Second Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons:
Jesus Through the Eyes of Mark
Insights to Lesson 4
(Produced by the 1888 Message Study Committee)
"He Spake in Parables"
This week’s lesson is about several parables that illustrate God’s kingdom and power. Two were simply word pictures, while the others were living parables. There’s so much depth in this lesson that we can’t begin to cover it all in this short Insights.
Throughout the Gospels we find that Jesus’ parables are generally grouped into three sessions which reflect the increasing opposition of the church leadership to His teaching. As He neared the end of His time here on earth, the lessons became more pointed as Jesus attempted to bring corporate repentance to His people. His lesson was clear: without a true heart conversion and deep repentance for their sin of unbelief, they would not be ready for the outpouring of the early rain He longed to bestow upon them.
We can imagine that a common exclamation from the groups of people gathered around to hear Jesus was "never a man taught us like this," which revealed both perplexity and skepticism over what they were hearing in His teaching. The amazement or astonishment of the people witnessing His many miracles indicates not just wonderment about the miracles and demonstrations of power, but also indicates a rising alarm which set the stage for theological controversies.
Jesus’ teaching, both in theological terms and in parables, was not as the scribes and Pharisees taught. Jesus taught "with authority." His material was new, not like the rabbinical parables which were mere rehashes of their private interpretations of Scripture. The scribes and Pharisees liberally sprinkled their parables with quotes from their favorite rabbi, which was intended to provide their sayings with an impression of authority based in tradition.
The scribes and Pharisees usually began their parables with "to what is the thing like?" and then proceeded to use an illustration that would place the meaning of the Law within the range of comprehension of the common people. Rabbinical parables usually concluded with an exhortation to take much greater pains in studying the Law while attempting to live a righteous life to merit favor with God.
However, Jesus’ use of parables was refreshingly different, bringing precious fresh bread from heaven to feed the starving people. They were intended by Jesus to set forth, not the merit of study or working for righteousness, but the compassion of the Saviour who was seeking the lost sinner, reconciling him to his heavenly Father. In His parables, Jesus used familiar references to well-known scenes or events from daily life, that was in accordance to prevailing notions. Most of His parables were simple, yet complex, having a depth of meaning that would reward the student who contemplated its profound significance.
Two of the parables in this week’s lesson deal with the kingdom of God, and the other four are living illustrations of God’s power over His creation. I refer to these miracles as parables because they have been left to us through the written word as object lessons regarding Jesus’ power to save from sin. If this Man has power to still the furious squall that had come upon the sea, and power to cast out thousands of demons with a single word, and raise the dead to life, then surely He has power to deliver us from our sin!
Through His miracle/parables, Jesus proved that He was going to have ultimate victory over Satan. No matter how much control Satan appears to have over individuals suffering under terribly vexing circumstances, the power of the word of God is stronger. Jesus is Lord and Master of the animate and inanimate world.
The new light on the character of God that was being shed upon the people was viewed with skepticism, especially by the leaders of the Jewish people. Certain illnesses were understood by them to be a curse from God for some horrific sin that had been committed (e.g. leprosy). Mental illness was demon possession that even their elaborate exorcism techniques could rarely cure.
Yet here was a Man who ignored all the priestly regulations, not only associating with the sick and feeble, but actually touching the unclean (leper, bleeding woman, dead girl — all of these would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean). With a word He was able to staunch bleeding, raise the dead, cast out demons, still the raging storm. Incredible; unbelievable! Seeking to protect themselves from this new revelation, the scribes and Pharisees claimed that only Satan himself could have such power.
You have the example of the Jews how they treated everything that did not harmonize with their opinions of doctrines. They settled the matter that they had the truth on every subject and could be instructed in no point, and in the place of producing reasons from the Old Testament to show that Christ and His disciples were in error, they would not hear Him and condemned him, and misstated His positions and His doctrines, treated Him as a criminal and guilty of grievous wrongs. (1888 Materials p. 463).
In the adult teacher’s Quarterly lesson outline we find these comments: "False interpretations of religious teaching in Jesus’ time caused many to have misplaced faith or to lose their faith entirely. . . .We must be discerning in how we apply our deeply held beliefs and practices."
"False interpretations of religious teaching" have always led people astray. We see a time closer to us when the same thing was repeated among our own brethren. New light on the covenants and living a righteous life through faith alone in the merits of the Saviour was sent to us from God in 1888. Because of preconceived opinions, truth was rejected and kept away from the world.
When the Jews took the first step in the rejection of Christ, they took a dangerous step. When afterward evidence accumulated that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, they were too proud to acknowledge that they had erred. So with the people of our day who reject the truth. . . . Just like the Jews, they [certain brethren at the Minneapolis general conference] take it for granted they have all the truth, and feel a sort of contempt for anyone who should suppose they had more correct ideas than themselves of what is truth. (1888 Materials, pp. 169-170).
Working to shut off the light that exposed their false concepts, the Pharisees increased their opposition to Jesus as He progressively revealed God as a merciful and loving Saviour who came seeking the lost sheep, willing and able to "save to the uttermost" all who would believe in His power. Continued resistence eventually caused them to commit the worst crime in the history of the universe—the crucifixion of their only source of redemption from sin. We find history repeated in our own behaviour at Minneapolis in 1888.
An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth [on the covenants], lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren [E.J.] Waggoner and [A.T.] Jones. By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world, as the apostles proclaimed it after the day of Pentecost. The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world. (Selected Messages, Bk. 1, pp. 234-235).
"There is no new thing under the sun" and so we see that we’re still in the same unbelieving condition as were the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day, sadly in need of a true heart conversion and corporate repentance that will prepare us to receive the latter rain He so longs to bestow upon His people.
As we study these lessons from Mark, let us learn to accept—as a little child, as a helpless cripple, as a leper without hope, as one lost at sea during a hurricane—the awesome power being revealed to us to save us from sin. What Jesus did then, He is more than able to accomplish now. If we will yield our selves to the power of Christ, we will find freedom from all our sins. We have been set free (past tense). The prison house is open, let us walk forth in newness of life in Christ. It’s past time for us believe this good news and proclaim that gospel which "is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth" (Rom. 1:16).
Other Gospel points to consider as you develop your study of this lesson:
By associating with sinners, curing their illnesses, touching the unclean, Jesus was taking our sins upon Himself (Isa. 53:4-9, Heb. 2:17; 1 Pet. 2:24). This demonstrates the truth of the human nature which Christ assumed in the incarnation. He is not far off from us, but a Saviour nigh at hand; our Kinsman Redeemer (Lev. 25:48,49; Ruth 2:20).
The storm was an attempt by Satan to destroy Jesus. The Old Testament uses symbolic illustrations of Satan as leviathan (dragon), a huge monster from the deep (Psa. 74:14; Isa. 27:1). Jesus has power over Satan, to crush his head. Satan is a defeated foe; sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6:12-14).
Jesus has power to call those things that aren’t as though they were. His creative power gave life to the dead and dying, cured the leper, cast out demons. It is what calls us righteous, and not only calls us righteous, but makes us righteous (see SC p. 62). A.T. Jones, Lessons on Faith, p. 46—"When God speaks, there is in His word the creative energy to produce the thing which that word pronounces." E.J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness—"It is true that God will by no means clear the guilty; He could not do that and still be a just God. But He does something far better: He removes the guilt, so that the one formerly guilty does not need to be cleared,—he is justified, and counted as though he never had sinned." (p. 72).
There is no salvation in depending upon our own power. Just as the disciples sought to save themselves from the power of the storm and forgot their true Saviour was right there in the ship with them, so we are reluctant to place our entire dependence upon Him (DA 334-336). Living faith in His power is what saves us. "Since faith is the depending upon the word of God only, for what that word says, being justified by faith is simply being accounted righteous by depending upon the word only. And since the word is the word of God, dependence upon the word only is dependence upon God only, in the word. Justification by faith, then, is justification—being accounted righteous by dependence upon God only, and upon Him only because He has promised." (A.T. Jones, Lessons on Faith, p. 25).