Jesus changed the lives of people in His day. And there is no reason to suppose that He cannot do the same today, said a New Testament professor.
The problem, Rikk Watts highlighted, is that many Christians have become too familiar and comfortable with the Gospels.
Watts, who teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, has been conducting lectures on the Gospel of Mark as part of a seminar at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore. On Thursday, he showed some 200 pastors and Bible teachers just how outrageous Jesus’ claims and actions really were.
Here was a Jewish man in His 30s, the son of a carpenter, claiming to be Almighty God Himself, Watts elaborated. When people brought a paralyzed man before Him, He forgave the man’s sins. Jesus even read the thoughts of orthodox Jewish leaders present who took issue with His declaration.
And then Jesus claimed the authority to redefine Jewish religious law, which originated from God Himself. He also told Jews in His day that they were Israelites only insofar as they accepted and obeyed His teaching. In His parable of the soils, Jesus repeated a lament of God found in the Book of Isaiah thus implying He is God.
Jesus also did things that only God could do. When a storm threatened to overturn a boat His disciples were on, they screamed for His help. Jesus rebuked the storm and it stopped. For the Jews, the event recalled God commanding the Red Sea to part for Moses and his people to pass through.
Immediately following that incident, Jesus and His disciples got off at a place where they met a man possessed by evil spirits. The spirits, who called themselves Legion, begged Jesus to permit them to go into a large herd of pigs feeding nearby. When they did so, the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. Reading Mark’s account, the Jews would not have missed the parallel with the way God closed the sea on Pharaoh and his army who pursued the Israelites.
Moreover, it showed Jesus doing something no one else had ever done. He cast out demons, as Isaiah prophesied God would do. Like God, He was able and willing to heal and help His people. Jesus performed many healing miracles and cared for the people as a gentle shepherd and fed them.
Furthermore Jesus’ life recalled the Exodus, in which God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
The Jews, immersed in Old Testament Scripture and history as they were, would not have failed to see how most of the miracles (or mighty acts) were performed in the first eight chapters. This recalls the time Moses and Aaron performed ten mighty acts forcing Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity.
The Jews would also not miss the resemblance between what happened on Mount Sinai and on the Mount of Transfiguration. On Sinai, God descended in a cloud and gave Moses the Ten Commandments and instructions for building a tabernacle for sacrifice and worship. When Jesus was transfigured, Moses and Elijah conferred with Him just as with God previously. Apostle Peter suggested building three tabernacles for them. Suddenly a glorious cloud descended. God declared Jesus as His Son and told the apostles to listen to Jesus.
Jesus’ clothes became dazzlingly white, recalling the dress of the Jewish bridegroom. It brings to mind God’s promise that He will come as a bridegroom of the Church.
Mark goes on to relate the way Jesus tried to tell His disciples about His journey to the cross. This section is bracketed by two miracles of healing the blind. To the Jews, recovery of sight referred to understanding God’s truth. Then, just as the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Jesus goes to Jerusalem.
The prophecies in Malachi run parallel to the record of Mark. Malachi prophesies that God will send a messenger before He comes to His temple. God warned that if the people do not repent He would curse the land. Mark begins with the coming of John the Baptist, who is dressed like Elijah and calls the Jews to prepare the way for God.
The Jewish leaders reject John and Jesus. Symbolically, Jesus cleanses the temple in Jerusalem. He also curses a fig tree, which represents Israel. The temple is finally destroyed by the Romans.
Organized by the Anglican Diocese of Singapore and the Bible Society of Singapore at St. Andrew’s Cathedral and St. John’s-St. Margaret’s Church, The Living Word annual seminar was designed to equip pastors and Bible teachers and benefit laypeople. The three-day seminar concluded Friday.