A Layman's Mark Part One - Ministry and Miracles

It is probably not the way to begin a personal journey by quoting somebody else. However, in my very personal view, the opening to the commentary on Mark in the The Bible Expositor's Commentary 2012 (TBEC) encapsulates the essence of this Gospel so completely, it is impossible for me to resist. Forgive me.

The Gospel of Mark is a succinct, vivid, and action packed account of the Ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus appears suddenly on the scene as the mighty and authoritative Messiah and Son of God, teaching with great authority, driving out demons, healing the sick and even raising the dead.

It would be very easy, and acutely tempting, to continue with the TBEC as a major contributor because the commentators' words resonate so easily with my thoughts; but this is my personal outlook and even if others' thoughts and ideas closely or loosely resemble my own, this work must reflect me honestly and comprehensively, including opinions which may be considered fundamental, or even unconsidered; naive or not p.c.; but for which I make no apology while affirming that nothing I may say stems from malice or hostility of any kind. When, or if, my opinions may be considered anti anything at all, the reasons will be either incomprehension, or an apologetic - keeping in mind at a ll times the words of John 1:15 Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness.

Every word in the Bible is necessary, every book in the Bible is essential, and none more than the four Gospels. Each Gospel is unique for they were written by four very different people; yet they each share many similarities, particularly the three books known as the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. Both Matthew and Luke deal with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, although with different detail and emphasis. John, however, opens with the Jesus Who was there before creation. These simple and basic facts are mentioned not as a teaching aid, but only to highlight the immediate and full–in–your-face Mark's way of telling his story.

For Mark the supreme importance was the Gospel of Jesus; the Good News of Jesus. That He was born of a woman was obvious to Mark in that Jesus was a man. He was either too impatient or did not feel it necessary to describe this wonderful part of our Lord's life.

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

And the beginning of Mark's Gospel is simply explosive; there is nothing to think about, nothing to test us in these opening words, from the very first line, a dozen simple words, we know immediately and without hesitation where the writer is heading – he is in his own words going to tell us as much as he has seen, heard and learned about the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A short introduction and Mark immediately jumps back centuries to one of the most important prophecies regarding the Messiah. (Isaiah 40:3.) It is perhaps an essential quality of this Gospel that he relies so much on the Old Testament to confirm the New, especially the integrity of our Lord's claim to be the expected Christ.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight,' Verse 1.

It has always pleased me immensely that Mark immediately quotes Isaiah, that amazing prophet of Judah who describes The Christ in so many ways – and with great accuracy - so that any doubt about Whom the Messiah is cannot seriously be considered. However, although quite obviously Jesus is the Lord mentioned here, the prophecy directly concerns John the Baptist, the man who would spend perhaps a decade or two in the wilderness preparing for a single role: the baptism in water of the Messiah; but contained within his preparation is the calling of the nation of Israel to repent and be baptised.

John the Baptist – an extraordinary man who knew Jesus, his cousin, while both were in their mothers' wombs – caused great excitement among the people going out to him, to hear, to repent, and to be baptised. He must have been an imposing figure, eccentric and slightly scary perhaps, coming out of the desert dressed in camel hair and a leather belt, eating only locusts and wild honey. And the people flocked to him, and the people repented, and the people were baptised. And try to avoid it as much as I can, I find myself inevitably drawing comparisons with the simply-clad John and the sheer attraction he had to the people, comparing his simplicity - as with the disciples who followed, and even the Lord Jesus Himself - with the great lengths ministers and leaders of all denominations have gone to over the centuries to attract congregations; from hype and trappings, to massive congregations in buildings more suited to football games. Yet it was not the eye–catching clothes of John, nor his diet, that attracted the crowds, but his sheer magnetism that pulled people to him like iron filings. The crowds went out, literally kept going out, to see him, to hear him; his words, his power, his love for the One who is coming.

Imagine being there, perhaps sitting with family, maybe still soaking wet from being baptised by John - for I cannot Imagine John standing in the Jordan and sprinkling water on top of their heads. We have an example in 2 Kings 5:10 when Elisha commanded Naaman to wash himself in the river seven times. Certainly not a sprinkling, I imagine, but also not a subject for this work. And I cannot help but wonder what they were thinking when they heard John say, 'Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals. I have baptised you with water, but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. Verse 8. Who? Greater than John? Baptising in the Holy Spirit? What is happening?

Even this mention of not being worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals is quite astonishing, for untying or helping someone with their footwear was, I have gathered, considered a task that not even a Hebrew slave would be asked to do; a lowly service indeed, and John considered himself unworthy even for this humiliating chore - in his relationship to Jesus. I said earlier that perhaps John was in the wilderness for ten to twenty years - we do not and cannot know the exact time - but it probably was many years for the outlandish clothes he wore were long-lasting and eminently suitable for his chosen environment. What we can be sure of is this; that it was a time of preparation, a time of growing closer to God, so that when he emerged to call the people to repentance, and to prepare the way for the Messiah, he was on fire.

And then Jesus came.

Mark does not see it as important that John initially deferred, when told by Jesus to baptise Him, Mark does not consider it of any importance at all, and certainly not worth mentioning, that John did not think that he should baptise The Messiah. Mark notes only that Jesus was baptised by John. But he did think it of the utmost importance to record that the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, and God the Father was pleased.

One of the most incredible episodes in the New Testament is treated with an equally incredible brevity by this impetuous young man. In only a few words he describes the fact that The Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, there to be tempted by Satan, to dwell with wild animals, and to be ministered to by angels. There is no mention of the details of the temptations during that forty days, there is no mention of the way Jesus dealt with the temptations using only the words of Scripture; Mark records only that the Son of God was driven, not led, by the Holy Spirit and then came out to immediately begin his ministry, and fulfil His destiny. The question remains, however, why did Jesus endure the desolation and temptations of the wilderness? Something I have learned to appreciate is that, if the Bible poses a question, the Bible invariably supplies the answer. He endured temptation so that He could identify with us - and we with Him. (Hebrews 2:18 For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. And 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.)

Our Lord, straight from baptism to the wilderness and immediately into His ministry moving, speaking, preaching the Good News with the same urgency that Mark picks up, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel. The very words tell us that there is no time to lose, the time is, now! This is a Jesus, or rather a side of Jesus, that none of the other Gospels really show or at least prioritise. This energy, this driving need to reach and teach the people, this honest and full realisation of the absolute essentialness of His work and ministry. We know, of course, some of the multiple sides of Jesus, His patience, His compassion, His overwhelming love for the people God the Father created. Mark however, and I do think of him as a young man, has all the impatience of youth, and this is the Jesus whom he shows us. And I will freely admit, and fully, that I love the breathlessness of his narrative.

Even the arrest of John takes second place to the preaching of Jesus, the Good News of God, Verse 15 The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news. And it is only when King Herod starts listening to rumours and begins to believe that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead that Mark describes the reason for, and the beheading of The Baptist (Mark 6:16). He had what he considered at that particular moment far more important news to impart: the beginning of the selection of the twelve; those who would share the next three years with Jesus; learning, sharing, teaching and following. Could they have had any inkling of what was to come, and would they have stayed if they had known? Perhaps not, but such was the spiritual charisma of Jesus they willingly and immediately left everything to follow Him.

In the calling of the first disciples - Simon and Andrew, John and James - the astonishing immediacy of events continues, in fact it appears to be gathering momentum. (Remembering that two of them, Andrew and Peter, had already met Jesus yet returned to their day jobs. Then wasn't the time, but now it is!) Jesus calls, and they came - immediately. Nets were left behind, father was left to take up the reins again, everything was dropped, discarded; nothing would be allowed to come between them and the One who called them - by name. The attraction, the urgency, the blazing imperativeness of the call of Jesus could not, would not, be ignored. Oh, that we would emulate our LORD; bringing His Gospel with a furnace in our hearts and tongues of fire on our heads. What a difference we might make in our families, in our Church, in our Fellowship and in our communities.
However, at this point, and after some personal deliberation, I find it impossible to move on without mentioning an episode from John's gospel, an occurrence which took place possibly about forty days before today, which I previously and briefly mentioned.

The next day again John (the Baptist) was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). John 1:35-42

He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day,

We do not know, because the Bible does not tell us and speculation is therefore pointless, who the second of John's disciples was, the one who joined Andrew in that place where Jesus was staying, and spent the day with Him. (Although John beloved of Christ seems to be the forerunner.) Can you imagine, can you really imagine, spending a day in the physical presence of our Lord Jesus? And what did Andrew do after spending time with Jesus? He immediately looked for his brother and brought him to Christ also; the first of millions who have come to know Jesus as Saviour. There is something else here, another example of selflessness: Andrew and the other man were staunch disciples of John (the Baptist) but as soon as their master said, Behold, the Lamb of God!, they immediately turned and followed Jesus. John's remit was simple: to point people to Jesus. It is also ours!

Then the question from our LORD, What are you seeking? The question He asks of everyone who searches for Him. And the answer Jesus received could be paraphrased quite accurately as, 'To be with You'. Following this encounter, it would seem that Andrew and Peter left both John and Jesus to return to their work as fishermen. John the Baptist's work with Andrew and the other man was finished, they had met the Messiah; their time with Jesus was not yet, but soon would be, and perhaps they both needed a time of ordinariness before it began - the most exciting, even terrifying, three years of their lives.

This episode recorded in the Gospel of John, is immense and well worth a study in itself, but I am committed to Mark and it is time to get back on the path laid out for me. One Gospel at a time, but each one has so much offer it is quite difficult to pull back! However, I must - immediately!
Now we begin to enter the world of Jesus, of miracles and exorcisms, and teaching such as the world has never heard before, and will never hear again. Before we do, however, before we experience the first miracle, please allow me an interlude.

There are, I believe, around eighteen miracles of our Lord Jesus described in Mark, and they cover the full gamut; from the control and manipulation of nature, the healing of the sick and the diseased through to the raising of the dead and the driving out of demons. The word miracle is used in so many contexts that it often becomes, in my view, almost devalued. We talk of the miracle of birth, the miracle of a lovely sunrise or sunset, and much more – but as wonderful and perhaps exciting as they may be, they are in fact perfectly natural happenings. And of course we also hear the word used on more mundane occasions; from a goal being scored, to a bus arriving on time. Yet, although the word itself may on occasion be devalued, genuinely miraculous events are always extraordinary and may be authentically referred to as awesome, a word itself frequently devalued in its use.

So what is a miracle? It was difficult finding a concise definition or explanation that satisfied me, because even among scholars opinions and definitions vary so greatly. Yet this became one of those times when I looked elsewhere and I finished up with two very different sources. The first was Easton's Bible dictionary, and its definition follows: An event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message. My second source was The Oxford Dictionary of English which reads: 'An extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.' One tiny problem here is that miracles are not necessarily welcome: the Red Sea waters being released by Moses was indeed a miracle, although not welcome for Pharaoh and his chariots; similarly in, 2 Kings 1:10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, 'If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.' Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.' Hardly a miracle that was welcomed.

However, in seeking clarity on this issue even more problems were encountered. Whereas one scholar stated that there should be a sharp line drawn between a miracle and God's providence, another states that we should be very careful of trying to separate the two. I will stay with the KISS explanation reached by my wife, Sheila, and myself; A happening that is inexplicable by any natural means. In short, a divine work - and Mark is full of them!

The episode in the synagogue, the first miracle described by Mark, even in his almost brusque manner, verses 21ff, immediately generates two observations; the first I believe is self-explanatory, They were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority. Unlike the scribes, masters of the law and its intricacies but having no authority. Short lesson for me, authority comes from God and not from learning, for authority can never be learnt, only bestowed or received.

The second observation refers to the exorcism of the demon. In my limited but varied experience - and even more limited listening to teachings and sermons via conferences, TV and DVD'S - and my much wider reading on the subject, it appears to me that just as the Jews surrounded the initial commandments with hundreds of other laws (attempting to protect the laws but in essence improving on the Bible), so the casting-out of demons has more modern rules and regulations attached than a new parliamentary law (and which vary considerably dependent on the individual or denomination). The exorcism - such a frightening word in the modern world that immediately scares up visions of Hollywood imaginations - may involve shaking the victim, sometimes violently, shouting loudly, using different evocations, rituals, 'holy' water, and an endless stream of man-devised ways and means, which conjure up all sorts of weird phantasies. So it was and still is a great and blessed experience (and no small relief) to read the words of Jesus, Be quiet, and come out of him! The machinations of men are for men. The words of the Bible, the ways of the Bible, are of God for men - and need no verbal adornment, embellishment or ritual ornament. There is only one prerequisite; that we are known by the Lord Jesus, and are therefore in His will. The alternative is so dangerous. (Acts 19:13-16.)

One of the fascinating points for me here was the preceding two versus. Mark offers no preamble, Jesus went to Capernaum on a Sabbath and immediately entered the synagogue and, as we have just read, immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. Mark makes it clear that Jesus was in a hurry. He immediately entered the synagogue and immediately there was a possessed man! No gratuitous – in Mark's view – hanging about, no dawdling, there is far too much to do, so much healing of broken minds and bodies to achieve, so many people waiting to hear the Good News. Every action is immediate.

Imagine the scene, Jesus, the carpenter's son and, the way Mark tells it, bursting into the synagogue and then teaching with an authority that absolutely astonished the listeners. They were used to listening to scribes whose only authority came from their knowledge of the laws and intricate laws that governed the Jewish nation. Some scholars would argue that they could be described as Biblical lawyers. Then here comes Jesus, and in my mind I see Him standing there, eyes of flame burning with a desire to tell them the truth; to tell them Who God is; bringing them the Good News of the Bible in a way they would never previously have heard or understood.
And then the possessed man, or rather the unclean man, or rather again, the demon within him crying out in the plural - for it was speaking on behalf of all demons, 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. Jesus, standing there in majestic manhood and awesome majesty, using the authority of the Sword of Truth, the Word of God. The unclean spirits were appalled, they knew it was the beginning of the end for Satan and for them; they knew that the dreadful day of reckoning was imminent.
Jesus gave them no time-out for discussion or debate; and therein is a lesson for me: the truth is the truth and when we try to discuss it down, comply with compromise, we endorse the lies. Jesus simply said, Be silent, and come out of him. The truth is simple, the truth sets people free, it is the most powerful weapon the Christian has – and it always bears fruit. Look at the results, the listeners questioned among themselves, they wondered about the authority in this new teaching, its source, and the remarkable result. For there in front of them stood the man who once was possessed and now was clean; irrefutable evidence yet, as we learn later, they still would not believe. Or accept is probably more accurate.

The exciting thing about Mark's first recorded miracle, is that the principles involved apply equally to each one of us today! The Christian, the person who has been born again, carries the same authority as Jesus, and the same power in Christ to drive out demons, to heal, to raise the dead and, most wonderful of all, to bring souls to our Lord Jesus Christ. I do believe the greatest sadness in the church today is that Christians do not believe this, and perhaps more sadly, are not taught this; probably because the leaders themselves have difficulty with acknowledging and accepting the words of Jesus. It may even seem that we are encouraged to believe that we are attempting to live above our station if we get to actually recognise and believe His truth; if we take the words of Jesus and attempt to do what He has taught us, and even more importantly, promised us.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If You Ask Me Anything in My Name, I will do It. John 14:12 – 14

I understand from those who have expertise in such matters that, truly, truly, is about as verbally emphatic as it is possible to be. Jesus meant what he was saying, and is still saying today, that nothing is impossible for God, and therefore nothing is impossible for each one of us as we do God's work.

Unfortunately, it remains for the majority of us a wonderful conceptualisation but not something that could actually happen – Jesus simply could not have meant what He said, or that somehow His words have been optimistically mistranslated. Yet Jesus spoke nothing but the truth, in fact one of His more powerful statements is found in, John 14:6 Jesus told him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through Me. This is no optimistic mistranslation, no contemplative study, no reasonable basis for a reasonable discussion – these are our words of truth, of life, and of the way. One of my favourite phrases, coined a few years ago, Read the Bible, do it!

The pace continues, leaving the synagogue, Jesus and the four new disciples went to the home of Simon and Andrew and discovered that Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. There is one aspect of this occurrence that really stood out for me. That mum was healed is nearly to be taken for granted, after all this is Jesus we are talking about. No, the important part of this miracle is, and she began to serve them. This was not an act of menial servitude, this was the act of a person healed by Christ who immediately wanted to serve Him and others. She embodies the statement one of my reference books notes, The purpose of healing is to empower for service. Each one of us has experienced the healing of Christ, and therefore each one of us has the built-in desire to serve; to emulate our Lord Jesus Christ, Who said, …but I am among you as One who serves. Luke 22:7 The purpose of healing is to empower for service.

But there is more in this brief miracle. For instance, Jesus healed or dispossessed the possessed either by word or by touching, and quite often by touching He made Himself ritually unclean. However, I think there are only four instances in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus took the recipient by the hand. That thought actually staggers me; Jesus taking someone by the hand – how could that person not be healed? Now although the word, immediately, is not used here it is implicit; took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her and she began to serve them - it was immediate! And what was also immediate, was the mother serving them. You see, it is my firm belief, as I stated earlier, and which I feel the need to further emphasise, that when we are healed – physically, emotionally or spiritually – it is not primarily for our benefit, but for the benefit of the Kingdom. The phrase I used earlier cannot be bettered, The purpose of healing is to empower for service. If we are to rule with Him, then we are to follow His example and serve with Him. Although many Bible translations use the word servant, as in we are servants of Christ, the word is actually slave – we are slaves of Christ; 24/7 slaves of Christ. There is none below us on any social scale, we have no rights in any British, European or world-wide courts. We are slaves, and we have been empowered for service. And, paradoxically as the Bible sometimes seems, we will never be free until we accept and live as slaves of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Luke 22:27 (Jesus said) For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves. The mother had absolutely no problem with this, she did not need a period of recuperation or convalescence; she was healed, she began serving. When a person is healed miraculously in the Bible, in most cases they gave glory to God. This lady when she was healed gave thanks and glorified God by immediate and whole-hearted service.

We are still in the Sabbath, Jesus had preached in the Synagogue; banished a demon, gone to to the home of Simon and Andrew, healed Peter's mother-in-law and then it seems took a break and was served a meal or refreshments. It had been a long day but there was no let-up for we learn that at evening time, that is, the Sabbath is now at end, there is no lessening of the demand for as Mark records, the whole city was gathered together at the door. Even allowing for the writer's possibly enthusiastic hyperbole, even assuming that the city was not quite the size we imagine a city to be - that it was probably a smallish town - even taking into account every number-diminishing means we can relate, imagine or conjure up - the fact remains there was an incredible number of people gathered at the door of Simon's house. Jesus continued healing the people of varied and diverse sicknesses, and driving out the demons who, it seemed, knew Him - and therefore were not permitted to speak. Why, I wondered, did Jesus muzzle the demons because they knew who He was. Luke is more specific 4:41 But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew He was the Messiah. But is that reason enough for me, I wonder? Probably not, and although I am very cognisant of the fact that some parts of the Bible are not yet made fully clear to us, or certainly not to me, there seems no real reason for this act of our LORD - which is probably a near sacrilegious statement to make.

But I pushed on anyway, and never did get very far in my search for a definitive answer. The best possible, and very fragile, explanations I could discover were the following: to show He had the authority to subdue and control the demonic world which would include Satan himself (which actually on reflection, seems a very good reason!), or as I have read, to demonstrate what kind of Messiah He was far different to the usual conception (but what does that actually mean; perhaps that Jesus not only cast out and banished demons, but that He had a far greater authority, for instance, telling them to keep quiet). There is also another reason posited which I am inclined to prefer; to demonstrate in advance, to prove before the accusations began, that he was not in league with the chief demon, Satan. An accusation soon to be made against Jesus, Chapter 3:22 The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, 'He has Beelzebul in Him!' and, 'He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons!' Such a stupid, stupid argument, nevertheless it had to be countered, and our LORD did - beforehand.

How long did Jesus sleep that night, I wonder. We know He was ministering to many people so it had to be quite late before our LORD got any rest, if indeed He managed any. And yet we read, Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there. Jesus is the leading exponent of prayer, solitary prayer requiring no audience to hear except one, Father God; teaching us by example, teaching us actually how to, teaching us the difference between effective, unselfish prayer, and the entire ineffectiveness of selfish, boastful prayer as in the Pharisee and the tax collector Luke 18:9-14 The Creator supplies everything we need - everything. But the substance of Jesus' teaching on prayer is the unquestionable necessity of prayer. The Lord Jesus, a long, long night, yet He is still on the mountain very early to pray, to talk with His Father.

And still they would not leave Him alone! They're looking for you. And in essence, He answered, Okay, that is why I have come. Nothing would be allowed to interfere with the work Jesus came to accomplish. Neither opposition, tiredness, or even hunger. There was a time when He had obviously not eaten for a while and the disciples were trying to make Him eat. Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. John 4:34 One mission, one aim, to accomplish the Father's work. It is our mission also, and we are fully equipped to do it. Yes, indeed we are – really!

One of my favourite, genuinely favourite exchanges between Jesus and another person happens next in Verses 40,41. If you are willing…….I am willing. The summation of our Lord Jesus Christ in one simple exchange of words with a suffering supplicant who, in his simple question, demonstrated that he knew Jesus, and knew without doubt that He was capable of healing him - a leper. A man who is familiar with suffering in all its forms, afflicted with a terrible disease, an outcast from family, friends, and society in general – including the synagogue. In my life I have allowed so much hurt in friends, family and myself, purely because I was unable, unwilling, or lacking in trust to utter those four simple words that changed utterly and completely the leper's life - if you are willing. In my experience, good and bad, there is one thing I have learned, Jesus is always willing; willing to forgive, willing to heal, willing to dispossess those who are possessed, willing to teach, willing to guide, willing to give endlessly from a never-ending stream of love; willing to wait patiently for the faithless son, willing to watch for his return, and then so willing to celebrate with him. Jesus answered the man with arguably the most amazing words the Creator could say to one of his created, I am willing.

Two other points became important to me, the word that describes the Jesus so well; compassion, our Lord was full of compassion, it was compassion fuelled by His love for His wayward children that drove His ministry. However, for the moment I will move on after drawing attention to the simple action Jesus took that preceded His wonderful words, I am willing. Mark tells us that Jesus, reached out His hand and touched him. Jesus made himself unclean and violated the Jewish law by touching him, proving the extent of our Lord's love, and the sincerity of Mark's comment, moved with compassion. Moved with, the English word compassion does not fully reflect the Greek word – which I will not attempt to write – but the phrase I have seen used to describe it is something like gut-wrenching compassion; and if this is so, then even moved with compassion fails to adequately describe the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is one other slightly puzzling command from Jesus which we see repeated in parts of this and the other Gospels. Then He sternly warned him and sent him away at once, telling him, 'See that you say nothing to anyone,' Jesus follows this with further instructions on reporting to the priests. Why did He command the leper to say nothing? Surely our Lord would have known that although the leper knew who Jesus was, he had no hope of keeping quiet. Yet the result of this disobedience, I thought, was also quite intriguing; for just as the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness following His baptism, so the crowds drove him to the deserted places similar to the wilderness where the Messiah was tested, tempted, ministered to by angels, and overcame the false, devious ministrations of Satan.

It would appear that for some days, Mark 2:1, Jesus ministered to the people who found Him and followed Him in the deserted places, as He travelled through Galilee. Then, it is reported, He went home (literally, a house) to Capernaum, His base of operations in the northern part of the country.
The next miracle, 2:2–12, is probably one of the most well-known miracles of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. Countless Sunday School teachers and children have read and heard the story, acted it, mimed it, watched it on felt-covered boards with cut-out figures through to today's electronic animations. The story has been told and retold in many different ways and I am no exception and will deal with it at some length. There are only two points I wish to initially make: there is no doubt that people had come from far and wide to see Jesus perform miracles, acts of wonder, and to listen to His teaching. Luke's description of the happening in Chapter 5, On one of those days while He was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea, and also from Jerusalem. This was indeed an eclectic bunch of people representing the entire social scale of Judaea, from the peasant to the religious ruling authorities. They had all come to see Jesus work miracles; instead, however, in this small house with its earth and thatched roof, crammed full of people, a crowd which spread outside in depth, Jesus was doing what He came to do, Preaching His Gospel; His Good News; to His people.

The second point is this, I really wanted to know exactly how the dwelling was constructed i.e., was it a solid roof that would have required pneumatic drills to dismantle, or a flimsy structure that the big, bad wolf of fairy-tale fame could have huffed and puffed it down? Yes, there is a certain facetiousness in the preceding but I definitely wanted to have a fuller, or more complete picture. And, naturally, what I discovered is now being shared with you.

One of the best descriptions I read was gleaned from my TEBC which generally concurs with other historical data. In first century Palestine, a typical peasant's house would have just one room and a flat roof accessed by outside stairs. From the Bible we also know that these roofs were used for drying different stuff, fruit, flax etc., and that people sometimes slept up there if the nights were warm. We also know of at least one building with a room built on top; this one constructed for Elisha, a prophet's room 2 Kings 4:9, so the roofs needed to be fairly substantial. Fundamentally, I have learned, the roof was constructed of solid wooden beams filled with thatch and compacted earth to make the house weather-proof.

Why was this important to me? The answer is simple, these men, these friends of the paralytic went to great lengths to get him in front of Jesus. It certainly wasn't a case of lifting up a trap door and dropping their friend in. To get the stretcher (bed) into the presence of Jesus really required a mess of digging; and mess is probably the right word. Imagine being below, earth and straw trickling down, with no elbow room to get out of the way! And mentioning imagination, my mind gives me a picture of our LORD, standing there with a small smile on His face, waiting for the paralytic and his sweaty, disheveled friends to come before Him (for I do believe that practically i.e surely they couldn't have done it all from the roof, coupled with an attitude, I would think, of we've come this far so no point in holding back, would have them standing there with their friend). He would have appreciated their ingenuity, their determination to bring their friend before the Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder Jesus noticed their faith, no wonder indeed.

Did He say something like, 'Well done, lads,' or something similar? No, Jesus said something far more amazing, Son, your sins are forgiven. Well we know how that statement went down with the scribes (remember, Bible lawyers?), but how did it affect the paralytic and his faithful friends, I wonder. Forgiveness, we could have gone to the temple with an offering for forgiveness! It's healing, our friend needs, healing! Perhaps not, for faith such as they had would not have died quickly or easily.

Nevertheless, it was upon the lawyers that Jesus turned His attention. 'Why are you thinking these things in your hearts…?' He asked, for he knew their legalist opinions and the thoughts that were besetting them. (Scary thought; He knows my every thought also!) Yes, this was an extremely unusual happening, something they had never encountered before and, bound by centuries of law and tradition, they could not cope. It happens today with similar thoughts - and words - expressed; we have never done it this way before, our last minister didn't behave like this, we have no need to change a perfectly good system. And of course they are right, the systems are perfectly good and there is no need to change - unless, that is, you want to hear words like this, and see the paralysed move (paralysed in the flesh, and paralysed in the spirit). 'I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.'

Reflecting on this early miracle, one thought came to prominence, a simple thought but one I had almost overlooked before; there were two reasons for this work of Jesus. The first was of course the rewarding of faith, honouring the efforts the paralytic's friends, their perseverance, and his courage also, pick up your mat, and go home. But there was a bigger reason for the healing, an eternal and universal reason: '….so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,' Jesus proving to the doubting Pharisees and Scribes that He had the authority, the Father's permission - indeed the Father's remit, to forgive sins - the greatest, most awe-inspiring miracle of all. Amen.

(Even with the healing and its result, the breathlessness continues, Immediately he got up, picked up the mat and went out in front of everyone. So much I am learning - relearning, re-remembering about healing, its simplicity and its results. …the people were astounded.)

But there is no let up, no breathing space, our LORD is on the move again, walking along the shore, doing what He was sent to do, teaching, preaching telling the people who were drawn to Him, who were following Him, His Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The next person to meet Jesus was Levi, the tax collector sitting in his tax collectors box, (possibly a toll booth on the road that ran from Damascus through Capernaum to the Mediterranean coast), but it is not important to this episode. Is Levi the Matthew in his Gospel, or a different tax collector, or the same man given two birth names? If however, it was because he was indeed a Levite then the stigma would have been huge, a descendant of the tribe of priests ordained by God Almighty, Himself, following the most hated and despised profession in first century Palestine, a collector of Roman taxes for the Romans. One point, my TEBC noted here; if Peter - and the others - gave up he could return to fishing. All of them had previous occupations waiting for them. Not Levi, if he left his position it would be filled immediately, for although it might have been a despised position, it was extremely lucrative. And, of course, a double whammy, he would become totally unemployable and this man said, Follow me. And Levi left all and followed His Saviour.

When I look back and see the sacrifices, Sheila and I have made - particularly and especially my lovely wife - to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, to give up pensions and plans, they do not compare with the sacrifice Levi was about to make. Yet there is no degree with God, no comparison table, only one request, follow me whatever the cost, large or small, anything or everything up to and including life itself. 'If you love Me, you will keep my commands.' John 14:15. No degree, no exceptions. Do it.

In my initial thoughts about beginning this Layman's Look, it was never my intention to comment on every verse, or action, or happening, or even every miracle, but what I am discovering after only a short foray into this Gospel is that I am finding it impossible to omit anything - or refrain from commentating as I learn more and more about this amazing Gospel. (That is, every Gospel, in fact every word in the Bible is amazing, but it is Mark's way of writing that grips me this time. I run out of breath just reading as he gallops along.)

Mark leads us as if we were among the crowd following Jesus on the shore as He walked and taught the crowds; we stop briefly as He calls out to Levi, Follow me, and now we join Him in the home of Levi, a formal meal (apparently, the way He was reclining suggests this) with other tax collectors and sinners. Where would He eat in Kinross, I wonder, a meal organised by Churches Together in some suitable place with a politically and culturally correct menu, and a broad-based agenda, carefully designed to, not offend? I doubt it very much. In my opinion, based only from what I gleaned from His Book, He would be eating with the are-nots, the despised, of 1 Corinthians 1. And people will be offended! Mightily. As were the scribes and Pharisees, who would not challenge Jesus directly, but asked His disciples for an explanation.

And what Jesus said must offer the greatest comfort to anyone - as it did and still does to me. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners. Amen.

[Personal Notes] We live under grace, praise God, not law. And grace, powered by love, must drive our every thought and action. Occasionally, though, some matters do concern me. You see, I do have great difficulty with righteous men - and now women - giving themselves religious titles, and adornments. For example, the title reverend (although its etymology does not stem from revere, it has close audible connotations) actually comes from the Middle French reverent which means, worthy of respect. It came into use around the fifteenth century and has been adopted and is now part of Christian tradition, or rather man-made tradition. Why would a minister of the Lord Jesus (I am among you as one who serves) walk around with a sign saying, I am worthy of respect? And it is sincere incomprehension and not malicious judgement that makes me ask the question. (And possibly this paragraph will not survive later editing - who knows?) Of course there are many other man-made titles of which the most incomprehensible to this simple man is, the very reverend; to be revered and respected even more than a simple reverend, - as my robes and adornments, and position in both religious and political should prove. Robes, adornments and other accoutrements seem to be an essential part of leadership in so many respected denominations - why? Is it indeed to cover nakedness? (Yes, as someone may remark, my slip is showing.)

Yet Jesus Himself, said, And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you — you of little faith. Matthew 6:28-30 There is an old, pithy colloquialism, Clothes maketh the man, and in the positions of this world perhaps it has some relevance. But in our walk with God, clothes are unimportant, and can often just trip us up.

For of all the characters in the entire Bible, the only one worthy of pomp and circumstance, and the finest clothes and the finest foods, and everything this world can offer, made Himself the least of all. And doing what His Father commanded. Then Jesus replied, "I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way. John 5:19

Jesus did and said only what His Father told Him. Jesus is our example - He has shown us by word and deed how to behave. It is very, very KISS. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death —even to death on a cross. Philippians 2: 5-8 [End of personal notes]

The next part of Mark's narrative is of great interest to me because recently it has been laid on me to fast regularly and faithfully. The reasons for my discipline are personal and therefore not relevant to any other person's walk - at least not necessarily. However, the disciples, who would have been used to a regime of fasting, had desisted - and this generated questions from the people, the ordinary folk, the salt of the earth. They were confused. A respected prophet, John, and his followers, in tandem with the keepers of the law, the Pharisees, were fasting. The disciples of Jesus were not. And so they asked, why not? And it seems to me, this was a very good question.
Strictly speaking, the law required fasting only on the Day of Atonement but four other fast days were instigated following the exile. However, during New Testament days, more rigorous or devout Pharisees had taken to fasting bi-weekly. We do not know why on this particular day all were fasting; probably for the Pharisees it was a Monday or a Thursday (the days they fasted), and it is possible that the disciples of John were fasting because he was imprisoned. But we do not know and, in my view, there is nothing to be gained in using precious time to suggest answers to a question that cannot be addressed with any reasonable hope of a satisfactory outcome.
This, however, is not the main issue. Why should the disciples fast when they were constantly in the presence of the Lord Jesus? The groom had arrived and was beginning to prepare His bride; a long time of preparation lay ahead, there would be many times, needs and reasons for the guests and bride to fast in the future, near and far. Now was the time for listening, learning, preparation and rejoicing in the Good News.

Or am I being too simplistic?

I have learned through hard experience that fasting for the sake of fasting is of no avail. One must fast for a reason, and not look for a reason to fast; rather relax in spirit and let The Holy Spirit tell you when, and why - and He will. It is my strong belief, confirmed in my heart by Scripture, that fasting means abstaining from food and drink for a determined (by God) period. It is very KISS. Giving up TV, or chocolates, or some other trivial thing or habit for Lent, is not fasting; it is merely a watering down of a deep, spiritual discipline - if it is carried out correctly and for God blessed reasons. (Please do remember, this is a very personal observation.)

Jesus was already teaching His disciples freedom, showing them a new way of doing things, from healing to casting out demons. Now was a time to live and learn, a time to live without the law, but within a greater one. Can you imagine what it must have been like; following Jesus, watching Him, listening to Him; sitting or standing there open-mouthed as the King of kings did and said outrageous things? Overturning precious customs and traditions, upsetting the lawyers and the religious leaders - but bringing such joy, such overwhelming love, such peace to all who would and will listen and believe.

No, this was not a time for fasting. But that time would most certainly come.

There has been such an awful lot written about patches and wineskins; myriads of reams and ideas, some fairly simple, some even shallow; others deeper and exploring ideas that are, frankly, often beyond me. So I read through it again and again and decided that, And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost as well as the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins, was the one that spoke to me most clearly. At a fundamental level it is the idea of the New Kingdom of Freedom breaking into the old Kingdom of law, tradition and rigid structure - for they cannot co-exist. The cloth will tear, and the wineskin explode. In my mind's eyes I saw an imaginary playroom for children, carefully laid out and well thought out games and constructions all diligently designed to educate and encourage learning. Then the doors fling open and a bunch of bubbling pre-schoolers invade; soon the carefully planned designs are re-planned and redesigned; the room is an eruption of ideas as the children, excited and full of new ideas, chattering with excitement, dismantle old ideas and remantle them into the new. Perhaps a poor analogy or metaphor but it is this sense of excitement and newness that fills me when I read Mark's Gospel, and listen to the words of Jesus as He attempts to bring the teachings of eternity into the heartbreakingly short span of three or so years.

It was new. It is still new. It will never be old. The Good News - the New Wine.

And now here come the disciples, a naturally rebellious bunch on occasion, it appears, wending their way through a field of wheat and happily picking and munching the grain - knowing full well, surely, they were breaking the law. (The law of the Sabbath, not the law of theft. Deuteronomy 22:25.) It was working on the Sabbath that did the damage. But I don't want to dwell on the theological aspects, just that major statement of Jesus which enlightened me marvellously: The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. 27,28

Jesus fulfilled the law in every aspect and every law. We have no reason or right, is my belief, to pick and choose which laws we retain and which ones we keep. It really is a case of all or nothing.
Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Matthew: 17,18

The Lord Jesus has fulfilled all of the promises of God in the Old Testament. All of the promises! And we have that wonderful verse in 2 Corinthians 1:20, For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in Him. For God's glory. Amen. There are and cannot be any half measures with God, it is indeed all or nothing.

Jesus kept the law perfectly, and at the cross all judgements against the sins of mankind were poured on him and crucified with Him. For ever. Righteousness could never be and will never be, achieved by the law. I read something the other day which resonated with me, and I am probably clumsily paraphrasing; the ultimate goal, the ultimate aim of the law, is that we look to Christ; we look to Christ for our righteousness, we look to Him Who is our righteousness.

The Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus. He is and always will be the Sabbath rest. It is no longer a requirement that we keep the Sabbath, and indeed, as the Sabbath legally runs from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and remembering that Sunday is the first day of the week, in reality - we never have.

However, far from being let-off, so to speak, Jesus gives us far more to think about. For example, whereas under law we were commanded not to kill or murder, now, however, if we hate our brother we are in effect committing murder. Matthew 5:18 Furthermore, it is no longer a matter of keeping the Sabbath holy, it is a question of keeping every day holy. 1 Peter 1:15,16, But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy. And I have it on good authority, the Bible, that God does not take any time off from being holy, and neither should we. The New Testament does not in any way, I firmly believe, relieve us of responsibility i.e. keeping the law, but lays on us even greater responsibility, greater and more powerful laws, which we are incapable of keeping – except for the leading, the guidance, and the power of The Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mark 12:31 – 33 This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. “The second is: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.

And finally, to lay to rest the issue of the Sabbath rest, Galatians 5:14 For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbour as yourself.

We are not, repeat not, under law, For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace Romans 8:14.

Two things I have noticed, two things which I constantly need to check, well actually it is just one thing; that I am not, repeat not, preparing a Sunday message. This has two very important consequences; one, I do not have any time limit (although that has never been a huge worry of mine), and two, the only teaching that occurs in this very personal opus is, I believe, The Holy Spirit teaching me. So please forgive me if it appears otherwise. However, if anything becomes of consequence to you, dear reader, through my Layman's Look, then I am extremely pleased, and sincerely blessed.

Take a deep breath and catch with our writer; there is no let up, once more it is the Sabbath, and once more Jesus enters the synagogue. Mark gives us no geographical details or even a rough timeline. It is enough for young Mark that he tells us what Jesus is doing! This suits the lazy tendency in me that sometimes rears its head. Although at times I do enjoy chasing locations and times and other supporting facts and figures, in this Gospel I just want to see what happens next. And I am not frustrated although, after my extended discourse on the law, it is disappointing and quite sad to read that the Pharisees were once more scheming and plotting to trap our Lord.
The incredibly awful part of this incident is contained in the phrase, to see whether He would heal him on a Sabbath. These hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law (Luke tells us in his parallel passage), these people knew that Jesus could heal! And all they were interested in was trapping and convicting Him of breaking the law. So when Jesus asked them, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to kill, was He making the comparison that seems obvious to me? While He was healing and saving shattered lives, these lawyers and self-righteous religious leaders were plotting to kill.

Jesus knew what was in their minds, He knew they were waiting to see if He broke the laws of the Sabbath. (Yet from my readings it appears that the rabbis had been discussing this matter of saving life or healing on a Sabbath for a very long time. The consensus agreed that saving life overruled the Sabbath.) However, because this man's life was not in danger, because he perhaps could easily have waited until the following day, and also – and this is quite important – because he didn't ask for healing, there was apparently no reason why the healing could not have been delayed. There is also this to consider, Jesus, for the only time in the Gospels, initiated the healing. Knowing their minds, the Lord Jesus directly challenged them. If there had been any doubt previously about His intentions, Jesus removed them. He willingly and obviously threw down the gauntlet. The man was healed and the religious leaders and lawyers slunk off to scheme and plot with the Herodians. (The term, Herodians, is not explained and occurs only once more in Chapter 12. Even my faithful TEBC, cannot offer an explanation other than to suggest they may have been influential Jews who supported the Herodian dynasty. It is of no importance.)

Jesus had every reason to be angry with them, to be appalled at the hardness of heart that could ignore what was done for this unfortunate – until now – man and concentrate only on the perceived breaking of Sabbath laws. And yet, our Lord, experienced sadness, as He does every time I go astray. It is a salutary lesson for me.

The next episode in Mark's Gospel is sub-headed in my Bible, Ministering to the Multitude. It seems to be a classic understatement. They had come because they had heard of Him! Have the people, the citizens, the hurt, the wounded, the are-nots, in our areas, heard of Him? And if not, why not? There is in my experience, limited as it may be, never a case for sitting on our backsides and letting people come to us; irrespective of how welcoming and warm we perceive our Church or Fellowship to be. Being a Christian is an active occupation, all callings are, and there is no more important calling than serving the Lord of lords.

I read somewhere that the actual translation suggests that the crowds were literally falling on Jesus. Imagine a milling crowd from all over the area, Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and around Tyre and Sidon, shoving, pushing, reaching out trying to touch part of Jesus, even His clothes, certain in the knowledge that if they succeeded they would be healed. We don't know, we can have no idea how many people were actually there, but Mark describes it as a large crowd. One thing I am sure of, if it had been me the crowd was trying to touch or reach, I would have been frightened.

But Jesus didn't take to a boat on the Lake of Gennesaret because He was frightened; the people had come to be healed or delivered, Jesus had come, so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come. 1:38. Jesus' primary purpose was the Good News, the Gospel, the coming of the Kingdom. He took to the boat so He could preach undisturbed; that people were healed or delivered is probably a given, but His primary message, His primary reason for coming, was the Kingdom. So that they and we could share in the Good News and become part of this wonderful work. Colossians 1:13, 14 He has rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, In Him.

Once more we have the demons recognising and calling out to Jesus. And once more we have Jesus telling them to keep quiet. As I have discussed this before, I feel no compulsion to take up the matter again as my previous comments and observations haven't changed, although perhaps they are still not entirely satisfactory. Touching Jesus to be healed has a good pedigree both in the New Testament and the popular notion in the ancient world that simply touching the garment of a gifted healer would result in healing. (2 Kings 13:21 also offers another side to this!)

But of course it is not the touching of the clothes that brings healing, it is the faith behind the action that God recognises and rewards. An incredible example of this occurs later in this gospel in Chapter 5. The woman with the issue of blood crying to herself after years of torment, If I can just touch His robes, I’ll be made well! That whole episode is one that has always intrigued and encouraged me, but which I will leave for now and discuss further when I reach the actual incident.
So the crowd pushed and pulled as individuals pushed and pulled to reach out and touch Him, the one Who could heal and deliver them. If indeed Jesus did heal and deliver as He walked to the boat, we do not know, although it seems very likely as those who were possessed fell down before him, and it seems inconceivable that Jesus would ignore those who came to Him for help. What we do know, however, is that our Lord did what He came to do, preach the Good News.

And to help Him with this, Jesus required a team. We hear a lot today of team building, and phrases such as there is not an I in team. Jesus had three years to build His team, and I am convinced that there was certainly an I in the training every step of the way. In the Gospels, the short phrase, I tell you, is used many times by Jesus. In the team we belong to, the Christian Fellowship of brothers and sisters, the I was, is and ever will be paramount – Jesus.

Here comes The Team.

But first. Mark mentions only that Jesus went up to the mountain, again preceded by the word, then, keeping the link with the previous event and maintaining the sense of urgency. Luke, however, is more specific and tells us that Jesus spent all night on the mountain in prayer Luke 6:12. This seems to be so in character with our LORD that it is certainly correct - I do only what the Father tells me. And as this would be such an incredibly important appointment - putting together a team whose names and influence will cross the boundaries of millennia, nationality and culture - He really needed to talk with Father, and He did; all night Jesus communed with His Father.

However, it is not a question of right and wrong regarding Luke and Mark's accounts, it is a question of emphasis; Luke is big on important facts i.e. Th details of the birth of Christ - and there is nothing of greater import than prayer, while Mark is impatient to get the basics across - in a hurry. (It may even be worth doing a short study on mountains; they were extremely important in the history of God's chosen, but wayward, people.)

Now we come to the team selection and every member of the board is involved: Team owner, God the Father; Team Coach, The Holy Spirit; and finally, The Team Manager, Jesus. And He, the manager, Jesus, has spent all night in consultation. The time is right, and the team is announced. However, before we get there, we should note - well certainly I should note - one extraordinary phrase in this Chapter, the reason for the team.

He also appointed 12 — He also named them Apostles — to be with Him, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons Verses 14,15

That they would have authority and power, although incredible in itself, is not the reason that captivated me; it is, To be with Him!

To select His Apostles for preaching, and for healing, and for dispossessing the possessed, and to carry the authority of heaven itself, is positively to be expected - even with our still imperfect hindsight. But for the LORD of all to select twelve men from His followers to be with Him, is simply remarkable; demonstrating a side of Jesus that fully expresses his innate humanity, His need for the company of men and women, the proof that he was fully human. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews (well I think he's the best candidate) put it like this: Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the Devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. Hebrews 2:14,15.

Nothing has changed - nothing! Jesus still wants us to be with Him; to want His company, to be in His presence, to experience the abundance of life He offers. John 19:10b.

Now we need to look at the team, probably the most important ever to take to the field. The first one mentioned, almost inevitably, is Peter, that many faceted follower of Jesus who promised much, failed ignominiously, and - nurtured by Christ- blossomed into the most respected and loved of all our LORD's disciples. In the four lists of the disciples published in the Gospels, Peter heads every one. I do not think this is incidental or accidental. This is the man to whom Jesus said these words, I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18.

(There has been so much discussion, argument and downright hostility to the simple explanation of these words. Why? It is a purely high church extrapolation that has grown and grown until we have the near deification of this simple fisherman. What is more worrying, of course, is the tradition that the mantle of Peter is passed down on successive popes and allowing them infallibility - for which there can be no serious Biblical foundation. The result is that protestant, or non-denominational churches and Fellowships have tried every way to retranslate this passage because of its papist connotations. Why?

The church, surely, was founded on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on those sheltering and waiting in the Upper Room, and Peter came out and spoke to the crowds. Thousands were converted to Christ, baptised in the Jordan, and returned to their homes until eventually there came the great dispersion violently enforced by the oppressive and aggressive Roman rulers. Oh, yes, most certainly the Ecclesia of Christ was builded on that day on the rock that was Peter. However, he was never seen as the ultimate leader in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. In fact, James - not one of the disciples - is recognised as the leader in Jerusalem.)

Then followed the first century equivalent of hell's angels - if I am not being sacrilegious -, John and James, sons of Zebedee and 'nicknamed' by Jesus, Sons of Thunder, which must surely refer to their disposition i.e. thunderous perhaps, but not really related to our modern motorcyclists. (This James is not to be confused, as I frequently was, with James the brother of Jesus, whom I mentioned early as the leader in Jerusalem.)

Andrew, fourth on my list below the two that would become part of the inner circle, but second to Peter on other lists. However, wherever we come on any lists reportedly made by the Lord, it is really of no importance to us as individuals - what is important is that we are in The Book! What do we know about Andrew? Well what I needed to know is covered above but I have to remind myself once more that this work of mine was never meant to be a line by line exegesis, or even any sort of hermeneutical work (bearing in mind that I am equipped for neither) but some things I just cannot leave unremarked - and taking a detour to look at the twelve is certainly one of those things.
Andrew is a bit special, the first person - as far as we can ascertain from Scripture - to bring someone to meet the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One named Jesus. That is certainly special enough for me. We don't see too much of him later in the Gospels, the most memorable I would suppose is when he again had a private audience with Jesus - albeit with three others - and asking about the End Times. I will not dwell on it and we will cover it later in Chapter 13, but I do love the context!

While He was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple complex, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to take place?"

Next in Mark's list is Philip, another interesting man, not brought by anyone to Jesus, but directly approached by the LORD Himself. John's Gospel tells us this and it is only in John that we find little references to this disciples and Apostle. It is impossible to mention the summoning of Philip without mentioning the man he brought to the Lord Jesus, Nathaniel.

First his calling: John 1:43ff: The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me!”

Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law (and so did the prophets):Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!”

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him.

“Come and see,” Philip answered.

Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered.

“Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

No, it is not my self-imposed remit to discuss this puzzling little snippet, but what is more significant is Nathaniel's over-the-top response, and the remark made by Jesus in response. Though, as I ponder, I do not see why it is so significant. Nathaniel was perhaps better known as Bartholomew and was one of the witnesses at the ascension of Christ, again in the company of Philip. Time to move on, to gallop again, details are slowing me down dreadfully: to keep or not to keep, that is the question!

Matthew, the Levite and the writer of the first Gospel.

Thomas, a man with whom it is so easy to empathise. John 20:25b But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe. Always we are looking for proof, little assurances of our faith, and the more we get, the more we need - as if being Born Again is not proof enough.

James, son of Alphaeus, is traditionally known as James the Less so as not to confuse him with James son of Zebedee who was part of the inner circle. (And, if you remember we have the third James, brother of Jesus although he was never ordained by Jesus as an Apostle.)

The thing with this inner circle bothers me, it sounds clicky, a circle within circles and gives, I believe, an entirely wrong impression of our LORD's character. Isn't it simply that Jesus, like all of us do, had those he could confide in, and in whose company He could relax more easily? People whom he drew closer to himself but without giving less to the others - for that is not the character of God or His Son, Jesus.

Thaddaeus; we know nothing except he was an Apostle of Christ - surely that will suffice?
Simon the Zealot (literally, my Holman's informed me, the Cananaean) is another of whom we know nothing. But again, he was an Apostle. And again it is enough.

(There are, I am very aware and have looked at a few, many traditions regarding all the Apostles, traditions that developed centuries later - and some may have merit, but I can only stay with the knowledge the Bible reveals.)

Finally we have Judas Iscariot - of whom there isn't much else to say apart from, He betrayed Jesus. And so is hated. Yet without that betrayal, and its awful consequences, where would we be today? No, I do not believe Judas was selected by God willy-nilly and had no choice to do other than what he did - that means predestination by a God totally without heart, pity or grace - and love. No, it was all down to Judas and his choices, as it is with the rest of us. So how do I reconcile freedom and pre-destination? Well, I don't, I leave it to the Bible. 1 Peter 1:2 chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. And also Paul in his letter to the Romans. Chapter 8:29,30 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.

It is enough for me, and therefore it is enough for this Layman's look at Mark to which I must return forthwith and in haste.

Once again we pick up our chronicle beginning with Verse 20, the incident which has perplexed many, including myself, with the behaviour of the family. The family must have included Mary, who counted herself so blessed by God when told of her upcoming pregnancy? Seems incredible. There are reasons suggested though, one of which seems exceptionally plausible. The fact is that Jesus was not taking care of Himself - we have noticed this previously and His comment on what constituted His food - but as far as His family is concerned, He has taken this ministry business way too far. He is neglecting basic care, not eating, not sleeping and so on; they fail to recognise the urgency of His mission, the same urgency that Mark does recognise and demonstrates so vividly in his narrative. The word translated restrain (NASB take custody of) is literally arrest; the family wanted to arrest Him and take care of Mary's son, concerned only for Jesus' welfare - and perhaps the reputation of the family? A mentally disturbed offspring was not someone to be paraded at large, especially one who spoke publicly, enthralling and attracting thousands with His truth - which irritated the religious authorities to an amazing degree.

We continue our sprint.

This passage, if I have understood it correctly, is the first example of a literary device much loved by our writer; it is called sandwiching, or posher, intercalation. (Amazing the stuff one assimilates over the decades.) In effect the first story is split by the use of another story before returning to the original. I believe the intention is that the two separate stories will help to interpret each other. In this case the two parties each represent differing relationships with the LORD; the family, and his fellow Jews. What they do have in common is this; both do not understand Him, both parties' reactions are not good; His blood relations' concern stems from love and care, the representatives of the Jewish leaders challenge with more sinister purposes. Both will learn from His words.
Mark now abruptly leaves the the family of Jesus and launches immediately into the accusations of the scribes, these lawyers of the law who had come down from Jerusalem. Wherever you were in the country people come down from Jerusalem. (It reminded me of British Rail, wherever we are in the U.K. and irrespective of elevation, we always go up to London. The musings of an old man.)
The more I read this incident and the more I think and meditate on it, the more I am convinced about how utterly barmy these over-educated people were! Surely? The more they dwelt on the law, the more quickly common sense - that illusive and rare commodity - slipped away; and insanity ruled. There is a line from a song written by Noel Richards and Gerald Coates; Watching while sanity dies. The inevitable consequence of sin and denial of the Holy One. It was then, and it still is today. There is no good result, ever, from sin - only the stink of death. Sin is insanity.

Now our Lord Jesus points out the insanity, simply and clearly.

In essence He says calmly, You're all insane. We must agree, surely. Why would Satan cast his demons out of a house to which he has sent them. The house, a person possessed by demons, is the result of Satan's advance. Why on earth, or in hell, would he drive them out? It is absolutely ridiculous, and no-one in his to her right mind could ever accept it. Or, as Jesus stated, How can Satan drive out Satan? …..he cannot stand but is finished. Enough said.

It is certain that when Jesus talks about the strong man being bound, He is talking about Satan and how his power is now curtailed in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Which means the believing, Spirit-filled Christian is empowered to imitate Jesus and do what He told us we could and should do; Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge. Matthew 10:8 Read the Bible - do it! Fairly simple, isn't it? KISS indeed.
Back to our impetuous young believer, I keep delaying him. Verse 28, the Holman's reads, I assure you. It may be literal, it may be correct - but it isn't nearly as effective as I tell you the truth, or Verily, or perhaps, Truly I tell you. One of the most important statements of Jesus ever recorded begins with, I am the way the truth and the life…. John 14:6. Therefore when our LORD begins a sentence with, I tell you the truth, it behoves us to sit up and pay attention.

Over the years many people have asked about the unforgivable sin; some of the conversations have been, if not light-hearted, interesting but without a solemn foundation, which I would have thought was warranted; on the other end of this spectrum there have been conversations with folk who have been or are living in an anxious state - which I do not fully understand. Jesus is quite explicit, I think: if a person is dispossessed of an evil spirit, and the work of the Holy Spirit attributed to Satan - then there is cause to tremble. Yet none of the people with whom I have spoken have achieved that dreadful condition, but insist on conjuring up other sins which may qualify.

I will say again, and as many times as I think necessary (and as it is my work etceteras, etceteras…..), God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to give Himself up as the only perfect sacrifice; and why? That we might be saved, while still in the dirt and mire of sins, Christ died for us. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Romans 5:8

There are so many Scriptures testifying to the saving power of the Gospel, so many words from Jesus Himself, countless examples of God's promises to us, His ungrateful children. Why can't we just stand up thanking and praising God for his grace, mercy and unfailing love; not scrabble among the graveclothes hunting for a reason to doubt our salvation.

However, it should also remind us that irrespective of how some Christians may behave in emotional services, we should be careful how we react - very careful. In some meetings that I have attended I have witnessed scenes that I did not believe could be justified by Scripture, but some things just have to be left with God.

The third and final part of the sandwich, the family turns up. Have they come to arrest Jesus, or have they gained a more conciliatory disposition? We can only speculate, but we do know that each member - except Joseph who is not mentioned and who may have been dead at this point - turned up; Mary and the siblings of Jesus, so probably brothers and sisters, coming to see Jesus, but they were not successful. Instead Mary's eldest child really set out His stall, really made it clear that His world is an upside down world. Loyalty to family and loyalty to tribe or clan were paramount in the Jewish heritage - paramount! Now although Jesus did not specially deny or






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