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Mark: Come Follow Me

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Microsoft Word - Mark (Come Follow Me) Series Guide.docxMark: Come Follow Me Big Idea of the Series: This eight-week sermon series explores key themes in the Gospel of Mark, especially the concept of the kingdom of God and its upside-down values. Over and over again, we learn how this coming kingdom elevates the marginalizes, protects the vulnerable, and finds its strength in weakness. Through following our new ruler, we learn to receive the kingdom and live as previews to its coming glory. Week 1 Text: Mark 1:1–15 Topic(s): Repentance, Ruler, King, Salvation Big Idea of the Message: We first learn about the kingdom of God and its paradoxical values by learning about its ruler, Jesus. Application Point: Our values and practices should look like they come from another kingdom. Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
1. Mark’s Gospel starts with the beginning (v. 1) and alludes to the original beginning in Genesis 1:1. The start of this story implies that a new beginning is breaking in, replacing or redeeming the old one. Not only does the language evoke the sense of a new beginning, the setting does as well. Verse 3 places us in the wilderness, bringing to mind the calling of the Israelites out of Egypt, and orienting us to the setting of a new group of people called into salvation, “a regeneration of salvation history” (Ched Meyers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus [Ossining, NY: Orbis Books, 2008], 122).
2. This first chapter is rich with this concept of recreation, as well as the necessary component of repentance. When 1:4 says that John the Baptist was “preaching a baptism of repentance,” we are introduced to a central theme of this book: a call toward “reorientation to the paradoxical values of the kingdom of God” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 2002], 66–67). John’s appearance and lifestyle are a good start: his rugged clothing and his strange diet (v. 6) immediately communicate that he has different values than the surrounding world. Sometimes we read this description and subconsciously assume that this wasn’t that weird during his day. But this would be like a middle-class person choosing to live outside of civilization, wearing only clothes they made themselves and eating only food they foraged. We would wonder what made them choose to give up modern comforts and take on practices that seem weird and old-fashioned to us. This scene is our first clue that the inbreaking kingdom of God looks radically different than we might assume.
3. The two stories about Jesus in this section are intentionally selected: they reveal two important truths about him. First, his baptism (v. 9) and his introduction as the Son of God (v. 11) have “messianic overtones of deity and kingship” (Abraham Kuruvilla, Mark: A Theological Commentary for Preachers [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012], 22). He is introduced as God, the only person able to be baptized without a confession of sin. Immediately after this, he is tested in the wilderness (v. 13), an identification with humanity and a reminder of his very real physicality and humanity. Jesus has been tested, proven both to be human and to be capable of withstanding testing and opposition. This is the ruler who Mark introduces to us as a means of introducing the kingdom of God.
4. We often understand a nation or group by their leader. In a kind of shorthand speech, we sometimes even refer to an entire group of people by the single name that leads them: political leaders like “Putin” to refer to an entire system of government, names of pastors to refer to their church, celebrity activists to represent their movement. In a similar way, we begin a book that will shape our understanding of the kingdom of God by learning about the ruler of this new kingdom, and the various ways he is not like we would expect him to be.
5. This section ends with a proclamation that should shape how we understand the entire story of the book: “The kingdom of God has come near” (v. 15). Once we are introduced to the King, we are introduced to his new and inbreaking kingdom. The actions and words of Jesus become not merely the actions and words of a good man or teacher, they become glimpses into the new order of things, the new kingdom that his entrance into the world ushers in.
Week 2 Text: Mark 2:23–3:6 Topic: Rest, Human Flourishing, Redemption Big Idea of the Message: The kingdom of God prioritizes the flourishing of humanity and of all creation. Application Point: The first step toward working for human flourishing is recognizing the humanity in others, even those we disagree with, dislike, or disregard. Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
1. The two stories detailed in this passage introduce one element of the kingdom of God to us: old governances are subordinate to Jesus’s authority, and he always prioritizes human welfare over empty rule keeping. “The focus here is on Jesus’ authority, as it is in the whole pericope (2:1-3:6): he forgives sins, he comes to call sinners who need deliverance (i.e., all of humanity), he introduces new practices fit for the new kingdom, and now he even critiques old traditions.” These particular stories, however, are not just about his authority over the Sabbath, but a “critique and proactive overriding of the old governances in favor of new kingdom policies” (Abraham Kuruvilla, Mark: A Theological Commentary for Preachers [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012], 57).
2. In the case of Sabbath, these new kingdom policies mean that—like all other commands God has given—rest was meant to encourage the flourishing of humanity and all of creation. In each of these stories, the Sabbath is “broken” by human flourishing: the disciples eat grain as they walk through the grainfields (2:23) and Jesus heals a man in the synagogue (3:5). Whereas the Pharisees used the law as a means to gain power and resented any threat to it (3:6), Jesus reveals the true intent of the law: to bring about human flourishing and restore the places where it has been broken. Hugely
3. A New York Times article detailed the current public health crisis of chronic lack of adequate sleep. We know that a booming sleep industry has popped up in response. Companies selling mattresses, pills, teas, and tracking apps have become an enormously profitable industry. The most interesting part of the Times article concerns the marketing that the sleep industry most relies on: it reports on studies that measured the performance of baseball players with longer sleep schedules and the productivity of daytime nap-takers (Tony Schwartz, “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive,” New York Times, February 9, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/relax-youll-be-more- productive.html). Rest is not seen as an inherent good, but as a means to a greater end: doing more. We sometimes respond to God’s good gifts in much the same way as the Pharisees: using them as tools for our own purposes instead of seeking the kind of flourishing they’re intended to encourage.
4. While the command to keep the Sabbath holy is not repeated in the New Testament, these stories draw us back into discovering the heart behind the initial command. “In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are commanded to rest on the seventh day as an act of both remembrance and of service to others. Here, the emphasis lies not upon God as creator but God as redeemer, as the one who
brought the Israelites out of slavery. The Israelites must rest in order to allow their laborers to rest, in order to recognize the humanity—the God-given creatureliness—of their fellow human beings, whether or not those people share their faith” (Amy Julia Becker, “Who is the Sabbath For?” Christianity Today, June 20, 2014, https://www.christianitytoday.com/amyjuliabecker/2014/june/who- is-sabbath-for.html). Jesus didn’t just heal the man in the synagogue, he publicly restored a man who would have faced social obstacles due to his disability (3:3). Jesus “recognized the humanity” of a man that many others would have ignored.
5. This principle is alive throughout the commands that God gives his people. The early church understood that the purpose of all of Scripture is to encourage human flourishing, and this was evidenced in the way they lived and treated each other. Aristides, a second century philosopher noted the care that Christians showed all people, even slaves or women. “If anyone among them comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast for two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs” (Gerald Sittser, Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007], 54). They understood the way that their faith was supposed to form them in self-sacrificing ways, not merely for their own sake but for the sake of other people.
Week 3 Text: Mark 4:26–34 Topic: Success, Transformation, Faith Big Idea of the Message: The kingdom of God doesn’t work like earthly kingdoms, prioritizing control and earthly measures of success. Application Point: We shouldn’t judge the value of our efforts (or others) by their immediate size or success. Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
1. In these two little illustrations, we see one of the central themes of the whole book: God doesn’t often work in ways that we expect. He flips our expectations of success and power upside down, and he works in places and through people that we wouldn’t choose. This is the only gospel with this parable, and it helps us understand what Mark is doing throughout the entirety of the book. To Jesus’s disciples, energized by following a leader speaking of another kingdom, these parables would have brought their expectations to a screeching halt. It’s like a plant that grows out of sight (v. 28) or a tiny mustard seed, “the smallest of all seeds on earth” (v. 31). This kind of “divine work results in the transformation of the humblest offering from the disciple into something of great eschatological significance for the kingdom of God” (Abraham Kuruvilla, Mark: A Theological Commentary for Preachers [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012], 85).
2. Use a small handful of seeds or a small plant to illustrate this point. You can even use a small pot of dirt and plant a seed inside of it. There is something incomprehensible about gardening. You can do all of the right things—plant the seed at the right time, in the right soil, under the right conditions—and you are
still totally dependent on things outside of your control. The weather can make or break your crop for an entire year. Even if it’s a total success, so much of the process happens while you aren’t watching or working on it. In the same way, the kingdom of God is incomprehensible to us: we do the work we’ve been given to do, but we don’t see it taking shape or coming into being.
3. In the coming and inbreaking kingdom of God, we can’t judge our efforts (or others’) by their immediate and visible results. For Jewish disciples expecting a strong and victorious kingdom on earth, a mustard seed would have seemed particularly disappointing. A Messiah who would not provide military victory but instead came as the Suffering Servant, Jesus is the same kind of unexpected power and authority. The cross looks like ultimate defeat, a mustard seed instead of a towering tree, but that mustard seed grows into “the largest of all garden plants” (v. 32).
4. In his book Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture, Tim Suttle argues that our incessant drive toward growth regardless of cost is what causes so much tragic failure in churches. “A Kansas City megachurch recently lost their $20 million campus to the bank. One of the country’s first megachurches, the Crystal Cathedral, recently filed for bankruptcy. These stories are becoming more common, but they are just symptoms of a much deeper issue” (Tim Suttle, Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 55). Suttle points out that if we take these metaphors of planting and growing seriously, we’ll become more comfortable with death— because death has to come before resurrection. Planting a seed is all about death and resurrection—a seed must die and become something else in order for a plant to rise from the ground. We use fertilizer (dead material) with the seed in order to see new life come forth from it. It’s worth asking ourselves: what needs to die?
5. These parables give us a bit of grounding point for thinking about the rest of the book: what expectations about God’s kingdom need to be flipped upside down? The imagery of these parables is significant. “Not that of marching armies, heroic deeds, and valorous exploits, but the humble, homely imagery of sowing, tilling, and harvest” (Kuruvilla, Mark, 89). Where we expect big, booming, and impressive, God gives us humble and vulnerable.
Week 4 Text: Mark 5:21–43 Topic: Shame, Death, Victory Big Idea of the Message: In the kingdom of God, cultural norms are broken to defeat death and shame. Application Point: We are called to advocate for the vulnerable among us. Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
1. This passage has two important stories sandwiched together. It begins with the story of a synagogue leader (v. 22) pleading with Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter (v. 23), a story that is interrupted by the story of a woman who “had been subject to bleeding for twelve years” (v. 25). These two stories reveal an incredible aspect of the coming kingdom of God: victory over shame and death.
2. This story involves Jesus’s interaction with a woman whose medical condition left her a complete social outcast. She likely was infertile because of her condition, jeopardizing her primary role and source of value in her culture. Her condition remains common in places of the world today. She was also continually ritually unclean. “It was dangerous for such women to enter the presence of holy things” (L. Lewis Wall, “Jesus and the Unclean Woman,” Christianity Today, January 13, 2010, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/january/17.48.html). Dr. L. Lewis Wall connects her situation to the millions of women around the world, particularly in rural communities in Africa, who are “shunned by their communities because they are victims of disordered reproductive physiology.” He draws out the deep social consequences for women both in ancient times and today to point to a beautiful truth about this story: Jesus does not merely heal the woman (v. 29), he publicly elevates and redeems her (v. 34). Women around the world today, with and without medical conditions that engender the shame of their communities, often need this same elevation.
3. There’s another reason these two stories are sandwiched together—the passage contrasts the conditions of the girl and the woman. It’s important to note “the contrast between the daughter who has a (powerful) father to work on her behalf to summon Jesus, and this other ‘daughter’ who has wasted time and money and energies on physicians, with no one to speak for her” (Abraham Kuruvilla, Mark: A Theological Commentary for Preachers [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012], 109). But Jesus calls this woman “daughter” (v. 34)! She has the greatest advocate on earth, and he has paused his hurried journey with a powerful man in order to champion her cause—both physical and social.
4. In our foster-care system today, many young children are left to navigate a maze of court hearings and new schools all on their own. Through the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program, volunteers take some of this burden on themselves, committing to advocating for the best interests of a vulnerable child (“About Us,” Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5301303/k.6FB1/About_Us __CASA_for_Children.htm). Those with money and social standing can navigate
the court system with relative ease, but foster children face incredibly difficult challenges that no child should have to face. This is the kind of advocate Jesus is—he doesn’t only hear the pleas of the wealthy or important. Instead, he stops in the middle of an important journey and takes the time to turn to a woman “trembling with fear” (v. 33) and so tenderly says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you” (v. 34).
5. At the end of the first story, Jesus does another wildly countercultural thing. Jairus’s daughter has died (v. 35), and nevertheless, Jesus takes her “by the hand” (v. 41). Once again, Jesus has touched something unclean (this time, a corpse), and instead of being made unclean himself, he takes what is unclean and makes it clean. Not only is he victorious over both death and shame, he is able to redeem and restore what is broken instead of avoiding it.
Week 5 Text: Mark 8:27–9:1 Topic: Sacrifice, Self-Denial, Eternity Big Idea of the Message: In the kingdom of God, power is found in sacrifice. Application Point: We are called to be previews of the coming kingdom of God, willing to sacrifice for God’s glory. Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
1. Jesus has been showing his disciples (and sometimes, the rest of the watching world) the ways in which the inbreaking kingdom of God flips all expectations and assumptions on their heads. In this passage, Jesus tackles one of the most difficult expectations they had: of his victorious reign as their Messiah. When Peter responds to Jesus’s question with “the Messiah” (v. 29), it is “tantamount to calling him God’s king.” This interaction sets the stage for the lessons that will follow, because while Peter’s answer is correct, it is incomplete. “Kings are supposed to wield power, not to fall victim to it” (Ira Bent Driggers, Following God Through Mark: Theological Tension in the Second Gospel [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing, 2008], 65). Identifying Jesus as King is important, but it is also insufficient if it does not consider his suffering.
2. The location of this passage is also significant: Jesus chooses Caesarea Philippi as the place where Peter will identify him as King and where he will give his first prediction of his death. This is where Herod built a temple for Augustus Caesar. “The effect is to place the Christian reverence for Jesus in competition with pagan religious belief and practice and to co-opt the sacredness of the locality” (Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001], 240). This nuance raises an important question for our worship today: are we making it clear that we worship a different King than our national rulers? When faced with the pressure to place all our loyalty and worship at the feet of our national identity, do we declare that Jesus is King above all other rulers?
3. Jesus’s central charge in this passage is to tell his followers to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v. 34), and it’s one that many of us have
become too familiar with. We talk about “denying ourselves” without explaining what we really mean. “What Jesus calls for here is thus a radical abandonment of one’s own identity and self-determination, and a call to join the march to the place of execution follows appropriately from this” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002], 340). While the initial hearers may not have understood the gravity of what Jesus was talking about, the initial readers of Mark’s Gospel would: they were facing fierce persecution under Nero, and the reality of self-denial was easily understandable. They needed to be willing to sacrifice their own comfort and security in order to worship and follow God.
4. It’s important for us not to take Jesus’s commands here as purely spiritual or immaterial. “Discipleship to Jesus as willingness to take up the cross was not metaphorical to many of Mark’s original readers. Nor was it a matter of internal, private devotion—crucifixion was not only slow and agonizing death, it was public and shameful” (M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary [Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing, 2006], 244). We can either spiritualize this reality (making it all about personal piety) or romanticize the notion of sacrifice for Christ (keeping the focus on the individual), but the original readers would have seen this charge as a radical charge to endure social shame and weakness in order to gain a greater form of power.
5. One of the best parts of seeing a movie in theaters is watching all the previews before the movie starts. Movie previews are an art form in and of themselves: they take a couple hours of carefully directed content and condense it into a couple minutes of intriguing, captivating art. They tell the beginning of a story in such a compelling way that audiences want to see the whole thing. Mark 9:1 explains previews a coming event. Most scholars believe this verse is referring to the Transfiguration, which is “a heavenly preview of what is to be achieved.” As this entire book offers glimpses into the inbreaking kingdom of God, the Transfiguration gave Peter, James, and John a glimpse into the glory of the kingdom. This moment “reveals the kingdom by unveiling the king” (Witherington, Gospel of Mark, 262), as much of this entire Gospel does.
Week 6 Text: Mark 10:13–31 Topic: Money, Dependence, Discipleship Big Idea of the Message: In the kingdom of God, power and importance are flipped upside down. Application Point: Living with kingdom values means valuing the vulnerable and sacrificing for others. Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
1. As we’ve seen over and over again, the inbreaking kingdom of God radically overturns social conventions that harm people and limit human flourishing. Here, we begin to understand that entering into the kingdom of God is not just a singular occurrence. “The adoption of kingdom values and acceptance of the consequences of participating in Jesus’ mission is a lifelong enterprise” (Abraham Kuruvilla, Mark: A Theological Commentary for Preachers [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012], 214). Children are dependent on others, and they must “receive” (v. 15) everything they need to survive. Instead of focusing on human effort or achievement, the instructions Jesus gives remind us that the kingdom is something we are given as a gift, not something we earn our way into (v. 15). We also learn that the kingdom is about living a life that follows a pattern of sacrifice (v. 21).
2. The list of commandments that Jesus gives in verse 19 are important to note: it is missing “you shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17), and “you shall not defraud” is in its place. For a Jewish audience well-versed in the law, this exchange would not have gone unnoticed. While we aren’t given much backstory on this man, this slight change in the list of commandments draws attention to a reality that isn’t explicitly stated: this man likely has engaged in economic exploitation (Kuruvilla, Mark, 215). We often read this passage and think that the man simply hoards his money, but Jesus is poking at something deeper. We live in a world steeped with this reality today: much of the clothes and household products we buy are manufactured overseas by underpaid workers in unsafe conditions. Some of this exploitation even becomes slavery, trapping workers in positions they have no ability to get themselves out of.
3. Jesus’s command to the rich man is a radical one: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor” (v. 21), but it is preceded with compassion: “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (v. 21). Jesus knows that the man’s wealth will never satisfy him and that the exploitation that his wealth requires will eat away at him. He loves him too much to ask anything less of him than a total renunciation of his old way of life. Just as the first story reminds us that being a disciple is a lifestyle and not a one-time event, this story shows the difficulty of giving up one form of life for another, even though it is infinitely better.
4. When a drill sergeant puts his new troops through intense training, he (usually) doesn’t do it just for fun. He does it because he knows the difficulties and dangers they will face and wants to prepare them. He doesn’t put such high demands on them to hurt them, but to make them better and stronger. Jesus’s
demands on his disciples are even better, because they come with the grace that characterizes every interaction he has, but they are still tough demands. Asking a rich man to give away everything he owns is a high bar to reach. And yet, it comes from a place of love and concern. He is preparing this rich man for his future—for the sacrifices his faith will require him to make and yet also for the treasure that awaits him once his values have been reoriented toward heavenly things.
5. Verse 31 is a perfect encapsulation of this entire section: the “first will be last, and the last first”; the powerful will be weak, and the weak will be powerful; the rich will be poor, and the poor will be rich. The rich and powerful young man “went away sad” (v. 22), declining the promise of receiving the kingdom of God, while the children that respectable people swatted away from Jesus are the models for the grown-ups. While the story of the rich man reminds us of the high cost of discipleship, this short verse holds the promise that the high cost is worth it.
Week 7 Text: Mark 11:1–25 Topic: Redemption, Victory, Forgiveness Big Idea of the Message: In God’s new kingdom, exploitation and abuse of power are replaced with grace and redemption. Application Point: Jesus’s actions teach us to condemn exploitation, while his instructions teach us to forgive. Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
1. Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem is packed with expectation that many modern readers might miss. There are multiple elements of this entry that signified the triumphal entry of a general or ruler: the ceremonial nature (leafy branches especially, signifying Israeli nationalism, vv. 1–11), greetings (vv. 9–10), entry into the temple (v. 11), and religious activity such as cleansing (vv. 15–18) (David Catchpole, “The ‘Triumphal’ Entry,” Jesus and the Politics of His Day, ed. Ernst Bammel and C. F. D. Moule [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985], 321). This setting would have set up certain expectations in the minds of Jewish readers: Jesus was arriving as King, coming to usher in a new age of victory and blessing. Instead, the truly astonishing thing about Jesus’s entry is that none of these expectations are met. Nothing happens. “For a king entering his ‘capital’ and ‘palace,’ this is the ultimate insult! The failure, in antiquity, of cities to extend the customary greeting to dignitaries and military victors would have had dire consequences” (Abraham Kuruvilla, Mark: A Theological Commentary for Preachers [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012], 245).
2. If the president were visiting your town, certain signs would make this clear to you: a motorcade of dark vehicles with little American flags, news station vans and hurried reporters, a hotel ballroom or stadium setup with patriotic decorations, local politicians vying for a moment with the leader of the country. Whether you liked or agreed with the president, you would know that something
important was happening. Imagine that after all this fanfare, the president stepped out of his car, walked into a stadium packed with supporters, and then promptly walked away. Even more shocking, imagine that he went on to be tried and killed by local government that had marginal power compared to his own. This is the scene that Jesus’s followers are about to watch unfold.
3. Verses 12–14 are incredibly confusing when taken out of the context of the larger scene—why does Jesus curse a fig tree? Many interpretive solutions have been suggested, but most of them agree that this little story is intended to help us understand the following story of Jesus clearing the temple courts. “The fig tree has the status of a tree, with leaves promising fruit, but it has borne none. The temple has the status of being the house of prayer, promising much in its physical grandeur, but it is a haven of robbers” (Kuruvilla, Mark, 248).
4. When Jesus overturns the tables and benches in the temple (v. 15), he is overturning the established way of life for the people there. His condemnation holds power, as evidenced by the withered fig tree (v. 21). This story holds similar power to the end of this book—faith in the midst of destruction. In the incoming kingdom of God, destruction of the old order is cause for hope, not despair, because God is faithful to build something better. When Mars Hill church in Seattle, Washington, collapsed in 2014, it released a “tidal wave of hurt” for its thousands of congregants. The resignation of pastor Mark Driscoll opened up painful conversations across the church about authority, power, and gender. In the wake of this destruction, however, God was redeeming and restoring people and churches. In the end, the destruction of one unhealthy church birthed fifteen new churches, filled with people who had endured an incredibly difficult season and asked hard questions about church leadership and power. In the midst of the destruction, it looked like evil, but God was creating something new and good (Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “Seattle Reboot: Life After Mars Hill,” The Gospel Coalition, May 30, 2017, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/seattle-reboot- life-after-mars-hill/).
5. The end of this passage (vv. 22–25) continues this theme of how the new kingdom changes our understanding of power and worship. Instead of finding forgiveness in the temple, a place filled with exploitation, Jesus instructs his followers to do the opposite of what the “den of robbers” are doing: forgive others. The old system is not critiqued without the promise of a new way. This passage appears uneventful on the surface—Jesus enters what many think is his new center of power and doesn’t embark on the military conquest they are expecting. Instead, the story will reach its climax in a few chapters, a culmination that none expected and few initially understood: his death.
Week 8 Text: Mark 16:1–8 Topic: Faithlessness, Discipleship, Challenge Big Idea of the Message: There is hope for those who have been faithless. Application Point: We are called to move beyond following the crowd to follow Jesus, even in unpopularity or difficulty. Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
1. This last scene begins with one more example of the upside-down kingdom of God. At the very end, the minor characters come out of the woodwork and display their faithfulness. “Everyone in the formal category of ‘disciples’ has fled; and none of them come to claim Jesus’ body. … Even in the description of their ‘following’ and ‘ministering to’ Jesus (15:41), their discipleship is almost palpable; Mark’s intent is hardly ambiguous. They are disciples” (Abraham Kuruvilla, Mark: A Theological Commentary for Preachers [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012], 354).
2. We are guilty of ignoring many of the “minor characters” in our own lives, jobs, and churches as well. The women following Jesus were providing valuable service to the more visible disciples (many were even financially supporting the group), but their culture didn’t give them the kind of recognition or significance that the men received. Today, this truth often applies to women serving faithfully in our churches—they’re often doing the behind-the-scenes work, but they’re also often the last ones to leave the church building or service project, cleaning up and turning off the lights. This work is a lot like the mechanics of most of the technology we use today: there are a thousand working parts that don’t get any recognition for the role they play in making the lights flicker on our phones and computers. This story reminds us that the unseen and unappreciated workers are just as valuable and important.
3. However, the women won’t remain the example of faithfulness—they too will be seen in a negative light. In fact, the entirety of the agreed-upon text of this chapter reinforces the idea of the disciples’ faithlessness. However, the account is not without some hope. “The specific, and seemingly redundant, mention of Peter (‘tell His disciples and/even [και, kai] Peter,” 16:7), in the command of the young man to the women at the empty tomb is to remind that disciple (and the rest of Mark’s readers) that failure is not a dead end. There would be forgiveness, there would be restoration—there is hope for those who have failed in their discipleship” (Kuruvilla, Mark, 357).
4. Social science has often proven the principle of “following the crowd”—humans have instinctual motivations to agree with others and go along with what they’re doing. “Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway, or how to eat the chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important in defining the answer” (Rob Henderson, “The Science Behind Why People Follow the Crowd,” After Service [blog], Psychology Today, May 24, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/after-service/201705/the-science-
behind-why-people-follow-the-crowd). This explains some of the power of this particular passage: when Jesus had crowds following him, celebrating his miracles and healings, or when he entered Jerusalem to the praise and joy of awaiting crowds, it was certainly easier for his disciples to follow his way. The much harder thing is to follow him when the way ends in death and seeming defeat. When many of the disciples desert him and even the women who show up go away in fear and don’t share the message of his resurrection, we’re reminded of how much harder it is to stay faithful when it becomes unpopular or uncommon.
5. While some scholars defend verses 9–20, we’re going to end at verse 8, because this ending offers a powerful charge for us today. “Anyone can get back ‘on the way’ to following Jesus, and even the cryptic end of the Gospel at 16:8 turns out to be a beginning—a renewed call to discipleship.” The Jesus who invited his disciples to follow him on his “way,” to receive and live into the inbreaking kingdom of God, with all of its upside-down values and priorities, is still offering a way forward. The ending of this gospel is unique and fits with its greater purpose: inviting readers into a new way of life, a new King to follow, a new kingdom to receive. “The invitation is open: Will you follow?” (Kuruvilla, Mark, 357).