Yesterday we began a series in Hebrews 10-12, and saw that the writer was speaking to a group of Greek-speaking, probably Jewish Christians (a double minority group). He urged them to persevere in following Jesus, despite the fact that they were being persecuted and shamed by their families and community. And throughout Hebrews he uses every possible means to persuade them to keep going and not to shrink back into conformity (i.e. into Judaism). The first nine chapters show, in painstaking detail, how Christ is far superior to anything Judaism had to offer (angels, Moses, the priesthood and sacrificial system) – indeed, that Christ is the fulfilment of what Judaism foreshadowed. Now in chapter 10, he starts to bring those arguments home.
Today we begin a series in the New Testament book of Hebrews. So today, we’re going to introduce the letter and look at some of the background issues. That means there’ll be a bit more nerd content today, but it’s important if we’re going to understand what Hebrews is trying to do.
And to be honest, we don’t know a lot about the book of Hebrews. In fact, we’re not entirely sure what it is. It’s not really a letter – like most of the New Testament books. Normally we get both the sender and the addressee identified at the start – but with Hebrews, there’s none of that. And the bulk of it doesn’t read like a letter at all. All we get are the last four verses, which sign off like a letter:
Continuing in Mark’s Gospel, we’re looking at five stories in chapter 1, all with the same basic point. Although they start from different angles, each story ultimately shows how Jesus has authority. So far we’ve seen how Jesus has authority over people, authority to teach, and authority over demons. We now look at two more ways in which Jesus has authority.
Continuing in Mark’s Gospel, we’re looking at five stories in chapter 1, all with the same basic point. Although they start from different angles, each story ultimately shows how Jesus has authority. We saw yesterday how Jesus has authority over people – to call them to discipleship and ministry. We now look at two other ways in which Jesus has authority.
Authority in teaching1:21-22 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and [Gk: immediately] began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.
In Jesus’ day, the laypeople – particularly the literate laypeople – led people in worship in the synagogues. This was before ordained Rabbis started to be the norm a few centuries later. A certain class of laypeople had arisen: the Scribes, who had particular expertise in the scriptures.
Continuing in Mark’s Gospel (last week we studied the flow of the story from chapter 6 through 11), over the next three days we’ll be reading five stories about Jesus (and alluding to a sixth, in chapter 2). They’re not long, so have a read of all six now. (Mark 1:16-2:11.)
You probably noticed that all six tories have the same basic point. Mark has placed them in a cluster so that as readers we don’t miss the point. Although they start from different angles, each story ultimately shows how Jesus has authority.
Yet too often, when it comes to gospel stories, we miss the main point. We instantly cast ourselves in the stories. Either as Jesus, or one of the other characters. To discover some lesson about how we should live.
All week we’ve been looking at Mark’s Gospel (chapters 6-11) trying to make sense of the strange two-stage healing in Mark 8:22-26. We’ve seen some blind disciples finally “see” who Jesus is – yet not all that clearly. They’re still thinking in human terms. Jesus tries to tell them that he’s about servanthood, not the exercise of power, but they remain stubbornly blind. In the next chapter (Mark 11), Jesus tries to enlighten them further – and not only them, but all of Jerusalem.
In our quest this week to understand the strange two-stage healing story in Mark 8:22-26, we’ve seen Peter and the disciples finally ‘get’ who Jesus is – sort of. He’s the Messiah, yet not the kind of Messiah they were expecting. While James and John were thinking of an earthly kingdom in which they could claim status (just like all the other earthly kingdoms), Jesus has a different sort of kingdom in mind.
Yesterday, we were left with the question: is the current generation of Jesus’ followers (i.e. you and I) any different? Here are my thoughts:
This week we’ve looked at the strange two-stage healing in Mark 8:22-26, trying to work out what it’s all about. So far, we’ve looked at the chapters leading up to this story in which the disciples (and others) are blind to who Jesus is, despite all they have seen. This may explain the “blindness” element of the story. But what of the strange two-stage way in which Jesus heals them? The next part of the story may be important.
Because what happens next is universally identified as a key moment, a turning-point in Mark’s Gospel:Mk 8:27-30 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Finally, he gets it! After eight chapters – probably a couple of years of Jesus’ ministry – finally, Peter works out that Jesus is the Messiah! All of that cluelessness we read of earlier is behind us, and the disciples power on with their new-found understanding of who Jesus is – right? Um, let’s see what happens next.
Yesterday, we looked at a strange story that’s unique to Mark’s Gospel, about a healing that didn’t quite work the first time around (Mark 8:22-26). And we’re investigating the context of that story in Mark’s Gospel to help us work out what it’s all about. It’d be best to read yesterday’s post first if you’re just joining us.
We finished up with the disciples being a bit clueless: they’ve just seen Jesus feed five thousand people with a mere handful of food, and then they’re astounded that he can walk on water. Mark comments that they didn’t get it because at this point in the Gospel, “their hearts were hardened.”
Anyway, on with the story. In chapter 7 we see an encounter with the Pharisees who didn’t believe in him, and then a contrasting encounter with a Gentile woman who did. (You can read that later if you want.) And then we begin in chapter 8 with a by-now familiar scenario:
Today we’re looking at a short story from Mark’s gospel. One that’s seemingly unimportant. In fact, it’s one of the few bits of Mark’s Gospel that doesn’t occur in either Matthew or Luke. Both of them copied large slabs of Mark’s Gospel (these days they’d get in trouble for plagiarism.) Yet neither of them found room for this short story that’s only five verses long. Why?
Maybe it’s because it’s a bit of a strange story. Let’s face it, it’s not one of Jesus’ best moments. Not really one for the highlights reel, especially considering the spectacular stories that surround it. Let’s read it now:Mark 8:22-26 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”
Yeah, don’t go back to the village. Let’s just keep this one to ourselves, hey? What’s going on here? Is Jesus having a bad healing day? Does he need a second chance? Is this the divine equivalent of backyard cricket rules: you can’t get out first ball?