Mark Bible Study
By Luke Midena, with Scott Brown, for the National Council
In our Staff Bible studies this year, we continued to explore how Jesus made disciples in Mark’s gospel. Here are a few insights.
Jesus was not simply teaching his disciples but training them, and a core focus of their training was learning to trust him entirely. Jesus is more than a good teacher; he reveals himself as the king with all authority and God himself. He has real authority and establishes his authority over the things of the kingdom of God. When asked, ‘By what authority are you doing these things or who gave you the authority to do them?’ (11:28), Jesus’ response causes those he’s speaking with to explore their own hearts (11:29-33). This is a great challenge to the way we disciple. On the foundation of Christ’s identity, he trained them to give their whole lives to him. Like the widow who gave everything she possessed into the offering, life is not about possessions (Mk. 12:41-44).
We noticed that Jesus often created opportunities for the disciples to learn and labour together as a group. For example, he called the first four disciples in pairs and sent two disciples to pick up the colt (1:16-20; 11:1). This is a challenge to the way we might meet people exclusively one-on-one. Jesus’ disciples were not only committed to him, but they were also committed to each other. We wondered; how can we create an environment in which our disciples spur one another on?
The faithlessness of the Jewish leaders manifested as a fear of people. They feared losing the esteem of the people and feared Jesus because he might take away their honour (11:18). Not realising that the gospel blessings were available to them, they traded animals in the temple in an attempt to provide for themselves. Not only did they fail to proclaim the message of the gospel, but they failed to embody that message – to be a holy and saved people blessed by God. They didn’t live out their identity as God’s chosen nation. Sadly, without having received God’s forgiveness themselves they were unable to offer that forgiveness to others. We recognised that fear can be detrimental to our discipleship, preventing us from communicating difficult truths which may upset those we lead, making us overly concerned with the outward appearance of fruitfulness, and unable to hear constructive criticism. Fear causes us to be caught up in a self-focused bravado which wants to look clever. Rather, a genuine concern for the welfare of others before God is willing to speak the foolishness of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18ff.).
As his death approached, Jesus was constantly warning his disciples of suffering and struggle with statements like ‘don’t be alarmed’, ‘don’t be anxious’, ‘don’t let them lead you astray’ (13:5, 7, 11). Knowing that all believers will face trials, we wondered, are we communicating the expectation of suffering for those we disciple? In an age of overprotective parenting which fails to prepare children for the real world, we can be helicopter-disciplers and fail to prepare our people for the brutal reality of following in Christ’s footsteps in a hostile world.
Finally, we were struck by the failure of Jesus’ disciples at the time of his arrest and crucifixion. Most ran away and hid, seemingly abdicating their responsibility. Yet, Jesus didn’t take the leadership away from the men and give it to the women, even though they were more faithful. Knowing that his disciples will abandon him, he does not prevent them. He even allows each of them to think that they might be the one who denies him (14:19). Jesus abolished any sense of self-righteousness in the disciples through allowing them to become fully aware of their inadequacies. Yet, after warning ‘you will all fall away’, Jesus immediately lets them know that they will be welcome back when they have fallen (14:27-28). He is offering them a kind of pre-forgiveness. The key in discipleship is not to lower the standard of holiness or strike a balance between obedience and grace. The two ‘God is…’ statements in the New Testament describe him as ‘light’ and ‘love’ (1 Jn. 1:5; 4:8). We are to teach them to strive for perfection like the Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48) while offering God’s limitless forgiveness in Christ. We wondered, are our disciples both aware of God’s perfect standard and his unmerited favour?