As we resume the story of Christ’s ministry, we jump back into Mark for the first time in a few weeks. Some of the stories in both the Matthew and Mark chapters we have already studied in Luke and John, but there are some things that are new in our study.
At this point in His ministry, Jesus is become quite famous. His miracles have spread all the way to Idumea, which is much further south than even Jerusalem. For his teachings and miracles to pass that far would have not only been incredible, it would have certainly put fear into the rulers of the area.
The area surrounding the Sea of Galilee is the setting for the next lessons. Keep in mind that, except for those in Nazareth, the people in this area are very receptive and grateful for Jesus and His message. Many of them believe He is the Messiah and are actively seeking Him out. This positive reception is bringing out those who are seeking to discredit Him in larger numbers. This is one of the primary reasons Jesus begins to teach in parables.
We are introduced to our first full parable this week. What I mean by full parable is that in contrast to metaphors and comparisons He used on multiple occasions, He now he will begin telling a full symbolic story and then later give an explanation to His disciples. He is actively seeking to subvert the Pharisees and those seeking His demise, and seeking ways to teach His followers and disciples important things.
The final thing to keep in mind is that chronology begins to be more difficult at this point, but I will do my best to give an order to the events. The gospels present the stories differently, and sometimes not even meant to be chronological, so we will do our best to piece together to order in the story section.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 9 – Matt 8-9, Mark 2-5
– We must cultivate our spiritual soil so we can receive the word, and have it bear fruit.
– Jesus’s message, gospel, and church is for those who recognize they need Him, not those who believe they are already righteous.
– Jesus can bring peace to us, even in our most difficult and chaotic times.
Context and Timeline:
– As mentioned before, Matthew is likely using Mark as a source, and they both kind of just lump miracle stories together to make sure the miracles that they have been told about are included in their witness. So, when we read about the miracles it can difficult to know for certain when they occurred during the Savior’s ministry.
– At the time of Christ’s life there was a lot of folk theology surrounding diseases and handicaps. For example, it was common to believe someone was sinful, or their parents sinful, if they were born with any sort of birth defect (blindness, mute, deaf, or any kind of handicap). People with mental illness were considered to be possessed by evil spirits most instances. While some were obviously possessed with evil spirits, many were likely not. People with leprosy could have had any number of skin related diseases that could have caused people to believe they were lepers, sinful, and unclean.
– When Jesus teaches that He has the power to forgive sins, the Pharisees accuse him of blasphemy, and that may not seem like a big deal in our day, but blasphemy at that time could carry the penalty of death. This was how the Pharisees began building their case against Jesus which ultimately lead to His arrest and death.
– In one account we learn about the conversion of Matthew and in another the account of Levi. They are both tax collectors and were in league with other tax collectors and outcasts. Some have assumed that Matthew and Levi are the same person, which is possible, but most scholars agree they are different people. Both accounts are used as a way for Jesus to explain that his purpose was to interact with the outcast, reach those who are marginalized, and minister to those considered sinners.
– Tax collectors were especially reviled by the Jews, as they not only represented traitors to their people for helping and working for Rome, but also because they had reputations for taking more for taxes than expected to line their own pockets.
– Anciently the hem of a garment would have represented the power of the person who wore the garment. So, it is not just a passing reference when the woman specifically touches the hem of Jesus’s garment. She is specifically reaching for His power.
– Beelzebul or Beelzebub specifically is translated as “Prince of the False Gods” and when you read this story it seems like it is possible that Jesus’s family may have been divided about whether He was the Messiah. He and they make comments that seem to indicate there was some tension and concern about things Jesus was teaching.
– We mentioned before the concept that Israel held very sacred, the idea of Profane (unclean) and Holy (like God) and how the temple rites, and their traditions were built around keeping themselves clean. When someone was considered unclean, they were not allowed to worship until they performed ritual cleansing and other rites. So, when the woman was said to have been bleeding for 12 years, this would have meant she was disallowed from worshiping and fellowship for that entire time.
In the chronology of Jesus ministry that I am using the calling of the 12 and the first Sabbath day confrontations that are given in Mark happened on Jesus journey back from Jerusalem before arriving in Galilee. Sometime after announcing in Nazareth that He was the Messiah, he calls his disciples and followers for the Sermon on the Mount discussed the last two weeks.
We then get a few different miracle stories as they go out to minister in the towns around Galilee. Jesus heals a man with leprosy and asks him to keep it quiet for now and also heals Peter’s mother in law. One of the most famous healing miracles is when Jesus heals the paralyzed man, but no before telling the man that his sins were forgiven in front of a group of Pharisees. When tells the man his sins are forgiven, the Pharisees accuse him of blasphemy, but in order to prove His point, Jesus asks if it is easier to forgive sins or have the man walk again? Then to hammer his point home he tells the man to take up his bed and go home. The man of course rises and can walk.
Probably my favorite of the healing stories is the healing of the Centurion’s son. Centurions were leaders of at least 100 soldiers, and this man would have been a Roman, and not a believer in the God of Israel. However, he may have witnessed some of Jesus’s miracles in his efforts of keeping the peace, or likely heard of his many miracles in the area. In any case, he approached Jesus and asked if He could heal his son. Jesus agrees, but the centurion is ashamed of having Jesus come to his home. We don’t know if he was ashamed because of offensive religious imagery, or things that would cause Jesus to be unclean, or just that his house was a mess. Whatever the reason, the centurion tells Christ that he understands that if Jesus says it that it will happen, whether Jesus is present or not. Jesus is touched by the man’s faith even saying the man has more faith than anything He has seen in Israel.
There are a few other miracles that are thrown in by Matthew toward the end of chapter 9, but I am not going to focus on them. At some point Jesus and his followers go to where Jesus’s family lives and there is some tension there. Some people are claiming Jesus is out of his mind, and his family is concerned, not only for Jesus, but likely for their reputation in the area. Remember that Jesus caused a huge scene when he was in Nazareth, and so it likely had affected many in his family negatively. The scribes accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebub, and Jesus then teaches his famous “A house divided cannot stand” and goes on in some ways to rebuke his family. He realizes he may not have been wanted by some of his family members and tells the crowd that whoever does the will of God is His brother, sister, and mother.
Apparently, it became difficult for Jesus to be near his home anymore and so he migrates near the sea again. I think this experience of leaving his family makes his statement to his disciples that foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head, have more meaning.
While he is near the sea, Jesus teaches the parable of the sower, followed by a few short parables. The parable of the sower is one of the most applicable parables in our day as it discusses the difficulty in receiving the word of God and growing it despite the forces around us that seek to stop that growth. He begins the story saying there is a sower who is sowing seeds. There are four kinds of results to the sowing. 1) Seeds that feel by the wayside and were devoured by birds; 2) Seeds that fell into rocky ground where because there was little soil, after the sprout grew the sun destroyed; 3) Seeds that fell into thorny ground and were choked out by the thorns; and 4) Seeds that feel into good earth and became fruitful and multiplied 30, 60, 100 fold over time.
Jesus then says, “let those who have ears to hear, let that person hear.” At some point after the parable was taught, Jesus was alone with his disciples and explains that he teaches in parables so that only those who are seeking the Kingdom of God will receive the wisdom the parable can teach. He then goes on to explain the parable of the sower to them.
- Seeds the fell by the way side – Those who disregard the word of God when it is given to them and Satan comes and takes the word away.
- Ignoring the word, discarding spiritual experiences, engaging in activities that distract us from the Lord.
- Rocky ground – Those who receive the word with joy, but do not do what it takes to get it deep rooted in their lives and when difficulties and persecution come, they stumble.
- Not seeking spiritual growth (scripture study, praying, fasting, service, teaching others the gospel.)
- Thorns – Those who receive the word, but for cares of the world, the riches of the world, or cares for other things become the priority and choke out the word so it has no room to grow.
- Making the isms of the world more important than Jesus Christ, making wealth accumulation, power, or status our heart’s desire.
- Good earth – Those who receive the word, let it take place, and do something to bring forth fruit.
It is amazing to me that this parable has so much resonance in our day. With the proliferation of secular thought, political and cultural wars, consumerism, and internet/social media becoming so prevalent, it is easy to see how difficult it can be to have good earth that can receive the word of God and grow fruit. I think it is imperative that we cultivate good earth. Luckily Jesus then gives three short parables that give us some insight on how to have good earth.
- Lamp under the Basket –
- Reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount but with a different point. If we are given the word and we use it for good, we will be given more, but if we do not use it, it will be taken from us. We must use the word to receive more.
- The Growing Seed –
- This is an interesting parable, but I think it can mean that we must trust the Lord, and focus on believing that what we have, or what we will be blessed with, comes from God. If we can trust in Him then our ground will continue to be fertile to the word of God.
- The Mustard Seed –
- Jesus is telling us that the size of our ground, or the size of the word that has place in us is not important. Small and simple things bring about great things. We need to focus on the things we believe and cultivate them, and they will grow and build our faith into something even greater over time.
Shortly after Jesus teaches by the sea, he decides they need to cross the sea to minister on the other side. Jesus, his disciples, and many other followers enter boats and begin the journey across the sea. During their journey a great storm comes and begins to overtake the boat. The disciples wake up Jesus and ask him why he doesn’t care if they die. He immediately rebukes the storm, calming the sea, and then asks why they did not have faith? Mark says they were afraid and asked themselves who was this man that the wind and water obeyed. I wonder if they were more afraid of the situation or that Jesus had that kind of power.
When they arrived on the other side of the sea, they have an interesting encounter. In one account it is one man, in another it is two, but they encounter a madman who cannot be controlled by the people in the town of Gerasa. They have bound him with chains on multiple occasions without success, and he has made the people quite afraid. As they encounter him, he comes before Jesus and confronts him demanding to be left alone. Jesus commands the spirit to depart, but the spirit informs Jesus that they are called Legion, and it isn’t one evil spirit but many. Jesus then commands them to leave the man and enter the pigs that were nearby. So they do and the pigs run into the water and drown themselves. The people in the village are not only afraid, but also likely hurt financially with the pigs dying so they ask Jesus to leave the village and he does.
As he is about to travel again across the sea, the madman had been saved asked if he could come with Jesus, but instead Jesus asked him to go to his homeland and teach what had happened. So the man departed to Decapolis, which in fact became a stronghold for Christians over time. Once they arrive back on the other side of the sea, Jesus is asked by Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, to come and save his daughter. In one account Jairus’s daughter is dead already, in another Jairus knows she is near death. In either case, Jesus agrees to help. On the way, a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches the hem of Jesus’s garment hoping to be made clean. Jesus feels power leave him and turns to find out who touched him, when seeing the woman he tells her that her faith had saved her and he tells her she is healed.
When Jesus arrives at the home of Jairus, the girl has been dead for some time and the rituals had begun surrounding death. Many in the family, probably skeptical of Jesus, ridicule him for not coming in time and deride him. He tells the people in the room the girl is only sleeping, and then tells Jairus to have faith and kicks everyone out of the room except the girl’s parents and a few disciples. He then tells the little girl to arise and she is raised from the dead. He asks them to keep that part private, as he knows there were likely people there that would consider it too far for him to have raised the dead and may endanger the family and Jesus.
As we study for the next few weeks we will remain with Jesus in and around Galilee as he performs more miracles, teaches more parables, and gets more aggressive in confronting the wickedness in the area.
Have you experienced any miracles or know those who have? Can you share those with loved ones? If you haven’t already, write them down.
What kind of things in our own lives cause our ground to be rocky, or thorny? What can we do to remove those things? How can we help our children have good ground to receive the word?
What do you think it would have been like to be Jairus and know your child was dead, but then raised from the dead? What about the need to keep it quiet?
How can we have faith in the Lord when things are most difficult? Do you have an experience when you received peace in a difficult time? Share it if you can with someone you love.
Key Moment or Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
35 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
Sometimes we can have the type of faith that Jesus expects his disciples to have in this story. The kind of faith where we can calm the storms around us. However, sometimes all we have is the kind of faith that they did have, the kind where they asked Him for help to calm the storms. When life feels like it is coming down on me I notice my first reaction is to try and fix all the problems myself, but sometimes what I need is to just take a little time and seek out the Lord. When I really get on my knees and ask for his help, I feel more clear and find it easier to deal with the problems.
I believe that when we include the Lord in our problems he can help the problems, but He can also give us ideas, vision, and peace that allows us to overcome them. Even though Jesus is a little harsh to his disciples in this story, we can learn from them and start by asking for help when we are facing the storms of life.
If you don’t have much time for this lesson, at the very least spend time teaching your family the parable of the sower. It is one of my favorite parables, not only because I have seen its truthfulness in my own life, but because I have seen it as a truth in nearly every person I have ever met who struggles spiritually. The things we do to cultivate spirituality are the key to the strength of our spirituality, and it isn’t only about the things we do, or the things we believe, but the things we let have sway in our life.