Category Archives: Sermons

The Replacement Apostle (Part 2)

Matthias in Tradition

Almost all the early writers who deal with the topic say that Matthias was one of the seventy men chosen by Jesus in Luke 10 to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God, and heal sicknesses.1 These men were “sent”2 by Jesus Christ with a mission very similar to the apostles in their “limited commission.”3  Some believe that it is this group of people that Paul was referencing when he said that Jesus appeared to all the apostles (after already mentioning “the twelve”) in 1 Corinthians 15:7.4

It is said by some that the selection of Matthias was a mistake, a “blunder” made by the apostles, and that the real heir to Judas’ spot was Saul of Tarsus.5 In the face of the biblical evidence, however, it’s impossible to take such a view seriously.  (1) Peter properly applied biblical prophecy to say Judas needed to be replaced.  (2) They prayed for the Lord to make the selection, and there is no indication that the Lord ignored the prayer.  (3) God approved of the choice, for Peter stood up “with the eleven” (which would include Matthias) as ones who were speaking in tongues by the power of God.6 (4) Paul never once classed himself as one of the twelve—in fact, he showed that he was not one of them in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

After Matthias disappears from the biblical stage, there are traditions that say he spent time evangelizing Ethiopia with Rufus and Alexander, the sons of Simon of Cyrene, who bore the cross of Jesus in Mark 15:21.7  A work entitled “The Acts of Andrew and Matthew” is, in a significant number of manuscripts, titled “The Acts of Andrew and Matthias.”8  Because of the similarity in their names, the traditions tend to overlap, with no real certainty about which apostle is supposed to be under consideration.9  In one version of this work, Matthias, Rufus, and Alexander all go to Ethiopia to a city of cannibals, where Matthias is captured, blinded, and thrown into prison before he is healed by God and rescued by Andrew.  After they were both captured and thrown back into prison, they caused a flood to come on the inhabitants of the city, and then as they walked out of the prison, the waters divided in front of them like the Red Sea.  Though many died in the flood, the apostles prayed and all those who died were raised up.  Afterwards, many were baptized.10

The Preaching of Thomas in India claims that Matthias was taken by Peter to Persia.11

The Martyrdom of Matthias12 says that he preached in Damascus, where the people rose up against him, fastened him to a bedstead of iron, and tried to burn him alive on it for 24 days straight, but like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the flames didn’t harm him.  Thus, the people in Damascus began to follow Christ.  After some more time working among the people, he moved to Judea and there died.13

Though it is now lost to time, a heretical gospel account was written by someone who attached Matthias’ name to it.  Meanwhile, a second-century Gnostic sect falsely claimed that they got all of their doctrines from Matthias.  Some traditions say he worked in Jerusalem and died there,14 while others say he was martyred in Ethiopia,15 and still others believe he was martyred in Colchis.16

People have been tempted to identify Matthias as someone else in the biblical narrative.   At least one writer has suggested that Matthias is the same as Nathanael.17 Clement of Alexandria was of the opinion that Matthias was another name for Zacchaeus, the tax collector mentioned in Luke 19.18

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, chapter 12.

2 The Greek word for “sent” in Luke 10:1 is the verb form of “apostle.”  Thus, Jesus “apostled” these men, and they were, in a very real sense, apostles of Jesus Christ—just not counted among “the twelve.”

3 Compare the words of Jesus in Luke 10:1-16 with Matthew 10:1-16.

4 See the commentaries of Adam Clarke; Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown; Henrich Meyer; and John Wesley.  If this is the case, then it fits together with the requirement that the nominees for Judas’ vacant spot was to be one who had seen the risen Lord.

5 See David Smith’s article in James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, “Matthias.”

6 See Acts 2:1-14.

7 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 163-164.

8 Unfortunately, there is confusion on whether it is Matthias or Matthew that is under consideration in some of ancient Apocryphal Acts.  In the stories about the cannibals, some manuscripts say Matthew, while others say Matthias.  As such, many of the traditions about Matthias are also said to be traditions about Matthew, simply because no one knows for certain which one is under consideration.  See the section “Matthew, According to Tradition” in the chapter on that apostle for more details.

9 The Ethiopian traditions, which were translated by Budge in Contendings of the Apostles say that it was Matthias who went to the city of cannibals, which is what is described in “The Acts of Andrew and Matthew/Matthias.”

10 This version of the story is contained in Budge’s Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 267-288.  Pages 370-403 give a fuller version of the story, called The Preaching of Matthias.

11 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 320.  This work appears to be a slightly enlarged edition of the Acts of Thomas, at least of the opening sequence.

12 The title for this work is rather ironic, considering that it records Matthias dying a natural death.

13 Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 289-294.

14 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthias.”

15 See Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Matthias.”

16 See Richard Watson’s Biblical and Theological Dictionary.

17 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthias.”

18 This according to John Gill, in his notes on Acts 1:23.

Consorting with a Tax Collector

The Text: Mark 2:13-17 – He went forth again by the seaside; and all the multitudes came to Him, and He taught them.  And as He passed by, He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office, and said to him, “Follow me.”  And he arose and followed Him.

And it came to pass, that, as Jesus reclined [at the table] in his house, many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples: for there were many, and they followed Him.

When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard it, He says to them, “They that are healthy have no need of the physician, but those who are sick [do]: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Introduction

The Pharisees taught that if you ate with a sinner, it was the same as eating with a Gentile—you were unclean.  They completely rejected an entire segment of society as those who had thrown away their chance to be right with God, and we’re worth rescuing.

In contrast, Jesus, the King, the Son of God, actively sought those kinds of people, inviting them to come back to God in repentance.  It should probably go without saying, but which of the two examples should we be following today: Jesus’ or the Pharisees?

The Text, part 1 – Teaching the Multitude (Mark 2:13)

After healing the paralyzed man in Capernaum, Jesus left the house and went to the Sea of Galillee, where the crowds followed Him.

He went forth by the seaside and the multitude came to Him

In my head, I always imagined a large lake, peaceful and uninhabited.  But Capernaum was a fishing village.  There would have been several boats on the lake, some on the shore, with people buying and selling, little booths set up here and there.  But there was still more room here than in the house, or even in the city itself, for the crowds that wanted to see Jesus.

And He taught them

It seems like Mark is trying to make a point to his readers by this statement.  Jesus had just healed a paralyzed man, and He had the crowd’s complete attention.  Now, He teaches them.  He’s not doing any more miracles right now, He’s telling them about God’s Empire, the Kingdom of Heaven.  He’s telling them to repent.  In short, He’s calling them to join His side—emphasizing the message is more important than the miracles.

The Text, part 2 – Calling Levi (Mark 2:14)

As He passed by

The way this is worded, it seems as though Jesus was teaching the people as He walked along the Sea of Galilee.  If this is the case, it would fit in well with Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as a Man of action, constantly moving and working.

He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office

Both here and in Luke’s account, this man is called “Levi.”  However, we know him by a different name: the apostle Matthew.  In Matthew 9:9, the Bible says:

And as Jesus passed forth from there, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the tax office: and He says to him, “Follow me.”  And he arose and followed Him.

He’s also called the “son of Alphaeus,” which is significant, because in chapter three, we’re introduced to another man who is also called “the son of Alphaeus”—James, one of the twelve apostles.

Levi (we’ll call him Matthew from here on out) was sitting at the tax office, or “toll booth,” near the sea where the ships landed from the other side.  It is said that Herod taxed the things coming in and going out from that port.  It was a place of taxes for merchants who were bringing their things in from Damascus towards Jerusalem or to the port of Caesarea, where it could be taken almost anywhere.  It was a busy place, and a lot of money was brought in.

He…said to him, “follow me.”  And he arose and followed Him.

Here, Jesus uses a different word than the authoritative command “Come now” as He did with Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:17).  To Matthew, a government employee, the King didn’t need to issue a command like that.  He showed His acceptance of Matthew by simply saying, “Follow me.”

Certainly, working at the edge of Capernaum, Matthew was a resident of the city.  As such, there is no doubt that he had heard about Jesus’ miracles, and perhaps even seen some of them himself.  It’s possible that he had family or friends that were healed.  So it is not as though some total stranger was asking him to leave his job and follow after him.  There was a basis, a reason for Matthew to get up and follow the King.

The Text, part 3 – Eating with Sinners (Mark 2:15-17)

After getting up and leaving the tax office, Matthew invited Jesus to his house for a feast (Luke 5:29).  That’s when the antagonism against Him reared its ugly head again.

It came to pass, as Jesus reclined in [Matthew’s] house, that many tax collectors and sinners sat also together with Jesus and His disciples.

Matthew must have had a decent-sized house for “many” tax collectors and sinners to sit at this great feast along with Jesus and His disciples (however many that was at this point).  But take special notice that Jesus was willing to spend time with sinners—and also note that these were children of God, people in a covenant relationship with God, who had gone astray.  But Jesus still spent time with them, and ate with them.  He didn’t endorse their actions, nor was He somehow guilty by association.  He spent time with them because…well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

There were many, and they followed Him

There were many tax collectors who followed Jesus, and many sinners that followed Jesus.  It’s possible that when Matthew left the tax office, others did as well, recognizing Jesus as the miracle-working teacher from God.  And also take notice that Jesus was now recognized as a religious figure—one who was willing to accept them.  They had, for so long, been shunned, neglected, and rejected by the Pharisees and scribes, made to feel like they could never have God’s love of forgiveness.  And now, here comes someone who has proven He was a man of God by miracles, and He’s preaching a message of “God loves you and wants you back; He wants you to repent.”  It’s no wonder they flocked to Him!

And when the Scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with tax collectors and sinners…

These two groups were to be a constant thorn in Jesus’ side the rest of His time on earth.  The scribes, you’ll remember, were the ones mentally accusing Jesus of being a blasphemer in Mark 2:6-7.  Mark accurately portrays them as the bad guys.  And while he didn’t mention the Pharisees specifically in that incident (though Luke tells us they were involved), he does bring them up here.

If the scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they were either (1) also at the feast with the tax collectors and sinners, or (2) they were outside and saw Jesus entering the house.  If you look at the Greek words, it’s hard to conclude that they were outside.  Jesus was in the house, and they saw (literally “saw with the eyes”) Jesus eating.  So when these two groups of people start complaining and questioning about why Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners, they’re being hypocrites, for they are at the feast as well.

They said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

Mark is really driving this point home, repeating the phrase “tax collectors and sinners” thrice in two verses.  By this time, the readers would have caught on that Jesus’ Kingdom is different, and one that is greatly concerned with spiritual preparedness and moral goodness.  So when they see Jesus talk to a tax collector (no one likes tax collectors—unless you’re working for the government), and go to his house to spend time with more tax collectors and sinners, they might have been wondering what was going on as well.  If you’re trying to gather citizens for your Kingdom, Jesus, why would you choose tax collectors—the people no one likes?  And why, if your Kingdom is a moral, spiritual one, would you be spending time with those who aren’t moral or living in a spiritually pure way?

But remember what we saw last time, that the readers would have pictured the scribes as the bad guys because of their mental accusations against Jesus.  So they knew the scribes probably didn’t have honest motives in asking this question.

The scribes and Pharisees asked this question because these groups were outcasts, rejects from the religious Jews.  Some have said that tax collectors were rarely welcomed in the synagogue, being viewed as traitors because ultimately they worked for the Roman government, taking money from the Jews to give to Rome.  They viewed these sinners as people who had abandoned their right to be called children of God ever again because of their sin.  It’s because of this exact attitude that Jesus gave the three parables in Luke 15 (see especially verses 1-2), including the parable of the Prodigal Son.

These two groups thought of themselves as the real religious Jews, the only ones who were acceptable to God.  And if they wouldn’t eat with those groups, then Jesus couldn’t really be from God, otherwise He wouldn’t eat with them either.  It’s the idea of You don’t do things like us, therefore you must be wrong.  Their traditions had become more important to them that the word of God and love for their brethren.

So, as a result, they said to Jesus’ disciples—the ones who were inside Matthew’s house at the feast—Explain why He eats with tax collectors and sinners!

When Jesus heard it, He says to them, “They who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick [do].”

In these words is wisdom, compassion, and condemnation.  The wisdom is seen in how Jesus answered them.  He didn’t say anything about the traditions that the scribes and Pharisees had elevated over God’s word.  He didn’t justify the sins of the sinners, nor did He deny that they were sinners; in fact, quite the opposite.  He admitted clearly that these people were indeed spiritually sick.  So, the way He answered showed wisdom by answering in a way that the scribes and Pharisees couldn’t speak against.

The compassion is seen in how Jesus describes Himself in relation to the tax collectors and sinners.  He is the doctor, the one who cares for sick people, and tries to heal them.  He recognizes the failings of these people with whom He is eating, their distance from God, their need for help, and His answer basically says, “I’m trying to help these people get well.”  Who could possibly have a problem with that?

The condemnation is seen in that the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees was one of “they aren’t worth saving.”  They, the religious leaders of the Jews, should have been the doctors, seeking to heal these sick sinners, bringing them back to spiritual health.  Instead, they viewed these spiritually sick people as spiritually dead and therefore ignored them.  But Jesus’ answer condemns their attitude.  Just like with the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the older brother (representing the Pharisees) knew what the younger brother (the tax collectors and sinners) had done, but did nothing to help; these scribes and Pharisees had done nothing to help these people recover from their sins.

It’s worth noting that the scribes and Pharisees thought they were well, spiritually, but they were among the sickest of all!  Jesus Himself said it in Matthew 23:13-33:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men: for you shall neither go in yourselves, nor do you permit those who are entering to go in.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore you shall receive the greater condemnation.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you traverse sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made one, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Woe to you, you blind guides, which say “Whoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!”  And “Whoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the altar, he is guilty!”  You fools and blind!  For which is greater: the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift?  Whoever therefore shall swear by the altar swears by it and by all things therein.  And whoever shall swear by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.  And he that shall swear by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, but have omitted the weightier matters of the Law: judgment, mercy, and faith: these you ought to have done, not leaving the others undone.  You blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but inside they are full of extortion and excess.  You blind Pharisee! Cleanse first that which is inside the cup and platter, that the outside of them might be clean as well.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so, you outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Because you build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say “If we would have been [living] in the days of our fathers, we wouldn’t have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.”  Therefore you are witnesses to yourselves that you are the children of those who killed the prophets.  Then fill up the measure of your fathers.  You serpents, you generation of vipers!  How can you escape the damnation of hell?

The tax collectors and sinners were better off than the scribes and Pharisees.  They realized they were sick and needed a physician; the scribes and Pharisees were sick and had convinced themselves they weren’t.  Jesus ate with them, because they knew they needed help, and He knew He could help them.  There’s a world of difference in the people who are in willful rebellion to God and those who are trying to live right and struggling mightily.  Can you imagine a Christian acting like those Pharisees; a Christian who looks at a brother who has fallen away and says, “They ought to know better,” and does nothing to try to bring them back?

I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

The tax collectors and sinners would have been paying attention to what Jesus was saying here, as He was like a guest of honor.  And in the answer that Jesus gives, He shows great diplomacy by not coming out and bluntly condemning the religious leaders.

Those who were truly righteous were already on God’s side, and thus on Jesus’ side.  The scribes and Pharisees may have thought Jesus was referring to them as the righteous, but their actions exposed them as anything but.  They accused Him of blasphemy; they questioned Him (with bad motives) about eating with tax collectors and sinners; they accused Him of endorsing Law-breaking; they actively looked for things to accuse Him of; they joined together with their own political enemies to try to destroy Him; and accused Him of being a minion of Satan himself!  And all of that takes place in Mark chapters 2 and 3!

But here’s the important part of the message: Jesus calls sinners to repentance.  He loves sinners, and ultimately He died for them, but He doesn’t want them to stay sinners.  He calls them to repent!  He still calls people to repent today.

Application

Who Are You Avoiding?

Jesus ate with the outcasts of society, spent time with God’s children who had fallen away and who were struggling.  I’ve seen it far too often that some Christians refuse to spend time with certain people because of their race, or their politics, or because they’re poor, or they’ve fallen away and “ought to know better.”  Are they any less important to God?  Folks, those are the kinds of people Jesus went to!  It’s the sinners that need us to bring them to Christ.  How can we stand before our Lord and say, “I’ve done everything I could for you,” when we avoid certain classes of people and stoutly refuse to take the soul-saving gospel to them?

Where’s Your Spirituality?

As we saw, the Pharisees had an outward show of spirituality, doing the right things outwardly, but inside they were horridly wicked.  Just because we follow the New Testament pattern in worship and insist on baptism being immersion in water does not mean that we are truly spiritual.  Our spirituality needs to be inward first, a heart yearning to obey God, a heart which aches over sins, a heart that desperately wants to be right with the Lord.  When we have this mind, it exhibits itself in the outward acts of obedience and worship.  Many people warm a pew and go through the outward motions, but inside they are repulsive to God.  Are you one of the ones Paul talked about when he said, “There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit”?

Invitation

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Today, take an honest look at your soul’s condition.  You know far better than I do what you’ve done, what your attitude has been.  Jesus came to call sinners to repentance.  Those who truly believe in Jesus will do just that—repent.  When you repent, you will acknowledge Him as the Christ, the Son of God, and submit to His command to be immersed for the forgiveness of your sins.

But just like some of the people from our lesson today, you might find yourself fallen away, gone back into sin.  I want you to know—Jesus Himself wants you to know—that God loves you, and He wants you to come back home to Him.  Simply go to Him in prayer, confess your sins, and ask for forgiveness.

He is calling you now.  Won’t you come to Him?

Un-Paralyzing the Paralytic

The Text: Mark 2:1-12 – Again, He entered Capernaum after some days; and it was reported that He was in the house.  And immediately, many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no not even at the door: and He preached the Word to them. 

And they came to Him, carrying a paralytic, who was lifted up by four men.  And when they could not come near to Him because of the multitude, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was laying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven you.”

But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man thus speak blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God only?’

And immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned this way within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts?  Which is easier to say to the paralyzed man: ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins,” (He says to the paralyzed man) “I say to you, ‘Arise, and take up your bed, and go your way into your house.’”

And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying “We never saw such.”

Introduction

Jesus has already been revealed in Mark’s Gospel Account to be a King—a different kind of King.  He’s a King with great power, with great authority, and with compassion.  But He’s also a King whose Kingdom had not yet been established.  Remember that He was preaching to the people that “The Kingdom of God [or, God’s Empire] was at hand” (Mark 1:15).  His mission—and the mission of His herald, John the immerser—was to prepare people for the coming of His Kingdom.  But this Kingdom, Mark’s readers could tell, was not like other Kingdoms.

The Text, part 1 – The Crowd Rushes In (Mark 2:1-2)

It’s been some days since Jesus healed the leper who “blazed abroad” the news about Jesus’ amazing healing powers.  And people from all over Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem (Luke 5:17) have come to find Him, to hear Him, and to witness His power for themselves.

Again, He enters into Capernaum after days.

Jesus’ first several miracles in Mark’s Gospel Account were done in Capernaum, beginning with the casting out of the demon in the synagogue, then the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and then healing “many that were sick of various diseases” and casting out “many demons” (Mark 1:21-34).  After making a preaching and healing tour in Galilee (1:39-45), Jesus is now coming back to Capernaum, to Simon and Andrew’s house, which served as a kind of headquarters for Him while He was in Galilee.

We’re not told how long this preaching tour lasted.  Mark literally says “He entered Capernaum after days.”  Most translations insert a qualifier, like “some days” (KJV), “a few days” (MLV, NIV), “many days” (Living Oracles), or “several days” (NASB), but Mark just says “after days.”

And it was reported that He was in the house

With Jesus preaching and healing all over Galilee, and the news that He had cleansed a man of leprosy, Jesus’ fame was growing even more (see 1:28).  So it is no surprise that when someone found out that Jesus was in Simon and Andrew’s house (the only house mentioned in the book thus far), word spread—and quickly.

Immediately, many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no not even at the door.

Can you imagine the excitement that there must have been in order to pack the house that tight?  We don’t know how big Simon and Andrew’s house was, but even if it was the largest house in Capernaum, it still didn’t have room for everyone that wanted to come in and hear Jesus.

Mark says that there were so many people in the house, there was no room to receive them, not even at the door.  Elsewhere, this word is translated “contain” (John 21:25, 2:6).  In other words, the house was overflowing with people, people were outside the door, wanting to get in, but unable to.  Most likely, we’re talking hundreds of people inside and around the house—could your house stand up to this?

And He preached the Word to them.

Amidst the fame and hubbub, in a house overly crowded with people (which probably made things quite warm), Jesus didn’t lose sight of His mission, which was to “preach the Word” to them.  That is, Jesus preached the “kingdom of God is at hand” “repent, ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).  You know that there had to be people in there who were thinking, I’m wantin’ to see some healin’, Jesus.  People who weren’t interested really in the message, but in the spectacle itself.  But it’s like Jesus said several verses earlier, “Let’s go into the next towns so that I may preach there also, for into this I came forth” (Mark 1:38).

The Text, part 2 – The Paralytic is Carried In (Mark 2:3-4)

The crowds were gathered around, and everyone wanted in to see Jesus.  But some were willing to go further than others to accomplish their goals.

They came to Him, carrying a paralytic, lifted up by four men.

What we’ve got here are five men—four of them working together, carrying the fifth one on his bed.

In the East [including Palestine] bedsteads were practically unknown.  An Oriental (that is, middle-eastern) bed is a thin mattress of pallet, just large enough for a man to lie upon; and those generally used by the poor today are made of sheepskin with the wool on it.  Such a bed could easily be carried by four men, if each took hold of a corner. (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).

The KJV and ASV both say that the man was “sick of the palsy.”  The word “palsy” is a shortened form of the word “paralysis.”  Every possibility, it seems, has been suggested for this man.  Some suggest that he was incapacitated on one side because of a massive stroke; others that he was gripped with mental anguish over something he had done in his past, which literally paralyzed him (Barclay); still others suggest that he was a quadriplegic.  What we know for certain is that he was bedridden, unable to move freely on his own.  Paralysis had no cure.

If Mark’s readers thought healing leprosy was impressive, they’re about to be even more impressed.  At least with leprosy, you can still talk and breathe with relative ease, and can walk around where you need to go.  With some forms of paralysis (possibly including that which the man was enduring), breathing is a chore and talking is next to impossible.

And when they couldn’t come near to Him because of the multitude…

The KJV says “because of the press,” but the word is the same as is translated “multitude” throughout the New Testament.  The crowd of people was so thick that there was no way of going through the front door and into the house where Jesus was speaking.

They uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed in which the paralyzed man lay.

Let’s backtrack a moment here.  In order for them to “uncover” the roof and break it up, they first had to get to the roof, which isn’t exactly a quick and easy task.  Many books say that these men probably used a set of stairs that were on the outside of the house, leading to the roof.  The problem with that, is that such staircases are “almost unknown” in Palestine.  Most houses had their front door, which led to a “porch” area, and it is there that the stairs to the roof could be located.  But, of course, there was no room to get in at the door.  That leaves really only two choices: (1) either these men found a way of climbing to the roof and jointly hoisted the man up, or (2) they went inside a neighbor’s front door, up the narrow stairs onto their roof (if you’ve ever tried to carry something heavy upstairs, you know that isn’t easy), and then climbed over the ledge between the two houses (houses built side by side are common in that area).  However they got up there, it wasn’t easy, but they thought it was worth it to bring their friend to Jesus.

Getting on the roof was part one.  Now, they had to get through the roof so they could get their friend to Jesus.  According to the historians, the roofs in that area were built with wooden beams a few feet apart, then brush was laid across it very tightly, then mud, then mortar, then it was covered with earth and grass.  Luke adds the detail that they broke through the “tiling” (5:19) which is the Greek word Keramos, where we get our word ceramic.  So these men broke through the ceramic/clay layer, the mortar, the mud, and the brush, making a hole in the roof large enough that they could let their friend down, bed and all, in the room next to Jesus.

The Text, part 3 – The Sins are Carried Away (Mark 2:5-11)

Mark first records the actions of the men, but now he changes to Jesus’ point of view.

Jesus saw their faith.

What wonderful words are contained here!  What glorious evidence that the doctrine of “faith only” (that is, belief only) saves is false!  Faith is not something that is felt.  Faith is not merely belief.  Faith is something you can see!  Thus, it isn’t really faith if there are no works to go along with it!  For “faith without works is dead, being alone” (James 2:20).

If we were to put this in the words of Hebrews 11, we might say “By faith, four men lifted up their paralyzed friend, letting him down to Jesus, trusting that the Lord could heal him.”

But let us not neglect to recognize that this paralyzed man also had faith, otherwise he could have refused to be carried and jostled around in his weakened condition.  The faith that Jesus saw, then, was the faith of the five—not just of the four.

Jesus…said to the paralyzed man, “Child, your sins are forgiven you.”

The compassionate King certainly realized what was happening, for breaking up the roof would not have been a noiseless task.  So slowly but surely, He sees the hole appear and get bigger, and then sees a bed—more like a thick rug—being lowered down beside Him.  Jesus was impressed by their faith.  Then He looks down at the man laying helpless on the ground, and says “Son [literally, Child], your sins are forgiven you.”

Why exactly did Jesus announce “Your sins are forgiven you,” instead of just healing the man like He did with everyone else?  Here’s some possibilities suggested by different writers:

  1. The man’s sins were the cause of his paralysis. Perhaps through a life of constant sin (perhaps drunkenness), he had somehow injured himself or caused himself nerve damage which led to his paralysis. This is pure conjecture, but it is mentioned frequently by writers as a possibility (some even say it is the “likely” answer).
  2. The man had bought into the idea that sickness and disease were caused by sin, and he therefore thought of himself as a wretched sinner, regardless of whether Jesus healed him or not. This, like the previous one, is also conjecture, though we do have several biblical passages which show that this idea was prevalent (throughout the book of Job, and also John 9:1-2). If this is the case, it would be as though Jesus was saying, “Don’t fear, child.  God forgives you,” thus easing the man’s troubled mind.
  3. The one that, personally, I think is most likely is that Jesus said this because there were religious leaders present (Luke 5), and He was now making a little bit more known about Himself and His mission. As will become obvious momentarily, Jesus’ claim to forgiving sins was the same as proclaiming that He was God. He had a point to make, and in doing so, Jesus was showing His authority—still following the idea of the King proving that He had power to overthrow the Kingdom of Darkness.

But there were certain of the scribes sitting there.

It’s most likely that the majority of the crowd was standing while the “privileged” religious leaders got to sit (probably in the front, closest to Jesus).  Luke adds that the Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem were there as well.

Scribes…reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak these blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God only?”

Something interesting here is that the scribes reasoned in their heart that sins could only be forgiven (literally, “sent away”) by the God.  The word “the” appears in the original, just like in 1:1.  In other words, there is only one God that can take away sin.  Mark is reminding his readers that their pagan worship system is false.  After all, most of the religious ceremonies to the Greek and Roman gods dealt with appeasing the various so-called deities, hoping to keep them happy so as to avoid their wrath.  They never really dealt with the idea of cleansing from sin.

But the scribes (and Pharisees), after hearing Jesus pronounce this man’s sins forgiven (literally, “sent away”) weren’t thinking about Roman gods at all.  They began to murmur and think to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming God, by pretending to be able to forgive sins, when only the God—Jehovah—had that capability.  In short, their thoughts were that Jesus was blaspheming by claiming He possessed God’s power.  What they didn’t realize is that since Jesus is God, He therefore has the power to forgive sins.

The word “can” is actually the word translated “power” in many instances.  Their question, literally translated, is: “Who has power to send away sins except only the God?”

Now, for a moment, place yourself in the shoes (sandals) or Mark’s readers.  You’ve read about Jesus, seen His authority, His healings, His compassion, and perhaps you’re withholding judgment.  But now these scribes show up and start mentally bad-mouthing Him.  Probably without even realizing it, you start to defend Jesus.  That’s wrong, scribes, Jesus has that power because He’s Son of the God.  After all, that’s the very first thing you read in this book.  And the main character in the narrative has done nothing but good, but now He is being mischaracterized and accused of evil.  Almost every unbiased reader, whether reading it as a story or reading it looking for the truth, now pictures the scribes as some of the bad guys, and sympathizes with Jesus.

Immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts?”

Jesus could read their minds.  It wasn’t that He looked at their faces and could read their expressions, deducing from them what they were thinking.  Mark says that they thought this, and then immediately Jesus perceived what they were thinking.  This mind-reading is often overlooked when people read this passage, because it is overshadowed by the healing of a paralytic and the proof that Jesus truly forgave the man’s sins—but it is still there!  Only God can know the thoughts of men; and since Jesus knows the thoughts of men, He is God!  This point almost certainly was not missed by Mark’s readers.  He has power over sickness, demons, injuries, and can read minds too?

He said…“Which is easier to say to the paralyzed man: “Your sins are forgiven you;” or to say “Arise, and take up your bed and walk”?

This was a pointed question, and one that gave great evidence as to the nature of Jesus.  The obvious answer, though the scribes considered it blasphemy, was that it was easier to say “Your sins are forgiven you.”  This is because there was no tangible, visible way of proving it one way or the other.  You can’t see sins being carried away from your soul.

The harder statement, of course, is to tell the man to “Arise, and take up your bed and walk.” Because without miraculous power, given by God Himself, those words would do no good.  You would be exposed as a fraud and a charlatan.  Words alone cannot heal a paralyzed man.

He said… “But so that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins,” (He now says to the paralyzed man) “I say to you, ‘Arise, and take up your bed and go your way into your house.”

Jesus forms His argument in this way:

  1. It’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven you,” because you can’t see it take place.
  2. It’s harder to say “Arise, take up your bed and walk,” because that would require the power of God.
  3. I am saying both—and if the man gets up and walks, it shows that I possess the power of God, and thus have proven that I have the power to forgive sins.

The sub-point to this is, “and you are actually the ones blaspheming, not me.”

The last verse of Mark’s Gospel Account explains the point here, “They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs [miracles] following” (Mark 16:20).  Miracles were given as confirmation of the message that was spoken.  If Jesus was truly blaspheming God, then He would have no miraculous abilities.  If He was, however, able to heal the paralyzed man, then that proved He was not a blasphemer at all.

One other thing that is interesting is that Jesus calls Himself “the Son of man” for the first time (at least in Mark and Luke’s accounts) here.  For Mark’s readers, this is their introduction to the dual nature of Jesus, as Deity in human flesh.  This is a vital element for them (and us) to understand, because without Jesus being the “Son of man,” He couldn’t have endured the temptation (James 1:13, Hebrews 2:16-18) or died on the cross if He had not come to this earth as a human.

The Text, part 4 – The Bed is Carried Out (Mark 2:12)

Immediately he [the paralytic] arose, took up the bed, and went out in front of them all.

There’s no telling how long this man was paralyzed; no telling how long he’d been bed-ridden.  In all likelihood, the man’s leg muscles had deteriorated greatly, and his joints had no strength at all when he was brought to the Lord.  This miracle was more than just a “you’ve now got the ability to move again,” it was a miraculous re-strengthening of the muscles and joints, this man didn’t have to go through physical therapy to learn how to walk again, either.  The healing was instantaneous and complete, just like the others Jesus had healed.

He was carried in by friends, his sins were carried away by Jesus, and now he—with new strength—carries his own bed out.  Luke adds that as he was walking out with his bed, he was “glorifying God” (Luke 5:25).  The joy this man must have felt was incredible.  We’re told what the reaction of the crowd in the house was (they were amazed), but for a moment, instead of looking at that man with his this mattress, instead of looking at the crowd, look up to the hole in the ceiling and imagine the smiles and tears of joy that almost certainly on the four faces that looked in from above.  Their faith had been rewarded, and they no doubt joined in with the others in glorifying God for this wonderful show of mercy.

Insomuch that they were all amazed

Capernaum wasn’t a huge city, so most of the people probably knew (or at the very least, knew of) the paralyzed man.  So there was no denying that this was a miracle.  Even those who weren’t from the area could probably tell just by looking at the man that he had serious medical problems.  They were all amazed, as were Mark’s readers, by what had just taken place.  Paralysis was supposed to be incurable.

They…glorified God

Even though the scribes and Pharisees might not have accepted the consequences of what they just saw (that Jesus is indeed Deity), they could not deny that a powerful miracle had been performed in their presence.  As such, they, along with everyone else there, glorified God.  You might think it strange, but try to remember that there had been no miracles performed for hundreds of years.  It had been over 400 years since the last inspired prophet of God had walked the earth.  It’s not like these people had seen miracles their whole life—this was something completely new to them, and they gave God the glory for having done it and allowing them to see it.

Saying, “We never saw such!”

These people were amazed, glorified God, saying “We’ve never seen anything like this!”  And yet it still wasn’t enough to cause them to repent (Matthew 11:23-24).  The rich man in torment tried to convince Abraham to send Lazarus back, because “if one went to them from the dead, [my brothers] would repent,” but the answer was “If they will not hear Moses and the prophets [that is, the inspired message of God], neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:30-31).  For a while, the citizens of Capernaum were excited and entertained by the miracles; and so long as the miracles were being done, they were interested in following Jesus.  But it seems that they ended up wanting more entertainment and less doctrine—and they received the condemnation of Jesus for it.  There’s a lesson in that for us, no doubt.

Application

Don’t Lose Sight of Your Mission

Amidst the hustle and bustle of life’s busy ways, we often get distracted to the point that we forget what we’re here for.  We simply think about the here and now, the things we’ve got to do, what’s for dinner, where we’re going next week, etc.  And we let the cares and troubles of our lives distract us from our mission of teaching the gospel.  We don’t have near the stress that Jesus did—yet He kept His sights on the mission.  We’re told to “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the prize that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Preach the Word

Jesus taught with authority, because He preached the Word.  He wasn’t teaching for doctrine the commandments of men, He preached the Word.  I spoke with an old preacher who retired from local work years ago about a congregation he’s familiar with.  He said that he’s never heard anything unsound out of the new preacher they’ve got there, but that those sermons could be preached—word for word—in pretty much any denominational building across the United States.  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching repentance (Mark 1:15).  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching obedience (Matthew 7:21—Not all the say to me “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Luke 6:46 – Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not the things that I say?).  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching the Kingdom of God—the church to which saved people are added (Mark 1:14-15, Acts 2:47, Colossians 1:13).

What Lengths are You Willing to go to?

These four men carried a man on his bed however far it was from his place of residence to Simon and Andrew’s house.  When they realized there was no way of getting in the house normally, they didn’t turn back.  They looked for another way to get him to Jesus.  Whether they scaled the side of the house or climbed up stairs, they still worked hard to get this man there.  Then they tore up the roof and let him down in front of Jesus.  In short, they went through an awful lot of work in the hopes of getting their friend saved from his paralysis.  Jesus took note of their great show of faith.

How much faith do we show in trying to bring others to Jesus?  Do we give up at the first obstacle?  Do we try to find ways of bringing people to Jesus Christ?  How far are you willing to go—what lengths are you willing to go to in order to bring a soul to the saving blood of the Savior?  Let these men and their faith be an example to all of us!

Invitation

Do you really have faith?  Faith in Jesus comes from hearing the message about Him (Romans 10:17), and is an absolute requirement if you want to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  But faith must be alive and working, leading you to repentance while acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God, and causing you to submit to Jesus in faithful obedience through being immersed into His death (Romans 6:1-5).  Faith—true saving faith—will make you want to “walk in the light,” and “be faithful.”  Won’t you come?

-Bradley S. Cobb

Cleansing a Leper

(Note: An apology is in order for my falling behind in posting these sermons from the book of Mark as I had said I would do each Friday.  We’ve been quite busy, and this is one of those things that slipped through the cracks.  I am sorry.)

Text: Mark 1:40-45 – There came a leper to Him, begging Him, and kneeling down to Him, and saying to Him, “If You desire it, You can make me clean.”

And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and says to him, “I desire.  Be cleansed.”  And as soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly charged him, and immediately sent him away, and says to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone: but go your way, show yourself to the high priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

But he went out and began to proclaim it much, and to spread abroad the incident, insomuch that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places: and they came to Him from every quarter.

Introduction

The King of kings, Jesus of Nazareth, has come into the territory of Satan, proclaiming freedom from slavery to sin.  He is gathering people to His side, preparing them for when His kingdom comes.  With some, as portrayed by Mark, Jesus called them by His word, “Come after me” (1:17).  With others, Jesus proved His point from the Scriptures (1:21-22).  Still others were taught about His power by seeing Him cast out demons or healing the sick (1:27-28, 32-39).

Maybe Mark’s readers were impressed by the healing of sicknesses.  Maybe they were even somewhat impressed by the casting out of demons (though some of them may have been like some skeptics today who claim that demons weren’t real, but were instead just different diseases or mental illnesses).  But doctors had healed diseases before, and people could fake being possessed by a demon.  So perhaps Mark’s readers are still skeptical.  But the next thing healed by Jesus was supposedly incurable, and no one would dare fake it.

The Text, part 1 – The Leper’s Confession (Mark 1:40)

Jesus had come down from the mountain after giving His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 8:1), and had entered into a city (Luke 5:12) when something happened that would have made most people back up in fear.

There came a leper to Him

So many questions could be asked here.  What was a leper doing in the city?  What was the reaction of the disciples and the multitudes that were with Jesus?

Leprosy was not something to be taken lightly.  The Hebrew word for leprosy means “a smiting,” and was viewed as a punishment from God Himself.  Let me read what has been said about this incurable disease:

This disease “begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal.” “In Christ’s day no leper could live in a walled town, though he might in an open village. But wherever he was, he was required to have his outer garment rent as a sign of deep grief, to go bareheaded, and to cover his beard with his mantle, as if in lamentation at his own virtual death. He had further to warn passers-by to keep away from him, by calling out, ‘Unclean! unclean!’ nor could he speak to any one, or receive or return a salutation, since in the East this involves an embrace.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)

Leprosy, beginning with little pain, goes on in its sluggish but sure course, until it mutilates the body, deforms the features, turns the voice into a croak, and makes the patient a hopeless wreck. … An animal poison in the blood ferments … affects the skin … destroying the sensation of the nerves. The tuberculated form is the common one, inflaming the skin, distorting the face and joints, causing the hair of the head or eyebrows to fall off or else turn white, and encrusting the person with ulcerous tubercles with livid patches of surface between. The anesthetic elephantiasis begins in the forehead with shining white patches which burst; bone by bone drops off; the skin is mummy-like; the lips hang down exposing the teeth and gums. Tuberculated patients live (on the average) for only ten years more; anesthetic for 20. (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary)

During Jesus’ day, there were leper colonies all over the place (not just in Palestine).  Mark’s readers might have cringed when they saw the word “leper,” because it was a disease that was horrifying, could be contagious, and one for which there is no cure.

All of that, yet this leper—this man who was most likely reduced to begging just to feed himself and perhaps a family—apparently followed Jesus into the city, and bravely presented himself before Him.  He wasn’t someone who was just starting to show signs of leprosy, either.  Luke says he was “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12).  That is, this man had the distorted joints, the deformed face, the white hair (quite possibly in patches, the rest of it having fallen out).

Begging Him, and kneeling down to Him

This leper didn’t just come to Jesus and wait for the Lord to notice him and say something.  He came to Jesus, falling down to his knees in front of Him, and begged Him, pleaded with Jesus for mercy and help.  Matthew says that this man “worshiped Him”; Luke says that this man fell on his face before Jesus; and both record that this man called Jesus “Lord” (Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 5:12-16).

It’s not stated in the text, but knowing what leprosy is, and knowing the fear people had of being contaminated by it, you can just picture the multitudes backing up in fear, forming a large circle around Jesus and this man.  The man probably had the bleached-white hair and the torn garments visible as he’s on his knees, face down to the ground, begging Jesus for help.  The people around may have even tried to say to Jesus, “My Lord, quickly, you must move, this man is a leper!”

Saying to Him, “If You will, You can make me clean.”

Mark’s readers, given what they knew about leprosy, might have laughed at this poor leper.  “You poor, ignorant man.  There’s no cure for leprosy!”  But this man had hope.  He had heard about—or maybe even seen—the power that Jesus had exhibited over demons and diseases.  As a result, this man had hope that Jesus could cure even him.  But more than hope, this man had confidence.  He could come to Jesus with, “I’ve got leprosy, is there anything you can do for me?”  He could have asked, “Lord, is there any way you can make my leprosy better?”  But when he came to Jesus, he didn’t ask if it was possible, or if Jesus could help in some small way; he made a declaration: “If You want to, You can make me clean.”

The word “will” or “wilt” (KJV) means to wish for something, to desire something, to want something to take place.  By saying this, the leper confessed his belief in the power of Jesus.  He had full confidence in the ability of Jesus to heal him, and he also knew that he was at the mercy of Jesus—“if You want, You can make me clean.”

This is reminiscent of the Jews on the day of Pentecost.  They didn’t come out and say the words, “I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” but they confessed their belief in Him by the words, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

The Text, part 2 – Jesus’ Compassion (Mark 1:41)

Instead of backing away or rebuking the man for putting the multitude in danger of contracting leprosy, Jesus was “moved with compassion.”

Jesus, moved with compassion…

Mark is displaying the love, the compassion of Jesus with these words.  This great and powerful King, who has overthrown demons and is being followed by huge crowds, doesn’t have the massive ego-trip that kings (like certain Caesars of the day) often do.  He takes the time to look at the man, to listen to the man, and has genuine concern for the man.  The powerful King, Son of the God, whose mission is to bring about His Kingdom and overthrow the powers of darkness, is also a King of compassion who cares about people—not for what He can get out of them, but because He loves them.

It’s worth noting that Mark is the only one who mentions that Jesus was moved with compassion.

Jesus…put forth His hand and touched Him

“Oh no!”  You can just picture the looks on the disciples’ faces when they saw Jesus reach out to touch the leper.  It had been ingrained in their heads for a long time that you stay as far away from lepers as possible—NEVER touch them.  And Mark’s readers probably thought the same thing—“He’s not really going to touch that leper, is He?”

But Jesus did.  Jesus had power over leprosy, and wasn’t afraid.

Jesus…says to him, “I want to.  Be cleansed.”

Imagine someone coming up to you, begging for something that you have within your power to do.  “I need food to feed my family,” or “I’m broken down and need a ride.”  Do you look at them and say, “I don’t want to help you”?  Can you imagine Jesus looking at this man, who is begging for help, and saying, “Nah, I don’t really want to help you”?  Of course not!  When you truly have compassion on someone, you want to help them, and you will help them if it is within your power to do so.

Jesus reaches out and touches the man, and expresses His compassion with the words “I want to [that is, I want to heal you]. Be cleansed.”

The Text, part 3 – The Leper’s Cleansing (Mark 1:42)

Right now, Mark’s readers, who understand that this gospel is supposed to be a true story, are hooked.  Sicknesses and diseases are one thing; but healing leprosy?  That’s something worth noticing.

As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him and he was cleansed.

Just like with Simon’s mother-in-law, there was no “recovery period,” or “It looks like it’s starting to get better” with this healing.  The healing was instantaneous.  Oh, to have been able to see that.  If the gospels were written today, we’d have put much more detail about how it looked, and the changes that took place on this man.  Did his hair go back to its original color?  His face looking completely different after the touch than it did when he bowed to the ground in front of Jesus?  The scales on his skin—did they fall to the ground or just disappear?  His joints miraculously changed?

Regardless of how it looked, and how the instant transformation took place, the fact remains that the man was healed—completely healed.  The crowd saw it, and the man knew it.  Put yourself in his place, in agony because of the leprosy, an outcast, bowing down at Jesus’ feet, and you feel His touch as He says the words “Be cleansed.”  You look at your hands and see that they are…normal.  You start to stand and realize that your joints—your knees, ankles, elbows, hips—aren’t bulging and deformed anymore.  You are able to stand fully upright for the first time in ages.  Tears almost certainly flowed from this man’s eyes as he looked upon Jesus, the compassionate King.

Now, take a moment to think about the thankfulness that people who are truly in need will have when you show the love of Christ to them and help them in their time of need.

The Text, part 4 – Jesus’ Charge (Mark 1:43-44)

And He strictly charged him, and immediately sent him away,

It’s interesting that Mark uses this word “strictly” to describe how Jesus spoke to the man, because it seems to be in contrast with the compassion shown in the previous verse.  He looked on this leper with compassion, desired to heal him, and then touched him.  But now there’s a difference in attitude; Jesus is being stern with the man.  Why?  Because even though the man had the best of intentions, he had broken the Law of Moses in coming to Jesus in the city.

And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, “Unclean, unclean.” All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; outside the camp shall his habitation be. (Leviticus 13:45-46).

McGarvey put it this way:

The language used indicates that Jesus sternly forbade the man to tell what had been done. The man’s conduct, present and future, shows that he needed severe speech. In his uncontrollable eagerness to be healed he had overstepped his privileges, for he was not legally permitted to thus enter cities and draw near to people (Numbers 5:2-3); he was to keep at a distance from them, and covering his mouth, was to cry, “Tame, tame—unclean, unclean” (Leviticus 13:45-46, Luke 17:12-13). The man evinced a like recklessness in disregarding the command of Jesus.

The rest of what Jesus says to this man shows that the stern talking-to was in regards to his following God’s law.

and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

This command of Jesus not to broadcast the miracle has caused some confusion.  After all, didn’t Jesus want people to know who He was?  Wasn’t He performing a lot of miracles?  Why should He tell this man to keep the miracle secret?  Different suggestions have been given, including:

  1. It may have been better for the man not to mention his cure due to potential religious persecution (as in John 9:34). (McGarvey)
  2. The Lord was trying to suppress excitement, and prevent the crowds that gathered around Him from being too large, hindering His work (which is what ended up happening in verse 45). (McGarvey)
  3. “For the miracle to be properly attested, it was necessary that the appropriate gifts should be offered under Moses’ commandment, and that the priests should certify it. Until this was accomplished, the man should hold his peace; lest, if a rumor of these things went before him, the priests at Jerusalem, out of envy, out of a desire to depreciate what the Lord had done, might deny that the man had ever been a leper, or else that he was now truly cleansed” (Burton Coffman).

While each of these are reasonable, and carry with it some truth, it seems that the most logical explanation—especially given the stern and strict way that Jesus delivered the order to the man—is that He was telling this man to follow the Law of God, as opposed to breaking it like he had done moments earlier.  In other words, in doing this, it’s Jesus saying to the leper, “Repent and sin no more.”

From this, we need to understand that just because Jesus is a compassionate King, that doesn’t mean He’s a King who allows His subjects to ignore the law.  Jesus sternly charged this man to do what the Law required.  Compassion—that is, the mercy of Jesus does not eliminate obedience.

The Text, part 5 – The Leper’s Cheerfulness (Mark 1:45)

But he went out and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter.

It’s been said of this leper that:

[He] was so elated that he could scarcely refrain from publishing his cure, and he must also have thought that this was what Jesus really wanted—that in commanding him not to publish it he did not mean what he said (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).

Instead of doing what Jesus sternly commanded him to do, this leper told everyone he could find (hopefully on his way to Jerusalem to at least obey the second part of the command).  His words spread like a wildfire—which on one hand shows just how grateful this man was to be cleansed, but on the other hand showed a blatant disregard for the commands of Jesus.

As a result…

Jesus could no more openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places: and they came to Him from every quarter.

You might think, “That’s great; more people are flocking to this new King!”  But that is completely opposed to Jesus’ mission and methods.  Up to this point, He spread His message in the synagogues, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and showing the truth of it from Scriptures.  Now, however, He couldn’t go into the city without a mob of people around Him.  Forget a peaceful, contemplative audience in the synagogue; Jesus was being mobbed by people—most of them either wanting some kind of healing or wanting to see what He would do next.  The disobedience of the leper hindered the cause of Christ, turning Him into a spectacle.

The excitement cause by such an entry was injurious in several ways: 1. It gave such an emphasis to the miracles of Jesus as to make them overshadow his teaching. 2. It threatened to arouse the jealousy of the government. 3. It rendered the people incapable of calm thought. … Disobedience, no matter how well-meaning, always hinders the work of Christ (McGarvey)

The people who came to Him from “every quarter” included scribes and Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem, according to Luke’s account.  It is as a result of the leper’s disobedience that the religious leaders in Jerusalem took special notice of the works of Jesus, and that’s when the antagonism towards the King began—because someone disobeyed.

Application

Jesus was a Man of Compassion—We Must be as Well.

It was a heart-rending scene for Jesus when He saw the poor leper fall down at His feet, begging to be healed.  Jesus knew He had the power, the ability to help this man in his struggles, and so He helped.  Reaching out and touching this outcast of society, Jesus helped him.  And Mark tells us in no uncertain terms that it was because Jesus had compassion on him.  Jesus reached out to the outcasts, the overlooked, the scorned, and He did it with compassion.

It might be interesting to see the results if we did an anonymous polling of everyone we know, asking if they would describe us as “compassionate.”  How would they answer if that question was asked about you?  Do you show compassion on those who are in need?  Or do you deem them not worthy of your time?  It doesn’t have to be something massively huge like leprosy; it could be as simple as a kind word or a meal.  Jesus let people know He cared.  We should be the same way.

Compassion does not Eliminate Obedience.

The leper came to Jesus in anguish and pain, in submission and with faith, a man in need of healing.  After receiving mercy from Jesus, though, the man was expected to obey the law of God.  It’s like Jesus was saying, “I’m healing you because I have mercy on you, even though you were disobeying the Law of God.  But now that I’ve healed you, it’s time for you to show your appreciation by being obedient.”  So many people preach the grace of God and resolutely deny—even ridicule the very idea—that obedience is necessary.  “That’s salvation by works!” they cry.  My friends, God’s grace and mercy are amazing things, but they only come to those who are willing to obey Him.  Matthew 7:21 – not all that say to Me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father which is in heaven.”  Or Hebrews 5:9 – Jesus Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him.”  Christians—those who have received the mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ to cleanse them from sin—are told “faith without works is dead” (James 2).

Disobedience Hinders the Cause of Christ.

Because the former leper disobeyed, Jesus was unable to do His work the way He had planned.  Surely the leper didn’t mean to cause problems and didn’t have ill-motives when he happily told others about his healing.  However, his disobedience ended up making the work of the Lord more difficult, and led to His enemies—the scribes and Pharisees—coming to watch Him; and thus began the antagonistic relationship they had with our Lord.  The same thing can happen to us, when we disobey God today, even without ill intentions, we can do harm to the cause of Christ.  One weekday afternoon, as we were driving down the interstate, we were passed by a car going at least 80 mph, and on the back of their car, it was advertised “Follow me to the ______ church of Christ.”  An honest-hearted person who was looking for a church would quite possibly have said, “Well, we won’t be going there” because they obviously have no respect for the law.

People watch you, and how you act reflects on the church and therefore on Jesus as well.

Leprosy is like Sin.

  • Like leprosy, sin has a small beginning, but then it spreads over the entire man.
  • Its cure is beyond the reach of human skill or natural remedies.
  • It is painful, loathsome, degrading, and fatal.
  • It separates its victim from the pure and drives him into association with the impure.
  • It is a foe to religious privileges.
  • It can be remedied by God. (anonymous)

Invitation

Sin, like leprosy, is a curse.  But unlike leprosy, there is a cure for sin which is available for all people, if they would simply come to Jesus, the compassionate King, who came to this earth and lived a life among sinful, fallen humanity.  In His compassion and love, He showed us how to live, pointed the way to the Father, and died so that we could be cleansed from our sins.

All He asks of you is that you believe in Him, repent of your sinful life, acknowledge Him as the Savior, and be baptized into His death so that you may rise to walk in newness of life.  If we to make the parallel with the story of the leper, it’s come to Jesus in humble submissiveness, bowing down at His feet through obedience to His command to be baptized.  It’s at that point that Jesus touches us and makes us whole, free from sin.  Afterwards, Jesus expects us to follow God’s law, or to put it another way, “walk in the light” or “be faithful.”

Won’t you come and accept the compassionate Savior today?

 

Healing, Casting, and Praying

Sermon 5: Healing, Casting, and Praying

Text: Mark 1:29-39 – And immediately, when they had come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and immediately they tell Him about her.  And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered to them.

And at evening, when the sun set, they brought to Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with demons.  And all the city was gathered together at the door.  And He healed many that were sick of various diseases, and cast out many demons; and did not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out and departed into a solitary place, and there [He] prayed.

And Simon and they that were with Him followed after Him.  And when they had found Him, they said to Him, “All are seeking for You.”  And He said to them, “Let’s go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for into this [work] I have come.”

And He preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out demons.

Introduction

Mark spends a good deal of time in the first part of his gospel account showing that Jesus is powerful and has authority.  He’s shown Jesus’ authority over His disciples, His authority in religion, and His authority over a single demon.  Mark’s original readers might have been thinking, “What does this matter to me?  After all, we’re not Jews, nor are we Jesus’ disciples, nor are we possessed by a demon.”  They might have even thought that Jesus’ victory over a single demon was alright, but it wasn’t as though He had to face a bunch of them.  But what comes next would overrule these objections.

The Text, part 1 – Authority over a Fever (Mark 1:29-31)

(29) Immediately, when they had come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

It is the Sabbath day, and Jesus, having exhibited His power over the kingdom of darkness, has planned to spend the rest of the day in the company of His four new disciples.  Simon and Andrew lived in the same house, not far from the synagogue (a Sabbath-Day’s Journey was around a half-mile), and invited Jesus (as well as James and John) to come there.  This is a show of hospitality and friendship that is severely lacking in the lives of many Christians and congregations.

(30a) But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever

Mark doesn’t give some of the details that Matthew and Luke do (they weren’t necessary to bring up for his readers).  But Matthew literally says she was “cast [or thrown] down with a fever,” meaning that it isn’t just that she’s laying down on her bed asleep while running a temperature (Matthew 8:14).  The fever has made her bed-ridden.  Luke says she was held by a “great fever” (Luke 4:38), which means it was a high temperature, and the fever wasn’t breaking.  But again, Mark doesn’t give these details, and if you look at the progression of healings going into chapter two, you’ll see why.

(30b) and immediately they tell Him [Jesus] about her.

Some people have scoffed at this part, saying, “Why didn’t they go tell a doctor?”  That’s an easy thing to say when we aren’t given details such as: how long had she had the fever?  Was it days?  Did it just hit her that morning while Simon and Andrew were at the synagogue?  And who’s to say that, if it had been a few days, they hadn’t called a doctor?  All of those questions and the objection are irrelevant to the discussion at hand.  The fact is, Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever at this point, and they came and told Jesus.

But why would they tell Jesus about it?  Because Jesus had just shown amazing miraculous power in casting out a demon—certainly it’s worth a shot to bring it to His attention.  We can better understand their confidence in telling Jesus about this when we remember that they’d already traveled some with Jesus and seen other miracles (John 1-4).

But the lesson we can learn from this is that when you’ve got problems, sickness, or anything else that you need help with, you go to the one with the power.  Take your requests to God who has the power to answer them.

(31a) And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her.

Jesus showed compassion on her, and also showed His power over sickness.  There was no long, drawn-out recovery period.  There wasn’t a “I think the fever is going down” period where they could all start to rest easily because she was starting to get well.  It was immediately gone.  Jesus took her by the hand, and poof!  The fever was completely removed—as though it had never been there in the first place.

(31b) and she ministered to them.

Simon’s mother-in-law had been tired, and the great fever would have normally left her quite exhausted and unable to do much as she was getting better.  But when Jesus healed her, she was well, whole, and felt like working.  She got up and began to serve them.  Most likely, this included preparing food, perhaps even washing their feet.  Meanwhile, you can imagine the awe in the eyes of Simon’s wife, and of the disciples, at this instantaneous healing.

The Text, part 2 – Authority over Diseases and Demons (Mark 1:32-34)

Lest one of Mark’s readers should shrug and say, “It’s only a fever, no big deal,” Mark shows Jesus taking on—and showing power over—progressively bigger illnesses.

(32-33) At evening, when the sun set, they brought to Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with demons.  And all the city was gathered at the door.

These people had seen (or heard from those who had seen) Jesus casting out a demon in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Immediately, then, they went back to their houses and told their families and their friends about what wonderful things God had done through Jesus of Nazareth.  They couldn’t wait to spread the word and share their wonder and amazement with others.

Jesus, the King, who has come to announce that His Kingdom is near, now has an evangelistic army to help Him in Capernaum.  He’s still doing His work, but these people are making it a lot easier for His message to be spread.

So, at nightfall, when the Sabbath is concluded, Jesus is in Simon and Andrew’s house, conversing with them and James and John, when crowds gather around the house, standing by the door, all coming to Him for help.  They, being good Jews, waited until the Sabbath was over before doing what some might consider “work” by bringing their sick to Jesus and possibly walking more than the half-mile that constituted a “Sabbath Day’s journey.”

The ones brought to Jesus were suffering from diseases, that is, they were badly sick (the Greek word means “bad” or “miserable” or even sometimes “evil.”  The sicknesses under consideration were not minor things—people weren’t bringing their kids to Jesus saying, “Heal his runny nose.”  These were significant illnesses, usually long-term medical problems.

(34a) And He healed many that were sick of various diseases.

Mark is answering the potential challenge from his readers by progressing from Jesus healing a fever to healing multiple people of serious significant illnesses.  And lest the readers think that Jesus’ victory over a demon was a fluke, here come even more of Satan’s minions to face Him.

(34b) He…cast out many demons.

Several knights of the Kingdom of Darkness were brought to Jesus.  They had taken over people’s lives, tormenting them, hurting them.  As we’ll see later in the book of Mark, it appears that being demon-possessed was such a horrible experience that some people tried to kill themselves to escape it.  But the King, Jesus, was coming to set them free, to overthrow the powers of darkness.  It didn’t matter if it was one demon-possessed man or a whole crowd of them; Jesus stood unafraid and ready to take them all on.

Before we move on from this point, it would probably be a good time to point out that demon-possession was a first-century phenomenon, and that it does not still take place today.  Zechariah 13:2 says:

“It shall come to pass in that day,” says Jehovah of Hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered; and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.”

If you look at the context, you will discover when “that day” which Jehovah mentions took place.  The verse immediately before it says:

In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness.

Go back five verses from there (Zechariah 12:10-11a) and we see what this “day” (it’s actually a period of time, like we say “back in my day…”) means.

I will pour out on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.  In that day, there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem…

So, in the context of the death of Jesus and the time in which forgiveness of sins would be offered to the Jews, Jehovah would cause the evil spirit (demons) to pass from the land.  If we were to keep reading in Zechariah, we would see, just eight verses after that statement by Jehovah, these words:

Behold, the day of Jehovah comes, and your spoil shall be divided in the midst of you.  For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city (Zechariah 14:1-2).

Sometime between the death of Jesus on the cross and the time in which God brought the nations to destroy Jerusalem (AD 70), demonic activity would cease.  But when Mark was writing, demons were still active, so his readers were at least familiar with the concept.

(34c) He…did not permit them to speak, because they knew Him.

Like we discussed in the last lesson, Jesus didn’t want the demons to speak because it wasn’t time for Him to be revealed as the Son of God, nor did He want the testimony of demons—which would have been counter-productive.

The Text, part 3 – Praying and Jesus’ Purpose (Mark 1:35-39)

If you were to ask someone “Why did Jesus come to earth?” you’re likely to get a lot of different responses.  One answer, though, that you probably won’t get is what Jesus Himself said in this next passage.

(35) And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there He prayed.

After a busy night of healing the sick, and casting out demons, Jesus most certainly would have been tired.  However, early in the morning, a great while before the sun rose, Jesus got up and left Simon and Andrew’s house so He could go somewhere to be alone and pray.  To Mark’s readers, this shows the King is not doing this work for the attention—He needs time to Himself to spend in prayer.

This goes along with what Jesus said in Matthew 6:6 – But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward your openly.  In other words, there is benefit to be had from (1) praying, and (2) doing it in a place where you’re alone with God.

Jesus—God Himself in the flesh—thought it was important to find a time when He could be alone to pray.  I’m convinced that prayer is one of the most under-utilized blessings that Christians have!  If prayer was important to our Savior, shouldn’t prayer be important to us as well?

(36-37) Simon and they that were with him searched for Him. And when they had found Him, they said to Him, “All are seeking for You.”

It seems as though Jesus left the house without waking anyone, but when morning came, the people all returned to Simon’s house, wanting to find Jesus.  Were they bringing more people to be healed?  Or was it (if we want to give them the highest possible motives) that they wanted to know more about the Kingdom of God, and to hear what this messenger of heaven had to tell them?  The text doesn’t say.  What we do know is that the people were anxious to spend more time with Jesus.

The King’s mission in spreading the word about the imminent arrival of His Kingdom is working.  Instead of it being exclusively Him finding people to tell about the Kingdom, now people are trying to find Him, presumably with an open mind to what He has to say.

(38) He said to them, “Let’s go into the next towns, so that I may preach there also: for into this [work] have I come.”

The King’s mission in traveling around was not to heal the sick—it was to prepare people for the coming of His Kingdom.  His mission wasn’t to cast out demons—it was to prepare people for the coming of His Kingdom.  Make no mistake, healing the sick and casting out demons helped to convince people of His message, but those things were not the purpose of His mission.

Instead, Jesus Himself said plainly that He needed to go elsewhere and preach [the gospel of the Kingdom of God], because it is “therefore” [literally “into this”] that He had come.  We can take a cue from our Lord here, realizing that helping others is a good thing, but it is not the purpose of our mission here on earth.  Our purpose is to bring people to the King, Jesus the Christ; aiding others in their misfortunes is something we can do that can help to accomplish that goal.  Never lose sight of the ultimate goal—bringing people to the Kingdom of God.

(39) He preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out demons.

With this short sentence, Mark shows his readers that the King continued His work proclaiming the overthrow of the Kingdom of Darkness and defeating some of Satan’s minions along the way to prove His point.  It’s such a short sentence, but don’t for a moment think that means it is insignificant.  The people met in the synagogues on the Sabbath, once a week, and so this one sentence takes up potentially months of Jesus’ life.  What would you give to be able to have seen Jesus in action?  To be able to spend just one day with Him in person?  To see Him cast out demons?  Many people got to see it, and it is all condensed into the sentence, “He preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out demons.”

Application

Spend Time with Your Brethren Outside the Worship Assembly.

Jesus didn’t limit His interaction with God’s faithful children to the weekly assembly.  Simon and Andrew didn’t either, nor did James and John.  Instead, they spent time together outside of the worship building.  They went into each other’s homes, ate together, spent time together.  The early church did the same thing, “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and eating their bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46).

The church grows stronger when it spends more time together.

Peter was Never a Pope!

I’m sure you noticed it in the text: Peter was married!  Mark 1:30 (and it’s mentioned in Matthew 8 and Luke 4 as well) says Peter’s wife’s mother.  The Catholic Church makes the claim that Peter was the first pope, and that no priest, or Bishop, or Archbishop, or Cardinal, or Pope can be married.  In truth, the doctrine that the “clergy” (priests, bishops, etc…) can’t be married came about hundreds of years after Peter was dead and gone.  The doctrine was made official Catholic Church policy, and they acted as though it had always been the case, thus saying Peter wasn’t married either.  This is one of those verses that many Catholics haven’t ever heard of.

When You’re Able to Serve Others, Do It!

Look at Peter’s mother-in-law.  She’s been sick with a horrible fever that has made her unable to get up and do anything.  She’s weak and tired.  Then comes Jesus who heals her—and her healing is absolutely 100% instantaneous and complete.  Now, everyone in the room would probably have had no problem if she had spent the rest of the day sitting and resting after the ordeal she’d been through.  But she was able to work, so she got to work.  The lesson we can take from her example is that if we are able to serve others, we should be serving others.  Whether that’s your family, your employer, your church family, your friends, or whoever, we need to spend time in service to others.

Don’t Enslave Yourself to Sin!

Citizens of the Kingdom of Darkness are really nothing more than slaves, being controlled by sin.  Demons were controlling some of these people, and that’s horribly sad, but being controlled by sin is even sadder, because you’ve chosen your enslavement.  Jesus calls you to freedom from sin, and He’s cleared the path to make it easy for you.

Invitation

Jesus cleared the way to lead you to freedom through His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection from the dead.  All you have to do is take that path.

Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?  Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from here forward we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin (Romans 6:3-7).

God be thanked that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heard that form of doctrine that was delivered to you.  Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).

Be set free from the powers of sin by accepting Jesus Christ as the Son of God, making the choice to follow His path, acknowledging Him as the Savior, and being buried with Him in baptism so that you can be made free from sin.

Jesus the King pleads with you, and so do we.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Teaching the People and Casting out Demons

Sermon 4: Teaching the People and Casting out Demons

Text: Mark 1:21-28 – And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath day, He entered into the synagogue and taught.  And they were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.  And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “Let us alone!  What do we have to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God.”

And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Hold your peace, and come out of him.”  And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.  And they were all amazed, insomuch that they asked among themselves, saying, “What is this thing?  What new doctrine is this?  For He even commands the unclean spirits with authority, and they obey Him!”  And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.

Introduction

The King, Jesus of Nazareth, overcame a forty-day battle with Satan.  Afterwards, He began preaching that people needed to repent—to change their loyalties from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God, which was very near.  He called His first disciples, four men who were ready to join the kingdom and follow their King wherever He would lead them.   But Jesus didn’t stop there; His mission of calling souls to join His side had only just begun.

In the remainder of chapter one, Mark presents Jesus as an authoritative King, a caring King, but most importantly, a powerful King.

The Text, part 1 – Authority in Teaching (Mark 1:21-22)

(21) They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath Day, He entered into the synagogue and taught.

Jesus and the two sets of brothers (Andrew and Simon, James and John) went to Capernaum, which was most likely the nearest town, and was also where Andrew and Simon lived.  We’re not told what Jesus did between His arrival in Capernaum and the Sabbath Day (remember, Mark’s readers were interested in action), but we are told that once the Sabbath Day came, He made a point to be at the synagogue (which, in today’s language, would be the “weekly worship service” for the Jews).

The synagogue in Capernaum was “a beautiful structure, built of white limestone, show[ing] by its architectural features that it was built in the time of the Herods” (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel, p 271).  And it was built by an officer of the Roman army—a Gentile.  Mark doesn’t mention this fact, but Luke does (Luke 7:1-5).  The first recorded synagogue sermon in Mark’s gospel written to a Roman audience, was preached in a synagogue built by a Roman Centurion.

The synagogues, according to most biblical historians, arose out of necessity while the Jews were captives in Babylon.  They had no access to the temple (for it was destroyed), and so these “meeting places” sprung up in various Jewish settlements where they could meet and devote time to learning God’s word each Sabbath.  Even after they returned from captivity, they continued to have synagogues (the Greek word being a compound of three words literally meaning the “coming-together-place”).   Jesus’ frequent visits to these synagogues showed that God approved of the set-up.  During the synagogue gatherings each Sabbath, they would pray, read the Scripture and hear a portion expounded to them.  It’s almost as though the synagogues were part of God’s plan to prepare the Jews for the worship assemblies of the church.

It was into this gathering of devoted Jews that the King went that Sabbath Day and taught.

(22) And they were astonished at His teaching: for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

This is the same reaction that the people had after hearing the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 7:28-29).  Their astonishment wasn’t necessarily at the content of the message (we’re not told by Mark what He taught), but at the way in which He taught it.  He taught them with authority.

Don’t let this escape your notice, Mark is presenting Jesus as the King, spreading the word about His Kingdom—announcing that the Kingdom of Darkness is going to be overthrown.  His teaching in the synagogue would have absolutely included a discussion of this topic.  The King has gone to the people, in person, and is making the case for them to prepare themselves for His Kingdom.  People aren’t going to follow a weak leader, and Jesus was absolutely not weak—He taught them as one who had authority.

They were used to the teachings of the scribes.  These scribes were known for their teaching style of “probably” and “maybe,” and “it could be…”  That is, they were rarely firm on any matter of doctrine or practice, often quoting competing rabbis and leaving it up to the people to decide which one they liked best.  Not Jesus, though.  He taught them with authority: “This is how it is,” and as He so often did, He would have proven it from Scripture.  And don’t forget that He called His first disciples (the two sets of brothers) with an authoritative, “Come!” (Mark 1:17).

The Text, part 2 – Authority over Demons (Mark 1:23-28)

Jesus presented Himself as one who should be heeded by means of His message and delivery.  Next, He proceeds to prove that the Kingdom of God is at hand (and thus, He should be heeded) by His authority over the demonic world.

(23) There was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit

To put this in modern language, he was demon-possessed.  The word “unclean” literally means impure or defiled.  Some believe that these demons are fallen angels that God permitted to torment mankind.  I tend to agree more with Alexander Campbell, who made a pretty convincing case that the “unclean spirits” or “demons” (“devils,” KJV) were the souls of those wicked men who died in the flood (but that’s a completely different lesson).

This demon was there with the worshipers, in the same building during their worship!  This demon was a representative of the Kingdom of Darkness that Jesus was planning on overthrowing.  Let no one for a moment think that Satan doesn’t attempt to get at us even when we are gathered together to worship!  Think back to Job 1, where the “sons of God” (followers of God) came together to present themselves before God—and Satan was among them.  Think about Nadab and Abihu, offering worship to the Lord—but in a way that Satan wanted done.

Among most ancient cultures (and even many present-day ones), there was a fear of being taken over by an evil spirit.  And in the first century, when it was actually happening, that fear increased.  Later, Mark will record a demon-possessed man who would roam among the tombs and shattered the chains that they tried to bind him with, cutting himself and crying throughout the nights and days (Mark 5).

(24a) He cried out, saying, “Leave us alone!  What do we have to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth?”

This demon recognized quite clearly that Jesus was different.   Most humans, the demons didn’t fear.  They could tell the demons “leave that man” and the demons could refuse—or as in the case of the seven sons of Sceva, they could turn on the pseudo-exorcists and attack.  But not Jesus.  The demon knew who Jesus was, and what He was there for.

Jesus is the King, announcing the establishment of His kingdom, taking citizens out of the Kingdom of Darkness, and now He comes face-to-face (so to speak) with part of the army of darkness.  It’s like the King we’ve mentioned before, traveling into enemy territory, telling the citizens that He is about to overthrow their ruler, and now meeting face-to-face with one of the powerful knights of the realm, sword in hand.  The knight says to the king, “Get out!  You have no business here!”  If the king backs down, all of his work is lost, no one will follow him.  He has no choice but to engage the knight in battle.

(24b) “Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

Depending on the inflection of one’s voice as he reads this passage, it could be read as a combination of fear and pleading, something like in Luke 8:28, where Legion begs Jesus not to torment him.  On the other hand, it could also be read in a scoffing tone of voice, the demon chuckling at the thought that this Jesus could hurt him.

Again, imagine that knight, armed with a heavy, sharp sword, facing the king who has been trying to turn the hearts of the citizens to him.  He sits atop his horse and scoffs at the king before him, “Have you come to destroy us?” and laughs in derision.  “I know who you are.”

The demon identifies Jesus as “the Holy One of God,” or it could also be translated, “God’s Holy One” or “God’s Saint.”  For Mark’s readers, this was a reference back to the very first verse, where Jesus is identified as the Anointed One, Son of The God, as well as verse 11, where God spoke from heaven saying, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”  They would have seen this as the Kingdom of Darkness acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of the God.  They also would have seen this as a challenge to Jesus.

(25-26) Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Hold your peace and come out of him.”  And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.

There was no long, drawn-out battle between Jesus and this knight of darkness.  There was simply Jesus opening His mouth, ordering the demon to be silent, and commanding him to depart.  The demon fought against it, trying to harm the man in the process, but his power was pitiful compared to the power of Jesus.

Many have asked, “Why did Jesus tell the demon to be silent when it was proclaiming the truth about Him?”  There are multiple reasons for it.  First, Satan is a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44).  Thus, when a demon (a servant of Satan) proclaims the truth about Jesus, it can actually have the opposite effect of making people doubt the truth.  It’s like people say from time to time when they hear a story, “consider the source.”  Basically, you don’t want a chronic liar on your side, because it will make you look bad; the Pharisees could have used this event as evidence that Jesus was in league with Satan (as in Mark 3:22).  Second, though the statement from the demon was true, Jesus’ plan did not involve a public declaration to everyone of who He was (the Son of God) at that point.

(27a) They were all amazed.

And why wouldn’t they be?  Obviously, they knew that this man had an unclean spirit, and though Mark doesn’t describe for us the way the man had acted before (remember, Mark does very little in the realm of backstories), there must have been an incredible difference before and after Jesus spoke.  Before, the man may have been writhing in agony, moaning and crying, having seizures, or any number of other symptoms of his being overwhelmed by the dark knight.  After, the man would have been normal, in his right mind, most likely smiling, perhaps even having tears of joy running down his face.  The transformation would be amazing for certain!

(27b) they asked among themselves, saying, “What is this thing?  What new doctrine is this?  For He even commands the unclean spirits with authority, and they do obey Him!”

The devout Jews who gathered at the synagogue were amazed first because Jesus taught with authority, but now they are even more amazed, because His authority is even over the demons.  The demon said, “You leave us alone!”  And Jesus basically said, “No, you leave.”  And then the demon obeyed.

Mark’s readers couldn’t help but be surprised by this exchange between Jesus and the demon.  Like the people in Capernaum, they would have been amazed, wondering just how powerful this Jesus must be.  In the mythological stories of the Greek and Roman gods, there were always long, drawn-out battles, epic battles between the gods which sometimes lasted for years.  Yet this Son of the God won this battle by speaking a single sentence, a simple sentence.  It’s hard to place ourselves in their position, understanding it from their point of view, but what you’re reading right now in Mark is a description of sheer power.

Jesus, the King, had been promising that the Kingdom of God was “at hand,” and if there was any doubt as to His message, this absolute victory over one of Satan’s evil knights silenced them.

(28) Immediately His fame spread throughout all the region round about Galilee.

The people in Capernaum told their friends and family about Jesus, they in turn told others, and Jesus because very famous very quickly in that area.  And how could He not be?  Imagine that a doctor moves here, and he has the ability to genuinely cure cancer in one day—without chemotherapy, without surgery, without any of that stuff.  He heals a person who everyone knows is suffering horribly from that awful disease—it’s gone completely, and the person who before was weak and frail from this cancer is now healthy and energetic.  And not only that, people watched as this doctor did it.  Word would spread very quickly, and thousands of people would be pounding at his door begging to be healed in the same way.  It would be a very big deal.  This is what happened to Jesus after He healed this demon-possessed man (see verse 32).

Mark records this miracle of Jesus to show his readers (both then and now) that God’s Kingdom was indeed coming, and clearly had the power to overthrow the Kingdom of Darkness.

Application

Jesus Attended Worship Services, Do You?

Do not let this point escape your notice.  On the Sabbath Day, the day in which the Jews gathered together to study God’s word, to pray, to read the Scripture, and to hear a lesson from God’s word, Jesus was there in the synagogue with them.  To put it in modern language, Jesus “went to church.”  We can learn a lesson from that.  Jesus attended the worship services, and so should we.  And if you keep reading the gospel accounts, you’ll see that Jesus was frequently found in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  It wasn’t an isolated incident.

When Jesus died on the cross and was raised again, establishing His eternal Kingdom on the Day of Pentecost, He did away with the Old Testament Law.  From that point forward, the Lord’s Day, the day when citizens of the heavenly kingdom meet together in worship, is on the first day of the week.  It is a day to honor our King, remember His death, and celebrate each week the day that He came out of that grave, victorious over the king of Darkness.  Our King thought assembling for worship was important—do you?

Demons Confess Jesus, Do You?

Regardless of the motivation behind the demon saying “I know you, who you are, you’re the Holy One of God,” the fact remains that the demon openly acknowledged Jesus before others.  Still, how many people claim to know Jesus, claim to follow Jesus, claim to serve Jesus, yet outside of the church building, they never mention Him?  Can we really claim to be a follower of Jesus if the demons themselves do a better job of confessing Him than we do?  James says “the demons also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).  The King says, “If you confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).  How good of a job are you doing at confessing Jesus?

Jesus is the Authority.

Sad, so very sad is the fact that people who claim to follow Jesus Christ and who want the salvation He has to offer reject His very words when it comes to obtaining it.  Jesus is the authority.  He taught with authority, and in fact, He made the statement, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).  Since Jesus is the one with “all authority,” why don’t people simply follow it?

Invitation

For example, Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  It’s not that hard of a statement, yet there are those who say good, religious Jews will be saved today without a belief in Jesus.

Jesus, the King with all authority, said that “repentance” was to be preached “in his name [that is, by His authority] among all nations” (Luke 24:47).  But, how often do we hear the cry of “faith only!”?  My friends, if it’s “faith only,” then there’s no need to repent, and Jesus’ authority means nothing!

The Lord and Savior of the world said that we must acknowledge Him as the Christ.  It is that very fact upon which His whole kingdom is based (Matthew 16:15-19).  He does not admit anyone as citizen in His Kingdom who does not acknowledge Him as King.

The Conqueror of demons said plain as can be, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).  And yet those people claiming to be His friends deny the very thing which He said, denying that obedience to the King’s command to be baptized has anything to do with being a part of His kingdom.

The great Hero who overthrew the Kingdom of Darkness gave the order: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

This great King loves you and wants you to be saved.  But you’ve got to make the decision to obey His commands.  Won’t you do that today?

-Bradley S. Cobb

Preaching and Calling

Sermon 3: Preaching and Calling

Text: Mark 1:12-20 – Immediately the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness.  And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.  Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: you all repent, and believe the gospel.”  Now walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “You come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”  And immediately they forsook their nets and followed Him.  And when He had gone a little further from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.  And immediately He called them: and they left their father, Zebedee, in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him.

Introduction

Mark introduces most of the major characters and themes in the Bible in the first twenty verses of his account of the gospel.  Look at it for yourself.  There’s Jesus Christ, baptism, remission of sins, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom, Satan, angels, preaching, repentance, the apostles, Old Testament prophecy, and temptation.  Mark didn’t waste any time, he just dives right into the important things of the Bible.

But as you read today’s text, you’ll notice that Mark doesn’t do much explaining—and that there are very familiar aspects to some of these events that he simply leaves out.  Remember who he is writing to: the Romans.  They were people who liked continuous action, so Mark doesn’t slow down much in giving extra details.  What he does give, though, is enough to get the point across.

The Text, part 1 – The Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:12-13)

Matthew and Luke describe the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, as well as the response that Jesus gives in order to rebuke Satan.  Mark, on the other hand, does not give us much information at all.  Some people have said that this proves Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke simply “embellished” the account—which isn’t true at all.  All it proves is that Mark knew his audience.  They were interested in action, not in the use of 1,500-year-old Jewish writings (which they didn’t believe in at this point) to overcome temptation.

(12) Immediately the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness.

Note the action here.  Immediately the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness.  The word “drives” is ekballo in Greek, which literally means “cast out” or “drive out.”  It’s translated “expelled” (Acts 13:50), “thrust out” (Luke 4:29), and is used to describe the “casting out” of demons.  Thayer gives as one of the definitions, “to lead one forth or away somewhere with a force which he cannot resist.”  Matthew and Luke (chapter 4 of each gospel) both say Jesus was “led” by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark’s account is much more forceful.  The Holy Spirit was taking Jesus to the wilderness, whether He wanted to go there or not.  I doubt very strongly that Jesus would have tried to resist, but at the same time, I can’t imagine that he’d be looking forward to having Satan pull out his entire bag of tricks on Him there in the wilderness.  Remember that as a human, Jesus was subject to temptation just like we are (Hebrews 2:16-18).

Jesus had already come into the wilderness to be baptized by John (Mark 1:4-5, 9), but now He was being taken to another wilderness.  The word “wilderness” simply means “uninhabited place.”  With John preaching and multitudes come to him to be baptized, that area wasn’t as much of a wilderness—there were lots of people there.  So Jesus is taken to another place where it is just Him and the wild animals…and Satan.

(13a) He was there in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.

The temptations of Jesus were far more involved and lengthy than we might generally think.  Matthew and Luke give three specific temptations, but Mark states that Satan spent forty days tempting Jesus.  Luke says the same thing (Luke 4:2).  The three specific temptations given in Matthew and Luke took place at the end of that period, after Jesus was “a hungered” (Matthew 4:1-4).  But Mark simply states that Jesus—after being taken there by the Holy Spirit—was “being tempted” by Satan for forty days.

This is what you might call a “testing ground” for Jesus as the Son of God—as the anointed King of prophecy.  In some cultures, it is common for the son of the king (or the tribal chief) to be tested in order to prove his worthiness to inherit the throne.  When the testing period was completed, and the heir successfully completed the task, his claim to the throne was solidified.

This testing, or tempting (the Greek word can mean either one), was done by Satan himself.  There are those who argue that “Satan” should be translated as “adversary,” and that it isn’t really a proper name.  Remember that Mark is writing to a Roman audience.  If he had wanted to use the Greek word for “adversary” (antidikos), he could have; Matthew, Luke, and Peter all used it.  He could have even chosen to use a Latin equivalent, but he didn’t.  Instead, Mark used “Satanas”—the Greek spelling of the Hebrew word “Satan”—with no explanation of the meaning of the word (like he does in other places where Hebrew/Aramaic words are used).  The only way this word choice makes sense is if Mark was using it as a proper name.  Satan is a real being, and he is the one who tempted Jesus for forty days in the wilderness.

(13b) He…was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

Mark describes the wilderness as a place that was only inhabited by the wild beasts.  There were no other people around to help Jesus with this task of being tested directly by Satan.  He was by Himself against the greatest enemy in the history of mankind.  Mark doesn’t come out and say what the outcome of this combat was, but it will become very clear in the next verse.

The angels, the heavenly messengers, were sent by God to serve the needs of His Son who had successfully completed this battle-testing.  It would have been a grueling forty days, fasting, being attacked by Satan; so the Father sent ministers to His Son to help Him.  Imagine a prince being sent on a quest to test him; and as he returns after a vicious fight—victorious, but exhausted—the king sends some of his servants to carry the weapons, to take him food and water, to assist him back from his victory proving his complete loyalty to his father.  The angels of heaven ministered to Jesus in a similar way.

The Text, part 2 – The Preaching of the King and the Kingdom (Mark 1:14-15)

Mark showed that Jesus was taken by the Spirit and tempted by Satan, but unlike Matthew and Luke, he doesn’t show how Jesus overcame those temptations and won the battle.  But make no mistake about it, Mark is very clear that Jesus won.

(14a) Now after that John was put in prison…

Mark throws this in almost as a side note, but the readers almost certainly would be asking, “Wait! What happened to John?  Why was he put in prison?”  He does answer that question, but not until chapter six.  In the meantime, this helps to transition the narrative from “the King is coming!” to “the King is here!”  Because look at what Jesus is doing in this verse.

(14b) Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.

Jesus has returned from His victory over Satan in the 40-day Battle of Temptation, and now He is going around Galilee (His home area) proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God.  This would have been impossible if He had lost the battle with Satan.  Thus, the fact that Jesus is going around preaching about the “kingdom of God” proves that He won the battle.

This is the same “gospel” or “good news” that Mark opened the book with—the “gospel” or “good news” of Jesus Christ, Son of the God.  This is the same “gospel” that must be believed and obeyed in order to be saved.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of the Kingdom of God because Jesus is the King, the anointed one of God.

(15a) Saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”

For Mark’s readers, this is a reference back to verses 2 and 3.  There he gave ancient prophecies about the coming of a King preceded by the arrival of His messenger.  For those who heard Jesus speak, however, this was a reference to several Old Testament prophecies, including Daniel 2:44 and 9:24-25.

And in the days of these kings [of the fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire] shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.

Seventy weeks are determined upon your people [the Jews] and upon your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.  Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to build Jerusalem until the Messiah the Prince shall be sixty-nine weeks…

The message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God was “at hand.”  This phrase means something is very near; if something is within arm’s reach, it is literally “at hand.”  If it is not within arm’s reach, then it isn’t “at hand.”  It’s a very simple concept, but people have seriously twisted its meaning and tried to contort Jesus’ words to mean something completely different from what He was actually preaching.  Jesus, the Anointed One, the King, was proclaiming to people that the kingdom of God was very near.  In fact, later in this same book, Mark records Jesus saying, “Truly I say to you that there shall be some of them which are standing here which shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1).  It was coming in the lifetime of those people who were alive when Jesus spoke!

(15b) “You all repent and believe the gospel.”

The message of Jesus was much like John’s.  John preached “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4).  Jesus preached “repent” and “believe the gospel [of the kingdom of God].”  John proclaimed that a great King was coming, now Jesus [the King] is proclaiming that His kingdom would soon be established.

The command to “repent” has a dual (yet still singular) meaning: it means to leave sin behind, and change your allegiance from the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, Ephesians 2:2) and his “kingdom of darkness” (Colossians 1:13) to the King of kings and His “marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  So, as Jesus is going about preaching, He is also—as a King—inviting people to prepare themselves to join His kingdom.

It’s like if a king went through enemy territory, telling all the inhabitants that he was about to overthrow their leader.  He’d say to those who would listen, “His kingdom is going to fall, and you need to decide now which side you want to be on.  If you join with me, you will live.  Otherwise, you will certainly die.”  This is basically what Jesus is doing, getting people to change their allegiance from the kingdom of Satan (serving sin) to the kingdom of God.

The Text, part 3 – Calling His Representatives (Mark 1:16-20)

This section could also be entitled “The First Converts” or “The First Citizens,” because Mark’s purpose is to show that the preaching that the “kingdom of God is at hand” was effective—the King was gaining subjects.

(16) Now as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishermen.

Except during what’s called the “Triumphal Entry,”  (recorded in Mark 11), there is no record of Jesus traveling over land any other way but walking (and sometimes his sea travels were done by walking as well—as in Mark 6).  This may seem unimportant, but remember that Mark is showing his readers that this King is different.  Earthly kings would likely have ridden horses, or in chariots, but not this King.

Simon and Andrew lived together with their families in Capernaum (which is shown later in this chapter), and worked as fishermen.  According to J.W. McGarvey, “Fishing was then a prosperous trade on the lake of Galilee.”   The net that they were using  was an amphiblestron, a circular bell-shaped net that was tossed in the water and sank, catching any fish that it fell upon (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).  Fishing was not considered to be a high-class trade, but it was an honest one.  The fact that they were fishermen is what brings about Jesus’ words in the next verse.

(17) Jesus said to them, “You come after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”

The word “come” is not a request, as it might seem as you read the text.  The Greek word is a command, and the experts say it means “Come here!” or “Come!  Come now!”  Thayer and Strong both use exclamation points in the definition, showing just how strong of a command this is.  This is Mark showing the authority of Jesus and that He expects His subjects to put Him above everything—including their own (profitable) occupation.

Instead of spending their time gathering fish, Jesus promises Simon and Andrew that they will be gathering men—that is, people.  Jesus is building up His army, starting with these two brothers, and this army’s job includes recruiting—recruiting people to join the Empire of the new King, Jesus of Nazareth.  These two men would later be called “apostles,” and would be responsible for bringing thousands of souls over to the side of Jesus.

(18) And immediately they forsook their nets and followed Him.

Mark doesn’t usually stop and tell the backstory behind the events he records.  Here, he simply introduces Simon and Andrew to the narrative at the point in which they were called.  He could have, like John (John 1:35-51), told about how Andrew was introduced to Jesus by John the Immerser, and how he in turn found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus some time before, and that this event at the Sea of Galilee was something that took place afterwards.  But he didn’t, because those things weren’t necessary elements in his gospel account.  Remember, he is writing about Jesus, the King, Son of the God, and he’s writing to people who wanted constant action—not backstories of the supporting characters.

Simon and Andrew, upon hearing the command of Jesus, immediately left their nets behind and obeyed the command from the King to join Him.  They were the first of millions to answer the call to come to Jesus.  Notice that they didn’t hesitate; they didn’t argue; they didn’t say, “Well, I need to discuss this with so and so.”  They simply obeyed.

(19) When He had gone a little further from there, He saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.

James and John, according to Luke 5:10, were partners with Peter in the fishing business.  These two brothers were together in their boat with their father, Zebedee, getting their nets ready.  The word translated “mending” can also mean “adjusting” or “preparing.”  Jesus could see that these men were workers—they weren’t lazy.

(20) Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him.

Zebedee is someone about which we know very little.  His name appears 12 times in the Bible (all in the gospel accounts), but it is always with a reference to his sons.  It is obvious that he was a Jew, for his sons observed the Passover meal with Jesus.  It is likely that he was a faithful Jew, based on the fact that he had two sons who were prepared to follow Jesus at a moment’s notice, and on the fact that his wife (though misguided) was a firm believer in the kingdom of God (Matthew 20:20-21).  Zebedee was also Jesus’ uncle, having married Mary’s sister (see John 19:25 and Matthew 27:56; also McGarvey’s Fourfold Gospel, pages 220-226).  Some have made a big deal about Zebedee not leaving the ship with his sons, and have tried to imply that he wasn’t a believer in Jesus.  The fact is, Jesus didn’t call Zebedee to leave his ship—he only called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to do so.  He had selected them for a specific work that necessitated their leaving the fishing business.  Jesus never made “quit your job” a requirement for being a disciple—but it seems He did make that part of being an apostle.

The two brothers left their father with the hired servants [employees] and followed Jesus.  By making sure to point out that they left their father in the boat, Mark is pointing out that loyalty to King Jesus takes priority over family as well.

Application

Repentance is a Change of Loyalty

Jesus, the King, was preaching the good news that God’s kingdom—God’s empire—was near.  He wanted people to change their loyalties and join Him.  That is, He was calling on them to repent, to change, and follow Him.  When we call people to come to Jesus today, we need to help them understand that repentance is a change of loyalty—it is removing the crown off our own head and placing it before Jesus Christ.  It’s saying “My life is no longer being lived in the service of me, but in the service of Jesus.”  It’s leaving sin behind (for sin is serving self), and dedicating yourself completely to your new King.  Repentance isn’t merely being sorry for your sins, it is a complete change in the object of your life.

Maybe you’ve already pledged allegiance to the King of kings, declaring your loyalties lie with Him through baptism.  But then something else happens; someone starts courting you to come back to your old king.  And maybe you’ve done things that show your loyalty to the King isn’t what it should be.  Maybe you’ve done things that show you’re still loyal to your old masters, sin and Satan.  This happened to a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom named Simon.  Another man named Simon (also known as Peter), said it quite clearly: “Repent!”  Be sorrowful about your sins, pray to God for forgiveness, and re-establish your loyalty to Jesus, the King of God’s kingdom.

As a point of comparison, the Christian who goes back into sin is like a citizen of the United States who is convinced to send money to terrorists.  On one hand, he claims to be loyal to the United States, while on the other hand he shows that his loyalty is to the enemies of this nation.  You can’t do both!

Loyalty to Jesus Trumps All Other Relationships

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, He expected them to leave their fishing business behind in order to follow Him.  When He called James and John, He expected them to leave their father behind in order to follow Him.  The first two brothers could have said, “We get off in a couple hours; we’ll follow you then.”  They could have said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do, can we reschedule?”  But they didn’t.  They followed Jesus.  Following Jesus has to be the most important part of our lives if we expect to be counted among the faithful.  That means we cannot let our jobs keep us from serving Him.

The second set of brothers could have said, “But Jesus, we’ve got to take care of our father.”  They could have added, “This is a family business, and we can’t leave dad in a lurch like that!”  They could have even said, “Jesus, hold on, we’ve got to talk this over with the family before we decide whether or not to follow you.”  But they didn’t.  They heard the invitation of Jesus and followed Him.  Far too many people let family or friends influence their decision on whether or not to follow Jesus.  Even after pledging their loyalty to Jesus, some Christians let their family keep them from being a productive citizen in God’s kingdom.  Sometimes they even let family convince them to renounce their loyalty altogether.  This is why Jesus said that we must “count the cost” of being His disciple—of becoming part of His Kingdom (Luke 14:26-33).

If there is no Kingdom, there is no Salvation.

The “gospel” must be believed and obeyed in baptism in order to save someone (Mark 16:15-16).  However, the “gospel” that Jesus preached was “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of the kingdom of God (one translation renders it as “God’s Empire”); they are one and the same.  There are those who claim that Jesus came to earth to set up a kingdom, but was thwarted by the unbelieving Jews.  If that is the case, then the gospel that Jesus preached was a gospel that failed.  A gospel of failure isn’t “good news” at all!  And a gospel of failure certainly has no power to save souls.  Can you believe that there are those who teach such nonsense?

The truth is that the Kingdom exists; that Jesus is the King over His kingdom; and that it is the only place wherein you can have safety.  It is the church—His church—over which He reigns in love.  That, my friends, is truly good news!

Invitation

The gospel is the good news that the King came from heaven, lived among His people, died for them, and then came back to life to reign from heaven—and that those who become citizens of that kingdom are adopted into the royal family and can “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6, John 14:1-3).

The offer to be a part of the Kingdom of God, to have all of your sins forever removed, and to live eternally with the victorious King is made to everyone.  But sadly, not all believe.  The question today is this: do you believe?  Do you believe in Jesus, Son of the God of heaven?  Do you know that through His death, burial, and resurrection, He established His Kingdom—a Kingdom that will never fall?  If you believe, then won’t you pledge your loyalty to Him and become part of that eternal Kingdom?  Decide now to change your life; stop serving yourself and start serving Jesus (in other words, repent).  Make it known that you want to be on the Lord’s side, and then through your own death (to sin), burial (in water), and resurrection (to walk in newness of life), you can be part of His Kingdom.

The King awaits, and so do we.  Please come…

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Coming of the King

Sermon 2: The Coming of the King

Text: Mark 1:2-11 – As it is written in the prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!’”  John did immerse in the wilderness, and preach the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins.  And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and those of Jerusalem, and were all immersed by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.  And John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a belt of leather around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, “There comes one mightier than I, after me, the laces of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I indeed have immersed you in water: but He shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit.

And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was immersed by John in the Jordan.  And immediately, coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending on Him.  And there came a voice from heaven, saying, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Introduction

Mark wrote to a Roman audience; an audience that grew up hearing the stories about various gods, hearing the legends about the children of the gods, and even tales about prophesies regarding these various supposed deities coming to earth.  But if they started reading the gospel that Mark wrote, they’d instantly be captivated by his statement that there is only one God (Mark 1:1 literally says that Jesus Christ is “Son of the God”).  And Mark follows that by quoting two prophecies that pointed to a theophany (appearance of deity on earth).

The Text, part 1 – The Prophecy (Mark 1:2-3)

(2a) As it is written in the prophets

With this statement, Mark subtly asserts the superiority of this prophecy to those supposed prophecies of Greek and Roman legends.  When “prophecies” appear in Greek and Roman myths, they’re almost always introduced in the same story where they are “fulfilled.”  That is to say, there are no examples of a “prophecy” being given in the name of Zeus or Hermes or whoever that was written down and then fulfilled at a later period of time.  All the “prophecies” appear for the first time in the stories that they supposedly point to.

Meanwhile, Mark starts off with “As it is written in the prophets…”  This bold statement invites his readers to do some research and look at the fact that these prophecies have been on record, foretelling a theophany, for hundreds of years!  This is a massive distinction made between the gods of Rome and the God of heaven whose Son is the subject of this short book.

Some translations follow a less-trustworthy Greek text and have the phrase “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” but the first quotation isn’t from Isaiah—it’s from Malachi.

(2b) Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, which shall prepare the way before You

If one of the Roman readers of this book were to take Mark’s challenge and look for this prophecy, he’d find it in the book of Malachi, written about 450-500 years before Mark wrote his book.  While this prophecy foretells the work of John the Immerser (Jesus quotes it as such in Matthew 11:10 and Luke 7:27), its primary focus is on the coming (theophany) of the Lord.  Malachi 3:1 says “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before ME.”  If you continue reading that verse, you’ll see that it was spoken by the Lord (Jehovah).

Now, Mark knew that the majority of his original readers wouldn’t take the time to look up the original prophecies, and so—as the narrator—he only brings up three in his entire book, two of which are right here.  There are other Old Testament prophecies mentioned, but they are mentioned by Jesus, and Mark is simply quoting Him.

In the ancient times, when a king was going to visit a city, he would first send a messenger, a herald, first to announce his coming so that the people could be prepared.  Oftentimes this would be done months—sometimes over a year—in advance of his arrival.  The cities that received an arrival of the king were considered to be specially favored, because the king didn’t make trips to all the cities.  It was an incredible honor to have the king visit your city.

When it was announced that the king was coming, the people would work hard to beautify their city.  They would many times build new buildings, would repair older ones, painting them, repair the city streets, and anything else they could think of to make a good impression for the royalty that was blessing them with his presence.  It was the job of the messenger, the herald, to encourage the people to be ready.  He would point out the things that needed to be fixed in the city, and would give suggestions on how to best be prepared to welcome the king.

Since this was true of people preparing to meet a physical king, how much more should they be preparing when it is the God of heaven whose coming is being announced?  Since the great kings of the earth would announce their arrival months in advance, how much greater is the King whose coming was announced hundreds of years in advance?

(3a) The voice of one crying in the wilderness

This is an interesting contrast with the historical background.  A messenger would go into cities to announce a future visit of the king, but this messenger of prophecy would make his announcement in the “wilderness.”  This was another clue to the original readers that there was something different about this theophany, about this arrival of a monarch.

Verse 3 is a quotation from Isaiah 40:3.

(3b) Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight

In addition to beautifying the buildings and the city, prior to the arrival of the king, the inhabitants of the city would do road work.  They would smooth out bumpy roads, straighten out twisting roads, and not just inside the city.  They would work on the path to their city gates for several miles outside their town, just so the king’s journey to their city would be a pleasant one.

Of course, Mark is about to drop a figurative bomb on his readers when he tells them that the preparation for this king has nothing to do with fixing roads and beautifying buildings.

The Text, part 2 – The Messenger (Mark 1:4-6)

Mark doesn’t dwell much on John the immerser—John is only a part of about 30 verses (less than 5% of the book of Mark).  The messenger was an envoy of the king, but everyone knew that while he was an important person, he was nothing compared to the one whose coming he announced.

(4) John did immerse in the wilderness, and did preach the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins.

Mark began this section with the words “As it is written in the prophets…” or “Like it was written in the prophets…” and then gives the quotations.  But verse 4 is a continuation of that phrase.  “Like it was written in the prophets…John did immerse in the wilderness, and preach…”  Mark’s point in this verse is to show (1) the person—the messenger, John—who was foretold, (2) the place—the wilderness—that was foretold, and (3) the preparation—immersion of repentance for the remission of sins—that was foretold.

The preparation for the arrival of the great King—God in the flesh—didn’t involve fixing the streets or building new buildings.  It involved preparation of the people.  The Roman readers would have been perplexed by this.  “What kind of king seeks moral cleansing, spiritual betterment prior to His arrival instead of physical improvements?”

The work of the messenger, John, was to get the people to think about their spiritual condition, believing in the coming of the King, the Messiah, repenting, and being immersed for the remission of sins.  This is how the “way of the Lord” was being prepared.  This is how His “paths” were being made straight.  When the King arrived, He preached the same thing, and commanded that the same thing continue to be preached even after He left (Luke 24:47, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38, etc.).

Because John’s work was one of spiritual preparation, his immersion was one with spiritual effects when coupled with repentance.  It had the same effect as the baptism commanded by the King (Jesus Christ), through Peter, on the Day of Pentecost three years later—the remission (removal, forgiveness) of sins.

(5) And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and those of Jerusalem, and were all immersed by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

The ancient heralds would go to the city gates or to public place inside the city to make their announcement, and all the people would come to hear it.  John made his announcement in the wilderness, but still all the people came to hear it.  He was (as seen in verse 7) announcing the coming of the King, and the people who believed him wanted to make themselves right in anticipation of His arrival.

(6) John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a belt of leather around his waist; and he ate locusts and wild honey.

Mark adds this information about the appearance and diet of John for a very important reason.  The heralds of kings in the ancient days would be clothed in fine clothing, expensive clothing, and would expect gifts of clothing from the people.  They also expected, as emissaries of the king, to be “wined and dined,” eating the best food that the city had to offer (without paying for it, of course).  Not all were like that, for certain, but it was common for the heralds of kings to take advantage of the people in the city, with the implication “I’d hate to have to tell the king you were uncooperative…”

In stark contrast to these well-dressed and well-fed men, John came dressed in camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist.  And he didn’t feast on the best the people had to offer—his diet consisted of things he could get for himself, provided by nature.

The thoughtful Roman reader couldn’t help but be struck by the imagery.  What kind of king sends his messenger dressed in poor man’s clothing and eating locusts?  But at the same time, they would have also had a level of admiration for the king whose messenger refused to use his position to line his own pockets and fill his own stomach.

The Text, part 3 – The Announcement (Mark 1:7-8)

The prophecies quoted by Mark for his readers started with the messenger, and Mark identified the messenger.  The prophecy then spoke of the preparation, and Mark described the preparation.  The prophecy spoke of the place where this work was to be done, and Mark showed the location.  The prophecy then gave the announcement—the Lord is coming!

(7) And he preached, saying “There comes one mightier than I after me, the laces of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”

This is John being the herald, the messenger, announcing the coming of the King.  The people listening to his message didn’t know exactly who this King was yet (they knew He was the Messiah, but they didn’t know it was Jesus yet), but Mark’s readers were given the answer at the very beginning: Jesus Christ, Son of the God.

As important as the herald was, and as much respect as he was to be given, he was nothing compared to the King which would follow.  This is the imagery that Mark, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is presenting to his readers.  John, the messenger of the King who is the Son of the one and only God, should have been—by worldly standards—the most important herald in the history of mankind (and Jesus even said there was no man greater than John, Matthew 11:11).  But even the greatest messenger in the history of the world wasn’t worthy to touch the feet to untie the shoes of the King he was announcing.

How powerful and mighty must this King be!

(8) “I indeed have immersed you in water, but He shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit.”

This is a continuation of the announcement of the coming King and a description of His greatness and power.  John had immersed people in water—that common item that covers the majority of the globe.  And it wasn’t even pristine water, it was the not-exactly-clean water of the Jordan River, which was inferior to the rivers in Syria to the north (2 Kings 5:12).  The point is that John immersed people in a common element, but that the King who would come had the power to immerse people in power from heaven.  What an incredible contrast!

While John’s listeners were familiar with the Holy Spirit, Mark’s original readers probably weren’t.  And so it comes as no surprise that just a few verses later, Mark shows the source of the Spirit: God Himself!

The Text, part 4 – The King Arrives (Mark 1:9-11)

(9) And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was immersed by John in the Jordan River.

The reaction of the readers must have been much like the reaction of Nathanael, who said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).  That is, if they’d even heard of Nazareth.  They had probably heard of Galilee, and that would probably have elicited a similar reaction.  Galilee was an insignificant area, so far as the Romans were concerned.

But they’ve already been told that Jesus is the Anointed One, son of the God (1:1), they’ve been shown the prophecy about the messenger announcing the arrival of this Lord (1:2-3), and they’ve read his might and power described (1:7-8).  So their expectations were probably something completely different from what happens in this verse.  It’s no surprise, since that’s what happened with the Jews as well.  They expected a Messiah much different than the one that God sent.

John described the coming King as someone who was so mighty that He had the powers of heaven at His command (will immerse you with the Holy Spirit), and so regal that John wasn’t even worthy to untie this King’s shoes.  The expectation, then, would be someone who thought of themselves as above everyone else, who couldn’t be bothered with the common person.  Yet here comes Jesus, going out into the wilderness, coming to the same person for baptism, going down into the same dirty, common waters of the Jordan River, allowing the one who wasn’t worthy to untie His shoes to immerse Him like he had done so many others.

This verse reveals Jesus as a King who is humble, not like the kings of this world.

(10) And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit like a dove descending on Him.

Take a moment to picture this scene in your mind.  Jesus has come to be immersed in the waters of the Jordan River by John.  Jesus steps into the water and stands next to the Immerser.  John then takes hold of Jesus, and plunges Him beneath the water’s surface before lifting Him back up.  And at that moment, the heavens open up.  Do you see the clouds parting in the sky?  Do you see a bright ray of sunlight shining down towards our Lord?  Don’t just read over this verse and miss the incredible scene that took place, because this is part of the proof of what Mark stated in the first verse: Jesus Christ, Son of the God.

Jesus, the King, was described as the one who would have the power over the Holy Spirit (baptizing people in the Holy Spirit—verse 8).  Now, in this verse, it is shown that the Holy Spirit comes from heaven—from God—and resides with Jesus.  Some view this event to be the moment when Jesus is anointed as King.

(11) And there came a voice from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Here is the public proclamation of Jesus as Son of the God.  The heavens have opened, the Spirit has descended, and now the voice from heaven itself—the realm of the one true God—speaks, announcing that Jesus of Nazareth is His Son.

Mark concludes the opening section of his account of the good news of Jesus by showing that Jesus is the Son of God, just like he stated in the first verse.

Application

The Old Testament was Written for our Learning.

If you look through the book of Acts, you’ll see that the apostles used the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.  While we do not live under the Old Testament (nor did the apostles after the Day of Pentecost), we can increase our faith and learn more about God by studying those writings.  Even though Mark doesn’t spend a lot of time bringing up the Old Testament prophecies, he does show that he is familiar with them, and that they can still be used to prove the truth of Jesus as the Christ.

The Messenger of God Cannot be Focused on Himself.

There was no one greater than John the Immerser, according to Jesus Christ, but John didn’t let that status, as the messenger of the King, go to his head.  He didn’t wear fancy clothes when he proclaimed his message—the Pharisees did, but John didn’t.  He was dressed in common clothing.  He didn’t try to abuse his role and make demands of people, catering to his whims and opinions.  Instead, the only demands he made of people were those that involved their spiritual condition (Luke records these in greater detail).  The ones who were trying to run others’ lives, he called a “generation of vipers” (Matthew 3:7).  Likewise, if we are to truly be God’s messengers, we need to make sure we focus on making people spiritually prepared for the Lord’s coming.  Making an issue, demanding that someone cater to your opinion, is putting the focus on you and not on God.

Jesus was Humble, We must be Humble.

There are baptized believers who are arrogant instead of humble.  Sometimes it is seen in how they talk about those in denominations, as though they are so much smarter than those denominationalists because of a proper understanding of baptism—as though the denominationalists are intentionally keeping themselves out of heaven.  Other times it is seen in how they treat other Christians, specifically those who are struggling spiritually, as though they never have any spiritual struggles.  Jesus came to save the lost and to give us an example of the attitude we are to have towards others—brethren and non-brethren alike.  Jesus lived a life of humility, of humble service, not using His status as King to make people bow down to His every whim, but showing them the right way to live.  We need to follow that same example.

Baptism Involves being able to “come up out of the water.”

The largest religious denomination in the world teaches that sprinkling water on someone is considered baptism.  Others teach that pouring water on someone’s head constitutes baptism.  But when Jesus was baptized, He “came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10).  That means He first had to be “in” the water.  You can’t “come out of the water” after having some sprinkled on you.  You can’t “come out of the water” after having some poured on you.  But you have no choice but to “come out of the water” after you’ve been immersed in it.  Baptism is immersion.

Invitation

The King of kings, the Son of the one true God of heaven, did come to the earth to visit mankind.  When He did, He lived a life of perfect service and obedience to the Father, giving us an example to follow.  He gave those who believed in Him and wanted to be saved a very simple command: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins.”

Why don’t you come follow the King now?

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of THE God

Another one of our many “in progress” projects is a sermon commentary on the book of Mark.  Each section is broken down into a sermon, complete with introduction, points from the text, application, and invitation.

Starting today, and following each Friday for the foreseeable future, we will be posting a sermon from this collection.  It is ready to preach, so if you think it is worthwhile, preach it! (that’s why it’s being put here).

Sermon 1: The Introduction

Text: Mark 1:1 – The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Introduction

The book of Mark is a biography of Jesus Christ that differs from each of the other Gospel accounts in the Bible (Matthew, Luke, and John) in some significant ways. (1) Its size—Mark is significantly shorter than any of the other accounts. (2) Its speed—Mark pictures Jesus constantly on the move doing the Father’s will, and uses the word euthus (translated “immediately” or “straightway”) over forty times in his short book.  To put this in perspective, this word appears more times in the book of Mark than it does in the rest of the New Testament combined! (3) Its focus on Jesus’ final week—almost 40% of this book is dedicated to Jesus’ passion week. (4) Its starting point—Matthew and Luke both deal with the birth and some of the early life of Jesus; John goes all the way back to creation to show Jesus [the Word] was there; but Mark starts his record with the baptism of Jesus by John.

Mark most likely wrote his account of the gospel to a Roman audience.  He had to interpret certain Aramaic [the spoken language of the Jews] words and phrases so that his readers would understand them (Mark 3:17, 5:41, 7:34, 15:22, 34).  He also used several Latin words instead of their Greek counterparts; and Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire.  “Bushel” (Mark 4:21), “executioner” (Mark 6:27), “tribute” (Mark 12:14), “farthing” (Mark 12:42), “scourged” (Mark 15:15), “Praetorium” (Mark 15:16), “band” (Mark 15:16), “centurion” (Mark 15:39).  The Greek equivalents of each of these words appear elsewhere in the Bible, but God inspired Mark to use the Latin in those places instead, because this was written to a Roman audience.  It is also said that Romans had a penchant for fast-moving reading, and didn’t want to be bogged down with explanations and commentary on a story—Mark definitely fits the bill on that as well.

The book of Mark is controversial among biblical scholars and commentators in two ways: (1) the absence of the last twelve verses of the book in two ancient manuscripts, and (2) the date of its composition.  We will deal with the validity of Mark 16:9-20 when we cover that passage of inspired Scripture.  The date is controversial because some want to make the claim that Mark wrote his first, and that Matthew and Luke simply copied from him and embellished it—in other words, they’re claiming that an apostle of Jesus Christ wasn’t able to tell the story of Jesus’ life without first reading it from someone else and plagiarizing it.  The date of the original composition is truly irrelevant to its truthfulness (except that it obviously must have been written during Mark’s lifetime), but here are some things to consider about it.

  • Mark records the prophecy of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-2), but says nothing about it having been fulfilled, which places the writing of the book prior to AD 70.
  • Biblically speaking, there is no evidence that Mark had any influence with Gentiles until Paul’s first missionary journey—which he abandoned (Acts 12:25, 13:13). Given his retreat to Jerusalem, abandoning the mission to the Gentiles, it would be difficult to believe that Mark’s writings would have been accepted among that same group.
  • It isn’t until at least fifteen years after the conversion of Paul that Mark does any more missionary work (Galatians 2:1, Acts 15, especially verses 33-37). Until that point, he had been in Jerusalem among the Jewish Christians.  This is usually estimated to be around AD 49.
  • It isn’t until AD 60 or afterwards that Mark’s name appears in the Bible in any kind of authoritative way, (a) as a fellow-worker with Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and (b) as a “profitable” minister for Paul (2 Timothy 4:11).

Taking these biblical pieces of evidence into consideration, it would appear the book of Mark was written somewhere between AD 50-65, probably close to the latter half of that timespan.  The book of Matthew, by comparison, was most likely written between AD 40-50; the early Christian writers unanimously stating that his was the first gospel account written.  Mark was not written first.

Mark’s name has always been attached to this book, and no one among the early Christians had any doubt that he was the one who wrote it.  To put it another way, there are no copies of the book of Mark that have another name put in his place as the writer.

The Text (Mark 1:1)

The Beginning

The apostle John starts off his account of the good news of Jesus Christ with the words “In the beginning was the Word.”  Mark uses the same Greek word for “beginning,” but he isn’t speaking of the creation week that starts the whole biblical record.  Mark’s focus is on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, culminating in His victorious death on the cross.  It is when this gospel is believed and obeyed that people can be saved—this is the good news (Mark 16:15-16)!  Mark doesn’t start with “Jesus died,” but with the beginning of Jesus’ work on earth.

It’s also worth noting that Luke uses similar wording to describe his written account of the life of Jesus.  He says in his sequel (the book of Acts) that his gospel account recorded “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).  This implies that there was still more to come.  The book of Acts records more of the things that Jesus did and taught—through His servants.  The same idea is apparent in Mark’s use of the word “beginning” as well.  The death of Jesus on the cross was not the end—there was more to come.  That great event still has powerful effects to this day to save souls!

Of the Gospel

The word “gospel” comes from the Greek compound word, euangellion, which is where we get the English word “evangelize.”  It’s made up of two Greek words: eu, which means “good,” and angelia, which means “message” (see 1 John 3:11).

What makes the things contained in the book of Mark “good news”?  The answer to that question can be found by cheating a bit and skipping ahead to see how the book ends.  If you turn to Mark 16:15-16, you’ll see that the “gospel” [good news, same as in 1:1] is to be proclaimed to the whole world.  So, from that, we know that the same subject is under consideration at the end of the book as at the beginning.  But notice what this message has the power to do: he that believes [the gospel] and is baptized [obeying the gospel] shall be saved.  Salvation?  Being able to have all of our sins removed?  That certainly is good news!  Of course, the opposite is also true: he that does not believe [the gospel] shall be damned.

Mark introduces the book with “the beginning of the gospel [good news] of Jesus Christ,” and ends with the gospel being proclaimed to bring about salvation.  So we have seen what the good news does, and why it’s good news.  It’s the information between the beginning and the end of this book that shows what the good news actually is.

The apostle Paul described the gospel as that “which I preached…, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; by which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I have preached [that is, the gospel] to you” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).  He then states that the what he preached [the gospel] was “that Christ died for our sins…and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day,” and that His resurrection is proof that we will be resurrected as well (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 12-28, 51-58).  Is it any wonder, then, that Mark spends close to forty percent of his book describing the events surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?

Some people have a hard time with the idea of “obeying the gospel,” because they see the gospel as a series of events, and not as any kind of command.  But God’s inspired writers said that vengeance will come on those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).  Thankfully, we are not left in the dark as to what it means to obey the gospel—to somehow obey the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:2-5).

The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf; it is the good news about salvation that comes through Him; it is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we obey when we are baptized into Christ.

Of Jesus

The phrase “of Jesus” is in the genitive case in Greek, which means that this is the good news that belongs to Jesus Christ.  It is His gospel; He lived it; He revealed it; and He confirmed it.

“Jesus” is the name that was given to the baby born to Mary after she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25).  It is common to hear people say that “Jesus was at the beginning of creation” and that “Jesus created everything.”  While those statements express truth, the wording could use some fixing up, because He did not have the name “Jesus” until He was born as a human.  The name “Jesus” expresses His humanity.  Prior to His incarnation [coming to earth as a human], He was known as “the Word” (John 1:1), as “Jehovah” (Isaiah 6, compared with John 12:36-41), and as “the Angel of Jehovah” (Exodus 3:1-6, see whose appearance caused the ground to be holy).  But He was not known as “Jesus” until Matthew 1:25.

The name “Jesus” is the same as “Joshua” in the Old Testament.  “Jesus” is from the Greek, “Joshua” is from the Hebrew.  In fact, there are several Bible translations online and in print that use “Yeshua” (the Hebrew form of the name) instead of “Jesus.”  The name itself means “Jehovah is salvation.”  No other name captures the essence of who Jesus is and what His life and death means to the entire world.  It is the perfect name for the Son of God!

Even after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, He is still called “Jesus,” showing that He retains His humanity, even after taking His place at the right hand of the Father.

Christ

The words “Jesus Christ” appear together so frequently in the Bible that a lot of people mistakenly think that “Christ” is part of Jesus’ name.  It is not.  The word “Christ” is a title, and it means “anointed one.”  In the Old Testament, anointing was done to “consecrate,” “sanctify,” and turn men into God’s “minister[s]”—that is, to make someone a priest (Exodus 28:41).  Prophets were also anointed to the position as spokesmen for God (1 Kings 19:16).  And we must not forget also that kings were anointed to make their selection official (1 Samuel 10:1, 16:13; 1 Kings 19:16).  Jesus of Nazareth was given the title “the anointed one” because He is all three: prophet, priest, and king (Acts 3:20-22; Hebrews 9:11; 1 Timothy 6:15).

The Hebrew word “Messiah” (Daniel 9:25-26) is translated “anointed” everywhere in the Old Testament except for the prophecy of Daniel.  In that passage, it is given as a title—the one that the Jews had been waiting for would be known as “the Messiah” or “the Anointed One.”  So when Peter announces by inspiration that Jesus is “the Christ” (Matthew 16:16), he proclaims that Jesus is the “Messiah” or “the Anointed One.”

It’s also interesting to look at Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost and notice that he’s discussing the “Christ” of prophecy, and showing how “Jesus” fits those prophecies.  We tend to think “Jesus” and “Christ” are interchangeable terms when they’re not.  Peter starts his sermon by proclaiming the murder and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God by miracles.  He states that David prophesied this event, and then says “he…spoke of the resurrection of Christ [the Anointed One]” (Acts 2:31).  Then he points out, “This Jesus, God has raised up, we are all witnesses of it” (Acts 2:32).  The conclusion of his sermon is that the Messiah and Jesus are one and the same: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).  Most of the people there believed in Christ, believed in the Messiah, or the Anointed One, but they didn’t know that Jesus was Him!

Son

A thousand years or so before Jesus was born, a king in a relatively tiny country along the Mediterranean Sea wrote these words:

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Jehovah, and against His Anointed [Hebrew Messiah], saying “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.”  He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.  Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure, “Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.”  I will declare the decree: “Jehovah has said to me, ‘Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee.  Ask of me, and I shall give you the heathen [Hebrew Gentiles] for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.  You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”  Therefore now be wise, O you kings: be instructed you judges of the earth.  Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little.  Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him (Psalm 2:2-12).

The Old Testament prophesied that the Anointed One would be called “the Son” of Jehovah.  From the very beginning of Mark’s gospel account, he makes that point clear: Jesus Christ [the Anointed One] is the Son of God.

There are some religious groups who maintain that since Jesus is the Son of God, He cannot also be God.  What they seem to miss (some of them intentionally) is that this phrase is referring to the nature of Jesus the Christ.  Jesus frequently refers to Himself as “the Son of man,” but not a one of these groups would dare use their same argument and say that Jesus cannot be human because He was the Son of man (the Greek word means “human”).  The son of a human is human—that is his nature.  Jesus, being the Son of God, is therefore God—that is His nature.

The Son is the heir to all that belongs to the Father.  In the passage quoted from Psalms, the Gentiles are offered as an inheritance to the Son.  When we come to Jesus Christ, obeying His gospel, we become fellow heirs with Him (Romans 8:16-17).  He inherits all things that belongs to the Father, and He is willing to share it with us!

Of the God

Most English translations simply say “the Son of God” at the end of the verse, but the Greek says “Son of the God.”  This is a very important point, especially when you realize that Mark was writing to a Roman audience.  The Romans, like the Greeks, had a plethora of gods that they worshiped.  The legends that sprang up around these mythical deities included having children with humans.  For example, Hercules was the son of Zeus [Jupiter] in these legends; and he was not the only one.  The Romans would have been very familiar with the idea of someone being as son of one of the gods, or the son of a god.  But with the insertion of the word “the,” Mark immediately got his reader’s attention.  With just this one word, he denied the entire worship system of the Roman culture.  With just this one word, Mark said, “All the Roman and Greek gods are fake.”  With this one word, Mark said, “There is only one God.”  This would have grabbed his readers’ attention immediately.

Mark’s gospel account was probably written as an evangelistic tool.  Written to people who believed in many sons of many gods, Mark tells them “Let me tell you about the good news of the one Son of the real God, and why it’s important.”

Application

The Gospel is still good news!

For far too long, most Christians have been afraid to spread the “gospel” because they seem to view it as some theological concept that they would have to explain and defend.  Instead, we need to recognize that “gospel” simply means “good news”!  It’s not hard to spread good news to people—especially to friends and family, but even to strangers.  Do you view what Jesus did for you as good news?  Then share it as good news!  Tell people “I’ve been saved from my sins and it is so wonderful!”  It’s important that we remember that salvation through Jesus Christ really is good news.

The focus of the Gospel is Jesus the Christ!

The good news about salvation is that Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—came to this earth as a King, but lived as a servant; that He overcame temptation; that He lived His entire life without sinning even once; that His apparent defeat in being crucified was actually His triumphant victory over Satan; that though He was buried, He was raised up on the third day to live forevermore.  The good news is about what Jesus did.  Sometimes we focus so much on what our response should be (obeying the gospel) that we forget to focus on why it matters in the first place.  Never forget that the gospel is first and foremost about Jesus Christ and what He accomplished.

The good news of Jesus Christ requires a response!

While Jesus Christ is the focus of the Gospel, He has also given us the opportunity to join with Him in His victory.  It is good news for us as well!  But it requires a response.  Jesus told His disciples that the good news was to be spread to the whole world.  The ones who believed the good news and were baptized would be saved.  But the ones who refused to believe the good news would be damned.  Those are the two choices that Jesus gave—there is no third option.  You either believe the good news, and therefore obey it, or you don’t believe the good news.

Invitation

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, as written by Mark, was designed to show that the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is truly good news.  It is only through the gospel that there is salvation (Mark 16:15-16, Romans 1:16).  But in order for the good news of Jesus Christ to do you any good, you have to believe it.  In fact, before Jesus told His apostles to preach the gospel, He severely criticized them because they hadn’t believed the gospel when it was proclaimed to them (Mark 16:14).  But believing it isn’t enough, you must also act on it.  You must let the good news of Jesus Christ change the way you live—that is, you must repent of your sins.  You must acknowledge that you truly agree that the gospel is good news—that is, confess that you believe the good news of Jesus Christ.  And you must also obey the gospel of Jesus Christ—that is, you must be baptized.

The gospel is truly good news to those who will obey it.  Won’t you?

-Bradley S. Cobb

Stay in the House!

There are sounds of gunfire and screaming coming from outside his window.  The man slowly moves the curtain aside to see what’s going on, his kids getting more and more worried.  “Dad, what’s that noise?  Is somebody hurt?”

The man barks at them, “get back!”

He makes his way to the front door, and with tears the kids start begging, “Dad, don’t go! Stay here with us.”

The dad opens the door slowly and lightly steps out onto the front porch. Hesitating, he turns around, looks his children in the eyes, and sternly says, “Stay in the house!”

The door shuts, and the children don’t see their father anymore.  They run to the window and look as bullets fly and their father falls to the ground dead.

And through the crying and tears, they are haunted by the question that they can never answer: Why didn’t daddy stay in the house?

Why would a man tell his children to “stay in the house!”?

Because there is safety in the house. There is security in the house. There is protection in the house.  Because there is danger outside. It could cost them their lives to go outside.

In the Bible there was a strict command given to “stay in the house!”

It’s found in Joshua 2.  The Israelites—almost 3 million of them—are camped next to the Jordan River.  Across the Jordan stands the city of Jericho, surrounded by its two protective walls.

From the top of Jericho’s walls, you can see the Israelite camp, their tents, their campfires, and more people than you’ve ever seen in your life—and they’re about to attack.  Then, two of them show up in the city; on the walls; in your house!

Scared for your life, you don’t dare turn them in—you don’t want to anger their God.  You quickly hide them on your roof, and when the soldiers come to your door, you send them on a wild-goose chase—because you don’t want to anger the powerful Jehovah of the Israelites.  You send the spies out safely, but beg them to spare you and your family when they finally attack.

The spies agree, but give you the stern warning: “stay in the house!

If you want to be safe, get in the house!

For Rahab and her family to be safe, they have to get in the house (Joshua 2:18).

The spies said “when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household home unto thee.”  Literally, they said, “into your house.”

The only way that anyone in the city of Jericho was going to be saved was if they got in the house.  So, Rahab found her family, and brought them into the house with her—because she wanted to be saved, and she wanted her family to be saved too.

To refuse to come into the house was to refuse salvation.  To refuse to come into the house was to bring death on themselves.

For anyone today to be saved, they have to “get in the house” (Acts 2:47).

The house of God is the church (I Timothy 3:15 – “the house of God, which is the church”).  All saved people are in the church (Acts 2:47)—there are no saved people outside of the church.  Christ’s blood is required for salvation, and it only covers those who are in the church (Acts 20:28).

You’re surrounded by enemies who are ready to destroy you—and the only way to be safe is to “get in the house!”  Salvation is only found in the church, because it is the house of God, the body of Christ.

To reject the church is to reject salvation!  To reject the church is to bring destruction upon yourself!

If you’re not in the house yet, GET IN IT!

And if you are in the house, why aren’t you trying to get other people in it with you? Do you want them to be destroyed? Are you content to think, “Well, I’ll be saved, so it doesn’t really matter about anyone else?”

If you want to be safe, stay in the house!

For Rahab and her family to be safe, they have to stay in the house (Joshua 2:19).

“And it shall be that whosoever shall go out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head and we shall be guiltless.”  Basically, the spies said, “If they leave the house, they’re dead. And it’ll be their own fault.”

Rahab and her family get all their belongings, and they all huddle together in the house. They look out the window, scared for their people, but also confident that God would keep His promise. They see hundreds of thousands of soldiers march around their city once a day for six days—and the soldiers don’t say a word. It is eerie, disconcerting, and frightening.

But through it all, they stay in the house because they know that they are only safe if they stay in the house.

For anyone today to be saved, they have to “stay in the house!”

Almost every letter in the New Testament contains warnings about losing your salvation.  But this is nowhere more clearly stated than in Revelation.

Jesus walks among the seven golden candlesticks, which are his church (Revelation 1:20).  A church who ceases to follow Christ will have its candlestick removed—that is, they will no longer be part of the church (Revelation 2:5).  In fact, Jesus describes the process as vomiting them out of His mouth, His body—vomiting them out of the church (Revelation 3:16).

When you leave the church, you leave the protection of the blood of Christ—and you bring it on yourself!  Those who returned to the Law of Moses willingly left the church of Jesus Christ—and had “fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

You’re surrounded by an enemy that is ready to destroy you. You’re in the one safe place [the church] where they can’t harm you. And then you open the door and walk out—into the destructive hands of the enemy.  That’s like being in a storm cellar in the middle of a tornado, and then getting out as it goes right over you. You’re dead!

Instead, stay gathered with your family—your brothers and sisters in Christ—stay safe in the house (the church).

Conclusion:

On the seventh day of the siege, the hundreds of thousands of Israelite soldiers marched around the city seven times. The people in Jericho knew something was coming. As they looked out over the wall and through windows, they could see nothing but soldiers—silent soldiers—being led by God Himself.

Then, without warning, trumpets blast and six hundred thousand voices scream all at once. The ground shakes and the walls of the city crash to the ground. And through the dust they see the screaming soldiers running straight into the city with their swords swinging. Blood splatters and pools on the ground and person after person falls lifeless to the ground. Then comes the fire, destroying the city and everything in it.

But one section of the wall never fell. One small section of the wall still stood, with a house sitting on top of it. Inside that house was a woman who wanted to be saved. Inside that house was her family. Inside that house was a group of people who trusted in God’s promise.

What made that house different? Why did it stand when all the others fell?

After all, there were plenty of other houses. There were plenty of other people huddled in other houses. What made this one different? This house had a window. Out of that window hung a cord—a scarlet cord. That cord is what made that house stand out. That cord is what marked that house for salvation. That scarlet cord saved the spies, and now it saved Rahab and her family.

“And Joshua saved Rahab…and her father’s household” (Joshua 6:25).

On the final day, destruction will come upon this entire world. The trumpet will sound and Jesus will shout (I Thessalonians 4:16). No one will be able to stand in the face of His fierce destruction. And then comes the fire—the eternal fire (Mark 9:43-48).

But one house is spared. Inside that house are people who wanted to be saved when destruction came. But what made that house different? What makes this CHURCH different? After all, there’s plenty of other churches out there.

This church is different because of scarlet—the scarlet of Jesus’ blood. It is that blood which sets this church apart. It is that blood that makes this church stand out. The scarlet marks this church—this house—for salvation.

The people in this house are also saved by Joshua—of course, we know this Joshua by His Greek name, Jesus.

Jesus said He would build HIS church (Matthew 16:18). There is only one church that Christ recognizes. There is only one church that God adds to (Acts 2:47). Christ only built one church. Man has built many. Only Christ’s church—the one protected by the scarlet—will be saved.

The question now is this: Are you part of that church?

-Bradley S. Cobb