Category Archive: Bible – NT – Mark

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February 26, 2008

Arising Early (Mark 1:35-39)

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

Mark likes to play with the words for resurrection. Again and again in his Gospel, Mark tells us how Jesus raised up the people He healed or how they arose. He does not need to mention their posture, but he chooses to do so, emphasizing their rising. And the terms he uses are the terms associated in this Gospel with Jesus’ own resurrection.

On a first reading, these words may not jump out at us. But by the time we come to the raising of Jairus’s daughter and certainly by the time Jesus rises at the end of the Gospel, we should be able to see what Mark has been doing all along.

His Gospel is like a mystery novel. When you come to the end and you see what all the clues were leading up to, you can go back and read the book again and recognize the clues for what they are. And so, after finishing Mark’s Gospel, we can go back and read it again with the final scene in mind and see all the ways in which Jesus’ healings and the ways in which people rise or are raised foreshadow what will happen to Jesus and what will happen to those who belong to Him.

That much I learned from Mark Horne’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark, and possibly also from Austin Farrer’s A Study in St. Mark.  But today, as I worked on Mark 1:35-39, something else jumped out at me.

All the events in the preceding verses (Mark 1:21ff.) took place on the Sabbath. Now, Mark tells us, “early in the morning,” which would be on the first day of the week, Jesus arose and went out to the wilderness, where Simon and “those with him” (presumably Andrew, James, and John) hunted him down. From there, they did not return to Capernaum. Instead, they kept going to the other towns and cities in Galilee so that Jesus could preach there also. That, Jesus says, was the purpose for which he came forth.

Just as the rising of the people Jesus heals foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection and our resurrection, so too this is a foreshadowing of the resurrection. Mark even uses the same words at the end of his Gospel when he tells us that “early in the morning” the women came to Jesus’ tomb (Mark 16:2; cf. Mark 1:35) only to discover that he had already risen. Mark adds that this was “on the first day of the week,” as was Jesus’ rising in Mark 1.

While the word for “He has risen” in Mark 16:6 is a different word, in verse 9 Mark uses the same word that appears in Mark 1, adding the word “early” again and saying once more that this was “on the first day of the week.”

When the angel appears to the women, what he says also reminds us of Mark 1. In Mark 1, we’re told that “Simon and those with him” found Jesus. Now, the angel tells the women to give a message to Jesus’ disciples “and Peter” (16:7).  And just as Jesus told the disciples that he had come forth in order to go to the other towns in Galilee, now the angel wants the women to tell the disciples that Jesus is going before them to Galilee (16:7).

In Mark 1, Jesus is training the disciples for their future mission.  Jesus’ mission is not just to Capernaum, their home town, nor is it the kind of mission the people in Capernaum might want, a mission limited to healing and exorcism. Jesus came to preach, to announce the fulfilment of the time that the prophets had foretold, the time when God’s kingdom was coming. And that message had to go to all Israel throughout Galilee.

When Jesus rises from the dead, his mission starts with him leading the disciples to Galilee again. From the other Gospels, we know that they returned to Jerusalem later. But first Jesus led them to Galilee, where he sent them out to the world: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (16:15; cf. Matt. 28:16-20).

Their mission will start in Jerusalem, but just as Jesus didn’t allow Capernaum to be his center of operations to which everyone had to come for healing or to hear him, so Jesus doesn’t allow Jerusalem to be the disciples’ home base. Now people don’t flow to Jerusalem; now the disciples go out, following Jesus, to Galilee and then to the world.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:08 pm | Discuss (6)
November 1, 2005

Mark 6:1-6 Sermon Notes

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

Mark 6:1-6
(July 31, 2005, Sermon Notes)

When a new king arrives, everyone reacts. Some welcome him; others oppose him. That opposition may take many forms. You can attack openly, work against him secretly, or just brush him off and try to ignore him.

That’s what happens when we proclaim Jesus as Lord. Nobody stays neutral. Everyone responds, some in faith and some in unbelief. In Mark 6, Jesus comes to His hometown and His presence and His message provoke a response, but it is a respond of amazing unbelief.


Mark’s Gospel reaches its first climax with the raising of Jairus’s daughter. But then Jesus goes “from there” — from Jairus’s house — to “His hometown” (literally: “His father-town”). It’s Nazareth, but Mark doesn’t call it by name here; instead he describes it as the place where Jesus grew up, the place where Jesus’ father had lived, the place where His mother and brothers and sisters live.

Jesus’ disciples are with Him on this trip, which indicates that this is part of their training (Mark 3:14). In fact, given that Nazareth wasn’t near Capernaum, it appears that this was a special trip to teach His disciples something important.

What happens looks like what happened in Capernaum at first. Jesus teaches on the Sabbath in the synagogue, preaching the same message He always preached. But He didn’t get to finish His sermon. Mark tells us that Jesus began to teach but then questions arose.

People weren’t asking Jesus questions; they asked each other. They recognize that Jesus is like David and Solomon: He teaches with wisdom. They recognize that Jesus has great authority and performs mighty works. But they don’t respond in faith. They don’t let Jesus teach. They don’t listen to Him when He calls them to repent. They don’t rejoice in the good news. They aren’t persuaded by His miracles: miracles in themselves don’t create faith.

In their questions they distance themselves from Jesus: “Where did this man get these things?” They don’t ask Jesus for an explanation. They simply ask each other in amazement because what they see and hear from Jesus doesn’t fit with what they think they already know about Him: Jesus is nothing more than the carpenter, Mary’s son, the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.

This is the lesson that the disciples need to learn for their own mission: Resurrection is followed by rejection. Some people will not believe even if a person rises from the dead. To some people, Jesus would only be “Jesus of Nazareth” and all the wonders He did — even His resurrection itself — wouldn’t persuade them that He was Lord and Messiah. And still today, people stumble over Jesus because the gospel looks foolish, because they don’t want to submit, because they think they understand Him well enough already — and because they aren’t impressed by His ministers either.

In Nazareth, the people reject Jesus because He’s “the carpenter,” the builder. But the irony is that Jesus really is the builder, the one constructing a new house of Israel. And that is precisely why they need Him.


In their amazement, Nazareth rejects Jesus. And now Jesus is amazed and in His amazement, He rejects them. But first He puts their rejection of Him into its proper context: “A prophet is not without honour except in His own country, among His own relatives, and in His own house.”

What’s happening to Jesus isn’t unheard of. Rather, it fits the pattern we know from Scripture, and it’s the pattern that the disciples will also experience, the pattern we experience today. Often in the Old Covenant the Gentiles listened to the prophets when Israel wouldn’t. Elijah had to flee. David, too, had to flee from Saul but found refuge with the Philistines.

The people of Nazareth think their rejection of Jesus is wisdom, the result of insight that the rest of Israel doesn’t have. They know Jesus! But Jesus sets their response to Him in the light of Scripture as just one more instance of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh and His prophets. Jesus is despised, and His own people did not esteem Him (Isa. 53).

Their dishonour has consequences: Jesus “could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (6:5). It isn’t that their unbelief drained away His power. He still had the power to heal. But He couldn’t heal those who didn’t come.

Unbelief keeps you from Jesus and prevents you from enjoying His healing power. In the context of faith, Jesus conquers death and raises people to life (Mark 5:21-43) because death itself is only sleep for those who believe. But now we see that unbelief is more deadly than death.

In spite of the widespread unbelief, though Jesus does find some who are sick who respond in faith and He lays His hands on them as He did on Jairus’s daughter — the posture of blessing — and heals them. Even widespread unbelief can’t stop Jesus from establishing God’s kingdom, and that’s comfort for the disciples who will face rejection after Jesus’ resurrection. It’s comfort for us.

More than that, Jesus’ brothers are named in this passage, as is His mother, and it appears that all of them later came to trust Him. He appeared to James, His brother, after His resurrection and James became one of the great leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Though it may seem as if the gospel isn’t doing much when we preach it, in the end it may break through the unbelief of those who reject it now.

Still, the dominant note here is not comfort or joy but sorrow and astonishment at Nazareth’s unbelief. Jesus marvels at this unbelief, not because He didn’t understand it but because unbelief itself is so astounding. In the light of all that Jesus has said and done, unbelief is unbelievable!

And so Jesus rejects Nazareth. This isn’t a final rejection: He doesn’t destroy Nazareth; He still leaves time for the people there to change their minds. But He withdraws in judgment, not bothering to try to answer Nazareth’s questions, and He goes to other towns instead. In fact He never enters another synagogue in Mark’s Gospel.

The king’s arrival demands a choice and everyone responds. Some people won’t believe, no matter what wonders Jesus does, and that unbelief is deadly. If you stumble over Jesus, you end up outside God’s kingdom. But all who trust Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus “the carpenter,” foolish as His gospel may sound, insignificant as He may seem, experience His power, the power to restore them to wholeness, the power to build them up into God’s house.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:40 am | Discuss (0)
August 2, 2005

Mark 5:21-43 Sermon Notes

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

Mark 5:21-43
(July 17, 2005, Sermon Notes)

Throughout Mark, Jesus has been calling people. But now we learn that, in order for anyone to respond, Jesus must raise him from the dead Jesus must cleanse people from death for them to draw near to God. This passage is the climax to the first section of Mark’s Gospel, the climax to a long series of cleansings and healings.

Mark sandwiches these stories together so that the flavour of the one permeates the other. Both women are “daughters,” both are associated with the number twelve, both represent Israel, and both are in some sense dead when they meet Jesus. In this story, then, Jesus raises two dead daughters to new life.


Jesus has returned to Galilee again. Once more He is teaching by the seashore and while He is doing that, a man named Jairus approaches. But the most important thing about this man is that he is one of “the rulers of the synagogue,” as Mark tells us repeatedly.

The synagogues have been attacking Jesus, but now this ruler of the synagogue comes to Jesus in faith because his daughter is dying. There is rich symbolism here. The ruler of the synagogue represents the synagogue as a whole, while the little girl represents “Daughter Israel.” The synagogue cannot save Israel but must turn to Jesus for help.

Jairus begs Jesus to lay hands on his daughter (the posture of blessing) so that she may be “saved,” that is, rescued from death. After all, Jesus’ name means “Yahweh saves.” And Jesus grants his request.


On the way to Jairus’s house, however, there is an interruption. Jesus has already dealt with a leper (Mark 1:40-45; cf. Lev. 13-14); now He encounters a woman with a flow of blood (cf. Lev. 15). This wasn’t simply a medical problem; it was a form of symbolical death. The Torah barred her from drawing near to God and taking part in the Old Covenant sacramental meals.

She had been that way for twelve years. That number is significant. As we’ve already seen, when Jesus chose twelve disciples, He was drawing on that number symbolism. The twelve disciples are the foundation for a new Israel. And this woman’s twelve years of suffering and alienation from God make her a symbol of the old Israel, who is unclean and whose righteousness is like “a garment of menstruation” (Isa. 64:6). Israel is unclean and needs to be cleansed — resurrected — if she’s going to inherit God’s kingdom and take part in God’s feasts.

This woman has no right to be in the crowd, touching people, but in faith she draws near to touch Jesus’ garment. In the Torah, uncleanness spreads even when it touches holy things (Hag. 2). In Haggai’s terms, Jesus is the holy meat inside a garment. But when Jesus touches unclean things, He doesn’t become unclean; they become clean. He is greater than the Old Covenant and He does what it couldn’t do.

The woman touches Jesus and is immediately cleansed. Her action doesn’t interrupt Jesus’ journey. But Jesus Himself does. He wants people to know what has happened. He finds the woman, in spite of His disciples’ mockery, calls her “daughter” (significantly!), and tells her that her faith has “saved” her. Faith saves, the Bible tells us, because faith, though powerless in itself, is the channel through which you experience Jesus’ saving power.


The cleansing of this woman is good news for the crowd, but it’s especially good news for Jairus. While Jesus is cleansing this woman, Jairus receives news that his daughter is dead. But Jesus calls him to a new level of faith in light, not only of that news, but also of the cleansing (i.e., the symbolic raising) of this unclean (i.e., symbolically dead) woman.

Jesus takes the three key disciples, Peter, James, and John, but He leaves the crowd behind. More than that, the crowd inside the house also end up outside. Jesus confronts them about their grieving: it is inappropriate (cf. 1 Thess 4:13), given that (as they know) Jairus has called upon Jesus to save his daughter. Because of Jesus, death is not ultimate. It is only sleep, from which you can again be awakened. (Interestingly, Jairus’s name means “Yahweh awakens.”)

First, Jesus “casts out” the mockers in the synagogue ruler’s house, just as he “cast out” the demon in Capernaum’s synagogue earlier. Then He takes the girl’s parents and His three witnesses and enters the room where the girl is lying. He takes her by the hand and says, “Talitha, cumi!” which Mark renders “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (the Aramaic is literally “Little lamb, arise!”: Jesus is the shepherd-king who leads this girl through the valley of the shadow of death to new life).

As Mark tells the story, he includes elements from all the previous exorcisms, cleansings, and healings: amazement (the exorcism in Capernaum’s synagogue: 1:22), taking by the hand (Simon’s mother-in-law: 1:31), touching someone unclean (the leper: 1:41), rising and walking in response to Jesus’ command (the paralysed man: 2:9-12), arising in respond to Jesus’ command (the man with the withered hand: 3:3), rescue from death and burial (the man with a Legion living in the tombs: 5:1-20), a daughter associated with twelve years (the woman with the flow of blood: 5:25-34).

All those other cleansings and healings are pointers to resurrection. There were seven leading up to this story, and the raising of this girl is the eighth. The eighth is the beginning of a new creation. It’s the day of circumcision, the day also when a person who has been unclean and outside the camp for a week may be washed and restored. Jesus brings about a new creation, a new beginning, life beyond death. And the raising of this little girl (even though she later died again) points forward to Jesus’ own eighth day resurrection.

The little girl rises and walks around. But Jesus tells the people present not to let anyone know. They will know the girl was dead until Jesus arrived, but they won’t know exactly what happened. To them, all things happen in parables. But in the end, when Jesus rises, there will be no command to keep silent.

Finally, Jesus tells them to give the girl something to eat. Already in Mark’s Gospel, we’ve seen meals (Simon’s mother-in-law served Jesus: 1:31; Jesus feasted with Levi when He “raised” and “healed” him: 2:13-17). Jesus is restoring people to table fellowship. The woman with the twelve-year flow of blood was excluded from the feasts until Jesus cleansed her. Now she can eat and drink in God’s presence again. This little girl was dead, but now she’s alive and Jesus makes sure she has something to eat.

Resurrection is followed by feasting, as it will be when Jesus rises and as it is for us in Him. Leprosy and a flow of blood are cleansed with water (Lev 13-15): those who are symbolically dead and cut off from the feasts are “raised” again to new life through a “baptism” (Heb. 9:10) and so are restored to the feasts. We have been baptized into Christ’s death so that we might now walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4), and that involves feasting with Christ. Your new life began with Christ; it continues because Jesus commands that all who have been baptized into His death and resurrection be given something to eat.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:52 pm | Discuss (0)

Manasseh & Ephraim in Mark 5?

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Austin Farrer, noting that the name “Jairus” is a version of the name “Jair” and that Jair, in the Old Testament, was from the half-tribe of Manasseh, suggests that the woman with the flow of blood should be seen as an Ephraimite.

If that’s the case, then what happens in Mark 5:21-43 parallels what happens in Genesis 48. In that passage, Joseph presents his sons to Israel so that he can lay his hands on them and bless them. He presents them in their birth order, Ephraim on the left and Manasseh on the right, but Israel crosses his hands so that Ephraim receives the primary blessing as if he were firstborn.

Here, in Mark 5, we have daughters, not sons, but the pattern is similar. Jair(us: Manasseh) comes first, asking Jesus to “lay his hands” on his daughter, the same posture of blessing we read about in Genesis 48. It appears that Jesus is going to do so, but on the way He stops to cleanse and save the woman with the flow of blood (Ephraim, Farrer suggests), so that Ephraim gets the blessing before Manasseh.

Well, that seems like a huge stretch to me. But even if you don’t find that finally persuasive, and I don’t, it’s good to have the mind stretched in that way from time to time. That’s what makes Farrer such interesting reading.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:44 am | Discuss (0)
August 1, 2005


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

“Talitha, cumi!” is not the only bit of Mark 5:21-43 that invites further translation. The name of the synagogue ruler is, too. Normally, Mark calls this man “the ruler of the synagogue” because he wants to draw attention to that role. The rulers of the synagogue have been hostile toward Jesus, but this man is a surprising exception (especially surprising if this event took place in Capernaum, where 3:1-6 took place!).

The ruler of the synagogue is named Jairus, a version of the name Jair with which we are familiar from the Old Testament (e.g., Judges 10:3). His name appears to be significant. He comes to Jesus (“Yahweh saves”) asking Jesus to “save” his daughter. But his own name, Jairus, means “Yahweh awakens,” which is what Jesus will do, awakening his daughter from the sleep of death.

Coincidence? If it is, it’s a huge one. But I don’t think it is. And if Mark wants us to see the significance of this name in connection with this narrative, then it seems that he expects us also to think about the significance of the other names and the other non-Greek statements in his Gospel. They aren’t just accidental; they appear to be significant for the stories in which they appear.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:25 pm | Discuss (0)

“Talitha, cumi!” (Mark 5:41)

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In Mark 5:41, Jesus says to Jairus’s dead daughter, “Talitha, cumi!” for which Mark provides the translation “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” Interestingly, as Donahue and Harrington point out, while that is indeed the gist of what Jesus is saying, the Aramaic could more literally be translated “Little lamb, arise!” And that is particularly interesting given that this section of Mark reveals Jesus as a shepherd, who, for instance, causes the sheep to sit down in green pastures (Mark 6:39).

But it’s also interesting that here Mark quotes Jesus in Aramaic, given that almost everywhere else in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ words are recorded in Greek. Either Jesus normally spoke Greek but here chose to speak Aramaic or Jesus normally spoke Aramaic and Mark normally translates it into Greek with a couple of exceptions, of which this is one. Either way, we ought to ask why this statement is in Aramaic, not Greek.

One answer is that Mark is simply recording what Jesus said on this occasion, but that isn’t a satisfactory answer. Another answer is that by recording Jesus’ words in Aramaic Mark’s narrative has the character of an eyewitness account (i.e, the account of Peter who was there), but again that answer isn’t satisfactory. Why not record other statements in Aramaic, then?

Perhaps Mark records the Aramaic because he wants his readers to think about the significance of the Aramaic words themselves. Mark could have translated “Talitha, cumi” as “Little lamb, arise!” but he chooses to give the gist of them instead. But readers who know Aramaic can dig more deeply and figure out more of the puzzle of who Jesus is. He’s the shepherd who brings this little lamb through the valley of the shadow of death.

Any other suggestions?

Posted by John Barach @ 7:20 pm | Discuss (0)
July 14, 2005

Mark 5:1-20 Sermon Notes

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Mark 5:1-20
(July 3, 2005, Sermon Notes)

There are a number of unique elements in the story about the man with the legion. First, Jesus casts out, not just one but a legion of demons. Second, the word legion has special connotations. And third, this exorcism takes place outside of Galilee. As Jesus showed His power over the nations by calming the storm at sea, He again demonstrates His power to advance God’s kingdom by calming this walking storm on Gentile turf.


Jesus is in the Decapolis (Greek: “ten cities”). In the past, this region belonged to Israel. But these cities — and even the Jews in them — had become Hellenized. They formed an alliance precisely because they didn’t want to be part of Israel; they wanted instead to maintain their identity as Greek cities.

The first person to meet Jesus is an extremely unclean man. He has an unclean spirit and lives in tombs. He’s naked, like an animal, and he’s self-destructive. In fact, he’s a living picture of apostate Israel (Isa. 65), and not all the high culture in Decapolis could bind or tame him.

The man falls at Jesus’ feet, recognizing His authority, and requests a policy of mutual neutrality. It turns out that this man has a legion of demons — possibly as many as 6000. The word “legion” is important. A legion is a Roman military unit. Israel thought Rome’s legions were the enemy and the Decapolis thought Rome’s legions would keep them safe. But this territory is really ruled by Satan and his legions. Satan’s legions, not Rome’s, are the real enemy.

The demons want to stay in the region and in a sense Jesus grants the request. There is a herd of pigs nearby, probably tended by Jews who have become so Hellenized they don’t mind being in contact with the pigs. Jesus sends the demons into the pigs and they rush into the sea and drown.

Jesus brought His followers safely through the sea but He drowns their enemies, like Pharaoh’s armies, in that sea. That’s a foretaste of the New Exodus Jesus will accomplish: He passes through the waters of judgment and brings us safely with Him (think of baptism) but He casts His and our enemies into the sea and drowns them.


Up to this point, there have been only two main characters in the story. But now we hear about the people of the region. The pig-herds report what happened and crowds gather. They see that the man who had the legion of demons is now cleansed and restored and they respond with fear. Just as the disciples were more afraid of Jesus calming the storm than of the storm itself, these people are more afraid of Jesus than they had been of the man when he had the legion of demons.

Then they hear more of the story — about the man, but also about the pigs. Jesus has destroyed a marketable product and these people love pigs more than they love this man. Besides, the destruction of the pigs makes it clear that Jesus is acting with the power of Israel’s God, the God of the Torah, the God from whom they wanted to liberate themselves.

Repentance hurts, and the people of this region refuse to repent. The demon begged Jesus not to sent them out of the country. But if they stay, Jesus must go. And now the people beg Jesus to leave.

He is rejected and that rejection foreshadows the end of the story when Jesus will take the place of the demon-possessed man, naked, isolated, outside the city, shouting incomprehensible things, cut by the stones in the Roman lash, and finally dead in the tomb. That is how the demons will finally be defeated.

Jesus withdraws, but He doesn’t abandon His plan to reclaim this territory. The man who had the legion begs to go with Jesus, but instead Jesus sends him to proclaim how “the Lord” had compassion on him. The man obeys, telling people what Jesus did, thereby identifying Jesus as “the Lord.”

Jesus has left behind a missionary, the first apostle to the Gentiles, and by his message King Jesus will begin to reconquer the Decapolis, as a foretaste of what He will do through His church in the world.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:58 pm | Discuss (0)
June 27, 2005

Mark 4:35-41 Sermon Notes

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Mark 4:35-41
(June 26, 2005, Sermon Notes)

Jesus said that God’s kingdom would grow from a mustard seed into a tree that shelters the world (Mk. 4:30-32). Now Jesus demonstrates that He has the power to overcome all obstacles to that kingdom’s growth.


On the day Jesus tells the parables, He leaves the crowds on the shore to cross, with His followers, to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Those who don’t have Jesus because they want to use Him lose Him, but those who do have Him get to receive more from Him (see Mk. 4:25).

The lesson begins en route. A great wind arises and the waves batter the boat. But Jesus is asleep on a pillow — like Jonah, yet without sin.

The disciples wake Him up. “Don’t you care that we’re being destroyed?” they ask, sounding a bit like the demons who expect Jesus to destroy them (Mk. 1:24). They want Jesus to help them bail. But Jesus rebukes the wind (like the demon in Mk. 1:25) and commands the sea to be peaceful. The “great wind” becomes a “great calm.”

This story echoes several others. In the beginning, God ruled the waters, separating them and causing dry land to appear. At the Exodus, He parted the Red Sea for Israel to cross through, which Ps. 77 describes as a triumph over the waters. Several psalms describe Yahweh as the one who calms the sea (Ps. 65:7, where the sea = Gentile world; 89:9; and esp. 107:23-32).

The same God who made the world and rescued Israel is backing Jesus’ mission. Jesus has His authority. He is the new Adam with dominion over all things, the new David who rules even the Gentiles, and He has the authority to calm the raging nations and advance His kingdom.


Jesus then asks the disciples why they are so fearful and how it is that they have no faith. The problem wasn’t that they called on Him; the problem was that they did so in unbelieving fear. Jesus has sent them on a mission, but they didn’t trust Him to protect them as they carried it out.

Jesus’ sleep isn’t just a demonstration of His trust in God; it’s also a test which exposes the disciples’ lack of faith. As in the Psalms, where God appears to be sleeping (Ps. 44:23) only later to wake up and rescue His people (Ps. 78:65), Jesus sleeps and then rises to help.

That’s what He’ll do later on. When the wicked rage like the storm, He’ll sleep in death. But when He rises, He’ll calm the storm and conquer the nations. Even after that, storms will arise. But Jesus calls us to trust Him and call on Him in faith. (In mercy, He hears and rescues — as He does here — even when we call in unbelieving fear.)

The disciples don’t respond in faith even after the rebuke. The “great wind” replaced by the “great calm” fills them with “great fear” of Jesus. They’re more afraid of Him than they were of the storm, it seems. They wonder who He can be if even the wind and sea obey Him. And Mark leaves us to answer that question.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:26 pm | Discuss (0)
June 9, 2005

Mustard Seed (Mark 4:31)

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In His parable about the mustard seed (Mark 4:31-32), Jesus uses the language of Daniel 4 and Ezekiel 17 (and especially 17:22-23) to describe the amazing growth of the kingdom. It will become so large that the birds will seek shade in its branches.

But in Ezekiel 17, what grows into a huge tree is a cedar branch, whereas in Jesus’ parable, however, what grows is a mustard seed. It appears that Jesus is using slightly different imagery, but I wonder why. He doesn’t change the picture of what the kingdom will look like in the end (a huge plant, sheltering the birds) but He does use a different image for the beginning, an image that emphasizes the smallness and apparent insignificance of the starting point.

I’m not persuaded that Jesus is being ironic by depicting the kingdom, as Donahue and Harrington suggest, “not as a lofty cedar but as a mustard bush.” I certainly don’t think that Jesus’ imagery is meant to replace the imagery of Ezekiel 17, as if that earlier imagery was wrong. But perhaps Jesus is correcting some notions of what the kingdom would be like. If Israel thought that being a cedar tree meant being exactly like Babylon (Dan. 4) or the other nations of the world, then hearing the kingdom compared to a gigantic mustard bush might have been shocking.

Of course, the image that Jesus uses, the mustard seed, emphasizes the smallness of the beginning. Perhaps it was possible that when Israel heard the promise in Ezekiel 17, she prided herself on still being a cedar branch and so Jesus uses a different image to correct that pride. The point in Ezekiel’s parable is the same as that of Jesus: the essential nobility and kingdom-worthiness of Israel (“We’re a cedar tree!”) but the smallness and apparently unpromising character of the beginning.

Furthermore, that mustard seed is thrown down on the ground and then rises again. And that also corrects a false image of the kingdom. Ezekiel’s parable simply speaks of a return from exile, of a branch being transplanted into the soil of the Promised Land again. Jesus’ parable speaks of a seed being put in the ground and rising. The kingdom doesn’t simply start with a world conquest. It grows into a world empire because it starts with death and resurrection.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:40 pm | Discuss (0)
June 8, 2005

“Unexplained” Parables

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

At the end of Mark 3, Jesus identifies two categories, insiders and outsiders. Those who are seated around Him are the insiders, the true members of His family. But those who do not come to Him and listen to Him are the outsiders, in spite of their physical relationship to Him. Mary and Jesus’ brothers are left outside while tax gatherers and others are inside.

That distinction is emphasized when Jesus starts telling parables. When His followers, with the twelve disciples, ask about the parables, Jesus tells them that they have been given to know the mystery of God’s kingdom, but “to those who are outside, all things come in parables.” The insiders get the knowledge; the outsiders get everything in parables. Jesus then goes on to explain the parable of the soil to His followers.

At the end of the parable section in Mark 4, Mark tells us again that Jesus did not speak to the crowds without using parables, but that He explained everything to His disciples. That is what we have already seen in this chapter: the outsiders got only the parable of the soil, but the insiders get the explanation, too.

As readers of this Gospel, we get the explanation of the parable of the soils, which suggests that we are being treated as insiders. But what about the other explanations? It sounds as if Jesus also explained His other parables — the parable of the seed’s growth (4:26-29), for instance, and the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32) — but we don’t get to hear the explanation of those parables.

Why not? My guess is that Mark wants us to grow in wisdom so that we are able to figure these parables out on our own. And my further guess is that Mark wants us to realize that the explanation of these parables depends, not only on our knowledge of God’s previous revelation (which we call the Old Testament) but also on the rest of the story he’s telling, namely, the Gospel of Mark itself.

If we read the Gospel all the way to the end, we should realize, for instance, what it means for the kingdom to start like a seed being thrown down on the ground and then to rise in a new and more glorious form.

We should also realize what it means for the kingdom not to come all at once, for Israel not to be ready for the harvest but to need planting, and for there to be a period of slow growth before the sower sends out the sickle to reap the harvest. In fact, Mark probably assumes that we’ve read Matthew and we know that Jesus taught His disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out reapers (Matt. 9:37-38; cf. Luke 10:2).

The parables appear to be left unexplained, but Mark hasn’t left us in the position of outsiders who receive only parables. He also hasn’t simply handed everything to us so that we no longer need to struggle and grow. Rather, he treats us as insiders and gives us an explanation, but the explanation he gives is the rest of the story.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:44 pm | Discuss (0)
June 7, 2005

The Lamp on the Lampstand

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

In Mark 4:21, Jesus tells the parable of the lamp: “The lamp does not come to be put under a basket or under a bed, does it? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? Because something is not hidden which will not be revealed nor does anything become hidden except that it might be manifest.”

Jesus appears to be talking about His own ministry: His coming is the coming of “the lamp,” which reveals the things that have been hidden and kept secret. Some things are hidden and secret now, Jesus is saying, and I take Him to be using what is sometimes called the divine passive: God hid these things and kept them secret. But they are hidden and secret for a time only so that later on they might be revealed. And Jesus is the light through whom these things are brought to light.

But when Jesus identifies Himself as “the lamp,” I wonder if He isn’t alluding to the menorah, the lampstand in the Holy Place, which is spoken of as “the lamp” frequently (cf. the LXX of Ex. 25:37 [2x]; 27:20; 30:8 [2x]; 37:19, 23; 39:37; 40:4, 25; Lev. 24:2, 4; Num. 4:9; 8:2 [2x], 3; 1 Sam. 3:3; 1 K 7:49; 1 Chr. 28:15; 2 Chr. 20, 21; 13:11; 2 Chr. 29:7; Zech. 4:2 [2x]).

In the Old Covenant, as Peter Leithart points out, the lamp was under a basket, namely, the tabernacle or the Temple itself. The light shone only on the Holy Place; it didn’t shine out into Israel and the rest of the world. God had hidden that light, but Jesus comes as the light. In and through Him, the light which once was hidden will shine out to the world, revealing what God had always purposed the mystery that was hidden and kept secret in the Old Covenant.

Jesus is also, I think, speaking about His own ministry. Jesus is the light, but He’s keeping His light under a basket for a while. He isn’t allowing demons to speak about Him. He is using parables instead of teaching in an open and straightforward way. For now, He’s David hiding from Saul and that necessitates some degree of secrecy. But He assures His disciples that one day all that was kept secret will be made plain. And so for now, they’re going to have to pay careful attention to what He says.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:46 pm | Discuss (0)
June 5, 2005

Mark 4:21-34 Sermon Notes

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

Mark 4:21-34
(June 5, 2005, Sermon Notes)

Jesus preached that God’s kingdom was near and that Israel had to repent and trust Him. When opposition arose, Jesus began to teach in parables, stories that often subverted Israel’s expectations of the kingdom.


In the parables of the light and the baskets, Jesus may still be speaking privately to His followers (4:21, 24: “to them”).

Jesus says that “the lamp comes” to be put, not under a basket or bed, but on the lampstand because “nothing has been hidden that won’t be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret except that it might be manifest. Some things are hidden for a while, but only so that later they may be revealed. So the lamp too can’t stay hidden but must be put on the stand.

This parable might apply to the whole Old Covenant. Things were hidden — the lamp itself was under a basket (the tabernacle) — but now, in Jesus, the light is shining and God’s hidden plans are being revealed.

It also applies to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus acts and speaks in a mysterious way, because for now He’s like David hiding from Saul, but one day everything will be plain. And then the disciples will have to make sure that Jesus’ light shines out and isn’t hidden any longer.

To do that, we must listen. Jesus’ next parable is about baskets: the basket you use is the basket that God will use in giving to you. Those who listen to Jesus in faith will keep receiving more and more. Those who listen superficially get little and will eventually lose all the blessings they do have.


In the next two parables, Jesus talks to the crowd about seed again. A sower (probably Jesus) scatters seed and while he sleeps and rises the seed does, too, growing up mysteriously “by itself” until the harvest.

The kingdom doesn’t come all at once. Israel herself isn’t ready for harvest. But seed is being planted and is growing up. Jesus will sleep and rise and so will His followers before the harvest comes. But it’s coming!

Jesus then invites the crowd to join Him in adopting the right image of the kingdom: “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God?” The proper image is this: the kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed thrown on the ground and then growing into a huge bush that gives shade to birds.

The last half of that image is a familiar description of world empires and emperors (Dan. 4:10ff.; Ezek. 17:1-10, 22-24), but the first part was shocking. The kingdom would start as a tiny seed thrown on the ground. It would start, that is, with Jesus, like David hiding from Saul, and then dying. But from that seed comes a kingdom that gives shelter to the world.

The parables demand a choice. Only those inside hear the explanation and only those who submit to the king come inside. But all who measure with big baskets receive the kingdom and grow into a rich harvest.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:45 am | Discuss (0)

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