Category Archives: Gospel of Mark

Of Passion and Power

 

In this Series

Building on a recent post where we looked at the development of a Kingdom Leadership Paradigm through the teaching of Jesus, in this post we’ll look at how the Gospel of Mark presents contrasts between the predicted passion (sufferings) of our Lord with His disciples desire for power and authority.  This overview will, hopefully, further elucidate the paradigm that was introduced earlier.

In Mark’s divinely inspired gospel account, we find our Lord prophesying of His imminent death on three separate occasions.  In each of these passages there is a general pattern followed: the prophecy, the reaction, a correction, and a new paradigm.  In each of the prophecies, the Lord describes His being handed over to men (elders, scribes and priests), suffering unto death, and subsequently His resurrection.  Typically, the reaction by the disciples provides evidence that they’ve misunderstood the nature of Christ’s predicted suffering and instead move to assert, posture towards, or request positions of power.  These misunderstandings are then followed up by a rebuke or correction by the Lord, who then subsequently establishes of a new way of looking at kingdom relationships, particularly as it relates to authority.

Prophecy #1

The first of the passion prophecies comes in Mark 8:31

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Subsequent to this announcement, the self-appointed spokesman of the disciples, Peter, takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.  We need to pause here and consider the weightiness of this situation.  Jesus has just announced to His disciples that His life will soon end in suffering and death, followed by the prophecy of His three-days resurrection.  Peter, obviously disliking or disagreeing with this prophecy, asserts himself as the authority over Jesus, essentially attempting to establish His own superiority prior to Jesus’ death, “And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

In turn, this garners its own rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me Satan.”  This scene is especially striking when we consider that just prior to his rebuke, Peter had made his familiar statement that Jesus was the Christ (Mark 8:27-30).  Following upon His rebuke of Peter, Jesus, having laid down the pattern of suffering to come in His own life, then sets forth the expectation of suffering and self-denial for those who would follow after Him

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

This statement on the necessity of self-denial for the followers of Christ is a further statement on the Kingdom Paradigm that inverts the normal societal structure.  In this case, whoever wants to live, must die.

Prophecy #2

Next, we arrive at the second prophecy of Jesus’ death in Mark 9:30-32

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Following in the the steps of their self-appointed leader after Jesus’ earlier prophecy, the disciples again do not understand what Jesus is saying regarding His death and again, we find them jockeying for power following the predicted passion of our Lord

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. Mark 9:33-34

Here in these first two passages under our consideration, the contrast could not be more striking.  Jesus announces His pending suffering, death, and resurrection and the disciples are concerned with earthly authority and power, perhaps even as it relates to who would be in charge after Jesus’s death.

Once again we find a rebuke coming from our Lord and a reordering of expectations (Note the related event in Mark 10:13-16)

35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  Mark 9:35-37

With this particular correction Jesus reverses the assumed order of societal structure, leadership, and ambition i.e. last will be first.  In order to drive this point home, He places a child in their midst.  Just after this, Mark 10:13-16, Jesus again uses the physical example of a child to establish the point that one must be child-like to enter into the Kingdom.

Prophecy #3

The third prophecy that our Lord makes, concerning His passion occurs in Mark 10:33-34

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

As if having nothing better to say on the matter, the disciples once again prove that they do not yet understand what Jesus is prophesying, rather they are more interested in seeking individual power and authority.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37

Notice the contrast between the predicted suffering of Christ and the power-play by two of the disciples.  After commenting that the disciples would likewise follow the Lord in suffering, and noting the indignation of the other disciples, the passage shifts towards another example of the overturned structural norms, specifically patterns of authority.

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Perhaps here in this final passage we have yet the strongest statement on the nature of leadership and authoritarian structures within Christ’s Kingdom.  Specifically, Gentile leadership is held up as an example of dysfunctional leadership, namely that of a top-down authority which our Lord directly contradicts by His establishment of servants being leaders.

In Mark’s gospel account, the contrast between suffering and servanthood with exaltation and authority could not be more striking.  With this, as with our previous post, we may clearly see that Jesus was reordering priorities, ambitions, and the nature of authority or leadership. His new Kingdom Paradigm establishes how we are called to live in our Christian communities and how we are called to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Widow’s Mite

 

One of the challenges of growing up attending church in the Bible Belt is the familiarity with Scripture.  This might sound odd, but what I mean is that from a young age, certain passages and “stories” have become all too familiar, so much so that rather than reading these with fresh eyes, I automatically fall into the ditch of how a passage has traditionally been presented to me.

Case in point is the story of The Widow’s Mite.

How many times have you heard this story explained with praise for the widow’s sacrifice in giving all she had into the temple treasury?  She is then held up as an example for giving, often used as an argument for tithing, not out of our abundance, but out of our poverty.  This explanation makes the temple, leaders, and its institution equivalent with the church, her leaders, and institution.  Give til it hurts, we’re often told, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Let’s look at the context to see if the traditional view holds up.

21 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'” Luke 21:1-4

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

This story occurs in Luke 21 and Mark 12.  The scene from both accounts presents Jesus and His disciples sitting down opposite one of the temple treasury boxes, making observations of those who are putting in their offering.  The highlight is the offering made by a poor widow, whom we are told gives two small copper coins.  The observation made by Jesus is as follows, Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

As mentioned earlier, traditionally this passage is held up as a model of sacrificial giving.  We are often taught that Jesus commends the widow for giving out of her poverty vs. giving out of abudance as the rich do.  Usually this passage is then applied to either tithing or an attitude of sacrificial giving to Christ.  But there’s a major problem here, and it assumes that Jesus is pleased with the temple treasury, the religious leaders, and the entire false institution erected in the name of God.

Context, as they say, is king.

In the passage immediately prior to this one, in both Mark and Luke, Jesus offers a strong warning to His disciples in condemnation of the scribes,

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

This is followed by the account of the widow’s mite, which itself is immediately followed by this passage

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Mark 13:1&2

Just to summarize, the passage under consideration, The Widow’s Mite, is sandwiched between a warning against the scribes and the prophecy of the temple’s destruction.  How in the world does a passage so often described as an example of sacrificial giving fit here?

The answer is that the passage has nothing to do with sacrificial giving and everything to do with further judgment against the false institutional system of religion against which Jesus has so often spoken.  In fact, this observation of the poor widow bilked of her last two coins serves as the final straw to announce the destruction of the center of this false religious system, namely Herod’s Temple.

In Matthew 6, we are told by Jesus to avoid public displays of giving, sound no trumpet, and in fact, do not even let your right hand know what your left hand is doing (which makes it difficult to write a check!).  Instead, we are told to let our giving be done in secret.  However, the religious leaders had constructed 13 treasure-chests for giving around the colonnade in the Court of Women.  These chests were also called “trumpets” because of their narrow mouth and wide base.  What went in was literally imprisoned and the sound of the coins dropping in was easily heard.  So when Jesus says do not sound a trumpet when giving, in Matthew 6, there is a bit of irony that the treasure chests were shaped like a trumpet and sounded when the money was deposited.

It was into one of these trumpets that the widow gives her last coins.

Note next the warning given against the scribes in the passage just prior to ours,  who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”  Here we are told that the scribes devour widow’s houses.   Think about this.  The very passage before the widow’s offering, we are given a warning about scribes that devour widow’s houses.  It is not difficult to make the connection between the two mentions of widows; both being devoured by the religious leaders, exemplified by the widow giving all that she had to a corrupt religious system.  If she gives sacrificially to a corrupt religious system, is that worthy of a commendation?  What would we say today to the poor widow, duped by the televangelist into sending her last bit of money?  That is the scene in this first century story and it simply cannot be missed.  

The fact of the matter is that pure and undefiled religion is to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27).  This wasn’t something new, but Mosaic law created provisions for just that.  (Exodus 22; Deut. 10)  This poor widow shouldn’t even have been poor under Mosaic law, let alone be led to believe that she must contribute to the system that was failing to care for her.  She should have been cared for, under law.  But first century Judaism was an apostate form of Mosaic Judaism. There was no law mandating that a person give money to the temple treasury.  That’s man-made religion.  As John MacArthur notes in the sermon linked below, “The center of false religion is the treasury.  False religion is always about the money.  When you get to the treasury, you get to the heart of false religion.”

On the Wednesday of Passion Week, Jesus wasn’t taking a rest in the temple and marveling at the giving spirit of a poor widow.  He was watching the furtherence of a false religion built on the last, small coins of poor widows.  His next words in Mark 13 and Luke 21 would pronounce judgment on this system and its center of worship, the temple.

For more on this passage, see John MacArthur: Abusing the Poor

 

 

 

The Pronouncement of the Gospel

 

The Gospel of Mark begins unlike either of the other synoptic Gospels.  While Matthew begins by establishing the genealogy of Christ and Luke recounts the historical birth narrative of our Lord, Mark jumps “immediately” into the earthly ministry of Jesus.  In essence, Mark 1:1 is not only the introductory verse, but the thesis for the entire book.

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1

The word gospel in this verse is the Greek word euangelion (euaggelion), which means good news.  So here we have “the beginning of the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ”.  Most of us are probably familiar with the teaching that the gospel, or good news, is defined as the death and resurrection of our Lord, and that is true, but can sometimes seem limiting in the context of a passage, particularly this one since it occurs at the beginning of Mark and coincides with the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry, somewhat distant, though certainly anticipatory, from His looming death and resurrection.  Instead, Mark’s use here seems more consistent with that of an announcement, or better a pronouncement, specifically that of 1) An ascension to power and 2) the “Good News” of a new king.

The use of “good news” in the New Testament does not occur in a vacuum, meaning this isn’t the first time the concept or phrase has been used in Scripture, indeed it has a rich Old Testament background that informs both of the points of pronouncement just mentioned.

In Isaiah 40:9 we read, Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news (euagelion); lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”

In the context of this passage from Isaiah, we see euangelion as a proclamation and its content “Behold your God!” being called for by God to Zion/Jerusalem to be made to the cities of Judah.  This is precisely how Mark’s use of euangelion or good news is functioning in the opening verse of his gospel.  Likewise, as seen later in the chapter, this herald of good news is none other than John the Baptist, which makes the reference to Isaiah 40 all the more significant because the very next verse in Mark (2) is a citation from Isaiah 40 concerning the “voice crying out in the wilderness”,  namely John.  Clearly the connection is purposeful and significant.  Much more could be said regarding the theme of wilderness found in Isaiah and developed in Mark 1 (used 4 times in this opening chapter).

Furthermore, in Isaiah 52:7 we read, How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation,  who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  In this passage, which we find quoted in Romans 10, we see that euangelion (good news) is a message of peace, happiness, and salvation wrapped up in the proclamation of “Your God reigns”.

These two OT examples (and others) serve to inform our understanding of euangelion, or good news, in the opening chapter of Mark.  With this gospel pronouncement, we may conclude that it is meant to convey, “Hear ye, Hear ye, the King has arrived!”  On the heavy use of the OT in this and surrounding verses, William Lane comments, “the gospel receives its proper interpretation only in the light of the coming salvation promised in the prophetic word.”  Technically speaking, we may conclude that Mark’s use of the word resembles that of “Christian preaching”.

Euangelion is a fascinating word in its usage from both the Old and New Testament and can take a more complete or fuller meaning depending on the context, see for example the very next use in Mark 1:15 and how the term is used after the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.  However, one thing is clear, the Old Testament anticipated this good news and provides the foundation upon which the pronouncement of the King’s arrival is made.