the sower

Gospel of Mark

Growing in Christ

"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45

Overview of Old Testament or New Testament

Links to observations drawn from other other books of the Bible

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Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Gospel of Mark (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading comments below). Reflections on each chapter are drawn from my personal interaction with the chapter in a daily quiet time.

Introduction: The Gospel of Mark is widely seen as the collaborate testimony of Mark (a young man leaving his 'signature' at Mark 14:51-52) and Simon Peter, who may have led Mark to Christ (I Peter 5:13). Peter's personality and bent for decisive action is seen on nearly every page. Mark shares the Gospel in terms Roman hearers could best understand, adding Latin words and interpreting the less-known Aramaic, omitting a Jewish genealogy of Jesus and Jesus' condemnation of Jewish sects which would mean little to Gentile readers, and focusing somewhat more on Jesus' actions than His teachings.

Mark follows the ministry of Jesus with special emphasis on the powerful dynamic of the Gospel to set people free from all sorts of oppression. He does so as Servant and King, recognized for His unparalleled authority (1:27) and willingness to serve as ransom sacrifice (10:45).

The Gospel may be outlined to the Service of the Servant (1:1-10:52) and the Sacrifice of the Servant (11:1-16:20)

John Mark is the son of Mary (Acts 12:12) and a cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10). Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on part of their first missionary journey and Barnabas on his second journey. Mark is widely viewed as the first of the Gospels, dated about 55AD.

Mark 1

The Good News is Jesus Christ (v.1) who brought God's Kingdom (v.15) which requires preparation of heart on our part. The early church called itself simply "the way" (v.2), referring to entering the Kingdom of the Messiah.

There had been no prophet for 400 years; John now appeared preaching repentance like the ancient prophets, dressed like Elijah (v.6; 2 Kings 1:8) who was expected to return (Mal.3:1).

There were precedents to John's baptism but this was different in two ways: 1.) Some Jews practiced self-immersion, John provided a public witness to repentance (Ryrie). 2.)The Qumran community had initiatory 'baptism' repeated regularly, but John's baptism was once for all. (NLT).

Empowerment and Testing: The baptism of the Holy Spirit (v.8) initiates Jesus' ministry (v.10) and is confirmed by the Father's voice (v.11). Jesus was "cast out" into the wilderness to be tested (means both tested by God to prove what the person is; and tempted by Satan to evil) for 40 days (recalling Israel, tested 40 years in the wilderness) in preparation to be used of God as blessing to all the world. Our 40 days of Lent offer our lives for similar refining and tempering for usefulness in the Lord's hand.

The Kingdom of God (v.15) is not so much a limited physical territory as the Father's righteousness and holiness surrounding Jesus and His followers. Prayer (v.35) draws on the power of the Spirit (v.10) to live God's Kingdom in it's fullness.

The Scope of the Kingdom: The Kingdom touches all of life. We are called to participation in it through Christ's rescue mission (v.17) including proclamation (v.15) deliverance (v.25) and healing (v.30ff & 40ff) with authority from above (v.27).

Jesus wanted no entanglement with unclean spirits (v.24) and we likewise should avoid dialogue. Jesus' healing did not follow a single formula (v.31,41) but had the single purpose of bringing the presence of the Kingdom.

Personal Application: I will follow Jesus in His call to the righteousness and holiness of the Kingdom (v.1-8). I rejoice in the affirmation of the Father (v.9-11) and victory over Satan's efforts to sideline His purposes (v.12-13). I accept Jesus' proclamation (v.14-15) and call to join in His rescue mission (v.16-20). I will wield Jesus' authority in deliverance (v.21-28) an healing (v.29-34; 40-45) drawing strength and focus from communion with the Father (v.35-39).

My Prayer: Father, the Kingdom is at hand, around me and within me and manifest in what You do through my testimony in Your reign of forgiveness, authority and compassion. Manifest Your Kingdom fully through me I pray. 

Mark 2

Jesus' Identity and Authority as Son of Man: Jesus' proclamation and demonstration of the Kingdom of God is immediately controversial because of His claim to have authority to forgive sin (v.10) and being Lord of the Sabbath (v.27-28). Both claims involve the prerogatives of God (v.7). Jesus underscores His utterly unique relationship with God and us, calling Himself the Son of Man (v.10, 28) spoken of in the OT as judge, sacrifice and representative of humankind (Daniel 2:13-14; Isa 52-53; Ezekiel 8:5-17).

The Old and the New: Each incident in the chapter extends the scope of the Kingdom and Jesus' role in it - to the point that Judaism, focused in Temple rites and the Pharisee's application of the Law, is an old wineskin to be left behind (v.21-22) to embrace the Kingdom. We should not be surprised to find that our following Christ and allegiance to His truth-claims are controversial today as they were at the start.

Personal Application: I will enjoy time with those who know they are sinners (as I know I am prone to sin (v.17), seeking to extend grace to them also. I will fully enjoy the peace and freedom of forgiveness even though I may continue to experience consequences of sin, mine and those of others, to remind me of the greatness of God's grace.

The fact natural consequences of sin may remain in our human experience even after forgiveness (e.g. lung cancer after smoking, broken relationship after unfaithfulness). This does not mean God has not forgiven or is still punishing us. "The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (v.10) and does so; we are washed clean in God's sight for eternity. Either we are forgiven by God or we are not; in Christ we are.

My Prayer: Father, Jesus is so radical and amazing I see even those who dismiss Him cannot do so easily. I will never dismiss Him and don't want to miss anything about Him, embrace Him wholly every moment, Savior and Lord.

Mark 3

Misunderstanding and Opposition: After initial amazement (1:27), opposition and controversy followed almost immediately (2:7, ch. 3 ff) and followed Jesus to the cross. Opposition came both from the rabbinic tradition (v.6) and from His own family (v.21) with charges ranging from being disobedient to the law (v.2) to being unwell (beside Himself, v.21) to being possessed by Satan (v.22).

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (i.e. charging the Holy Spirit with drawing strength from Satan, or more generally attributing the work of God to Satan) is to set oneself outside of the salvation of the Kingdom of God.

Tradition and Scripture: It was rabbinic tradition, not scripture, which forbade practicing medicine on the Sabbath (v.2) and which attributed healing to Satan (v.22), "as in the rabbinic work, Sanhedrin 3:43a, where miracle-working is ascribed to sorcery (NLT)".

Jesus Response: Jesus was both grieved and angry (v.5) with this resistance to the Kingdom, defended himself against false charges (v22.-35), and continued His work to establish a new humanity demonstrating the Kingdom of God (appointing emissaries, v.14-15 and placing Kingdom loyalty above genetic kinship, v.35: "Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."

Choosing His Time: Jesus' warning to demons (v.12) and those He healed (1:44) to be silent about His power (1:43-44) and identity (2:11) and may reflect Jesus' desire to choose the time of His Passover sacrifice. News of a rival Kingdom would be quickly suppressed by the Romans as was news of Jesus birth by King Herod.

Personal Application: Jesus calls us in the face of misunderstanding and opposition to both take the initiative in proclaiming and extending the Kingdom (v.13-15) and in doing the will of the Father (v.35); not in secret but openly.  I will do the will of my Father (v.35) in the spirit He intends. I will be proactive, not passive in my obedience. I will not draw back because of opposition or misunderstanding.

My Prayer: Lord Jesus, how frustrating it must have been to be called evil by those wearing a 'cloak of righteousness' opposing Your healing on the Sabbath and deliverance from Satan (as secular law today judges as evil those seeking to rescue babies from death). Help me to not to give up or withdraw into passivity in any area of Your good and holy will.

Mark 4

Parables test the spiritual responsiveness of those who hear (Ryrie), causing us either to want more and bear fruit, or to turn away. About 1/3 of Jesus teaching is parable (a broad term including simile, metaphor, proverb, story, allegory) both giving light (v.21-25) and withholding it (v.11-12); in that process revealing the condition of the heart (v.33,34).

Fruitfulness (v.8,20,25,28) is not singularly defined but seems to involve suitability for life in the Kingdom including loyalty in spite of temptation and hardship, growth in character and understanding, and following Jesus in ministry including further sowing the seed and making disciples.

The Kingdom of God grows by the power of God (v.27-28) and will become large (v.32) before the harvest comes at that time God deems it ready (v.29).

Stilling the Storm: The disciples recognized Jesus to be far greater than they had thought but He was so 'other' they feared Him (v.41).

Jesus was frequently frustrated by the slowness of the faith (v.40) and understanding of His disciples (v.13), eager that they, and we, yield the full fruit He desired to see in them and us. The range of responsiveness to the call of the Kingdom is great: from dullness to hostility to eager embrace. (The Romans and some Jewish leaders would have seen "another king" as threat.)

Personal Application: I will be a window through whom shines the light of the Kingdom. I will remind myself hourly that I am a citizen of the (rightful) Kingdom while living in the (unrightfully) occupied world. I will trust the true and rightful King and enjoy His good presence in any storm or distraction.

My Prayer: Father, shine the light of Your presence on my heart that I may embrace You and the fullness of Your Kingdom. Father, cast out all fear - including 'natural' fears like claustrophobia and the evil one himself in Your greater presence and power.

Mark 5

Who is this Man? Three miracle stories demonstrating Jesus' Lordship over nature, demons, illness, and death (Mark 4:35-5:43) center on the question of the ages: "Who is this Man?" (4:41).

The demons knew (v.7) and, to some degree, the possessed man (v.2) knew, since he came and bowed in worship of Jesus (v.6).

Jesus' Authority over the Powers of Hell: A demon-possessed person is and experiences, in a significant sense, a foretaste of hell (v.5). Skeptics should not miss this. Yet the fullness of hell is greater because the demons recognized Jesus' authority to send them there and they did not want to go.

This exorcism could be called complex with a 'legion' (i.e. thousands) of demons involved and Jesus' conversation with them before their expulsion (v.9-12). Jesus' Lordship over the powers of hell remains undisputed.

The herdsmen seem not to have been able to look much beyond their loss of income (v.17). Jesus should not be blamed for the demons' foolish decision. Those who know swine would know swine are easily frightened and with the entrance of demons likely to stampede (v.13).

Faith in the Son of the Most High God: Jesus' own family (3:31ff) seemed to have missed the realization of Jesus' uniqueness but when Jesus returned (v.21) Jairus, a synagogue administrator, and a poor ill woman (v.26) found reason for faith in Him, with each wonderfully rewarded (v.34, 42).

Jesus commended the faith of the woman (v.34) and urged Jairus, when he received news of his daughter's death (v.35) to keep on believing (v.36), not in a misguided faith but in Him. Our faith likewise is not 'faith in faith' but faith in Jesus; faith beyond all natural limits.

In Gentile territory Jesus sent the man delivered from demons to tell God's mercy (v.19), in Jewish territory Jesus urged the opposite (v.43), perhaps wanting avoid fueling Jewish political expectations against the Romans.

Personal Application: We are called to similar faith and confidence in Jesus Lordship, His mercy and power extending God's Kingdom in dark places. I will speak therefore to the specific resistance directly in the authority of Jesus, that His Kingdom may come, bringing mercy and deliverance from evil into the lives of those who suffer. In Christ I will not fear the demonic. In Christ I will not fear illness or death.

My Prayer: Father, forgive me when I drop my gaze from You to dark worldly powers arrayed against You and Your children. Lord, lift my eyes to Your glory and victory, to Your authority, grace and mercy and step forward in confidence and joy.

Mark 6:1-29

Astonished and offended: Despite astonishment (v.2) at Jesus' wisdom and power, most of those Jesus had grown up with took offense at him (v.3), unwilling to accept someone greater than themselves could be one with whom they were so familiar (v.3-4).

It is likewise possible for us to miss the significance of a work of God close to us, in a familiar setting. Lord, give us hearts to perceive and understand.

The disciples' first missionary journey: The OT called for 2 witnesses to confirm testimony (cf.v7). In addition Jesus' disciples were to depend on the Father utterly (v.8-9) for hospitality. But Jesus gave also of his authority over unclean spirits and sickness (v.13) to his disciples as they called people to repent and enter God's Kingdom (v.12).

John the Baptist had preached the same call to God's Kingdom, thereby offending Herodias (who had left an incestuous relationship with her uncle Philip (v.17) for his brother Herod, also her uncle). Jesus' uncompromising message reminded Herod of John (v.16) for whose murder Herod felt guilt.

Our Mission: We are also called to mission among some who are drawn and others who resist or even oppose the claims, call and gifts of grace in Christ. The option of remaining silent is not given to us despite to possible costs of obedience.

Those we have called quasi-christian cults have taken more seriously than the church Jesus' call to go in twos and to speak to households. Many believers have also been faithful, refusing to be silent as John the Baptist continued to speak the truth, paying also with their lives.

Personal Application: I will speak among those who are open and among those who are hostile, not fearing the offence of those who reject or the power of those who could harm. This is the story of the Book of Acts.

My Prayer: Father, give courage and joy in our testimony to Christ and your Kingdom. Give power to heal and authority over unclean spirits. Give faithfulness regardless of response. Yet in it all Lord, give a great harvest to your glory!

Mark 6:30-56

Debriefing the Disciples First Missionary Journey - Interrupted: Jesus invites his disciples to a retreat to rest and reflect on their first missionary journey (v.30-32) but a delay became necessary due to the crowd and Jesus' compassion on their needs (v.34).

Jesus seems to have expected the disciple's authority to heal and deliver from unclean spirits (v.12) to enable them also to feed the 5000. When they pulled back (v.37), Jesus did so (v.38ff.) Jesus miracle became part of the disciples' debriefing training.

Jesus with His Father: The disciple's debriefing retreat would have to wait another day. Jesus sent them off so that he could have time alone with his Father for needed prayer, reflection, direction and power (v.46). He prayed until after 3 am (the beginning of the 4th watch, by Roman standard).

Turning His attention back to the disciples Jesus saw their plight and went to them on the water, identifying himself as "I AM." Both his seeing (v.48) and coming on the water continue the flow of miraculous power, as does the summary of Jesus' ministry in Galilee (53-56). Mark does not record how or whether the proposed debriefing retreat (v.30-32) occurred.

Personal Application: In the press of ministry finding time for retreat and refreshment is difficult. So important is time with his Father however that Jesus chose it over sleep. Without the Father's empowerment we cannot well represent His will, goodness and power. Jesus withdraws to receive what he can of his Father, is swept along with the needs of the crowds and continues to train his disciples 'on the fly.'

I will withdraw to seek the Father daily for what He knows I need in relationship, love, truth, correction, healing, empowerment. I will seek the Lord for his divine intervention in my life and for the needs of others.

My Prayer: Father, how great is my need of You. How little, how counterproductive, are my efforts on my own. Father, flow into me afresh today. Speak Lord, your servant hears.

Mark 7

Primacy of Scripture: the Pharisees affirmed the scripture of Moses verbally but found ways around its intent. We must be careful not to do likewise. The traditions of the elders were in Jesus' day yet unwritten, until around AD 200, called the Mishnah. The church and each of us can develop traditions near or far from God's intent.

Purity of heart: is God's deepest desire for us. Moral purity comes not from how or what a person eats but from the heart, which must be guarded above all as it is both God's channel of goodness and also of all that defiles (v.21-22). 

"Purity of heart is to will one thing" (Kierkegaard): i.e. the holy will of God - all together loving, redemptive, wise, righteous.

In this pursuit I'm often surprised by thoughts and images, welcome and unwelcome, which come into my mind, both when awake and in sleep. What is their origin? Demons may suggest thoughts to my heart (v.21-22). Into my heart also God implants thoughts and impressions. Yet I have free will and can dwell on a thought, reject it, speak it or to act on it - and for that I am responsible.

The Syrian woman from Phoenicia demonstrated the purity of heart Jesus sought. The woman loved her troubled daughter, was not pushed away by Jesus' challenging test of her faith, acknowledging Jesus' primary mission to the Jews and His Lordship (v.28), yet persisting in her quest since Jesus was in Gentile territory.

Further Grace to the Gentiles: Jesus continued to heal among the Gentiles in the region of the Ten Cities (v.31). Despite strong response, Jesus wanted only those trained by him to announce and extend the Kingdom (as part of the 12 and the 70) and not this mute man healed to speak of his power (v.36-37), likely to avoid Roman attention. Jesus did not want to die until Passover.

Personal Application: I will seek to hear God speak to my heart through scripture and to obey with love and joy; in thought, word and action. I will discern and resist deception arising in my own heart to follow human traditions rather than the Word of God, or any rationalization to avoid God's will. I will love those outside my circle of comfort also and to pray in every circle for healing, in small or great breakthroughs to His Glory. 

My Prayer: Father, prompt me every time my heart is mixed, i.e. impure. Purify my heart daily, hourly, for Your Glory. Enable me to hear your voice and to walk in holiness, love and power.

Mark 8

Slow learning curve: The twelve, like us, were slow learners. They had seen Jesus feed over 5,000 people but didn't yet seem to understand Jesus was also sufficient to feed 4,000 (v.4) or, if He chose, them in the boat (v.16). Even slower were the Pharisees (v.11), who had seen and heard of miracles over nature, of healing, exorcism, and resurrection; yet demanded a sign, only to test and dispute with Him, not to aid their faith.

Preparing the disciples to join in His mission: Jesus did not want those who didn't really know Him to proclaim Him. The man healed of blindness was directed home, away from his village (v.26), so he wouldn't tell others. The disciples were tested on His identity (v.29) before more of His mission was revealed (v.31). Jesus wanted to be sure His disciples were fully committed to the interests and purposes of God (v.33).

The call to discipleship: Denying ourselves (v.34) means at minimum setting aside our interests and agenda to advance the purposes of God, at maximum the willingness to be martyred rather than deny Christ. Whether losing ones life (v.35) means turning from an intended career or marriage, money, simply what I was planning to do for the next hour, or physical life (bios) itself, our life is His.

Not ashamed: God's grace bestowed on the cross removes the shame of our sin. We do not hide from God or from hostility to the Gospel but declare Christ, whatever the cost, boldly and with clear conscience.

The key question indeed is "who do you say that I am?" (v.29) because no one but God incarnate can legitimately ask total allegiance (v.34-38). And certainly to God incarnate total allegiance is due. When this is settled, then His mission is my mission.

Personal Application: I am wholly His. His mission is my mission. His destiny, heaven, is my destiny. I will deny myself to follow Him. I will be unashamed of Him before anyone in any circumstance.

My Prayer: Father, thank you for coming into the world to invite us to follow You into eternal life with You.

v.34 "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will loose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel's will save it."

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose." (Jim Elliot).

Mark 9

Christ's Transfiguration: Mark's description of Jesus' glory is similar to reports of those who meet Him in near-death-experiences. Peter's suggestion of three shelters (v.5) seems to assume an equality of the three. However Jesus fulfilled the law and prophets represented by Moses and Elijah. Also Moses and Elijah were not transfigured with radiant white light as was Jesus (v.3). The Father's voice from heaven made unmistakably clear the uniqueness of His Son (v.7).

Elijah and John the Baptist: In what sense did John the Baptist represent the coming of Elijah (v.11-13), since scripture rejects reincarnation? In the sense of John's role as final OT prophet (after 400 years of silence), in his fiery call to repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah.

Return to the Valley: Every high and holy moment of communion and worship ends, in this life, with a return to the valley of ministry needs. The radiance of Jesus' transfiguration however may have remained evident (as it had with Moses), when He descended the mountain, causing the crowd to respond with awe (v.15).

Faith and Prayer: Jesus commends faith (v.23) and prayer (v.29) to equip us for ministry and manifest the power and presence of the Kingdom. Even "this kind" (v.29) of demon (presumably of a higher level) cannot stand before the authority of Christ's Kingdom.

The Greatest: are those who serve the least in society (children in Jesus' day were not highly regarded, as, by His influence, today). "Children and Samaritans" today may be drug addicts and those rejected by society, in prison etc. Jesus identifies with the disenfranchised in society (v.37) as well as with those who serve His disciples in His name (v.41), making Himself of one cloth with us.

Danger of Stumbling resulting in loss of entry into the Kingdom: Stumbling ourselves (v.43,45,47) or causing another to stumble (v.42) may assume the unwillingness to get up and return to the Father (Luke 15). Some have taken Jesus's powerful imagery literally but it should better be taken as hyperbole to make the all-important point that repentance may be costly, even painful, but entirely worth it in incomparable ways. Even if repentance is painful physically, that pain is far more temporary (hell is permanent) and less intense than the pain of hell. In the end, repentance brings joy and the salt (v.50) which enables us to help preserve the world from corruption.

Life in the Kingdom: We live in the valley of need, always drawing from of the glory of Christ. All authority has been given us to rebuke evil (v.25) by prayer and faith in His name. We serve the weakest and least and rejected in society. We embrace and do not speak against those who are not against Christ (v.39-40). We seek at all costs not to stumble or cause others, especially the weak, to stumble; and, when recognizing immanent danger, to repent immediately and fully, then to get up again at once and follow Christ.

Personal Application: I will "listen to Him" (v.7), even and especially when His words challenge me to the core (v.42-50). I will repent quickly whatever the cost. I will serve someone today who is used to seeing themselves as 'least' and used to being seen as 'least' by the world.

My Prayer: Open my eyes, Jesus, to see someone who may be 'least' in the eyes of the world (or church) and to treat them as someone who is 'great' in your eyes.


 

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