In the previous chapter I said that the text of Mark was divided into three main sections:
- 1:1-13 - Introduction of Jesus as the Divine Messiah.
- 1:14-8:26 - Jesus proves His divinity through His teachings and miracles.
- 8:27- 16:20 - Jesus proves His divinity through His death, burial and resurrection.
A simple, straightforward book, whose only purpose is to present Jesus as the divine Son of God and leave the reader with a decision based on this truth.
Introduction of Jesus — 1:1-13
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The author begins with a statement of the premise, the thing to be demonstrated, that Jesus is the Son of God.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
"Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way;
3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.'"
The link with the Old Testament is short, not like Matthew's preamble giving Jesus' genealogy from Abraham to His earthly father, Joseph. Mark simply states that this Jesus is the Messiah predicted by the Jewish prophets of old.
These verses help the reader get a historical and cultural fix on who and where this Jesus comes from. In the Old Testament the prophets were the ones who preached and spoke of Him to prepare the people for His eventual coming.
4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.
He links these Old Testament prophets to a character in their own generation, a person they may have heard of, John the Baptist. The prophets said that before the Messiah would come, there would be a person who would come before Him to announce that the arrival of the Messiah would be imminent. Mark says that this prophecy was fulfilled when John the Baptist arrived on the scene and began to preach. He dressed like the desert prophets of old, he lived and worked from the desert, and he preached a message of repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom.
7 And he was preaching, and saying, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8 I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
God offered forgiveness to all who received John's baptism because in responding to the Baptist's message, the people were anticipating, through faith, the redeeming work that Jesus had arrived to accomplish for them with His cross. To use a familiar phrase, in receiving John's baptism they were sending their sins forward to the cross for forgiveness.
John the Baptist said that when Jesus would come He would transfer other blessings that would not be given through water baptism but through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Later on at Pentecost, Peter will preach that both forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit (His dwelling within every believer) will be received through water baptism (Acts 2:38). However, power to overcome sin (Romans 8:13), power to do miracles (Acts 19:6), power to minister (I Corinthians 12:11), and the power to resurrect and live eternally (Romans 8:11), all of these are transferred to us through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus circumcises (baptizes) us with the Holy Spirit by preaching the Word to us (John 6:63), sending Him to dwell within us (Acts 2:38), and sealing us (to guarantee our authenticity) with Him (Ephesians 1:13).
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;
Why was Jesus baptized?
13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" 15 But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him.
- Matthew 3:13-15
John had to baptize all of those who were preparing for the kingdom of God. This action was a witness of their faith and repudiation of sin. Jesus was making His entry on to the world scene in order to establish His kingdom. His baptism was a witness of His own faith in connection with the kingdom. However, it was not a separation or repudiation of sin since He had no sin. His baptism signified His separation from family and the world in order to wholeheartedly pursue His ministry. Jesus' baptism also signifies the beginning of His public ministry and the end of His private life. His baptism legitimizes and blesses every one of John's baptisms.
11 and a voice came out of the heavens: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."
John pointed to Jesus as the One who was spoken of, the One who was to come. Now the Godhead bears witness to this as all three are represented here:
- The Father speaks - "beloved" because of who He is, what He will do and how it will affect others.
- The Son is incarnate, He is visible as Jesus.
- The Holy Spirit appears as a dove.
This is the only time in the Bible that all three appear and are manifested at the same time and in the same place.
12 Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan;
Concerning Jesus' temptation in the desert, Matthew (Matthew 4:1) tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days and nights in order to be tempted by the devil. Luke (Luke 4:1-2) says that He was continually tempted while there. The wild beasts would be evil spirits.
The word "tempt" means to test or examine, not only to seduce. Satan examined Jesus concerning sin. Jesus, God's Son, could not fail in being able to resist sin, but He had to experience the suffering that goes along with the test. He was tested/examined like we are (Hebrews 4:15).
- Forty days and nights in the desert
- Hunger and weakness
- Confrontation with Satan
A question that arises about this episode is the following, "If Jesus could not fail, then why the test?" The writer of the book of Hebrews deals with this question by saying that in order to become our High Priest or our intermediary, Jesus needed to experience human trials and sorrows, one of which was His temptation in the desert (Hebrews 4:14-16). Because of His human experiences, Jesus could then be the perfect representative for man before God. By virtue of His divine nature, He could come before God; by virtue of His sinlessness, He could offer a perfect sacrifice; by virtue of His human experiences, He could perfectly sympathize with men's problems.
The point of the testing was not to prove He could pass, the point of the testing was to permit Him to experience the test so He could represent and sympathize with weak human beings who faced similar tests.
13b and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.
God ministered to Him after the testing was over:
- Food - He suffered the physical effects of this experience.
- Angels - He suffered emotionally as well as spiritually and required the company of other beings who understood His dual nature and the ordeal He had just been through. At this point in time there was no human being who could provide this type of comfort.
Jesus' temptation offers several good lessons for us in our Christian walk:
- We are especially vulnerable after a spiritual/physical/emotional peak. Jesus' baptism was a peak in His life and the temptations followed right after. We need to remember that pride is always the danger that follows on the heels of great success.
- We are also vulnerable to temptation when we are sick, tired and suffering, as Jesus was after He was weak from fasting. Note that the devil saved his most powerful attack for the end of His fast when He was at his weakest, not at the beginning.
- When tested, we need to immediately rely on God and His Word for help and safety. We must not exclusively trust our own wisdom (I Corinthians 10:13). Jesus will provide the way of escape if we bother to ask.
- Jesus was prepared for His ministry through trial and testing, and so are we. We must not become angry, impatient or discouraged when things do not go our way. We need to allow time for the tests in life to do their work in order to help us become perfect in Christ. Many times it is necessary to go through trials to show the quality of our faith (I Peter 1:6-7).
- God will provide for you during and after the trial if you lean on Him (I Peter 5:8).
Mark begins by introducing Jesus with only a few verses and immediately establishes Him as a divine being:
- He arrives according to prophecy.
- At His baptism there is a supernatural sign of His identity.
- In the desert He demonstrates His power over sin and the devil.
- He receives ministry and communes with angels.
At this point there is no doubt in the reader's mind as to what Mark is saying about Jesus: He is Divine.
Jesus' Divinity Proven Through Miracles and Teaching
Jesus establishes His divine authority by announcing the time and the terms of man's salvation. After all, who would have the right to do this but God?
14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
John preached, "Prepare, the time is coming." Jesus preached, "The time is now." The term "fulfilled" refers to a cup filled to the brim. Jesus begins His public preaching ministry after John's arrest.
The core of His message was, "The kingdom of God has now arrived, salvation is at hand." Response to Him and His message at that time: belief (verse 15), repentance (verse 15), baptism (John 4:1-2).
Today, the message is fuller and has more details, but essentially the same, "Now is the time that you can be saved." The response is basically the same as well: belief (Mark 16:16), repentance (Acts 2:38), baptism (Acts 2:38).
Jesus affirms His authority by announcing that salvation is at hand, and by establishing the proper response for receiving that salvation (faith, repentance, baptism).
16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.
Remember, Mark is recording Peter's recollection of his life with Jesus. Here he briefly describes his own call along with his brother's, as well as other local fishermen who were summoned by the Lord. Jesus' call had different stages. We see this in Peter's experience. What Mark describes was not Peter's first contact with the Lord. There were different stages in the call of Jesus:
- General call to discipleship (John 1:35-42)
- His first contact with Jesus was while he and his brother were disciples of John.
- Jesus begins to teach them personally, His first disciples.
- Jesus calls him to specific ministry (Mark 1:17)
- The verb "follow" means to follow closely with a desire to find; to make a search.
- At first he followed to be edified and taught, now He invites Peter to search Him, to find out who He really is.
- In searching and finding who Jesus is (divine), he will become a "fisher of men." Peter and the others will want to tell others about Jesus' divinity, and they did.
- Jesus confirms His call (Luke 5:1-11)
- Jesus performs a miracle in Peter's own boat and this elicits the confession of faith in Jesus' divinity (calls Him Lord).
- At this point they do not simply leave their boats, they leave everything to follow Him.
Some follow Jesus because His teachings are good, others follow because they are followers and Jesus is as good or a better leader than others. The Apostles and all disciples after them follow Jesus because they have come to believe that He is the divine Son of God who has power.
Here we begin the section where Jesus will demonstrate His divinity through a series of teachings and miracles. Mark alternates between these two aspects in his narrative on Jesus' life.
21 They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
His teaching in the synagogue was basically the material contained in verse 15. Mark records their reaction: amazed, which means to be struck by the extraordinariness or unexpectedness of something. This was always the effect of His teaching (Matthew 7:28, Sermon on the Mount; John 7:46, soldiers could not arrest Him because they were amazed).
They were not amazed at His style or delivery, they were amazed at the content and that He taught with the power of authority (He knew what He was talking about). The style of the rabbis was to argue back and forth quoting other rabbis in order to make their point (i.e. is it really sinful to carry two sticks on the Sabbath). Jesus brought higher, deeper and truer insights and thus spoke with power and authority.
Miracles — 1:23-45
The powerful teaching is now followed by a demonstration of five powerful miracles.
Casting out an unclean spirit
23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!" 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" 26 Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him." 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.
An unclean spirit is a demon, one without purity. The spirit speaks; the man is controlled by the spirit. This episode gives us some insight into demons: they have personality - it expressed itself, they have intelligence - it knew about Jesus, they have power - it possessed the man, they have will - it wanted something.
Jesus refuses to accept its testimony because demons are unworthy to do this. To permit this would confuse people about who Jesus is (He is not the leader of the demons).
With only one command this demon is removed. No incantations, potions, lights, yelling, manipulations, bargaining (give or offer something to God to defeat it). Jesus merely commands with authority and the demon obeys without a fight or a word.
The people are amazed, the same reaction they had when they heard His teaching. They are amazed because He teaches with power (truth fully expressed), and He defeats the most vicious demon with only a command.
Heals Peter's mother-in-law
29 And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. 31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.
Peter is a married man (I Corinthians 9:5). The sick woman is immediately healed and begins serving. This demonstrates a complete healing in one moment (she is immediately well enough to take on the service of a house full of guests).
Heals all who come to Peter's house
32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city had gathered at the door. 34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
This is a short description of a great number of healing miracles. Jesus retreats to prayer in order to restore His spiritual energy. Ministry saps energy and prayer restores it, a good lesson to learn for Apostles as well as today's ministers.
Combination of teaching and confirming miracles
35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You." 38 He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for." 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.
Jesus' teachings established His identity and commands, His miracles were done to confirm His authority and power. Apparently demon possession was a great problem at that time and one that had baffled them, Jesus uses this to demonstrate His power.
Heals the Leper
40 And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed." 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.
Leprosy was a miserable disease. It was physically debilitating as sufferers declined in various stages where skin and body parts would have sores, dry up, even fall off. It was socially crippling as well. Lepers were not allowed in the temple, they lived their entire lives in quarantine and had to put a hand over their mouths and shout, "unclean" when in a public place.
This leper had great faith in Jesus' power and so, came to Jesus to be healed. Jesus touched him (which was not allowed) and the man was healed. Jesus not only healed his disease, but in doing so healed his self-esteem as well.
Jesus tells him to have his healing confirmed and certified by the priests before revealing how it happened (according to the Law concerning a healing from this disease, Leviticus 14:2). The priests were charged with the verification of a healing before granting permission for a return to normal society. Also, in doing this, it would provide Jesus with a testimony for a legitimate healing and miracle.
The man was so excited that he could not wait and in so doing created a stir among the public to the extent that Jesus could no longer go into heavily populated areas without being mobbed. As a result of this miracle Jesus established Himself as one who spoke with authority and demonstrated power. The people were now coming to Him to see what He did, and hear what He had to say.
In the next sections we will see Jesus continue this demonstration, but at this point the opposition to Him will grow and begin to attack.