Posts tagged ‘Mark’

Just Passing By

In Mark 6, Jesus’ disciples are sailing across the Sea of Galilee. Late into the night, Jesus decides to hit the water too, but instead of chartering a boat across the lake, Jesus steps out onto the lake. Mark tells the story like this:

Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. (Mark 6:48-50)

Three of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and John – recount this story, but Mark adds a unique detail that is not found in the other accounts when he writes: “He was about to pass by” (Mark 6:48).

This detail reminds us that Jesus is doing much more than simply trying to work a miracle. He is offering His disciples some revelation. He is showing His disciples who He really is.

In Exodus 33, Moses requests to see God. God reminds Moses that although he cannot see Him face-to-face:

There is a place near Me where you may stand on a rock. When My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by(Exodus 33:21-22)

Moses may encounter God, but it will be only for a cursory, partially concealed moment. Moses will only get to encounter God as He passes by.

Likewise, in 1 Kings 19, when God reveals Himself to the prophet Elijah, He says to him:

Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. (1 Kings 19:11)

After the announcement of God’s arrival, there is a hurricane, an earthquake, and a fire, but God is not in any of these things. Instead, He passes by in “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

Like Moses, Elijah gets to encounter God, but it is only in a cursory, partially concealed way. Elijah only encounters God as He passes by.

This is how God consistently revealed Himself to His people of old – by passing by. So, when Jesus begins to pass by His disciples as they are sailing along on the Sea of Galilee, He is making a claim about His identity: He is the same One who passed by Moses and Elijah. He is God!

But in Mark 6, the story takes a surprising turn. Because instead of being there one moment and gone the next like God was when He revealed Himself to Moses and Elijah, Jesus, as He is about to pass by His disciples, instead:

climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed. (Mark 6:51)

Before, when God met with His people, He only passed by. Now, when God meets people in Jesus, God gets in.

During difficult and uncertain times – like the ones we are experiencing as a society – it can be easy to wonder: Where is God? Why hasn’t He shown up? Mark 6 reminds us that Jesus does not just pass by us in our pain, in our uncertainty, and in our fear. He gets in. And because God gets in, He and we are all, as the saying goes, in the same boat.

Christianity is unique among the world religions in that it teaches that there is a God who does not just look down on our pain, but actually joins us in our pain. Jesus joins us in the boat.

The seeming absence of God, then, is undone by the presence of Christ. So, if you’re looking for God, you don’t have to look far. He’s right there. And He will not pass you by.

October 19, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux, Depiction of the storming of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux | Depiction of the storming of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”[1]

So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Though the story is set during the French Revolution, its opening line strikes a universal tone. Life comes mixed with good and bad, wisdom and foolishness, faith and doubt, light and darkness, hope and despair. This is true even of Jesus’ life. For example, in Mark 7, Jesus heals a blind man:

Some people brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Him to place His hand on the man. After He took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. (Mark 7:32-35)

On its surface, this story looks like one that should be marked only by joy. After all, a blind and mute man gets healed! But right before Jesus heals this man, He looks up to heaven and lets out “a deep sigh” (Mark 7:34). The Greek word for this sigh is stenazo, which denotes a groan of sorrow (e.g., Romans 8:23).  Why would Jesus groan in sorrow right as He is getting ready to do something as joyful as a healing?

Like Charles Dickens, Jesus knows that even when it’s the best of times, it’s also the worst of times. He knows that even as He is getting ready to do something great, evil is not far off. Indeed, Jesus knows that He will soon face the horror of the cross. And so He lets out a groan.

The Old Testament prophets spoke of a Messiah who would come and do many miraculous things, including that of making the deaf hear and the mute speak:

Your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:4-6)

Notice even in this prophecy that the best of times and worst of times are comingled. On the one hand, the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. This is good. On the other hand, the Messiah will come with “vengeance” and “divine retribution.” This sounds bad. But it also seems strange. Isaiah says, “With divine retribution [God] will come to save you.”  Just how does God intend to use His retribution for our salvation?  Isn’t His retribution supposed to lead to condemnation?

Timothy Keller notes that, when Jesus came, retribution and salvation were not so much in tension with each other as they were complimentary to each other, for Jesus “didn’t come to bring divine retribution; He came to bear it.”[2] On the cross, Jesus took the retribution our sins deserve so we could receive the salvation we could never earn. This is how divine retribution can lead to our salvation.

In A Tale of Two Cities, a kind of dualism runs through its opening salvo. There is good and bad, hopefulness and despair, and the reader does not know which one will ultimately prevail – or if either will prevail. In the case of Christ, though good and bad, hopefulness and despair are real and are in tension with each other, there is no doubt which will finally carry the day. Jesus may have groaned. But He still healed. And Jesus may bear divine retribution on a bloodied cross, but He still brings salvation out of an empty tomb. In Christ, the tension of Dickens is resolved. And that’s why we can have hope.

______________________________

[1] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999), 1.

[2] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross (New York: Dutton, 2011), 94

October 26, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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