Mark 3–4: Hard Hearts & Unbelief

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 12: Saturday

And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent.
Mark 3:4 LSB

Saturday’s Bible reading is Mark 3–4. In these chapters as people interact with Jesus their hardness of heart and unbelief is recorded in scene after scene and highlighted in a parable.

The first event in Mark 3 occurs on the Sabbath. Jesus goes to the synagogue, and a man is there who has a withered hand. Mark writes:

And He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there with a withered hand. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.
Mark 3:1–2 LSB

Clashing between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees began in Mark 2. Graham Swift writes that when Jesus’ forgiveness and healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1–12):

“This incident is the first of a eries in this section, showing the gradually mounting hostility to Jesus which was now appearing among the scribes and Pharisees.”1

The utter lack of compassion of the Pharisees is appalling. Their only concern is to be able to trap Jesus, and they have no thought for the man and what the healing of his hand could mean to him.

And He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!”
And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel together with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
Mark 3:21 LSB

Their heart is laid bare when Jesus questions them, and it’s little wonder He is both angered and grieved at their silence. When Jesus does heal the man, the Pharisees react, not with joy for the man and with sorrow over their own hearts, but by conspiring with the Herodians to find a way to destroy Jesus. Swift comments:

Hardness of heart is rather ‘blindness’ (Gk. pōrōsis) of heart (cf. Rom. 11:25; Eph. 4:18); NEB ‘obstinate stupidity’…So bitter was the opposition aroused that the Pharisees, ardent nationalists, were ready to join forces with their deadliest opponents, the Herodians (who were quislings of a kind), in a common effort to destroy Jesus.”2

The crowds gather, and Mark has a brief vignette with Jesus’ family (3:21, 31–35), who, quite obviously, at this point did not believe in Him. As people hear of everything Jesus is doing, huge crowds follow Him, and:

And when His own people heard this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.”
Mark 3:21 LSB

As for the reaction of the scribes:

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”
Mark 3:22 LSB

In Mark 4, as Jesus is teaching by the sea, He tells the parable of the sower. The seed lands in four places, but only one place is good soil—everywhere else the seed of the Word does not grow.

He tells several other parables, and then at the end of chapter 4, Jesus and His disciples set out by boat to the other side of the sea.

As you read about the storm notice the details that indicate Mark heard them from an eyewitness, Peter.3 Mark’s writing is characterized by a vividness of detail. This is also hallmarks of Mark, who could probably hold an audience in his hand when he recounted these events. A. T. Robertson comments:

“This Gospel is the briefest of the four, but is fullest of striking details that apparently came from Peter’s discourses which Mark heard, such as green grass, flower beds (6:38), two thousand hogs (5:13), looking round about (3:5, 34).”4

France writes,

“The enjoyability of Mark’s storytelling is enhanced by the more extensive use of descriptive detail than in the other gospels. Typically the Marcan version of a miracle story may be twice as long as the equivalent pericope in Matthew, simply because Mark is more vividly descriptive, while Matthew goes straight to the heart of the story. Notable examples include the digging of a hole in the roof in 2:4 (ignored by Matthew) and the graphic accounts of the subjects of exorcisms in 5:2-5 and 9:17-22…The three miracle stories which take up the whole of 43 verses in Mark 5 are covered by Matthew in a mere 16 verses. Mark, it is clear, enjoys a good story and relishes the telling of it almost to the point of self-indulgence.”5

If you compare the three Gospel narratives of the storm in Mark 4:35–41, Matthew 8:2327, Luke 8:2225, you’ll find Mark takes longer to tell the story, and his narrative is more vivid and dramatic, both in the the details and in what is said. Here are some of the extras that Mark tells us: Alan Cole notices that in Mark 4:36,

“Mark is the only Gospel that tells us of the other ships with the Lord here: it thus becomes a miracle of mercy on a wider scale than the mere salvation of the Lord’s own boatload of frightened disciple.”6

And Swift remarks, “It is Mark alone who preserves the vivid detail that he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.”7 Mark is also the only gospel writer who tells us exactly where Jesus is sleeping, in the stern of the boat.

When you read, you are there. As they start out there may have been no signs of a storm because they come up quickly in the Sea of Galilee.8 The water is dotted with other boats. Jesus falls asleep, and a fierce gale comes up, threatening to swamp their boat.

On that day, when evening came, He *said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they *took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there *arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.
Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they *woke Him and *said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
Mark 4:35–41

This is an astounding miracle. R. T. France writes:

“Together with 6:45–52 (the other lake miracle), this pericope places Jesus in a more starkly ‘supernatural light even than the healing miracles. Control of the elements is even more extra­ordinary and inexplicable than the restoration of suffering human beings, and is in the OT a frequently noted attribute of God in distinction from human beings who find themselves helpless before the forces of nature (Job 38:8–11; Pss. 65:5–8; 89:8–9; 107:23–32, etc.; the last of these must surely have been in Mark’s mind as he narrated this story). Here is divine power writ large, and it is appropriate that these two pericopes therefore conclude not only with the astonishment and fear of the disciples, but also with a note of their human inability to cope with the new dimension of understanding and faith which these events demanded (4:40–41; 6:52). The christological question, ‘Who is this?’ which has already been raised by previous miracles (1:27; 2:7–12; 3:11–12) becomes more insistent and more sharply defined in v. 41.”9

Mark not only has extra details, but he uses the verbs to enhance the drama of the storm and the astonishment at what happens. Hang in there because I want to try to give you a sense of how Mark uses words to bring the eyewitness account right in front of you to help you see and feel what the disciples were seeing and feeling, and realize anew just how astonishing this miracle was, and why they became very afraid when they saw it happen.10

The above passage in Mark is from the New American Standard Bible 1995 Update (NASB 1995). The asterisks * are next to Greek verbs in a form called the historical present.

“This use of the Greek present tense describes a past action “happening right now.” Readers feel like they were there as “first-hand witnesses”.”11

My Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (GENT) gives you this sense of the verbs—things are happening right now.12

v. 35 And he says to them… (GENT)
v. 36 they take him… (GENT)
v. 37 occurs storms… (GENT)
v. 38 And they rouse him and say to him… (GENT)

Not only that, but France states the historical present verbs, “are interspersed with imperfects to indicate the continuing features of the situation.”13 The imperfect tense “normally denotes progressive (ongoing) past action.”14 There’s no smooth way to say in English, “he was being in the boat” (v. 36) or “he was being in the stern” (v. 38), but in v. 37, we can clearly get the sense, even in English, of the waves continually breaking over the boat.

v. 36 he was in the boat… (GENT)
v. 37 waves were breaking over the boat… (NASB 1995)
v. 38 he was in the stern… (GENT)

France writes that,

“when the climax is reached, the narrative goes consistently into the aorist, to indicate Jesus’ decisive action.”16

This is how The New English Bible17 (NEB) captures Jesus’ decisiveness in Mark 4:39, when He is roused and acts.

v. 39 rebuked the wind… (NEB)
v. 39 said to the sea… (NEB)
v. 39 the wind dropped… (NEB)
v. 39 there was a dead calm… (NEB)
v. 40 He said to them… (NEB)

In verse 41, Mark goes back to using the imperfect tense “to denote their continuing discussion of what it all meant. The Legacy Standard Bible (LSB) translates this.

v. 41 they…were saying to one another (LSB)

I think The New English Bible captures the stark contrast between the heaving waves and the abrupt calm.

That day, in the evening, he said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.’ So they left the crowd  and took him with the in the boast where he had been sitting; and there were other boats accompanying them. A heavy squall came on and the waves broke over the boat until it was all but swamped. Now he was in the stern asleep on a cushion; they roused him and said, ‘Master, we are sinking! Do you not care?’ He awoke, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Hush! Be still!’ The wind dropped and there was dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you such cowards? Have you no faith even now?’ They were awestruck and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’

France writes:

“The disciples’ response (to the miracle rather than to the rebuke of v. 40 is φόβος μέγας [phobos megas: great fear] (‘a fear which is greater than any fear of a storm’, Schweizer); such fear, unlike the ‘cowardice’ of v. 40a, is the appropriate response of humans faced with a display of divine power or glory (5:15; 6:50; 9:6; 16:8)…Presumably when the disciples woke Jesus, they were hoping for some sort of saving action, but the scale of it overwhelmed them. The question… [“Who then is this?“] …will remain unanswered with the narrative setting for some time (though Mark’s readers already know the answer, 1:1–13).”18

It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we come to know who Jesus is and believe in Him in repentance and faith. Without God working in us, we would all have hard hearts, and live and die in unbelief.

As Christians God will continue to grow us in our faith and change by His Spirit and through His Word (cf. John 17:17, Romans 10:17). As Christians we also have a ministry of mutual encouragement to one another to keep trusting God at all times.

See to it brothers, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “TODAY,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 3:12–13 LSB

Our relationships with each other are to be beneficial to our relationship with God. As I have written many times in my posts on Job, we can help each other to trust in God. Remember that and encourage one another so that none of us will develop a hard heart of unbelief.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Jesus calms a storm: Jan van’t HoffGospel Images. Matthew 8:23–27. This is the same event of Mark 4:35–41.
1,2,7,8C. E. Graham Swift, “Mark,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 857, 858, 862, 861–862.
3Helen Tenney, Mark’s Sketchbook of Christ (The Banner of Trust Trust, Carlisle PA: 1956, 1971) xiv.
4A. T. Robertson, “The Gospel According to Mark,” Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. I (Broadman Press, Nashville TN: 1933, 1960) 251.
5,9,10,13,16,18R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 2002) 17, 221, 222 I’ve used France’s comments and designation of the verbs in this passage to delineate them, 222, 222, 225.
6Alan Cole, The Gospel According to St. Mark (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1961) 96.
11The Discovery Bible. Retrieved 25 March 2023. *Historical Present tense: “This use of the Greek present tense describes a past action “happening right now.” Readers feel like they were there as “first-hand witnesses”…
“Greek authors frequently used the present tense for the sake of heightened vividness, thereby transporting their readers in imagination to the actual scene at the time of occurrence. Verbs marked with an asterisk (*) represent historical presents in the Greek which have been translated with an English past tense in order to conform to modern usage” (NASB, “Explanation of General Format”).”
12The Reverend Alfred Marshall D.Litt, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI: 1958, 1959).
14Matthew S. DeMoss, Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 2001) 70.
17The New English Bible with Apocrypha (Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press: 1970).

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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