Week 3: Mark 7-10

When Jesus heals the blind man at Bethsaida, he makes mud. Does this signal new creation (as when God created Adam from the earth)?  Does it tell us that God can use secondary causes (such as medicine) to fulfill God’s healing purpose?

Is there a connection between Jesus’ healing the blind man and Peter’s confession of faith? What do we learn from the fact that the blind man’s healing was not immediate, but passed through stages?

The disciples' misunderstanding is a theme throughout Mark. It is especially prevalent in this section. In Mark 6, Jesus fed the 5,000. In Mark 8, he feeds the 4,000 and shortly thereafter, the disciples are concerned that they have no bread. The disciples argue about who is greatest, and later, the disciples try to keep the children away from Jesus. Sometimes the disciples’ misunderstanding follows immediately upon great revelation and insight, such as Peter’s confession (Mark 8) and the transfiguration (Mark 9).

Mark told readers who Jesus is in the very first verse (Mark 1:1). We watch the disciples’ struggle and misunderstand, but we know? What is Mark’s purpose: Is he trying to comfort? Warn? What are we to make of the fact that insight into Jesus’ identity is so often accompanied by misunderstanding? How is this like the man born blind?



Week 2: Mark 4-6

In Chapter 4 of Mark, Jesus introduces a series of parables: the Parable of the Sower, the Lamp on a Stand, and Parables of the growing seeds. Parables have multiple meanings and invite meditation. One might ponder: Does Jesus’ reliance on parables (instead of, say, propositional statements) tell us anything about the nature of the truth he sought to communicate? What does the fact that so much of the sower’s seed appears to be sown for naught teach us about trusting God for the increase? Does the disciples’ incomprehension and lack of faith (as when Jesus’ calms the storm, Mark 4:35-41) fit the Parable of the Sower? Do other parables explain it better?

In Chapter 5, he gives us an extended story about Jesus’ crossing into Gentile country and casting out demons. Mark’s gospel is notorious for Jesus instructing people not to tell anyone (see Mark 8:30). This theme is sometimes referred to as “the Messianic Secret.” But here Jesus tells the healed man to tell what the Lord had done for him. Why would Jesus tell some to keep quiet and others to spread the word?

Mark frequently tells stories within stories. In Chapter 5, Jesus’ trip to heal Jairus’ daughter is interrupted. How do you think Jairus felt? Jesus’ words to his daughter are some of just a few of Jesus’ words in Aramaic recorded in the Greek New Testament (Mark 15:14 contains others). Why would these words be remembered?

In Chapter 6, Jesus sending out the 12 Disciples provides an occasion for Mark to finish telling us about the John the Baptist. Some think these sendings explain how the gospel spread so quickly.



Week 1: Mark 1-3

It is easy to read the opening chapter of Mark's gospel and be struck by what's missing, namely a birth narrative. There are no angels. No Joseph. No Mary. No genealogy. Yet, pay attention to what is there. In his own way, like every other gospel, Mark starts by trying to tell us who Jesus is: The Christ, the Son of God. Sometimes Mark puts Jesus' identity into the mouths of others: Isaiah, the Holy Spirit at Baptism, the evil spirit, the reaction of the amazed congregation. Other times, Mark doesn't tell; he shows: through Jesus' ability to resist temptation, call disciples, teach, cast out evil, and heal.

Notice that by Chapter Two, Jesus is having conflict with religious authorities and his family. The conflict stories foreshadow events yet to come, but they, too, clarify who Jesus is and what he is about.

  • What portrait of Jesus emerges from what people say about Jesus?
  • What do we learn from his actions and the conflict?


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Encouragement to Join People of the Book from Dr. Roberts

The Christian Education Ministry of River Road Presbyterian Church is kicking off a new program, People of the Book. During 2018, you and your friends are invited to join a book club and read parts of the Bible together. Materials will be online and shareable on your Facebook page.

Why read the Bible?
John Calvin, the 16th Century reformer, claimed the Bible provides the “spectacles of faith.” The metaphor of spectacles suggests that the Bible offers corrective vision to help us see the world aright. Reading the Bible grinds the lenses of faith by:

  • Helping us see Jesus, who is the clue to making sense of life.
  • Providing a vocabulary (words such as creation, sin, redemption, neighbor, gift, etc.) that helps us attend to realities in our lives.
  • Setting our lives, as well as history, and even natural history in the larger drama of God’s work of creation and salvation.
  • Correcting sinful, human traditions that inevitably grow up in the church, as demonstrated by the Reformation.

Why Mark?
We are starting with Mark because it is the oldest gospel. Plus in January Andrew Whitehead and I are preaching a series of sermons based on Mark’s first chapter.

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January - The Gospel of Mark with Dr. Raymond R. Roberts


We don't know much about the history of the Gospel of Mark. Scholars believe Mark was written just before or just after the fall of Jerusalem (70 C. E.), 30+ years after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. A lot of other information we would like to know is lost to the mists of history:

  • the identity of the author,
  • the location of the writing, and 
  • the issues roiling church and culture that prompted the writer to remember these particular events in Jesus' life or that shaped how they were told.

Many have filled in the gaps with rank speculation and educated guesses. Maybe Mark was written in Syria. Maybe Rome. Maybe Mark is the author. Maybe Peter supplied the eyewitness account. Maybe.

People speculate as to whether Mark’s primitive Greek indicates that the author was uneducated or non-native speaker. Mark’s inferior Greek along with the fact that he provides the story line and theological scaffolding for Matthew and Luke have led scholars through the centuries to ignore Mark in favor of the other gospels. As a result Mark’s gospel has inspired far, far fewer commentaries. In fact, only in the past couple of centuries have scholars moved beyond mistakenly viewing Mark as a crude abridgement or (more correctly) a primitive first draft, improved on by others, to appreciate Mark’s unique vision of Jesus.

Considered as literature, the Gospel of Mark is an original in the ancient world. It tells the story of a great man, but it is more than a biography in that it is anything but objective and dispassionate. Mark writes with a mission: he wants to inspire people (Yes, you!) to respond to Jesus/ life and to follow in his way. Mark is an evangelist. He wrote a gospel.

Gregory Hays, a classics scholar at the University of Virginia, recently observed in a book review, "To read a translation is like looking at a photo of a sculpture. It shows the thing but not from every angle." For this reason, I encourage you to read several Biblical translations and paraphrases. The New Revised Standard, the New International Version, Eugene Peterson's The Message, or David Bently Hart's The New Testament (which communicates nuances from the Greek without attending to readability), each bring out some features of the original more clearly than others.

We modern Christians tend to read small bits of the Bible and focus on linguistic minutia, word studies and such. This has value, but I hope you read larger sections at a time. This can help you grasp how Mark’s themes flow from story to story. This, in turn, may also help you appreciate Mark’s genius and message.


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Welcome to People of the Book

People of the Book.png

A brand new book group is coming to RRPC!

Join the Christian Education Ministry Team's challenge as they kick off 2018, reading the Bible, cover to cover. Sign up for People of The Book and discover the spiritual nourishment gained from reading the Bible alongside theologians, church educators, and church friends. Best of all, CE offers the convenience of reading on your time schedule with your preferred method (electronic or paper). Make the commitment to grow in your spiritual faith by digging deeper in this “library” filled with genealogies, love songs, letters, history, and novellas.

How to get started?

  • Mark your calendar to begin in January! Don’t worry if you miss, you can join the group at any time. Here, you will find the monthly reading assignments.
  • Each month will feature one or more books, an RRPC theologian/educator, a brief overview, and assigned readings.
  • Questions about the reading material? Go to People of the Book and feel free to ask the Bible leader your questions.
  • Weekly bite-sized chunks of material keep the reading manageable.

Become a People of the Book and join us in January as Dr. Raymond Roberts kicks off with the Book of Mark.

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