Our Expertise at Missing Jesus"These realities are not simple in the sense of easy or shallow."
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four. His brevity demands that we must be looking for the insights that are dropped like theological grenades. A breathless pronouncement tells us this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). But what should be clearly obvious and undeniable is not. At every point, Jesus must dynamite our narrow perceptions of reality. We cannot conceive truth without His revelation.
Don’t Say Anything!
Note the staccato manner of explosive statements: immediately after Jesus is baptized, He reinvents actual fishermen to become “fishers of men” (1:17); then numerous healings are followed, shockingly, by the Lord’s stern warning “See that you say nothing to anyone” (1:43, NIV). That shakes us to the core. What better proof that He is the Son of God than powerful healing? Aren’t we supposed to tell the world about Him? Isn’t that the whole point? Jesus, seeing something they did not, commands “Stop! Don’t say a word about Me!”
His methods always oppose ours. Revelation is not reducible to common sense. Those who follow Him most closely are missing something profound. It is very possible for a good churchgoer to claim they know Jesus and yet really know nothing about Him. Maybe we need to understand the Good News clearer before we proclaim it. Jesus will have nothing to do with apathetic, uninformed, incompetent Christianity. He will patiently and lovingly and exhaustively demolish every insufficient conception of the Gospel.
I Am Not Good
The miracles continue with a paralytic both healed and forgiven. Matthew, a despised tax-collector, joins the group, then Mark’s gospel continues with the first of many debates with the Pharisees about the Sabbath. But here another bombshell erupts. Jesus says, “It’s not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2:17). He turns all religions upside down. If you think you can put yourself together or maintain a true spiritual life without Jesus, then He is not for you. Jesus comes only to those who recognize their fundamental sickness—which means He only receives those who are truly desperate for Him. If you don’t recognize your absolute need of a Savior, you will never need Jesus. The perception that we are fundamentally good but merely misguided is possibly the most serious perspective that the Gospel of Jesus must blast away. To truly hear anything Jesus says we must start from this shocking position: I am not good. Jesus rejects any concept of humanity that obscures our devastating sinfulness and His recreative remedy.
Unforgivable Sins and Theological Demons
Healing on the Sabbath offended the religious establishment so deeply that they began plotting Jesus’ murder (3:6). When people trained to recognize the Messiah want to kill Him, we are forced to look at the depths of deceitful spiritual blindness. In another unsettling eruption, Jesus commands demons He has just exorcised not to make Him known. Through a series of detonations, Mark strives to arrest our attention to the staccato-like action in this briefest of the gospels; Jesus Christ the Son of God; miracles one after another; eating grain on the Sabbath; startling teachings; exorcisms—then after planting this live minefield He says, “Stop, stop! Don’t talk about Me!” (3:12). What is Jesus doing?
To add insult to injury, Jesus informs us that there is a sin that is unforgivable (3:20-30). Boom! He distances Himself from His human family because even they missed who He was (3:31-34). Blam!
If you aren’t braced for who Jesus is and what He is truly about, you will miss Him also. Mark tells us that we should come to every word and action of Jesus with humble openness. If not, we too will fail to understand Him—every time.
What we find is that the demons know exactly who Jesus is (1:24). Dennis Kinlaw challenges our claim to know Jesus with this comment: “The devils knew who Jesus was, the Holy One of God. It was the teachers of the Law who missed Him.” That contrast gets at the explosive nature of Mark’s gospel. Out of love Jesus came to decimate any false philosophy or religiosity.
The Ways that Jesus Teaches: Parables
By the time we get to Mark 4 we should have learned to tread lightly and humbly. Our prayerful approach should be braced for anything. “Lord, don’t let me unthinkingly skip through the parable of the soils nor the story about the storm.” Maybe I need to allow the reverberations of the preceding theological grenades to ring through my heart. It can be blasphemous for us to go through the motions of the gospel stories, the sermons and the altar calls with a hardness of heart which says, “I’ve heard this all before. I am doing alright.” Mark’s stark, unflinching gospel blows up that attitude. The fear of missing Jesus provokes this prayer, “Lord, speak. But, let me stop long enough to hear You.”
C. H. Dodd says: “A parable is a metaphor…drawn from everyday life, the meaning of which is sufficiently in doubt to tease the mind to active thought.” The parables shatter our normal ways of thinking and acting. The parable of the sower and the good and bad soil is told in only five verses (4:3-8). The Lord explains the meaning of them in eight. It takes Him more time to explain it than to tell it because we are masters at missing the Truth found in Him alone.
If you have ever thought the Gospel is simple, the Cross elementary or sanctification easy, you are wrong. These realities are not simple in the sense of easy or shallow. They are the deepest mysteries which demand a total engagement of heart and mind. This Jesus is God speaking to His own creatures. He is revealing truth that transforms every aspect of humanity. He demands that we submit to the fullness of reality He is and offers.
Look for those grenades everywhere in Mark. The parable of the sower and the seed is more than four neat points. In the middle of telling it Jesus says, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (4:13). And a bit later, He shakes everything up with, “Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more” (4:24). That sentence stopped me short. If you listen to Jesus, you are automatically accountable. But the most shocking blast begins in verse 11:
“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
I thought it was confusing before but now I am undone!
I am not sure if this set of circumstances set off alarms in us like it should. Let Mark’s logic confront you. He offers the gospel in Jesus, a handful of miracles and a parable, and then Jesus says that His parables are meant to stop people, lest they listen and they are forgiven! That is another explosion Jesus detonates against my constricted perception. A straightforward reading can be quite confusing. Isn’t Jesus trying to show everyone who He is? Doesn’t He want everyone to know the meaning of the gospel immediately? He has given the parable of the sower and explained how the seeds respond to soils that differ in their receptivity.
Perhaps we come to Jesus with a cavalier attitude. He has warned His followers about listening too quickly, too glibly. Jesus reminds all who seek Him that His every word and action detonate a conflagration in our narrow, selfish, prideful mindsets. Everything about Jesus is powerful. His self-offering strongly defies the way we think. Many will not understand and their ears will be shut up. We must come to Jesus, the One who is the Gospel, willing for Him to demolish anything that keeps us from looking only to Him. It is impossible to be forgiven if we do not comprehend what Jesus is actually saying and offering.
Next issue: What Makes One a Christian?
Illustration: Copyright © Yongsung Kim, Licensed by Havenlight.