Category Archives: Gospel of Mark

Hope for Moody Pastors (Mark 3:3-6)

One reason I resisted being a “pastor” for so long was all the stereotypes I had in my head for what pastors are supposed to be like. My image always looked something like Mr. Rogers in a sweater and khakis. Warm, personable, emotionally steady, gentle and never, EVER moody.

I don’t know where I picked up that image of the pastor, but it certainly wasn’t in the Bible where God’s leaders are all over the map with their varying personalities and wild mood swings.

Moses’ temper tantrum (striking the rock) cost him the Promised Land. Jeremiah was depressed. Elijah withdrew and almost quit ministry. Peter was impulsive and often put his foot in his mouth. James and John had a violent streak earning them the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” John the Baptist was loud and abrasive, maybe wore a camel hair sweater but definitely not Mr. Rogers’ khakis. Paul was prickly and at times butted heads with others.

Ok, even admitting this diversity of characters, I at least thought I could count on Jesus to be the perfect picture of the unflappable, zen-like pastor who was always calm and collected. Or, could I?

Today I noticed and appreciated the little episode in Mark 3:3-6 where Jesus going about his ministry….and we see him breaking my Mr. Rogers-like pastoral mold. For fellow church leaders, its refreshing to see that even Jesus faced some very irritating ministry moments and difficult people. (I have a perfect church, but I’ve heard other pastors have difficult people.)

Let’s take a quick look and I’ll offer some off-the-cuff leadership insights at first glance. Continue reading Hope for Moody Pastors (Mark 3:3-6)

A Puzzling Path to Glory 4 (Mark 10:45)

FROM ‘WORD STUDIES’ TO ‘THE STUDY OF THE WORD’: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

CarryingCrossIt is often said that it is impossible to find a needle in a haystack. Yet it also could be said that if, once found, one focuses too narrowly upon the small needle so as not to lose it again, they may very well loose peripheral sight of the haystack all together.

A glance through some commentaries on Mark 10:45 will reveal a similar tendency of scholars to get so focused on detailed word studies that they lose sight of the larger idea which clearly shines through if one would only step back and see the broader scope of Mark’s narrative. They have let the tiny needle eclipse the larger haystack.

Many have concluded that since there are not direct quotations from or exact word parallels to Isaiah 52-53, Jesus was not therefore influenced by or identifying himself with the vocation of the Servant of YHWH in Isaiah 52-53. N.T. Wright is correct to invite a more fluid and subtle reference to such themes:

We catch echoes of this, rather than direct statements…It is a matter of understanding Jesus’ whole kingdom-announcement in the light of several major themes from the Jewish scriptures, and showing that it is absurd, granted the whole picture, to disallow reference, allusion and echo to Isaiah 40-55 in general, and to 52:13-53:12 in particular. Continue reading A Puzzling Path to Glory 4 (Mark 10:45)

A Puzzling Path to Glory 3 (Mark 10:45)

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ISAIAH: MARK’S STRUCTURE AND JESUS’ IDENTITY

CarryingCrossJoel Marcus has shed considerable light on the OT background to Mark’s gospel, noting especially the Isaianic influences in the words and actions of Jesus. Mark uses strategic Isaianic passages to show the reader that God is finally initiating the new exodus and ushering in the New Age through his servant Jesus. The entire gospel hangs on the initial thematic marker of 1:3, where Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

By reading the broader context of Isaiah 40, one finds that Mark sees Jesus’ entire life and ministry as the embodiment of YHWH’s glorious return to Jerusalem as conquering king.

Yet, can this theme be understood in light of the humiliating death that ultimately awaits the returning king when he arrives? Continue reading A Puzzling Path to Glory 3 (Mark 10:45)

A Puzzling Path to Glory 2 (Mark 10:45)

“EITHER-OR” vs. “BOTH-AND”: HARMONIZING OLD TESTAMENT EXPECTATIONS

CarryingCrossMark’s narrative paints a Jesus who is intentionally identifying himself with two OT figures—the Danielic Son of Man and the Isaianic Servant of YHWH; and describes his mission as the fulfillment of their drastically different destinies—the glorious triumph of the Son of Man over Israel’s enemy (“the fourth beast” in Dan. 7) and the despicable suffering and atoning death of the Servant of YHWH (Isa. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12). Mark’s gospel goes to great lengths to show that Jesus’ puzzling pathway to glory is the way of the cross. The triumph of Dan. 7 comes only through the suffering of Isaiah 52-53.

Much theological confusion and significant hermeneutical damage has come from the failure of interpreters to harmonize these two OT figures/themes (Son of Man/ triumph and Servant of YHWH/suffering) within the mind and mission of Jesus. In fact, this was the very blunder Jesus’ original audience made: they were unable to grasp Jesus’ redefinitions of prominent OT expectations. Continue reading A Puzzling Path to Glory 2 (Mark 10:45)

A Puzzling Path to Glory 1 (Mark 10:45)

Warning: This is a dry, dusty old seminary term paper…but grappling with some foundational, mind-blowing stuff worth revisiting and sharing. –JB

In the introduction to his massive commentary on the second gospel, R.H. Gundry contends that “the Gospel of Mark contains…no riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…Mark’s meaning lies on the surface. He writes a straightforward apology for the Cross.”

However, the next 1,000 plus pages of commentary seems hardly the evidence of a “straightforward apology for the Cross,” but rather the product of years of painstaking scholarship in quest of unwrapping a tightly coiled “riddle.” While “straightforward” may be a bit misleading, Gundry rightly identifies the cross at the heart of Mark’s message.

But what was the significance of Jesus’ humiliating death in his self-understanding, life and mission and what is the significance of the cross in the broader thematic structuring of Mark’s narrative?

This series of posts will explore such questions by examining one of the most illuminating, yet controversial passages in Mark concerning the meaning and significance of the cross—namely, Mark 10:45:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NIV).

Do we have here the product of a post-Easter interpretation of Jesus’ death by the evangelist’s own Hellenized Jewish-Christian community? Or were these the authentic words of Jesus who, steeped in the prophetic writings of the OT, was consciously fulfilling OT expectations that foresaw a suffering messiah who would give his life as a ransom for many? Continue reading A Puzzling Path to Glory 1 (Mark 10:45)

God’s Economy: Give Him What You Have (Mk 6:35-44)

I recently was invited to attend another church’s leadership council meeting to present the needs of MainStreet as we move into the next phase of launching this new church. These dear “mission friends”  have embraced our little MainStreet team with a big bear hug, reaching into their pockets to support us, letting us use their printer/copier, giving me some office space, giving the proceeds of their fall Harvest Dinner Fundraiser toward our mission, inviting me to preach a couple times and invite individuals to prayerfully consider getting involved in our mission.  They are even throwing Keri a baby shower this coming Saturday!

On this occasion we came together to discuss and further define the nature of our growing partnership, to discuss the level of support they’re feeling called to provide moving forward, and how to communicate this to the entire congregation.

Leadership in the church, or any volunteer organization, is largely about mobilizing enough people to meet all the needs around us. The needs seem to always outnumber the number of volunteers willing to take them on. There never seems enough to go around — enough money in the budget, enough volunteers, enough days in the week, enough energy in the tank, and so on. But in the “economy of God” we must have faith that God will constantly be working behind the scenes to miraculously provide what is lacking in order for us to accomplish the ministry tasks He has given us.

This kingdom principle is illustrated vividly in the story of the loaves and fishes.  Here’s the situation:

1. The disciples recognize an enormous need facing them: thousands of people need to be fed.  They are overwhelmed and don’t believe they can possible meet this need before them.  Can you relate?  As the leadership team and I sat in this room talking about all the needs we’re faced with in fulfilling each of our church’s calls, we could easily sympathize with the disciples.  This church could easily have concluded that “there’s no way we can possibly support another church when we’re busy enough trying to keep up with our own ministry load.”  So, faced with this overwhelming need of thousands of hungry people in their midst, what solution do the disciples recommend?

2. WORLDLY ECONOMY: Let them help themselves. “Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat,” the disciples tell Jesus. This sounds like good common sense.  This mindset gels beautifully with the American way of capitalism.  “No free handouts.”  “God helps those who help themselves.”  This is a proto-Darwinianism solution: Let those who can fend for themselves survive.  As a church planter at the mercy of other people’s generosity, and overwhelmed with the enormity of the task before us and not knowing where we’re going to find enough people and resources to survive, I sat in that meeting hoping our partner church would not choose this option.  “Sorry, Jeremy, we can see that your needs are overwhelming (like trying to feed a crowd of 5,000 people with only a few loaves and fishes), but we’re going to have to send you away to provide for yourself.  Good luck!”  This was NOT how our friends responded. Continue reading God’s Economy: Give Him What You Have (Mk 6:35-44)

Chained In or Out? (Mark 5:1-5)

“They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. (Mark 5:1-5)

This is the most dramatic of Jesus’ exorcism ministry. He has just landed on shore of the region of the Gerasenes, a pagan land where pig herding is part of the local economy (work Jews considered unclean). He encounters a man driven mad by a many demons living among the tombs, who the people have tried repeatedly to restrain with chains.

I have one questions today: Were the people trying to chain this afflicted man to the tombs to keep him away from the community for their own peace and safety?  Or, were they trying to keep him with the community by chaining him, and preventing him from running off alone to the tombs to live in dehumanizing isolation?

I have often read it the first way, picturing the demonized man ostracized from the community, chained like a wild animal in the tombs safely away from the rest of the people so as to prevent him from doing harm to the others.

Upon further reflection, I think (and hope) that it is the other way around.
You see the Enemy’s work always has as one of it’s aims the destruction of relationships and community, and driving people into isolation and loneliness. The work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God has as one of it’s core aims reconciliation, the healing of relationships, and the formation of loving community that sacrifices for the well-being of the “least of these” and moves toward those afflicted. Continue reading Chained In or Out? (Mark 5:1-5)

Enrolled in the School of Jesus (Mark 3:13-15)

What is the primary task of the disciple of Jesus?  When one enrolls in the school of Jesus, or receives the call to give one’s life to following after him, what is the first step?

Let’s play fill in the blank.  (No cheating or reading ahead for the right answer.)  When Jesus chose his twelve disciples, the Bible says:

“He appointed twelve that they might ___________________________ and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14).

In this statement, we find out the task Jesus gives his fresh recruits: they are sent out to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, and to liberate people from demonic oppression.  But what kind of preparation must they undergo to be fit for such a task?  That’s the blank we must fill in.

Here are some good options, but not the correct answer:

“He appointed twelve that they might….

  • go to Bible College and/or Seminary
  • go to church every Sunday and listen to sermon after sermon
  • join a small group or Bible study
  • read Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership or every book by Beth Moore
  • attend a pastor’s conference
  • complete the 40 Days of Purpose study

These are all good options, but not the one, primary essential aspect of discipleship. Continue reading Enrolled in the School of Jesus (Mark 3:13-15)