Tuesday, August 20, 2019

According to Mark: Depending on Christ

We are a little more than halfway through our study of Mark, but in an important sense, we are nearing the end. That is because, starting in Mark 10, Jesus turns resolutely toward Jerusalem and the destiny that awaits Him there. His credentials have been established for all those who care to see, so now the time has come for Him to complete the great work of providing redemption for mankind.

Jesus on Marriage

The passage starts with another confrontation, once again with the Pharisees who are looking to cause trouble for Jesus. I’m not going to go into as much depth as I could on His response. There is a parallel passage to this in Matthew, and I covered that in another article that you can check out here. I will just briefly mention a few things worth noticing.

First, the question of divorce links us back to something we have seen previously. It was John the Baptist’s preaching on the issue, particularly in his condemnation of Herod Antipas, that ultimately led to his execution (Mark 6:16–29). The Pharisees, then, are not simply attempting to argue doctrine with Jesus. They are trying to tie Him up in life-threatening positions. Jesus does not take the bait they are offering, instead going far beyond it to set down principles for everyone. They were also principles that would have been shocking within that culture, in which a man could divorce his wife for any reason he wanted. Jesus establishes a much higher standard and does so with reference to God’s initial purpose in creation, which is the ultimate rule for mankind.

Second is the cultural relevance that this passage has for our day. In a society where divorce is seen as an easy solution, the words of Jesus still come as a shock. On top of that, this teaching on marriage is also a teaching on gender and sexuality. The roles of men and women are part of God’s creative plan, not a matter of personal construction and preference. People may not like to hear it, but we have every right to say it. We are also right to say it. It is bigotry to attempt to silence us for standing firm on conscience as we seek to obey and expound the will of our God. That is our responsibility from Him, and no one has the right to stop us just because it makes them uncomfortable.

Children of God

Clearly, then, much more could be said. We have to move on here, though. In vv. 13–16, Jesus makes an extension to what He had taught in Mark 9:35–37. There, He had explained that the great in God’s kingdom would be those who welcomed even a little child. In that culture, very much unlike ours, children were seen as basically worthless. They had no rights and held no significance. Honoring them was a revolutionary idea.

Then, in chapter 10, the Lord goes a step further. It is not enough to welcome children into the kingdom. Rather, we must be like children in order to get in ourselves. That is even more revolutionary. Children, again, were on the absolute lowest rung of society. Jesus is not saying that we must be pure and innocent, or even have simplicity of faith, to receive forgiveness. The 1st Century did not have such a cherubic view of the young. And of course, purity and innocence are the opposite of what we need. If we could have those, there would be nothing we needed saving from.

What Jesus is talking about is humility and utter dependence. We must be willing to acknowledge that, in comparison to God, we are of no value and have nothing to offer to Him. If we are to receive any blessing and care, it can only come through total reliance on His grace. And grace is precisely what He extends to us through Christ Jesus. This is essentially a restatement of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 2:17 about the sick rather than the healthy being in need of a physician. Only those who recognize their need will receive its supply.

Salvation and Sacrifice

Next, while continuing on toward Jerusalem, Jesus is met by a young man who wants to know how he can inherit eternal life. There is a lot to unpack in what follows. Start by just thinking about his request. It is an odd phrasing. How can you “do” anything to “inherit” something? The occasional eccentric will aside, inheritance is a passive process. This young man is betraying a self-righteous attitude of heart by desiring to earn what can only be received. Indeed, part of the reason his story appears here is because of the contrast he presents with what Jesus had just taught His disciples about total dependence.

Another curious feature of this story is how Jesus responds to being called “good teacher.” Some critics have claimed that by ascribing goodness to God alone, Jesus denies deity for Himself. Is that actually what happens? Does He deny that He is good? Or does He not rather go on to answer the question that He has been asked?

Remember the framework of this gospel. The controlling theme is that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Mark knew the Lord’s identity, and we know it, too. The evangelist did not believe that any of Jesus’ words contradicted the truth of His godhood, and he certainly would not have included such statements if he thought that they did. Jesus is not refusing to be called good. He is forcing the young man to truly consider the meaning of his words, rather than merely attempting to be flattering.

Then Jesus goes on to make what are certainly some of His most uncomfortable statements for modern Western Christians. Now, sure, there is no indication that Jesus has given a blanket command for all of His followers to sell everything they own. But He does expect us to live sacrificially. The more we have, the harder that is.

There’s a reason for that. Wealth breeds independence. More than that, it breeds arrogance. The young man in this story didn’t even realize he had this problem. He sincerely knew he was lacking something, and he had honest intentions in pursuing it. That was why Jesus tried to help him. But when it came to it, he couldn’t let go of what he had. He wanted to rely on himself. Following Jesus cost too much. At the times when Jesus asks us to give up our things, He is really asking us to give up ourselves, as well. It is hard to trust like that when we are used to supplying our own needs. Or at least, when we think that is what we are doing.

This, by the way, extends to more than just money and possessions. There are other types of wealth. An abundance of intellect can also be a roadblock on the way to salvation. I hope it is obvious that I do not mean education is an inherently bad thing. Again, it is the reliance on your own intellect to the extent of missing your limitations. Many people believe that they “know enough” not to need to believe in God. The truth is that they know nothing. Their trust in themselves leaves them ignorant of their need.

The disciples, meanwhile, are shocked by all of this, and for reasons that are still fairly common today. Material wealth was seen as a blessing from God. It was taken for granted that if a person had a lot, it was because they were deserving of the Lord’s favor. To hear that they are actually furthest from heaven is stunning. If the very best cannot make it, then who can?

It is in this context that Jesus makes the marvelous statement, “With man it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God.” Reflect, then, on how His words have been misused. So many people think it is a promise that they can get whatever they want if they merely pray hard enough for it. It is basically seen as a guarantee of the wealth that Jesus is describing as an impediment to true blessing. We can have things in the kingdom, but getting them is not the purpose of our citizenship. The impossible thing that God does is to make us fit to enter when we are totally undeserving. What we have is then meant to be at His disposal. We have to avoid getting it backward.

The Ransom for Many

As often as the disciples are shown getting things wrong in Mark, this is something they have gotten right. They have put following Jesus ahead of everything else, and Jesus says that it is to their credit. Still, they have much to learn. They are still struggling with the nature of Christ’s ministry and what it means to follow Him. He tells them that worldly success comes to nothing and that those who seem to be the least will receive the most. He then tells them, for the third time, that He is going to be betrayed, condemned, mocked, tortured, and murdered. They are afraid of the coming confrontation in Jerusalem, and they know things can go wrong. But it seems like they think Jesus is being pessimistic rather than prophetic. That was why Peter had attempted to rebuke Him in Mark 8:32, and it is likely why James and John make their bold request in Mark 10:35–37. They want Him to believe He will be victorious against the Romans and the Jewish authorities, and they want to be the biggest beneficiaries of His success.

The other ten disciples were, shall we say, perturbed to hear the brothers put themselves forward as candidates for the top two spots in Jesus’ coming kingdom. That the Lord shot them down did not do much to dispel the ill feelings of growing rivalry. So Jesus used it as one final opportunity to teach the new economy of greatness that was intended to be the hallmark of His movement.

Most importantly, He made this explanation in reference to Himself. I have said repeatedly that Mark 1:1 is the key theme of this gospel. Every question we might have needs to be filtered through its identification of Jesus. In the same way, Mark 10:45 is the key statement of purpose in the book. The first verse tells us who Jesus is. This verse tells us why He came.

Because Jesus was not merely another prophet, He could do more than any prophet could. They were sent to speak the truth of God. He was sent to be the redemption of God. As the divine Son, He had every right to demand service from His creation. Instead, He offered Himself for us. His coming death was not merely to be the outcome of a failed effort to establish an earthly kingdom. It would be a payment to cover sins and restore to God those with faith in Him. For all that He taught, He was more than a teacher.

He was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.
We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all. (Is. 53:5–6)

Seeking Health and Following the Savior

One more event takes place in Mark 10 before Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem and receive the punishment to cover our iniquity. Verses 46–52 recount His final healing miracle as recorded in the gospel. The story also serves to highlight many of the lessons we have seen previously.

First is another lesson on sight. It is incredible that a blind man is the one to see Jesus as the “Son of David.” This was a messianic title in recognition of the many promises in the OT that David’s line would eventually produce a king who would reign forever (2 Sam. 7:12–16; Is. 9:6–7). Interestingly, this has not been an element of Mark’s account before now. Unlike Matthew and Luke, he showed no interest in Jesus’ lineage. It makes Bartimaeus’ announcement that much more impactful when it arrives.

Second, he had to overcome an impediment to his faith. Like the paralyzed man’s friends (Mark 2:4), the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:28), and the father of the demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:24), he met resistance with insistence. A fruitful faith forges ahead.

Verse 50 also presents an interesting detail. Why are we told that the man threw off his coat? Most likely, just because it adds color and urgency to the account. But it is also illustrative. A blind beggar would not own much more than such an outer garment, and it would be necessary to his survival. When he had the chance to go to Jesus, he cast it aside without a second thought. It is certainly a powerful contrast with the rich young man who went away sad because of the vastness of his possessions. This man is instead willing to be totally dependent on the Messiah.

Lastly, we get a powerful play on words. In v. 52, Jesus answers Bartimaeus’ request. His faith results in the restoration of sight. What is intriguing is the way Jesus forms His answer. Some versions, like the NKJV, say, “Your faith has made you well.” Others, like the CSB, say, “Your faith has saved you.” The former sense implies physical healing. The latter has the sense of spiritual recovery. The Greek word in the original, sozo, carries both meanings. His faith in Jesus has restored the whole of him. And, again in contrast with the young man from earlier, Bartimaeus responds by following the Lord. Faith resulted in devotion.

As we leave Mark 10, we have to recognize it as marvelously setting the stage for the end of Jesus’ ministry. The ways of God are not the ways of man. Not in regard to marriage, to children, to wealth, to service, or to the work of the Savior. Everything is about to change. And those of us with the benefit of hindsight have seen how we must respond to that change. The price has been paid. We must stop relying on ourselves and instead rely on Christ. He alone can save us, and He alone makes us well day by day.

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