The Gospel reading (Mark 6:1-13) for this week is two separate stories in one. Mark 6:1-6 has to do with belief and unbelief, and the recognition of Jesus' authority. Mark 6:7-13 has to do with the call of the disciples and the proclamation of the Gospel. Both stories have to do with the acceptance or rejection of Christ. Because there is such a great need to share the Gospel in our daily lives, the second story (Mark 6:7-13) usually takes precedence. To be a follower of Christ Jesus means we are commissioned to invite family and friends to develop a mature relationship with Christ in their daily lives. God is actively at work inviting people to join his eternal family and wants us to help him in extending that invitation. There are people in our lives who will readily and strongly reject any relationship with Christ, says this Gospel (v. 11). However, there are also others, people God has placed in our lives, who will accept Christ and the Kingdom, says this Gospel (v. 13). It is not that we can "make" anyone believe in Christ; that's the sole work of the Holy Spirit. And yet, Christ does expect us to invite our family and friends to experience a new life with Christ in their daily lives. This Gospel calls us to regularly invite our family and friends to a more meaningful relationship with Christ. Can we do that? Will we do that? What is it that keeps us from sharing the Gospel with family and friends?
The most popular way of trying to evade death in our culture is to ignore it. We don't want to think about it; we try to camouflage it when it comes. But death will not go away, and it will not stay camouflaged for long. Sooner or later it hits us in a way we cannot ignore. What can Jesus do when he confronts death? Our Gospel for this Sunday answers this question. Jesus' whole ministry was an attack on the power of death manifested in sin and disease as well as the grave. He did not answer death's challenge by avoiding it. He met it head on and defeated it. The real answer to death comes in the resurrection of Jesus himself. Death as a biological event remains for us. But death as the power to defeat hope, as a force to induce guilt, despair, and hatred, is banished from our lives when Christ rules over us. Death is an event on the way to the kingdom, not an end to the human story. God uses death to lead us to humility and faith, and to usher us into the fullness of His kingdom. Jesus Christ is the Lord of life because he has power over death. His teachings and his moral examples are precious to us. But by themselves they would only make him one of a long line of moral heroes. The death and resurrection of Jesus are what is central to our faith, for in dying and rising Jesus directly faced and overcame the last enemy. The objective of this Lesson is to help deepen our faith in the power of Jesus Christ to overcome the power of death in our lives.
The Sea of Galilee is a medium-size lake but it is surrounded by long, narrow valleys that are like wind tunnels funneling the winds into it. When winds arise in these valleys, they sweep into the Sea of Galilee with concentrated force, quickly whipping it into a frenzy. The drama of our Gospel was played out in one of these storms. After having calmed the storm, Jesus turned to his disciples with a rebuke, "Why are you afraid?" He asked. "Have you no faith?" (v40). This is the issue in any kind of crisis: whether we trust God's love and power. As sinful people, we do not possess this kind of faith. In crises, like the disciples we cry out in fear, wondering if we can be confident in God's promises. Jesus uses His power to calm our fears. He gives us faith. Jesus gives us faith through his word, He keeps us from panic. We are not helpless. God is in the storms as well as the calm. No matter what happens, we are in His hands. The disciples began with fear because they lacked faith. They ended with another kind of fear, the consequence of faith. They were filled with awe of Jesus and His power over wind and sea. This is a different kind of fear. We stand in awe and fear of God's being with us, however little we can understand of his workings. The Greek word for fear, phobos, is the root of our word, phobia. In the Gospel for this Sunday, the disciples go through two kinds of fear: first, they are frightened by the storm; and second, they are "filled with awe" of "frightened with a great fear," as the Greek says (v41) because they do not understand who Jesus is that He can still the storm. Later, after the cross and resurrection, a new kind of fear will grip them: the fear of God that goes with faith. This is the fear Luther speaks of in his explanation of the First Commandment: "We are to fear, love, and trust God above anything else.
One of the most striking features of the teaching of Jesus is his use of parables. He told down-to-earth stories that had the ring of real life and made his points in a memorable way. What are the parables? Some points about interpreting parables can be made. First, a parable is not an allegory. An allegory is a story in which every item stands for something else. Second, the parables are not illustrations of a general truth. Such generalized truths are usually trite, and rarely applicable. Third, parables should be placed in the context of Jesus' ministry. Much information is now available on the times in which Jesus lived. This kind of information provides important help in the interpretation of His parables. Fourth, we must be careful with the usual introductory formulas to the parables, which usually go as follows: "The kingdom of God is like…" The temptation is to identify God's kingdom with the first object mentioned in the story. But the comparison may be in the conclusion, or in the contrast between the first item and a later one. Fifth, if we understand the parable in its own context, it will find its own authentic way to speak freshly and forcefully to our situation. Using these principles of interpretation, how would you interpret the main thrust of the first parable in our Gospel? The key to the first parable is the coming of the harvest. "You may only see a few signs of the kingdom." It is as if Jesus says, "But when your eyes are truly opened, you will see that the kingdom is ready and that I will bring in the harvest." The parable encourages us to confidently grasp the sickle and reap the harvest. It is not up to us to sow the seed of the gospel, as if without us it would not be in the world. Our task is to claim for God what he has already prepared. What is the central point of the mustard seed parable, then? It relates to the humble appearance of Jesus and his disciples. Like mustard seeds, they are small. "But don't judge by appearances," it is as if Jesus says. "Rather, judge by results."
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and everyone who keeps searching finds, and for everyone who keeps knocking, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8
Jesus taught his disciples that they could pray to God for help with all of their daily needs, in much the same way they would share those needs with their parents. As Hallesby explains, To pray is nothing more than letting God into our lives. To pray is to give God our request to employ his powers to help us with our needs. The result of our praying is, therefore, not dependent upon the power or length of our prayers. Fervent emotions or a clear expression of the situation are not the reasons that our prayers are answered. The results of our prayers are only dependent upon giving our heavenly Father emphasis to our needs, and imploring him to exercise his power to help us. We have all learned how to share our needs and wants with others. As children, we learned to ask our parents for all that we needed, and even all that we wanted. Prayer is simply doing what we already know how to do—asking our parents and others for help—but with God as the one to whom we are asking for help. For many, the real obstacle to praying is fear of not knowing how to share our needs with God. The prayerful conversation we have with God is to be as natural as having a conversation with our loved ones. For this reason, Jesus taught his followers a way in which to pray using the same conversational process we use with our trusted loved ones. Jesus teaches his followers to pray a conversational style of prayer by using the nine parts of the Lord’s Prayer.
The goal of praying is to develop an ongoing conversation in Christ’s name with our heavenly Father, through which we share the needs of our daily lives. To assist us with our daily conversational prayer, Jesus has given his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, which encourages spontaneous prayers to God for each of our needs. Our conversations and spontaneous prayer are referred to in the Bible as unceasing prayer.
The primary goal of this chapter on listening is to make reading the Bible a meaningful habit, through which we are able to listen to God’s Word, his voice, as he speaks directly to each of us. Through our daily Bible reading, God’s voice speaks to the depth of our souls a message about our sin (law), and our great need for the Savior (gospel). As Luther said, “From all eternity God has had an active voice, a thought, a conversation, a will, an address within him that he wants to share with us through Scripture.”
The daily goal of remembering our baptism can be summed up by Martin Luther, “So truly, a Christian life is nothing other than a daily remembering of our baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For this must be done without ceasing, that we always keep purging away whatever belongs to our old nature, through the power of Christ’s death. Then what belongs to our new nature, through the power of Christ’s resurrection, may come forth.”
It is said that no words of Jesus have caused more anguish and misunderstanding than these words about the unpardonable sin. What is this sin? Can I know whether I have committed it? An important step toward answering this question is understanding what sin is, according to the Scriptures. We tend to think of sins in the plural as individual acts. The Bible speaks of sin in the singular as a state of mind or a way of being. It is enmity with God. All sins as individual acts can be forgiven, Jesus says. But when, in enmity toward God, we definitely rely on ourselves and reject God completely, there is no forgiveness possible. Wondering and worrying about this sin, therefore, is probably the best sign that it has not happened to us. The unforgiveable sin is a paradox: On the one hand, it is not a passive sin; it requires a specific intentional action. So if you're not worried about having committed it, then you probably haven't. On the other hand, it is a sin that requires a total emotional and spiritual disconnection from God and everything that is important to God. So if you are worried about having committed it, then you probably haven't. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes us aware of our sinfulness, who makes us thirst for forgiveness, and who announces the gift of forgiveness to us in God's word. Even our worries and anxieties can be signs of the fact that he is at work in us.