Throughout the Gospels Jesus encounters a lot of people and groups who have their own goals and agendas. They’re often presented as being religious or based on a misinterpretation of God’s Word, but all sharing the common denominator of things actually rooted in the flesh or the ways of the world. In other words, to some degree they may sound right or look right, but only bear the outward veneer of something religious because it’s not rooted in love for God as much as using the things of God to satiate one’s own desires. In the course of pursuing Christ’s calling, our personal and earthly goals at every level are replaced by true spiritual goals designed to successfully change us from the old self into the image and likeness of Christ.
Read verses 1-12
Q: Why would the Pharisees be asking a question about something already commonly practiced in Israel at that time?
A: Because there wasn’t agreement among them as to what the Law provided as the proper grounds for divorce, there were different practices when it came to divorce. The disciples of rabbi Shammai held to a very strict interpretation (divorce only for unfaithfulness) while the disciples of Hillel held a more lenient interpretation (divorce for almost any reason). There were conflicts as to how this was carried out at this time.
Q: What is revealing about the answer the Pharisees first give? How well do they quote the Law for which they’re seeking an interpretation?
A: They only quote the mechanics of the Law, not the actual legal grounds which would justify putting those mechanics into motion. They’re not quoting the part of the Scripture that gives the reasons to pursue a divorce, only how it is carried out once a person has decided to do it.
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,
— Deuteronomy 24:1
Point: The real issue is not whether or not a divorce is effected by writing the proper certificate and sending her away, but as to the true meaning of “indecency”, the condition that has brought about her disfavor.
Q: What is the scriptural basis by which Jesus responds to their question?
A: Rather than taking either side, Jesus goes back to the very first marriage to confirm that marriage meant one man and one woman becoming one flesh for one lifetime.
Point: In the parallel account of this event in Matthew, it’s recorded that Jesus explicitly states, “except for immorality” (Matthew 19:9) Earthly marriage was supposed to reflect and teach something about the nature of the kind of spiritual relationship we’re supposed to have with God – exclusively and wholly devoting our entire life just to Him.
[Note: Paul provides a definitive 6-point argument on the true nature of the Law in Galatians 3 & 4 for which separate Walk with the Word studies are available. His basic point, however, is that the Law of Moses was temporarily added, intended by God to only last until its fulfillment in Christ.]
Application: The goal of our earthly relationships is supposed to be the same as for our spiritual relationships, based on faithfulness rather than pleasing ourselves. Marriage is a physical relationship which can only be dissolved by a physical cause, either death or adultery. This is also how spiritual separation is achieved by spiritual unfaithfulness.
Read verses 13-16
Observation: Isn’t it interesting that marriage leads to children, and so the very next topic involves children?
Q: Why might it not be surprising that adults were bringing their children to Jesus and asking Him to bless them?
A: This was a customary practice of the day, for rabbis to bless children. It would be a very powerful statement at that time that common people recognized Jesus as a proper teacher of the Law.
Q: What is the significance of receiving “the kingdom of God like a child”?
Unspoiled children are ideal models in this regard: humble, receptive, dependent, filled with potential, and their character malleable to being formed and guided permanently for the rest of their life to come.
In Mark’s time, children were generally under tutors and guardians until adulthood, a time of being made ready to follow in the steps of their earthly fathers and to inherit and carry on their father’s business. The spiritual parallels to this are obvious.
From a developmental point of view, children don’t usually come with the experiential or “emotional baggage” that must be overcome in adults. They’re a kind of “blank slate”.
Application: The goal of attaining a right relationship with Christ begins by jettisoning our emotional baggage/history to be made new according to His Word and ways.
Read verses 17-31
Observation: In the parallel accounts of this event in Matthew 19 and Luke 18, the man is described as “rich”, “young”, and a “ruler”. From an earthly point of view, he had everything anyone would possibly want. Also note that this example ends up talking about family, the natural progression from the previous sections on marriage and children.
Q: Why was Jesus’ reaction to being addressed as “Good Teacher” actually very natural for that time?
A: It was not customary for Jews to use the word “good” when addressing a rabbi, a word with very high spiritual meanings attached.
Q: Is Jesus then denying that He is “good”?
A: No, in reality Jesus is asking if the man truly believe Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God, the only proper reason to call Jesus “good”. Jesus was asking the man if he believed Jesus was God.
Q: At first blush, it appears that Jesus has listed the last six commandments all having to do with loving one’s neighbor, but which one is obviously missing and why?
A: Jesus omitted the one commandment He knew was the main issue in the man’s life, “Do not covet”.
Point: The rich, young ruler had everything except salvation. Although he had paid attention to the Law, and the Law brought him to Christ, he had not yet humbled himself as a lost sinner whose personal entanglement was his wealth. Jesus was holding up the Law as a kind of mirror so the man could see what kind of sinner he was.
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
— James 1:22-25
Q: So is Jesus stating that everyone must sell everything and give it to the poor?
A: No, He is touching the spot most sensitive to this particular person. But the principle most certainly applies to whatever is holding us back from following Him completely. We’re not saved by such works, but by trusting the Son of God who gave everything to make us rich. Sinners cannot hang on to their sins at the same time they’re reaching out to Jesus.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
— 2 Corinthians 8:9
Q: Why is the disciples’ reaction quite normal according to Jewish thinking at the time? What major interpretation of Scripture is Jesus correcting?
A: At that time, physical prosperity was equated to spiritual prosperity. In the Mosaic Law it was stated that physical prosperity was the reward for spiritual faithfulness. Therefore it was generally assumed that a rich person must be “righteous” and a poor person must be suffering the results of their personal sin.
Point: The problem is that over time the motive for obeying the Law became the desire for gain at the expense of true love for God.
Q: We probably have some idea that there will be rewards in the life to come, but how are these benefits realized “now in the present age”?
A: It speaks to the benefits of our new family in Christ and the new “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms” we receive in this life in the church.
Q: What did Jesus do with the man which He also did with the Pharisees where Scripture is concerned?
A: Jesus contrasted the letter of the Law with the spirit of the Law to pierce the issue of surface obedience in order to penetrate to the more important issue of obedience from the heart.
Application: The goal of attaining a right relationship with Christ will entail being purged of relationship baggage that can maintain the world’s hold on us. Anything given up will be more than compensated by what is gained in our new relationships in the body of Christ and the life to come.
Read verses 32-45
Observation: This is now the third time in which Christ has instructed the disciples about His coming death and crucifixion in Jerusalem. One might think that the third announcement would have some kind of sobering or humbling effect, but that was not the case.
Q: What is the overall lesson that they have not learned where Jesus is concerned?
A: That the cross must come before the crown, a teaching that suffering must be experienced by all before glory. There’s a kind of myopia that wants to ignore the former and go straight to the latter.
Q: What does “cup” refer to?
A: It’s Christ’s submission to the Father’s will in becoming sin for us. (See Jn. 14:36; 18:11)
Q: And what does “baptism” here refer to?
A: Christ’s suffering on the cross for the sins of the world. (See Lk. 12:50)
Point: The cross must come before the crown, suffering before glory.
Q: How does Christ’s exhortation to be a servant coincide with His own life and ministry?
A: Christ’s First Coming was the fulfillment of the Messiah coming as the “suffering servant”. In fact, the Gospel of Mark is devoted exclusively to this theme, documenting Christ’s example as a servant.
Point: We’re to be living a life of co-death and co-resurrection with Christ, the working in us of the cross and suffering first before the realization of the crown and glory to come. In the course of this process, we are to be like Him in every way, a suffering servant to others, rid of all earthly attachments both material and in the form of relationships.
Q: How might this all fit in with the previous teachings on marriage, children, and family relationships?
A: All of these are supposed to be pursued with the attitude and goal of a servant to the same degree that Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve”.
Q: What was the condition of a servant in these days?
A: A servant had nothing of his own – everything was owned and supplied by his master, even his very life. A servant did nothing on his own except at the command of the master and in accordance with his master’s business.
Application: The goal is to leave behind all notion of being served but to instead be a servant and so fulfill our obligations of love and service to both Christ and the members of His body the same way that He Himself fulfilled them.
What are your goals where faithfulness is concerned? What is your commitment to putting His Word into practice?
In what ways are you like a child in your relationship to Christ, and what ways need to be amended as such? What emotional baggage are you still holding on to?
What kind of residual effects remain where past or current relationships are concerned? Is there something which you’ve not allowed to be replaced by Christ which continually draws you back to the ways of the world or the flesh?
If others were to give you a formal, personal evaluation, how often would they identify you with the characteristics of being a servant? How evident is it to them that we seek more to elevate our self than to serve like Christ?
How well do we recognize how all things proceed from the way we acknowledge the sovereignty and authority of Jesus as truly being the Son of God? Wouldn’t this help put our goals at every level into the proper perspective?