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Posts Tagged ‘Mark’

Series: Markan prologue

The literary structure of Mark 1:1-15

We’ve been studying the introduction to the Gospel of Mark and how in accordance with the prophecies of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, the messenger comes first, who is John the Baptist, and then comes the Lord, who is Jesus. In our passage today, we come to the end of Mark’s introduction, which gives us some very important insight into what Jesus is all about.

Let’s look at these verses –

Mark 1:14-15

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.”

Let me first highlight, in terms of the story line, that this is the key transition where John’s ministry comes to an end and Jesus comes fully onto the scene. The baton is passed.

We’ll learn more about what happens to John in Mark 6. But with regard to our verse, I want to point out that when Mark says John was “arrested” it says literally, he was “handed over,” which is foreshadowing of what’s to come. This same word is used in relation to Jesus’ arrest, for instance in Mark 9:31, and also the coming persecution of Jesus’ disciples, in Mark 13:9. So Jesus begins his ministry on a note of persecution that hangs over all that he and his followers will do.

Second, we have in this passage a summary of Jesus’ message that tells us in simple form what he taught, what he stood for, what he was about. The rest of the Gospel gives content to this, but this is where it’s all brought together and so it’s really important to notice and understand this.

If you had to boil the gospel down to just a few words, how would you say it? Or if you had to summarize the whole message of the Bible in a phrase, what would that phrase be? Well, this is exactly what Jesus is doing here. And since it comes from him – this is how he summarizes it all, we should take notice and seek to understand what he’s saying. Which is what I want us to do for the rest of our time together this morning.

Let’s read v. 15 together – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news” – v. 15. (See also Matthew 4:17; Luke 4:43)

First, we look at –

The coming of the kingdom

 And we begin with the question, ‘What is it?’

1. The kingdom of God, to say it simply, is God’s promised salvation. It’s more than this, since it brings together most, if not all of the Bible, but it is this.

Our world lives in rebellion against God and is in misery because of this. But Scripture speaks of a day when the earth will once again be under the dominion and blessings of heaven, where God rules unhindered; a day when all the prophecies will be fulfilled.

For now, the world is characterized by three things:

  • Slavery to Satan, the leader of the rebellion. [The people of God came back from exile but were really still in exile, enslaved to the powers of the nations, or the spirits (demons) behind idolatry, led by Satan.] But the promise is that God will set us free – Isaiah 61:1. That’s what the kingdom is about.
  • It is characterized by condemnation for sin and rebellion. But the promise is that God will forgive our sins and he will be close to us – Jeremiah 31:31-34. That’s what the kingdom is about.
  • It is characterized by subjection to death. But the promise is that God will give us new life – Isaiah 25:7-8. We will be whole and at peace. Death itself will be overcome. This is the reality of the kingdom.

So taking this into account, Jesus is saying here that with his coming –

2. The kingdom has arrived. This is made clear in our verse. Jesus said, “the time is fulfilled.” The word “time” here is not about ordinary calendar time. It’s about God’s providential time. Jesus is saying, this is the moment; the appointed time. The word “fulfilled” has to do with fulfilling the many prophecies that were made. Jesus has come to bring them to pass.

Jesus also teaches us in this verse that the kingdom it is “at hand.” This means that it has drawn near. So something new is happening, something powerful, something long promised, something desperately needed.

3. This is why this is good news. We saw previously that the phrase “good news” in both a Roman and Jewish context (Isaiah) has to do with a royal announcement. And here it’s royal as well. It relates to the coming of the kingdom of God and indeed its king.

We saw how in his baptism Jesus is shown to be “the anointed one” or the Messiah. And he is proclaimed by God to be his Son – a royal designation. The gospel is an announcement that there’s a new king, God’s Son! God’s promised kingdom is here!

4. God’s kingdom and Jesus are intertwined. That’s why the rest of the Gospel is about Jesus – his teaching, ministry, life, death and resurrection. But it is summarized here as about the kingdom of God. That’s why in v. 1 it’s “the good news of Jesus” and here it’s “the good news” of “the kingdom of God.” (The good news of God [v. 14] is that what he has promised, the kingdom, he is bringing about through Jesus.)

 The king and his kingdom are interchangeable. God’s kingdom is where Jesus is, and it’s where he rules.

5. There is more of the kingdom yet to come. Jesus talks about this, for instance in Mark 13:26 when he says the world will see him “coming in clouds with great glory and power.” That is, at the end of all things.

Most of his hearers would have expected the kingdom to come all at once. But Jesus teaches that there is an ‘already, not yet’ element to the coming of the kingdom. As he taught in Mark 4, the kingdom is like a mustard seed that starts out small, but eventually covers the whole world. It’s already here with his coming, but it’s not yet all the way here. That will await his second coming.

Now let’s look at –

How Jesus brings the kingdom

1. In his ministry we see the in-breaking of the kingdom

  • He sets people free from Satan through exorcisms, for instance a little later in Mark 1.
  • He forgives people their sins and gives them a new relationship with God. An example here is Levi the tax collector in Mark 2.
  • He heals people, making them whole, including raising people from the dead. He raised a 12-year-old girl in Mark 5.

In all these ways Jesus is communicating that the kingdom is here! And it is being made known through him. The promises are beginning to be fulfilled.

2. In his death and resurrection he establishes the kingdom

  • He overthrows Satan’s authority over this world. He is now Lord. (Matthew 28:18, which was likely how Mark originally ended)
  • He provides for our forgiveness on the cross – Mark 14:24
  • He defeats death in his resurrection from the dead – Mark 16. Death couldn’t hold him. And he pours out the Spirit to give us new life – Mark 1:8.

3. At his second coming he will complete the kingdom

  • Satan will be judged and destroyed
  • We will have a very close relationship with God
  • We will be resurrected to live forever – Mark 13:27

Finally, in this short verse, Jesus tells us –

How to enter the kingdom

Jesus uses the phrase “entering the kingdom” many times. This has to do with how we receive the promises of God’s salvation, made known with the coming of the kingdom. Jesus summarizes this in two words:

1. Repent – This means to have a change of heart and mind that leads us to do God’s will from now on. We turn away from our old lives and walk in a new path according to Jesus’ teaching and example. For instance we love God with all that we are; we love our neighbor as our self; we honor our marriage vows; we take up our cross and serve others and suffer for this.

 2. Believe – This means that we trust in God and God’s promises. We believe that the promise of the kingdom is here and we believe in Jesus, the king who provides God’s grace to us – freedom from Satan, forgiveness and new relationship with God and new life, which includes the promise the Spirit and culminates in our resurrection.

And these two things, repentance and faith, are two sides of the same coin: For if you believe in the good news, you will do what Jesus tells you to, which is repent. And if you repent you show that you have believed in Jesus.

Some questions for us

Do you know how to communicate the gospel? It’s good to know Jesus’ way of doing this, although he was speaking to people who were steeped in the Scriptures.

How would we say it today? Much of what we can share is our testimony. We say to others in various ways that through Jesus God has given me freedom, forgiveness and new life. The fuller framework can be picked up after someone chooses for themselves to become a follower of Jesus.

How is your repentance and faith? It’s not a one-time thing. It’s lifelong. Are you still believing? Are you holding to God’s promises even when it’s hard?

Are you still turning away from sin to follow Jesus? It’s a lifelong process. We live a life of repentance. We learn more as we grow in life what God wants from us. It’s like peeling an onion. We make progress but there’s always another layer to deal with. Have you stopped along the path? Is God waiting for you back where we went off the path?

Repent and believe is what we do to enter the kingdom both now, and in its fullness on the final day.

Is God making his kingdom known through us? God still sets people free from Satan. Are people being set free here and in our outreach? God still forgives and gives new relationship. Are people coming to know God here? God still gives new life. Are people becoming alive to God here?

Is God working among us in these ways? These are signs of the kingdom’s presence. They aren’t the only ones, but they are important. How are we doing?

 

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We are in the gospel of Mark today, chapter 2:18-22. The title is “Jesus changes things up!”

I want to thank my share group for helping me with this sermon. It is our young adult group, although we have some older adults as a part of it right now, and we used this text as our focus this week.

Let’s work our way through these verses.

Mark 2:18-22

We begin with some background. “18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting.” The Law of Moses only requires one fast, a 24 hour fast on the day of atonement – Leviticus 16:29. In our story we are dealing with voluntary fasts, that go beyond what is required. These were usually from sunrise to sunset. They were simply human fasting traditions. But they were very highly regarded.

In Scripture, both of these kinds of fasting are connected to things like mourning a death, repenting for sins, or when you’re dealing with hard times and you’re desperate for God’s help. It is self-denial connected to humility and sadness. (In Matthew 9:15 the word “fast” is replaced by “mourn,” the two ideas are so closely related. Also in Matthew 6:16 Jesus criticizes putting on a show of mourning when you fast.) It’s also associated with prayer (Luke’s version of this story adds in prayer to the topic of fasting – 5:33). Fasting is a way of intensifying your prayers in order to make your feelings or your needs known to God; your lowliness, sadness or desperation (Matthew 6:16-18).

  • Regarding John the Baptist, Jesus describes him as someone who came “eating no bread and drinking no wine” – Luke 7:33. That is, he was known for fasting and not drinking alcohol. His disciples must have followed suit.
  • The Pharisees were also known for fasting. They did this twice a week (Luke 18:12) on Mondays and Thursdays.

So both John’s disciples and the Pharisees maintained a lifestyle characterized by rigorous voluntary fasting.

This brings us to the question. “18And people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’”

There were different religious groups among the Jews, and there is a comparison going on here. John’s group and the Pharisees seem really serious and devout. And so the question is “Are you guys slackers?” This question may well have been raised because, in the previous story Jesus and his disciples are feasting with tax collectors and sinners. In any case, this is a challenge to Jesus.

Jesus’ answer. “19And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.’”

Now Jesus and his disciples would have fasted from time to time, for instance on the Day of Atonement. And since Jesus gave them teaching on voluntary fasting in Matthew 6:16-18, it seems reasonable that they put this into practice on occasion. But they were not known for fasting. They did not maintain a rigorous lifestyle of fasting. This is the issue here.

Fasting, as we saw, would more likely be linked to funerals, where there is mourning and lowliness. But Jesus makes the case that his presence among the people is like a wedding. And weddings in that culture were all about celebrating and feasting – for seven day! Fasting would have been unheard of at such an event. As Jesus says, “they cannot fast” in such a setting.

So he’s making a claim about himself – Jesus is the bridegroom. The image of God as the husband of Israel was well known in the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5-6; 62:4-5; Ezekiel 16; Hosea). But here Jesus has this role and his disciples are his groomsmen.

His coming signals the enactment of the new covenant between God and his people – his bride, seen as a marriage renewal.

His coming also signals the arrival of the promised kingdom of God which was also depicted with wedding imagery. (For the coming of the kingdom and wedding themes in the New Testament see Matthew 22:1-14; 25:1-13 and Revelation 19:7-9)

And so it is a time of celebration. This is why Jesus was a “feaster,” not a faster. He maintained a lifestyle of celebration and joy, not mourning and sadness. As he says about himself in Luke 7:33, in contrast to John the Baptist, “the Son of man came eating and drinking.” And he celebrated so much that some slandered him as “a glutton and a drunkard.” And this is why he and his disciples were feasting in the previous story.

So Jesus is saying, the new has come! I am here! The kingdom of God is here. And this has an impact on some traditional practices. The old has to change. If John’s disciples had recognized or accepted Jesus’ claim, they too would have changed their practices from a lifestyle of fasting to a lifestyle more associated with feasting. But they didn’t accept Jesus’ claim, and so they didn’t change their practices.

“20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” If v. 19 emphasizes Jesus’ presence with them and what this means, v. 20 emphasizes when Jesus will be absent from them. The phrase “is taken away” is ominous. It is a veiled reference to his death. Jesus is saying that after his death, in those days, his disciples will fast. (Fasting and death/mourning/a funeral are once again connected.) (See John 16:19-20 for a similar idea)

So this new thing, a lifestyle of celebration, is a change of practice specifically related to Jesus’ presence on earth.

Next comes two parables about the new and the old. “21No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins.”

These both make the same point, there is an incompatibility between the new and the old. In the first, the new is the unshrunk cloth. If you sew this to patch an old garment, the patch will shrink and everything will be ruined. In the second, the new is the new wine. If you put it into an old wineskin that has already been stretched out and is brittle, when the wine continues to ferment and expand, it will bust the wineskin and everything will be ruined. There is an incompatibility.

Jesus draws out the positive point in the last line, “But new wine is for fresh wineskins” – v. 22. The new of Jesus’ presence and the kingdom requires some new practices – not grafting the new onto the old or putting the new into the old. With Jesus’ coming things get changed up! Human traditions and practices have to be set aside for the sake of the new and powerful reality of the kingdom of God. Otherwise things get messed up.

As we saw, the change with regard to fasting was temporary, being specifically related to Jesus’ bodily presence. Although he does make some other changes with regard to how we should fast given the coming of the kingdom in Matthew 6:16-18. But there is a bigger context here –

Mark 2:1-3:6

Our story is the middle story in a set of five related stories about conflict between the new of the kingdom and the old of various human traditions and practices.

five stories

You can see on the handout how the stories are connected by themes. You can also see that the first two stories have to do with how the kingdom brings in a time of mercy and forgiveness, so that Jesus now announces forgiveness and extends mercy even to notable sinners. And in the last two the kingdom brings with it a new way of observing the Sabbath for Jesus’ Jewish followers, that emphasizes that it is made to bless people, and doing good to others on the Sabbath is encouraged.

And so the two parables on the new and the old, at the very center, also point back to the first two stories and forward to the last two stories.

The coming of the kingdom changes our practices in these ways also. And if the fasting example is mostly temporary, these are long-term changes.

 Some things to take home

1. We learn that Jesus is the bridegroom. This is a part of his identity. He is the one who has come to renew the covenant with God’s people; the promised new covenant, pictured as a wedding in our passage. And as such he stands in the role of God, who is the husband of Israel in the Old Testament.

And also as the bridegroom he is the one who brings the promised kingdom of God.

And all this wedding imagery, taken up in other places in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:22ff, Revelation 19:6-9, John 3:29) teaches us about who Jesus is, and what he does for us. This should build up our faith and give us encouragement to know the blessings that we have in Jesus.

2. Do you fast? This is a challenge that this passage presents to us. Jesus specifically says that after his death, “they will fast in that day.” This is the time we live in now. If you don’t already, I encourage you to try fasting as a way of engaging in intense prayer – lifting up your sorrows and problems to God. Although, remember to do it in accord with the new kingdom way, where we don’t advertise our fasting by playing the part of a mourner, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:16-18.

3. What traditions do we have that are incompatible with the new of the kingdom? The kingdom has a certain character to it. In our story it has to do with joy and celebration. In the stories before ours it has to do with mercy and forgiveness extended to all. And in the last two stories it has to do with doing good to others in their time of need.

And so our practices; the way we do things; our traditions should reflect these realities – “New wine is for fresh wineskins” – v. 22. And this should be the case in our lives individually and how we do things as a congregation.

Now most of what we do has to do with personal or cultural preferences, for instance how we worship and so forth. But sometimes our practices are actually incompatible or out of synch with the character of the new of the kingdom. One example is requiring a dress code that goes beyond modesty, to be a part of a church. This is a human tradition that excludes people. It does not reflect the kingdom welcome that is offered to all.

Another example is the commercialization of ministry, which is so common today that we don’t think about it. This is when pastors charge people upfront to teach them, or to buy a book on Christian teaching, instead of simply taking donations. The kingdom is about grace offered by God without charge, and our ministry practices should be in synch with this. As Jesus said to the disciples as they went out on a ministry trip, “freely you have received, freely give” – Matthew 10:8.

So these are two examples, and perhaps you will want to think about this last one. But the point is that we need to check all of our practices against the new of Jesus and the coming of the kingdom. How do they line up?

William Higgins

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[An earlier version of this message was preached in May 2004 in a Church of God congregation in Zurich, Switzerland.]

I want to talk to you about what it means for us to take up our cross and encourage you in your practice of this. Turn in your Bibles to Mark 8:34-35 – Jesus said,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

First of all, there are a couple of misconceptions about what it means for us to take up our cross that falsely limit its application in our lives. The truth is that –

To take up your cross will affect every part of your life

Let’s look at these misconceptions. Some people say that taking up the cross is a only an inner, spiritual experience, something that takes place in our hearts – an inner cross where we die to our selfish desires.

Well, there is some truth in this, for there is something called an inner cross. For instance Jesus had to struggle within at Gethsemane in prayer, when he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.” He had to deny himself and put God’s will first.

But it wasn’t just about his inner attitudes. Because after Gethsemane came Golgotha. No, Jesus had to take up his cross with real life actions – his suffering and death on the cross.

Yes, the cross has to do with what goes on within you, but it is also about your outward behavior. For if you die to your desires within this will show up in cruciform behavior and actions without. As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). What is within your heart, is what will come out in your deeds.

Some people say that taking up the cross is only about suffering persecution, so that it only applies to a particular part of our lives, when we suffer for our faith.

Well the cross certainly does refer to persecution and followers of Jesus must literally suffer and do at times literally give up their lives.

But Jesus himself connects his call to take up the cross in Mark 8 with self-denial, something we are to practice in everyday life. Also in Luke 14 he connects the cross to something as practical as surrendering our earthly wealth to God. No, the cross has to do with all that we do in this world as followers of Jesus. Suffering for sure, but also helping a neighbor, doing ministry, serving someone a meal, etc..

Now I want you to get a sense of what it looks like to take up your cross. I want us to look at the –

The cruciform pattern of Jesus

 Paul talks about this in Philippians 2:5-11 and I want us to read this.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

There is in these verses a “cruciform pattern” to Jesus’ life – in two stages:

First of all, there is a downward movement. Jesus lowered himself. And he did this in two steps:

First, Jesus became a servant. Though he was at the highest place in all of creation, he lowered himself to serve the needs of others. He denied himself, he lost his life by setting aside his place, his privileges and his prestige in order to lower himself to serve. He did this as he healed others, taught, set people free, loved them, and in general gave of himself to others.

But not only did Jesus serve, when his humble service was rejected he lowered himself even further. Jesus endured suffering and death. In this case his self- denial led to the literal loss of his life as he sacrificed himself on the cross for others.

Then, there is an upward movement. When he was as low as one can go, Jesus waited upon God and God raised him up. God raised him from the dead and seated him at the highest place in all of creation – at his own right hand. He was blessed and honored.

So this cruciform pattern has two stages – a lowering stage and a raising stage.

Now let’s look at –

How this works out in our lives

We are to live out this cruciform pattern. As Paul says, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” – 2:5. It is not just about Jesus, it is about us following Jesus. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus said.

  • We are lower ourselves to serve others’ needs, and we are to accept suffering from those who reject this. As we do this, we sacrifice and die to our life here on earth; we deny ourselves and lose our lives.
  • And then we are to wait upon God to raise us up to new life.

– This is to be the pattern in our life considered as a whole – that we lowered ourselves and then God will raise us up at the resurrection.

– And this is to be the pattern of our daily walk, as we take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23) and “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:21) to ourselves, and God makes us new in our heart and actions.

This then is what it means “to take up your cross.”

But as this phrase indicates, our focus in to be on the downward movement. Jesus focused on the lowering stage. Paul said, “he made himself nothing.” The raising stage was left for God to accomplish. Jesus trusted that God would raise him up.

We too are to focus on the lowering stage – serving other’s needs and choosing to endure suffering and rejection for this. And then we trust God to raise us up from our lowliness at the right time in this life and then at the resurrection.

The downward movement is necessary. Everyone wants the second stage, right? Who doesn’t want to be raised up, to be honored, to be recognized, to be blessed?

But the first stage, the path to this – lowliness, who wants this? We want to skip right to the second stage. But you can’t have the one without the other. Without the lowliness, there is no exaltation.

In Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35, if we seek to save our lives, that is, to hold on to what we have in our earthly lives; to have earthly honor now, we will lose our lives. We have to lose our earthly life – the lowering stage – before we gain our lives, being raised up by God.

Since this is so, you can see that –

The way of the cross is not easy

It takes real humility to put others first, to lay aside your privileges, rights, status and comforts for others. And to suffer rejection and ridicule for this.

It takes real love for God and others to deny yourself and to sacrifice in this way for the needs of others day in and day out, not heroically (being noticed by others) but obscurely.

It takes also endurance. Enduring lowliness, times of despair and times of weakness. It involves waiting upon God when it doesn’t seem that he will act. Remember Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

So let me end with –

Some words of encouragement

When you feel like giving up, remember we have Jesus’ clear words of promise from Jesus that we will one day be raised up. As he said:

  • Those who are last, will be first
  • Those who humble themselves, God will raise up
  • Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, will find life in the Kingdom of God
  • Those who lose their lives, will find their lives

And not only do we have Jesus’ words, in the midst of our lowliness we must remember the clear example of Jesus’ life. He proved his words and promises to be true through his own life and actions, because God came through for him.

He endured the greatest lowliness, despair and weakness, but God raised him up. And just as God came through for him, God will come through for you as well.

And so in the words of Galatians 6:9 – “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

William Higgins

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We are back again in Mark 8:22-26, the story of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida. Let’s read this to refresh our memoires.

“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 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?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Last week we saw a couple of interesting things about this story. First, this is one of three times that we have Jesus using spit to heal someone. Second, this is the only healing recorded in the gospels that takes two tries, or has two steps.

Today I want us to take another angle on this story. It’s one that is pointed out by many commentators, and I think there’s something to it.

To do this we need to understand how this story fits into the larger story that Mark is telling us about Jesus. So, first we look at the story right before ours –

The blindness of the disciples – Mark 8:14-21

This is where Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. And the disciples think that he’s talking about them not bringing along enough bread.

Jesus gets frustrated. He asks, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? . . . And do you not remember?” – Mark 8:17-18. To even talk about a lack of bread betrays a deeper misunderstanding on their part. Not only do they not get his figurative use of bread, they haven’t gotten who Jesus is.

Jesus goes on ‘Don’t you remember the feeding of the 5,000, and the feeding of the 4,000?, and all the bread that was left over?’ ‘Why would I be concerned about a lack of bread?’

The disciples don’t understand that he is the one who can multiply bread. The fundamental issue Jesus is asking in all of these questions is this, ‘Don’t you know by now who I am?’ As he ends in Mark 8:21, “Do you not yet understand?”

And in the middle of all this, in v. 18, he calls this lack of understanding blindness and deafness. He says, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” This is a common metaphor that we still use today. One who, figuratively, can’t see (or hear) lacks perception, or understanding. Jesus is saying, ‘You just don’t get it! You just can’t take it in, can you?’

Next, we look at the story just after ours, which I label –

Peter’s partial perception of who Jesus is – Mark 8:27-33

As they left Bethsaida they started on their way North to Caesarea Philippi. But the trip would eventually lead South to Jerusalem and the cross.

And so Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” – Mark 8:29.  Notice the same focus on the identity of Jesus in both stories. And finally, Peter gets it! He says, “You are the Christ” – Mark 8:29. All the clues and signs; healings, exorcisms and teaching. Perhaps he moved from a suspicion that this might be so, to a hope that it was true, now to a clear confession of faith, ‘You are the Messiah.’

Peter understands. He can see! And presumably the other disciples as well. But, right away we find out, that this vision is still quite blurry. (Remind you of our story??)

Just after Peter’s confession, Jesus “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 . . ..” – Mark 8:31. But Peter rebukes Jesus – 8:32. Don’t talk like that Jesus! That’s not who you’re supposed to be. You’re the Messiah. What do you mean suffering? What do you mean getting killed? No, no, no Jesus. The kingdom of God comes when the Messiah unveils his power and leads God’s people in triumph over all the nations, defeating them in war and ruling over them.

Peter understands partially, Jesus is the Messiah. But he doesn’t yet understand how Jesus is to be the Messiah. He doesn’t understand the cross.

So Jesus rebukes Peter – Mark 8:33. Be quiet! Your thinking is all messed up. Then he teaches that not only must he go to the cross, anyone who wants to be his disciple must take up their cross and lose their life – Mark 8:34-35.

Jesus is saying, the kingdom comes through the cross (and then the resurrection). It doesn’t come through earthly power, war and politics (which is why Jesus didn’t pursue these). It comes through lowliness, suffering love, and then trusting in God to come through for you. It comes through the cross and resurrection.

Peter sees partly, but his understanding is till fuzzy and blurred. He doesn’t get the part about the cross and suffering love being the way that the kingdom is brought into reality in this world.

Now, let’s look at –

The healing as a prophetic object lesson

Our story comes right between the two we have just looked at. And our story comes at the turning point of the gospel as a whole, where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, and then where Jesus shifts and begins to teach them that he must suffer and die.

It comes right before we see that Peter needs two steps to understand who Jesus is:

  • Step one: Peter sees that Jesus is the Messiah, but he is confused about what this means, especially the cross. He is no longer blind but his vision is blurry, like the man in our story.
  • And then, after the resurrection, comes step two: He sees that Jesus had to die and then be resurrected to bring in the kingdom of God. It was then that he saw clearly, like the man in our story. After the second step.

I believe that Jesus may have used two steps to heal the blind man in our story to prophetically look forward to a similar process in his disciples’ understanding of his identity. So in answer to our question last week, ‘Why didn’t Jesus just heal him right away?’ It may have been intentional for this very reason. And they could look back on it and understand that he knew what was going on ahead of time.

And even if this is saying too much, that Jesus did this intentionally, I believe that Mark arranged his story in such a way that it highlights the symbolic nature of the healing of the blind man – to foreshadow the process of the disciples coming to an understand who Jesus is.

The prophetic object lesson is this – the disciples’ understanding of who he is will come in two stages. But also the message is there that Jesus is able to bring them to clear vision, just like with the blind man.

Alright, let’s apply this to us with some –

Lessons

In general we can say that we often move from blurry vision to clearer vision. We don’t fully understand everything about Jesus and the Christian life and so we need time. We are on a journey. And we have to grow and mature.

And, of course, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Even our clearest vision in this life, will be made more clear when the kingdom comes in its fullness.

More specifically, I ask, ‘Is your vision of Jesus and the kingdom and the cross blurred?’ Oh sure, we know that Jesus had to die. We came into the picture thousands of years after he already did. But we often don’t understand how the cross works for us.

The same Jesus who said he had to go to the cross, also told us to take up our crosses. The same Jesus who was teaching Peter that the kingdom of God comes, not through worldly power, but by suffering love, also teaches us the same. Just as Jesus brought forth the kingdom through the cross, we are to advance the kingdom through the cross.

But most of us are like Peter. Most Christians are still in step one! Our vision is blurred; we are confused about all this cross stuff. We have a veiled and partial understanding of Jesus and the kingdom. But Jesus calls us to follow him, not to take a different path. We are also to expand Jesus’ kingdom by means of lowliness and suffering love, and then calling on God to come and act, just like Jesus did. We are to follow the same path. This is how the kingdom of God is made manifest in this world.

Finally, our story gives us hope, because in it we see that Jesus is able to cure our blindness. Just as he healed the blind man in two steps, he was able in two stages to show the disciples who he is, and how the kingdom works. He gave them clear vision.

And he can do the same for us. He is able! If we are open to it. He can deal with our blindness, and give us clear sight and understanding. Ask him to open your eyes!

William Higgins

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We are looking at the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida today. As the title says, this is ‘an unusual healing.’ Although, having said that, it does have some parallels to the healing of the deaf mute in Mark 7 (and both of these are only found in the gospel of Mark). Let’s look at this as we get started and see what this might mean. [For more on this story and why it has two stages – The blind man of Bethsaida – Take two.]

Introduction

Read through Mark 8:22-26 and Mark 7:31-37 and notice the following similarities:

1.       A place reference begins the story

2.       The person is brought by others

3.       They beg of Jesus

4.       They want Jesus to touch him

5.       There is a concern for privacy

6.       Jesus uses spit

7.       He speaks to the man

8.       The man is healed

9.       There is a concern for crowds

[Nearly all commentators note parallels here. This is my own construal. For more see – Parallel healing stories]

These parallels serve to connect these two stories together. And these two healings look back to Isaiah 35:5-6, which refers to the coming of the kingdom and the Messiah. [See also Isaiah 29:18. The broader passage seems to have several parallels with Mark 7-8.] It says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” So right off the bat there is an embedded message – the kingdom is here and Jesus is the Messiah.

Alright, now let’s look in more detail at –

Our story

v. 22 – “And they came to Bethsaida.”

The name means “house of fisherman.” This is where Peter, Andrew and Philip were originally from according to John 1:44.

The city is on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just to the east of where the Jordan river comes into the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus meets the blind man.

v. 22 – “And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him.”

These “people” must have recognized Jesus. It was, most likely, not far from here that Jesus had fed the 5,000.

Like others in the gospels, they bring someone they know, who has a need, to Jesus for help. This is an expression of faith on their part (Mark 2:5). They wanted Jesus “to touch” the blind man, for they knew that the touch of Jesus brings healing.

In that day, the blind would be the ones begging for alms from the people. Here the people are begging for him, for healing from Jesus.

v. 23 – “And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village . . ..”

Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him away. This is kind of tender. He does it himself, not using a disciple. As far as we know, everyone else is left behind and it is just Jesus and the man, with perhaps the disciples.

Why out of the village in private? Jesus is concerned about the crowds. He is always being mobbed by them. Yet he came for something more important than healing as many people as he could before he collapsed and died of exhaustion.

And as well he was beginning his journey to Jerusalem and the end of his earthly ministry. So he had much work to do with his disciples, teaching them and preparing them.

Step one of the healing. This is the only healing in the gospels that has a two step process. [Although notice that the casting out of the demons in Mark 5 is a two step process]. Let’s look at this.

v. 23-24 – “ . . . and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’”

Jesus uses an odd process here to heal the man. Most often it is simply with a command, or no details are given.

Here Jesus spits on the man’s eyes and then touched him. (I have never seen a faith healer do this today. I mean, would you go forward if you knew he was going to spit in your eyes?). Jesus uses spit in two other instances – Mark 7:33 and John 9:6-7. The saliva of some was considered to have healing properties. Perhaps this is why Jesus does this.

Also unique to this healing story is that Jesus asks the man a question – “Do you see anything?” [Although, again, see Mark 5 when Jesus asks the demons a question].

The phrase about trees is hard to make sense of. Literally it says, “I see people that like trees I see walking.”

  • This can mean that he sees people that look like trees.
  • Or, he can only tell the difference between people and trees in that people move.

It would appear that the man is not blind from birth, because he knows what trees look like.

If we ask, ‘Why wasn’t the healing complete the first time?’, it is true that some thought healing a blind person was especially hard. And there are no examples of this in the Old Testament. But it is also true that later, in Mark 10, Jesus heals another blind man right away.

The reason for the two stages may be an object lesson that Jesus is giving, which I hope to look at next week. So we’ll save that.

Step two of the healing.

v. 25 – “Then he laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

Jesus doesn’t stop with the man only barely seeing. He touches him “again” and he is able to see clearly.

The completeness of the healing is emphasized by three phrases – “he opened his eyes” or he looked intently; “his sight was restored”; and “he saw everything clearly.” This makes it clear that Jesus was successful.

v. 26 – “And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Again, Jesus seems to be concerned about the crowd that could form if people knew what happened. He is trying to focus on his going to Jerusalem and his disciples.

Alright, let’s draw out some –

Lessons

Like the people who brought this man to Jesus, and many others in the gospels – We should bring people to Jesus who have needs. Who do you know that fits this bill?

Too often we get caught in trying to fix people ourselves, when what we need to do is bring them to Jesus. He is the Messiah, not us. He is the one who makes people whole.

Let Jesus do his work. Sometimes Jesus worked in weird ways, at least to us. Here he went outside the village, he spit on him and there was a two stage process for the man to be made whole.  But the man went along in faith, and he received God’s blessing.

We too need to let Jesus do his work. And in faith go along as well, even if we don’t understand everything that Jesus is doing with us. Jesus knows what he’s doing.

Next we learn some things about who Jesus is from this story. Jesus is the Messiah. We saw the connection of this and the story in Mark 7 to Isaiah 35:5-6. By healing the deaf and mute man and the blind man, we are pointed back to the Scripture. And so Jesus is showing us that the kingdom is here and he is the Messiah, by doing what this passage talks about.

These healings are a sign for those who have eyes to see. In a story a few verses before ours, the Pharisees in Mark 8:11-13, still wanted a sign. But they have had more than enough signs, if they wanted to see them. And so Jesus ignores them.

In the story just after our story, in Mark 8:29, Peter finally gets it. He confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ” or Messiah. He got the message.

Finally, we see that Jesus is God’s Son. Psalm 146:8 says of God, “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.” Jesus, once again, shows us that he is like God, his Father. He too can open the eyes of the blind. Like Father, like Son. He is indeed the Son of God.

Next week, Lord willing, we will look at this same passage again in the context of the flow of the story of Mark and the object lesson of the two stage healing of the blind man.

William Higgins

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Since last January, in an on again off again kind of way, we have looked at some stories from the Gospel of Mark. And the focus has been on Mark because it has wonderful, lively versions of many of the stories about Jesus.

I want us to pick this series up today and look at the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30. This is an interesting story and I believe it has some things to teach us about our Christian lives. Let’s first look at –

The Story

v. 24 – “And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”

Jesus leaves where he has been in Galilee and goes into new territory somewhere around the cities of Tyre and Sidon. This would have been the southern part of the Roman province of Syria or what we call today Lebanon.

v. 24 – “And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.”

It looks like Jesus is trying to hide out so he can rest. He’s been involved in heavy ministry for a time now, and he knows the value of rest. Earlier he had told his disciples in 6:31 – “Come away by yourselves . . . and rest a while.”

So perhaps he thought that in this Gentile area he could take a break. He wouldn’t be known here. There wouldn’t be mobs of people clamoring after him here.

But, it says, “he could not be hidden.”

v. 25 – “But immediately a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.”

Jesus was found out!

Some from this area had received ministry when they went into Galilee and so perhaps they spread word of Jesus and what he could do, including casting out demons (Mark 3:8;11).

In any case, this unnamed woman finds Jesus and falls down at his feet. She has obviously heard of him.

Her daughter is demon possessed. We aren’t given any more details about how this manifested itself, physically or mentally, the focus of the story isn’t really the daughter – it’s on the mother and Jesus.

v. 26 – “Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth.”

According to the way things were at this time, she had three strikes against her:

1.  she was a woman, and social contact with a man could be seen as scandalous

2.  she was a Gentile, not a Jew; not a part of God’s people, and

3.  she was a Syrophoenician, who were bitter rivals and enemies of the Jews.

But none of these obstacles stopped her.

v. 26 – “And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”

“She begged” can also be translated as “She kept begging.” According to Matthew’s version it was so persistent and thus annoying that the disciples ended up begging Jesus to send her away – Matthew 15:23. This is quite the scene with everybody begging Jesus. Not very restful!

Jesus responds to the woman with a parable.

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

Jesus is drawing on common sense experience. Everyone knows that the children are fed first, and then the dogs are fed.

The application is that Jesus is focused on the Jews – God’s chosen ones who have awaited the promises and blessings of God. He can’t take his focus away from them. Ministry to the Gentiles will come later.

Now, this parable has been taken in the wrong way and it has upset some people. But Jesus is not saying that Gentiles are dogs. There is little or no evidence that this was a common way that Jews spoke of Gentiles (Mark Nanos – Paul’s Reversal, 2008). And besides, Jesus uses the word for “dog” that means pets or puppies.

The point is not a difference in kind – Jews are children and Gentiles are dogs. The point is a difference in timing – first the Jews, then others. This is made clear by the word “first,” a chronological marker.

This is what Paul meant, when he said in Romans 1:16 that he preaches the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

[Jesus has ministered to Gentiles already. But this is the only recorded story of Jesus helping someone outside of the boundaries of traditional Israel. Perhaps this is why he raises this issue.]

[If there is a connection of this story with the previous discussion of purity and a general Gentile theme just after this – it is to make the point that focused ministry to Gentiles will come after Jesus’ ministry to the Jews. Not that there are no longer Jewish concerns with Mosaic purity teaching.]

vs. 28 – “But she answered him, ‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’”

First, notice that she addresses him as “Lord.” This is the only time someone does this in Mark’s gospel and it shows her understanding of who Jesus is.

And then she shows her intelligence and wit. She gets his parable, which the disciples usually do not. And then she goes on to make her own point. Even though the dogs eat later, sometimes the children drop crumbs and thus the dogs eat at the same time as the children.

So based on Jesus’ own parable – it should be alright for her not to have to wait, but to receive some bread even now.

This woman reframed the discussion is such a way that allowed Jesus’ concerns to be acknowledged, but also allowed her to receive her request. She isn’t asking for Jesus to neglect Israel, or to take anything away from them. She is just saying, “Since you’re already here in Gentile territory, why not a crumb?”

v. 29 – “And he said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’”

Her statement shows her humility. She accepted her place as not yet one of the elect; and not yet the focus of Jesus’ ministry.

And her statement demonstrates her bold and persistent faith. She did not allow Jesus’ apparent “no” to stop her. But continued to make the case for her daughter.

In response to this humility and faith, Jesus healed her daughter, and that from a distance. (Perhaps having to do with concern about purity with entering a Gentile home – Guelich).

And the woman, in faith, accepted this without confirmation.

v. 30 says, “And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”

Lessons

1. Be open to opportunities to help others. This wasn’t Jesus’ timing to minister to her. He was trying to get away from people and crowds, so he could rest.

What does he do when he is found out? He allowed his privacy to be invaded; he gave up some of his time of rest.

And we need to be open to this as well. You have one thing scheduled, and it’s a good thing. But someone comes along who needs help.

This is just like Tiffany shared today. She didn’t plan on ministering to the man in the hospital. She had other plans. But God gave her the opportunity.

And remember Kim. She needs people to sit with her as she is weak. Are you scheduled for the week so there’s not time?  This is an opportunity.

Also, this wasn’t Jesus’ focus to help her. God sent him to minister to the people of Israel (Matthew 15:24). She is not a part of Israel.

What does Jesus do? He raised the issue with her, but then he responded when he saw her humility and faith.

Things don’t always work according to our plans. In my church in Portland we worked at setting up a weekly meal for neighbors so that we could get to know them. We wanted all kinds of people to come. But it turned out that only the homeless came. We had not really planned on this; it wasn’t our focus. And I had no skills in this (although one of our workers did). But it opened up a season of ministry to this population in our area.

The same happened with immigrant Congolese Africans. We never sat down and said, “Hey, let’s begin this ministry.” It wasn’t our focus. But God gave it to us.

I challenge you this week – keep a look out for a Syrophoenician woman or man whom God might lead across your path. And take advantage of the opportunity, even if it is not your timing or focus.

2. Approach God like this woman did. When you pray, learn from her. She was successful. What do we learn?

She approached Jesus with humility:

  • she fell down at his feet
  • she accepted that she is not yet part of the elect and has no claim on him
  • she calls him “Lord,” an expression of submission.

She approached Jesus with bold, persistent faith:

  • she searched Jesus out while he was in hiding
  • she kept begging
  • she called him “Lord,” an expression of faith
  • after Jesus seemed to say no, she responded boldly
  • and she knew that for him, casting out a demon was only a crumb – a small thing for him to do.

This morning I want to give you and opportunity to approach God like her. I know that many of you are carrying burdens, concerns for yourself or others; that you are seeking after God’s will; that you want spiritual renewal in our congregation. I invite you to come to the front an offer up your prayers.

Perhaps coming to the front is embarrassing for you. See it as an expression of humility. Perhaps coming to the front seems quite bold. See it as an expression of faith.

William Higgins

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