After the amazing "mountain top" experience of the transfiguration, Jesus, Peter, James, and John return to the base of the mountain to find Jesus' gospel movement in crisis. The other nine disciples created a scandal for Jesus when they couldn't drive out a powerful demon from a man's son. Jesus gets the job done. In the process, he teaches a crucial lesson about what it means to be his followers. Disciples can follow Jesus and do the good works of his way only by prayer.
In this passage, Jesus explains to the twelve disciples, and to the crowds gathered with them, that a genuine disciple must "deny himself, take up your cross, and follow me," (v. 34). He says this in the context of his own path to Jerusalem and to the cross that awaits him there. So, any genuine Christian heeds this calling from the Lord to take "self" off the throne of our hearts and let Jesus be there; to embrace the path Jesus calls us to walk, which is often shamed by this world; and to stay the course to our last breath.
Even though the twelve disciples had the privileged access to Jesus that they had, they were not immune to the influence of Jesus' enemies. Though they want to follow him, still they have difficulty "getting" what Jesus and the Kingdom of God is all about.
Jesus' warning to them, "Beware the leaven of the Pharisees," is a warning to us, too. As long as we live in the present world, we are not immune to its antichristian influence. We must be careful to keep our minds and hearts full of the true word of the Lord, Jesus.
"Essential Workers" in the Age of COVID-19 include--perhaps especially--nurses, doctors, and other medical workers. They are the ones willing to touch the diseased and disgusting things going on in our bodies to heal them.
Likewise, Jesus teaches, in this passage, that the heart is the source of all darkness and spiritual disease that we might deal with in life. Disciples follow Jesus in being willing to touch these places, to heal them. Disciples of Jesus are those whose hearts are cleansed by his blood. Now we can go into all the world bringing that healing to others.
Is it time for a new Restoration Movement? Jesus calls his disciples to discern between the traditions of men and the word of God. Human traditions are necessary so that one generation can pass on the teachings of God to the next. However, over time, teaching traditions build up a collection of extra teachings that no longer help but hinder the work of the word of God. Like an apple tree that has become overgrown, traditions, too, must be pruned down to the effective, fruitful branches.
The story of Jesus feeding 5,000 men from just five loaves of bread and two fish is one of the best known stories from the Gospels. The miraculous power of the Creator was surely on display in Jesus' ability to serve those thousands of people from an amount of food that was really only enough for one or two. He not only fed them, Jesus satisfied their hunger! More importantly, in this lesson, we consider how this miracle story helps us understand the importance of the first feeding story of that day - when Jesus recognized this multitude of "sheep without a shepherd." From that crowd, we learn a crucial lesson about how we, too, should approach the Lord and Savior, Jesus.
Mark gives an account of Jesus sending the twelve disciples out on their first mission. They do everything just like Jesus did: they preached the gospel, cast out demons, healed diseases, and utterly relied upon God to provide everything for their work and journey. They enjoyed success this time, but Mark divides his account of this story with the story of John the Baptist's beheading by King Herod. We take from this the warning that discipleship on Jesus' path is to follow him on the way to the cross. But there is no more blessed way to be than to be just like Jesus.
Sometimes, closely held, sincere beliefs can become the very things that prevent believing the truth. In such cases, ironically, belief can be un-belief. This is the theme of the tragic story of Nazareth, Jesus' hometown, in Mark 6. Jesus came demonstrating his amazing teaching and the divine power working in him to heal. But most in Nazareth would not believe in him, because he was just "the carpenter" down the street, whose family still lived among them. We need to let Nazareth serve as a warning to us to always be willing to recognize and follow God himself, not just what we are willing to believe about him.
God wants us to understand what he revealed through the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. But Jesus taught in parables, and the apostles' teachings are thousands of years old. How can we teach a world that isn't interested in trying to understand what Jesus taught us? In Jesus' example we find our mission -- to live the Truth in love.
Jesus taught in parables to hide the truth from those who did not really want to know the truth. The other side of that coin, so to speak, is that Jesus used the parables to reveal the truth to those who want to know and live by the truth. This is the lesson of Mark's account of the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4:1-20. The difference between receiving the truth or not is found in the fact that the few who would learn from Jesus asked him to help them understand.
In light of this, we learn a general principle of discipleship. Whatever "The Question" is in our lives at the moment, bring it to Jesus in order to learn the true answer.