Mark in the middle


Screen capture of Mark 9:18-32 in the Codex Sinaiticus.

Many experts on the Gospel according to Mark note that near the middle of the book is a pivotal set of teachings from Jesus.

In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus cures the blind man at Bethsaida

This is followed (verse 27) by Jesus asking the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter replies (verse 29), “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus then on three occasions teaches them about his death and resurrection.

Mark 8:31, Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:31, The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.

Mark 10:33-34, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.

This section is closed out with the healing of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) and Mark 11 begins to describe the final week of Jesus in Jerusalem that culminate in his death and resurrection.

As you can see the heart of this section and the very middle of Mark is the three teachings of Jesus about his death and resurrection. And just as the kingdom of God parables were about small and slow things, the disciple’s expectations are again turned upside down in this case by Jesus predicting his death and resurrection.

If you look at what follows after each time Jesus announces his death and resurrection, Mark recounts how the disciples did not understand.

After Mark 8:31, we find verses 32-33:
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

After Mark 9:31, we find verses 32-37:
But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

After Mark 10:33-34, we find verses 35-45:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

The Gospel of Mark begins with Mark 1:1, the beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ. Jesus begins in Mark 1:14-15, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news (gospel) of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news (gospel).

The good news is that the kingdom of God is here! Jesus is the king!!

The disciples like this but they don’t understand that the central part of this truth is that Jesus must suffer and die. Like Peter they have set their minds of their own agenda not God’s plans. Their hearts are set on their own greatness and glory not on servanthood and welcoming the powerless. The “kingdom of God” they have inside their heads is not the same as what Jesus is proclaiming. And of course, they dislike the whole suffering, being rejected and dying part and overlook the resurrection part.

If you are helping to organize small group Bible studies or a Sunday school teaching series, consider Mark 8:22 to Mark 10:52. If possible consider going through the whole Gospel according to Mark. But certainly within Mark 8:22 to Mark 10:52 there is much potent teaching on what it means to be a follower of Jesus!


Mark and the mysterious kingdom of God

Romanian icon of Parable of Sower and Seeds

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Mark’s gospel starts off quickly with the story moving in rapid succession from one event to another including many healing miracles and to short teaching moments.

However, in chapter 4:1-34, there is a longer set of teaching beginning with the Parable of the Sower. Interestingly, the brisk pace set by chapters 1-3 is now contrasted by parables of what can be said to be about “slow” and “small” things: sower/seeds (4:1-9, 13-20), light under a basket (4:21-25), growing seed (4:26-29), and mustard seed (4:30-32). All of these parables come under the category of Jesus explaining to them the kingdom of God, Mark 4:11, To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.

The disciples find all of these things hard to understand. This theme of the disciples “not getting it” will be a re-occurent one in the Gospel of Mark. One possible reason for them “not getting it” was that these things were outside of their expectations. Perhaps they were looking for a military installed kingdom to throw off the Roman rulers and to restore the nation of Israel to its previous glory. Thus, these stories of “small and slow things” would seem a bit disappointing. The ways of the kingdom of God are not our ways. The timetable of the kingdom of God is not our timetable.

Though the disciples do not understand, they do have hope. See Mark 4:10, But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable and Mark 4:34, And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

We can sit passively having the teachings of Jesus go in one ear and out the other. That is not the posture of a disciple. The movement of discipleship, of being a follower, of being a learner is spending time with him. It is wrestling with what he has said and did.

For the disciples, they could be with Jesus and walk the same dusty road and ask him questions. How about us today?

Here are perhaps four ways:

  1. consider His teachings – individually in personal study and in gatherings with others – chew it over, talk it over, pray through it, seek to make sense of it, and put it into practice.
  2. yield to the Holy Spirit – the Spirit assures us we are in Christ, shows us truth, guides us to live rightly, convicts us when we go astray, prompts us in prayer, empowers us to serve others, etc.
  3. live together in community – the church is called the body of Christ; since Jesus commands us to love one another, how do we put that into practice without being in contact with one another? No better way to experience the mind of Christ and be the body of Christ then when we find practical ways to live together as a community of faith living and working together to love people as Jesus did.
  4. partake in baptism and the Lord’s supper – the elements of water (baptism) and bread/wine (Lord’s supper) are visible symbols of the invisible grace God has bestowed upon us. Indeed, these things could become mere “ritual” but clearly Jesus instituted these for our benefit. When we witness and partake in baptism and communion, the potential is there to be reminded and reimbursed in the graciousness of God and majesty of what Christ has done. We all can probably think of occasions when we sensed the presence of God in these simple but powerful, mysterious, and meaningful sacraments.

Kevin Vanhoozer “Inerrancy and hermeneutics”


If you take the Bible seriously, how would you describe its significance to your life and to the life of your community?

Theologians have selected certain words and concepts to explain what the Scriptures are and what the role of the Bible should be in our lives. For example: inspiration, inerrant, and infallible. What do these words mean?

Certainly, the meaning can vary with who is offering the definition!

The podcast link below is with Kevin Vanhoozer offering his perspective.

Gospel according to St. Mark

Mantegna’s Mark
image source:

Matthew’s gospel is well known for the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the powerful prophetic portions of Matthew 24-25.

Luke’s gospel is beloved for its parables like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

John’s gospel is a favorite of many for its “I AM” passages and poignant and pointed personal encounters.

That often leave Mark’s gospel out in the cold.

Yet, those who take the time to visit Mark and read through it find it has its own unique way to highlighting the vital message of Jesus.

For instance, take the rocket launch of the beginning of Mark in chapter 1:1-8 …

Mark 1:1-8 (NIV)

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

N.T. Wright put it this way in Mark for Everyone (2004):

You are sound asleep and dreaming, when suddenly the door bursts open and a bright light shines full in your face. A voice, breaking in on your dream world shouts, “Wake up! Get up! You’ll be late!” And without more ado, the speaker splashes your face with cold water to make the point. Time to stop dreaming and face the most important day of your life.

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What is the Fruit? John 15

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John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (NASB)

In the typical small group study, the question will be asked by either the group leader or a participant, “What is the fruit being talked about here?”

There are two likely answers people will come up with:  (1) the fruit of new believers as a result of our testimony and (2) the fruit of a changed life.

So what are some rules to guide interpretation – determining the meaning of a particular portion of the Bible?

One step to consider is how similar words/ideas are used elsewhere in the Bible.

Fruit of a changed life is a fairly easy interpretation to offer since Paul uses the imagery of “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …”

Sticking with the idea of using Paul’s terminology of fruit we should also look at Colossians 1:3-12 where fruit is used twice.

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

In this case, the idea of fruit of a changed life could be extended to fruit of good works. However, in the earlier usage in the Colossians passage, the context of the advancement of the gospel points to the fruit of new believers in Jesus Christ.

Another step is to look at the immediate context – things before and after the Bible verse in question.

There are two striking features in the immediate context here.

One is the linking of ideas:
1) abide -> fruit (v. 4)
2) bear fruit -> prove to be my disciples (v. 8)
3) abide in my love -> keep my commandments (v. 10)
4) this is my commandment -> love one another just as I have loved you (v. 12)

As you can see in 1 & 2, abide leads to proving to be my disciples and in 3 & 4 abide in my love leads to loving one another.

And if you go back to John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The other is the “word play” of vv. 2-3:
pruneAs you can see, these three Greek words look/sound similar though they have slightly different meanings. The experience of abiding means the Father prunes us (v. 2). The reality of abiding is that the words of Jesus cleans us (v. 3).

Taking all of these things together would suggest the fruit is a changed life and in particular changed toward loving one another.

What do you think?

Wisdom of “old stuff” – Heidelberg Catechism question #1

Heidelberger Katechismus 1563.jpg
By, Public Domain, Link

Having grown up “low church” I didn’t encounter creeds, confessions, and catechisms until much later in life. I’ve seen the Heidelberg catechism question number 1 show up in some worship services in the last handful of years as part of the responsive reading within the liturgy.

In our 21st century minds, it is easy to think all the “new” stuff is the best stuff and to dismiss the “old.”

Take a look at the reflections below from the 16th Century. If truth is capital T truth then it should stand the test of time.

What do you think?

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own(1), but belong – body and soul, in life and in death(2) – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ(3). He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood(4), and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil(5). He also watches over me in such a way(6) that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven(7); in fact, all things must work together for my salvation(8). Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life(9) and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him(10).

1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-9
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17