READ: Mark 3:7-35
The lights flicker indicating that intermission is ending and it is time to return to our seats. The smokers outside the theater take their last drag on their cigarettes. The crowd around the concession stand throw back the last few swallows of their wine. People begin the rush back to find their seats. The orchestra starts to play. The house lights begin to fade as the last “excuse me” is spoken as stragglers step back into their seat. It is show time once again.
As a reminder before the curtain lifts, the Gospel of Mark is a collection of stories about Jesus, his followers and ministry. These stories retell the “good news,” as communicated by the early followers of Jesus in their preaching and teaching. This is not a biography of events but an overall story of Jesus retold in a selection of individual stories. There were many stories about Jesus ministry never recorded in any Gospel. Yet the essential message of Jesus is captured in each of the Gospels (John 21:25). It’s time to begin again.
A new section of Mark’s Gospel (3:7-6:6a) starts with a summary of Jesus ministry (3:7-12) just as the last section (1:14-3:6) did (1:14-15). The last section concluded with the religious leaders colluding with the governing leaders to destroy and put Jesus to death (3:6). This is the initial foreshadow of the cross in Mark. The scene changes from the synagogue in the seaside village of Capernaum to the Sea of Galilee as Jesus and his crew trek back to the lake (3:7).
Big Crowds Follow Jesus (3:7-12)
The growth and strong response to Jesus’ ministry is obvious in Mark. Jesus tells his disciples to have a boat ready just in case the crowds “crush him.” The magnitude of response to Jesus is a literary technique of Mark paralleled later in 6:31-34. While John the baptizer had all of the people of Judea (Southern Palestine) and Jerusalem coming to him to be baptized (1:5), Jesus had crowds from Galilee (Northern Palestine), Judea, Jerusalem (similar to John) and Idumea (see Appendix 1). In other words, the stories of the works and words of Jesus had spread and now people from throughout Palestine were flocking to see and hear him.
Jesus occasionally tells those he heals to keep what he has done a secret – to tell no one. We have unclean spirits who give clues to his identity. Let’s begin with the latter statement and work our way back to the question of the “secret.” Like any novel or play that is going to hold your interest, there are various characters who play certain roles. The plot is never fully revealed but clues are given throughout to hold your attention. In Mark, unclean spirits or demons are from the spirit world and know spiritual things about Jesus. They function as witnesses to Jesus identity.
The first demonic witness to Jesus identity was in 1:23-25 who cried out: What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God. This is a significant clue to Jesus identity but not as powerful as calling him the Son of God (3:11). The first encounter happened in the synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus silences the demon as he casts him out of the man. In Jesus’ battle with the demons in 3:7-12, he commands them to be silent as well. This idea of demons knowing his identity and being silenced by Jesus is also true in 1:32-34. Another man who had so many demons that they were called “Legion” shouted and called out to Jesus: What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God (5:7)? These clues find additional meaning when the centurion at the cross affirmed: Truly this man was God’s Son! (15:39)!
The witness of the unclean spirits and the gentile Centurion stationed at the cross of Jesus all point to the universal vision of God to reach the whole world with the good news of Jesus. It is worth noting that demons “fell down before Jesus” (3:11; 5:6; 9:20). This is in keeping with the spiritual truth of an early Christian hymn recorded by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi, Macedonia:
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God
As something to be exploited,
But emptied himself,
Taking the form of a slave (Incarnation),
Being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to the point of death –
Even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
And gave him the name
That is above every name,
So that at the name of Jesus
Every knee should bend,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue should confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11).
To kneel down is a position of subservience. In the Roman Empire, the pledge of obedience to the Emperor was: Caesar is Lord. In the early church, the confession of faith was: Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 10:9). To whom do you bend the knee in obedience?
As important as clues are to a good mystery, the gradual revealing of secrets throughout a book keep a mystery interesting. Despite Jesus words telling people to keep his activity a secret, many made him known (1:45; 7:36; 5:20; 7:24). Jesus’ demand to keep his identity secret hides this fact until after his resurrection when the early church understood the mystery of the faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Empowered by the Spirit, the church began to proclaim what they had heard and seen in Jesus.
Jesus Appoints Twelve Apostles (3:13-19)
The scene shifts from the lakeshore to the mountain, a familiar biblical landscape for important God encounters. For example, Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah (what later is identified as the temple site in Jerusalem). It is on Mount Sinai that Moses talks with God and receives the Ten Commandments. Later in Mark, Jesus will be transfigured on a mountain (9:2-8). The traditional site for the Transfiguration is Mount Tabor is southern Galilee. The story of Jesus selection of his disciples does not name the mountain but it happened somewhere in the Galilee region.
At this point, Jesus has called only five people to follow him: Simon, Andrew, James and his brother John and Levi the tax collector. The selection of the twelve apostles (apostle means “sent ones,” the chosen followers sent to do what Jesus himself has done to set captives free from demons and heal the sick, etc.) are those who Jesus chooses to learn from him and carry out his work into the world. Two important phrases in 3:14 are to be with him (a formation process of being in Jesus’ presence, watching and learning from him and all that goes with close relationships) and to be sent out to proclaim the message (do what they heard and saw Jesus do).
Jesus’ approach is unique as a rabbi or teacher. In the Judaism of Jesus’ time it was the talmid’s (student or disciple) prerogative to choose his own teacher and attach himself to that teacher. None of Jesus’ disciples, however, attaches himself of his own volition to Jesus. Some try to do so but are discouraged in no uncertain terms (Mt 8:19f; Lk 9:57f, 61f). Those who do follow him are able to do so simply because they are called by him, because they respond to the command to “Follow me!” The choice is Jesus’, not the disciples’, (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2001, p. 37). Jesus initiates the call to follow. How is your following going?
Jesus initiates change on the mountain. Some the names of his disciples are changed which impacts identity. To Hebrew names are added Hellenized names to be accepted more easily in the Roman Empire. Simon is renamed by Jesus on the mountain with a Hellenized name of Peter (which means rock). James and John get a nick name together of sons of thunder. To this group seven new names are introduced. The apostle Paul whose Hebrew name was Saul said that he would do whatever it takes to see people come to faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Jesus is a Hellenized for the Hebrew name: Joshua, meaning the one who saves. Christ is not Jesus last name. Rather, it is a Greek name for the Hebrew title Messiah, the promised Savior.
While later Christian tradition adds stories of the travels, miracles and planting of the church in various regions and countries of the world, we have few stories in the New Testament about a number of the disciples. The final apostle introduced in Mark is Judas Iscariot who is foreshadowed as the one who will betray Jesus into the hands of the Romans.
Jesus’ Family and the Religious Leaders think Jesus is Out of his Mind (3:20-35)
Another scene change from the mountain near the Sea of Galilee to an unidentified house perhaps in Jesus’ new base of operation in the village of Capernaum. The crowds pursued Jesus so that he and his disciples did not have time to eat. This does not say that your personal needs do not matter. Nor does it tell us that boundaries are not important. Quite to the contrary. The point of this comment is simply another instance where Mark tells of the urgent needs of people for healing, deliverance and to hear the liberating word of Christ. It creates momentum in the story and tells of the growth of the Jesus’ movement. The Gospel’s pace is picks up as the crowds swell in response to Jesus.
This section is a collection of stories and parables woven together in Markan style using a framing technique. The reading begins and ends with conflict stories with Jesus’ family. The teachers of the law get in the conflict mix as well. In the middle of these conflict stories are a series of parables that deal with the question whether Jesus is the most powerful one (1:7 – this is what John the Baptizer said about Jesus went he baptized him.) who was sent from God. These parables are a call to faith in the one who unites, not divides.
The context finds Jesus in a house surrounded by a crowd (similar to 2:1ff) who are eager to listen to him (3:20, 32-34). Jesus and followers have so much demand from the crowds that they are tired and hungry. The family of Jesus was blind to who he was and what he was doing. A rumor was spread, which may have been either in Jesus’ day or later in the days of the early church, that Jesus was crazy – out of his mind (v. 21).
The teachers of the law came down from Jerusalem to Galilee which adds another level of conflict. They accuse him of being possessed by the ancient Syrian god – Beelzebul (lord of the house). Beelzebul developed over time into a designation for the devil. Jesus teaches that Satan cannot drive himself out nor can a kingdom or a household be strong and prevail if it attacks itself. Division weakens and destroys. Jesus possessed a God-given mission to claim and reclaim all people with the love of God demonstrated in his merciful and just actions and teachings. He called and gathered his followers around this unifying purpose and in time, sent them out to advance God’s kingdom.
Regarding the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit, it is unforgivable only as long as one who believed continues in unbelief. God is a God of mercy and alone is judge of hearts and minds – not you or me. Ever since the heavens were tore open at the baptism of Jesus (1:10ff) and he was filled with the Spirit, Jesus acted and taught by the power of the Spirit. In fact, followers of Jesus were filled with the Spirit and its power at their baptisms (1:8). In other words, God is active on earth in the person of Jesus. Compassion was shown, lives were changed and the Jesus movement grew. God is active today in and through his followers as we teach and do God’s work in the power of the Spirit.
There are parallels between the story of Jesus in 2:1-12 and in 3:20, 28-35. In both stories, Jesus is surrounded by crowds. In 2:1-12, the crowds were so large that they blocked the door preventing the friends of the paralyzed man access to the presence of Jesus through the door. Exercising determination and creativity, they opened the roof and let their friend down through the opening into the presence of Jesus. In chapter 3, Jesus mother and family remain outside the house because of the large crowd. Using the influence of family, they send a message to Jesus that they want him to come out of the house to them. Both stories include a teaching about forgiveness.
Like others who are blind and deaf to Jesus purpose and teachings (4:11, 34), Jesus family and the teachers of the law are blind to him as well. They misunderstand his source of power by which he heals and sets the oppressed free. His family sees the chaos of the excited crowds and become concerned for his wellbeing. Jesus challenged the status quo and disturbed the comfortable. Most oftentimes, to initiate sustained change in a person’s life is the result of hitting bottom or discovering a truth or way of life that is so desirable that you are willing to do whatever it takes to move in a new direction. Jesus came to change lives for good and for God.
When I think about the crowds that were eager to listen to Jesus teach, it reminds me of Pastor Grimsrud, a visiting instructor at my college. On Friday nights, Pastor Grimsrud offered a Bible study on Romans in his home. I heard from a few other students how they looked forward to these Friday night studies.
Personally, it seemed rather lame to admit that you had nothing better going on than to start your weekend at a Bible study.
Curiosity got the best of me, I caved and went one Friday night. When I entered his house not only were all the chairs taken but there was no room to sit on the floor. Here were college students even lined up around the walls! There had to be at least sixty young adults sitting at the feet of Pastor Grimsrud who was tucked away in the corner in an over-stuffed arm chair. After finding some wall space to stand, I settled in to see what all the buzz about Pastor Grimsrud was about.
Admittedly, I was jumping in to a study on Romans that had been going on for few months. On this particular night the study was on chapter 5:1-11. As a novice to Bible study I had already kept my coat at my feet just in case I got too bored and needed to leave early. Following thirty minutes of spirited singing and students lifting up prayers, the study began. Honestly, the sixty minute study flew by.
Pastor Grimsrud opened up these eleven verses to me so I could easily understand them. Having never read Romans, I discovered this section contained the implication of what Jesus did for all people in a nut shell (5:6-11). I had heard this stuff before in sermons through my parent’s ears. For the first time, I was listening with my own mind and ears. As he taught, he connected each piece together like the methodical process of sewing a quilt. With needle and thread in hand, Pastor Grimsrud set out to stitch the love of God made known in the death of Christ for me. Adding one stitch at a time, he unlocked my heart with the peace of God that can be mine now because I have been given access to God’s grace – God’s unfailing favor toward me (5:1-2). He concluded his stitch work as he spoke softly about the love God wants to pour into my heart through the Holy Spirit (5:5). It ended quickly with a brief prayer.
I was hooked. I could not wait to come back and learn more. The other weeks I went were all equally good. However, for me there was something memorable and magical in this first study. A simple invitation and an older pastor who opened up his own home on a Friday night sewed some life changing, truth deep into my soul. Thanks for opening up your home to a bunch of college students on the beginning of your weekends as well, Pastor Grimsrud. I thank God for you!
- When you read about Jesus calling the twelve disciples to himself, do you see yourself being a modern day disciple? Why or why not?
- Think of some examples of how the division of a family or organization hurt each other as they turned on one another. In what ways do you think that the witness of the church has been hurt by its division or denominations?
- The mission of God as lived out by Jesus and his followers was straight forward: to claim and reclaim all people with the amazing love, forgiveness and new life found through faith in Jesus the Christ. In what way do you understand this to be our mission as well? Why or why not?
- How are you participating in this mission of God? If not, what is holding you back? What is your plan to participate in God’s mission this week? What does that look like?