One of my favorite movie scenes comes from the movie Hoosiers, where coach Norman Dale leads his basketball team into the gym where they’ll play in the state tournament. The team comes in as a serious underdog. They come from a small Indiana town and barely have enough players to put a full team on the court. And as they walk into this enormous gymnasium, you can tell they’re overwhelmed. They look up at the rafters and all the seats around the court. The way the town is portrayed in the film, this gymnasium could probably seat the entire town and have some seats left over.
And Coach Dale can tell they’re overwhelmed by the enormity of this. So, he calls out to one of the players to take one side of a measuring tape and stand under the backboard. Then he walks to the free-throw line and asks how many feet it is. The player says, “Fifteen feet.” Then he has one of the players put one of the smaller players on his shoulders, hoist him up and measure the distance from the rim of the basket to the floor. He then asks what the distance is, and the player calls out, “Ten feet.” So, finally, Coach Dale turns to the team and says, “I think you’ll find this is the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory.”
Obviously he wants them to know that everything that they’re about to encounter as they play these games is exactly what they’ve done before. The court measures the same as every other court they’ve played on. The ball will have the same dimensions. It’s the same game. So, they can stop being distracted by a setting that might appear to be so different.
But the reality is, as much as these games in the state tournament were going to be exactly like what they’d done all season long, it was also going to be entirely different. Shots would still be taken, but they’d be taken under a lot more pressure. They’d either win or lose – just as they had all season – but a win meant that they would be one step closer to the state title, and a loss would mean their season would be over. There would be no “going on to the next game” after a loss. The game might look exactly the same from one perspective, but everything would be ratcheted up because this was the state tournament.
I think that setting of doing things that were done before only in a setting of greater intensity is what we find in Mark 4:35-6:6a. On the one hand, we find elements in these stories that we’ve already seen before. We see Jesus’ authority over demons and sickness, Jesus delivering people, various responses to Jesus, and some being shown things while others have things concealed from them. Again, we’ve seen it all before already in Mark’s gospel.
However, as much as things are remaining the same, they are also much different in these episodes in Jesus’ life. We’ve seen him interact with a deliver people, but we’ve never seen him calm the sea – as we will in 4:35-41. We’ve seen him cast out demons but never a legion of demons who were tormenting a man continually (5:1-20). We’ve seen him heal sickness but perhaps not someone as desperate as the woman with the issue of blood, and we’ve never seen him raise someone from the dead – as he will in 5:21-43. And finally, we’ve seen people take offense at him and be blinded as to who he is, but perhaps not to the extent that we find when those who have known Jesus his whole life reject him so that it causes Jesus to marvel at their unbelief (6:1-6a).
All the elements are here; it’s just that they’re all ratcheted up. It’s as if we’re supposed to feel a breaking point coming. This can’t continue with something major happening, and indeed, something major will happen in Mark’s gospel, for Jesus is on his way to Calvary. Christ’s glory, authority, and honor will be ratcheted up even higher, and the people’s response will have even greater consequences as Jesus is nailed to a tree and left there to drown in his own blood near the end of this gospel. That’s where Mark is taking us. And we begin to feel the rise in intensity even now in these stories we look at this morning.
Therefore, I want us to focus in these stories on something we’ve looked at before, namely, the nature of Jesus and his authority and the responses people have toward him. And I think that Mark would have us ultimately ask ourselves, “Who do we say that Jesus is, and what will be our response to him?”
With that said, in Mark 4:35-41, we, first, see . . .
Jesus’ authority over creation and the disciples’ lack of faith (4:35-41)
Both of these elements – Jesus’ authority and the disciples’ response – are important for us to see. Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples (after a long day of Jesus’ teaching) got in a boat to head to the other side of the sea. And as they were going across the sea, a huge wind storm rose up so that the boat was beginning to take on water. Unless things changed dramatically, it seemed obvious to all of Jesus’ disciples that they were headed toward certain death.
And before we say, “C’mon, guys, don’t over-react,” we should keep in mind that a few of these guys were experienced fishermen. This is not a group unfamiliar with being on the water. So, when they’re scared that they might sink, it seems like the storm is indeed rough.
Interestingly, though, as they’re terrified, Jesus is sleeping in the stern of the boat on a cushion. So, they decide that they’ll wake him. After all, they may not know much, but they no doubt feel confident he can do something – even if they don’t know what. And they wake Jesus, saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (4:38).
Now, that’s an ironic question, isn’t it? The Son has taken on flesh because his mission is to give his life so that they might not perish. But they don’t know that. This question shows how far they have to go to realize who Jesus is and what he’s come to do. Nonetheless, Jesus stands up, and he does what they never anticipated him doing. He speaks to the wind and sea, saying, “Peace! Be still!” and Mark tells us, “And the wind ceased and there was great calm” (4:39).
And they marvel at Jesus, asking, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41). They’d seen him do amazing things, but they’d never seen him exercise control over nature. But Mark tells us something else Jesus says to them, right before their response. He asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4:40).
Jesus reveals with this question that they still don’t understand who he is. Jesus is not some mere teacher, moral man, or even a prophet. He is the one who has authority over the sea. And that is obviously impressive to us. After all, none of us tells waves to stop and they do. We are as helpless in the face of a storm as the disciples were. But we should be more than impressed with Jesus’ power. And the reason we should be more than impressed with his power is because there is one who has the authority in the Old Testament to speak and control nature. There is one who calls out the stars by name, who says to the sea, “This far you shall come and no farther,” and who spoke into the chaos of water formless and void and brought order and peace. That one is the God who created this world.
This is why the disciples marvel. And it’s why Jesus asks aloud if they still have no faith. After all, to this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has made his identity abundantly clear. I mean, how many times could we have made the point, “See, this shows that Jesus is the God-man. We saw it repeatedly in chapter one. We saw it with his bringing God’s kingdom. We saw it when he forgave sins. And we could point out a number of others examples already. Yet they still didn’t understand. They still didn’t believe.
Yet, this is helpful for us to consider, isn’t it? It’s easy to mock them and say, “Why are you scared of the waves when the one who created the sea is asleep with you in the same boat.” It would be like my child fretting because he can’t reach someone on top of the refrigerator when I’m standing right beside him – able to look over top of it.
And yet, is it unclear that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and that all the earth and the fullness thereof is his? It’s completely clear. But don’t we sometimes find ourselves fretting over things we need? Don’t we sometimes worry about having our needs met? How is that different? We confess that God loves us to the point that he did not spare his own Son in order to redeem us and yet grow concerned that he might not give us the spouse we need or keep from us a potential spouse we don’t need. Just consider right now the things that cause us – like the disciples – to be afraid, then remind yourself who your great God and Savior is and what he has done, and then ask if your fears are in any way justified. Surely not!
So, perhaps today is an opportunity, as we reminded of the authority and power of our Lord to make our requests known to him, trust him, and rest in his sovereign plan – even as Jesus rested in the midst of a raging storm.
Second, we see . . .
Jesus’ authority over demons and some mixed responses (5:1-20)
In Mark 5:1-20, we read that Jesus arrived at the other side of the sea only to find that a man ran up to him, but this wasn’t just any man. He was a man possessed by numerous demons. He lived among the tombs – which obviously screamed something was wrong. It’s just not normal to live among the dead. But there was more. Many had often tried to bind him, but he possessed some kind of demonic strength to the extent that they could bind him with chains or shackles because he’d rip them apart. No one was strong enough to subdue him.
And so he lived out there alone – no doubt the fear of the city – cutting himself with stones and crying out day and night. What a terrible image. And this man – who would cause any of us to run the other way – ran right up to Jesus, fell down before him, and began crying out to Jesus. But it wasn’t simply this man addressing Jesus, it was the unclean spirit within the man, who asked Jesus, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (5:7). Therefore, Jesus asked him his name, and the response came that his name was “Legion,” for there were many demons in this man.
So they begged Jesus not to send them out of the country, so he sent the demons into some pigs, so that they entered 2,000 pigs and caused them to run over a steep bank, into the sea, where they drowned.
And the man who herded the pigs rushed into the city to tell what had happened, and all the people came. I mean, can you imagine? They know this demoniac, and they arrive to see him clothed and in his right mind. Yet Mark tells us that they were afraid (5:15). Why? We’re not exactly sure. Perhaps Jesus’ power overwhelmed them. Perhaps it’s scary to be in the presence of one who had done such a miraculous work – driving out the demons no man had been strong enough to suppress with a mere word.
Perhaps it had to do with the pigs. After all, isn’t this a weird detail in the story? Couldn’t Jesus have saved this man’s herd of 2,000 pigs? Did they all have to run over a bank and drown? It’s odd isn’t it? But consider this. To this man, those 2,000 pigs, running over the steep bank and plunging to their deaths signaled the removal of these demons. There was a violent extremely visual picture that the demons that had tormented every second of this man’s life were done. Jesus had not only delivered this man but given him a demonstration that he could now rest and no longer fear.
So, the man rightly wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus tells him to go back to his village and tell others what had happened. After all, what a miracle to testify to Christ. But we are told that the other begged Jesus to leave (5:17).
Now, before we condemn them too quickly, it’s easy to imagine how scared we might be after such a miracle and the death of 2,000 pigs. That’s not a pretty picture. And, again, before we condemn them, shouldn’t we examine ourselves? Perhaps this story should serve to remind us to consider our priorities. Surely we should say, “Who cares about 2,000 pigs? This man has been made whole.” But those who should have known this much better than us merely wanted the destructive man named Jesus to leave. What he cost them wasn’t worth the obvious benefit.
So, perhaps we should ask ourselves what things we value more than seeing the kingdom of our Christ spread. Perhaps we should look at how we utilize our finances. After all, Jesus tells us that where our treasure is there will our heart be also. What is it then that we treasure? Are you and I saying, “No,” to Jesus today because we want to get a few more possessions? Jesus holds out the promise of lasting treasure, telling us that he can give it if we will only sow bountifully into his kingdom. But do we really value Christ’s work?
Are we more like those who treasure pigs over the deliverance of this man than we think? Before pointing the finger at them, perhaps we should pause and examine our own lives. They should have been begging to be with Jesus even as Legion was, but they were begging him to stay. Do our lives show that we are treasuring things we cannot keep while passing on treasures that will never go away? Let us examine ourselves in light of the one who has authority over demons and has freed us from the tyranny of the evil one.
Third, we see . . .
Jesus’ authority over death and some amazing faith (5:21-43)
Mark provides for us in 5:21-43 one of his signature elements in his story-telling. He’ll often begin a story and then insert another story right in the middle, before concluding the story with which he began. And that’s what he does here.
He begins with a man named Jairus who comes to Jesus because his daughter is at the point of death, and he knows that Jesus can lay hands on her and make her well. So, Jesus agrees, and off they go. However, in the midst of this story, another interrupts it.
As Jesus is walking and the crowd is pressing in on him, there is a woman who has had an issue of blood for twelve years. She’d been to all the physicians and had spent all she had. But nothing had changed. This is about as helpless and despairing of a situation as we’ve seen in Mark’s gospel to this point. But the woman knows that if she can just touch Jesus’ garment, she’ll be made well. She does, and she is.
But Jesus stops. He’s felt healing power go out of his body, and he wants to know who touched him. Now, the disciples respond as we would. What do you mean who touched you, we might think, there are a number of people touching you. And that’s just how they responded. But Jesus knows something has happened. So he keeps inquiring.
Finally, the woman who had been made well trembles, falls down at Jesus’ feet, and tells him the whole story. And he responds, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (5:34).
Now, why does Jesus stop and address the woman? In part, it was no doubt because he wanted to acknowledge her and her faith. But it seems that it was also to provide a model for faith in despairing situations to Jairus, because he was soon going to need it.
In fact, while Jesus was still speaking to the woman, one from Jairus’ house comes and tells him not to bother Jesus anymore. His daughter had already died. But Jesus responds, “Do not fear; only believe” (5:36). And he comes to the house, tells them the child is sleeping, and commands her to rise from the dead – which she does. And those in the house are overcome with amazement.
Here, then, we see Jesus’ power to raise the dead – something we hadn’t seen before. And we see amazing faith in the midst of despairing and helpless situations. Again, I think Mark includes all of these responses because he wants us – the readers – to consider how we’re responding to Jesus. Have we found ourselves overwhelmed by such despairing situations that we’ve stopped praying for something or stopped laboring to see the Lord’s kingdom demonstrated? Maybe you’ve prayed for someone to come to faith in Christ so long that it just seems hopeless now. Well, we baptized 93-year-old Ms. Patricia Miller a few weeks ago. Maybe you’ve grown weary of thinking a marriage can be restored. Well, a couple years back we witnessed Jon Putt’s parents be reconciled after years of separation. Maybe you feel like your attempts at evangelism have been unfruitful. Well, William Carey labored for seven years before seeing a convert, and then they witnessed somewhat of a revival in India. Maybe we’ve grown hopeless in thinking that our friends or family will repent of their sexual immorality or homosexuality or drug addiction. After all, we know the hold these sins can have on people. Yet, do we need to be reminded of the grace and forgiveness found by David the murderer and adulterer or Paul who persecuted the church?
I know it’s easy to despair and grow weary in doing good. Perhaps some feel as hopeless as the woman whose twelve-year-long visit to physicians had only left her broke and hopeless or as desperate as the man whose daughter had already died. If it weren’t easy to grow weary in doing good, then we wouldn’t be exhorted not to grow weary in doing good. But it is easy to grow weary. It’s hard to keep praying, keep sharing the gospel, keep encouraging, keep rebuking, keep investing in people’s lives, keep sacrificing of ourselves and our goods. It’s hard, but we serve a God who is able to raise the dead. So, let us persevere in these things in light of who our Lord is.
We’ve seen, after all, his authority over creation, over the demons, and over sickness and death. But then, the text takes a turn. If it’s been building to this point, what are we going to see when he goes to his hometown? I mean, Jesus had raised the daughter of a stranger. He’d delivered a man whom he didn’t even know. He many great things would he do when he went to his hometown to see people who knew him and his family well?
People who were strangers had begged to follow him. People who didn’t even know him knew that he could do the impossible even if they were able to touch his garment or if he would just lay hands on his daughter. What kind of amazing faith would we see from those who have gotten to see Jesus’ perfect obedience for years?
Well, surprisingly, what we find in 6:1-6a, as Jesus goes back to his hometown is . . .
Jesus’ authority veiled and outright unbelief (6:1-6a)
As Jesus comes back to his hometown, he goes into the synagogue and begins teaching. And, as expected, people are astonished. They know he has wisdom and is doing mighty works. But their instant response is to say, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And Mark tells us, “And they took offense at him” (6:3).
They couldn’t believe because he was all too familiar to them. They knew his brothers and mother. They’d seen him grow up and scrape his knees. Surely he couldn’t be the Messiah in light of how much they’d seen and heard him.
And therefore, Jesus didn’t do mighty works there. The text says he “could” do no mighty work there, probably not referring to his inability but the fact that it was outside of his mission to these who had refused to believe. Perhaps we can think it his inability to do mighty works here much like his inability to turn rocks into bread or jump off the pinnacle of the temple. He could not do it because his Father did not will it. After all, Jesus’ mission was not to come and perform miracles but to come and save those who would believe.
But these had hardened their hearts and would not believe, and so Jesus’ authority was veiled to them. They would not see his powerful demonstration of the kingdom of God.
And this too can be a warning to some here today. Maybe you’re a child here this morning and you’ve not yet believed. Jesus hasn’t marveled you. After all, you’ve heard of him your whole life. You can’t remember a time you didn’t have people reading to you about Jesus, telling you stories about him, and singing songs of him. You can’t remember a time you didn’t hear the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross for sinners, and rose from the dead on the third day proclaimed to you. So, you may be thinking, “Well, I’m just waiting for something else that carries some more excitement than what I’ve heard. I’m familiar with Jesus.”
Well, let me then say to you this morning. Your familiarity does not mean he is not the Lord. In fact, he is. And he’s graciously allowed you to be put in a family or in a situation where you get to hear the gospel. And you will be judged on whether you bow the knee in faith to him. If you do, you will receive eternal life. If you don’t, you will hear on that final day, ‘Depart from me you worker of iniquity, for I never knew you.’ And I hate the thought of that happening. It breaks my heart.
So, consider those in Mark 6:1-6a whose unbelief caused Jesus to marvel and refuse to be like them. Fall on your knees and cry out in faith for God to forgive you through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the one who has all authority in heaven and earth. He is the God-man. He is the Lord. How will we respond to him today?