Last week I felt well enough after my bout of flu to rejoin the Wednesday “Just Looking” Bible study group run by Jackie and David Baker. I’d been a bit concerned that I’d missed so many sessions that I might be a disruption to the rapport built up within the group whilst I was away, but thankfully this wasn’t the case and I felt as welcomed as I had at the first session.
Last week’s session focussed on the events immediately before the Crucifixion, in order to better understand what Mark was trying to communicate to the early church about what Jesus achieved through the cross. We learnt that Jesus was in control of all the events that we read about, right to the very end of Jesus’ earthly life. We studied how His life was prophesied in the Old Testament, in which Mark’s readers would have understood meanings that are lost on us today. We looked at Leviticus 16v20-22 and Isiah 53v6 to explain what precisely was happening on the cross. We discussed the actions of Jesus in the temple (overturning the moneychangers’ tables and chasing away the dove sellers, etc – Mark 11v15-17), the meanings behind the parable of the vineyard and its implications for the Jewish Elders (Mark 12v1-11) before turning to the Crucifixion itself, in particular the moment of His death (Mark 15v37). This sparked quite an interesting discussion with regards to the words used – how it became clear that it wasn’t the act of crucifixion itself that killed Jesus, but rather that He chose the moment of His own death. He had been on the cross only 9 hours when He died; we discussed how crucifixion was not a quick death and indeed in John 19v31-35 it mentions how the soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus so as to hasten their deaths so they would not remain on their crosses on the Sabbath day, but Jesus was already dead so His legs remained unbroken. Jesus was a fit, healthy man in His thirties so should have lasted much longer on the cross – instead He consciously surrendered His own life at the time of His choosing.
This week we studied the events immediately after His death (Mark 15v42 – 16v20), including the reasons why the women went to the tomb with oils and spices to anoint the body; we also discussed the implications in the women being the ones given the message by the angel to pass on that Jesus had risen. Finally we discussed just what the message was that Jesus wanted the disciples to spread, and whether it still has relevance today; several group members thought that it was the act of preaching that was His command to the disciples, and we discussed whether preaching to nonbelievers was practical or even desireable in this day and age, and what other methods there are besides direct preaching. We looked again at the discussions between Jesus and the scribes with regards to the first command of all: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'” (Mark 12v30-31) This in turn led to a discussion about what it means in this day and age to be a “good neighbour” and just who our neighbours are before returning to what Jesus was actually requiring of both his disciples and us today: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16v16) He requires us to have faith and believe, with baptism as a declaration of this intent.
The point at which we agreed this was the case felt like a small epiphany to me; David had asked the question again and was looking round the group when I answered that it was belief, and as I said it and he started nodding, it felt like a moment of perfect clarity – at that moment I suddenly understood.
The moment passed, but the memory of that moment kept me buoyed up all the way home. It felt like a moment of personal breakthrough; a brief glimpse of the sun as the clouds part before the world turns dreary grey with the rain again. It’s left me with something to ponder this evening. I still don’t feel I am ready to take the step of baptism yet – but I think I came a little closer tonight.
Next week will be the final session, when we will be discussing the topic of choices.