Category Archives: Mark

Mark 6:1-13 – The Key Components of Jesus’ Message

During my lifetime, there have been evangelistic efforts aimed at proclaiming the good news of Jesus. The goal has often been good but the method not so much. For instance, I recently heard Franklin Graham give a quick gospel presentation on the radio which ended with “Pray this prayer with me.” The problem with this is that the Bible doesn’t put the focus on praying a prayer but on faith in Jesus. Sadly, such presentations give the idea that repeating the words of a prayer will somehow make them right with God. Another group has started a television/radio campaign called “He Gets Us” which gives the idea that Jesus was once considered a rebel. In their commercials, they give the idea that because Jesus was considered a rebel, He understands what we are currently going through. Is this what the Bible teaches? Such presentations are trendy ways of presenting a somewhat Christian message but they actually distort who Jesus was and what He did in an effort to get people’s attention. This is not a good thing.

If these popular evangelistic ideas are not good, where can we find the truth? The Bible always has the answers to our questions. And in today’s passage, we will see the two key components to Jesus’ gospel message according to the Bible. The key components are faith and repentance. As we read this portion of the Gospel of Mark, consider what Jesus says about both faith and repentance and then consider how you should respond. And if you are a Christian, consider how you can accurately and biblically present the good news of Jesus the way that the Bible does.

  1. The Need for Faith (Mark 6:1-6)

    What does it say?

    After being with Jairus and his family, Jesus chose to return to Nazareth, the place where He had grown up. This was about “twenty miles southwest”1 of Capernaum. His disciples also went with Him. What must his friends have thought as they saw their former neighbor arriving with twelve disciples? On the Sabbath day, Jewish believers met at the synagogue to be taught. Apparently, “the inhabitants of Nazareth did not flock to Him as soon as He arrived.”3 But Jesus still took the opportunity to teach those who did come. But note that it says he began to teach. He started teaching but “the reaction of the audience did not encourage Him to continue.”3 The people were surprised by His teaching. Some asked where His teaching, wisdom, and power to heal came from. From their perspective, He was just one of them, not a prophet that could preach to them about God. Who did He think He was? Wasn’t He just the carpenter who was Mary’s son? Some think that them calling Him Mary’s son was a subtle jab at Him being an illegitimate child “since a man was not described as his mother’s son in Jewish usage even if she was a widow, except by insult.”1 And wasn’t He just one of the people related to Mary’s sons and daughters? They seemed to be asking these questions because they were offended by something He said while He was teaching.

    You would think that these people would have judged Jesus by the content of His teaching rather than who they remembered Him to be. But their response led Jesus to say that a prophet is usually honored except by those who are closest to him. In other words, people don’t usually respect someone they grew up with even when he is a prophet. As a result of their response, Jesus’ ministry was limited in that area. “He felt it morally impossible to exercise His … power in their behalf in the face of their unbelief.”4 As you may recall, Jesus had just done a great miracle for Jairus’ family. He had resurrected their twelve-year-old daughter who had died. But He was unable to do a great miracle there except for healing a few sick people. Their lack of belief was astonishing to Jesus. It had happened earlier in Gadera but this was on the Jewish side of the country. Why did they not believe? Because of their response it is probable that “He never returned to Nazareth.”2 And these hard-hearted people missed out on what Jesus had to offer. But He still set up a circuit of places to teach in the surrounding villages.

    What does it mean?

    This passage teaches us that without faith, people will not receive Jesus. Jesus taught God’s truth with great wisdom and later verified His message by performing some miracles. But without faith, they were offended at His teaching. They were content to ignore what He said because they were familiar with His family. I wonder if Jesus spoke about their need for repentance. The fact that they were offended by Him indicates that they not only didn’t believe Him but didn’t think He had any standing to tell them what to do.

    All of this would have changed if they had begun with faith. They would have believed Him and listened to what He taught them. They would have believed Him and praised God that one of their own was being used by God so mightily. They would have believed Him and honored Him as God’s Servant. They would have believed Him and seen more evidence of God’s power through miracles. Sadly, none of that happened because they did not believe.

    How does it apply?

    As you consider the unbelieving response of these offended neighbors, there are two applications. The first involves your own unbelief. If you have heard the messages from the first five chapters of Mark, you are well aware of who Jesus is and what He has done. He is God who became a man. He proved that by His words and His miracles. He taught the truth as only God could and He cast out demons, healed the sick, and raised the dead with the power that only God has. But has knowledge caused you to believe Him? Or are you continuing in your unbelief? God wants you to respond to all that Jesus is and has done with faith.

    The second application involves a Christian’s response to the unbelief of others. When we were still unbelievers, we were blind and didn’t understand the truth. But there came a day when God opened our eyes and caused us to see the truth about Jesus. That was a wonderful day. He gave us the faith to believe; otherwise, we never would have responded. Now as believers we must be patient and work with unbelievers. We may be astonished at their unbelief as Jesus was, but we must continue to teach and preach the truth so that unbelievers will become believers. Remember that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). So keep speaking.

    We should follow the example of Jesus who marveled at their unbelief but then kept teaching in the surrounding villages. When one person responds poorly to the truth about Jesus, it is sad. But not all will respond that way. When the person at one door rejects you, go to the next. And keep your faith in the power of God to use the Bible to convince others of the truth. As you preach the gospel to others, have faith in God’s ability to open the eyes of those who are blind and to grant them faith to believe.

  2. The Need for Repentance (Mark 6:7-13)

    What does it say?

    Jesus summoned the twelve disciples and then sent them out in pairs. He gave them power over demons. This “would authenticate their preaching”2 just as the miracles performed in the Book of Acts confirmed the gospel preached by the early Christians. All they were to take with them was a staff and a pair of sandals. They were not to take a bag, bread, money, or extra clothes. Note that “Jesus’ unusual instructions pertained only to that particular mission.”2 But this was a good time to practice trusting in God to provide for their needs. This makes me think of what Jesus said at another time.

    Matthew 6:33-34 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

    As they traveled from place to place, they were to stay in the same house they were offered until they moved on. “It was the accepted duty and practice to offer hospitality to strangers arriving in a village.”5 So it was probable that some kind-hearted person would offer them a place to stay while they were in town. And if someone was unwilling to receive them or listen to their message, they were to shake off the dust from their feet in their presence. This was a way of showing that they wanted nothing to do with even the dirt associated with such ungodly people. Jesus promised that anyone who rejected them or their message would receive more of God’s judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah. Knowing what those cities were like, this was a very serious thing to say. So… when the disciples shook the dust from their sandals, this would give the rejecting people a serious reminder to consider the message they had heard from the disciples.

    What exactly was the message preached by the disciples? After receiving their instructions, the disciples went out in twos and preached repentance to the people they met. It was probably a good thing to have the disciples in pairs for companionship, encouragement, and effectiveness. But they didn’t just preach; they also cast out demons and healed sick people. This must have been an exhilarating time for each of them as God used them to reach more and more people with God’s message.

    What does it mean?

    This paragraph teaches at least two thoughts. First, there was a great need for the preaching of repentance. This is made clear by the fact that this was the message given to the disciples to preach. If we were to rewind to the first chapter of Mark, we would see that this was God’s message through John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-5), through Jesus (Mark 1:14-15), and now through the disciples (Mark 6:12). This message was so important that Jesus gave the disciples the power to verify their message by casting out demons, doing miracles, and healing the sick.

    Second, there was no need to worry about their needs when doing God’s work. Jesus was teaching the disciples to trust God to meet their needs. As they traveled, God would put it in the heart of some kind-hearted person to feed, clothe, and house them. But their first thought should not be how their needs would be met but on the message they had been called to preach.

    How does it apply?

    The application here has to do with repentance. That same message needs to be preached today. God’s initial message is not one of comfort for sinners but of what their response should be toward God. Do you understand that your sin is a terrible offense to God? Your sins are what keeps you from a relationship with God. And if you do not turn from your sin to God, you will never have a restored relationship with Him. Your sin has to be addressed before anything else.

    Have you repented of your sin and turned to God? If not, this is the time to respond correctly to God. Think of your sinfulness and understand that God doesn’t want you to continue in it. Turn from your sin while God is speaking to your heart. Then and only then will you be ready to take the next step of faith.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that the main points of this message were familiar terms: faith and repentance. We first looked at the need for faith. Secondly, we looked at the need for repentance. Perhaps it would be best to look at them in reverse order. Repentance is a change of mind that results in a turning away from sin. When you see yourself as a sinner from God’s perspective, the only right response is to reject your sin and turn away from it. This is what God wants you to do. But this is only half of what God requires.

After repenting of your sin, God wants you to trust in Jesus. This is what the Bible calls faith. It is a complete trust in who Jesus is (He is God who became a man) and what He has done (He lived a perfect life, died on the cross for your sins, and then rose to life on the third day). While much of this is discussed later in the Gospel of Mark, it is good to think about now as well. When you turn from your sins, you have to turn to something else. That something else is Jesus. When you turn to Him and put your faith in Him, God will forgive your sins, make you a new person, and give you eternal life. This is the message that Jesus preached and it is still true today.

But as you may recall, some people didn’t respond with faith and repentance during Jesus’ time on earth. Some of his own friends and neighbors were offended by His message and responded with unbelief. Don’t follow their example. As God works in your heart, repent of your sin and place your trust in Jesus. Then join the many others who gratefully call themselves Christians because of what Christ Jesus did for them.

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 126.
2 Grassmick 127.
3 Hiebert 152.
4 Hiebert 156.
5 Hiebert 160.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Ryle, J. C., Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume One, Matthew–Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977.

Mark 5:21-43 – Faith, Faith, and Faith

Last week, we looked at Jesus’ experience with the demon-possessed man from Gadera. The Lord traveled across the Sea of Galilee, fell asleep in the boat, endured a terrible windstorm, commanded the sea to be calm, cast out the demons, and then the people of the area asked Him to leave. After all that Jesus had done, the people were still not interested in what Jesus had to offer. But He still went to all of that trouble to rescue the one man. And to Jesus he was well worth the effort.

In this section of Scripture, we will see two different needs which were addressed by Jesus. The first was a twelve-year-old girl who was so sick that she seemed ready to die. The second was a woman with a chronic health issue that nobody had been able to help her with. In both situations, Mark teaches us something about faith in Jesus. Leet’s take a look at what happened.

  1. Jairus’ faith in Jesus when his daughter was sick (Mark 5:21-24)

    What does it say?

    When Jesus came back from His trip to Gadera, there was a great multitude of people waiting for Him by the sea. One of these people was Jairus, a ruler of a synagogue. “As one of the synagogue rulers, he was a lay official responsible for the physical management of the synagogue building and the worship services.”2 It is interesting to note here that “not all the religious leaders were hostile to Jesus.”2 But I wonder about this man. How did Jairus know about Jesus? If you recall from our previous studies, Jesus was very popular but he had also visited several synagogues during his teaching ministry.

    Mark 1:21 – “Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.”

    Mark 1:39 – “And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.”

    Mark 3:1 – “And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.”

    The Bible doesn’t tell us how Jairus heard about Jesus, but it is obvious from his reaction that he knew about Him and His ability to heal people. When Jairus saw the Lord, he fell at his feet and begged him to heal his little daughter. “This very action was a manifestation of high respect for Jesus.”6 His daughter’s situation was dire as she was at the point of death. But Jairus was confident that Jesus could come to his house, lay his hands on her, heal her, and keep her from dying.

    After hearing his request for help, Jesus went with Jairus. But their progress toward the sick girl was hindered by the many people who followed Jesus. So many wanted his attention that the crowd pressed up against Him.1 Perhaps the crowd sensed “an opportunity to see another miracle”7 and wanted to tag along to see it.

    What does it mean?

    In this section, we see the faith demonstrated by Jairus. Having heard about Jesus and perhaps having seen Jesus healing somebody, Jairus was confident that Jesus was able to heal his sick daughter. Note how he spoke to Jesus. “Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” This is an example of pure faith in what Jesus could do. He didn’t know if Jesus would do it. But he knew that Jesus could do it.

    How does it apply?

    In Hebrews 11:6, we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” This is still true today. God wants us to believe Him. And faith is the evidence that we have put our entire confidence in what God can do.

    As you read through the Bible and see the many things that God did for those who trusted Him, your faith in Him will grow. God desires to reward your faith in Him. But it must begin by believing that He is (He exists and is God) and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. As we read the rest of the chapter, we will see that this was definitely true for Jairus and the woman mentioned in the next paragraph.

  2. The woman’s faith in Jesus when she was sick (Mark 5:25-34)

    What does it say?

    In the large group of people pressing against Jesus was a woman with a chronic health issue. She had a bleeding issue that had continued for twelve years. During that time, she had suffered under the care of various physicians, but the only result was that all of her money was gone and hear health had gotten worse. Someone I work with told me that his wife’s recent back surgery was unsuccessful. This Bible event reminds us that things haven’t changed much since then. Doctors are not always able to help and they still cost a lot of money.

    When the woman heard that Jesus was nearby, she made her way closer to Him with the idea that just touching his clothes would heal her of her ailment. Reaching past the person in front of her, she touched Jesus’ clothes. Matthew tells us that it was the hem of His garment. She probably did this “to avoid an embarrassing public disclosure of her malady.”2 Immediately, the bleeding stopped and she could tell that she had been healed! “The cure that many physicians could not effect, was wrought in an instant of time.”10

    But someone else noticed what had happened. Jesus perceived that power had left Him and said something about it. “Who touched my clothes?” With all the people pressing against Jesus, the disciples thought it a ridiculous question. “Master, why would you ask that?” The disciples had not yet learned that when Jesus asked a question, it was never because he didn’t know the answer. Rather, it was for a purpose. Perhaps Jesus wanted “to honor the woman’s faith.”3

    As Jesus looked around the crowd, the woman was trembling with fear. Why was she afraid? Maybe she thought that Jesus was mad at her for touching his clothes. Maybe she thought he would take back the healing she had received because she hadn’t asked him directly. Whatever the case might be, the woman fell at Jesus feet and told Him all that had happened. Jesus addressed her with kindness, telling her that her faith had made her well. He then told her to go in peace and to be healed of her affliction.

    What does it mean?

    As you look at what happened to the woman, it is clear that she was healed when she touched Jesus’ clothing. Was there something magical about his clothing? If we had one of his robes, could it heal people today? The answer is no. There was nothing magical about His clothing. Remember that when she touched His clothing, power went out of Him not out of the clothing.

    But Jesus also brought up the woman’s faith. He told her that her faith had made her well. He “attributed her cure to her faith rather than the touch of His clothing.”3 This brings up another question. Was it her faith itself that healed her? Again, I think the answer is no. “Faith, confident trust, derives its value not from the one who expresses it, but from the object in which it rests.”3 In other words, it is not our faith that heals us but the One Whom we are trusting in. Jesus was the One who healed her. But her healing by Him happened because she believed that Jesus could heal her.

    How does it apply?

    When you think of faith, do you think of how hard you must want something. For instance, do you think that your faith has to be stronger, so you pray harder and then expect God to do what you ask? I don’t think that is what Jesus intended for us to learn here. Instead, we need to remember who Jesus is. He is God Who is able to do anything. And when we trust in Him and seek His help, He is able to do more than we could ever expect. So place your confidence in Him.

  3. Jairus’ faith in Jesus when his daughter was dead (Mark 5:35-43)

    What does it say?

    “The father who had come, when he saw our Lord talking to this woman and dealing with her, I’m sure thought, Oh, why doesn’t He hurry. Doesn’t He know that my little girl is so sick at home that she’ll die unless He moves?” Our Lord purposely did not move.”5 While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, someone from Jairus’ house arrived with bad news. He told him that his daughter had died and asked why he should trouble the Teacher anymore. How heartbreaking this must have been to receive this news just when a miracle had been performed for this other woman. If only they hadn’t been delayed! But Jesus didn’t allow Jairus any time to lose faith. He told him not to be afraid but to believe.

    From that point on, Jesus only allowed three of his disciples to accompany Him. They were Peter, James, and John. These three “formed an inner circle… [and] were selected as witnesses.”8 The Old Testament law required two or three witnesses to verify that an event had actually happened (Deut. 17:6). These men were later chosen to witness the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2) and His prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).

    When they arrived at Jairus’ house, many people were weeping and wailing. Though it seems odd today, “the commotion included the activity of hired mourners, weeping, and antiphonal wailing.”4 As Jesus entered the house, he asked them why they were making such noise. He told them that the child wasn’t dead but was sleeping. The people who were crying suddenly stopped and began ridiculing Jesus. Now this brings up a question. What did Jesus mean? Was the girl actually dead or was she sleeping. If she was dead, why would Jesus tell the people that she was sleeping? During a recent phone conversation, my mother reminded me that Jesus used similar words to describe Lazarus when he died.

    John 11:11-13 – “He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.”

    I think that “Jesus was speaking figuratively. He meant that she was not dead in the ordinary sense of the word in that her condition was not final and irreversible.”9 As the people ridiculed Him, Jesus had all of the people go outside. Along with the three disciples, Jesus had Jairus and his wife accompany him into the room where the little girl was lying. Taking her hand, he told the girl to get up. The twelve-year-old girl instantly got up and walked around. Her parents were amazed at what had happened! But Jesus was quick to command them to be silent about it. “Jesus did not want the miracle to attract people to Him for the wrong reasons.”4 Having made that clear, He told them to give her something to eat. This was another proof that this girl was alive as only living people can eat food. (Note that this is what happened when Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was resurrected. He ate some food with them as only a living person could do.)

    What does it mean?

    This part of the chapter teaches us that Jesus is God. The reason I can say that is that He caused a dead person to come back to life. Only God can do that. While it is true that God enabled some of the Old Testament prophets to raise a dead person to life, they did not do it by their own power but had to ask God to do it. Here, Jesus did it by His own power. So Jesus is God because only God has the power of life and death.

    How does it apply?

    This brings up a sobering application. We all know that death will happen to each of us. There will come a time when each of us will die whether by old age, sickness, and accident or something else. But then what? Some years ago, a man wrote a cartoon-based gospel tract called, Then What? In the tract two men meet and talk about the future. One man repeatedly asks what his plans are and then asks the other one, “Then what?” After explaining all of his plans through retirement, the other man finally gets mad and says, “Then what? Then I guess I will die!” But the look on his face shows that the question finally got his attention.

    What will happen after you die? The only One who has the power to raise you from the dead and give you eternal life is Jesus Himself.

    John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

    According to this Bible statement, the only way to have that eternal life with God after death is to do what? Does God promise life after death to those who are good, who give money to the church, who help the needy, or who are kind to others? No, God promises to give everlasting life to those who simply believe. This is a full confidence in who God is and in what He has promised through Jesus.

Conclusion

In our study today, we have seen how God rewards our faith in Him. Jairus believed that Jesus could heal his daughter. And when she died, he almost lost hope. But Jesus convinced him to continue believing. What happened? Jesus rewarded his faith and raised the girl back to life. The women with the hemorrhage believed that Jesus could heal her. She was so confident that she believed just touching Him would cause her to be healed. Jesus honored her faith and she was made well.

Do you believe that God will respond to your faith? Some of you already know this to be true. When God convinced you of your sin, you turned from it and placed your entire confidence in the fact that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead. When you did that, God responded to your faith and changed your life completely. You then became a child of God. Now you have the confidence in Him that nobody can take away. But if you have not put your faith in Him (and I mean putting your whole confidence in Jesus), then you should do that today.

Footnotes

1 συνέθλιβον as defined at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/synthlibo on 10/21/2023.
2 Grassmick 124.
3 Grassmick 125.
4 Grassmick 126.
5 McGee 182.
6 Hendriksen 202.
7 Hiebert 141.
8 Hiebert 147.
9 Hiebert 149.
10 Ryle 100.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

Ironside, H. A., Expository Notes on the Gospel of Mark, Neptune: Loizeaux, 1969.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Ryle, J. C., Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume One, Matthew–Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977.

Mark 5:1-20 – The Scary Story with a Happy Ending

During the month of October, Americans celebrate Halloween by dressing up as witches, skeletons, goblins, and other scary creatures. In our area, several yards have been decorated with inflatable dragons, giant skeletons, and spider webs. While there is a certain thrill to being scared, I have always wondered why anyone would want to celebrate such things. We should celebrate what is good and not what is evil because of Who God is and what He has done in our lives.

We have heard many stories over the years of how God worked in the lives of people. They were saved out of drunkenness, drug use, immorality, organized crime, and other terrible situations. What a joy it is to hear each person’s story. We enjoy them because they remind us of what God had done in our own lives and what He can do for others. However great each story was, none of them come close in comparison to what we will be reading in today’s account.

  1. The man’s terrible condition (Mark 5:1-5)

    The first thing that you will notice is how Mark describes the man who met Jesus. He was in terrible condition due to being demon-possessed. Notice all that the Bible says about him.

    What does it say?

    You may recall, from our last study, that Jesus and the disciples had just made it through a terrible windstorm on the sea. Now as they come to the other side, they were probably wet and tired. The area they traveled to was “the country of the Gadarenes” on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galillee. After two thousand years, it is difficult to be certain, but some think that modern day Gergasa is the most probably location as “its geography is very steep, it is close to the shore of the lake, and it is … across the lake from Capernaum.”6 At this point, “most of its inhabitants were Gentiles”2 but there were probably a number of Jewish people who lived there as well (as we will see later).

    Jesus and the disciples did not have time to rest upon arrival because a demon-possessed man immediately met them when Jesus got out of the boat. The man came from the tombs where he lived. “These were probably cave-like rooms cut into the rocks of nearby hills which served as tombs and sometimes as haunts for demented people.”2 People had tried to bind him with shackles and chains, but the demon-possessed man had broken all of them. Nobody had been able to tame him. He was too strong. And what made matters worse was that he wandered in the mountains and tombs crying out and cutting himself with stones!

    What does it mean?

    Demon-possession is real and terrible. This is not the first time that Mark has mentioned a demon-possession. In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus cast out a demon who had possessed a man in a Jewish synagogue. In Mark 1:39, Jesus was casting out more demons. In Mark 3:20-30, the jealous religious leaders acknowledged that Jesus was casting our demons but claimed He did it with Satan’s power. In this chapter, we see Jesus dealing with another demon-possessed man. What this tells us is that demon-possession is real. But this passage shows how terrible it can be. The man was estranged from his friends and family. He had to live in the tombs. He cried a lot. He cut himself with stones. It is clear from this and other events that Satan and his demons want to ruin people’s lives.

    How does it apply?

    We must always remember that Satan is the wicked one. Peter reminds us that “your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). I would imagine that none of us would like to be in the same vicinity as a roaring lion. And that is Peter’s point. The devil wants to destroy as many people as he can. And that includes Christians and non-Christians. It doesn’t matter to him. So, let’s choose to be sober and vigilant against our terrible foe.

  2. The demons’ response to Jesus (Mark 5:6-13)

    In these verses, Mark refers to the man responding to Jesus. But the closer you look, the easier it is to see that it was the demons who were actually responding to Jesus.

    What does it say?

    It is surprising to read that when the demon-possessed man saw Jesus, he ran to Him and fell down before Him.3 4 “Luke (8:27) notes that the demoniac habitually went naked. … The sight of this naked maniac rushing down upon them must have been a terrifying experience for the disciples.”7 The demons yelled with a loud voice, “What do I have to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” This was another way of saying, “What do we have in common?” The answer is quite clear. Jesus has nothing in common with demons. And then they requested that He not torment them. All this was the result of Jesus telling them to come out of the man. Apparently, they didn’t obey immediately. So Jesus asked the demon what his name was. The answer is terrifying. He said that his name was Legion because of how many demons were controlling the man. A Roman legion was made up of 6,000 soldiers5 so it is possible that there were thousands of demons controlling this man.

    The demons must have been afraid that Jesus would immediately banish them to Hell because they begged Him not to send them out of that area of the country. Perhaps this area was filled with people who were primed for demon-possession by their ungodly behavior. I have heard of people being demon-possessed in areas where people have rejected God. Sometimes it happens in jungle communities and we might be surprised that it happens in civilized countries as well.

    The demons were enjoying their “work” in that area and requested to stay there. But then they had another idea. Seeing a large herd of pigs (about 2000), they desperately begged for permission to possess them. With the Creator’s permission, these demons left the man’s body and possessed the herd of pigs. True to their cruel, demonic nature, they stampeded the herd down a hill into the sea where all of them drowned.

    Take a moment to consider what just happened. How was it that Jesus allowed the demons to kill 2,000 innocent pigs? “If the pig’s owners were Gentiles, for whom the business was not illegal, Christ’s permission presents something of a moral problem. But if the owners were indifferent Jews who engaged in this unclean business for the profit in it, the loss would well serve to jar their conscience.”8 Now if you are unfamiliar with the Mosaic Law, this might not make sense. Here is the deal. For an undisclosed reason, God told the Israelites that pigs were unclean animals that they were not allowed to eat.

    Leviticus 11:7-8 – “And the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.”

    God made it clear that Jewish people were not allowed to eat pork. However, some of them may have figured out a way around this. Ironside suggests that these people were “a mixed multitude … many of whom were engaged in … raising swine for the tables of the Gentiles.”10 So, instead of eating them, they would just raise them and make some money. With this in mind, it seems clear that Jesus was sending a message to those who were clearly violating God’s law for the sake of profit.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus is more powerful than demons. One of the reasons this event was recorded is to show that Jesus is the Son of God who has the power to overcome demons. It is not that he is somewhat stronger than demons like the difference between an NFL and a college athlete. Jesus is God and is in complete control. What He says must be done. And there is no one who can stand against Him. So demons are not a problem to Jesus because He is God.

    How does it apply?

    At some point, each of us must come to that same conclusion about Jesus. He is more than just a famous prophet who lived a long time ago. He is God Almighty. In fact, as you read the other gospel accounts, you will see that Jesus showed this not only by His miracles but also by the claims He made. Consider what John, one of the disciples, heard Jesus say.

    John 10:30-33 – “‘I and My Father are one.’ Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’”

    The above passage clearly shows that Jesus claimed to be God. And His many miracles give evidence that Jesus is God. Do you believe that? I do.

  3. The people’s response to Jesus (Mark 5:14-17)

    After all that happened, the people in the area came to see what had happened. What they found was much different than what they had been used to. However, their response to what Jesus had done was also odd.

    What does it say?

    When the herd unexpectedly ran off and drowned, the swineherds ran into the city. They told everyone what had happened and broadcasted the message to those in the city and the surrounding area. The people soon came to see what had transpired. When they arrived, they saw Jesus and also the formerly demon-possessed man fully clothed, completely rational, and sitting calmly with Jesus and the disciples. Having seen how crazy the man had been acting, this change in him made them even more afraid. “They were keenly conscious that they were in the presence of the supernatural.”9 Soon the swineherds were again telling what they had seen happen to both the demon-possessed man and the pigs. The people couldn’t take anymore. They begged Jesus to leave the country.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus can completely change someone’s life. Isn’t it wonderful to see the change Jesus had made in this man’s life. Where he used to be crying, living in tombs, and hurting himself, now he was rational, quiet, and happy. If you ever wanted a poster child for the change that Jesus can make in someone’s life, this is it.

    How does it apply?

    Do you realize that Jesus can make this change in your life as well? I don’t mean to say that you are demon-possessed. But each of us is a sinner that has offended God. Each of us will someday have to answer for our sin before God. How could any of us ever think that God would accept us as we are. He is holy and without sin and we are definitely not. And yet, God sent Jesus to die for our sins and to make it possible that we could be changed by repenting of our sin and placing our faith in what He accomplished on the cross for us. Consider what Paul said about this.

    1 Cor. 6:9-11 – “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

    Jesus changed the life of this demon-possessed man by casting out the demons who possessed him. But He can also change your life by forgiving your sin and making you a new person on the inside. But please realize that this is not something that you can accomplish on your own. You can’t clean yourself up enough to make God forget your sinful guilt. That’s why Jesus took our place and died instead of us. But if you will turn from your sin and put your trust in Jesus, you will be born again and be changed by God.

  4. The man’s response to Jesus (Mark 5:18-20)

    Despite the fact that the townspeople rejected Jesus, this part of the story always makes me smile. How the formerly demon-possessed man responded to Jesus is simply wonderful. Let’s take a look at it.

    What does it say?

    After being asked to leave the country, Jesus quietly got back into the boat. But not everyone wanted Jesus to leave. The formerly demon-possessed man begged to go with Him. After all Jesus had done for him, he wanted to follow Jesus wherever He went. But Jesus had a different idea. He didn’t allow the man to come with them. Instead, He told the man to go back to his friends to tell them the great things that the Lord had done for him. God had been compassionate toward him. This means that God had seen his pitiful situation and actually cared enough to do something about it. As a result, the grateful man spread the story of what Jesus had done for him throughout Decapolis.1 The people who heard his story were amazed by what they heard.

    What does it mean?

    God’s plan is always better. This must have been a difficult lesson for this newly changed man. He was hoping to go along with Jesus and become one of His disciples. This seemed like a perfect idea. He had been rescued by Jesus but still needed to learn many things from Him. However, Jesus revealed a different plan for His life. It was not one that the man was expecting, but it was a good plan as we saw from what happened afterward. When people saw the scars all over his body and heard the story of how Jesus had changed his life, they listened with great interest.

    How does it apply?

    I think that we often come up with good ideas as Christians. But are they always the best ideas? As we consider how we might serve the Lord at any point in our lives, we can come up with ideas that we think will be most effective. And if we are honest, we often tell God what we think should be done instead of asking Him for His plan. How do we overcome this bad habit? Perhaps we should follow what God says.

    James 1:5 – “ If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

    Instead of telling God how great our ideas are, we should pray and ask God for wisdom. We should also search the Bible for answers. Remember that the Bible is inspired by God and is useful for all kinds of situations. As we pray and read, God will direct us to make not just good decisions but the best decision. And time will show that God’s way is always best.

Conclusion

While I had no intentions of bringing a scary story to church today, aren’t you glad that we studied it? Jesus took a scary story that nobody else could finish and gave it a happy ending. I hope that we never forget this. As you go home and pass the various Halloween decorations, or as you see the witches and goblins knocking on your door during trick-or-treat night, I want you to remember what Jesus did for the demon-possessed man. God can change anybody’s life. He did then and still does today.

Footnotes

1 “…the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The larger area, east and south, was known as ‘Decapolis’ or ‘ten cities.’ To us, the area is the Golan Heights, northwest Jordan, and southwest Syria.” As defined at https://www.bibleref.com/biblepassage/Printer?section=Mark_5:20 on 10/14/2023. See also https://www.britannica.com/place/Decapolis-ancient-cities-Palestine
2 Grassmick 122.
3 προσεκύνησεν – “to worship, pay homage, show reverence; to kneel down (before)” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/proskyneo on 10/14/2023.
4 Grassmick states that “the demon possessing the man was fully aware of Jesus’ divine origin and superior power: he knelt before Him (in homage, not worship)” (p. 123).
5 Grassmick 123.
6 “Gerasa, Gadara, Gergesa – from where did the pigs stampede?” as viewed at https://biblicalhistoricalcontext.com/gospels/gerasa-gadara-gergesa-from-where-did-the-pigs-stampede/#:~:text=Gerasa%2C%20one%20of%20the%20cities,get%20to%20in%20a%20bit). on 10/14/2023.
7 Hiebert 130.
8 Hiebert 134.
9 Hiebert 136.
10 Ironside 77.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

Ironside, H. A., Expository Notes on the Gospel of Mark, Neptune: Loizeaux, 1969.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Mark 4:26-34 – The Parables of the Patient Planter and the Mustard Seed

In Mark 4:26-32, Jesus used two parables to describe what the kingdom of God is like. At the time, the nation of Israel was not ruled by a Jewish king. They had been conquered by Rome. So, what was this about a kingdom of God? The phrase is mentioned many times in the gospels and there is some difference of opinion about what it means. Depending on who you talk to, the kingdom refers to a spiritual kingdom which includes “those who willingly submit to God’s authority,”1 a physical kingdom which will only be fulfilled in the future millennial reign of Christ2, or it could be either spiritual or physical depending on the context.

In the Gospel of Mark, the phrase “kingdom of God” is mentioned 15 times.3 According to Mark, the kingdom of God was something (1) that was good news (Mark 1:14) (2) that was close at hand (Mark 1:15), (3) that could be entered by repentance and faith (Mark 1:15), (4) that was a mystery (Mark 4:11), (5) that was like planting seeds and the resulting growth (Mark 4:26, 30), (6) that would be seen by some before they died (Mark 9:1) , (7) that could be missed because of sin (Mark 9:47), (8) that must be received with child-like faith (Mark 10:14-15), (9) that is difficult for a rich person to enter (Mark 10:23-25), (10) that requires biblical discernment (Mark 12:34), (11) that Jesus will be part of in the future (Mark 14:25), and (12) to be waited for (Mark 15:43).

Do these mentions in Mark sound like Jesus was referring to a physical or a spiritual kingdom? My personal belief is that the kingdom of God refers to both the spiritual work in a person’s heart and the future physical kingdom. The spiritual side of the kingdom of God is evidenced by the need for faith and repentance, the planting and growth of seeds, the fact that it could be missed because of sin, the need to receive it with child-like faith, and the need for biblical discernment. The physical side of the kingdom of God is evidenced by it being close at hand, needing to be waited for, and being somewhere that Jesus will drink grape juice in the future.

This may be a bit confusing and more than you want to investigate at the moment. But we need to think about this because Jesus’ next two parables are about the kingdom of God. If we are to understand what the parables mean, we must also understand what the kingdom of God refers to. As we consider both parables, we will see the kingdom of God likened to planting seeds and what happens when the seeds grow. As we study, let’s ask God to open our understanding of what was meant by these parables.

  1. Parable of the Patient Planter (Mark 4:26-29)

    What does it say?

    Jesus told his audience that the kingdom of God could be compared to someone who scattered seed on the ground. As you may recall, this was the way seeds were planted at that time. The farmer grabbed a handful of seeds and scattered them across the ground. After doing this, he went through a period of sleeping and waking. But the seed sprouted and grew without him knowing how it did so. The ground yielded a crop by itself. He then described the growth of the seed in four stages: (1) the blade, (2) the head, (3) the full grain, and (4) the harvest. When the grain was ripe, the farmer finally used a sickle to harvest the grain.

    What does it mean?

    If Jesus was talking about the physical kingdom of God (Jesus’ millennial kingdom), would this illustration support that? I don’t see how it does. When Jesus returns to earth to setup His kingdom, will it be something that takes a while to happen?4 No, the Book of Revelation says that Jesus will arrive and instantly defeat His enemies and establish a world-wide kingdom (Rev. 19:11-20:6). It is not a slow growing kingdom, as in the parable, but a sudden and immediate conquering of the whole earth.

    If Jesus was talking about a spiritual kingdom (people who have submitted to His leadership), would this illustration support that? I think it does. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus used the farmer and the seed to depict someone “planting” God’s truth in the hearts of people. The response to God’s truth depended on the quality of their heart. According to Hiebert, it follows naturally that this parable “supplements the parable of the sower in elaborating the law of spiritual growth as seen in the good soil.”6 If we apply that idea to this parable, it makes good sense. The patient planter is the same farmer from the Parable of the Soils and the seed is still God’s truth.

    The spiritual kingdom of God involves telling people God’s truth (the gospel) and then waiting for that truth to take root in their hearts. We don’t know how quickly the seed of God’s truth will sprout or when it will result in their conversion. But at some point, God’s truth accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s work will produce faith in the one who heard it. With this understanding in mind, the parable is teaching that someone who has heard God’s truth with a believing heart will become a member of God’s kingdom at God’s appointed time.

    How does it apply?

    Do you believe that God’s truth can work without your help?

    In the parable, the seed grows by itself. God has designed seeds to grow by themselves in the right environment. The same is true when we speak God’s truth to people. God has designed it to work in people’s hearts even when we are not there to persuade them. Behind the scenes, God’s Holy Spirit is applying the truth which we have spoken to someone and that truth planted in his heart will eventually lead to a response by itself. We need to speak and sometimes may need to speak several times to the same individual. But we must always remember that it is God who causes the seed to grow in someone’s heart. We mustn’t take God’s place in the process.

    Do you understand your part in planting the seed of the gospel?

    As you may recall, the early Christians heard the gospel from people like Peter, Paul, and Apollos. Later, in the New Testament, their work was also likened to planting seeds and helping them to grow.

    1 Cor. 3:5-7 – “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”

    Paul must have been familiar with Jesus’ parable because he states a similar truth. He and Apollos were preachers who led different people to Christ. God used their efforts at preaching the truth to bring people into God’s kingdom. But I would like you to stop and understand something. Although it is God who causes the seed of the gospel to grow, he still uses each of us to speak biblical truth to others. When we stop planting the seed by not speaking the truth to others, we are not taking our responsibility seriously. God has commanded us to tell others about what Jesus has done. We are not to just wait for a harvest without planting seeds. We must do our part and then leave the rest to God.

  2. Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32)

    What does it say?

    In this parable, Jesus began with a question: How can we illustrate the kingdom of God? He said that the kingdom is like a mustard seed which is planted in the ground. Despite it being a very small garden seed, it grows into a plant that is bigger than all garden herbs. It even grows branches large enough to give shade to nesting birds.

    What does it mean?

    If Jesus was talking about a physical kingdom, this parable would mean that God’s kingdom starts small and eventually becomes large. Grassmer says that this parable “contrasts the insignificant, even enigmatic beginning of God’s kingdom, embodied in the presence of Jesus, with the greatness of the end result to be established at His Second Advent when it will surpass all the earth’s kingdoms in power and glory.”5 Is that what we see in the future, millennial rule of Christ? No, we looked at that in the first parable. The Book of Revelation tells us that Jesus defeats his enemies quickly and establishes his world-wide reign immediately. So, I do not think this parable is describing the future, physical kingdom of God.

    If Jesus was talking about a spiritual kingdom, then this parable makes more sense. It would then mean that God’s gathering of people for His future kingdom is a slow but growing work in the hearts of men. When the seed of God’s truth is planted in the hearts of people, it seems like an insignificant thing. But the truth works in individual hearts and eventually takes root and grows in them. What seemed insignificant at first does a great work in the person’s heart and makes him into a strong, productive part of God’s work.

    How does it apply?

    Consider what God had done in your life.

    Think of your own self. When God convicted you of your sin and brought you to faith in Jesus, did the people around you think you would amount to much? Did you think you would amount to much? The answer is probably no to both questions. You were new to believing in Jesus and still had a number of rough edges. But look what God has done in your life since you first believed. Slowly and surely, God has worked in your life and caused you to become an entirely different person than you were at the beginning. God’s truth certainly does set people free!

    Consider what God had done in the Church.

    If you look at the spiritual work God has done since the beginning of the Church, it is much the same. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He left behind just eleven disciples and a few others. But what started with those few people has grown into a world-wide phenomenon. These followers turned the world upside down. That small group of believers became thousands and later millions of believers world-wide. Look at what God has done. And always remember that it all began when one person planted the seed of the gospel and from that many others were changed.

Conclusion

After sharing these two parables, Mark makes an important comment (Mark 4:33-34). He reminds us that Jesus spoke only in parables to the people who came to hear him. They were never told what the parables meant. How they must have scratched their heads after hearing Jesus speak. But when Jesus was alone with His disciples, He explained the meaning of the parables just to them.

Today, we have looked at the Parables of the Patient Planter and the Mustard Seed. You will notice that the meaning of these parables was not given by Mark. In fact, Mark is the only one who even mentions these parables of the four gospel writers. While it would have been nice to have heard Jesus’ explanation, this was not His plan. Instead, we were given the opportunity to read them, think about them, and to ask God to help us understand them.

Both parables are about God’s kingdom. The Parable of the Patient Planter teaches us that in God’s kingdom, we have the responsibility to plant the seed of God’s truth, but that God is ultimately in charge of that seed’s growth in the person’s heart. The Parable of the Mustard Seed teaches us not to underestimate the power of God’s truth in bringing people into His kingdom. As it is proclaimed, it will have an enormous impact in the lives of those who believe it.

We must be faithful in preaching the gospel to others. But we must always remember that it is God who will cause His truth to germinate in the heart of those who hear it. And when it does, it will make a big impact on their lives. And these are the types of people who will be part of God’s kingdom.

Footnotes

1 “What is the kingdom of God?”
2 Chafer 224.
3 If you would like to do your own study, click here to view a list of times the phrase “kingdom of God” is mentioned in the NKJV New Testament.
4 Grassmer seems to think that “it presents a comprehensive picture of the coming of God’s kingdom” (p. 120). With this idea, the parable would be talking about the chronology of the coming kingdom beginning with Jesus and culminating with the millennial kingdom. “Others see it as a picture of the coming of God’s kingdom by the mysterious, sovereign work of God. Its emphasis is on growth under God’s initiative in the interim phase between the proclamation by Jesus (the lowly Sower) and His disciples and the ultimate manifestation of the kingdom by Jesus (the mighty Harvester)” (p. 121). But this would make Jesus the oblivious farmer who didn’t know how the seed grew. That doesn’t make sense to me.
5 Grassmer 121.
6 Hiebert 117.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

“Kingdom” as described by Lewis Sperry Chafer in Systematic Theology, Vol. VII, Doctrinal Summarization, Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

“What is the kingdom of God?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=1654 on 9/30/2023.

Mark 4:21-25 – The lamp that reveals secrets

One of the things that every Christian should be doing is Bible study. This is an important part of spiritual growth. As you study the Bible, you will gain knowledge about God and will learn what you need and what God wants you to be doing. But sometimes, Bible study is difficult. Even the apostle Peter had trouble understanding some Bible truths. He said, “Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand.”

So what do we do when we come to a difficult portion of the Bible. Some might respond by skipping that part. I just can’t understand it. But is this what God wants for us? No, God has told us to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Some of the teaching in the Bible may be difficult, but that should drive us to more diligence. Work hard and try to find what God is teaching. There is a great benefit to studying and understanding what God says in the Bible.

The reason why I mention this is that this passage took some time for me to understand. Jesus spoke these words but didn’t explain His meaning. So, it took some time to figure out what He meant. But after much study, I would like you to consider what I found.

  1. What does it say? (Mark 4:21-25)

    The lamp

    Jesus began by asking two questions and then making several statements. His questions involved the use of a lamp. Both questions had to do with the purpose of a lamp. Is a lamp brought to a room to be hidden under a basket or under a bed? The obvious answer is no. “Who would bring a lighted lamp just in order to set it where its light could do no good?”7 Nobody brings a lamp to a room to hide its light. The second question also expects an answer. Isn’t the purpose for a lamp to set it on a lampstand? The obvious answer is yes.

    Let’s talk about the lamp and lampstand mentioned in this passage. When we think of a lamp, we think of the electrical lamp which sits atop the table next to our armchair or bed. But in biblical times, the lamp was usually made “of clay or metal, with olive oil to fuel its wick (not a candle).”1 You can still buy these types of lamps on the internet.2 They look like a flattened tea kettle with a handle, center hole for filling, and a spout with the lighted wick. The lampstand was a stand on which the lamp could be placed safely and where its light could cover the most area. “It might be a shelf extending from the pillar in the center of the room … or a single stone projecting inward from the wall, or a piece of metal conspicuously placed and used similarly.”5

    After using the lamp as an illustration, Jesus said that nothing was hidden that would be not be revealed. He then repeated the idea by saying that nothing has been kept secret that would not come to light. After saying this, Jesus invited anyone who had ears to hear.

    The listening

    Next, Jesus broadened his thoughts about hearing. He warned his audience to take heed to what they heard. By saying take heed, he meant that they should “pay attention”3 to what they heard. He told them that the amount of information they used would be the amount they would be given. If they heard (and presumably acted on it), they would be given more. Those who had would be given more. But those who didn’t have would have what they had been given taken away from them.

  2. What does it mean?

    You may notice that what Jesus said to the people was not explained. So we are left to interpret what he meant by the context of the rest of the chapter. One thing to remember is that Jesus had previously explained to the disciples that they had been given the privilege of understanding the truth (Mark 4:10-12). But those who were outside (referring to those who had rejected Him) were being judged by God for their sin and would only hear the parables without an explanation.

    Note also what Jesus said to his ignorant disciples. He was surprised that they did not understand the parable of the four soils.

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

    This shows us that we who have been born again ought to be able to understand Jesus’ parables. Since the Holy Spirit indwells us and the veil has been removed from our spiritual understanding, we should be able to study Jesus’ sayings and understand the meaning. This does not imply that it will be easy. It may take a while to think about them and may involve prayer and comparison to other things Jesus taught. But with the help given to us by God, we should be able to understand what Jesus is saying in these parables.

    To whom was Jesus speaking?

    At the beginning (Mark 4:2) and the ending (Mark 4:33-34), Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. But in the middle of this section, He explained things to His disciples when they were alone (Mark 4:10). In verses 10-20, Jesus was speaking privately to the disciples. But when we come to the following three parables, to whom was He speaking?

    The disciples

    Perhaps the key is found in how Mark begins each paragraph. In verses 21 and 24, it says that “He said to them.” But in verses 26 and 30, there is no mention of “them.” Then in verses 33-34, it mentions that Jesus only spoke in parables to the crowds but explained them when alone with the disciples. With that in mind, I think that in our passage, Jesus is still speaking to His disciples. Knowing to whom He was speaking will help us to interpret what He said to them.

    What does the lamp represent? (Mark 4:21-23)

    In the parable of the four soils, Jesus defined the seed as God’s truth and the soil as people’s hearts. In this parable, Jesus does not explicitly define the terms. So what does the lamp represent in this part of His teaching?

    Jesus is the lamp.

    If you are familiar with the gospels, you may remember that Jesus called Himself the Light of the world.

    John 8:12 – “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

    If Jesus was equating Himself with the lamp here, then He was saying that His voice was not something to keep hidden. As He spoke the truth, hidden things and secrets would be revealed. While Jesus is the Light of the world and His presence was a light to people, I don’t think this is what He meant here. Why would He refer to Himself as the lamp and then talk about hiding Himself under a basket or bed?

    The disciples are the lamp.

    One of the many Bible references to light is found in Matthew 5:16.

    Matt. 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

    In that passage, Jesus told the disciples that they were a light to the dark world. They should not hide their light but should be an influence on all people they met. But does that fit with our current passage? If the disciples are the lamp, then Jesus was telling them to shine, but how does that fit with hidden things being revealed? I don’t think that is what Jesus was saying here.

    God’s truth is the lamp.

    The Bible also talks about God’s truth being a lamp to people.

    Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

    This seems to fit the context best. In the previous parable, the seed represented God’s truth spoken to people. In this parable, the lamp represents God’s truth shining into people’s lives. As it shines, hidden things and secrets are revealed. This is how I will interpret this parable.

    With this in mind, this is the meaning Jesus was trying to get across to His disciples. Gods’ truth is not something to keep hidden from others. Instead, it is something to be proclaimed openly so that men’s sins can be revealed, people can repent, and find forgiveness from God. This only possible when God’s people are proclaiming God’s truth and people are listening.

    What does the hearing and measuring mean? (Mark 4:23-25)

    Note that Jesus calls on people to hear if they are able (4:23). He then tells them to pay attention to what they hear because how they respond will affect the results it produces in their lives (4:24-25). There are two thoughts here.

    Not everyone listens (4:23).

    As Jesus spoke to His disciples and to the crowds, He addressed those who had ears to hear. There were two types of people. As you may recall, there were some people who had rejected Jesus (many of the religious leaders). There were others who were only interested in what Jesus could do for them (healing and miracles). These were spiritually deaf people who were not tuned into what Jesus was saying. But there were some whose hearts had been touched by God. They were listening to what Jesus said because God had opened their hearts to receive Him. The sad truth is that not everyone listens. But the happy truth is that some do listen.

    Everyone will be rewarded for his response (4:24-25).

    The second part of Jesus’ teaching involves the response of those who heard Him. When Jesus told them that they should pay attention to what they heard, He noted that there were only two responses and that each would have its own results.

    For those who hear and pay attention to Jesus’ teaching, there is a promise for more to be given to them. As they hear and respond favorably to it, they will be given more of God’s truth. “Truth received and carefully assimilated enlarges one’s capacity to receive more truth.”4 And as they continue listening and obeying God’s truth, more truth will be revealed.

    But those who hear but do not pay attention to what Jesus says will have nothing. And even the truth they were given will be taken away from them. This reminds me of the seed scattered on the wayside. Before the seed of God’s truth could take root in their hearts, Satan steals it away and they never do believe.

    What Jesus said is true. “It is a universal law that the measure of their diligent attention to the teaching will be the measure of the profit they derive from it.”4 How a person responds to God’s truth will determine the results it will have in his life. A positive response will have good results. A negative response will have bad results. This is how God has designed for it to work.

  3. How does it apply?

    There are two truths here which can be applied to our lives.

    Understand that you can’t hide from God.

    When the light of God’s truth shines on your life, it will reveal the sins hidden in your heart. You can’t hide anything from God. “Men may try to cover up things, but in this they will always be unsuccessful, for God brings everything out into the open. One day whatever is now concealed will be revealed. … Men think they can get away with their evil thoughts, plans, words, and actions. God, however, will expose all this.”6

    While this may appear to be a terrifying thing, it is actually a benefit. Instead of allowing you to continue in your sin, God wants your sin to be revealed so that you can be changed. His goal is for you to recognize your sin against Him, to repent of it, and then to turn to Jesus and be forgiven. If your sin was never uncovered, you would never find God’s forgiveness. So allow the light of God’s truth to penetrate your heart. Only then will you find cleansing and forgiveness.

    Pay attention to what God is saying.

    When the light of God’s truth comes into your life, you have the opportunity to respond. How will you respond today? Will you pay attention to what God has said? Or will you continue in your ignorance? If you hear God’s truth and apply it to your life, God will help you. He wants to give you a relationship with Him that is growing and becoming better every day. But if you hear God’s truth and let it go in one ear and out the other, you will never benefit from it.

    If you are a Christian, you have the unique privilege of hearing and understanding God’s truth. As you read the Bible and search for God’s plan for your life, He will reveal it to you. But it takes effort. You can’t think that a lackadaisical effort will produce good results. It won’t. This week, start putting effort into your own personal Bible study. Take the time to read the Bible and apply it to your life on a daily basis. When you do that, you will benefit greatly.

Footnotes

1 Mounce, Bill, λύχνος as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/lychnos on 9/23/2023.
2 https://www.amazon.com/Herodian-Certificate-Authenticity-Hanukkah-Judaica-Christian/dp/B08NW8WD83?th=1
3 Mounce Bill, βλέπω as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/blepo on 9/23/2023.
4 Hiebert 117.
5 Hendriksen 162.
6 Hendriksen 163.
7 Lenski 180.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

Lenski, R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel, Columbus: Wartburg, 1946.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

“What is the significance of the lampstand in the Bible?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=6134 on 9/23/2023.

Mark 4:1-20 – Parable of the Four Soils

When I was in high school, I played soccer, basketball, and track & field. While we played, the cheer leaders would do their thing along the sidelines. But most of the time I was preoccupied with the competition and didn’t pay attention to what they were doing. One day, we were playing in a soccer tournament at a Christian camp in North Carolina. When I came out of the game for a rest break, my cousin (dressed in a lion mascot outfit) began a pitiful cheer by herself. She almost mumbled the words and acted disinterested. That got my attention and made me mad. What was she doing? She was supposed to be cheering us on. But then she did the cheer again a little bit louder. And a third time, she was yelling at the top of her lungs. What I didn’t understand was that she had planned this cheer to get the crowd’s attention. Once I understood that, it all made sense.

At another time, our cheerleaders gave a Friday afternoon pep rally. Once again my cousin led the school in a cheer. But this one involved clapping with her. She clapped once and then clapped several times and then some more. I was oblivious to how to match the claps, but the crowd seemed to understand and were able to clap at the same time she was. It wasn’t until afterward that I learned that she was clapping 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 times and then 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 times. Until I understood the pattern, I was very confused.

Have you had a similar thing happen to you? The people in today’s Scripture passage did. In Mark 4:1-20, we will be reading about Jesus’ use of a parable which at first nobody understood. But when things were explained to the disciples, it all made sense. Let’s take a look at what happened.

  1. The Parable of the Planter (Mark 4:1-9)

    Jesus took another opportunity to teach the people. This time it was near the sea. There were so many people that He got into a boat and taught from the water. This would have kept them from pushing against Him and would also have kept Him visible to everyone. When He began teaching, it was not in straight forward principles. Instead, He taught with parables.

    A parable has been described as “a short discourse that conveys spiritual truth by making a vivid comparison. The truth to be taught is compared to something in nature or a common-life experience. … A parable draws its hearers to take part in a situation, evaluate it, and apply its truth to themselves.”1 With that in mind, can you think of any parables and how this definition fits them? How about the parable of the prodigal son? Jesus told the parable about a wayward son who lived in sin and finally realized his wrong choices. Jesus used this story to show how merciful God is to those who repent of their sin and come back to him.

    In this parable, Jesus spoke about a farmer who went out to plant seeds. “He worked with a leather bag containing the seed, either wheat or barley, tied it to his waist while he scattered the seed by hand.”4 With our modern way of farming, his method seems haphazard. He simply cast the seeds around hoping that some of them would land in a good place and grow. Some of the seeds landed on the wayside. “The wayside was either a road at the edge of the field or a footpath crossing the open field.”5 But the birds ate these seeds before they could take root. Some seed fell on stony ground where there wasn’t very much dirt. The plants grew quickly at first but when the sun scorched them they withered away. Some of the seeds landed among the thorns. But the plants that grew there were unable to grow because the thorns were so thick. But there were some seeds that fell on good ground and later grew into productive plants which produced a good crop.

    “Both before and after Jesus told this parable, He urged the crowd to listen carefully.”1 He started with “Listen!” and ended with “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” This should cause us to stop and consider what Jesus is saying and how it applies to each of us. Will you do that today?

  2. The Purpose of the Parable (Mark 4:10-12)

    Later, when the multitudes had gone home, Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples. They asked Him about the meaning of the parable. Jesus explained to them that they were being given the ability to understand the mystery of the kingdom of God. But those who were outside would only hear parables. This withholding of information was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He then quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10.

    Isaiah 6:9-10 – “And He said, Go, and tell this people: Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.”

    At first it may seem unfair that Jesus only explained the parables to His disciples, but there is more to the story. Much time had passed since He first began teaching the people. And “Jesus’ audiences were not denied the opportunity to believe in Him. But after they persistently closed their minds to His message, they were excluded from further understanding of it by His use of parables.”2 When people rejected His teaching, Jesus allowed them to remain in their unbelief and did not explain the parables to them.

    What does it mean?

    There are two types of people. There are some to whom God reveals the truth and some to whom it will not be revealed. The difference between the two is not their innate goodness but the work of God. Jesus had chosen the twelve to be His disciples and with that privilege had given them this great opportunity to know God’s truth. But the others, including many in the multitude, were not given the opportunity to understand the truth.

    Jesus explained this hiding of the truth from some by quoting Isaiah. The Old Testament prophet was told by God to speak to the people but that they would not understand or perceive what was being said. They had come to a place where they had rejected God’s message so often that they were no longer able to understand or repent.

    How does it apply?

    If you are a believer today, you should thank the Lord for opening your eyes to the truth. If it had not been for Him, you would still be living in sin and walking away from Him. This is the way all of us are born. Isaiah described this well by saying, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way.” But God, who is rich in mercy, reached down and opened our eyes to the truth and brought us to the place where we would respond to Him. It may have been that God used a friend to share the truth with you. Or you may have been reading the Bible when you finally understood. Or you may have heard a preacher when God’s Spirit opened your eyes to understand the truth. At some point, you understood that you were a sinner who deserved God’s eternal judgment in Hell. But you also learned that Jesus gave His life on the cross to pay the debt for your sins. Then you repented of your sin and put your faith in Jesus. That is when God saved you and gave you a new life.

    But there are others who have not responded to the Lord as of yet. If you are one of them who has consistently rejected the Lord, you may find yourself in a bad situation soon. God’s patience with stubborn people lasts only so long. And when these Jewish unbelievers continued to reject Him and His ways, God finally gave them over to their foolish choice and let them become hardened to the point where they no longer could understand God’s truth. The solution to this is to listen and respond positively to what God is saying. Turn from your sin and trust in Jesus before you become too hardened to change.

  3. The Meaning of the Parable (Mark 4:13-20)

    It is interesting that Jesus chided the disciples for not understanding His parable. He seemed surprised that they didn’t understand the parable and was wondering if they would understand future parables. Thankfully, Jesus took the time to explain what His parable meant.

    What it means

    The seeds

    Firstly, Jesus explained what the seeds stood for. The seeds which the farmer planted in the parable stood for “the word” of God. In other words, the seeds were God’s truth which was spoken to various people. This would have included the Bible and also whatever Jesus said since He is the Son of God. God’s truth (the seeds) were being proclaimed to people just as a farmer scatters seed in a field.

    The soils

    The wayside (15) represents people who hear God’s truth but who are influenced by Satan and are convinced not to believe.

    The stony ground (16-17) represents people who “hear the Word with a hasty, enthusiastic, but shallow profession of acceptance.”2 Because of this, they don’t last long. As soon as they face persecution, they stumble. It would appear that “their profession proves not to be genuine.”2

    The thorn-covered ground (18-19) represents people who receive God’s truth but who are kept from being productive for the Lord because of worldly cares, the allure of riches, and covetousness. “These things choke the Word, making it (the Word, not the hearer) unfruitful (cf. 10:22), indicating they are not true believers.”3

    The good ground (20) represents people who receive the truth and then become productive for the Lord. While their productiveness may vary, they are all productive believers for the Lord.

    How it applies

    If you were to apply one of these soils to yourself, which one would fit?

    Are you someone who hears God’s truth but never gets around to responding to it? If so, you may be like the seeds planted by the wayside. Even though you have often heard God’s truth, you never respond to it because Satan is actively turning your mind to other things. Let this be your wakeup call today. Turn to the Lord while He has your attention today.

    Are you someone who at some point was excited about what you heard from the Bible but later fizzled out? If so, you may be like the seeds planted on stony ground. You thought being a Christian would make your life better but as soon as you faced opposition, you couldn’t handle it. Let this be a wakeup call for you today. You need to become grounded in God’s truth so that you can face the difficulties that will eventually come. Start reading the Bible and applying it to your life. Without this, you will stumble.

    Are you someone who has received the truth but who since then has allowed worldly concerns, the love of money, and a desire for things take God’s place? If so, you are like the thorn-covered soil. You have allowed things to take God’s place in your life. Let this be a wakeup call for you today. Are you so worried about temporal things that you can’t do anything for the Lord? Are you so concerned with money that you are distracted from serving the Lord? Are you always thinking about getting more things and have allowed that to take God’s place in your life? Remember what Jesus said.

    Matt. 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

    Repent of your misplaced priorities and seek God’s instead. Only then can you become a productive Christian for the Lord.

    Are you someone who has received the truth and have been a productive person for the Lord? If so, you may be embarrassed to say so. You may think that saying so would be sinful pride. But you needn’t think that way. If you are a productive person for the Lord, then you are like the good ground that produced for the planter. God’s truth has made a difference in your life and it is noticeable. This is not something to be ashamed of and neither is it something to be proud of. Instead, be grateful for what the Lord has done in your life.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this message, I shared how clueless I was to what my cheerleader cousin was doing. But there came a time when I understood what she was doing. Then and only then was I able to appreciate her mysterious cheerleading. I still look back and smile at what happened so many years ago. Do you notice what happened today? At the beginning of our study, you heard a parable that didn’t make sense. But then God gave you the opportunity to understand what it meant. This should be comforting to you in light of what happened to some of the hard-hearted crowd Jesus had spoken to. Now that you understand what Jesus meant by the parable, it is your opportunity to respond. How will you respond today? Will you allow God’s truth to take root in your heart or will you allow the seed of God’s words to have no effect?

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 118.
2 Grassmick 119.
3 Grassmick 120.
4 Hiebert 106-07.
5 Hiebert 107.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Mark 3:31-35 – Our Closest Family

If we were to take the time to tell stories from when we grew up, I am sure that there would be a number of entertaining stories. Having grown up with a brother and three sisters, there are many stories that I could tell. And I am sure that you could tell some about your own family as well. Later in life, we left our parents and began our own family. There are also many stories that could be told there. And those stories bring a smile to our faces as we remember them.

Have you ever thought what it must have been like when Jesus was growing up. What was His family life like? What was Joseph like? What was Mary like? What were His brothers and sisters like? We already know that Joseph and Mary were poor at the time of Jesus’ birth because they offered birds instead of bigger sacrifices when He was circumcised. But they were rich for a moment as the gifts of the magi provided money for them to move to Egypt to escape murderous Herod. After they moved back, the only mention of Jesus’ childhood was when He was twelve and got left behind in Jerusalem. Beyond that, we know very little about his childhood or family.

Do you think family was important to Jesus? I’m sure it was. But when we read through our passage for tonight, we will see that He had another family that was even more important.

  1. Jesus reveals his real family (Mark 3:20-21; 3:31-35).

    What it says

    After Jesus had chosen the twelve disciples, they returned to the house that served as their headquarters. It didn’t take long for a multitude to gather and this kept them from even eating a meal. His own people (probably His family) heard about the crowd and decided to step in and help Him. They wanted to take Him away because they thought Jesus was out of His mind. Apparently, they still didn’t understand who He was and what His purpose was.

    Jesus’ family finally arrived. His mother and brothers stood outside and called for Him. “The size and density of the crowd made immediate access to Jesus impossible.”1 The multitude of people heard their request and told Jesus that His family was outside. But Jesus took that moment to teach them something. He asked who His mother and brothers were. After looking around at the people in the room, He said that the people around Him were His family (mother and brothers) because they were doing God’s will.

    What it means

    Jesus showed that following the Lord may conflict with family life.

    Did you notice that some of His family thought He was out of His mind? They wanted to put their hands on Him and forcefully remove Him to a safer place. If it weren’t for the crowds between them and Him, they would have accomplish their desire. This shows us that His family’s desire and God’s desire were in conflict.

    Their goal was to live a normal, non-fanatical life. Their goal was to get Him away from the crowds so that He could be a normal person again. Their goal was to live a quiet and peaceful life with their family’s reputation intact. They didn’t want to be known as the family of an odd, crowd-gathering, religious fanatic. They just wanted Jesus to settle down and be normal. Their purpose for Jesus was for Him to be like any other person who lived at the time.

    But God’s purpose for Jesus was much different. God had sent His Son to preach repentance and faith to the people, to care for them by healing and casting out demons, and to prepare the next generation of disciples for reaching the world with the gospel. This purpose didn’t fit with what His family wanted. It involved working with great crowds of people who needed His help. It involved preaching a message of repentance that made people uncomfortable. It involved an antagonistic relationship with the current religious leaders and this was difficult for Jesus’ family. And it would eventually involve his own suffering and death on the cross. But Jesus wasn’t concerned about what His family thought because He was accomplishing the purpose God had sent Him to do.

    Jesus revealed that those who do God’s will are his closest family.

    When we were young, it was our family members whom we knew best. We shared the most in common with them. We had the same way of speaking, thinking, and living. But when each of us became a Christian, we became part of a different family that can be even closer than our blood family.

    When the people told Jesus that His mother and siblings were outside calling for Him, He did something that at first may seem a bit harsh. Instead of responding to His family members’ concerns, He pointed to the people around Him and said that His mother and brothers were those who did God’s will. In effect, He was denying His family and choosing to associate with His spiritual family instead of the other.

    What is this family that Jesus was talking about? Well, if you turn to John 3, you will be reminded that Jesus talked about the new birth with Nicodemus. He told him that he needed to be born again. This was another way of saying that Nicodemus needed to be born of God and become one of God’s sons. This could only take place when God caused him to be born again spiritually.

    John 3:6 – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

    We all come from a physical family (born of the flesh) but we all need to be born again (born of the Spirit). The difference is physical birth versus spiritual birth. Our physical family may pass along many interesting qualities. But when we are born again by God’s Spirit, we become part of a different family of people who have become the sons and daughters of God.

    One of the marks of being part of this family is mentioned in Mark 13:35. Those who are part of God’s family are noted for doing the will of God. This family includes Jesus, Peter, James and John, Paul, Timothy, William Carey, John Paton, Pastor Fitzsimmons, Pastor Bailey, Pastor Gallion, and each of us who has been born again and is actively doing the will of God.

    How it applies

    Are you willing to put God before your family?

    When Jesus dismissed the desires of His family, this may have been taken poorly by them. This was His own physical family which included His mother and siblings. How could He set aside their desire to help Him and do something else? Well, I can see your concern for having a good relationship with your family. And we aren’t commanded to ignore our family or be rude to them. But there may come a time when you have to choose between them and following the Lord.

    I think that this is similar to what the disciples faced when the religious leaders were telling them to stop speaking about Jesus. Normally, it is right to obey those in authority over us. But when their demands conflict with what God had said to do, the right response is what Peter told them.

    Acts 4:18-20 – “So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'”

    For most of us, family is very important. We love our parents, siblings, children, and other relatives. But this love for family must never keep us from obeying the Lord. If it does, then a choice must be made. Despite their protests or arguments to the contrary, we must choose to obey God rather than them. This may not be easy or comfortable, but it is the right things to do.

    Are you doing the will of God?

    The next thing to think about is whether we qualify for being a part of God’s family. I am not talking about the new birth at this point, but am talking about doing God’s will. Jesus described his spiritual family as being made up of those who are doing God’s will. Are you currently doing God’s will?

    Coming to church and being part of the services are part of that but are not all of God’s will. Being someone who does God’s will must incorporate all aspects of our lives. Doing God’s will must include our lives at church and our lives at home. Our lives at work and our lives at play. Are you doing God’s will?

    What is God’s will? How do we know if we are doing it? Well, that may take some time to discover by studying the Bible. But let’s consider several things. Are you eagerly seeking God’s will for your life by reading the Bible and praying on a regular basis? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to work in your life and make you more like Christ each day? Are you forsaking sin and seeking to live a life that is holy for the Lord? Are you using your days to glorify God by your actions and speech? Are you telling other about Jesus? Are you trying to help others? Are you being kind to others?

    Those who are in the family of Jesus are those born-again believers who are actively doing the will of God. Are you one of them?

Conclusion

Over the years, I have been happily surprised to find brothers and sisters across the world who are actively doing God’s will. When we meet, there is a common bond as we recognize a similar heart for the Lord. We may not see eye-to-eye on every issue, but it is very clear that we are both seeking the Lord and wanting to do His will. Ands that desire to do God’s will binds me together with them.

Some of you may come from a family where very few are Christians. This can be very sad as you want each of them to know the Lord. But when God saved you, He graciously gave you a new family made up of those who are seeking to do His will. Find your comfort from fellowshipping with this family. Allow these relationships to grow and spend time with those who are going in the same direction. It is a blessing from God. And if you think about it, there will come a day when each of us will be with the Lord forever and guess who will also be there? Yes, our spiritual family made up of those who have been born-again and who did the will of God.


Footnotes

1 Hiebert 103.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

Ironside, H. A., Mark, Neptune: Loizeaux, 1948.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Mark 3:13-30

When I become a Christian, I was only 19 years old. Although I had grown up in a good home and attended church all my life, I chose to live a worldly life of secret sin. I am so thankful that God chose to pull me away from my sin and save me from Hell. When He saved me, He gave me a new life with new desires. My new desires included wanting to read the Bible and pray. And as I did that a new desire grew in me to find a way to serve the Lord.

Over the years, the Lord gave me opportunities to learn from pastors and Christian teachers who patiently dealt with my quirky personality and impulsive nature. The Lord also gave me opportunities to serve Him in different churches, at Christian camps, and as an evangelist for children. After 34 years, I can look back and smile at how the Lord used me. God is so patient! And so were God’s people.

I was reminded of my own journey as I read the first part of our chapter today. We will begin by looking at how Jesus chose the original twelve disciples. And as we study through the Gospel of Mark, we will see how these men were used by God despite their quirks and sometimes even their bad decisions.

  1. Jesus chooses the twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19).

    What it says

    After Jesus had healed the sick and cast out demons, he went up on a mountain. Once there, he called4 a number of people whom He wanted as disciples. From this group, He appointed twelve men who were (1) to be with Him, (2) to be sent out to preach, (3) to heal the sick and cast out demons. The names of the twelve are listed in order of importance beginning with Peter and ending with Judas Iscariot who eventually betrayed the Lord. After appointing them, they went into a house together.

    What it means

    Jesus wanted to train others to do the work.

    Peter was the first mentioned and later became the leader of the early church. Jesus’ nickname for him was “Peter, the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic Cephas, which means a ‘stone or rock.’ This probably described his leadership role during Jesus’ ministry and in the early church.”1 He wasn’t the only one and they weren’t the only ones who were used by God in the early Christian church, but they were the first who were trained by and used by Jesus.

    They needed this training because there was a lot they didn’t understand. At one point, when Jesus had been rejected by a community, two disciples suggested calling down fire from heaven to destroy the village. Obviously, they had a lot to learn from Jesus before they were ready to lead the early church and reach the world with the good news of Jesus.

    Jesus wanted to enable others to do the work.

    When Jesus began His ministry, it was a mix of helping people (healing, casting out demons) and preaching repentance and faith. While the disciples could preach, they did not have the ability to miraculously heal people or to command demons to leave a possessed person. But Jesus did and gave these disciples the ability and power to do such things. As they did so, they would be recognized as servants of God and people would listen to what they had to say.

    How it applies

    I still think it is interesting that Jesus would choose to use people instead of doing the work Himself. He could obviously do it better than any of us, and yet He wants to use us. This leads to two questions.

    Do you want to serve the Lord?

    The disciples were used by the Lord during the first century church. But they are long gone and the need is still great. Who will serve the Lord today? Do you have the desire to serve the Lord? Those who are called to serve are Christians (people who have been regenerated by God) and people who are eager and willing to do God’s will. Are you one of these people? If so, you should consider how you can serve the Lord today.

    Are you able to serve the Lord?

    The disciples were not superheroes when Jesus called them. They were people who were not particularly impressive except for one thing. They had been with Jesus. Their time training under Jesus involved watching how He responded to people, how He cared for others, how He spent time in prayer, and how He taught people God’s truth. As they learned from Him, they gained knowledge and experience and were also enabled to do the work. What made them effective was that Jesus enabled them to do the work.

    It may be that you are willing to serve the Lord but are not yet feeling enabled. Who can enable you to do the work of ministry around you? It is God who can enable you. Jesus may not be physically present to train you for ministry, but He has enabled others who can help you.

    Ephesians 4:11-12 – “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

    If you are willing to serve the Lord and are wondering how you can be enabled to do it, think of what this verse says. God gave us the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor teachers to prepare us to do the work of the ministry. One of the ways you can be enabled to do ministry is to attend Sunday School, Sunday services, and prayer meeting. During these services, the Lord will use what you are taught to equip you for serving Him. The you can serve with a better understanding of what God has said and wants to be accomplished.

  2. Jesus refutes a false accusation (Mark 3:20-30).

    Have you ever been falsely accused of something? It may be that you were accused of doing something that you had not done. It isn’t a good feeling, is it? Jesus also went through that. Except what He was accused of was much more serious.

    What it says

    A multitude of people found out where Jesus was and came to see Him. There were so many, that it was impossible even to eat a meal. When his family found out about this, they thought he had become a “mentally unbalanced religious fanatic.”2 Isn’t it interesting how people viewed Jesus’ ministry? To some, He seemed like a weirdo because of His devotion to God’s will. J. Vernon McGee notes that “the musician, the athlete, the businessman, the artist, the statesman who gives himself to his work is recognized for his total devotion. But if a man gives himself in total dedication to the cause of God, he is branded as a fanatic.”3 However, the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, stated that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebub5 and was casting out demons with Satan’s help. “Instead of recognizing Jesus as the Son of God, the scribes charged that he was the permanent tool of Satan. It was a vicious attack upon His person.”6

    Jesus responded to the scribes in parables. They had attributed his power to Satan but this didn’t make sense. How could Satan cast out himself? How could Satan’s kingdom stand if it was defeating part of its own kingdom? He then used an illustration of someone wanting to plunder a strong man’s house. To do so, you would have to bind the strong man first. Otherwise, it would be impossible. Jesus then made a very clear statement about their accusation. He told them that God will forgive all kind of sins including blasphemies. But if someone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, he would not be forgiven but would be condemned forever.

    What it means

    Jesus is opposed to Satan and his minions.

    What the scribes were accusing Jesus of was completely false. As you read through the first three chapters of Mark, what do you notice about Jesus and demon-possessed people? You notice that Jesus was opposed to the demons and wanted to free the possessed person from their control. The authority He had over them was not as a general exercises authority over his own soldiers. No, Jesus was God Almighty exerting His authority over His enemies. He even commanded them not to reveal His identity to the world because He wanted no connection between their evil work and Him.

    Jesus is serious about this kind of blasphemy.

    Although Jesus made logical arguments against the scribe’s false accusations, He noted that their sin was unpardonable. What sin had they committed? This is a difficult sin to define. Several commentators say that it wasn’t a particular sin that Jesus referred to but it was the fact that His accusers were hardened beyond the possibility of repentance.8 11 12 While there is evidence for that in other parts of the Bible (the pharaoh during the Exodus), that is not mentioned here. So, we need to look closely at what Jesus says.

    There are two things that Jesus meant to say here.

    First, Jesus stated that all sins will be forgiven by God including blasphemy. Note that when Jesus stated that all sins would be forgiven, it was “not an assertion of universal forgiveness but a declaration that all classes and kinds of sins may be forgiven (with the one exception subsequently stated).”7 By this we understand that God is very merciful. He could hold our sins against us for eternity, but He chooses to grant us forgiveness. That forgiveness is only available because Jesus died in our place on the cross.

    Second, there is a sin that will not be pardoned by God. That sin is what the scribes did here. They saw the Holy Spirit performing miracles through Jesus and still attributed those miracles to the devil. In this case, the unpardonable sin was saying that the works Jesus did were from the devil. This was a bold sin committed by people with hard hearts.

    Consider what one person wrote about this:

    “They had no excuse for such an action. They were not speaking out of ignorance or misunderstanding. The Pharisees knew that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God to save Israel. They knew the prophecies were being fulfilled. They saw Jesus’ wonderful works, and they heard His clear presentation of truth. Yet they deliberately chose to deny the truth and slander the Holy Spirit. Standing before the Light of the World, bathed in His glory, they defiantly closed their eyes and became willfully blind. Jesus pronounced that sin to be unforgivable.”13

    How it applies

    Whose side are you on?

    This section of the chapter shows two types of people. On one hand, there were the people who eagerly listened to Jesus and believed who He was and what He said. These people included the disciples and others who had become convinced as they saw what Jesus did and heard what He said. On the other hand, there were the hard-hearted scribes who were against Jesus. These people came with hardened-hearts and were unmoved by what they saw. They were enemies of Jesus because they were also enemies of God.

    Which side are you on? Have you seen the miracles and heard His teaching and become convinced that Jesus is the Son of God? Then you are headed in the right direction. Keep listening and at the right time God will work in your heart and draw you to Himself. If He is doing that right now, then repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus. But there was also another group of people in this part of the chapter. Are you like the religious scribes who saw all the evidence in Jesus and rejected Him? Are you still an unbeliever? Have you come to the place where you are willfully rejecting who Jesus is and what He can do for you? Let me say that if this is where you are, you are in a dangerous place. Don’t let your heart become hardened anymore. Turn to the Lord today.

    Have you committed the unpardonable sin?

    It may be that you wonder about your own sins. Have you gotten to the place where God will not forgive your sins? Before you become overly anxious, consider several well-known sinners whom God forgave after committing horrendous sins.

    David – adultery, dishonesty, murder
    Adulterous woman – caught in the act of adultery
    The prodigal son – wasted his money on harlots and wild living
    Peter – cursed and denied Jesus three times
    Paul – persecuted Christians in the early church, part of stoning Stephen to death

    If God could forgive these people who sinned terribly, He can forgive you as well. But it would be good for you to consider these who were not pardoned for their sins. How did they get to the place where they willfully rejected Jesus despite the evidence displayed right in front of their eyes? This happens slowly and surely. When someone rejects what God is showing him, he gets a spiritual callous on his conscience. Then when he continues to sin and rejects the convicting of the Spirit, that callous gets harder. As time goes by, the callous becomes so hard that the person no longer feels bad about his sin and totally rejects God’s Holy Spirit.

    Psalm 95:7-8 – “Today, if you will hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts…”

    Each of us needs to consider our own relationship with God today. I can’t tell where you are in relation to the Lord at this point in your life. But I do know this. If you will listen to what God is saying, there is still hope. Don’t let your heart become hardened to what God is saying. Seek Him today while you can. Repent of your sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. It can only come from Him.

Conclusion

In our passage today, we have seen several types of people. First, we saw the disciples whom Jesus called to Himself to train and eventually send out to preach the gospel to many people. Second, we saw curious people who came in large crowds to see Jesus. Not much is said about them except that they came to Jesus and listened to Him. Third, we saw religious scribes who rejected Jesus despite the incredible evidence that He was the Son of God.

Some of you are like the disciples who have been trained to serve the Lord. Let me encourage you to take what you have learned and share it with others. Don’t become complacent. Get up and do something for the Lord. Speak for Him wherever you can.

Some of you may be like the curious crowds who came to see Jesus. You are here listening to this message but have yet to make a choice. Let me encourage you to not put off your decision for long. If God has convicted you of your sin, now is the right time to repent and believe in Jesus.

Some of you may be like the religious scribes. You have already made up your mind that Jesus is not Who He claimed to be. As you have heard the Bible taught today, you have no desire to repent of your sin or to believe Jesus. Be careful. There will come a time when you will regret this. Turn from your sin now and receive God’s mercy before it is too late.

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 116.
2 Grassmick 117.
3 McGee 174.
4 Hiebert 92. “Calleth is middle voice and indicates that Jesus was acting in His own interest.”
5 Hiebert 99. “In the Greek, the name is always Beelzeboul; the familiar ‘Beelzebub’ is from the Vulgate. Some view the name as a derisive corruption of the title of the god of Ekron, Baal-zebub, ‘the lord of the flies,’ to make it mean the lord of dung. More probably it means lord of the dwelling, that is, the dwelling of the evil spirits. This agrees with the reference to ‘the strong man’s house’ in verse 27.”
6 Hiebert 99.
7 Hiebert 101.
8 Hiebert 102.
9 Hiebert 103.
10 Hiebert 104.
11 Ironside 58, 59.
12 Hendriksen 139.
13 GotQuestions.org

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

Ironside, H. A., Mark, Neptune: Loizeaux, 1948.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

“What is the unpardonable sin / unforgivable sin?”, as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=1689 on 9/9/2023.

Mark 3:1-12

I have been reading ahead in the Gospel of Mark. One of the things that I have noticed is that this book records a lot of the events during Jesus’ ministry as opposed to what He taught. That got me thinking. Why was this gospel written? My first thought is that Mark was trying to show people who Jesus is by showing what He did. Perhaps that is why there are more events than teaching in this gospel account.

In this chapter, Mark records five of those events during the ministry of Jesus:

1. The healing of the man with a withered hand.
2. The healing of the multitudes.
3. The appointing of the twelve disciples.
4. The accusation that Jesus was controlled by the devil.
5. The definition of Jesus’ real family.

Today, we will be looking at the first two events. But as we look at them, let’s try to understand what Mark is telling us about Jesus and how that will make a difference in our lives.

  1. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6).

    At the end of chapter two, Jesus announced that He was Lord of the Sabbath. As God, He determined what was allowed to be done on the Sabbath day. And He determined that it was okay for David to eat the week-old shewbread when he was in need and that it was okay for his poor disciples to eat heads of grain from a field on the Sabbath day.

    No doubt the religious leaders were displeased by this. Who was this upstart? He was only 30 years old and acted like He was the authority. Their rabbis had written many rules that had been added to God’s commandments about resting on the Sabbath. Apparently, people were not allowed to be healed on the Sabbath unless it was a life-or-death situation. These extra rules had become overly important to the zealous Pharisees. So they began watching Jesus trying to see if He would break one of the extra rules their rabbis had prescribed.

    What does it say?

    One Sabbath day, Jesus entered a synagogue. It just so happened that a man with a withered hand was present. The Pharisees were so concerned with Jesus breaking their extra rules on the Sabbath that they were unconcerned with this man’s physical problem. All they wanted to do was accuse Jesus and get Him in trouble. But Jesus had a better idea.

    He called the man with the withered hand to step forward. The man did. Then Jesus addressed the religious leaders with a question. Is it lawful to do good or evil on the Sabbath day? Is it lawful to save a life or kill on the Sabbath day? What Jesus was asking in general applied specifically to whether He should heal this man on the Sabbath day. Was that okay according to their extra add-on rules? But the religious leaders were unwilling to answer His question.

    This made Jesus become angry.1 He was grieved that their hearts were so hard that they were more interested with obeying man-made rules than with seeing a man healed. Despite their hard heartedness, Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand. As he did so, his withered hand was healed completely. “His ability to heal the man’s hand by the exercise of His will was proof that Jesus was more than a mere man.”2 Jesus is both man and God. But, as you might have guessed, the Pharisees didn’t recognize this and weren’t pleased with what He did. Instead of praising God, they left the meeting to plot with the Herodians to destroy Jesus.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus wanted people to understand the real purpose of the law.

    To the Pharisees who were present these laws were the only thing that mattered. Obeying their man-made laws was the only way to prove that they were good, Jewish people. In their minds, keeping the laws was the most important thing to do. And these rules became such a focus that they didn’t even consider why God made the laws.

    Jesus’ question should have pierced their hearts and helped them to understand the real reason for the law. God didn’t give the commandment about the Sabbath day to hurt people; it was given to help them. Think about the fifth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11). God told the Israelites to keep the Sabbath day holy by not working. They, their children, their servants, and their cattle were to rest from work on that day. God showed the importance of weekly rest by creating the world in six days and then resting on the seventh.

    Back to the story. When Jesus asked the religious leaders if it was lawful to do good or evil or to save a life or kill, He was trying to get them to think. They were thinking that healing on the Sabbath day was breaking the law. But was it? No, it was doing good on that day. Jesus wasn’t causing this man to break God’s commandment by being healed on that Sabbath day. God’s purpose for that day of rest was never to burden people but to help them.

    Some people are more focused on rules than God.

    Obeying God’s command is an important part of a believer’s life. When you realize the reason for God’s commands, it takes away the burden of obeying them. But there are some people who are so focused on the rules that they miss the reason for them. The Pharisees were such a group. They were so focused on the obedience part, that they missed the point of the law itself.

    Instead of seeing the blessing of having a day of rest, they were busy making sure people were compliant. How many steps had they taken that day? Had they done anything that looked like work? Were they properly resting? Were they at the synagogue that day? This focus took away the blessing of having a day of rest and caused them to be a burden to everyone they interacted with. This was not what God intended at all.

    How does it apply?

    Whenever this topic is discussed, it is easy to make an improper application. So, let’s be careful that we don’t miss what we need to think about.

    Are you obeying God’s commands?

    If you are not careful, you might look at this event and think that God doesn’t care about rules. That is not true. If you think about it, the laws in the Old Testament were given by God for the good of people. Jesus was not telling people to disregard God’s laws. He was simply telling them to understand the goodness of God by protecting them with those laws.

    If you have become lax toward obeying God’s laws, don’t take this passage out of context and feel good about your disobedience. Look at God’s laws and obey them with an understanding that God has your good in mind by giving these laws to you.

    Have you missed the point?

    On the other hand, you may be a very fervent believer who tries to obey all of God’s laws. As you seek to obey them, consider whether you have missed the point of God’s commandments. Have you become so focused on obeying them that you no longer do them for the right reasons? Is your purpose to please the Lord or to be right? Is your purpose to limit others or to take advantage of the protection God gives in them? Are you focused on doing good for the right reasons?

    I would imagine that what Jesus said to the stubborn Pharisees has made you think yourself. Perhaps God’s Holy Spirit has convicted you about something you have done or have not been doing. Whatever the case, it is important to respond correctly to the convicting of the Spirit. Take a moment to respond to God right when the Spirit speaks to you.

  2. Jesus healed many others (Mark 3:7-12).

    What does it say?

    Jesus and his disciples left the area to go to the sea. But they weren’t able to be alone because people from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from east side of the Jordan River, Tyre, and Sidon came in a huge group to see him. They had heard about what he had been doing.

    What had He been doing? So far, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has (1) taken over John the Baptist’s ministry and preached about repentance, (2) called some disciples, (3) cast out a demon, (4) healed Peter’ mother-in-law from her fever, (5) healed people after the Sabbath, (6) preached in many synagogues in Galilee, (7) healed a leper, (8) forgiven and healed a paralyzed man, (9) called a tax collector to be his disciple, (10) eaten with tax collectors and sinners, (11) answered a question about fasting, (12) proclaimed Himself Lord of the Sabbath, and (13) healed a man with a withered hand. No wonder the crowds came to see Jesus!

    But this multitude was overly eager to see Jesus. They were so eager that Jesus told His disciples to get a small boat ready for him to get in so as to keep from being crushed by the crowds. Many people were healed by Jesus and many more pushed to get close enough to touch Him. He also dealt with people who were demon possessed. As He dealt with them, the demon would cause the person to fall down before Jesus and declare that Jesus was the Son of God. But Jesus told them not to make His identity known.

    What does it mean?

    There were many needy people in this area of the world.

    At the beginning of the first century, there were many people who were afflicted by health issues. So far we have seen leprosy, fevers, paralysis, and a withered hand. As we continue our study of Mark, we will see more people who needed Jesus’ help. The other thing we see is the amount of demon possessions. Satan and his demons were actively harming the people who lived there.

    This raises another question: Why were there so many sick and demon-possessed people? Wasn’t this the land in which God had promised to bless the Jewish people? Didn’t He tell them that they would be protected from diseases if they loved and obeyed Him?

    Exodus 15:26 – “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”

    What had happened to the people whom God had promised to protect from diseases? These people had rejected their God and turned against Him. Because of this, they were experiencing what it was like to live without God’s blessing and protection.

    It was not yet time to reveal His identity.

    When the demons announced that Jesus was the Son of God, they were not wrong. But their intent was not good. It was not in God’s plan to reveal Who Jesus was at that time. They were not trying to help but were actually hindering God’s plan. And if you think about it, why would Jesus want a demon announcing His identity? “He did not want the recognition of His true nature to be associated with the impure and malevolent testimony of demons. He wanted men to realize His true identity through His words and works.”3

    How does it apply?

    As you look around our country, you might be deceived as to its condition. Americans have wealth, peace, and relatively good health, right? Compared to the rest of the world, we have it pretty good. While the comparison is true, there are still a lot of needy people around us. There are people all around who are poor, sick, addicted, and afflicted by Satan. During Jesus’ ministry, He reached out to these people and helped them. While we do not have the ability to heal them as Jesus did, we do have the ability to love, help, pray for, and tell them about Jesus.

    If you think about it, we have what they actually need. They want an end of suffering and that may be what God will do for them at some point. But ultimately what they need is Jesus. Only He can meet their innermost need. Like all of us, they are sinners who have broken God’s laws. They are under the curse of sin and need God’s forgiveness. They can only get things right with God if they repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus. But how will they know about their need and the solution unless someone tells them. Will you?

Conclusion

Today, we have considered two events in the early ministry of Jesus. The first involved Him healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath day. We learned from this that God wants our obedience but also our understanding. He holds us back from things that will harm us and wants our good. But if we are not careful, we may focus on the rules instead of God’s good intentions. The second event involved Him healing people in a great multitude from many cities. We learned that there were many needs that needed addressed. If we open our eyes, we will see that things are the same here today. God has placed us here in a needy community that needs to hear about their great need and His great love.

What has God spoken to you about today? Do you need to adjust your focus to God’s intentions? Do you need to adjust your focus to see the needs around you? Or maybe you need to repent of your sin and place your faith in Jesus today. Whatever the case, I encourage you to talk to the Lord and get things right. Then with a new focus, seek to do His will in the world around you.

Footnotes

1 Hiebert 86. “The aorist tense implies that the look of anger was momentary, but grieved is present tense, picturing a prolonged feeling of grief or distress at such men.”
2 Hiebert 87.
3 Hiebert 92.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Mark 2:18-28 – Four Questions about Jesus’ Ministry – Part 2

Last week, we began a two-part study about four questions that people asked Jesus. The first question was, How could Jesus forgive sins? When the paralyzed man was lowered through a hole in the roof, Jesus forgave the man and healed him. By this, we learned that Jesus is God and able to forgive sin. The second question was, How could Jesus associate with sinners? When Jesus visited Levi’s house, his “sinner” friends were there causing religious people to wonder about Jesus’ associations. Jesus responded by telling them that he was like a physician coming to heal the sick. He had come to call sinners to repentance and so he spent time with them.

in today’s study, we will look at two more questions that people asked Jesus. The questions were about fasting and keeping the Sabbath day. While these may not seem very exciting topics, we will soon see that Jesus’ answers were very wise at the moment and can be very helpful to our own lives as well.

  1. How could Jesus not promote fasting? (Mark 2:18-22)

    This week, I saw an announcement by one of my college friends that his father had written a book about fasting. The book was written to show the purposes and benefits of fasting from a biblical perspective. Most of us would rather eat than fast. It is not something we look forward to. But there have been times when I was too busy to eat or there may come a time when I am so overwhelmed by a situation that I will not eat due to sorrow or the need to pray. I think this is what fasting is for.

    In our first section, a group of people asked Jesus about fasting. Let’s take a look at their question and Jesus’ response to it.

    What it says

    The disciples of John and the Pharisees were the ones who approached Jesus with the question. Both groups practiced fasting, but Jesus’ disciples did not. “During the time of Jesus, the pious Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), on the second and fifth day.”3 Several times in the gospels, the Pharisees are condemned for making a show of their fasting. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus noted how religious hypocrites disfigured their faces while fasting so people would notice. He also told the story of a proud Pharisee who announced to God that he fasted twice every week (Luke 18:12). If you are familiar with the Pharisees, this should come as no surprise.

    But what about the disciples of John? Why would they be doing the same thing as the hypocritical Pharisees? First of all, we have to realize that fasting doesn’t have to be done for show. It can be done for good reasons. Think about the person whom these disciples were following. Do you remember John the Baptist from Mark 1? He was a preacher of repentance. “He emphasized sin and the necessity of turning away from it. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that he may have encouraged fasting as an expression of mourning for sin, the very reason which the Pharisees also gave for much of their fasting (cf. Matt. 6:16).”10

    Add to this the fact that Jesus and his disciples had been feasting with Levi and his friends. “If the feast of Levi fell on the evening beginning either of their weekly fast days, the disciples of Jesus were feasting at the very time the pious Pharisees were fasting.”3 As they were keeping themselves from food, they would have seen Jesus and the disciples enjoying a feast with Levi and his friends. As they were supposedly fasting for God, this must have seemed very strange. But note this: “The Old Testament prescribed fasting for all Jews only on the annual Day of Atonement, as an act of repentance (Lev. 16:29), but the Pharisees promoted voluntary fasting on every Monday and Thursday (cf. Luke 18:12) as an act of piety.”1 Although fasting twice a week was not required by the Old Testament law, why did Jesus and the disciples not follow their religious tradition?

    When asked why, Jesus “compares his … presence on earth with a wedding-feast.”11 He explained that the disciples were like friends of the bridegroom. These friends “were the groom’s attendants who accompanied him to the house of the bride to bring her to the groom’s house, which was now hers. … They shared in the joy of the bridegroom. [And note this:] Jewish custom exempted them from certain religious observances, including the weekly fasts. Weddings were occasions of laughter, merriment, and song.”4 A wedding is supposed to be a time of celebration not fasting. And this was what Jesus tried to tell them. While he was with them, they would not fast, but there would be plenty of times for fasting after Jesus was taken away.

    He then talked about how unwise it would be to put a new piece of cloth on an old garment. “If a patch of unfulled wool … is placed on a garment that has seen better days, the result will be that, especially when this unshrunk piece becomes wet and shrinks, the bordering cloth of the badly worn piece of clothing will be pulled to pieces.”13 He also told them that putting new wine in old, brittle wineskins would be just as bad. When the wine fermented, it would burst the old wineskins. In both cases, new items wouldn’t work well with old items.

    What it means

    There are two things to understand in this section.

    First, we have to understand what Jesus was saying about the bridegroom and his friends.

    Jesus was trying to show them that His presence among them was something to celebrate. He had already brought healing to the sick, cast demons out of people, forgiven the paralyzed man, called disciples to follow him, and taught God’s truth like no other person was doing at that time. These things were a cause for rejoicing not fasting.

    “The time would come when the Bridegroom (Jesus) would be taken (aparthe, implying violent removal; cf. Isa. 53:8) from them and on that day (His crucifixion) the disciples would fast in the … sense of experiencing sorrow in place of joy.”1 But that time had not yet come. So, they were right to feast together thinking of all that Jesus had done.

    Second, we have to understand what Jesus was saying about the old and new cloth and old and new wineskins.

    When Jesus talked about the old and the new, He was revealing that His presence changed everything. The religious leaders had made so many extra rules, that the truth of the Bible was obscured by them. It was time to remove all of those man-made rules and to follow the clear teaching of Jesus. His “presence with His people was a time of newness (fulfillment) and signaled the passing of the old.”1 Because of that, the people were not to add Jesus to their list of man-made religious rules. Instead, they were to leave all of that to believe and follow Him.

    How it applies

    You have to trust Jesus alone.

    If you grew up in a religious home, you might still have the idea that your outward actions are required for you to be a Christian. You might think that what you do is what matters to God. But that is not why Jesus came and why He died on the cross. He didn’t die for your sins because you were able to do good things to impress God. He died on the cross because nothing you do can impress God. We are sinners who can’t earn God’s favor by the good things we try to do. There are no requirements or lists of things to do. He only tells us to repent of/turn from our sin and believe/trust Jesus. Nothing else will do you any good. You must trust Jesus alone.

  2. How could Jesus allow the law to be broken? (Mark 2:23-28)

    Have you ever seen someone speeding past a stopped police car and nothing was done? I have seen it multiple times. During my travels, I will occasionally see a police car driving faster than the speed limit and several brave souls following him at the same speed. Hey! That’s not right! How can that police officer allow the other drivers to get away with breaking the speed limit? This is the same feeling some of the Pharisees had when they watched what Jesus’ disciples were doing.

    What it says

    The Sabbath was a day given by God to the Jewish people for rest and relaxation. No work was to be done on this day. On one particular Sabbath day, Jesus and the disciples walked through the grain fields. The disciples were hungry and plucked some of the heads of grain to eat. “This was legitimate (Deut. 23:25), but the Pharisees viewed it as reaping, an act of work forbidden on the Sabbath (cf. Ex. 34:21), so they demanded an explanation from Jesus.”1 They asked Jesus why the disciples were breaking the Old Testament Law by “harvesting” crops on the Sabbath day. “To ensure observance of the Sabbath law, the scribes had enumerated ‘the main classes of work: forty save one, among them reaping, threshing, and winnowing. But in their eagerness to ‘fence’ the law against violation, they had gone to extremes in stipulating acts that were regarded as work. Thus the Pharisees regarded the plucking of the heads as reaping, the rubbing of the grain as threshing, and perhaps the blowing away of the chaff as winnowing. The disciples were guilty of working on the Sabbath!”6

    When Jesus heard their question, He ask the Pharisees if they had ever read about David eating the showbread from the tabernacle when he was running away from King Saul. The shewbread consisted of ceremonial loaves of bread which were placed in the temple for a week in honor to God. Every Sabbath day, the old bread was removed and could be eaten by the priests. It was meant only for them. So when David was given this bread, it was out of the ordinary. When he and his men ate this ceremonial bread, it was not a lawful action but God did not punish David for doing so. Jesus used this story to illustrate that the Sabbath was made for man not the other way around. He also stated that as the Son of Man, He was the Lord of the Sabbath.

    What it means

    Jesus used this event to teach two things.

    First, He taught why the Sabbath was put in place.

    Why did God give the Sabbath day? Was it designed to make people super careful about what they did on that day? Or was it designed for their rest and relaxation? By pointing toward David’s unusual situation, Jesus was showing “that the Pharisees’ narrow interpretation of the Law blurred God’s intention. The spirit of the Law in respect to human need took priority over its ceremonial regulations.”1 If God allowed David to eat this bread when he was in great need, couldn’t the disciples, who were poor and hungry, eat a little of the grain on the Sabbath day?

    When Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath, He was showing them God’s intention. “The Sabbath was instituted (by God) for mankind’s benefit and refreshment not that people were made to keep burdensome regulations pertaining to it.”1 “The minute, arbitrary regulations of the Pharisees made man the slave of the Sabbath, making its observance a burden rather than a blessing. Their binding traditions tended to nullify God’s gracious purpose in giving the Sabbath to man.”8

    Second, He taught that He was Lord over the Sabbath.

    Who was in charge of the Sabbath? The Pharisees had come to the conclusion that their rabbis and traditions were what defined the Sabbath day restrictions. Their ultimate authority was found in the traditions passed on to them by their religious leaders. But this was not right. God was the One who gave the command to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. “God had made it what it was. it was the Lord, no one else, who had laid down his principles for sabbath observance. And since all authority had been given to the Son (Matt. 11:27; 28:18), who is one with the Father (John 10:30), with whom the Father is well pleased (Mark 1:11), and who was sent into the world by the Father (Mark 1:38; 9:37), … consequently”16 Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath.

    This may have come as a shock to the Pharisees who were confronting Jesus that day. Was He saying that He was ultimately in charge of what was allowed on the Sabbath day? Who did He think He was? Sadly, many of them never understood who Jesus was and is. He is the Son of God, God who became human and lived among us. So, whatever He said to them was authoritative. And that day “He was using His authority to set aside the restrictive regulations of the Pharisees which perverted the divine intention for the Sabbath.”9 “Therefore, no one has any right to find fault with him when he allows his disciples to satisfy their hunger by picking and eating heads of grain!”17

    How it applies

    Have you become so wrapped up in keeping the rules that you have forgotten the reason for them?

    In the Bible, we read a lot of things that God wants Christians to keep away from. We are to put off our old lifestyle (Eph. 4:22), stop lying (Eph. 4:25), not to be sinfully angry (Eph. 4:26), not to steal (Eph. 4:28), not to speak corruptly (Eph. 4:29), not to be bitter (Eph. 4:31), not to be fornicators or covetous (Eph. 5:3), not to tell dirty jokes (Eph. 5:4), not to get drunk (Eph. 5:18) and many other things.

    Why did God give us all of those commands? Was it so that we can look down on other people and make ourselves to look better than them? No, God’s purpose for every command is for our good and to make us more like Jesus. We don’t do those things only when people are watching. We do them because we know God has our best interest in mind. His commands are for our good. And when we keep that in mind, they will not appear to be restrictions but helps.

    Do you understand that? If you do, then your Christian life will become totally different than before. Instead of a list of dos and don’ts that fill you with anxiety, they will become a joyful practice because you know Who gave them to you and why.

Conclusion

During our study today, we have looked at two events that caused people to ask Jesus a question. The first was why the disciples didn’t fast. Jesus told them that having Him with them was a reason to celebrate. He then told them that it was time to leave their old traditions and to simply put their faith in Him. If you are someone who is holding on to traditions and rules in order to please God, I hope that you understand what Jesus was saying. God doesn’t want your attempts at pleasing Him by obeying rules or doing things. He just wants you to turn from your sin and put your faith in Jesus.

The second question was about keeping the Sabbath day. Why did Jesus’ disciples eat grain on the day when they were to be resting. Jesus used the story of David and the tabernacle shewbread to show the reason for the Sabbath. God designed the law to help people not to hinder hungry people from eating. As you consider what Jesus taught them, I hope that you understand why God gives us prohibitions. It is always for our good not to make us constantly feeling guilty. When you get to the point where you understand that, you will be able to enjoy your relationship with the Lord.

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 114.
2 McGee 170.
3 Hiebert 76.
4 Hiebert 77.
5 Hiebert 78 quoting Ezra P. Gould.
6 Hiebert 80-81.
7 Hiebert 82.
8 Hiebert 82-83.
9 Hiebert 83.
10 Hendriksen 99.
11 Hendriksen 100.
12 Hendriksen 101.
13 Hendriksen 102.
14 Hendriksen 105.
15 Hendriksen 108.
16 Hendriksen 108-09.
17 Hendriksen 109.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.