Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Interpreting Mark 1:13-14 and life applications of how Jesus never forgets us

Mark 1:13-14 "And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.
14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God."

Have you ever met someone who is starting something new? Whether that person or ourselves, the beginning of a job, a new phase in life or ministry may appear to be sudden to outsiders, however there is always a background. Whenever we read Mark 1:13-14, we find what appears to be an abrupt transition from Jesus' time in the wilderness to the start of His public ministry. Mark 1:14 begins with this statement: "After John was put in prison". Now we know there was a major event, involving a major figure that appeared to be quite negative. As in real life, transitions are anything but smooth. Jesus is going to be hitting the ground running while poor old John the Baptist is incarcerated. Thankfully, the backstory of what occurs between Mark 1:13-14 is found elsewhere in the Gospels. Anytime we read Jesus' life as recorded in the Gospels, we must first read each Gospel on its own merit, since each writer had purposes and aims. We then attempt to reconstruct the events of Jesus' life as portrayed in each of the Gospels so as to get a clear and whole picture. So how can studying the other three Gospels in concert with Mark 1:13-14 help us better understand the text? Let's explore!

An attempt to put together what happened between Mark 1:13-14
Whenever you scan Matthew's Gospel in Matthew 4:11-12, it too reads much like Mark. Many scholars throughout church history have tried to understand how the first three Gospels relate to one another. I won't go into depth here, since our main goal is to understand Mark 1:13-14. However, in seeing the commonality that exists between Matthew and Mark, though authored by different people (Matthew and Mark), Mark appears to be getting it's structure from Matthew. Ancient church history tells us that Mark recorded Peter's preaching of Jesus as Peter had before him both the scrolls of Matthew and a newly penned Gospel of Luke. Thus the similarity between Mark and Matthew would make sense.

Matthew's Gospel records later on in Matthew 14:1-12 what happened to John the Baptist that led to his incarceration and death. Such a "by-the-way" mention answers the question at least in Matthew's Gospel as to what happened to John, and how that event operated in relationship to Jesus' public ministry. We find that Jesus' ministry never occurred apart from intertwining itself in the plight and problems of people. Jesus was very well in tune with what had happened to John the Baptist, even though it may had seemed like He wasn't. John the Baptist himself had sent a message to Jesus from prison in Matthew 11:1-2 "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" John's momentary crisis of faith led Jesus' to testify publicly about John the Baptist's faithfulness and role in His Father's plans. Matthew's portrayal of John's imprisonment and John the Baptist's words from that prison remind us of the fact that God's seeming absence in John's life did not mean God was absent-minded about John's plight. Far from it! Jesus as God in human flesh was very much in tune with what had occurred, thus resulting in the hastening of the pace of His own ministry.

So what about Luke's Gospel? Luke's Gospel does not have the phrase "after John was put in prison" like Matthew and Mark have it following Jesus' temptation. Luke only mentions John's imprisonment in Luke 7:18-35. Interestingly Luke's recounting of John the Baptist's struggle and Jesus' testimony about him mirrors very closely with Matthew 11. If again we heed the writings of the ancient church fathers who would had been pupils of the Apostles, Luke's Gospel had recorded the preaching of the Apostle Paul on the life of Jesus. The fact that Luke's Gospel recorded near similar details about this even of John's imprisonment and Jesus' testimony as that of Matthew bespeaks of a common oral source at least (which I would contend would had been the Apostle's preaching). At anyrate, Luke's Gospel demonstrates the reliability and consistency of the early apostolic preaching of Jesus shared between Matthew's Gospel, Paul and Peter's preaching and the final products of Mark and Luke's Gospel.

So we have the events of John's imprisonment clearly in view. The question is - when would this had taken place and how long of time would had passed between Mark 1:13-14? This is where we turn to John's Gospel in John 1:19-3:36. In John's Gospel, we find Jesus' calling his first disciples in John 1:19-51, with not all of them sticking with him (i.e Peter, James, John, Andrew). We know that those four men had come to Jesus only out of curiosity because in Mark's Gospel (1:14-20) we find Jesus' calling forth these same men - with their response being to forsake their lives to follow Him.  We secondly find Jesus performing his first miracles in John 2, followed by key conversations with Nicodemas (John 3) and the woman at the well (John 4:1-44). 

We can summarize then Jesus' activities in John 1:19-4:44 as having to do with callings, miracles and conversations. With John's Gospel, as well as the information we gained from Matthew and Luke, we can place the beginning of John's imprisonment right at the time prior to Jesus' first ministry in Galilee as recorded in Mark 1:14. Moreover, according to one source, John's incarceration by Herod may had occurred right around the time Jesus was ministering in Samaria to the woman at the well. At anyrate, we are talking of only two weeks between Mark 1:13-14.

Practical Applications of today's post
Inasmuch this post was all about better understanding Mark 1:13-14, there are undoubtedly life-practical applications that can be gleaned from this study of the relationship between John's imprisonment and the beginnings of Jesus' public ministry in Mark 1:14. 

1). Jesus never forgets where you and I are at. He didn't forget John

2). Christ's character and His word are the lenses for faith, not our circumstances, our emotions or even other people. Emotions, circumstances and people can fail you, but Jesus and His word will never fail.

3). Christ's activity in the world includes our trials and sufferings. Someone texted me the other day: "When life is not a bed of Roses, remember who wore the thorns."