Mark Chapter 8

Our God is patient. Incredibly patient. Our God is compassionate. Amazingly compassionate.

Mark 8 is a colorful, emotional commentary – it is a window into Jesus’ and the Twelve’s life together. Much time in the text is dedicated to conveying the lack of understanding – or perhaps doubt – of the disciples. Although the Twelve had witnessed an abundance of miracles, they struggled to comprehend the true identity and mission of Jesus. This comes through clearly in Jesus’ appeal to the disciples in Mark 8:21:

“Don’t you understand yet?”

Of course, Jesus knew they did not yet understand. For me, painfully transparent passages like this demonstrate the veracity and authenticity of the Scriptures. At best, the disciples come across as memory-challenged companions unable to grasp the enormity of what is happening before their very eyes. These were relatable, common men, experiencing extraordinary times.

What would I have thought, had I lived at that time? It is enjoyable to read this chapter “expressively” to emphasize the density of the disciples and the exasperation of Jesus. However, I’m not sure that such an expressive interpretation is appropriate in the circumstances. Would any of us have been more perceptive than the disciples at that time? I seriously doubt it!

Jesus patiently waited on His disciples to understand Him. He knew they needed more time with Him. Their comprehension of the meaning of the “Messiah” was immature. Simply put, they needed to know Jesus better. I wonder how often Jesus is waiting on me to just “come on” and know Him better. I’m guessing the answer is “always” – that’s how often He is waiting on me.

When Jesus knew the time was finally right, He engaged the disciples in one of the most powerful exchanges in Scripture (Mark 8:27-29):

27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”

29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

The emphasis on “YOU” in Mark 8:29 is unmistakable. Jesus is directly asking a very, very personal question. The answer could change everything for the disciples – and it did. Peter, as spokesman for the disciples said (v.29), “You are the Messiah.” Yes! They finally got it!

What is your answer to Jesus’ question, “But who do you say I am?” Jesus, full of compassion, is waiting patiently for your answer.

Mark Chapter 7

After reading Mark 7 today,  I was reminded of what I had been led to believe about being a “good” Christian.  For a long time I embraced the idea (or mis-idea) that being a Christian meant to demonstrate to others through DOING church work, getting involved in as many church related activities as possible, attending services regularly, serving on boards and committees, spending as much time in church activities as possible, etc.  Rather it is a matter of BEING than DOING. BEING  in Christ, abiding in Him, connected to the vine, spending time with Him, submitting to the Holy Spirit and listening .   Doing church work is not wrong, and it does bring a certain amount of satisfaction as long as it is done to please and honor God.  Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13…”these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…”  He went on and said… “what comes out of men’s heart…” 

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit continues to break down the barriers of “mis beliefs”, those barriers, walls, fortresses within me that prevent me from hearing and discerning what He says rather than keeping me trapped in the traditions made by man.

“Holy Spirit, search me and know my heart… test me and know my anxious thoughts…see if there be an offensive (barriers, fortresses, walls) way in me…”

Mark Chapter 6

 March 6 is filled with rich accounts, starting with the people of Nazareth expressing contempt for “this Jesus” who seemed to be walking far above the stature from what the locals knew of him.  Immediately next is the description of how John the Baptist was beheaded, followed by the accounts of Jesus feeding 5,000+ people with five loaves of bread and two fish, and finally, Jesus calms the storm by speaking to the sea. I really struggled to discern what to focus on, so rich are all of these accounts, but what rises to the top is the concept of mental purity.

To explain, today I am visiting my mother in South Dakota and I attended the local Episcopal Church service.  In the Book of Common Prayer there is a Collect for Purity that we recited today:  “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Reading Mark 6 from the backdrop of this Collect for Purity, I ask myself, were the people who were “offended” (verse 3) at Jesus’ speaking with power and wisdom – had they at first consecrated their hearts to God?  Were “no secrets hidden” from the Lord?  Did they harbor no hidden pride, stinginess or small-mindedness?  How about me as I walk daily with the Lord?  Do I truly lay down my “hidden” agenda from Him?  Do I daily ask Him to cleanse the thoughts of my heart? 

The account of how John the Baptist was beheaded (verses 14-29) is rife with Herodias’ hidden agenda, selfishness and a desire to maintain the favor of King Herod with whom she was having an affair, even going through her own daughter to secure the execution of John the Baptist.  While most of our hidden agendas don’t have such outrageous results, how damaging they must be nevertheless as they remain hidden in our hearts, even festering until they find their release in some way that might surprise even us. 

Continuing in Mark 6, verses 30-44, the account of how Jesus feeds the 5,000+ people began with the disciples asking Jesus to “send the people away” for they had little, if anything, to eat.  Jesus did not address the state of their hearts but only showed them how the Father can multiply our meager supply with His supernatural supply.  As the disciples passed out the bread and the fish, it must have been astonishing to them how the elements multiplied over and over again in their very hands!  When had such a thing ever happened before?  You might think they would never forget it.  Yet, verse 52 says, “For they considered not the miracle of the loaves…for their hearts were hardened (calloused).”

Am I so different from them?  Does not the Lord provide for me over and over, and each time, while I’m grateful, I have a tendency to forget how His mercies are new to me every day.  Cleanse my thoughts, Lord, and help me to have a pure heart.  Let no secrets be hidden, but help me to more perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Mark Chapter 5

In the text of this chapter verse 17 keeps playing back in my mind, “the people began to plead with Jesus to leave the region”.  After witnessing Jesus’s miraculous powers as he cured one man who had been a nuisance and maybe even a threat to the community, why did they beg him to leave the region?  Could it be that most of the people in the region of the Gerasenes were very comfortable and secure…that they were not worried about where they would sleep, where their next meal was coming from or their family’s safety?  Could it be that the security for some of them or maybe many of them came from things like that heard of 2,000 pigs that had been destroyed?  Could it be that while curing a plagued man who they had learned how to somewhat manage was amazing, it came at a perceived heavy price (the loss of 2,000 perfectly healthy pigs equaling maybe 40,000 meals – and maybe an infinite number of meals if you factored in the pigs natural reproduction)?  Could it be that it is really hard for very comfortable people to value Jesus or to have the same values as Jesus?  Could it be that it is very hard for me to value Jesus or have the same values as Jesus? 

As the chapter continues desperate people like the bleeding women or Jairus who had a daughter who was dying flocked to Jesus because they had no other options and he was their only hope.  Could it be that is why in other places in the bible it says things like “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”?  Could it be that trials and challenges create the desperation in me that is necessary for me to come to Jesus…to need Jesus…to seek out Jesus…to value Jesus…to adopt the same values as Jesus?  Wow, this chapter made me think.

Mark Chapter 4

A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  Do any of you remember that Sunday school definition of parables?  I don’t recall when I first heard it, but it has always stuck with me and I find it helpful.  Jesus teaches in parables to help us understand the kingdom of God.  He also speaks in parables to fulfill scripture, and Mark chapter 4 is full of parables.

The parable that stands out to me in this chapter is the parable of the growing seed.  The farmer scatters seed, and then he does nothing.  As if almost by magic, the seed sprouts and grows and the earth produces its crop.  A leaf pushes through the ground, heads of wheat form and then the grain ripens.  Then it’s harvest time and the farmer comes in to finish the job, but he doesn’t understand how it all happened.

The New Testament Challenge is similar to this parable to me.  We are like the farmer.  Our job is to scatter seed, the Word of God, and then watch what happens.  As we read scripture with our friends, the Word takes root and begins to sprout and grow.  We don’t understand how it happens, or make it happen.  We just scatter, which doesn’t sound like an overly precise or strategic effort.

Then the grain ripens and it is harvest time.  What started as a seed is now a useful food.  Lives are changed.  People are healed.  The kingdom of God grows, and it all started by just scattering seed.

In this New Testament Challenge, we are scattering seed amongst our family, friends and colleagues.  This parable reminds me that we don’t have to convince, coerce or persuade people into the faith.  Our job is to just invite them to read the Word along with us, and share our thoughts about scripture.  The Holy Spirit will bring about the fruit.  Please pray that God brings about an abundant harvest from all the seeds we are scattering through the New Testament Challenge.

Mark Chapter 3

Jesus Heals on the Sabbath

“You can’t see your nose in front of your face,” this saying is what came to mind after reading this chapter. In Mark 3, we learn of the many great things that Jesus is doing and that we cannot accept the good that comes from his healing and that we would rather look for what is wrong.  How can acts of kindness cause such uneasiness? Do your feathers ever get ruffled when your plans goes array? Mine do. Sometimes I get caught up on my plans, my way, that I do not see or accept help from others. Yes, it’s difficult to accept change or letting someone else take the lead when you’re a control freak but I am so grateful that I am not alone. In this passage we discover that Jesus is healing on the Sabbath Day. His popularity has grown because of the news of his miracles has spread far and wide. The religious teachers view his good works as evil and they say, “He’s possessed by Satan.” What stands out most to me in this chapter is that we learn that the evil spirits know who he is and shriek at the sight of him. They call him by his name, “The Son of God.” How come we can’t see Jesus for who he is? Yet the evil spirits know and believe in him. Why do we see the good that Jesus is doing as bad?  We find fault in what is right or when he breaks from the rituals and goes against the religious law. Instead of seeing Jesus for who he is and accepting the good he is doing. We’d rather turn our backs, close our eyes and keep our hearts hardened to follow the rituals that keep our fists closed. Like the evil spirits, we should keep our eyes open, so that we can know and believe in him. The truth is he is good. It’s that simple but yet we make it so hard. When our hearts are open to receive, to know and to hear with is right. Then we are able to accept Jesus and his works. Let’s walk in faith with our eyes open and ready to receive.

Mark Chapter 2

In Mark 2, Jesus had just returned home to Capernaum and the people were excited to learn from his teaching.  The place where he was staying (probably Peter’s house) was so filled with visitors that no one could get in to see Jesus.  How exciting it must have been to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him.  What an example of faith the four men and paralyzed man had to have had to cut a hole in the roof of Peter’s house in order get to see Jesus.  Jesus used their faith as an example for the religious teachers (Pharisees) that He truly was the “Son of Man” and was able to forgive sins and perform miracles.  

Then Jesus went out to the lake where the crowds gathered again and where Jesus saw Levi in his tax collector’s booth.  Jesus called Levi (Matthew) who was considered to be scum as one of his disciples.  The Pharisees couldn’t understand why Jesus would want to associate with him and the other tax collectors since certainly they did not.

I find it comforting that Jesus wants a relationship with all of us, “sick people” and am thankful that I don’t have to worry about “living up” to standards set by others.  Jesus continues to point out that the Jewish law had become so intolerable that it was impossible to really follow it.  He used fasting and harvesting grain on the Sabbath as examples of how “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath”, and that He was Lord of all, even Lord over the Sabbath.  How very comforting it is to know that having faith in Jesus is all He wants and that there are no other rules that I have to follow to have an eternal relationship with Him.  Praise God!

Mark Chapter 1

John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals.” (Mark1:7)

How would I live if I truly understood the greatness of Jesus?  Would I care about what I wore and where I lived?  Would I be okay with eating locusts and honey?  I love honey so that part would be okay.  Reading this verse has caused me to stop and really think about that question.  Do I share enough about my savior?  Do I understand who I am in relation to Him?  I have come to conclusion that the answers to the above change daily and that’s okay. 

One of the best things we can do is to engage in those conversations with others and ourselves.  If you are not asking yourself questions like these I encourage you to do so.  It is so easy to get caught up in the things of this world and to care too much about them causing us to forget why and what we are called to do.  I have been praying “More of Him and less of me” for a while and it’s changing my perspective on life and living.  I have almost an urgency to keep myself in check.  I am beginning to think of it as a perk to getting older and seeing how fast time passes by.  Like John, I am not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.  Perspective – it changes everything.