Come with Me to a Quiet Place: Mark 6: 30-34

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Mark 6: 30-34 (NIV)

Horsham: 17th July 2024

You’ll remember that Jesus had sent out the twelve with his authority and power, in pairs, with a mission to ‘tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick’ (Luke 9: 2). We read a few verses ago that on their journey ‘they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.’ they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.’ (Mark 6:1)

Verses 30 – 34 speak of the time when they returned to Jesus and told him everything that had happened on their journey. You get a real sense of activity from these verses. Life around Jesus was busy. In the absence of the disciples, people were still seeking him out and making demands. The crowds are getting bigger and bigger. Whereas before they probably numbered hundreds, we know that by now they are in the thousands.

The disciples are eager and excited to tell Jesus what has been happening, and he wants to encourage them, but there is this constant stream of people coming and going. It’s difficult to find space to talk to Jesus. There isn’t even the opportunity to eat.

Jesus has a solution. Let’s all go away to somewhere quiet so we can all get some rest. So, they went back into the boat and crossed the lake, this time towards Bethsaida. This is a short hop across the north end of the Lake. The boat will hardly be out of sight of land, so perhaps not surprisingly the growing crowd have a good idea where Jesus is going. The word goes around and people start spontaneously running or walking around the lake to meet the boat when it lands.

Sailing boats don’t often travel in a straight line. They have to respond to the changing currents and the direction of the wind. That means that they tack, zig zagging towards their destination. This all makes the journey take longer and means that by the time they arrive near Bethsaida, lots of people have already trekked the 8 miles or so by land and are already there, picking up extra people in the towns and villages along the way.

By the time the boat reaches the shore, there is a large and growing crowd of people waiting for Jesus. He looks on them with compassion because they are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus  immediately engages with them and starts teaching them.

So, that’s the story. But what am I taking away from these few verses?

I’m noticing that Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to do his work, and brought them back to himself so that they could tell him everything that happened. We need to learn from that example. There’s a section in John’s Gospel where Jesus prays for you and me. Part of that prayer says 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:18). Jesus has sent us, you and me, out into this crazy and challenging world to be his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).

William Barclay describes what he calls the ‘rhythm of the Christian life’.

‘The Christian life is a continuous going into the presence of God from the presence of men and women  and coming out into the presence of men and women from the presence of God.’ (i)

This points us towards the risk of spending our whole life out there in the world and never returning to Jesus. Like the disciples, we need to come back into his presence to prayerfully unload, to rest, and to listen. Just as great a risk is spending all of our time with Jesus, and never venturing into the world to be his ambassador. Relationship with Jesus is key, but if we don’t get round to ‘Going into all the world..’ we’ve sort of missed the point.

What does it mean for you and me to be coming back to Jesus. Look at your own lifestyle and find some way of meeting with Christ during your day. You need to make time to prayerfully talk about what’s going on, to unload about what’s on your mind, and to listen for his voice. Some of my friends don’t get out of bed until they’ve had their ‘quiet time’ and some others won’t go to sleep without reading and praying first. Both those options are great, but neither works for me.

A friend of mine feels that Jesus let the disciples down because they never had the downtime and rest he had offered. I disagree. Most people walk at 2-3 miles per hour. It seems to me that for the crowd to walk the 8 miles across open country around the lake would take about 4 hours (don’t forget that they weren’t wearing walking boots!). That would mean that after a wonderful and exciting time, the disciples had about 4 hours rest in the presence of Jesus. What wouldn’t I give for that! Sounds like success to me.

The disciples joined Jesus as he taught the massive crowd near Bethsaida. By now this crowd had grown exponentially with thousands of men, plus women and children. After 4 hours spent with Jesus, they were ready to take part in the greatest miracle of all.

The message is simple. Spend time with Jesus. Go and do what he wants you to do. Return to Jesus, get some rest. Be ready to do it all over again!

(i) Wm Barclay: New Daily Study Bible, Kindle Edition, Loc 3242

 

 

 

Death of John the Baptist: Mark 6: 14-29

These verses record the fact that Jesus and the disciples have attracted the attention of Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch, who becomes anxious because of his role in the death of John the Baptist.

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying,[a] “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” 16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

Mark 6: 14-29

Horsham, 15th July 2024

These verses tell the dreadful story of the execution of John the Baptist. It is significant to note that the story of the John is really the only detailed story of anyone in any of the Gospels, in which Jesus is not directly involved in the action. This emphasises the status and importance in the Gospels of John the Baptist, the first prophet in Israel for over 400 years, and in heralding the imminence of the coming Messiah, perhaps the greatest prophet of all time.

Take a moment to remind yourself of the close relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. They were cousins, and the public ministry of Jesus begins with an encounter with John in the desert ( (Mark 1:9-11). It seems that shortly afterwards, Mark was imprisoned by Herod Antipas (Mark 1:14). He is referred to here as ‘King’ Herod, although he was not really entitled to use this title. Herod Antipas was son of Herod the Great (who was King when Jesus was born, and ordered the massacre of all the small boys under 2 years old – see Matthew 2: 16-18). The father had asked that on his death, the Romans divide his kingdom into four sections, allowing each of his male children to inherit one portion. As the master of a quarter of a kingdom, Herod Antipas was a tetrarch, rather than a king. Antipas was given the area of Galilee and Perea, to the east of the Jordan. He ruled this area from 4 – 39 CE, when he displeased the Emperor Caligula and was sent into exile in Gaul.

For all that, within his domain, Herod was extremely powerful. He fell in love with the wife of his brother, Philip, called Herodias. He decided to marry Herodias after first divorcing his own wife. This was regarded as an unlawful marriage in Israel, firstly because Herod had no cause for divorce, and secondly because his brother was still living. meaning that the relationship with Herodias was adulterous. John the Baptist was openly critical of Herod, and his second marriage, and this caused the greatest offense to Herodias.  Such was her anger that to appease her, Herod imprisoned John, keeping him in the prison at his fortress of Machaerus.

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled[b]; yet he liked to listen to him.

It seems that whilst Herodias despised John, Herod himself was fascinated by him knowing him to be a righteous and holy man  v20, and sometimes liked to listen to him (v21).

So, after a period of detention, during which John’s disciples were permitted to visit him (See Matthew 11:2), the dreadful scene described in this passage arose. 

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of[c] Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. 25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Let’s go back to the introduction of the section in verses 14-16. It seems possible that either Herod had not heard about Jesus, or more likely, took no great interest in him. Until, that is, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples. Now, rather than one Galilean Rabbi creating a bit of a scene, touring the area, performing miracles, there are six groups of two men all doing the same. This, then, creates enough publicity and excitement to  bring them to the attention of the Tetrarch in a way he can no longer ignore. The disciples point to Jesus as the source of their power and authority, and so Jesus’ name became even more well known.

With tis surge in publicity, some said that Jesus could be Elijah (a prophet who had died about 850 years previously). There was a belief, still held by Jews today, that Elijah will return before the Messiah appears (Malachi 4:5). If John the Baptist were in any sense a reincarnation of Elijah, this would mean that even the Jews would have to accept that Jesus was the Messiah.

Others, however, said that Jesus was John the Baptist, resurrected.  Herod panics. The superstition of the day meant that the return of a person from the dead meant that they were seeking revenge, and it was Herod who had ordered the killing of John the Baptist.

I’m impacted by the fact that this whole situation came about because of the integrity of John the Baptist. His ministry was a call to repentance. Repentance means firstly the acknowledgment of sin, and secondly the willingness to change lifestyle to avoid the repetition of sin. He was faithful to his calling, even when it put him in conflict with those who had power over his life or death. Herod Antipas and Herodias took offence at John for his allegation of their sinfulness and rejected out of hand his call to repentance. Rather than bending to their will, John was steadfast. He was faithful to God. Even unto death.

“I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.” (1 Chronicles 29:17a)

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve: Mark 6:6-13

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Mark 6: 6-13

Horsham, 12th July 2024

This Scripture marks a major turning point in the life and training of the twelve disciples. Notice that in the first verse of this section,  we read that ‘Jesus went around teaching from village to village.’ (verse 6). To this point, all of the teaching and the healing has been done by Jesus. The disciples have watched and been part of the work, but it has been Jesus who actually does it. Alistair Begg has said that prior to this moment, the disciples were rather like extras in a film where Jesus was the lead actor. From this moment forwards, it is the turn of the disciples to step up a gear.

If you are offered a challenging role, you should expect to receive a period of training. However there comes a moment when it is time for you to get out and do the job.

A ‘disciple’ is, by definition, someone who follows a teacher in order to learn from them. This extraordinary group of fishermen, tax collectors, and at least one zealot have been witness to the most dramatic miracles and teaching about the Kingdom of God. They had spent nearly two years in training, and now, for the first time, they are encouraged to put their learning into practice, with the power and authority given to them by the Messiah. They are elevated from the role of ‘disciple’, as one who learns from their teacher, to the role of ‘apostle’, which means one that is sent out with the delegated authority of the one who sends.

In the Gospel of Luke, the purpose of the mission of he twelve is made crystal clear.  ‘He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God.’ (Luke 9:1-2).

Two people, says Scripture are better than one (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). The witness of a second person is benficial to support the testimony of the first (John 8:17). Travelling in pairs, they are to take nothing with them. No bag. No extra clothes. No bread. No money. No bag (you will be tempted to put things in your bag if you have it with you(i)). The message is go, just as you are. Depend on me. Trust in me.

Travelling light conveys a sense of urgency to this commission. This is not a delegation of powers for convenience, as much as a vital step towards his objective and purpose. For Jesus, time is short, and it’s important to get his team match fit to cope with the first steps of building His Church when, in a short while,  he is taken from them. Encouraging them to explore their own gifts, potential and the power of the Holy Spirit is the essential next step in their development.

We should feel a sense of urgency when God places a call on our life. NT Wright makes the point that the instructions given to the disciples were appropriate for that specific moment in time, for that culture, and for those specific people (Mark for Everyone, p..69). Christ does not call most of us to head out into the unknown with nothing, so that will probably not be the right route for you today, especially if that means abandoning responsibilities which are important to you or others. Having said that, we are called to ‘Go’, not to stand still. I can’t help noticing how we are burdened by our possessions, and how that can sometimes make us prevaricate rather than following His call.

For me, this teaching speaks to our tendency to load ourselves down with unnecessary baggage. It’s all too easy to find reasons not to follow Jesus. The urgency of the Kingdom is such that it may not be right to wait until you are in what feels like the perfect place to step out. If God is sending you, it’s not always right to wait until you fell that you have the right experience, the right degree, the right bank balance, the right suit of clothes. There comes a time when, like those first disciples, we have to take that step. We have to go.

Relying on the power and authority of Jesus, 12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Some time later, Jesus reminded his disciples of this moment.

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. (Luke 22:35)

In the same way that you will never learn to swim unless you lift your feet from the floor of the pool, you will never learn to follow Jesus unless you take that first step of faith, trusting that he will provide everything you need.

The disciples took that step. Day by day, hour by hour, we need to be listening, and ready to step out in faith as a follower of Jesus.

A prayer using words from Psalm 25:

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me,  for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

(i) The bag, carried by a priest, was used to solicit gifts of food or money.

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

Mistaken Identity: Mark 6:1-6

A visit to Nazareth leads to a case of mistaken identity.

1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Mark 6:1-6a

This visit to Nazareth gives us a very personal glimpse into Jesus’ family relationships. In Nazareth, everyone knows Jesus. They know his brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. They know his mother and his sisters. We can assume that Joseph had died at some time and Jesus had spent some of his time heading the family business. I’m noticing that we think we know Jesus, but we don’t always recognise that first thirty years, spent living in a large family in a small, rural village in northern Israel.

We have seen his family, or at least some of them,  before. Do you recall that earlier in Mark’s gospel we saw his mother and some of the brothers travelling to Capernaum to bring Jesus home (Mark 3:20-21). Stories about him had been circulating – some people thought he had lost his mind. Some people in Nazareth had heard all about his teaching and healing work, but it seems that perhaps they were unconvinced by the stories. Jesus, after all, did not grow up as a rabbi – he was the village carpenter!

Recently, I met up with some good friends for a barbecue. Their kids ( who I hadn’t seen for ages) were there. The oldest is nearly 30, and the youngest is 21. They all used to be in the Church youth club of which I was one of the leaders, and I realized that there’s a part of me that still thinks of them as teenagers. Of course, they’re not! They are all mature, responsible adults – two of them are married and one of them has two children. Since I last saw them, they have grown and become different people. I would completely misunderstand who they are now if I still thought of them as teenagers.

Something similar is going on here. Maybe it’s not surprising that many of the villagers had difficulty understanding who Jesus really was. To some, he was their boyhood friend. To others he was Joseph’s boy – the one who went missing twenty years ago during a Passover trip to Jerusalem. (Luke 2:21-42). He was the man who was always there to help you to mend a cart or sort the leak in their roof. They thought they knew who Jesus is. He was a nice guy – a man of integrity.  But on that Sabbath day when he visited the synagogue, everybody saw Jesus for who they thought he was rather than who he actually is. This is a case of mistaken identity.

This Jesus is the same person who left Nazareth some time earlier, yet he returns a different man. By God’s grace and power the humble carpenter has been transformed. Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, Jesus has become what God designed him to be. He is a travelling rabbi, with his small group of disciples. He is speaking at the synagogue, teaching about a Kingdom of God in a way which is fundamentally different from that which most other rabbi’s described. He is claiming a level of spiritual authority which is completely out of step with their expectation of Jesus of Nazareth. Some of them, at least, took offense at him.

The previous verses have told of the faith of Jairus, the synagogue leader in Capernaum, and the lady suffering from chronic bleeding. Their faith resulted in dramatic and transformational healings. Here, we see a scarcity of faith, and we read that there was a problem. Whilst we should not overlook the point that Jesus did lay his hands on a few people and heal them, he was unable to achieve as much as he should have been because the people had no faith.

It seems to me that every one of us comes to Christ with misconceptions about who Jesus actually is. Even as Christians, we are at risk of mistaking his identity. We only begin to understand when we trust – when we have faith. We need to want to see Jesus as Jesus! Where there is faith, there is healing and transformation. Where there is no faith, there are opportunities missed.

‘There is laid upon us a tremendous responsibility that we can wither help or hinder the work of Jesus Christ. We can open the door wide to him – or we can slam it in his face.’

William Barclay, New Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Mark, Kindle Edition, Loc 3000

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

Jairus (Part 2): Mark 5: 35-43

Jairus was the leader of the synagogue in Capernaum, a fishing port on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. He was an important and well known figure in the local community. Capernaum is also the town where Jesus had made his home. This is the second part of the story of Jairus. You can read the first part, when Jairus asks Jesus to come to his house urgently here. You also need to read about an incident which occurs when Jesus is on his way to Jairus’ house. You can read about it here.

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” 36 Overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” 37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5: 35-43 (NIV)

Horsham, 9th July 2024

This is an awesome story. It speaks of the humanity and deity of Jesus. I just want to tell this story in the way I believe it happened. You can read it in Matthew 9:18-26 and Luke 8: 40-56.

Jairus had a daughter who was about to turn 12 years old when she became gravely ill. Jesus had agreed to come to his house and lay his hands on the daughter. They made their way through the narrow streets, accompanied by the disciples and a growing crowd of people, eager to be close to Jesus. On the way, a life changing miracle takes place, in the healing of a sick lady in the crowd (read about it here). Almost before that incident is over, here are members of Jairus’ household. The news is blunt and horrific. ‘Your daughter is dead.’  I can’t begin to imagine how devastating this news was for Jairus. Jesus knows this man. He is a man of compassion. In my mind I see Jesus physically reaching out to this broken man, perhaps putting his hand on him, perhaps even embracing him. Barely loud enough for anyone to hear except Jairus and one or two of the disciple, Jesus says ‘Don’t be afraid. Only believe.’

I think that they kept the crowd in the street, outside the courtyard of Jairus’ house. Only Peter, James and John went on and into the house. Peter and John are fishermen in the town (Mark 1:16-20). As Jewish men, they probably know the family. Perhaps James does too. Are they familiar faces to Jairus’ family?

Jesus silences the mourners. ‘ The child is not dead. She is asleep.’ No wonder they laugh at him. They know death when they see it. They know the girl is dead. He throws them out into the courtyard – perhaps into the street. Sense the moment. Feel the stillness in the room. Smell the incense. Sense the grief Mum and Dad. Three disciples. One little girl. A precious daughter. And Jesus.

Talitha. Koum!

This is not Jesus casting out a evil. This is not Jesus teaching or raising his voice before a crowd. Look at the compassion on his face. The gentleness in his manner.

‘Little one’. In some dialects, ‘Talitha’ can mean ‘Little Lamb’. Jesus is on his knees by the bed, holding the child’s hand. Whispering to the child. Luke tells us that in that moment the child’s spirit returned (Luke 8:55). In my mind, I see the child stirring – stretching – as if awakening from the deepest sleep. It’s possible that she knows who Jesus is.  She sees her Mum and Dad, kneeling beside her, overwhelmed by emotion. Slowly, she rises from the bed. She gets to her feet and straight into the arms of her parents.

‘Give her something to eat.’

I was surprised that Jesus tells the parents not to tell anyone what happened. After all, this is a massive miracle and surely most of the town already know! Those who didn’t hear the wailing mourners will have seen Jairus in despair out in the street. There’s a huge crowd in the street outside. It’s difficult to explain, except, if you imagine you were there, it seems so obvious. It’s not that no-one is to know anything about this. After all, the story brings huge glory to God.

That gentle voice of Jesus. ‘Take a moment. You need some time. She needs peace and quiet, and so do you. Don’t rush outside and tell people. All that can wait. Keep everyone outside. Just allow what has happened to sink in – become real.’

This is a powerful story. Few moments in the gospel so plainly show the humanity and compassion of Jesus, and in the same moment his power and authority. As I try to contemplatively walk through this scene from the Gospel story, I find myself in awe of the one whose still, small voice, calmed and encouraged a father in despair, and called back the spirit of a much loved dying child, gently restoring her to her parents.

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

 

 

Who touched my clothes?: Mark 5:24-34

In the midst of a crushing crowd, pressing against him from all sides, Jesus asks ‘ Who touched my clothes?’

24 So Jesus went with (Jairus). A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5:21-34 (NIV)

Horsham 8th July 2024

As part of our study of Scripture, I like to encourage people to imagine that they were there, walking the walk with the disciples, looking and listening to their world – sharing their experiences. I’d love you to engage in that way with this story. One mistake we can easily make when we read Scripture is to imagine that Jesus lived in a sort of holy, silent, peaceful bubble. Here’s a story which emphasises that wasn’t the case.

Everyone wanted to catch Jesus’ eye or see what was going on. This would not have been a silent crowd. Along with the disciples, the crowd included a man called Jairus, and a woman who had been suffering bleeding for twelve years.

On the fore-shore, Jairus, leader of the local synagogue, in desperation and humility threw himself to the floor at Jesus’ feet. He tells Jesus that he is desperate for his help. In the midst of the bustle and confusion of the crowd Jairus tells Jesus that his 12 year old daughter is dying. He begs Jesus to come and lay hands on her to restore her to health. Jesus agrees to go with him and they set off towards Jairus’ house, with this crowd in tow. (see more about this meeting here)

So, this modestly large crowd follows Jesus, Jairus and the disciples into the town. Two things quickly happen. In the dusty, narrow streets, the crowd becomes compact and very noisy as people clamour around Jesus. Secondly, the crowd grows in size as people become curious, attracted by the noise and excitement. In my mind,  I see the disciples, acting like ‘minders’, close to Jesus, struggling to make space for him to progress through the increasingly dense crowd.

In a previous post I suggested that Jesus, the celebrity healer and preacher living in Capernaum, and Jairus, the synagogue leader in the same town, were almost certainly well acquainted. In the same way, I wonder whether they both already knew or recognised the woman who is about to take centre stage.

We don’t know her name We don’t know where she was from. We know nothing about her, except part of her medical history. We do know that for 12 years this woman had suffered some kind of chronic haemorhaging. Just think about the horror of her position. She was constantly losing blood. That renders her and her home unclean. She cannot visit the synagogue or play any normal part in the community. She is a virtual outcast. Her condition is enough to make everyone keep their distance and to make her life fall apart. But it’s not just the blood. Untreated, and with poor diet, her condition would have caused the crushing symptoms of chronic anemia.  Utter exhaustion. Constant weakness.  She would have been pale. This lady was visibly sick. Very sick.

Do you sense the courage of this lady. In spite of her poor health, she is so determined, so convinced that Jesus can help, she sets aside all the inhibitions which society has placed on her and somehow forced herself to the front of the crowd. She gets close enough to reach out and touch the edge of Jesus cloak (see Matthew 9:20). Jesus stops in his tracks.

Who touched my clothes?’, says Jesus. Not surprisingly, the disciples, currently focused on their role as security guards, want to say ‘In the middle of this pandemonium, when we’re all getting pushed and bumped in all directions are you seriously asking who touched your clothes?

In this moment I want you to notice the anxiety of Jairus, desperate that Jesus reaches his daughter without delay? I want you to notice the fear which is gripping this woman who realises that Jesus’ accusatory question is directed at her?

Now as with Jairus a few minutes earlier, we see this lady, throwing herself at the feet of Jesus, in humility and despair. In the midst of the bustle and noisy confusion of this busy street, she quietly tells Jesus why, after 12 years of suffering, she was so desperate to touch his cloak.

Pause and look at this scene, this moment of direct personal contact in the midst of a noisy crowd. Do you sense the compassion of Jesus? Do you see him moved by the faith of this ordinary and long suffering woman? ‘Daughter,’ says Jesus. (That’s a word Jesus doesn’t often use.)  ‘Your faith has healed you.

It occurs to me that Jesus could have simply let the moment pass. He knew that the power had left hm. He almost certainly already knew who had received that power. He could have simply allowed the woman to go on her way to rebuild her life. Yet something incredibly important happens in this moment. Her words, and her actions, testify to others that she knew that Jesus could help her. She did all that she could to connect with Jesus. Kneeling before Jesus, she told everyone, including Jairus and the disciples, including you and me, what Jesus had done for her.

His words show that he knows her suffering and is ready to help. He recognises her humility, her despair, and her faith. Doctors – all of them men – had taken everything she had and given her nothing.  Jesus takes nothing from her and gives her everything.

A few verses ago, Jesus turned to his disciples, those who knew him most and had witnessed his power in so many ways, and said ‘Where is your faith?’ Now, he turns to this afflicted, frightened, and incredibly brave lady woman  and says ‘Daughter. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

Jairus (Part 1): Mark 5:21-24

Jairus. A familiar face in the crowd?

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

Mark 5:21-24

Shiptonthorpe, 30th June 2024

Jesus relationship with leaders of the Jewish community is always interesting. We rather assume that by default the leaders would have been antagonistic to Jesus. Clearly there were times when this was the case, and ultimately, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were responsible for the circumstances leading to his death. However, do you remember Jesus had something that feels rather like a clandestine meeting with Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin(i) in Jerusalem? You can read about it in John 3. The indications are that some leaders, some of the time, were interested in speaking to Jesus.  We saw in Mark 2 that some of the local Pharisees were close witnesses to Jesus teaching and healing activities. They were watching. They were sceptical. But they were not always openly hostile.

Jairus was leader of the synagogue in Capernaum, one of the most high profile leaders in the town which Jesus had, for the time being, made his home. In my mind I see the crowd parting as this senior member of the local community steps forwards to meet Jesus.

By our standards, Capernaum is a small town (about 1500 people). To me it is unthinkable that these two men had not met before. Jairus must have been very familiar with the healing and teaching ministry of this young rabbi, going on in his own town. We know that Jesus visited and was sometimes allowed to speak in synagogues. In public at least, it may be that Jairus would keep Jesus at a distance. It may be unlikely that he would publicly support Jesus’ ministry, but Jairus surely knew who Jesus was. This scene shows that he believes in the power of Jesus’ healing ministry. It is likely that when Jairus mentions his daughter, Jesus will know exactly who they are talking about. He will have have seen and perhaps even met the girl. Did these two men greet each other as strangers, or as friends?

Yesterday, in conversation, a friend of mine told me that he was agnostic. He is not sure whether or not he believes in God. However, he told me, if he was on a plane which was at risk of crashing, he would be the first to pray. He would try anything. Something similar is happening here. Jairus probably does not approve of Jesus, but in a desperate situation – his beloved daughter is dying.

Jairus’ daughter is sick. Very sick. Any animosity or differences which might have existed between the two were set aside. In a desperate and powerful gesture, Jairus, the synagogue leader, throws himself to the floor at Jesus’ feet. At this moment, Jairus would do anything, try anything. Anything at all. Even publicly throw himself at the feet of the celebrity preacher. Even publicly declare his confidence that Jesus, by laying his hands on his daughter, could rescue her from the jaws of death and restore her to health.

We will never know the truth of the relationship between Jesus and Jairus, but we do well to notice that confronted by desperation, Jesus does not turn anyone away. There seems to be no hesitation. Jesus goes with him. And where Jesus goes, the crowd follows.

You can read the second part of the story of Jairus’ daughter here.

(i) The Sanhedrin was the Council of Jewish Leaders in Jerusalem, responsible for interpreting and applying the Law

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

How Big was that Crowd?: Mark 5:21

This morning, I found myself wondering about crowd sizes. When Jesus got out of that boat, how big was that crowd?

Horsham, 27th June 2024

‘When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.’

Mark 5:21

On this occasion, Jesus is returning from an eventful overnight trip across the lake. The trip started at the end of what had been a busy day, teaching and healing a crowd of people. At first, this looks like Jesus taking an opportunity to escape the crowds to get some rest and downtime. We know that he was very tired, and doubtless his disciples were too. In fact, he was fulfilling a divine appointment with a man on the far side of the Lake who believed himself possessed by a legion of spirits. After this encounter, the exhausted group came back across the Lake, heading for Capernaum. The disciples must have been looking forward to getting home and some well deserved rest. Might it not be discouraging to see a noisy and excited crowd on the shore waiting for their return.

In these days of social media and mass communication, in a culture where people can travel long distances relatively easily, politicians and event organisers are notoriously good at exaggerating the size of the crowd. For them, the high numbers in a crowd indicate success and status.

At this point, Mark says the crowd is large(i)This crowd is unlikely to number thousands of people. Some would have travelled a great distance to be there, but at a time when the entire population of Capernaum was probably about 1500 people, we might imagine this crowd to number at the most tens or hundreds, rather than thousands. Some are curious and interested in following Jesus and to hear his teaching. Some are intrigued by his unusual teachings. Some have heard of this young celebrity rabbi who has the power to heal. They come looking for healing, for themselves and for their friends and relatives. For many of them, the need is great and urgent, which means they will press towards Jesus. A group of even 100 such people would make a noisy and boisterous group, all trying to grab his attention. All, that is, except the few who are watching every move, hiding in the crowd, ready to pass information to the Roman or Temple authorities.

If our assumption about the number of people is right, it occurs to me as I imagine the scene that contact with this crowd is entirely avoidable. Jesus, and his by now surely exhausted group of disciples, could have quietly returned to a different part of the shore out of sight of people. Several of the disciples are, after all, local fishermen with an intimate knowledge of the coast. But he didn’t. Jesus knew that the people were there, and he went straight to them. He recognised their wide raging needs and expectations and he chose to meet them. When Jesus sees a crowd of people, he sees people in need, and his heart is moved by compassion (Mark 6:34). For Jesus and his disciples, this is not a time to rest. There are people here who Jesus needs to meet. Avoiding them is not an option. There is work to be done. Here is a lesson for the disciples, and as followers of Jesus, for us.

In this crowd there is a tall, well dressed man. He has a strong presence, and many of the crowd know who he is. People make way for him, giving him access to the front of the crowd as the boat approaches the shore. This is the leader of the Synagogue. He is such a well known and respected man in the town that we know his name, Jairus. Close by there is a poor woman who is very unwell, suffering from an issue of blood, rendering her unclean, unemployable and outcast to the Jewish community. It’s probable that these two would know each other and would have every reason to avoid being in the same place. Yet this morning, they have something in common. They both have a divine appointment with Jesus.

‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ (NIV)

Matthew 9:36

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

(i) The Greek word polys is generally translated as much or many, in this case implying a crowd of many people.

God looks at your heart: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Horsham: 12th June 2024

Some years ago, a Church based children’s worker called Trevor was leading some session at the Conference Centre where I was working. He was encouraging the young people to explore their relationship with God. He wanted them to realise that God knew them, and valued them as His people. He wanted them to understand that their age was no barrier to their faith. God knows and loves them. He sees their heart. Too often, we overlook the gifts and the faith of children. Too often we don’t notice, and therefore don’t celebrate His Holy Spirit working through a child.

Trevor led the group through the story of Samuel, at the point when he is sent by God to visit Jesse. God had told Samuel that he was to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new King of Israel. The first son, Eliab, is a fine, strong young man.  “Surely,” says Samuel, “his anointed is now before the Lord.” God says no. He also rejects all of the sons who follow. Surely, says Samuel, there must be another? Young David is not even presented to Samuel. He is assumed to be too young. Too insignificant. Whilst the brothers are part of the feast, David is out in the fields. He’s working. He’s looking after the sheep.

‘ “Send and bring him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.’

1 Samuel 16:11-13

The key point is this. We look at each other and we make judgments about each other. Our judgments are made on the basis of superficial impressions. We notice things like people’s anxiety, their behaviour, their attitude, their dress style, even their age, and we sub consciously make judgments about them. The message is that God is different. God looks past the visible exterior of our appearance, our gender, our skin colour, our age.

‘The Lord does not see as men see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’

1 Samuel 16:7

In order to make the point to the young people, Trevor and his team wrote out a short sentence on lots of pieces of paper and gave a copy to each child. At the end of the session, the children put their copy of the note in their Bible and went home.

The following morning, I was having a bad day. I felt that God was moving me on from my role as Director of the Christian charity where I had worked for nine years. I wasn’t ready or able to retire. Yet I couldn’t see the next step. I felt useless. I felt discouraged. I felt old.

I walked into the conference room in which the teaching had taken place. There on the floor was a folded piece of paper. I picked it up and read the note which had been intended for one of the children.

‘God looks at your heart, not your age.’

Powerful words. Words intended for a child. I was nearly 60. They were every bit as powerful to me.

Be encouraged.

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

 

 

My name is Legion, for we are many: Mark 5:1-20

‘My name is Legion – for we are many!’

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Mark 5:1-20

Horsham. 9th June 2024
‘My name is Legion, for we are many’

This story deals with a very dramatic incident of demonic possession. Such a concept was ‘quite familiar to people in Palestine in the days of Jesus but quite alien to us.’ (Barclay, Loc 2543).

Most of us are not used to thinking of our world as being populated by demons. Some people feel more comfortable approaching this story as an encounter with a man who is suffering from some kind of psychological disorder. That’s fine. You can find your own place in that conversation, but  to understand what happened, we need to accept that to the people of Jesus’ day, demons were both real and ever present. 

It was widely assumed that demons were most likely to be found in dark, deserted places, so here, probably in the early hours of the morning, is a man emerging from the tombs. The place of the dead would be an obvious place for demons. Here is a strong man, dressed in rags, and given to bouts of violence. Local people would avoid him. They would doubtless have been fearful of his immense strength and also of the risk of contamination by the powers of evil.

If he were ill, I have been asked, rather than under demonic control, why would Jesus treat him as if he was possessed. A contemporary approach to mental health would rightly abhor an intervention based on that assumption. The answer is, I think, surprisingly simple. I believe that Jesus wants us to meet people at their point of greatest need, and here He is doing just that. The man utterly believes that he is possessed by not one, but huge number of demons. That, then, is the point at which Jesus meets him, and that is the condition from which Jesus delivers him.

If we prefer to take the alternative view, that this is a case of chronic psychological disorder rather than deliverance from demons, we are witnessing an extraordinary and supernatural healing which affirms the power of Christ to respond to psychological as well as physical needs.

Christ’s first direction that the demon should leave the man was, it seems, resisted. The spirits not only remains within the man, but they beg Christ not to torture them. This affirms that the demons are in fear of Christ (James 2:19). In many cultures, there is a belief that knowing the name of a person or a demon gives one a degree of control over them. ‘What is your name?’ says Jesus. Unable to resist such a question from the One who is the Son of God, the man, or the spirits within him, reply ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’ For me, there is something extraordinary and powerful in this name, reflecting the desperation and hopelessness of the man.

 

The Roman army was divided into fighting units. A legion comprised 6000 troops. They were a strong unit and an extremely powerful fighting force, and they were capable of great violence. Like this poor man, who believes himself to be possessed by a small army of demons, they were best avoided.

We might read think that the departure of these spirits is contingent on Christ permitting them to move to a nearby herd of pigs. However It is Jesus, not the spirits, who are in control. He has a plan for this man and for the demons. The dispatch of the demons into a herd of pigs enable the man to see that they have departed from him, and so he, and others around him, can know that he is free. In order to be healed and restored, he needed to know that he had been delivered.

The tenure of the spirits within the pigs is fleeting because they immediately fling themselves into the waters and are killed. The suffering man can be convinced that his torturers are gone, and so his mental health is restored. He is healed.

The panic of the herdsmen, and fear of the local people are understandable. The transformation of their neighbour, dressed and in his own mind, is undeniable. For them, the destruction of a herd of pigs is terrifying.  They can only understand these things in terms of the supernatural. No wonder they want this small band of men who have arrived from the far side of the Lake to leave.

Not for the first time, having witnessed his power, someone wants to physically remain with Jesus. The message to this man, as to all of us who encounter Christ, is to return to our people and tell them what he has done for them.

’20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.’

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK