Mark 6:30-56 – Powerful Compassion

There are two evident themes in this part of Mark 6 is Jesus’ power but also his compassion. Jesus’s power reveals itself in a number of ways: his power to provide, his power to control nature, his power to heal. However, his power is always marked by compassion: compassion towards the crowds, compassion towards the disciples, compassion towards the sick. The mix of holy, supernatural power and holy, righteous love here is amazing.

This section comes after the news that Jesus’s cousin John the Baptist has just been killed. This was probably extremely distressing news for Jesus. In the midst of this, huge crowds flocked around him, denying him the chance to rest as Jesus had intended. If I was in that situation, I would be very impatient, grumpy and resentful. Jesus obviously wanted some peace and quiet, but he couldn’t get it. But when he saw the crowd, verse 34 tells us, ‘he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’ Despite his grief, weariness and own desires being unmet, Jesus still responded with compassion.

In his compassion, he taught them. He met their need for spiritual edification and answers. After this he also provided for their physical needs through the miracle of feeding a huge crowd. Jesus has the power to meet all our needs.

In the next section, Jesus walks on turbulent water, against a strong wind. This is a powerful miracle. He walked into the middle of sea and revealed himself to the disciples. Furthermore, when they were fearful, Jesus had compassion, joined them and reassured them. Jesus can meet us wherever, having the power to overcome every obstacle (including a massive and petulant body of water). In his compassion, he is also able to calm our fears as we encounter the Son of God who was there at the beginning of creation.

Finally, Jesus heals the sick. He has the power to restore the broken in body and spirit. He is so powerful that even the hem of his cloak can restore health. Those that come to him find restoration.

Power and compassion, woven together.

Now, when I read the gospels, I sometimes imagine how I would have reacted if I were there. Or ask, what were the disciples thinking at the time? Surely, they were in joyful, blissful awe. How could you react in any other way than sheer amazement? Well, verse 51 tells us they were indeed amazed. But verse 52 then adds an interesting, startling but also so human twist to it. Mark tells us they do not understand and they harden their hearts to it. It is easy to be confounded at this and ask how could the disciples, witnessing Jesus’ power, harden their hearts. But I know that I am guilty of the same very thing. My cold logic, or my over-familiarity with the stories, means that I am numb to the true power and compassion revealed in this. How often do I not see Jesus for who he is: the compassionate, powerful, Son of God?

Lord God,

I thank you for your son Jesus Christ. He is powerful and compassionate. He has power to provide, to overcome nature, to heal. He is loving and cares for his sheep.

Lord God, I am often like a sheep without a shepherd. I wander, lost and uncertain. May I know Jesus’s guidance and compassion. Lord God, meet with me and calm my fears. May I know your son’s presence in my life. Lord God, there are so many times my heart is hardened to your words and your power. Open my heart so that I may have faith and receive your son.

Lord God, hear my prayer.

Amen

Mark 6:14-29: the Evil of Political Powers

This is perhaps one of the most shocking stories of the gospel. Of course, the crucifixion should be equally shocking, but it’s so familiar to us that sometimes we are numb to it. I think it is also important for setting out a few things.

The time that Jesus lived in was dangerous. First, it was dangerous just in terms of crime. The Good Samaritan story came out of a rather well-known phenomenon of the time; people would get attacked on the roads. A lot of Jesus’s parables in fact made use of some of the violent aspects of his society. Second, it was dangerous in terms of disease and mortality. But in the story of where John the Baptist gets beheaded, we see a third type of danger. Those in power were dangerous. They were capricious, jealous and cruel.

If the partner of a world leader today, let’s say Boris Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds, ask for someone’s head for her birthday, she would be denounced as evil. To actually then receive at a birthday party in front of guests, it would result in a ridiculous amount of scandal, arrests, resignations and global outrage. Moreover, Herod did this because his dancing step-daughter pleased him. That also seems somewhat horrific by today’s standards.

Herod accidentally trapped himself, too. His power did not allow him to escape the political machinery. He did not actually want to kill John the Baptist (out of fear more than anything it seems). But it was fear and shame that made him kill John the Baptist too.

When world leaders are motivated by power, shame, reputation and greed, they are harmful, but especially harmful to those who try to stand for righteousness. Both John the Baptist and many prophets that came before him died this way. Furthermore, it is what ultimately insured that Jesus made it to the cross.

We need to take courage, however, in the fact that we do not actually belong to the kingdoms of this world. Although we may, whilst we are here, end up becoming trapped in its political machinery, we are in fact citizens of heaven. And when the politics of this world seems to be destroying all that is good and right, we need to remember that Jesus never cam for political power. Instead he came to see his kingdom of righteousness, justice and love to transcend and infiltrate through political borders and governments. That is what we pray for and hope for. For God’s kingdom to come, for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

If you liked this…

Try reading my post Why democracy will always fail us.

Mark 6: 1–6: What are you missing?

If you were to talk to people from different stages of my life, you’d likely get a very different interpretation of my character. These stages don’t have to be particularly far apart. Take two of my friends who I’ll refer to by their initials, K and S. K was a friend during secondary school and college. She knew me at the awkward teenager stage. S was a friend as university. She knew me at the awkward university student stage. (All my life stages are awkward, just at different points and in different ways.) If you asked K and S whether I was organised, the answer would be completely different. K would say not at all: I constantly forget things; I don’t keep deadlines well; I’m a scatter-brain. S would say that I was extremely organised: everything was submitted well in advance; I could handle a wide-range organisational challenges simultaneously; I managed my time well. A part of this is the massive effort I made in my first semester to get systems in place (I had a diary where I wrote everything. The receipts of my book loans were stapled inside. I had a cover-page template for all my reading notes where I kept extensive bibliographical notes so I knew the references to quotation with ease…)

Despite this apparent transformation, I think K would find it hard to believe that I’m considered to be pretty well organised by most people I’ve encountered in my adult life. (I’m still working on the tidy part…) So, when I read the first part of Mark 6, I sort of understand the situation Jesus finds himself in. I also understand the perspectives of those around him. It must be hard for those that knew Jesus as a child and as a carpenter to believe he was indeed the Son of God. In fact, I believe (and may be wrong) that it’s indicated somewhere that his brothers were very hard to convince and only believed after Jesus’ death.

My favourite verse, perhaps, of this part is verse 5: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The fact that healing a few sick people is seen as unremarkable. Imagine if your complaint was “I only managed to do one miracle today. Yesterday, I could do fifty-six.” (I’m not going to get into the debate as to whether miracles still happen or not. But they do but might not necessarily meet our definition of a miracle—whoops, I got into it.) What is incredible here is that Jesus performing many miracles was the expectation. It just goes to show how incredible he actually was. Also, it makes me think about how Jesus is responsive to the wishes and attitudes of those around him. He doesn’t thrust miracles on people. He graciously allows them to accept them.

The questions it raises for me is what have I been unwilling to accept in my life? How have I stymied Jesus’s untold, unfathomable blessings through a hardness of heart? I am pretty sure that it has happened. Jesus is still good and patient and I am still exceptionally blessed. But, maybe there is more that I could be receiving if only I opened my hands and heart to accept it. I wonder if that’s the same for any of you?

2 Peter 1: an invitation to participate

The introduction of 2 Peter seems to wrestle with ideas that can cause confusion within the church. In fact, it probably has been seen in a number of the large theological debates since the death of Jesus. It is this: how much of our salvation and sanctification depends on us and how much depends on God. I’m not going to make an effort to delve into these deep topics and the history of such debates, but here is my rather simple and probably flawed interpretation of the matter.

We are told first that God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. This puts the power into God’s hands: he provides. It goes on to say that he has called us, again making the impetus God’s. Furthermore, he has given us promises for us to cling onto and to receive. Then it goes on to say that this is so we can “participate in the divine nature” of God. First, before I analyse it to death, let me just say what a beautiful statement that is. Through our salvation, we get to live in the holiness of God. That sounds crazy and wonderful and strange. But, going back to my first point, “participate” tells us that we get a role to play.

God does all the ground-work and all the hard stuff. He sent his son to die so that we may live. He saves us. He has the absolute power and authority in this. But, he still invites us to join in with him. He invites us to use our mind, hearts, strength and soul in what he is doing. I get the picture of a father doing a job and letting his young son or daughter “help”. Their child imitates their father but doesn’t really do anything particularly constructive in the effort. The father could have easily done the task on his own. Instead, it’s about the participation and the communion between father and child. That is what our Heavenly Father daily invites us into: a participation and a communion with him as he builds his kingdom. It really does not depend on me. I’m just to join in and enjoy the relationship I have with God.

We are also invited to participate in our own spiritual growth and development. We are to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual-affection and love to our faith. This, again, seems to be something for us to do as well. A metaphor perhaps for this could be a patient following the exercises to allow them to recover effectively after an operation. The surgeon does the hard work to fix the problem and oversees the recovery afterwards; the patient makes sure that they live in a way that enables them to take the best advantage of the operation and new lease of life they have been given.

So, how do we participate? Well, it seems that we do it through constantly reminding ourselves of the grace we have received and the cross. We look to Jesus. This inspires us to participate and to make the most of the freedom and salvation we have received.

1 Timothy 4

This chapter of 1 Timothy starts with the warning about false teachers and liars, those that give meaningless advice and myths. Then it talks about training yourself to be Godly. This is quite an interesting concept. I’m currently reading Your Future Self Will Thank You, which is about self-control and discipline. Dyck writes that the modern church is often resistant to the idea of exerting effort to obtain Godliness and “there have been whole movements in church history defined by their belief that we progress in the Christian life only as passive recipients.” (pp. 141-142) But this verse, with the use of the word “train” definitely makes it sound something more intentional and strenuous.

1 Timothy is also helpful in reminding us the why of the training. It’s very clear about the reason for our efforts:

That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.

(Verse 10)

Paul compares it to physical training, which is helpful. In order to become physically fit, it takes effort over a period of time, which is focused on the type and area of fitness or ability you wish to obtain. These are things I’m not very good at, it seems, so I have to be better at

  • focus,
  • prolonged perseverance,
  • effort.

(If you’ve surmised I’m unfocused, easily waylaid and lazy, you might not be too wrong.) Paul doesn’t stop there either, and encourages Timothy to set an example in speech, love, faith, purity, to devote himself to Scripture, teaching and preaching, to be diligent and to watch his life carefully. It’s quite a task, it seems. I could easily dismiss it as instructions for Timothy, but it would be lazy and silly. God wants us to devote ourselves to the gifts he’s given us and to consider our lives carefully.

There is also a lot riding on this: the final statement extolls Timothy to persevere so that he will save both himself and his hearers. I think I too often forget the task that I’ve been given and the significance of this. Often, you think, “Oh, it’s not a case of life and death” when deciding on whether to follow through with the task or not. Which is sort of right. It’s a case of eternal life and death, for both yourself and for those you are called to serve. That’s very sobering.

Dyck, Drew. Your Future Self Will Thank You. Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

2 Thessalonians 2

This chapter is about what will happen before Jesus comes again and gathers us to him. This is about a subject called eschatology or the study of end times. This is not a subject I’m very knowledgeable about. But according to this passage the following things will happen before Jesus comes again.

  • There will be a rebellion.
  • The man of lawlessness will be revealed.
  • He will defy every god and tear down every place of worship; he will set up an altar for himself.
  • This will be in accordance with Satan’s ways.
  • It will be accompanied by signs and wonders.
  • People will perish as they refuse to believe the truth.
  • Those believing in the deception will revel in their sin and wickedness.
  • God will turn them over to their sin and the judgment of their sin.

Then when Jesus returns he will destroy this man of lawlessness.

This sounds all a bit scary and makes us wonder when this will happen, how and whether we will be caught up in the great deception. However, there are words of reassurance to come.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

We need to remember our security does not come from ourselves but from being chosen by God. We have been called and we have been saved, not through our works but by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are sanctified and being sanctified by these works and because of this we have confidence in the truth. We will share in the glory of our saviour, Jesus Christ.

Because of this confidence, we can stand firm. We need to hold fast to the teachings given to us: not just listening but in full obedience.

The chapter ends with a final pray that God may encourage us:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Amen

2 Thessalonians 1

Obviously, the second of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, and apparently (at least according to the NIV version on the YouVersion Bible App on my phone), it wasn’t written that much longer after the first.

Again, this starts off with thanksgiving for the recipients. Then it goes into the somewhat messy topic of divine justice. It talks about God being just, but a good who also pays back that causes other people’s suffering and the destruction of those who do not know God and do not know the gospel of Jesus. The terms of it are somewhat absolute.

Therefore, Paul continues to pray that God will make the Thessalonians worthy of God’s calling, and that their desires for goodness are realised. Again, it reminds me that God is sanctifying me and that I should desire goodness in accordance with God’s will and he will make me worthy of his calling.

1 Thessalonians 3

1 Thessalonians 3 talks about how Paul and Timothy were forced to leave Thessalonica due to persecution. This is timely because many friends and colleagues are leaving Phnom Penh, not because of persecution though, but because of COVID-19. Despite the obstacles and difficulties being difficult, it’s helpful to hear from the thoughts of Paul as he had to leave people he loved in a time of uncertainty.

Paul was worried about the faith of the Thessalonians; he feared the oppression would be too much and the believers there would fall away. So that is something to pray for in the uncertainty of coronavirus; that people do not fall away. Rather, we pray that believers across the world can be “standing firm in the Lord” as the Thessalonians did.

We can also pray this prayer for believers, the same one Paul prayed for the Thessalonians:

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

So, during this time, lets pray for

  • strength
  • joy
  • holiness.

1 Thessalonians 1

This letter to the Thessalonians is full of warmth and encouragement. Again, Paul starts out with a similar greeting to before: he is thankful for the believers in that city and he remembers them in his prayers.

The context of this letter is oppression, persecution and difficulty. But the first chapter seems overwhelmingly positive. Yes, there are mentions of “endurance” and “severe suffering”, but those phrases are surrounded by words such as “joy”, “love” and “hope”. It seems relevant that in complex and difficult times, with the COVID-19 spreading all around, that such words about suffering can be found in the mist of words about joy, faith, love and hope. They are not mutual exclusive and in fact I wonder in the positive was made more evident because of the difficulties.

I really enjoyed verse 5 that the gospel “came to [them] not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” It reminds me of Colossians 1, where it speaks of the fruit of the gospel. The gospel is a message with its own inherent power. It also shows the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in belief. I think this power, the Holy Spirit and conviction are all intertwined to make believers who endure.

The Thessalonians’ reputation had spread, and their “faith in God has become known everywhere.” It would be amazing to have a faith that is known everywhere. I wish to be a man of that kind of reputation: faith in severe suffering; endurance in troubles; joy-filled and hopeful in difficulties.

Amos 7-9

I have been keeping up with my Bible reading, but not with the blogging. Although the most important aspect is, of course, reading the Word, writing about it can really help me consolidate and concentrate on what I’m reading. Over the last few days, my internet has been intermittent in the evenings, so blogging was a bit harder.

In Amos 7, the prophet begged the Lord not to show his wrath against Israel. However, God finally told Amos enough was enough. He had measured the people of Israel and the results showed that they were left wanting. They did not measure up. God, the God of justice, needs to correct this.

Obviously, Amos’ prophecies upset a few people and in this chapter, he was told to leave. However, Amos told them that it was God who had told him to say these things and the consequences for Israel’s disobedience would be dire.

Amos 8 again shows the sin of the people of Israel. Their dishonest economic practises have disadvantaged and oppressed the poor. The people have cheated or sold short their goods. They “trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land”.

As a result, God will destroy them. Not only this, but he will hide his face from them. This is perhaps more terrifying, that though they seek for the word of God, they will not find it. Amos 9 reiterates how total the destruction of Israel will be. It seems utterly hopeless.

However, the book of Amos ends with Israel’s restoration. Despite this destruction, he will lift Israel again. There will be redemption. There will be rebuilding. There will be hope. Is this the time we live in, when Jesus is restoring and redeeming this world? Sometimes it’s hard to know which. But we can have hope, that God is restoring his people back to him; that Jesus will come again and Jerusalem will once and for all be made new.

These are the questions that Amos 7-9, and indeed the whole book, have made me ponder:

  • What current political or economic practises are happening that are detestable to the Lord?
  • How are we complicit in the trampling and oppression of the poor?
  • What will the consequences for us?
  • How do we let justice flow like a river?
  • How do we show are we a people of hope of a new heaven and new earth?
  • How do we usher in God’s holy and just kingdom to where we are?