Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Mark #1 (Chapters 1-3)

MarkThis is my first post on my reading through the Gospel of Mark accompanied by Mark, The NIV Application Commentary, by David E. Garland.The beginning section of Mark introduces Jesus’ as the Son of God, Messiah and Savior. It also shows Jesus’ early actions of Jesus and responses of different people. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Mark is a fast moving Gospel which presents Jesus' actions and words. It was most likely written by Mark, an associate of Peter, and is thought by many scholars to present many of Peter's memories of Jesus. It contains the good news that Jesus has defeated the forces of evil and brought in the kingdom, but He has done this through sacrifice, obedience, suffering and death on cross. Thus, He is the Christ, the Messiah, who has saved Israel and the whole world. But, he is more than that. He is God in the flesh, the Son of God, who fulfills the promise of YHWH to come to His people and live with them.

In bridging the context to our contemporary situation, we need to recapture the scandal of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, who exposes our false hopes and selfish expectations. 23

As was the case during Jesus’ ministry, so today many will not believe or will try to mold Christ into their own images by telling him who he is and what he is to do. They want glamourous, gimmicky, short-term solutions to their own problems. Many try to domesticate the scandal, turn the cross into jewelry, and turn the Christ into a teacher of self-actualization. The Gospel of Mark is the antidote to this distortion as it presents the foundation story of the gospel about Jesus Christ, who suffers and dies on a cross. Mark, 26

One learns from this Gospel, however, that Jesus never abandons his followers, though, at times, he may seem to be absent. The disciples in a boat tossed by the waves may panic in fear and think that Jesus does not care that they are perishing, but he is with them. When he speaks, the winds cease, demons flee, and the dead rise. Mark, 30

Mark 1.1-13 is the prologue to the Gospel and lays out its major themes. It records 3 events- John the Baptist's arrival, Jesus' baptism and His temptation in the wilderness- that demonstrate who Jesus is. John comes as the "forerunner" who will announce that Jesus fulfills God's plan to make His creation right and people must repent to be ready. At the baptism, God's voice announces that Jesus is the coming king and servant who will fulfill God's plan. Finally, the temptation shows that Jesus will be tested and must suffer to accomplish the plan. The reader thus knows what the disciples will need to learn as the story unfolds in the rest of the gospel.

The point of these opening scenes is, therefore, to let the reader know from the start who Jesus is and to stress that he comes to fulfill divine promises and his divine commission. Because we who read know who Jesus is, our failure to follow and obey makes us more culpable than the characters in the story. Mark 1.1-13, 43

Jesus, however, does not stand by the Jordan and part it; instead, something far greater is parted—the dome of heaven. It may be a sign of our access to God, but Juel comments: “More accurate than referring to our access to God would be to speak of God’s access to us. God comes whether we choose or not.” The barriers are torn down and torn open, and God is now in our midst and on the loose. Mark 1.9-11, 48

The problem is that the way that Jesus prepares for us to go home is not the one we want to travel. It is arduous and paved with suffering, but it is one that we must journey to get home. If the church prepares the way for anything, it is for his return by following in the path he has laid out and in the worldwide proclamation of the gospel (13:10). Mark 1.12-13, 57.

The rest of chapter 1 introduces the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus and the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. The forerunner, John the Baptist, has been removed with his job done, and the kingdom has begun. Jesus announces the kingdom with word and action. He calls disciples to Himself, heals fevers and leprosy, and casts out demons with an authoritative word. The fever, a sign of curse in the OT, is healed, restoring Peter's mother-in-law to service. Leprosy, which separated people from God and others, is healed by His compassionate touch. Demons are powerless before His authoritative word and their destructive presence is removed from their victims. Mark shows that the promised Kingdom of God has arrived in Jesus, though in an unexpected form, and all are called to give up everything and follow Jesus.

One should not assume that Jesus uses fishing as a benign reference to mission. When the fisherman hooks a fish, it has fatal consequences for the fish; life cannot go on as before. This image fits the transforming power of God’s rule that brings judgment and death to the old, yet promises a new creation (see Rom. 6:1–11). The disciples are called to be agents who will bring a compelling message to others that will change their lives beyond recognition. Jesus’ call has the same effect on them. Mark 1.16-20, 69

The advent of the kingdom of God is the beginning of the end for the thralldom of Satan, and one need not fear the molesting unclean spirits if God is acting on one’s behalf. We should be careful to stress this point. The New Testament contains a dramatic drop in the fear of demons when compared with other literature from this era. It results from the faith that God has won a decisive victory over Satan in the cross and that the more powerful one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit protects his followers. Mark 1.21-28, 81

To evaluate religious leaders today, we must judge them by the standard of Jesus. Do they share his aversion to publicity and acclaim? Do they want to receive credit for all that happens? Are they primarily interested in a power grab, in building empires for themselves, and in serving their own needs? Do they truly speak in the name of the Lord from sincere motives? Are they accessible to those in need, not just the wealthy and influential but those from the margins of society? Mark 1.29-45, 87

In the next section, Jesus shows the crowd who He is by forgiving a man's sin, and then proves it by healing his paralysis. The Son of Man can remove sin and the curse it brings. The Kingdom of God has arrived. This is followed by 4 disputes with the religious leaders about Jesus' authority and the nature of God's kingdom. Jesus ate with sinners because God's kingdom was one that reached out to everyone to heal them from their sin and its effects. Jesus defended his followers lack of fasting because His kingdom brought joy to people. There would be time for mourning, but God's kingdom would usher in a new better way of approaching God, and, ultimately, mourning would give way to joy. Finally, the Sabbath controversies, showed that Jesus was the One who had authority to interpret, or even change, the Sabbath and that it was always intended that human benefit and worship from the heart always took precedence over ritual and rules. 

If Jesus is the model for our ministry to others, we see one who announces the forgiveness of sin and the chance of reconciliation with God, which brings in its wake healing. The church needs to proclaim in its words and deeds this offer of forgiveness, which can cleanse all sin. Mark 2.1-12, 99

The call of Levi and Jesus’ feasting with sinners discloses the contrast between a religious attitude that keeps sinners and the unhallowed at arm’s length and one, the good news of God, that welcomes all comers. The query about fasting reveals the difference between religious exercises that weigh down the soul like a ball and chain and a religious experience that allows it to soar with joy. The controversies over the Sabbath reveal the clash between a religious outlook that withers mercy with pitiless rules and one that places human need above the statute book. Mark 2.13-3.6, 110

The direction of Jesus’ ministry is downward and outward and implies that the church must bring Jesus to people, not simply people to Jesus. Garland, Mark 2.13-3.6, 120

The rest of Mark 3 places Jesus in relationship with the different groups of people who responded to his ministry. The crowds followed Jesus because of what he could do for them. Most did not have an interest in serving the kingdom He was bringing in. So, he took aside those who were really interested and named them as disciples and apostles. He named 12 as the leaders of this group. Their main task was "to be with Him" and to learn from Him and reproduce His ministry. The opponents were the religious teachers of the nation who actively opposed Him and His own family who thought He was crazy and opposed him for His own good. Jesus warns both that it is very dangerous to oppose what the Holy Spirit is doing. Jesus then affirms that His followers are His real family.

Jesus affirms that life under God is not defined by relationships in a biological family, which was primarily geared for the preservation of the family line, its wealth, and its honor. One’s ultimate devotion is owed to God, who is head of a new divine family, and becoming a member of this family is open to all persons regardless of race, class, or gender. The only requirement is that they share Jesus’ commitment to God. Mark 3.7-35, 131

In spite of the failures of the Twelve, God’s purposes in calling them will not be thwarted, and God’s power can still work through them to multiply Jesus’ ministry. Disciples come with all their ignorance, weakness, and frailty and must learn to follow the pattern of their Lord for God to work through them to extend his ministry. Jesus alone is our model. Being with him means learning from his positive example. Mark 3.7-35, 138

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