Power Over the Demons (Mark 3:7-19)

jesus boatThis article originally appeared at SharperIron.org. Reprinted by permission.

In this passage, we read that the Pharisees are seeking to kill Jesus, but the demons confess Him as the Son of God. This is a great irony of the Gospels. The leaders who ought to recognize him hate Him. The fallen angels who should hate Him bow before Him. Meanwhile, the people who should gladly receive Him ignore His message.

Power Over the Demons

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him (Mk 3:7-8).

After the latest confrontation, Jesus withdraws from Capernaum “to the sea.” We’re not sure where Jesus went, because Capernaum is on the Sea of Galilee. He probably went to a more secluded location along the coast, away from the city.[1] It is clear Jesus doesn’t intend to wage a full-out theological assault against the Pharisees. To borrow a military analogy, His confrontation with the Pharisees in the synagogue (3:1-6) is better seen as a strategic raid than a declaration of all-out war. More direct confrontation will only result in a premature arrest, torture and execution. The Father has a divine timetable (cf. Ecc 3:1-8), and Jesus follows it – thus He beats a tactical retreat.[2]

What a contrast between the Pharisees’ homicidal intent, and the response from the crowds. They come to Him from everywhere; Jews from Jerusalem and Judea, and Gentiles from the south, east and north.[3] They come separately, meet together and form one mass of pilgrims.[4] John the Baptist didn’t draw this many people (Mk 1:5), and only preached to Israelites (cf. Lk 3:1-17).[5] Jesus, on the other hand, indiscriminately preaches to the Gentiles and the Jews. He does not have the racist, exclusivist mindset that is so foreign to the Old Covenant Scriptures, but was so common in His day.[6] He truly was a light for the Gentiles (cf. Isa 49:6). Jesus is Jewish, but many Israelites forgot that their Jewish Messiah came to be a Messiah for all people (cf. Lk 2:29-32, Acts 13:46-48).

And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him (Mk 3:9-10).

For Jesus, crowds are no indication of success. Then, as now, people often followed Jesus for selfish and unholy reasons. These crowds followed Jesus because they wanted divine healing.

Jesus, always a practical fellow, orders a boat prepared so He can flee, if necessary.[7] He’s in danger of being crushed and trampled. In a modern context, Jesus would be preaching on a street-corner in front of the open, sliding door of a minivan, the engine running, a disciple at the wheel!

Mark describes a nearly out of control mob. The scene is at once frightening and exhilarating. Jesus fears being crushed because His healing miracles have incited a frenzy. The mass of people, Jew and Gentile alike, press forward relentlessly, fighting and clamoring to get near. This is very different from the silly stereotype of gentle Jesus, meek mild, teaching the adoring masses from a landscaped hillside while He cradles a lamb in His lap.

These people don’t care what He preaches, what He says, or who He is. They’re pressing forward to touch Him, so they might be healed. He’s a rabbit’s foot, a talisman – somebody who can give them what they want.[8] Yet, it is remarkable that Jesus did not angrily send them away. He evidently healed many of them.[9]

Little has changed. Many people do not seek Christ because they want forgiveness and justification. They seek Jesus because of what He can do for Him. He’s a Cosmic Butler, who lives to serve us.

I recently listened to a sermon from a pseudo-megachurch near my home. It was blasphemy of the worst kind. The message was, “come to Jesus so He can make your life easier, give you a better job, more money and make you happy.” In this church, Jesus’ actual message, His doctrinal content and ethical commands to repent, believe and deny yourself and follow Him, are meaningless. Christ is just a prop for charlatans to hang blasphemy on.

These crowds in Mark’s Gospel are the same. His message is irrelevant to them; they just want healing.[10] The implications of that healing are lost on them (cf. Lk 7:18-23, Mk 3:22-27).

And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known (Mk 3:11-12).

The Pharisees are plotting to kill Him. The crowds don’t care what He says. Yet, the demons give Him the glory! Many people in this crowd are demon-possessed. Whenever they see Him, they fall down and literally scream and shriek their confession.

Can you imagine the scene? This is an ongoing event. The crowds press forward, anxious to touch Jesus and be healed. In the midst of this mob, demon-possessed men, women, boys and girls alternatively scream and howl, loudly, that Jesus is the Son of God.[11] They do this whenever they catch sight of Him. In the crush of the crowd, they don’t have an unobstructed view. As they catch periodic, fleeting glimpses of the Christ, they scream their confession, despite themselves. They fall down before Him, wherever they are, and confess His identity in the most public way possible.

Demons are fallen angels. Jesus is their creator. He is their ultimate adversary, and His power over the forces of darkness is absolute. Those who have Christ as their King and God as their Lord should respect Satan as a formidable adversary indeed (cf. Jude 9), but they need not wonder how this conflict will end. Satan will lose.

Why does Jesus forbid the fallen angels to make Him known? The text doesn’t say, and a whole lot of ink (and even more kilobytes) have been spilled trying to figure it out. It is clear the true nature of Jesus as Messiah can only be appreciated in light of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the inauguration of the New Covenant. This is as good an explanation as any for why Jesus commanded the demons to be silent.[12]

Because He is God and they are not, the unclean spirits obey. What else can they do? This decisive confrontation with the forces of darkness is a prelude to perhaps the key passage about the purpose of His miracles (Mk 3:22-27).

Delegating Authority

And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mk 3:13-19a).

After Jesus demonstrates such complete mastery over the fallen angels, He delegates this authority to His chosen disciples. They did not choose Him; He choose them.[13] This is the church in embryo form; a group of called out believers in Christ, who are sent forth by Christ, bringing His Good News indiscriminately to the wide world beyond.

Jesus appoints twelve:

  • To be with him. You cannot be a follower of Christ unless you have fellowship with Him. You cannot have fellowship with Christ unless you believe what the apostles heard, and saw with their eyes, and looked upon and touched with their hands – the truth about Jesus Christ, the word of life (1 John 1:1-4). You learn about this from the books they and others wrote, which tell you all about it (i.e. the New Testament). This implies a community of believers who learn from Christ.
  • To preach. This is the point of their community, of their training. They will be sent out to preach and proclaim the message He gives them. The kingdom of God is here! Repent, believe, and join this kingdom![14]
  • To have authority to cast out demons. The One who has such complete mastery over Satan and His minions also has the authority to delegate this power to His children. This is clearly a divine power and authority.[15] And, this power is only meant to accredit the preaching – to prove the kingdom of God has broken into this dark and evil world and vanquished that darkness.

Conclusion

Jesus is God. He has clear and obvious power over the unclean spirits (cf. Mk 1:27). He delegates and dispenses this power to His apostles, and will eventually send them forth as His representatives. The demons see and recognize Jesus’ authority. They scream, fall to the ground and confess His identity at the very sight of him. They obey His commands. They are putty in His hands.

In contrast, we see the Pharisees in Capernaum plotting their little plots. We see the crowd as a near mob of half-crazed pilgrims who seek only physical healing. His own disciples are spiritually dull; their training has only begun. Ironically, only the demons truly give Him the glory. Yet, as they do so, they testify to His divinity, and His co-equal and His co-eternal status with the Father.[16] He confirms their testimony in the most appropriate way possible – by silencing them.

We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is JEHOVAH, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of Heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; equal in every divine perfection, and executing distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.[17]

Notes

[1]  See James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 103. Ezra Gould also suggests Jesus sought solitude on another portion of the seashore (The Gospel According to St. Mark, in ICC [Edinburgh, UK: T&T Clark, 1896], 55).

[2] William Hendriksen observed, “We must bear in mind also that the time for the decisive head-on confrontation with the religious authorities had not as yet arrived. According to the Father’s time-clock Calvary is still some distance away. For the present therefore the seashore is better suited to the Master’s purpose than the synagogue,” (The Gospel of Mark, in NTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975], 118).

James Brooks, however, suggests “probably it refers to nothing more than Jesus’ desire to extend his ministry beyond the towns and their synagogues,” (Mark, in NAC, vol. 23 [Nashville: B&H, 1991], 69–70).

[3] “Mark seems to have been suggesting that all peoples should seek Jesus and that they may be assured of acceptance. Readers and hearers of his Gospel naturally think about the later Gentile mission,” (Brooks, Mark, 70).

[4] A.B. Bruce, The Synoptic Gospels, in Expositor’s Greek Testament (London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 357.

[5] For an argument that the “soldiers” John addressed were Jewish, see Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, in BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 312-313. One need only read the Baptist’s preaching to realize this is an exclusively Jewish message, and the context of Malachi’s prophecy (3:1) makes this quite clear.

[6] Peter’s comment to Cornelius (Acts 10:27-29) reflect this blasphemous view of Gentiles. Even as a fully-illuminated and Spirit-filled Christian, Peter still struggled for a time to get rid of this baggage. So did the Jerusalem church (Acts 11).

[7] Mark Strauss suggests, “The boat may have been for escape in case the crowd crushed forward, but more likely is meant for crowd control, a kind of platform or podium to keep from being jostled,” (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 154). I find this explanation unlikely. Jesus ordered the boat to be prepared in order that (ἵνα + subjunctive) they would not press Him (μὴ θλίβωσιν αὐτόν). The reason is to avoid the crush of the crowd.

Matthew Henry suggests this was simply a practical measure, so “that, when he had despatched the necessary business he had to do in one place, he might easily remove to another, where his presence was requisite, without pressing through the crowds of people that followed him for curiosity,” (Commentary on the Whole Bible [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994], 1782).

[8] See especially Edwards’ discussion of crowds in Mark’s Gospel (Mark, 74-75). Each person will have to come to his own understanding of the crowds. I believe the Gospel of Mark (indeed, all the Gospels) are clear that crowds followed the Christ for unholy and selfish reasons.

[9] Matthew Henry remarked, “What abundance of good he did in his retirement. He did not withdraw to be idle, nor did he send back those who rudely crowded after him when he withdrew, but took it kindly, and gave them what they came for; for he never said to any that sought him diligently, Seek ye me in vain,” (Commentary, 1782).

[10] Again, Strauss has a positive interpretation of the crowd. “It is excitement and enthusiasm for Jesus’ healing power that is motivating the crowds,” (Mark, 154). R. Alan Cole also has a positive interpretation of the crowd (Mark, in TNTC, vol. 2 [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1989], 135-165). Similarly, Gould writes, “[T]he verb is a strong word . . . and is intended to bring before us vividly the turbulent eagerness and excitement of the crowd,” (St. Mark, 55).

Brooks suggests, “apparently the crowd sought Jesus because of his healings, not to submit themselves to the reign of God,” (Mark, 70). This reflects the wide gulf of opinions about the crowds.

[11] Some commentators suggest the demons are attempting to exercise dominion and authority over Jesus by crying out His name. See, for example, William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 130. Strauss (Mark, 155) and Walter Wessell (Luke, in EBC, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], 641) also follow this line of interpretation.

[12] Strauss suggests the demons were not the kind of beings Jesus wanted testifying who He was. “[T]he demons are inappropriate heralds of his person and mission (cf. 1: 25). Jesus will reveal his identity in his own time and through his own words and deeds,” (Mark, 155).

This doesn’t go far enough. Jesus tells both demons and healed men to not tell anybody about Him (cf. 1:44, 5:43). The real reason must be deeper than this. One good explanation is that the true nature of the Messiah cannot be fully appreciated until after His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. He comes the first time as the suffering servant; the second time as the conquering king.

[13] “Christ calls whom he will; for he is a free Agent, and his grace is his own,” (Henry, Commentary, 1782).

[14] “The proclamation which they were to make was the coming of the kingdom of God,” (Gould, St. Mark, 57).

[15] “This showed that the power which Christ had to work these miracles was an original power; that he had it not as a Servant, but as a Son in his own house, in that he could confer it upon others, and invest them with it,” (Henry, Commentary, 1783).

[16] This is one of the implications of the title. “As the Son of God, Jesus shares the Father’s glory, power, and authority,” (Strauss, Mark, 155).

[17] 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 2.

Jesus and the Sad, Angry Little Men (Mark 3:1-6)

man with handI originally wrote this article for SharperIron.org. Reprinted with permission.

This is a sad little story, because we see sad little men rejecting their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. They have made void the word of God through their tradition (cf. Mk 7:13). In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ early confrontations with the Pharisees come quickly, one after the other. This particular account is where the water boils over.

Mounting Opposition

First, they questioned why Jesus shares a meal with such “worldly” and “disreputable” people (2:15-17). They don’t ask Jesus; they ask His disciples (Mk 2:16). We’re not sure why the Pharisees don’t approach Jesus directly. But we can guess, knowing ourselves, that they’re a bit tentative and unsure of themselves. Perhaps, they thought, it’ll be better to take the indirect route and cast doubt on His credentials to His followers.

Jesus, ever the polite diplomat, answers immediately with a burst of sarcasm. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Mk 2:17). This is a warning shot across the bow, and it’s the first direct contact Jesus has with the Pharisees in Mark’s gospel. This is clearly an adversarial relationship from the very beginning. Jesus didn’t mince words when it came to self-righteous and blasphemous legalism. Matthew preserved another bit of the story, in which Christ verbally backhanded the Pharisees (“Go and learn what this means . . .” Mt 9:13) with a quote from Hosea 6:6.

The next episode follows right on the heels of this discussion (2:18-22). The Pharisees[1] demand to know why Jesus’ disciples don’t fast. Jesus responded and prophesied His own death (2:19-20). He then explained the Old Covenant (the old garment) cannot be patched up like an old sweater, or jerry-rigged to accommodate the New Covenant; “new wine is for fresh wineskins,” (2:22). We’re not sure how much of this the Pharisees understood, and Mark didn’t tell us. But, I doubt it was a pleasant conversation.

The final episode is the alleged Sabbath violation (2:23-28). Jesus cited a Scriptural precedent for violating the strict letter of the law under emergency circumstances (2:25-26). He then claimed a divine and Messianic title (“son of man”) and declared He was “lord even of the sabbath,” (2:28).

Mark gives us these incidents one after the other, and the reader is left almost reeling as this freight train of hostility and opposition springs forth from seemingly nowhere. This early enmity comes to a crescendo with the Pharisees storming out of the synagogue and colluding with their enemies to kill Jesus (3:6).

The Confrontation in the Synagogue

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him (Mk 3:1-2).

Again, Mark doesn’t tell us who “they” are, but the context assures us it is the Pharisees.[2] Why is the man there? Is this a coincidence? We know the Pharisees are watching all the time,[3] waiting, their little black notebooks at the ready, cellphone cameras on standby – anxious to gather evidence against Jesus. It is tempting to see the man as a prop, a poor sucker planted there as bait. We don’t know whether that is the case. But, we do know Jesus is being set up. If the Pharisees didn’t plant the poor man there, we can be sure they were at least “pleased” he was there.

Ironically, the Pharisees deny Jesus the right to do good on the Sabbath, while they actively plot to do evil![4]

This little episode is about more than proof for Jesus’ divinity. It is about this single miracle as one of a series of signs and wonders which announced the kingdom of God to those who had ears to hear. The prophets wrote that, when God returned for His people, the blind would receive sight, the deaf would hear, the lame will leap for joy and “the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing,” (Isa 35:5-6, 10). Christ appealed to these texts as proof that He was, indeed, the Messiah who had come to bring His people into the figurative promised land of eternal rest (Lk 4:16-21; 7:18-23; cf. Heb 4:1-11).

Rather than ponder the implications of Jesus’ teaching coupled with these signs and wonders, the Pharisees lie in wait in the synagogue like impotent little spiders, weaving a pathetic web of trickery. The man with the withered hand may have been a plant, or just somebody who happened to be there, but one thing is certain – the Pharisees didn’t care about him at all. He was a prop. He was nothing. They didn’t care if Jesus did heal him; they just wanted the evidence for a trial. Like serial killers who take genuine civic pride in obeying the speed limit, these legalists have it all backward.

And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent (Mk 3:3-4).

Jesus knew everything (cf. Jn 2:24-25; Lk 5:6-7; Lk 6:8, etc.). He knew what the Pharisees were up to. He did not run away to fight another day. He felt discretion was no valor at all. He asked an open and rhetorical question designed to unmask their legalistic and blasphemous tradition about the Sabbath. This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus initiates a healing without being approached. Clearly, He decided to make a decisive stand here.[5]

Nobody answered. Nobody said a word. Why not? Jesus had what we now call “command presence.” People listened to Him. He taught with authority (Mk 1:27). I suspect the Pharisees couldn’t have spoken even if they’d wanted to. Mark recorded another, similar incident later in his Gospel (Mk 12:34). They are speechless before this teacher who had such passion, such presence and such intrinsic authority.

What does Jesus mean by asking, “to save life or to kill?” Some commentators believe Jesus was referring to the Pharisees’ own intentions towards Him (cf. 3:6).[6] If that is so, no wonder they dared not answer. “While Jesus is preparing to do good, they are plotting his death! Which is the real Sabbath violation?”[7]

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored (Mk 3:5).

This is an instantaneous healing, and a true miracle. Jesus does not appeal to God for healing; He simply performs the action Himself. This is very, very different than what the OT prophets did (cf. 1 Kgs 13:6). Jesus is a prophet, but He is as qualitatively different from His Old Covenant counterparts as a glowworm is from a floodlight. He is divine. They were not.

What about the Pharisees’ hearts upset Jesus so much? Their inability to answer His question? Their callousness by using this poor man as a prop for their own wicked ends? Their inability and unwillingness to face the implications of His own teaching and the signs and wonders He performed? Perhaps it was all of this.

The word is usually rendered as “hardness” or “stubbornness” here. Hardness implies they are spiritually insensitive (e.g. Tyndale, “blindness”). Stubbornness gives the sense of stiff-necked inflexibility; they are wilfully rebellious. The NEB translates it as “obstinate stupidity,” which is a delightfully appropriate phrase!

Yes, this miracle is more proof for Jesus’ divinity. But, that is not why Mark wrote it. His didactic purpose is to highlight the scribes’ and Pharisees’ growing opposition in the face of Jesus’ explicit preaching, teaching and divine signs. These miracles are proof that “the kingdom of God is come unto you,” (Mt 12:28). People are healed. Demons are cast out. Jesus, by the Spirit of God, has bound Satan and is plundering his house (Mk 3:27). What must this mean!?

The Pharisees don’t care what it means. They have their evidence. The healed man is irrelevant. He’s served his purpose. Away with him! They ignore him, like some men would ignore a filthy dog (cf. Jn 9:34). Jesus is all that matters; not the implications of His teaching, but the evidence for His alleged “blasphemy.”

Throughout His ministry, Jesus shows a deliberate contempt for the oral tradition which “fenced” the Old Covenant law. The Pharisees feel this is a fundamental betrayal of orthodoxy, and act in fury out of righteous indignation. They are sincere, but they are sincerely wrong. Jesus, however, is not moved by pettiness or or self-righteousness. He is filled with righteous anger.

The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him (Mk 3:6).

The “Herodians” were widely castigated as liberal compromisers.[8] They were not devout. It says something that the Pharisees sought to form an alliance with these men – all in order to kill the Lord of glory. This is their furious response to a whole host of escalating confrontations.[9] Their blood is up. Jesus is a blasphemer who despises the traditions of the fathers. He has now violated the Sabbath twice, and they have the evidence to prove it! Jesus must be destroyed – the law demands it (Ex 31:14-17)! Surely, they reason, God agrees with their zeal . . .

They Did Not Recognize Him . . .

So, off they go, in a huff. Jesus has righteous anger, these Pharisees have self-righteous resentment.[10] The Kingdom of God has broken into human history. The proof is here – behold the signs and wonders! The Messiah is here – behold His teaching! The legalistic externalism of the Pharisees is condemned. True worship flows from the heart and is proven by devoted action (cf. 1 Sam 15:22-23).

This little miracle proves Jesus’ deity, but it is a sad account. Confronted with their Savior, the Pharisees plot His death. The Apostle Paul was right:

For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him (Acts 13:27).

Notes

[1] The Greek doesn’t specify who came to Jesus; it is simply a third-person plural verb (ἔρχονται). The closest antecedent are the scribes of the Pharisees (2:17). It is reasonable to conclude the Pharisees asked Jesus this question.

[2] See Walter W. Wessel (Mark, in EBC, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], 639) and Mark Strauss (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 147).

[3] The verb here is imperfect (παρετήρουν αὐτὸν), which gives the general sense of an unfolding, continual action in the past. I think the NASB did well to render it as a descriptive imperfect (“they were watching Him . . .”).

[4] Mark Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 98.

[5] Strauss (Mark, 147).

[6] Edwards (Mark, 100) and William Hendriksen, Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975), 116.

[7] Strauss (Mark, 148).

[8] For more on the Herodians, see H. W. Hoehner, “Herodian Dynasty,” 5, in Dictionary of the New Testament: Backgrounds, ed. Craig Evans and Stanley Porter (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 493-494.

[9] See William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 121-122.

[10] Hendriksen (Mark, 117).

Legalism (Mark 7:14-23)

In this sermon, preached on Sunday morning in my church, I completed the account on legalism which spans from Mark 7:1-23. Here, Jesus answers the Pharisees’ accusation about why His disciples ate food with hands that were “defiled.” The Pharisees, in a misguided attempt to preserve their Jewishness in a culture and time that was not Jewish any longer, had built up an oppressive edifice of oral traditions that had come to almost take the place of the law.

The point of this account is that the Pharisees were concerned with external appearance, with cultic, ritual purity. They was no emphasis on internal purity of heart. The admonitions of Moses to love the Lord with all their heart, soul and might had been seemingly forgotten (Deut 6:5). The exhortation to be an Israelite in heart, not merely in outward show, was not being obeyed. God desired a not merely an external circumcision (Gen 17:11), but an inward circumcision of the heart as well (Deut 10:16). The outward conformity was supposed to be the fruit of an inward love for God.

Christ makes it very clear in this account that it is what comes out of a man’s heart that defiles him, not what comes from the outside (Mk 7:15). Our hearts prove that we are all morally unclean, and no matter what we do on the outside to try to clean ourselves up in the eyes of men, the very thoughts (let alone actions) of our own hearts betrays our sin and our moral “uncleanness.”

The inevitable conclusion here, left unsaid but Christ but implicit in His instruction, is that we are all morally unclean! We cannot make ourselves clean – we do not possess that power. We can only be cleansed by Jesus Christ, upon sincere repentance from sin and saving faith in Him (Mk 1:15).

The legalistic society of the Pharisees was perhaps as far from the love of God as it is possible to get. I spend a few minutes giving a handful of cursory examples of  just how legalistic normal life was like in Inter-testamental Judaism. The bottom line is that it was not a happy life. There was no love for God, no happiness or joy in serving Him. How could there be, in such an oppressive, tradition-bound society such as this!? A quotation from Emil Schurer makes the point pretty clearly;

Nothing was left to free personality, everything was placed under the bondage of the letter. The Israelite, zealous for the law, was obligated at every impulse and movement to ask himself, what is commanded? At every step, at the work of his calling, at prayer, at meals, at home and abroad, from early morning till late evening, from youth to old age, the dead, the deadening formula followed him. A healthy moral life could not flourish under such a burden, action was nowhere the result of inward motive, all was, on the contrary, weighed and measured. Life was a continual torment to the earnest man, who felt at every moment that he was in danger of transgressing the law; and where so much depended on external form, he was often left in uncertainty whether he had really fulfilled its requirements. On the other hand, pride and conceit were almost inevitable for one who had attained to mastership in the knowledge and treatment of the law. He could indeed say that he had done his duty, had neglected nothing, and had fulfilled all righteousness. But all the more certain it is, that this righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees which looked down with proud thanks to God upon the sinner, and pompously displayed its works before the eyes of the world, was not that true righteousness which was well-pleasing to God.[1]


[1] Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 2nd division, vol. 2 (Peabody, MS: 2012), 125.

Laying Aside the Commandments of God (Mark 7:1-13)

Sermon notes – Mark 7:1-13

Here, we see the tragic and disgraceful results of legalism imposed upon a people. Some Pharisees and scribes come down from Jerusalem once more to hear and investigate Christ. They soon accuse Him of violating the commandments of the elders by eating bread with unwashed hands (Mk 7:5). Note, they took issue with Christ’s violation of the traditions of men, not of God! There is no OT command for everyday men to ritualistically wash before a meal!

I want to take a moment to emphasize a point – it is far too simplistic to simply call the Pharisees legalistic, evil men and move on to the next Scripture passage. Why were they so legalistic? The answer is that they were seeking to preserve their Jewishness in a distinctly un-Jewish world. The destruction of the temple and the sack of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. completely decimated the social, cultural, political and religious structure of the Jewish state. Their national identity as a people of God had been abolished in one fell stroke. Even later, after the return from exile, the Jews existed as a mere vassal state of the Persian, Greek, and now Roman Empires. Even today, the modern state of Israel has not been reconstituted as it was before the fall of Jerusalem. The times of the Gentiles are still ongoing.

Consider these very important points:

“Rituals concerning cleanness and uncleanness reflect rabbinic developments more than actual Torah prescriptions . . . As Judaism’s encounter with Gentile culture increased in the post-exilic period, however, the question of ritual cleanliness took on new significance as a way of maintaining Jewish purity over against Gentile culture.”[1]

“[T]he defeat and exile faced the surviving Hebrews with the loss of their central national and religious institutions. They were without a unifying center of influence. They were forced to rethink the nature of God, his relation to them, and the viability of Old Testament religion. They were thrown into close contact with other cultures, and their traditional way of life became difficult or impossible. They, in a new way, confronted the relation between religion and culture. In every area the Hebrew race and its political and religious systems encountered a constant threat to survival.”[2]

Much like the erroneous and dangerous teaching of Roman Catholics who believe in two well-springs of divine authority, Scripture and tradition, the Pharisees in Jesus’ day fell into the very same error.

“The predominance of Pharisaism is that which most distinctly characterized this period. The legalistic tendency inaugurated by Ezra had now assumed dimensions far beyond anything contemplated by its originator. No longer did it suffice to insist on obedience to the commandments of the Scripture Thora. These divine precepts were broken down into an innumerable series of minute and vexatious particulars, the observance of which was enforced as a sacred duty, and even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggeration even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggerated legalism had obtained such an absolute ascendency over the minds of the people, that all other tendencies were put entirely in the background.”[3]

To bring this to a modern context, how do we fall into the same legalistic traps today? We are commanded to be in the world, but not of the world (Jn 17:15). Do we impose legalistic restrictions in our own circles? Consider what Christ has to say on this very important matter.


[1] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002), 205

[2] J. Julius Scott, Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 108-112.

[3] Emil Shurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, First Division, vol. 1 (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2012), 2.

Their Hearts Were Hardened (Mark 6:45-52)

Here, we see the disciples’ complete failure to appreciate or acknowledge who Christ was after the clear and unmistakable miracle of feeding the 5000 (actually, more like 15,000 – 25,000!). There is a limit to how much they could have understood of Christ before His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, but still – why did these many miracles not make them understand?

Amidst the disciples’ confusion, Christ is faced with a large crowd which likewise misapprehends who He is, or more likely, simply doesn’t care. They only want a solution to a political problem, not the Kingdom He was preaching and offering. They wanted no part of this Gospel of repentance and belief (Mk 1:15). As they finished their meal, miraculously provided by Christ, their only thought was to seize Him by force and make Him their King (Jn 6:15). Here we see only one of three instances where Christ retreats alone to pray, disconsolate and beset with a very human need to speak to His Father.hardened-heart

This is a very powerful message of faith; it is about understanding who Christ really is. The disciples were not ready for ministry and had a long road ahead of them, for Scripture tells us they did not apprehend who Christ was “for their heart was hardened,” (Mk 6:52).

Do you have a true and full appreciation and understanding of Jesus Christ today?

I preached this message for teen Sunday School at my church this morning.

Sermon notes – Mark 6:45-52

Jesus Feeds the 5000 – (Mark 6:30-44)

The account of Jesus feeding the 5000 is the only miracle account which appears in all four Gospels. Ironically, Christ fed far more than 5000 that afternoon. There are several truths for Christians in this account for everyday life;

  1. Jesus is a new type of Moses, leading His people to the wilderness, miraculously providing food, acting like a shepherd to a leaderless people. Is Christ your teacher, or is the world?
  2. God supplies our needs in the way He feels best. Are you content with what He has given you?
  3. God works through us to accomplish His will. Are we allowing ourselves to be used?

This sermon was preached on Sunday Morning, 09JUN13, for Teen Sunday School at my church.

Sermon NotesMark 6 (30-44)

Sermon – Herod and John the Baptist

I preached this sermon was preached Sunday morning, 26MAY13, at my church.

An account of the execution of John the Baptist by Herod. This is a sad and fascinating study in contrasts between two very different men. John, who does not hesitate to preach the truth despite the potential cost. Herod, who does not want to execute John, but is not willing to lose face in front of his subordinates. As we take a look at this account, we see in Herod some of our own sins.

Sermon notes – Mark 6:14-29