Story of the New Testament - Lesson 6
By Curt Niccum
Mark: Don't Tell
Background Information for the Teacher
- The student can explain why Jesus does not want people to tell others he is the Messiah. The student can do this both in terms of the life of Jesus (historical) and Mark's use of it as a theme in his gospel (literary).
- The student can understand how Mark uses the information about Jesus to tell a story that slowly reveals the true, spiritual understanding of who Jesus is.
- Each student will need to have a complete Bible.
- You may want to use the handout (provided below). The handout displays the contrasts between the human evaluation and the spiritual understanding of Jesus that Mark makes significant use of within his story.
Mark's main concern is that people come to know who Jesus is and what it means for him to be the Messiah. Although it is easy to see Jesus as a divine figure in terms of the glory of his baptism and his miracles, Jesus is only truly understood when one beholds the cross. The same is true for discipleship. The euphoria at baptism alone does not define discipleship, but taking up one's cross and following Christ.
Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class
Introduction: (10-15 minutes)
- Organizational matters (taking roll, etc.)
- Evaluation of previous lesson: Have the class discuss the differences between the Messiah the Jews expected and the Messiah as portrayed in Luke. Ask whether or not they thought of any modern examples of people expecting a type of Messiah that Jesus is not.
- Prayer and/or song: Appropriate songs include "If Any Man Come After Me," "I Want to Know Christ," and "I've Been Crucified With Christ." Prayer topics could include strength for living as true disciples and courage to tell the complete story of Jesus Christ.
Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)
- Mark 1:1-15 is the introduction to the second gospel. Within the introduction Mark makes clear his evaluation of Jesus: He is the "Son of God" (1:1). We find Mark's assessment to be in accordance with God in the narration of Jesus' baptism, for the heavens "rip" open and God Himself proclaims, "You are My beloved son" (1:10-11). Mark's gospel unfolds as humans attempt to reach this spiritual understanding of Jesus' identity.
- Mark 1:16-8:26 contains the first part of the gospel story. Within this section human assessments of Jesus are contrasted with those of the spiritual world. Mark contrasts human efforts to know Jesus with the spiritual world's actual knowledge of him. Even though the demons are evil by nature, as spiritual beings they understand who he truly is. (The handout makes these contrasts more visual. [You may choose instead to use it as an overhead. Either way, some type of visual presentation should make the lesson's content easier to teach and for the students to grasp.] In Part I the tops of the peaks indicate the highest level of understanding, this is the spiritual level, of Jesus' identity. The valleys mark deficient, that is human, analyses of Jesus. In Part II the peaks reveal Jesus' self-definition of Messiahship or leadership, that of dying on the cross. The valleys indicate human misinterpretations of leadership, primarily by Jesus' own disciples who anticipate ruling Israel from thrones rather than a cross. In Part III, the high plateau marks Jesus' rejection of Israel and the lower indicates Israel's rejection of Jesus. The climax of each section is giving sight to the blind. This occurs literally in the first two and figuratively in Part III. It is only at the end, with an empty tomb, that people everywhere can now "Go tell!")
- The first human response is one of amazement, but Jesus is only considered superior to the scribes (1:22). This is followed by a demoniac identifying him as "the holy one of God" (1:24). Jesus commands the demon not to reveal his identity.
- The second human response is similar to the first, but now Jesus' teaching buttressed by his powers over the demons begins to raise the question, "Who is this?" (1:27). In 1:34 Mark tells us that Jesus cast out many demons and did not allow them to speak "because they knew him."
- The third human response also comes in the form of a question, but this time with a negative connotation: "Why does he talk like that? He blasphemes" (2:7). Additional questions make it clear that the religious leaders evaluate Jesus negatively (2:16, 18, and 24) and in fact intend to kill him (3:6). Mark follows this series of questions with a summary of Jesus' miraculous activity. "Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God,'" yet he would command them not to reveal his identity (3:11-12).
- Jesus then appoints the Twelve, and he teaches huge crowds. Even with special insight into Jesus' teaching, his own disciples cannot truly comprehend. Cowering in a boat they also ask, "Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" (4:41). In the very next scene, a demoniac who will be freed from the tombs acclaims Jesus as "the Son of the Most High God" (5:7). For the first time in the story a person is commanded to "go tell" (5:19).
- Contrasting human evaluations follow. Mark builds the tension in the story: Will any human be able to identify Jesus' spiritual stature?
- Negative: When Jesus preaches in his hometown, they recognize the superiority of his teaching but, being familiar with his local upbringing, they refuse to recognize God at work (6:2-3).
- Positive: People associate Jesus with the Old Testament prophets and even John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:14-16).
- Negative: The disciples are terrified thinking Jesus to be a ghost. Even though amazed, "their minds were closed" (6:52). iv. Positive: After healing a deaf mute, "Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone…. People were overwhelmed with amazement, ‘He has done everything well,' they said" (7:36-37).
- The section closes with a negative tone, but with hope for a better ending.
- Because of the disciples' inability to understand simple basic truths, Jesus questions whether they are blind. He indicts them as in danger of being outsiders. (Compare 8:17 with 4:10-12.)
- Jesus then heals a blind man, but surprisingly it requires two attempts. After spitting on the man's eyes and placing his hands upon him, the man can only see dimly. After a second touch then the man could see clearly. The blind man becomes an object lesson for the disciples. They too cannot see clearly. Their thinking is muddled with regard to spiritual things. The next section of Mark offers proof. Still, there is hope. If one stays with Jesus long enough, one will see clearly.
- Mark 8:27-10:52 records Jesus teaching his disciples so that they might be able to see clearly. Now Jesus' (spiritual) truth is contrasted with the disciples' (human) ideas.
- The section begins with Peter's "Great Confession." For the first time in Mark a human actually comes close to proclaiming the spiritual assessment of Jesus, "You are the Christ" (8:29). One quickly learns, though, that even though Peter gets the words right, he gets the content wrong. Peter cannot yet comprehend a Messiah who dies at all, let alone one nailed to a cross. Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone he is the Messiah (vs. 30).
- Positive: With Peter at least vocalizing the truth, even if not comprehending it, Jesus begins to announce what it means to be Messiah. Messiahship entails suffering, rejection, and death, but also resurrection (8:31).
- Negative: Peter, thinking along human lines, rebukes Jesus (8:32-33). Jesus responds with teaching about denying self and focusing on Jesus (8:34-38).
- Next, God Himself confirms Jesus' stature, "This is my Son" (9:7).
- Positive: Jesus predicts his death and resurrection a second time (9:31).
- Negative: The disciples again follow the prediction with misunderstanding. They choose instead to focus on human things, and thus they argue about which of them will be the greatest in the kingdom (9:33-34).
- Positive: After additional teaching on the difficulties of discipleship, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection a third time (10:33-34).
- Negative: Again focusing on human desires, James and John seek the two top places in the coming kingdom (10:37). Jesus responds with the core of what it means to be the "Christ" and what it takes to be a "Christ"ian: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many" (vv. 42-45).
- As with the previous section, this portion of Mark closes with the healing of a blind man. This time, though, the blind man sees immediately. That he sees spiritually as well as physically is indicated by his addressing Jesus as "Son of David," a term for Messiah, and by his following Jesus after the miracle.
- In the final section of Mark, Jesus fulfills his three predictions and at the cross one sees clearly who Jesus truly is.
- Immediately after the healing of the blind man Jesus begins the business of being Messiah. In fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey acclaimed by the crowds.
- Although recognized by the masses, Jesus finds Israel spiritually bankrupt. One presumes then that the statements by the crowds are about as perceptive as Peter's confession. They get the words right but the content wrong. The crowds welcome Jesus as a conquering hero, not a suffering servant. The death of the Messiah on a cross is beyond these people too.
- He cleanses the temple because they have turned the Court of the Gentiles into a marketplace in express disobedience of Isaiah 56. Quoting Jeremiah 7 he implies the destruction of the Temple.
- He withers a fig tree. Jews expected a tree that bore fruit year round to accompany the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus' hunger brings to his attention a tree blooming out of season, but it has no fruit. The fig tree, a common representation of Israel in the Old Testament, is like Israel - it has failed to produce. The cursing of the fig tree prefigures the destruction of Israel.
- He knows the scriptures better than any of the Jewish leaders. Three groups question Jesus about puzzling biblical passages, but he answers them all correctly (12:13-34).
- He predicts the destruction of Jerusalem (chapter 13).
- In the closing chapters Jesus is betrayed, rejected by the Jewish leaders, handed over to the Romans, and crucified, just as Jesus said.
- Only two people understand who Jesus truly is in this section. The first is the woman who anoints Jesus (14:3-9). She alone understands that Jesus must die to be the Messiah, and she knows this before his death! No wonder this story is to be told wherever the gospel is preached (14:9). The second occurs at the end of the story (see section iii below).
- In the account of the crucifixion Mark brings the reader back to the scene at the beginning of his gospel. Just as at the beginning there was a "rip," so also here at the end. Mark uses the same word in both places. It may be that he intends for the reader to see the heavens being ripped open here too, for the temple had a huge curtain with the heavens and the earth embroidered upon it with gold and silver thread from Babylon.
- Also, as at the beginning, we here the proclamation that Jesus is "the Son of God" (15:39). Finally we have a human getting the words and the content right! Surprisingly, the pronouncement does not come from a disciple, but from a gentile centurion with apparently no exposure to Christ's teaching. He makes the statement based solely on Jesus' death. Here is the core of the gospel!
- Also in conformity with his predictions, Jesus is resurrected on the third day. It is at this point that the disciples are commanded to "Go tell!" (16:7).
Applications: (about 10 minutes)
- The fact that Jesus so frequently orders silence with regard to his identity has disturbed some. Historically, Jesus probably wished to avoid misunderstandings. Jewish interpretation had created the expectation of a military Messiah. Jesus, however, had to show that the Messiah did not come to kill, but to be killed. Mark elevates this to a major literary theme, because he wants Christians to know that the gospel message is not just made up of the great things associated with baptism. Discipleship means a willingness to take up one's cross and follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha.
- Only twice are people told to go proclaim the story of Jesus. Historically, the Gerasene demoniac was probably told to go tell because he lived in a gentile area that would not be very familiar with Jewish Messianic expectations. Mark wants to make something more of the story. In this gospel, the two places where people are told to tell there is an empty tomb!
- One of Mark's main points is that a person only has a gospel to tell if one understands what Christ did on the cross. Many people preach a so-called gospel. One popular today is the "health and wealth" gospel. This typically avoids the difficulties of discipleship that Mark discusses. Jesus suffered so I don't have to. Instead, Jesus wants me to be healthy and rich. Q: How does taking up one's cross and following Jesus fit in such a "gospel"?
- Have the students discuss whether Jesus, if he appeared suddenly in the classroom, would tell them to "be quiet" or "go tell." Have the students reflect on how their lives reflect the cross of Christ.
Assignment: (about 1 minute)
Have the students read Isaiah 56:1-8. This is a prophecy about the Restoration of Israel. Ask them to try to identify where in the Book of Acts various promises in this prophecy are fulfilled.
Have the students think about their Christian lives and whether or not they see clearly, actually have a story to tell, and are taking up their crosses to follow Jesus. You might provide examples of each of these to help the students picture what is being asked of them. For example, if Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, ways of taking up Jesus' cross today could be as simple as driving the elderly to doctor's appointments or the grocery store instead of "cruising" or befriending those teased and marginalized at school by the "in crowd." Certainly Mark had more difficult actions in mind, but few Christians today (at least in the United States) face death because of their faith. Challenge them to put these into practice the next week.
Jack Dean Kingsbury, The Christology of Mark’s Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989). Eduard Schweizer, "Mark's Contribution to the Quest for the Historical Jesus," New Testament Studies 10 (1963) 421-432.
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