A Study Series on the Gospel According to Mark

 

On June 2nd, we continued our discussion of Mark and dived deep into the meaning of discipleship as Jesus and his disciples would have understood it. It is often said that ‘discipleship’ is just another word for a Bible study and ‘fellowship’ as anything a Christian person does with another Christian person. So what does it mean for Christians to ‘disciple’ one another and ‘fellowship’ with another? Most importantly, what did Jesus Christ mean by “Go make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) and the writer of Acts mean by “devoting to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship?” (Acts 2:42) To better understand these words, we explored the meaning of the rabbi-disciples relationship in Jesus’s time.

 

II. Jesus’s Early Days in Galilee

(Mark 1:2-1:13; Mark 1:14-3:12, both taken from NIV)

Mark 1:2-4

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

This passage is taken from Isaiah 40 where the message of hope is delivered to God’s people during the Babylonian captivities around in 500s BC. This part of Isaiah proclaims the coming liberation of God’s people, which is thought to be fulfilled first when Cyrus the Great of Persia takes over Babylon, but for Christians, the prophecy is also fulfilled once again when the Messiah Jesus came.

 

Activity 1: Draw a picture of a man by using only the following descriptions.

“Jake is a pure redneck from the country. He likes to wear a coat made of crocodile leather and a dog’s fur both of which he hunted. He only wears a leather belt made of iguana’s skin and he only eats roasted fat spiders and wild tree saps from the maple trees.”

 

Activity 2: What was the longest or the most uncomfortable experience you’ve had waiting in line for something? Did that something turn out to be awesome?

 

Mark 1:4-8

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

John’s baptism was apparently a familiar act as many people from the countryside as well as Jerusalem came down to be baptized by John. It is a bit strange though: why would people come to John to be baptized when they have the magnificent Temple to go to and be cleansed of their sins? Capernaum, a town on the northern edge of Sea of Galilee where Jordan River empties into is some 100 miles away from Jerusalem, at least a few days of walking all day on dirt roads—one way.

John’s baptism was a turning point, a turning point where people began to face God and turn away from their sins. John’s last words here are “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It was not John’s water that saved, nor simply the repentance, but God’s forgiveness to those whose hearts are set aright by their intentional and sacrificial act of faith—coming out to subject themselves to John’s teaching of repentance-baptism in the middle of nowhere, far away from the comforts of home.

 

Mark 1:9-11

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[h] with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:12-13

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

 

Moses and Elijah were the most revered prophets in the Old Testament. Even the disciples (Peter, James, and John the brother of James) see Moses and Elijah along with Jesus on a high mountain and want to build a tent for each so that they may worship.

Great prophetic figures in the Bible had a wilderness experience where they were tempted by Satan, co-existed with the wild animal, and fed by the angels. Some say that Adam and Eve in their wilderness of paradise along with the beasts may be the first and only untainted example of this before the Fall.

Here are two examples of Elijah that must have appeared in the minds of those who heard what John the Baptist was doing in the wilderness:

 

1 Kings 17:1-7

17 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbein Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

1 Kings 19:1-9

19 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah was afraidand ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

 

Activity 3: Think back to your middle school days or high school days (or think about yourself if you are at that age). What was or is your dream school? What does it take to get into that school? What kind of kids get into that dream school or yours? Did you get in?

Once you get in, it doesn’t mean the rules change. You still have to follow the rigid and disciplined codes and teachings of the school you are a part of. You didn’t earn your spot by your talent, but you sure need to work hard to deserve the spot you have been given.

 

Mark 1:16-20 –Jesus Calls the First Disciples

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

 

It was an extreme privilege to study under a rabbi. It’s very close to being admitted to Harvard to study under your dream professor. Mishnah (220 AD) is the authority in Jewish oral tradition since the Pharisaic times (500s BC-70 AD).

The Mishnah describes the educational process for a young Jewish boy in Jesus’ time.

“At five years old [one is fit] for the Scripture, at ten years the Mishnah (oral Torah, interpretations) at thirteen for the “fulfilling” of the commandments [making applications of the Torah], at fifteen the Talmud (making Rabbinic interpretations), at eighteen the bride-chamber, at twenty pursuing a vocation, at thirty for authority (able to teach others)
This clearly describes the exceptional student, for very few would become teachers but indicates the centrality of Scripture in the education in Galilee. It is interesting to compare Jesus’ life to this description. Though little is stated about his childhood we know that he “grew in wisdom” as a boy (Luke 2:52) and that he reached the “fulfilling of the commandments” indicated by ones first Passover at age twelve (Luke 2:41). He then learned a trade (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3) and spent time with John the Baptist (Luke 3:21; John 3:22-26) and began his ministry at “about thirty” (Luke 3:23). This parallels the Mishnah description quite closely.”

Source: Click here

Here is the central point of our study today. What does it mean to be a disciple of a teacher? Probably the word ‘rabbi’ was not widely used during Jesus’s time to refer to what we mean by rabbi today–teacher of Torah at a synagogue. The Temple in Jerusalem was not destroyed until 70AD, so during Jesus’s time, the Jews were a part of what is called ‘Temple Judaism.’ It was only after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans (because of a Jewish riot), synagogues and text-centered form of Jewish faith widely spread. Yet, it is still true that Jesus was familiar with the forms and methods of a rabbi. See the following excerpt:

 

Matt. 23:5-7–Against Hypocrisy

“Everything they [The teachers of the law and the Pharisees] do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

 

Mark 2:18

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

There may not have been as many rabbis in Jesus’ time, but the title and its functions did exist. Pharisees and John the Baptist had disciples, for example. Jesus was perhaps the first one to reinterpret what it means to be a rabbi. The disciples were different from students in that the focus is not only in learning what the teacher knows, but also becoming who the teacher is. A disciple wants to be like the rabbi. Disciples follow their rabbi everywhere so that they don’t miss out on a precious teaching moment. A rabbi lives the lesson and teaches it by life examples. A true rabbi is the one whose lesson has become incarnate. This is what we mean by becoming a disciple of Christ. For more on this check out the post under discipleship page entitled, “what does it mean to be Jesus’s talmidim?”

Activity 4: In a room full of people/strangers at a party, how do you read people/ guess who the person is like or how they are feeling at the moment?

Mark 2: 21-28–The Man with an Unclean Spirit

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark 2:29-34–Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Mark 3:7-12

7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. 8 When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. 10 For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. 11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.

Jesus was first noticed by John the Baptist (a relative and a true man of God) followed by the demons (a pure enemy of God). Everybody in between took some time to recognize Jesus for who he really was (the awaited Messiah incarnate, Lord, and Saviour).

 

Activity 5: How selective are you in selecting your lunch-mates in school? Who do you want to hang out in school? What kind of kids do you want your kids to hang out with? Who were at your Thanksgiving meal last year?

Mark 2:13-17 –Calling of Levi

 

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. 15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

There was no fast food or delivery of pre-made food in Jesus’ time and location. Preparing a meal for a group of people was certainly a lot of work as it is today even with the help of dishwasher, sink and drainage system, fast transportation and easy access to fresh ingredients, and refrigerator. So you don’t just ‘invite’ anyone to a group meal even if it is a one-time deal. You select your guests very carefully and thoughtfully. Jesus did this for Levi at his own house. Not only that, Jesus chose the tax collectors and sinners who were seated around the table in the presence of his critics. But at the same time, Jesus calls the tax collectors around him “sinners” as well (see the end of the passage). Isn’t that a bit odd? Tax collectors might have thought to themselves, “Hello? I’m still here, Jesus!” What do you think?

 

To be continued.