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Parables Of JesusMark
By Edward (Les) Middleton
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2006 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePreparing For Public Ministry
Before We Begin ...
What do you believe was God's mission for John the Baptist? How do you think John reacted when he realized who Jesus was?
In the very first sentence of his Gospel, Mark makes a point of introducing his main character—Jesus—with a specific title: "Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Every word in this introduction bears significant meaning.
Jesus, a divinely given personal name, is the Greek equivalent of Yhosua (Joshua) in Hebrew and means "Yahweh is salvation."
Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew title mashiyach (messiah), meaning "anointed one." It refers to the ruler and deliverer anticipated by the Jewish people who would fulfill Old Testament prophecies. The title Christ eventually became part of Jesus' personal name.
Son points to Jesus' unique relationship to God, as well as to His humanity. He depends on and obeys God the Father just as a human son does his father.
God emphasizes Jesus' deity. Though He has adopted human form according to His Father's plan, He remains perfect, holy, and fully divine.
Think about what Mark may have been trying to communicate by starting out his narrative this way, then answer the following questions.
What effect might the name Jesus have had on people who met Him and understood its meaning? What other meanings of names might God have considered for His only Son?
What does a title say about a person? How can a title be misleading?
Does the idea of Jesus as "Son of God" make it easier or harder for you to identify with Him? Why?
How can someone be both human and divine? List any struggles you might have with this concept.
Getting Ready (Mark 1:1–8)
The first section of the Gospel of Mark is all about "getting ready." John the Baptist prepares the people for the arrival of a new king—the King of all kings—with proclamations to great crowds of people. Jesus prepares for His historic ministry through His baptism and through a period of testing in the desert. The actions of both are vital to the success of everything that follows.
Before describing these events, however, Mark readies his own readers for what is to come. He reminds us of the Old Testament prophecies about a messenger who will "prepare the way of the LORD" (Mark 1:3 NKJV) as recorded by the prophet Isaiah. Other than quotations by Jesus, it is the only place in his Gospel where Mark refers to the Old Testament.
Fill in the blanks in the passage below, then answer the questions that follow.
"Behold, I send My __________ before Your face, Who will __________ Your way before You." "The voice of one crying in the __________: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His __________ straight.'" (Mark 1:2–3 NKJV)
In ancient times, often a messenger was sent ahead to announce the coming of a king so townspeople could repair rough roads. How is John the Baptist like one of these messengers?
In what ways might people have responded differently to Jesus if John the Baptist had not "prepared the way"?
Do you see any similarities between the Israelites' wanderings in the wilderness and God's chosen messenger, John the Baptist? What are they?
Why does Mark seem to emphasize the "journey" aspect of Jesus' ministry by repeatedly employing terms such as "way" and "paths"?
John and Jesus in the Jordan River (Mark 1:9–11)
In Mark 1:4–5, we learn that John was baptizing huge crowds—imagine long lines of people waiting for their turn in the Jordan River—and preaching "repentance for the remission of sins" (v. 4 NKJV). But Mark quickly points out the contrast we will see between these people, as well as John himself, and the One who was coming. John told the people, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:7–8 NKJV).
The contrast becomes more apparent when we read about Jesus' arrival and baptism. The text doesn't mention that Jesus sought forgiveness of sins, because he didn't need forgiveness. Then, after He emerged from the river, the heavens themselves responded: "He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, 'You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'" (Mark 1:10–11 NKJV).
Even a Hebrew slave was not required to perform a task as menial as loosening the straps of his master's sandals. Why did John the Baptist (and Mark) make such a point of this humbling illustration?
Why do you think it was important for John to introduce a "baptism of repentance" just before the ministry of Jesus?
Why would Jesus, who was already one with God, submit Himself to John's baptism?
How was Jesus clearly set apart from everyone else who was baptized that day?
The Devil In The Desert (Mark 1:12–13)
The next two verses tell of Jesus' forty-day time of testing and temptation in the wilderness. The number forty recalls the experiences of Moses (Exod. 24:18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), as well as Israel's forty-year trial in the desert. Here, in a place populated by "wild beasts" and characterized by desolation, loneliness, and danger, Jesus encounters the prince of evil personally. Yet Jesus is not alone; He is attended by angels, reminding us that God is always with us no matter how desperate our circumstances.
Why would God allow Satan to tempt Jesus just before the beginning of His ministry?
Why are Mark's final words in this passage—"and the angels ministered to Him"—so important?
Pulling It All Together ...
The first section of Mark is about preparation. As was prophesied by Isaiah and others in the Old Testament, God sent a messenger—John the Baptist—to prepare the way for the Lord. John introduced a new form of baptism that called for repentance and forgiveness of sins. The people of Judea responded, coming out in droves to the wilderness to be baptized in the Jordan River. There, John announced to the people that someone even mightier than he was coming who would baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit. Though they didn't realize it, John was preparing the people for a Savior.
A man named Jesus then came to John and was baptized. The heavens opened up and God Himself spoke, publicly identifying Jesus as His Son and describing His love for and delight in Him.
Jesus then went deeper into the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan and attended by angels for forty days. This was a time of testing and preparation for Jesus—His final moments before beginning a ministry that would change the course of history.
Chapter TwoEarly Galilean Ministry
Before We Begin ...
If Jesus had begun His ministry today instead of two thousand years ago, would you have embraced Him as the disciples did or opposed Him as the Pharisees did? Why?
In Mark's record of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, we are introduced to the major elements that appear in most of the rest of his Gospel: Jesus teaching and working with His disciples; Jesus preaching to the people; Jesus performing miracles such as healing and driving out demons; and Jesus coming into conflict with authorities.
Jesus launched His ministry with an important public statement. Upon arriving in Galilee, one of the largest Roman districts of Palestine, Jesus began preaching the gospel and announced, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15 NKJV).
This statement includes two declarations and two commands. The first declaration, "The time is fulfilled," indicates that the preparation and expectation of the Old Testament era were over. A new era was dawning.
What would this statement have meant to Jesus' listeners?
The second declaration, "The kingdom of God is at hand," alluded to the coming of a royal, holy, and sovereign ruler. The Jews were expecting a future messianic kingdom to be established on earth, so they would have understood this reference. But it's doubtful they realized that the messenger before them, Jesus, was the King they were waiting for!
Why would it have been difficult for the Jewish people to accept Jesus as a king?
The first command issued by Jesus is "Repent," which in this usage means to turn away from an existing object of trust, such as oneself.
Why would Jesus have opened his ministry with a command as challenging as "Repent"?
The second command is "believe in the gospel." "Believe" meant to commit oneself completely to an object of faith, while "gospel" referred to the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and Messiah.
Why didn't Jesus immediately explain to His listeners that He was the good news they were seeking?
Fishermen-Turned-Disciples (Mark 1:16–20)
We meet Peter, the future "rock" of the church then known as Simon, for the first time in Mark's Gospel when Jesus sees him fishing with his brother Andrew beside the Sea of Galilee. Jesus doesn't hesitate to recruit them, saying, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men" (Mark 1:17 NKJV).
Would you be willing to walk away from your livelihood on a moment's notice? What would have convinced Peter and Andrew to follow Jesus so quickly?
It's interesting that the phrase "Follow Me" could be translated here as "Go behind Me as a disciple." Jesus did not act like a traditional rabbi, waiting for students to seek him out, but instead pursued and singled out the men who would become His closest followers.
Why did Jesus choose common fishermen as His first disciples? Why does Mark take the time to tell us about their profession?
Jesus promised to make his disciples "fishers of men." The metaphor echoes Isaiah's words describing the wicked as being like the "troubled sea," with "no peace" (Isa. 57:20–21).
Why is Jesus' sea metaphor such an apt one for the future work of His disciples?
Perhaps only a few minutes after encountering Simon and Andrew, Jesus spies James and his brother John in a fishing boat. He calls them to discipleship as well: both "left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him" (Mark 1:20 NKJV).
Mark immediately follows Jesus' commands to repent and believe with the accounts of Jesus gathering His first disciples, including the details about James and John leaving their father and his hired hands behind. What is Mark saying here about the commitment required for discipleship?
One Amazing Day (Mark 1:21–34)
In the following fourteen verses, the four fishermen-turned-disciples quickly discovered new evidence that this Jesus was unlike anyone they had encountered before. Jesus entered the synagogue and taught as one with authority. He sent unclean spirits out of a man (the first of the eighteen miracles recorded in Mark). He removed the fever of Simon's mother-in-law. In the evening, the "whole city" gathered at His door, bringing their sick and demon-possessed, and He healed them.
Read Mark 1:21–34 and pay special attention to the responses Jesus' actions elicited from His new disciples and from others.
What kind of thoughts must have been running through the minds of Simon, Andrew, James, and John at the end of this amazing day?
How was it more powerful for Jesus to teach in the synagogue with authority, drive out demons, and heal the sick than to simply announce to the crowds that He was the Messiah?
How did these early authoritative deeds and miracles prepare the people of Galilee (as well as Mark's readers) to hear and receive Jesus' message?
Even in an age before radio, television, and the Internet, word of Jesus' incredible deeds spread quickly. How did Jesus' fame differ from that of celebrities today?
Mark provides very specific details about the time when "the whole city" came to Jesus with their sick and demon-possessed, noting that it was "at evening, when the sun had set" (Mark 1:32 NKJV). This reference shows that the people of Capernaum waited until the Sabbath day was over, after sunset, before transporting anyone. The law and rabbinic regulations prohibited any work from being performed on the Sabbath.
What is your response to the powerful picture of perhaps hundreds of desperate people waiting impatiently for the sun to go down so they could have a chance at healing?
Prayer And Preaching (Mark 1:35–45)
Fill in the blanks in the passage below.
Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and __________ to a solitary place; and there He __________. And Simon and those who were with Him __________ for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, "Everyone is __________ for You." But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may __________ there also, because for this __________ I have come forth." And He was __________ in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons. (Mark 1:35–39 NKJV)
What is Mark telling us about the importance of prayer in this passage?
Why did Jesus decide to move on instead of staying in Capernaum?
Read Mark 1:40–45, then answer the following questions.
How strong was the leper's faith?
Why was Jesus' touch a significant demonstration of compassion (see Lev. 13:45–46)?
Conflict With Jewish Religious Leaders (Mark 2:1–3:5)
In Mark 2:1–3:5, we observe a striking contrast in the responses Jesus was provoking in Galilee. The previous passages are filled with examples of amazement and growing faith inspired by the words and deeds of Jesus. His popularity with the people was soaring; huge crowds followed Him everywhere.
But Jesus' actions had also attracted the attention of Jewish religious leaders, and their reaction took a very different course. The following section includes five examples of the increasing conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leadership.
1. Forgiving Sin (Mark 2:1–12)
Jesus, preaching in a house in Capernaum, responded to the tenacity and faith of four men carrying a paralytic. He healed him by simply saying, "Son, your sins are forgiven you" (Mark 2:5 NKJV). The teachers of the Law were shocked, believing this to be blasphemy. Jesus showed them that He had the authority to forgive sin by instructing the paralytic to walk.
Mark makes a clear distinction between the faith of the paralytic and his four friends and the faith of the scribes. Why did these teachers of the Law struggle so hard against what they were seeing and hearing?
In the Old Testament, disease was considered a consequence of a man's sinful condition. Why, instead of only healing the paralytic, did Jesus also make a point of forgiving his sins?
Why did Jesus ask which is easier, forgiving sin or healing a paralytic?
2. Eating With Sinners (Mark 2:13–17)
Jesus recruited Levi the tax collector, also known as Matthew, to join His band of disciples. As they dined together with many other tax collectors and sinners, scribes and Pharisees questioned why Jesus associated with these outcasts. Jesus replied, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Mark 2:17 NKJV).
Jesus had already included common fishermen in His group of followers. Now He invited one of the tax collectors—servants of the government, often corrupt, and despised by the Jews—to join Him. What kind of statement was Jesus making here?
The Pharisees did not confront Jesus with their complaints about His eating with sinners, but mentioned them to the disciples instead. Why do you think they did this?
Based on this passage, how do you think the Pharisees viewed themselves?
3. Failing To Fast (Mark 2:18–22)
Disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were fasting and asked Jesus why His followers didn't fast as well. Jesus answered, "As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast" (Mark 2:19 NKJV). He then explained further by telling the parable of old and new wineskins.
For the disciples, how was being with Jesus like being at a wedding?
What was Jesus hinting at when He said, "The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them" (Mark 2:20 NKJV)?
What is the meaning of the wineskins parable?
Excerpted from Parables Of Jesus by Edward (Les) Middleton Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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