This is the last of the three Sundays that we look at the Gospel according to John. These three weeks had a definite progression toward a significant event: Near the end of the text (John 6:51-69), some people continued to follow Jesus, and some people did not. That difference is reflected in today’s world.
In last week’s text I pointed out that Jesus, within his words, at first pointed people to believing in him, and then he progressed to pointing people to believe in his words. I should have pointed out last week that, in verse 47, typically the text said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life,” but a few manuscripts added a phrase so that the reference points more in the direction of Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes IN ME has eternal life.”
In the text for this Sunday, there is another instance of a few copyists wanting to add something more to point to Jesus. In the text for this Sunday, in a few manuscripts, Peter’s response is no longer simply, “…you are the holy one of God (v. 69).” His confessions from the other accounts have influenced this account, and Peter, in a few manuscripts, also calls Jesus the Christ.
I believe that both these additions take away from the important emphasis on words. The structure of “Truly, truly, I say to you…” is a clear statement that Jesus’ words are important. And with the additional confession of Jesus as the Christ and not just the holy one of God, more importance is placed on those words than Peter’s first, clear, confessional statement: “You have the words of eternal life (v. 68).”
This last gospel account takes into account that, after Jesus ascended into heaven, there were fewer obvious miracles being performed. This makes an emphasis on words to be a critical factor. The purpose of the entire account is given in this way: “…these are WRITTEN so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).”
This important emphasis on words takes the reader or listener back to the beginning of time when God, with his words, brought everything into being. Jesus is called the Word. When words are spoken and then things happen, that is a wonderful thing; and it does not have to look like an obvious miracle.
Jesus “tabernacled” or tented for a while among us. But his words continue. And through his words, his blessings continue. (At the end of this gospel account, Jesus blesses those who have not seen and yet believe.)
You can tell Jesus was in trouble when the people asked the question “HOW can this man give us his flesh to eat (v. 52)?” (The word ‘his’ is not in a few manuscripts either.) Any ‘how’ question is a significant one. And Jesus could have answered it in a significantly powerful way.
He answers it in a significantly ‘worded’ way. He gives them another “Truly, truly, I say to you…” He makes the connection to his Father in heaven (of whom he spoke about earlier, and he will continue to speak about him). Jesus also makes a connection to the fathers or ancestors of the Jews and points out that they died after eating that other bread.
Jesus leaves them with a bunch of his words. That is not a bad gift to have, given the importance of words from Genesis to Revelation—and eternally.
People start coming to church for essentially two reasons; they either consider that something good happened to them, or they consider that something bad happened to them. Each option has a significantly different perspective. And either event can take people down significantly different paths.
The Gospel text for this Sunday [John 6:35-51] continues with the results of the feeding of the 5000, the details of which are only found in the Gospel according to John. The results are interesting after this extremely good thing happened to them—that they all were fed with just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish.
On the previous Sunday, the gospel text focused on the bread that was given. On the following Sunday, the gospel text will focus on the action of eating that bread. In the middle, quite appropriately, Jesus is focusing on himself. He is bringing in language about what he does, who he is, where he comes from, and who sent him.
That is, admittedly, a great topic to preach about. But that is, admittedly, not always what people want to hear about. If they are coming to church because something good happened, maybe they are starting to think that they are relatively good, if they have tried really hard. Maybe they would like to hear about more good things that are coming their way—since they have been so good!
It is always good regularly to go over the basics, the essentials of what it means to be a Christian. The nice thing about the Divine Service is that it goes over the basics in the section sometimes titled ‘Preparation’. The Introit is actually the first part of the service (the word ‘Introit’ means ‘entrance’). The Confession and Absolution is part of the action which helps prepare the Christian—no matter what the previous week may have been like—to receive the Lord’s gifts. After Confession and Absolution, everyone starts over in the exact same place.
Jesus continues to feed the crowds who cannot stop following him. In verse 40 of this Sunday’s text, Jesus says, ‘…everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life….’ In verse 47, Jesus says, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.’ After you compare the two verses, you might ask, regarding the second one, ‘Believes in what, Jesus?’ It is more specific than that. Jesus starts that second verse with his extremely unique way of talking. Jesus wants people to believe in his WORDS.
In our world today, words can be mislabeled, misused, and greatly misunderstood. Words can also be very loving, caring, and upbuilding. With Jesus behind them, they are re-creating.
The Gospel text for this Sunday (John 6:22-35) starts a significant change, especially those who have been getting used to the Gospel according to Mark during this Pentecost season. For the next three Sundays, the text will be from the Gospel according to John.
Mark is a very short account. It has no resurrection appearances of Jesus, and Jesus does very little speaking throughout the work. During the church year, the Gospel according to Mark could use some ‘additional material’ along the way. And the Gospel according to John provides some wonderful insights.
As a reminder, I would encourage the reader NOT to think of the four accounts as a puzzle that you are trying to fit together, to make sure that all the perspectives come together into one story that you can understand. If you have lots of time (and do not have a problem with sin at all!), then that may be your perspective.
I have mentioned this before, but I believe the four accounts work together like the four sides of the throne where God is sitting and where, because of sin, we cannot approach. Only because of God the Father’s gracious action in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, may we approach that throne.
The four accounts work together wonderfully to show how Christ was made a king on the cross for us in four slightly different ways. At this point I would like to reference a book that supports this view. It is by the well-known theologian, N.T. Wright, and the title is How God Became King. The author particularly emphasizes that it is proper for the four gospel accounts to focus especially on that time BEFORE Jesus’ death and resurrection (and that this is something that is not emphasized in the Church’s Creeds).
Obviously, some Christians would like to emphasize the power that Jesus showed AFTER he rose from the dead. But that power is not shown in the Gospel according to Mark. That power has not always been obvious within the Christian Church. The PROMISE is there and is based on Jesus’ words, and that should be the proper focus.
When the word ‘Lord’ is used in the New Testament, it references a Jesus who already went through the suffering and death. As ‘Lord’ he is a king, the Lord over sin, death, and the devil.
The way the word ‘Lord’ is used in the gospel accounts BEFORE the resurrection is interesting. For example, its use in the Gospel according to Luke is helpful, especially when the early Christians are trying to decide what to do in Acts.
The use of the word ‘Lord’ in the Gospel according to John is comforting, especially within the context of the Christian Church.
Here are the uses (when it is used by the writer and not by someone who is being quoted; and I have given a significantly different translation than the ESV):
John 4:1 “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees heard Jesus was making more disciples and baptizing more than John….”
John 6:23 “Other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where the crowd ate the bread, when the Lord had ‘the Eucharist’.” [The word ‘Eucharist’ is an ancient word meaning to ‘give thanks’, and it often referred to the Lord’s Supper.]
John 11:2 “And it was Mary, the one anointing the Lord with ointment and wiping it off his feet with her hair….”
[John 21:7 & 12 These occurrences of ‘Lord’ are within a resurrection appearance.]
In John 6:23, note that it does not say that Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread. It says, literally, that he gave thanks. That was certainly a powerful prayer! But the text focuses on the hiddenness of it all. After the miracle, the crowds want to make him king, so he goes away. That was not the kind of king he wanted to be.
All these passages deal with responses in some way. Jesus is baptizing, and the Pharisees heard about it and respond, and so Jesus responds in turn. Jesus multiplied the fish and the loaves, and there certainly was a response to that! And Mary anoints Jesus, and she comes onto the scene again after Lazarus dies.
It is interesting that these three topics—baptism, the Eucharist, and anointing—also have to do with the actions within the Christian Church. Sometimes people can look at those actions which happen inside a church building and get turned off by them. But it is the Lord who is in charge; he is called the Lord for a reason! This is a good reminder to look to him; it is all about HIS gifts—his words AND his actions.
The first part of the Gospel text for this Sunday (Mark 6:45-56) could be called ‘Jesus Calms a Storm—Take 2’. A comparison to the previous calming of the storm [at the end of chapter 4] is important.
During the first storm, Jesus was asleep in the boat. That was not as bad as being separated from Jesus. Jesus seems to set up this situation this second time in a very ‘commanding’ way. Jesus MADE his disciples get into the boat. And then, as the text describes it, Jesus TOOK LEAVE of them.
As I have made connections to the end of this gospel account, I will do so again here. Jesus gave some commands before he left. Then he took leave of his disciples, his church. And the church is in, admittedly, a difficult situation. One might compare it to being in the middle of a battle.
The disciples think that, when they see Jesus, he is just a ghost. And that same word could be used in a resurrection account. Today’s church is accused of the same thing by others, that Jesus really did not rise from the dead; something like that would be impossible!
It is nice to hear that, when the disciples—not many, but ALL—when they ALL saw him, they were terrified, and NOW there is another ‘immediately’ here. (That word does not always come at the right time!) Jesus IMMEDIATELY speaks to them. He does not wait. He certainly does care.
And, then, there is the response. After the first calming, the text says that, literally, the disciples ‘feared a great fear (Mark 4:41)’. And what is the response this time? The ESV translates it as ‘utterly astounded (v. 51)’, but it is basically the same word as in Mark 3:21, when Jesus is described as ‘out of his mind’.
At the end of the first calming, the disciples are asking, ‘Who is this?’ At the second calming, they should have been able to answer that question.
Perhaps the reason that this gospel account was not too popular in the early church is because of its negative view toward the followers of Jesus. (I believe I read recently that more papyri have been found about the Gospel according to Thomas than the Gospel according to Mark!) All the gospel accounts focus on something much more important, but people can get easily distracted.
That the disciples do not answer the ‘who’ question this second time makes the following editorial comment completely appropriate. After the disciples were basically described as ‘crazy’, the text says it was because their hearts were hardened, and it was also because they did not understand about the multiplication of the loaves (v. 52).
Jesus is on an important journey. The disciples do not get it, and that is okay. He even meant to pass by them on the water (v. 48). That, also, would have been okay—only they see him, and he does not want to leave them in doubt (or, especially, fear). Jesus is on a critical journey, and he sees THAT journey all the way through.
Is this a good time for you to read this blog? What is your idea of a ‘good’ time?
For two successive Sundays, the word that could be translated as ‘good time’ has been used in the Gospel text. The Greek word means, literally, ‘good time’, but it is never translated that way.
Last Sunday, the text said that Herod’s wife wanted John the Baptist dead, but she was not able to do that. And then, the text says, ‘an opportunity’ came (Mark 6:19-21). This Sunday, Jesus’ disciples had been so busy that, the text says, ‘they had no LEISURE(!) even to eat (ESV; Mark 6:31).’
There is obviously a wide range of things that could make for something that people would consider to be a ‘good time’. On the one hand, there was a good time for someone to be dead. On the other hand, there was NOT a good time for some people to eat.
It seems that, in both circumstances, time is working against the Christians. And the only other use of ‘good time’ in this account is when Judas was looking for a good time (an ‘opportunity’) to betray Jesus (Mark 14:11).
That gets to the heart of a ‘good’ time. A good time is not when things go well for an individual, whether Christian or not. A good time is when things go well for God. And God’s calendar is significantly different from ours.
John the Baptist dies. That is okay with God. The disciples do not have enough time to eat. That is also okay. Judas betrays Jesus. That is more than okay; that is exactly what he wanted.
The cry may go up, ‘Don’t you care that your disciples are hungry?’ The type and amount of God’s care is significantly better.
The critical point in this Gospel account is when Jesus is called the Son of God. He is given that title at the very beginning of the account. But it takes fifteen chapters for the Roman centurion to call Jesus that. And it is at the point where he is hanging dead on the cross.
We have more details about Jesus’ time on the cross in the Gospel according to Mark than all the other accounts (cf. Mark 15:25). I do not think that to be a coincidence.
Is that your idea of a ‘good time’? Yes, it is. At least, it should be. At least, it should be given a chance.
It seems like the Gospel text for this Sunday (Mark 6:14-29) is a parenthesis. At the very end of the text on the previous Sunday, the disciples had been sent out, and it was reported that they healed many. This next week, at the very beginning of the text which follows immediately after this one, the disciples are going to come back to Jesus and report what they had done. (And, after that, Jesus is going to take them away to a desolate place—and it will be a proper setting for the feeding of the 5,000.) And, in between those two Sundays, there is the record of John the Baptist’s beheading.
There are a lot of places where it might be appropriate to talk about how John the Baptist was beheaded. I actually like the literary choice to have it here.
Having the disciples being sent out here, instead of at the end of this gospel account, makes it possible for the amazing ending that occurs at Mark 16:8. The women will leave the empty tomb afraid, telling no one.
At the end of this account, the focus does not have to be on the disciples and them telling others. They were not the important ones throughout the account anyway. And John the Baptist certainly was not the important one as well.
In this account, the fear is real, the death is certainly real, and, of course, the fear of death is also a real thing. And this account has an answer to all those issues—Jesus.
Literarily, when the disciples are going out and telling others about Jesus, John the Baptist is getting his head chopped off because of a silly oath Herod made to a young girl. And I hesitate calling him a ‘king’ even though this title is given to him several times and he himself even says that he has a ‘kingdom’, of which he is willing to give half of it away.
There is also the interesting use of the term ‘immediately’ or ‘straightway’; it occurs twice within this account, and both times something happens immediately that is very bad.
The literary style of this text seems to say that not everything in this gospel account is good news. It is also a good reminder that the beginning of this account is described as just the beginning of the gospel. And, also, there are things we trust in that cannot help us too much—earthly ‘kings’ and our own sense of the ‘right’ timing. We need help from a source that is OUTSIDE OURSELVES.
As always, Jesus makes the right decisions at the right time. The world seems to be more out of control each day, but Jesus knows what is going on. His gospel certainly continues. And he makes the right promises, and he makes sure that they are kept.
The Gospel text for this Sunday, Mark 6:1-13, contains a good reminder of how the differences between the gospel accounts can come together for a fascinating, even better account of our amazing Savior.
A most interesting verse to support this is the second half of Mark 6:6. Literally, it says, “And he went around the villages in a circuit/circle, teaching.” The closest verse within the other accounts is the first part of Matthew 9:35; there it says, “And Jesus went around all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues….”
The most obvious difference is that Mark has Jesus going around in a circle or a circuit. The first thing to note is that Jesus is not going around in circles, as if he is not accomplishing anything. The second thing to note is that this is characteristic of a lion, that of the symbol most frequently connected to this gospel account.
A lion is a territorial animal. A lion has a certain amount of territory marked out, over which he ‘rules’.
You might see a lion going around in circles in a cage in a zoo. He is not looking for a way out (although he certainly would appreciate one). He is not confused. He is not getting his exercise (although that is certainly helpful within such a confined space). A lion is a territorial animal, and he is showing his authority over that area.
Jesus is going around the villages in a circuit, acting like a lion, the ‘king of the beasts’. But he could have acted like a much more powerful lion.
First of all, he could have been going around in a circuit to the capitals of all the main empires at that time. He could have regularly visited Beijing, Rome, and all other capitals. But why stop there?
In the creation account, it says that the ‘lesser light and the stars rule at night (Genesis 1:16)’, and at certain places on the globe, certain constellations are directly overhead. Interestingly enough, these constellations often match the things which have been inscribed on the thrones of many kings. For example, as there is a lion on some thrones, there is Leo; and as there is an ox on some thrones, there is Taurus, the bull. Jesus’ throne could be in the stars!
Jesus also could have made a huge circuit to the ‘four corners of the world’ to show his authority as king. But he does not go to the corners. He does not go to the capitals. He does not even go to the cities. He goes to the villages. He comes to people on the lowest level, and therefore he comes to people on all levels, and therefore he comes to our level.
He comes like a lion, but he comes showing compassion to his own. He comes ready to be king over sin, death, and the devil, to overcome that all for us.
The Gospel text for this Sunday (Mark 5:21-43) is a wonderful text, especially since the Gospel according to Mark does not have much when it comes to Jesus’ resurrection account. Especially significant is the reaction of the people in the text. On this Sunday, Jesus resurrects the young girl, Jairus' daughter.
There is a great hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal associated with this hymn. It has a great tune connected with it (Den signede Dag)—which naturally helps. The last stanza of the hymn is amazingly appropriate to this text—although the bible verse connected to this hymn (there can be only one in TLH) is Revelation 14:13 (ESV: ‘And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord from now on.”’).
O Jesus, draw near my dying bed / And take me into Thy keeping / And say when my spirit hence is fled, / “This child is not dead, but sleeping.” / And leave me not, Savior, till I rise / To praise Thee in life eternal.
I recently found out there was another stanza after the one above. It is given in The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal.
Now opens the Father’s house above, / The names of the blest are given. / Lord, gather us there; let none we love / Be missed in the joys of heaven. / Oh, grant to us all a place with Thee; / We ask through our dear Redeemer.
It is nice that The Handbook goes into the following details as to why this stanza was left out: ‘It was dropped because of an unscriptural thought in Lines 3 and 4. Such a prayer presupposes the possibility of suffering in heaven. This is inconsistent with Rev. 21:4.’ (ESV: ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’)
This fits with what a hear people asking. ‘I was very much attached to my pet dog. Will that dog be in heaven with me?’ I usually reply by noting that there is very little in scripture which talks about what this new heaven and new earth will be like; but, on the other hand, there is a LOT in scripture which tells us how to get there! Now that is not answering the question, but there are some questions which we cannot answer--because those answers are not in scripture.
And, as for the omitted stanza, how about the following for a resolution? Only two words need to be changed. (Admittedly this makes the translation from the Norwegian very much a paraphrase!)
Now opens the Father’s house above, / The names of the blest are given. / Lord, gather us there; let all we love / Be joined in the joys of heaven. / Oh, grant to us all a place with Thee; / We ask through our dear Redeemer.
This Sunday is a very special Sunday; it also happened six years ago if you remember that far back. When June 24 is on a Sunday, we celebrate ‘The Nativity of St. John the Baptist’.
This does not happen every time there is a saint’s day or a day to remember someone in the Church’s history. And the newest hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, explains this distinction. On the page which lays out the feasts and festivals of the church year, there are several of them in bold print. The reason for this bold print is given below—in admittedly small print:
‘The observances listed in boldface are principal feasts of Christ and are normally observed when they occur on a Sunday. The other festivals may be observed according to local custom and preference (p. xi).’
Which are these ‘principal feasts of Christ’? They are the ones that primarily have to do with Jesus’ entrance into this world of sin. They are, in essentially chronological order, the following: ‘Circumcision and Name of Jesus, The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord, The Annunciation of Our Lord, The Visitation, The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, St. Michael and All Angels, All Saints’ Day’.
What makes a feast of Christ a so-called ‘principal’ one? It does not always involve Mary, the mother of Jesus. It does not always involve a disciple or one of the evangelists—one of the writers of the gospel accounts. It also does not always involve an apostle.
It involves being a messenger. A messenger brings important news. Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is bad, but it is ALWAYS important. (Ask anyone who has run a marathon.) The news is important enough for someone to take time out of his or her busy day and run to another place, however far away (even 26.2 miles!), to deliver some very important information.
The angels of the Old Testament did that in their day. The Saints of the New Testament era are continuing to do that in our day. But we could probably call Jesus the messenger above all messengers.
His coming added a New Testament to the Old Testament! His coming redefined terms like ‘good news’ and ‘grace’. And you might say that he wrote the book on love.
I probably knew this before, but it was pointed out to me recently that part of the Old Testament text for this Sunday is quoted in ALL FOUR gospel accounts. That does not happen very often. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’ is an important message. The voice of John the Baptist prepared the world for a new era—a world-wide Savior in Jesus Christ.
You would think that an important voice would be connected to the city of Jerusalem. This voice was, instead, connected to the wilderness; but this voice was discussing what Jerusalem was all about. This new message is a new way to have access to the Maker of heaven and earth. Go to Jesus, not to Jerusalem. Better yet, just wait. After all, he is the messenger.
It can get frustrating when the same phrase in the original language is translated in a different way. That is what happens when the focus in the Gospel according to Mark turns toward parables.
In Mark 3:21, you get the idea that Jesus' family is calling him crazy. It is actually, literally, those around him, and this is the same designation that is made in Mark 4:10. This is the group that asked Jesus about the parables. And Jesus talks to them for a while. And, so, we have the text for this Sunday (Mark 4:26-34).
It is not too far a stretch to think of ourselves as 'those around Jesus'. And it is not too far a stretch for us to think that sometimes God is crazy for not doing what WE think he should be doing.
The growing seed and the mustard seed are good parables to remind us that God is at the heart of the growth. It is HIS kingdom. Unfortunately we can start to think that it is ours.
Sometimes the Gospel according to Mark ends a section on a negative note. The last verse of the account (Mark 16:8) does that in a way. The last verse of the text for this Sunday ends somewhat positively. The translation reads that Jesus 'explained everything' to his disciples privately. But one should not think that this solves all the problems the disciples had and that they had no difficulties for the rest of the account.
One might look at the word 'explained'. In one of the dictionaries (BDAG), the basic definition of the word is to release or set free. But its use in the New Testament is more knowledge related and means to explain, resolve, or settle. (It is essentially used only in 2 Pet 1:20, Mark 4:34, and Acts 19:39.)
That physical emphasis seems to be what is often emphasized elsewhere in this account. This understanding also reminds us that it is not about understanding the situation, but it is about believing in the One who was sent. We trust that He is the One who frees us from sin.