Tuesday, July 9, 2019

According to Mark: The Family of God

Diving right into our continuing study in the Gospel of Mark, this entry focuses on Mark 3:7–35. Mark begins this particular passage by recapitulating the Lord’s power to heal and liberate the suffering. He is still attracting a large following, which has grown to include people from a wide geographical extent. And this, most likely, explains why He decides to introduce a leadership structure into His movement.

Relationships in Christ

When Jesus selects His 12 apostles in vv. 12–19, He establishes the process for the future growth of the church. It begins, as all things should, with Christ Himself. We must first follow Him in order to know what we ought to do. The apostles were able to do so in a unique way, but that is still what we do by reading the gospels. Then, we live out the model of what He has done. Those who have experience grow in wisdom to be able to pass along the model, as well. And when we live as our Lord and share the good news of the salvation He has brought, we drive away the darkness of evil.

That is the ongoing application of the call of the apostles, but I want to point out one specific aspect of the relationships between these men. Remember last time that we spoke about the call of Levi (called Matthew here) the tax collector. Tax collectors were Roman collaborators. They were required to gather whatever funds Rome demanded from its provinces. However, their pay did not come from the taxes. Rather, the Romans gave tax collectors the right to extort however much they wanted by whatever means necessary. As long as the empire got its cut, the collectors could keep whatever remained. This was one of the reasons they were so hated.

A few names after Matthew is mentioned, another of the apostles is called “Simon the Zealot.” He is a very obscure figure, in spite of being one of the apostles. The only mentions of him in the Bible are here in Mark, in Matt. 10:4, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13. Each one is simply a list of the apostles. Nothing more is said about him. But I think his title deserves attention.

In the context of 1st Century Palestine, zealotry had a more specific meaning than we tend to give it. It was not merely religious fervor. Rather, it was religious and political devotion to the freedom of Judea that called for resistance against Roman occupation. This movement truly came into its own during the Jewish War of A.D. 66–73. However, it was already percolating at the time of Jesus and many people even hoped that Jesus would lead the fight against the Romans. Simon was likely one of those people.

This is just intriguing to me because I have to wonder what it must have been like for Matthew and Simon to follow Jesus together. Maybe they were even one of the pairs Jesus sent out together (Mark 6:7). It’s all speculation, of course. But it certainly feels like it would have been ripe for conflict, and also for valuable lessons. These two men could not have been more different. In their old lives, their most natural relationship would have been one of hatred. In Jesus, however, they found new purpose. Rather than living for wealth or nationalism, they were living for Him. I can imagine that it was awkward at times, but it ultimately brought them together.

Relating to Christ

The lesson there (or at least, the lesson I’m reading into it) is furthered by the remainder of Mark 3. The evangelist makes a sort of “sandwich” here, which is another of his preferred literary forms. He begins a story about Jesus’ family, interrupts it to tell another about a conflict with the religious authorities, and then returns to the issue with the Lord’s relatives. When Mark does something like this, he is saying that the two stories share a related point that should not be missed.

In this case, it is that Jesus was rejected by the people who should have been the first to embrace His mission. His siblings and His mother were concerned that He was losing His mind. The most generous reading we can give the situation is that they worried the needs of the crowds were getting out of control and that the stress would get to Him. More likely, though, they were hearing about His bold challenges to tradition and feared that He would reflect poorly on them. For the sake of family honor, they set out to stop Him.

The religious authorities, on the other hand, have already shown their open contempt. Here, the big guns have been sent in. Experts from Jerusalem have been dispatched to lowly Galilee to find out what this Nazarene itinerant minister is all about. Or more accurately, they were sent to put Him in His place. After witnessing all He was doing, however, they found that they could not refute or constrain Him.

Again, that is not what they should have been trying to do. They were supposedly the people who knew God the best. When God visited them, they should have been able to recognize His power at work. They certainly could not deny the wonders that Jesus performed, and they did not even try. Instead, they attributed them to evil, proving that the evil was in themselves.

I believe that points us to the answer of a difficult question. What is the unforgivable sin Jesus mentions? People have wondered about it for a long time because they obviously do not want to commit it. Jesus defines it as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but what does that mean? How can we recognize it?

My contention is that it comes down to the most important work that the Spirit has done. According to Rom. 8:11, the Spirit was the power through which the Father resurrected the Son. There is no greater miracle, the proof that Jesus’ death was the payment for sin. If Christ was raised in this power, then so too will those be who trust in Him.

Not everyone trusts in the Lord, however. They choose to deny that the Spirit raised Him to life again. In so doing, they commit an act of unbelief that alienates them from God. Another way to put it is that they sin by ignoring the truth in the hopes that they will not have to face its consequences.

Note, then, that the unforgivable sin is not a one-time occurrence. It is an ongoing willfulness to resist what God has done. If you live your whole life in it, never turning to Christ, then there will be no recourse for you once your life is through. Make no mistake. All sins lead to alienation from God, but the greatest sin of all is the pride of believing you do not need the grace Jesus offers. If you die in it, there are no more chances to be forgiven. Refusing the work of the Spirit is to refuse the only hope we have.

That becomes the point of this entire passage. When His relatives finally arrive for Him, Jesus says something unthinkable for the time by suggesting there was a higher responsibility than the one owed to family. Even today, people who become Christians can face the abandonment, hatred, and violence of friends and loved ones. It can be a terrible burden to bear. But what matters most? Should we define ourselves by our nation or ethnicity? Do we need to feel accepted by our social circles, or by the people to whom we did not even choose to be related? Or should we desire relationship with God and those who belong to Him?

It is an obvious choice, though not always an easy one. And it has obvious implications. Like Matthew and Simon, we must overcome the things that divide us. In Christ, they become insignificant. What matters is the One who unites us in one family. Each of us must choose whether we will be for Him or against Him. And if we choose rightly, we ought then to devote ourselves to the same love for others that He showed. It is how we prove that we belong to Him. We ought to make it a priority.

Have a question about the Bible? Want to share this article on Facebook? Interested in becoming a patron of Quest Forums? Check out the links in the sidebar!

No comments:

Post a Comment