The Names of Eyewitnesses at the Empty Tomb

Tomorrow’s sermon (Mar 27, 2016) will be from the end of Mark 15 and the beginning of Mark 16. Time won’t allow me to say much about Mark’s use of eyewitness testimony. One critical element in the gathering of eyewitness testimony is the correct identification of witnesses by name.

At Christ’s crucifixion, there was a group of women looking on. Mark mentions three of them by name (Mark 15:40):

  • Mary Magdalene.
  • Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses.
  • Salome.

Notice how long the identification is for the middle of those three. That’s natural because this Mary needs to be distinguished from the other Marys (and there were several). Then too, her son, James, needs to be distinguished from other Jameses. Instead of “the younger,” this James is traditionally referred to as “James the Less” (see KJV) which some scholars think is a reference to his stature, not his age. Perhaps we should be thinking, “James the Short.” Mary’s other son is named Joses, a nickname for Joseph. This common name also required a distinguishing of Joseph from Joseph (which is also done in our passage by means of a man’s hometown: Joseph of Arimathea).

As an important aside, we ought to ask why certain names were so popular in Israel at this time. Several generations earlier, Judea had experienced a moment of independence. In between the time of Alexander the Great and the expansion of the Roman Empire, the Maccabees fought to gain independence for Judea. This was the time in which the miracle of Hanukkah occurred. Down to Jesus’ day, the Maccabees (also called Hasmoneans) were the heroes after whom parents named their children. The prominent members of the Maccabee family bore the names Mary, Salome, John, Judas, Simon, Jonathan, Eliezar, Mattathias, and (perhaps) Joseph. Another factor for the popularity of certain names in Jesus’ day was their appearance in Hebrew Scriptures, especially the names of the patriarchs. Judas (Judah), Simon (Simeon), and Joseph thus had two reasons to be popular. The name “James” (equivalent to Jacob) on the other hand, was not a Hasmonean name, but was of course the name of the father of the twelve tribes.

The designation for our Mary in verse 40 is so clunky that Mark abbreviates it the next two times he mentions her. For sake of fair play, he refers to her in terms of one of her sons the one time, and her other son the other time. At 15:47, when she sees where Jesus is buried, she is “Mary, the mother of Joses.” On her way to the tomb (16:1), she is “Mary, the mother of James.” Same woman each time (15:40, 47; 16:1).

Why do I go into these details? Because Mark names his eyewitness sources as evidence of the truthfulness of his account. This is the same reason that while certain persons remain anonymous in his gospel, others are identified by name (for example, each of The Twelve, Bartimaeus in chap. 10, and Simon of Cyrene’s sons in chap. 15). In all likelihood, those who are named were known to Mark’s readers. A comparison of the gospels confirms this. All four gospels state that Mary Magdalene was among the women who went to the tomb on Sunday morning. But note the differences. Only Mark mentions Salome. Only Luke mentions Joanna. The differences have to do with the distinctiveness of each gospel — when it was written, by whom, and to whom. Each writer mentions those eyewitnesses he personally knew, or that his audience knew, or that the Christian community in general in the Mediterranean world knew as alive and active in the churches as an eyewitness at the time of the writing of that particular gospel.

Ancient historians placed the highest value on eyewitness testimony:

Gathering information out of a book is not the same thing, nor even comparable to learning from the living voice. —Galen, second century AD.

I did not think information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice. –Papias, quoted in Eusebius.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. –Luke 1:1-2.

We say: Christ is risen! To which the eyewitnesses respond: He is risen indeed!

Source: Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Eerdmans, 2006.

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Another Hymn To Go With Today’s Sermon

“Thou Art Coming, O My Savior!” Christian Worship # 580.

While preparing today’s sermon, I came across this moving hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal. However, as a congregation, we are not familiar with the only tune in our hymnbook that fits the words and its unusual meter (Beverley), so I decided to go with a different hymn to close today’s service (“Awake, our Souls! Away, Our Fears! Christian Worship #379).

Here’s a wonderful rendition of “Thou Art Coming, O My Savior.” The St. Michael’s choir is singing the hymn to another tune — different from the one in our hymnbook.

Thou art coming, O my Savior,
Thou art coming, O my King,
In Thy beauty all resplendent,
In Thy glory all transcendent;
Well may we rejoice and sing:
Coming! in the opening east
Herald brightness slowly swells;
Coming! O my glorious Priest,
Hear we not Thy golden bells?

Thou art coming, Thou art coming;
We shall meet Thee on Thy way,
We shall see Thee, we shall know Thee,
We shall bless Thee, we shall show Thee
All our hearts could ever say:
What an anthem that will be,
Ringing out our love to Thee,
Pouring out our rapture sweet
At Thine own all glorious feet.

Thou art coming; at Thy table
We are witnesses for this;
While remembering hearts Thou meetest
In communion clearest, sweetest,
Earnest of our coming bliss,
Showing not Thy death alone,
And Thy love exceeding great;
But Thy coming and Thy throne,
All for which we long and wait.

Thou art coming, we are waiting
With a hope that cannot fail,
Asking not the day or hour,
Resting on Thy Word of power,
Anchored safe within the veil.
Time appointed may be long,
But the vision must be sure;
Certainty shall make us strong,
Joyful patience can endure.

O the joy to see Thee reigning,
Thee, my own belovèd Lord!
Every tongue Thy Name confessing,
Worship, honor, glory, blessing
Brought to Thee with glad accord;
Thee, my Master and my Friend,
Vindicated and enthroned;
Unto earth’s remotest end
Glorified, adored, and owned!

Here (and scroll down) and here and here you can find all sorts of information about the hymn, author, and tune. May you be inspired!

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An Outline of Mark 13

Several points within Mark 13 prove difficult to understand. One helpful key I have found is to understand “the abomination of desolation” as an event with an inaugural fulfillment in AD 70 and a future fulfillment at the time of Christ’s Second Coming.

That leads to a structural chart like this:

Verses 5-27: Future Events           Verses 28-37: Related Commands

5-13: Events characterizing
this entire age

14-23: A distressing series of        28-31: Call to recognize the initial distressing
events with two fulfilments             event and its quickly-unfolding sequence
(once at the beginning of               of further events (both times).
this age — AD 70, and once
at the end).

24-27: The end of this age:            32-37: Because you do not know the timing
The Second Coming of                  of the Second Coming of Christ, always be
Christ                                               awake and watchful.

More in tomorrow’s sermon!

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Verbal Sparring over the Authority of Jesus and of John (Mark 11:27-33)

This Sunday’s sermon passage encompasses both: (a) Jesus’ teaching about prayer, and (b) the account of a confrontation between the Jerusalem leadership and Jesus. I plan to devote the bulk of the sermon to the topic of prayer. In that light, please allow the following comments to help you meditate upon the second half of the passage.

The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him.”
Wow! What a delegation. After Jesus cast the moneychangers out of the temple, members of these three leading classes came together to plan a response. Such a meeting may have taken place in the context of the daily assembly of the Great Sanhedrin. Readers of Mark’s gospel know that the Jewish leaders want to put Jesus to death (Mark 3:6; 8:31; 11:18). In that light, tension fills the air as the delegation approaches Jesus.

By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
Perhaps the leaders’ goal is to incite Jesus to say that his authority comes from God. Upon this basis they could then charge him with blasphemy. The second half of the question also functions as an assertion of their own authority over the temple: “What gives you the right? Get this now — we are the real authorities around here!”

“Answer me and I will tell you…”
Jesus knows it is not wise to give them a straightforward answer. He responds with a challenge of his own, probing their beliefs and motives.

Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?”
Jesus could have asked any old stumper: “How many stars are in the night sky?” “What’s that — you can’t answer my question. Oh well, I won’t answer yours either.” To take that approach would have been mere avoidance. But that is not what Jesus is doing. His response-question parallels their original challenge-question. The correct answer to both questions is the same: John’s baptism was from heaven, and Jesus’ authority is from heaven. Are the leaders willing to acknowledge either of these parallel truths?

If we say…”
As the leaders contemplate their options, the shoe is on the other foot. From the start, they had thought through Jesus’ possible responses. “If he says this, we’ll do this; if he says that, we’ll do that.” But in this chess match, Jesus made a move they hadn’t anticipated, and now they are on the defensive. They need to both think through their own response, and at the same time, once again attempt to anticipate Jesus’ next move.

They were afraid of the people.”
If the leaders were brave enough to answer freely, they would say “of human origin” to either question, whether about John or Jesus. And if they were confident in divine authorization for their own opinions and authority, they would indeed answer freely. Tactfully, but boldly, they would express their position, even in this public setting. Jesus’ challenge, however, brings the leaders’ weakness to the surface. What is the source of the their authority? Does their authority come from God? From the Romans? From the people? At some level, it derives from the consent of the Jewish people. The leaders are afraid to say openly what they think because they cannot afford public outcry against themselves. Jesus’ question reveals that the Jewish leaders’ authority rests on shaky ground.

Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
You can imagine how disappointed the leaders are. They thought they had him. Instead he had them. Always one step ahead. Earlier this week, Jesus entered Jerusalem, willing to be acclaimed as Messiah (Mark 10:47,48; 11:9-10). But he’s not going to give red meat to his enemies. Their hardened hearts can’t handle the truth, and he will grant them the blindness they have chosen (see Mark 4:11-12). Yes, Jesus did come to die (Mark 10:45), and he will give them grounds for his own execution, but only when the timing is exactly right (see Mark 14:62-64). So who is it that’s really in charge here?!

The Old Temple Replaced:
Throughout Mark’s gospel, we see the authority of Jesus from various angles. This passage adds Jesus’ remarkable ability to debunk pretenders to authority. Sure, the Jewish leadership has a certain temporal power in the moment, but their moment is passing. They are being replaced. Jesus asserts authority over the temple because as God-With-Us, he is the long-foreshadowed fulfillment of the meaning of the temple. Furthermore, upon his ascension Jesus will give his Spirit to his people. Thusly filled with the divine presence, we the church are God’s New Temple. The call, then, to me and to you, is to be God’s holy place, yielding daily to King Jesus who has authority over us his temple.

Michael Horton on Christ’s Authority Today:
Regarding Christ’s kingly authority ever since the First Coming, in comparison to the glory of the reign of the Second Coming: “Christ is already a king with his kingdom, but for now this realm is visible chiefly in the public ministry of Word, sacrament, and discipline, and also in the fellowship of the saints as they share their spiritual and material gifts in the body of Christ… Like its gospel, the kingdom’s form, means, government, and effect seem weak in the eyes of the world. It is often persecuted or simply ignored by the powers and principalities of this present age, and yet it grows precisely in and through the apparent weakness of its message and ministry.”
Regarding the close union between king and people: “Christ rules over by ruling within those who are identified as part and parcel of his own body.”
Regarding other powers, like the Jewish leadership in our passage, that pretend to have authority: “The claim ‘Jesus is Lord’ [means that] the threats to God’s promises have been conquered… There are no powers, authorities, thrones, or dominions that can thwart his purposes, although they may present fierce opposition until they are finally destroyed… Christ’s reign topples all rivals who hold us in bondage, so that even death has lost its legal authority to keep us in the grave.”

Sources:
R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Zondervan, 2011. pp. 525-537.

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‘Sandwich Construction’ in Mark’s Gospel

Over the course of the past several Sundays we’ve worked our way through two “sandwich construction” sections in Mark 5 and 6. Here again is last year’s post on that literary arrangement.

[originally posted on March 6, 2013]
In this past Sunday’s sermon passage, we have a fine example of the many “sandwich arrangements” in the Gospel of Mark:

A. Jesus and His Family (3:20-21)
B. Jesus and the Scribes (3:22-30)
A. Jesus and His Family (3:31-35)

This storytelling devise is more common in Mark than in any of the other gospels. Sometimes it appears simply because, chronologically, one event happened in the midst of the lengthier time period of another event. Sometimes this arrangement has to do with geography — one event took place during the period that it took a certain character to travel from one place to another. Usually, however, it is not just that things played out this way in real life. Mark purposefully invites us as readers to compare and contrast the events and/or teachings that he has so intertwined. Below I’ve listed a few more examples. Try your hand at figuring out the reasons for which Mark framed the one passage with the other.

A. The Parable of the Sower (4:1-9)
B. The Secret of the Kingdom (4:10-12)
A. The Parable of the Sower (4:13-20)

A. Jesus and Jairus’ Daughter (5:21-24)
B. Jesus and the Suffering Woman (5:25-34)
A. Jesus and Jairus’ Daughter (5:35-43)

A. Jesus and the Twelve Apostles (6:7-13)
B. John the Baptist Beheaded (6:14-29)
A. Jesus and the Twelve Apostles (6:30)

A. Jesus and the Fig Tree (11:12-14)
B. Jesus at the Temple (11:15-18)
A. Jesus and the Fig Tree (11:19-21)

A. The Chief Priests and Schemes (14:1-2)
B. Jesus Anointed (14:3-9)
A. The Chief Priests and Schemes (14:10-11)

Read, Think, Learn and Enjoy!

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Background Information on the Gospel of Mark

[Originally posted on February 18, 2013]

In the new year, we jumped right into preaching through the fast-paced Gospel of Mark, and we preachers have found it hard to spend much time on Sunday mornings discussing introductory matters. So let’s catch our breath for a moment here and look at some background details…

Authorship
Evidence from the early Church Fathers (especially Papias of Hierapolis, who died in approx. AD 140) along with various pieces of evidence from within the New Testament indicate that the author of this Gospel is Mark (sometimes called John or John-Mark). This is the same Mark who is referenced in Acts 12:12,25; 13:5,13; 15:37-40; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11; and 1 Peter 5:13. Take a moment now and glance through these verses. Be encouraged as you note Mark’s failure (Acts 15:38) and later restoration (2 Tim. 4:11).

The reference in 1 Peter 5:13 to Mark as Peter’s ‘son’ (in the sense of disciple) fits well with Papias’ statement that Mark’s Gospel is a relaying of eyewitness accounts given by Simon Peter. Mark’s account highlights Peter’s weaknesses more than the other Gospels; this may reflect an older Peter’s humble reflections upon his own earlier years. At various points throughout Mark, scenes are described with some detail, small facts being included that seem irrelevant to the immediate point. For example, “There were also other boats with him” (Mark 4:36). Why is this mentioned when Mark doesn’t bother then to tell us how these other boats fared in the subsequent storm? Most likely we are listening in on Peter’s recollection as one who was present on that occasion.

Date
The evidence suggests that Mark wrote his gospel from Rome in about the late AD 50s or the early 60s. Compared to the other three Gospels, Mark has the least amount of unique material (phrases or sentences not found in the other Gospels). For this and other reasons, most scholars believe that Mark was the first of the four gospels to be written. If so, Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources as they wrote their Gospels.

The Framework of Mark’s Gospel
There are two important phrases in chapter one that are matched by similar phrases toward the end of the book. These serve as a frame for the Gospel. We read references to Jesus as being the Son of God in 1:1 and 1:11; these are matched by the centurion’s declaration at 15:39: “Surely this man was the Son of God.” Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is critical in Mark; this phrase appears at significant points throughout the Gospel. Take time to read Mark 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 12:6; 13:32; and 14:61. This sonship in Mark relates to what we might call “family resemblance:” Jesus is God himself, come to earth. The second framing phrase appears at 1:10 where we read of heaven being “torn open” at Jesus’ baptism.The same Greek word is used at 15:38: The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” In regard to the meaning of these “tearings”…Jesus has the Holy Spirit’s power, power from the supernatural heavenly world, and Jesus’ death eliminates the Mosaic Law’s barriers between a holy God and sinful humankind.

Organization
There is a clear hinge between Mark 8:30 and 31. The focus up through Mark 8:30 is on the question of Jesus’ identity and especially upon his miracles. After Peter gives his confession as to Jesus’ true identity (8:27-30), from there the focus turns to the suffering and death of Jesus (see, for example, 8:31-33; 10:32-34; 14:27-28).

Unique Characteristics
Like the other three gospels, Mark focuses on the identity and mission of Christ. Within those broad parameters, Mark has a particular emphasis on the suffering of Christ and, parallel to that, the cost of discipleship. Mark tells us that to be a follower of Christ requires that we be willing to be opposed and to suffer as Christ was and did. Compared to the other Gospels, Mark devotes less space to Jesus’ preaching and parables (do, however, look at Jesus’ two lengthy discourses, chapter 4 and chapter 13). Mark highlights the disciples’ lack of faith and understanding about Jesus. As noted above, the style in which this gospel is written is fast-paced, especially seen in the way Mark uses the word “immediately” as a transition between events.

Two Key Verses
In addition to key verses mentioned above (for example, Peter’s confession and the centurion’s confession), here are two more that tie in tightly with major themes of Mark and even of the entire Bible:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel (1:15).

This statement, Jesus’ opening words in Mark, is both a dramatic announcement and a call for a response to that announcement. Remarkably, Mark teaches, here and in other places, such as 1:2-3, that the long-awaited Restoration Kingdom of which the prophets spoke came to earth in the person of Jesus. Throughout Mark, readers are told that to enter that kingdom, people must turn from their old ways and embrace the good news found in Jesus.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (10:45).

Most biographies don’t give anywhere near the sort of space that the Gospels do to their subject’s death. As early as Mark 2:7, Jesus’ enemies are plotting to kill him. This death is so important because as this verse states (as also in 14:24) it will be a ransom, a death that brings freedom from sin and judgment; and this ransom will be not merely for a few, but “for many,” a reference to Isaiah 53:11-12.

This week, if you are looking for some direction for spending time in God’s Word, work your way through this post, taking time to read each Scripture reference in its context.

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Jesus’ Sisters

This winter, I was a somewhat regular spectator at local high school girls indoor track and field meets. Toward the end of the season I found myself one day at a championship meet with both boys and girls competing. What a remarkable difference! It was immediately striking how much taller, more muscular, and faster the boys were. And when the boys were running — wow! — the cheering was louder and characterized by something new: deep grunts and low-toned bellowing. And then too, all those dads with their stopwatches out — hadn’t seen as much of that at the girls-only meets. I said to a friend, “Anyone who thinks there are no differences between men and women hasn’t been to a track meet lately!”

In the church, because the emphasis of our culture flies in the face of the Bible on this point, we need to carefully and repeatedly explain the biblical teaching about the differences between men and women in their roles in the church and home (1 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:12; Eph. 5:22-33, etc.). At the same time, because we humans are prone to taking things to extremes, we must also proclaim what the Bible teaches about men and women’s equality. That point about equality was made in the sermon passage from which I spoke about a week and a half ago, but time didn’t allow me to say anything about it in the sermon itself. So here’s that point in written form:

Equality in Mark 3:35
In Mark 3:21 and 31-32, Mark shows us Jesus’ mother and his half-brothers approaching him. Then, at 3:33, Mark records Jesus using the presence of his biological family as an opportunity to give a teaching about his spiritual family. Jesus takes up familial language but uses it to refer those seated at his feet, those who in their teachability are doing the will of God. He refers to his followers as his “brother and sister and mother.” When you look at this carefully, however, it is unnecessary and, in fact, surprising that Jesus should include the words “and sister.”

  1. It would have been completely adequate for Jesus to say “whoever does the will of God is my brother.” The Greek word used here (adelphos) is the equivalent to our English word “brother,” and it is used in some contexts, both in classical Greek literature and in the New Testament, in the gender-inclusive sense of our English word “sibling.”
  2. Why does Jesus include the words, “and mother?” Simply because he is taking the situation, the literal presence of his brothers and mother, and turning those terms, “brothers and mother,” into metaphoric language. That is exactly what Jesus does in verse 33 when he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
  3. What all of this tells us is that when Jesus adds “and sister” in verse 35, he is going out of his way to be inclusive. There are likely women at Jesus’ feet, and he knows that there will be women in the church, and Jesus intentionally acknowledges their faith and promises them a deep and abiding spiritual kinship with himself.

Equality Throughout Scripture
Of course, this point is made in a variety of ways throughout the Bible. God created humans, both male and female, in his image (Gen. 1:27). In the First Century, as today, different categories of people thought of themselves as superior or inferior as compared to other categories, but it was not to be this way in the church: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:27-28). Peter refers to Christian husbands and wives as “coheirs of grace” (1 Pet 3:7).

Paul in 1 Corinthians speaks of two types of mutuality in relationships between men and women, one in general, and one in marriage:

In the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. — 1 Cor 11:11-12

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. — 1 Cor. 7:3-4

Finally, note how spiritual gifts are given to both men and women in the church. This example comes from Pentecost:

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy
…and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days
I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. –Acts 2:17-18; quoting Joel 2:28-29

Yes, there are differences between men and women, at track meets, and in the Bible. However, there is no difference in worth or value or closeness of relationship to God. There are no second-class citizens in His Kingdom! Let us rejoice in our common salvation, brothers and sisters!

Credit: R.T. France’s 2002 commentary on the Gospel of Mark.

Two book recommendations:
God’s Good Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women, by Claire Smith. Matthias Media, 2012.
Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother, by Carolyn Mahaney. Crossway, 2004.

‘Sandwich Construction’ in Mark’s Gospel

In this past Sunday’s sermon passage, we have a fine example of the many “sandwich arrangements” in the Gospel of Mark:

A. Jesus and His Family (3:20-21)
B. Jesus and the Scribes (3:22-30)
A. Jesus and His Family (3:31-35)

This storytelling devise is more common in Mark than in any of the other gospels. Sometimes it appears simply because, chronologically, one event happened in the midst of the lengthier time period of another event. Sometimes this arrangement has to do with geography — one event took place during the period that it took a certain character to travel from one place to another. Usually, however, it is not just that things played out this way in real life. Mark purposefully invites us as readers to compare and contrast the events and/or teachings that he has so intertwined. Below I’ve listed a few more examples. Try your hand at figuring out the reasons for which Mark framed the one passage with the other.

A. The Parable of the Sower (4:1-9)
B. The Secret of the Kingdom (4:10-12)
A. The Parable of the Sower (4:13-20)

A. Jesus and Jairus’ Daughter (5:21-24)
B. Jesus and the Suffering Woman (5:25-34)
A. Jesus and Jairus’ Daughter (5:35-43)

A. Jesus and the Twelve Apostles (6:7-13)
B. John the Baptist Beheaded (6:14-29)
A. Jesus and the Twelves Apostles (6:30)

A. Jesus and the Fig Tree (11:12-14)
B. Jesus at the Temple (11:15-18)
A. Jesus and the Fig Tree (11:19-21)

A. The Chief Priests and Schemes (14:1-2)
B. Jesus Anointed (14:3-9)
A. The Chief Priests and Schemes (14:10-11)

Read, Think, Learn and Enjoy!

Background Information about the Gospel of Mark

In the new year, we jumped right into preaching through the fast-paced Gospel of Mark, and we preachers have found it hard to spend much time on Sunday mornings discussing introductory matters. So let’s catch our breath for a moment here and look at some background details…

Authorship
Evidence from the early Church Fathers (especially Papias of Hierapolis, who died in approx. AD 140) along with various pieces of evidence from within the New Testament indicate that the author of this Gospel is Mark (sometimes called John or John-Mark). This is the same Mark who is referenced in Acts 12:12,25; 13:5,13; 15:37-40; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11; and 1 Peter 5:13. Take a moment now and glance through these verses. Be encouraged as you note Mark’s failure (Acts 15:38) and later restoration (2 Tim. 4:11).

The reference in 1 Peter 5:13 to Mark as Peter’s ‘son’ (in the sense of disciple) fits well with Papias’ statement that Mark’s Gospel is a relaying of eyewitness accounts given by Simon Peter. Mark’s account highlights Peter’s weaknesses more than the other Gospels; this may reflect an older Peter’s humble reflections upon his own earlier years. At various points throughout Mark, scenes are described with some detail, small facts being included that seem irrelevant to the immediate point. For example, “There were also other boats with him” (Mark 4:36). Why is this mentioned when Mark doesn’t bother then to tell us how these other boats fared in the subsequent storm? Most likely we are listening in on Peter’s recollection as one who was present on that occasion.

Date
The evidence suggests that Mark wrote his gospel from Rome in about the late AD 50s or the early 60s. Compared to the other three Gospels, Mark has the least amount of unique material (phrases or sentences not found in the other Gospels). For this and other reasons, most scholars believe that Mark was the first of the four gospels to be written. If so, Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources as they wrote their Gospels.

The Framework of Mark’s Gospel
There are two important phrases in chapter one that are matched by similar phrases toward the end of the book. These serve as a frame for the Gospel. We read references to Jesus as being the Son of God in 1:1 and 1:11; these are matched by the centurion’s declaration at 15:39: “Surely this man was the Son of God.” Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is critical in Mark; this phrase appears at significant points throughout the Gospel. Take time to read Mark 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 12:6; 13:32; and 14:61. This sonship in Mark relates to what we might call “family resemblance:” Jesus is God himself, come to earth.
The second framing phrase appears at 1:10 where we read of heaven being “torn open” at Jesus’ baptism.The same Greek word is used at 15:38: The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” In regard to the meaning of these “tearings”…Jesus has the Holy Spirit’s power, power from the supernatural heavenly world, and Jesus’ death eliminates the Mosaic Law’s barriers between a holy God and sinful humankind.

Organization
There is a clear hinge between Mark 8:30 and 31. The focus up through Mark 8:30 is on the question of Jesus’ identity and especially upon his miracles. After Peter gives his confession as to Jesus’ true identity (8:27-30), from there the focus turns to the suffering and death of Jesus (see, for example, 8:31-33; 10:32-34; 14:27-28).

Unique Characteristics
Like the other three gospels, Mark focuses on the identity and mission of Christ. Within those broad parameters, Mark has a particular emphasis on the suffering of Christ and, parallel to that, the cost of discipleship. Mark tells us that to be a follower of Christ requires that we be willing to be opposed and to suffer as Christ was and did. Compared to the other Gospels, Mark devotes less space to Jesus’ preaching and parables (do, however, look at Jesus’ two lengthy discourses, chapter 4 and chapter 13). Mark highlights the disciples lack of faith and understanding about Jesus. As noted above, the style in which this gospel is written is fast-paced, especially seen in the way Mark uses the word “immediately” as a transition between events.

Two Key Verses
In addition to key verses mentioned above (for example, Peter’s confession and the centurion’s confession), here are two more that tie in tightly with major themes of Mark and even of the entire Bible:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel (1:15).

This statement, Jesus’ opening words in Mark, is both a dramatic announcement and a call for a response to that announcement. Remarkably, Mark teaches, here and in other places, such as 1:2-3, that the long-awaited Restoration Kingdom of which the prophets spoke came to earth in the person of Jesus. Throughout Mark, readers are told that to enter that kingdom, people must turn from their old ways and embrace the good news found in Jesus.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (10:45).

Most biographies don’t give anywhere near the sort of space that the Gospels do to their subject’s death. As early as Mark 2:7, Jesus’ enemies are plotting to kill him. This death is so important because as this verse states (as also in 14:24) it will be a ransom, a death that brings freedom from sin and judgment; and this ransom will be not merely for a few, but “for many,” a reference to Isaiah 53:11-12.

This week, if you are looking for some direction for spending time in God’s Word, work your way through this post, taking time to read each Scripture reference in its context.

Tax Collectors & Sinners Transformed Today

Who Are Today’s “Tax Collectors and Sinners?
In Mark 2:13-17 we see Jesus eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” These are people whose sinful behavior patterns were (a) publicly obvious and (b) placed them outside of the mainstream of “respectable” society. While contemplating the question of what sorts of people could be similarly described in our world today, I came across a video about the founder of 20Schemes, a Christian ministry in Scotland’s housing projects (or “schemes” as they call them there). Here is 20Schemes’ description of Scottish schemes:

Opinions on housing schemes differ depending on your life history and experience of them. Nowadays, they are still vestiges of working class people, sometimes holding down 2 or more jobs as they struggle to pay the bills.

Over the years changes have come to the schemes. Along with modern redevelopment there has been an influx of middle class social climbers bringing with them their worldview, often not understanding the nuances of entering a tight-knit scheme community where families have lived for generations. We have also seen immigrants being settled in the schemes, often being met with suspicion. We also have the ‘benefits class’ who have been on social security handouts for generations. For them work is anathema.

All of this is being fed by a drug culture that is commonplace, coupled with a criminal underbelly that deals in street drugs, prescribed medication and stolen goods as a matter of course. Far too many people on the schemes are ruled by fear.

To some they are places of terror, to some places of hopelessness, but to many millions more they are ‘home’.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not suggesting that it’s the poor who are today’s “tax collectors and sinners,” but rather those who end up in poverty as a result of their drug addiction and criminal behavior (of course, there are other sorts of people that would also be modern equivalents to those with whom Jesus ate).

How Might We “Eat” With Today’s Tax Collectors and Sinners?
The founder of 20Schemes is an Irish man named Mez McConnell. In the early 1990s he was a “sinner” (man with a criminal record, drug abuser, etc) in England, and his story about the Christians who led him to Christ reminds me of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. Mez was in prison when two Christians visited him. Mez was impressed with the fact that “they actually just talked to me like I was a human being and not a pet project.” Then, when Mez was eligible for parole, because he had no where else to go, one of these two men took him in to his own home.

Here’s the link to Mez McConnell’s testimony. It is a nine minute video worth every minute!

Transforming Power
One of the things Mez emphasizes in the video is that not only did the Lord convert him, but he also broke through a cycle of abuse and brokeness that had been so characteristic of Mez’ family history. That experience of Christ’s power is what drives 20Schemes’ vision today:

We believe that the biggest need, most urgent crisis, and most crippling poverty in the schemes is spiritual. Most living in Scotland’s Schemes are spiritually dead, trapped, lost, unreached and unengaged by the church. The gospel alone changes lives. The response of the church to the devastating reality of much of life in Scotland’s schemes has to be more than support groups and charity. Our response must be for the church to move into the schemes, to see new, healthy, vibrant, gospel preaching churches established in the schemes and for the schemes.

So is this mere talk, or is 20Schemes being used by the Lord today? At this link you will find a four minute video of a man named Ralph telling his story and being baptized by Mez. Again, well worth your viewing time. Be encouraged!