Reading Schedule and Intro
Today’s Bible Reading is Mark 7-10
Thursday, Feb. 16: Mark 11-13
Friday, Feb. 17: Mark 14-16
Next week we will go back to Numbers and spend four weeks completing Numbers and Deuteronomy, and thus the entire Torah, or Law of Moses. Don’t bail out! You may not realize it yet, but Numbers and Deuteronomy are two of the most exciting books in the whole Bible.
The overall year’s plan is here.
My commentaries are sometimes long. The Bible is the priority. Read it first, and my commentaries are carefully sectioned so you can find the passage you may want help on. Please use the comment section of my blog if I missed something or you have something to add!
Mark 7:1-13: Jesus Takes on the Pharisees
Jesus came to the earth for a lot of reasons. He came to teach. He came to live as an example for us. But one of the main reasons he came was to die (and rise again), with all the eternal and earthly implications of that death.
There are places where Jesus dodges direct confrontation, but once the time comes for him to die, he dodges it no longer. The Pharisees are unknowingly walking into the teeth of the Lion of God.
Jesus’ basic answer to the Pharisees is, "I could not possibly care less about your silly traditions. I am here for the Word of God, and your traditions stand as enemies of the Word." He tells them their heart is far from God, and that their worship is useless.
Mark 7:14-23: Jesus Explains the Heavier Matters of the Law
Apparently Jesus scared the Pharisees off. He called everyone else back to him, and explained that nothing going into a man defiles him. It’s what comes out of him that defiles him.
He waits until later, because the crowds are still receiving things in parables, to explain to his disciples that food can’t defile a man. Only the wicked things that proceed from his heart can defile him.
This explanation was not only against the tradition of the elders, it was against a literal interpretation of the Law. Jesus is already in full new covenant mode. Food doesn’t matter. Clean people matter. Guard your heart. Meditate on the Word of God and separate from the world so that the things that come out of you are the things of God.
Jesus did, after all, "make all foods clean" (v. 19).
We ran into the case of the Syrophoenician woman back in Matthew. Jesus really wasn’t sent to her. He was still sent to the children of Isreal, and it is the children of Israel who were supposed to bless the world with what they received from God. This has always been God’s pattern for his people.
But this woman would not take no for an answer, and Jesus was impressed with her faith. So he heals her daughter.
Later, after the Jews reject their Messiah and the kingdom of God is turned over to the nations so that they become fellow-heirs with the Jews, Gentiles will not go through such a hassle. They will all be called by the Gospel into the full blessings of the kingdom of God.
Mark 7:31-37: An Unusual Healing
Jesus once said that he only did what he saw his Father doing. This healing is a little unusual, involving touching the man’s tongue with Jesus’ saliva.
The Father displayed his power through Jesus however he wanted to do it, and it was rarely the same twice. Either way, the power was great, and no one could stop talking about it. More and more, there was nowhere for Jesus to go without huge crowds following him.
Mark 8:1-21: The Feeding of the Four Thousand Is Missed by Everyone
Just as Jesus had fed five thousand with five loaves and two fish, here he feeds four thousand with seven loaves and a few small fish.
Immediately after, the Pharisees wanted a sign from heaven from him! They hadn’t even noticed the immense sign he’d just done in front of their eyes!
Worse, on the boat afterward, Jesus’ disciples were just as blind. Frustrated with the Pharisees, he tells his disciples to beware of their leaven, as well as of the leaven of Herod.
Instead of getting his point, that the leaven is the doctrine of the Pharisees that must not be allowed to permeate the loaf that is Israel, they begin to worry about the fact that they haven’t brought bread.
Jesus has to explain to them that bread couldn’t possible be the issue to someone who can feed thousands with a few loaves. This passage doesn’t explain that they understood, but Matthew’s Gospel does (16:12).
Mark 8:22-26: A Partial Healing
Here is another unusual healing story. Jesus takes two attempts to heal this man. No explanation is given.
Mark 8:27-38: Peter’s Revelation and Carnal Thinking
Here again we have the story of Peter’s revelation that Jesus was the Christ, combined with his attempt to rebuke Jesus for planning to die.
Jesus takes the opportunity to tell all his disciples that they had all better be ready to die. It is Christ the Lord first and foremost, even over your own life, so live like someone carrying an instrument of death on his shoulder, making his final march to execution.
Mark 9:1-8: The Mount of Transfiguration
Each time this story comes up in the Gospels, it is preceded by Jesus’ statement that some of them would see the kingdom of God come with power before they die.
Immediately afterward, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, his closest three, and they get to experience Jesus revealed in full glory, talking with departed saints.
Peter in his zeal, wants to build three tabernacles, but to God, it is enough to simply listen to Jesus. Jesus needs no lesser saints to back him up. Jesus is the Word of God in and of himself, after all. He gave Elijah and Moses their message; he doesn’t need them to add to his.
Mark 9:9-13: Elijah Must Come
Jesus doesn’t specifically say in this passage, but the coming of Elijah in preparation for the Messiah was in the form of John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Matt. 17:13).
Mark 9:14-29: Jesus’ Disciples Can’t Heal the Demon-Possessed boy
Jesus’ disciples had already been sent out once by themselves with power to heal and cast out demons (Mk. 6:7). This demon, however, they could not handle.
Jesus appears a little frustrated with their lack of faith, and he heals the boy, emphasizing that everything is possible to the one who believes.
Yet at the end, when the disciples ask why they failed, he does not tell them it’s because of lack of faith. He tells them that this kind only comes out by prayer.
I believe the issue is faith. Prayer, however, and fasting (the KJV and NKJV make it "prayer and fasting," not just prayer) can be real faith builders.
Even Jesus knew it was not enough just to demand that people have faith. He could give them examples and promises, but faith is like a seed. It grows when it is properly planted and watered.
Prayer and fasting are ways to water that seed, as is living out an obedient Christian life (Luke 17:5-10). So Jesus calls them to pray and fast, not just to wish for more faith.
Mark 9:30-32: Jesus To Die and Rise Again
Spending one to three years with Jesus has probably given the apostles a somewhat spiritual approach to understanding the Law. Here, however, they are trying spiritual understandings on something Jesus meant plainly, but they just couldn’t believe. He was going to go be killed, then rise from the dead … literally.
Mark 9:33-37: Who Is the Greatest?
Jesus never had regard for the question of who would be the greatest. He always had one answer. Become the most like a child. Become the greatest servant of all. Pursue lowliness, and greatness will be thrust upon you, but you will never be given the right to pursue greatness …
Unless that is, God has abandoned you in your growth and left you to your own pursuits. Beware if God begins to let you fulfill your desire for greatness. It is much more likely to be a sign of God giving up on you than of his blessing you.
Mark 9:38-50: Tolerance and Focus
I think these last 13 verses all go together. John saw someone doing what they were doing, and he wanted to stop them.
He had lost focus. God has put in front of us what we are to do. We are not to be checking on whether so-and-so is doing it right, but we are to be doing what God has given us to do.
There are those who are not perfect. They will be rewarded anyway for supporting the true work going on by true workers. But we who feel we are the true workers, who stay close to Jesus to do his will, must beware of stumbling the little ones. The threats are harsh. Don’t let any part of you lead you astray, and if it does, get rid of it. Throw out that condemning, questioning side of you, beware of stumbling others, and stick to the path that God has called you to walk.
Mark 10:1-12: Divorce and Remarriage (Mature)
Once again, this question from the Pharisees has a context. In first-century Judaism, there were two major schools with quite opposite ideas on divorce, Hillel and Shammai.
Jesus comes down on Shammai’s side, and he gives his reason for doing so.
This passage has raised questions today because Jesus made an allowance in Matthew (19:9) that he doesn’t make in Mark. In Matthew, a man could divorce his wife over the matter of unfaithfulness. Mark gives no such exception.
What do we do with this? Some modern Christians want to throw out the exception, but that is difficult to do.
The fact is, in both Judaism and in early Christianity, if one spouse was cheating on another, divorce was a mandatory response. Otherwise you were participating in your spouse’s sin.
Thus, "the exception clause," as it is sometimes called is almost certainly assumed even where it is not mentioned.
These rules, mind you, are for Christians, and Christian churches should take them seriously. Divorce and remarriage should not be happening in the church, and most churches have no idea of the power God will dispense to save a marriage that is on the rocks.
But these rules are for Christians. There is an awful movement in modern Christianity that wants to apply those rules to the world. They want to forbid any divorced and remarried person from entering the church of Jesus Christ without ripping apart their new family because it’s the product of a second or third marriage.
Jesus is not about correcting the world. Jesus is about building a new world which he calls the kingdom of heaven. Everything that happened prior to entering the kingdom is put to death and buried.
Divorce was rampant in the Roman world, but there is no record of the church ever asking about, much less breaking up families that were on third or fourth marriages.
She will not be counted a second wife who, subsequently to believing, is the first. For it is from believing that our life itself dates its origin. (Tertullian, On Monogamy 11, c. A.D. 210)
Mark 10:13-16: Little Children
Once again, Jesus makes little children the standard for entering the kingdom of heaven.
Mark 10:17-22: The Rich Young Ruler
Here we have the story of the rich, young ruler again. He starts by calling Jesus "good teacher." Jesus immediately asks him, "Why are you calling me good? Don’t you know only God is good?"
Many believe that Jesus wanted the young man to recognize Jesus as the Son of God and to see his need for a savior. I don’t think Jesus meant it that far at all. I think he meant for the young man to realize simply that only God is good. The young man was about to appeal to his goodness for eternal life, and Jesus wanted it to sink in his brain that the young man is not good. He needs divine help.
So Jesus gives him a list of commandments. The young man is sure he’s kept all those, yet something is still lacking.
A love comes upon Jesus, says the Scriptures, and he gives the young man the honest truth. Here’s what else you have to do, go sell everything you have, and give to the poor. You’ll have riches in heaven, and come follow me.
Here, we have probably the first and only case of someone turning down Jesus’ call to follow him, and it was because of wealth.
Notice that Jesus expends no effort to talk the man out of his decision. The truth has come, and the young man has rejected it. Surely Jesus, who felt love for him, was brokenhearted, but only God himself could bring that young man to repentance.
You cannot compromise the standards of God for the sake of getting a false conversion.
Mark 10:23-31: Rich Christians
After the young man walks away, Jesus tells his disciples that it will be very hard for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The disciples are stunned. They may be getting used to spiritually interpreting the Law of Moses, but they weren’t all the way there. Riches were seen as a sign of God’s blessing under the old covenant. The Jews certainly were not understanding that there was a new covenant in which real riches were spiritual and earthly riches were a danger, dragging the heart to earthly things (Matt. 6:19-21).
Apparently the apostles didn’t really get the Sermon on the Mount, either, because they were surprised that it would be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Not applying what Jesus had been teaching them about spiritual and earthly riches, they asked, "Then who can be saved?"
If even the blessed people, the rich, can’t be saved, then how will the poor be saved? Apparently they had forgotten that Jesus had said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3).
Jesus’ answer was simple. It is impossible with man, but nothing is impossible with God.
Mark 10:28-31: What About Us Who Have Left Everything
Jesus explains to Peter that he’s really left nothing at all. He’s simply left his own life for the glorious life of the kingdom of God where there are many children, many father, many brothers, and even many houses and farms because the kingdom of God is a family in which everyone shares.
If you have never gotten to experience this, pray for it. It is supposed to be normal in the family of God, so that no one is in need, no one is without family, and no one is lonely (Acts 4:32-33; 2 Cor. 8:13-15; 1 Tim. 6:17-19).
We who valued above everything else the acquisition of wealth and possessions now bring what we have into a common stock and share with everyone in need. We who hated and destroyed one another, who would not live with men of a different tribe because of their different customs, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them. We pray for our enemies, and we try to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live in agreement with the good precepts of Christ, so that they may become partakes with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 14, c. A.D. 155)
Mark 10:32-45: Talk of Jesus’ Death Leads to More Talk of Who Is Great
Jesus is explaining to the apostles that he is going to Jerusalem to die. Apparently at least James and John are starting to get it. Somehow, Jesus is going to reign from heaven after he dies. So they want a seat on his right and on his left.
Jesus never directly answers these questions. He is always trying to get them to never think about being the greatest again.
So he explains that the apostles are not going to rule like Gentiles. They are not going to "lord over" or "exercise authority upon." They are going to be the servants of everyone.
This is kingdom authority, and its power is infinite because it comes from God. Few there are, however, who dare to trust it.
Mark 10:46-52: The Healing of Bartimaeus
Others may be upset with those who cry out and search after Jesus, but Jesus always found compassion for them … even if he made them work a while at it. In the end, he always gave them what they asked for in faith.
Mark 10:46-52: The Bible as a Spiritual Book (Advanced)
I can’t resist pointing out here that the exact same story is told without naming Bartimaeus by name in Luke 18:35-43. Only in Luke 18, Jesus is on his way into Jericho when he heals the blind man. In our passage, Mark 10:46-52, Bartimaeus is healed as Jesus is leaving Jericho.
There’s some arguments that are made to try to reconcile this apparent contradiction. It’s been pointed out that there were two Jerichos. One was ruins from Joshua’s time, while the other was the new Jericho, inhabited, but built in a different location.
Thus, some argue that in Mark, Jesus is leaving the ruins of Jericho on his way to new Jericho when he heals Bartimaeus. Luke, meanwhile, mentions only that Jesus is on his way into new Jericho.
Reading through Mark, this doesn’t seem like a very natural reading. Worse, for me, it brings up a much bigger question.
On what basis do we care whether Bartimaeus was healed as Jesus entered Jericho or as he was leaving it?
The only reason I can think that we care is because there is a modern doctrine—not an apostolic and certainly not an early Chrihstian doctrine—that inspiration means that the Bible must be accurate in every detail, historically, scientifically, mathematically, and in every other way.
I want to question that doctrine because I believe it lays us back at the feet of a religion based on letter. The New Covenant is an attempt to save us from a religion based on letter and turn us back to the Spirit of God.
Yes, the Scriptures are inspired. As Paul says, they are profitable for correction, reproof, rebuke, and instruction in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
None of this changes the fact that we have entered a spiritual religion, once that is based on the Spirit and not on the letter, because the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).
I believe the fight for an inerrant Bible is a fight for a Pharasaical control of Christianity by trust in the letter, which can only result in new rules, new traditions of men, and the driving of the Spirit further and further from our way of doing things.
All Scripture is "God-breathed," and if we will read it spiritually and learn from it spiritually—together, correcting each other in Christ (Eph 4:13-16; Heb. 3:13)—then we will gain the results that it offers, that we would be "thoroughly equipped for every good work," rather than thoroughly equipped for an obsession with arguments (1 Tim. 6:3-6), as tends to be the case today.