This talk was given to a group of Christadelphians last October (PDF). The aim of the talk was to see how Christ is portrayed in the gospel of Mark and what we could learn from him. As an opening reading we read Mark 12:1-12.
The gospel of Mark was written before the Roman invasion of Jerusalem, and deals specifically, in the first instance, with the events to happen in that day and age… before the Romans would come to remove the mosaic heavens and earth (as alluded to in the letter to the Hebrews).
Amongst the four Gospels Mark’s stands out as the shortest. As with all Scripture, the scope and purpose is very precise and accurate with no contradictions, and can be summarised in the parable of the Vineyard.
Parable of vineyard
Can you please come with me to Mark 12 please. The vineyard represents the children of Israel, planted in a land chosen for them by their father. He has set a hedge around them to protect them from the wild nations round about. He sent unto them husband-men to till the ground and water it, to remove the weeds and bind up the broken branches. In their midst were kings and priests who were given the law of Yahweh, kings who were supposed to write out the law and lead the people by the example of it, making it the law of the land. Priests who were supposed to keep knowledge, to preserve the way of the tree of life (or as it says in the Hebrew, “tree of the lives”). And indeed in the early part of the reigns of David and Solomon these husband-men nurtured a kingdom glorious to the one who had formed it.
In time these husband-men became lax in their service, and in turn the people who were supposed to be supporting the nation turned after the false gods of the nations that surrounded them. The kings and priests, wishing to please the people, modified their laws and their teachings to allow the people to do as they wished. In turn, they became worse than the people themselves, oppressing the poor for their own gain.
At this time Yahweh sent unto the people his messengers, the prophets that they may show them the true way; in return they persecuted and killed the prophets.
In response the father, wishing to preserve his people, sent upon them the Assyrians and Babylonians that they may take away the wicked husband-man from among them. He gathered them back under Zerubabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and once again set his word in their midst in the mouth of good husband-men. However over time the cycle once again repeated itself, and fulfilling the type set out when Abraham offered up Isaac his only begotten son, our heavenly Father sent his son Jesus. Knowing that the wicked husband-men would treat him exactly the same way that they had treated the prophets that he had sent before him, he foretells his crucifixion at the hands of the Jewish leaders of the day as we see in verse 8.
And so these husband-men were to be replaced by others who would care for the vineyard, and tended it with all the love that our father expects. The gospel of Mark shows us the ministering face of our Lord, as he ministers unto the sick nation that the wicked husband-men neglected. And we watch him as he opens the eyes of 12 of his brethren, and tenderly leads them teaching them his ways, preparing them to take over his work (:9).
The husband-men of the day
So let us look at the Husband-men of the day.
Josephus describes the two main Jewish sects of the day: the Sadducean priests of the temple, and the Pharisees. The Sadducees believed exclusively in the written text of the Tanach (the old testament), and disavowed any belief not clearly indicated in the written scriptures. While the Pharisees, on the other hand, held the opinion that the Torah (law of Moses) was given in two parts – the “written law” which is the first 5 books of the bible, and the “oral law” which was supposedly passed on by word of mouth from Moses to his successors. This “oral law” is said to be an explanation of the written law, “filling in the gaps” with the Babylonish Mysticism which is still alive today. This is preserved for us in the Mishnah written a hundred years after the first epistle of John, and over the following three hundred years the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds were written as explanations of the Mishnah. We know what the Pharisees taught, because their teaching is preserved and still upheld as orthodox Judaism to this day. Christ says of them:
Mark 7:6 “Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
:7 “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
:8 “For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.”
:9 And he said unto them, “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
Visiting the vineyard
Please come to chapter one now with me please. The spirit working through Mark, covers in 13 verses the events that Matthew does in several chapters; skipping over the early years of the Messiah. The gospel of Mark opens with the work of John the Baptist, who, away from the distractions of this world, prepared the way for the work of our Lord in the wilderness. The chapter then goes straight onto the calling of Simon and Andrew as fishers of men (:17). This is because the gospel of Mark is focused primarily on the calling and shaping of the new husband men who were to be the new pillars of the Ekklesia.
The remainder of the first chapter tells us of Christ going to the husband-men in the synagogue (:21), and then to the people. Notice he first goes to the husband-men to give them an opportunity to learn the error of their ways. He stands amongst them teaching them with authority, and one with an unclean spirit calls out… Let us alone! Art thou come to destroy us? Christ heals him thereby demonstrating to them his work, to remove the unclean spirit of the oral law from amongst them.
He then goes to the people, visiting the vineyard to see how it has been treated, and finds it neglected. Christ himself starts work healing many people who are sick and diseased. Just imagine it! People living all their lives under the burden and suffering of debilitating diseases… healed in an instant! And by healing the natural infirmities he demonstrates his ability to heal their spiritual infirmities. He was indeed a great light in the land of overshadowing Egyptian darkness, a land where the light of the word was snuffed out by the traditions of men which replaced the law of Yahweh.
Power to forgive sins
The second chapter continues with the healing of the man sick of the palsy, and introduces a new concept by the words “Son, thy sins be forgiven”. Not only did he have the power to heal the body, he had power to forgive sins, and teach sinners the correct way to live.
The spirit of the law
Respect of persons
Moving on to Chapter 3 we see the calling of Matthew also known as Levi (Matt 9:9). As a tax collector, Matthew was not one of the most popular people of the time. The scribes and Pharisees murmured that Jesus would accept someone such as Matthew, and prefer him over someone such as themselves. This should make us think also… Do we have respect of persons? Do we avoid talking to people about the truth based on their background? Christ selected Matthew because he knew that he would immediately follow him, leaving his worldly possessions and position in society. Men look upon the outward appearance, God looks on the heart! What are we doing?
Recognising our sickness
In verse 17 Jesus says unto them, “they that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. He was the key difference between the Jewish leaders who thought that they were righteous by upholding the many laws that they have made themselves, and yet they were sick. Jesus came to those who recognise themselves as being sick, they recognise their position before their father, and wanted to learn what they must do to become more like unto him… To give glory and to him. This is a great lesson for us; unless we recognise that we are sick, we cannot be healed.
The law of Moses: the old garment
Verse 19 to 22, Jesus deals with the law of Moses. It’s one thing to talk of the oral law that the Pharisees upheld, while it is another thing entirely to talk about the law of Yahweh given unto Moses… On which those oral laws are supposedly based.
The Pharisees questioned Jesus about fasting, and this was part of the law of Moses and amplified by the law of the Pharisees. Jesus answers “can the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast”. Fasting was associated with mourning, yet how could the disciples mourn with the anointed king of Israel in their midst? The one to whom all the prophets pointed forward to?
The law of Moses was written in a time where it was needed, a time when a group of people had been gathered from the land of Egypt and formed into a nation. It was therefore necessary that that nation had a law which would bind the people together back to Yahweh, and it dealt with both their spiritual needs and their civil needs. It lay the foundation for Christ, preparing them for the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel who would rule from the throne of David his father. This law had waxed old, as does a garment! Obligatory obedience to the letter of the law of Moses was no longer to be expected, because there was no point in binding people to the letter of the law, when the one to whom it pointed and directed people’s minds to was there in their midst. Jesus fulfilled the law, not one jot or tittle was left unfulfilled… therefore it does not make sense to try and conform the very object to that which it foreshadows.
Jesus continues this theme in verse 23 to 28, where he says that Shabbat was designed for man, and not man for Shabbat. The laws were written and given so that man would be shaped to the character of our heavenly Father, man was not made so that he could follow the laws for no rhyme or reason. This appears to be a big problem in the thinking of the Jewish leaders of the day. The laws and traditions that they held were more important to them than the people they were supposed to be nurturing. I think that we too can also get carried away in enforcing the letter of the law, as we see it. Yes… There is absolute truth, there is absolute good, and yet it is not found in humans, as Christ says “there is none good but God”. And in another place he says “let him that is without sin cast the first stone”. The answer is simple, do we love our brethren and sisters as ourselves? Offering the same manner as we forgive one another, we will be forgiven. And if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven!
In chapter 3, Christ continues his discourse with the Jewish leaders. He is angry at the hardness of their hearts, and that they would prefer the man with a withered hand not to be healed… for the sake of preserving their traditions. The Sabbath day was a day of rest, they were to rest from civil work, not religious work. This was the one day in the week that they were blessed with the opportunity of coming together to discuss the living words of Scripture, without the distractions that go along with everyday living. Jesus was doing exactly what he should be doing on the Sabbath, which was doing his father’s work healing the remnant of the nation of Israel.
Notice in verse seven that Christ goes out into the wilderness, and the people follow him. This is a common theme in Scripture isn’t it, there are many times when people went out into the wilderness away from the distractions of the city to go in prayer to the Father. The children of Israel when they came out of Egypt, were taken into the wilderness of Sinai. Jesus could not teach the people in the way that was needed while constantly under the noses of the Jewish leaders who waited to catch him out, and worked against him with the people.
By the time we get to verse 13, the 12 disciples had been called. And noticed they were called for a single purpose-to be with him and learn his ways, and to go forth to preach and to heal the nation. These 12 had been ordained to replace the false servants, those wolves in sheep’s clothing who were devouring the flock.
Training of the 12 disciples
The rest of the gospel of Mark deals with the relationship between Christ and his disciples. How he gently guides them in the right way, with the still small voice slowly introducing new concepts to them and preparing them for their work. In this we can also see the hand of our father working with us, and just like the disciples it may be days or months or even years later when we fully understand the lessons that were being taught.
It is interesting to see the method that our Lord uses to teach his disciples. And in this we can learn lessons for how we should teach each other. First a parable is given, subtly introducing the subject, while at the same time making it very memorable… It is far easier to remember a story than a simple command or statement. Secondly he then gives them some time to think things over, to consider, and to discuss amongst themselves. Then very soon after, mostly straight after as far as the gospel record is concerned, he brings about the situation that demonstrates the teaching of the parable through the events of their lives. Often the meaning of the parable is not actually explained, but left to the careful meditation of the listener. There are so many times in my life when our heavenly Father has used this approach with me. Especially when I was young. I would read or hear some verse of Scripture, some concept which I had not fully appreciated before. Within a very short space of time, I would see this concept lived out my life, and often it would be the answer to a difficult problem which could only be solved effectively by the wisdom of the scriptures. This will never cease to amaze me… and we continue to see many more examples as we look at the rest of the gospel of Mark.
The first lesson the disciples would learn is who their brethren and mother were. Christ teaches that fellowship with our brethren and sisters in the Ekklesia is more important than the bonds of our natural parents and siblings.
We read in:
1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
Mark 9:41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.
When working together we are stronger, and more effective in helping each other build up the Ekklesia of Christ, preparing to be reunited with our head when he returns to this earth. This lesson would be very useful to the disciples as they went forth into the earth as husband-men to work with the people of Yahweh.
Spread of the gospel
In chapter 4, the disciples are shown the parable of the sower, to teach them that although the seed that they were to sow had no fault in it… many would not respond, others would but only to eventually fall away. There is a seed that fell by the wayside and was trampled by the cares of this life, and the teaching of the apostasy proclaimed by the Jewish leaders of the day. Then there is the stony ground with the growth initially strong and very enthusiastic, but the trials of life and the struggle of living the Truth, in a community that chides and mocks the Truth, becomes overwhelming and the roots placed are not strong enough and the plant dies. There are also the thorn choked plants which are overcome and overwhelmed by the fruitless pursuits of this life, by the organisations that take our time and our minds from the things of the truth.
It can be very disappointing to see this happen to our brethren and sisters. Our Lord forewarned his disciples with these things, so that when they experienced it the burden would be easier. Yet despite all this, the next lesson is that a candle is not placed under a bushel… the teaching must go on, the eyes of the people must be opened, regardless of whether individuals or whole groups ignore this teaching.
We are told in verse 24 that whatever we have been given, we must be prepared to give to others. By sharing amongst ourselves the understanding that we have been given, the whole body grows. And in verse 26 to 29, the disciples were to sow, and yet not necessarily see the results straight away. As a seed is placed in the ground and hidden, only to sprout it sometime later with the coming of spring, so it is often with the sharing of the gospel message. The promise is that the words will not return in vain, verse 31 and 32 show that the preaching of the disciples would start as a mustard seed and expand until it it became a mighty mustard tree.
Jesus often spoke in parables so that those who didn’t want to understand wouldn’t be able to understand. Yet he reveals the message they contained to his disciples when they were alone, because they were primarily given for the benefit of the disciples. So that they could learn how to be good servants, and ministers to the people of the old kingdom then, and the one to come at Christ’s return.
All things work together for good
From verse 35 to the end of the chapter, Jesus takes his disciples in a boat. While he is asleep there is a great storm on the Sea of Galilee, as is often the case these storms can appear in minutes… I’ve seen it myself, as a sea of glass becomes a tempestuous sea without warning. Jesus calms the waters instantly, showing his disciples in a very clear way that it doesn’t matter how much the people around work themselves up into a tempestuous frenzy, as long as they stay in the Ark, the Ekklesia, their Lord would preserve them. Yahweh encamps around them that fear him, so that all things work together for good to those that love him.
Now in chapter 5 and the first twenty verses we are introduced to Legion, who I believe was a symbol of the disciples themselves. Christ comes to the land, and he finds Legion just as he finds the disciples. Legion recognises that he is sick, just like his disciples, which is in total contrast to the Jewish leaders. Legion is healed, just as the eyes of the disciples are healed. The men of the country declare Jesus to be a “devil”, just as the scribes had declared Jesus to be Baal-Zibub (in chapter 3 verse 22 to 30). We then see that the healed man goes forth to preach in Decapolis… exactly as the disciples were about to do in the following chapter. Resulting in a growth in the Ekklesia as a mustard grain which eventually grows into a tree. And lastly Jesus leaves the healed man, and returns to boat from where he came. Here the disciples are introduced to the fact that Jesus would someday leave them to return to whence he had come from.
In verse 22 to the end of the chapter, two women are healed: Jairus’ daughter who was at the point of death, and a certain woman who came to Jesus in the street. The 12-year-old girl, and the woman with an issue of blood 12 years both seem to represent different groups within the Jewish community. Jesus goes to heal the young girl who is spiritually dead in the household of the apostate Jewish leaders. On the way the certain woman who has been searching for 12 years, yet without success is finally healed by Jesus. So we see that Christ came to heal both those who did not realise they were sick, and also to provide health to those that recognised their sickness.
Notice only Peter, James, and John are permitted to go into the house while Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter. These three disciples would later be sent to the circumcision, to the Jewish world, while others of the disciples would be sent to the Gentiles.
Disciples sent out in pairs
Looking briefly at chapter 6, we see the disciples become apostles “sent out ones”. With nothing for the journey they go forth, in pairs, to put into practice the many things Jesus had taught them.
When they returned, Jesus feeds the 5000. This reminds the apostles of their work; Christ is their leader, training them to be ready to give bread themselves when they are sent out to those of the people with ears to hear. We can see exactly the same pattern in one John one.
Moving swiftly on to chapter 7, we see the disciples are challenged themselves for the first time by the Pharisees and scribes. Because now they too, like Christ, rejected the oral law of the Pharisees choosing instead to follow the spirit of the written law of Yahweh. In verses 6 to 16 Jesus defends his disciples by showing to all the hypocrisy of the oral law of the Pharisees, and that we are defiled by what we think, say and do… and not by what we see and hear.
Gospel to the Gentiles
In verse 24 Christ goes to Tyre and Sidon where he heals a Gentile woman’s daughter, and thereby shows that the gospel will go forth to the Gentiles as well; as it was from the beginning, from the promises to Abraham that “in thee shall all nations of the earth cause themselves to be blessed”. “The dogs shall eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table”, as the Jewish leaders reject the food that Christ offers them, the offer goes forth to the Gentiles too.
Nurturing of the Father
At this point brethren and sisters I am less than halfway through my study notes. There are so many more examples of Christ nurturing up his disciples, ready for them to nurture others. There are so many more lessons that we could learn from our Lord, however unfortunately we do not have the time this evening.
There is the feeding of the 4000, and the comparison between the feeding of the 5000 in the 4000. Perhaps the five loaves is the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) resulting in the 12 baskets for tribes of Israel. Perhaps the seven loaves is the unveiled gospel which ultimately becomes the complete seven baskets of the joint Jew and Gentile single Olive tree, the bride of Christ.
There is the transfiguration in which Moses, Christ, and Elijah is shown to be united in the work. Moses in the calling out the children of Israel from Egypt to be a nation, Christ in the calling out the new heavens of the future age, and Elijah in gathering together the new Jewish earth of the millennial age.
There is the gentle way that Christ introduces his death and resurrection. Slowly and repeatedly his message becomes more explicit, taking every opportunity to prepare his disciples for the time when he would be taken away. And he does this both before and after his resurrection.
Notice too that each of the disciples are prepared individually for their specific work which they will fulfil. Jesus works alongside them, showing them by example what they must do, and when they are ready gives them experience on their own. It is this gentle caring and nurturing characteristic of Christ, and his father, which comes out most of all in the gospel of Mark.
We must ask ourselves the same question, do we encourage each other to grow? Do we nurture the characteristics of Christ in each other? Do we encourage young brethren to study the scriptures and find the truth of it, to do readings and give prayers to the glory of Yahweh, to share what they have learned in discussions one with another, and when they are ready, from the platform. To encourage young sisters to bring up children to love, to honour, and to glorify our Father in heaven? To encourage the elders to share what they have learned, and the wisdom of life? Do we, every single one of us, look out for the welfare of each other, both in spiritual needs and also the everyday mundane physical needs?
While the message in the gospel of Mark was to build up the disciples ready for their work in the Kingdom of God of that age, and to understand the signs of the times, we too have a very similar Gospel, written to prepare us for our work in the future Kingdom of God and understand the signs of our times. The book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse in anglicised Greek, is the only book that is addressed to us specifically, and by Christ himself. Let us fervently study his words to prepare ourselves to work with him in his kingdom.
Let us depart from Pharisaism, not making our Christadelphian traditions or rules more important than the words of Yahweh. Let us be good husband-men, not adding or taking away from the words of life. Let us love one another as our Lord has loved us, and thereby transform our minds conforming to the spirit of ALL the law and the prophets. If we love not one another then we have nothing at all, and the mind of our father is not in us… for “God is love”.
So then let us flee youthful lusts, and build ourselves up by meditating on the word day and night as little children… that we may build each other up, as members of our Lord’s one body working together. Let us salt ourselves, purging our minds from ungodliness… and yet keep peace with our brethren and sisters, entreating each other with the still small voice as our Lord has demonstrated to us. Forgiving one another as we wish to be forgiven. Every one of us… from the oldest to the youngest… have much to learn! We all fall short of the sublime example of our Father and his Son.
We see the nations aligning, coming one against the other. ISIS, the latter day Assyria overflowing his banks on his way to the pleasant land of Israel. The time is short, and the words are sure, as sure as day and night, and the matter certain.
Apoc 22:20 Surely I come quickly.
It IS truth…
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
:21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
It is truth…