Studying the Gospels Together: Mark Seven

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

We begin to see a shift in Mark's Gospel in this chapter. Mark has spent a large portion of his Gospel so far to establish Jesus as the Messiah. Mark clustered a number of features together for emphasis. Early on we saw a cluster of pronouncement stories in chapter 2. Then a cluster of parables in chapter 4 and a cluster of miracle stories in chapters 4-7. These were interwoven by different events, including confrontations with the pharisees, Jesus interacting with his disciples and the transfiguration. The end of chapter 6 was a general summary of Jesus healing more people, and served as somewhat of a conclusion to that section. Here in chapter 7, Jesus does some teaching on traditions and then leaves for Gentile lands, where he performs more miracles. Chapter 8 will only further emphasize the shift in Mark's gospel, as we see Peter make his confession that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus begins to teach more clearly that he will eventually suffer and die in Jerusalem. Mark as established Jesus as Messiah over the first half of his gospel, and now we see a shift in the content with this foundational identity of Jesus set in place.

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.

(W) Reads or references God’s Word

(7:6-7, 10) In these verses, there is a conflict occurring between Jesus and the Pharisees. The overall description of this conflict depicts Jesus "breaking from Jewish theology as dramatically as at any point thus far (Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, 318)." The conflict begins with the Pharisees questioning some of the washing rituals associated with eating. Jesus' disciples were not consistently washing according to Jewish tradition.  Jesus respond by explaining that the Pharisees prioritize their own traditions over the commandments of God. He references a passage from Isaiah that was descriptive of these Pharisees. They were turning their own traditions into doctrine. Jesus continues on, explaining one of the ways they were teaching traditions which actually violated the commands of God found in the Scriptures. In particular, it was in reference to the treatment of their father's and mother's. The meaning of the term corban is somewhat debated, but what does seem to be clear from the text and other writings is that it was a way of donating money to the temple that was also somewhat self-serving and did some measure of disservice to parents. The traditions created by the Pharisees were superseding God's command to honor father and mother. We must all be careful to not prioritize our own traditions over obedience to God's Word.

(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

There is no specific reference to Jesus relating to The Holy Spirit in this chapter.

(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.

(7:1-23): Correcting the false priority of tradition over Scripture: In the conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, he corrects the unhelpful practice of prioritizing tradition over God's commands. I cannot imagine the Pharisees were saying to themselves, "this tradition violates God's commands, but who cares, we are going to keep up the tradition anyway." It would seem more realistic that the traditions crept into their religious practices, and eventually crowded out the commands of God.

Jesus relieves the heavy weight of burdensome traditions that don't actually help us get any closer to God. Jesus instead prioritizes the commands of God and the condition of the heart. Jesus says that it is not food that defiles us, or anything else that goes into our bodies, but rather that which comes out of our bodies, which comes from the heart. He goes on to list actions such as murder, adultery, deceit and many other things. These are not just emotional things, but physical actions. Jesus is saying that these sinful behaviors actually point to a condition of the heart. We act in evil ways as a result of our heart condition. In Jesus, we can have our hearts changed. That is good news! When our hearts are changed through Jesus, our behaviors should begin to change as well.

You could argue that Jesus actually raises the standards. It is far more difficult to have a clean heart than it is to follow certain traditions. Fortunately, Jesus doesn't leave us to clean up our own hearts. Further, it is actually more freeing, because Jesus points us in the direction of things that truly matter. All the traditions of the Pharisees were burdensome and did nothing to draw us into deeper intimacy with God - as a result they were very unhelpful. Jesus points us in the direction that matters - the heart.

The final thing that was so liberating about this exchange is that when Jesus declared all foods clean, he opened the door of ministry among non-Jewish people. It would take time for Jesus' followers to fully understand the impact of Jesus declaring foods clean. We see this in the life of Peter, when he needs to be coaxed by God through a vision to meet with Cornelius (Acts 10). Jesus removes a significant barrier for the gospel to advance beyond the Jewish people by declaring all foods clean, and this would eventually take shape in the life of the Jesus' followers.

(7:24-30): Exorcising the Syrophoenician's Daughter: Jesus leaves the Jewish territories and almost immediately is called upon to remove an unclean spirit from a young girl. The mother, a Syrophoenician by birth, begs Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus' response sounds just as exclusivistic as you might expect from a Pharisee when he calls the women and her daughter "dogs." There are some difficult cultural elements at play here, and it is challenging to fully discern Jesus' meaning and intention. Jesus is very possibly referencing the priority of ministry among the Jewish people. The advancement of Jesus' message among the Gentiles would not really pick up steam until after the resurrection. Additionally, this idiom might be in reference to the Syrian provincial leadership, who often gave only the "crumbs" to the Jewish people under their control. Jesus may have used this phrase to elicit a response from the woman. Regardless of exactly what is happening in the discourse, what is clear from the text is that the woman has tremendous faith in Jesus's ability to remove the unclean spirit. After hearing the woman's response, Jesus decides to exorcise the demon. Jesus honors the woman's faith and also expands his healing ministry beyond the bounds of the Jewish people.

(7:31-37): Healing the Deaf and Mute Man: In this passage, we see another miracle performed outside of Jewish territory. This miracle, like previous ones, continues to reveal Jesus' authority as the messiah. One unique element to this particular healing is the use of spit or saliva in the healing process. This would have had some "parallels in primitive medicine and magic (Blomberg, 321)." It is entirely possible that Jesus uses this practice as a way of contextualizing his healing and message to his Gentile audience.

Questions for Reflection

What does this passage tell us about who Jesus is?

He is someone who has authority to declare all foods clean. In the confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus overturns an immense amount of Jewish tradition and history. Further, he even alters some Old Testament teaching in declaring all foods clean. We have seen this before in Mark's Gospel, Jesus has the authority in and of himself to make such definitive statements. Jesus doesn't appeal to another teacher or a particular passage of Scripture, Jesus has the authority to declare all foods clean.

What does this passage tell us about why Jesus came?

Reframe our understanding of what it means to follow God. Jesus came to reframe the way we relate to God. Jesus teaches us that it is not the foods we put into our mouth that make us unclean, it is what comes out of the heart. Jesus came to change the way we interact with God and his eventual death and resurrection has the most significant impact upon our understanding, but he is also changing our understanding throughout his ministry through these sort of teachings.

Expanding the reach and influence of God's Kingdom: Jesus leaves Jewish territory, and expands his own ministry to the Gentile people. Eventually, Jesus commands his disciples to bring Jesus' message to the ends of the earth (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 1:9), but Jesus begins that work while he is still here on earth. God has always desired to bring the nations to Himself (1 Kgs 8:41-43; Ps 67; Is. 56:7), and Jesus is advancing that mission forward as he expands the reach and influence of God's Kingdom.

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

Be careful to not prioritize our traditions over the commandments of God. When I consider what it means to follow Jesus, I believe that the confrontation with the Pharisees reveals that we must be careful to not prioritize our own traditions above God's commands. This can creep into our lives very quickly, and often with good intention. Eventually our well intentioned rules and traditions become something that actually hinders our pursuit of God and His commands.

When traditions become hindrances to us, it is often hard to realize, because our traditions are so embedded in the way we practice our faith. We can often see it in previous generations, as we look back and see how certain traditions were given too much authority. Whether it be prohibitions against certain activities, initially designed to keep us pure, but eventually become contorted and unhelpful, or whether it be certain ministries, leadership structures, etc. that are more driven by humans than by God. These can be difficult to discern and discuss, but we must always be asking ourselves if we have begun to prioritize a tradition over the commands of God.

Further, Jesus communicates a clear emphasis upon the heart condition over adherence to these traditions. Jesus wants to see changed hearts. He wants to see people who were once dead made alive. He wants to deliver people from the oppressive structures and sinful patterns of our life and our world. What traditions exist in your life that currently drown out your ability to truly follow Jesus?

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?

Like every chapter, there are a variety of applications that could be made. I would love to invite you to make comments regarding applications that you see for your own life. Please share with one another in the comments section below, and encourage one another as we seek to apply God's Word to our lives.

This week, we are confronted with the reality that our traditions can become more valued to us than the commands of God. I think a great application would be to observe how you might be prioritizing traditions in your own life. Try to come up with at least one tradition that you have given too much authority in your life. They are not easy to see because they are so intertwined into our normal patterns in life, so pray for God's help to reveal these traditions in your own life.

What other applications can you think of from this chapter?

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.