Mark 7:1-23

Our reading this week comes from Mark 6:14 through the end of chapter 7. I want to focus on one passage specifically from chapter 7.

Mark gives us a little background on how the Pharisees had created traditions and laws that God did not, and gives us an example of how they tried to bind these traditions on others (similar to what we talked about in our sermon Sunday.) The particular tradition in question here had to do with ceremonial hand washing. We know from history that Pharisees often monitored the washing jars (these are the same that Jesus used to change water to wine in John 4), and would threaten and punish anyone who didn’t observe this tradition.

Notice the question that they ask in verse 5:

“Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” Mark 7:5

Notice this has nothing to do with honoring God, but the tradition of the elders. Jesus condemns their actions, and addresses the problem with their hearts by quoting Isaiah. He summarizes this by saying

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7:8

Do we ever put our traditions over God’s commands? There is nothing wrong with a tradition until we start holding that tradition just as sacred as the words of God. I have seen some Christians come unhinged at the very idea of altering anything we do. You wouldn’t believe the outrage I received years ago when suggesting we move the Lord’s Supper to a different time in the service! And when the silver colored communion trays were replaced with gold colored ones? Yes…we’re often guilty of this as well.

The Pharisees were refusing to help their own families, specifically their fathers and mothers, by dedicating something their families need to God. Follow this scenario with me. You wake up tomorrow and find someone starving to death in your yard. He begs you for some food, but you decide you can’t buy him a breakfast because you might give that money to God someday. This is basically what the Pharisees were doing, and teaching others to do…even when those in need were their own parents.

But Jesus works to address their misinterpretation of the Scriptures. He tells them that people aren’t defiled by what they eat, which is a huge departure from Jewish practice. This is such a departure from the norm that Mark includes a parenthetical clarification:

“(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” – Mark 7:19

Instead, Jesus clarifies that what comes out of someone makes them unclean…their actions, their words, their thoughts. To summarize the teaching of Jesus here: Don’t focus on the external, but the internal. Get your heart right, then the external will correct itself.

Seek God, and work to get your heart inline with what God truly calls us to.

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A Faith that Does

These series of posts are directly linked to our read through Gospels this year. If you haven’t started, but would like to join us you can download the reading/devotional list by clicking here.

In Mark 3 we are discovering two groups of people who have opposing views of Jesus. The crowds that follow Jesus love him because of his teachings, and miracles. They are amazed by the power of God displayed through him. We read in verse 8 that this was a very diverse crowd from all over the region. They believed in him and his message, and even the demons acknowledged him as the Son of God. (11)

Then we meet the religious leaders of the day. They refuse to see the good in what Jesus is doing, and only seem to notice that he isn’t doing things the way they have always been done. He perfectly keeps the law, but interprets it differently than they have. Of course Jesus is right in what he’s doing, but they can’t see that. Jesus asks them in verse 4:

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or kill?” – Mark 3:4

In general, Jewish teachers during this time taught that anything that could be done before the Sabbath should not be done on the Sabbath. But they did accept life-saving procedures, and important medical treatments for the wellbeing of the patient as well. Jesus here is acknowledging their rules…actually he’s playing by them, but they still have issue. Notice that verse 4 indicates “…they remained silent.” It appears they really didn’t want Jesus to heal this man. Perhaps they felt that professing faith in God and not changing the status quo were more important.

Jesus challenges this type of assumption at the end of chapter 3 by saying “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” In other words, you’re my family if you do God’s will. Then Jesus gives us examples of doing God’s will. He tells the Parable of the Sower in which we all should identify as a type of soil, but we are also the sower. We need to improve the soil of our lives, but at the same time we need to be slinging the seeds of the kingdom anywhere we can…even to the undesirable soil! This is a faith that does. Then Jesus compares our faith to a lamp on a stand. A lamp is worthless unless it gives light. This is a faith that does. The Parable of the Growing Seed couches us as the sower again. We need to throw seed. God will make the seed grow (and does today in the lives of many in our community), and we need to be sure we’re ready to harvest it as it is ready. After all, crops that aren’t harvested die in the field. This is a faith that does. Jesus gives us another view of the kingdom. Even though it’s as small as a mustard seed, it will grow to be a large fruitful plant. We’ve already been told to grow the kingdom. This is a faith that does.

And then we have the disciples on the boat with Jesus. He is asleep as a “furious squall” batters their boat. The disciples are afraid, but Jesus was not.

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:39-40

Instead of panicking like the disciples, Jesus remained calm in the storm. This is a faith that does. Jesus then has the power to calm the storm. And this is who we have faith in! We are called to have a faith that is full of action, good deeds, and seeks to spread that faith everywhere we can. And we’re called to do this because of our faith in Christ. We must obey him because: “Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The Gospel of Mark

If you are following along with our Gospels Reading Plan for the year, you just completed Matthew’s Gospel last week, and this week we begin reading Mark’s Gospel by reading chapters 1 & 2.

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Gospels and was written first. As you read Mark, you will have the feeling you’ve read this before. That’s because about 90% of Mark’s Gospel appears in Matthew’s Gospel as well, although Matthew treats the stories and order differently than Mark. Keep in mind that the Gospel writers were not trying to create a chronological biography of Jesus, but rather a theological narrative geared at the needs of the audience to which it was written.

Early church history tells us that Mark was a helper of Peter, a member of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, an Apostle, and a close eyewitness of most of the events Mark records. It is possible that this is the same Mark (listed as John Mark) who was a cousin of Barnabas and worked with Paul on his missionary journeys (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37, 39), and again later in Rome (Col. 4:10). Peter also mentions working with Mark in Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Though we can’t be sure that these Mark’s are the same person, early church tradition presents it as such. This would certainly explain why Mark would write his Gospel to the Gentile Christians in the church at Rome.

Mark will use many Roman themes, as well as Roman imagery when we get to his recounting of Jesus’ last week (commonly referred to as the Passion), which makes up roughly 40% of the overall Gospel. Mark is writing in a time where great persecution had broken out against Christians, especially in Rome, and writes to encourage Christians to persevere through the suffering and persecution they face. The main them is Jesus as the suffering servant who died for us. The key verse to the Gospel is Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  In essence, Mark is calling us to be more like Jesus as we face similar situations in our own lives.

Most of chapter 1 & 2 are covered by Matthew, but I’d like to look at one short passage in 1:35-39:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

When was the last time you spent time in a solitary place and prayed? When was the last time you sought out quiet to just be with God in prayer? We will see Mark mention this practice by Jesus several times, and Mark is calling his readers to be more like Jesus. I encourage you to spend some quiet time with God’s Word (why not read Mark along with us?) like Jesus did, and let that time focus your mind and thoughts on being more like Jesus. May you be blessed as you seek to be more like Him.