The Gospel of Mark: In the Footsteps of the Master

Posted on 04 April 2008

An outline of the gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark: In the Footsteps of the Master

1:1-8

There are doubtless many different ways of answering the question, ‘Where does
the story of the good news that comes with Jesus begin?‘ Matthew begins his
account with the account of Jesus’ ancestors, Luke with the announcements of
John and Jesus’ births and John traces it all back to the creation of the world
(and even before then!). Each of these are correct in their own way.

Mark, however, begins with the ministry of John the baptiser. Why and what point
is he trying to convey to us?

Mark is characteristically brief in his Gospel (it is far shorter than any of the other
three). But his very brevity means that he weighs his words carefully. This means
that what Mark does tell us is very important.

Notice then, that in these verses Mark emphasises, first of all, the content of
John’s message (4,7,8). The sum and substance of what he has to say is this:

* As human beings we are beset by two fundamental problems:

a) we are sinners. Confession of sin (5) and the possibility of forgiveness (4) lay
at the heart of John’s message. For Mark, this is the beginning of the good news.
It remains the heart of the Gospel today. Human beings have many needs and
the Gospel meets all of them! As a result, it is tempting for us to put the emphasis
other than in the place where the Bible puts it. The Gospel is intended to bring
joy, self-esteem, etc. but this is the fruit of a relationship put right with God. The
heart of the Gospel is the message of sinners saved by grace.

b) we are morally and spiritually dead. John could make his appeal (as had many
voices before him) and people might resolve and look for a new way. However,
John realised that this is not enough. Without inner renewal (the baptism in
the Spirit, 8) outward acts were relatively valueless.

The Gospel is not simply a declaration of forgiveness to the penitent. It
speaks of a new birth, of inner renewal, of the power to live a new life. Only
where such an emerging life is seen can we speak of a truly Christian
conversion.

So, we begin to see why Mark begins at this point. What is the beginning of the
Gospel? It is the declaration to fallen helpless sinners that forgiveness and
renewal are available.

* Our problem lacks an ultimate solution apart from the ministry of Jesus
(1,8).

This short passage begins and ends with Jesus. This is deliberate. It is also
important to notice what Mark records about Jesus. He is altogether different
from us. We are powerless to meet our own tragic needs. But Jesus is God (‘the
Son of God’), qualitatively different from the greatest of men (7, the follower is
greater than the master and the master unworthy of the most abjectly servile task
on behalf of the ‘disciple’). As God incarnate he can save (the meaning OF
‘Jesus’) and cleanse and purify (8).

No explanation of the ‘how’ is given here. That comes later. Here we are simply
told that he alone can meet our deepest needs. Look to him!

* Our response

John was profoundly aware of the fact that he deserved no mercy from God. He
was a slave, less than a slave of Jesus. Yet he willingly served and we catch a
sense of awe and joy in his words in verse 7.

We live in a cynical rationalistic world. Why should I believe? Mark
emphasises that this is so because God planned and executed the
impossible in the full face of human witnesses. We are not without evidence
which bids us face the full reality of the message.

1:9-13

This is a remarkable passage and a vital one! In five short verses, Mark
describes two of the most remarkable experiences in the short ministry of Jesus.
Moreover, his language is highly allusive and, rather like with a child’s
kaleidoscope, constantly changing images rush past. Why mention the heaven
torn asunder, why is the Spirit described as a dove, what is the significance of
the temptation taking place in the desert, why the reference to the wild animals?

All this makes it almost impossible to preach on for the expositor can only touch
the surface of the text; to offer a framework through which the hidden depths can
be viewed. This is the task here. No comprehensive study is offered. But enough
of vital importance shared to encourage further reflection and obedience.

* Salvation is the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (9-11).

The baptism of Jesus is introduced here in terms which appear to be intended to
emphasise his willing identification with the sins of his people, symbolising the
work that he had come to do. He comes to bear the sins of the world. This is the
context in which we are reminded of three things:
a) Jesus was committed to save us. Part of the meaning of baptism is it is a
pledge. That cannot be absent from Mark’s thoughts here. Jesus’ baptism
attests to his commitment to the task of being the sin-bearer.
b) the Father was delighted with the task which his Son had pledged to
undertake. If God hates sin, he is also the delighted author of salvation
whose initiative draws us back to him.
c) the Spirit was pleased to equip Jesus for his work. Just as the Spirit
hovered with creative power over the first creation, so he appears with
Jesus to help effect the work of new creation.

This reminder of the Trinitarian work of God in salvation is not intended to be of
interest merely to theologians. It is intended, rather, to:
1) remind us of the greatness of our salvation and how much we mean to
God;
2) ensure we do not think of Jesus as interposing between us and an angry
Father. It is the Father, Son and the Spirit who hate sin. It is the Father, Son
and the Spirit who have saved us from our sins!

* Jesus suffered greatly to win our salvation (12,13)

Mark immediately moves on from the baptism to the temptation. If Jesus’
experience included rapturous experiences, it was characteristically beset by
God-appointed trials that equipped Jesus perfectly for his ministry. Thus, his
experience was one in which commitment was put to the test by God himself
(It was the Spirit who drove Jesus out into the wilderness); it was also a costly
obedience, subject to extended test. Mark seems to intend us to understand
that it was a lonely, fearsome experience. If angels ministered to him, protecting
and keeping him (13), there is no suggestion that this made the experience any
easier. Perhaps there is even the suggestion that the ministry of the angels was
the obverse side of the experience of trial. Was he aware they were there at the
time?

This should lead to awed worship and rededicated service. But there is one other
important lesson that it is surely intended to emphasise:

* Our discipleship is one in which we will often experience trials.

The disciple is not above his master. If we sometimes experience moments of
deep intimacy there is another side to the Christian’s experience; a darker side
which Jesus has sanctified by willingly submitting to it himself. For we, too,
experience events that may be ordained by God and where we (in hidden-ness?)
have his support. Such experiences may be fearsome, unending, dark and
(apparently) inexplicable. In our present evangelical world we need to be
reminded that Jesus endured the cross.

Yet there is comfort here. If the Spirit drives out and angels minister, the
knowledge that we are in God’s plans and those who minister to him are sent by
him to serve us gives reassurance (even though we may not see them!).

* Conclusions:

So with awe and wonder we catch a glimpse of what our salvation meant for the
Triune God. Amazed we are encouraged to faithful service, like the master
before us. Such service will sometimes lead us to the mountaintop; often it will
leave us perplexed and apparently alone in the valley. Yet if our Master has
passed this way we can follow his footsteps. And if glory lay at the end for him,
no less awaits us!

1:14-20

In two brief incidents Mark describes to us the early ministry of Jesus (14f.) and
the call of the first four disciples (16-20). Such brevity must not deceive us into
thinking that the events described are insignificant. Rather, Mark’s intention is to
set before us some lessons which are vital to us both individually and
corporately.

* The Gospel of Jesus is to be at the centre of our life and witness as the
people of God (14f.).

Mark provides us with a summary of Jesus’ teaching. He presents Jesus as a
teacher whose (subsequently described) actions attest to the authority of his
witness. It is this witness that is presented as the heart of the Christian ‘good
news from God’ (14, end).

What, then, is that ‘good news’? It is that, according to promise, Jesus is
the one through whom God’s purposes for the fallen world are effected.
This is the essential point of 15a.

Our response? 15b spells it out. Trusting to its message (‘believe in’) we are
to have a change of heart and make a turn round in our lives (‘repent’).

Mark’s summary is brief to the point where it is almost incomplete. But it does
highlight that Jesus is the answer to a world of need and that a radical
response is demanded of each one of us.

But why do we mention all this? Partly because there are always those who need
to make the appropriate response. But partly because we need to judge the
ministry among us and establish our priorities on the basis of this teaching. This
naturally leads to our next point.


* The community of faith is to be characterised by two things:

a) a people single-minded and whole-hearted in their obedience to Jesus.

Elsewhere in the Gospels we are given more detail as to Jesus’ knowledge of
and relationship with the men mentioned here. Mark simply records one fact.
When Jesus called them, they followed immediately and unreservedly. In a
nutshell, they demonstrate what a truly repentant life is like. Not all are called to
forsake a former livelihood as these men. But we are all called to put Jesus
first.

b) a people equipped and ready to extend the kingdom.

In this story Jesus appears as a rabbi, inviting these men to learn from him so
that they can represent him. There was a uniqueness about their call. But Mark is
less interested (at this point) in such uniqueness as in the exemplary character of
the event. Jesus trained to send out.

‘How does this apply to us?‘ Simply, it teaches us that individually and
corporately we are to live as those committed to Jesus. We, not the pastor, are
the church! Equally, the pastor’s role is to lead and equip not to do the work for
us. A measure of his success will be the way he equips us to better fulfill our
responsibilities. Together we have the responsibility to be as best equipped
as we can be to use our distinctive gifts to advance his kingdom.

1:21-28

When the Gospel writers wrote their books they did not simply record the events
that they describe. As with any writer they also interpreted what they recorded.
Inspired by God’s Spirit, they had a point to make!

Right at the beginning of his description of Jesus’ ministry, Mark records
this incident. He has done so because he wants us to grasp some very basic
and important lessons about Jesus. He realised that this incident sets before
us some vital truths that we all need to grasp.

So what did Mark want us to know?

* When people truly encounter Jesus they are brought face to face with
truth.

When Jesus taught at Capernaum, the effect was dramatic. The people were
stunned and awestruck. So much so was this, that Mark mentions it twice
(22,27). And what struck them was not the manner of Jesus’ presentation (he
used no clever rhetorical techniques nor does it appear that he raised his voice).
No! What struck them was the authenticity of what he said. It rang
staggeringly, self- authenticatingly, true.

One would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of the synagogue of
Capernaum! Yet we do have the written records of Jesus’ ministry and if only we
have eyes to see and ears to hear they ought to have the same impact. None
spoke as this man nor did those mighty acts that corroborated his testimony.
Have you encountered Jesus yet?

* When evil encounters truth it seeks to avoid it.

This is the point of verses 23,24. As the people recognise (27), this one
encounter is typical of all encounters between Jesus and the world of
uncleanness and darkness.

Faced with truth in the person of Jesus the demon understood very well the
significance of the event: doom. Yet evil is not ready to easily release its grip.
Notice the tactics this demon employs (for it is typical of the way in which evil all
too often manipulates us and seeks to evade the truth).

a) evil seeks to ridicule the truth (‘Jesus of Nazareth’);
b) it seeks to deny the authority of truth in all areas (‘What has your sphere and
mine in common?‘);
c) it lies (‘us’) and exaggerates its power;

In sum, evil brags and boasts and lies when faced with the truth of Jesus.

There is truth here we need to grasp. How often when faced by the call of Jesus
have we be willing to listen to ‘voices’ which variously do the same things? And
how many of us are still evading the truth as a result of one excuse or another?!

* When Jesus encounters evil, he destroys it.

This is vividly portrayed in 25,26. The braggart demon is silenced and driven out
by two short commands of Jesus!

So how does this truth apply to us? There are, at least three applications:

a) Jesus will one day destroy all evil. He will judge the world. Are we ready for
that day?

b) Jesus breaks the power of darkness in all those who look to him. Whether
anew or afresh we can look for him to give us the power that we need.

c) Jesus is sovereign over evil today. We need to avoid evangelical dualism.


We readily see why Mark thought this incident so important to record. Wrapped
up in it is the challenge to renounce the world and follow Jesus. Central to
its message is the declaration that Jesus is the answer to an unclean
world’s bondage to darkness. Fundamental to its teaching is that Jesus is
the way, the truth and the life. Will you and I make him so?

1:29-34

* Reprise

When Mark came to write his Gospel he did not simply write down all the things
he could remember or that he had been told (by Peter and others?). No! He
recounted the stories he told in order to communicate some truth about Jesus
that he believed it was vital for us to learn.

As we have studied carefully his story we have begun to perceive these things.
And there is little doubt that they are vitally important to each one of us.

* Jesus brings us Good News from God.

We are so used to using the word ‘Gospel’ that we forget what it means! It was a
word which (apparently) the first authors of the New Testament invented because
it captured in a nutshell that the coming of Jesus into this world is ‘good news’;
good news from God. This is why Mark began his story the way that he did
(verse 1) and he gives the first summary of Jesus’ teaching by stressing that this
was to heart of Jesus’ message (14). In addition, Jesus emphasised that this was
the good news of all time; for it was good news from God (14).

Certain of us cannot let a news bulletin past (even if we have heard it all before)
and, at certain times when important news is awaited, we all anxiously await the
next bringer of news. How much more should we be ready to hear this message
and the repeated emphasis of the present section.

* The Good News that Jesus brings us from God is that He brings to an end
our bondage to the devil and effects of our fall into sin.

In the immediately preceding verses verses (21-28) Mark has recorded the
remarkable incident in which Jesus shows himself sovereign over the dark
spiritual powers which sometimes possess human beings but have
brought the whole world into bondage. Faced with the most severe form of
such bondage Jesus is seen to be absolutely all powerful over it.

But then in the first part of our passage (29-31) he shows the same effortless
sovereignty over a severely sick (half-dead?) woman. With the minimum of fuss
this woman is raised to full health without any need to convalescence. The Bible
teaches that sickness and death are the (universal) result of bondage to sin.
Here, Jesus is revealed as all powerful over the effects of sin.

In this way Jesus’ ability to deal with mankind’s bondage to sin and its
consequences is eloquently stated. Mark sees the incidents as ones which
illustrate/demonstrate the great truths about Jesus; that demonstrate why his
coming is ‘good news’.

* The Good News that Jesus brings us from God is good news for
everyone.

This is the point of the final verses in the section we are studying together (32-
34). The other incidents might have been deemed to be ‘one-off’s’. However, the
crowd realise that, if Jesus can meets such needs in individuals, he can meet
such needs in everyone who comes to him. Their hopes are not disappointed.
With the same authority as shown in the earlier incidents, Jesus heals many
possessed and sick.

The point is not lost on Mark, and he is anxious that we should grasp it too.
Jesus is ready and willing to meet the deepest needs of all those who come
to him.

* Conclusion

Very simply, then, Mark unfolds the good news to each one of us. The good
news is simply this. In a world in bondage to sin, Jesus is God’s answer for he
destroys the power of Satan and brings new life to all those who come to him.

Doubtless we could fill out the picture (as Mark himself does later). But this is his
message. With it, of course, comes a challenge. Have I come to him? And if I
have, do I live as though the good news really is true?

1:35-39

Mark shows great care in the way in which he ‘writes up’ the stories of Jesus’
ministry; skillfully using them, he seeks to set before us, his readers, the
challenge of the coming of Jesus into the world.

Jesus’ coming is good news (1); good news from God (14). In his person Jesus
came to destroy the spiritual powers of darkness which keep men and women in
darkness (21-28) and to bring to an end the consequences of the fall (29-31).
This ‘good news’ is available to all those who seek Jesus (32-34).

Meanwhile, he calls one and another to follow him and share in his ministry (14-
20). This same invitation is repeated here (38) in a context which suggests that
Mark’s point is to raise the question, ‘What does it mean for you and me to
follow Jesus?‘. It is a vital question, and one we do well to ponder.

* Following Jesus means more than basking in his glory.

We can understand Peter’s enthusiasm in wanting to find Jesus and get him back
to Capernaum where he would be able to bask in the reflected glory of his
friend’s popular ministry (36).

The temptation was there for Jesus to oblige such desires: it had been the same
in the wilderness. On each occasion in which Jesus retires to pray in Mark’s
gospel it is at those critical moments in which the question is, ‘What sort of
Messiah is he going to be?‘. So it is here (35).

But Jesus turns his back on such a path and bids his followers join him in a
far more demanding role which will involve hardship, misunderstanding,
unpopularity and (for some, including himself) death.

For us, too, following Jesus means that such experiences may well be ours. We
have to be ready to take up our cross to follow him. This is not the whole picture;
but it is a part which we too easily fail to reckon with. It is tempting to want the
glory without the suffering.

* Following Jesus involves us in being co-workers in seeking to free men
and women from the bondage to sin.

At one and the same time Jesus offers these representative disciples an
enormous privilege but a hugely demanding one. The privilege is that of sharing
with him in the proclamation of God’s good news (is it significant that Mark omits
a reference to ‘healing’ here?). But such (as is implied here) involves effort rather
than relaxed enjoyment of his work.

We are not all called to be preachers in the sense the disciples were but
this passage reminds us that we all have an obligation to strain every nerve
to ensure that Christ is made known.

Such ought to be a priority in our corporate and individual agendas. Sadly, we
have often failed and sometimes we have been failed by those who limit what
this means to one or another task (or tasks). But the challenge remains….!

* Following Jesus requires us to seek to reach the nations for God.

Though Jesus began in the synagogues he went out to ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’;
one of the most cosmopolitan areas in the ancient world (39).

Mark, writing a book for the Gentiles, cannot have failed to make the connection.
The Gospel is a gospel for all nations and, therefore, our concerns (again
individual and corporate) must be global. It is a responsibility that rests on each
of us to make the distant islands hear the good news. It was this that galvanised
a cobbler in Kettering to heroic deeds for Jesus. His baton has been passed on
to us.

Practically, of course, we need to start where we are. As a church we are
beginning an increasing involvement with Poland and Albania. This is the
challenge God has put before us. How can we best meet it? And what other
avenues has God revealed to us?

* Conclusions

The Gospel of Jesus is a glorious one. The more glorious in that we have been
given the inestimable dignity to be co-workers with Jesus in sharing it with a
world in need.

The question we have to each face today is this: ‘Am I ready to face the
demands of doing the best that I can do to make him known throughout the
world?‘ And what about us as a church?

1:40-45

Mark wrote his Gospel with a purpose; a purpose not difficult to identify since,
right at the beginning, he indicates it is to communicate good news from God in
the person of Jesus (1, 14f.). In order to demonstrate this he describes a number
of incidents in Jesus’ life; incidents which point beyond themselves to hint at who
he is and what he has come to achieve. This is true of the two passages that are
under consideration here. Simply, but powerfully, they communicate the
relevance of Jesus’ ministry to you and me today.

* Jesus is able to meet the deepest needs of all who come to him.

The condition of the man described in this passage was palpable. Seriously
infected by a leprous condition (‘full of leprosy’, Luke 5:12a), his condition was
rendered worse by being socially and religiously ostracised (the laws of Leviticus
14,15 were rigorously applied in C1 Palestine). It is likely that his condition had
awakened in this man a sense of his own sinfulness (though the Bible does not
make a precise equation between the two) and it was freedom, not simply from
his leprosy, but from his guilt that the man sought (He asked not simply for
healing but for cleansing).

Interestingly, he had no doubts as to Jesus’ ability. He had learned enough to
have faith that Jesus could meet his need. Indeed such was his understanding
that he believed that he could draw near to Jesus (within an arm-stretch) and not
‘contaminate’ him.

Here then, was a man who was convinced that Jesus could deal with his
need of guilt and restoration to the community of God’s people. Severe
though his contaminated condition was, he believed that Jesus could
restore him. This is surely good news from God!

* Jesus is willing to show his compassion to all those who come to him.

There was one doubt in the man’s mind (and only one); ‘was Jesus willing?‘
(40b). However, two remarkable things happened which indicated Jesus’
willingness to meet his need.

a) Jesus was ‘angry’ (possibly 41a, where there is a textual variant) or deeply
touched by the man’s condition (‘strong warning’ in 43 hides a very strong and
highly emotional word perhaps not well translated in the NIV).

b) Jesus showed deep compassion for the man (emphasised by his touch of a
man who had probably lacked such human contact for years and by the NIV
rendering ‘filled with compassion’). The need of this man touched a cord deep
within Jesus and the very depth of his need evoked the Saviours’s response.
Thus, he was both cured and cleansed (again NIV ‘cured’ misses the fact that the
‘cleansed’ word occurs again in the Greek).

Here is good news from God. Jesus is able and he is willing to meet the
needs of the most abject and needy who draw near to him. What a delightful
picture of ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’.

* Jesus is willing and able to meet us because he is the Messiah of God.

Yet how is it that he can meet such needs so fully and compassionately? This
narrative hints at the answer in several ways:

1) He doesn’t catch sin, he communicates cleansing! It is a remarkable fact
that this man felt that Jesus would not be contaminated by his disease but
destroy it without, himself, being contaminated. What ‘manner of man’ is this?

2) He does (even goes beyond) the actions of the promised Messiah! Isaiah
61 had promised that the Messiah would have a remarkable healing ministry; but
there is no mention of curing leprousy (something contemporary Judaism
considered as difficult as raising the dead). If the law bears testimony to such
healing (44), then the testimony to who Jesus was/is is eloquent indeed. This, of
course, was Jesus’ point (43,44); he wanted folk to face the challenge of his
ministry not simply see him as a remarkable wonder-worker).

Jesus is the promised saviour-redeemer. This he has demonstrated for the
unprejudiced.

* Conclusions:

Very simply Mark has set before us the heart of the Gospel. Jesus demonstrated
that he was the promised deliverer. Today, as then, he is ready to bring
forgiveness and give new life to those who seek him out; however serious their
condition. And this certainty exists whether we are seeking him for the first time
or are coming anew to him. ‘Come and welcome to Jesus Christ!‘

Simply but graphically, Mark has set forth the Gospel in this action of Jesus. In
Jesus God has declared his good news; forgiveness and renewed fellowship with
God.

2:1-12

Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry is good news from God (1:1,14,15): but what is
the good news? As the first chapter unfolds Mark begins to hint that the good
news is Jesus himself. But why? The present story is recorded by Mark to
answer this question.

* Jesus is good news from God because he came to meet fully our deepest
needs (see, especially 1-5).

The Bible’s silences are sometimes illuminating! We do not know if this man’s
experience of suffering had brought an awareness of his unpreparedness to
meet God. Perhaps he had no sense of need beyond the desired to be able to
move, sit up, walk and run again. Whichever was true (could Scripture’s silence
be deliberate?), Jesus went to the heart of the matter and identified his
deepest need and dealt with it!

Not that paralysis is not a serious condition: it is recorded precisely because it
was little short of a living death. However, the story is intended to indicate the
problem of our living unforgiven by God is far more serious. The very
seriousness of the man’s condition makes this point starkly.

* Jesus reveals himself as one fully able to deal with the problem.

He is incarnate God (7; the scribes correctly recognised the claim!), able and
willing to forgive (as the sequel demonstrated, 9-11) and to bring an end to
guilt now (‘on earth’, 10) and restore us to a filial relationship to the Father
(‘my son’, 5).

Here is certainly good news since the same can be true for us; if we will
receive it. This is demonstrated by two incidents in the story:

a) simple and humble trust is emphasised; no words were uttered and the
paralysed man could do no more than willingly accede to the actions of his
friends.

b) single-minded seeking Jesus is emphasised by the way in which the friends
went to great lengths to ensure that their friend’s need was brought before Jesus.

Thus those who single-mindedly and humbly bring their need to Jesus will find
his answer no different today, ‘my child, your sins are forgiven’.

However, not all reacted in the same way to Jesus.

* Too often our closed minds and hearts prevent us from receiving Jesus
(see especially 6-11).

a) The religious and intellectual authorities (what an irony: so often it is they who
stumble and shipwreck others) are faced with a theological and logical question
to which they offer a correct answer. Either Jesus is God or he blasphemes
(6,7)?

It is worth noting this. C.S. Lewis recognised that Jesus was either who he
claimed he was or a lunatic. At least these men did not resort to evasions that
are not evasions (!).

b) They were also correct in their (implied) assertion that actions speak louder
than words. Jesus’ action is (of course) not absolute proof, but it is an answer in
terms of their own assertion.

At best they seem to have been awestruck: yet the folly is obvious (11). Even in
Israel such experiences were unprecedented. Sometimes it is not the lack of
evidence that is the problem.

The world changes rapidly, but people don’t change much. The causes and the
foolishness of unbelief are frequently the same today. So what about you and
me?

* Jesus is depicted here as the most kind and gracious of people.

a) His grace is seen in the tender way in which he dealt with the paralytic; going
directly to his greatest perceived need (forgiveness) and addressing him in terms
of filial warmth (‘Son’).

b) His grace is seen in his willingness to meet his opponents at the point of their
foolishness and seek to awaken faith in them (10)

Simply, all this illustrates vividly the foolishness of turning our back on such a
lovely Saviour. So, this passage bids unbeliever and believer alike to pledge
themselves to this gracious saviour.

2:13-17

There is much in this short section that is obscure because of the brevity with
which two incidents (13f., 14-17) are recorded. The story is pared down to
emphasise the essential elements within it.

Jesus is about his customary business, with people coming and going and he
teaching them (13). However, his ministry takes a surprising turn as the call of
Levi=Matthew, (which echoes 1:16-20); emphasises that Levi (of all people!) was
taken into the intimate inner-circle of Jesus.

He demonstrates that the wealthy and wicked have a place at Jesus’ side!

Thus, Levi is presented as a wealthy and important person (a senior tax
official) who was a social and religious outcast (expelled from the synagogue)
and hated as both a compromiser with imperial aggression and one who had
taken advantage of his own people by siding with the aggressor.

Yet he receives the same imperial command of Jesus and responds.
Matthew’s renunciation of his past was greater than the four previously recorded.
They could return to fishing but he burnt his boats utterly; there was no way back.

In the second part of the story Levi’s wealth is reflected (15); not many could
host a banquet (certainly not in ‘his house’). David Hewitt says, ‘We can imagine
every [high-class] rogue in the district being there, shoulder to shoulder with
Jesus. Levi wanted to honour his new-found master and give others the chance
to meet him. It was the first evangelistic dinner!‘ However, the point of telling the
story lies elsewhere.

Thus, the ‘scribes of the Pharisees’ (probably refers to ‘young theologues’) are
perturbed by Jesus’ conduct. Jesus’ reply, is the crux of this narrative. Very
simply he states:

* he is the great physician;
* as such his ministry extends to the most needy;
* self-righteousness (Jesus’ usage here appears to be ironic) blinds
people to the calling of the people of God and obscures the need of
persons who believe themselves to be superior to others.


2:18-22

This is one of the most puzzling passages in Mark’s Gospel and it seems to have
almost as many interpretations as interpreters. Nevertheless, it is a passage that
must be addressed; partly because it is in the Word of God and partly since it
seems to tackle a fundamental issue: what are the nature and the marks of
true Christianity? This question effectively lies behind verse 18.

In response, two answers are offered by Jesus.

* True Christianity is centred around living appropriately in the light of the
fact that Christ has come (19-20).

It is easy to miss the point here. This is not a discussion about when we should
or should not fast or whether we should fast at all! That may well have been the
context of the original question (18), but Jesus points out that there is a wider
framework!

In the OT the relationship between God and his people was seen as one
analogous to that of a bride and groom (see Isaiah 50:1ff., 62:5; Jeremiah 2:32;
Hosea 2:1 etc.). Such passages are also sometimes ‘eschatological’ (see
especially Isaiah 62:5), looking forward to the messianic age. Implicitly, against
this background, Jesus is claiming to be God present as the groom with his bride;
the one who inaugurates the messianic age. A wedding feast is no time for a fast!
The messianic age is one that should be an era of profound joy.

We should not over-press verse 20. It is part of the illustration. Jesus’ main point,
however, is that the coming of the bridegroom-king makes the present age
one of joyful celebration.

We live in the tension between two ages (present but not yet) and such brings
great grief and pain, yet Jesus is here saying that ‘Since I have come I make
a world of difference’. Thus, a characteristic mark of Christianity should be
a deep sense of joy because Jesus has come.

* True Christianity is incompatible with even the highest form of religion
prior to Christ’s coming (21-22).

The change that has occurred with Jesus’ coming means that structures/activities
that characterised the former age of God’s dealings with his people may be
inappropriate to the new situation. There are two aspects to Jesus’ teaching here:

a) it is absurd to combine old and new (21):

Doubtless Jesus exaggerates himself here to convey his point. Moreover, we do
well to notice that he is not dealing with all old things but the difference between
religious life before and after his coming.

The difficulty here is that Jesus doesn’t spell out what he means! Tantalisingly,
he leaves it for us to work out in the light of the full NT revelation. This can be
hard work.

At a superficial level we can see what he means; e.g. in our evangelical and
protestant response to ‘priestcraft’ and the ‘mass’. But how often (even here) our
actions can betray our words. We do not seem to realise the full implications, e.g.
that we are a ‘kingdom of priests’.


b) the old should not restrain the new (22):

Simply, Jesus says, the old structures of Old Testament faith are not able to
(should not) contain the fullness and power of the New Covenant revelation.

Again we wish he had been specific! Even new wine needs skins; Jesus is not
‘anti-structure’ here! However, he does seem to emphasise that there needs to
be a flexibility and appropriateness to the structures which are to ‘contain’ the
new covenant life.

Perhaps, as a minimum, Jesus is suggesting that Spirit-empowered
people/fellowships will find that God does not always work ‘according to plan’ and
that we need to be ready and able to respond to his initiatives. But surely there is
more here….

* Conclusions

Confused! Perhaps we are meant to be; for Jesus’ sayings here are enigmatic;
intended to invite us to deeper reflection and to profound amendment of attitude
and life in the light of his coming.

However, one thing is very clear. With his coming things have changed. We now
live in an age that should be characterised by profound joy and a delighted
enjoyment of the treasures that are contained in new covenant faith and life. Let
us be sure we live as children of the messianic age!

2:23-27

The connection with the preceding section is topical or logical rather than
chronological; this indicates that Mark is developing the theme of growing
opposition to Jesus. In this rather involved passage, it is important to explain
before we apply!

The significant features of this passage are:
a) that the event recorded took place on a Sabbath and
b) that the disciples were engaged in a task legitimate on other days (Deut.
23:25) but not (as verse 24 indicates) on the Sabbath since it was regarded
as reaping (see Exodus 34:21).

This arouses questions in the constantly attending crowd, especially for the
insistent members of the Pharisaic party (caught by the use of imperfect verbs);
the actions of Jesus’ disciples were ‘unlawful’.

Jesus answers (25,26) with an appeal to Scripture (1 Samuel 21:1-6), answering
appeal to Scripture with Scripture in a manner typical of rabbinic debates at the
time. He picks up the word ‘unlawful’ demonstrating that the high priest (and
guardian of the law) acted ‘unlawfully’ when there was a human need that took
priority over ritual law. Traditionally, this event was thought to have happened
on the Sabbath (since the change of bread occurred on this day). This makes
Jesus’ appeal to the incident still more pointed and relevant.

Jesus’ point (27) would have been conceded by some rabbis: though not
extended to this situation. Jesus, thus far, appears as a radical rabbi!

However, with verse 28 Jesus breaks new ground! It is not, however, clear
as to what exactly he meant. It seems best to view it simply as an
ambiguous and veiled messianic claim.

But what does the latter part of the verse imply? Most seem to assume that
Jesus is claiming that Jesus has the authority to determine the usage of the
Sabbath or that in his service such laws may be abrogated or cancelled; but on
what ground if the Sabbath is a moral requirement?

The absence of the ‘even’ in Matt. and Luke may suggest that its presence here
is emphatic; pointing to the fact that Jesus is the one to whom the sabbath
pointed. This seems more in keeping with the understanding of the Sabbath
elsewhere in the NT and with the fact that elsewhere in this section Jesus is
making highly radical claims.

So what do we make of this passage?

* The importance of human need over ‘the way we do things’.
* Jesus is the one through whom we enter the Sabbath ‘rest’.  The New
Testament is not sabbatarian (nor does it reject the need for recreation and rest)
but rather points to our experience as one in which we have entered the ‘eternal
sabbath’, enjoying his daily fellowship and serving him at every moment… a far
more radical challenge than ‘what should we do on a Sunday’!

3:1-6

These verses come at the end of a section of the Gospel which begins at 2:1.
They describe a series of encounters between Jesus and the intellectual (and
religious) leaders of his day which climax with the present passage. By the end of
the present story, the final outcome of Jesus’ ministry is inevitable: death (6).

For us, as for Mark’s original readers, these verses are a study in unbelief. As
such, they are designed to help us understand unbelief when we encounter it and
are a profound warning to us lest we, too, follow such a path.
* The stubbornness of unbelief

Earlier in this section the religious and intellectual leaders of Jesus’ day show an
interest in assessing Jesus and his ministry (2:6), though already they seem
predisposed to exclude the one possible explanation that was the true one (2:7).
By 3:1-6 any such openness has long since disappeared; they are ‘watching him
closely’ with a view to seeing whether they can find a ground to accuse him.
Jesus is guilty until proven guilty! Thus, for these men, intellectual elite though
they may well have been, there was no possibility that they could do anything
else than find fault with Jesus.

We need to reckon with this fact. There is a place for apologetics and for seeking
to demonstrate the rationality of faith. However, men and women will seldom be
won to Christ in this way. For at the heart of humankind is a bias which has
closed minds, hearts and wills to receiving the truth. Men and women are
stubborn and blind until God’s Spirit opens the eyes! For all the good we see in
our world, spiritually the hearts and minds of men and women are blinded.

* The absurdity of unbelief

The story here is black-comedy. Looking to find a reason to accuse Jesus, they
anxiously watch to see if Jesus ‘would heal’. Jesus’ question reveals the
absurdity of it all (4). Implicitly, he says, ‘I am ready to do good..but you are
planning evil. So good has become evil and evil good in your understanding’.

One of the tragedies we experience when witnessing to unbelievers and in
listening to or reading those who justify their unbelief is, so often, the sheer
absurdity of it all. Truly, there are none so blind as those who cannot see.

So clever and not so clever men and women today clothe their unbelief in the
reasoning of which brute beasts would be ashamed! Time and again such
absurdity is exposed, yet there always seems an ever more absurd reason which
convinces them in their darkness to reject Jesus.

As believers, however, we need to see this! Unbelief often tries to befuddle us
with clever argument and try to impress us with our own naivety. Don’t you
believe it! Remember the opponents of Jesus!

C) The tragedy of unbelief

There is something profoundly sad about verse 6. Intellectually countered by
Jesus (4) and faced with the incontrovertible evidence of a miracle conducted
before them while seated in the front row (!, verse 5), implacable enemies found
common cause to remove Jesus from the scene. Small wonder Jesus’ mixture of
grief and anger.

Times change but little the common hostility to the Christian message. Strange
bedfellows are found in common cause against the Gospel.

Two consequences follow for us:

a) as believers we should not be surprised when we witness such disunited
opposition to Jesus. Greater is the world’s shared hostility to Jesus than the
greatest divisions of mankind.

b) those who are ‘bystanders’ do well to understand the dangers that beset us.
The Devil is relectant to release his own and he is quick to confuse minds so that
they cannot think straight. Yet we do well to recognise the absurdities of
reasoning to which he is bound to descend before he can make a charge against
Jesus.

* Conclusions

This passage might seem appropriate to an evangelistic occasion. But there are
lessons, warnings and (above all) encouragements that we can all draw from this
story. Faith in Jesus is not folly. The evidence is not lacking to offer us a secure
basis for trust. We are not called to some sort of absurd leap into the dark. It is
unbelief that stubbornly refuses to face facts, absurdly snatches at the most
unlikely straws and tragically in wicked communion descends into the pit.


3:7-12

With these verses a new section begins in Mark’s gospel extending, probably, to
6:13, and describing the later stages of Jesus’  Galilean ministry.

The section begins by offering a contrast with the previous story. There, the
religious leaders had been aroused to plot against Jesus. By contrast a large
crowd (7,9) coming from a vast area (8) welcome the teaching and the miracles
of Jesus.

The lesson to be learned from this is that often those without preconceived
‘hang-ups’ find it easier to respond positively to their encounters with
Jesus.

It is probably best to see Jesus’ ‘withdrawal’ as strategic (7). Jesus leaves the
synagogue, and the learned religion of that place, and goes to where the ordinary
people receive him gladly and are enriched by his ministry. Sometimes it is
wise for us, too, to seek to bring Jesus to those who may be ready to
receive him rather than continue to ‘bang our heads against a brick wall’.

Nevertheless, verse 8 seems to suggest that the crowd came for the wrong
reason; ‘they were fascinated and impressed by Jesus’ miracles’. They did not
really understand who Jesus was; the paradoxical irony is that the evil spirits did
grasp who he was (11)! Ironically, therefore, Mark contrasts religious leaders with
the common people and the common people with demons!

This is surely intended to give us pause for thought! Who is the Jesus we seek
to present? What are the real evidence of a faith that saves?The connection
with the preceding section is topical or logical rather than chronological; this
indicates that Mark is developing the theme of growing opposition to Jesus. In
this rather involved passage, it is important to explain before we apply!

3:13-19

This passage is strikingly different from much of Mark’s Gospel. It lacks the vivid
detail characteristic of Mark’s story-telling elsewhere. Thus, the location and
occasion is vague Yet this vagueness does not extend to the details offered
regarding Jesus’ call and the naming of the apostles. Mark seems to have
stripped the narrative bear to emphasise these features. Specifically, the
present passage seems to describe the formal appointment of twelve
persons to be apostles: although it is only an intermediate step toward the final
responsibilities they will be given.

But why was this so important to Mark and what does all this have to do
with you and me?

First of all, in view of the general lack of detail here, the reference to ‘twelve’ is
surely significant. In the Old Testament there were twelve men who were the
foundations upon which Israel was built. Here twelve others are chosen (they do
not self-select or ‘opt in’) who are given a unique office as the foundations of
the church.

While the word ‘apostle’ is used differently elsewhere in the New Testament of
(for example) church planters and church delegates there remains a recognition
that these twelve (minus Judas and plus Paul and possibly Matthias) are special.
In particular, they are regarded as the authorised recorders, interpreters and
validators of Jesus’ ‘once for all’ ministry. For us, this means we should
always ask the question, ‘What do the New Testament authors say?‘

Secondly, while the apostles were unique (and are here given a ministry of
preaching and exorcism that is not delegated to all!), they are also an example
for each one of us. They tell us that when God calls

* his choice is not necessarily based upon our status and gifting
(certainly not as far as the normal standards of such are concerned);
* his choice brings together into a ‘family’ those who might otherwise
have had little in common and much to encourage mutual antagonism;
* he calls us to forsake all and follow Jesus;
* he recognises that some will let him down badly.

Not much more than a list… but a list clearly intended to provoke our reflection
and to challenge our commitment to Scripture and the demands of true
discipleship.

3:20-35

Throughout his Gospel, Mark shows a considerable interest in the different ways
that people respond to Jesus. This is seen in one of the most important sections
of the book (8:27-30) and that same concern is shown here.

In these verses, therefore, Mark draws our attention to four different ways
that men and women responded to Jesus. Their successors are with us today
and the lessons which Mark drew from these incidents are no less relevant and
vital for us to learn.

* Tragically some people can deliberately refuse to face the challenge that
Jesus brings (22-30). The Jerusalem authorities came to hear and see Jesus
with a fixed, unshakeable view of him (22). Simply put, that position was
intellectually absurd (23-27) and the result of spiritual darkness consequent upon
their moral depravity (28-30).

There are two lessons we ought to learn from this:

a) those of us who are Christians need to be reminded that today the arguments
used to dismiss Jesus are often absurd. However sophisticated they may
sometimes seem, they invariably seem as threadbare as those of the ‘teachers of
the law’ when carefully examined. In reality they are a smokescreeen designed
to offer an excuse for rejecting Jesus.
b) those of us who are not believers need to ask seriously whether our objections
are really genuine questions. Sometimes in the pilgrimage to faith we can have
genuine questions for which we seek answers. All too often, however, the very
questions etc. can be advanced by us to ‘put off’ the challenge to faith.
Stubbornly insisted on they lead to the eternal sin.

c) Others can show an excited but undiscerning interest in Jesus (20). This was
demonstrated by the crowd. Earlier in the chapter it is apparent that the crowds
enthusiasm was the result of the stories told about Jesus (8) and the benefits
they perceived that he could bring them (10). Yet both there and here they failed
to perceive the truth and the challenge that truth was intended to bring (compare
11).

In a self-centred world it is possible for us to fall into the same trap. A true
search after Jesus will move beyond a mere interest in the benefits he can
bring to us, to the point where, face to face with who he is, we are ready to
respond in humble trust and obedience to him.

d) Others can find themselves confused when faced with Jesus (21,31f.). This
was true of Jesus’ family. He failed to meet the expectations they had of him;
doubts and uncertainty surrounded them.

Sometimes we too can be confused. Jesus seems such a strange ‘saviour’
figure, he doesn’t seem to follow the path we would expect of the ‘Son of God’.
For Jesus’ family the challenge they had to face was that they needed, a radical
shift in their understanding. All too often our problems, too, are the result of
looking at Jesus in the wrong way.

* Finally, there are those who enjoy a family relationship with Jesus
because they humbly trust and follow him (33f.). Simply, this sets before us
the end of every search and the quality of life which results from such a
discovery. At one and the same time it is a glorious yet solemn truth. What a
privilege! Do I ‘match up’ to it? Have I seen this as the end of my search?

* The world may change but people seem much the same from generation to
generation and age to age. What was true of men and women when brought face
to face with Jesus is true of us too! So, we need to face the challenges of this
passage; challenges to each one of us whether stubborn in our resistance,
confused yet seeking, aroused to interest in Jesus or those who have welcomed
him.

4:1-20

Already the clouds are lowering about Jesus’ ministry. Despite the fact that
vast crowds are still seeking him out (1), he has been forthrightly rejected by the
religious and intellectual elite of his day (see, especially, 3:6), is being sought
out by the crowd for the wrong reason (3:7-11) and misunderstood by his
family (3:20f.). Only the little band of disciples and adherents (10) seem to be
standing by him for any length of time.

For Jesus it must have been a lonely experience; for even his adherents
were slow to understand (13). And for them the situation must have been
shrouded in mystery; ‘If this is the promised king, where is the evidence of his
rule? Why is it that men and women do not bend the knee before him?  When will
we see his kingdom?‘

As disciples of Jesus we can often identify with such questions. The pressures
on individual and church life can raise, even today, similar questions. Jesus
answers his disciples and our questions by telling a number of stories; the first of
which we are considering here. His simple point is that what is true at a natural
level is also true at the spiritual.

* The kingdom of God grows through the dispersal of the word of God

Perhaps a brief word on the meaning of the ‘kingdom’ is in order here. It is simply
‘the rule of God’ in individual, community and world. That rule depends upon the
‘word of God’ being dispersed and received.

Transformation at the individual level, in the church and nationally and
internationally depends on our being ready to first receive the word and
then make it known by lives and words.

The applications to us are, it appears obvious! But why does the kingdom so
often fail to grow or grow so slowly?

* Hardness, shallowness and self-indulgence can prevent the kingdom of
God growing

Later (26-29), Jesus will tell a story that emphasises the almost ‘automatic’
nature of growth. Here, however, he focuses upon another truth. The tragedy is
that so often the word of God seems to have no effect in others (as well, all
too often in us!). Simply, he reminds us that it is all too often true that a) the
word is given no chance at all; b) that it can be responded to (possibly
enthusiastically) but shallowly or c) that legitimate pleasures become
inordinate or difficulties are not seen as occasions for growth but as a
reason to take offence at the truth. These and other things in us can so often
lead to no growth or slow and stunted response.

So the fault does not lie with the seed, nor with the sowing but with the
response. This can be an encouragement when we see little response.

Equally, we need to seek to identify areas in our individual or corporate lives
where we are in danger of being hard, rocky or stony!


* The kingdom of God has a sure and glorious end!

The kingdom of God may sometimes be thwarted in its growth but, the emphasis
here, an abundant harvest is assured (depending on how the ‘fold’ is understood
it could emphasise a miraculous growth). There is every reason to be optimistic;
personally and collectively. We can be sure that the kingdom will come.

There is much to encourage us here and much to challenge, too. May we be
people who learn the lessons well.

4:21-35

‘Jesus is king’: or so we sing. But where is the evidence of his rule? We live
in a highly ambiguous world where often the forces of darkness seem to be on
‘the victory’s side’; church life can appear to be a constant battle against the
incursion of worldly attitudes and practices and even as individuals we can be all
to aware of the dark forces that seem at work within! So where is Jesus’ rule to
be seen?

Such a question seems to lie behind these three parables that Jesus taught
and which are recorded in our passage. The lessons which Jesus taught remain
very relevant to us today.

* The kingdom of God (= Jesus’ rule) is present and growing as his
message works its inevitable work (26-29).

The main point of this parable seems to lie in the words ‘all by itself’. The sown
seed, almost automatically (Greek, automate), produces a fruitful harvest.
The most nodding acquaintance with both church history and the present growth
of the church bears eloquent testimony to the truth of Jesus’ words. Sometimes
while enduring the ‘day of small things’ and caught up in our own little world and
pressured by an ‘instant’ society we can lose sight of these things. But the rule
of Jesus is to be seen now. Moreover, what is true internationally is true at a
local level and in our own experience if we but stop and reflect for a
moment!

* The rule of Jesus will, one day, be seen in a worldwide and glorious
kingdom (30-32).

There are two significant points in this parable. There is the reference to the
‘birds of the air’ which may hint at the ‘Gentiles’ (see Daniel 4:12; Ezekiel 17:23;
31:6). Secondly, there is the contrast between the smallness of the seed and the
size of the plant. The mustard seed was proverbial in ancient Palestine for its
smallness among herb-seeds. But even today travellers report mustard growing
to 12-15 feet and offering shelter from the winter storms for birds.

So we need to fix our eyes on what will be and, even in the small tasks we
undertake, to recognise that, in the hands of God, such work can bear fruit
far greater than we could possibly imagine. Have we not individual
testimonies to bear this out?

* Nevertheless, the reign of Jesus is often hidden and requires perceptive
faith to be seen (21-25).

This parable is difficult to grasp. What is the point of comparison? In view of 24f.
it would appear that Jesus intends to indicate that there are things that are
hidden which will not always be so, and were not intended to be so. So the
kingdom may seem mysteriously hidden (and divine providence may have
planned it that way) but this will not always be the case.

In the meanwhile, we need to carefully listen now and respond by faith though we
do not presently see what we are looking for.

So these parables are a call to confidence. A confidence born of what has
been, is and will be. A confidence which is not blighted by the mysterious ‘non-
appearance’ of Jesus’ rule but is bolstered by discerning faith.

May each one of us find fresh confidence as we step out on the path of
discipleship, as we look for downward and outward growth in our church and
churches and as we look for the rule of Christ in our world. The Christ who died is
also risen and will come again!

4:35-41

In 4:1-34 Mark has provided the reader with a selection of Jesus’ teaching. Now
in 4:35-5:43 he proceeds to describe four great miracles that Jesus undertook.

The present passage, bearing all the marks of an eye-witness account is
included here to emphasise three great truths which are as relevant today as
they ever were.

* Jesus is our ‘down-to-earth’ companion.

There is something profoundly touching about the portrait of Jesus which is
painted in these verses. Here is someone who enjoys relaxing at the end of a
busy day with his friends and someone who gets exhausted after the demands of
his work are met (a day which here seems to have included blasphemous
accusation (2:20-29), the visit of his family with a view to take him home (2:31-
35) and teaching both by the lakeside and at home (4:1-34). Indeed he got so
exhausted he fell asleep (38)! At the same time, when roused from sleep by
critical friends, he was ready to help them as best he could (39).

All in all, here is a friend with whom we would surely have felt comfortable and ‘at
home’. But this Jesus is indeed our Jesus: a gentle Jesus who knows our frailties
and weaknesses (for he has experienced them); a friend indeed. How different
from the overbearing taskmaster which we can so easily imagine him to be!

* Jesus is our awesomely powerful friend.

The storm which engulfed Galilee was one that made even experienced sailors
frightened (38). It was one that Jesus addressed as though it was demonically
inspired (39 and compare 1:25). Yet with a word the storm ceased and the sea’s
agitated motion reverted to complete calm (39).

Our gentle Jesus is not a weak Jesus. His authority is such that the created order
and the spiritual powers opposed to God are powerless before him. The disciples
had begun to understand who Jesus was; but they are staggered by this new
revelation (41); their Jesus was one who they had circumscribed in a far smaller
box!

You and I, too, need reminding that not only is Jesus ‘meek and mild’ but
he is our all-powerful friend, whose greatness far surpasses anything that
we can imagine.

* Jesus is our example of humble trust.
Jesus was exhausted; small wonder he fell into a deep sleep. But not to be
wakened by such a fierce storm…..! The reason for such a response is surely to
be found in verse 40. The disciples lacked that humble trust in the Father that
Jesus had displayed. For Jesus the knowledge that he was in the will and the
hands of the Father meant that he could find a peace in the heart of the storm.

For the disciples it proved a hard lesson to learn; we are little different. Yet the
need to learn from Jesus is no less vital to us as we face the storms that
sometimes surround our lives.

Sometimes Jesus gives deliverance (for he knows what we can handle) but
there are occasions when we, too, are called to place our hand in the hand
of Father and Son and in humble and loving trust walk in the darkness and
storm.

This is a lovely passage for it reveals such a lovely Saviour; one we can
love because he is so gentle and understanding, one we can trust because
he is all-powerful (‘nothing is too difficult for him’) and one we can follow;
knowing that the path we tread is one he has already walked!

5:1-20

In the section of his Gospel running from 4:35-5:43 Mark records three incidents
in which Jesus demonstrated his miraculous powers. The present incident is
carefully chosen to illustrate Jesus’ authority over the spiritual powers that are
opposed to God (it is worth keeping this in mind as we approach this passage;
since there are many tantalising questions that it raises but fails to answer. We
do well not to become preoccupied with unanswerable questions and fail to learn
the intended lessons!)

* Our world is in the grip of spiritual powers which are organised in hostile
array against Jesus.

This truth is demonstrated in a number of ways in the present passage:
* While we must be careful that we do not give credence to demonic lies, the
appeal to the name ‘legion’ (9) may be a reference to irresistible power and unity.
* The demons have no doubt who the enemy is (7).
* The possessed man is described in terms that emphasise that his condition
was serious (Mark’s account is emphatically elaborate); the man could be neither
bound nor tamed (4a,b) and his condition was one which emphasised that the
demonic world is out to destroy.
* Yet here is the rub (!), the response of the people of the Gerasenes shows that
materialism and the disturbance of a familiar way of thinking and living is
just as much evidence of the bondage into which the world and its
inhabitants falls.

Our world is little different. Sometimes we encounter cases of demonic
possession but they are merely an extreme example of the overall bondage in
which the world (and even we ourselves) can find ourselves.

* Jesus has supreme authority and power over all the hostile spiritual
powers that besiege both us and our world.

Even in Gentile territory (1), Jesus banishes Satanic darkness.  Despite their
number (9 and 12 etc.) and their bluster (especially 7), the demons are seen as
abject and powerless before Jesus (10). The very man who had been so much in
their thrall is completely restored (15). Even resistant Decapolis is not impervious
to the Gospel proclamation (compare 7:31-8:10).

It is so easy for us to be dualistic or become fatalistic and pessimistic about our
own progress and witness. But the ultimate victory is ours; and we are on the
side of one who wishes even in the present world to demonstrate his power
and authority.

* Jesus is able to free us from those things that bind us individually and he
wants us to remain as lights even in the darkest place.

Jesus transformed the most unpromising materials (15 compare 2-5) and he left
behind this transformed person as his ‘missionary’ (19,20). How much more
comfortable it would have been with Jesus (18). Instead, it was his will that the
man strive for all his might to be a light in the dark place (19,20).

* Conclusions:

Unrealistic idealism has no place in the Christian faith; such triumphalism is
doomed to disappointment. However, though we live in a world besieged and
indwelt by dark satanic powers which lurk even around the saints of God,
we are to be confident in the one who has the power and authority to
transform us and our world through our light-bearing as his children.

5:21-43

In the section of his Gospel running from 4:35-5:43 Mark records three incidents
in which Jesus demonstrated his miraculous powers. This passage, therefore,
contains the last of the three:  the calming of the storm (4:35-41, which
demonstrated Jesus’ power and authority over nature), the healing of the demon-
possessed man (5:1-20 which showed his authority over all spiritual powers
opposed to God) and the present incident (5:21-43) in which his power over
death is demonstrated.

In this context we can see that the present passage is intended to teach us that:

* Jesus is king of all!

The final and great enemy which we all face is death, the result of sin in this
world. However, here a hopelessly half-dead and ritually impure woman is
restored to fullness of life and salvation (34, ‘peace’ and ‘healed’ [better, ‘saved’]
seem to carry this thought) while Jesus’ sanctity is unimpared. And a child, struck
down on the very threshold of youth is restored to life.

Simply, Jesus shows that he has power over death and its consequences.

* Jesus is ready to meet the needs of all!

There could be no greater contrast than the penniless, nameless woman and the
ruler of the synagogue. And yet, despite the fragility of each ones understanding
of Jesus and faith in him, Jesus responded with great compassion to both of
them when they sought his help.

Jesus, is unchangeably the same. He is ready to meet your needs and mine
today and every day.

* We are called to trust in Jesus for all our needs.

The emphasis in this passage is on personal faith (34,36). Both of these
desperate people found that Jesus was able to help them when, in despair, they
humbly asked for his help.

So we are called to trust Jesus. In our day to day needs and in the great

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