Monday, November 24, 2014

Reading Through the Gospel of Mark #2 (9-16)

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. Synoptics RelationshipIn November I have continued 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 (as always his quotes are in blue font below). The second half of the book of Mark continues Mark’s concise action-oriented style that allows us to experience the progressive revelation of Jesus to the disciples as they experienced it in the trek to Jerusalem, the events of the passion week and the mystery of the resurrection. The book is open ended as it calls us to make the same decision posed to the disciples and the women in their fear and bewilderment (16.7-8). Jesus is waiting for you. Will you go to him?

Peter’s confession, the transfiguration, and Jesus’ teaching on servanthood demonstrate that, even though Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God, and rightful king, He came to serve and to sacrifice His life so that those who wish to experience the blessings of the kingdom would put their faith in Him and follow His example of humble self-sacrifice. The way to glory and the restoration of all things comes though betrayal, death and resurrection. Those who wish to follow Jesus must also follow his example of service and sacrifice.  8:26—10:52

Mark is signaling why Jesus has not thus far been open about who he is, and what will be the proper basis on which people will believe and understand what discipleship truly means. ‘There is no way rightly to understand who Jesus is until one has seen him suffer, die and rise again.’ Mark 9,2-13, 165.

The miracle does not depend on the degree, quality or amount of the man’s faith, but only on his having faith to link him effectively with the ministry of Jesus. It is the ‘faith as small as a mustard seed’ principle at work. The emphasis then is not on the quality of our faith but on the power of the Master with whom we are joined by faith. Mark 9.14-29, 168.

Defending the truth, feeling the best ways of living by it, and searching for purity in all things are laudable aims. But Jesus’ test is the simpler one of pedigree. Were the others living and acting in the power of his name? Mark 9.30-50, 172.

Jesus teaches that all who follow him, despite status, will be rewarded but all who keep people out of the kingdom will be judged (enough trouble is coming from the outside so be at peace with one another). One must be totally dependent on God to enter the kingdom. The rich young ruler is an illustration that one cannot enter the kingdom and receive its rewards without following Jesus in total dependence and service.

The Christian church must find a way to hold up, teach, prepare people for, and sustain couples in, the original divine purpose of one man, one woman for life. Yet at the same time it has to find ways of showing the deep compassionate sympathy and understanding of Jesus towards those for whom life has not turned out according to the highest ideals. Mark 10.1-12, 174–175.

The child is entirely dependent upon the parent in the very nature of things. Total trust is the center of a child’s existence. So it must be for the disciple...This is why group after group have so far in the story failed to enter in. They have all brought their own agenda—religious leaders, family, crowd. Only those helplessly needing to be healed, and occasionally the disciples, have burst through into the world of self-abandoning trust, like that of a small child. Mark 10.13-16, 176.

Jesus’ teaching in these verses shows discipleship as a self-denying, self-risking, self-giving part of lowly service for the redemption of the world. Yet so much of Christian life as one can now observe it is about gaining a secure position in society, inviting others to join us where we are, doing little to change the structures of our political and social life. Mark 10.32-45, 182–183.

Jesus’ passion and resurrection show that, even though He has the authority of kingship, Jesus chose to give up His life as the ransom for forgiveness of sins, but then rose from the dead and will return to set up His kingdom, so that people would follow Jesus now, recognize His authority as being from God and be ready for His return. 11.1-16.8

The triumphal entry, cursing of the fig tree and the clearing of the Temple warn those that reject King Jesus that judgment is coming. 11.1-26

For Mark it is the lowliness and humility of the entry into Jerusalem which matters, not its triumphal nature. It is a kingship of hidden majesty, of humble power to save. Mark 11.1-11, 185.

The debate over Jesus’ Authority verifies that His authority to teach and rule comes from God and so he deserves obedience. 11.27-12.44

For this story, and many other parts of Scripture, to be taken with absolute seriousness we have to avoid a doctrine of God so controlling things that it always works out in detail as he plans. God’s sovereignty is neither wholly pro-active nor wholly reactive: it is interactive, and it is a privilege of our humanity that we can be part of that process of interactivity. Mark 12.1-12, 194.

We know ourselves to be made in the image of God, and that our commitment to him is the only absolute commitment that can be expected of human beings. Everything else must be worked out in the light of that one, total duty. Once we lose that broad perspective we rapidly become little different from any other groups in our involvement. Mark 12.13-17, 196.

The one who has already pronounced judgment on the temple, who has enunciated the double law of love which surpasses all other laws, and who now receives with approval the relegation of sacrifice and burnt offerings, will himself shortly act out the whole scenario as the basis of salvation for all who will respond. Mark 12.28-34, 199.

Jesus’s prophetic discourse warns his followers of the judgment and persecution (near and far in the future) to come, the coming false messiahs and to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. 13.1-37

What is right for the Master is right for the disciple, though for different reasons. This may be the main reason why this gospel was written, to help people to see that true faith does not save one from hard times and difficult experiences, as many may have hoped. True faith often leads one into hard times and difficult experiences. The glory of faith in Christ is that we are not saved from them but in them. Mark 13, 205.

Written into the challenge to watch is the exhortation to perceive the meaning of things. Ordinary (and extraordinary) everyday events have an eternal significance, if only we can see it. The relationship of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 to the Parousia is a case in point. Jesus is hinting that everything that happens to us is projected on to the screen of eternity. We are becoming what eternally we shall be. Everything has a double point of reference—now and then. We are called to live the now in the light of the then. Mark 13.28-29, 210.

The events of Jesus’ trial and death show that He willingly gave up His life as a covenant sacrifice that would inaugurate the kingdom as He predicted 14.1-15.47

What has been called God’s ‘bias to the poor’ is plain in the gospels. We need to note, therefore, that it is not the supreme concern of Jesus. More important is being in harmony with God’s will and God’s timing (which will include caring for the poor but never allowing it to become the dominant factor). The gospel is good news to the poor; but the poor are not the heart of the good news. Jesus in his self-giving love to save humankind is at the heart of the good news. Mark 14.1-11, 213–214.

Eating and drinking was understood in the first century as a deep and intimate form of acceptance and sharing. Jesus has encouraged his disciples to eat his body and drink his blood. There could be no deeper symbol of total dependence on him and commitment to him. Even more significant still are the background themes of Passover and covenant. At the first Passover God defeated the enemies of his people and set his people free, protected as they were by the blood of the sacrificial lambs. Christ now offers his life sacrificially to defeat the enemies of God’s kingdom and to set free those who will be joined by faith (symbolized here by their eating and drinking) to him. Mark 14.27-31, 219.

What Judas did not discover, though Peter did, and we now know, is that there is forgiveness even for such betrayals... God can still take the broken and spoiled strands of life and weave them into the total tapestry. We should never be complacent about sin, since all sin betrays Jesus: but nor should we be destroyed by remorse or guilt when sin overtakes us—there is forgiveness and restoration. Mark 14.43-52, 223.

Mark’s double story provides alarming evidence of how easily institutions and corporate pressure can totally misrepresent the truth... There is a mystery about corporate evil which carries people along to do things which in their better judgment, and on their own they would never do. Our own century has provided several instances of the operation of what the New Testament calls ‘principalities and powers’ at that corporate level. Corporate evil flourishes when we believe that we are not responsible, that there is little we can do, that others make the policies, we only carry them out. Mark 14.66-72, 225.

The story continues to have strange relevance, since the teaching, dying, rising and ascending of Jesus are a constant rebuke to our human values and systems. ‘Giving to gain’, ‘dying to live’, ‘measuring time by eternity’, ‘estimating greatness by the degree of lowly service’, ‘first being last and last first’, and ‘the meek inheriting the earth’ do not simply cause derision, they produce great anger. Mark’s story not only tells how it happened to Jesus. Perhaps, with a sad shake of the head, he is preparing Jesus’ followers for much of the same. Mark 15.1-15, 230.

These are the only words of Jesus from the cross in Mark because Mark wishes to underline the enormous cost, to Jesus, of obedience to the Father’s will...He was bearing on himself all the awful consequences of human sinfulness before God, so that any who come by faith in him might be set free of those consequences, and follow his way of obedience to the heavenly Father. From the deepest point of darkness emerged the cry of desolation. Mark 15.21-41, 234.

Criminals sometimes lingered for days. Jesus lasted a surprisingly short time. Is this also part of the irony of Mark’s account? He who was not strong enough to resist death’s onslaught for very long is nevertheless the one who by his death is setting the many free (10:45). But this is only for those who see with the eye of faith. Mark 15.42-47, 237.

The resurrection event is recorded encourage people to follow Jesus and overcome their fears and doubts to proclaim the resurrection message 16.1-8

Part of Mark’s gospel is the mystery of unbelief. One reason for unbelief by people who should know better is that they are looking for all the wrong evidence. Jesus refuses to beguile them with a display of earthly power, or oratory about messiahship or fitting into their patterns. They will find the truth only as they look through the evident circumstances and by faith perceive the hidden realities. Mark 16.1-8, 240.

The breath-taking procession of miracles in the first half of the gospel, with the insistence of ‘immediately’ joining one to another in the story, has given way to a different model for discipleship. It is not the endlessly triumphal power display for which perhaps many longed—but the lowly path of obedient service on which Jesus’ miracles were actually based. But that lowly obedient service would bring him eventually to death and resurrection, its ultimate expressions...This is the true path of discipleship, not the permanently clear, bright and shining way but the lowly path of service, or rejection, or persecution, discovering daily the joy that is found not necessarily in happy circumstances but in faithful service and daily rising with him. Mark 16.6, 241.

Faith is to be a daily exercise of walking to where the Lord has gone, believing him to be there and finding him to be so. It is not a procession of cast-iron certainties, but an experience of trust in him who lived, and died, and rose to be with them forever...The sheer frailty and humanity of those first disciples are not to be forgotten. The men are not even there. The women (at least at first) are trembling … bewildered … afraid. They fled and said nothing. Our first-century forebears in the faith were not naturally superior (or inferior) to us. Neither did faith and discipleship come any easier for them. Yet despite all, they went on believing and laid the foundation for us. Mark 16.7-8, 242.

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