Mark

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The Gospel According to Mark is considered one of the Synoptic Gospels, which means "with one view" along with Matthew and Luke. But of the three Synoptics, only Mark omits an infancy narrative and picks up the story of Jesus at the point where he came to John to be baptized.

The temptation by Satan in the wilderness is mentioned only in passing, with no details other than it was forty days with wild beasts, and angels ministered to him afterward. Mark is the Reader's Digest gospel. Then after John was arrested, Jesus began his career as a faith healer and preacher in the northern part of Israel.

As in Matthew he first called Simon, Andrew, and also James and John the sons of Zebedee to be his first disciples and become "fishers of men". They all left what they were doing and followed without question.

Jesus' first miracle was to cast out an unclean spirit from a man in a synagogue in Capernaum, thus establishing his authority such that even unclean spirits obeyed him.

His second miracle was to heal Simon's mother-in-law of a fever. Mark was not one of the Twelve disciples, but he was an assistant to Simon Peter when he made his way to Rome in the 60's AD. Mark was Robin to Peter's Batman, in much the same way Luke was Paul's assistant. Mark's gospel, therefore, included a lot of details that must have been provided by Peter himself, and some of these were focused on his house in Capernaum.

Later on Simon Peter tells Jesus that they left everything to be with him, which implies that Simon left even his wife behind. And he might have felt free to do that if his wife was deceased, and only his mother-in-law remained in his house, who could be cared by adult grandchildren. Scripture never actually says that Simon's wife was alive at this time.

After Simon's mother-in-law was healed, the whole city brought their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus to be healed, and it was a busy night. But he would not let the demons speak as he cast them out, because they knew who Jesus was, and he wanted to establish that by his works rather than by reputation.

The next morning Simon found Jesus praying in the wilderness outside the town and said the people wanted him to go back and resume his healing, but Jesus said he wanted to go to other towns and preach also, because that was the reason he was sent.

He healed a leper by touching him, which was strictly forbidden by the Law of Moses, but then he charged the man to perform his outpatient duties in accordance with the law with a priest of the Temple. This increased Jesus' fame to the point where he could no longer actually enter the cities, but had to remain in the desert, but even so, sick people sought him out.

Eventually Jesus had made all the rounds of Galilee and made his way back to Simon's house in Capernaum and the word got around that Jesus was back. A great crowd gathered around to be healed or just to see what was happening. A man sick with palsy was delivered to Jesus by the expedient of actually tearing off Peter's roof and lowering him down. Jesus was so impressed by the man's faith that he said, "Your sins are forgiven you" but this upset certain of the scribes who were supervising all these events. Only God could forgive sins, they said. Jesus said to them, "What is easier to say, 'your sins are forgiven' or 'take up your sick bed and walk'?" Then to prove that he had power to forgive sins, he told the crippled man, "Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house" and that's exactly what he did.

Then Jesus went to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and chose Levi son of Alphaeus to follow him, and this might be the same man as Matthew, a tax collector for the Romans. Jesus dined with this man in his house, but the scribes and Pharisees objected to Jesus eating and drinking with a sinner. Jesus said essentially that he was like a doctor who treated sick people. People who thought they were without sin were "healthy" and had no need of a doctor. "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

The scribes took issue with the way Jesus' disciples would not fast like John's disciples used to do, and Jesus said, "The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast." As in Matthew, they took issue with the disciples picking grain on Saturday, but Jesus said, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath". When that lesson didn't sink in they tried to get Jesus for healing a withered hand on the Sabbath but Jesus rebuked them for trying to stop him from doing good all to adhere to the letter of the Law. And Mark says that sparked the beginning of the conspiracy against Jesus by a cabal of Pharisees and Herodians.

Jesus withdrew from them and went south to Judea, and north into Lebanon, and ordained his Twelve disciples:

1. Simon Peter;

2. James Zebedee

3. John the brother of James

4. Andrew

5. Philip

6. Bartholomew

7. Matthew (possibly Levi the Tax Collector)

8. Thomas

9. James the son of Alphaeus

10. Thaddaeus (also called Jude)

11. Simon the Canaanite,

12. Judas Iscariot

The scribes and Pharisees said that Jesus cast out demons by the prince of demons, Beelzebub. Jesus replied, "If Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end." Also Jesus warned them that whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit (by attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan) will never have forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.

In chapter four Jesus begins to teach in parables. Most of these were recorded in Matthew because both Matthew and Mark were working from a document called Q, or Quelle, German for "source" which was a collection of the sayings of Jesus. So it is at this time that I will steer off into a comparison of various English translations of one verse.

Mark 4:4

King James Version: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

New King James Version: And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.

New International Version: As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.

New Living Translation: As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it.

English Standard Version: And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

Contemporary English Version While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds.

Young's Literal Translation: And it came to pass, in the sowing, some fell by the way, and the fowls of the heaven did come and devour it.

Wycliffe's Translation: And while he soweth, some seed felled about the way, and birds of heaven came, and ate it.

MARK 5-8

When Mark recounts the story of the woman with the issue of blood who touches the hem of Jesus' garment and is healed, it differs in that Jesus can feel the power go out of him, and that's what made him stop and ask who touched his clothes. Presumably Jesus, as God the Son, already knew who it was, but he asked who it was in order to make it into a teachable moment.

The head of the local synagogue named Jarius had a sick twelve year-old daughter, and Jesus was making his way to his house to cure her, but the crowd pressed him, and he was delayed until the girl had in fact died. Jesus said, no, she's only sleeping, and this made many of the people laugh at him. Jesus took only Peter, James and John to the house, together with her mother and father, and he made everyone else wait outside. Then he took the dead girl by the hand and said, Talitha cumi, which means "Damsel, awake!" And she did, to everyone's astonishment.

It was beyond the imagination of the people of that time, before the Resurrection, that someone could die and live again. Jesus performed selected resurrections to prepare the people to believe his own resurrection. At the same time, he didn't want to encourage the crowds to grow substantially larger and more desperate, so he tried to limit the news of what he did here with the girl.

Not only did Jesus feel the power go out of him that one time, but in his hometown he could not perform miracles because the locals knew he was just the son of the town carpenter, and were offended that he took it upon himself to teach. In Mark, Jesus needed other people to have a minimum level of faith in order to do his works among them.

In Matthew Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount, and in Luke he gives the Sermon on the Plain, and there is much overlap between the two sermons, such as the Beatitudes and turn the other cheek. But those teachings do not appear in Mark's gospel.

Jesus sent the Twelve out to increase the geographical footprint of his ministry, such that even King Herod heard of him, and feared that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead after he beheaded him. Others said Jesus was Elijah come down from heaven. Everyone agreed he was a prophet.

When Mark recounts the incident where Jesus walks on the water, he does not mention that Peter asks to come out onto the surface of the lake like a showoff, as he does in Matthew, despite Mark having full access to Peter's eyewitness account. This tells me that Matthew either made that part up, or Peter was embarrassed about his faith wavering, which caused him to begin to sink into the water. The third possibility, that Mark omitted that part to keep his gospel brief, is not likely because it was yet another teaching moment about the importance of faith.

Mark 6 includes the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, which agrees with Matthew 14 and Luke 9, but Mark 8 and Matthew 15 add another miracle of feeding four thousand, which does not appear in Luke. One time when Jesus got into a boat the disciples forgot to take food, except for one loaf, but it was their complaint which irritated Jesus. He asked them how many baskets of bread were left over when he fed the five thousand, and they said twelve. He asked them how many baskets of bread were left over when he fed the four thousand, and they said seven. So Jesus asks them what was their problem.

When Jesus healed a blind man it seemed to take two doses of healing power. After the first healing touch, the blind man said he saw men looking like walking trees. After the second healing touch, he could see men clearly. This is in keeping with the flavor of Mark as the polar opposite of the gospel of John. Where John paints the deity of Christ, Mark focuses on the humanity of Christ.

At Caesarea Philippi Peter told Jesus that he believed Jesus was the Messiah, but in Mark, unlike in Matthew, Jesus had been calling Simon "Peter" or "The Rock" long before this, and it may have been the case that Peter had obtained that nickname when he was first called because he was a large man who went around as Jesus' bodyguard.

Jesus revealed to them that he would suffer many things at the hands of the scribes and Pharisees, be put to death, only to rise again on the third day. Peter rebuked Jesus for saying such things, and Jesus answered by calling Peter "Satan" because by his words he had demonstrated that he savored the things of men (such as long life) over the things of God.

"Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

MARK 9-12

When Jesus mentioned that the Son of Man must rise from the dead to fulfill the scriptures, his disciples said, well, don't the scribes say that Elijah must come back first? And Jesus had to admit they did say that, but he wiggled out of the problem by saying that Elijah already did come back and he was John the Baptist.

Jesus cast out a demon that his disciples could not cast out, and he explained, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."

Once again Jesus told his disciples that the Son of Man would be killed by men, and then rise the third day, and once again his disciples refused to understand what he was saying, and by now they were afraid to ask for clarification.

When the disciples got into an argument over who should be first among them, Jesus said, "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all."

John told Jesus that another man had been casting out demons in Jesus' name, and they forbade him to do it because he was not one of the official Twelve. Jesus told John not to do that again, "For he that is not against us is on our part."

Jesus' teaching on marriage is much more restrictive in Mark than in Matthew. He does not allow remarriage after divorce, calling it adultery, even if infidelity is involved. Matthew for his part allows infidelity to serve as grounds for divorce.

Some of the disciples tried to stop small children from coming to Jesus to receive a laying on of his hands, but Jesus insisted that they let the children come to him. Entering the Kingdom is not something that comes with adult reflection but child-like awe and belief.

When a man kneeled before Jesus and asked what he may do to receive eternal life, Jesus indicated that he follow the commandments:

1. Do not commit adultery 2. Do not kill 3. Do not steal 4. Do not bear false witness 5. Defraud not 6. Honour thy father and mother.

All of these are the commandments given to men concerning how they should treat other men, not how to serve God. The kneeling man said he had kept all of those commandments from his youth. So Jesus told him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and join his band of followers. Again, a commandment that involves serving men rather than God. But the man could not do this last thing, because he was very rich. Jesus said it was example of how hard it would be for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

Peter said he and his disciples left everything behind to follow Jesus. The Lord said everyone who left behind all their possessions for his sake would receive a hundredfold in this life, and eternal life in the world to come. This forms the basis of the Word of Faith movement, or the Prosperity Gospel, also known as Name It And Claim It, or Blab It And Grab It. Send a hundred dollars to the preacher on TV and Jesus will send you $10,000, just like he said in Mark 10:30. This is a particularly loathsome doctrine that preys on the insecurity of the very poor.

James and John then pissed off the other ten disciples by asking to sit at Jesus right and left hand in the Kingdom, but Jesus rebuked them, saying it was not his place to grant such an honor. "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

So now it was Palm Sunday, and Jesus sent two of his disciples to fetch a colt, which he then rode into Jerusalem as people spread their garments and tree branches on the road before him, crying, "Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest." All of them believed he was the Messiah, the descendant of David foretold by the prophets who would be King of the whole World and restore Israel to the first place among nations.

Jesus did a grand loop and went back out to Bethany 1.5 miles east of Jerusalem for the night. The next morning Jesus was hungry, and he saw a fig tree with leaves but no fruit, for it was not yet the season for figs to appear, and Jesus, being the Creator, knew that, but he still cursed the fig tree and said no one would eat fruit from it ever again. This was a parable-in-action. The fig tree represented Israel, which refused to accept Jesus' teachings. It, and Israel, were doomed to wither.

Then Jesus went into the Temple and he went on his holy rampage, casting out those who bought and sold religious paraphenalia and overturned the tables of the moneychangers. That occupied most of Monday, then Jesus returned to his home base in Bethany, the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus.

Tuesday morning Peter noticed that the fig tree which Jesus cursed had withered up. Jesus tried to explain that anyone could do the things he could do, he was a man who had tapped the power of God by his faith, and if any other man had such faith, with not a speck of doubt, they could throw an entire mountain into the sea. "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."

What he didn't tell them was that the faith which moves mountains comes with a shovel.

"And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses."

The scribes and Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus with word tricks, but Jesus answered them well, as was previously documented in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus summarized all of the law and the prophets to them thus: "Love God and love your neighbor."

When a widow threw two pennies into the collection plate, Jesus said her contribution was greater than all the others. God wasn't looking for a specific monetary total, but a commitment. By giving everything that she had, the widow was fully committed.

MARK 13-16

Mark 13 is the original Oliviet Discourse, the source for Matthew 24 and Luke 21 (although Luke has Jesus giving this sermon in the Temple area instead of the Mount of Olives).

Both Matthew and Mark indicate that the "abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel will be the sign to immediately flee Jerusalem for the mountains, because it would be destroyed soon after. The abomination which makes desolate refers to a desecration of the temple Holy of Holies that is so complete that the temple would need to undergo a lengthy cleansing and reconsecration before it would be fit for animal sacrifices again.

This had already occured in 167 BC when the Hellenistic king Antiochus IV Epiphanes set up an altar to Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed pigs on it, as reported in 1 Maccabees 1:54 Now the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side.

Here Jesus says Daniel's prophesy was to have a second fulfillment, this time the temple would be defiled by the Romans. In fact, Titus intended to make it a shrine to his father the Emperor Vespasian, but he never had time to do this. The struggle with the Jewish defenders caused him to simply destroy the temple instead. Jesus' words were recorded by Mark in his role as Peter's interpreter before Peter was crucified upside-down in 64 AD three months after the fire in Rome.

When Jesus speaks of the end of human history he says, "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." Only in Mark does Jesus specifically exclude himself from this knowledge of eschatological timing, creating a breach in his alleged omniscience and the unity of the Trinity which is also made clear by Luke 2:52 when the child Jesus is said to advance in knowledge. The resolution of this, of course, is to revise one's understanding of time and realize that not even God has knowledge of things which do not exist, such as triangles with four sides, or future events.

On Wednesday in Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper, Jesus and his disciples were having supper, and a woman came in and poured a box of ointment on his head that was worth 300 bucks at least, and Judas complained that it was a waste of the ointment, because it could have been sold and the money given to the poor (he didn't mention that he normally skimmed his take right off the top of such gifts). Jesus told everyone to lay off the woman, because she was annointing his body ahead of time for the burial to come.

With the stinging loss of this potential income weighing in his mind, Judas went to the priests and negotiated how he could betray Jesus to them. The deal-clincher was the money they promised to give him, thirty pieces of silver.

On Thursday Jesus arranged a place to eat the passover lamb, and a Coptic Christian tradition holds that Mark, the founder of the Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt, was the owner of the house with the furnished upper room where they ate.

In the Garden of Gethsemene near the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt."

He prayed this exact same prayer twice, which confounds those who take Jesus' words literally not to use vain repetition in prayer.

His disciples had fallen asleep after the heavy meal of lamb, and none of them were able to stay up with Jesus while he was wracked with spiritual anguish in anticipation of his death by slow torture.

Judas came with a large crowd of priests and scribes and elders carrying swords and staves. He betrayed his master with a kiss, which he had pre-arranged to be the signal of which one was Jesus.

All of Jesus' disciples forsook him and ran away. But there was one young man who followed Jesus a short way, but members of the crowd took hold of the linen cloth he was wearing. The young man left the cloth behind in their grasp and ran away naked. This is such a random but detailed little incident that another tradition says the young man was St. Mark. If so, then Mark was relaying an eyewitness account of the Garden arrest.

The priests were having a hard time getting two false witnesses to line up their lies about Jesus. Caiaphas the high priest asked Jesus straight up, are you the Christ? Jesus said, "I am." Only in Mark is Jesus so bold.

Meanwhile outside, Peter gives himself away as a Galilean by his accent, but he denies three times that he knew Jesus. The vivid detail of this scene suggests that it really happened and Mark wrote down what Peter well remembered.

The crucifixion scene in Mark proceeds quickly, with spare accounts. Mark is all about action, not talk, a very masculine gospel that contrasts with the more woman-focused gospel of Luke. Mark also hardly ever takes the time to prove that something Jesus said or did was to fulfill earlier scriptures, like Matthew does. The gospels of Matthew and Luke combine Mark's pure action with the sayings of Jesus in Quelle to make a more balanced gospel, but all the synoptic gospels together present different aspects of the story. John's gospel is more of a systematic theological treatise.

When Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9 AM they tried to give him wine mixed with myrrh, a narcotic that would take the edge off of his suffering. This was not the will of the Father, so Jesus refused to take it.

A dark storm cell passed over the land at noon that lasted until 3 PM. Jesus cried out in Aramaic, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" Which means 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' Did Jesus actually despair after hours of exquisite torment, or was he just quoting Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

Someone gave Jesus to drink from a sponge full of vinegar, which Jesus did accept, his last act before dying.

In the Temple at the entrance to the Holy of Holies there was a veil of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen made with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman. It was 30 feet wide and 60 feet high, and as thick as a man's hand. At the instant of Jesus' death it was torn from top to bottom, a sign that God's presence was leaving the temple once and for all.

Jesus died in such a way that the Roman centurion who supervised the execution was moved to say, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" This centurion reported Jesus' death to Pilate, who marvelled that he was already dead, usually it takes three or four days for the victims to die on the cross, by design. Pilate then gave Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Jesus, permission to take down the body of his Lord.

At sunrise on Sunday morning after the Sabbath rest required by the Law, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought sweet spices to anoint the body of Jesus, and they wondered who would roll away for them the heavy stone that closed the tomb donated by Joseph. But when they looked it was already rolled away.

Inside an angel in a long white garment told them Jesus, who was crucified, was risen and no longer there. He told them to inform his disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. The original text of Mark's gospel, then, ends with 16:8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

For the gospel to end on a cliff-hanger like that seems unlikely. But it is possible that the original document was a codex that had suffered damage to the final page, and the ending was lost. The remainder of Mark doesn't fit well with 16:1-8. It seems to start over and re-introduce Mary Magdalene, alone this time:

[9] Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

No one believed Mary that she had seen the risen Lord. Jesus appeared to two more acquantances as they walked a road, and no one believed them either. Finally Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they ate, and chastised them for not believing the three people who had already seen him alive.

As at the end of Matthew, here in Mark's longer ending Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to the entire world. It is possible, therefore, that this ending was written to make it conform beetter with the gospel of Matthew. Jesus made belief in his gospel the key to salvation. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."

Before being lifted up to heaven Jesus also listed the signs that would mark those who believed:

1. In Jesus' name they would cast out devils.

2. They would speak with new tongues.

3. They would pick up serpents without harm.

4. They would drink poison with no ill effect.

5. They would cure the sick by laying on hands.

Some of the Pentecostal churches took these precepts literally, particularly the ones about speaking in tongues and handling snakes. In Kentucky snake handling is a misdemeanor and punishable by a $50 to $250 fine. In 2008, 10 people were arrested and 125 venomous snakes were confiscated as part of an undercover sting operation against the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name.

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