Perhaps you’ve had the experience of checking on your kids, and as you approach you hear one of them say, “Dad is coming!” And then there is a scurry to get rid of any traces of rascally behavior. Or perhaps your boss is making the rounds, checking in on your progress on that one report that’s due at the end of the week. Or perhaps some friend from out of state unexpectedly calls and says they’re in the area and would love to swing by. This is the sort of frantic scurrying we find in the opening of Mark’s story of Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark is a flurry of action. It grips us with the activity of this Jesus. Mark does not spend as much time on what Jesus taught, unlike Matthew; but rather forces us to look intently on all Jesus did. And all His doing was to confirm the opening thesis of Mark’s Gospel: Jesus is the Son of God, and has brought the Kingdom of God unto us.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost […]Mark 1:1-8ff
Summary of the Text
Mark’s Gospel starts with a bang and continues throughout the entire Gospel at a frenzied pace. Christ leaps off the page. This is no passive narration. It may be in part where Mark got his nickname: Colobodactylus. We are invited to sit on the front row of this story of the ministry of the Messiah, the Son of God. The narrative is in the historic present, which is intended to make the action vivid and close. And indeed it is. This message of the Gospel of the Kingdom presses in upon us.
Mark blends two prophetic citations (from Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, Cf. Ex. 23:20) in order to jar us to attention. The Living God is on His way. In order to get people ready, He has sent a messenger ahead of Him to summon both Jews and Gentiles to prepare themselves to meet Yahweh (vv2-3). That messenger is John; his ministry of baptism in the wilderness caused crowds to swarm to submit themselves to his summons to cleanse themselves in order to make ready to meet their God (vv4-5). John is figured as a new Elijah (v6) and he informs them that a new Elisha is soon following who is greater and whose baptism will be that of Spirit fire, not water (vv7-8).
Isaiah said the way must be made straight (εὐθείας) and throughout the rest of the Gospel a variation of that word (or close synonym) is used 67 times. Ironically, we see this right away. Jesus Himself comes out to be baptized by John, and straightway after coming out of the water the Spirit descends upon Him and the Father publicly declares His love for His Son (vv9-11). And immediately the Spirit sends Him to a forty day combat with Satan amongst wild beasts, and ministered to by angels (vv12-13).
After this, John was imprisoned, but this does not contain the Kingdom of God which had come upon them; Jesus’ message is that God’s Kingdom had come, and He commands all men to repent and believe this news (vv14-15). The Lord Jesus, by the sea of Galilee, calls fishermen to be His disciples; these men straightway follow him (vv16-20). This calling is followed by an exercise of Christ’s authority. He straightway teaches with authority (vv21-22). To confirm this authority of word with authority in deed Mark relates that a man with an unclean spirit raved against Jesus in the synagogue. Jesus commands the unclean spirit to depart and it does. The powers that be are left astonished (vv21-27). Immediately, Jesus’ fame spreads in Galilee (v28).
Jesus hastens to Simon Peter’s house, heals his mother-in-law and raises her up, enabling her to service (vv29-31). The crowds begin swarming around the house, bringing those unclean of body and of mind to be made clean by Jesus (vv32-34); but the devils were not permitted to speak because they knew Him. Jesus is found in prayer in the early morning, and then He takes His ministry to the next town; and His preaching and cleansing continued in those towns as well (vv35-39). Devils are cast out of the synagogues (v39). A leper comes to Jesus for cleansing, which Jesus, in compassion, gives immediately (vv40-42). The leper is sent away straightway by Jesus with the instructions to not declare his healing until he had fulfilled the righteous requirements of Moses’ law (vv43-44). But the leper had loose lips; and Jesus’ ministry only grew in fame and renown (v45).
Christ Came to Call
Mark’s Gospel traces a steady pattern of callings followed by commands to unclean spirits and cleansings of fleshly infirmities. In this opening chapter we have a few callings. Mark begins with an assertion that Jesus is to be called the Son of God. John calls out to Israel to make ready for Yahweh to come in their midst. Then Jesus is called the Son of God by His Father. This is the first of three times that Jesus is confirmed to be the Son of God in Mark’s biography of Jesus (Mk. 9:7 & 15:39). So then, Jesus’ refusal to allow the demons to name Him has at least two purposes. First, it is not their prerogative to identify the Messiah of God. Secondly, Mark wants to paint Jesus as a new David, anointed, but not yet exalted to the throne; thus Saul’s enmity must be dealt with shrewdly and even evasively.
But we also see Jesus calling His first four disciples. God had promised by Jeremiah that in restoring Israel he would use fishermen to fish for men: “Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them (Jer. 16:16a).” He calls the four disciples, by the sea, and they drop everything to follow Jesus. The call of Jesus is not to be ignored. For He has come to remake the world.
Christ Came to Command
There are parallels to David in how Mark presents this commencement of Jesus’ ministry: both are anointed (David by Samuel; Jesus by John’s baptism/Spirit’s descent) and after each of these anointing they must deal with someone plagued with evil spirits (Saul & the demoniac). Both act with humility, despite being the rightful king of Israel. Both begin to drive out the enemies (the Philistines for David and the demons for Jesus)
We see Jesus commanding the demons, and teaching the Word of God with authority. The modern indulgent Jesus is a false Christ. Yes, we find in Christ an ocean of love. But His love is not syrupy sweet, it is potent wine. Jesus came to command, not wring His hands pleading for you to open your heart. The evil must go, that the land may be fit for Yahweh’s presence.
Christ Came to Cleanse
And this leads us to the third event in the cycle: Jesus came to cleanse. This won’t be the first time that Mark pairs the commanding of unclean spirits with the cleansing of bodily ailments. This is because Jesus came to restore man fully. The leprous man is made whole. He is restored to the fellowship of the commonwealth.
Mark also emphasizes Jesus as the New Elisha; in 2 Ki. 7 four lepers discover that God has driven out the Syrians according to the prophetic word of Elisha. These lepers are the first to discover the good news of Yahweh’s miraculous cleansing of the land, and then they make it known to the king of Israel in order that all of Israel might partake of this cleansing. But the unbeliever is trampled in the gate and does not partake of this bountiful deliverance.
The cleansing of the leper, the raising up of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the driving out demons all make one thing clear: Christ is cleansing the land in order that the holy God might dwell in fellowship with His people. The order here gives us a very important doctrine, the voice/Word goes forth first, the duty of cleaning things up comes after. But, the cleansing, like everything else in this chapter is gloriously rapid & hasty.
Jesus in Your Face
As we progress through Mark’s Gospel there is one thing which Mark insists upon: you must not look away from Jesus. Mark writes so as to “get in your face.” Mark is no Ent, slowly telling his tale with meandering thoroughness. He writes so that you hear clearly that Jesus calls out to you to follow Him. He commands the unclean spirits to begone. He cleanses you.
Charge & Benediction
Mark’s testimony of Jesus is written so that we see Jesus as preeminently active. The takeaway for us is to remember that Jesus is still in action. So, it is incumbent upon us as Christ’s followers to keep our eyes open to see how Jesus is at work, and to follow Him in that work. There are many around us in need of the cleansing which the call of Christ brings, and so be His voice, be His hands, be His body.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessings of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon, and remain with you always. Amen.