February 15, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, February 14-16

February 14

Ex. 12:1-36,  Mark 1
Ex. 12:37-,  2 Cor. 10


Mark 1

The Gospel According to Mark is really the Gospel according to Peter.  He directed its writing by his student and friend, Mark.  The Apostle Peter is one of the most memorable people in the New Testament.  Therefore, it is no surprise that, along with his two Epistles, the New Testament contains a record of the life and ministry of Christ written under his direction.  

The Gospel of Mark has several characteristics. First, like the other Gospels, Mark follows a theological, rather than chronological format, because its purpose is to encourage us to believe in, and follow Christ, rather than give a modern biography.  Second, like Peter, the Gospel of Mark moves quickly and emphasises action.  In this way, Peter lets Christ’s words and actions speak for themselves.  Peter shows Christ healing the sick, communing with God the Father, and rising from the grave.  These are things only God can do, therefore, Peter expects his readers to draw the conclusion, Jesus is the Messiah.  Third, Mark emphasises Christ’s desire not to be publicly announced as the Messiah by people who do not understand the nature and work of the Messiah.  He often tells people not to tell others who healed them, or worked miracles.  This is probably due to the widespread misunderstanding of the Messiah that prevailed in Christ’s time.  He was expected to be a military leader, like Joshua, Samuel, and David, who would organise Israel into an army to drive the Romans out of the land.  If people hear that He is the Messiah, they will rally to Him to start a war, not to hear the Gospel.  Therefore, He desires to de-emphasise the title of Messiah until He has accomplished the great work of Redemption by the blood of His cross.  

Chapter one does not take the time to give Christ’s pedigree or the story of His birth.  After the bold statement that the Gospel of Christ begins in the Old Testament (1-3) the Gospel of Mark moves directly to John the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah (4-9, 14).  John’s message is that the Messiah, who is far more glorious than John, is coming.  Therefore, the people are to prepare for His arrival by turning away from sin and seeking God (repentance).  John’s baptism is a symbol of their repentance, and of the Messiah’s baptism with the Holy Spirit.  Notice that John calls the people to repent and draw near to God, not to gather their swords and organise for war.  John is allowed to identify the Messiah because he introduces Him as the Saviour of souls, not the saviour of a political entity. 

Now Christ embarks on His mission.  He defeats the devil by resisting temptation, and He destroys the works of the devil by healing the sick and preaching/teaching about the Person and purpose of God.  He also calls the fishermen to follow Him, thus, He begins to mentor the men He will entrust with the task of founding the Church and proclaiming His life and message.

It is noteworthy that Christ absolutely refuses to be limited to the position of a mere healer (35-39).  Yes, He does much healing in His short ministry, but physical healing is a sign of His identity, rather than the essence of, His work.  Physical healing shows the Divine power of Christ.  Casting out demons shows His Divine authority.  But preaching the good news is primary in the mind of Christ.  He has much teaching to do before He goes to the cross in three, short years.

February 15

Ex 13, Mk. 2
Ex. 14:1-14, 2 Cor. 11


Mark 2

Our Lord returns to Capernaum, a small city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He is probably in the home of Peter when a crowd gathers around the house (2).  At first it appears that people are invited into the house, but, the house is not large enough to contain them all, so they collect around the door, and, probably, in the street.  

There is no doubt that they have come for healing.  Word of His actions in the synagogue, the previous healings at Peter’s home, and the cleansing of the leper, all of which happened in Capernaum, had spread rapidly in the little city. Now that He is back, people flock to Him wanting to be healed, too.  Instead of healing, our Lord begins to preach to them.  There is much they do not know about God and the Christ, and most of what they “know” is wrong.  Our Lord lovingly desires to correct their errors, but few of the hearers allow His words to have any real effect in their lives.  They are there for healing, and they want Him to get on with it.

By now the crowd is so large, most of the people cannot get close to Him.  Four men, carrying a paralysed man, climb onto the roof and remove the tiles to lower their friend to the floor in front of Jesus (4).  The result is amazing, for, in addition to healing the man, our Lord says, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (5). This is important for at least three reasons.  First, because Jesus is intentionally de-emphasising the physical healing aspect of the miracle.  He uses the healing to signify something far more important, the forgiveness of sins, which is a kind of Biblical short-hand for complete reconciliation with God.  Second, Jesus is pointing out His real mission.  He came to receive sinners.  He came to forgive sins.  He came to reconcile people to God.  Third, Jesus is claiming to be God.  The scribes are correct when they say only God can forgive sins (7).  To claim such power is to claim to be God.  So Jesus equates the healing and the forgiveness.  He says it doesn’t matter if He says your sins are forgiven, or get up and walk.  They equate to the same thing.  The physical healing is a sign of the spiritual healing.   In fact, the healing of this man is done so the witnesses can hear Christ’s claim to have the power to forgive sin (10).

Jesus leaves Peter’s house to walk along the beach of the Sea of Galilee.  There, He sees Levi the son of Alpheus, “sitting at the receipt of custom” (14).  Levi is Matthew.  The Bible says Christ said to Matthew, “Follow me, and he arose and followed Him.”   Matthew’s life will never be the same. From now on his life revolves around Jesus.  He seems to just walk away from a high paying job, to gain the riches of treasures in Heaven.  He will become an Apostle, forever remembered as the author of the New Testament book that bears his name.

Matthew seems to have invited the Lord and His disciples to his home (15).  It is not known how long Christ stayed with him, but, during His stay, Matthew invites some of his publican (tax collector) friends to a meal.  He probably wants his friends to meet and follow the Lord, as he is.  But the scribes and Pharisees, who are already joining forces to oppose Jesus, are horrified that the Lord associates with “publicans and sinners” (16).  The scribes and Pharisees consider the publicans traitors to Israel and to God because they collect taxes from the Jews for the Romans.  If Jesus is the Messiah, He is, in their minds, come to make war on the Romans, and their Jewish sympathisers.  Instead of making war, Jesus is eating with them, as though they are friends.  The Messiah, according to the scribes and Pharisees, would never do that.  Therefore, Jesus is an imposter.

But Christ says He has come for sinners (17).  Like a physician tends the sick, He tends the sin sickened souls of sinners.  If you are completely righteous and free of sin, you have no need of Christ.  If you are a sinner, in need of mercy when you stand before God, Christ is for you.  You need Him as the sick need a physician.

In verses 18-22, the Pharisees are offended because Jesus and His disciples do not follow their fasting rules.  Jesus’ answer does not negate the practice of fasting.  He actually chides the disciples for not fasting enough, when they were unable to cast a demon out of a boy (Mark 9:29).  But Jesus is making important points here.

First His disciples are not required to keep the same fasting schedule as the Pharisees.  There is good in joining other believers in times of mutual prayer and fasting, and Jesus is not negating that.  He is simply saying that the fact that His disciples do not keep the same fasting schedule as the Pharisees, does not mean they are sinners.  Second, Jesus is saying the time when He is physically on the earth is a unique time in history.  It is something like a wedding, a time of feasting, rather than fasting.  Third, Christ is negating the man made rules of the Pharisees, which have a strangle hold on the people and faith of Israel at that time.  He is going to burst their religion the way new wine would burst old wineskins.  The Kingdom of God is even going to burst out of Israel and permeate the world.  People of all races and nations will come into  it.  Even Israel cannot hold it.

Verses 23-28 record yet another accusation from the Pharisees.  Jesus and His disciples are picking and eating grain that is lawfully set aside for travelers and the poor.  The Pharisees are angry because they are doing it on the Sabbath.  Jesus’s point is not that the Sabbath is no longer binding upon people.  It is that He, as the Creator, and the source of the Law, has the authority to tell the Pharisees what it means.  He is saying, God gave Scripture, and it means what God wants it to mean, not what people want it to mean.  Since Jesus is God, He has authority to interpret Scripture to the Pharisees.  They do not have authority to interpret it to Him.  Like the Pharisees, we sometimes try to reverse this too, don’t we?

February 16

Ex. 14:15-27, Mk. 3
Ex. 15 , 2 Cor. 12


Mark 3

Many believe Church membership and attendance is optional, but the words of Scripture contradict such thinking.  Aside from His assertions that the Church is the body of Christ, to which God gives pastors and teachers to build up (Eph. 4:11-13), and statements that He will build His Church (Mt. 16:18), our Lord Himself sets an example of faithful attendance in the synagogue. Luke 4:16 records: “as his custom (life rule and habit) was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day.”  Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake the assembling (worship services of the Church) of ourselves together.  Thus, chapter 3 opens with Christ going to the synagogue, saying, “and he entered again into the synagogue” (1).

While in the synagogue a serious question arises; “is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil?” (4).  The question arises because a man with an illness that has caused one of his hands to “wither” is present, and the Pharisees are watching to see if Jesus will heal him on the Sabbath.  According to their view, healing is work, and work on the Sabbath is forbidden.

Christ’s question, in verse 4 is both an accusation against the Pharisee’s false interpretation of the Bible, and an explanation of the true meaning of the Sabbath.  He is saying it is lawful, meaning, permitted in Scripture, to do good on the Sabbath.  He is also saying that refusing to help the man is a violation of the spirit and meaning of the Sabbath, which is to be a day of rest and worship.  Is it more in keeping with God’s intent for the Sabbath to make the man suffer on the Sabbath, or to heal him?  That is the real issue Christ puts before the Pharisees.

The Pharisees refuse to answer.  It is not that they don’t recognise that it is absolutely true to the nature and will of God, and His intent and meaning of the Sabbath to heal the man.  The Pharisees understand this.  But, their heart is so hardened against Christ they will not yield to truth, even in the House of God, even from the mouth of the Son of God.  Their obstinance is so terrible, they would rather see the man suffer than admit their error, and Christ is “grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (5).

Verse 6 is an important point in Mark’s Gospel.  The Pharisees arose in the era of Greek domination of Israel (332-167 B.C.).  At that time, many Jews were incorporating Greek customs and modes of dress into their culture, and were supplanting Biblical theology and worship with Greek philosophy and pagan religion.  In misguided attempts to be “culturally relevant,” and keep the Jewish faith alive, they were transforming it into a pagan cult.  The Pharisees bravely withstood the Hellenisation of Israel’s faith and culture.  Attempting to help Jews understand how to be Jews, they wrote long commentaries on the Law, including many suggestions about what Jews should and should not do.  Within a few generations, their commentaries had replaced the Bible, and their suggestions had become hardened into rules, which replaced the Law of God.  In Christ’s time the Pharisees share the popular view that the Messiah will be a military leader who will organise Israel into an army to drive the Romans out of their land.

The Herodians are Jews with ties and sympathies with the Romans.  They like the Roman culture and religion.  They want the Jews to become more Roman and less Jewish. They do not want a Messiah to deliver them from Rome.

The Pharisees and the Herodians are bitter enemies, each accusing the other of perverting the Bible and distorting the Hebrew faith.  But, in verse 6, these two enemy factions unite in a common cause to destroy Jesus.  Their hate of Him is bigger than their hate of each other, and they are willing to compromise their most cherished and defining beliefs to do it.

After the encounter in the synagogue, Christ returns to the sea shore (7), where He first called the fishermen to become fishers of men.  Due to His fame as a healer, and the spreading belief that He is the promised Messiah, people from Galilee (northern Israel) and Judea (southern Israel) are joined by people from Tyre and Sidon, which are Gentile cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  Idumea is on the southeastern coast of the Dead Sea; beyond the Jordan refers to the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River (8).  Verse 7 calls these  people “a great multitude,” and verse 9  says Jesus gets into a small ship and moves far enough away from the shore to prevent being thronged, but close enough to be heard.  During this time, the Lord continues to heal and cast out devils.

Verses 13-19 record the ordination of the twelve.  These men will spend the next three years following Jesus and memorising His life and teachings.  After Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven, they, except Judas Iscariot, will be in charge of preaching Christ’s message and organising His Church.  Theirs is a critically important calling, and our Lord spends the night in prayer before setting them aside for this work (Lk. 6:12-13).

During their three years with Christ they will have authority from Christ to preach and to heal, and to cast out devils.  In other words, they will be doing as Christ Himself is doing, though under His direction.

The multitudes return in the morning.  The press of the crowds, and the task of ministering to their many needs, is so great Christ and His disciples don’t even have time to eat.  His meat is to do the will of His Father (Jn. 4:34).

Mark returns to the opposition Christ faces for His ministry.  He recalls, first, that Jesus; “friends” come to lay hands on Him, meaning, take Him back to Nazareth by force.  Their identity in unknown.  Perhaps they are simply people who knew Him in Nazareth.  Perhaps they are people who were close to Him.  Whoever they are, they are convinced Christ is “beside himself”  (21), meaning, crazy.  Remember that, when Christ returned to Nazareth, the people rejected Him (Mk. 6:4).  They were offended by His claim to be the Son of God and the fulfillment of Scripture.  Now His claims are not just made in Nazareth, but in all Israel, so they decide to take Him home by force.

Verses 22-30 record the arrival of a group of scribes from Jerusalem.  It would be a natural and right duty of the priests to investigate the actions and teachings of a person doing what Jesus does.  They are the shepherds of Israel, charged with the responsibility of teaching the Scriptures, and leading the people in the ways of God.  Therefore, they need to know whether Jesus is true to the Bible, or is another of the many false Messiahs who populate Israel at this time.  But these men seem to have come with a different mission.  They have come to oppose Christ, not to see if He is teaching and doing the Scriptures.  So they accuse Him of being a demon, and of casting out demons by the power of the prince of devils (22).

Jesus calls them to Him for a public confrontation.  His words to them show the folly of their accusation.  Why would Satan cast out devils?  Wouldn’t Satan’s purpose be better served by causing more demons to enter people?  And if Satan is fighting other demons, then his divided house will be easy to conquer.  He “cannot stand, but hath an end” (26).  For another will enter Satan’s house and take his things away from him.

That is exactly what Christ is doing.  He is entering Satan’s house and taking away the souls and lives Satan has been working to steal and keep imprisoned there.  So, Jesus is not on Satan’s side; He is breaking into Satan’s house and taking back what the devil has stolen from Him.

The final opposition, in this chapter, comes from Jesus’ own family.  It is especially surprising that Mary is doing this.  She knows of Jesus’ miraculous conception.  She heard the angel’s announcement that she would bear a son, and she saw the shepherds and wise men come to worship Him.  She saw Him grow to manhood in a very troubled world, facing the same situations and temptations as other children, yet without sin.  She knows He is the Messiah.  But, even Mary is allowed to have doubts and fears, and, giving in to them, she comes to take Jesus home.

Our Lord uses this opportunity to describe the true family of God.  “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (35).

One of the great questions that troubles people reading this chapter, is the unforgivable sin, mentioned in verse 29.  Notice that our Lord speaks of it in conjunction with the scribes calling Him Satan, and saying His works are done for the devil and by the devil’s power.  It is this ascribing the work of God to the devil, that is unforgivable.

God, in His mercy, has issued a general invitation to all people to come to Him.  He knows we are sinners, yet He promises to forgive our sins, and to give us blessings and graces beyond our ability to imagine.  His invitation comes through nature and the Bible as the Holy Spirit calls our attention to it, and enables us to understand it.  Those who are given this understanding, yet  call it mythology, lies, or, evil, are committing terrible sin.  They are saying the Holy Spirit’s works are false.  They are calling God a liar and a devil.  If they die in this sin, they will answer for it when they face God on Judgement Day.