By Luke Midena and Frank Mapperson, for the National Council
The National Council takes seriously the need to keep God’s Word central. Together, we studied the first eight chapters of Mark’s gospel. Mark draws on the first-hand experience of Peter, and his Gospel is a fast-paced account of many events to demonstrate who Jesus is and to communicate core truths of discipleship. He draws on experience much more than parables or Old Testament references. Mark, led by the Spirit, chose specific accounts, and communicated them in a particular order, often using contrasts. Mark is to read as a well-connected narrative with a core purpose rather than a set of disparate short stories. A good question to frequently ask when reading Mark is: why has he chosen that event and how does it relate the events before and after?
Some points of note:
Over 40 occasions, he used “immediately” or “at once” to communicate “moving right on to what followed”, demonstrating that the stories are all connected by one or more core themes.
Jesus’ divine name of “Son of God” was used 4 times, Jesus’ Jewish name of “Son of David” was used twice, but the name Jesus used to define Himself 14 times was “Son of Man” – possibly communicating His humility and His representation of us through His sacrifice as well as kingship; and possibly to keep his identity unclear so that He could define Himself the way He wanted to and in His way.
Mark establishes Jesus’ credentials (power, wisdom, authority) in the first one-and-a-half chapters (1:1 – 2:12).
Healing and forgiving sin versus condemnation of behaviour (forgiving and then healing the lame man, followed by dining with sinners – as doctor who goes to the sick not to the healthy) (2:1 – 17).
The misguided focus on the law that does no good and promotes death, versus the work of God’s kingdom that brings healing and life (picking grain on the Sabbath against the rules versus healing the shrivelled hand on the Sabbath) (2:23 – 3:6).
Contrasting God’s family as those who do God’s will versus basic human family connections (3:20-21 and 31-35).
Contrasting faith in God to provide and protect versus human short-sightedness and fear (Jesus’s view of the storm versus the disciples, healing due to the woman’s faith and the ruler’s faith and not just Jesus’ power); and contrasting that further by the clear reduced capability to heal in His hometown because of their lack of faith (4:35-41, 5:25-34, 5:21-24 and 35-43, esp. v. 36).
Why was the description of John the Baptist’s death (6:14-29) bookended by the disciples being sent out in pairs (6:7-13) and returning to share their experiences (6:30)? While the extensive detail of John’s death gives the impression that chaos reigns, seeing the broader context of the disciple’s successful mission shows that even evil cannot hinder God’s care of his people nor his message going forth. This idea was reinforced by the following stories, in which Jesus’ fed the 5000, walked on water, and healed the sick (6:30-56). Despite seeing Jesus’ power, the disciple’s hearts remained hardened (6:52). The challenges loomed larger in their minds that the God who rules over all. Such hard-heartedness was all too familiar. Like the disciples, we felt challenged to have faith in God’s limitless ability during apparent setbacks.
Some discipleship reflections:
1. Jesus discipled the apostles by giving them experiences that stretched them – even though they were not necessarily ready for the task, they were ready to learn about God (His provision and protection), their own limiting perspectives (of law, rules, and human fear), about Jesus’ vision, purpose and faith in the Father, about how to depend upon God when doing the Lord’s fishing of men. Being equipped for the mission was not as important as them being infused with experiential knowledge of God, growing in faith in Him, looking through God’s eyes, and being gripped by the commission.
2. The difficult message of repentance can be communicated well:
It’s necessary to maintain God’s perspective of humans, which holds together creation and the fall. All people are created wonderfully in God’s image yet are marred by sin.
A humble engagement with people requires that we are transparent about our own sinfulness. When we approach people as fellow sinners, it becomes clear that the standard we uphold is not our own but God’s. He alone is the judge to be revered.
While Jesus did call for initial repentance, he welcomed those who sincerely responded to him without immediately addressing every area of sin in their lives. We should remember that repentance is an ongoing process.
The way we address sin in the lives of those we disciple should provide those we disciple room to also address sin in our own lives.