(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
Why are the stories of the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage and the raising of Jairus' daughter presented together, and how do they relate to one another?
The story of the ceremonially unclean woman’s healing is “sandwiched” within the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. The first thing we might notice is the contrast between the woman and Jairus. Not only is the woman “unclean,” and therefore untouchable to any law abiding Jew; Jairus, as a leader of the synagogue, would have been one to enforce such laws. The unclean woman’s presence is an intrusion as Jesus is on his way to Jairus’ home, which most certainly would have been appalling to most of those looking on, and maybe most especially to Jairus. But it is an intrusion welcomed by Jesus, who recognizes and rewards her faith.
The woman’s belief that she would be “made well” could also be read “saved” (Gr. Sozo, and is the same word used by Jairus when he asks Jesus to heal his daughter). This theme of touching Jesus’ clothes and being “healed” or “saved” is repeated in 6:36; and Jesus’ statement, “your faith has made you well [i.e., saved you]” is repeated verbatim in 10:56. We have precedent in Mark of physical healing being associated with spiritual healing (i.e., salvation, or the forgiveness of sins) in 2:5-12; and also of the healing that Jesus performs being a response to faith.
Whereas the woman only wants to touch Jesus’ clothes, and hopes to remain unnoticed; Jairus boldly asks Jesus to come into his home and “lay His hands” on his daughter. It is interesting that when Jesus addresses the woman, he tenderly calls her “Daughter,” which enunciates the wholeness of her healing—she is no longer an outcast, but a cherished family member of Israel’s household. (This may remind us of Isaiah’s image of the restoration of Israel's "daughters" which is prophetic of the New Jerusalem, cf. Isaiah 60:4). In both cases—the healing of the woman, and the raising of Jairus’ daughter—Jesus states that faith is required in order for healing and resurrection to take place. Whether you are an outcast of society, or a member of the religious and social elite, it is your faith that will “make you well,” a “wellness” that has significance beyond the present moment. As Morna Hooker states, "the child’s resurrection would be understood as a symbol of [Israel’s] own future resurrection. The story of the woman would have been of special interest to the Gentiles, since they too, had once been ‘outsiders’, excluded from the community of God’s people. Both stories would have brought reassurance of the new life and salvation which came to believers through the power of Jesus.” 
 Morna D. Hooker, Gospel According to Saint Mark, The (Black's New Testament Commentary), Reprint ed. (Hendrickson: Baker Academic, 2009), 148.
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” and why did Jesus say it was the “unforgiveable sin?” Can we commit “the unforgivable sin” today?
First, spanning out and considering a larger context, this incident (3:19-30) is preceded by Jesus’ confirmation that He is indeed claiming to be God, who alone can forgive sins, in direct response to a charge of blasphemy from the Scribes—if only at this juncture in their unexpressed thoughts (2:1-12). Now we see him charging them with blasphemy for openly ascribing the works of God to the works of demons, or “Satan” (the prince of evil spirits, or the adversary). So in Mark’s chronology we see Jesus’ identity progressively revealed, and along with this revelation we see the Jewish leaders becoming increasingly bolder in their accusations against him, and in their denial of his deity—which is their rejection of God’s revelation of His salvation to humankind in Christ.
Specifically to the question of why Jesus defines blasphemy as the “unforgiveable sin,” it is important to identify from the text what that “blasphemy” is. And we do have the definitive statement that Jesus is speaking against the “blasphemy” of those who had said, “he has an unclean spirit” (3:30). In other words, this unforgivable blasphemy—committed in a specific time and place by a specific group of people--was the denial of Jesus’ deity, and not simply by suggesting he was a mere man rather than “the Son of Man,” but with the added force of claiming the works he performed to prove his identity were in fact works he performed by the power of “Satan.”
I have occasionally heard people wonder, “what if I have committed the unforgivable sin?” It is important that we remember the time and place context of this story. Again, Jesus was speaking to a specific group of people, who had committed a specific offense—that of denying that His works, done physically in their presence, were the works of God, and ascribing those works instead to the works of “Satan.” This is not a position any of us are in today, historically speaking. Beyond this, our theology, and specifically our soteriology, will dictate our response to someone who fears they may be “unforgivable.” When our faith in the power of the cross assures us that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (cf. Romans 8:1) we can comfort one another with this “good news.”
 First century Jews would have indeed understood from their prophets that Israel’s Savior would be none other than God. In fact, it is not possible to call Jesus “Savior” without also calling him “God” (cf. Isaiah 43:3; 45:21; Hosea 13:4).
 “Soteriology” refers to the doctrine of salvation, or our belief about how one becomes saved, and would also encompass whether we believe one could ever “lose salvation.”
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is the significance of Jesus’ claim that the “Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins?”
Old Testament prophecies of salvation and the forgiveness of sins often include the language of physical healing, associating disease and sickness with sin, and health and wholeness with the forgiveness of sin. For example, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases (Psalm 103:2). And in this description by Isaiah of the New Jerusalem, wherein God dwells with his people, which we understand to be fulfilled in the church (cf. Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 21:2, 9-10), the eradication of “sickness” is accomplished by the forgiveness of sins:
Isaiah 33:24 And no inhabitant [of the New Jerusalem] will say, "I am sick"; the people who live there will be forgiven their iniquity.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus comes on the scene healing, and specifically according to Isaiah’s prophecy, he heals the blind, deaf, lame and the mute, as well as many other diseases (cf. 1:29-34; 40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:21-41; 6:53-56; 7:31-36; 10:46-52). In addition to healing physical disease, Jesus casts out many “unclean” or “demonic” spirits (cf. 1:21-28; 32-34; 5:1-11; 7:24-30; 9:14-29).
When Jesus responds to the faith of the paralytic and his friends by saying to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” the scribes charge him with blasphemy, as only God can forgive sins. Jesus’ reply to them confirms that their understanding is indeed correct: only God can forgive sins. And just “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (in other words, so that you know that I, the Son of Man, am indeed God, “your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel”), he says to the paralytic, “stand up” (cf. 2:1-12).
 Isaiah 35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (See also Luke 7:21-22.)
 “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine... For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...I am the Lord and beside me there is no Savior...Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel... I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King... I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (cf. Isaiah 43:1,3,11,14,15,25).
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is Mark’s “good news” or Gospel?
With his introduction, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1), Mark is ascribing divine authority to his gospel: this is not merely the evangelist’s story about Jesus; this is Jesus’ own word; it is his good news to his people. Mark then defines what the "good news" is by quoting the prophets Malachi and Isaiah. By identifying the fore-running "messenger" of Malachi 3:1, and the “crying voice” of Isaiah 40:3 as John the Baptist (cf. 1:1-4), Mark is boldly proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah promised to Israel, which she knew according to her prophets would be God. Also from the context of Isaiah 40 it is further understood that Mark is announcing, "the glory (i.e., the salvation, cf. Isaiah 52:10; Luke 3:6) of God is about to be revealed" (cf. Isaiah 40:5).
So what is this good news? What is this promised salvation? At the conclusion of Mark's prologue, he defines the "good news" as follows: 1) the time is fulfilled, and 2) the kingdom of God has come near (1:14,15). We need look no further then to again, Isaiah 40, to see this promise about to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ defined as the comfort of God’s people, through the forgiveness of their sins: "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40:1-2). At the conclusion of the gospel, included in the “shorter ending” following 16:8, the good news is equated with the proclamation of “eternal salvation,” and this is indeed theologically consistent with Mark’s opening quotation from Isaiah.
 Malachi 3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts."
 Isaiah 40:3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
 The earliest manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9-20. The scholarship community is divided over whether this “longer ending” was part of Mark’s original gospel. Some manuscripts contain a “shorter ending” following verse 8, which reads: “And all that had been commanded they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” For more on the various perspectives on the ending of Mark, please see: Maurice Robinson et al., Perspectives On the Ending of Mark: Four Views, ed. David Alan Black (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2008).
I wanted to share some thoughts about a message we just added to our video archive at NCMI, called The Holiness of God.
We have a growing archive of sermons at our website. They are all wonderful messages that Ward has given communicating the beauty of the kingdom and grace of God. This one in particular, though, is probably one of the two or three most significant, and impactful to me personally. It is foundational to what our ministry is all about, because it so clearly defines God's radical mercy which He has lavished upon us. Indeed, it took an act of infinite mercy to bring us into the presence of an infinitely holy God.
Since I started seeing Christ in the Old Testament, this has become one of my favorite passages:
Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
It seems to come up a lot in our podcast studies in the prophets, and it's often my "go to" passage when I am writing about the kindgom of heaven--its character and substance, how it was fulfilled, and how we experience it. In this sermon, Ward talks about this passage in conjunction with one of his bullet points: "The Holiness of God does not allow Him to dwell with evil." That statement should cause us all to pause and consider just what it took to make us the "many mansions--or dwelling places--in our Father's house." No less than this was required: that we be made holy as He is holy. Nothing less would ever do.
Ward also makes a rather provocative, yet entirely Biblical statement:
If you are saying in your heart, "God will never save that guy, he's too wicked," then God probably hasn't saved you.
When you consider it, in light of Isaiah 57:15, you will understand my heart's passion toward the ministry of NCMI. It's only in humbling ourselves before God's holiness, and seeing who we really are apart from Him, that we can know the incalculable riches of His mercy, and share it with others. So that we can truly experience the joy of forgiveness and presence with God. And rest in His completed work. For me, it's all right there in that passage.
There are so many Christians who have trusted Christ as their Savior, and yet are still burdened with feelings of guilt and shame. And that guilt and shame tends to come out toward others as self-righteousness and condemnation. And I think it's what mainly keeps people away from "churches." That is why this message is so needed.
I am personally so thankful for the technology of video and the internet, which allows us to share these messages with a wide audience. And I know there are all kinds of things competing for your time and attention. But I just wanted to encourage you all to listen to this one message even if you typically don't get a chance to listen regularly. I can't tell you how many times I had to pause it while editing through tears (as I need a clear view to insert text at the appropriate places). And also, I was thinking of so many applications of this message to current preterist "in-house" debates on the forums, including the unbiblical concept known as "progressive sanctification" which is being argued for and against. It occurred to me as I was listening to this message and as I considered the cross, the most awesome display of God's power there ever was, and what it accomplished: my holiness in His sight--that this "progressive sanctification" notion is a particularly blatant offense to God. And it must grieve Him to know that His children still see themselves as lacking something, when He's already given them Himself.
Comfort My People: Isaiah 40 and the Exaltation of the Valleys, part 3
by Ward Fenley
This is a completely wonderful article; I would just like to interact a bit with a few specific things that especially intrigued and stirred me. One thing you do often when discussing redemption in light of these Old Testament passages, is to identify the “problem” that redemption was ordained and accomplished by God to solve. While we “evangelicals” may think we have a handle on that (who can’t quote Romans 3:23 from memory?); I think there has been somewhat of a disconnect between how the Gospel is traditionally presented and the full extent of the hopelessness of our condition apart from Christ. Studying these Old Testament prophets brings that into focus. Because they got it. They understood the impact of their guilt, they felt the fear and shame and fully recognized their complete helplessness and hopelessness and total dependence upon God’s mercy--the mercy Christ performed. It is only to the extent that we appreciate the impact of what it means to be lost, that we will begin to see and experience the impact of being saved….and truly appreciate and celebrate the miracle of our redemption. The prophets help us see these things; they help us see as you have said, how “eternal life is contrasted with that which every Old Testament believer feared under the Mosaic Covenant: death,” and the “magnitude” of that contrast.
You wrote: “…it is when we connect righteousness with the abrogation of shame and the fear of death that we become amazed at what Christ has actually fulfilled in reference to Old Testament prophecies.” Truly. Amazed and in awe.
I also appreciate the way you have shown that it is the righteousness of Christ (and nothing short of that, and most certainly not any ‘righteousness’ that we could perform) that is the complete and permanent remedy for shame. And since righteousness is all the work of God, there is nothing we could do by outwardly performing to add to it, or take away from it. Our righteousness will never be our own and will always and only be in Christ, Whom Jeremiah calls “The Lord Our Righteousness.” This will remain true of course, even after we physically die. Which I think is very important because it seems that sometimes even “Preterists” present the idea that after we shed the physical body, something will change with regard to our human nature. I even heard one say recently that after we physically die, we will “finally be free from sin,” as if that has not already been accomplished in Christ. And to me, to attach such significance to our physical death and in so doing claim we are now lacking, is to take away from what HE HAS DONE. And it is to fail to give Him the glory that all and only belongs to Him.
I was intrigued by what you said about ‘idols’ and how the idolatry of the Pharisees was to worship the law over the One the law pointed to, or the “creature” over the Creator (awesome connection between Jeremiah 2 and Romans 1); and more specifically to look for salvation in their own ‘righteousness’ under the law, thereby rejecting the salvation of Christ, and rejecting Him. They exalted the shadow over the substance, the copy over the true…they sought to make themselves righteous in that which “could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” And in so doing they rejected Christ, who came “an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us”(cf. Hebrews 9). I guess if there was ever a definition of ‘idolatry’ that would be it.
Thank you again for this article Ward, as it has truly caused my spirit to rejoice in God my Savior.
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.