Smack-dab in the middle

He had been fulfilling His purpose in public for about 3 years, and only lately had been telling the disciples He was headed to Jerusalem to die. In Mark, the “passion prediction” occurs thrice, and even after the third time, the disciples aren’t portrayed as understanding much of anything. Here’s a quick look:

Chapter 8

  • healing of blind man
  • Peter’s confession
  • passion prediction

Chapter 9

  • transfiguration
  • healing of boy with seizures; dealing with belief vs. unbelief
  • passion prediction
  • argument “on the way” over who is the greatest/last=first

Chapter 10

  • challenges to Jesus
  • passion prediction
  • John & James jockey for position; symbolically, baptism = death
  • healing of blind Bar-Timaeus

Perhaps it is mostly to those of us more familiar with Mark’s gospel that these narrative elements stand out, replete with meaning. If it’s only Markan students who “get” this, it’s a strong hint to me and all the rest of you out there to study more scripture more thoroughly and more often!

Anyway, I’m thinking now, not having laid it out that way before, of things like the appearance of faith in the healings (the boy, and then Bar-Timaeus) … the description of faith is noteworthy. I’m also curious about the probability of inclusio or (“Marcan sandwich/triptych” or even chiasm) from the end of chapter 8 through the early part of chapter 9: 1) the confession of Peter at Caesarea-Philippi, then 2) a passion prediction, then 3) another formal identification of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is a significant textual arrangement too obvious to miss!

In chapter 10, it is significant that Bar-Timaeus is said to have had faith, whereas those formally identified as disciples are not credited with faith. It is also significant to me that Bar-Timaeus, after being said to believe, and after being given sight, is said to follow Jesus “on the road.” This expression “on the road” (or “on the way”) is metaphoric for both discipleship and death, i.e., following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem to take up the cross and die.

At this juncture, having studied most of the way through Mark, the typically celebratory mood of so-called Palm Sunday doesn’t seem to jibe with the so-called “triumphal entry.”  These thoughts reminded me a couple of days ago of Michael Card’s song “Ride On To Die.” Card has for years had a penchant for boiling down the message of an entire book to a few lyric lines, and this song is a good example of that gift with thoughts and words. Here’s one of Card’s lyrics:

Oh, daughter of Zion, your time’s drawing near.
Don’t forsake Him, oh, don’t pass it by.
On the foal of a donkey, as the prophets had said
Passing by you, He rides on to die.

I can no longer imagine Jesus smiling down on His adoring groupies as they partied on “Palm Sunday.” I don’t see Him enjoying the limelight or finally becoming comfortable with His identity as Messiah. No, it’s not an emotionally sunny day for Him as He rides in kingly fashion. On the contrary, He is riding head-on into the culmination of His mission … He is riding on to die, despite any lack of understanding or inappropriate, misplaced adulations from the people who might have been less than cognizant of Jesus’ singular identity.

In less than a week (whether you think He died on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday–and there are reasons to think each one), He would willingly die. Heaven would shake, and bitter tears of despairing loss would fall to the dust. Human hope would be scuttled for a time. The tomb would be sealed, and the Lord of life and light would be temporarily enshrouded in death and darkness.

On this Sabbath Day, 1,980-some years ago, Jesus was smack-dab in the middle of fulfilling His purpose. And His purpose was to atone for human sin.

We have been justified through faith. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. We have been justified by His blood. (Romans 5)

We have redemption through His blood. (Eph. 1)

Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. (1 Cor. 15)

We are reconciled by Christ’s physical body through death and are presented holy in His sight. (Col. 1)

He provided purification for sins and then sat at the right hand of God. He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. By one sacrifice of His body we have been made holy. (Heb. 1; Heb. 9; Heb. 10)

With your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe…. (Rev. 4)

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