Tag Archives: Mark

Bible Reading Blog — March 18, 2016

18 Mar

Today’s Readings — 1 Kings 5-8 & Mark 15:1-15

Never underestimate the power of stirring up a mob. This is what happened when Jesus was sent to Pilate. Barabbas was a notoriously bad character, but when the scribes saw that there was a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, they influenced the crowd to oppose Jesus and support Barabbas.

As I was reading this, my mind turned to our 2016 Presidential Election. So far in the campaign there has been a lot of this kind of activity going on. I’m not making a direct comparison of any candidate to Jesus or even to Barabbas. But what I am seeing is that candidate “A” is out there and he or she is in the public eye and candidate “B” and the supporters of candidate “B” come along and denigrate, bash and otherwise trash candidate “A” to such an extent that the general public feels it is almost criminal to vote for said candidate.

On the flip side, there is a positive spin that is focused much more on style than substance. Some candidates are basing their whole campaigns on celebrity and personality  or the historic nature of their candidacy. Policy specifics are either too vague or too filled with pandering to all the groups a candidate presumably must win to reach their goals. Many candidates this year are trading on anger, not unlike the anger in Mark 15. It is on both sides of the aisle. Voters are angry so the politicians stir up that anger for their own purposes.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were angry too. Under the domination of the Roman Empire, having experienced many humiliating defeats in the decades leading up to the time of Jesus, Judea and Galilee in Jesus’ day were ripe for revolution. So there were many incidents of violence and attempted rebellion. Angry mobs were certainly not limited to the experiences of Jesus in Mark 15. The book of Acts shows clearly this mob mentality was not limited to the things Jesus went through in His passion.

I am not saying that the presidential candidates are going to end up crucified but I am saying that the violence we have seen so far will only intensify as long as both parties and their supporters focus on being angry rather than thinking about who is best qualified to lead in ways that will be best for our country.

My word of advice is to beware of the mob mentality. When you hear people say ridiculous things about a candidate, you can count on the mob mentality being firmly in place. When candidates say outlandish things about each other, they are trying to stir up this mob mentality in others.


Bible Reading Blog — February 19, 2016

19 Feb

Today’s Readings — BREAK & Mark 9:42-50

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Much could be said about this passage. There are many questions which arise from a careful reading of Mark 9:42-50. What I saw as I read it this time was the relational nature of sin. In the first and last verses of this passage there are relational elements highlighted (causing little one to sin and being at peace with one another). In between there are several verses about dealing radically with sin. I have always thought of these verses as dealing with internals struggles, like lust or pride. But in context, it seems that these sin battles have a much more relational element. In other words, we should deal radically with sin not only because of the good it will do us, but also because of the good we will do others if we are not in the grip of sin. If you trace lack of harmony between people to sin as I do, you can see how if two people are dealing radically with sin they might more likely be able to live at peace with one another. Jesus spoke elsewhere about removing the plank from our own eyes. Of course this is not the whole story, but it is a start.

Bible Reading Blog — February 11, 2016

11 Feb

Today’s Readings — Deuteronomy 1-6 & Mark 8:31-9:1

In Mark 9:1, Jesus says “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

To what does this promise refer? This has been a controversy for many years. Various answers have been given. It may refer to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it may refer to the crucifixion and resurrection, it may refer to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem as an event which demonstrates the passing of the old order and the coming of the new. Some also assert that Jesus is talking about the end times and that Jesus Himself expected His return to be soon. This last option is doubtful, because even Jesus says elsewhere that He did not know the time of His return. This might make this option seem more likely, but to me it makes it seem less likely, because why would Jesus be speaking with such assurance about His return being within the lifetime of these disciples if only the Father knew the day of His return?

The most obvious option for the kingdom of God coming in power is seen in the very next passage. It could be that the transfiguration, the very next event recorded, is the coming of the kingdom in power of which Jesus is speaking. Interestingly, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus’ words we quoted from Mark 9:1 are always followed by an account of the transfiguration. So it seems the general consensus was that Jesus’ words and the transfiguration were linked. Of course, this is not a clear case, because it seems odd that Jesus would speak of some not tasting death before they see the kingdom in power coming in the transfiguration when the transfiguration happens so soon after Jesus speaks the words. Maybe because Jesus just spoke of taking up the cross to His disciples He was connecting these truths but it is not certain. Anyway, Jesus wasn’t mistaken. The kingdom would be seen by some standing there, most likely on the mount of transfiguration.

Bible Reading Blog — February 9, 2016

9 Feb

Today’s Readings — Numbers 28-31 & Mark 8:22-24

Today’s reading from Mark’s gospel has always intrigued me.

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” (ESV)

Why did Jesus do this miracle in this way? Was He not powerful enough to heal the man instantly? Of course we know He was, so what explains this miracle? I believe this miracle functions as sort of an acted parable. Just as the blind man is healed so that he gradually comes to see, so Jesus’ followers were gradually coming to see who He was. If you look at these first 8 chapters of Mark you see that the disciples, when they see Jesus’ works and hear His words, marvel, but are also confused. Gradually, as Jesus does one wonder after another, they are coming to understand who He is in reality. This understanding will culminate in the very next passage in chapter 8, where Peter acknowledges Jesus’ true identity as the Christ. Thus Jesus used this healing to illustrate what had been going on in the lives of His disciples as they considered who He was and His kingdom mission.

Bible Reading Blog — February 3, 2016

3 Feb

Today’s Readings — Numbers 10-12 & Mark 7:14-23

Paul says, “to the pure, all things are pure.” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The people of Jesus’ day were obsessed with external purity. Of course the religious leaders were a part of this but the culture at large too was infected with this sense of outward purity, conforming to a standard of behavior to be socially acceptable.

Jesus blows this perspective apart when He speaks in Mark 7 about that which defiles. It is not something outside us, it is something within: our evil hearts.

Purity of heart is not natural to us. We are filled with the kinds of things Jesus mentioned here. Our natural bent outside of Christ is to yield ourselves to our inner passions and this leads to the general weakness of our lives.

The search for purity is like a schoolmaster that leads us to Christ, in whom alone is true purity. As our lives are taken up with His greatness, we are changed inwardly and this affects our outward actions. The end result often though is not conformity to socially acceptable standards but obscure, subtle, almost hidden differences which manifest over a whole life. Human beings are like trees that only really show their fruit after twenty or thirty years. You can see anger and sensuality diminished, but it will come not from the change of habits but from a change of heart, which most of the time God works out in His own way and in His own time.


Bible Reading Blog — February 2, 2016

2 Feb

Today’s Readings — Numbers 7-9 & Mark 7:8-13

We can imagine the pious man saying, “The Bible says, ‘honor your father and mother,’ but I am going to take that which I was to devote to them and give it as a gift to honor God.” This snippet of Mark chapter 7 is the quintessential example of super-spirituality, which is really no spirituality at all.

Yes, there is a place for worshiping God. The Bible abounds with praise. And God should be utmost in our affections and in our priorities. But we best reflect these affections and priorities when we let our passion for God affect our relationships with people. When an act of love, a word of hope or a sense of compassion pervades our daily interactions with others and that love, hope and compassion are rooted in a deep trust in Jesus, God is glorified.

Jesus doesn’t have much use for religious ritual in the gospels, especially the kind that draws attention to one’s self or put the focus on one’s efforts. The gospels are filled, on the other hand, with Jesus’ words about the eternal value of earthly service to our fellow human beings.

I think the reason this is so is that God is God-centered. And the best way we point to God is not by showing everybody how devout we are but by loving them with a love given to us by God. God desires to be made known. He desires to be worshiped. And He spreads a passion for His supremacy through the people He has redeemed, as they pour out their lives with His love. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5).


Bible Reading Blog — February 1, 2016

1 Feb

Today’s Readings — Numbers 1-6 & Mark 7:1-7

“This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” This quotation from Isaiah in the mouth of Jesus is one of the most challenging sentences in the gospels because we always have the suspicion that we would fall into this category. Obviously, we praise God and thank Him but sometimes we are harsh or cutting with our words toward others. We thank God for His blessings but we complain about what is not going right for us. We worship God but also love other things too much. Are we guilty of this hypocrisy Jesus speaks of here in Mark?

We are all to some degree going to fall short of perfect holiness. This is why it is such a great thing that our acceptance before God is based on Christ’s righteousness granted to us by faith and not a righteousness of my own. Still, though, to be a hypocrite is a terrible thing. It dishonors God, it hurts others and it hurts us.

It is important to note that the hypocrisy Jesus points out here is not the common struggle with sin we all face. Instead, Jesus levels His focus on those who replace the clear teachings of God’s Word with human traditions. He says this is the lip service that so dishonors God. And this kind of hypocrisy can run in two different directions. Some hold to religious tradition. Insistence on certain styles of dress or certain music, insistence on things other than grace alone and faith alone for salvation and life. We are all familiar with the religious traditionalist. But there are also strains of cultural tradition which similarly arouse the rebuke of Jesus today. The kind of traditionalism which elevates national pride over Christian allegiance is one such example. Another example is the culture which jettisons clear teachings of Jesus because they are considered outdated or unnecessary. All the while some who ignore the teachings of Jesus still claim His name.

It is not the sins we all struggle with which defines us as hypocrites, it is our insistence that we love Jesus while simultaneously ignoring His Word or subordinating His Word to our own notions of reality that is at the heart of hypocrisy.

Bible Reading Blog — January 30, 2016

30 Jan

Today’s Readings — Leviticus 20-23 & Mark 6:30-34

The principle of rest is an important one in the life and ministry of Jesus and in His interactions with His disciples. In the aftermath of the disciple’s ministry in Mark chapter 6, Jesus calls them away to a quiet place for rest. But the crowds upon seeing the disciples, recognized them and followed after them. Jesus, having compassion on the crowds, healed many who gathered there.

Three principles about rest emerge for me from this passage.

1. The Call to Rest Comes in the Context of a Life of Service.

Jesus calls the disciples to recharge after a period of intense ministry. Rest should not be the goal of our lives but when our lives are rightly taken up with service we should make sure to rest. If comfort, hobbies, interests, and personal peace are our goals, we are straying from the will of God. But comfort, hobbies and the rest are not wrong as long as they are not gods. These things can be a good means of refreshment when we are engaged in God’s kingdom work.

2. Rest Involves Quieting Our Souls.

Jesus calls His disciples to a desolate place because there they would find no busyness, no distractions, and a true opportunity to recharge. In our world, so far removed from the world of the ancient near east, even five minutes of quiet inactivity seems like an eternity. We need, for the good of body and soul, to recover the ancient way of silence and solitude. I know there are dangers there in the minds of some, a fear that we might drift off into mysticism unanchored by the clear revelation of God’s Word. But as I see it, the greater danger is in taking no time to contemplate what God has revealed to us in His Word and taking no time to consider what God is doing in our lives.

3. Rest Must Sometimes Take a Back Seat to Compassion

We may have great plans for how we will use an afternoon but sometimes life breaks in and disrupts those plans. That is ok. If we are guided by love and compassion sometimes we will be spent in God’s service. This can not be a good long-term way of life for us but it is sometimes necessary. So do not fear disrupting your schedule for the sake of a need. Sometimes that is exactly what God wants us to do, because for some of us a schedule can become an idol or an aid to self-centeredness.


Bible Reading Blog — January 19, 2016

19 Jan

Today’s Readings — Exodus 16-19 & Mark 4:1-9

The Parable of the Sower has always fascinated me. The four seeds are scattered and only one of the four places where the seed falls is favorable to bear good fruit. Even then the soil is different in its harvest; some thirty, some sixty, some one hundredfold. There is in Mark chapter 4 a great mystery to the Kingdom of God and much of that mystery is explained through agricultural imagery. We might think since Jesus lived in an agrarian culture that those who heard Him would clearly understand His parables, but this was not so. This parable about the sower in particular will have to be explained.

The big message of Mark chapter four to me is “God is in control.” This doesn’t mean I have no responsibility or should take no action, it simply means God is in control. It is hard to give up control. We all like the illusion that what we do is what makes the world go around. We like the idea of being the captain of our own ship. But life has a way of reminding us daily that we are not in control. Try as we might we can not manage ourselves or others and we definitely can not manage God. This realization drives many people to despair, others to desperation. We either give up or we double down. But I believe the biblical prescription for facing reality is just to face it truly. With hearts of faith in the faithfulness of God we press forward not in the illusion that we control everything but in the confidence that God does. On the other side of that approach is an incredible freedom without passivity, an active faith that demands nothing and counts on God for everything.

Bible Reading Blog — January 18,2016

18 Jan

Today’s Readings — BREAK & Mark 3:20-34

I want to use today’s passage to look at the Greek manuscripts which are behind the English translations of the New Testament we enjoy. There are thousands of fragments and portions of the New Testament which have been hand copied through the centuries. A few of these are from within decades of the original text, others within a century or so, and many others from the early centuries of the last millennium. The New Testament has more copies in existence than any other work from the ancient world, and it is not even close. The next several works with the most copies could have all their copies combined and still fall short of the 24,000 or so New Testament manuscripts.

With that said, there are lots of differences between the manuscripts. Most of these are small matters that don’t affect anything significant. Most scholars say the differences do not affect anything important in 90-95% of the cases. Even in the cases where meaning is affected in a significant way, because there are so many manuscripts, we can usually do some detective work and determine which is the original reading. As we compare manuscripts to one another by age and by place of origin, we can usually construct plausible ideas about when the text was changed and why.

The text for today’s reading is one of the cases where we can see a probable altering of the text in some manuscripts. In Mark 3:20 and 21 we read,

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” The phrase “his family” in verse 21 is the Greek phrase hoi par autou, which means “the one’s close by him” (i.e., “his family” or KJV “his friends”). The phrase is a little vague but seems to point to Jesus’ family. Jesus’ family tried to take Him out of the crowd, saying, “He is out of His mind.”
But a couple of manuscripts have a different reading. These manuscripts have the reading,

peri autou hoi grammateis kai hoi loipoi (“when the scribes and the rest close by him”). Now this reading is obviously very different than the other reading. It is not just a matter of someone copying the wrong letter from one manuscript to another. This is an intentional alternate reading. What is the explanation? It seems most likely that this reading exists because of a desire to protect the family of Jesus from criticism. If the religious leaders can be implicated in calling Jesus crazy, this is more palatable than the words coming from Jesus’ family. But the context of the passage, along with the overwhelming number of manuscripts which support the first reading, point toward an alteration. The context where Jesus points to His true family as those who do the will of God would seem to close the case on the original reading in verse 21 being a reference to Jesus’ family.
Copyists are humans too. Sometimes, out of a motivation to protect those whom the church would later revere (Mary and the brothers of Jesus), a change is made to the text.
Those who haven’t studied Greek can still know something about manuscript differences by reading the footnotes in the Bible or by comparing translations. Most of the time the reasons for differences can be easily explained, giving us a New Testament we can fundamentally trust.


%d bloggers like this: