How to Develop Your Faith
Explore the Bible Series
January 10, 2010
Background Passage: Mark 7:1-8:33
Lesson Passage: Mark 8:11-13, 16-21, 27-33
Mark chose to write his narrative of the public life of Jesus with vivid, powerful images and language, and the text leaves its readers almost breathless with the development of the story. Generally, this Gospel follows a chronological pattern, though, at times, Mark does expand on certain themes. This lesson will reveal some subtle, important changes in the Lord’s work.
For instance, the first few chapters of the Gospel of Mark center Jesus’ ministry primarily in Galilee, near Capernaum and Nazareth. He made a brief trip into Gadara, but most of the miracles took place, during Jesus’ early ministry, in the region near the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Chapters Seven and Eight, however, reveal an expanding ministry to Syrophoencia, Syria, and the Decapolis. Furthermore, Jesus expanded his interaction with gentiles as he travelled through these regions. We know, for instance, that the Lord conversed with a Gentile woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon, and he healed a Hellenized deaf man in Decapolis. When he first revealed the nature of his ministry, he did so as the apostolic band travelled through the area near Caesarea Philippi, more than twenty miles from Capernaum.
Also, Jesus did many miracles, according to Mark, as he travelled through the villages of his home province. The crowds teemed with excitement, and, for a while, Jesus enjoyed tremendous popularity with the common people. In his humanity, the constant press of the crowds exhausted the Savior, and he increasingly sought some refuge from the unremitting demands on his time and energy. This lesson marks a greater priority in Jesus’ need for rest and concern for spending time alone with the Twelve.
Most importantly, this section unmistakably reveals the essence of the person and work of Christ. The multitudes clearly did not fully understand who Jesus was. They saw him, no doubt, as another travelling wonder-worker, and they flocked to him for healing, exorcism, and provision of human needs. Even the disciples had indistinct ideas about the Lord’s redemptive intent. Mark 8:27-33 and 9:1-13 (which we will study on January 24) mark a critical turning point in the Gospel, a turning point that will soon lead us to Calvary.
I. Conflict over the Tradition of the Elders (7:1-23 and Matthew 15:1-20)
A. The arrival of the scribes and Pharisees (v. 1): The Gospel of Mark recalls a fourth conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders concerning the tradition of the elders. As before, the Pharisees came from Jerusalem, I surmise, to confront the mounting problem of Jesus’ ministry.
1. Conflict over eating with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:15-17)
2. Conflict over fasting (Mark 2:18-22)
3. Conflict over Sabbath observance (Mark 2:23-28)
4. Conflict over exorcism (Mark 3:22-30)
B. The charge of the Pharisees (vv. 2-5): Perhaps the Pharisees observed Jesus’ disciples for some time hoping to find some misdeed to confront. They discovered that the disciples did not ritually wash their hands as prescribed by Jewish tradition, and they confronted Jesus about the affront to their practices. The Old Testament required the priests to wash their hands and feet prior to entering the Tabernacle (See Exodus 30:19), and, in time, this prescription led the Pharisees to practice hand-washing before meals. They cupped their hands and let the water run through the fingers. Mark also indicates that the Pharisees noted other traditions unobserved by the disciples.
C. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees indictment (vv. 6-13): The Lord quoted Isaiah 29:13 to answer the charges. The Pharisees, typical of many fundamentalist groups of any generation, added to the commandments of God, and, in time, they began to confuse their observances with God’s precepts. Furthermore, their preoccupation with their man-made rules led to distraction from the weightier matters. In this case, Jesus highlighted the Fifth Commandment. The reference to “Corban” translates an Aramaic term that denotes possessions devoted to God’s use. Apparently, some of the Pharisees regularly neglected the monetary needs of their parents by claiming that their possessions belonged to God.
D. Teaching on defilement (vv. 14-23): The conflict with the scribes and Pharisees caused the crowds to recoil, but Jesus called the people again. He told them that the things men put in their bodies do not defile them; rather, it is the things that arise from the heart that corrupt actions. Sometime later, Jesus expounded the point to his disciples. What comes out of the heart defiles: evil thoughts (general term that introduces this list), sexual immorality (broad word referring to all forms of sexual misconduct), theft, murder, adultery, coveting (may include sexual sins), wickedness (acts of deliberate malice), deceit (cunning treachery), sensuality (open immorality), envy (denotes jealousy and stinginess), slander (may refer to evil speech directed at others, but may also include blasphemy), pride (self-promotion), and foolishness (spiritually callous and inattentive).
II. The Faith of the Syrophoenician Woman (7:24-30, Matthew 15:21-28)
A. Jesus’ retreat to Syrophoencia (v. 24): No doubt, Mark included this story to illustrate the “cleanliness” issues introduced in the previous paragraph. The Lord withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon, about twenty miles from Capernaum, for a time of rest. This area, during the First Century, was under the administrative governance of Syria and was inhabited by a Gentile population, unclean in the eyes of strict Jewish observance. We do not know where Jesus sought rest, but the text clearly indicates he did not want anyone to know of his presence.
B. Jesus’ ministry to the afflicted girl (vv. 25-30): Mark gave some detail of the woman’s social standing. She was a Gentile and a Syrophoenician citizen. Later church tradition identifies her as a woman named Justa (See Pseudo-Clementine Homilies). This woman came to Jesus to receive help for a demon possessed daughter. The greeted her brusquely, perhaps to test the woman’s faith. The reference to “dogs” denotes small animals that ancient people allowed in their homes, not street curs. Jesus reminded the woman that he had come to the House of Israel, but she persisted in her plea for help. Her faith and persistence impressed the Lord, and he exorcized the demon from the woman’s daughter.
III. Additional Miracles in the Region of the Sea of Galilee (7:1-8:26 and Matthew 15:21-16:12)
A. The healing of a deaf man (7:31-37): Only Mark records the story of the deaf man. Apparently, at one time this man could hear and speak, and his speech had deteriorated, perhaps as a result of his deafness. Friends brought the man to Jesus, and the Lord, taking the man side, healed the deafness and speech impediment. The ancient Middle East regarded spittle as possessing curative power. As on other occasions, Jesus asked the man and his friends to keep quiet the miracle, but they did not obey the Lord’s directive.
B. The feeding of the four thousand (8:1-10): Liberal scholars often claim that this episode is merely a distortion of the previous feeding of the five thousand; however, I do not think this argument holds water. Significant details distinguish the events, and it seems improbable that the early church would confuse such significant stories. Moreover, I suspect that those who question the feeding of the four thousand also have trouble believing that Jesus fed the five thousand; therefore, the problem does not focus on the claims of the text. It rests in the materialism of the liberal scholars.
C. The response of the Pharisees (8:11-21): Again, the Pharisees confronted Jesus, this time with a demand for a sign of his authority (perhaps this demand grew from their previous charge that Jesus did these wondrous acts by the power of Satan). The Lord, of course, could have easily conformed to their demands, but he refused and went, by boat, to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Later, Jesus warned the disciples of the “leaven of the Pharisees.” Leaven, in Jewish culture, often symbolized the spread of corruption. Jesus was not concerned about the provisions that the disciples had; instead, he intended a warning about the dangers of Pharisaism.
D. The healing of a blind man (8:22-26): Having returned to Bethsaida, the disciples encountered a blind man. It appears that the man was not born blind (thus he recognized the indistinct form of men). Jesus led the man out of the town, and, applying spittle to the eyes, an action that led to a partial restoration of sight. We cannot know why the healing required two stages of Jesus’ touch.
IV. Jesus’ Clear Affirmation of his Identity and Mission (8:26-33)
A. The identity of Jesus (vv. 27-30): Jesus and the disciples returned to the villages near Caesarea Philippi, governed by Herod Philip, half-brother of Antipas. Mount Hermon dominated the topography of this beautiful, fertile region, and the Romans exercised particularly strong control of the citizenry. As the disciple band passed through the villages, Jesus introduced a conversation about his identity, a conversation that Jesus directed toward the conclusion that he was, indeed, the Promised One. The disciples, in answer to Jesus’ query, recalled that the people thought the Lord was a reembodiment of John the Baptist or Elijah. These opinions, of course, fell short of the Lord’s glorious character, and he asked the disciples for their understanding. Impetuous Peter spoke up and identified Jesus as the Messiah. It seems odd that Jesus did not expound on Peter’s observation; instead, he revealed, quite clearly, his mission as the Messiah.
B. The revelation of Jesus’ mission (vv. 31-33): First-Century Jews had preconceived notions about the work of the Anointed One, but Jesus, on three occasions in Mark’s Gospel, challenged these ideas. He predicted his suffering at the hands of the Sadducees and the scribes and his ensuing death by crucifixion. After three days in the grave, so Jesus anticipated, he would rise again. The Lord, at this point, did not define a reason for this suffering, but he unmistakably predicted his death and resurrection. These words clearly horrified Peter and the other disciples, and the fisherman took it upon himself to rebuke Jesus. Jesus, in turn, reflected the rebuke on his well-meaning but errant disciple.