A Layman's Mark Part Two - Parables and More Miracles

I have said during the introduction that I would not go through Mark chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and this still applies. Yet, even as I write, it is self-evident that my opus is basically linear, although off-shoots and byways do occur frequently. However, this is an important section we are about to enter, and the opening is very attractive to me; the scene, Jesus needing to take to the sea again, sitting in a boat while the crowds gathered and grew to listen to His teaching.

Wonderful, isn't it? Plus another incentive is that Chapter 4 is where the parables begin, and I love parables. The truth is, none of them have ever seemed very difficult to comprehend or unravel, yet at times the disciples appeared quite dull, as Jesus once described them - yet, quite surprisingly, this time around I have discovered they did not always fit my treasured beliefs and memories. Parables have been part of my life for as long as I can remember, so naturally they have been explained to me over and over again - rightly, or probably slightly off track a time or two, and on rare occasions reinterpreted to support some speaker's new-fashioned ideas. So I am pleased to see that Mark makes a point of very quickly taking his readers to Jesus explaining what the parables are, and why He teaches in such a way. And the answer is in response to the questions from the special twelve around Him.

Again I sigh and sit back, imagining the scene; Jesus alone with His friends. More so, His friends alone with Him - and comfortable in the presence of the King of kings, LORD of lords, Saviour and Redeemer: and wonderfully free to ask Him any question. What privilege, what joy, what indescribable honour. Yet, yet, we have exactly the same opportunity, all we have to do is to come humbly into the openness of His presence, bow before Him, and seek His face. How blessed are we.

When He was alone with the Twelve, those who were around Him asked Him about the parables. He answered them, The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables so that they may look and look, yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back —and be forgiven.

otherwise, they might turn back —and be forgiven What can this mean? Regrettably, the proffered answers and explanations presented me with more difficulties than the parables ever have - with one or two notable exceptions. Jesus is quoting Isaiah, God’s reply to the prophet who said, Here I am. Send me. (A simple answer, but what a powerful one! Would that every Christian would imitate Isaiah’s words with full hearts and minds and will. Here I am. Send me. No preconditions. No going back to bury one’s dead. Only, Send me.)

And He replied: Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive.Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds,turn back, and be healed.

Some manuscripts, I understand, translate the words of Jesus as, and their sins be forgiven them - which makes an awful lot more sense to me, and so I am tempted to believe the more acceptable alternative translation and move on. But the words of Isaiah whom Jesus is quoting, did not allow me this luxury, so I had to explore further, when what I really wanted to do was to take a deep breath and catch up with Mark. So here is one of those times when I sought counsel, first from The Holy Spirit, but as I have difficulty with Jesus saying, otherwise, they may turn back - and be forgiven, I found it troublesome sorting through the jumble of my thoughts; and as I always find peace and quiet of mind when I’m reading - I read. And so wisdom came, and I understood. (I think.) Understanding, that may prove highly relative.

Oh my goodness! The vast majority of explanations perplexed me more than the words of Jesus. Of course this is by no means the first time I have tried to find a solution, but this time I did approach it open-mindedly - with as little success. The first opinion with which I felt complete empathy was from TEBC, I quote, These words are among the most difficult in the entire Gospel. Which, however, wasn't entirely helpful. However, I have received some different thoughts to ponder, for example, Judah had already been judged by God and was on its way to exile come what may; yet Isaiah was commanded to carry on preaching and warning God's errant nation. (I would imagine there is a serious study in that conundrum - not for me, however; at least at this time.)

In the case of Jesus there is probably a case for some slight irony, because it has been suggested that the last sentence from our LORD would be more accurately translated as, because the last thing they want is to turn and have their sins forgiven. This, it is obvious, was certainly true of the lawyers who came down from Jerusalem. And certainly true of many others who came to listen to the Christ but found His words too hard to accept. But where was the family of our LORD in this challenging statement from Jesus? First off, I would think that as the Scriptures say His siblings were there - both brothers and sisters, then the whole family turned out to rescue Him. The whole family included James who became the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem, and Mary the mother of our Lord Jesus; well we know her heart, and it was a heart that could not and would not desert her Son. Nevertheless, the family’s attitude may be seen as problematic especially if we look briefly at John 7:3-5 His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea so Your disciples can see Your works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” (For not even His brothers believed in Him.) Personally, I believe the family of Jesus was the same as most families today; we judge siblings and even parents more sternly than others in our close circles - but fundamentally it is all founded on deep, familial love. So think how every thought and action would be magnified with a brother or son such as Jesus.

However, the words were still spoken, and by the one voice that could, cannot and will never say anything that is not the truth. ……otherwise, they might turn back —and be forgiven. But surely these words can only have been directed at those who had, and those who would, reject the Saviour of the world and His salvation? It is the same today, our message will be rejected, disdained, and absolutely ignored by many - yet be assured, it will not be silenced, 2 Timothy 2:9 I suffer for it to the point of being bound like a criminal, but God’s message is not bound and our job is to make sure that our message is never compromised or bound by chains of fear, or compromise, or by anything the enemy may bring against us - for there is no more important job in this world and in this life.

Done, now please get on with the parables.

Another fact, or alleged fact, I have learned during my look at Mark's Gospel actually exposed my lack of curiosity, at least in this instance, or a lack of not seeing something that was obvious - once I was told about it. It is this; why would a farmer sow on rocky ground, or any place not suitable? Why was the ground not ploughed in advance, as we are used to seeing? But it never before caught my attention! We are so, so used to reading parables and other occurrences of Jesus' ministry that we tend to overlook, or not see stuff that in ordinary, normal life, we would spot immediately. And it wasn't until my TEBC introduced to me a man named Joachim Jeremias who wrote a much admired study on the parables that I learned that in first-century Palestine sowing preceded ploughing. So a problem which I never knew I had was solved while I was still happy in my ignorance. Naturally, it couldn't last, because further information revealed that the Palestinians ploughed before and after sowing. Well, as the old saying goes, You pays your money and you takes your choice. Simple, or easier still forget about it completely and stay with the heavenly meaning behind this earthly story - a definition of a parable that doesn't quite fit me any more - more ready made, rather than bespoke. However, I was left with the personal question, Can it possibly matter? And yes, I think it actually does. Let me explain, or more correctly, let me tell you my conclusions.

The facts are; the sower evidently sowed everywhere he could reach, and as a lesson to us, isn't that just the way we should sow? Do we really want to go only into areas that have been pre-prepared, middle-class suburbs, quiet districts where the worst that may happen is a gentle, even smug, refusal or rebuff? Or do we want to get our hands and knees dirty and scraped, faces soiled and bloody, sowing where no-one has sown before, scattering our seeds with abandon, sowing in abundance even as our lives are lived in abundance according to the life our Lord Jesus has given each one of us who serve him. John 10:10

The Parable of the Sower. Or is it the story of those to whom the story of the Gospel is given? And where do we come into this? Well that depends of course on whether we are sowers, or receivers - doesn't it?

If we are sowers, then the seed that brought us to the cross fell into fertile ground, and we flourished under the care and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we drank deeply of the grace of The Lord Jesus Christ, and we wept as the full realisation of God's love for each one of us slowly seeped into our unrepentant hearts, softening the uncaring stone until a beating heart of flesh became our life source.

And then what?

Mark talks about the three kinds of ground on which the seeds failed, or eventually failed. And for those which fell on fertile ground there were three kinds of results; a thirty percent gain, a sixty percent gain and finally an amazing one hundred percent result. Again I struggled, for apparently each new Christian should achieve a minimum of thirty people brought to Christ, but also striving and reaching for the hundred when, presumably, God the Father would say, Well done, thou good and faithful servant Matthew 28:21.But what about the sincere, believing, evangelising, committed-to-Jesus saints who never see a positive response - what about them? Now it was time to consult the scholars, to see what they said about this parable, to see what the scholars said about other scholars on this same subject - and none of what they said, these lovely folk who have studied in depth, none of what they said made real sense to me.

Arrogance on my part, non-understanding, or simply an inability to accept the truth? One or all, I suppose, could be true, and if so I sincerely apologise to scholars, theologians and others who may be offended - but I mean no offence at all. I am merely a seeker the same as anyone else on the same narrow path; a person who would really like to discard years of baggage and find the truth for myself - even if it is a truth that will only satisfy me. You see, I do believe that Occam's razor can apply to Scripture, and I do believe that Biblically, KISS reigns. Let me give you one more example of my lack of understanding: the Gospel was mainly brought to ordinary, often unschooled listeners, is it likely that it would need schools of scholars, and reams of paper to understand verses such as, For God loved the world in this way:He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 Of course I may be quickly dismissed as overly simplistic, and I won’t stand and argue. There’s an opus I would like to finish.

(Note: If, as I have mooted occasionally to myself, it is posted on a website of mine, - then polite comments may be posted. This is at this time, though, a long way down the road.)

End of July and the draft site is online!

An easy cop-out (well perhaps not a cop-out, just easy) would be to say that Jesus, to emphasise a point, often spoke using supreme hyperbole - and that is certainly true. We do realise, surely, that when Jesus told us to rip out an eye, or cut off a hand, He was not being literal but accentuating the danger of sin in any form; stressing that it should never be taken lightly or given the most innocent of footholds. But using numbers, real figures, to demonstrate aims and targets never was or is the style of Jesus. We do not serve a God Who marks and judges how well we do. All our Father asks of us was stated quite clearly by His Son, Jesus Christ. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself. Luke 10:27. So is it at all possible that Jesus was using the figures not as actualities, but simple stressing, highlighting, the need to spread the Gospel, to sow wildly, deliriously, even jubilantly - because our message is a message of life and hope?

Possible? Possibly, perhaps even probably, but in the mind of this layman it still does not sit easily. So I have gone for a simpler understanding (and please note, the word is understanding, not a theory, or a new theological interpretation, but very simply an understanding that helps me to grasp the importance of sowing the Word).

There is nothing more easily understood than the big Pyramid Scams of the last few decades. Sowing everywhere, I am convinced, is the beginning of a Pyramid Gospel. I bring one person to Jesus; he brings another - and very quickly, we already have three. All three of us bring another person each to the feet of Jesus, and we have six. Then they go out and ………… How KISS is this.? We will have hundredfolds surely! Sow everywhere, perhaps especially among the smug and satisfied, everywhere with no discrimination at all, and with no need for ploughing before or after, and we will see hundredfolds as God's Pyramid Gospel swings into action - and our pyramid victims achieve what no scheme before could ever do, riches beyond measure and life eternal. Matthew 4:19 KJV And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And our LORD was not talking about a light line and a number eleven hook, but nets, large nets, capable of catching and holding hundreds.

This brothers and sisters, is my understanding which grants me a kind of personal peace - kind of, indeed - but still very satisfying.

Mark on the run again again, helter skelter straight into five parables given without a breather; What I am learning on this trip is that everything I was brought up to believe isn't necessarily exactly as it seemed. (In this case I nearly envy the young Christians whom we are shepherding; religious background zero, everything new and exciting and no baggage through which they have to filter what they see and hear. But in their learning, I too am learning. God is good, all the time!)
The first little hitch occurred almost immediately, and which is something I have never previously thought deeply enough about to be concerned: the lamp, it has hovered in the back of my mind as the lamp being an analogy for my personal witness, I guess; a hazy, lazy, foggy understanding - hardly given copious thought. And perhaps that is all that it is! My witness is certainly KISS enough and is certainly good enough to define my Christian walk. But is there more, is there an alternative or parallel interpretation that may bear fruit, or am I merely and unnecessarily complicating a relatively simple parable?

Actually, even if the lamp represents the Lord Jesus, Himself, or the Kingdom of God as some expositors postulate, the end result for individuals remains the same: to spread the Name of Jesus, to talk about the Kingdom of God as it breaks through into this sad and doomed world, to keep the light burning as a city on a hill, as Jesus told us: You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14. So you see, it was very KISS, after all.

However, For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. From the dim and murky shadows of my Pentecostal upbringing, I recall this verse being thundered out from the pulpit as a frightening warning that every little bad thought we had would be revealed at Judgement Day! At best, a poor understanding of these words of Jesus, at worst a deliberate twisting of Scripture to frighten vulnerable souls into the Kingdom. Awful, really not good, for God's Kingdom is a Kingdom of love, for God is love, and it is the power of love that draws people to Himself. And I am reminded of Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. God’s promise for His redeemed.

So what or who is to be revealed, and who is to reveal it, or him? My TEBC mentions two or three theological theories (is that phrase acceptable?), and one which I love is offered as an alternative to the option that it refers to Jesus coming again in splendour, which He will, of course, and we thank God: it is an understanding that the revealers were - and are - His disciples, proclaiming the Gospel after the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, obeying His command in Mark 9:8,9 following the LORD’s transfiguration; As they were coming down from the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept this word to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. This makes so much sense to me, without detracting in the least from other ideas, or - in gentleness and with grace - the suggestion that we will be judged for the unrepented hidden sins.

God is God, and Genesis 18:25 Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just? 'Tis enough for me.
This is in a very real danger of turning my refections into a word by word, or at least a verse by verse, commentary, and neither is what I am seeking. It slows me down and I yearn to get back into the full tsunami of Mark’s Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, to ride the crest of the wave on the Streams of Living Waters - yet I cannot easily skip the words of Jesus; it is not possible. What follows at this point in the Gospel, and this point in my work, are four short parables, or teachings which could be dealt with word by word, phrase by phrase - but I am spending time trying to get an overall picture; to see how they relate to each other. And then I will write it.

Verses 33, 34 He would speak the word to them with many parables like these, as they were able to understand. And He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, He would explain everything to His own disciples.

Did they, the disciples, fully understand the importance, the honour, the utmost necessity of these private times with the Lord Jesus? Later, when He left them, I am sure they did. And did they then mourn and regret that they hadn’t paid enough attention at the time, did they speak to themselves, berate themselves, and wish they could have just one more glimpse, one more word, one more moment sitting at His feet? It has happened to me many times, regrets at wasted moments, which is why in the latter years of my life I try not to waste a moment, and would encourage anybody who may read this, or even get this far, to heed the words of Jesus: We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. John 8:4 And it would appear to me that twilight is already upon us, and darkening appreciably as the night grows closer.

These short parables do seem to have a common theme, if I can get the words to stumble through what I am trying to say. Whatever we are doing; working, eating, sleeping, preaching, arguing, playing, praying, whatever - The Kingdom of God is growing and continues to grow. From the humblest seed, if measured by size, a mighty tree will grow: we can never know the effect of the humblest word we may give when prompted. And while the seed has disappeared into the darkness of the earth, it grows and continues to grow without help or notice from us. Then in the fulness of God’s time and plans the angels will come and the crop will be taken, both wheat and weeds, and brought to their final and inevitable destiny. Matthew 13:24ff

The Pay attention of Verse 24 reinforces other verses in this Chapter, we must listen to what God is saying and then will come further understanding and revelation, and the more we listen, the more we will receive, the more we will have of Jesus. But if we seek little of Jesus, eventually the little we have will be removed; and that is frightening in its implications.

On that day, Mark continues - there has been no let-up, no slackening of pace and once more Jesus is on the water (it may be that he was still in the boat which He boarded to avoid the pushing of the crowds as He taught all day; with a little more thought it is highly probable). And Jesus lay down to sleep, exhausted, needing the rest, sleeping through the wind and fury of the fierce storm, unbothered by the elements over which He was master. The disciples, however, were bothered and probably truly scared; they were fishermen and so used to storms, but this one, this nearly perfect storm, had them deeply afraid - although not as fearful as they would become.
The first reaction of many Christians (myself on occasion) to any sign of real trouble, Don’t you care? Can you not see what is happening to me? Forgetting everything we know about our Father God. Psalm 27:1 NLT The LORD is my light and my salvation -- so why should I be afraid? The LORD protects me from danger -- so why should I tremble? But we do, we tremble and quake and cry out blaming the Father Who sent His Son to die in our stead. So Jesus saved them and in doing so gave these shaking, quivering, blessed of all men, disciples, something to really scare them.
Mark reports, very simply indeed, that Jesus got up. He was asleep on a cushion that would have been situated on the raised stern of the boat, a boat that was as fragile as an eggshell on the water, tossed and turned and battered by the fury of the waves (and immediately my fertile imagination changes the scene from an ordinary, if ferocious, storm, to an attack by hell itself, a futile attempt to kill the Saviour before His time - and it stays with me). Then it gets Hollywood Biblical, if you’ll excuse me, a windswept Moses parting the seas, an angry Elisha calling down fire, and here we have the Son of Man standing easily on a swamped boat, in a furious storm, rebuking the wind and saying (not, please note, shouting and screaming and throwing a tantrum), Silence. Be still! The elements obeyed and there was a great silence, and an awesome calm - and the disciples were terrified beyond terror; they had seen miracles, demons banished, the lame walking and yet Jesus demonstrating His mastery over the wind and the sea terrified them. Who is this, they asked. Who is this, we ask, when God does something wonderful in our midst and we cannot believe the answer to our prayers and look for more mundane reasons; good doctors, perfect pills, a good night’s sleep, and Jesus says, Do you still have no faith?

After a hard day’s night, and as far we can ascertain, very little or no sleep. Jesus comes to Gerasenes, (specifically a small village with the name of Gergesa) and Mark notes, As soon as… No ten minute break, no abatement, not a hint of a breather, straight into battle, met by a demon-possessed man who was literally uncontrollable and a terrible danger to others and to himself; Satan has no regard for people, no sympathy, only a desire to hurt, maim and kill as many as he can before the inevitable reckoning. This poor man, crying and hurting himself (today’s phrase would be self-harming and he would receive a lifetime of counselling and pills) wandering in his personal hell among the tombs and the mountains seeking help that he believed would never come. Doesn’t your heart cry out to him? Then dwell on the people today who are going through the same hell, knowing that the world at its best cannot help them. So they spend their days in a prescribed drugged limbo, or a street-drugged hell, searching and fighting for the next fix - and often self-harming is the only way they can cry for help.

In our Fellowship we have wonderful folk who have been there and we were blessed to help them to the only certain cure, the once and for all cure - Jesus, as this man was about to discover, to his joy, and to the detriment of the Gentile pork industry.

There is one aspect of my meanderings so far that continues to amaze me and I am in danger of becoming a bore on the subject; from day one, in every encounter with demons, Jesus takes immediate and effective authority - there is not a shadow of doubt or hesitation about whom is in charge - Jesus is LORD. So why do we hesitate in any situation that involves spiritual warfare? Why do we encumber ourselves with rites, formulae, traditions and all manner of stuff (and it is only stuff) to delay action; why do we procrastinate? One answer is fear, the other is more serious: it is the idea that the simplicity of Christ's ministry in all aspects is not enough, we seem to have a need to embellish everything, from plain and simple baptizo (total immersion), to meetings of the saints, the called out ones, the Ecclesia; on one extreme the bells, smells, incantations of high-end worship, right through the gamut to the other extreme of, quite often, total abandonment. There is, of course, no right way, except the way the Holy Spirit leads - not human wishes for something new, old or merely different.

Back to basics, quickly. The demons immediately recognised Jesus from a long way off and immediately - as on previous occasions - the proper order of things was established, the demonised man ran to Jesus and fell to his knees, the demons began begging Jesus - there was, and is, and always will be no question where the authority lies in the universe; the physical, naturally (in both senses), but far more importantly, extremely so, in the heavenlies, or heavenly places, as Paul describes the battlefield of the spirit in Ephesians. And we have that authority - we have that same authority - Jesus gave us that same prerogative, as His disciples. e.g. Luke 9, Mark 3, and elsewhere.

However, it is not something over which we should obsess, that is, go looking for demons under every rock; the prime, super-important work we have is to bring people to Christ, a straight, narrow road, never deviating down side roads to perform crowd-appealing or appeasing miracles - but to overcome every obstacle the enemy places on our path, the straight narrow path, and in the Name of Jesus to stand and to overcome, whether it be false teachers, sickness, demons or whatever. Let the Holy Spirit lead, is this layman's advice, never impose our own will however good it seems.

Now, a further look at this truly amazing incident; the behaviour of the demons, the reason the pigs were used, the reaction of the cleansed - delivered man, and the frightened response of the Gentile inhabitants of the area. It occurs to me how easy it to read a Biblical story or an incident so many times over the years that a genuine re-examination becomes nearly impossible, and it requires the breath of the Spirit to disperse the locked-in clouds of previous miscomprehension. But God is willing, and sincere searching will always bring understanding. And, as James reminds us, wisdom is always there for the asking. James 1:5, but perhaps we should begin at the beginning; The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7 Be a fool for Christ, certainly, but do not become a fool who despises the wisdom of GOD.

Two aspects of this happening caught my attention, the man was in a graveyard, an unclean place; he was filled with demons, therefore he was unclean; under Jewish law, the pigs were unclean. So many times Jesus dealt with the unclean by making Himself ritually unclean (touching a leper, for example). A brief discussion with legion and the man is cleansed, the unclean demons enter the unclean pigs, and the whole herd dives off the cliff and is gone. There does seem to me a certain humour, or if not humour, perhaps a touch of irony in the situation, the man got his wish, the demons got theirs, and the pigs, well the pigs had no say in the matter. Then, after learning what had happened, the people begged Jesus to leave. The people begged Jesus to leave, the young man begged to go with Him. The first from fear (demonstration of Godly power, disappearance of livelihood?); the second from love and eagerness to serve the man Who freed him.

The result was a young man cleansed and whole, wanting to follow Jesus the rest of His life. What did Jesus tell him? Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you. My take on this is, mission begins at home! If you can't or won't witness at home, what chance will you have in foreign climes? A young man who was a close friend of Sheila and me, once said to me, I want to go to Africa and preach the Gospel and die for Christ. (Ahh, the romance of the young!) My advice was, Stay home and live for him. Sadly, he was killed in a car crash while still a young man.

This man, however, followed the counselling of Jesus, So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis (ten cities) how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed. And they were all amazed. Enough said, I think.

Jesus once more on the move, Jesus once more on the water, Jesus once more back on the other side. Coming up, another Markan sandwich; the story of the daughter of Jairus, interrupted, split in two by the story of the woman with an issue of blood. (Do I like this mechanism of Mark, this breaking up - or melding - of two very different stories - I cannot make up my mind. On the one hand, it keeps me on my toes, on the other, if I were reading them for the first time, it might irritate me. Moot point, the Word of God isn't going to change!)

It astounds me, it really does amaze me how much I have noticed this time around; or, perhaps more accurately, the stuff I have missed in past readings. For instance, studying Mark's intercalation, now it make more sense - why? Because they are not really two distinct incidents; Jesus was on His way to the home of Jairus with the crowd following, hustling Him, bustling Him, and the lady who had been bleeding for twelve years took advantage of the hurly burly and touched Jesus, knowing in her heart that she would be healed! My goodness, what do I know about faith? Very little it seems at times.

The apparent downside to this miracle, however - discussed in more detail in a moment - was that Jairus' daughter died. Once you know the story it all seems to tie together so easily that all the different elements, the daughter sick, the crowds and the woman delaying Jesus, the woman healed, the daughter dying and finally raised from the dead, and form a whole. This was, is, and ever will be, the One we serve, our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me look a little deeper.

Who was Jairus? Only three things we can know for certain about this man; he was a leader in the Synagogue - which made him an important man; his daughter was at death's door (Luke agrees with Mark that the daughter was dying - Matthew, however, records that the daughter was already dead, which if correct, shows an even greater degree of faith from Jairus), and finally, this important leader knew and trusted Jesus.

With all this mind, there's really not much else we need to know, is there? He knew and trusted Jesus.

And Jesus said yes, I'll go with you and heal your daughter, and He went with the leader of the synagogue, this important, yet humble, trusting man. But, as always, the people went with Jesus, the crowd crowding Him, the people pressing Him, a moving throng with Jesus at its epicentre - the focus of energy, the source of all the power that must have been rippling through the atmosphere like static electricity; I am sure the air would have been humming and then……..and then everything stopped, perhaps a sudden silence and Jesus said, Who touched My robes?

If there had been momentary silence before Jesus spoke, now there wold have been a silence that was deafening. The disciples summed up the bewilderment of those following Jesus and His disciples. Perhaps there were mutterings, confused questions. We do not know who exactly asked the question, his incredulity toning the words. You see the crowd pressing against You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?

Jesus knew. Our LORD knew! How? Power went out of Him (Luke 8:46). Was it the touching of Jesus' clothes that generated this healing power? I do not think so - it was her belief, her overwhelming faith. For years she had tried conventional methods, spent all her money, twelve wasted years that had cost her everything. And then she heard about Jesus and nothing was going to stop her. If I can just touch His robes, I’ll be made well. So she gritted her teeth and ignoring all protocol, disregarding the fact that women should defer to men, oblivious to the fact that, as she was ceremonially unclean, she made unclean every person she touched - including the One Who could make her well - she drove forward and touched the hem of His clothes. Such faith, such faith, nothing could or would be allowed to withstand such faith. It is my opinion, very personal and with absolutely no Biblical backing, that Jesus smiled when He felt the healing power flow out of Him, that He knew the cost and the risk to this woman - how could He not!

And how must she have felt as she lay there before Jesus in fear and trembling, confessing her sin, how must she have felt when she heard those gentle, loving, life-giving words, Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be free from your affliction. Go in peace! What joy, what happiness, what faith rewarded!

For Jairus, there was no such joy. He only knew (perhaps because Jesus was delayed?) that his daughter had died. How did he feel as Jesus walked with him to his house? What was it like for this leader of priests when he heard the mocking laughter of the crowds ridiculing the words of Jesus, She is only asleep?

Perhaps he still doubted even when Jesus took him and his wife into where his daughter lay dead? Perhaps, but they quickly faded when Jesus took her by the hand and said, Talitha koum (in essence, Little girl get up). And the child was healed, more than that she was risen from the dead. Such is the LORD we serve. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s works 1 John 3:8

One final comment, the practicality of Jesus telling the parent to give her something to eat. I love it.
It works, it surely works, Mark's use of his sandwich, his intercalation; two different stories that meld together seamlessly and in doing so emphasise again God's mastery over time, sickness and death itself. I do like Mark! I do indeed like Mark.

It seems unbelievable that I am already in Chapter 6 of this wonderful Gospel, whomever Mark actually was, although the pace decreases a little as we approach an unfortunate episode in the early ministry of our LORD.

And although there has been a break of a few weeks due to the short illness and death of a dear friend and brother Elder, a few verses into Mark 6 and I am immediately enveloped in the Palestine of 2000 years ago. Mark tells us that Jesus had returned to his hometown, and although He was born in Bethlehem due to Herod's demand for his annual census, the family had moved back to Nazareth so we may be assured that the hometown we are in is Nazareth and the surrounding area. Sadly, once more - and quite incredibly - He is rejected by family and also, perhaps sycophantically, rejected by friends. The episode is really incredible and unbelievable to the extent that it seems even Jesus was was perturbed.

As on other occasions, it began on the Sabbath. Jesus, followed by his disciples, entered the synagogue and began teaching. Usually the teaching of Jesus was treated with amazement, those that witnessed His ministry spoke of His new authority, His healings, His miracles, His dispossessing of demons; yet here in His hometown these same demonstrations of heavenly power are treated with contempt. The phrase, Isn't this the Carpenter, the son of Mary, followed by the list of His brothers, is indicative. In effect they are saying, He's just one of us, and the English saying familiarity breeds contempt jumps to mind. (Incidentally, only Mark uses the word carpenter and just this once, elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus is called, the son of a carpenter.)

They took offence, perhaps they were resentful, disgruntled – Why? We can only guess. Was it because their lives were simply ordinary, and until a very short time ago Jesus was just one of the family doing what He was doing, whether carpentry or not, the same as His brothers?

Nevertheless, surely they would have heard of His baptism, and what Jesus was now doing elsewhere, surely? The family would have heard the reports of the crowds and the miracles and the preaching; and of course Mary and her sons had already attempted on one occasion to take Him home with them for they thought He was losing His mind. (Mark 3:21.) Now, here He was back in Nazareth, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles in their home synagogue – one might even say Jesus was in their face. And that made it so different!

Meditating on this some weeks ago and again briefly today, there are Biblical examples of this familial jealousy: Joseph and his brothers; and possibly the prodigal son. Yet neither really approached the enormity of the family's rejection of Jesus. Joseph's brothers were offended by the airs and graces of their younger sibling, and one may say with good cause. It took many years before they realised the truth of his words. Here, however, we have the family witnessing, not second or third hand, but personally witnessing the immensity of Christ's ministry. And they were offended!

Then Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honour except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.

What follows then is, in my opinion, one of the most amazing short phrases in the Bible, Jesus could not. Well the actual words were, so he was not able to perform any miracles there, followed by one of the best throwaway lines I've ever heard, ironic, even mocking, except He lay hands on a few sick people and healed them.

I mean, how good is that? Except He lay hands on a few sick people and healed them.
However, the question remains for me, why not? Was it a question of faith, hardly. People, especially the possessed, were healed without demonstrating a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And not one person had the faith to believe Jesus could or would raise Lazarus. John 11:1ff. Was it simply a case of dishonour, for in dishonouring Jesus they dishonoured God?

Everywhere in this young man's Good News of Jesus Christ, people are amazed, constantly amazed at the works of Jesus. This is the only time that Jesus is amazed. As Mark puts it, And He was amazed at their unbelief. Yet even in their unbelief the Kingdom of God continue to push through or, as my TEBC comments, The mustard seed continues to grow through the night. When I think of Jesus in the midst of unbelief, lack of faith, and even dishonour, laying hands on a few people and healing them it grieves me as I imagine what could have happened, what would have happened, if they had believed.

And of course it is the same today, perhaps worse. Even among the most ardent New Testament Christians there is a lack of sincere belief, sincere faith, absolute surety, that a prayer for healing will be honoured. The reasons are diverse, including the superb medical facilities available to each of us, and that each prayer for healing is often a desperate last resort, rather than the first. We believe the Lord Jesus Christ, we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet when we pray for the gift of this sureness, that is that the person will be healed, it is sadly lacking. For personally, it seems, my prayers are more in hope than expectation. And all I can say is what David said, Help, Lord, Psalm 12:1a

Now we come to the exciting part and, in line with his narrative, Mark gives us no preamble or warning, just a simple fact. Jesus commissioning the twelve. He had told them previously what his intentions had always been, and what Jesus intends to happen, happens. Very early on, He called Simon and Andrew from their nets saying, Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men. Mark 1:17 ESV.

Earlier words are now coming to fruition: Then He went up the mountain and summoned those He wanted, and they came to Him. 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. Mark 3-15
However, there is another salient point here, although obscured and at first glance, and perhaps even a second, more studied appraisal, may not bring clarification - this is, without doubt, in my very personal opinion, the first section of a Markan sandwich! It may be, as my respected TCBC comments, rather loosely, a rather clumsy intercalation. But my spirit recognises what Mark is trying to say; what - in fact - our Lord Jesus was saying, is saying, and will say until He returns in full majesty and glory. Simply this: we, His Saints, will suffer, even unto death - if we persist in following, practising, and preaching the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.
The sandwich? The sending out of the twelve, the senseless and brutal death of John The Baptist, and finally the return of the twelve.

However, we must return to our young, impetuous and impatient amanuensis.

The first half of that poignant passage has been fulfilled; to be with Him. These twelve men have been separated from the many other disciples to be with Jesus; constantly with Him, night and day. And whatever other reasons, as valid as they may be, are expounded, I still love the thought of Jesus simply needing friends and companions close to Him - to be with Him. As we all do!

They have been with Him, night and day, never leaving His side, and now they are being sent out two by two. I wonder how they felt, as their Master gave them final instruction, where to stay, when to stay, clothes and articles they should or should not carry. The accounts of what they should or should not take vary in parallel accounts in the other Gospels. There have been and will continue to be, I suspect, attempts at reconciliation. Each seems to me to be laboured and without solid merit. When talking about harmonising the Gospels during a message I preached not long ago, I used the words of an old Welsh preacher, Ieuan Jones. I will paraphrase because I will certainly misremember the exact words. The four Gospels are four winding, different paths up a steep mountain, each not always visible to the others, each with a distinctive and personal viewpoint, and each revealing different priorities; however, the important thing to remember is that each path leads to the summit and that the summit is the cross of Jesus. That has and will continue, I believe, to carry me through many apparently irreconcilable Biblical accounts and happenings.

Back to Mark's narrative. It is impossible for me to put myself in their shoes, but I'm sure there must have been twinges of, if not doubt, then certainly apprehension. One of the reasons, I would imagine, for going in pairs. But of course there are other good reasons; that the truth of their testimony about Jesus might be established (on the testimony of two or three witnesses, Deuteronomy 17, Numbers 35 for instance), and apparently it was a Jewish custom which we can see in Acts 13 and Acts 16. Yet for all these good, valid, and inarguable reasons, it must have simply just felt really good to have a close friend at your shoulder.

So they went out, two by two, but not into a place of refuge as did the animals entering the Ark, rather as leaving the Ark to enter the stormy seas. One thing I noticed which struck me as very important: they drove out demons, anointed sick people and healed them, but their priority was the same as their LORD's – to preach that people should repent. They had inherited their Saviour's remit, that the Gospel, the Good News, was not the signs, wonders and miracles that they performed, but the knowledge of the coming of the Kingdom of God; The fulfilment of John the Baptist's message, repent and be baptised.

John the Baptist, languishing in jail for telling Herod he was wrong for marrying his brother's wife, or literally, having his brothers wife. You will know the story of course; Herod wanting to know more about John and his message, Herodias wanting nothing more than the death of John. And she got her way. A truly deadly combination; a weak, besotted man, an extremely determined woman, and a daughter under her thumb. So where does the ultimate blame lie? With the man, of course; his initial sin in taking Herodias, combined with his probable lust for her daughter, and his pride – ultimately his pride. Pride that is at the root of all sin, pride that stopped him losing face, backing down on the drunken flamboyant promise he made in front of his important guests. Apparently, it is significant that Mark devotes fourteen versus to the death of John, and only three to his ministry. On both accounts I wonder why; first, why did Mark give over four times the amount of space to John's death compared to his ministry, and what is the significance? However, I have inherited Mark's urgency and am eager to continue with this Layman's Look. But the chances are that at some point I will return to this, and you will be the first to know.

Back to the intercalation. You see, the sandwich works for me, it is timely and well placed. It was a reminder, and is a potent reminder to us today, that following the Christ means, as Jesus once said, taking up His cross. Christianity will at times be happy clappy, as worship may become exciting as we are lost in the wonder of our God; but following Jesus can be at best uncomfortable, and at worse quite dangerous – dangerous to physical well-being, dangerous to reputation, and in many cases in many lands, dangerous unto death.

Now the Apostles have returned, excited and full of themselves I am sure. (In passing - and also in brackets whom my unofficial critic and typo-discoverer, Alma, remarks I make excessive use of - a little gem I picked up from my faithful TEBC. The Greek word for sent is apostello, which carries the sense of official authorisation i.e. Jesus authorised his disciples to represent Him in both word, deed and power. How good is that?)

In my imagination I picture this scene as a crowd of happy, tongue-lolling, excited sheepdogs running and jumping around their Master. The text does not, naturally, support this in any way – but my imagination does. Yet our Lord Jesus must have been affected by their behaviour to some extent for He says, Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest a while 6:31. So what was it that He saw that they needed; physical, emotional or spiritual rest and comfort? But whatever was planned or hoped for, it was short lived. The crowds saw and recognised the LORD, and respite became impossible, as they went to him by road and sea - determined to hear Jesus speak and perform miracles.

Many, many times I've heard the words when speaking of ministers, don't contact them on their day off, try to give them time in the evenings, and many other phrases designed to guarantee periods of rest for a leader. I do agree with the sentiment, and have occasionally yearned for such respites, however the practicality of it is unworkable. Surely a pastor by the very nature of his calling is also a slave, and a slave does not have fixed working hours, does not have time off, and is expected to be at his master's bidding every minute of every day. Inevitably it follows that anybody who has been given the responsibility for a flock, for a congregation, particularly a smallish group of people – which every congregation should be – then it behoves him to be available all the time.

(For it is my considered opinion that a church is small enough, perhaps around seventy adults maximum, for a Pastor - with Elders - to pastor efficiently. Huge congregations with teams of pastors, assistant pastors, teachers, worship leaders and many other posts - all salaried is not the way of the New Testament. It is the way of the world's organisations. By considered opinion, I do mean studying the Scriptures, prayer and counsel. Naive, excessively fundamental, perhaps but big evangelical outreaches, need small groups to pick up and pastor new, nervous Christians. Is my belief.)

Jesus often withdrew to quiet places for rest and communion with His Father. But, as far as I can see, each time he was disturbed and often went days with very little or no sleep, because as is reported in Verse 34, (he) had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And it must be the same for those who are privileged to have been given responsibility for HIS flock - surely? How can personal discomfort, lack of sleep, be important when compared with God's work. And has He not promised, And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus Philippians 4:19 all your needs! And in that same Chapter, Verse 13, the absolute clincher, I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. It is a simple choice our God gives us, to believe and obey, or not. There is, I have discovered although I still tend to fight it occasionally, no choice if you want spiritual peace over physical comfort. As that old gentle hymn puts it: Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. Words to live by, for certain.

Now the crowd is hungry and a long way from home so the disciples, themselves very recently back from an intensive, successful missionary trip, and in line with their understanding of Jesus, suggested He sends them away so they may find something to eat.

Is there a parallel for me in my life, I wondered. Yes there is. In times of need, of whatever category, do I first automatically turn to God? Too often the answer is, no. For too many times I tend to rely on my own strength, my own experience of achieving given ends; be they practical or spiritual. The turning to God in the first place instead of when everything else is exhausted, should be the natural way of life for any Christian. Yet generally it is not. Call in at the pharmacist, book a doctor's appointment for the latest bug, go the full distance with the NHS, and then, if matters are not improving, turn to prayer. Why? Is it because we do not want to bother God with minor things, things we can easily handle ourselves, or do we simply just not trust God? The latter, I fear. For to hear Christians, lovely, lovely Christians, chatting normally about their chronic illnesses and the amount of painkillers and other drugs they take, is so disappointing. Yet I myself will automatically take something for the smallest cold or cough. Physician heal thyself, springs to mind quite easily. Hmmm, much food for thought there, I think.

What does Jesus say to them? You give them something to eat. They still have so much to learn. You give them something to eat. And they, His disciples, focused on the practicalities of such a command. Should we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat? The amount they mentioned, around two hundred denerii, was equivalent to about a year's salary, I am reliably informed. And as they had just returned from a missionary journey, and before such journey been instructed to take no money, and as it is extremely unlikely that they would receive money, the question was obviously rhetorical.

Amazingly, the Feeding of The Five Thousand is the only miracle, the only one, that appears in all four Gospels. It is also referred to on two other occasions, in this Chapter Verse 52; and in Chapter 8:17–21. It is also added as a sequel to the feeding of the 4000 or so in Chapter 8:1-10. And what a contrast it provides; the miraculous feeding of 5000 men, all families, with simple bread and fishes - and the lewd depravity of Herod's palace.

It is also very important I think, as a lesson to the disciples and to us. This is clarified I believe in the following miracle i.e. Jesus walking on the water. Indeed my recent Sunday message – recent at the time of writing, specifically the middle of February 1915 – was on this very subject. For there are two sentences that intrigued me and demanded my time in consideration and meditation during my preparation for the message. So it would be advantageous, I suppose, to summarise my thoughts in case this opus reaches a wider audience than a Kinross Christian Fellowship Sunday morning service. Which is, I assume, in a moment of honest of self–appraisal, my lingering hope. Why did that thought surprise me?

The first sentence reads, He came toward them walking on the sea and wanted to pass by them. Why would Jesus want to pass by a boat full of His disciples which was obviously in some distress? The most obvious reason to me then, and still is now, is one that took me a relatively long time to accept and then digest. But it remains solid with me. On two occasions in the Old Testament, first with Moses, and then with Elijah, God passed by to show them His glory. In both cases He had to protect them. The happenings may be found in Exodus 33:18-23, and 1 Kings 19:11ff, respectively. Jesus walking past them was, in my sincere belief, a theophany.

Which probably explains the second sentence,They were completely astounded, because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.

The disciples had somehow not recognised Christ's divinity in the miracle of feeding the five thousand. So their problem was truly a christological one. The next paragraph or two is a complete lift from that same Sunday message. If forgiveness is needed for this self-plagiarism, then do please forgive me.

[Jesus asks them at one point in the Gospels something like, Are you so dull? And it seems they were! And from this point on even our young writer Mark begins to paint the disciples in slightly darker colours. And it is not until Chapter 8 that Jesus confronts them. Please turn to Mark 8:14 – 21
They had forgotten to take bread and had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 Then He commanded them:“Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16 They were discussing among themselves that they did not have any bread. 17 Aware of this, He said to them, “Why are you discussing that you do not have any bread? Don’t you understand or comprehend? Is your heart hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?” “Twelve,” they told Him. 20 “When I broke the seven loaves for the 4,000, how many large baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?” “Seven,” they said. 21 And He said to them, “Don’t you understand yet?”

The question also applies to each one of us. De we understand the full divinity of Christ Jesus, do we fully fathom the utmost, indescribable majesty of God, do we comprehend the immense power and leading of the Holy Spirit in everything He does – and not attribute His works to any other source? Do we? If not, isn't it time we got down on our knees, repented and begged His forgiveness? Yes, it is.]

Chapter 7:1-23 is a quite startling message from our Lord Jesus - if there had been any doubt before, it is now laid out in clear words with not a hint of fudging or avoidance of the issue. The old was gone, the new had come in power and was truly turning the world on its head. So why, oh why, are traditional and even some freer churches become so intent on tradition, adding to the simple Gospel message, couching everything in invented rituals etc. etc? It is so hard to refrain from commenting. But refrain, I will, and continue with the plain, simple Gospel of Mark.

The Lord Jesus, Himself, summed up the dangers inherent in hanging on to all man-made traditions, quoting the words of Isaiah, a prophet He often quoted.

These people honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men. Isaiah 29:13 (N.B. Some readers will note that Old Testament quotes in the New Testament do not aways accurately reflect the same quotes in our modern translations. The answer, I believe, is that the writers used the Septuagint (The Greek translation), while our Bibles are translated from the original Hebrew. As the gist is usually the same it doesn't really matter - except that it did for me for a time - and it may not even be a totally accurate explanation.)

Why are the Scribes - the lawyers -and Pharisees gathered around Jesus? Well if this delegation of inquirers were anything like the first, see Mark 3, and as they also came from Jerusalem - the epicentre of hostilities against Jesus - then we may assume that their intentions were not to learn, but to criticise and seek out any word but could be twisted, misconstrued and used against Him.
However, the question they asked would seem to the modern reader a very reasonable question. I am fairly sure that most of us would have skipped their traditions and translated the words as, Why do they not wash their hands before eating? And what is wrong with that?, we may add. For today we are obsessed with cleanliness and, to me, an old man brought up with food that was handled with not quite the same detailed observance to cleanliness, it sometimes seems a little over-the-top. However, this is not the point of the lawyers' question, they had absolutely no interest at all in personal hygiene - they required only an observance of the law, the law that had grown into an uncaring monster interested only in its own survival, and the well-being of those who served it. They cared only for ritual and tradition, honed to deadly sharp weapons that instilled fear, dread and the threat of death.

Jesus brought only love, an emotion beyond their calloused consciences. A love that cut through their hypocritical piousness; a love that cuts through our pious excuses when we put anything before Him. I am very aware that on occasion, I may, or even probably, rant a little too much against the traditions and trappings of men, but surely this passage is reason enough - at least as the fountain for my reactions; if not the working out of them. But at this moment all I realise is that the very things that directed these teachers of the law away from God, are similarly distracting me from my Layman's Look.

Verses 9-23 are a stinging indictment of the unabridged totality of the religious hypocrisy that abounded then, and sadly today. And this is how our LORD describes what dwells inside the unrepentant heart of man: For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness.All these evil things come from within and defile a person.
As I have mentioned previously, and no doubt will mention again, perhaps many times, before this opus of mine is completed, this is my work, and so it will sometimes suffer from my personal imperfections, opinions and viewpoints. And yet there will be occasions when the Holy Spirit will speak to me through the very words I am writing. This is one of those instances. You see every one of those defiling, mindsets, awful, evil sins are inherent in me. And as opportunity has arisen, contrived, established and offered by the enemy, I have, in thought, imagination or practicality, succumbed. My heart bleeds when I think of the times I have disowned my Saviour by denying Him.
However, this Layman's Look at Mark, is at its heart not about Peter, it is about and for those precious folk who sometimes struggle with the complications of modern Christianity. And yet the main advantage, is the encouragement it gives to me in simply sharing.

If I may return to the script, and of course I may, then I would like to mention one extremely important point – in my opinion. We are all used to the phrase, Speaking to the gallery, usually with negative connotations, and a phrase we could not ever use to describe our LORD's teachings. Please bear with me for a moment and think on this; Jesus, until now, has been speaking to the Pharisees, scribes and teachers of the law. Yet now He calls the crowd to Him. Our Lord Jesus Christ calls the crowd to Him! Is this political hustling? It would be to the cynical eye, naturally. But with our Lord Jesus Christ we know intimately and sincerely that He is not playing to the gallery, Jesus is speaking to the people He came to save. He needs these people – you, I and every person in the world - to clearly understand the spiritual meaning of clean. He needs us to know that external washing, external promises of unachievable behaviour, external vows of spiritual and practical chastity, all the excuses and reasons we dare to bring to the Lord of lords and King of kings are and always will be like butterflies in the storm, blown and driven without mercy, unable to determine one basic direction of the lives. We need to listen to our LORD speaking to the gallery.
And now Mark is in a hurry again, and I have the time to reflect and consider the words of Jesus. I have the choice, to take time out and reflect on what has happened so far, or to move with Mark – and so with Jesus. I elect the latter. Mark is in a hurry, and so am I.

He entered a house. And there Jesus uttered some of the cruelest words He ever said in the whole of His ministry, words directed at a grieving mother whose child was suffering from possession. She came for help, she was desperate, she had heard of Jesus - but she was also a Syrophoenician by birth, and she already had two strikes against: she was a gentile, and she had a child who was unclean. Strictly speaking she should not have ben allowed in the presence of a Rabbi. However, there she was, only to hear, Allow the children to be satisfied first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. Matthew's version is far more condemnatory

The children were the Jews and she was not a Jew, and typically Jews referred to gentiles as dogs, and dogs were considered unclean (e.g. Exodus 22:31 and others) and therefore Jesus was calling her unclean and therefore unfit to receive His mercy. Too many conjunctions but used deliberately to emphasis the starkness of the LORD's words. The same LORD Who said, Let the little children come to Me. Don’t stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 After taking them in His arms, He laid His hands on them and blessed them. Mark 14b - 16.

Why would Jesus behave this way? One solution may be that that the severity of the statement is muted somewhat by the word Jesus uses for dog, (????), which can refer to a puppy or household pet. This view possibly eases it somewhat, and yet it still niggles me a little, and it makes me so happy that this work is my work, a work in which I can be absolutely truthful to myself - and therefore any readers - and take as long or as short a time as I wish to reach my own conclusions which, although the results of study, differing scholars' opinions, is eventually my take on this wonderful Book. It blesses me with such freedom!

Another suggestion, far more suitable for me than the puppy theory, (without disparaging this proposal in the least, for the Bible is the Bible and the word does or can mean puppy, or household pet) is this; the whole episode is a set-up, the teacher deliberately provoking the student - and in a not completely acceptable way, it must be said. In truth, quite insulting - literally forcing her to stand up and claim not her rights as such, but her birthright, the Kingdom of God. For, it is my certain belief, the Kingdom of God is the birthright of every human being; but it has to be claimed, not earned, it is a gift of God the Father. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Eternal life - a gift. The story of the Gospel of Mark, The good News of Jesus Christ.
You see, this is the only time in the Gospels where Jesus loses an argument, or debate, or whichever way you want to describe the situation. However, in submitting to this gentile woman's persuasions, Jesus allows a fundamental truth to be exposed; in the Kingdom Age now breaking into the world in power and strength, salvation is for all, irrespective of gender or ethnicity. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And when she got home, her child was clean, dispossessed of the demon. And this courageous woman learnt a truth that Paul would later express in the first Chapter of his first letter to the Ecclesia at Corinth. God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I once heard, and I do believe it was at a Noel Moules' Salvation Landscape weekend, that you remember ten percent of what you hear, fifteen percent of what you read, and a much larger percent of what you write (the figures may be incorrect but the principle remains). It is true, during this ongoing opus of mine I find myself recalling almost effortlessly truths in Mark's Gospel that otherwise may have stretched my old memory chips. God is good!

The last section of Chapter 7 is sub-titled in my Holman's as, Jesus does Everything Well. For the believer, this is, as Lincoln once said, speaking of man's equality with man, a self-evident truth. But this was a remark made by the people who had watched Jesus open the ears of a deaf man, and remove his speech difficulty by spitting (in His hand, probably), touching the man's ears and tongue, and murmuring, Ephphatha! - be opened. The man was healed. Why Jesus used spit, and other mechanisms during some of His healings is something I may, or may not address later in this work, or retrospectively, but certainly not now.

They watched Jesus in action, and they said, He has done everything well. It seems such an unusual comment to make in the circumstances, especially as they were astonished! I would have expected something more along the lines of, Did you see that! That was amazing! Did that really happen, did he actually do what I think I saw him do? I can't believe my eyes. But they did not, instead they said, although astonished, He has done everything well.

The comment, shared among them because the pronoun is plural, seems almost incongruous to me, almost? Well no - it is an incongruity! Surely! The picture springs to mind of a panel of judges holding up score cards, or a facilitator walking among the crowd asking for marks out of ten where zero is rubbish and ten is tops - my active imagination is playing havoc with my thought processes. My love of Mark's Gospel is based on many factors and one of them is its simplicity. And the comment is simple, and it is also an absolute truth, reminiscent of Genesis 1:9: And God saw that it was good. Yet I am puzzled by the phrase in this setting and spoken by these people, these Gentiles, these as yet unchosen ones. But of course Jesus was making waves in what may be considered hostile territory, and Mark would recognise this, the proclamation of the Good News, a sign of the messianic activity of Jesus: the good News available to all. But in my wanderings and wonderings another aspect of this puzzling problem - for me anyway - raised its head.

Do unsaved people when they look at Churches, when they look at Christians individually, when they look at me, say; he has done, is doing, all things well. Coincidentally, yesterday - May the seventeenth, two thousand and fifteen, the Church of Scotland, by a substantial majority gave permission for congregations to ordain homosexual ministers who are in same-sex civil partnerships. And the Assembly will be asked to consider amending the new Kirk law to include ministers in same-sex marriages. The sad aspect of this is that if the general public were asked to comment, it is very likely that they would say, They have done everything well. Such is the result of Christian adaption to the world, To be more relevant.

Jesus was never relevant to the world, to the flesh. A simple statement, He never watered down, or compromised the truth of the Gospel, to make it more acceptable. Never.

But it is so easy to point out the failings of the church, they stand there in the false confidence of tradition, relevancy and broad-mindedness - but they are nothing more than sitting ducks just waiting to be blown out of the water. However, the question is, the only question that matters is; What about me and my life? When my neighbours, my friends, the people that count themselves part of our Fellowship, citizens of our lovely, comfortable town, in fact, anybody that knows me, when they look at me and appraise me, are they likely to say, He has done everything well? A sobering thought and if for no other reason the comment from the crowd has been useful for me - if not yet solved.

And it still isn't - after reading through many commentaries for counsel, guidance etc. etc. I am back where I began, the crowd said, He has done everything well. And although a quite surprising statement in the context for me, it has led me to a short, painful self examination. Ah well, as Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once said or wrote, Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose. What a cop-out! Of course the changes in my life stay, and I am not the same as I was yesterday, and tomorrow I will have changed again as God works His will in me, irrespective of my occasional slips and stutters which will become less and less as I approach the end of this part of the journey.
Now I am getting introspective and it could turn slightly maudlin. Only one answer, back to the Good News.

The beginning of Chapter 8 provides a very different ambience to the young writer's normal style, it appears: it is pastoral, lyrical, bucolic even, or is the apparent peace lulling my senses. In those days, Mark begins, and it such an unusual opening for him that it provoked in me no sense of urgency, itself remarkable in this personal narrative so far, and even the following phrase, there was again a large crowd, was not alarming, but then comes, almost as a throwaway, and they had nothing to eat.

Also, we learn in Verse 4, it was a desolate place. So immediately the scene changes; not bucolic anymore, far from it, now it is a scene of approaching desperation; thousands of people stranded in a wilderness, entire families without food for three days, mesmerised (is that the right term?) by the words of the most charismatic and dynamic teacher they would ever see or hear. This man whom they had travelled many miles to see and to listen to His teachings, the like of which had never been heard before: to be astounded, astonished as they watched healing, and dispossessions occur, but above all, it is my certain belief, they were enthralled, captivated by the words of this Bringer of the Good News, magnetised by His sheer presence, held there for three days while Jesus spoke of heaven, hell and decisions they must face on this earth. Then He stopped and perhaps - here my imagination takes over again - they were as people slowly coming out of a trance, somewhat bewildered, wondering how they had gone so long without food - yet filled with the bread of heaven and thirst slaked by the ever-flowing streams of living water.
Now, however, mundane needs imposed themselves on weary and hungry bodies, and the compassionate heart and wrenching guts of Jesus went out to them, and He spoke to the disciples.
[N.B. The scholars inform me that there is a literary mechanism used in the Bible that is named (by them) a doublet. This occurs quite often in Matthew. It is, allegedly, where two versions of the same story eventually become treated and recorded as two separate events. Many believe that this mass feeding is a doublet, even suggesting that Mark has rewritten the first event (feeding of the five thousand, Mark 6 where only Jews were involved) to make this a miracle for the Gentiles, reinforcing the LORD's ministry as all-inclusive. As this incident is the only one in the whole of Mark's Gospel that could even vaguely be considered a 'doublet', I remain absolutely unconvinced. Naive, possibly, perhaps even probably, but KISS still rules. It is also interesting that whereas in the feeding of the five thousand, it was the disciples that were worried about the crowd, in this incident it is the Lord Jesus Who draws their attention to the critical situation. So I will believe what is written, as is, and continue my journey.]

Back to Mark and his, is I may, singlet. In the feeding of the 5,000, or rather prior to that miracle, Jesus taught the crowds because He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

Here, however, Jesus has compassion because He was concerned about their physical well-being, concerned enough to worry that many may faint or collapse on the journey home. This was a sincere and genuine concern, but why at the end of three days, why did He not consider their predicament at the beginning, or even during the time He was preaching? Was this indeed an afterthought because Jesus was so wrapped up in His teaching?

I have talked about the compassion of Jesus before but it remains with me; it was not an, Oh dear, what can we do. It was never a, There, there, it will soon be better, platitude. The compassion of our LORD was visceral, coming from His very bowels. Jesus felt for these people, and until we nurture that same gut-wrenching passion of compassion, we will never reach those that need us the most. We will never feed the 5,000, 4,000 or half a dozen with the food they were most desperate for - the Bread of Life.

However, am I seeing a problem that is not there? Very probable, I suppose, and anyway, it is far easier to solve a problem - or even a niggle - once one determines that it actually exists. For if this were a work looking for a publisher, someone would be insisting that I resolve my little hassle, or remove it completely. But it remains my opus, and therefore will abide by my rules. I love it! Nevertheless, like an unscratched itch, it should be addressed or removed. And I do believe it will be resolved before the Layman lays down his metaphorical pen.

In fact, a week or many weeks later, it is being resolved to my, at least, temporary satisfaction. When one is listening to something or someone out of the ordinary, or watching someone extraordinary, an act, a concert; or listening to and watching something exceptional on top form, a symphony orchestra, or a classical singer, or pick your own - is it not fact a that one may not wish it to end, that the heart wants to remain in the moment for as long as possible. So imagine, as I am imagining, looking at and listening to the indescribable, unprecedented power of the man Jesus. The listeners would not have wanted it to end, and I am certain the Lord Jesus wanted them to experience as much as possible of Himself, to feed on Him, needing no other food - until the time of teaching was ended, until the Shekinah Glory had departed. And then the man tended to the human needs of followers. It is a picture that suits me, because it fits the divine and human character of our Lord Jesus.

Yep, I'm happy, praise God.

And now Mark is impatient and within one sentence the well-fed 4,000 are dismissed, Jesus immediately gets into a boat, enters the the district of Dalmanutha to be ambushed by a crowd of Pharisees, eager to argue, eager to fight and also demanding signs from heaven. I really do not know which bewilders me the most; the constant arguments they created without any basis or logical foundation, or their arrogance in demanding a sign from heaven. It is small wonder that Mark states, Jesus sighed deeply in His spirit, before assuring them, No sign will be given to this generation. Still no delay, no let up, no time for rest or a break, back into the boat to go to the other side.

Now our LORD is in the boat with His disciples and surely now there will be time for rest, a break from discord, argument and non-understanding. But no, the main subject for thought and discussion was the the fact that they had forgotten to bring adequate provisions and had indeed only one loaf between them, a fact which should have caused them the least concern considering the miracle they so recently witnessed; in fact, a miracle in which they even assisted! And yet this presumed hunger drove their thoughts and discussions.

One loaf, only one loaf! Consuming them to the extent that when Jesus said, Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod. They totally ignored His words and carried on their important questions on how satisfy their physical appetites, until Jesus pointed out their ignorance - lack of understanding, their dullness on occasion regarding spiritual matters, and their continuing lack of recognition and appreciation of the full divinity of Christ. They are matching the hypocrisy, disbelief and even opposition to the Christ.

They are also really not understand the power of yeast, how a very small amount has a tremendous power. And as yeast, here and in the Old Covenant is synonymous with sin, the analogy is obvious.

The disciples had seen so much, witnessed so much, experienced so much of the power and might Of God's Son, and yet they doubted, yet they prioritised things of the flesh, yet they still relegated the divine to the mundane.

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul strongly admonishes the church for their pride and acceptance of unacceptable behaviour, and charges them thus: Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Yet I cannot sincerely and harshly judge these men from backgrounds very different to mine, for somehow they also share so much with me; thoughts, errors in thinking and behaviour, slowness in understanding, pride, and at times, a deliberate obtuseness; methods of self-deception designed to deceive even God Himself. There can be no greater way of deceiving oneself.

David, in spite of his great achievements, his wisdom, his almost divine poetic gifting, was a great self deceiver. He committed adultery of the worse kind, that is, arranging the murder of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite, one of David's most loyal and faithful soldiers. It was one of the most dreadful episodes in the Bible because David was so special: yet he spent his time lying around indolently, away from the front where a king should be, allowing the devil to tempt him so easily with the oldest of temptations - and David never felt a touch of shame, so great was his self-deception, the deception introduced by the enemy, a fire easily fanned; for David was just kindle. We can stand and look and so easily spot the obvious - but in the words of our Lord Jesus, first earn the right to cast the first stone. Finally, it took the wisdom of Nathan to remove the blinding scales from David's, exposing a sin from which this anointed and blessed king would never recover. 2 Samuel 11 tells the whole sad story.

An important point for me is the beginning of this episode, In the spring when kings march out to war, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel. David stayed home. Christianity is an army, an army which is equipped with most powerful weapons this sad, sad world has ever seen: love, compassion, forgiveness, followed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The fact is, in my opinion, when we disregard or underutilise the weapons we have and adapt the weapons of the world, we self-deceive and the results are eventually devastating. It was so with David, it at time dangerously close with disciples, and is always a danger with us.

And He said to them, “Don’t you understand yet. The LORD's final comment on this strange little occurrence in the boat - although, I believe, is really of major significance - at least to this seeker. Don’t you understand yet? My immediate response would be, is, Understand what? Yet the niggle would and does remain, I do understand what Jesus is asking me, the difficulty I have is why do I refuse to see, why am I unable to accept the truth of the Kingdom. For the truth of the Kingdom of God's beloved Son is its limitless bounty: in resources, practical and spiritual; in love and grace; and many other gifts uncountable in number and in depth.

A often mistranslated verse from Jeremiah is an example for me of how I have misunderstood God in many circumstances. 28:11 For I know the plans I have for you” — this is the Lord’s declaration — “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

Our practical welfare is in the hands of the Social Services, a blanket term for so many organisations, and in many cases they are the first stop for us in our various needs. Why? Well in my case it is because I have not understood. There is a not nice part of me that raves at the disciples, mercilessly judging them, they have just witnessed a huge miracle of God's provision for the multitude of hungry people, and yet they are concerned because there is only loaf in the boat - and to the extent that they ignore What the Lord Jesus is attempting to teach them. How dare I, how dare I? There have been so many miracles in the lives of my family and myself, and yet I have still wondered and doubted and often been afraid. Why is that?

It is because I have not understood. It is because I have not paid attention, or perhaps not really believed. Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Every need in every part of my life. As Jeremiah prophesied, speaking God's words to us, today. For I know the plans I have for you” — this is the Lord’s declaration — “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

So when I doubt, or when you doubt, if I may be so bold, then we give Jesus the absolute authority (if He needed such authority from us) to say, Don’t you understand yet?
It is certainly time we did!

When they came to Bethsaida, and Mark does not bother to tell us when, only what happened, there occurs one of our Lord's most interesting miracles – indeed it is unique. I have over the years read many, again, interesting reasons why it apparently took Jesus two attempt to complete the healing of the blind man. I've also heard far too many times this miracle used to prepare the ground for a healing not taking place immediately. Personally, I do believe this is out of order. However, we can read it and rejoice in the healing of the man move on, and ignore the incongruity of Jesus' seeming failure. This, naturally, to any follower of the Lord Jesus Christ is not acceptable. As is the case with me. And although I disagree with convoluted and complicated theories put forward to explain presumed inconsistencies in Scripture, this passage is one that I could not disregard completely. I did mention above that I have seen many explanations, none of which really satisfied me, so a while ago I took time out to examine it for myself. Now whether or not the explanation that eventually satisfied me will satisfy anybody else, is of little importance – not because of disregard anybody else's opinion, far from it – but simply because I need to move on. So forgive me if you disagree.

In my opinion, the most important sentence in this brief passage is this; He took the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village. So my first question is this, Why? Why did Jesus take the man out of the village? It was the first and last time you He did such a thing; normally the Jesus healed people where they were, visiting them if necessary but never taking them to another place. And this in my thinking, perhaps even in my imagination, begins begins to explain, if only partially, the little twists in this account of Jesus healing the blind man.






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