Mark 1:14–45 the Beginning of a Singular Man at Work.
Key Notes: What should He be like? An evil spirit challenges. Calling brothers. Touching a leper.
When we read of a unique, a singular person, we wonder what He will do, and how He will spend His time. Jesus Christ did not emerge from the pagan masses as a magician, or another spiritual genius like Buddha or Mohammed. He is not a Swengali or a Nostradomus. He came into the culture and context of Judaism and the Old Testament. He will be molded by its expectations. He will be Jewish, with all that entails.
There are several Old Testament pictures of what the Christ (Messiah) should be like.
•The Priest (Psa.110:4) offering sacrifices,
•The King (Isa. 9:6) commanding a nation,
•The Prophet (Deut.18:18) speaking oracles,
•The Liberator (Isa.61:1) freeing prisoners and bringing joy.
He came in the light of those who preceded Him: Moses, Elijah,David and Isaiah.
But so much is left to the imagination that even these pictures remain vague. “The President” is only a word (think Washington, Jackson or Truman) until we see the person and study his actions. The way Jesus appears is somewhat different from any of the above pictures of Him. He has a lot of latitude to be all of those things and much more.
The second half of Mark’s first chapter concentrates on what Jesus did on a Sabbath and the day following. We will get an impression of speed and try to understand why that was a feature of His three working years.
1:14–15 When John was arrested, Jesus began active preaching, with a short, compact message.
The Time is now.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the Gospel.
The word for “time” is not a word to mark a day (Gr. “chronos”), but a significant period (“kairos”). God’s Kingdom is forever—God has never stopped ruling—but now it is close enough to be seen and experienced at first hand. Be converted and believe the Good News is still a message for our time. “The time is now.”
1:16–20 As He walked by, He picked up brothers Simon and Andrew, casting nets for fishing. They did not wait an hour to see what the catch would be. They moved on with Him. They were destined for a much more weighty business than fishing--catching human beings and pulling them into Jesus’ community. Why did they come so readily? We think they had been called before (Jn.1:35–42), so that this invitation was not out of the blue.
Then he took James and John, two more brothers, away from their father’s fishing business just as easily. They also had been previously called.
It is not hard to get one to follow, but if there are brothers, will not one try to prevent the other from making a rash move? Or refuse to go along for the sake of argument? To get two brothers with just a word, and do it twice is remarkable. We note that these men are not from the upper echelons of society; they look ordinary, but Peter, James and John will be extraordinarily gifted.
1:21–28 They went into a Capernaum synagogue on Sabbath and He began teaching. His intelligence was recognized from the beginning. They were confronted by a demon-possessed man who had what we would suppose wasl a dirty mind. Why such a disruptive character would be allowed into the synagogue, a place for worship and teaching, is hard to understand. The evil spirit was afraid of Jesus, fearing its destruction, but identified Him as the Holy One of God, a Messianic title used especially by Isaiah. The demon usually speaks filth, but here tells the truth. Satan is trying to embarrass Jesus in the synagogue, having failed to seduce Him in the wilderness. Jesus silenced the evil spirit and commanded it to get out of the man. It was a frightful scene, but Jesus was immediately seen as a spiritual power.
This was Jesus’ first reported public miracle. The fact that it was a struggle with an evil spirit focuses us on Jesus’ spiritual power. We would have to say that He is much greater than He appears. (He looks like a man. His appearance is not remarkable.) “They knew Him”(1:34) tells us that He is knowledgeable about the spirit-world of which we know nothing and exhibits power and experience in dealing with it. His fame spread throughout Galilee.
1:29–31 That Sabbath evening he also healed Simon’s mother-in-law of fever and she was immediately well, well enough to work preparing the supper. (Incidentally, Simon Peter was married.)
1:32–34 Later that evening people crowded around the door of the house and many were healed, including more demon-possessed who identified Him to the crowds. “Various diseases” He cured would likely include infectious disease, pediatric, orthopedic, and neurological illnesses. No one else could do that even once, much less many times in an evening.
1:35–39 Overnight He was at prayer, alone. We would expect Him to sleep long after such an exhausting day. We would love to know what He said in prayer. The disciples were anxious when they could not find Him. He did not return to Capernaum but started on a teaching, healing, and preaching tour. Perhaps the night prayer led to His direction.
1:40–45 On his journey, a leper came up to Him, begging and kneeling before Him. Lepers were not permitted near other people. (Lev.13:45–46). He was breaking the taboo of isolation. He begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus did not withdraw. Quite the opposite. He may have been in a hurry, but He was moved with compassion, touched the leper (breaking the taboo again) and healed him. Jesus instructed him to give testimony to the priest, officially charged with certifying a cleansed leper. (Lev.14:1--). The impact that a healed leper would have on the priests would have been important, but the leper instead broadcast the word of his healing and Jesus was so popular that He could not go into the towns.
We see a display of powers. Jesus attracts followers, brothers, with a word. He takes the hand of a sick woman, lifts her out of bed and back to active life. He heals infectious disease (a fever, a leprosy) or demon-possession with ease. Yet He is in prayer at night. He is so popular that He cannot go into settled towns but must conduct His healing in the country-side.
Jesus’ work began when John’s was ended by his imprisonment. Although it seems harsh, John had to “decrease” as he said, so that Jesus could take control. (Jn.3:30). John was so popular that he had a following that was compared with Jesus’. John’s disciples fasted; why did Jesus’ disciples not fast? John’s baptizing began to compete with Jesus’ disciples’ baptizing. (Jn.3:25–26). Years later, a dozen of John’s disciples in Ephesus had to be instructed by Paul in order to become believers in Jesus.
Mark’s Gospel, now that we have a sample of it, is quite different from the other three Gospels. He does not try to persuade his readers as John does. (Jn.20:30–31). He does not try to please the readers as Luke does, or enrich their understanding with Old Testament references as Matthew does. His writing is terse and surprising. He is interested more in plot than in character. There are nine events in the first chapter. He assumes the reader is a believer. He emphasizes the pace of the ministry.
A unique feature of Mark’s first chapter is the frequency of the word “immediately”. In the Greek, it is found thirteen times in the first chapter, 43 times in the book, more than the other three Gospels combined. The word is used 32 times in the first six chapters, 11 times in the last eight. That suggests a change of pace; the Passion narrative starts in Mark 8 when Jesus announces His coming death and after that the story moves more slowly.
“Immediately”, “at once” “then” implies speed. Is Jesus in a hurry? How long had He been expected? Since the dawn of time (Gen.3:15), but with increasing emphasis and clarity beginning with Abraham, 2000 years before. Jesus must accomplish in three years what had been promised for more than two thousand years. Any new college football coach asks for five years to get his team assembled and trained. Can Messiah be all the things that the Messianic references demand? The task is beyond comprehension. If He does not fulfill all the Messianic prophecies, what then? Can they all be fulfilled in the conditions of Jesus’ times? I think not. Some Messianic work awaits His Second Coming.
In summary, by the end of one chapter of Mark, in 7% of the narrative, we have this breath-taking sense of motion.
- The centuries-old prophecy has been fulfilled.
- Jesus is identified as the subject of the Promise.
- Jesus is validated and tested.
- His preaching mission begins.
- Four men become his disciples.
- He thrills Capernaum by a dramatic exorcism.
- He heals Peter’s mother-in-law and dozens of others who flock to the door.
- He is up before dawn to pray and head off to itinerate through Galilee.
- He touches and heals a leper.
Could they follow Him? Can we follow Him?