Hard Sayings of Jesus – A Study in Mark

Hard Sayings of Jesus is a verse by verse study through the Gospel of Mark.

August 2, 2020: Scattered Seed

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29

Mark 4:26-29 When a farmer plants seed and it grows by night, when he sees the seed sprouted in the morning, he has just worked as a partner with God. Man has done what he could do – plant the seed; and God has done what only He can do: grow the seed.

This shows that the word of God works invisibly within us. God promised that His word would accomplish the purpose for which He sends it. So when you hear the word, it works in you – even as you sleep. It works in you spiritually, in a way that is invisible to our eyes. “The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.”

In our own efforts without relying on God we will fail.

August 9, 2020: The Mustard Seed

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 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.”

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark 4:30-34

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is not so much a ‘story’ as an observation of the normal course of nature. It is a memorable observation which, like the parable of the sower, has been preserved in all three Synoptic Gospels.

The theme is a familiar one: ‘Great oaks from little acorns grow’. Those who witnessed the initial proclamation of the kingdom of God must not despise small beginnings, nor should they be impatient for the full majesty of God’s kingdom to be revealed. The message is clearly related to that of the previous parable, but presented here in a simpler form, with the focus on the contrast between beginning and end rather than on the process of growth.

August 16, 2020: He Calms the Storm

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 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?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35‭-‬41

The storm in today’s passage awed and dismayed the disciples in their boat on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is a place-name meaning “circle.” A freshwater lake nestled in the hills of northern Palestine. Its surface is nearly 700 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, some 30 miles to the west. The nearby hills of Galilee reach an altitude of 1,500 feet above sea level. To the east are the mountains of Gilead with peaks of more than 3,300 feet. To the north are the snow-covered Lebanon Mountains. Fed chiefly by the Jordan River, which originates in the foothills of the Lebanon Mountains, the Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long north and south and eight miles wide at its greatest east-west distance. Because of its location, it is subject to sudden and violent storms that are usually of short duration.

August 23, 2020: Obey Him

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41

Oftentimes when people would encounter God in Scripture, they would be afraid.

After calming the sea, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their fear, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Faith here refers to faith in the divine power present in Jesus’ person. The incident reveals their utter dependence on Jesus; he is their refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble, their comforter, who can still the fury of the oppressors though they roar like the waves of the sea. Consequently, they should not fear.

Faith is clearly not something that is inborn; it can ebb and flow, depending on circumstances, and is most likely to fizzle in situations of danger. Despite the disciples’ fear and lack of faith, Jesus muzzles the storm and preserves their lives. What will he do when people show faith?

August 30, 2020: Son of the God Most High

 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Mark 5:1-8

Jesus demonstrated his power over nature to rescue the disciples. Now he demonstrates his command over supernatural enemies to deliver people from evil. After the section in Mark on the parables concerning the Kingdom of God, Mark includes Jesus’ miracle of calming the sea and then his casting out the demon from the possessed man. Jesus used the parables to teach about the Kingdom of God. Now we see Jesus and the Kingdom of God in action.

September 6, 2020: My Name is Legion

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned

Mark 5:9-13

We come face to face with evil just as people did in the time of Christ. However, so many of us are less likely to understand that it can have supernatural origins.

Jesus’ victory over wily death-dealing spirits returns to one of Mark’s themes: Jesus’ power over the demonic, the dark side of reality, which enslaves and dehumanizes human beings. Jesus crosses to the opposite side of the lake and has the strength to rout even the most severe cases of evil spirits with sensational effects.

September 13, 2020: Get Out of Here

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

Mark 5:14-17

In Mark 5:14-17, the townspeople’s response to a deranged man’s restoration is startling. When the community arrives, they are not frightened by what has happened to the pigs but by seeing this man now clothed and in his right mind! They do not rejoice at his recovery but are afraid. What is so scary about seeing a person sitting at the feet of Jesus? The community had desperately tried to tame him with chains and fetters, all to no avail. Now Jesus frees him from the chains of demons with a word.

September 20, 2020: Tell What Jesus Has Done

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So, the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Mark 5:18-20 NIV

We are to tell others about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. The man cured of demons in our passage is now a witness for Jesus.

September 27, 2020: I Will Be Healed

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

Mark 5:21-29 NIV

The people in our passage today were in desperate need of help. Falling at the feet of another was done only in recognition of someone of great status, such as a king. When Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet, he was paying significant tribute to Jesus’ power and authority.

October 4, 2020: She Will Rise

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”  Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:35-43 NIV

October 11 2020: A Prophet Without Honor

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.  Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Mark 6:1-6 NIV

Jesus’ friends relatives and neighbors looked at him and only saw the son of a carpenter. Jesus moves on from the area where his extraordinary works would seem to guarantee astounding success and travels to his own country. Mark never explains the rationale behind Jesus’ movements. We only know that Jesus intends to proclaim the message throughout Galilee.

October 18, 2020: The Twelve

Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.  These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.  Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.  And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”  They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. Mark 6:7-13 NIV

Jesus launched His public ministry by calling Israel to repentance; now he expands that mission by sending the Twelve to their unbelieving countrymen to preach repentance, to cast out demons, and to anoint the sick. Jesus invests them with his authority over unclean spirits and appoints them to travel two by two, satisfying the requirement of two or three witnesses and providing them with some measure of protection.

October 25, 2020: Jesus’s Name

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”  Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”  But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”  For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. Mark 6:14-17 NIV

Herod the Great had ten wives, and every son had the name Herod as the family designation. Herod Antipas, whom Mark identifies only as Herod, was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace, a Samaritan. He was raised in Rome and served as “tetrarch” (ruler of a fourth part) of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39.A-16 Mark’s mention of him as king may reflect popular usage or may be intentionally ironic.

November 8, 2020: The Head of John the Baptist

For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So, Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.  Finally, the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”  She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.  At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So, he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:18-29 NIV 

John the Baptist was sent to prepare the world for Christ’s coming. He proclaimed God’s message despite what others thought of him or threats to his own safety.

January 24, 2021: Feeding the Five Thousand

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.  By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”  But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages ! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”   “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”  Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. Mark 6:32-44 NIV

Jesus performs a miracle with food. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. The crowd races around the lake in its relentless pursuit of Jesus and beats the boat to its destination, further proof of Jesus’ immense popularity. The crowd could hardly outrun the boat to the other side of the lake, a distance of fifteen to twenty miles. In springtime, the Jordan is high, and the crowds could not have easily crossed it. You give them something to eat. The disciples want the crowds to go off to buy their own food and ask Jesus to send them away. Earlier they lived off the hospitality of others ; now Jesus insists that they are to return the favor. Perhaps no story in the Bible, other than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, confronts us with this reality of our Lord’s deity more directly than the feeding of the five thousand. The apostles had to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. They had to learn obedience just as Jesus perfectly obeyed His Father.

January 31, 2021: Middle of The Lake

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.   47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. 53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. Mark 6:45-56

Jesus compels his disciples to get into the boat to set sail for Bethsaida before dispersing the crowds, who have eaten their fill. Mark gives us no explanation why he needs to force the disciples to weigh anchor and leave, but he dispatches them along with the crowd and goes up the mountain to pray alone. Separated from their Master, the disciples undergo an ordeal, fighting against the waves. A storm does not endanger their lives as earlier, but they find themselves stuck in the middle of the lake.

February 7, 2021: Traditions

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles. Mark 7:1-4

Many ancient Jews closely followed traditions. The arguments over washing hands and food laws divide into two parts. The first reports Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and teachers of the law over the issue of eating with unwashed hands. These religious directors are completely oblivious to the miracles that God is working through Jesus and only notice inconsequential matters. Jesus has miraculously fed the crowds in the desert with an abundance of bread, but they only comment about the disciples eating bread with unclean hands.

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