A bitesize look at the first verse of the Gospel of Mark in the Bible. ‘The beginning of the Good news about Jesus the Messiah, the son of God’ is a direct challenge to the Roman Emperor and Roman religion. We compare the Priene calendar inscription about Emperor Augustus and the papyrus about Emperor Nero with the opening line of the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 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 they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6)
Our English bibles have anglicized the names and so we tend to forget that Jesus was a first century Israeli rabbi and spiritual healer. Even his name is anglicized! Jesus was not called Jesus! His name in Hebrew is Yeshua. The mother of Yeshua is not Mary. Her Hebrew name is Miryam. The brothers of Yeshua aren’t James, Joses, Judas and Simon. Their names are: Yaakov, Yosi, Yehudah and Shimon. The passage quoted above shows that it was the custom of Yeshua to teach in the synagogues.
It must be significant that the Gospel of Mark (a first century biography of Yeshua) acknowledges that Jesus was limited by the level of faith in the crowd. He could do no miracles in his home town because of their unbelief. He was only able by the laying on of hands to heal just a few people. But where there is faith in Yeshua then a connection is made and the power is able to flow from heaven to earth through Yeshua:
He came and stood on a level place with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. (Luke 6:17-19).
Rev Dr Peter Pimentel
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Mark 10:13-14)
It was natural for Jewish parents to want their children to be blessed by a Rabbi, it was tradition that the child be blessed on or around their first birthday by a rabbi. Here we have the parents trying to bring their babies to Jesus to be blessed, and the disciples trying to stop them.
The disciples were Jesus’ closest friends and helpers, we basically see them here acting as bouncers for Jesus. They viewed the children as disruptive, and a distraction.
A theologian called George Macdonald once said that He doesn’t believe in a person’s Christianity if the children are never to be found playing in their churches.
The message for all of us is a simple one, there will always be people putting up obstacles, often it will be those inside the church like the disciples who think they are doing the right thing but are in fact just putting up obstacles, obstacles that will get in the way of children and people coming to Jesus, obstacles that make the church and Christianity look like a stern, serious and gloomy place rather than how Jesus wants His church to be. Jesus wants His church to be open to all, obstruction free, a place where children can play games and be not be considered disruptive.
Jesus doesn’t need us to act as His bouncers, He wants everyone to come to Him unhindered. Tear down the barriers that stop or slow people coming to Jesus.
Jesus …came with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people …They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. (The Gospel of Luke 6:17-19, New Revised Standard Version).
“Power came out from him and healed all of them.” The same Greek word is used here as in the Mark passage above. Dunamis! Not only run of the mill healings but power-healings! At first glance, the power seems to be some sort of spiritual energy that flows out from Jesus. It seems to be a kind of energy that is detachable from Jesus. What is this power? To answer this question, we do need a little 1st Century Jewish background. After all, Jesus was a 1st Century Israeli rabbi. In the time of Jesus, it was forbidden to use the holy name of God, YHWH (pronounced, Yahweh. There are no vowels in ancient Hebrew!). Whenever YHWH occurs in the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament) the reader would use a substitute such as Adonai (the Lord), Ha-Shem (The Name) or Ha-Gevurah. (The Power). Most English Bibles translate YHWH as “The Lord”. In conversation one of these substitute names was always used. To utter the divine name YHWH was blasphemy and liable of the death sentence. So, it seems likely that the power that came out of Jesus was not some mystical or spiritual energy but that it was nothing less than The Power! YHWH! The manifestation of God himself in healing. At his trial, Jesus also avoided speaking the divine name YHWH and he used the substitute, The Power. The High Priest is interrogating Jesus. He asked Jesus if he is the Messiah. Jesus replies: I AM. Then he says:
And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of The Power and coming with the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:62).
The Greek word dunamis again and with the definite article. Jesus would have used the Hebrew original Ha-Gevurah. Although Jesus did not utter the divine name YHWH nevertheless the High Priest deems that Jesus has committed blasphemy anyway because of the other things he has said:
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? Mark 14:63).
At this point, the Gospel has the ring of truth with a piece of detail of historical reliability. We know from ancient rabbinic sources that The High Priest tore his robe and that this constitutes the verdict of blasphemy. The sage Rabbi ben Qorha said that once the
witnesses have given their evidence, “the Judges stand and tear their clothing and never sew them back up.” (Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin, 7:5).
Jesus, after his death but before his ascension, told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with Power from on high”. (Luke 24: 49). It is clear that Jesus didn’t think of this power as some sort of mystical or spiritual energy but rather as nothing less than the third person of the divine trinity – The Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8).
Revd Dr Peter Pimentel
And he could do no power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (The Gospel of Mark 6:5-6, my translation).
Haha. That’s funny. Most churches today would be ecstatic with joy if they witnessed a few healings! Evidently there is a difference between run of the mill healings and power healings (miraculous healings?). The Holy Gospel of Mark is a 1st century biography of Jesus in the Greek language. The Greek word used in Mark translated above as “power” is dunamis from which we get “dynamite”! In the language of Jesus, the Hebrew behind dunamis is ha-gevurah.
It must be significant that Jesus was limited by the level of faith in the crowd. I wonder if Jesus is still limited today by the level of faith in many churches! Conversely, The Holy Gospels also inform us that where there is faith in Jesus amongst the people then a connection is made and the dunamis is able to flow through Jesus from heaven to earth.
Revd Dr Peter Pimentel
“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)
A mustard seed is tiny it’s about 1mm thick and from this tiny seed a mustard plant would grow often reaching well over 6ft in one year and would attract lots of birds who would come and perch in its branches and eat its seeds. Have you ever wondered why Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed?
The mustard seed – one of the smallest seeds that grow into ‘the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches. The image should make us stop and think, perhaps Jesus is being slightly satirical. I would think a more appropriate image would be a mighty oak tree growing from a small acorn. Or perhaps a more biblical tree, like a mighty cedar tree, in fact in Ezekiel in the old testament it says:
God says ‘I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it … it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches’.
But here Jesus doesn’t compare the kingdom of God to the tallest and strongest of trees. Jesus likens the kingdom of God, the church to something that sprouts up quite quickly from almost nothing and the develops into an ungainly spindly shrub. This should make us smile, Jesus is giving us a humorous picture of the kingdom of God that contains a deep meaning.
Churches I think can take comfort from the lips of Jesus. Like the mustard plant, a church can be an untidy sprawling shrub. But Jesus is saying something quite profound about the church; It will be a bit a messy and jumbled but in the mess is real life, and perhaps it isn’t easy to find your place in neat and tidy systems. But in Jesus’ church, that is a bit messy and tangled, there is a place and room for everyone (Martyn Percy).