In our study of Mark's gospel we have seen that Jesus has begun to demonstrate His divine abilities and nature through His teachings and miracles. The reaction to Him by ordinary people and the Jewish leadership is strong but mixed with some believing, others skeptical and many among the leaders becoming confrontational. Mark describes seven instances where these scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus of various sins including demon possession. After these confrontations, Jesus continues to teach His disciples, but in parable form, in order to create less turmoil among the crowds.
In the seven previous encounters that Mark described there was skepticism and disbelief, even accusations. In this next section, Jesus will interact with groups of people who witness His power and respond with belief. For these people Jesus is not only a great teacher and miracle worker, He becomes the Lord of hopeless situations.
Lord of Nature
35On that day, when evening came, He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side." 36Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" 39And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40And He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" 41They became very much afraid and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"
After a series of teachings and miraculous healings, Jesus sets off across the Lake of Galilee in a boat with His Apostles. Tired from His work, He falls asleep on a cushion. A storm comes up threatening to sink their vessel. It must have been a fierce storm because these are all experienced fishermen, used to the rough weather on this lake. They do not awake Him in order to ask for His help (after all, what would a carpenter or rabbi know about sailing a boat in a storm?), they wake Him up because He is sleeping and they believe they are about to die.
Upon awakening He calms the sea with only a word, and rebukes them for being afraid and having little faith. This miracle leaves them awestruck. They had no power over the storm and were at its mercy. However, by performing this miracle Jesus demonstrated that He had authority over the natural elements. Their unstated conclusion was that only God could control nature at will, and they had just witnessed Jesus perform this feat.
Lord of the Spirit World
1They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 6Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7and shouting with a loud voice, he said, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!" 8For He had been saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" 9And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Legion; for we are many." 10And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. 12The demons implored Him, saying, "Send us into the swine so that we may enter them." 13Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea. 14Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened. 16Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19And He did not let him, but He said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you." 20And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Immediately after they reach the other side of the lake they are confronted by a man possessed of an unclean spirit. Jesus had cast out evil spirits in the past but some were unimpressed because the priests and Pharisees also handled these types of cases. This time, however, Mark describes a man possessed by many demons (a legion) who could neither be cured nor restrained by anyone. Again, Jesus cures him with simply a word and the demons are cast out.
This particular healing has some interesting features:
- Jesus has a dialogue with the demons. This was probably done to demonstrate to the man and His own disciples that He knew the problem and was without fear.
- Jesus sends the demons into a nearby herd of swine, perhaps to reassure the man that the demons were truly out of him and physically elsewhere.
- The destruction of the swine is sometimes questioned as wasteful, but a man's life is worth more than a herd of pigs.
The people of the town are angry and frightened. They do not demand compensation for the pigs, they simply want Jesus to leave. It is sad to note that they cannot see past the destruction of the animals to understand what has really happened.
The man is completely sane, dressed and at peace after years of insanity and torment. Jesus is about to leave and the man wants to come with Him but the Lord tells him to go to Decapolis (the ten city region) and proclaim the news of his cure. Later on, Jesus will return to this area and be met with great crowds of people largely due to the fact that this man went home to tell of his healing.
Jesus, after demonstrating that He had power over the natural world, shows His disciples that He has power over the spiritual world as well. He overcomes nature in the outside world, He overcomes the demons in the inside world. The reader is left with the conclusion that if only God has power over nature and demons, Jesus, therefore, must be divine.
Lord of Illness
21When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. 22One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet 23and implored Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live." 24And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him. 25A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— 27after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. 28For she thought, "If I just touch His garments, I will get well." 29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My garments?" 31And His disciples said to Him, "You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'" 32And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction."
Mark combines two stories here, each showing Jesus' concern and power. At first, Jesus is confronted by a synagogue official (Minister in today's terms) whose daughter is ill to the point of death. He begs Jesus to come and heal her. Jesus agrees but on His way is interrupted by a woman who secretly touches His cloak with the hope of being healed from her own disease.
This woman suffered from continual uterine bleeding. Her condition had bankrupted her financially and, according to Jewish ceremonial law, did not permit her to attend temple worship because she was considered ceremonially "unclean." The woman is immediately healed, but Jesus forces her to acknowledge her illness, what she had done and the results. The reason for this was to publicly declare the miracle, and to verify that she was healed and could now return to worship in the temple.
This was a disease that had been treated unsuccessfully for years; that was not mental or spiritual in nature (i.e. demon possession); that was uniquely female in nature; and Jesus heals her without saying a word. In this we see that His Lordship was expressed by His mere presence.
Lord Over Death
35While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, "Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?" 36But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, "Do not be afraid any longer, only believe." 37And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the synagogue official; and He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing. 39And entering in, He said to them, "Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep." 40They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child's father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was. 41Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, "Talitha kum!" (which translated means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). 42Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. 43And He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this, and He said that something should be given her to eat.
Mark continues the narrative with the story of the synagogue leader's daughter. A report comes that she has died and the father gives up hope and is ready to accept this fact. Jesus offers him renewed hope telling him to believe and not be afraid. When He arrives at the house, the professional mourners are there along with a crowd of people who laugh as He announces that the child is not dead but only asleep. Jesus brings only those who believe (the Apostles and the parents) with Him to witness this tremendous miracle. Again, Mark demonstrates Jesus' Lordship over another powerful enemy of man: death itself.
These four episodes establish Jesus as one with divine power to overcome those things which man has traditionally had little or no control over: nature, the spirit world, illness and death. The conclusion we are left with is that only God can have and demonstrate this kind of power, therefore Jesus must be divine!
Expansion of Jesus' Ministry — 6:1-56
Up to this point in his gospel record, Mark is describing isolated incidents of Jesus' preaching and miracles, and the various reactions to these. With time, however, His ministry began to expand and Mark will describe this development as well as the people's reaction to Jesus' increasing fame.
Jesus' Home Town
1Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him. 2When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him. 4Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household." 5And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And He wondered at their unbelief. And He was going around the villages teaching.
The news of His teaching and miracles reaches His home town before Jesus does. The people respond with skepticism (how can someone from here be doing these great things?). They even mention Jesus as the local carpenter's son and one of many children in a local family. This time it is Jesus who is amazed at their unbelief and consequently does very little ministry (miracles) there but continues to teach in their synagogues. He was sent to preach the good news and He does this without accompanying miracles.
Sending of the Twelve
7And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; 8and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt— 9but to wear sandals; and He added, "Do not put on two tunics." 10And He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. 11Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them." 12They went out and preached that men should repent. 13And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.
There is much to do and He can only be in one place at a time so Jesus sends His Apostles out to replicate His ministry:
- He gives them the ability to do miracles.
- He gives them the charge to preach.
- He gives them instructions concerning their conduct and ministry.
- He will provide for them so they are not to bring extra supplies.
- They are to live in the place that will receive them. No begging from door to door.
- If they are rejected, they are to leave.
This is an important phase of training for their future ministry as Apostles.
Jesus and Herod
14And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, "John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him." 15But others were saying, "He is Elijah." And others were saying, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, "John, whom I beheaded, has risen!" 17For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. 21A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you." 23And he swore to her, "Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom." 24And she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." 25Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, 28and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.
At this point Jesus' fame reaches the top ruler of the area and Mark gives his readers some background information about Herod (one of the few times he does this in his gospel). Herod and his sons had gained power in the area through political collusion with Rome. The present Herod (Herod Antipas) was the son of the king who had the children in Bethlehem and surrounding area killed in an effort to eliminate Jesus when He was a baby (Matthew 2:16).
Herod Antipas had abandoned his wife and eloped with Herodias (who was already married at the time to his brother, Phillip) while visiting Rome. John the Baptist denounced this union and in so doing threatened Herodias' position as queen. Herod had John imprisoned but continued to listen to his preaching since he was familiar with Jewish law and custom, and understood what John taught.
During a supper given in honor of his noblemen, Herod was tricked into promising Herodias's daughter a special favor. She, manipulated by her mother, demanded John's execution, and in order to avoid embarrassment, Herod had John beheaded. When Jesus appears and develops a following even greater than John's, Herod imagines that He is the incarnation of John who has now come to haunt him.
Mark uses this flashback device to introduce an important character of that era and also to describe the circumstances that brought to an end the ministry of John the Baptist, a person he introduced earlier in his book. This is also a way to explain the growth of Jesus' ministry.
Jesus and His Disciples — 6:30-56
The gospels of Matthew and John record long passages where Jesus is actually teaching His Apostles. They include much dialogue containing questions and answers between them. Mark's approach is to show Jesus teaching His chosen Apostles by doing, by giving examples, by sending them out to minister and then receiving their responses. We have examples of this in verses 30-56.
30The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.
Upon their return from their first tour of ministry the Lord tries to bring the Apostles away for rest and refreshment. Mark tells us that they are eager to report everything that they did.
33The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. 34When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. 35When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." 37But He answered them, "You give them something to eat!" And they said to Him, "Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?" 38And He said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look!" And when they found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." 39And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42They all ate and were satisfied, 43and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.
What begins as a retreat ends up being a rally as thousands gather together to hear Jesus. Jesus' miracles and teachings in addition to the recent preaching tour of the Apostles have stirred up the population who now come and hear Jesus for themselves. He is confined to out of the way places since he is not able to go to the people in the crowded cities because Herod is now stalking Him, so the crowds begin to come to Him.
In this scene we see Jesus feed the people in two different ways:
- He feeds them spiritual food in a natural way, by preaching.
- He feeds them physical food in a supernatural way, by multiplying the fish and bread.
Jesus is teaching His Apostles two important lessons here:
- Humans have both physical and spiritual needs that the Apostles must satisfy as ministers.
- Jesus can fulfill both needs because with Him there is always more than enough.
Without Him, there were only five loaves of bread and two fish, but with Him, there was more than enough. The Apostles have ministered and done miracles on their first preaching tour but Jesus reminds them that He is the source of these things, not they themselves.
The Walking on Water
45Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. 46After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. 47When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. 49But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; 50for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid." 51Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, 52for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.
Despite the miracles that they saw and performed themselves, in this scene the Apostles demonstrate that they were slow learners. After the crowds were gone Jesus sent them across the lake by themselves. They were having problems with another storm but they had not yet called upon Him. When they see Him walking on water they were afraid. These men have seen Him exercise power over every natural and spiritual element and have heard His teaching, yet they still did not understand the conclusion that all of these things pointed to. Not that He was a man who did miracles, but that He was the divine Son of God, and each one of these signs were slowly bringing them closer to that realization.
53When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. 54When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, 55and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. 56Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.
When they reach the other side of the lake Mark describes, almost in an offhand manner, the many more miracles Jesus continued to do, even without speaking. His presence alone was now producing great healings. The Apostles, again witnessing this great display of power, were coming around to the idea of who Jesus really was.
After this point in Mark's gospel Jesus will perform fewer miracles. The next two chapters will describe more of the confrontations that He has with His enemies and the final key miracles that He will perform, but the bulk of the teaching will now focus on preparing His disciples to understand and accept two great truths:
- His true identity: Son of God and Messiah.
- His true mission: the cross.