Category Archive: Bible – NT – Mark

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September 23, 2018

Leaving Behind (Mark 10:29-31)

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Link :: Print

For the sake of Christ and the good news of the coming kingdom, one can come to stand before choices in connection with which one either trusts in the gospel or drops that for the sake of family and possessions….

During the time in which Christ gives his mandates and the spreading of the good news makes its demands, while many do not believe and even are hostile, following also often means leaving behind. This is not the detached leaving behind of the ascetic who lets go of the world, but the painful leaving behind by the believer who has a still greater love for Jesus and the kingdom than for his beloved ones and his properties. — Jakob van Bruggen, Marcus (on Mark 10:29-31).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:32 pm | Discuss (0)
September 22, 2018

Humility & Pride (Mark 10:41)

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Link :: Print

From Mark 10:41 it appears that the “ten” were aware of what Zebedee’s sons had asked and that they were indignant about it. Thereby they betray themselves. Humility is grieved over the sins of others; pride is indignant about them. — Jakob van Bruggen, Marcus (my translation).

Posted by John Barach @ 8:54 am | Discuss (0)
September 21, 2018

The Catholicity of Jesus

Category: Bible - NT - Luke,Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew,Theology - Liturgical,Theology - Pastoral :: Link :: Print

Was there ever anyone with more integrity, and who made greater demands, than Jesus Christ? Yet look at the catholicity of His practice: He ate with publicans, harlots, and sinners, and He took nursing infants into His arms and thus to Himself. Who complained about all this? The Pharisees.

How could Jesus, the spotless Son of God, associate with such evil people? Simple: They were (a) members of the visible church, even though that church was borderline apostate (run by Sadducees and Pharisees). They were (b) not excommunicate from that visible church. They were (c) willing to listen to what He had to say.

Now, of course, after they listened for a while, most of them departed, not willing to persevere. They excommunicated themselves. But initially, they were welcomed according to the catholic principle we have outlined.

Notice that Jesus ate and drank with them. It requires a clever bit of nominalism to miss the sacramental implications of this. Pharisees, beware! — James B. Jordan, The Sociology of the Church, 15.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:33 am | Discuss (0)
September 19, 2018

Transfiguration and the Lord’s Day Service

Category: Bible - NT - Luke,Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew,Theology - Liturgical :: Link :: Print

The story of the Mount of Transfiguration tracks, to some degree, with what happens in the Lord’s Day service.

Jesus ascends a high mountain, which in the Bible is often associated with drawing near to meet with God (Mount Eden, Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Moriah). In every offering, the animal dies and then ascends the mountain and goes up to God in smoke. Hebrews 13 tells us that we have come to the heavenly Mount Zion.

That’s what’s happening in worship. We gather with the church all over the world on the heavenly Mount Zion. We ascend together into heaven. And on the mountain, we read the Law and the Prophets, the whole of the Scriptures, and they all point us to Jesus.

Here, we see Jesus in all His glory. Here, we hear the heavenly voice declaring: “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!” Here, our ears are trained and opened to listen to Jesus. And here we are transfigured, from glory to glory, as we eat the bread which is Jesus’ body *together with one another* and become more and more one body with Him.

But we can’t stay. Moses has to go down the mountain to Israel, his face shining with God’s glory. Jesus and the disciples have to go down the mountain to a demon-possessed boy who needs help. We have to go down the mountain, out to the world, like the rivers from Eden, like the waters flowing from the temple, like the disciples after the transfiguration, flowing out to transform the world, not with programs and theories but with the gospel, with the proclamation of Jesus alone whom we have learned to hear.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:17 pm | Discuss (0)
September 18, 2018

“Hear Him”

Category: Bible - NT - Luke,Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

Peter has the spiritual insight, apparently, to recognize Moses and Elijah when they appear at Jesus’ transfiguration. And yet he blurts out the wrong thing. And when the Glory Cloud surrounds them and the Voice of God is heard, it says to Peter and to all: “Hear Him.” That is, hear Jesus.

And you, religious enthusiasts, are you listening? Mystical souls, impetuous natures, naive children, are you? You, worshippers of spontaneity, gropers-about in your own nebulosity, do you hear the voice from the clouds? Hear Him! That extra-sensuous insight, the immediacy of knowledge by which Peter at once recognized heaven-sent guests — perhaps you have often wanted that. But you must hasten to the Word. The Word is more than Peter’s intuition. You are jealous of his impromptu utterance, are you? You thought that mood of transporting fear and astonishment the best possible for receptivity to heaven’s verities? Hear the voice from the cloud. You must go back to the Word (Klaas Schilder, Christ in His Suffering).

Posted by John Barach @ 8:16 pm | Discuss (0)
July 11, 2018

John’s Baptism

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - NT - Matthew :: Link :: Print

When John the Baptizer begins his work, Jerusalem sends a fact-finding committee to to inquire about his identity and about his baptism. In particular, the Pharisees ask why he’s baptizing since he’s not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet.

But you’ll notice that they don’t say, “What is this curious ritual you’re performing down here at the Jordan? Why are you scooping up water and pouring on all these people’s heads?”

They know about baptism already. They just wonder why he is doing it. What does it mean when John appears in the wilderness, by the Jordan, and starts calling Israel out to be baptized there — at that spot, in that river — by him.

What does baptism mean in the Gospels? Joel Garver, in this old essay, “Baptism in Matthew and Mark,” gives the most helpful answer I’ve seen.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:38 am | Discuss (0)
January 28, 2014

The Old Temple and the New

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - OT - Zechariah :: Link :: Print

In his Study in St. Mark, Austin Farrer shows how Mark 13 parallels Mark 14.  Jesus pronounces judgment on the old temple in Mark 13, but he forms his disciples into a new temple, a true house of prayer.  But he cautions us not to misconstrue the contrast between the two temples:

The contrast is not between a temple which is overthrown, and a temple which abides; both temples are overthrown, for the one falls in the fall of the other; but the one rises the third day, and the other does not.  Nor is it a contrast between a temple of murderers and a temple of saints, for in the supper-chamber it is said, One of you shall betray me.  When the spiritual house falls, its stones also are scattered, not one of them shall remain upon another; not even that Stone whom Christ himself had named.  Protest as he may, the word applies to him, ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’  But the stones of the old temple will lie, and not be gathered; the shepherd, being risen again, will draw his flock after him into Galilee.

The prediction about the scattering of the sheep holds the same place as the prediction about the scattering of the stones: Christ says the one thing as he comes forth from the temple, and the other as he comes forth from the supper room.  And both goings forth lead to the same place — the Mount of Olives (133).

Posted by John Barach @ 4:22 pm | Discuss (0)
December 29, 2012

Eunuchs

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - OT - Genesis,Bible - OT - Isaiah :: Link :: Print

Isaiah 56 describes the good news of coming salvation in terms of the inclusion of eunuchs in the house of God.  Formerly, they were excluded from the assembly of Yahweh; they could not draw near to God (Deut 23:1).  But why were they excluded?

As with many other exclusions from the assembly — for instance, the exclusion of those who have an emission or who have touched someone who is dead — the reason is symbolic, symbolic of something in the Old Creation so that when Christ comes and we enter the New Creation these exclusions no longer apply.  Death results from sin, and if you touch someone dead it spreads so that you yourself are symbolically dead, and you may not bring that stench of death-as-a-result-of-man’s-sin into God’s presence.  So too with the eunuch.

What is a eunuch?  A eunuch is a man who is physically unable to beget, a man who by reason of damage to his organs of generation barren and fruitless.  His fruitlessness symbolizes those who do not bear fruit to God’s glory, and, as Jesus teaches, those who do not bear fruit will be cut off and burned (John 15).

But now associate that with Mark 11:12ff. and the cursing of the fig tree.  In my previous blog entry, I noted that Jesus, in his temple action, quotes from Isaiah 56 about his house becoming a house of prayer for all nations.  This is not a statement about how it was always supposed to be, but about the salvation that was still future in Isaiah’s day.  And Jesus makes it clear that that time of salvation is now here.  But the context in Isaiah 56 also talks about the eunuch who is not to see himself as a withered tree.  The fig tree that represents the fruitless temple and those who take refuge in it withers under Jesus’ curse, but when Jesus comes, eunuchs are no longer fruitless; they may enter God’s house and have a fruit better than sons and daughters and a name that will never die.

One step further: What’s the first reference to fig trees in the Bible?  Genesis 3, where Adam and Woman sew fig leaves into garments with which they hide their genitals from each other.  (Not from God: When he comes, they want something bigger to hide behind and so they hide behind the trees of the Garden.)  Specifically, then, the first appearance of fig leaves is as garments that cover the source of man and woman’s fruitfulness.

The temple and those who use it as their hideout have fig leaves but no fruitfulness toward God.  They are Adam and Woman, covering their fruitlessness.  But Jesus exposes their fruitlessness.  They are eunuchs who are banned from His house.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:18 pm | Discuss (0)

Withered Trees … and Unwithered

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - OT - Isaiah :: Link :: Print

I have read many, many commentaries on Mark 11:12ff. All of them mention that Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” But none of them mention what is in the context.

They focus on the “all nations” and point out that the “son of a foreigner” will be welcome in the temple (Isa 56:3a, 6-8).  But in the same context, we have this: “Let not the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a withered tree'” (Isa 56:3b).  In the Septuagint, the Greek word translated withered here is exactly the same word that Mark uses in this context to describe the fig tree that Jesus curses.

He sandwiches Jesus’ temple action between two accounts of that fig tree — the cursing and the result — so that we will read what Jesus does in the temple in light of what he does to the fig tree and vice versa.  The temple that rejects Jesus and has become a hideout for robbers is a barren, fruitless fig tree and Jesus’ curse will make it wither.  But the eunuch who trusts in Jesus is not withered; he’s fruitful, and he will have a place in Jesus’ house and an everlasting name that will not be cut off (Isa 56:4-5).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:59 pm | Discuss (0)
December 28, 2012

Preaching the Text or Preaching the Event?

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Theology - Liturgical :: Link :: Print

When you’re preaching the narratives in Scripture — and this is particularly true when you’re preaching the Gospels — you have to answer the question: Am I preaching a particular text or am I preaching the event described in that text?

Here’s what I mean: At a certain point in his earthly ministry, just as he leaves Bethany one day on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus sends two men out to get a colt for him to ride on.  That’s an event and it is recorded in all four Gospels.

But it isn’t recorded in exactly the same way; it’s not as if Mark, Luke, and John all say what Matthew says, word for word.  Rather, each evangelist tells the story in his own way.  Matthew and John cite Zechariah 9:9, which speaks of the king coming to Zion, lowly and riding on a donkey, but Mark and Luke don’t.  Matthew tells you that the disciples brought two animals, a donkey and its colt, but the other evangelists mention only the colt, and Mark and Luke don’t even indicate that the colt was a donkey (which, I submit, suggests that they expect you to know that from reading Matthew).  Mark and Luke make the point that the colt must be one on which no one has ever ridden, but Matthew doesn’t say that.  Mark says that the crowds shouted a welcome to the kingdom of David, but the others don’t; Luke says that they shouted “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” but the others don’t.   And there are a host of other differences, too.

So what do you do when you preach this passage?  One approach is to preach the event, perhaps attempting to include (and harmonize) all the details from all four Gospels.  The event actually happened and all the details of it (though accepting that the various details do harmonize and being able to show that they do are two different things).

This is sometimes a valuable thing to do.  For instance, in John’s Gospel Jesus comes to the temple and overturns tables and drives out the sacrificial animals, and he does something similar in the other three Gospels.  But there is a huge difference.  John is describing an event that takes place early in Jesus’ ministry, but the other three Gospels report something that happened just before the cross.  For a number of reasons, I take these to be two distinct events, one at the beginning and one at the end of Jesus’ ministry.  No one Gospel reports both, but it wouldn’t be improper for a pastor to preach a sermon on both texts, perhaps showing how Jesus inspects the temple twice, just as a leprous house is inspected twice in Leviticus.

Preaching the event in that way has its place, just as a topical or thematic sermon has its place (e.g., a sermon on infant baptism that draws on a number of texts). It seems to me that this is what Klaas Schilder does in the meditations (not sermons) in his magnificent Christ in His Sufferings trilogy, often with breathtaking results.   But here’s the problem: A sermon like that — preaching the event of the “triumphal entry” — isn’t preaching what any one Gospel actually says.

By trying to focus on the event and drawing in all the details from all the Gospels, such a sermon fails to say what a particular Gospel says.  Matthew has a reason for drawing attention to Zechariah 9:9, but Mark and Luke have a reason not to.  Mark is interested in Jesus as the son of David and his kingdom being the restored Davidic kingdom, but that’s not Luke’s point; Luke is interested in showing how the crowds shouted something similar to (and yet different from) what the angels shouted when they appeared to the shepherd, but that’s not John’s point.  Each one is doing his own thing, drawing attention to one detail or another in order to make his own point, and if you preach the event, you miss that distinctiveness.

That said, there’s also a ditch on the other side, namely, preaching one particular text while ignoring what other texts about the same event say.  And so I read commentaries on Mark 11:1-11 that say, for instance, that the colt could have been a horse.  Not according to Matthew.  Or they say that it wasn’t the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna” and later on “Crucify him” because the ones shouting “Hosanna” were the Galilean pilgrims traveling with Jesus and the ones who shouted “Crucify him” later were the people of Jerusalem.  Except that where Mark tells us the people traveling with Jesus shouted “Hosanna,” John 12 says that there was a crowd shouting the same thing that came from Jerusalem to meet Jesus — and some of them may have been shouting “Crucify” later.  (Mind you, so may the Galilean pilgrims who traveled with Jesus, since, after all, they were still in Jerusalem at that time!).  I read a commentary last night that talked as if these acclamations were offensive to Jesus, but Luke 19 says that Jesus refused to rebuke the crowds and told the Pharisees that if they kept silent even the stones would cry out, which certainly doesn’t sound like disapproval.  In each of these cases, it appears that commentators have so focused on Mark that they have forgotten that Mark is describing an event and that he isn’t the only one to do so.

Now it’s not necessary for your sermon to include everything the other accounts say.  If you’re preaching Mark 11, you don’t have to mention what John 12 says about there being a crowd coming from Jerusalem to meet Jesus or what Matthew 21 says about the colt and its mother being brought to Jesus.  You may simply talk about the crowd with Jesus and the colt.  But you do have to avoid saying something in your sermon on Mark 11 that would contradict those other passages.

Preaching the event is certainly permissible, sometimes particularly valuable.  But it isn’t the same thing as preaching the text with its distinctive focus.  And on the other hand, preaching the text allows you to say what the Spirit inspired a particular author to write, but it isn’t helpful if it focuses on the text to the exclusion of the actual event and the other accounts of it.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:36 pm | Discuss (0)
May 30, 2012

Deaf, Dumb, and Demon-Possessed (Mark 9)

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Link :: Print

In his wonderful A Study in Saint Mark, Austin Farrer notes some of the patterns that converge in Mark 9:14-29.  Here’s one:

Exorcism of child at parent’s request (Mark 7:24-30); Healing of a deaf-mute (Mark 7:31-37)
   Healing of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26)

Exorcism of deaf-mute child at parent’s request (Mark 9:14-29)
   Healing of a blind man (Mark 10:46-52) (Farrer, 41).

Later, Farrer points out that Mark has four healings in connection with family relations:

(1) A mother(-in-law) is healed at the request of a son(-in-law) (Mark 1:29-31)

(2) A daughter is healed at the request of her father (Mark 5:21-43)

(3) A daughter is healed at the request of her mother (Mark 7:24-30)

(4) A son is healed at the request of his father (Mark 9:14-29)

Interestingly, the first two involve opposite sexes (son and mother, father and daughter) while the last two involve relatives of the same sex (mother-daughter, father-son). I’m not sure what the significance of all of this might be, but Farrer points out that the sequence culminates in the healing of a father’s son, a son moreover who first falls down “as if dead” and then is raised up and arises — using two words associated with resurrection in the rest of Mark’s Gospel:

The healing of the “son of the father” prepares our minds most directly for what the climax of the Gospel is to reveal, the resurrection of the Father’s only Son. It is directly after being proclaimed Only Son by the Father’s voice that Jesus descends the mountain to heal the son of the father (Farrer, 51).

In fact, Farrer goes further:

It is indeed the function of the healing at the mountain’s foot to draw together all the themes of healing in the previous signs. To begin with, it fuses exorcism with restoration of sensitive powers [i.e., hearing, seeing, speaking], for the demon exorcised is a spirit of deafness and dumbness. It completes the theme of parental intercession, and revives the theme of resurrection. For the boy being exorcised falls as dead, and must be raised by the hand like Jairus’s child before he can enjoy his new and purified life (Farrer, 51-52).

Later in the book, Farrer returns to this story:

The exorcism beneath the mountain which Christ comes down from glory to perform is an enacted parable of his coming passion. In face of scribal hostility and unbelief, and of weakness in disciples who cannot pray, Christ masters the devil, but only through a falling dead and rising up again (Farrar, 152).

Then, toward the end of the book, Farrar draws together several patterns, showing how Mark’s Gospel starts with distinct exorcisms, healings, and cleansings and then begins to combine things so that the same event is both a healing and a cleansing (e.g., the woman with the flow of blood) or, as in Mark 9, an exorcism which is also a healing. About this story in Mark 9, Farrer says:

The last healing in the series … seems perfectly expressive, it seems to have everything. It is the expulsion of Satan, it is the quickening of the spiritual powers, it is health through falling dead and rising again, it is the salvation of the son of the father. But still it is a mere symbol, a mere foreshewing; we must go forward into the passion and resurrection of Christ to find the substance of salvation (Farrer, 315).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:45 pm | Discuss (0)
September 14, 2011

Sons of Thunder

Category: Bible - NT,Bible - NT - Luke,Bible - NT - Mark :: Link :: Print

Everything I wrote about the characterization of Peter goes double for the characterization of James and John, who seem to be taken as a couple of hotheads on the basis of one — count it: one — incident in which they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire on an inhospitable Samaritan village (Luke 9:54).

Oh, yes.  There’s also the name Jesus gives them: “Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).  Some people immediately link that name up with the later event in Luke 9:54 and say, “See?  That’s why Jesus gave them that name.  They were rash and impetuous and hotheaded.”  And since Luke 9 happened after Mark 3, they have to add either the claim that Jesus foresaw that they would say what they did in Luke 9 and named them on the basis of that foresight or the claim that the behavior exhibited in Luke 9 was characteristic so that they were already displaying that sort of hotheadedness at the time Jesus named them.

But there’s no reason at all to see Luke 9 as the basis of the name “Sons of Thunder.”  In fact, there is no reason to take “Sons of Thunder” negatively at all, let alone to understand it as a reference to rashness or hotheadedness.  Going further, there is no reason to take that name as referring to anything in James and John’s character at the time that Jesus named them.

Jesus gives new names to only three of his disciples and he does so at the same time.  Simon he names Peter, not because Simon was already such a solid rock but because Jesus intended to make him into a rock who would be a foundation stone for the church.  Just as by changing Abram’s name to Abraham and changing Sarai’s name to Sarah, Yahweh was making them into new people, the parents of the child of the promise, so by naming Simon “Rock” Jesus was making him into a rock, revealing in the name the plan he had for Simon.

But if that’s true of Simon’s new name, then the parallel suggests that it’s also true with James and John’s new name.  “Sons of Thunder” is not a description of who they already were, nor is it a description of some foolishness or wickedness in their character that Jesus would have to change.  Rather, it’s a description of who Jesus was going to make them to be.

What the name exactly means is disputed by commentators, but many associate it with God’s thunderous voice and with his judgment (Ex 9:23, 28, 29, 33, 34; 19:16; 20:18; 1 Sam 2:10; 7:10; 12:17, 18; 22:14; Job 26:14; 36:29, 33; 37:2, 4, 5; 40:9; Ps 18:13; 29:3; 77:18; 81:7; 104:7; Isa 29:6; Ezek 3:12, 13; John 12:29; Rev 4:5; 10: 3, 4 [this Angel is Jesus]; 11:19; 14:2).  So it seems possible that Jesus is identifying James and John as two witnesses whose speech will be thunderous like God’s speech and will administer God’s judgment, for salvation for his people but destruction for his enemies.

That said, what James and John suggest in Luke 9 — fire from heaven, like lightning associated with thunder — could be seen as a perversion of their name.  Just as Simon is supposed to be a rock, but is anything but when he rebukes Jesus, so James and John are supposed to be sons of thunder but are in danger of abusing their calling.  Luke 9 is not the time and place for that sort of judgment to come from the sons of thunder, and James and John need to learn from Jesus the right way of responding — and the right time and to call down God’s fire from heaven.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:57 pm | Discuss (1)

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