March 20, 2015.
Just as a heads up, I have switched the order of reading for today and tomorrow. Today we will look at Mark 1-2, and tomorrow we will look at Isaiah 56-61.
Daily Reading: Mark 1-2.
Background: Mark is the beginning of the testament of Christ, a recording of His ministry. Many scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel written.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Baptisms: The gospel of Mark only has 16 chapters, which is seemingly short compared to the other three gospels. However, many things happen very quickly in the gospel of Mark to cover the time of Jesus ministry. We find this here in the very opening of the chapter, as Mark skips straight to the preparation made by John the baptizer and goes quickly into Christ’s early ministry, without talking about the birth or early life of Jesus before His public ministry as some of the other gospels do. Bearing this pace in mind, we quickly see three different baptisms (each very important in their own niche) talked about within the first few verses of chapter one.
John the baptizer enters the scene first to prepare the way of the Lord, just as was prophesied (and quoted here) in Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. John explicitly claims to be the voice crying in the wilderness in John 1:23. John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, through water. This is known sometimes as “John’s baptism,” and many came out to the wilderness to be baptized by him. As he is baptizing, however, he mentions a second baptism, a baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is referenced in two specific cases where the out pouring of the Holy Spirit was given to those receiving this baptism, indicated through physical signs. The first time was in Acts 1:5, fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4, when the first gospel sermon (after the resurrection of Christ) was preached to the Jews. The second time was during the first (recorded) gentile conversion, seen in Acts 10:44-48 and specifically referenced in Acts 11:16. Both of these instances seem to be special cases where the Spirit was pour out upon the recipients in primary conversions (first very public Jewish conversion and first very public Gentile conversion). This is different than receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, as noted with yet another type baptism in Acts 2:38, for this was not always pared with outward signs as the baptism of the Holy Spirit was. The baptism in Acts 2:38 is the typical baptism that unites one who believes with Christ, though His death burial and resurrection, through faith and the forgiveness of sins (see Romans 6:1-11).
The third baptism talked about in this passage is the baptism of Christ. Though this was technically a baptism of John, Christ had no sins to be forgiven. This is why John at first refuses to baptize Jesus, saying that he should rather be baptized by Him (see Matthew 3:13-17). Regardless, Jesus is baptized to fulfill all righteousness. It is interesting to note that it was upon His baptism that the Father publicly identified with Him, saying that He was well pleased with Him, and when Jesus began His ministry. This is very similar to our identification with Christ immediately after baptism, as we have put off the old man and put on the new (see Romans 6:1-11, Colossians 2-3).
2. The early ministry of Jesus: After the baptism of Jesus, Mark throws a lot of things that happen during the early ministry of Christ at us, without giving too much detail (some details can be filled in from parallel accounts in other gospels). After being led into the wilderness to be tempted (and prevailing, see Matthew 4), Jesus preaches a simple message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He had come into the world as prophesied, to bring about a Kingdom that would never be moved, a spiritual Kingdom, and the time had come for the Messiah to bring salvation. He calls His is first disciples here- Peter, Andrew, James and John- promising to make them fishers of men. During His early ministry, Jesus heals many people, including the mother of Peter’s wife, but does not want to make His name too famous at first. He commands the daemons not to speak His name, works elusively and tells the leper not to tell anyone who healed him. Jesus likely did this so that He would not become too known, too fast, for fame brings about problems. Already we see at the end of this chapter it was getting hard for Him to go anywhere. If His ministry had been publicized even more, it would have provided a catalyst for the Jewish leaders to seek to kill Him; but His hour had not come yet. For this reason, He took precautions to lay low until the appointed time.
Encounters with the Pharisees: Though they are four different stories, the common theme throughout this chapter is Jesus’ early encounters with the Pharisees. As can be expected, each of these encounters were negative in the sense that the Pharisees would be in opposition to Jesus.
The first encounter came as Jesus healed a paralytic man who was lowered to Him through the roof by his friends. When Jesus saw their faith, He forgave the man of his sins. It is noteworthy to mention that Jesus forgave the man after seeing his friend’s faith, not necessarily his own. The scribes and the Pharisees did not like this at all, for they recognized the implications that were made in His statement: He was claiming to have the authority of God. But Jesus was prepared for this opposition, even possibly noting that if He had no other proof of this authority then they would be right to question. Jesus healed the man right in front of their eyes, proving that He had authority from God, for God had given Him the power to heal.
Then Jesus calls Levi (also known as Matthew) to be a disciple. Levi was a tax collector, a type of person that the Jews hated and often associated as being sinners. Here we see Jesus eating at a table with sinners and tax collectors, something the Pharisees would not be caught dead doing. They try to call Jesus out on this, asking why He would eat with sinners, but Jesus turns it around on them, saying that the healthy do not need a physician, but rather the sick. Jesus had come to seek and to save the lost, something that the Pharisees were not doing.
Then came the question about fasting. Fasting was very prevalent in Jewish culture, specially amongst the more religious. Both the disciples of John and the Pharisees routinely fasted. However, when they tried to bind this practice on the disciples of Jesus, asking why they did not fast, Jesus refutes their words by revealing what they weren’t quite understanding: Jesus was the Messiah. While the bridegroom was present, there would be no fasting. But when He would go away, He says that His disciples will fast. It is interesting to note the implication made here: Jesus said that His disciples would fast. If we are His disciples, should it not follow that we should fast? Fasting is not all that prevalent in our Christian culture today, though perhaps it should play a larger role. Nevertheless, Jesus goes on to give an analogy about old wine skins and old patches being used for new wine or put on new clothes, respectively. It seems that the point Jesus is trying to make here is that the Pharisees are trying to fit Jesus (new wine) into the Law (old wineskin), when in reality Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, coming to establish a new, better testament (see Hebrews 8).
Finally, there is the question of work on the Sabbath. The Pharisees once again try to accuse Jesus, this time through His disciples for gleaning grain to eat from the cornfields they were passing by. The Pharisees claimed that it was unlawful to do that kind of work on the Sabbath. Again, Jesus refutes their logic by using the principle set forth in an example of David, who took of bread of the presence for him and his men to eat when they needed food when they were running from the hand of Saul (see I Samuel 21). They had missed the point of the Sabbath. The point was for man to have a day of rest and a time to draw closer to God. It was not so that the Pharisees could bind strict rules on the people, making the law a burden to them. It was good to do good on the Sabbath, even if that involved not adhering strictly to one of the rules that the Pharisees had set up for the Sabbath, defining what work was, though it was not as strictly defined in the law (se Exodus 20:9-11, 31:12-17).
Let us learn from these encounters with the Pharisees, and strive to not follow in their reasoning.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Isaiah 56-61.
The Lord grant you wisdom.