Today we continue in the Gospel according to Mark. Chapter 5 opens with the account of Jesus healing the man possessed by many demons. Mark offers more detail here than Matthew (see Matt 8:28-34). Mark speaks of only one of the two demoniacs that Matthew mentions. But note what the demon says and does. First, he falls before Jesus (5:6). This is an act of subservience. Second, here we read that the demon called Jesus “Son of the Most High God” (v. 7). In the Old Testament, God would be called “God Most High” as He relates to the false demon-gods. Note that here, Jesus has left the territory of Israel. He is in territory ruled by the demons (see Deut 32:8-9). Legion’s question “what have you to do with me?” is a legitimate question. The God of Israel has had nothing to do with the territories outside of Israel for quite a long time. But now, with Christ’s coming, that has changed!
Note that the demons begged not to be sent out of the country (v. 10). Why? Because they only had authority in their allotted territory. Note also that, contrary to Jesus’s wish that Israelites did not spread the news of His miracles abroad (see 1:43-45), He encourages this foreigner to spread abroad His works (v. 19), which he does (v. 20).
Mark also gives more details of the healing of the woman and of Jairus’s daughter (Matthew doesn’t even give Jairus’s name – see Matt 9:18). Here, when the woman touches Jesus, we are told that He perceived that “power had gone out from Him” and He asks who touched Him (v. 30). Did Jesus not know? While a number of explanations have been offered, I think we need to keep this event in the context of what Jesus was going to do at that moment. He was going to heal a sick girl. Similar to how He reacted to Lazarus’s sickness (see John 11:4-7), Jesus wants to show His power not over sickness, but over death. Like with Lazarus, this delay allows that to be the case, as we see in verse 35.
In verse 41, Mark records the Aramaic words Jesus spoke (which would be the common language of the Jews). He is showing us that Jesus’s very words have power over life and death. Just as God said “let be light” and there was (see Gen 1:3), God tells the dead to live, and they do. Note in verse 43 that Jesus again tells the Jews not to spread news of this miracle abroad.
Chapter 6 opens with the rejection of Jesus in His hometown of Nazareth. Of significance is the fact that Matthew ends his account with “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matt 13:58), but Mark says “He could do no mighty work there…and He marveled at their unbelief” (6:5-6). We see in this that faith is the chosen instrument of God through which He works His power and grace (see Eph 2:8).
Mark places the sending of the Twelve next (vv. 7-13). His account is less detailed than Matthew’s (Matthew 10). Mark places this here as part of a logical sequence. Jesus shows His authority over a legion of demons outside of Israel (5:1-20), shows His power over life itself (5:21-43), and because of this is rejected in His hometown (6:1-6). Here, He places His authority in His disciples who cast out demons in Israel (where the demons have no God given authority), who heal the sick, and who He warns about rejection (v. 11). He is beginning to teach them that they will need to carry on His work, in His power, as they lead His church. In his account of the death of John the Baptist, Mark includes the fact that some believed Jesus to be John the Baptist, some Elijah, and some like the prophets of old. He is showing us in action what the Apostles reported (see 8:28).
In chapter 7, Mark gives more detail of the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees about the defiled hands (see Matt 15:1-9). Here, Jesus explicitly rebukes the religious leaders for their elevation of their traditions over the Word of God (7:8). He even gives an example of their hypocrisy: they rationalize breaking one of the Ten Commandments (v. 10) by convincing themselves that taking care of their parents means they can’t give to God. Jesus’s point is that taking care of their parents would be giving to God. They did not worship God His way, but their way.
In Mark’s account of Jesus’s explanation of what defiles a person, he adds the parenthetical explanation of “thus He declared all foods clean” (v. 19). This would make sense, considering Mark was writing under the guidance of Peter, who learned this lesson from Christ Himself (see Acts 10:9-15). Mark then gives an account of the healing of a deaf man. Once again, Mark gives the Aramaic command (v. 34) to show the power of Jesus’s words.
In Jesus’s teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees, Mark records the back and forth between Jesus and His disciples. He tells us that the disciples answered Jesus’s questions (vv. 19-20). Yet Mark does not tell us that they understood when the exchange ended. He leaves it open ended to get his reader to think about the implications of what was said. Like Jesus wanted the disciples to answer, Mark wants his reader to respond accordingly to Christ’s teaching.
Mark then records the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida. We see here that Jesus heals this man in stages. First he regains only blurred vision (v. 24), then he sees clearly after Jesus touches him again (v. 25). Mark places this alongside the teaching on the leaven of the Pharisees for a reason. The “do you not yet understand” (v. 21) parallels the “do you see anything” (v. 23). We don’t see (understand) all at once when it comes to Jesus’s words. There is a process. We must seek Him in His Word and rely on Him to enlighten our minds and hearts. We must meditate on His Word day and night (see Josh 1:8).
This flows naturally into Jesus’s question to His disciples: “who do you say that I am” (v. 29). It has taken them time to come to a fuller understanding of Who Jesus is (compare this confession with 4:41 when they did not know Who Jesus was). Note that here there is no record of Jesus’s commendation and renaming of Peter (see Matt 16:17-19). This may be the humility of Peter who is telling the story to Mark. And yet, Peter has him record his shameful rebuke of Jesus (vv. 32-33).
As with Matthew’s Gospel account, this is the turning point of the story. Some hard teaching is coming. Jesus is now moving towards His death, having established His Apostles in faith and knowledge of Who He is. His coming death now becomes the focal point of the book.