Sermon Prep in Mark 1 – Featuring BibleWorks
Keruxai.com, August 6, 2010 through November 3, 2010.
URL: http://historicism.com/blog/?p=291 [Retrieved on 2010-12-28]
“Unless you repent, confess your sins, and put your trust in Jesus Christ, He will destroy you.”
I’m working on a series of sermons in Mark chapter 1. And as I mentioned some time ago, I will be using BibleWorks, the premium software for studying the biblical languages, and featuring BibleWorks in a series of posts blogging through my sermon preparation. The nice folks at Bibleworks provided me with a complimentary copy of the latest version of their software, for which I am very grateful. The new features in version 8 are not only helpful but a lot of fun to discover and work with. For more on BibleWorks and where to get it, click here.
One of the first things I do when I begin to exegete a text of Scripture is to diagram the syntax of the passage, in Greek, on paper. BibleWorks has had a diagramming tool in previous version, but I found it a lot quicker to use a pen and paper. Version 8, however, has a module containing Leedy Greek New Testament Diagrams. So I thought, “why reinvent the wheel?” Studying the diagram for Mark 1, I noticed first how similar are the constructions, “John appeared” (verse 4) and “Jesus came” (verse 9). In fact, not only are the grammatical constructions very similar, the words, “appeared” (v 4) and “came” (v 9) are the same word in Greek—even the same form of the same Greek word (indicative, aorist, middle, 3rd person, singular). Hmmm. Is it just coincidence that when Mark penned this text, he introduced John and Jesus using the same word and the same sort of construction? I think not.
That little discovery led me to wonder, “What is Mark’s point in comparing or contrasting John’s entrance with Jesus’?” I noticed that, in verse 4, “John appeared baptizing and proclaiming…”; in verse 9, “Jesus came… and was baptized…”. But in verses 7-8, John was proclaiming / preaching about Jesus. So the passage reveals that John began his ministry “baptizing and proclaiming” while Jesus began His ministry being baptized and proclaimed.
The simple but profound point I drew from this is that while John was the last and greatest of the Old Testament era prophets (Mat 11:11), Jesus was his infinitely greater subject.
This is borne out, in the text, by another interesting observation from verses 2-3. I noticed that the phrase about John as the forerunner of Christ (“who will prepare your way”) uses a somewhat unusual word for “prepare” (i.e., kataskeuazo). Looking this word up in the various lexicons supplied with BibleWorks yielded some helpful results. The word is used in ancient Greek literature, a) to describe making guest rooms available for a visiting senator, b) to describe making a room ready by furnishing it, c) to describe the construction of a city gate, and interestingly, d) to describe the route built for a procession to get to a pagan temple (VGNT Dictionary, p. 332). In verse 3 we read exactly what the Old Testament said John would do to “prepare” the way for Christ: “make his paths straight.”
If you read that verse you will notice that it’s talking about preparing the way for “the Lord”. The quote comes from Isaiah 40:3, where “Lord” is the Hebrew name, Yahweh, and where He is identified further as “God” (Elohim). Why does God need John the Baptist to make His path straight? I thought about that for a bit and it occurred to me to ask, on the other hand, would God condescend to walk a winding, crooked path? Would He go around obstacles or go through them? What would happen to anything standing in God’s way? Like a road crew building a highway, when confronted with a tree, they wouldn’t build the road around the tree. They would uproot the tree to accommodate the road. So then, in this metaphor, what are the “paths” of God?
We can deduce what God’s “paths” are by observing what John the Baptist did to prepare them.
John preached to people and how did people respond?
The people who heeded John’s preaching moved their “trees” out of God’s way: they confessed to God that they were guilty of rebelling against Him so that He would not destroy them at His coming. John also pointed forward to the means of forgiveness for sin—(repentance alone cannot obtain the forgiveness of sin)–:
Faith in the Messiah, the Christ, whom the Old Testament had promised and whose paths John was preparing by his preaching, was and is the only way to find forgiveness of sin. You can resist Him; you can refuse to admit you’re a sinner; you can choose to believe you’re basically a good person; you can prefer to believe that God is not the sort to punish sinners. But unless you repent, confess your sins, and put your trust in Jesus Christ, He will destroy you. The bad news is bad. But the Good News is great.
“The baptism and temptation of Jesus were for the people He came to redeem.”
In my first post in this series, walking through my sermon prep in the text of Mark 1, I began with what is usually my first step in studying a passage of Scripture: diagramming the text in the original language (Greek in the case of Mark 1). And I shared some of the insights I gained into the first 8 verses of Mark 1 from the diagramming process. The next thing I usually do is to take the diagram I’ve prepared and notice what all the verbs are, what all the prepositions are, etc. As I said before, BibleWorks includes a helpful diagram of the New Testament, saving a lot of time for the average pastor who just doesn’t have the enough hours in a week to laboriously prepare a thorough grammatical-syntactical analysis of every passage he preaches and teaches on. Furthermore, I have to admit, my skills in the use of Greek and Hebrew have faded quite a bit with every passing year. Thankfully, BibleWorks makes some of the hard tasks of studying the text much easier and less time-consuming. This is where the powerful search tool comes in.
As I came to the text of Mark 1:9-13 for my second sermon in this series, I wanted to quickly identify all of the verbs in the text. So I set the search range in BibleWorks, and set the search version to a morphological version of the Greek New Testament.* This showed me, in a few seconds, that there are 15 Greek verbs in this passage, and gave me a list that I can click on to view each verse with the verb highlighted along with the parallel translations I had previously chosen (ESV, KJV, NASB, BGM, the Nestle-Aland and the Byzantine Majority Text). As I looked over the list of verbs (BibleWorks also parses each verb automatically for me) and read through verses 9-13 several times taking careful notice how the verbs are used in the text, it dawned on me that this passage is not mainly about what Jesus did—as in most of the Gospels—but about what happened to Jesus.
In Mark 1:9-13, John the Baptist baptized Jesus, the Spirit descended on Him, the Father declared His approval of Him, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness and Satan tempted Him.
It’s striking that in verses 10 and 11, God the Father approves of the Son, God the Holy Spirit anoints the Son, and God the Son accepts the approval and anointing of both. Mark shows his readers the Trinity of God present in Jesus’ baptism. This is no accident. While hovering my mouse over verse 11, the cross-reference window provided a reference to Isaiah 42:1,
The parallels in Isaiah with Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism got my attention: God the Father, His Spirit, His Chosen. And a goal: to “bring forth justice to the nations”. I began to wonder if Mark deliberately alluded to Isaiah 42 in the way he wrote chapter 1? More to the point, I can’t imagine Jesus, coming up out of the water, seeing Heaven opened, the Spirit descending, and hearing His Father’s words, and NOT being reminded of Isaiah 42:1! Surely Jesus had Isaiah 42 memorized? It is His Word after all, right? I wonder how He felt at that moment, knowing His Father’s soul “delights” in Him, knowing that His Father was “well-pleased” with Him? So I decided to read the context in Isaiah 42 to see what I might learn. I’m glad I did.
Isaiah 42:1-7 repeats the them of the Christ bringing “justice” to the nations (verses 1, 3 and 4). Isaiah emphasizes the Christ’s obedience (verses 2-3), and the Father as Giver and Sustainer of life and initiator of a new covenant (verses 5, 6). This covenant is personified in the sacrifice of Christ (verse 6) and is for the nations—not just for Israel. Verse 7 highlights God as the Redeemer and Saviour of the nations. So God saves and redeems the nations through the giving of His obedient Son, who is a Covenant “for the people… for the nations” (Isa 42:6). At this point in my study of Mark 1:9-13 and having cross-referenced Isaiah 42:1-7, I began to see what would be the organizing idea for my sermon: that from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, the Good News includes not just that the death and resurrection of Jesus are for the nations, but that the baptism and temptation of Jesus were for the people.
Over and over again in Moses’ account of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, Israel is described as a nation that “went into the wilderness”. God had said to Pharaoh that He wanted Israel to “serve me in the wilderness” (Ex 7:16). But of course, once Israel was actually delivered from slavery in Egypt, once they had gone “into the wilderness”, did they serve God there? Did they obey God there? Were they righteous there? Nope.
Israel, it turned out, did NOT “walk in [God’s] law”. They rebelled, they grumbled, they complained, they disobeyed, they sinned. Over and over and over again. But when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, He served God, He did not complain, He obeyed, He fulfilled all righteousness, He withstood temptation there in that wilderness. Where Israel had failed, Jesus succeeded. The Spirit led Him to become a Substitute for Israel in His temptation, so that through the New Covenant, His perfect righteousness would cover our unrighteousness.
* A morphological version is a Bible version plus a database including a grammatical analysis of every word in the whole text. BibleWorks comes with two proprietary morphological texts, the BibleWorks Greek New Testament Morphology (Bushell, Aletti and Gieniusz, 2001) and the BibleWorks LXX/OG Morphology and Lemma Database (a major correction and update to the CATSS / University of Pensylvania edition, developed for BibleWorks by the same scholars who worked on the BNM above). These two morphological texts, BNM for the New Testament and BLM for the Old Testament LXX, are searchable as a combined Bible version, BibleWorks Greek Morphology, or BGM for short.
“The Gospel is not an invitation to be RSVP’d—it is a command to be obeyed.”
The third step in my sermon preparation, normally, is to examine any and all unusual or “loaded” words and phrases in the text. In BibleWorks the highlighter tool makes this easy; I still prefer to export the Scripture section I’m working with to Open Office (the word processor and office suite I use—http://www.openoffice.org—it’s free!) and mark it all up there. I save a copy in my sermon notes folder but that way I don’t see too much marked up text the next time I read that passage in BibleWorks. Then, using first the “search on form” tool, and then the “search on lemma” tool, I spend a fair bit of time looking to see how the more unusual or theologically significant words are used throughout the Old and New Testaments (the nice thing about working with the BibleWorks versions is that you can use the “BGT”—BibleWorks Greek New Testament, a combined LXX Greek Old Testament and Nestle-Aland27 Greek New Testament—so your word searches can yield results in Greek from the whole Bible at once). Looking then to see how specific words were translated into the Greek LXX (Septuagint) from Hebrew often leads to further study of particular Hebrew words and how they were used.
While studying the text of Mark 1 in preparation for my sermon on verses 14-15, using BibleWorks, I noticed the connection between Jesus’ commands: to all, “repent and believe”; to the disciples, “follow me”; to the demon, “be silent and come out” and to the leper, “be clean”. All of these are commands to be obeyed. All are in the imperative. That led me to this early conclusion: The Gospel is not an invitation to be RSVP’d, but a command to be obeyed. The ultimate effectiveness of the Gospel in saving the hearer has no more to do with the ability of the hearer to respond than the presence of light in the Universe has to do with the will of photons to obey the command of God, “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3) “…And there was light”– not because the light chose to obey God, but because the will of God commanded it. In the same way, the disciples came when Jesus called; the demon was silent and came out; the leper was cleansed.
I noticed though that the word used to describe what Jesus said to James and John in verse 20 is the word,kaleo, “to call”. The Friberg lexicon in BibleWorks notes that this word can carry the idea of naming something, summoning something, addressing something, assigning to a task, or inviting. Well, if it should be taken as an invitation to be accepted or rejected—Repondez s’il vous plait—then my conclusion about the imperative force of the Gospel would be wrong. I noticed however, that the only occurrences where kaleo is really interpreted in the New Testament as an invitation are in the extreme minority: Matthew 22, Luke 7, Luke 14 (except see Lk 14:24!!), John 2. In all the 148 occurrences of kaleo it most often describes the naming of something or a command to be obeyed. And sometimes there is a close relationship between naming and commanding.
In Matthew 2:15, referring to Joseph’s escape to Egypt with Mary and the child, Jesus, the writer says, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called [kaleo] my son.’” What’s interesting about that verse is that the word kaleo is used by Matthew to translate the Hebrew word qara in Hosea 11:1. Qara has a very similar range of uses in the Old Testament to kaleo in the New Testament. Also similar to the New Testament usage of kaleo, the uses of qara as merely an invitation are hard to find (21 times out of 880). One passage stood out to me, however, in which qara is used both in the sense of naming someone and in the sense of commanding him and appointing him to a particular task.
Cyrus, future king of Persia, wasn’t even born yet when God both called and appointed him. But notice how calling and naming go together; equipping also. Notice even how God compares His calling of Cyrus to the way He created light and dark! (See my comment above about light not being able to obey God’s command in Genesis 1.) Notice how God claims meticulous sovereignty over good things and over calamity—He does them all. And notice how Paul’s argument on God’s sovereignty in election and the problem of “free will”, in Romans 9, seems to be drawn in part from this passage: “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (c.f. Romans 9:20-21). All of which is to say that in Mark 1, I think the accounts of Jesus’ miracles are there to illustrate His power to enable people to obey His command to “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Like he caused Cyrus to obey His call, like He caused light to exist when He told it to, like He gave life to a dead girl so that when He commanded, “Get up!”, she was able to respond (Mark 5:41), when He preached saying, “Repent and believe the Gospel”, no one would have been able to obediently repent and believe the Gospel had He not enabled them. The Gospel is not an invitation in the sense that everyone has the same ability to believe it. It is a command which requires the hearer to be “born again” in order to obey it.
“In Jesus’ economy of things, sin, not suffering, is our biggest problem. So the Gospel, not healing, is our greatest need.”
The fourth step I generally take in sermon preparation is to take what I’ve learned so far from diagramming the passage, noting the types of verbs, prepositions, participles, etc., and analyzing key and loaded words, and then try to arrange my observations in point form. As I said in my first post in this series, Leedy’s diagrams are very helpful in BibleWorks 8, saving a lot of time for busy pastors. But it is a good exercise still to take some time and at least study what Leedy has done to see if your own product is similar or different. This double-check often yields interesting insights all by itself. As I sit down to work out a possible outline of key points and observations, a well-understood diagram of the passage is invaluable.
In Mark 2:1-12, I noticed that the passage lends itself to a flow of ideas:
It’s not too hard to put together a flow of ideas in point form like this. But it is not easy to then discern what the focus of a sermon on the passage should be. There is no substitute for prolonged and prayerful meditation on the passage at this stage. Once could resort to commentaries here, and certainly end up with some really good material. But there does seem to be a contagious passion which God gives especially when the sermon one writes and then preaches is the result of his fresh, hard work. It’s become a matter of conviction for me that the Spirit of God who inspired all Scripture also illumines to prayerful students what He inspired and then gives “unction” to His preachers to serve the Body of Christ with all that He has inspired, illumined and anointed for the purpose of magnifying Jesus. Relying on the commentaries too quickly to discern what must be preached from a passage seems to lessen reliance on the Spirit of God. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE good commentaries, and use them freely. But not until the Spirit has already begun to give me some clear direction into what the text means and how it should be preached.
I’d been thinking and praying over this passage for a couple of days already when it dawned on me that these 12 verses seem to be dominated by the relationship between the Gospel, what Jesus taught, and the miracle, what Jesus did. Although the miracle is more prominent and flashy, in Mark’s narrative, there is no question that greater importance is weighted on Jesus’ teaching. What did Jesus do when people gathered to him? He taught them. What did He teach them? Probably the same thing He was teaching and preaching in chapter 1:
So then, the most important fact in this passage is that Jesus preached the Gospel, “the word” (verse 2). And judging by the way that Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins before even mentioning healing for his paralysis, I’d say that in Jesus’ economy of things, sin is a bigger problem than suffering. Which means that the Gospel is more important than healing.
Another connection between the Gospel and the paralytic’s suffering is seen in what motivated his friends to bring him to Jesus in the first place. Obviously they were among the people who “gathered” having heard that Jesus was in town. Why did they come to the house? Arguably so that Jesus might heal their friend. What confidence did they have, do you think, that He would do so? They couldn’t have had certainty; they probably had high hopes, but we can’t be sure of more than that. But there seems to be a deliberateness in the connection between verse 2 and 3:
In fact, up until verse 5, every sentence starts with “And…”, giving the reader a sense of Mark’s purpose and a driving pace in the story leading to a climax—“And…and…and…and…and…!” Word spread that Jesus was back, people gathered, He preached, they carried the paralytic to Him, and Jesus forgave his sins. So there is a cause-and-effect, dominoe-like succession to the events Mark is writing about here. The paralytic’s friends went to such lengths to get him in front of Jesus because they believed the Gospel He was preaching. A quick check of the text will confirm this conclusion: Jesus forgives the man’s sins because He sees that he and his helpful friends have believed the Gospel. “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’,” (verse 5). The forgiveness Jesus announces to this man is consistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture: justification is by faith alone apart from works (Rom 3:28; 4:6, etc.). And faith is the believer’s response to the preaching of the Gospel (Rom 1:4-5, 16; Mar 1:14-15, etc.) So the logic of the passage leads to the conclusion that the paralytic’s suffering led him and his friends to seek out Jesus. Coming to Jesus, they heard Him preach the Gospel. Believing the Good News He preached, they confidently trusted that the paralytic’s greatest need was Jesus Himself.
No doubt the once-paralyzed man remembered that day for the rest of his life: the day his sins were forgiven by Jesus. But, though I can’t prove it, I think it’s a reasonable inference from these verses in Mark 2:1-12, that this same man probably talked about the day he became paralyzed as the second greatest day of his life. Because it was his paralysis which motivated him to come to Jesus, where in the end he found a cure for not just the symptom of his biggest problem (his paralysis), but a cure for his biggest problem itself (his sin).
Joe Haynes is the editor of Historicism.com and is a former pastor and prospective church planter.