Gospel of Mark – Theological Use of Location

In Mark and in the other synoptic Gospels, a large portion of Jesus’ ministry is spent in Galilee. The Galilean section of Mark spans 1:14-8:27 ending at the hinge of the Gospel with Peter’s confession and the journey toward the end (Jerusalem and the events that will unfold there). This is significantly different from John’s Gospel which places Jesus in Jerusalem over and over again to fulfill various Feast days with significant theological overtones. This difference in location between the synoptics and John has underlying theological reasons. The synoptics, Mark in particular, are probably trying to show a fulfillment of Isaiah 8:23 (or 9:1 depending on your translation). “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-” which is written just prior to the famous passage,

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.”
Isaiah 9:6-7

Many believe first century Jews thought this passage taught the “end times” would start in the north (Galilee) [See McKnight Dictionary of the Gospels, 253] and so Mark is pointing out this connection.

Luke also has a Galilean ministry but he fine tunes it even more and bridges Luke with Acts with the key being in Acts 1:8 –But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We have the order: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Blomberg (Jesus and the Gospels, 143) believes this mirrors the locations in Acts and is the inverse of the locations in Luke:

Gospel of Luke:
A – The birth of Jesus in the context of the Roman world
B – Jesus’ ministry in Galilee
C – Jesus’ ministry in Samaria and Judea
D – Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem
Resurrection & Ascension links Luke/Acts
Acts of the Apostles:
D’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem
C’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in Judea and Samaria
B’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Gentile world
A’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit all the way to Rome

It is not an exact match but it warrants consideration.

Mark shows us many parallels with the Exodus experience by his use of location. One of the reasons Mark does that is because he is highlighting the theme of liberation. Similar to how God was present with his people in the Exodus we find Jesus in the wilderness, on the sea, and on the mountain top as he is initiating people into a new promised land (the kingdom of God – notice his first preaching in Mark 1:15). These three types of location are mentioned repeatedly in Mark to more fully define who Jesus is based on their understanding of their previous nation-building experience in the Exodus. Jesus walks on the water, he goes up the mountain to be transfigured, and he seeks out wilderness places for time with God and his disciples. More of these will be pointed out as we work through the Gospel of Mark here at K.L.

For some great information on Mark’s use of location see Mark as Story by Rhodes, Dewey, and Michie (Thanks to Frank for reminding me of that book!).

Living Out Jesus’ Mission (Luke 4)

In Luke 4 we find the following story,

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[e]

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The reading Jesus reads from Isa 61:1-2 starts by mentioning anointing. When someone in the ancient world was anointed it was to set them apart for a specific task or purpose. In the verses the follow that purpose is laid out very succinctly:

  • Preach good news to the poor
  • Proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • the recovery of sight for the blind
  • to release the oppressed
  • to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

Good news to the poor:

As Christians we know that Jesus’ mission is now our mission. We are also set aside for a purpose. We also have the Spirit of the Lord in our lives (does that mean we also have an anointing of sorts? Probably.). Jesus said he was to preach good news to the poor. What kind of good news? No more bills? Free money? No…not that kind of poor. Jesus has good news for those who are poor in spirit. In the beatitudes of Matthew 5 he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The good news is that the poor no longer have to be poor. They will be filled with an abundance of spiritual blessings. Eph 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” How do we treat those who have poor spiritual nutrition? Do we try to feed them like Jesus would?

Freedom for the Prisoners:

Is Jesus’ promise here only for those who are locked up and don’t have the key? Of course not. He is talking about those who appear free but on the inside are captive to a variety of things that dominate their lives and thinking. Galatians 4:8 says, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” Far too often we forget just how good the good news is. We are free from sin and death. I challenge you to say that with a smirk on your face or with a shrug of your shoulders. Let people know you are excited to be a Christian!

Recovery of sight for the blind:

Once again, not just those who are physically blind. Jesus came to help us see life and decisions for what they really are. He helps us see sin for sin, death for death, life for life, and righteousness for righteousness. Without Christ we are blind. Once you have seen clearly for a long time you forget how much a blessing it is to be able to do so and take for granted the blessing of spiritual vision.

To release the oppressed:

See above but see also the gospel of Luke in which Jesus reaches out to those who are social outcasts, victims, and the downtrodden. Jesus has a special interest in those society is least interested in.

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor:

Once again the mission requires proclamation. It requires action. Jesus could have sat in a dark room all by himself and spoke the most profound teachings but he didn’t he went out among the people and took action. Christians who are not committed to some form of action or involvement in kingdom business and kingdom living really just don’t get it. When you really understand what God has done for you, you will want to respond with action – sharing, proclaiming, giving, and serving.

How has your life been lived in response to the good news about Jesus? Have you made his mission your mission? Or are you still on the sidelines waiting for the right moment to act? James says our faith is made complete when it is paired with action. Why? Because a complete faith is one that expresses a loving response to the message of Christ through action rather than just mental assent. We can agree that Christ is good all day long and stay in our comfort zones and get fed in our Bible classes. But until we respond to the good news with action we just really don’t get it. Not because action is required or merits our salvation but because action is the natural response of a heart that is owned by God. Mission requires action. Aren’t we glad Jesus didn’t spend his time on the sidelines!