Theology in 3D

Jesus: Helper of the Helpless in Mark

Layton Talbert | October 5, 2018
New Testament, Theology

My previous post explored a subtheme uniquely highlighted by Mark: Jesus is the only help for the helpless. How do you turn a study like that into a Sunday morning sermon or a Thursday night Bible study lesson? Below is just one example.

The Gospels are a challenge and a joy to teach. I find that the more I press the specificity of the details, especially where one Gospel seems to differ from another, the more they validate the accuracy and reliability of their respective records. They also afford a variety of preaching/teaching strategies. You can preach through a single Gospel and revel in its distinctive theological themes and emphases. Or, with the help of a good harmony of the Gospels, you can preach them “simultaneously” by comparing and incorporating the details of all the Gospel records to get the fullest possible picture of any particular teaching or event.

Preachers approach every passage they preach with one of two questions: (1) What can I say about this text? Or, (2) What does this text say? The first question generally leads to some form of fabrication because I’m trying to come up with something to say about the text. The second question leads to exposition because I’m listening to the text and then trying to convey accurately what God himself is saying in that text. The latter produces more effective, substantive, and authoritative preaching, because the only authority for any preaching is the text.

I’m using colors in this post to show the connections between the text and each point, because in exposition the points of the message should grow organically out of the text. The outline below is just one possible formulation. It is an attempt to exemplify a preaching/teaching approach that does not talk about the text, but lets the text itself do the talking and drive the conversation. I’ve tried to make the points as specific as the passage, as well as pointedly practical and applicational.

As in the previous post, the bolded words in the quoted passages are found only in Mark’s account of these events; they are the basis for isolating this theme of helplessness as a uniquely Markan emphasis. The different colors match the particular points that emerge from those parts of the text. (If you’re color-blind ask a friend to help, like my Dad always asked me what color his socks were when he dressed for work:)

I. Christ Delivers from Destructive Despair (Mark 5:3-5)

And no one was able to bind him any more, even with a chain; because he had oftenbeen bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. And constantly night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying outand gashing himself with stones.

A. Jesus rescues people who are wild and untameable.
Notice Mark’s repetition of “no one was able to bind (control) him” and “no one was strong enough to subdue (tame) him.”
The word “subdue” describes the taming even of wild animals (Jas 3:7-8).

B. Jesus rescues people who are desolate and miserable.
Mark’s graphic details force the reader to reckon with the soul’s barren places and desperate cries that sin-ravaged and despairing people know all too well.

C. Jesus rescues people who are self-destructive and suicidal.
This part of Mark’s description certainly has pertinent, contemporary, applicational power.

Mark here portrays a man who is beyond the help of everyone. Not all such self-destructive behavior or suicidal tendencies are directly demonic (though sometimes they can be). But if Jesus could rescue a case this severe and demonically driven, he can rescue any who find themselves in a similar condition. He’s the only one who can. For the rest of the story see Mark 5:6-15.

II. Christ Cures the Incurable (Mark 5:25-27)

And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse, after hearing about Jesus, came ….

A. Merely human help can actually multiply suffering.
B. Merely human help will only exhaust all your resources.
C. Merely human help will never fix your problem.
D. Merely human help often only makes things worse.

Mark here describes a woman who is beyond the help of professionals—the very physicians and specialists who should have been able to help her if anyone could. The miracle was, of course, a physical healing. Christ can certainly do that. But physical healing may not always be God’s will; and, more importantly, physical disease is not the most lethal kind of illness nor is physical healing the most important kind of cure. Scripture focuses our attention on the congenital and terminal disease we all share—sin. As the rest of the story shows (Mark 5:27-2934), Christ is the only one with both power and authority to do what no one else can.

I won’t continue the outline. You get the idea. The next example (Mark’s account of the feeding of the 5000, Mark 6:34-44) underscores the reality that Christ alone can provide the spiritual security and sustenance that “all we like sheep” need. The final example (the demon-possessed boy, Mark 9:20-27) again magnifies the theme of helplessness with details the other Gospels do not include, and so magnifies Christ as the only hope for helpless parents with vulnerable children. Once again, demon possession is not the sole application to be made of this passage. If Christ can deliver even from that, he can deliver young people who wrestle with chronic doubt or a paralyzing hyper-sensitive conscience. Satan can exploit those kinds of vulnerabilities to make a young person (or an older one) utterly enslaved and miserable.

In preaching this, I might be inclined to reverse the order of the last two miracle pericopes (Mark 9:20-27, then Mark 6:34-44), since that lends itself to a more “natural” progression: a miracle on behalf of a man (the demoniac of Gadara), a woman (the woman with the hemorrhage), a child (the demon-possessed boy), and a multitude (feeding of the 5000) — in short, everyone. If that’s a “better” order, why wouldn’t Mark have put them in that order? I suspect he was recording them chronologically. But that doesn’t diminish Mark’s portrait of Christ as the only Helper of the utterly helpless — a theme that Mark emphasizes in unique ways by including details omitted by both Matthew and Luke. In Synoptic studies, the angels are in the details.

Photo: Isaac Talbert

2 responses to “Jesus: Helper of the Helpless in Mark”

  1. John Morgan says:

    Thank you, Dr. Talbert, for going one more step in showing us how the previous post’s material can be turned into a sermon or Bible study. I am really helped by seeing how you apply the truths of the passage to our contemporary world. I don’t think I would have ever come up with the applications you suggested but it seems like I should have. I really appreciate how you encourage us to make sure our application is truly biblical. I hope this blog will do more of that. By the way, I’ve read Dr. Casillas’ book on application and this post makes me want to reread the book with a greater focus.

    • Thanks so much, John. People’s applications can certainly vary because everyone brings a different life perspective and experience to the text. I have no doubt there are other applications that parallel the text that have not occurred to me. It’s the close parallel between a contextualized text and application that gives that application weight and authority. P.S. Great to see you again up in Ohio.

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