Transcripts of Radio Program – Mark 4
Good evening my friends, I am your Host Cathy Merritt and I am back after a few weeks away. We pray we can continue to do our Bible Study and will pick up where we left off in the Gospel of Mark. Chapter 3 – so let’s dig in
Off hand, I can’t think of a Bible topic that makes for a better horror movie than demon possession. After all, by its very nature it’s scary; the idea of some unseen evil force taking over the body and mind of an innocent victim is downright errie. Then of course, they can make a person behave in a bizarre manner, spewing green fluids across the room, shaking, screaming… Yep, great stuff for a horror flick, but is there any thread of reality to all this?
My best answer is really a lawyer’s answer: “Well, it all depends.”
Maybe that really isn’t the best question.
A better question would be this one: “Why does demon possession suddenly burst on the scene in the gospels, carry though Acts and then seen to fade after that?”
How many cases of demon possession are recorded in the Old Testament? Don’t be too quick to say there’s a bunch of them, for the whole concept of demon possession is rare indeed, at least as it is presented in the gospels. So why in the gospels?
It isn’t easy to find direct Scriptural guidance for that question; most of the verses cited on the subject require us to draw inferences, rather than providing direct commentary. Yet there is evidence if we are willing to consider historical context and discern what is going on… and even then we will be drawing inferences that can’t be proven in the usual classical sense, so I would personally offer them as the subject of thoughtful reflection as opposed to Biblical “proof.”
What is it that the gospels are telling us about; what is going on? That’s an easy one, for they tell us about the arrival and ministry of Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ. If you are the Enemy, are you happy to welcome Jesus to the earth?
Knowing why Jesus has come, you would probably not be thrilled, for the battle is on!
So far in Mark, we’ve seen Jesus in Galilee on His Kingdom Tour, and we have also seen some instances of people possessed by “impure spirits” who are drawing attention away from His message, they are providing a distraction. They are also afraid.
In Mark 3 we even see some teachers of the Law who ascribe the Holy Spirit’s work through Jesus as the work of demons… that is quite the distraction. Can you begin to see the strategy here? Demon possessed people crying out that Jesus is the Son of God; they were telling the truth… but who is going to take their word for it? A politician in an election year wants endorsements, but only a complete fool wants the endorsement of the KKK!
Jesus is fighting a spiritual war throughout His ministry, and in the end, He is nailed to a cross to shut Him up, the biggest strategic miscalculation in history, and Jesus wins His battle. A short time later, the church launches at Pentecost, and almost from the start, the same tactics are used against the church, but the Apostles, like Jesus have command of the situation, and demons are chased out of the afflicted. Eventually the Enemy changes tactics and cases of demon possession once again are very rare, at least as they are seen in the gospels.
Is there demon possession now?
Again I’ll give the lawyer’s answer: “It all depends…”
Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11
After the scene in the last section where Jesus announces that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Mark recounts another Sabbath Scene, this time in a synagogue, where Jesus heals a man with an injured hand. It seems that there were some present who were interested in causing problems, and Jesus, no doubt being aware of this, asked the injured man to step forward:
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
I’m guessing they also remained hopeful…
Jesus healed the man. Mark tells us in verse 5 that Jesus was angry and distressed at the hard hearts of those who sought an excuse to act against Him… and afterwards, they began to plot to kill Him. Mark tells us that the group consisted of Pharisees and Herodians, who were of the party of Herod, the Vassal king of Judea, son of the guy who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem.
Parallel Text: Matthew 12:13-21
With the plot to kill Him underway, Jesus and His disciples go to the Sea Of Galilee, followed by ever-growing crowds of people. Many, maybe hundreds pushed to be close to Him, hoping to be healed, and security became an issue with the pressing of bodies and precautions had to be taken, so great was the rush of the crowds.
People possessed by impure spirits became a problem, as the spirits within them cried out that He was the Son of God, and Jesus silenced them. Can it be any wonder that both the Pharisees and Herodians wanted Jesus out of the way? Neither Herod nor his partisans wanted him deposed and replaced by a legitimate king. The Pharisees, pose another interesting question for us to consider.
It has long been my view, that the Pharisees, of all people should have known exactly who and what they were dealing with in Jesus of Nazareth. As I’ve mentioned before, they knew the prophecies and they knew the timing; they saw the prophecies playing out with Jesus, and though it may sound odd to point this out, they not only had the testimony of John, but that of the impure spirits regarding His identity.
It seems apparent to me, however, that they did not see the Messiah they wanted in Jesus, for they could care less about redemption, they wanted power. Jesus was not the king who would defeat the Romans and rule a powerful and influential Israel with the Pharisees being the center of Jewish life. No sir, they saw a Kingdom that was not an earthly one developing before them, one that would undermine their position instead of strengthening it, so it had to be stopped at all costs.
We all might be well advised to carefully consider what lessons God has for us today in all of this..
After Jesus appoints the Twelve, things start to become strange; something isn’t quite right in this story.
Jesus and the disciples are in a house, and the crowd pushes in, there are so many people, Jesus and His party can’t finish their meal. Jesus’ Mother and brothers hear He is there and set out to “take charge” of Him, for they are sure He’s crazy. His family might have something in common with my family… but this isn’t the picture most of us expect to hear at this point; Jesus out of His mind? Why right now, He’s a rock star! (figuratively speaking)
But wait, there’s more!
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
You know, these guys really should have thought about what they said before they said it…
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever curses and swears against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
This is a masterpiece, a classic of rhetorical discourse, a thing of utter beauty.
Borrowing from this paragraph, Abraham Lincoln crafted his most important speech, the one that lost him the senate in 1858, but won him the White House in 1860. Lincoln isn’t the only one who has ripped this little bit or oratory off in the centuries since. Not only did Jesus annihilate their accusation, not only did He crush their credibility with those they spewed this foolishness to, He showed them that they would spend their future in very warm climes.
He also has taught us that we should avoid attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the work of the devil. Mark makes this clear in the next verse, pointing out that these guys had claimed Jesus was possessed by an impure spirit.
There is one more odd thing in this story. Remember, Jesus’ family was on their way to “take charge” of Him… well they’ve arrived. They send someone inside to tell Jesus they were outside, and Jesus doesn’t come running:
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
This is a tough few verses, but we should understand this concept. I don’t think it would be fair to say that Jesus didn’t love His earthly family; Jesus loves everyone and died for all of us, so great is His love. Yet at that moment, well-meaning as His family was, they were working against God’s will. In Christ, we are God’s sons and daughters, we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters, members of the family. Outside of this context, we place ourselves in opposition to Him; not good.
We know that this changed, and His family came to become His followers, so this isn’t like what He told those teachers of the Law earlier, but it is something we should be aware of and guard against.
Well, for me anyway, this has been an odd passage, as though there is more going on that would have met the eye on that occasion. Monday we’ll be moving into chapter four, and a more familiar view of Jesus teaching.
Parable of the Sower
Parallel Texts: Matthew 13:1-23; Luke 8:1-15
With the beginning of chapter four, we see a shift in Mark’s narrative into a battery of parables. Parables are interesting things, little stories that teach a moral lesson. They are not literal, and the stories themselves are not intended to be understood literally; they are instead, metaphors. The literal interpretation, for you literal fans, of a parable is that it is a metaphor… just so we are clear.
Teachers use parables to teach moral lessons in a non-threatening way, so that each listener may perceive the part of the parable that applies to his or her situation, without the teacher needing to point fingers at any certain individual, which enables the lesson to sink in more deeply than if it needed to be filtered through a defensive perimeter. Jesus made frequent use of parables, but He is certainly not alone in doing so; there are parables in both the Old and New Testaments, used by multiple writers, as well as in secular history. In American history, Abraham Lincoln is especially famous for his clever use of parables in both legal and political argumentation. Indeed, modern-day speakers still use parables in their teaching; Ronald Reagan was known to make frequent use of them, for instance.
The parable of the sower is the first in this series, and is commonly known in churches today. For our purposes, I’ll let you read the text and then we’ll talk about Jesus’ explanation when you get back…
Jesus explains His parable to a smaller group after His teaching session from the boat beginning in verse 10. Isn’t it interesting that He begins to explain by quoting Isaiah 6? Jesus ties all of this to His preaching on the Kingdom. For those who are outside of His Kingdom, these matters will be a mystery, but for those within his kingdom, they will be plain, and now the Isaiah quote. Doesn’t this remind you of Paul’s discussion of the how the things of God are but “foolishness” to the world, and the wisdom of this world is but but foolishness to God?
Jesus goes on to elaborate on His metaphor, by describing the various soils that the farmer’s seed contacts, how the birds gobble up the seed on the path, and the lack of roots in the rocky soil and how that causes the seed to sprout quickly and then shrivel and die when the hot sun shines down on the young plants. Then He points out how the seed that falls in good soil develops roots and withstands the sun, growing to maturity.
I’ve heard countless sermons that focus on the rocky soil and that have gone on to discuss those who come to faith, are very excited and then fall away. I haven’t had the pleasure of listening to very many who actually noticed the fact that in verse 11, Jesus tied this into a Kingdom context. His focus wasn’t so much on the products of the rocky soil, but rather on what happens in good soil: Those seeds grow to maturity, and then produce more seeds. Some seeds produce 30 new seeds, or 60, or even 100. These are His disciples, who in turn produce more disciples for the Kingdom, some 30, some 60, and some 100. Disciples who make more disciples are the object of all of this, not the rocky soil and falling away…
What kind of soil are we planted in? Can a mentor (disciple) work with that soil and remove the rocks that are in the soil of a “younger” brother?
Interesting question, wouldn’t you say?
Parallel Text: Like 8:16-18
This brief section contains two more short ones, the Parable of the Lampstands and the Warning for Hearers. First, let’s talk about lamps…
Lamps and lampstands are used several times in the New Testament as references to the Truth. Certainly the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ was something that had been hidden since the Garden of Eden, which is probably why Paul referred to it as a mystery. The time was soon to come when everything would be made known, and Jesus’ Apostles were the ones who would make it known fully, beginning with Pentecost. Clearly, His message is that there will be no secrets when the time comes.
The second shot parable is slightly more difficult to catch the meaning of. We should see right off that when Jesus says that “whoever has will be given more…” in verse 25, Jesus isn’t talking about material possessions.
“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
The “measure” mentioned in verse 24 is the care you use in considering what you hear. So, “Consider carefully” what you hear means that we should listen very carefully and really consider it; great care in consideration of what we hear, will yield great benefits to our understanding of the truths that we will shine for the world to see about His gospel. If we take little or no care in this, the truth will do us no good at all, and that could have tragic results.
Thus, we can see that whoever has (truth) will be given more (truth).
Have you ever listened to a sermon that was really great, and had the guy in front of you, who spent the whole time fidgeting and looking at his watch, then comment how much he got out of the message?
How about those times when you were busy fidgeting and looking at your watch? Were those the times you left feeling as though you really got something wonderful from the message?
Well, maybe you have, but I haven’t! Nope, not when I wasn’t paying attention.
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Parallel Text: None
When I was in school, I was pretty good in science. When it was time for the test on seeds and plants and how plants grow, I could recall all the answers to the questions. I could say that the cells in the plants grow and divide, and that the DNA of the plant determines how they will grow and what parts form and all of that, but can I say that I understand how all of this happens; really understand? No.
Maybe you understand it, but I don’t, even though I could explain what I learned about it. Maybe you noticed the subtle difference between knowing about and understanding…
In this parable, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom; after all, he is on the Kingdom Tour… He’s talking up the Kingdom. I know a lot about the Kingdom, and even though there are those who know more about it than I do, I know more than most. Yet, can I say I fully understand it? No, not at all, for there is a component within the Kingdom that I cannot begin to understand fully, even though I know about it: The life power of God.
Down through the years, I have planted a great many seeds, maybe that’s why I do this radio program and blog on my website I’m not sure that I fully understand it, but I know that if you and I plant enough seeds, a crop will grow, and if we keep our eyes and ears open, we will see and hear evidence that tells us that a potion of the crop is ready for harvest. Hopefully, we’ll decide to get involved in that harvest and help to bring some of it in, along with unknown numbers of others all around the globe, for this is how the Kingdom works. I have harvested many in whom others planted the seeds, and many others have brought in a harvest from seeds I planted; it’s all good!
This what Jesus is trying to teach here: Plant seeds, lots of seeds. Pay attention, and bring in the harvest when and where the time is ripe. We don’t really need to understand every detail, we just need to plant, pay attention and harvest.
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
Parallel Text: Matthew 13:31-35
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is one of the best known of Jesus’ teachings; we cite it often as a teaching on faith, but that is not what this parable is about. The faith connection comes from Matthew 17:20, which is not a parable. Rather, the Parable of the Mustard Seed is about the Kingdom. I doubt that Jesus was intending to give a lecture on botany here, but He clearly used frames of reference His listeners were familiar with: Mustard seeds are tiny, yet they grow into very large plants.
That is the point of the metaphor, tiny seed becomes very big plant. How does this apply to the Kingdom?
If I was an atheist, I would be asking myself how it is possible that an obscure travelling teacher from first century Galilee is still a controversial figure all over the world twenty centuries after his death. Yes, that’s right, a carpenter’s son born in a stable who grew up in flyover country became the most influential figure in history, yet he never traveled more than a hundred miles or so from his birthplace.
After his death, a ragtag bunch of misfits from the provinces, just a handful of them mind you, unleashed a revolutionary idea in the minor provincial capital of Jerusalem. They were opposed by the greatest power the world had ever seen, and Mr. Atheist, you are still opposing this teaching today. How could this have happened? It’s simply incredible!
As Jesus told us, the Kingdom is like that. A tiny seed grows into the largest of garden plants, big enough to give shelter to the birds; it just wouldn’t seem likely at all… but there it is. It isn’t reported in the text, but I have a hunch this is what Jesus explained to His disciples. Yes, they were obscure, true, they weren’t important big shots from famous and powerful families, and they were young, very young. Yet, in spite of all outward appearances, they made a huge mark on history, and more importantly, they made a huge difference for God’s salvation plan, in spite of all apparent circumstances.
Don’t you suppose that Jesus would tell us the same thing? I doubt that the President of the United States is listening to my radio program, not the Prime Minister of Great Britain, nor, frankly anybody of fame or power. More likely, those who listen are just like his disciples, regular folks, no outward appearance of influence or authority. You and I are mere mustard seeds in a sense, small, not really noticed in our celebrity crazed world, yet full of life’s power and potential. Should we allow it, He can and will do a mighty work in and through us and His Kingdom will grow and flourish in spite of all the odds, in spite of the naysayers, and in spite of the chuckles and laughs of others. Why?
That’s an easy one: Because the Kingdom is like that!
God bless you my friends. We draw to the end of our 30 minutes and I want you to know I am so glad to be back with you and want to pray with you before we close.
I hope you will support this program and radio program – Lord is working through many lives to help us to plant the seeds of his Kingdom. Please be with each and every one of us who want to share the Gospel.
May God bless you my friends – this is Cathy Merritt Signing out
That is: email@example.com
Have a Blessed Week