Following His Footsteps: “So Close and Yet So Far” – Mark 4 and 5

harum1The eighteenth century brought our world a number of revolutions, including the one that formed our own “American experiment”. In addition to country creation, the British colonists (who seemed to have some extra time on their hands) also busied themselves by creating new English terms. One of the words that caught my attention was the word “daredevil” from that period (which makes me want to know what they were doing that was so much fun way back then). The term first showed up in the middle of that century. Another one was inaugurated in about 1751 – the phrase “har•um–scar•um” –which means “irresponsible” or “reckless”. Some may know this term, because they recall the comedy made by Cecil B. DeMille with Elvis Presley that was called by that name.

This comedy movie, “Harum Scarum” was released in 1965 and was supposedly set in Baghdad (but was actually the used set of the blockbuster movie “The King of Kings”). Those were different times. Baghdad was a place you could still laugh about, and Hollywood was making movies celebrating Jesus. The movie was about an American movie star named “Johnny Tyrone” who traveled to the Near East and Persian Gulf to premiere his newest picture. He met a slave girl who was actually the king’s daughter in disguise. Johnny saved the King and married the princess – and then whisked her off to Las Vegas with a whole entourage of the princess’ dancing girls. I confess to you that nothing about the movie plot sounded even vaguely interesting to me, so I didn’t even think of watching it! Yet, there is a movie clip that floated past me on YouTube of Elvis singing a heartfelt song called “So close and yet so far” to Paradise. It was shot through the window of a barred cellar room. Inside sat a misty-eyed and singing man who gazed out of the barred window dressed like a cross between Sinbad the Sailor and Prince “Ali of Babwa”. Apparently he was longing to hold the object of his affection in his arms, because, it seems, when she was in his arms, the world around him was transformed into the Garden of Eden…along with other “mushy” sentiments.

I mention the song because the truth is that we all know what he meant when he said “So close and yet so far!” …The runner that missed the gold by .001 seconds, the pitcher that threw the curve just outside the strike zone – they know what it means. Some things can’t be “close” – they have to be exact. “Almost” works well in horseshoes and hand grenades, but not so much in surgery or anything that has to do with the accounting area. Today’s lesson is about a group that stood next to Jesus, but hadn’t quite understood the role of taking on the ministry after Jesus was gone. They were an “almost” group of disciples – a “half-baked” kosher dozen not yet ready to take over. Jesus was wrestling on a number of fronts, and they weren’t being terribly helpful on any of them – partly because they really didn’t seem to understand what they were supposed to do. Let’s stroll up to the campfire and sit beside them for a few minutes and see if we can get a good view of what was happening with them. This was a group “so close” to Jesus, and yet “so far away” from His purposes, from possessing His heart for the world… BUT WAIT… perhaps as modern disciples we still are in this condition… Many of us have seen Him redeem us; yet we still carry so many problems with us! Follow this truth through the stories we will look at together…

Key Principle: Disciples need to recognize that we serve our Master, we don’t lead Him, and we don’t always understand what He is doing – but we must learn to listen and trust Him. That is what a real disciple does.

In our last lesson (in Matthew 12 and 13) we saw parallel stories of Jesus having a series of Sabbath controversies, and feeling pressured by His family to step out of the limelight, while His disciples struggled with what appeared to be falling numbers and some muted grumbling in the crowds. We pick up the story in Mark’s account explaining the end of that day, as Jesus is tackling a series of problems – all at the same time…

Problem One: Disciples can be more tuned to earthly acceptance than to spiritual truth (Mark 4:33-34).

Mark 4:33 With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; 34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

This connects us to last study in Matthew. Jesus is tired, and His teaching has been going on all day. The crowd has been pressing Him and people have been watching, not only His teaching, but His demeanor. The disciples were unhappy because He didn’t seem to be immediately responsive to what they told Him about the parables and the lack of comprehensible teaching. They wanted Him to LISTEN to them, and get the crowds back on a growth curve by speaking “straight talk” and doing miracles. They weren’t following everything, so they were pretty sure the crowd wasn’t understanding everything either. Jesus pulled them aside and explained His message again, but that didn’t make it clear to the crowd.

Problem Two: Disciples can conclude trouble is a reflection of some lack of care on the Master’s part. (Mark 4:35-41).

While the Master still hadn’t addressed how He was going to adjust His public presentation, He told them to get into the boat. Maybe they thought He would explain there, but He was tired, and He found a pillow on the elevated platform at the stern and took a nap. The text noted it this way:

Mark 4:35 On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

Trouble struck. Look how the disciples reacted! They immediately exclaimed: “Don’t you care about us?” How like us they were! The lack of faith appeared to be in Jesus’ ability and in His goodness – and that is at the heart of much of our sin. When we don’t believe God is looking out for us, we start doing it ourselves – and we do a lousy job.

I want to stop and consider something, because we all seem to be at a time of significant worries. The fuel for worry, abundant today in the news, is only active when we burn it inside. We have a choice – we can let it consume our hearts or cast it out to the fire pit through prayer. My God offers a place I actively cast my fears, and face life with His peace. The truth is that my peace isn’t found in the fact that I will be kept from the fires of trouble, but rather from the realization that I will not go into the fire without Him, and cannot be tossed there by any force without His Divine stamp of approval. That is just one of the many great resources of God’s Spirit that is easy to overlook in our day as we succumb to the deception that because something is happening somewhere, I need to stop and fixate my life on it.

For most of the history of the world people didn’t know what was happening all around the globe. The digital age has left people more informed, but doubly stressed. They are convinced they must become everything from qualified CDC consultants to Supreme Court experts – when they have little to do with the outcome of any of those bodies. Let me say it kindly: many of us need to stop. We need to do what we can to be sufficiently informed in prudent behavior – to do what we can to be safe and not stupid, but we need to leave the rest in the hands of the One Who controls what we do not. If I am not part of the solution, then I need only enough information to inform my ‘knee mail’ time.

So, full of worry, the boys took the matter to the Master – but they did it with ATTITUDE. “You don’t care, do You?” Where did they get that idea? I suspect it was because He wasn’t jumping through their hoops before they got on board. He wasn’t changing His presentation, and now they were struggling and He was snoozing.

Note three things about these verse and Jesus’ response:

First, He didn’t bat an eyelash at the trouble before He told it to “knock it off” and the wind and water obeyed. We must say it again and again: “He’s got the whole world in His hands!” We cannot forget that God has not lost control!

Second, Jesus looked right into the eyes of His disciples and called them out: “Why are you afraid? After all we have been through, how can you STILL not believe things are the way I say they are!” Oh how we need to remember, the REAL NEWS doesn’t come on cable or satellite, but from the King of Glory. Things are what HE says they are. Platitudes aside, He isn’t taken by surprise by disease, desperation or desert maniacs.

Third, Jesus let the men alone as they re-gathered their thoughts, and they decided they hadn’t really understood the depths of their Master. That is a good thought for the next time we want to hit the panic button. Perhaps we should stop and ask: “What is God doing right now about this? If I am in distress, my Father is doing something. Have I not considered His power to deliver me? If He doesn’t, what may He be doing? When believers face problems, the test tells them how far they have truly come in their walk with Jesus.

Problem Three: Disciples bring deep and negative prejudice to our walk and don’t see the real issues of contention that are more often in the spiritual world (Mark 5:1-20).

The waters flat and the winds quiet, they arrived at their destination – a Gentile side of the Lake where they never wanted to be after dark.

Mark 5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7 and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” 8 For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he [began] to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. 12 [The demons] implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand [of them]; and they were drowned in the sea. 14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And [the people] came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and [all] about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and [how] He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

When we studied the Gospel of Mark together, I made note that: “Great teachers give students an opportunity to learn truth by DOING SOMETHING. Jesus placed the Disciples in an awkward position when He told them to move their eyes from judging the current crowds to looking beyond the small world of their ministry to a lost world. Jesus shook up the boys by doing four things in this passage:

First, He told them to go to a place they felt unsure about as the evening was coming on – the Gentile side of the Lake.

Second, He allowed them to face a problem without appearing to be concerned at all (He was asleep).

Third, He let them draw their own mistaken conclusions: “Master don’t you care?”

Fourth, He solved the problem by addressing using His Word.

The point of the whole exercise was to get the men ready! God always has a point for our suffering, though we don’t often know what it is. Why do “bad things” happen to “good people”? I can think of five reasons without really working very hard at it:

• Sometimes it is the result of MY SIN. As Galatians 6:7 reminds: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.”

• Sometimes it is because I live with other sinners and they mess up. Paul noted in Romans 3:9 “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;”

• Sometimes it is because I live in a fallen world. No one was TRYING to fail, and no one did anything in particular that was wrong, but the fallen world is broken. Consider Rom. 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

• Sometimes it is so that God can test me – that I might see who I am and who I am not. Think of passages like Deuteronomy 8:2 “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

• Sometimes it is so that God can prepare me to comfort others. Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

The Disciples in this story were being prepared for a great lesson – that God has work going on well outside of the places they may have considered. God was at work in a battle against both a brutal and vicious enemy, and a fallen world that does not work the way He Created it to work. It was, and still is, fallen and struggles against what God intended.

Follow the progression of Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac for a moment – because it is the closest thing to a “Jewish nightmare” that you will find in the Gospels!

• They went to an unclean area filled with pagans after dark (5:1).
• They were met by a demon-empowered man who was living in the constant defilement of tombs (5:2).
• He was uncontrollable with broken chains hanging from him (5:3-4).
• He was gashed and bleeding (5:5).
• He ran abruptly toward them (5:6).
• Demons spoke from his throat (5:7-8).
• Pigs were eating along the nearby slope (5:11).

And my absolutely most favored part of the story…

The healed man wanted to come home with them (5:18)!

The point of the sequences of the stories of the “storm on the sea” and the “cemetery demoniac” was this: One story set up the trust that the men needed to place in Jesus so that when the second situation occurred – an open struggle against the enemy – Jesus’ men would be “with Him” and more confident. The disciples needed to have confidence in the power of God before they could see the power of the enemy face to face in a place far from home’s security.

With little time to reflect, Jesus turned them around and pushed them to the next encounter…

Problem Four: Disciples get excited when “important people” seem to get on board with the Savior, but don’t understand that to Jesus, everyone counts (Mark 5:21-43).

With only a little nap before He wrestled with demons, Jesus hit the shore again running…Jesus stepped on shore and was met be a crowd, in short order He was approached by a hurting and desperate dad.

Mark 5:21 When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. 22 One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet 23 and implored Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” 24 And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him.

When you look at the story of Jairus, don’t look at it in theory – look at this man. He was one of the synagogue leaders of Capernaum, but he was not like many of the religious elite of his day.

There was no pride in him as he came to Jesus: The words of 5:22 “and on seeing Him, fell at His feet” say it all – Jairus was a broken man; just as the demoniac the night before had been. All ego was sidelined because of a gaping wound – his precious little girl laying on a bed.

He counted on Jesus’ power: The words of 5:23 “come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live” show that he was completely clear about what he thought could and would happen. He believed, hoped, and was relieved that Jesus came back to Capernaum in time to save his little girl!

He was give reasons to waver in his belief: If you skip down to Mark 5:35, you will note that the news that came that would have made even the close followers of Jesus (like Mary and Martha later) doubt “While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?”

His peers didn’t really share his confidence in Jesus: Only a few verses later, Mark reminds us that the NEWS was bad, but their friends and peers were a second reason they easily could have doubted. Mark 5:40 They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child’s father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was.

Jesus encouraged the man to believe in spite of the appearances, and later in spite of the crowd. Mark recorded that when the bad news came, Jesus countered it:

Mark 5:36 But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” 37 And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the synagogue official; and He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing.

When the man’s peers jeered, Jesus countered: Mark 5:39 And entering in, He said to them, “Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep.”

Don’t miss the point in all the detail. Jesus offered HIS WORD, and the belief in HIS WORD and HIS PERSON are all that separated the powerful event from the wounded parents. The parents were surrounded by people who didn’t believe Jesus could raise the child to new life. Jesus raised the child off the sick bed because the parents saw the world the way God said it was – they recognized Jesus as God’s powerful changer. I am making NO STATEMENT that implies that everyone who recognizes the Jesus is Lord will be healed. Nor am I saying that the parent’s belief that God could raise their child was the only factor in the child’s raising. What the passage teaches is this: Jesus is in control of the story of my life – because it isn’t really MY life at all.

We live and die to tell the Master’s story. There is no other greater purpose than to be what I was called to be. When I recognize that God alone has the right to give and take my life – then I can rest in the face of disease and death. I am not absolved of maintaining my body, but in the end neither I, nor any sickness is the master of my life – Jesus alone is. I do not leave the earth one minute before God intends that I should. When we see the world through the Master’s eyes – we see it correctly and His power becomes more obvious to us.

Remember these words…“Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace”. ~Oswald Chambers in Run Today’s Race.

Jesus closed the incident with instructions to the family. Help the girl; get her food. Maintenance of the body is still important even though life is given by Jesus.

Mark 5:41 Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, “Talitha kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. 43 And He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this, and He said that something should be given her to eat.

You haven’t yet reached the HEART of the story.. I skipped over it in the reading:

Go back to the broken woman we passed by in the street on the way to Jairus’ house… The woman had a traumatic twelve-year bout with illness, was now financially broke and had nothing more she could pursue on her own. Her description was a graphic one:

Mark 5:25 A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26 and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse—

Look at the verbs in that verse: ENDURED, SPENT, NOT HELPED, GREW WORSE. The bleakness of her plight draws a dark shadow over her story.

She approached the Master from behind: Mark 5:27 after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. 28 For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.”

Because of her status in the society, she dared not approach Him directly – she was ceremonially unclean. She believed God left her the way she was – and she tried her best to deal with that understanding. Mark used the word “touched” (‘epsato, fr. ‘apto) in reference to Jesus’ garment. There are a half-dozen Greek words translated “touch” in English in the New Testament (Vine). ‘Apto is the word used when a burning lamp or candle is used to ignite another that is unlit. This isn’t simply a passing glance, but a deliberate reaching that continued for a time.

She grabbed a part of His garment called in Greek the “himátion” – His outer cloak; the outer garment worn over the xitōn (“the under-garment worn next to the skin”). Many scholars believe that she was reaching for the tassel of His garment, for it was the symbol of His authority. It may have been that “power” that Jesus recognized He was missing – His tassel that acted also as His ability to charge against the clan’s name and account. The effects were immediately apparent.

First, the woman experienced a healing and recognized that she was now well. Mark 5:29 records: “Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.”

At the same time, Jesus also recognized something – that He was missing something! The Gospel writer recalled: Mark 5:30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this.

The story in Near Eastern terms may indicate that she accidentally removed the tassel from His garment, and needed to return it. She didn’t mean to take the tassel, but Jesus needed to have it returned. Mark doesn’t elaborate enough to tell for sure, but the story simply offers in Mark 5:33 “But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.”

Now the point of the story, and the reason it is included… the response of Jesus. The answer is in Mark 5:34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

The woman had a choice to cynically reject another opportunity for healing – but she came to Jesus. She could easily have hidden from her answer and protested to God in her pain – but she came to Jesus. She could have acted like she was not the one who grabbed Him out of embarrassment and a sense of shame because she was unclean – but she came back to Jesus. She believed He could transform her if she could just get close to Him – and He did. It wasn’t PROXIMITY that changed her – it was belief.

Jesus made it clear – it was not the tassel, the top coat of His tunic, or any powerful aura around Him that made the difference – it was her absolute belief in His power and person that made the whole thing work. Jesus was exactly who the Father declared Him to be. He was exactly who He claimed to be. She didn’t need to know HOW Jesus did what He did. She needed to come close and trust Him.

The disciples that saw the whole exchange needed to see it. They were CLOSE but still so FAR from understanding…Maybe this story will help make it clearer:

David, a 2-year old with leukemia, was taken by his mother, Deborah, to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to see Dr. John Truman who specializes in treating children with cancer and various blood diseases. Dr. Truman’s prognosis was devastating: “He has a 50-50 chance.” The countless clinic visits, the blood tests, the intravenous drugs, the fear and pain–the mother’s ordeal can be almost as bad as the child’s because she must stand by, unable to bear the pain herself. David never cried in the waiting room, and although his friends in the clinic had to hurt him and stick needles in him, he hustled in ahead of his mother with a smile, sure of the welcome he always got. When he was three, David had to have a spinal tap–a painful procedure at any age. It was explained to him that, because he was sick, Dr. Truman had to do something to make him better. “If it hurts, remember it’s because he loves you,” Deborah said. The procedure was horrendous. It took three nurses to hold David still, while he yelled and sobbed and struggled. When it was almost over, the tiny boy, soaked in sweat and tears, looked up at the doctor and gasped, “Thank you, Dr. Tooman, for my hurting.” ~Monica Dickens, Miracles of Courage, 1985.

There is no way the little boy understood the reasons for the medical treatments and the pain they caused – he didn’t need to. He needed to trust the one who DID understand what he needed to go through.

Disciples need to recognize that we serve our Master, we don’t lead Him, and we don’t always understand what He is doing – but we must learn to listen and trust Him.