Separation

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:5-6).

Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:51-52).

These two stories are tied together by two words translated as “stubborn” (or hardened) “hearts.”

In the first, Jesus did what his opponents thought he shouldn’t do, and for that transgression of orthodoxy, they were willing to kill him.

In the second, Jesus refused to do what his disciples thought he ought to do.  They were equally “put out” with Jesus – though perhaps not enough to kill him.

In both, hardheartedness — a determination to have one’s own way — separates from Christ. Of all the gospel writers, Mark is hardest on the disciples.  Were I one of the twelve, reading Mark would have been embarrassing.  I surely would think: “If only I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have behaved that way!”  And I think that was Mark’s goal: to tell us now what we will come to learn later so that we won’t be embarrassed when we finally see it on our own.  God’s way is best.  Better I should seek His will now rather than my own and content myself with His leading.  Wherever He is taking me, it will be better than anywhere I can go without Him.

Frustration

He was about to pass by them . . .  (Mark 6:48).

The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 had to be the best known story of the early church.  The only miracle story told in all four gospels it goes like this:

The disciples, sent out to preach the Kingdom of God returned from their mission with a following fiercely determined to get to Jesus – so determined that Jesus could not escape them. So determined that they came without provisions.  Though hungry and tired himself, Jesus taught them, and fed them – and they responded by attempting to make Jesus a king by force.

Utterly chagrined, Jesus dismissed the disciples (first) and the crowds and, perhaps in frustration, sought time alone with his Father in prayer.

The extent of Jesus’ frustration is seen in our verse.  The disciples were working hard rowing to their destination and Jesus, unhindered by wind and waves, was determined to get there without them.  Jesus wasn’t “about” to pass them by.  He had decided to pass them by.  Intent is the meaning of the word. They were as upset with Jesus as he was with them and the Lord decided to let them stew in their difficulties for a while.

But he didn’t.  He couldn’t – any more than he could let the crowd go hungry.  They too were frustrated, and they were afraid.  And Jesus made a detour to help them.

When you are frustrated with others, remember they may well be frustrated with you.  Perhaps their frustration is a result of their own feelings, actions or prejudices.  What they might need is not alienation, but a reassuring fellowship that while things might not yet be alright, they will be.

Predictability

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-2).

When I read the story of the woman “caught in the act” of adultery (John 8:1ff) I get the impression the whole thing was staged. In other words, I don’t think they just “happened” to catch her. I think it was a setup (more on that another time).

But I don’t get the impression a “setup” is what is happening in Mark 3. It is simply a confluence of events. Certain things were going to happen at a certain time. The Pharisees and Herodians simply determined they would use them for their own purpose.

They knew it was the Sabbath. They knew where the crippled man would be on the Sabbath. They knew Jesus was in town. They knew where he would be on the Sabbath – gathering with God’s people (Luke says it was Jesus’ “custom” – Luke 4:16). They knew what Jesus would do upon meeting the crippled man.

Which leads me to this: Our lives, like that of Jesus, should have a bit of predictability about them. In particular, when God’s people gather, everyone should be able to count on us gathering too. And folks who know us should be able to tell how we will react to situations we encounter – always like Jesus.

Jesus Surprised

“He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:6).

I doubt much surprised Jesus – but it did happen.

He had gone to his hometown and taught in the synagogue. If he taught what he usually did, it was “get ready for the Kingdom of God” – and one got ready by repentance and entrusting one’s life to Jesus.

This Nazareth story comes just after four vignettes about death. First, the disciples thought they were going to die in a storm on the Galilee. Second was the story of a demon possessed gentile who lived among the dead. Third was the woman who has been dying for twelve years with a bleeding problem. Finally, there was the little dead girl Jesus raised.

Sharyn Dowd remarks: “There is a progression through the four stories of the seriousness from which Jesus rescues people. . . Mark makes the point that through Jesus, God’s power overcomes every threat to life and wholeness, even the ultimate threat of death. Moreover, Jesus extends this wholeness to men and women, Jews and gentiles, the pure and the polluted. No place or condition is beyond the reach of God’s saving power.”

Those stories lead to this one. After all Jesus had done, his kinsmen refused to take advantage. Mark gives two reasons: First, they couldn’t imagine one of their own being so successful. Second was Jesus’ teaching: The benefits of the power of God are not up for grabs to any and all. They require submitting to the way of Jesus – a notion the home folks just couldn’t abide.

Given all Jesus had to offer, their rejection was surprising.

When we reject him, I imagine it still is.

Finding Peace In Chaos

For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well (Mark 5:28).

The Gospel of Mark introduces Jesus with a prologue of fifteen verses.  The next section of the book (1:16 – 3:6) contains five important scenes of exorcism or healing, followed by five controversial actions of Jesus.  The section ends with the plot of the Pharisees and Herodians to kill Jesus.

As the second section unfolds (3:7 – 6:6), the opposition to Jesus intensifies – beginning (and ending) with his own family – and with increasing opposition comes increasing chaos.  People are crowding Jesus, falling before Jesus, and falling on Jesus.  In the middle of it all come two people: Jarius, a synagogue ruler, and an unnamed woman.  The woman needs healing for herself, the ruler needs healing for his daughter.  The two stories are set up to be read in comparison.  “Jarius is a man of distinction, honor, and has a name.  The woman is “unclean” and is unnamed. Jarius can approach Jesus from the front and ask Jesus for help.  The woman must approach from behind and steal it. Jarius is rich.  The woman is destitute. Jarius has a family.  The woman will never have a family.” Jarius’ daughter is twelve years old.  The woman has been ill for twelve years.

For all their differences, these two have three things in common: both believe in Jesus, neither escape anxiety, and both find peace.
Life will always have times of chaos and in those times faith will always be challenged by anxiety. But those who focus on their confidence in Jesus will find both removed and peace restored.

Let Him Have His Way

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed (Mark 5:18-20).

This story seems to captivate Mark. He gives it more attention than any of the other gospel writers. Among the details only Mark mentions is the healed man’s response of discipleship.

The demons in the story beg Jesus not to send them out of the area. They beg Jesus to send them among the pigs. The people beg Jesus to leave their area. But the demon possessed man begs to follow Jesus and though Jesus doesn’t allow it, he does commission him to tell what God has done for him – which is interesting because up to now, Jesus has forbidden anyone to speak of him (see Mark 1:24, 25, 34; 3:12) – not that anyone paid attention.

What made this man such an acceptable evangelist?

I note this difference. The demons, and the people of Gerasa all wanted Jesus to do what they wanted. The healed man simply wanted to do what Jesus wanted – and was willing to do it.

Certainly we all ought to tell our family and friends what Jesus has done for us, but our story becomes more credible when it flows from an obedient heart. People will truly be amazed at what God can do with our lives when we let Him have His way rather than when He lets us have our way.

Never Forgiven

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin (Mark 3:28-29).

An eternal sin? Never forgiven?

That’s a show stopper! Matthew and Luke also mention this warning. Even John mentions a “sin that leads to death” (1 John 5:16).

But what is it?

Context, and a little Old Testament, can help our understanding. In Numbers 15:27-31 God speaks of sin that “remains.” Unforgivable, it is the defiant sin. The prophet Eli’s sons persisting impenitently in what they knew God found reprehensible. Eli himself committed it because he refused to discipline his boys. They became “un-atoneable.”

Most sin takes us on a steady, slight, spiritual decline. The problem with defiant sin is that the slope is at a greater angle and before we know it, we’re at a dead run in the wrong direction we cannot stop.

In our text, Jesus’ opponents are distressed by teaching they perceive as “new” and at odds with what they’ve always thought. Rather than carefully consider who Jesus might be (and the truthfulness of his words) they sought to counter the Lord with a “name calling” campaign to impugn his reputation. While Jesus is willing to forgive them, he knows they are unwilling to repent and will later even oppose His replacement, the Holy Spirit. They are racing down Fool’s Hill to the city of Beyond Hope.

All sins, really, are forgivable – as long as we turn from them. The eternal sin begins as one we won’t turn from. It ends as one we can’t turn from. That’s what makes it eternal. Consider the road you take. It may not have an exit.

Faith and Fear

“[Jesus] said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”(Mark 4:40).

Unless I missed one, this is the second rebuke Jesus gives his disciples in Mark.  Jesus and his disciples have started across the Sea of Galilee and have encountered a storm. Mark calls it a “furious squall” with waves breaking over the boat so that it was “nearly swamped.”

Why was Jesus so peeved with his disciples?  They woke him up!  They must have believed that Jesus could do something.  They must have believed that he would do something.  After all, they were all in the same boat! Doesn’t that belief count for anything?

Faith is more than belief.  It’s even more than belief in someone (or some thing).  Faith engenders calm in the face of trial.

The twelve had seen Jesus’ great power: exorcisms, healings, and restorations. But these had been challenges faced by others.  If you haven’t noticed, it’s easier to urge faith on others during their trials, to be at peace during their storms.  It’s tougher when the trials are our own.  The disciples were now the ones in trouble, and it was plain to Jesus their belief had not risen to the level of faith.  Proof was in their fear.

Faith doesn’t come all at once.  It’s a process, like a growing seed.  It is nurtured by trial believe it or not –  which is why it’s important NOT to pray you won’t be tried, but to pray that you will be delivered from trial when it comes.  It’s also nurtured by prayer, and an exposure to the stories of God working in the lives of others.

Spiritual maturity is a developed confidence in God so that no matter what life throws at you, you face it unafraid, confident in the one who finds it easy to sleep in the storm.

Soil Sample

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4:13)

That’s Jesus, talking to his disciples.  Actually, rebuking his disciples is more like it.  It is the first time Jesus speaks to them harshly in the gospel of Mark.  It won’t be the last.

The rebuke comes hot on the heels of the parable of the sower.  The disciples confess they don’t understand it.  Jesus’ rebuke is intended to emphasize how serious a predicament is their ignorance.  He speaks in parables to hide the message from “outsiders,” people who really have no interest.  If his disciples don’t get the message . . . well . . . their “inside track” (Jesus has called them to be “with” him after all) is in danger.

The point of the parable of the sower is plain (it must be because Jesus says if you can’t get that parable, you can’t get any of them).  But to be sure, Jesus explains it.  The seed being sown is the message of God.  The point is: “What kind of reception will it receive?”  Hearers are the soil.  Some don’t listen at all (Jesus blames Satan).  Others listen only superficially.  Still others listen, but their attraction to the siren song of the world drowns out any benefit.  Finally, some listen, take the message to heart, and fruit is produced.  They become God plants in the world.

The point of the parable is not that we should produce fruit.  That’s the job of the seed.  Our task is to provide a fertile place for the seed to grow.  If godliness is not being produced in our lives, it’s not a seed problem.  It’s a soil problem.  It’s an us problem. Perhaps a bit of weeding is in order.

Family

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

Mark is the only gospel writer to give us this little tidbit. It is the first of his “sandwich” stories – where he starts one story, seems to lose his train of thought, tells another story, and then, surprisingly, comes back for the rest of the first story (there are nine of these in Mark). The story in the middle of the sandwich (the meat) helps to flavor the outer layers (the bread).

In this case, the “meat” story concerns the very foolish and absurd notion that Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Satan. How could his enemies be so stupidly blind? If Satan has turned on himself . . . well . . . his doom is sealed.

But what’s the difference really between those who think Jesus is nuts, and those who think he’s related to the devil?

No difference at all really.

Which puts his family in a rather precarious spiritual condition (to put it entirely too mildly). And where does that put those of us who find Jesus’ life, his lifestyle, his teachings and his expectations unrealistic and “crazy over the top?” In the same boat with his blood family who came to take charge of him – no real family at all.

Who is his family? Jesus says: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”