The Demanding Jesus (Mark 11.1–33)

Several years ago, Phillip Yancey published a book entitled, The Jesus I Never Knew. Yancey cut through the fog of mistaken interpretations that so often floats around Jesus and reintroduced his readers to the Gospels’ portrait of him. In the Gospels, Jesus is simultaneously more gracious and more demanding than we are. We see the demanding Jesus on display in Mark 11.1–33. The first event Mark 11 narrates is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (verses 1–11). Jesus tells his disciples to find a colt for him to ride into Jerusalem. If someone asks them why they are … Continue reading The Demanding Jesus (Mark 11.1–33)

Astonishment, Fear, Desire, and Trust (Mark 10.32–52)

How do you respond to Jesus at an emotional level? Mark 10.32–52 portrays four responses: astonishment, fear, desire, and trust. Take a closer look at each one. First, astonishment. “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished.” They had good reason to be astonished, of course. In their time with Jesus, they had witnessed him perform miracles great and small; seen him exorcise demons singly and in legions; heard him teach with authority, encouragement, and challenging words; and themselves performed miracles and exorcisms in his name. Jesus constantly astonished the … Continue reading Astonishment, Fear, Desire, and Trust (Mark 10.32–52)

Three Hard Words (Mark 10.1–31)

Mark 10.1–31 records three hard words of Jesus about divorce, childlikeness, and wealth. Regarding divorce, Jesus said, “No!” Some Pharisees tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Alluding to Deuteronomy 24.1–4, the Pharisees answered, “Yes.” But Jesus was unsatisfied with their answer, so he responded: “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law. But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one … Continue reading Three Hard Words (Mark 10.1–31)

Becoming a Servant Like Jesus (Mark 9:33-50)

I have a recurring dream in which I’m the President of the United States. (Don’t laugh! I’d be the fourth George to hold the office.) During my two terms in office, I—in no particular order of importance—establish world peace, secure America’s borders, eliminate domestic poverty, tame the opposition party, and set a standard of presidential eloquence that meets or exceeds Abraham Lincoln’s. Then I wake up. The waking world is different than the dreaming world. In the dreaming world, I am powerful. What I set out to do, I accomplish, despite opposition or obstacles. I achieve what the Greeks called … Continue reading Becoming a Servant Like Jesus (Mark 9:33-50)

Listen to Him! (Mark 9.2–32)

In Mark 9.2–32, a voice from heaven tells Peter, James, and John: “This [Jesus] is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” With these words, God tells us who Jesus is and how we ought to respond to him. Let’s look closer at the who and the how. First, who is Jesus? Mark 9.2–32 shows Jesus in five distinct relationships: with the disciples, the prophets, the Father, the crowds, and the demons. Each relationship teaches us something about Jesus’ identity. With the disciples, Jesus is the teacher. He tells them about his impending death and resurrection. He interprets the … Continue reading Listen to Him! (Mark 9.2–32)

Things of God, Things of Men (Mark 8.22–9.1)

Jesus’ relationship with his disciples is all too often a relationship of one step forward, two steps back—both with his first disciples and with us today. They, and we, make progress in the faith only to backslide into our old way of doing things. This back-and-forth dynamic is only display in Mark 8.22–9.1. “Who do people say I am?” Jesus asks the disciples. We often read the Gospels in order to find practical guidance about how to live our lives, and it offers guidance aplenty. However, the Gospels are not about us, they are about Jesus. Therefore, the question we … Continue reading Things of God, Things of Men (Mark 8.22–9.1)

The Yeast of the Pharisees (Mark 8.1­–21)

Over the past two years, I have become a huge fan of television crime shows. I watch CSI, Law & Order, Cold Case, and Numbers, of course, all of which are fictional. But I enjoy “true crime” shows the most. My wife and I TiVo every episode of American Justice and Cold Case Files. What fascinates me about these shows is the way detectives patiently gather and sift evidence in order to solve the case and convict a criminal. Mark 8.1–21 tells two stories. The first is the feeding of the 4000 (vv. 1–13). The second reports on the debriefing … Continue reading The Yeast of the Pharisees (Mark 8.1­–21)

He Has Done Everything Well (Mark 7.24–37)

Mark 7.24–37 tells two stories. In the first story, a Greek woman from Syrian Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon) asks Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Easy enough, of course! Jesus has already exorcised numerous demons as well as given his disciples the power to do so (Mark 1.21–28, 39; 3.11–12, 15, 20–30; 5.1–20; 6.7, 13). And yet, Jesus responds to the woman with what seems like an ethnic insult: “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” As the parallel story in Matthew … Continue reading He Has Done Everything Well (Mark 7.24–37)

Clean Hands, Unclean Hearts (Mark 7.1–23)

Mark 7.1–23 tells the story of Jesus’ interaction with a group of inquisitive Pharisees and teachers of the law. Through his response to their question, we learn about the danger of externally defined righteousness as well as the necessity of inward moral transformation. Let’s take a closer look at the story! Notice the context: A committee of Pharisees and teachers of the law from Jerusalem go down to Galilee to investigate Jesus’ orthodoxy. When they see Jesus’ disciples eating food without first washing their hands, they ask Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders … Continue reading Clean Hands, Unclean Hearts (Mark 7.1–23)

Smallness of Faith, Hardness of Heart (Mark 6.30–56)

Mark 6.30–56 tells the stories of two miracles. In the first (vv. 30–44), Jesus feeds a large crowd with fives loaves and two fish. In the second (vv. 45–56), he walks on water. Both stories tell us something important about Jesus, as well as something troubling about ourselves. The first story tells us that Jesus is the Great Shepherd who cares about and provides for his sheep, both spiritually and physically. It begins with Jesus inviting his apostles, exhausted from their first extended evangelistic campaign, to take a few days off. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place … Continue reading Smallness of Faith, Hardness of Heart (Mark 6.30–56)