People are Always the Point

Gospel of Mark, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Salvation

(NOTE: This post is part of a blog series on the Gospel of Mark. I am sharing a few little tidbits from my own personal study of Mark over the last few months. Below are a few of my notes from Mark 3.)

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:1-6)

Notice that there is no mention of the man asking for healing. Jesus intentionally seeks him out on this Sabbath day. By healing this man in this fashion, Jesus wants to make an emphatic statement about what God values. People are always “the point.” When we elevate agendas, rules, or tasks over people, we are out of sync with the heart of God.

In contrast, the Pharisees see this man as an object they can use for their own twisted scheme. The stubbornness of their hearts grieves Jesus deeply, and yet he can only move forward with his kingdom plan. Even Jesus cannot transform an unwilling heart.

The healing of this man not only restores him physically; it also enables him to be permitted to participate fully in the worship of God with his community of faith (Lev. 21:16ff).

He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15 and to have authority to cast out demons. (Mark 3:13-15)

Luke makes it clear in his gospel that this event occurred after an entire night of prayer. “The mountain” is meant to be reminiscent of the setting at which Israel was constituted as a people. Just as there were initially twelve tribes of Israel, Jesus intentionally appoints twelve apostles.

The prophets had spoken of a coming restoration of all Israel expected with the coming Kingdom (Ezekiel 45:8). So when Jesus appointed the Twelve, it was clear what he was doing. This isn’t simply a great healing mission or even simply a time of spiritual renewal. This is the restoration that people were longing for.

Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. (Mark 3:19b-27)

Both Jesus’ family and his opponents think he is not in full possession of his mental faculties. Since madness was often regarded as due to demonic possession, it is arguable that the family’s assessment of Jesus was similar to the scribes’ (that he was perhaps possessed).

The verb translated “restrain” (verse 21) is a strong one and used elsewhere to refer to attempts to arrest him.

The reference to a house divided against itself could be an allusion to Jesus’ own household.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:28-30)

The mysterious sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” has caused much confusion and consternation among countless Christians over the centuries. However, a simple illustration may clear things up.

Imagine a patient dying on a hospital bed. If the patient decides that the doctor who is there to perform a life-saving operation is actually a vicious serial killer, he/she will never consent to the operation.

Likewise, when certain scribes were demonizing Jesus and referring to him as “Satan,” they were closing themselves off from the saving activity of God. The sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is not so much about God himself choosing not to forgive so much as it’s about a person himself/herself rejecting the redeeming work of God, therefore making forgiveness and reconciliation with God impossible.

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

Protestants confess that we are not saved by works. We are saved by grace through faith. Salvation cannot be not earned. To that I say a hearty “amen.”

However, in our phobia of “works-based salvation” we have invented a concept of faith that exists apart from works. Legitimate faith is always expressed through actions (works). Not as an attempt to earn God’s grace, but actually in response to God’s grace.

This is how Jesus can emphasize here that “[doing] the will of God” is the indication of membership in his family. This, by the way, is a relentless theme throughout the gospels.

A New Era Emerges

Gospel of Mark, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Salvation

(Note: A few months ago I began an in-depth study of the Gospel of Mark. For the next several blog posts, I plan to share some of my ongoing reflections on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Nothing fancy. But I hope you can gain something in each entry. For space reasons, I will only include a small portion of my actual notes & reflections. Unless otherwise noted, I will be using the New Revised Standard Version. For theo-nerds like me, my primary commentary sources are Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright).

How Does Jesus’ Death Save Me?

Christian history, Cross, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Salvation

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

At the core of the “good news” of Jesus Christ, there is this fantastic exchange where Jesus takes on our sin, and we get his righteousness.

If you have been a churchgoer for a considerable length of time, this is a teaching you have likely heard dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of times.

But here’s the thing. While we can believe this to be true in our minds, it’s very easy for this teaching, as profound and beautiful as it is, to stay in our heads and not penetrate the soul where it actually can transform the way we live on a moment-by-moment basis.

For one thing, to a lot of people, this whole message of salvation just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even if a person intellectually assents to this belief and begins following Jesus, there can still be nagging questions.

“Why did Jesus have to die for me to be saved? How does his death save me?”

Many have trouble connecting the dots. And for some people, because they can’t understand what happened on the cross, it makes it harder for the beauty of Calvary to get on the inside and feel like a real thing.