Posts Tagged 'Mark'

Jesus: Man of Action, Part 1

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The second Gospel is anonymous, but it is almost certain that its author was John Mark from Jerusalem, cousin of Barnabas, and very close associate of Peter and Paul. Since the beginning of the second century, Mark’s authorship of the Gospel bearing his name hasn’t really been challenged.

Mark probably wrote his Gospel around 65 AD, shortly after the death of Peter during the days of Nero’s persecution but before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. However, there are those who believe that Mark’s Gospel was written much earlier, perhaps in the 50’s AD. That’s possible. What this speculation proves is that Bible scholars generally agree that the Gospel of Mark was written earlier than most of the rest of the New Testament.

The Gospels present, in abbreviated form, the life and times of one Jesus Christ, of Nazareth. Mark didn’t state the purpose for his, but John gave this reason for his Gospel and we may be sure that Mark’s reason is essentially the same:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 TNIV)

Mark wasn’t an apostle. Through the eye witness testimony of Peter and others who worked with and traveled with Jesus, John Mark caught a vision of Jesus as Messiah. But his vision of Jesus was slightly different from that of the other Gospel writers. Mark’s Jesus is strong and robust. He’s seen as a man of action, who moved swiftly and deftly from one place to another. This Son of God is seen engaging Satan and the demons of Hell and coming forth victorious. Mark also wanted his readers to understand that Jesus was also the Suffering Messiah, that He suffered even as they were suffering under the thumb of Rome.

Paul thought Mark was failure; a disappointment, but this young man got busy and told the story of Jesus in breathless fashion. He wrote using the historical present in the imperfect tense, as if the events of Jesus’ life were occuring right now. He often used the words euthus, meaning “at once” or “immediately” and kai, meaning “and” or “also” to demonstrate that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Man, was a man on the move.

Jesus: the picture of obedience

It was in God’s mind for a long time that John the Baptist would be the one to introduce the world to Jesus, the Messiah. The title of the Gospel is verse 1:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah… (Mark 1:1 TNIV)

Jesus, the Messiah, is the best news any lost sinner could ever hear! “Jesus” was probably the most common Jewish name at this time. It’s equivalent to “Joshua,” which means “Yahweh saves.”
The “beginning” of the Gospel about this Jesus the Messiah actually began way, way back in the history of Israel, and Mark indicates this:

…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.’ ” (Mark 1:2, 3 TNIV)

John the Baptist was the “voice of one calling in the wilderness.” His job was to “clear the way” for Jesus; to tell anybody who would listen to prepare themselves for the Lord’s coming.  When royalty traveled in those days, state workers went on ahead of the royal procession to smooth out the road and announce the immanent arrival of the king. This was John’s job.

Another thing John was to do was to baptize our Lord as a way of beginning His earthly ministry. John had already been busy baptizing all kinds of people, and in due time, Jesus presented Himself for baptism.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9 – 11 TNIV)

Even though Jesus was sinless, and didn’t need to be baptized, He chose to be. The question is, Why? Jesus Christ considered Himself to be a man and He made it a point to everything – everything – God expected any man to do.   And not only that, Jesus Christ, Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, completely identified Himself with the sinful people He came to save. If they needed to be baptized, then He did to.

The other Members of the Trinity – the Father and the Holy Spirit – were all involved in Jesus’ baptism. Verse 11 is an important theological verse that testifies to the reality of the Trinity.

The TNIV says that the heavens were “torn open” when Jesus came up out of the water. The Greek word Mark used is schizomenous, an apocalyptic word. It must have been a sight to behold! In Isaiah 64:1, we read this prayer of anguish:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! (TNIV)

Well, it took a while, but that prayer was fully answered in the experience of Jesus.

Our Lord exemplified obedience in being baptized by John. But He also showed us what obedience means in relation to temptation to sin. Unlike the other accounts in Matthew and Luke, Mark records only the barest details of this incident.

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12 – 13 TNIV)

There’s that phrase Mark will use time and again, “at once.” Jesus never stands still in this Gospel. The energy of the Holy Spirit is also in evidence; He was the one who “drove” (literally) our Lord into the wilderness. Going alone into the wilderness was for a purpose: To face Satan.

Many Bible students wonder about the temptation of Jesus. Being the Son of God, they wonder, could He really have given in? Was it ever even possible for Jesus to sin? In verse 13, to be “tempted by Satan” means that Jesus was essentially put to the test. But Jesus was being tempted to do far more than just sin. He was being tempted to step aside from His Father’s will; to leave His appointed path (C.E.B. Cranfield). A lot was at stake in this test. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of God’s plan of redemption hung in the balance. Dr McGee put it best when he wrote:

Jesus was not tempted to see if He would fall. He was tempted to show that He could not fall!

In Satan’s mind, the temptation was for the sole purpose of making Jesus fall. He tempts Christians today for the same reason. God allows temptation to come to us for the purpose of strengthening us, not to make us fall. It’s important to remember that the same Holy Spirit who gave our Lord the ability to resist temptation is available to us today. And while it may be true that temptation is a lifetime battle, as we experience each victory along the way, we are made stronger and able to do something positive for the Kingdom of God.

In complete obedience to His Father, Jesus strenuously fought Satan’s temptation and won.  But the obedience continued. Mark shows how intense the earthly ministry of our Lord was. Jesus is seen moving quickly from place to place, healing all kinds of people and casting out demons. People are looking for Him. Jesus is the man of the hour; a man in demand. And yet, was He really? The crowds came and were amazed by the miracles, but very few stayed around to believe the Gospel. This is a significant verse that deserves a moment’s attention:

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38 TNIV)

The people were thrilled with the miracles, but verse 38 tells us what Jesus thought was His most important job: to preach. That was why He came.

Verse 39 serves as a kind of summary”

So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:39 TNIV)

In complete obedience to His Heavenly Father, our Lord began His ministry, faced down the enemy, and performed that which He was sent to do.

Jesus calls for discipleship

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:16 – 20 TNIV)

In between verses 15 and 16, there is an indeterminate period of time. That’s not a big deal, but what is a big deal is the context that connects the two verses. Repenting and believing (verse 15) is followed immediately by leaving and following (verse 16). That’s essentially what discipleship is all about: leaving your world behind to follow Jesus. A disciple is simply one who learns from a master or teacher.

Mark records the calling of two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew then James and John. An interesting point to bring up is that Peter and Andrew were originally John the Baptist’s disciples.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). (John 1:40, 41 TNIV)

These two brothers had been following Jesus before He called them to commit to discipleship. The call in Mark’s Gospel was the call to continuous discipleship. This a serious call; it’s the call that goes out to all believers. And while Andrew and Peter immediately left their business to follow Jesus, many believers today don’t; they insist on following our Lord from a distance. It’s not easy being a disciple. It calls for dedication and consecration; a commitment to follow, learn from, and submit to the Lord, continuously. It something that happens all day, everyday.

The TNIV tells us that Jesus was going to teach His new disciples of how “fish for people.” These guys were hardened fishermen. They had spent a long time out on the open waters and were good at catching fish. They had skill and they had patience. They could read the weather and the waves. But now they would need to acquire new skills if they would be disciples. The real purpose of discipleship is seen in the reason why Jesus called these men. He would teach them how to “fish for people.” He would make them into “fishers of men.” As one noted Bible scholar wrote:

Christ calls men, not so much for what they are, as for what He is able to make them become.

And Christ wants His followers to become disciples so that would be able to go out and make other disciples.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is the Man of action; the running Man. He came with work to do and nothing will stop Him. Jesus is seen as strong and capable. He is seen as the perfect Son and the perfect Man. Jesus is also seen as demanding. He demands complete loyalty and dedication from those who would follow Him.

The First (and Greatest) Commandment

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Mark 12 is an interesting chapter. It’s full of great sermon material. We meet some interesting people in Mark 12. We meet some groups of people who hated each other. The Pharisees hated the Saducees, who hated the Herodians, and they all hated Jesus.

We’ve already met the Pharisees and Herodians. You’ll recall they hated each other, but they teamed up to bring down Jesus by trying to asking this question:

Now tell us, is it right to pay taxes to Rome, or not? (Mark 12:14 TLB)

This was a tricky question because no matter how He answered it, He would get in trouble. Had Jesus said, “No, it’s wrong to pay taxes to Rome,” the Roman government would have come down on Him like a ton of bricks. Had Jesus said, “Go ahead and pay the taxes,” then the Jews would have hated Him. But in the end, Jesus came up with a brilliant answer that shut both groups down.

And then the Saducess took a crack at our Lord. They were an odd bunch. They, unlike the Pharisees, didn’t believe in the resurrection. And that’s why they were sad, you see? During this time, the Saducees were a relatively small group of men who weren’t particularly popular among the masses but they did have some religious and political influence. We are told by Josephus that the Saducees were highly educated men who held in positions of power in Judea. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, this strange religious sect vanished from history.

For sure the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Saducees had no interest in getting to know Jesus better. They just hated Him. But not everybody hated Jesus. He was a really popular rabbi at this time and He enjoyed the attention of the average Jew in Judea. And His teachings caught the attention of some very smart men, the “teachers of the law.” Mark 12 records a conversation our Lord had with one of them.

An honest question

One of the teachers of religion who was standing there listening to the discussion realized that Jesus had answered well. So he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28 TLB)

Jesus’ answer to the Saducees probably pleased the Pharisees, for they too believed in the resurrection. But there was another group of men listening to Jesus’ exchange with the Saducess. A highly educated “teacher of the law” piped up with a question of his own. Unlike the Pharisees and Herodians, this man probably wasn’t trying to catch Jesus; this was an honest question.

The fact that he asked Jesus a question shows his estimation of our Lord. This questioner was an expert in the law, that is, the Jewish religion. He would have known the written law as it is found in the Jewish Scriptures, and he would have been well-versed in its oral interpretation and application.  When this well-educated man asked about the commandments, he wasn’t referring to the Ten Commandments, he was referring to the 613 commandments of Judaism!

We can learn something from this encounter at its outset. This “teacher of the law” could have been anybody we bump into any day. How many people do we rub shoulders with in the course of the average week that ask us about one aspect of our faith or another? And how many of them do we just brush off? We need to be very sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit because who knows if He isn’t at work in heart of that person who may have asked you an irritating question about what you believe? The Spirit was certainly at work in this situation between Jesus and His questioner, and Jesus took advantage of the open door.

The answer

Our Lord began His answer in an unexpected way, by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4.

Jesus replied, “The one that says, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only God.” (Mark 12:29 TLB)

This isn’t a commandment, it actually the Shema, the greatest doctrinal statement of Judaism. In the Hebrew, that sentence begins with the word “shema,” which means, “hear,” or “listen.” Also in the Hebrew it looks like this:

Hear, O Israel! Jehovah our Elohim (plural) is one Jehovah.

That was their affirmation of religious and ethical monotheism. There is only one God and He is the one we worship and He is the one who wrote the rules to live by. Since its inception, Israel was to be the witness to the world of the fact that there is only one God. Surrounded by nations and kingdoms that worshipped many gods, it was up to Israel to show them the truth. The church of Jesus Christ has that exact same mission today. In a secular world full of atheism and false religions, we are to bear witness to the fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make up one, great God, and He is the one we worship and His law is the one we live our lives by.

“And you must love him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.” (Mark 12:30 TLB)

This is the essence of Jesus’ answer, and it’s stunning.

First, just as our God is one, the one (or whole) duty of man in terms of the moral-spiritual law is summed up in one word: love. But it’s first and foremost love for God, that is, love for the one, true God, not your “idea” of what or who God is. The first and greatest commandment is love for the God of the Bible. It’s not enough to proclaim your belief in or love for just any god. There’s only one true God and He’s the one you need to know personally. That’s why Jesus began His answer with the Shema.

The one true God wants our undivided love just as He wants to love us with an undivided love. He loves us personally and He wants us to love Him personally.

Second, just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make up a unity, a one God, so man is made up of different parts. Man’s heart, soul, mind, and strength must all work together in loving the one true God. It doesn’t work if your heart loves God but your mind and soul doesn’t. Your whole being must co-operate in complete unity in loving the one true God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all love you as one. He deserves that kind of unified love in return.

A man’s heart is the very center of his existence, the source of all his thoughts, words, attitudes, and deeds.

Above all else, guard your affections. For they influence everything else in your life. (Proverbs 4:23 TLB)

The soul refers to the seat of his emotions and feelings, while the mind has a reference to our mental capacities and inner attitudes. All those components must work in concert, in full strength, in loving God. This idea of loving God is serious business and it doesn’t just happen. It takes work. It takes dedication and consecration.

An extended answer

The questioner didn’t ask about the second commandment, but that didn’t stop our Lord from addressing it, too.

The second is: ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these.” (Mark 12:31 TLB)

Here Jesus brings in another Old Testament passage, Leviticus 19:18, to show how love for God naturally produces love for others. Loving others ought to be a natural result of loving God. In fact, these two commandments though separate, cannot be separated. They work together. That’s why Jesus put them together the way He did.

Dear friends, since God loved us as much as that, we surely ought to love each other too. For though we have never yet seen God, when we love each other God lives in us, and his love within us grows ever stronger. (1 John 4:11, 12 TLB)

This makes complete sense. Love toward our neighbor is part of our love toward God because that neighbor is created in God’s image! To hate that person would be to hate God’s image in him.

The second part of that sentence involves loving yourself. What does that mean? Is Jesus talking about some kind funky religious self-esteem? Not at all. In fact, human beings were created with love for themselves. Think about that. We want to be healthy, so we look after ourselves. We care about how we look. We don’t want to be cold or hot so we find ways to live a comfortable environment. We’re not talking about some kind of sick narcissism here, but a kind of self-respect. How much we love/respect/care for ourselves should be the measure of how we treat our fellow man.

Jesus ends His answer by telling the religious teacher there are no commandments greater than these two. The over 600 remaining commandments don’t even come close to being as vital and as important as these first two. William Hendriksen gives three good reasons why this is the case.

First, faith and hope take, but love gives. Faith receives God’s gift of salvation in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Hope accepts the promise of it future consummation – our heavenly inheritance. But love involves giving of ourselves to God and to others. It is imparting a part of ourselves to make the lives of others better somehow.

Second, “love” is an all-encompassing word. So many other virtues are included in it. 1 Corinthians 13 is all about this. So expressing love toward others would naturally include all the virtues of that so-called love chapter; things like patience, kindness, humility, and so on.

Lastly, the highest form of human love is patterned after God, who IS love.

Most of all, let love guide your life, for then the whole church will stay together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14 TLB)

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love makes up for many of your faults. (1 Peter 4:8 TLB)

The effect

The teacher of religion replied, “Sir, you have spoken a true word in saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is far more important to love him with all my heart and understanding and strength, and to love others as myself, than to offer all kinds of sacrifices on the altar of the Temple.”

Realizing this man’s understanding, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:23 – 34 TLB)

We have to admire this man. He got it. Maybe nobody else did, but this one man did. He understood it completely. And Jesus saw into his heart and knew that. He knew this man understood precisely what He was trying to say.

And yet, that understanding, that comprehension, wasn’t enough. It got this genuine questioner close to the Kingdom of God, but not into the Kingdom of God.

This incident is all about completeness and unity. Our God is complete and unified. Our love for Him must be complete, with our whole being loving in unity. This man got the truth in his mind, perhaps he even practiced the truth. But something was lacking. Part of his being was lagging behind, and that was enough to keep him out of the Kingdom.

Loving God is an all or nothing proposition.

Giving God His Due

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Jesus was what we would call “a trouble maker.” He was respectful of people but wasn’t afraid to confront them and frequently called a spade a spade. In Mark 12, our Lord was at it again, confronting some religious leaders. He told a parable that cut them to the quick and He drove home the point of story this way:

The Jewish leaders wanted to arrest him then and there for using this illustration, for they knew he was pointing at them—they were the wicked farmers in his story. But they were afraid to touch him for fear of a mob. So they left him and went away. (Mark 12:12 TLB)

It surely galled these religious leaders that this popular and charismatic rabbi was calling them “wicked,” but they were afraid of the crowd that had gathered to listen to Jesus’ teaching. It was close to the time of the great feast in Jerusalem – that’s why Jesus was there – and there were many visitors from Galilee in town and many of them probably knew Jesus personally or they knew His family or His reputation. Not wanting to make a bad situation even worse, these religious leaders decided it was wiser just to leave Jesus alone for now.

They weren’t finished with Him, though. A little later on – we’re not told how much later; perhaps it was the next day – these religious leaders sent some hand-picked men to try it again.

But they sent other religious and political leaders to talk with him and try to trap him into saying something he could be arrested for. (Mark 12:13 TLB)

Strange bedfellows

The Living Bible tells us that “religious and political leaders” came to try to catch Jesus off guard and twist His words around so as to get Him in trouble. These men were Pharisees and Herodians. We know who the Pharisees were, but just who were the Herodians? During this time in Israel, there were a number powerful groups at work in Jewish society. You are familiar with the Pharisees, a group of wealthy, religious leaders who were trying desperately to keep the faith pure. Then there were the Saducees, another highly religious group that denied the resurrection. There were the Scribes, experts in the Law. The Herodians, though, had nothing to do with religion but everything to do with politics. They were followers of Herod, hence their name. The Herodians were a political party that wanted to restore a Herod to the throne in Judea as well as other areas ruled by Herod the Great. Politically, this put them at odds with the Pharisees who wanted more than anything to restore the kingdom of David. These two groups, the Pharisees and the Herodians, hated each other and had nothing in common except their hatred for Jesus Christ. They hated each other but they hated Jesus even more. So these two disparate groups united to silence Him and to ultimately destroy Him.

Flattery…

The attack began like this:

“Teacher,” these spies said, “we know you tell the truth no matter what! You aren’t influenced by the opinions and desires of men, but sincerely teach the ways of God.” (Mark 12:14a TLB)

You can tell that a political group is involved here. Had it been just the Pharisees, they would have hit Jesus hard and fast. But these politicians were a little smoother, a little more polished. They may not have known it, but in their obvious flattery they were actually being truthful!

Jesus’ character. They were spot-on with their assessment of our Lord’s character: “You tell the truth no matter what.” The New Century Version translates their words like this:

we know that you are an honest man. (NCV)

Jesus’ words were true. His heart was true. He was the truth. They were right about that.

Jesus’ courage. They were also correct when they spoke about Jesus’ courage: “You aren’t influenced by the opinions and desires of men…” Think about that statement for a moment. Jesus was a man who was His own. He didn’t care about the so-called powerful opinions of powerful men. He spoke the truth no matter who was listening to it and no matter what they thought. Jesus didn’t mince His words. He loved people and was concerned about lost souls, but He always spoke the truth. He spoke with a holy boldness missing in so much preaching today.

Jesus’ mission. And whether they realized the full extent and truthfulness of their flattery, they got Jesus’ mission right: “[You] sincerely teach the ways of God.” We have the New Testament and we can read Jesus’ words any time we feel like it and we frequently take His teachings for granted, but back in His day crowds of hundreds and thousands followed Jesus around, hanging on His every word because nobody – nobody – was saying the things He was saying. His teachings were so different and so powerful, people knew He was teaching God’s Word. The Pharisees knew this:

After dark one night a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a member of the sect of the Pharisees, came for an interview with Jesus. “Sir,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miracles are proof enough of this.” (John 3:1 TLB)

Nicodemus said it: “we ALL know…” He and his Pharisee pals ALL knew the truth about Jesus. But in spite of what they knew, the Pharisees (most, but not all) still hated Him. They hated Him because He threatened the status quo. He threatened their perceived power. So, joining forces with the Herodians, they posed a question hoping to trap Jesus in His words.

A loaded question

Their question was disingenuous. They didn’t care about taxes. They wanted Jesus to say something that would get Him in trouble. They, the Pharisees, tried the religious way and failed. Now with the Herodians, they figured on nailing Him.

Now tell us, is it right to pay taxes to Rome, or not? (Mark 12:14b TLB)

So, following their obnoxious flattery, they ask this insincere question hoping to impale Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. The tax being referred to here was a capitation tax, or a kind of poll tax. It was collected from every adult male in Judea. To freedom loving Jews, this kind of intrusive taxation was burdensome and, in their way of reckoning, very inconvenient. So hated was this tax that one Judas of Galilee (not that Judas) once wrote of it:

Taxation is no better than downright slavery.

I’m writing this message on April 17, just a couple of days after the due date for Americans to file and top up their taxes, if necessary, so I am sure any sane person reading this would agree with Judas of Galilee! The Roman tax code wasn’t 74,000 pages in length as ours is, but it was nonetheless highly offensive (as ours is), especially to Jews. To them, it wasn’t just the confiscation of their hard-earned money, but the fact that the coinage at the time bore the image of the Emperor. This was galling because divinity was ascribed to him – he was viewed as a god – and the inscription on the coins said so. It was this fact that caused Judas of Galilee, as well as many other Jews of the time, to believe paying this particular was nothing less than high treason against God Himself!

So this question was truly a loaded one. As a popular spiritual leader, Jesus would be expected to have very strong views on the subject of Roman taxation and especially this hated poll tax. Some Jews, mainly the Zealots, flatly refused to pay this tax, because as far as they were concerned paying it was giving far too much authority to the government in Rome. The Pharisees held their noses and paid it. The Herodians, as you might expect, thought this tax was a great idea. How would Jesus answer their question? Would He side with the outlaw Zealots? Or would He come down on the side of the Herodians? No matter how Jesus answered this question, He would be in hot water with somebody. If He sided with the Herodians, Jesus would alienate most of the population of Israel. If He sided with the Zealots, He would bring down the wrath of Rome, not only on Himself, but likely on Judea as well.

The best answer

Jesus saw their trick and said, “Show me a coin and I’ll tell you.” (Mark 12:15 TLB)

How dumb did Jesus’ opponents think He was? Of course our Lord could see through their pedestrian plot and He turned the tables on them. What the Living Bible refers to as “their trick” is really “their hypocrisy” in the Greek. Jesus asked for “a denarius,” a coin worth about 20 cents basically, to drive home His point. He could have asked for any coin, but He asked for the coin that bore the image of the Emperor and this inscription:

Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus (one side)

Highest Priest (flip side)

Apparently the men had some of these coins readily available. They didn’t know it yet, but they were carrying the answer to their question in their very pockets! They themselves were paying this poll tax with this very coin, proving Jesus’ answer!

“All right,” he said, “if it is his, give it to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God!” And they scratched their heads in bafflement at his reply. (Mark 12:17 TLB)

The men surely squirmed when Jesus inquired as to whose picture was stamped on the coin. I suspect before they answered Him, they knew where this conversation was headed.

They replied, “The emperor’s.” (Mark 12:16b TLB)

The tension behind verse 17 must have been palpable. We might translate Jesus’ answer in verse 17 like this:

The tax isn’t that much in the first place, and the coin belongs to Caesar, anyway. Just give it back to him and be on your way.

But then Jesus adds a statement they didn’t get but is really the whole point of the story. The obvious point – just shut up and pay the tax – isn’t the main point, at all.

But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.

This sentence is Jesus’ whole point. First of all, honoring God does not mean dishonoring the Emperor by refusing to pay the tax. In truth, the Jews did receive what we would call “services” from Rome and those services cost money. Israel received the full protection of the mighty Roman army. That was surely worth 20 cents a male!

To put it another way, this tax wasn’t voluntary, it was their obligation. That denarius belonged to Caesar because it had his picture on it. That image proved it belonged to him.

By adding “everything that belongs to God must be given to God,” our Lord is making sure we understand there is no conflict between civic duty and religious duty. One scholar put it this way:

Duty to God and duty to State are not incompatible; we owe a debt to both, and it is clearly possible to be a good Christian and a loyal citizen.

Just so. We do have a responsibility to our government. Personally I think I have too much responsibility, and it hurts to pay all that tax, especially when I see all the corruption and villainy in all levels of government. But I also have a responsibility to God and to His Church. And this is the whole point of this teaching of Jesus. The image of Caesar on the coin was evidence it belonged to him. Likeness proves relationship. Those who bear the image of the world – anybody who doesn’t belong to Jesus – belong to the world and they are serving the world for the privilege of being a part of it. But if you belong to Jesus, then His image has been stamped onto your soul. You belong to Him. That being the case, as the KJV puts it:

Render to God the things that are God’s.

Or as Paul would later put it to his Roman friends:

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? (Romans 12:1 TLB)

We, as Christians, belong to Jesus and we owe Him more than we could ever repay. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try!

Sadly, the fact that the Pharisees and Herodians didn’t get what Jesus said proved that they didn’t belong to Him. If you get what Jesus said, it’s time to ante up and give to God what you owe Him.

The Woman Who Never Gave Up and Father Who Couldn’t

Mark 5:25—34

We are all familiar with the story of the woman “with the issue of blood.”  What most of us don’t realize is that the truly profound nature of this miracle can only be understood in its context to the other miracle, the healing of Jairus’ daughter.

These two miracles are unique in all of Scripture because one interrupts the progress of the other without stopping its progress.  The first miracle represents those who seek for help, the second those who must receive help with the help of others.  One miracle demonstrates Christ’s power over disease, the other His power over death.

1.  A desperate father, verses 21—24

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

The story opens with Jesus by a lake; Jesus was often seen walking by a lake.  As was typical during His early days of ministry, a large crowd of people gathered around Him.  Jesus was immensely popular during these days, largely because of His miracles.  Many of the people who followed Jesus around thsse days were mere “curiosity seekers,” but Jairus was different.  Mark writes that Jairus “fell at Jesus’ feet.”  This very humble action was really a manifestation of deep respect for Jesus.  Unlike many in the crowd who likely wanted to see another miracle, this man sought Jesus Himself, with the hope that Jesus would be able to help his ailing daughter.

What is interesting about Jairus is that he was no ordinary man; he was a “ruler of the synagogue.”  He was a devoted person; we might consider him a sort of “deacon,” or a “chairman of the congregation.”

As a measure of his faith, it is remarkable indeed that this father would leave his dying daughter to pursue the help of a Man he did not know personally or with any assurance this Man would be inclined to help.

It should surprise no one that our Lord would interrupt His teaching to go with Jairus.  Clearly, Jesus saw into this man’s heart and he saw a measure of faith.

2.  A miracle interrupted, verses 25—34

The second half of verse 25, which is the beginning of new paragraph really, connects what is about to happen with the preceding story.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him.

The large crowd was not remarkable but it did pose a problem.  It “pressed around” Jesus, meaning this crowd was literally preventing Jesus from walking to Jairus’ house.   But the crowd also provided an opportunity of one of its number, namely, the woman who had been bleeding uncontrollably for a dozen years.  She thought that because of the size of the crowd she would be able to do what she wanted to do and get away undetected—

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet.  (Luke 8:47a)

The contrast between the woman’s faith and the father’s faith can hardly be missed:  hers was a faith concealed, while his was a very public faith.  Nobody but Jesus knew this woman had faith at the moment she touched him, but nobody could miss the leader of the synagogue falling on his face before Christ!   Here’s a lesson:  faith takes many forms and the Lord honors all expressions of genuine faith, whether very quiet or loudly demonstrative.

The woman’s illness was as old as the child who at that very moment lay dying.  Here is another connection these two miracles have.  In a sense, these two narratives may be viewed as one, with the interruption of a miracle adding all the more glory to the other.

The story of this woman appears in all three Synoptics.  In Matthew, the story is given all of three verses (9:20—22); Luke devotes nine verses to the incident (8:40—48).  Oddly enough, Mark, whose Gospel is considered to be a Gospel of action, spreads the story over a total of ten verses.

But each account is slightly different and provides important details.  In Matthew, Jesus turns to her and speaks to her—

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.  (9:22)

So, Jesus then, on His way to heal a little girl, is interrupted by this very pathetic and desperate woman.   The fact that Jesus was interrupted in His ministry was nothing new. Many times during earthly ministry He was interrupted; while teaching (Mark 2:1), while talking to His friends (Mark 8:31; 14:27; Luke 12:12; etc.); while He was trying to sleep (Mark 4:38, 39) and even while He was praying (Mark 1:35).  The fact that none of these interruptions, including this one, deterred Him from His work showed that He was truly a Divine Man.  What we might call an “interruption” was for Jesus an excuse for another teaching or miracle or a chance to minister to the needs of someone else.

All of us, as servants of Christ, should be keenly aware of the “interruptions” that confront us all day long.  How many of them are really “divine appointments” that we all too often miss because we are so busy doing our own things?  How many times has the Gospel gone unheard by some desperate soul because we didn’t take the time to share it?  Fortunately, for this woman, Jesus was not as selfish as we are.

Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.   At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”   (Mark 5:29, 30)

Not only had something happened to the woman when she touched Jesus, something happened to Him!  Healing “power” had left His body and flowed into hers.  He honored her less than perfect faith, and rewarded her by restoring her to perfect health.  What happened next, though confusing, makes perfect sense.

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (verses 32—24)

Did Jesus really not know whom He healed?  Of course He knew; Matthew’s account attests to that fact.  Why did Jesus make such big deal the whole incident?  Our Lord was giving this poor woman the opportunity to change “faith concealed” to “faith revealed.”  She needed to make it clear to everybody that it was not superstition that drove her to seek Jesus, but it was her faith and His power that resulted in her healing.  Thus many more people would be made aware of what up to this point only two people knew.

3.  Finishing the job, verses 35—43

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking and messengers from Jairus’ house came to Jairus and Jesus with bad news indeed—

While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”  (verse 35)

These messengers sound a lot like some Christians!   When all hope seems lost the first people to give up and throw in the towel are often the very people who should know better!  Imagine thinking for one moment that God functions according to our timetable!  How arrogant is that?

Then Jesus did was Jesus does best:  He ignored the bad news!  With a majestic and divine calmness our Lord refused to listen to the bearers of this doom and gloom report.  And note this:  He encouraged Jairus to do the same thing!

Of course, Jairus was afraid, but take special note of Jesus’ remedy for fear:

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  (verse 36b)

Make no mistake about it:  it takes something positive to drive out something negative!   Recall what Paul wrote to his friends in Rome—

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Romans 12:21)

The encouragement was obviously heeded.  Upon entering the house, Jesus and those with Him were greeted with a great commotion—

“Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.  (verses 39, 40)

In all likelihood these people were a mixture of family and professional mourners that were common during this era.  Their lack of faith and disrespect for Jesus was jarring indeed.  Such an attitude goes beyond a mere lack of faith; these people were actually hostile in mocking Jairus’ faith.  God cannot work in such an atmosphere, so Jesus emptied the room of the poor fools who walked by sight and not by faith.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  (verse 40b)

Accompanied by those He could trust, Jesus went in and, like the bleeding woman before, healed the little girl completely.  At this juncture, Barclay observes succinctly—

The great fact of the Christian life is that that which looks completely impossible with men is possible with God.

Upon completion of the miracle, Jesus issued two orders:

He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this  (verse 43)

Of course, it would have been difficult for anybody to keep quiet about this!  Why would Jesus tell one person to confess openly about her healing only to tell others to keep it quiet?  Remember who met Jesus at Jairus’ home: faithless, professional mourners.  It was their job to perform an act on cue.  Who would ever believe them?

[He] told them to give her something to eat.  (verse 43b)

What an amazing thing for the God of the universe to notice:  a little girl who was hungry.  At once we are struck by the notion that immediately after raising this girl from the brink of death, Jesus knew she would need a bite to eat.

Truly our Lord is concerned about the great big things in life:  a disease that caused a woman to bleed for 12 years and a 12 year girl about to breathe her last breath.  But at the same time, He is concerned about smaller things:  making sure a little girl didn’t miss lunch due to the middle of ruckus He Himself was responsible for, and ensuring that the one who received such a miraculous healing should tell somebody about it.

Such people were worthy of our Lord’s commendation.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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