October 14th, 2021
One of the parables Jesus told involved a camel going through the eye of a needle. So, let’s look at that. Since the Middle Ages scholars have considered the possibility of Jesus’ statement concerning the eye of the camel may have been a reference to certain doors or gates that actually existed in His day. Some homes did in fact have large doors that would allow a fully loaded camel to enter into the courtyard. Since such doors were somewhat cumbersome, and they required much effort to open and close, there were sometimes smaller doors cut into them for smaller animals and people. Some believe this is the needle eye gate. Some city gates also had smaller doors cut in them. Passing through the smaller gate it was said would have forced the camel to its knees, reinforcing Jesus’ teaching that a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven only if he falls to his knees before the Lord. It is a cool picture that is painted here but just the picture diminishes the weight of Jesus’ words. His point is not that salvation is difficult without God. His point is that it is impossible without Him. So Jesus contrasting a camel verses the eye of a needle is memorable, but in reality He was probably just speaking of a camel as something large and the eye of a real needle which is small.
We have already read Matthew’s account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and Mark’s is coming up. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is one of the most significant events of His public ministry. All four gospel writers record this event, each with distinctive details. Riding the donkey is central to each of these accounts. This was a symbolic act, fulfilling prophecy. The donkey was a traditional mount for both kings and rulers in the ancient Near East. That means Jesus was making a definitive claim to be the king of His people. Riding a donkey into Jerusalem near the time of the Passover celebration invoked a central image of Messianic expectation. In Jewish literature and teaching, the image of a king on a donkey was consistently understood to signify the arrival of the Messianic King. So, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah and proclaiming that the age of restoration was dawning through His own person. Jesus didn’t have to say one word. His actions spoke loud and clear for anyone who was paying attention. Also, in light of the frequent Old Testament association of horses with war and human pride, the donkey may have presented an image of peaceful humility. Jesus was then making a statement regarding the nature of His kingship.
One word we have seen much of in the New Testament is Messiah. The Greek word is Christos, along with the Hebrew mashiakh, meaning the anointed one. In Judaism the term Messiah was understood in a variety of ways. The Old Testament refers to people, not all of them honorable, who were specially anointed by God for a variety of reasons or tasks. The prophets expected a future Messiah who would usher in God’s kingdom. The dominant expectation among Jews in Jesus’ time was that the Messiah would be a political warrior who would lead Israel to victory over its oppressors and reestablish Israel as a separate kingdom. Some Jews saw the Messiah as a forerunner of the kingdom of God. The community at Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, were looking for a Messiah who would be both priest and political warrior. Because there were so many different interpretations of the word Messiah, it makes sense that Jesus didn’t use it for Himself. Instead Jesus taught His followers that He would suffer according to Isaiah’s prophecies. Jesus would fulfill the promises made to Abraham. The emphasis Jesus placed on suffering and serving as the path to victory collided with the popular Jewish paradigm of the Messiah as a royal conquerer. However, the Messiah was really God’s means of bringing about His kingdom.
One of the things many people struggle with is faith and works. The connection between faith, works, and final approval is a consistent feature of Jesus’ teachings. For Jesus, works are a sure indicator of faith, which begins with repentance…a conversion of the heart and mind that involves turning away from sin, to God. Jesus did not teach salvation by works. He taught the necessity of a conversion, an internal reorientation towards God by an act of God’s grace, which results in a lifetime of obedience. Good works are the natural consequence of a relationship with Jesus Christ. A misapplication of the concept of salvation by grace alone has led to a false dichotomy between faith and works. Salvation is not achieved by works. Instead, the work we do is an overflow from the goodness we have received from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus promises blessings and reward to those who live in accord with God’s will. Consequently, righteousness is required of those who want to enter the kingdom. And we are made righteous by the saving act of Jesus on the cross. Faith that does not result in good works is not saving faith.
We have seen the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. They were given considerable power in governing the Jewish people. According to Jewish tradition, the Sanhedrin dates from Moses’ choice of 70 elders, but the earliest datable reference is found in the writings of Josephus, from the time of Antiochus the Great. (223-187B.C.). The Sanhedrin most likely emerged from a self governing body of leaders under the Persians. The high council was always controlled by the priestly class under the leadership of the high priest. However, as time wore on these priests were influenced to varying degrees by Roman rulers and the Pharisees. Herod the Great exercised a very heavy hand over the affairs of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin managed the internal legal and religious affairs of Judaism, including judicial decisions not resolved in lesser courts, criminal justice and arrests, and official, though unenforceable , decisions regarding Jewish matters. Though the Sanhedrin could not of its own accord put tried criminals to death they could apparently do so with the support of Roman officials. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. eliminated the high council as the ruling body of Judaism.
There are four other Mary’s listed in the New Testament besides Jesus’ mother Mary. Mary Magdalene, probably from Magdala in Galilee, was freed from demon possession by Jesus’s (Mark 16:9) and she became a faithful follower and financial supporter of Jesus and His disciples. She was present when Jesus was crucified and buried in the tomb, and she went to the tomb early in Sunday morning to embalm Him. She was among the first to be told of his Resurrection, and she was the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Mary the mother of James the younger (not the same as James the apostle) and Joseph was also among the women who were present when Jesus was crucified and buried. She first heard the news of his resurrection, and she first saw the risen Jesus along with Mary Magdalene. Mary of Bethany was the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Their family was much loved by Jesus. Jesus commended Mary for her eagerness to learn from Him. In grateful response for what Jesus did in raising her brother from the dead, Mary anointed Jesus feet with very expensive perfume, an act that was deemed extravagant by some of the disciples but defended by Jesus. Mary the wife of Clopas was also among the women watching as Jesus was crucified. Her husband Clopas is not mentioned anyplace else in the New Testament.
Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells others, those He healed or raised from the dead, the disciples who recognized Him as the Christ, and the demons who had a correct understanding of His true identity, not to reveal His identity. This is referred to as the Messianic secret. Why did Jesus command those He had healed and those who knew His true identity to keep His healings and identity a secret? The answer involves how the Roman authorities would have responded to an extremely popular preacher who pro claimed the arrival of God’s kingdom, performed marvelous healings, and openly allowed His followers to call Him Israel’s long awaited Messiah and king. Roman authorities would not tolerate it. They would immediately seek to suppress such a movement. In the Roman Empire, there was no room for another kingdom or for a Messianic rescuer from Roman occupation. So, although Jesus acknowledged to His disciples that he was the Messiah, He did not intend to overthrow Rome. It was expedient to teach about God’s kingdom in parables to minimize the excitement created by His miracles, to conceal His presence at times from the people, to conceal His teaching from outsiders, and to command those who knew His true identity not to reveal it. Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many, not to lead the nation of Israel in rebellion against Rome. Mark emphasizes this secrecy more than any of the other gospel writers. For Mark, the secrecy motif shows Jesus’ greatness. Jesus Christ the Son of God, could not be hidden. The secret was not and could not be hidden. The secret was not and cannot be kept, for Jesus is too great. Those who experienced and witnessed His healing touch could not help but proclaim what He had done. Jesus’ identity broke through, and it became clear that He is indeed the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord over nature, disease and death.
One of the core purposes of Mark’s gospel is to help readers understand and accept the call to take up their cross and follow Jesus. This call is addressed not only to those who would be Jesus’ apostles but to all who desire to follow Him. For some the call to discipleship is very hard, but God provides grace. Others find it easy to respond to Jesus’ call. For everyone, following Jesus requires a total commitment to turn from selfish ways. Taking up ones cross is a metaphor for giving up one’s life to follow Jesus even to death as illustrated by Jesus crucifixion. For example, Peter, Andrew, James, and John all left their homes and their source of income to follow Jesus. For a rich man, turning from his selfish ways required selling all he had and giving the proceeds to the poor. Following Jesus also means being identified with Him without being ashamed, and being faithful to Jesus and His teachings. It requires removing anything that would interfere with following Jesus, regardless how painful doing so might be. It requires entrusting one’s life entirely to Him, and relenting of sin. It even requires putting loyalty to Jesus ahead of loyalty to one’s own father and mother. Jesus explicitly commanded His disciples to proclaim His message. Jesus and the apostles, through their teaching and example, call Jesus’ followers to proclaim the Good News wherever they might be. Alongside Jesus’ demands for discipleship are the rewards of following Jesus. Those who follow Jesus are promised entrance into the kingdom of God. They receive His forgiveness for their sins and they become members of the family of God. They are saved from judgement and obtain eternal life.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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