We’re into the New Testament this week. For the next six and a half weeks, we’ll be in the Gospels. This means we’ll read accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry from four unique perspectives. Before we start, let me remind you that the Gospels are more than “history.” They’re “theological biography.” So, while you may sense that you’re reading the same stories, pay attention to the “accents” of each Gospel writer. Each author has a particular (1) focus through which they’re looking at the person and work of Christ and (2) audience they’re helping to see the person and work of Christ.
From the start, Mark gets right to Jesus’ ministry beginning with John the Baptist. He does a mash-up of Old Testament quotations from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 to show us that the Lord is coming with his messenger preparing the way. You’ll notice Mark moves very quickly and there’s a lot of action. Jesus is healing, preaching, cleansing lepers, calling disciples, and discussing the Sabbath. If you’ve read Isaiah and Malachi from Mark’s quotation in 1:1, then you’ll recognize how Mark is helping us see Jesus as “The Lord” who is returning to his people bring justice. Sin and brokenness flee at his name while man-made rules and regulations are corrected (Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath). The tangible actions of Jesus’ ministry reveal who he is.
Jesus’ ministry continues in chapter 3 gaining recognition from crowds and demons, but skepticism from the scribes. In chapter 4 we hear Mark’s collection of Jesus’ parables. In some ways, Mark is showing how Jesus is right in line with Isaiah 6 and the prophetic commission to speak – even though none will understand (including the disciples). But unlike the crowds, the disciples are curious about the parables – which Jesus explains for them. In the same way, Jesus’s action in 4:35-41 raises questions about who he might be, but the question is left hanging.
To the question left unanswered at the end of yesterday’s reading, Mark cleverly and shockingly gives us the answer about who Jesus is through the mouth of a demon-possessed madman in the Gentile country. Surprisingly, this Gentile man after being healed by Jesus is permitted to tell others about the mercy of God. Meanwhile at the end of chapter 5, Jews are told to keep silent. Mark 6 presents a few challenges to Jesus’ ministry from his hometown and from Herod. But Jesus is not thwarted by opposition. He continues to do amazing signs that only Yahweh himself did in the Old Testament (giving bread and walking on water).
If Jesus’s journey and healing in Gentile country wasn’t offensive enough to the Jewish establishment, then the events of Mark 7 would surely have tipped the scales. First, Jesus confronts the scribes and Pharisees about how their human traditions wrongly void the commandments of God. Second, he explains what really makes someone clean or unclean. Third, he goes again into Gentile country making unclean people clean, feeding four thousand Gentiles, and confronting the Pharisees yet again. It’s in this context that Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ and Jesus first foretells his death and resurrection.
Biblical commentators have often seen these two chapters as the significant turning point in Mark’s gospel. At the end of chapter 10, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection a third time followed by the reason the Son of Man came: not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. From this point forward, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. I believe he is encouraged and buoyed on this difficult journey to the cross by the words he hears from his Father at the Transfiguration and his conversation with Moses and Elijah – who perhaps reminded him that the Law and the Prophets foretold of this moment.
Today we read Mark’s account of the Triumphal entry, the cursing of the fig tree, and the cleansing of the Temple. Pay special attention to one of Mark’s favorite features: “the Mark sandwich” where he interjects a smaller story within one longer story. In this case, the long story of the fig tree is interrupted by the Temple cleansing – which is a way of illustrating that the fig tree is representative of Israel which has not borne fruit by believing in the Son. Mark 12 presents a unique warning about the Scribes, who devour widows’ houses (allegedly through dishonest financial requirements) and a connected vignette about Jesus observing offerings – and praising a widow’s faithful generosity.
Jesus leaves the Temple after a long day of teaching only to hear the disciples’ amazement at the buildings. Jesus responds that these buildings will one day be destroyed. The disciples ask two questions: when (vv. 24-37) and how will we know (vv. 5-23)? The key point Jesus wants his disciples to know is to stay awake in order that you may receive the master when he returns. Mark 14 chronicles the two final days of Jesus before the crucifixion.