Studying the Gospels Together: Mark Three

As part of the ReMarkAble series at First Baptist Church, I will be releasing weekly posts with my notes for those who are using the Studying the Gospels Together (STGT) method in their Adult Community Group. You can read more about the STGT Method here and how this site is integrating the ReMarkAble series here.

Introductory Comments

The third chapter begins with the final one of the five pronouncement stories that began in Mark 2. Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, which causes anger in the Pharisees and gives them reason to “accuse him (3:2).” This story gives further instruction surrounding sabbath laws, extending the lessons from the previous pronouncement story (2:23-28). Their response causes anger in Jesus and grieves him to see their hardness of heart. As the chapter continues, we learn more about who Jesus is and why he came. The STGT method begins with noting certain activities Jesus commonly engages in, but in this chapter we really only see the ways that Jesus interacts in relationship with others. He heals, teaches, spends time with his disciples and clarifies who he is in confrontation with the Pharisees. As we continue to use the STGT method, it is important to note that some chapters will not have the diversity of activity that others will. That does not mean there is not much to learn and observe. There is a lot of rich content that our questions for reflection and application will draw out. This particular chapter has some very challenging passages that will be good to be aware of, and also some extremely informative passages.

Things to Note

In the STGT Method, we begin by noting five different activities of Jesus.

(P) Prayer

There is no specific reference to Jesus praying in this chapter.

(3:7) While this is not a specific reference to prayer, it is helpful to note that Jesus “withdrew with his disciples to the sea.” In the busyness of life and ministry, we should always be intentional to take the time to “withdraw” from the “activity” of ministry to be with God and those who are closest to us.

(W) Reads or references God’s Word

There is no specific reference to Jesus reading or referencing God’s word in this chapter.

(F) Relates to God the Father

There is no specific reference to Jesus relating to God the Father in this chapter.

(HS) Relates to the Holy Spirit

(3:28) Jesus is not engaging in direct relationship with the Holy Spirit in this passage, but is honoring the Holy Spirit’s role and person hood. The entirety of the conflict between Jesus and the scribes here is one of the more difficult passages to understand.

(R) Overflows in loving relationship with people

This will be the most common category we see. Jesus is constantly interacting with people through his teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons, or discipleship. I will not list all possible ways that this is seen in this chapter, but only mention a few.

(3:1-6) Jesus heals the withered hand of a man on the Sabbath. This passage helps us understand Jesus’ priority upon people. This passage describes some deep emotion in Jesus. It says that “he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart (3:5).” Ultimately, Jesus restores the withered man’s hand. The Sabbath laws that existed were keeping people from loving and caring for one another well.

(3:13-19) Jesus calls and appoints the twelve apostles. These will be the inner twelve that would one day carry Jesus’ mission forward. Jesus invests a significant amount of time with these men. It says that Jesus appointed the twelve so that he could “be with them” and that “he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” Jesus first wants to be with them and then he wants to send them out to mimic his own ministry. The pattern is that disciples of Jesus are first with and then sent.

(3:34-35) Jesus says that “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus makes a statement of inclusion here. So long as we have the humility to follow Jesus and respond in obedience to the will of God, Jesus will count us among his family, his people. It is not a matter of lineage, birth order or past. We are part of the family when we follow Him. That is exciting news!

Questions for Reflection

What does this passage tell us about who Jesus is?

Many conclusions could be drawn about who Jesus is from this chapter. Let me talk about two. First, as he is healing and casting out demons in 3:7-12, he comes into contact with unclean spirits. Mark says that “whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, you are the Son of God.” The term Son of Man is possibly the most important Christological term within the New Testament. Mark’s Gospel itself does not use the term extensively, although we did see it earlier in chapter one, during Jesus’ baptism. Here a demon is using the term, but Jesus silences him. It is possible that Jesus did not want his divine sonship to be tied to the miracles he was performing at this time, but more with the suffering and death he would endure later. Jesus’ divine sonship gives him clear authority over the unclean spirits. His authority is not coming from something outside himself, and we do not see evidence that Jesus recited some sort of incantation or appealed to another authority as others may have attempted. Jesus’ authority comes from His own person hood as the Son of God.

A second element to who Jesus is also relates to how he engages with the unclean spirits and demons. The scribes began to suggest that Jesus was “‘possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out demons (3:22).’” The mastery Jesus had over the unclean spirits and demons was unprecedented. How is it possible that he could have such authority over them? The scribes, not wanting to attribute Jesus any sort of power that might come from his divine nature, go in the opposite direction. Jesus must have authority over demons because he is the chief of all demons. Jesus responds by telling a parable, pointing out that it goes against all logic for Satan to behave in such a way. Why would Satan rise up against himself? It doesn’t make sense. Jesus goes on to explain that the spirit within him is the Holy Spirit. The divine spirit. He makes this inference through his teaching about the “unforgivable sin.” The scribes were saying that Jesus has “an unclean spirit (3:30).” Jesus responds with a warning against blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. The scribes were teaching false things against the spirit within Jesus, Jesus responds by warning against blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, because the spirit that exists within Jesus is in fact the Holy Spirit.

What does this passage tell us about why Jesus came?

In the previous two chapters, there were statements like “I came” or “this is why I came out.” Jesus gives some big purpose statements in those chapters, which help us understand Jesus’ mission. This chapter does not make such explicit statements, but we can still draw some conclusion about why Jesus came. Let me make one, and you can continue thinking about others.

One is that Jesus clearly wants to invest in the apostles that would carry on his message and mission. Jesus calls them “so that” they can be with Jesus and sent by Jesus. Jesus came to shape and mold his followers, so that they will respond by carrying on Jesus’ mission. Jesus wanted to call people to himself. Jesus wanted to invite people to be part of the Kingdom that was breaking into the world.

What does it say about what it means to follow Jesus?

I have two thoughts about what this chapter tells about what it means to follow Jesus. You will likely have more, but here are a couple suggestions:

(3:14-15) The with and sent dynamic is extremely important. As Jesus’ followers, we must be aware of the way this exists for us. As we think about our relationship with Jesus, in the same way the disciples are with Jesus and then sent by Jesus, we must also be with Jesus before we are sent by Jesus. Both are necessary, and the latter comes as an overflow of the former. Additionally, I believe that we engage in similar behavior with others. As we seek to disciple other people, we must also spend time with them and then send them out into the world as part of God’s mission.

(3:5) When I first read this passage, I was struck by the somewhat conflicting emotions of Jesus in this passage. Jesus is both angered at the response of those around him, but he is also grieved at their hardness of heart. As his followers, do we love people enough to balance those emotions? Are we able to have righteous anger with people who are so clearly rejecting God’s ways, while also loving them so deeply that it grieves us? Jesus does not necessarily command us to have the same response, but as we become more like our savior, I think that we should seek to balance these emotions as well. It is likely that we all emphasis one response over the other, either anger toward people or a grieving heart. How can we learn to cultivate a balance in our response like Jesus did?    

Challenging Passage: The unforgivable sin

The discussion of the “unforgivable sin” is difficult to navigate. Your group will likely ask questions regarding its meaning. Please consider reading more about this from commentaries or trusted teachers. I will make a few points that could be helpful.

  1. Taken in context, it is clear that Jesus is making these comments in response to the conflict with the scribes. Jesus wants to clarify what spirit exists within him. It is the Holy Spirit that resides within Jesus and through whom Jesus has command over demons - not an unclean spirit, as the scribes were suggesting.

  2. Jesus is also giving a warning based on the actions and behaviors of the scribes. Jesus does not explicitly say that their behavior is classified as blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, but it is certainly trending in that direction. Hence the warning.

  3. The role of the Holy Spirit in forgiveness is one of conviction (Jn 16:8). If we blaspheme the Holy Spirit, rejecting him and driving him away, we will effectively drive away the conviction of sin. Without conviction, there is no repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness of sin. In this way, blaspheming the Holy Spirit will put us in a situation in which we will never have conviction of sin, therefore never having repentance of sin, therefore never having forgiveness of sin, and therefore we will be guilty of an eternal sin.

  4. God’s forgiveness is vast and extensive. Jesus says that all sins will be forgiven, and whatever blasphemies that are uttered (3:20). Jesus makes it clear that God’s forgiveness reaches far to save. Forgiveness necessitates repentance. The Holy Spirit is necessary to the process of genuine repentance.

  5. This is a condition of the heart, not necessarily an event. If someone has done something in the past they fear would be considered blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and now they fear it has made them eternally guilty, I do not believe that is likely the case. The simple fact that they are repentant points to the reality that the Holy Spirit is working on their heart, they are not being rejected by God, but called by God. Their desire to seek God reveals that they are not guilty of the unforgivable sin. People who are guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit are either unaware of their condition, or blatantly don’t care. They are not repentant.

As a group leader, I would encourage you to steer your group away from allowing this passage to monopolize your time together, because there are many other really great things to discuss from this chapter that are more clear and less confusing. Because this is a confusing passage, it will therefore garner questions to its meaning. Take the time to answer them and discuss, but be mindful of how much time you spend on this portion of the chapter alone. 

If people fear that they have committed the unforgivable sin, assure them that the fact they are even asking the question points to the reality that the Holy Spirit is working in their life and therefore they are not guilty of the unforgivable sin. Encourage them to repent of any sin they feel conviction for, believe in the gospel, and trust in the truth that God forgives. Further, it is impossible for us to know if someone else has or has not committed “the unforgivable sin,” so we need not give up on someone because they appear to have “blasphemed the Holy Spirit.” We couldn't possibly know that for sure. God’s forgiveness is far reaching, and we should not limit it based on our own perceptions of someone else.

Questions for Application

In response to what you have read, what is one action step you believe God is calling you to make this week?

The chapter this week could lead people in many different directions for application. Continue to encourage people to think about practical ways they can follow through on what God is calling them to do this week.

Based on this chapter, it would be a good time to remind people that the pattern is with and then sent. Everything we do as “sent ones” comes as an overflow of being with Jesus. In the same fashion, our action steps come in response to who we already are in Christ. We are not taking action steps because we want to earn something from God. We are responding in obedient action because God has already clarified his love for us in Jesus, and our obedience is an overflow of our relationship with God.

What is one thing you learned this week you could share with someone else? Who do you plan to share it with?

This question is meant to simply help us learn how to share what we are learning from Jesus. We see in this chapter that Jesus wants his message to spread. When we follow him, we become conduit of that message. We do not need to feel the burden of sharing everything we know about Jesus in every conversation we have, but it can be more natural to share something we are learning. What is something you learned that you could share with someone else? Think about who you might want to share it with.