The focus now falls on atonement, the appeasement of divine wrath through a substitute. The Lord sets the process by which atonement is to be made and sets a certain day every year for the priest to make atonement. He further calls His people to sacrifice to Him in the place He appoints rather than sacrificing “to the goat demons with which they play the harlot” (17:7). As the people who have experienced the atoning grace of God they are to be set apart from all the nations around them, as God commands, “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, not are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you” (18:3).
The pace of Jesus’ ministry in Mark is frantic. He teaches and heals with a near untiring vigor. Yet as His fame grows, he was no longer able to enter the cities, but the people “were coming to Him from everywhere” (45).
These chapters continue the command to be a people set apart from God and distinct from the nations that they are going dispossess. The theme for the book could thus be summarized by 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Jesus conflict with the Pharisees takes center stage as He claims the authority to forgive sin and eats with tax collectors and sinners. In verses 21-22, He makes clear that His mission is one that does not conform to their old standards, rather it is new.
This holiness laid additional requirements on the priests who would come near to God in offering sacrifices to God. Thus God warns Moses, saying, “Tell Aaron and his sons to be careful with the holy gifts of the sons of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so as not to profane My holy name; I am the Lord” (22:2). In short, the priests must be careful not to handle the holy things of God with unholy hands.
Jesus now rustles the Pharisee’s feathers by claiming Lordship over the Sabbath, healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, and showing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He takes aim at their sacred cows, or in this case sacred days, and points to the goodness of God’s gift of the Sabbath.
As God gives regulations for religious festivals and offerings at the sanctuary, 24:10-23 stick out as odd. While they break the flow a bit, they demonstrate the gravity of not heeding the word of the Lord. The man who blasphemes is put to death because he broke the third commandment. This event also serves the further function of warning the people against such a grievous sin in the future.
What it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit has been debated in many forums. In this case, we are given a clear answer from Mark, namely, attributing to the devil those works done by the Spirit of God.
The Sabbatical year and the redemption of fields, houses, and countrymen seem foreign to us. However, the Sabbatical year is a year of release that shows the grace of God as He provides enough for three harvests. Moreover, the Jubilee is a year in which men are set free and are to return to their ancestral property, through God’s grace.
As one of the widely recognized parables, the Parable of the Sower stands as a warning to those who would hear the word. Mere hearing is not enough to bring about effectual results, only once a heart is prepared will good fruit be produced.
A glance at chapter 26 gives the clear impression that the list of blessings for following God is substantially shorter than the list of curses for disobedience. God sets life before His people and warns them that death will come if they do not obey. While this seems harsh, Israel’s history shows that the hardness of heart made both promises of blessings and warnings of calamity somewhat ineffectual.
Jesus compares faith to a seed that grows, but as His disciples are faced with the prospects of a sinking boat their faith quickly falters. Thus he questions them saying, “Why are you afraid? Do you have no faith?” This prompts them to ask the key question that all must ask, “Who then is this?”
The census in Numbers 1 plays a crucial role in understanding God’s grace to the people. As they organize for battle yet refuse to enter God delivers them over to wanderings in the wilderness until that entire generation has died. Remarkably, 38 years later, they will again stand on the threshold of the promised land and take a census (Numbers 26), with roughly the same number of men prepared for war.
The Gerasene Demoniac demonstrates the power of Christ to cast out demons, however the oddity is the peoples’ response, namely that they “implored Him to leave their region” (17). The people rightly understand that they stand in the presence of one greater than they, but they fear and ask Him to leave because they lack faith.