Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Mark #2 (Chapters 4-6)

MarkThis post continues my reading through the Gospel of Mark accompanied by Mark, The NIV Application Commentary, by David E. Garland.The next section of Mark introduces Jesus’ Kingdom parables, miracles and teaching. The big point is that the promised king has arrived and people must “repent” by turning away from whatever they were following before and follow Jesus. 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.

Chapter 4.1-34 discusses Jesus' kingdom parables. Jesus responds to His enemies by giving them an opportunity to ponder about Him and His kingdom so that they might repent. Those that were willing to do that could become productive members of His kingdom. The parable of the sower/soils show that the key to the right response to Jesus was in the nature of the person and their willingness to be open to His message. The kingdom of God will come, but it will come in a different way than those of the world. For example, world kingdoms expand by taking lives. God's kingdom will expand by Jesus giving His life and we participate by giving ours. Therefore, it seems weak, powerless and unimportant. But, like a seed, God's kingdom has its power to grow within it. It is inevitable that it will fill the earth. We who participate in God's way through this hidden state, will participate in the kingdom when it rules in glory.

The only way parables can be understood at the deepest level is for one to dare to become involved in their world, to be willing to risk seeing God with new eyes, and to allow that vision to transform one’s being. Mark 4.1-20, 165

We too quickly identify the kingdom of God with our own human aspirations and institutions that “reach unto heaven” and “make us a name.” We tend to be overly impressed with mass movements and high-powered organizations, and these parables that stress the ambiguity of the presence of the kingdom of God in the midst of this current evil age should caution against this mistake. Mark 4.21-31, 182

To allow these parables to speak to us in our setting, we should emphasize two themes that emerge from them: the hiddenness of God’s kingdom, and the confidence that even though the kingdom lies hidden, it is working to produce the harvest that God intends. The beginning predetermines the end. We live in the in-between time, between the beginning when the seed is sown and the end time when the final stage becomes manifest and all God’s purposes are accomplished. Mark 4.21-34, 184

Mark 4.35-5.43 records miracles that show the kingdom power that Jesus had. The text is framed by the disciples waking Jesus to save them from a supernatural storm and Jesus waking a young girl from the sleep of death. The calming of the storm is portrayed in Mark as a rescue from supernatural forces of chaos, darkness and death. Just as God at creation, Jesus controls the chaos and darkness with just a word. The theme continues with the exorcism of "legion" in 5.1-20. Jesus invades a Gentile territory of demons and swine and saves a man who was under complete control of the demonic. The calm in the man reflects the previous calm of the sea. The townspeople want Jesus gone because they feared this power, but Jesus leaves the man with his family as a witness to God's power. The double miracle of healing the woman with a bleeding condition and raising the little girl from the dead show Jesus' ability to restore people to fellowship with God and others, despite impurity and even death. Both, the synagogue leader and the woman approach Jesus on the basis of faith not status. That is what is required. And this is just a small taste of the restoration of the final kingdom.

We live in a fallen world beset by powers of chaos that are out to destroy us. Our faith is weak, and we do not know in what or in whom we can trust. Jesus’ power to calm the storm presents the solution to this human plight. Trusting that he has God’s power and cares for the community of faith is particularly reassuring in times when the powers of darkness seem to swallow it. Mark 4.35-41, 198

The solutions to such problems are not more government programs, better housing, or prison reform, though these may alleviate some pain. People who live in such lonely despair need to meet Jesus Christ and allow that encounter to transform their lives. Churches, however, have fled the places where these troubled human beings usually gather to settle in more comfortable locations. Who will bring Christ to them? And when they meet Jesus Christ and there are no jobs, decent housing, or good schools and covert discrimination still prevails, major problems remain. Evangelism must go hand in hand with social concern. Mark 5.1-20, 217

One must look beyond the moment of suffering to the eternal significance of Jesus’ power. That power is related to the kingdom of God, which is present but which is yet to be fully manifest. In the meantime we will suffer from maladies and death. Our faith is in God’s power to conquer death, not simply to restore things as they were. We can face the tragedies of everyday existence with confident faith that God is not through with us. Mark 5.21-43, 226

Mark 6 is bracketed in contrast, in the beginning, by the low evaluation of Jesus' credentials in his hometown of Nazareth and, in the end, with Jesus as an OT type epiphany of YHWH providing miraculous bread in the desert and walking to the disciples on the water. In the middle of the chapter, Jesus' sending out of the disciples to preach the kingdom and cast out demons brackets Herod's execution of John the Baptist. John's death prefigures Jesus' and that of the disciples. The kingdom will succeed but God's people will suffer first in this evil world. The reassurance is that God Himself walks with us through these trials and will bring victory in the now and in the end. 

Jesus does not demand honor and recognition. He has come to sow the word, not reap accolades. The qualms raised about Jesus’ credentials for wisdom, however, block the people in Nazareth from receiving God’s blessings through him. The text shows that doubt and suspicion can affect a whole community. It can cut off God’s power for others. In Nazareth many blind, lame, and deaf continued in their affliction because they continued in their unbelief. Mark 6.1-6, 237–238

The message of repentance is that God reigns. The messengers do not invite Israel to accept God’s reign if it suits them; they confront people with a yes or no decision, so that there can be no middle ground. If they reject the message, they will deprive themselves of the opportunity to receive healing and deliverance. If they continue in their dogged defiance, they will face the judgment of God. Mark 6.6-30, 242

The Old Testament motifs in Mark’s account of Jesus’ walking on the water recall God’s mastery over the waters of chaos as Creator and Savior. Jesus walks on the waves like God and speaks like the one true God, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Jesus wants to show his disciples a glimpse of his divinity in order to help them unravel the clues to his identity. They do not follow a great prophet or superhero but the very Son of God. Mark 6.45-56, 266

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