Where does one post quotes and thoughts too long for Twitter when one doesn’t want to donate content to Facebook? Some say Tumblr, but I’m going to try simply keeping this single post as a running record of observations about the Gospel of Mark, which I’m currently reading through.
I’m using two commentaries primarily as I read:
So, here’s what I’ll do: I’m going to post the most recent reflections and quotes below, by date. If any of you have better thoughts as to how to do this, I’m certainly open.
December 17, Closing Thoughts
I finished both commentaries in the last two days, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey through Mark’s gospel with Kent Hughes and James Edwards. I would definitely commend this process to anyone wanting to grow deeper in love with God and the beauty of His witness to us through His Word. Make sure you get a reputable commentary or two if you do so. I consulted a few friends and Tim Challies’ entry Best Commentaries on Each Book of the Bible before I wound up reading these two.
Mark’s gospel concludes like the other gospels -with Jesus’ resurrection – and people’s response to it. I like what Edwards says:
“The resurrection does not magically dispel fear and cowardice, transforming fallible human characters into faithful disciples. Faithful discipleship consists of following Jesus, not contemplating doing so; acting courageously on His behalf, not standing on the sidelines and watching.”
What a powerful point. Christians may love to celebrate Easter and proclaim “He is risen. He is risen indeed” to one another in their Sunday finest, but the earliest disciples were not convinced by just news of Jesus’ resurrection. They still had to see Him before they believed. And Jesus rebuked them for their need for sight before faith. (Mark 16.14) Let us earnestly press forward in trusting Christ. The fact of the resurrection does not produce faith. One must still gaze upon Jesus, comprehend that the cross was for them, and choose to surrender their life to Jesus in faith.
December 4, Mark 14.27-40
Hughes has an encouraging chapter on this passage entitled Steeling the Church. He looks at Jesus’ incredible focus in the garden of Gethsemane where scripture tells us he was “deeply distressed” and which translates as the element of astonishment. One commentator put it as “terrified surprise.” Hughes points out that Jesus’ humanity looked at the cross before Him and was more than hesitant.
In fact, it was the in garden that Jesus “steeled” Himself for the atrocity of what was ahead. While hesitant to proceed, He went farther in:
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:35-36 ESV)
Such submission of His desires to the Father’s will is a lesson for us as well on steeling ourselves for future glory and joy. In the moment, it may be torturous, and we may experience great inner conflict, but Jesus has shown us the way through sweaty prayer.
Hughes concludes the chapter with Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter’s lessons on wrestling with one’s desires and emotions in prayer before God. In 1928, Baxter shared with a group of preachers that he realized he wanted to pray more but that he had grown progressively lazy in spirituality and in the discipline of prayer and when he finally understood that his internal resistance to prayer was sourced in his contrary emotions, he resolved to drag himself into prayer. This is his account:
As never before, my will and I stood face to face. I asked my will the straight question, “Will, are you ready for an hour of prayer?” Will answered, “Here I am, and I’m quite ready, if you are.” So Will and I linked arms and turned to go for our time of prayer. At once all the emotions began pulling the other way and protesting, “We are not coming.” I saw Will stagger just a bit, so I asked, “Can you stick it out, Will?” and Will replied, “Yes, if you can.” So Will went, and we got down to prayer, dragging those wriggling obstreperous emotions with us. It was a struggle all the way though. At one point, when Will and I were in the middle of an earnest intercession, I suddenly found one of those traitorous emotions had snared my imagination and had run off to the golf course; and it was all I could do to drag the wicked rascal back. A bit later I found another of the emotions has sneaked away with some off-guard thoughts and was in the pulpit, two days ahead of schedule, preaching a sermon I had not yet finished preparing!
At the end of that hour, if you had asked me, “Have you had a ‘good time’?” I would have had to reply, “No, it has been a wearying wrestle with the contrary emotions and a truant imagination from beginning to end.” What is more, that battle with the emotions continued for between two and three weeks, and if you had asked me at the end of that period, “Have you had a ‘good time’ in your daily praying?” I would have to confess, “No, at times it has seemed as though the heavens were brass, and God too distant to hear, and the Lord Jesus strangely aloof, and prayer accomplished nothing.”
Yet something was happening. For one thing, Will and I really taught the emotions that we were completely independent of them. Also, one morning, about two weeks after the contest had began, just when Will and I were going for another time of prayer, I overheard one of the emotions whisper to the other, “Come on, you guys, it is no use wasting any more time resisting: they’ll go just the same.” That morning, for the first time, even though the emotions were still suddenly uncooperative, they were at least quiescent, which allowed Will and me to get on with prayer undistractedly.
Then, another couple of weeks later, what do you think happened? During one of our prayer times, when Will and I were no more thinking of the emotions than of the man in the moon, one of the most vigorous of the emotions unexpectedly sprang up and shouted, “Hallelujah!” at which all the other emotions exclaimed, “Amen!” And for the first time the whole of my being – intellect, will and emotion – was united in one coordinated prayer operation. All at once, God was real, heaven was open, the Lord Jesus was luminously present, the Holy Spirit was indeed moving through my longings, and my prayer was surprisingly vital. Moreover, in that instant there came a sudden realization that heaven had been watching and listening all the way through those days of struggle against chilling moods and mutinous emotions; also that I had been undergoing necessary tutoring by my heavenly Teacher.
Let us pray with our own Will.
November 5, Mark 12.41-44
Still slowly chewing through Mark. Every bite is savored. Its depth and wealth for me has been profound. The lessons of the Holy Spirit to His church through the life of Jesus are so numerous as to not be able to be ascertained in a lifetime of ponderings.
In this familiar passage of a widow depositing two small coins – all she had – into the the temple offering, I’m reminded again that it’s not amount but surrender that matters most and wins God’s favor. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the last week of his life, and He’s just successfully navigated harsh challenges by the Sanhedrin consisting of the Pharisees (12.13), the Saducees (12.18) and the scribes (12.28). The last challenge by the scribe gives us the beautiful synopsis of the Jewish law into Jesus’ two great commands: love God and love your neighbor (12.30-31).
It was in this context that Mark records “a poor widow” coming forward to give all she had to God. The contrast is profound. Whereas the religious leaders were rejecting God’s Son, the woman without possessions, power or prestige gives pennies. And they matter profoundly to Jesus.
“..the chief purpose of the widow is as a model of discipleship. No gift, whether of money, time, or talent, is too insignificant to give, if it is given to God. And what is truly given to God, regardless how small and insignificant, is transformed into a pear of great price. What may look like a small gift, conversely, may in reality be little in comparison with what one could give. (382)
The question.. is what I’m giving to God significant in the quality of my surrender? Or am I giving to God only what doesn’t require surrender and faith?
October 2, Mark 10.17-31
This well-known interaction between Jesus and the “rich young ruler” is so overly familiar to most Christians as to be overlooked in its simplicity and power regarding the quality and motives of our following Jesus.
A man comes to Jesus. Two things about his approach:
- He calls him “good teacher” in a culture where using the term for “good” is normally reserved in reference to God.
- He’s looking for information from Jesus about what must be done to receive internal life. It’s a checklist mentality, as is clear from Jesus’ response to him.
Jesus responds first to the way the man addresses him, “Why do you call me good?” Edwards notes:
The “me” in the rhetorical question is emphatically thrust to the front of the sentence, meaning ‘Why do you call me good?’
Jesus then redirects the man’s focus from himself (“what must I do..?”) to the Father who is the author of eternal life, “No one is good except God alone.”
In remaining conversation, Jesus’ love for the man is shown even as the latter turns away from doing what it would take to enter Jesus’ band of disciples. In fact, the man’s whole life has been centered on doing, and when it comes down to it, he just can’t bring himself to do the one thing that would bring him the blessing of what he originally asked for. That one thing for him – and for us – is to simply follow Jesus.
Following Jesus means that we must “drop that possession.. that position… that passion… that person… and come to Christ.” (Hughes)
How about you? Are you still trying to do things that will obligate God to give you blessing? Or have you learned the simple joy of following Him and the resultant and exorbitant (“hundredfold,” v30) blessings that brings?
September 8, Mark 9.5-13
This selection of Mark focuses on Jesus’ transfiguration, and the disciples’ continuing misunderstanding of the mission of the Messiah.
In my reflections from August 27, I highlighted how Jesus “began” to teach the disciples that the Messiah “must” suffer. When Jesus called Peter, James and John up onto the mountain in Mark 9, they witnessed his transfiguration.
“He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” (v3)
The three disciples – one of whom had earlier rebuked Jesus for saying the Messiah would suffer – must have thought to themselves, “This is more like it!” This vision of a glorious Jesus was what fulfilled their Messianic expectations.
It took a voice from heaven and the sudden disappearance of Moses and Elijah to snap the disciples out of the their daydreams. It’s obvious that they were reluctant to release their bad theology in the conversation that followed in v9-13.
Here’s a thought: we cannot be Jesus’ disciples if we do not receive His teaching. Sounds elementary, doesn’t it? Let’s state it a different way. If you have bad theology, you won’t just be a bad disciple. You won’t be a disciple at all. At least not of the real Jesus.
“…the disciples must understand [the suffering Messiah teaching of Jesus] if they are to understand the person and mission of Jesus. Christology leads to discipleship; discipleship flows from Christology.” (Edwards, 268)
August 27 – Mark 8.31-33
These verses record the first of three instances in Mark of Jesus redefining the Jewish understanding of their Messiah by telling them “plainly” that the Messiah “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.”
It literally blew the minds of the disciples. A Messiah to them was the Great Jewish Hope. The Messiah they expected and understood was the Great Liberator. He would reign supreme and Vanquish All While He Ruled the World from Jerusalem.
So strong was their resistance to Jesus’ revelation that Peter took it upon himself to be a spokesperson for the team and “took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him.”
When have you not gotten it? When have you completely misunderstood God’s intentions in your life? Magnify that by about, oh say, infinity, and you’ll get a rare glimpse of just how wrong the disciples were here.
Jesus would rebuke them all in the strongest terms, just as Peter had attempted to do. In fact the Greek here for “began to rebuke” in both Peter’s and Jesus’ words is extremely strong and is normally reserved for the description of rebuking demons. Jesus uses the same words to rebuke Peter here that He used in the wilderness to rebuke Satan himself.
“The.. severity of the.. reprimand suggests that a near-truth is more dangerous than an obvious error, since a partial truth is more believable. When disciples play God rather than follow Jesus, they inevitably become satanic.” (Edwards, 255)
When we don’t understand who Jesus truly is, we cannot possibly understand God’s ways or His mission. Nor can we fathom the depths of His love and compassion. We’ll project human, fickle emotions upon Him in addition to expecting Him to operate “logically,” refusing to acknowledge how often the smartest, most “logical” people are wrong.
“Whoever understands the suffering of the Son of Man understands God. It is there, and not in heavenly splendor that one sees the heart of God.” (Eduard Schweizer)
August 18 – Mark 8.10-13
Two boat trips in these short verses, sandwiched between a direct confrontation with the Pharisees in which they demand of Jesus a “sign.” The Greek used here makes it clear that they weren’t asking so Jesus could display His glory. They were asking, hoping to discredit Him. In addition, this hostile request would not have resulted in their conversion if Jesus had given them what they wanted.
“…the demand for ‘signs’ is itself a sign of attempting to gain by empirical means what can only be gained by faith and trust… to ‘force the evidence upon one would make a faith response by its very nature impossible.’ Faith that depends on proof is not faith, but veiled doubt. (Edwards, 237)
“What a terrible thing it is to have Jesus turn his back on you and sail away.”
It’s a sobering and also joyful reminder that Jesus can be trusted. The heart that trusts is the heart that gets to see Jesus do amazing things. The heart that doubts will only be continually shown Jesus’ crucifixion. You must believe that before you see everything else. Isn’t that what we learned from the doubting disciple Thomas?
In Mark 7.1.23, we have Mark’s longest recorded conflict of Jesus with the Pharisees. It’s about what “religion” really represents. Is it about what we do – religious practice – or is true religion about how we do it?
It’s clear that Jesus condemned the empty-hearted observance of religion by the Pharisees. In a summary statement, he says,
“What comes out of a person is what defiles him.”
He then goes on to list an abhorrent amount of evil that actually comes out of us. The list in v21-23 should concern anyone who wants to live a life pleasing to God. Why? Because evil is within. Contrary to the secular view, we are not inherently good. We are inherently bad, every person being capable of great evil.
This is why Jesus’ coming and crucifixion are so central. He offers us good news (gospel) as a balm to such bad news (that we can’t escape from inner evil). The good news is that for the person who gives their life in faith to Jesus, He transforms us from the inside out.
That was what the Pharisees were unwilling to hear. They thought man was in charge of his own personal path to heaven through a rigorous observance of religion (thus their concern with hand washing in v2-5, or outside in).
It would be a mistake to assume in calling the Pharisees “hypocrites” that Jesus accuses them of lack of dedication… They were not.. either superficial or uncommitted. On the contrary, it was their commitment to the oral tradition – and Jesus’ equal commitment to recovering the intent of the written law – that made their differences so earnest. (Edwards)
Jesus going head to head with the Pharisees is important because their brand of religion was actually promoting sin’s bondage rather than spiritual freedom. They were using scripture as a weapon for behavioral conformity rather than as a light for spiritual transformation. Even today, people familiar with the Bible twist it to justify religious behavior like the Pharisees did and miss the intent and truth of scripture.
Those who try to justify themselves by the Law end up modifying it in order to escape from its authority. In the same way, those who handle God’s Word without submitting to it are in the constant process of conforming it to their self-complacency. (Hughes)
In Mark 6.51-52, we see Jesus climbing into a boat (from the water!) on the Sea of Galilee. The shocked disciples are recorded as being “astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
“..faith is not an inevitable result of knowing about Jesus , or even being with Jesus. Faith is not something that happens automatically or evolves inevitably; it is a personal decision that must be made in the face of struggle and trepidation. Discipleship is more endangered by lack of faith and hardness of heart than by external dangers.”