Daily Bible Study Tips –
Mark, Chapters 1 – 8
Overview of Mark
Mark 4:26-34, Jesus talking to the crowds
Mark 4:35-41, Jesus and his disciples
Mark 5:21-23, 35-43
Mark 5:22-34, Jesus' prayer shawl
Comments on Mark Chapters 9 - 16
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Practically all scholars agree that Mark was the first gospel written. It is especially appropriate that it starts with "This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ...." Note that the beginning of the gospel of Jesus is about John, who began preaching several months or a year before Jesus did. Both John and Mark quoted from Isaiah, who preached about 700 years before John and Jesus were born. God didn't just send Jesus into a situation where no one was expecting him--the way had been carefully prepared.
The early Church fathers reported that Mark was a close associate of Peter and that his gospel is the teaching of Peter. Mark also traveled with Paul. The book of Mark is the earliest of the gospels. It is brief, vigorous, action-filled, and frequently uses the word "immediately" or "straightway." Matthew and Luke used Mark so heavily in preparing their own gospels that the three are called the "Synoptic Gospels," that is, gospels that have the same point of view. These three gospels emphasize the Galilean ministry of Jesus; note that in Mark 1:14, Jesus is moving into Galilee after the imprisonment of John the Baptist by Herod. The Gospel of John was written several decades later than the Synoptic Gospels and contains substantially different material, primarily because it emphasizes the Judean ministry of Jesus.
There are three points of special interest in this passage. First, it says "immediately" twice; that is a key word for Mark. Second, notice that in vs. 32 Mark says "That evening at sundown." Mark wants to be sure you understand that people were not breaking the Sabbath by carrying their sick friends and relatives to Jesus, and neither was Jesus working by healing on the Sabbath. (In the case of Simon's mother-in-law, he simply touched her. This is not work, even if the person is healed.) Doing work on the Sabbath by healing was one of the charges against Jesus that the Jewish religious leaders routinely tried and failed to make stick. Finally, note that in vs. 34, Mark points out that Jesus would not let the demons say who he was. Jesus wanted to make the announcement his own good time, after people had seen and heard him for themselves. This "secret" is characteristic of Mark's gospel.
First-century lepers were outcasts from society. They could not approach a non-leper, and of course no one in his right mind would approach them, much less touch them. This leper has heard of Jesus and knows
that he can be cured. In vs. 40, he is not saying "If you will [do this thing]"; he is saying "If you want to
[do this thing]. Jesus' answer is, "I want to." Then Jesus gives two simple instructions: show yourself to the priest, and keep quiet. The ex-leper promptly tells everyone what happened, and Jesus is mobbed, so that he can't even go into town to teach in the synagogue. Jesus wants to grant our requests. Do we want to grant his?
Mark 2:1-12 (4/7/2008)
I have to tell you a personal story. I got polio when I was 4 years old, in 1952. I was paralyzed from the neck
down. The doctors told my parents that I would never be able to sit up again. At the height of the epidemic,
the last iron lung in California was being held for me. I got sick during National Pet Week, and my cat and her
kittens disappeared, and we lived next door to a reporter. This story had everything: an adorable and
desperately ill child, distraught parents, and a family of 7-toed cats stolen during Pet Week. It went straight
to the front page, got picked up by Associated Press, and hit newspapers around the world. Then the letters
started coming. They all said the same thing: “We are praying for your little girl.” Several months later I
walked out of the hospital. Based on Mark 2:10, Jesus is still
demonstrating that He has the
authority on earth to forgive sins!
Mark 2:23-3:6, Mark 3:20-35
The scribes and Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus on a number of occasions. In today's readings, first they try to accuse him of encouraging his disciples to do something unlawful. Then they try to get him to work on the Sabbath. A little later, they accuse him of being in league with the devil. The problem that they had was that Jesus was smarter than they were, had a better command of the scriptures, and understood the Law more thoroughly. When they complained about his disciples, he cited scripture to show that hungry workers can break a law without guilt. When they tried to get him to heal so that they can accuse him, he healed the man without working--Jesus did not touch the man, and stretching out your own hand is not work. When they made the charge of being in league with the devil, he showed that the accusation is not logical. He also told them that by attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil, they were guilty of a sin that cannot be forgiven.
Quite a few suggestions have been made about why this sin cannot be forgiven. Here's the one that makes the most sense to me. If you can't tell the Holy Spirit from the devil, the chances that you will perceive blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as a sin are slim to zero. If you don't see it as a sin, you will not feel guilty, and you will not ask forgiveness. Therefore you cannot be forgiven. As I say, there are other explanations, so if this one doesn't appeal to you, don't worry about it.
Mark 4:26-34 Jesus talking to the crowds (6/11/09)
Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. Lots of people, both then and now, think that God ought to establish an earthly kingdom, preferably one in which our own guy is on the throne, and all the other nations give us a lot of glory and pay us a lot of tribute so that we ourselves can live lives of luxury without the necessity for paying any taxes. Jesus, like the psalmist, knew that we don't understand the mind or methods of God. He told parables that compared the kingdom of God to things that we do understand. Plants grow with minimal care from us (or at our house, in spite of care from us). Things can start small and get bigger. "Okay," we respond, "We understand all that, but now
are you going to reestablish the kingdom? Can we have the seats on the right and left of the throne?" I suspect that we still don't understand the mind or methods of God.
Mark 4:35-41 Jesus and his disciples (6/19/09)
Work takes power. Do you have power tools around the house? Anything that can be done with a power tool can be done just as well with hand tools. The only difference is whether the power comes from your muscles or from the electrical outlet. If it's a big job – say, building a pyramid – then you probably need a whole bunch of helpers and their muscles to get the job done. Power tools make the job easier, but they can be scary, because they tend to be loud, sharp, heavy, big, and fast compared with the equivalent hand tool.
Doing God's work takes God's power. Jesus had God's power, and sometimes when he used it, it was just amazing. Other times it was just scary. See also Luke 8:26-39.
Mark 5:21-23, 35-43
People occasionally get exercised about whether Jesus spoke Greek or Aramaic. You know, of course, that the New Testament was written in Greek. Today's passage quotes Jesus as speaking a couple of words of Aramaic to a little girl, and then Mark points out that he is translating them into Greek. For my money, it looks like Jesus was mostly speaking Greek during this incident, but to the little girl he spoke Aramaic. If he was speaking Aramaic all along, why did Mark make a big deal out of translating those two words? Other passages are written in Greek, but they sound
like translations--the words are Greek, but the sentence structure or idiom is Aramaic. Some teachings of Jesus are puns when translated into Aramaic, but very ordinary in Greek. Other passages contain puns that only work in Greek. My own opinion is that Jesus spoke Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin on earth, depending on who he was talking to. He also speaks any language that anyone prays in.
Mark 5:22-34 Jesus' prayer shawl (6/25/09)
I urge you to read today's passage carefully, because there's a lot happening in it. What I want to talk about is the kraspedon
. No doubt you will remember from yesterday
is the Greek word that the rabbis used to translate the Hebrew tseetseeth
, both of which mean the fringe or tassel on a prayer shawl. Now, by the first century, Hebrew was like Church Latin – not many people spoke it; some people read it in religious services. Most Jews actually read the Greek translation of the scriptures, because they spoke Greek as a second or even first language. So the Jewish Christians who wrote the New Testament wrote in Greek, often using the vocabulary of the Greek Old Testament.
Now, Mark uses only the word for "garment," himatiou ,
as we see below. This Greek word occurs so often that I think a better translation would usually be "clothes." Both Matthew 9:20 and Luke 8:44, however, say explicitly that the woman touched the "kraspedon
of his himatiou
" – exactly as we saw yesterday in the Greek version of Numbers. So she did indeed touch the fringe of tassels on his prayer shawl. Since many translations say "the hem of his garment," I've always had this picture of her sort of creeping along on all fours. Understanding the connection with the OT gives a different picture entirely, huh?
Why did she have to sneak up from behind to touch his prayer shawl (vss. 25-29)? And why was she afraid when she had to admit what she had done (32-33)? Unfortunately, a woman who had a discharge of blood was unclean (Leviticus 15), and by touching him, under the Law, she made Jesus unclean (Leviticus 5). She knew Jesus was a very holy man, or she wouldn't have been there, and she was afraid that such a holy man would be angry to learn that he was now unclean. Fortunately for her and for us, we don't make Jesus unclean; he makes us clean.
25-29 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his himatiou garment. For she said, "If I touch even his himatiou garments, I will be made well." And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my himatiou garments?"
A few years ago I was in a waiting room and picked up a copy of Popular Mechanics
because of the headline. It was something like "What did Jesus really look like?" A team of forensic scientists had done a reconstruction of an average first-century Jewish face from three skulls found in archeological digs. It sure didn't look like Jesus to me
. I know Jesus has an aristocratic face, blue eyes, and long hair. (You've seen the painting, too, right?). The people in Nazareth had the same problem. When Jesus the Messiah came to visit, they knew what he should look like--a carpenter. They couldn't see him for who he truly was, because they couldn't give up their old idea. Jesus is always fresh and new. We need to give up our old ideas and see him for who he is.
Check out the reconstructed face of Jesus
Today's passage from Mark is rated R for violence. There are four Herods in the New Testament. Herod the Great ruled at the time of the birth of Jesus and ordered the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem (Mat. 2). Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, ruled from the time of Jesus' early childhood through the crucifixion; he had John the Baptist executed and allowed Jesus to be mocked prior to the crucifixion (Mat. 14; Lk. 13, 23). Herod Agrippa I persecuted the early Church and was responsible for the death of the apostle James, the brother of John (Acts 12). Herod Agrippa II, who was the son of Agrippa I and who lived in incest with his own sister, listened to Paul and would have let him go if Paul had not already appealed to Caeser (Acts 25, 26). All the Herods were rated R. See also Matthew 2:13-23.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
A few months ago my nephew called to say he would be in town playing with Dion Warwick and to ask if we'd like tickets. We would! After the performance, he asked if we'd like to go backstage and meet Dion. We did! It was clear that she was exhausted after the performance, but she was as gracious and beautiful offstage as on. Our reading from Mark shows us another example of Jesus as a celebrity. Thousands
of people followed him everywhere. They wanted to see him and touch him and have him speak to them and touch them. They wanted to go backstage. Jesus was always gracious and loving, receiving the crowds and ministering to their needs even when he wanted to be alone with his disciples.
Mark 8:22-26, Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 62: Christ Healing The Blind, by Martinus C. W. Rorbye (8/25/15)
Giving sight to someone who is blind is impressive even today, although for many, modern technology holds no cure. No wonder that people flocked to Jesus to bring him their friends and loved ones, begging him to touch their eyes. The expressions of concern and hope on the faces of the sighted are especially touching in this painting of Christ Healing the Blind, by Martinus C. W. Rorbye.
Previous Step. Next Step.
"Christ Healing The Blind" by Martinus C. W. Rorbye,
from the Gamble family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.
Anyone who was in the first or third service last Sunday has already had the study tip on today's Gospel passage. Two of our great youth actresses did a skit in which a young writer is tempted by the devil. The devil says, "I can give you success and wealth, and all you have to do is give me your soul." Fortunately our writer is smart and faithful, and she decides to go on writing little plays for churches and keep her soul.
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Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
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Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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