Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reading Through the Gospel of Mark #1 (1-8)

I am continuing to read through the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John Stott, and post quotes from my NT reading 3 times per week on my Facebook page. The past few weeks I have been reading through the Gospel of Mark, accompanied by the second volume in the series, The Message of Mark: The Mystery of Faith, by Donald English. The quotes from the commentary are in blue below and I have also written in some of my comments from my own reading of the Gospel. I especially like the applicational nature of this commentary. The quotes below show the very practical, pastoral approach taken by English.

Mark was probably the first of the 4 gospels to be completed and it gives the reader a bit of the experience of the disciples as they were confronted with the actions and words of Jesus for the first time and had to reflect on what was happening around them. Basically the Gospel of Mark presents Mark ChartJESUS AS THE ULTIMATE SERVANT WHO IS ABLE AND WILLING TO MEET EVERY NEED OF HUMANITY, INCLUDING THE GREATEST NEED- FORGIVENESS OF SINS THROUGH THE RANSOM OF HIS OWN DEATH, AND THAT THOSE WHO WOULD SHARE IN HIS KINGDOM MUST REPENT, BELIEVE IN HIM, AND FOLLOW HIS EXAMPLE OF SELFLESS, SACRIFICIAL SERVANTHOOD.

In the first 8 chapters, Mark records the events of Jesus’ ministry to demonstrate that the Son of Man came to serve man with his ability, as God, to meet every human need, so that those who wish to be part of His kingdom would put their faith in Him and would become His disciples by following His example of total self—sacrifice. Jesus’ early preparation, presentation by John the Baptist, preaching, and miracles to introduce Jesus as the “Holy One of God,” able to meet the physical and spiritual needs of man, so that his readers might repent and trust in Him. (1.1-2.12)

It is only as religious belief and practice truly engage with the affairs of everyday life that they can be seen to be authentically from God who is the God of all the worlds... There is no room in Christianity for a ‘spiritualizing’ process which influences ‘the soul’ but not ‘the body’; devotional life but not behaviour at work; church life but not home life. 1.5, 32.

We today too often expect unbelievers to make all kinds of adjustments—in dress, initiation into our ways of worship, language and thought form—before a proper conversation can begin. We build up our strength where we are, and invite outsiders in to our setting, one by one, so that they are at their weakest and least comfortable. In so doing we put so many obstacles between them and the simplicity of the gospel itself. We have much to learn about starting where people are. Mark 1.16-20, 53.

The ease with which Jesus crossed social and religious boundaries is breathtaking... A life dominated by divine love does not need to work out the comparative influence, or prospective success or failure, of a particular word or deed. Love says or does what is necessary and works out the consequences later. Mark 1.40-45, 63–64.

The intrinsic unity between the forgiveness and the healing in this story is crucial to our understanding of mission... Christians are called to oppose everything which threatens full humanity, and to do so in the name of the kingdom of God. Evangelism, social caring, justice issues, bodily health, ecological concern, racial harmony, affirmation of women as well as men in our society are all issues for the Christian. To limit our perspectives is to miss the point of this passage and to fight only half-heartedly for the kingdom in the struggle against evil. Mark 2.1-12, 68.

Jesus’ ministry was something new. It was not based just on Jewish tradition (2.13-27) Instead, Jesus showed that he had kingdom authority and was in obedience to God’s will as he amended Jewish tradition (3.1-35).

Whether we are aware of it or not, much of our spiritual life is sustained by rules, regulations, practices and rituals which give shape to our daily existence, not least in difficult and dry days. They become like boundaries and goal posts to a playing field, or white lines down the middle of a road. Our dependence upon them becomes so great that when anyone begins to alter the boundaries or move the goal posts or paint new lines, our whole spiritual life seems to be threatened. Mark 2.23-28, 76.

One major purpose of Mark’s gospel was to make sure that readers and hearers understood that the most important thing about Jesus was neither the parables nor the miracles but the obedient acceptance of the way of the cross, and that this is the prime model for discipleship.  3.7-12, 83.

There is an excitement about being launched out into deep and choppy waters in God’s service. Sadly so many churches and Christians miss it by playing safe. 3.20-35, 91.

Jesus’ parables taught believers that the kingdom, which will consist of those who receive the Word of God, will start small but will grow into a great kingdom. (4:1-34) The miracles of Jesus demonstrated His power over nature, spiritual forces, disease, and death so that the readers would realize His ability to meet all their needs and turn to Him. (4:35—5:43)

The servant of Jesus is also the servant of the gospel in the sense that he or she never controls either the gospel or its effects... The preacher, evangelist, and witness must remember that too. He or she plays a part, but it is only a part. To play that part is to risk oneself every time, with the possibility of frustration and failure or fulfilment and success. 4.1-20, 96–97.

The parables are... theological statements about how life is, because God made it so. They also imply that they reflect God’s way of working in every area of experience—nature and grace. The same principles apply because God is the originator of both... It means, for example, that Christians are not called to be ‘world-renouncing’ in the sense that everything ‘outside the church’ is somehow suspect. Art and science, music and philosophy, economy and ecology, politics and pastimes are all part of the gift of the one God to his creatures, and are meant to operate according to the same principles. 4.21-25, 99.

At the personal spiritual level there is a deep lesson to be learned from the stilling of the storm incident. For the disciple it should be enough to be with the Lord, whether life’s seas are running smoothly or not. Forms of Christianity which encourage and promise a life of continual success, excitement and growth will not only lead to frustration and despair; they actually point the disciple towards the wrong goal in the Christian pilgrimage. 4.35-41, 107.

At political, social and economic structural levels, as well as in cultural, family and individual areas of life, the demonstration of the power of Jesus to set free through his disciples is still awaited while too often the disciples are hidden away in our churches or comfortable subcultures. The sense of God’s transcendent power in the midst of society, expressing itself in lowly liberating love, is not known because his disciples, the chosen avenues of that powerful love, are largely absent. 5.1-20, 112.

If Jesus remains with you, there is no ground for fear. Trust the person, not the circumstances. Jairus had just witnessed a lonely, sick and shunned woman manage to do this very thing. He must also believe, because Jesus had shown his intention to make the girl well...For true faith is self-risking trust in Jesus himself. 5.21-43, 115–117.

Our Lord’s pattern is one of bringing the power of love to bear on all such situations and relationships, loosening the grip of evil, and setting people free. The path for that victory is the lowly one of self-giving as he gave, risking ourselves as he did, dying and rising daily with him. A church so committed is set to be used to establish God’s kingdom by his power.  5.21-43, 118.

The miracles of feeding and healing, amid misunderstanding and rejection, demonstrate the superiority of the kingdom of the servant over any human kingdom, and of the servant over any human king, so that men will put their trust in Him. (6:1—8:25) It is interesting to see how Mark weaves the miracle stories in with the growing faith of some but the growing opposition of the majority to Jesus.

(Mark)is underlining the way in which Jesus does not stand apart from individuals and groups, ‘throwing miracles at them’. He becomes deeply involved in relationships with them, and the miracle is performed within the context of the relationships, both corporate and individual. Where that relationship is one of near total animosity on the part of the crowd, the setting is not right for healing intended to provide an opportunity for perception of who he was. Mark 6.1-6, 120.

Churches may be mistaken who provide for every part of the cultural life of their members. They need to be exposed more to life outside the church, where they will prove the power of the gospel rather than the safety of the church...Our failure to address the biggest modern issues, from a proper gospel basis, may well be one major reason for our not being as effective as we ought. A safe church is rarely an influential one. 6.6-13, 126.

Even Jesus has to adjust according to new developments. The result is a major miracle of divine provision... Strategies, plans, time charts and objectives are all necessary in the on-going life of the church, but they must all be made as possible rather than essential developments. Some of the most effective moments come when events do not work out as planned, and we are completely wrong-footed but trust God in the unusual circumstance. 6.30-44, 136.

In sharing in the feeding of the crowd they had first hand experience of this God feeding his people miraculously yet again, through Jesus. This is the link they ought to have seen, for the Old Testament also speaks of God walking on or through the waves...the experience of any one of these miracles ought by now to be for them an avenue for perceiving that the one with whom they are dealing, Jesus their teacher, is endowed with the kind of power they normally expect only of the God revealed in their Scriptures. 6.45-52, 139.

Ceremonial laws will be brought to an end, for Jesus’ death will provide the secret of forgiveness, cleansing, and purity. The social regulations will no longer apply because God’s people will be newly constituted, not according to physical birth but by new birth through the Spirit’s action in response to faith in Christ. The moral laws will receive new depth as Jesus reveals their original intention in terms more of inner attitude than outward standards. 7.14-23, 145.

The Christian church must see itself as committed to breaking down barriers which prolong human need or prevent the needy from being helped. One does not necessarily agree with another person’s theology, nationhood, life style, nor outlook by meeting their need. One simply shows the love of God to another human being. The world needs to see Christians following their Master more clearly at this point. 7.24-30, 150.

The method of the healing is not unique. Such practices were used by other healers. The uniqueness lay in the person performing the healing, and therefore in what the healing signified—the coming of God’s kingdom... The battle against evil is joined in this man’s healing. 7.31-37, 150–152.

Daily work well done in service of Christ is a sign...The Christian testimony is that serving Christ is neither an endless succession of exciting experiences nor a dull round of taking life at its face value. Between those two is the point where ordinary elements in life are invested with divine purpose and significance. 8.1-10, 156.

Peter manages to play both the role of disciple and obstacle in this transition section (8.26-38) of Mark. He was correct about Jesus’ identity as Messiah but wrong in trying to stop God’s plan that Jesus suffer and die before he came into glory.

Cross-bearing as a follower of Jesus means nothing less than giving one’s whole life over to following him. And here comes another surprise. This is the way of total freedom. If you clutch your life wholly to yourself, protecting it against all others, asserting all your rights, needs and privileges, you lose it because it isn’t life any longer. If, however, you acknowledge that life is not yours by right, that all is privilege, and that it is to be lived in the love that the gospel story reveals, self-giving love, then you possess it wholly. 8.27-9.1, 161.

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