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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

The literary structure of Mark 6:1-6

Today we’re looking at Mark 6:1-6 and the story of Jesus visiting his home in Nazareth. This passage is interesting for several reasons. One is that it tells us more about –

Jesus’ personal life

First, about his family. In chapter 3 we learned a bit about his mother and brothers when they tried to stage an intervention to take Jesus home. Here in v. 3 we learn that he is “the son of Mary,” which is an unusual phrase since one would normally make reference to the father. This might indicate that Joseph died some time ago.  Also four brothers are mentioned as well as several unnamed sisters. So Jesus had at least six siblings.

Also he worked as a carpenter – v. 3. This is what he did before he began his ministry. This is the only place in Scripture that says this.

Now this doesn’t mean exactly what it means today. It refers to someone skilled at working with wood, metal or stone. So it could also mean he was a blacksmith or a stone mason or some combination of these. Joseph was also a carpenter and Jesus, no doubt, learned the trade from him (Matthew 13:55).

Also, just to note, his job was considered to be a skilled one. So he would not have been dirt poor, at least when he was working as a carpenter.

Let’s look more closely now at –

The story

– to see what else we can learn.

1He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue . . ..

Nazareth is about 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee, where he was previously. (Nazareth as his hometown – 1:9, 24).

Jesus had become famous in other parts of Israel and beyond and now he has come back to his hometown. There’s a bit of the ‘local boy does good’ dynamic here, and so they’re curious to see what’s going on.

. . . and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?”

Mark uses the word “astonished” several times to refer to people being amazed and impressed by Jesus. Here, however, it is used in a negative way. People are shocked.

When they ask about his wisdom, this is related to his teaching ministry, which they have just experienced. When they ask about mighty works, this is related to his healing-miracle ministry that they would have heard about. Their concern is with the source of these things. He must not have taught or done miracles before he left Nazareth and so this is all new and shocking. Where did he get this stuff from?

They continue asking questions in v. 3 –

3“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

If the previous questions focused on “where,” these focus on “who.” Who does he think he is? He’s just one of us.

  • Some of us changed his diapers when he was a baby.
  • Some of us played games with him as a child.
  • He did carpentry work on our house.
  • The rest of his family is still here and they aren’t special!

 Who does he think he is going around teaching and trying to heal people? What has gotten into his head? Jesus couldn’t grow up to be someone so important!

And the result of all these questions comes out at the end of v. 3 –

And they took offense at him.

 They were shocked; they were appalled. They weren’t able to get past their knowledge of Jesus as a normal person; an average guy. And so they certainly weren’t able to recognize him for who he was – the Messiah, or, as we will see, to receive what God was doing through him. They didn’t believe.

We can do this too. Every great man or woman of God is a normal person; they grew up and had a family. They don’t just drop out of heaven ready made with a halo over their head. And sometimes because we know them, we can’t receive from them; what God wants to say and do through them. We put them in a box.

But we should be open to receive from any person that God chooses to speak through. This is true of leaders and also as we seek to minister to one another with the gifts and callings that God gives to each of us in the body of Christ. We need to be open.

4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

Jesus acknowledges what’s going on. They know him as just one of them, not as a prophet or as the Messiah.

As the proverb says, prophets are typically honored, except in their hometown, by those who can’t see them as prophets. Today we would say, “familiarity breeds contempt.” And so the town rejected Jesus.

And the last part of the saying, “his relatives and in his own household” shows that even Jesus’ family didn’t accept him or his ministry. This would have included Mary, his mother and James his brother, later the leader of the church in Jerusalem (John 7:5). They had expressed their unbelief earlier in Mark 3:21 when they came to him because they thought he was “out of his mind.” And now they reject him when he comes home.

This story is a reminder that rejection by others is a part of serving God. Even by friends and family. Jesus said in Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” He also said in Matthew 10:36, “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Jesus didn’t just teach this, he experienced it, as we see in this story. And if Jesus experienced this, who are we to think that we won’t have a taste of it?

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

 I have always been intrigued by these verses. In chapters 4-5 of Mark:

  • Jesus shows himself to be the great teacher, giving the parables of the sower, the mustard seed and the harvest.
  • He also shows himself to be the Lord of nature, calming the stormy sea. In 4:41 the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”
  • He also shows himself to be the Lord over all evil when he casts out a legion of demons and sets the man free.
  • He is the great healer, who cured the woman whom no doctor could cure.
  • And to top it off he shows himself to be the Lord of life when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

This is a portrait of Jesus as victorious in every way. No obstacle is too big for him – nature, demons, sickness or death.

But then he comes home and he’s stopped in his tracks. And what is the obstacle that stopped him? He is stopped by their unbelief. This unbelief keeps him from being able to do what he wanted to do and what he could do among them. It limits him and his ministry to them.

If they were astonished at him at the beginning (and not in a good way), in the end he is amazed at them (and not in a good way) – for their lack of faith.

The story ends with the phrase –

And he went about among the villages teaching.

Jesus moves on to another place to do his work, looking for people that will receive him and his ministry with faith.

I would like to end by highlighting what I think is the message for us today from this passage –

Our lack of faith can hinder God’s work

This story is a warning to us. Do you get the message? We can stop Jesus in his tracks even though there may be much he wants to do in us and through us; in our lives and in our congregation.

Did you know that you have such power? This is the way God has set things up. We have a role to play if God is going to do all that he intends – to help us and bless us. We have to believe to receive.

There is no limit to what God can do if we allow him. Jesus said in Mark 10:27, “all things are possible with God.” But we have to believe. We have to open up our lives to him in faith and rely on him to do it.

 

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The literary structure of Mark 522-24a; 35-43

Parallels handout

We’re back in the Gospel of Mark this morning, with the story of Jesus raising a girl from the dead – Mark 5:22-24a; 35-43. This story is sandwiched around what we looked at last time ,the healing of the long suffering woman. There are some interesting parallels between these stories, which you can see on your handout.

Let’s set the scene. Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee to the Eastern shore. On the way over he calmed the stormy sea. And when he arrived he cast out the legion of demons from the man in the cemetery. And now Jesus has come back across the Sea of Galilee to the Western shore and a large crowd has gathered around him (v. 21).

Picking up in v. 22 . . .

The story

22Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24And he went with him.

A synagogue ruler was a lay person who was in charge of organizing the worship service each Sabbath, making sure there were Scripture readers and teachers and so forth. They also took care of the synagogue building. They were highly honored and also Jairus seems to be well off.

He falls at Jesus’ feet and is imploring Jesus. You can see his faith here and also his father’s heart for his dear child. We don’t know what her ailment is, only that she’s to the point of death. Put yourself in his shoes. Can you feel the emotions he must have been feeling?

These verses show us that not all Jewish leaders are opposed to Jesus. And as we see here, Jesus is more than willing to go to heal his daughter.

In the verses that follow, which tell of the healing of the long suffering woman, time has elapsed. And we learn in v. 35 something bad has happened in the meantime.

35 While he was still speaking (to the woman he has just healed), there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Jairus believed that Jesus could heal his daughter, even though she was near to death. But who would think that Jesus could do anything once the child has died? This is the clear assumption of the messengers. Don’t trouble Jesus anymore. It’s too late! The situation is hopeless. Sure, Jesus may well be able to do many things – but not this.

36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

The word “overhearing” can also be translated as “ignoring.” However it’s translated Jesus does hear what the messengers say and he does ignore it. And he instructs Jairus, “do not fear.” Fear is the opposite of faith. Jesus is saying, don’t be afraid with regard to what they are saying about your daughter. “Only believe” that is, in him. Continue believing that he can help, even in what seems to be an impossible situation.

37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.

This is Jesus’ inner circle (which also sometimes included Andrew.) They’re selected to witness what’s about to take place.Presumably the rest of the disciples are left to attend to the crowd that has been following Jesus; to keep them from bothering or overwhelming the family.

38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

Things have to move quickly since in the ancient world dead bodies have to be buried in a timely fashion. And so there are already people gathering to mourn – before Jairus and Jesus arrive.

This crowd would have included professional mourners. These were hired by families, even poor ones, to show how much the family is grieving their loss. In this case there seems to be a number of them, indicating Jairus’ wealth.

These professionals would weep and wail, as it says here. And they would play musical instruments and beat their chests and so forth, until the body was buried.  

39And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him.

Jesus confronts the professional mourners.

Sleep is often used as a metaphor for death in the New Testament. What Jesus seems to be saying here – is not that the girl is literally asleep and not dead, but that her death is temporary, like sleep, and he is about to wake her up.

They respond by ridiculing him. See how quickly these actors move from weeping to laughter.

But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.

Jesus takes charge of the situation. Those who don’t believe; those who ridicule are excluded from seeing the work God is about to do. Everyone has to leave, except his three disciples and the parents.

41Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

Talitha cumi is an Aramaic phrase, the common language of Israel at this time, which means, “lamb, arise.” Lamb is a pet name for a child.

Jesus does what is impossible by all of their standards. He has healed many people, he has cast out demons, even 5,000 at once. But now he has raised someone from the dead. He simply speaks and she is alive again. At the end of v. 42 it says literally, “they were amazed with a great amazement.”

43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Jesus is back in Israel after having been in Gentile territory on the East side of the Sea of Galilee, so he once again tells them to be silent about this. This seems mostly to be about crowd control. Jesus doesn’t want to be so swamped by crowds that he can’t move or do any ministry.

Although, how this could remain hidden is hard to say. Many saw the girl dead and now she is alive and healthy – and hungry. Maybe this is just to give him time to move on to another place.

There are a number of things that can be highlighted from this story: First of all, Jesus can do the impossible. And he can do the impossible because he is God’s Son, come to bring salvation to the world. So we learn again about the identity of Jesus; who he is.

We also see a picture of this salvation that he is bringing in the raising of this girl from the dead. She was resuscitated and will have later died again. But it points forward to a day when, once again, Jesus will simply say the word (John 5:25) and the dead will be raised. This time to live eternally.

So our deaths are also only like sleep – in that it is temporary. And Jesus will “wake us up” on the final day. Jesus is lord even over death itself.

But I want to focus on Jairus’ faith, because what Jesus says to him is –

A good word for us today

Do not fear, only believe.”

I believe this is God’s word to us today. I hope you will receive it.

It must have been a big risk for him to come to Jesus in the first place, while other Jewish leaders were rejecting Jesus. But he did come. And he believed that Jesus could cure a deadly sickness.

But then things changed. His daughter died. All is lost.But Jesus indicates to him that God still wants to heal his daughter, when he says, “do not fear, only believe.”

What will Jairus do? I mean, that’s impossible! And everyone around him is saying, ‘that’s impossible.’ Leave the teacher alone and come bury your child. What do we do when we have a promise from God, but it seems impossible to us and to everyone else around us?

Well, Jairus didn’t give in to fear, but acted in faith. He brought Jesus to his home anyway. And he didn’t intervene when Jesus started doing things that could cause him social disgrace – like rebuking the mourners whom Jairus and his family are paying, and throwing them out of his house.

He had bold faith in Jesus and because of this he experienced what was considered to be impossible – his daughter was raised from the dead. Jesus came through for him.

When we find ourselves in an impossible situation, will we freeze up with fear or will we be able to look beyond the circumstances all around us and move forward in faith in God’s promises to us? Will we look at our circumstance or to Jesus and his word to us?

I encourage you this morning to have the faith that Jairus had so that you can receive God’s grace and mercy through our Lord Jesus.

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Today we pick up again in the Gospel of Mark, with the story of the long suffering woman – Mark 5:24-34. This story is sandwiched between the beginning and the end of another story – about how Jesus raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead. But I thought we would begin with it, and then come back to the other.

The story

24bAnd a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.

Remember with me, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee to the Eastern shore.

  • On the way over he calmed the stormy sea.
  • And when he arrived he cast out the legion of demons from the man in the cemetery.
  • And now Jesus has come back across the Sea of Galilee to the Western shore.

A large crowd greeted him as he arrived. And after Jairus asked Jesus to come heal his daughter – our story begins – with the crowds still in tow.

25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.

Five statements here tell the sad situation of this woman.

1. She has a chronic bleeding disorder of some kind, probably related to her menstrual cycle. And she has had this condition for 12 years. She has suffered a long time.

Apart from the physical aspect of this, according to the Law of Moses:

  • she could not touch anyone, without making them unclean (Leviticus 15:25ff),
  • she could not enter the temple (Leviticus 15:31)
  • and she was forbidden to be sexually active (Leviticus 18:19). So if she was ever married she almost certainly would now be divorced

2. She has suffered much seeking help. She has gone to many physicians, not just a few. And their treatments are described as causing her misery.

Many ancient physicians used crude and ineffective procedures. For her situation you might be required to drink a goblet of wine with a powder of rubber, alum and garden crocuses; or you might be shocked; or you might have to carry the ash of an ostrich’s egg in a certain cloth. (Talbert, pl 174, referencing William Lane’s research)

3. She’s now poor having spent all her resources on seeking these treatments.

4. Her health is not even better and no wonder, given the treatments we just heard about!

5. And in fact, she’s worse than before despite all her money and all these physicians. She seems to be beyond human help.

27She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

So Jesus’ reputation as a healer has spread far and wide.

Her hope is for a secret healing. She comes up behind him and just touches his clothing (the fringes that all devout Jews wore Matthew 9:20, Luke 8:44) and want to slip away unnoticed.

If we ask why? Perhaps she’s very shy. Perhaps because she’s not supposed to touch anyone? Perhaps she was ashamed of her condition? We don’t know.

But we do know that she has great faith in Jesus. She believed that she only needed to touch his clothing to be healed.

29And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

The healing is instantaneous and complete. Notice the contrast between the effectiveness of Jesus and the futility of the doctors of that day.

30And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”

Just as she feels in herself that she’s healed, Jesus perceives in himself that power has gone out.

There are a few interesting things about this:

  • Jesus heals someone without even being asked.
  • And he heals someone without him knowing about it, until after it happened.
  • And although afterwards he knows it happened by supernatural knowledge, he doesn’t know who it is.

And so he asks, who touched my garments?

Well, the disciples don’t even know what to do with this question.

31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” 32And he looked around to see who had done it.

They’re saying, “Jesus, everyone is touching you!” But Jesus persists.

And the woman’s hope for a secret healing is foiled –

33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.

Why was she afraid? Did she think she would be rebuked for touching Jesus in her uncleanness? Or for not asking Jesus for healing? And if Jesus is angry perhaps she thinks her healing might be rescinded.

Luke 8:45 tells us that everyone denied that they touched Jesus, at least in the way that Jesus is talking about. So it sounds like at first she tried to keep it a secret, but then comes forward before Jesus and tells the whole truth of what happened.

Why does Jesus draw her out in public? Healings that are not publicly verified cannot bring glory to God or bear witness to who Jesus is as the Son of God. This reminds us that we need to give praise to God and bear witness for Jesus when he works in our lives in answer to prayer.

Jesus also wanted to speak to her, which he does in v. 34.

34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus isn’t angry! He uses a term of endearment, “daughter.” And he commends her for her faith and reassures her that the gift of her healing is indeed hers to keep. He wished for her peace, that is, shalom; her wholeness and well-being.

Let me end with –

Two things that stand out from this story

The first is Jesus’ amazing power to save. He doesn’t just do miracles, he does extraordinary miracles. Recently he calmed the storm with the mere words of his mouth and he easily cast out over 5,000 demons. And now he has cured someone, whom no one else could. And the healing was instantaneous. We are reminded yet again that Jesus is amazing!

All these miracles point to his true identity. He is not just a miracle worker or a prophet – he is the Son of God, come to fulfill God’s promises and bring salvation to God’s people.

And these miracles also should draw us to come to him with our needs for salvation, healing and help.

And second, this woman is an excellent example of faith for us. So that when we come to Jesus, we receive.

She didn’t need Jesus to do something elaborate or to even show her any attention. She knew that he was so powerful that all she needed to do was touch his clothing. And because of her faith, she was made whole.

Listen carefully. Many people touched Jesus that day in the crowd going to Jairus’ house, but only she was healed. And she received from Jesus because she touched Jesus with faith.

As we close today and sing our final song, I invite you to pray and to touch Jesus in faith – so that you can find grace and mercy for your needs and your burdens. 

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The literary structure of Mark 5:1-21

We’re back into our series on the Gospel of Mark. Remember with me – after teaching in parables all day Jesus took a boat, along with his disciples, to the other side of the sea of Galilee. On the way a great storm arose and Jesus calmed it, leaving his disciples astounded and asking, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (4:41).

Just after this, when they arrive on the other side, our story begins.

Mark 5:1-20

5:1They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.

It’s impossible to say exactly where this took place given what the gospels tell us.

decapolis and galilee

As you can see on the map the city of Gerasa is some 35 miles away! (Matthew says, “the region of Gadara” which is much closer to the lake, but still 5 miles away.) What Mark is doing here is using the phrase, “country or region of the Gerasenes” as a way of talking about the region called Decapolis, mentioned later in the story (v. 20). He means the part of the Decapolis or region of the Gerasenes that touches the Sea of Galilee.

This was a Gentile area, Jesus’ first visit to such a place, as Mark tells the story of Jesus. It used to be a part of ancient Israel, but was now Gentile.

2And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out (or howling) and bruising (or cutting) himself with stones.

Three things stand out in these verses. From a Jewish point of view the ceremonial uncleanness involved is highlighted. It’s not just that the Decapolis is a Gentile area, this particular man has an “unclean” spirit and he lives among tombs – which were unclean according to the Law (Numbers 19:11, 16; Matthew 23:27). These tombs were probably caves in the side of a hill, where he could find shelter.

Second, he’s beyond anyone’s help. No one is strong enough to subdue him. And even chains and shackles, that is, handcuffs and leg irons can keep him down. He breaks them apart due to his superhuman demonic strength.

Finally, his sad state stands out. He’s not in his right mind (v. 15). He lives in tombs. He’s like a wild animal, screaming or howling – running around naked (v. 15). And he’s engaging in self-destructive behavior. And he does this, Mark tells us, “night and day.” What a terrible and miserable existence!

6And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

The demons know who Jesus is (as Mark tells us in 1:34) and so they know his superiority to them, which is why he bows. And he correctly identifies Jesus as “Son of the most High God,” that is, the one true creator God. (Similarly – 1:24, 3:11)

We learn in v. 8 that Jesus is in the process of casting out the unclean spirit, which explains the demon’s question, “what have you to do with me?” As we saw before this means something like, ‘what business do we have with each other?’ Or perhaps here, ‘why are you involving yourself in my affairs?’

But then the demon moves quickly to pleas for mercy. Usually an exorcist would say to the demon, “I adjure you by God,” but here the demon says it to Jesus. And he seems to be saying observe the boundaries that God has set for when demons are to be tormented. In other words, the Son of God and judge of the final day is already here now, but the demon is saying, it’s not time yet for the torment of the final judgment. (Or as Luke says the demon doesn’t want to be thrown “into the Abyss” – 8:31; or as Matthew 8:29 says, the demon says, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?”)

9And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

 A Roman legion is usually considered to be just over 5,000 soldiers. So here we’re talking about thousands of demons in this man! (Other examples of multiple demons – Matthew 12:45; Luke 8:2)

And then we have an interesting twist in the story –

10And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

Apparently demons are territorial (Daniel 10:13) and so the demon who’s speaking doesn’t want to be cast out/ or disembodied so that, as Jesus says, “it passes through waterless places seeking rest but finds none.” (Matthew 12:43.)

That there’s a pig herd nearby confirms that this is a Gentile area, since Jews were neither allowed to eat pigs, nor to raise them.

Notice how Jesus merely speaks and the demons must go.

There are a number of questions that come from these verses that are hard to answer:

  • Can demons possess animals? Or does what happened suggest that this doesn’t work, since the pigs immediately killed themselves?
  • Why did Jesus let them go into the pigs? Whatever the reason it did become a visible way of seeing that the demons are in fact cast out and also that there were thousands of them.
  • What happened to the demons after the pigs died? Apparently they became disembodied anyway.
  • What about the herd of pigs? Wasn’t someone mad about the significant loss of wealth? Well, it was the demons who killed them. And perhaps this was a small price to have rid the community of thousands of demons. And perhaps from a Jewish point of view pigs shouldn’t be raised in what was a part of ancient Israel anyway. We’ll never know!

14The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.

He is sitting, not wild. He is clothed, not naked. And he is in his right mind instead of being out of his mind. What an amazing transformation Jesus has on this man’s life! He is completely whole.

16And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

There’s a lot of begging going on in this story. The demons beg for mercy several times. And then here the people beg Jesus to leave. They’re so afraid of his power that they ask him to depart. Jesus casts out demons from their region and they respond by casting him out of their region!

And then finally the man begs Jesus “that he might be with him. (He wants to be a part of the disciple group – 3:14). Interestingly Jesus grants the requests of the demons and the people, but not the man. Probably because he was a Gentile and that just wouldn’t work as he continued his ministry to the Jews.

He is commissioned for ministry however. (If Jesus silenced others who were made whole to avoid the crush of the crowds, there is no need here since he is leaving the area.) Jesus says to the man, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19).

And he was faithful telling everyone, “how much Jesus had done for him.” v. 20. Notice that what Jesus does is what the Lord does. It’s the same.

Now, it’s no mystery what this story teaches us –

Jesus is able to make anyone whole

Here is a man who was beyond anyone’s help. Who was possessed by thousands of demons. But Jesus is easily able to defeat these demons and make the man whole – “clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15)  When he was possessed he was able to break literal chains. But Jesus broke his real chains – bondage to demons.

This is who Jesus is, the Son of God. And this is the hope we have – no matter what our situation, it’s not too difficult for Jesus. There is always hope because of Jesus.

And then closely connected to this –

We are to tell others how Jesus has made us whole

v. 19 is the voice of Jesus to us this morning. “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Once we have received of Jesus’ transforming power we are to tell others of God’s grace and mercy to us.

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The literary structure of Mark 3:20-21; 31-35

Jesus’ early Galilean ministry – Mark 1:16-3:35

Jesus’ new community take shape

We’re in a section in Mark that I am calling ‘Jesus’ new community takes shape.’ Jesus has chosen the leaders of his new community – the 12 apostles, and today we see who makes up the rest of this new community; which is the remnant of Israel.

We’re dealing with verses 20-21 out of order because these verses go with vs. 31-35. Mark is famous for putting one story in the middle of another. A kind of story sandwich, if you will. He does this because he wants the two stories to be read together, because they have something in common. In this case we see that it is not just the scribes from Jerusalem who reject Jesus – his family does as well.

Mark 3:20-21; 31-35

20Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.

So this verse starts just after Jesus has finished choosing the 12 apostles. When it says “he went home” (or into a house) it most likely means that he’s back in Capernaum, his home base and also it probably means that he’s in Peter and Andrew’s house again.

As always, the crowds gather around Jesus. In this instance there are so many people that “they could not even eat,” referring to Jesus and his disciples.

21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

His family back in Nazareth hears about the crowds and perhaps specifically that Jesus is not able to eat because of them and they decide that they need to do something.

What’s translated “family” here is literally “those of him.” It’s kind of a vague way of talking about his natural family. (That it is indeed is family is made clear in v. 31)

They come to “seize” him or take control of him. The word can have the sense of arresting or forcibly seizing someone. It sounds like they want to bring him back with them to Nazareth away from the crowds and the spotlight.

They do this because they think he’s out of his mind; he’s saying and doing things that they don’t understand and he’s so caught up in what he thinks is his mission from God, that he’s not eating.

Their charge that he’s out of his mind is not the same as the scribes’ charge that Jesus is demon possessed. But it’s at least analogous since demons were sometimes thought to cause insanity (John 10:20-21). As will become even more clear below – they don’t believe in him as the Son of God and anointed one at this point (See also John 7:3-5).

And so they decide to stage what we would call today a “family intervention.”  It’s unclear if their motivation is for Jesus’ own well-being or if they are primarily concerned about their family’s reputation. Maybe a bit of both. Certainly his actions reflected back on them for good or ill and family honor was a huge concern in that day.

What a painful rejection Jesus endures in our story. Can you imagine? You’re doing God’s will and your own family thinks you’re crazy. So when Jesus calls others to leave family behind or if their commitment to him causes their family to reject them just know that it happened to Jesus also.

Well our verse tells us that they set off for Capernaum. Then we skip down to v. 31.

31And his mother and his brothers came . . .

They arrive. That Joseph isn’t mentioned here suggests that he has already died. So Mary leads the delegation.

The word “brothers” can also mean more broadly “siblings.” In v. 35 Jesus mentions sisters and Jesus’ sisters may be in this group as well. Mark 6:3 – tells us that Jesus had four brothers – James, Joses, Judas and Simon – and more than one sister.

There’s no reason to think that the siblings here are anything other than Jesus’ actual step-brothers and sisters, that is – children of Joseph and Mary – born after Jesus. (Certainly actual brothers and sisters fits better the picture he paints below of his new family – Hurtado).

. . . and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.”

This is strange since usually one’s family is inside the house and others are outside, but we’ll see how it’s actually not that strange in a moment.

Now the crowd in vs. 20-21 is distinguished from Jesus’ disciples and they are disruptive to Jesus’ work. Here the crowd is sitting around him. Sitting at Jesus’ feet is the position of a disciple or student (2 Kings 4:38; Luke 8:35; 10:39; Acts 22:3). In other words, the crowd here is a group of disciples. In fact, this is where we meet the rest of Jesus’ new community, that is, beyond the 12 apostles. This is the remnant of Israel gathered around Jesus. (See also Mark 4:10, 34 for this group of disciples around him) (The 12 are to be “with him” 3:14, and these here are similarly “around him.”

There’s a strong contrast going on in these verses:

  • Jesus’ natural family is standing and they are outside (2x). Both of which point out spatially what is true spiritually – they’re not followers of Jesus. They’re not in a position of learning, but are on the outside looking in.
  • Jesus’ disciples are sitting and they are inside. They are the learners; they are the insiders.

And taking into account vs. 20-21:

  • Jesus’ natural family is described as “those from him.”
  • Jesus’ disciples here are described as “those around him.”

So the very way the story is told – the spatial language – (sitting, standing; outside, inside; from, around) points out the differences between the two groups in relation to commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God.

33And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

This would have been quite shocking to ancient ears. And maybe we don’t even get this when we hear the story. Family was much more important than it is today and loyalty and great honor were required. But Jesus seems dismissive. But what he’s really doing is redefining family and prioritizing his relationships.

34And looking about at those who sat around him, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

His true family is made up of his disciples; those who are part of his new community of the kingdom of God; the remnant of Israel. And they have priority over his natural family.

What sets these people apart from others?

35Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

 (See a similar idea in John 15:14)

Now everyone in the story – the scribes, Jesus’ family – they all think they’re doing God’s will. Jesus means, more specifically – doing God’s will according to his preaching and teachingThose sitting around him are listening to just this. And that’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – you learn his teaching and you put it into practice.

Notice the open ended language, “whoever.” His natural family, and all people are invited to be a part of his new community.

What Jesus teaches here raises a number of points. First we learn that the church is God’s family made up of believing Jews and Gentiles.

God is our Father. Jesus taught us to pray “our Father in heaven” – Matthew 6:9. And we are God’s children – Romans 8:14-17. And we are all brothers and sisters. In Matthew 23:8 he says, “you are all brothers” – which means brothers and sisters. And this language is used throughout the NT. And Jesus is our older brother, or the firstborn of the family – Hebrews 2:11; Romans 8:29. We are a family and this is how it’s set-up.

God’s family takes priority over our natural families. You’ve heard the saying ‘blood is thicker than water.’ This means family always has the highest priority and loyalty. Well, for Christians ‘water is thicker than blood.’ That is, the water of baptism by which we commit ourselves to Jesus takes precedence over our loyalty to our biological/legal family.

Now, don’t think this means you can ignore your family responsibilities. Jesus taught that apart from sexual immorality there is to be no divorce in Mark 10:2-12. So men can’t just dump wives they don’t like, which is a lot of what was happening. And he taught very strongly about caring for aging parents in Mark 7:6-13 (See also John 19:25-27)

It just means that if our family pressures us to do something other than what Jesus teaches, we always go with Jesus. Just as we see modeled here by Jesus. They wanted him to stop his mission. But Jesus said no.

Listen to what he has to say in Matthew 10:35-37 – “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” That is because of commitment to Jesus. And then he goes on, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus and his family take priority.

Rightly understood, believers have more in common with each other than with their unbelieving natural family members.

And all of what I’ve just said applies to our country as well – our extended natural family based on biology and law. If our government tells us to do something other than what Jesus teaches us – we go with Jesus. As Peter said in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” Rightly understood, American believers have more in common with believers in other countries – Congo, Iraq, Russia, Colombia or wherever – than we do with unbelieving Americans.

Our new family supports us as followers of Jesus. Jesus tells those that must leave family in order to follow him that they will gain a new family. “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, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands . . .” – Mark 10:29-30. We may have to leave our natural family but we gain the family of Jesus.

And Jesus warns his followers that our natural families can turn on us because of our commitment to him. “And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” – Mark 13:11. Our believing family, however, is here to encourage us and help us as we seek to do God’s will in this world.

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Jesus’ new community takes shape

The literary structure of Mark 3:22-30

Last week we saw how Jesus chose 12 apostles as leaders of his new community; a remnant of faithful Israel. Today we see how the leaders of old Israel decisively reject him. There’s a parting of the ways taking place here.

Next week we’ll see how Jesus’ family rejects him, although later they come to believe. So this part of Mark that talks about Jesus’ new community taking shape is also defined by rejection of Jesus by those who are not a part of this new community.

In our story today there’s a very serious exchange between Jesus and the scribes on the topic of casting out demons, the work of the Holy Spirit and what is sometimes called the unpardonable sin.

Mark 3:22-30

22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

Jesus’ casting out of demons is emphasized in the gospel of Mark. Jesus’ authority over them is quite amazing. They’re afraid of him (e.g. 1:24). And he silences them and casts them out with a mere word.

Notice that there’s no debate that Jesus can cast out demons or heal people for that matter. Everyone agrees that he can. The debate now is about how he does this.

Scribes were the educated class of ancient societies, and given that Israel’s culture was governed by the Law of Moses, they were experts in the Law. These particular scribes came from Jerusalem, and so it looks like this is an official delegation sent to investigate Jesus on behalf of the leaders in Jerusalem. (We have already seen that some of the crowd around Jesus has come from Jerusalem – 3:8.)

The scribes come out against Jesus and begin to accuse him and try to discredit him before the crowds. They claimed that the reason Jesus is so amazingly successful at casting out demons is that he’s possessed by a demon, specifically “the prince of demons” – Beelzebul, which is another name for Satan. That’s why he can do what he does. [For this charge see also John 8:48, 52; 10:20] [Beelzebul is made up of two words: “Baal” – the name of a Canaanite god, which means “lord.” And “zebul” which most likely means “dwelling” or “house.”] [In 2 Kings 1:2 ff. Baal the god of Ekron, is called Baal-zebub, which seems to be an intentional change of his name by Israelites to mean – Lord of the flies or the filth.] [Note the house metaphors in this passage and how there appears to be a word pay in Matthew 10:25 between “master of the house” and Beelzebul.]

[The scribes make one charge not two. Mark summarizes their words in v. 30 by simply saying, “he has an unclean spirit.” See also Matthew 12:24; Luke 11:15.]

There’s a lesson here in the scribes’ response: Miracles don’t always convince people. We sometimes think, you know, if God would just do something miraculous people would believe. But miracles can be doubted and they can be interpreted differently. Jesus’ miracles did get peoples’ attention, but in the end they didn’t convince many people. Most of the crowds came to reject him.

Jesus’ first response to the scribes is to point out that their charge is absurd. It’s illogical.

23And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

(The word “called” is the same as the one used when Jesus called the 12 apostles. So this sets up a contrast between these two sets of leaders.)

He called them to him because they were spreading slander about him and he’s confronting them and warning them. (France). This is a good example to us. When someone sins against you go to the person to deal with the issue. This is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15. Don’t do what the scribes do – go and talk to everyone else. Go to the person or persons face to face.

It says that he spoke to them in parables. The word parable (Hebrew – Masal) has a broad meaning. We usually think of a story parable but it also includes things like proverbs, metaphors or riddles like we have in our passage. A parable is anything that compares two things to make a point.

That their charge is absurd is pointed out by his question: How can Satan cast our Satan The demons that Jesus defeats are Satan’s agents who are doing his will. It really would be like casting himself out! Satan wants to oppress, possess and destroy people. Why would he want to give freedom and release from himself? This doesn’t make sense.

He gives two illustrations –

24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

The comparison to a kingdom is apt because Satan is called here a “prince.” Jesus also uses the metaphor of a house, or since Satan is a prince, we could say a royal household. (This last example is likely a play on words with the name Beelzebul). And the point is, if there’s a civil war going on or if a household is fighting – these entities will fall apart.

He then applies this to Satan –

26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

If Satan is in revolt against himself things really are falling apart. But that’s not the case. That Satan’s kingdom has not collapsed refutes their charge (Stein). This is shown by how many demons Jesus is casting out. Satan is alive and well.

Jesus gives us the correct assessment of what’s going on when he casts out demons in verse –

27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

(Jesus continues with a house metaphor.) In this parable:

  • The strong man is Satan
  • The house is world. As Jesus says in John 12:31 Satan is “the ruler of this world.”
  • His goods are the people who are under his control – specifically here the demon possession.
  • To plunder is to set people free by casting out demons.
  • To bind is to overpower Satan so that he can do nothing about it. (There is no necessary reference to a one-time event when this happened. Jesus is just more powerful. And whenever he engages Satan or his representatives he wins.)

Jesus is this stronger one (Luke 11:22) who can enter Satan’s domain and set his captives free (Luke 13:16). All Satan and his demons can do is submit to Jesus. So this is what’s really going on. Jesus is assaulting Satan’s kingdom. He has come to establish the kingdom of God and he is doing so by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28: Luke 11:20), as our next verse will make clear.

Jesus’ other response to the scribes is that their charge is unforgiveable blasphemy.

28Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter . . .

The word “truly” is literally “amen” which means “confirmed” or “verified.” This way of talking is unique to Jesus. It’s similar to the Old Testament, “thus says the Lord.” And he uses it to say something really important.

Jesus is pretty broad here – “all sins” can be forgiven, and “whatever blasphemies.” Blasphemy means to slander, defame or speak against someone, in this case God. And blasphemy against God is a capital offense (Leviticus 24:13-16). But notice what Jesus says. All sins and blasphemies can be forgiven (with one exception, as we’ll see). There’s good news in this statement. What are the worst sins you can think of? What are the worst sins you have committed? Jesus tells us these can be forgiven. This speaks to the depths of God’s mercy and grace toward us.

There’s only one exception to Jesus’ statement –

. . . 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

(See also on blasphemy of the Spirit – Luke 12:10; Matthew 12:32)

The scribes were not just slandering Jesus, which is forgivable (Matthew 12:32). They’re slandering, blaspheming or speaking against (Matthew 12:32) the Holy Spirit of God — since it’s the Spirit that empowers Jesus to do what he does. Notice the double emphasis – “never has forgiveness;” and “is guilty of an eternal sin.” The point is clear. It won’t be forgiven.

 How does one commit this sin? People sometimes fret or are afraid that they have done this or will do this. Well, Mark makes it clear –

30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

 You commit this sin if you say that what the Holy Spirit did through Jesus – casting out demons, miracles, healings – is the work of a demonic spirit.

Now the Spirit works through others, but never more powerfully and clearly than through Jesus. And I believe that Mark is showing us that this sin has to do specifically with the work of the Spirit through Jesus. As he says, they said that Jesus has an unclean spirit.

And this sin is committed by those who know better, in this case the scribes. It’s not made by someone who doesn’t really understand things. It’s not a stray thought that comes into your mind. It’s a position you that you take about the Spirit’s work through Jesus – that it’s of Satan.

To say this is to say that black is white and white is black. It’s like Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.”

We see here that the honor of the Spirit, who is gentle, quiet and pure is zealously guarded by God.

Let me end by emphasizing the main point. Jesus has complete power and authority over Satan and his demons. He is the stronger one who overpowers Satan and there is nothing Satan or his demons can do about it.

Now, you don’t have to be demon possessed to need Jesus’ deliverance. Satan is the ruler of this world and we all have been or need to be set free to one degree or another. So in whatever way you need to be saved – Jesus can do it. Even Christians can give him a foothold in our lives when we walk in sin. Look to him! He will break you out of the strongman’s house. He will set you free! And he will receive you into his kingdom, the kingdom of God.

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The literary structure of Mark 3:13-19

Jesus’ new community takes shape, further rejection. The structure of Mark 3:13-35

We’re in a new section of Mark today, which I’m calling “Jesus’ new community takes shape.” We are looking at the beginning of this section, Mark 3:19-20 where Jesus chooses 12 apostles as the leaders of new Israel.

Let’s jump into our passage for today, and as we go along I will point out five brief lessons for us in these verses.

Mark 3:13-20

13And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.

 So Jesus has left the crowd that he ministered to in 3:7-12, as we saw last week, and has gotten away to a private place. In this case he’s up on a mountain.

In the Old Testament mountains are where some pretty important things happen. Remember, for instance, that God formed the 12 tribes of Israel into a nation, his people at Mt. Sinai – Exodus 19.

Now, Jesus has already called Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John. (1:16-20). He has also called Levi the tax collector to follow him (2:14). And there were others who followed Jesus as disciples. Mark 2:15 talks about his disciples and says, “there were many who followed him.”

So out of this larger group of disciples he selects some for a special role. And he chose them himself. He called them, just as God still calls people today to be leaders among his people. And, it says, “they came to him.”

14And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) . . .

If we ask, “Why 12 apostles?” The answer is that just as there were 12 tribes of Israel, so there are 12 apostles to show that Jesus is intentionally reconstituting Israel. He is creating a new Israel out of the old Israel; a faithful remnant. He is creating the new, messianic Israel. And so the 12 apostles represent the 12 tribes of this new Israel. And this happens on a mountain, just as in the Old Testament in Exodus 19, when Israel was originally formed.

We have already seen how the leaders of old Israel have opposed Jesus. And in fact, some have already schemed to try to kill him. And just after this story, we have a delegation of leaders from Jerusalem who come and condemn Jesus as being possessed by Satan. So Jesus is calling out and forming a remnant and these are the leaders of this new remnant.

Here’s our first lesson, We are a part of this renewed Israel, made up of believing Jews and also believing Gentiles; those who own Jesus as the anointed one and God’s Son, and who walk in his ways. This is who we are as the church. We are the renewed messianic Israel, spoken of by the prophets of old. We are God’s people.

As Peter says, echoing the language of Exodus 19 when Israel was formed at Mt. Sinai,“you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” – 1 Peter 2:9.

Here’s another lesson from this, Jesus fulfills the role of God in creating this new, faithful remnant. Just as it was God who chose and established the 12 tribes of Israel as his people; here Jesus is the one who chooses and establishes the new Israel. He is not one of the 12, but the one who established them. He takes on God’s role. This is just one more way that we see Jesus’ unique divine identity in the gospel.

So in these lessons we learn about who we are – we are renewed Israel, and we learn who Jesus is – he is the Lord of all.

So Jesus chooses these twelve –

. . . so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15and have authority to cast out demons.

 Here we learn a bit about what they are to do. First they are to “be with him.” They are to follow Jesus around, witnessing what he does and learning what he teaches.

And second, they are to perform certain tasks. The word apostle itself means “one sent with a task.” And the verb in the phrase “he might send them” comes from the same root word. Two tasks are highlighted. They are to preach/teach & cast out demons. 

Although it’s not mentioned here they also healed people just like Jesus did when he sent them out (Mark 6:13). And they also did many other things – from crowd control to helping Jesus distribute food when he miraculously fed the crowds.

Beyond this the apostles are chosen to officially represent Jesus. This is also a part of what the word apostle means, they are his authorized agents or representatives. They speak and act for him.

And it’s because of them that we have the Gospels; they preserved and passed on Jesus’ stories and teachings (Luke 1:2). And it’s because of them that what we have as the New Testament has authority. What is apostolic, or from the apostolic church, is what is authoritative, because they are his official representatives. Rightly understood this is the basis of New Testament scriptural authority.

And in light of Jesus’ upcoming death, which is even alluded to in our passage (v. 19), they are chosen to carry on the mission and lead God’s people after he is gone as we see in the book of Acts.

And finally, they will be rulers in the fullness of the kingdom. Jesus said this to them in Matthew 19:28, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Here are a couple of lessons about how ministry works for leaders or anyone: We need to be with Jesus first; in relationship with him, learning from him – and then we can do the tasks he calls us to do. Without being in his presence, we will not able to do the tasks he gives us to do. What I’m saying is that the very way this is written shows the priority of being with Jesus first.

Also, Jesus empowers those he chooses. Here we see that he gave them specific tasks, and it says he gave them “authority to cast out demons.” He gave them of his authority/power, which we have been amazed by in the gospel of Mark thus far. When God calls you to do something, he will empower you as well. He will not leave you hanging.

Next we learn the names of the 12 –

16He appointed the twelve:

There are four lists of the apostles in the New Testament (Matthew 10:2-4, here in Mark, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13). In each list the names break down into three groups of four people (except Acts does not list Judas Iscariot). (For references to the 12 in Mark – here and in 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:10, 17, 20, 43).

Let’s go through this briefly. The first is –

Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)

In all the lists, Simon Peter is first. He’s the leader and spokesperson of the 12. Jesus here gives him the nickname “Peter” which means rock or stone. (For more on Peter as a rock see Matthew 16:17-19) (Up until this point Mark has called him Simon, but hereafter will only call him Peter.) (Peter was also known as “son of John” – John 1:47; Matthew 16:17.)

 Next are –

17James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder)

 James and John are brothers, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus also gives them a nickname, although what “Sons of thunder” means isn’t clear. Some have noted that they come across as brash in several places (Mark 9:38; 10:35 ff; Luke 9:54). James is the only apostle whose death for Jesus is recorded in the New Testament (Acts 12:2).

These first three make up Jesus’ inner circle who accompany him when the other 9 do not. And they were leaders in the early church, although James died pretty early on.

And then we have –

18Andrew

He’s Peter’s brother. He was a part of the inner circle at least on one occasion (13:3). He is talked about more in John’s gospel (1:40-44; 6:8; 12:22)

Our passage goes on –

and Philip

He’s always the first name in the second group of four. He plays no further role in Mark, but is mentioned several times in John (1:43 ff; 6:5-7; 12:21-22; 14:8-9)

 and Bartholomew

He doesn’t show up again in Mark or anywhere else. Although some think he is the Nathanael mentioned in the gospel of John (1:43-49; 21:2).

 and Matthew

According to the Gospel of Matthew, this is the same person as Levi (Matthew 9:9), whom Jesus called from being a tax collector in Mark 2:14. (It’s unclear why Mark wouldn’t have made this connection explicit in his gospel.)

And since Levi is the son of Alphaeus, he may be the brother of James the son of Alphaeus, another member of the 12. This would mean that there are three sets of brothers among the 12 – a full half of the list.

and Thomas

His name means “the twin.” He’s not mentioned again in Mark, but is more prominent in the gospel of John (11:16; 14:5; 20:24-28; 21:2.)

Our passage goes on –

and James the son of Alphaeus

 He’s always first on the last group of four names. He doesn’t show up again anywhere. (Although he may be the same as James the younger – Mark 15:40). “Son of Alphaeus” differentiates him from James the son of Zebedee.

 and Thaddaeus

 On the lists in Luke and Acts his name is Judas, son of James. Judas would be his Jewish name and Thaddaeus his Greek name. This was not uncommon in that day. He shows up once in John’s gospel (14:22).

 and Simon the Cananaean

 Cananaean doesn’t mean Canaanite. It means “zealot.” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Perhaps he was formerly of the group who threatened violence to Jews who broke the Law. Or he was simply a very devoted Jew. Nothing more is known of him.

19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

He’s the infamous one, who turned Jesus over to be crucified. He’s always listed last (except in Acts 1:13 where he isn’t listed). Iscariot probably means “from Kerioth” a town in Israel. This is probably where his family was originally from (This was also his father’s name – John 6:71; 13:2, 26).

Do you remember who replaced him? Acts 1:26 – Matthias.

A more interesting question is, “Why did Jesus choose him, knowing what he would do?” Apart from that it was predicted in Scripture.

Let me end with a lesson from this list of names. God uses ordinary people to do great things for his kingdom. All of them were common, everyday people, fishermen, a tax collector and the like. Some of them we know next to nothing about even though they are one of the 12. And they all had weaknesses and failures, for instance all deserted him. And we see numerous problems in Peter, James and Johns’ lives.

Well, this is good news for us, because we are ordinary people, and we are not well known by the world, and we have weaknesses and fail from time to time – so God can use you and me too. If he could use them, and he did to change the world, he can use us just as well to do great things for his kingdom.

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