Chapter by Chapter - Mark 1 (pt.2)
Updated: Sep 26, 2018
The Kingdom is at Hand
We saw last week that when the Father spoke from heaven during Jesus’ baptism, he spoke the words of Psalm 2, declaring Jesus to be the King of God’s kingdom. In Jesus the promise of God reigning over His people is being fulfilled right before their eyes. And as King, we’re now going to see Jesus speak and act with authority as such. He uses his royal prerogatives to call men into His service, to banish the forces of an opposing kingdom, and to provide restoration and life to His subjects.
So, in the opening of the book, Mark tells us that the gospel he is proclaiming is specifically the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now Jesus comes along and tells us that His gospel is specifically the gospel of the kingdom, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God”, and this is what Jesus explains as the gospel, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15)
Fishers of Men
Jesus’ first act, after declaring the presence of His kingdom, is to call loyal men into his service. He calls two brothers, Simon and Andrew first. They were fishermen by trade and Jesus tells them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus didn’t just make this up out of thin air because he saw them fishing. In Jeremiah 16:16, God says this about His people in exile, “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.” Jesus was saying to his first disciples, “You are those fishers going out to catch the people in exile and bring them back to Me.”
There are a couple of interesting things to note when we think about Jesus comparing people to fish in this instance. First, we must ask ourselves, what happens to a fish when it is caught? Very simple: it dies. But in the process, it provides sustenance and new life when it is consumed. This is the Christian life, and this is one of the themes of Mark’s Gospel. When we are called into God’s service our old self is put to death. And our whole life as a Christian is to be a life of self-sacrifice where we provide others life with our death. As Jesus will say later in the gospel, “take up your cross and follow me.”
Another interesting thing to note is that in the scriptures, Jews and Gentiles are often represented by different animals. Typically, Jews were symbolically represented by the land animals and the Gentile nations by the sea creatures. Here, in particular, Jesus is telling his Jewish followers, that part of their mission is going to be to cast their net into the sea of Gentiles.
After Jesus calls his first disciples into His service we expect them to do the same thing that Jesus did after He was officially called into God’s service, which was to go into the wilderness and do battle with Satan. Instead, what we see is that they go into to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. But, lo and behold, it turns out that the Jewish synagogue was more like the wilderness than we may have first imagined as there is s demon possessed man within it and it does not seem like this is one-time, random occurrence.
The demon in the synagogue knows exactly who Jesus is, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God” he says. And yet Jesus rebukes him and shuts the demon’s mouth. This is the first example of what is commonly called, in the Book of Mark, “the Messianic secret”. Jesus is constantly telling people not reveal what they know of him or to tell people what he has done for them. He does this because people do not actually have a clear picture of who the Messiah is yet. Even in chapter 8 when Peter will make his famous statement, “You are the Christ!” Jesus commands the disciples not to tell it to anyone because the next breath out of Peter’s mouth is to rebuke Jesus for saying that the Christ must suffer and die. As we will see later, the crowds who applaud and cheer for Jesus because of his miracles and their false expectations of him will quickly turn on him and shout “crucify him” when it turns out that He is something other than what they thought He was going to be.
After casting out the demon, Jesus goes on to heal a number of people in town, most notably, Peter’s mother-in-law. The way Mark records the result of Jesus’ touch is worth noting. It says that He “lifted her up” or “raised her up”. This is the language that Mark uses to describe almost all of the restoration miracles in his gospel account, including this one and the paralytic story we’ll see in the next chapter. It is explicitly the language of resurrection (Mark 5:41; 6:14, 16; 14:28; 16:6), but Mark finds a way of working it into most of his accounts of Jesus’ restorations.
Not only does he raise up many who are otherwise unable, but those who are able are often found seated and told to “arise” (Mark 3:3; 10:49). And the purpose behind all of Jesus’ miracles were more than to show His compassion on sick people. They are clues to His identity and to the purpose of His coming. In the case of His restorations, they point us to the ultimate restoration, which is the resurrection from death to life of Christ Himself, which leads to the resurrection from death to life of all those who believe in Him.
An Offering for Cleansing
The last thing we see, before chapter 1 closes, is the cleansing of a leper. This leper approaches Jesus, which is remarkable in its own right, as a more “appropriate” response would be to call to Jesus from a distance as we see the lepers doing in Luke 17. But he approaches Jesus and kneels before Him in submission and asks to be made clean. Here we see the question of Jesus’ priorities being raised.
Notice, the question is not “if you’re able” it is “if you’re willing”. Mark leaves no doubt as to the answer. Moved with pity, or compassion, He reaches out and touches the man and he is immediately made clean.
Now Jesus has a strong message for the leper. “Say nothing to anyone! Rather go to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” You find this offering described in detail in Leviticus 14:1-9. Essentially, the priest takes two clean birds, kills one and mixes its blood with fresh water (literally, living water) and dips the live bird in the mixture and then after setting that bird free, the leper is sprinkled seven times and declared to be clean. And it’s here that we actually see the level of Jesus’ compassion:
In order for the leper to be cleansed, Jesus had to become that bird. The leper was cleansed and set free at the expense of Jesus. This scene was foreshadowing for us our need, and Christ’s provision of both blood and living water. And in this case, because of the man’s disobedience and disregard to Jesus’ request, Jesus had to figuratively become what this man was by nature.
In order to provide him with freedom, healing and life he had to become like the leper and because of the crowds be driven outside the camp, suffering a leper’s fate and remain in unpopulated areas, unable to publicly enter the cities for a time. Though He was actually clean, He suffers as though He is unclean because He touched one who was unclean and made him clean. It’s hard to imagine a more vivid picture of Jesus’ suffering under the curse of sin that those who deserved the curse might experience a blessing. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
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