Impossible Possibilities (Naked Runner/ lesson 16)


Pastor Barry Bruce/ The Gathering Church: The Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #16

A Cultural Look Back  

Before we get into today’s teaching, it is important for us to look back at what society was like in first century Israel in regards to men, women, children,     religion and money. Simply said, It was a man’s world and property and wealth defined those men. By law and practice women and children were the property of men.  Women had a low social standing unless they were connected to a man– first to their father and then through their husband. Through marriage came wealth, notoriety, children, and worth.  A woman was considered worthless without a man and children.  To bear a male child was most important to a woman because this insured the carrying on of her husband’s name and the work that he did.  Property and wealth was as important to a man as a man was to a woman.  A man was considered worthless without property unless he was associated with the government, the military or a    religious order (and of course these institutions held considerable wealth and property).  In regards to religion: works, tradition and knowledge were paramount.

Divorce   Mark 10:1-12, Genesis 1:27, 2:24, Matthew 5:31-32

With the above in mind, the law for divorce was liberal and commonly practiced by men.  A woman could be divorced by a man for any reason and left with nothing.

 Jesus was asked about divorce by the Pharisees in order to test him and set him in a place of controversy. Jesus returned the Pharisees question with one of his own: “what did Moses command?”  Jesus knew that Moses addressed divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  That law did not endorse divorce but acknowledged the practice and added protections for the woman. The law stated that a divorced woman could never again be remarried to the husband who divorced her.  There were two reasons for this: 1.) A man should    consider the finality of such a decision 2.) That man should never obtain a second dowry for her (a dowry was property or money given by the father of a bride to a husband on their marriage). Jesus reminded the Pharisees that Moses wrote those laws because Jewish hearts were hardened with the long standing tradition of divorce. God’s command concerning marriage was recorded in Genesis : “the two shall become one flesh”.  What God had joined together, none should separate”, said Jesus.

Later the disciples asked Jesus for clarification on this teaching and Jesus likened divorce and remarriage to adultery. In Matthew’s Gospel that discussion with his disciples is made clearer by their response. They surmised that it would be better to never marry than to be divorced, and this was Jesus’ point exactly.  We should not enter a marriage contract lightly and if a marriage should have trouble then we should take every care to fix it!  The caviler attitude of the Pharisees and society concerning divorce was and is wrong!  Jesus comparing divorce to breaking the seventh commandment of God (Exodus 20:14) really shook people up!  

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”  Malachi  2:16  NLT

Jesus continued his teaching to the disciples by reminding them that few people were mature enough not to get married because they first counted the cost of that decision.  Jesus said that some are born eunuchs (with no sexual interest) and others were made eunuchs (castrated) while others choose to live like eunuchs to be focused on serving God. The one who chooses not to be married in order to be freed up to serve God should do it! The Apostle Paul also gave this advice (1 Corinthians 7:1-7) and lived as a celibate preaching the gospel.

A full bible study on Divorce & Re-marriage by Pastor Barry is available by request.

Little Children Mark 10:13-16

While the people’s ears were still ringing from his sobering lesson on divorce, women brought their children to Jesus for a blessing which was another cultural taboo. Children and women were not to bother a rabbi (religious teacher).  They were to be seen and not heard.  Jesus was annoyed (indignant) when the disciples rebuked the children and he called them to himself and blessed them. Once again, he drove the message home to those self-important   people in the crowd that no one gets into heaven without a humble heart and then entered a rich man!  

First and Last   Mark 10:17-31, James 3:14-16, Philippians 2:1-11

Jesus responded to the rich man’s plea for eternal life with a reminder to all that “the good teacher” was and is “God alone”. We must never forget that Jesus is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3).  God alone is perfect …the rich man and we are not.  There is always something that stands in the way of our following Jesus.  For this man it was his wealth and his pursuit of it.  What stands in the way for you? Jesus let the man go away sad because one will never follow Christ until he comes to the end of himself. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God”, said Jesus. But it was not wealth alone he spoke of here, but ones selfishness that keeps him from the kingdom of God.   

In regards to men, women, children, religion and money society was sick then and it is now too. Selfishness is, and always has been, in the hearts of men. It is the demonic detour from the kingdom of God. “Who can be saved?” With man left to himself this is as impossible as a “camel going through the eye of a needle”, “but with God; all things are possible”.

Peter ends the passage in his own selfishness expecting that he and the disciples should get what the rich man forfeited because they had left all for the gospel.  Jesus put Peter in check by adding “persecutions” to his list of his promised “blessings”. We must put others first in marriage, in family, in service, and in faith. Like a child…the last shall be first.

STUMBLING (Naked Runner/ Lesson 15)


(detail) Suffer The Children by Carl Bloch: Danish painter from 1800’s  Oil on copper

Pastor Barry Bruce/ The Gathering Church  The Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #15

Denial   Mark 9:30-32, John 8:31-32, James 1:22-25

Have you ever purposely avoided a conversation because you didn’t want to discuss it or deal with the emotion involved in it?  This is called denial and we have all been guilty of it at one time or another.  The problem with living in denial is that nothing is ever communicated or resolved.   Living in denial eventually causes an eventual pulling away from discomfort which results in the breakdown of a relationship.  Jesus said if we would continue in his word then we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. Apart from truth there is no freedom.  The apostle James continued this teaching by showing us how to “continue” in the words of God.  We must not deceive ourselves or “live in denial”.  If the truth is to set us free then we must do what the words of God tell us to do.  In this passage the disciples demonstrate that they are living in denial regarding Jesus’ mission to die for the sins of man and rise victoriously over death.  In fact, every time Jesus brought the subject up they shied away from it (Mark 8:31-32, 9:9-10). Here Jesus attempted to stay away from people so that he could explain things to his disciples, but instead of asking him for clarity they were afraid and retreated in denial.  Lesson    number one in the avoidance of Spiritual Stumbling is to never live in denial.  Communicate and get clarity.  The Truth may hurt but at least you will have the facts!  Once you have the facts (truth) you will have the freedom to make a decision and thus avoid stumbling further.

Narcissism   Mark 9:33-41, Romans 12:3

excessive interest in oneself —extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration (narcissist).

When a person lives in denial they can stumble into a variety of messes.  The mess that the disciples stepped into was narcissism.  As Jesus was preparing for his selfless mission of sacrifice the disciples were arguing over which one of them was the greatest!  Jesus gave them the hard facts of Heaven: “the greatest must be the least and the servant of all”.  To drive that message home Jesus took a child (who was the least according to their culture) and placed him/ her in their midst and told them to welcome him/her. (Note: children were not allowed in the presence of a religious teacher or conversation of men.  This was strictly a woman’s role.) The apostle Paul warns us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to have sober    judgment concerning ourselves.  Once again, this sobriety only comes from God’s word (the truth).

The disciples were so lost in their own self importance that they wouldn’t accept   others they didn’t know who were practicing the same faith.  Jesus corrected that false notion.  No one has a market on Jesus…not even his original disciples.  Jesus        reversed things for their clarification: “And if anyone gives you a cup of water because you are associated with me they will also be rewarded.”  Jesus is the “great one” here folks…not us!  Lesson Two in not stumbling is to think soberly.  Stop being drunk on self!

Stumbling  Others  Mark 9:42-48, Hebrews 10:30-31

As we looked at the passages perhaps you didn’t notice how John interrupted Jesus’ lesson of the child with his self-centered question about not accepting people of faith who were not in his group.  Jesus answered his question but in verse 42 he returns to his teaching and addresses the child still among them and ignored by the disciples. This time Jesus is more direct and calls them out in their hypocrisy of denial and narcissism.  In essence Jesus says “it is one thing to stumble yourself but it is another thing entirely to stumble ‘one of these little ones’ —those who believe in me.”  Jesus wanted to cut through their self-righteousness so he used some vivid word pictures.

The average millstone weighed about 3/4 of a ton and was rotated by an ox or mule to grind grain.  It would be impossible to hang such a thing around one’s neck, let alone to be cast into the sea with it as an attachment, but with God all things are possible! (Philippians 4:13) It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  The point is that God will judge us for the careless way we reflect him to others.  Jesus drives the point in further…whatever keeps you from walking with Christ cut it off!   Lesson Three:  Remember that God is watching you and judgment is in his hands.  

Get Salted!  Mark 9:49-50, Matthew 5:13-16

In closing Jesus makes a strange comment: “everyone will be salted with fire” and salt is good”. Salt was used as both a preservative and taste enhancement. Fire was used for purification or refinement.  To be salted with fire is to undergo trials,    rebuke and tribulation. Jesus had just “salted his disciples” with the fire of his rebuke! Pain and discipline must be experienced by “everyone” who is to grow as God’s child. Just as salt is useless if it loses its saltiness so are we without  correction from God. Our Final lesson in not stumbling is to embrace discipline.

To be “salt of the earth” our lives must shine for Christ.  “Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other” was Jesus’ way of saying except my chastising and stop arguing among yourselves over greatness!  Jesus alone is great. His truth sets us free! Now let us stop stumbling around and make him known!

BELIEF (Naked Runner/ Lesson14)


The Gathering/ Pastor Barry Bruce         The Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #14

Painting detail: Master, I Have Brought Unto Thee My Son by Walter Rane

Unbelieving  Mark 9:14-19,   2 Corinthians 10:2-6

Jesus, and the three had just hiked down the “high mountain” (Mount Hermon) when they came upon a crowd of people surrounding the other nine disciples engaged in a heated argument with the teachers of the law.  The people were “overwhelmed” to see Jesus walk up because he was no doubt the subject of the argument, then poof!  There he was!

At this point I must say, whenever Jesus takes you to a mountain top experience you are bound to descend into an attack from the Devil.  This is exactly what happened here!  Belief was at an all time high for Peter, James and John as Jesus transfigured before them at the top of that mountain, but even as they descended from that experience doubt began to creep into their minds as they questioned among themselves what Jesus meant when he spoke to them of rising from the dead (Mark 9:10) and about Elijah coming before the Messiah (Mark 9:11).  The building up of the Spirit, just like the exercise of the body seems to    deplete the moment one eats his next meal. We have a nature that gravitates toward sin rather it be by caloric intake into our body or bad thinking into our brain.  We must  consciously fight against our flesh on all levels or be victims of it.  We can take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ or we can be weighted down with sin and unbelief like everyone else by embracing the standards of this world.  This is what the Apostle Paul warned the church of Corinth about and I pass on that warning to you!

Jesus’ rebuke of being an “unbelieving generation” was towards everyone present, including the three that came down that mountain with Jesus.  The teachers of the law were always trying to build themselves up by taking down Jesus and the disciples with their religious rhetoric. 1.) One can never believe who never listens.  The crowd was amped up for entertainment.  They were not invested in boy’s deliverance from the demon that was torturing him. 2.) One can never believe until he is invested in a reason to do so . The nine disciples were stumped in their faith because of the negative attacks from the teachers of the law and the jeers from the crowd.  They said the right things (“Come out in Jesus name”) but they lost confidence in the promises of Jesus as they listened to the noise around them and watched the demon thrash the boy around in the dirt.  Like Peter who briefly walked on the water towards Jesus until he “saw the strength of the wind and began to sink” (Matthew 14:29-31), the nine saw the strength of the Devil and failed too.  Then Jesus said to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  3.) One can not see the results of faith when one is filled with doubt.  Jesus rebuked them all for their unbelief, including Peter, James and John who had just demonstrated their unbelief by their questioning of him on the hike down the mountain.

Do you want to believe?  Then you must 1.) Listen only to Jesus and resist the world view.  2.) You must be invested (have cause , reason, be devoted) to believe. 3.) You must not doubt the promises and power of Christ. “Bring the boy to me” , said Jesus.  Do we believe?

“If?” Mark 9:20-27, Romans 10:17, James 1:22

The words “If” and “But” are insults to Jesus.  We can see that clearly by Jesus’ response to the father of the demon possessed son.  We must strike those words from our vocabulary.  “Everything is possible for one who believes”, said Jesus!  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief”, he responded.  Notice that Jesus did not sprinkle heavenly magic dust on the man so that he could believe.  He simply healed his boy!  Jesus is always at work around us if we are looking for him and listening to his word.  Do you want to overcome your unbelief?  Then start looking and listening for Jesus at work in this life and stop embracing the standards of the world.  Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ and doing what he says (Romans 10:17, James 1:22).

The demon spirit shrieked, convulsed the boy violently, but then came out.  Satan will not let go of his captive willingly. He makes a show of force so we will back down.  We must never back down in unbelief ever!  The boy appeared dead, but Jesus raised him up.

“Why?” Mark 9:28-29, Matthew 17:19-20

The disciples were perplexed… and later asked Jesus why they couldn’t drive out the demon.  Jesus’ answer is best described in both the gospel of Matthew and Mark and most expressively in the King James Version which includes “prayer and fasting”. Once again we see the three points of today’s lesson: 1.) To listen is to pray, 2.) To be invested is to fast (give up the physical to invest in the spiritual)  3.) To have no doubt is to have faith.  Nothing is impossible with even a small bit (mustard seed) of faith.  Let us take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ and punish every thought that is contrary. This is how our faith will grow.  And this is how we light our candle on the front porch of hell! 

Note: Matthew 17:21 is omitted in the NIV and other versions because the oldest copies of the Bible did not have this verse. It was later added to reflect Mark’s gospel.)

“Dead” John 11:25-26, 40-44, Philippians 3:17-21

“Dead” seems pretty final in the world’s view, but faith in Christ will raise the believer up. Jesus raised that “corpse” of a boy up!  Jesus raised Lazarus up from the dead too. Later, Jesus raised himself from the dead and then that boy and Lazarus died again. We are to pray, fast and have faith to cast out demons and heal the sick. These things testify that Jesus is Lord and yet the ultimate healing and testimony will come when our earthly body dies and we are resurrected into everlasting life with him.  This is foolishness in the world’s view, but we are not of this world.  With Martha Jesus asks us for our response too.  “Do you believe?”

Microscopic Faith

For those feeling that your faith is smaller than a “mustard seed”, even microscopic, be encouraged.  Like those nine disciples that attempted but failed in their faith, the Master backed them up and his will prevailed.  Like Peter who cried out in the waves, the Master grabbed his pleading hand. Nonetheless, you do the task of a disciple and believe. Listen only to Jesus, be invested in following him fully and take every thought captive to believe in him and don’t doubt.  The world may call you foolish, but only such foolish folk will be in heaven one day.

Clarity (naked runner/ lesson13)


The Gathering Church/ Pastor Barry:    Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #13

Clarity   We must be clear on a thing if we are to do it well. That is why schooling is so important.  A teacher must be a clear communicator of the subject if the student is to learn. Clarity is also vital to sports.  We must be clear on the rules of the game and train to be a team player.  A good coach clearly communicates these things to the team so that they can be victorious.  Clarity is also vital to the arts.  Music without clear notes is noise.  Art without the clarity of color, line and shape communicates nothing. Theater without clarity in the craft of acting isn’t worth seeing, speech without clarity is annoying!  Clarity is important to every aspect of living.  When there is no clarity there is no vision and without vision people are lost!  Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18 (NAS)

 The Bible (God’s law) is written for clarity in all things including sexuality, gender roles, parenting, ethics, religion and worship.  According to God (who created us) we will be blessed (happy) only by keeping (following) his word.  Without it we are lost!

Today’s lesson gives CLARITY on Jesus and our proper (Romans 12:1) response to Him.

Power & Worship Mark 9:1-8, 2 Peter 1:16-18, John 14:6-11

We begin with a comment by Jesus to his disciples: “some standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come in power” (Mark 9:1, Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27). Many liberal theologians try to make Jesus out to be a false prophet by teaching that he was referring to his second coming here; however, the “some” that Jesus referred to was Peter, James and John who “about eight days after Jesus said this” saw a glimpse of heaven come down in power before their very eyes.  Peter himself testified about this experience in 2 Peter 1:16-18.

Let us be clear on the person of Jesus:  He is a historical figure documented by both biblical and extra-biblical ancient writings, there is absolutely no proof that he ever made a false statement or prophecy, there is absolutely no credibility to conspiracy theories written about him fornicating with Mary Magdalene, being gay, not resurrecting, or being anyone or anything inconsistent with what the Biblical accounts say about him. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.”             1 Peter 2:22

The “honor and glory” that Peter recalled was that (‘Shekinah’), glory that was the radiant, shining presence of God himself .  It had appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:16), and had later filled the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:11).  When Jesus was born, that same glory appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem (Luke 2:9-20).  On that “high mountain” it was then upon Jesus.  Moses appeared (a symbol of God’s law) and Elijah (a symbol of God’s prophetic word) but only Jesus was worthy of worship as God clearly illustrated.  The law and the prophets have always pointed to Him.  It is our proper response to worship him alone!  We, like the disciple Phillip, are called to believe on the evidence of his works. He is God.

Side Note:  The mountain where the ‘transfiguration’ occurred was probably Mount Hermon, a short distance to the north of Caesarea Philippi – in the area where Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Who do you say I am? (Mark 8:27)  Mount Hermon (meaning ‘sanctuary’) is the highest mountain in Palestine (at 9233 ft / 2815m above sea level) and has a permanent white snowfield that provides meltwater during the dry spring and summer that feeds the River Jordan where John baptized. It was a sacred place to the early Canaanites and one of the ‘high places’ of pagan worship during Old Testament times. God likely chose this historical place of false worship to show the disciples that only Jesus is truly worthy of worship. Not even the greatest leaders of their religion, Moses and Elijah, deserved such homage.

Some Christians believe that the ‘transfiguration’ took place on Mount Tabor to the east of Nazareth. On that mountain there is the Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration which stands on the site of a 4th century Byzantine basilica. This location is unlikely, however, as Mount Tabor was the site of a Roman military camp at the time of Jesus.

Unbelief Mark 9:9-29, Hebrews 10:38-11:1, Matthew 17:10-13

After it had been made crystal clear to Peter, James and John who alone should be worshiped, Jesus had clearly stated that he would die and resurrect ( Mark 8:31-32) and yet they discussed his resurrection among themselves as though it were a metaphor. Sometimes when we don’t want to accept truth we can come up with our own brand of reasoning which is actually a lie and unbelief.  We must accept God’s clear truth rather we like it or not and ask him for strength.  This is called living by faith, “the assurance of things hoped for”.

Having just seen Elijah they asked Jesus why the teachers of the law said that Elijah must come before the Messiah.  The teachers were right…the prophet Malachi had said this (Malachi 4:5-6) but Jesus had once clearly stated that John the Baptist was that Elijah (Matthew 11:13-14) although not literally the same prophet as John once confirmed (John 1:21-23). Jesus clarified this once again for the disciples (see Matthew 17:11-13) and they understood; however, the teachers of the law and even the Jews today do not because they accept Malachi’s prophecy but reject Jesus’ clarification.  If we refuse the teaching of the one who has clearly shown himself to be truth then we live in unbelief.  Jesus clearly stated that Elijah had already come, but, tragically, he was not recognized and had been killed. Jesus then predicted the same would happen to him. (Matthew 17:10-13). Jesus’ actions have clarified who he is, as he said unto Phillip he says to all “believe on the works themselves!”