also true of many religious people. Many religious people still feel that there is a void in their lives. They may be looking for

  • significance or
  • meaning or
  • peace or
  • assurance of salvation.

Sometimes people begin following a false religion because they feel that something is missing. They may begin following a false Christian cult out of fear. Or they may simply keep changing churches because there is a hole in their lives that has not yet been filled.

Others are the kind of people that we would say are “good.” They are good people. They follow all the rules. They obey the commandments. But still, they feel that something is lacking. Something is missing.

What is missing?

In the Gospel According to Mark, chapter 10, we read about a young man who has everything going for him, but he is desperate to find the answer to life’s most important question:

Mark 10:17 ESV And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

1.      He Asked the Right Question (10:17).

Here was a young man in the prime of life (Matthew 19:22). Everything seemed to be going his way. He had all the money that he needed (Luke 18:23; Mark 10:22). He no doubt had a good standing in the community. But something was missing. And he did not know the answer to life’s greatest question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This is the most important question that you and I could possibly ask. What must we do to inherit eternal life? In our heart of hearts, we know that there is something more.

  • We know that something does not come from nothing.
  • We know that the universe did not create itself.
  • We know that order does not come out of chaos.
  • We know that life is not produced by non-life.
  • We know that the DNA of the human genome and of every other living creature did not produce itself.
  • We know that there is a Creator.
  • We know that there is meaning to life.
  • We know that there is more to this life than living and ***dying and trying to make it through the day.

 

2.      He came to the right person (10:17).

This young man came to the right person. He came to Jesus.

We want answers to life’s most important questions, but we must be careful where we get our answers. There are many voices in the world giving many different answers to life’s questions. There are people who have thought a lot about the meaning of life. They have meditated on life’s profoundest questions. Some claim to have had revelations. They have seen visions or heard voices. Some have claimed to be enlightened. These men and women have founded new religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism and Islam. Others have founded new cults and sects based on their teachings.

Where should we turn to get the answers to life’s most important question? We should turn to the one who came from heaven.

  • Only Jesus came down from heaven (John 3:13; 6:38, 41-42, 51; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 1:6; 10:5; 1 John 4:9; etc.).
  • Jesus was the only one whose birth was announced centuries before it happened (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; etc.).
  • Only Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:23).
  • Only Jesus lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • Only Jesus died on the cross for our sins as the Scriptures had prophesied (1 Corinthians 15:3).
  • Only Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4).
  • Only Jesus ascended bodily into heaven 40 days after his resurrection to be seated at the right hand of God (Acts 1:11; 2:33; 5:31; etc.).

This rich young man came to the right person. He came to Jesus with his question. Jesus alone is qualified to answer life’s most important question: What must I do to inherit eternal life.”

This man is desperate for an answer. He runs up to Jesus. He kneels before him. He asks him,

Mark 10:17 ESV …”Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus’ answer is a bit surprising.

Mark 10:18 ESV And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

What is Jesus saying? Is he saying that he himself is not good? No. The Scriptures are clear that “in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Jesus is doing at least two things with this question.

  1. He is asking why the man called him good. Does the man understand who Jesus is? Does he understand that God alone is good? It is entirely correct to call Jesus “good,” because he is God.
  2. Jesus is telling him that he uses the term “good” much too freely. The young man no doubt thinks that he himself is a good man, that he is good. Ask someone how they are today, and instead of responding, “Fine!” they will likely tell you that they are “Good!” But the Bible tells us that “None is righteous, no, not one… no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10, 12).

This man no doubt thinks that he is good, but there he has a nagging feeling that something is missing.

3.      He Got the Right Answers (10:18-21)

Mark 10:19 ESV You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

We tend to think of ourselves as pretty good people. We compare ourselves with others, and some of these commandments on the surface make us feel pretty good about ourselves. We don’t murder. We don’t commit adultery. Yeah, we’re pretty good.

Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever lied? Do you always honor your father and mother? Have you ever coveted something that was not yours?

These are probing questions. But Jesus reveals to us that lust is adultery. Hatred and anger are sinful. He tells us that external obedience to his commandments is not enough if there is evil in our hearts:

Mark 7:21-23 ESV For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

When Jesus reminds the young man about the commandments, he is not saying that we are saved by keeping the commandments. Rather, he is saying that keeping the commandments follows salvation.

Do you remember when the Law was given? Was it given before or after God delivered the Israelites from Egypt? The Law was given after God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt. God had brought the ten plagues upon Egypt. Before the tenth plague, the Israelites sacrificed lambs and painted the doorways of their houses with the blood of the lamb. The angel of death passed over them and spared the firstborn of every home where the blood of the lamb had been applied. The Israelites marched out of Egypt and miraculously crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground. God delivered them from Egypt. God had saved them, but the Law had not yet been given. They had not yet reached Mount Sinai. It was not until after their salvation and deliverance from Egypt that the Law was given. The Law was not given to save them. They had already been delivered. The Law was given to show the Israelites how they were to live under that covenant.

Now Jesus reminds this man of the commandments: “You know the commandments…”

Mark 10:20 ESV And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

Here is a remarkable young man! From his youth, he has kept the commandments.

We must not think that he is exaggerating or lying. The Apostle Paul spoke of his life before coming to Christ. He said that…

Philippians 3:6 ESV …as to righteousness under the law, [he was] blameless.

Without arrogance or hypocrisy, this man gives his moral report card to Jesus: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…

Jesus looked at this man intently. He examined him. He read his heart. Jesus saw something “rare and admirable in the man, for of no one else in the Gospel does Mark say that Jesus ‘loved him.’”[1]

Jesus accepts the man’s self-evaluation. This man had kept the Law. Jesus did not challenge that. But something is missing. The young man knows that something is missing. That is why he is kneeling before Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life.

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing…”

He had kept the commandments! What more did he need?

Mark 10:21 ESV And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

What was this? Was this a call to poverty? Is Jesus telling us that we must take a vow of poverty in order to inherit eternal life?

No, not at all. The one thing that was missing from the man’s life was Jesus. “Come, follow me,” Jesus told him. Jesus said to him, in effect:

Right now God is your boss; but God is not your Savior, and here’s how you can see it: I want you to imagine life without money. I want you to imagine all of it gone. No inheritance, no inventory, no servants, no mansions— all of that is gone. All you have is me. Can you live like that?”[2]

Mark 10:22 CSB But he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Money was the center of this man’s identity.[3] Jesus is what was missing.

You can obey the commandments, live a righteous life, be an example to others, and still be an idolater. Jesus loved this man, but he was lost.

What must we do to inherit eternal life? The answer is simple: We must follow Jesus.

  1. He Asked the Right Question (10:17).
  2. He came to the right person (10:17).
  3. He Got the Right Answers (10:18-21), BUT

4.      He made the wrong decision (7:22).

This rich man went away grieving. Jesus tells him to sell all that he had, give to the poor, and to follow him. He would have treasure in heaven, but the man preferred his treasure on earth to eternal life in heaven.

The Wrong Decision and the Unchanging Gospel

Jesus does not go running after the man. “Hey, come back! Don’t go! Let’s talk about this. I need people like you. You are very influential. The church needs you.”

No. Jesus could not build his church on people like him. How often the message of the gospel has been compromised. We have made false promises. We have preached a false gospel. We have told people that if they come to Jesus, they will never lack for anything. Life will always be sweet.

But Jesus says,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

“Follow me,” Jesus says. “You lack one thing… you are not following me.”

The Peril of Riches

Mark 10:23-24 ESV And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Jesus now turns his attention to his disciples. He looks around and warns them, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”

They are astonished. The Jews thought that if you were rich, it was because God was blessing you. Rich in this life, rich in the next!

Jesus tells them again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Today we have false preachers telling people that the gospel is all about getting financial blessings. Faith is all about claiming your rights as King’s kids. This is what the sinful heart wants to hear. The so-called prosperity gospel appeals to our greed. It does not take a work of the Spirit of God to accept and embrace a teaching which appeals to our sinful greedy nature. But it does take a work of the Holy Spirit to enable me to deny myself, and take up my cross, and follow Christ.

It is the characteristic of cults to take the focus off of the center of Christ. We preach Christ and him crucified (2 Corinthians 4:5). The Apostle Paul said, “I determined not to know anything among you but Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2).

The Bible has so many warnings about the deceitfulness of riches.

1 Timothy 6:6-11 ESV But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things…

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus rebuked the church at Laodicea:

Revelation 3:17 ESV For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

They were financially rich but spiritually poor. Contrast that with his message to the church at Smyrna,

Revelation 2:9 ESV “’I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…

It is not a sin to be rich, but those who are rich must be rich in good works:

1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

The disciples are astonished for Jesus’ teaching about riches has turned their worldview upside down. He emphasizes the point with a famous illustration:

Mark 10:25-26 ESV It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”

Some have tried to explain away what Jesus said, but he is clearly pointing to the impossibility.

Mark 10:27 ESV Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

It is impossible with man, but not with God. When we understand that it is impossible for us to do anything to save ourselves, we look beyond ourselves to the God for whom all things are possible. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9).

The Promise of Life Now and Forever

So what does this look like, this Christian life? Is this simply a life of self-denial, a life of asceticism, a life of poverty, a life of doing without?

Peter wants to know.

Mark 10:28 ESV Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”

Jesus assures his disciples that following him “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Mark 10:29-30 ESV Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means complete allegiance to him and his will. Sometimes it means leaving house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands — for his sake and for the gospel. Following Christ so that others may know him. Leaving the comfort of your home and the security of your family so that others may be saved. When Christ calls you to leave your island and go to another place that has no biblical witness, you are leaving home and family for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

But there is great reward, both now and in eternity. Jesus says that no one who does this will not receive a hundred times as much in this present age. Putting it another way, Jesus tells Peter that everyone who leaves home and family will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age. In serving Christ we inherit a huge spiritual family: brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus also speaks of houses and lands. The houses and lands are also to be understood in a spiritual sense:

“The new homes and fields are those that God’s people share with those in need.”[4]

Jesus said that we receive this with persecutions. There is a cross, but there is the joy of belonging to the great family of God. We have brothers and sisters and mothers and children without number!

[T]o conceive of discipleship solely in terms of its costs and sacrifices is to conceive of it wrongly — as though in marrying a beautiful bride a young man would think only of what he was giving up.[5]

Today my 15 year old son is traveling from Manila, Philippines to Port Vila. He has a long layover in Brisbane. But we have brothers and sisters in Brisbane who are going to pick him up at the airport and take him home and take care of him before putting him back on the plane to Port Vila. We have left home and family in the United States, but we have family here in Vanuatu, in Australia, in New Caledonia, in Fiji, in French Polynesia, in Europe, and in Africa. When you follow Jesus, you become part of the incredible family of God!

Something Missing?

So how is it with you? Do you feel like something is missing? Perhaps you have reached your goals and found out that they did not give you the satisfaction that you longed for. The signs around Port Vila tell us that happiness is a Facebook account. Or happiness is free SMS texting. That only lasts so long.

You will never fill that empty spot in your life with money or position or fame or success. You can follow all the rules and be as good as is humanly possible, but there will still be that nagging question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

You only lack one thing: You must follow Christ.


[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5747-5748). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 129-130). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 129-130). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, A Biblical Theology of Possessions, IVP, 1999. p. 140

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5827-5829). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Mark 09v30-50, Defining Greatness on the Way to the Cross

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngHow do you define greatness? Being at the top of your game? Being number one? The world is looking for greatness and defines it from the top down. Jesus says that we’ve got it upside down. He defines greatness from the bottom up. Do you want to be great?

1.      Looking for Greatness in All the Wrong Places

The desire for greatness can be found in most every one of us, in one way or another. We may define greatness and success in different ways, but we have a deep need for greatness, for significance. We seek meaning and purpose in life. It is often suggested that we may pursue greatness in trying to find something bigger and greater than ourselves.

Historically, the rulers of Europe were often given the attribute “the Great.” There was Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”, d. 814), Frederic the Great of Prussia (1712–1786), Catherine the Great of Russia (1729–1796), and Napoleon the Great (1769-1821), as well as many others.

In Bible times there was Cyrus the Great (c. 600–530 B.C.), kind of Persia; the Syrian ruler, Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.), and Herod the Great (73/74-4 B.C.).

Jesus spoke of these “great ones” when he said,

Mark 10:42 ESV … “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

1.1.   Greatness according to the World

You do not have to be a ruler to pursue greatness. Perhaps you define greatness as being at the top of your game. Perhaps you want to be a great athlete, or a great teacher, or a great administrator, or a great leader. Perhaps you define greatness in terms of financial success, living in a nice home, eating the finest of food, and having people wait on you hand and foot.

Perhaps you define greatness in terms of intelligence, or scientific achievement, or as an artist. Or you may define greatness in terms of “the rich and the famous.”

According to the Wikipedia,

Greatness is a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person or object. Greatness can also be referred to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear advantage over others. As a descriptive term it is most often applied to a person or their work…[1]

Here greatness is defined in terms of comparison, being better than others, having abilities that are better than others, have a clear advantage over others.

This is certainly how the disciples understood greatness. In Mark 9:34, the disciples “had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest.” They are each arguing for their own superiority over the others. They are vying for position.

Then we read…

Mark 9:33-34 ESV And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

They were “on the way.” “On the way” to where? Jesus and his disciples were “on the way” to Jerusalem.

The disciples could not get beyond their ideas of greatness. In spite of all that Jesus had told them, and in spite of their fears and apprehensions, they knew that they were “on the way” to Jerusalem, and they remained hopeful. They are en route for Jerusalem, and “…the journey to Jerusalem has been fanning the flames of messianic and eschatological hopes in their minds. Surely the kingdom would break forth in Jerusalem, with Jesus — and they with him — at” the head of the kingdom![2]  But Jesus was on the way to the cross.

1.2.   Fighting for Greatness

So the disciples are arguing about which one of them will be the greatest in the kingdom.

This passage is thick with irony. Jesus has just announced a second time to the group of his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem not to be crowned as king, but to suffer, and to be rejected, and to die — and the disciples just do not get it.

Let’s retrace briefly what has happened in the last few sections of Mark. In Mark 8, Jesus asked his disciples who they believed him to be. Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ (8:29). Then Jesus told them plainly for the first time that as the Christ, he would suffer many things, be rejected and killed, and after three days rise again (8:30). Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but then he rebuked Jesus because suffering and death were incompatible with his understanding of what Christ the Messiah would do.

In turn, Jesus sharply rebuked Peter for expressing not the thoughts of God, but those of men. And then, Jesus turns everything upside down

Mark 8:34-35 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. 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.

Here is the paradox of the gospel: If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, you will save it. Save it and you lose it. Lose it to save it.

One week later, Jesus took Peter and James and John up to the top of a high mountain where he was transfigured before them with the glory that was his before the creation of the universe. Surely following Jesus would be worth the risk. Coming down from the mountain, Jesus tells those three disciples to tell no one “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).

Now in Mark 9, Jesus spends time teaching all 12 disciples a second time about what he was going to do.

Mark 9:30-31 ESV They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 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.”

This is not public teaching; this is a private teaching session. As Jesus is en route for Jerusalem, he does not want anyone to know his traveling plans. Jesus does not want any interruptions from outsiders as he explains to them what will happen to him. This is a private teaching session with his 12 disciples, teaching them lessons which they must — by all means — learn.

The first time, Jesus had spoken of suffering many things, of being rejected, and of being killed. This time he adds an element: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”[3]

  • Jesus will be delivered — betrayed — by Judas, one of his own disciples (14:10-11, 18, 21, 41-42).
  • He will be delivered by the high priest’s council into the hands of Pilate, the governor. They will force Pilate’s hand so that he decides to execute Jesus (10:33; 15:1, 10).
  • “Pilate will deliver Jesus into the hands of the soldiers who will crucify him (15:15).”
  • Yes, the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinners (14:14). All of “humanity falls into this category.”

“But there is another hand behind all this handing over. It is the hand of God, whose purposes are being fulfilled unbeknownst to any of the actors in the drama.”[4]

After the resurrection of Christ, it is clear from the preaching of the apostles and from the New Testament epistles that God had delivered his one and only Son as a sacrifice for our sin. The Apostle Paul says it like this in Romans:

Romans 8:32 NAU He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Jesus told them plainly that he was going to be delivered and killed and after three days, rise from the dead.

  • Jesus is talking about his suffering; they are arguing about their own significance.
  • Jesus is talking about being rejected; they are arguing about reigning.
  • Jesus is teaching them about his death; they are arguing about domination.

The disciples simply embody man’s normal and sinful ambitions. The world defines greatness as

  • Getting to the top
  • Being number one
  • Securing wealth, power, and position

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

How could they understand what Jesus was saying? What Jesus was saying was totally incompatible with their notions of greatness. They were not looking for a crucified Christ. That was an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. The cross was incompatible with their notion of the crown and the kingdom. How could they possibly understand? Jesus was not fitting into their categories. He was not conforming to their way of thinking. But our way of thinking should not be like the world’s way of thinking because the world has it all wrong. That’s why the Apostle Paul tell us,

Romans 12:2 NLT Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Jesus has now told his disciples twice that he was on the way to the cross… “he was teaching his disciples…”

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

They did not understand, but apparently they understood something, for they were afraid to ask him. Perhaps they remembered before when Peter had rebuked Christ and had been in turned rebuked for setting his mind on the things of man instead of on the things of God (Mark 8:33).

We recreate a gospel to suit us, a gospel of health and wealth and prosperity. Like the disciples, we do not want to hear about denying ourselves, or suffering, or rejection, or death to self, or losing our life so that we may yet save it.

We recreate our gospel to suit ourselves, but it is not a full gospel; it is a diminished gospel. It is a gospel that tells us to repeat a prayer and all will be okay. Get yourself baptized and you have a sure ticket to heaven. Make sure you go to church on the right day of the week and all will be okay. But that is our contemporary gospel and not the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of the apostles, and not the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.

2.      Greatness according to Jesus

Greatness according to the world is diametrically opposed to greatness according to Jesus. The world lives according to the principle dominance, “looking out for number one,” being first in line.

Mark 9:33-34 ESV And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

2.1.   Jesus Redefines Greatness as Serving, Not Dominance

So Jesus sits down and takes the position of a teacher:

Mark 9:35 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Once again Jesus is turning their categories upside down. Jesus has already declared that whoever would save his life must lose it for Christ’s sake and for the gospel’s. Save it and you lose it. Lose it to save it.

2.2.1. First is last, last is first

Now Jesus gives a second paradox: To be first, you must be last.

Mark 9:35 ESV … ”If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

You want to be number one? Then you must be last. Do you want to be great? Then you must be last of all and the servant of all.

Jesus is not telling us that we should not pursue greatness; he is redefining greatness. We think that greatness is being at the top; Jesus says that greatness is serving someone at the bottom. We think that greatness is going first; Jesus says that greatness is letting everyone go ahead of us. We think that greatness is ruling over others; Jesus says that greatness is serving others.

We are so concerned about pride of place. The Rabbinic writings (the writings of the Jewish rabbis) “frequently comment on the seating order in Paradise, for example, and argue that the just would sit nearer to the throne of God than even the angels.”[5]

We talk about “bigman” and even in the church we introduce guest preachers as “a great man of God.” We are to give honor to whom honor is due, but we disobey Christ and dishonor God when we exalt man in the presence of God. This is what Jesus said about the Pharisees:

Matthew 23:6-12 NLT And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ 8 “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. 9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The disciples are fighting for first place in the kingdom, but they have not understood that to go up, you must go down. If you want to go high, you must go low. If you want to be great, you must be a servant.

How horrible it is in the church today when people fight for position and power and dominance! How ugly it is when pastors campaign like politicians to get the votes of church members! That is not the way of servanthood. That is not the way of the cross of Christ who said,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

On the other side of the cross, perhaps the disciples had an excuse for not understanding, but we are on this side of the cross and the resurrection. We are on this side of Calvary. We have the New Testament Scriptures which had not yet been written, not even the first word. The disciples may perhaps be excused for failing to understand, but we have no excuse.

Mark 9:35-37 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

2.2.2.   Jesus Illustrates Greatness by Taking a Child in His Arms

Jesus took a child and put the child in the midst of them. Here in the middle of the disciples was a child. Children were of no account in Roman and Jewish societies. Today, more and more, to our great shame, children are becoming throwaway commodities. But Jesus not only took the child, but he took the child in his arms. He cherished and loved the child.

Now Jesus was not using the child as an example of humility. No, the child was “an example of the ‘little’ and insignificant ones whom followers of Jesus are to receive.[6]

Mark 9:37 ESV “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Disciples are thus not to be like children, but to be like Jesus who embraces them. It is Jesus, not the child, who here demonstrates what it means to be “the servant of all.”[7]

2.3.   Jesus Redefines Greatness as Openness, Not Exclusion

The second worldly way of seeking of greatness is through exclusion. This is greatness by monopoly. This is being great because you have eliminated the competition. You have become the only source for the commodity that you offer.

Mark 9:38 ESV John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

Let’s note that…

  1. This person was casting out demons.
  2. He was casting out demons in the name of Jesus, that is, with the authority of Christ.
  3. He was successfully doing something that the disciples had just failed to do earlier in this chapter when a father brought his son to the disciples to have them cast out the demon, but they were not able (9:18).
  4. John tried to stop this man because he was not one of their group: “because he was not following us.”

This is seeking greatness by excluding all others, but this is not the way of Christ.

Mark 9:39-41 ESV But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

Remember that John was part of the inner circle. Peter and James and John were the only disciples that Jesus took with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Those three were the only disciples to witness the transfiguration of Christ on the mountaintop. John has begun to think that he is part of an exclusive group. He was one of the twelve. He likes being part of that special group. And he wants his group to be exclusive. He wants them to be the only ones.

And then John sees someone else doing what the disciples are called to do. He sees someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus had previously sent out the 12 disciples and had given them authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7, 13). Perhaps this man had seen the disciples casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He believes and does the same thing: he begins casting out demons in Jesus’ name. John sees him casting out demons in Jesus’ name and tries to stop him because he did not belong to their group.

Mark 9:39-40 NLT “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

Some churches claim to be the only true church. They want to exclude all others. That is one of the marks of a false cult. Some churches claim to have apostolic authority. Apostolic authority does not come from apostolic succession or having the right person lay his hands on you; apostolic authority come from believing and preaching what Christ and his apostles preached.

2.3.1. The One Who Is Not Against Christ Is for Christ (9:38-40)

This is all about Jesus. It is not about me or you or my church or your church. It’s about Jesus. The question is not, “What church do you belong to?” The question is, “What Christ do you preach? What gospel do you preach? Are you preaching the Word of God or the vision of a man?” You may not be a member of my church or of my denomination, but if you are following my Lord, if you are preaching the Word of God, if you are proclaiming Christ and him crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, then I rejoice that Christ is being preached! The first missionaries that came to this country and laid down their lives, they did not preach their church; they preached Christ. They did not preach a certain day; they preached Christ. The question is not whether you are Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist or Nazarene or Anglican or Assemblies of God or apostolic. The question is, “Do you know Christ? Do you preach Christ?”

2.3.2. The One Who Serves Christ Will Be Rewarded by Christ (Mark 9:41)

Mark 9:41 ESV For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

“Whoever” means you. Jesus is telling the disciples that anyone who identifies with Christ and shows his allegiance to Christ by serving those who serve Christ, that person will not lose his reward. Jesus sees. Jesus knows. He will “reward the smallest and humblest acts of service done to others” in his name.[8]

2.3.3. Warning: Do Not Cause Believers to Stumble

Jesus promises a reward to the humblest believer who serves Christ by serving others. But he warns us not to cause these believers to stumble. We must not hinder the humblest of believers in their service for Christ.

2.3.3.1.           Learn the Lesson of the Great Millstone (Mark 9:42).[9]

Mark 9:42 ESV “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Do we see the danger? Forbidding people to do what they can for Christ may cause them to stumble. It would be better to be drowned in the depth of the ocean than to offend the humblest believer in Christ.

2.3.3.2.           Learn the Lesson of Self-Mutilation (Mark 9:43-48)

But then Jesus expands the warning. He tells us that saving faith is a fighting faith. We must pursue holiness “with passion and discipline.”[10] Jesus speaks of our hands, our feet, and our eyes: what we do, where we go, and what we see:

Mark 9:43-48 ESV And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Jesus uses the language of hyperbole, or the language of exaggeration because the importance of what he is saying cannot be exaggerated. Cutting off our hands and feet, and tearing out our eyes will not solve the problem because Jesus has already told us that sin is deeply rooted in the heart (7:21). But Jesus is telling us that we must be violent with the sin in our lives. It must be cut out. Three times he tells us that it is better to be crippled, lame, and one-eyed than to be thrown into hell. He tells us that hell is a horrible place where the fire never goes out and the worm never dies.

What are you doing to get the sin out of your life? You must kill sin or it will kill you.

Romans 8:12-13 NLT Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.

2.3.3.3.           Learn the Lesson of Good Salt (Mark 9:49-50)

Mark 9:49 ESV For everyone will be salted with fire.

Jesus picks up the word “fire” and tells us that everyone will be salted with fire. The unbeliever will be salted with “the perpetual fires of final judgment in hell.” The believer will be salted with “the preserving and refining fires of trials and suffering that mark the road to true greatness.”[11]

Then Jesus adds,

Mark 9:50 ESV Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?

Salt preserves, but “unless we maintain the purity of our own lives (plucking out the eye, etc.) and are purified by the flames of testing, and remain faithful to Christ, our lives will have no preserving influence on this corrupt world.”[12]

Finally, Jesus tells his disciples,

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

The disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest. They were vying for position and superiority. Jesus showed them that greatness is not found at the top; it is found at the bottom, serving one another.

It is no wonder that the early Christians were described as those who had turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Conclusion: An Upside Down World or a Right Side Up World?

The world thinks that Christian values are upside down, but in reality, the world is upside down. Jesus came to set it right side up. The world fights and clamors to get to the top, but Jesus showed that the way to be exalted is to humble ourselves.

Philippians 2:4-11 ESV Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What kind of a world would this be if

  • Instead of trying to get to the top, we began serving those on the bottom?
  • Instead of lifting up ourselves, we would humble ourselves
  • Instead of putting people down, we tried to lift them up
  • Instead of seeking to be served by others, we served others
  • Instead of trying to be number one, we were last
  • Instead of trying to stop others who are serving Christ, we rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached.

What kind of a world would this be? You can begin to make a difference today. You can demonstrate true greatness.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:


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

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:34.

[3] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 421.

[4] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 421.

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

[6] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:36-37.

[7] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:36-37.

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

[9] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:42

[10] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:43

[11] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:49

[12] Sinclair Ferguson in Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:49

Mark 09v14-29, “Weak Faith and a Strong Savior”

27757-Jesus-healing-stainedglass.1200w.tn.jpgIntroduction

1456053183_thumb.pngWhat would you do if you have a big bill that was due, but not enough money in the bank to cover the expense? You might be out of luck.

What if you needed a miracle from God, but did not have enough faith to cover it? That’s the story that we will consider today, the story of the man and his boy and the unclean spirit in Mark 9. As we pick up the story in Mark 9:14, we find the scribes arguing with some of Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus was not on the best of terms with the scribes. Things had gotten off to a rocky start when Jesus, this thirty-something young prophet who had not gone through the training that they had had, turned out to be a vastly superior teacher than they were. The common people had been astonished at Jesus’ teaching

Mark 1:22 ESV … for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes [Mark tells us].

No doubt, this comparison that the people made between Jesus and the scribes had not gone unnoticed by the scribes themselves. They would not have appreciated being unfavorably compared to a carpenter’s son. Jealous as they were of people’s approval and praise, they tried to discredit Jesus before the people at every opportunity.

  • When Jesus forgave sins, the scribes thought that he was guilty of blasphemy (Mark 2:6-7).
  • Trying to undermine his influence, the scribes asked people why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:16).
  • When Jesus cast out demons, the scribes accused him of being possessed by Satan, and acting as an agent of Satan and using the power of Satan to cast out demons (Mark 3:22).

In another attempt to smear Jesus, the scribes asked him publicly,

Mark 7:5 ESV …”Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled [unwashed] hands?”

Now in Mark 9, Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter and James and John to find the scribes arguing with his disciples. Just one week before, Jesus had told his disciples what the scribes were going to do to him:

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.

Now Jesus comes down from the mountain where he had been transfigured before three of his disciples, and talked with Moses and Elijah. You might say that it was a mountaintop experience, a spiritual high, especially for the disciples, but now they are returning to the valley below.

How often we would like to stay on the mountaintop! To experience only the highs of life, the wonderful times whether of spiritual delight or relaxation in God’s beautiful creation. That was certainly Peter’s idea when he suggested that they stay on the mountain: “Let’s build three tabernacles,” he said, “one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”

That’s when a cloud covered them, Moses and Elijah disappeared, they they heard the voice of His Father declare to Peter and James and John,

Mark 9:7 ESV … “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

As Solomon wrote,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

There is a time for the mountaintop, and there is a time to come back down to the valley,

  • a time to be in the presence of God, and a time to do the work of God,
  • a time to be alone with God, and a time to do good to people wherever we find them.

Mountaintops are beautiful places. They change our perspective. And the valley can be messy, because lives can be messy, but Jesus came to clean up our messy lives.

We can divide this story in to four scenes:

SCENE ONE

As Jesus and his three closest disciples come down the mountain, they find that a great crowd has gathered around his other disciples and the scribes are arguing with them. The scribes had no doubt come looking for Jesus to find evidence to discredit him.

But there was also a man, a father, who had come looking for Jesus for a very different reason. This father had a son who was demon possessed. He came seeking deliverance for his boy. Not finding Jesus, he turned to the nine disciples who had not gone up the mountain with Jesus. He asked the disciples to cast the demon out of his son, but they could not.

Now the scribes get involved. They had come to discredit Jesus, but not finding him, they will discredit his disciples. The disciples had failed to cast out the demon, so it is very probable that the scribes were asking the disciples what right they had to try to cast out demons. Note that the scribes made no attempt to cast out the demon. They will argue and condemn, but they do not even attempt to help those in need.

When Jesus came down from the mountain, he found the scribes arguing with his disciples.

Mark 9:14-16 ESV And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”

SCENE TWO

Mark 9:17-18 ESV And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

Now this is a terrible condition and we need to be very clear about the condition of this boy. We need to have a clear biblical understanding of sickness and afflictions. We live in a Genesis 3 world. The world that God created was a perfect world, but in Genesis 3, sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam. Sin bring its consequences. The world was cursed with thorns and thistles, and the eventual payoff of sin is death.

Sickness is part of the world in which we live. The common cold, malaria, AIDS, birth defects, and epilepsy are all the result of Adam’s sin. As descendants of Adam, we all share in the consequences of his great fall. We are all subject to sickness, and unless Jesus Christ returns before too long, we will all surely die.

Sickness may or may not be the result of personal sin. There are other passages in the Bible that indicate that sometimes sickness is the result of sin (1 Corinthians 11:30), but that is generally NOT the case:

  • We read about a man who was born blind in John 9. The disciples thought that somehow he or his parents had sinned so that he was born blind. Jesus plainly says,

John 9:3 ESV Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

  • The prophet Elisha died of a sickness (2 Kings 13:14) but his dead bones raised a man from the dead (2 Kings 13:21).
  • Timothy had frequent stomach ailments (1 Timothy 5:23).
  • The Apostle Paul’s associate Trophimus was sick (2 Timothy 4:20).
  • Another associate names Epaphroditus nearly died of a sickness, but God had mercy on him and Paul (Philippians 2:5-27).

So we should not make the mistake of blaming the sick person for his sickness.

A second principle should be noted here. As we read through the New Testament, we see Jesus healing many sick people of various diseases. We also see him casting out demons. Sometimes the demons have caused a severe handicap such as blindness or deafness. But at other times, and we should say most of the time, the handicap is simply physical and is not at all caused by demons.

So let us NOT make the mistake of thinking that a severe handicap is the result of demon possession. That was not the case of

  • Peter’s mother-in-law who had a fever (1:31)
  • The leper who was cleansed (1:41)
  • The lame man who took up his bed and walked (2:12)
  • The man with the withered hand (3:5)
  • The woman with the issue of blood (5:29)
  • The man who was deaf and had a speech impediment (7:32-35)

To that we can add the case of epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes a person to have seizures. It is a terrible affliction and in most cases is purely physiological. I had a friend in Bible college who suffered from epilepsy. He was studying for the ministry. I simply mention this to say that we must not conclude that epilepsy is a spiritual condition.

  1. Sickness and dying is part of our human condition. Christians and non-Christians alike get sick and die. Let us not think that sickness is necessarily the result of personal sin. It is part of human existence.
  2. Severe disorders and handicaps should not be attributed to evil spirits. While demons can cause certain terrible conditions such as deafness, it would be a terrible mistake and a terrible injustice to assume that such conditions are the result of demonic activity.

Now, I have said all that because this boy had an unclean spirit that caused him to be mute and deaf and epileptic. Let us be quick to hear and slow to speak before such conditions. Let us not jump to conclusions about the cause and thereby inflict more pain on the person who suffers.

Let’s look at the text again:

Mark 9:17-18 ESV And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

The boy has suffered greatly. The father is crushed over his condition, and in desperation came looking for Jesus. When he could not find Jesus, he turned to the disciples for help: “I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

SCENE THREE

Mark 9:19 ESV And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

The failure of the disciples to cast out the demon is associated with a lack of faith. And yet, Jesus does not single out his disciples; he speaks of the “faithless generation.” But how does one have faith for such a need?

Everyone was overwhelmed by the problem. The boy was powerless to resist the attacks of the unclean spirit. The father could do nothing to stop the convulsions. The disciples were unable to cast out the demon. What to do?

“Bring him to me,” Jesus said.

Mark 9:20 ESV And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.

Things do not always get better the moment you come to Jesus.

The initial result of the effective presence of Jesus is not peace, however, but conflict; not resurrection, but suffering. Eduard Schweizer’s insight is correct: “This indicates how the presence of God can produce storm and stress before anything constructive is accomplished.”[1]

What the father has described, Jesus now sees. They bring the boy to Jesus, but the moment the evil spirit saw Jesus,

Mark 9:20 NLT … it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.

Out of compassion for the boy and his father, Jesus asked,

Mark 9:21 ESV … “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood.

The father further explains,

Mark 9:22 ESV And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him…

Make no mistake about it. Satan “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” He comes to destroy and pervert the image of God in each of us. But Jesus “came that [you] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The question allows the father to tell his story that the boy has been afflicted since childhood, with near fatal effect. But it also allows the father to declare his heart. The question of Jesus invites the father to come to him as a total person, with hard facts and with human hopes.[2]

The boy’s father had come in hope of finding Jesus. Instead, he found the disciples. It mattered not to him whether it was Jesus or his disciples who cast out the demon; he was desperate for help. But when the disciples were unable to cast out the demon, the father’s faith and hope were shaken.

Mark 9:22 ESV And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him [the man said]. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

“If you can do anything,” the man says! The problem is not what Jesus can do. Jesus can expel demons with a word, but producing faith is a much harder matter![3] Lack of faith in Jesus Christ is a greater obstacle than demons. We are not simply talking about having faith, or more faith, or great faith as if faith were some power that we could acquire and direct. True faith is simply trusting in God. True faith has an object and that object is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 9:23 ESV And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

God is not limited to do his work in us except by our lack of belief that he can do it. In his hometown, Nazareth,

Mark 6:5-6 ESV … he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief…

Jesus calls the man to put his faith in him. He had said to the hemorrhaging woman,

Mark 5:34 ESV … “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus had said to Jairus, who had just learned that his daughter was dead,

Mark 5:36 ESV …Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Now Jesus calls upon this father with faltering faith to put what faith he has in an all-sufficient Savior. You may have weak faith, but you have a strong Savior. The only bridge between human weakness and our omnipotent God is faith. The authority and power of Jesus becomes effective in human life by faith.[4]

Mark 9:23 ESV And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

This must seem impossible to the father. He does not seem to have the faith he thinks he needs:

Mark 9:24 ESV Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

True faith does not make a display of itself. It does not talk about itself. True faith does not boast. True faith realizes how small and insufficient it is. True faith looks beyond itself to the all-sufficiency of Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus could have told the man, “I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts and your double-mindedness. Once you have surrendered to me totally and can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need.” But Jesus doesn’t say that— not at all.[5]

Jesus takes the man where he is and leads him to where he wants him to be. If we will come to him, he will lead us to greater faith in Christ as we walk with him on the road of discipleship.

The Deliverance

Jesus often tried to shelter certain individuals from the sightseeing crowds. Jesus had compassion on people. He never used them to draw crowds to himself. He never used them for his own benefit. So when he saw a crowd running toward him, he wanted to quickly deliver this boy of the unclean spirit.

Mark 9:25 ESV And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

Once again, it was by his word and in his own name that he cast out demons. Jesus did not appeal to heaven to expel the evil spirit. “I command you,” he said, “come out of him and never enter him again!”

The boy has been rolling on the ground, convulsing, and foaming at the mouth. Jesus has now commanded the demon, which he identifies as a “mute and deaf spirit,” to come out.

Mark 9:26-27 ESV And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

Christ our Savior is greater than any demon, any unclean spirit, any situation. This is not about your faith; it’s about his power to save. Forget about your faith. Focus on our great Savior who is mighty to deliver.

SCENE FOUR

In scene four, we find Jesus and his disciples in a house where they ask him what went wrong:

Mark 9:28 ESV And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”

It was an embarrassing failure. They had tried and failed to cast out the unclean spirit. The boy’s father had seen them fail. The crowd had seen them fail. And the hostile scribes had seen them fail.

“Why could we not cast it out?”

There seems to be an emphasis on “we” in the text. Their failure had actually come as quite a shock to them. Jesus had given them authority to expel demonic spirits:

Mark 6:7 ESV And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

They had gone out and had been successful. But now, they came up against a stronger demon.

Mark 9:29 ESV And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Did the disciples think that they knew how to do it? Were they depending upon themselves and their ability and their experience rather than depending upon Christ alone? Should they have been praying rather than arguing with the scribes?

Why do we fail so often in overcoming the demons and the sins that plague us? Are we trusting in ourselves rather than in God?

1 Corinthians 10:12 CSBO Therefore, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall!

Are we trusting in our methods and strength. The Apostle Paul says,

Philippians 3:3 NLT …We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort,

Jesus is talking about a continual relationship of prayer to God. We text God and think we have prayed. We send a quick message to God, asking for help, but do not give him the time of day.

How can we overcome the evil in our own hearts and lives?

  1. Come to Jesus. This deliverance was a hard case, but Jesus told them, “Bring the boy to me.” Bring your sin, bring your problem, bring your situation to Jesus.
  2. Believe that Jesus can deliver you. Your faith does not have to be perfect. Act on the faith that you have. The boy’s father told Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
  3. Pray.

Jeremiah 33:3 ESV Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Isaiah 55:6 ESV “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;

  1. Read good portions of your Bible every day.

Romans 10:17 NLT So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

In daily reading God’s Word, the Bible, your faith will grow and you will know what God wants to do in your life.

John 8:31-32 ESV So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Nothing is too hard for God! Our God is mighty to save!


[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5178-5180). 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 5185-5187). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

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

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

[5] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 119). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

 

Mark 08v34-9:1, “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?”

Bearing the cross detail

Painting by Andrei Nikolaevich Mironova

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngAre you a follower of Jesus? Or are you just a Christian? Hmm. What does it mean to be a true follower of Jesus? Today we want to look at what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We hear on a regular basis that Vanuatu is a Christian nation. That may be a very good thing. When we consider the history of Vanuatu, we must certainly understand that early Christian missionaries gave their lives for the sake of the people of these islands.

  • In 1839, John Williams and John Harris gave their lives at Dillon’s Bay on Erromango.
  • In 1848, John Geddie and Thomas Powell went to Aneityum and eventually translated the New Testament with the help of an islander named Williamu.
  • Other Christian missionaries such as George Gordon and his wife and brother gave their lives for the gospel on Erromango.
  • Christian missionary John G. Paton brought the good news of the gospel to the islands of Tanna and Aniwa.
  • Many others came and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ, that Christ died for our sins as had been prophesied, that he was buried, and that he rose again from the dead that we might be declared just before God, just as the Scriptures had promised.

Christian foundations were laid. The gospel of Jesus Christ changed lives and with the changed lives, there were new values. The old practices such as cannibalism, infanticide, and the sacrifice of the wives after the death of their husbands were abandoned. For many, Christianity brought a new life of love and joy, of hope and peace. The foundation was laid so that the politicians who forged independence chose the national motto: Long God yumi stanap. Every time you pass a 1000vt bill, you pass the message “long God yumi stanap.”

But Christianity cannot simply be written into constitutions, or our monetary notes, or other important documents. Christianity must be written into the hearts of every individual. Declaring that Vanuatu is a Christian nation may call us back to Christian values which recognize the worth, value, and dignity of every human life, whether boy or girl, child or adult, young of old, born or unborn. That means that we will not kill widows, nor the aged, nor the unborn. And it means that we will love our enemies. But declaring that the nation is a Christian nation will not make us love our enemies. There has to be a change of heart for that to take place.

And so, we must not think that we are Christians simply because we have a Christian heritage. We must not think that we are Christians simply because our parents were Christians, or that we are deacons in the church, or that we are in a Christian nation. Jesus said to one of the most religious men of his day, “You must be born again.”

As so we ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” Or better yet, “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?”

1. The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark

We have been walking our way through the Gospel of Mark. In this eighth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we come to a turning point. Up to this point, Jesus has not revealed his identity as the Christ.

  • Mark has told us that he is the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
  • God Himself has declared at Jesus’ baptism that Jesus is “my beloved Son in him I am well pleased” (1:11).

The demons have identified Jesus as

  • The Holy One of God (1:24),
  • The Son of God (3:11), and
  • The Son of the Most High God (5:7)

Jesus has spoken of himself as

  • The Son of Man (2:10, 28), and
  • The Lord of the Sabbath (2:28).

But the people have failed to grasp who Jesus actually is. They have had different ideas. The Jewish scribes, who were enemies of Jesus, said that he got his power from Satan. Some others, who thought more favorable about Jesus, thought that he was empowered by the spirit of John the Baptist who had been beheaded by King Herod. Some thought that Jesus was the one that the prophet Malachi had promised would come in the spirit and the power of Elijah. Still others thought that he was one of the Old Testament prophets.

All of those designations were woefully short of who Jesus was. Just as today, some people say that he was a great teacher and some say that he was even a god, the Bible reveals that he is much more than a great teacher or a prophet or even a god.

Jesus asks his own disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

In Luke’s version, we read,

Luke 9:20 ESV …And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Matthew’s version is the fullest:

Matthew 16:16 ESV Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but he had no idea that the Christ would have to suffer. He only saw Christ as a conqueror, one who had great power and who would liberate the nation of Israel from Roman rule.

Only when Peter had made his confession that Jesus was the Christ, did Jesus begin to tell his disciples about his mission as the Christ:

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.

This mission of suffering and rejection and death comes as a complete shock to Peter and the disciples. Peter rebukes Jesus for such a thought, but Jesus in turn rebuked Peter in the strongest of terms for seeing things from a merely human point of view rather than from God’s point of view.

Jesus uses the word “must.” The word “must” implies that it was a divine necessity. The word “must” controls and modifies the entire sentence: the Son of Man must suffer, he must be rejected, he must die, and he must rise again. Jesus is not simply saying, “I have come to die.” He is saying, “I have to die.” “It’s absolutely necessary that I die.”[1] This was absolutely shocking to the disciples who thought that evil would be overcome by power, not by suffering and death.

No one knew that Jesus came to give his life away.

2. The Mission of the Christ

The Christ was the one promised by the Old Testament prophets, even beginning in the third chapter of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, God himself provided a covering for them and promised that a many times great grandson of Eve would crush the serpent’s head.

Abraham offered his son Isaac as a picture of God offering His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins, and yet the God who provides provided a ram in place of Isaac.

The whole Old Testament system of sacrifices pointed to the one who would end all sacrifices, offering his own blood as a sacrifice for us.

Why can God not simply forgive? Why does there need to be a sacrifice? Why did Jesus say that he “must” die?

Suppose you come to my house and accidentally sit on my iPhone and crack the screen so that it does not work. I say to you, “That will be 100,000vt please.” Or, I can say, “That’s okay. I forgive you.” In that case, what happened to the 100,000vt? If I forgive you for breaking my iPhone, I bear the cost of buying a new iPhone, or I do without. But I am the one who suffers. But someone has to bear the cost. Either you bear the cost, or I bear the cost. When I forgive you, I bear the cost.[2]

We have all sinned against God. The price of sin is eternal death, eternal separation from God. But if we come to God with hearts that are broken over our sin and if we repent of our sins, he will forgive us. But how does he forgive us? He bears the cost. That is why the eternal Son of God went to the cross. He went to bear our sins and the pay the price, to bear the cost and the penalty for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God and brought back into fellowship with him both now and for eternity.

The Jews had failed to see this in the Scriptures. The trusted in their animal sacrifices, but the sacrifice of animals cannot remove our sins. Animals are not created in the image of God as we are. Animals are not voluntary victims. The writer to the Hebrews tells us,

Hebrews 10:4 ESV For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

There were Old Testament passages about the Christ, that is, the Messiah. There were also Old Testament passages about the Suffering Servant such as Isaiah 53 which says that he would bear our sins and iniquities. The Jews had failed to see that the Christ, the Messiah, would also be the Suffering Servant. The Apostle Peter explains that even the Old Testament prophets tried to understand how the prophecies fit together:

1 Peter 1:10-11 NLT This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

3. The Terms of Discipleship

Once the disciples recognized that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus began to teach them what that meant. He began to teach them about the true nature of his mission, that he would suffer, and be rejected, and die, and after three days rise again.

If Jesus goes to the cross, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? If Jesus chooses the way of the cross, what does it mean to follow him?

Beginning in Mark 8:34, Jesus calls crowd and spells out the terms of discipleship.

Mark 8:34-9:1 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. 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. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

9:1 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

We are looking at the question of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, what it means to be a true Christian. Jesus very clearly lays down the terms, the conditions of following him. He is not talking to a special elite group of people. What he says is not limited to his 12 disciples. Mark very clearly tells us that Jesus “called the crowd to him with his disciples.” The conditions for being a Christian are laid down not only for the 12 disciples, but also for the crowd. In fact, in addressing the crowd, Jesus uses the word “anyone.”

Mark 8:34 ESV … ”If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

That means you. That means me. Jesus spells out the cost of discipleship for you and me. He tells us what it will cost to follow him. He tells us what it will cost each of us to be a Christian.

A Christian is not one who is born of Christian parents, or raised in a Christian church, or born in a Christian nation. A Christian is one who follows in the footsteps of Christ.

4. Self-Denial and the Way of the Cross

The way of Jesus was the way of the cross. It was the way of self-denial. The Jesus way is the way of death to self. Just as Jesus took the way of self-denial and the way of the cross, he tells us that anyone who would come after him must also deny themselves and take the way of the cross. We find this throughout the New Testament:

Philippians 2:5-8 NLT You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 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.

2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father,

Luke 22:42 ESV saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Jesus explains why we must deny ourselves:

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.

The instinct of self-preservation is ultimately self-defeating. Timothy Keller explains,

Jesus is not saying, “I want you to lose your sense of being an individual self.” That’s a teaching of Eastern philosophy, and if he meant that, he would have said, “You must lose yourself to lose yourself.”[2]

This is not eastern mysticism or the loss of our personhood. It is not our absorption into the nothingness of nirvana.

Rather it is laying down our rights of self-determination at the feet of the king. We no longer sing, I did it my way.

We no longer claim to be masters of our own fate.

Rather we come to recognize that God is on a mission of redemption and he has graciously invited us to join him in that mission. We lay aside our petty agendas to embrace something infinitely greater than ourselves : the agenda of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

We lose ourselves for the sake of Christ and in losing ourselves, we find ourselves in Christ and discover who we were created to be.

Jim Elliot was a missionary to the Auca Indians in South America. Before losing his life at the end of a spear, he wrote in his diary, “He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”[3]

Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Jesus tells us that the way to save our lives, is to lose our lives for Christ’s sake.

When Jesus speaks here of saving our lives, he is speaking of more than mere physical existence. He is speaking of the core of our existence, our “personhood,” our identity.

So many people are trying to find themselves. They are trying to find their identity. They do not know who they are and they are continually searching and trying to identify themselves or to carve out an identity for themselves.

Never before in the history of the world has there been so much confusion about identity. Today people wrestle with sexual orientation and gender identity. In some cultures, boys are taught to wonder if they are girls, and girls are taught to wonder if they are boys. These are questions that our grandparents would not even have understood.

At the hospital when a baby is delivered, the doctor never wonders what kind of a baby it is. If it’s a boy, the attending physician will declare, “It’s a boy!” If it’s a girl, he will declare, “It’s a girl!” No one is confused about that.

Accepting your maleness or your femaleness is recognizing God’s sovereignty in your life. He has created us male or female according to his own good will for us. And it is not hard to figure out what he created us to be.

Beyond that, some people are constantly trying to find themselves, to “discover” who they are. They may focus an inordinate amount of attention on their own selves to the point of idolizing themselves, making an idol out of their own bodies, worshiping themselves, abusing themselves, and doing all that they can to draw attention to themselves.

Others try to build their identity on gaining a place in the world.

Every culture points to certain things and says, “If you gain [these things], if you acquire or achieve [these things], then you’ll have a self, you’ll know you’re valuable.” Traditional cultures would say you’re nobody unless you gain the respectability and legacy of family and children. In individualistic cultures it’s different; the culture says you’re nobody unless you gain a fulfilling career that brings money, reputation, and status. Regardless of such differences, though, every culture says identity is performance-based, achievement-based.[4]

To that, Jesus says,

Mark 8:36 ESV For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

We focus on our success and will take whatever measures are necessary to achieve it. We have our agenda, our plans for our success. We may be pursuing wealth or fame, but we have our aspirations and our goals. We have our eyes fixed on some prize that will win us the applause of others, and we think that when we achieve that, we will be happy. We will have found ourselves. We will be somebody.

Perhaps we try to find our identity in our relationships. One popular song proclaimed, “You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.” Well, someone has loved you.

Romans 5:8 ESV but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We have a hard time understanding how people who have reached the pinnacle of success will end it all. We learn of the tragic endings of people like Robin Williams or Whitney Houston and wonder why.

For all their searching, they did not find life.

“Learning to love yourself” is not “the greatest love of all.” The greatest love of all is loving the “Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind,” Jesus said (Mark 12:30).

Mark 8:35 NLT If you try to hang on to your life, [Jesus said,] you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.

We were created for God. We were created to serve his purpose. We were created to know him, and to love him, and to glorify him by enjoying him forever.

But this is not simply some abstract notion of God. Jesus said that if we give up our lives for his sake and for the sake of the gospel, we will save it. We find ourselves in serving others, in loving others, in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.

Whether you are a father or mother, or carpenter or plumber, or secretary or company executive, you will find your life in letting Christ set your agenda. Let him be the King of your home, your work, your community service. Let his principles dictate how you conduct your business for then your business will be the King’s business. Certain activities will stop. You will no longer be engaged in those activities which destroy lives. You will give yourself to those things which promote good rather than evil, righteousness rather than wickedness.

If your agenda is the end, then Jesus is just the means; you’re using him. But if Jesus is the King, you cannot make him a means to your end. You can’t come to a king negotiating. You lay your sword at a king’s feet and say, “Command me.” If you try to negotiate instead, if you say, “I’ll obey you if . . . ,” you aren’t recognizing him as a king. But don’t forget this: Jesus is not just a king; he’s a king on a cross. If he were only a king on a throne, you’d submit to him just because you have to. But he’s a king who went to the cross for you. Therefore you can submit to him out of love and trust. This means coming to him not negotiating but saying, “Lord, whatever you ask I will do, whatever you send I will accept.” When someone gave himself utterly for you, how can you not give yourself utterly to him? Taking up your cross means for you to die to self-determination, die to control of your own life, die to using him for your agenda.[5]

5. The Infinite Value of Your Soul

Mark 8:36-37 NLT And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?

Jesus tells us that the man who has traded his soul to gain the world, has made a poor bargain indeed. Nothing compares to the value of your eternal soul. Nothing but God himself. Lose your soul for his sake, entrust your personhood, your identity, your eternal existence to him. Lose it all for him. He will preserve it for you. It is in denying ourselves, dying to ourselves, and following him, that we find out who we were really meant to be. It is in dying to ourselves, and living for Christ, that we find life.

The Apostle Paul said it like this,

Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

C. S. Lewis closes his book Mere Christianity with this:

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, the death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and the death of your whole body in the end: Submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.[6]

Jesus invites you to follow him on the way of the cross:

Mark 8:34 NIVO … “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.


[1] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 95). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 102). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 10585-10587). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[4] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 102). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (pp. 104-105). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 106). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


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”:

 

Mark 01v01-11, “The Gospel of Mark”

1456053183_thumb.pngAround the world today, Christians will gather together to do what they have done for 2,000 years. They will open their Bibles to see and hear the Word of God. But the big question that many ask, is this: “Is the Bible reliable? Is it really the Word of God?” I want to begin by considering that question and by focusing on the Gospel according to Mark. Stay tuned!

Some have claimed that the Gospels are forgeries, imaginary stories that were the product mostly of legends that had developed about the life of Jesus well into the second century, many decades after the events in the life of Christ. We are told that the earliest witnesses to the New Testament documents got it wrong. Two thousand years have passed and somehow some think that we are in a much better position to determine what actually happened and who wrote the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. We are told that the Gospels which bear the names of Matthew and of John, for example, were not actually written by Matthew and John. They may not even have been written in the first century.

We are told that as time passed, people began to put their faith in this legendary Jesus, one that was the product of vivid imaginations. A Jesus that could walk on water, opened blinded eyes, feed multitudes with a meager lunch, raise the dead, and even die himself and come back to life again. Stories that gullible people of days gone by could swallow, but impossible to believe for intelligent people of the 21st century.

In order to get people to believe such myths, the authors of such works would attribute their works to such people as Thomas, Mary, Philip, and Nicodemus. In fact, we do have documents by those names

  • The Gospel of Thomas (2nd century)
  • The Gospel of Mary (2nd century)
  • The Gospel of Philip (3rd century)
  • The Gospel of Nicodemus (5th century)
  • There is even a Gospel of Judas

We are told that these books have just as much right to be in the New Testament as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

But in fact, the so-called Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Philip, Nicodemus, and Judas have very little to do with the life and ministry of Jesus and were mostly unknown in theological discussions and writings. They never played an important role in the life or teaching of the church.

Some people dismiss the Gospels that we find in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as inventions of the church. They want us to believe that these books were not actually written by their namesakes. They want to believe that the early church invented these Gospels and then attached the names of important people to them. That is certainly the case in the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Philip, and Nicodemus. On that point, everyone is in agreement.

But if the early church were making up these stories, why would they ever attribute a Gospel to someone like Mark? Mark? Who was Mark? Mark was not one of the twelve apostles. He was not one of the seven chosen deacons of Acts 6. No, Mark was not the illustrious name that you would want to attribute a Gospel to. Besides the fact that such a theory makes no sens, it goes against history and the testimony of over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, some from as early as the first century.

No, the reason that this so-called second Gospel is attributed to Mark is simply because it was written by Mark.

 

1. So Who Was Mark?

Mark was also called John Mark, and he was a cousin of Barnabas. Barnabas and Paul were sent by the church at Antioch to take an offering to the brothers in Judea (Acts 11:29),

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them (Act 12:25 NLT).

Later when Barnabas and Saul are sent by the church at Antioch on their first missionary journey, they take Mark with them, but the story does not end well. Luke describes that first missionary journey in 75 verses, but by the time he gets to the tenth verse of his narration, John Mark has abandoned Paul and Barnabas, returning to Jerusalem. John Mark turns out to be a missionary dropout. On his first missionary journey with the Apostle Paul, Mark went crying home to Mama. Paul was so disappointed with Mark, that he refused to let him go with him on his next missionary journey, so Barnabas took his cousin and they went to Cyprus.

The “Gospel according to Mark the Dropout” doesn’t sound like it will hit the bestseller list.

But of course, the story does not end there. Paul and Mark are eventually reconciled and Paul acknowledges that Mark “will be helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11. See also Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24.)

1.1. Mark’s Source

But where did Mark get his information? How did he write this gospel?

Some people have a very mysterious idea about Scripture. They think that everything that we read in the Bible came be revelation. The Bible states that all Scripture is given by inspiration, not by revelation. God inspired and directed the writers of the Bible to write what they wrote, but when it comes to history, it was not simply revealed to them; they already knew what had happened. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses to what Jesus did. Luke tells us that he carefully researched everything that he wrote and consulted eyewitnesses, as he says in his introduction,

Luke 1:4 NET so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.

Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Luke carefully researched and consulted eyewitnesses. So how did Mark know what to write?

Mark may have been a witness to Jesus. Perhaps he had seen Jesus with his own eyes. We know that he lived in Jerusalem. And some New Testament scholars think that he may be that young man who escaped being taken prisoner by the guards the night that Jesus was arrested. Mark alone records these lines that seem to have nothing else to do with the story:

Mark 14:51-52 ESV And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

That may be Mark’s signature. But one thing is certain. He has seen Jesus through the eyes of Peter. Yes, there is huge evidence in the New Testament itself and in the testimony of the early church that Mark travelled with Peter as his interpreter.

The first and last references to John Mark in the New Testament are quite interesting because in both references, Mark is associated with the Apostle Peter. In Acts 12, Peter had been imprisoned. King Herod intended to execute Peter but an angel opened the prison doors and Peter found his way to the house of Mary, the mother of — John Mark where the believers were praying for Peter’s release.

Acts 12:12 ESV When he [Peter] realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

That means that John Mark was well known to the believers and to the Apostle Peter.

The final New Testament reference to Mark is in Peter’s letter from Rome:

1 Peter 5:13 NLT Your sister church here in Babylon [Rome] sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.

Peter calls Mark his son. Mark would be his spiritual son. This fits in perfectly with what early and reliable witnesses tell us about Mark. He served as Peter’s interpreter, and the Apostle Peter himself was the chief source of Mark’s Gospel.

It is also interesting to note that Simone Peter is the first and last disciple to be mentioned in the Gospel according to Mark. Simon Peter is the first disciple to be mentioned in the first chapter when Jesus says to him, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Peter is also the last disciple mentioned in this Gospel when the angels tell the women,

Mark 16:7 ESV But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

Mark’s Gospel is not about Peter; it’s about Jesus Christ, but it is through the eyes of Peter, that John Mark has seen him clearly.

1.2. Title: The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

So we come to the title: The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mark begins at the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry. Unlike John, Mark does not start in eternity past. John starts like this:

John 1:1-3 (ESV) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not give us the genealogy of Christ, tracing his earthy parentage back through King David to Abraham or back to Adam like Matthew and Luke. Mark contains no birth narratives, no angelic appearances to Mary and Joseph, no trip to Bethlehem, no flight to Egypt, no return to Israel, no visits to the temple as a young boy.

No, Mark begins at the beginning of the earthly ministry of Christ. This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

1.2.1. Major Theme

Here we come to the major theme of each of the Gospels: the man called Jesus. Mark entitles his Gospel, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The question is, Who is Jesus Christ? The question of “Who?” comes up again and again in this gospel.

For example, in chapter 4 of Mark, Jesus and the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is sleeping in the bottom of the boat when the disciples find themselves in a terrible storm in the middle of the Sea. Water begins to fill the boat and the disciples fear for their very lives. They wake up Jesus.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mar 4:38 ESV)

Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, and suddenly the wind stopped and there was a great calm.

Mark 4:41 NLT The disciples were absolutely terrified. [They are apparently more terrified by Jesus than they had been of the storm.] “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

That is the question: Who is this man?

On another occasion, four men bring a paralytic to Jesus. There is such a crowd in the house that they cannot get close to Jesus, but they have an idea. They go up to the rooftop — roofs were very accessible. They remove part of the roof and lower the man down, right in front of Jesus!

Mark 2:5-7 ESV And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

To show that this is not empty talk and that he did indeed have the authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the paralytic.

Mark 2:12 NLT And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

The scribes had asked, “Who can forbid sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).

Later, at an important turning point in this Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples,

Mark 8:27 NLT …”Who do people say I am?”

After hearing their answer, he asks them a second question,

Mark 8:29 NLT …”But who do you say I am?” …

That is also a question that you will have to answer. What do you think of Jesus Christ? Who is he? Who is this man?

The demons know who he is. As Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum,

Mark 1:23-25 NLT Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, 24 “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are– the Holy One of God!” 25 Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered.

A few verses later we read,

Mark 1:34 NLT So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak.

Over and over again, Mark wants us to see who Jesus is, but already in the title he tells us exactly what he wants us to know:

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

Mark tells us that this is all about Jesus. Immediately he tells us two things about Jesus:

  1. Jesus is the Christ. The word Christ is a title. It comes from the Greek word χριστὸς (christos) and is a translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah which mean anointed. Three classes of people were anointed: priests, prophets, and kings. The anointing meant that they were especially qualified serve by the help — the anointing — of the Holy Spirit. Through the centuries, God had promised to send His Anointed One. Now the time had come. Jesus is that Christ. So Mark gives the title of his book: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
  2. But Jesus is more than anointed with the Holy Spirit. The full title of Mark’s book is, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus is not only the Anointed One, the one that God had promised through the ages. This Anointed One, born of the virgin Mary, is also the Son of God. Mark tells us in the title what he will show in this Gospel. Jesus demonstrates time and again that he is the Son of God. This speaks of his divine nature. He is not another god. He is, as the New Testament says elsewhere, God “manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16).

Here you have, then in the title of this Gospel, the message that Mark wants to communicate: This is the Good News that the promised Christ has come, and he is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1.2.2. John the Baptist, Forerunner of Christ

In the next verses, we read about John the Baptist. It may be surprising that John is suddenly introduced since this gospel is all about Jesus Christ. What does John have to do with it?

John the Baptist has a unique role in the Gospel story. His role is so important that even his coming was prophesied in the Old Testament and is highlighted in each of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. John the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus Christ. He was sent before Christ to announce his coming. He points not to himself, but to Jesus Christ. Jesus does not suddenly appear on the scene announcing a new message. He is announced ahead of time.

The Old Testament had announced in many ways and with great precision the coming of the Christ so that when he came, we would have proof that he was the one who was promised because he would have the proper credentials. Hundreds of years before his birth, the details of his parentage, his birth, his mission, his life, his death, and his resurrection were announced by the prophets.

But it was also announced that he would have a forerunner, someone who would go before him and prepare the way. Isaiah and Malachi declare that a forerunner would prepare the way for the Messiah. The way we read it in Malachi, God Himself will come but His messenger will come first to prepare the way.

Malachi 3:1 ESV “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me…

Isaiah tells us that the one who comes to prepare the way, John the Baptist, prepares the way of the LORD who is Yahweh.

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.

Mark thus begins his Gospel, rooting it in its Old Testament foundation:

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,'”

Jesus is not simply some new prophet that has suddenly appeared; he has a forerunner. The ministry of both Jesus and his forerunner had been prophesied hundreds of years before their coming.

There is nothing like this in any other religion. No other so-called prophet had a forerunner. Mohamed did not. The Bahá’u’lláh did not. Joseph Smith did not. These men claimed to be prophets of God, undoing what had been done, reversing it, overturning it, modifying it, changing it with their own teaching. But none of them were announced and none of them had a forerunner.

By great contrast, Jesus did not come to reverse, overturn, modify or annul what had been revealed; he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. And he alone had a forerunner announcing that he, Jesus, was the one.

New Testament scholar Jakob van Bruggen wrote,

“There are three great religions of the book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three recognize the great value of Moses. But Judaism criticizes Christianity for threatening monotheism by confessing Jesus as God’s Son, and Islam makes the same criticism. While the Jews rally around Moses, Islam moves on to the great prophet Mohammed. The two religions [Judaism and Islam] differ over prophets. But between the two of them and Christianity stands the acknowledgment of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, as “more than a prophet,” as true God. Immanuel. [“God with us.”]

“By what right does Jesus elevate himself above Moses and Mohammed? Dare a human being make himself equal to God? Does Jesus not lack a prophet such as Yahweh has in Moses and Allah in Mohammed?

“The answer to this question is John the Baptist. Jesus is great (Luke 1:32) and John is his prophet (Luke 1:76)!”[1]

In fact, John the Baptist was the greatest prophet to be born of woman. Greater than Moses and greater than Mohammed. And John the Baptist is the prophet of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus quotes the same passage that Mark quotes and then says,

Luke 7:28 ESV I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John…”

And who did John announce? He announced Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

2. The Ministry of John the Baptist

2.1. The Ministry of John was a ministry of preparation.

John was called to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of their Messiah. One would have thought that as the people of God, they would have been ready. They were the descendants of Abraham. They had received the Law from Moses. They were the people of the covenant.

But the great shock is that we do not have a personal relationship with God through our heritage. We are not made right with God through what our parents did or through our church or through our nation.

John appears in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. You will remember that the nation of Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness. They had crossed over the Jordan river on dry ground.

Now John is treating the nation of Israel as a pagan nation and telling them that they need to repent of their sins. Put not your trust in Abraham. Put not your trust in Moses. Put not your trust in the Law. They need to leave the wilderness, as it were, and cross over the Jordan river. They are to cross over not on dry ground, but by being baptized, by drowning their past sinful life. John’s ministry is a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). John is preparing the way for the Christ, the Messiah. The road they walk has to be straight. They must change their way of thinking. They must change their way of living.

Mark 1:3 ESV …’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

2.2. The Message of John the Baptist

The ministry of John the Baptist was one of preparation. The message of John the Baptist was a message of proclamation. John proclaimed the coming of Jesus Christ. As we have seen, Jesus said of John,

Luke 7:28 NLT I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John…”

But the focus of John’s ministry was Jesus Christ. This greatest of all men pointed to one who was infinitely greater. His message was the superiority of Jesus Christ. John shows Christ’s superiority in three ways:

 

2.2.1. Christ Is Superior in Rank

This is what John said of Jesus:

Mark 1:7 NLT John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am– so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals.

Here the greatest man who ever lived, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, said that Jesus Christ is so greater that John is not even worthy to be the slave of Christ. Untying the straps of Jesus’ sandals would be too great of an honor of the greatest of all men. That is how incomparably greater Jesus Christ is to the greatest man who ever lived.

2.2.2. Christ Is Superior in Ministry

John makes a strong contrast between his ministry and Christ’s ministry:

Mark 1:8 NLT I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

There is a great difference between water and the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to even compare them. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He has all the attributes of a person.

Now, when we talk about the three persons of the Trinity, we are not talking about three people or three human beings. “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19). But the Holy Spirit has all the qualities of personhood including thought, will, and emotion. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit has all these characteristics and is distinct from both the Father and from the Son.

John says that his ministry is one of preparation. Jesus’ ministry is the fulfillment. John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Jesus himself makes the same comparison after his resurrection and shortly before he ascended into heaven:

Acts 1:4-5 NLT …he commanded them [his disciples], “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is for empowering. It is the baptism in the Holy Spirit that gives us the power of God himself to live for him and to serve him. Three verses later, Jesus told the disciples that this baptism in the Holy Spirit would give them the power they needed to be his witnesses.

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere– in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.

2.2.3. Christ Is Superior in Relationship to God

So first, John tells us that Christ is infinitely superior in rank. John, the greatest man to be born of woman, is not even worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals.

Second, John tells us that Christ is superior in ministry. While John baptizes people only in water, Jesus baptizes people into the Spirit of God Himself.

Finally, Christ is superior to John in relationship to God.

Mark 1:9-11 ESV In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens 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.”

We might wonder why Jesus was baptized by John. Jesus identified with us. He took upon himself our sins. We read in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians,

2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.

Another version says it like this,

2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Jesus identified with us in his baptism. He took our sins upon himself. He showed us the way of confession and repentance.

But then, an amazing thing happened. When Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open and the Holy Spirit come down on him like a dove. Jesus, as the Word made flesh, as the God-man, was anointed by the Holy Spirit. We read in Acts

Acts 10:38 ESV how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

There was the baptism as Christ fulfilled all righteousness.

Then there was the anointing as the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, showing that he was the Anointed One, for that is what the word Christ means.

Then there was the voice.

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

John the Baptist was a prophet, but he was not the Son of God. It is in the voice of God, declaring that Jesus was the Son of God, that we find confirmation that Mark had justly titled his book, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

As the Son, Jesus is of the same nature as God. As the Son, He is infinitely superior in relation to God. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father loves the Son and the Son does always that which is pleasing in the Father’s sight.

The Son came that we might be forgiven, that we might have eternal life now and for eternity. The Son came to show us the way: we must follow Him. We must confess our sins and turn from them. The Son came to do more than show the way; He is the way. It is through faith in Him alone and His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead that you and I can be restored to a right relationship with God.

Mark says that this book is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the Good News. It is the Best News. You can be forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[1] Jakob van Bruggen, Jesus the Son of God, p. 71-72.

See also “Gospel of Mark”: