Mark (or John Mark as he was also known) was the son of a Jewish woman named Mary according to Acts 12:12. Mark was also related to another well-known New Testament personality named Barnabas (see Colossians 4:10). Later on, the Apostle Peter referred to Mark as "my son" (1 Peter 5:13) which may indicate that Mark became a Christian under Peter's ministry. In fact, Mark is mentioned a number of times within the pages of the New Testament, including the account of one missionary journey with Barnabas and the Apostle Paul that didn't end so well.
You see, Paul and Barnabas took Mark on a missions trip that you can read about in the Biblical book of Acts. Unfortunately, Mark didn't complete this journey according to Acts 13:13. Later on, we read that...
"...Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.' Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord" (Acts 15:36-40 NIV).
So it seems that Paul was not prepared to entrust Mark with the difficulties of life on the road as an evangelist, but this was not the end of their relationship. Later on near the end of his life, Paul told a young Pastor named Timothy, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV). And Mark was also with Paul while Paul was in jail according to Colossians 4:10. So it appears that Mark's life was deeply interwoven with Paul and the lives of some other important New Testament individuals as well- and we'll talk about the particular influence of one such Biblical personality next.
In Acts 15:39 we read how an early church leader named Barnabas left on a missionary trip to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Greece. His companion for that trip was a relative named John Mark. While this account represents the last time Barnabas will be mentioned in the book of Acts, the question for us is, "what happened to Mark?" What became of him after he stepped aboard that ship headed for Cyprus?
Well, it seems that Mark's activities are unrecorded for this portion of his life. But after spending what is thought to be a decade in history's "missing persons" file, Mark suddenly reappears on the scene in the Apostle Paul's letter to the church in the town of Colosse. You see, right near the end of Paul's Biblical letter to the Colossians, he said this...
"Aristarchus, who is in prison with me, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have already received instructions to welcome Mark if he comes your way)" (Colossians 4:10 GNB).
So it seems that Mark was with Paul during this portion of his life but what was he doing during the intervening period? Well, it is believed that Mark spent at least some of that time with the Apostle Peter while Peter was in Rome. Mark and Peter had apparently been acquainted from at least the early days of the first century church (and perhaps even before), and it was Mark's mother's home that Peter went to after he was miraculously released from prison in Acts chapter 12. Many commentators believe that Mark later met with Peter in Rome where the two men became so close that Peter actually referred to Mark as "my son" in 1 Peter 5:13.
It was through this relationship with Peter that Mark would have been exposed to Peter's eyewitness account of Jesus' life and teachings. As Peter preached and taught, Mark is thought to have recorded what he heard under Peter's supervision. This would help to explain why Mark's Gospel contains no accounts of Jesus' birth or early life like those we read in the Gospels of Matthew or Luke. If Peter was the primary source of Mark's account, then we would expect that account to begin around the time when Peter first became acquainted with Jesus, just as we read in Mark chapter one.
We'll look at some historical references to Peter's influence in the authoring of Mark's gospel next.
While the author of the Mark's Gospel is never identified by name within it's pages, a number of documents from early church history and other sources serve to identify John Mark as the author of the gospel that bears his name...
"Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely" (Papias, Exegesis of the Lord's Oracles c. 150 A.D.)
"Mark takes his beginning from the prophetic Spirit who comes on men from on high saying, 'The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet... ' And after (Peter and Paul's) death, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things preached by Peter" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies c. 180 A.D.).
"...that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter's (gospel) whose interpreter Mark was" (Tertullian Against Marcion c. 207 A.D.).
"Several important early sources, including the AntiMarcionite Prologue and Irenaeus, stated that Mark composed his Gospel after Peter’s death. In fact, Irenaeus dated its composition after both Peter and Paul’s death around A.D. 67. However Clement of Alexandria and Origen, writing a few years after Irenaeus, insisted that Peter was still alive during Mark’s writing of the book. Moreover, a later tradition, recorded by Eusebius about A.D. 340, stated that it was written earlier, during the reign of Claudius (a.d. 41–54)" (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible : New King James Version).
As we'll see, the Gospel of Mark contains many of the kind of details that would suggest an eyewitness source, the type of source that a man like Peter would be well equipped to provide. But the Gospel of Mark is also written in a literary style that is sure to appeal to modern day, 21st century readers- and we'll see why next.
The Gospel Of Mark is thought to be the earliest gospel produced among the four New Testament gospels. While scholars differ widely on the approximate date of its authorship, many believe that Mark was originally written sometime within the '50's or early '60's A.D. or within 20-30 years of Jesus' death and resurrection.
Besides being the shortest gospel of the four, Mark also offers an extremely fast paced account of Jesus' life. In fact, the word "immediately" occurs over forty times within it's sixteen chapters. Within the pages of Mark's Gospel, Jesus is seen as moving quickly from event to event with a minimum of discussion and a maximum of action.
The Gospel of Mark also records more of Jesus' miracles than the other three gospels but also notes the effect of Jesus' interaction with others as well. For instance, Mark often documents the response of those who heard Jesus speak and their amazement concerning the things He said and did. Mark also tends to emphasize Jesus' commitment to following God's will in the midst ofchallenging and difficult circumstances. In fact, more than 35% of Mark's Gospel is dedicated to the events that took place during the final eight days of Jesus' life.
In addition to its fast paced literary style, Mark offers a secondary advantage for modern day readers. You see, its believed that Mark was originally written for the benefit of a first century Roman audience. Like many today, this group would ordinarily be unfamiliar with the customs, practices, and geography of first century Israel. This would explain why there are no genealogies and fewer Old Testament quotations like those found within the other gospel accounts and why the author will carefully explain Jewish customs and provide translations of certain Hebrew and Aramaic phrases for reader's benefit.
So while the original recipients of Mark's Gospel were separated from the events of this book by hundreds of miles, these accommodations will benefit the modern day reader who is now separated from these events by thousands of years.
At the center of Mark's 16 chapters and 661 verses is Mark 8:27: "Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, "Who do people say I am?'" (NLT). As we come face to face with Jesus, the man of action in the Gospel of Mark, every reader will have his or her own opportunity to answer that question.
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1 NKJV and following).
Much as the first book of the Bible commences with the words, "In the beginning..." (Genesis 1:1), the Gospel of Mark starts with another beginning: "This is the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (GW). So unlike a movie or a novel where we are left to try and determine the real identity of a main character, Mark gives us that information right at the beginning of this book.
To do this, Mark uses the word "gospel," a word that is well known but not necessarily well defined. The word "gospel" finds it's origin in the ancient Greek word euaggelion, a word that refers to "glad tidings" or "good news." One source tells us that this term was "...used in Roman times to honor the birth of the emperor Augustus... a Roman audience (the likely recipients of this Gospel) would understand the significance of such words as applied to Jesus." (1) Over time, this word has come to identify the "good news" that people can escape an eternal death penalty and enter a relationship with God by accepting Jesus' death on the cross as the payment for the things they've done wrong.
This is important because there are many counterfeit gospels today, both religious and non-religious. For instance, there are religious-sounding "gospels" that teach that people can get right with God by living a good life or by following certain rules that will allow them to gain entry into heaven when they die. Then there are other non-religious "gospels" that include the "gospel" of personal wealth or the "gospel" of popularity -having the "right" hair, the "right" clothes, and being seen with the "right" people- or the "gospel" of having as many sexual relationships as possible, just to name a few. All of these may seem like "good news" (at least for a while) but they each make the same mistake- they're each about something instead of someone.
You see, the real problem for someone who trades the genuine gospel for a substitute is that he or she always trades a Person for a thing. The authentic gospel message is at the center of Christianity and Christianity is about Christ. It's not about an organization or an idea or a standard or a set of rules that someone has to follow- it's about a relationship with a Person- Jesus Christ.
(1) Elwell, W. A. (1996, c1989). Evangelical Commentary on the Bible . (electronic ed.) (Mk 1:2). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
"This is the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1 GW).
It may be easy assume that the words "Jesus Christ" refer to a first name and last name, much as someone might use a first name and surname today. In this case however, the reality is a little different from what we might ordinarily expect.
Let's start with the name "Jesus." Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. Joshua in turn means, "Yahweh (the name by which God referred to Himself in the Old Testament) saves" or, "The Lord is Salvation." In its most basic terms, this word "salvation" carries the idea of deliverance. It refers to God's liberation of people from the problem of separation from Him. So Jesus' name serves as a reminder that God saves or delivers people from this state of separation from Himself.
Then there is the word "Christ." This word is taken from the Greek word "Christos" and refers to the Messiah or the "Anointed One." This word was used to identify the redeemer or deliverer of the Jewish people, the One who would save them from their enemies. So a more accurate way to look at the words "Jesus Christ" would be to say that "Jesus" refers to a name and "Christ" refers to a title or an office.
However, Mark also refers to Jesus as "the Son of God" in chapter one, verse one. If you are familiar with the account of Jesus' life as recorded in the New Testament, then you may be aware that the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary prior to Jesus' birth and said, "That Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). As we'll see later in this chapter, God will also identify Jesus as "my Son" as well. This tells us that Jesus is more than just a mere human being. As one commentator tells us, "The Son is in the most complete sense partaker in the same nature with the Father. He possesses the same attributes (John 5:21), performs the same works (Matt 9:2-6; John 5:24-29), and claims equal honor with the Father (5:23; 14:1)." (1)
So in six short words, Mark identified "Jesus Christ, the Son of God" by name, title, and nature. But Jesus did not simply appear on the scene without any advance notice, for His arrival was heralded by a man who was personally sent by God for this purpose. We'll begin our look at that man next.
(1) Sonship of Christ The New Unger's Bible Dictionary Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988
"As it is written in the Prophets: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.' 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight'" (Mark 1:2-3).
One of the very few quotations from the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark is found here in chapter one, verses two and three. While Mark's original audience may not have been overly concerned with Jesus' genealogy, anyone would be wise to take notice of a man (like Jesus) whose advent was predicted in advance.
Yet Jesus' arrival wasn't the only one foretold in this passage, for we are also told about the man who was to proceed him as well...
"John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
And he preached, saying, 'There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit'" (Mark 1:4-8 NKJV).
So what do we know about this man John, better known to us today as John the Baptist? Well, according to the gospel of Luke, John's parents were named Elizabeth and Zechariah. Zechariah served as a priest and as he was attending to his duties in the Temple one day, an angel appeared and announced to him that his wife would bear a son. Zechariah was told that his son would be filled with the Holy Spirit and that his name was to be John.
In addition, Zechariah was also told that his son would eventually go "before the LORD in the spirit and power of Elijah (the Old Testament prophet) to make ready a people prepared for the LORD" (you can read the entire account in Luke 1:1-25).
Because of this, we can say that John was truly "a man on a mission" before he was ever born. We'll talk more about this mission (as well as the Old Testament prophet who served as John's future pattern for ministry) next.
"John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.
John wore a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. He was preaching: 'Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit'” (Mark 1:4-8 HCSB)
Just as the angel Gabriel had earlier predicted to his father Zechariah, John's future pattern for ministry was to be found in the Old Testament prophet Elijah. You see, the people of John's day expected "Elijah" to appear before the arrival of God's Savior. This had been predicted by the prophet Malachi in Malachi 4:5 and later reconfirmed by Jesus Himself in Matthew 17:10-13.
So what was the connection between John the Baptist and the Old Testament prophet Elijah? Well, there were a few things that John and Elijah had in common. First, Elijah's ministry was built on loyalty to God and the bold proclamation of His Word. You can see an example of that loyalty and boldness in 1 Kings 18:21-40, a passage that tells the story of Elijah's confrontation with 450 representatives of a pagan deity named Baal. That same kind of loyalty and boldness was something that would later characterize the ministry of John the Baptist as well.
2 Kings 1:8 tells us that Elijah's regular clothing included a camel hair garment and a leather belt, as were John's. Finally, Elijah was someone who challenged some of the most important and influential leaders of his day. You can find an example of this in 1 Kings 21:17-24 as Elijah confronted a king named Ahab concerning the injustices he had committed- and as we'll see, John the Baptist did much the same later on as well.
So John was the advance man who was to go before the Messiah once He appeared; in a sense, John was the "Elijah" that the people had been waiting for. Yet as a speaker, John did not have a very flashy message. We're told in the Scriptures that John simply went from place to place around the Jordan River area and told people to repent (or "turn back") from their sins and be baptized. We'll look at some examples of what John had to say next.
"This is what John preached to the people: 'There is one coming after me who is greater than I; I am not good enough even to kneel down and untie his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:7-8 NCV).
The Living Bible paraphrase of Luke 3:7-9 provides us with anoher sample of John's message to the crowds who came to hear him speak. That passage of Scripture quotes John as saying...
"You brood of snakes! You are trying to escape hell without truly turning to God! That is why you want to be baptized! First go and prove by the way you live that you really have repented.
And don't think you are safe because you are descendants of Abraham. That isn't enough. God can produce children of Abraham from these desert stones! The axe of his judgment is poised over you, ready to sever your roots and cut you down. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire."
Now referring to people as "a brood of snakes" probably didn't earn John many points in charm school but it does help to illustrate what John was all about. You see, John didn't serve as a slick public relations advance man for Jesus. John the Baptist was a straight-talking, “tell it like it is” kind of guy who didn't pull any punches. John was the kind of man who was the same with everyone- no nonsense and no compromise.
That being said, it is possible to look at this sample of John's preaching and come away with the idea that he was overly harsh with those he spoke with. After all, it does seem rather unkind for someone to stand up and call their listeners a bunch of snakes, doesn't it? Well perhaps, but let's consider the possibility that John may have been speaking to a group of people who were under the false impression that they were closer to God than they actually were.
Perhaps John's audience had become a little too soft, complacent and self-satisfied in their relationship with God. It may be that John the Baptist realized that there are times when the most loving thing you can do for someone is to tell them the truth in no uncertain terms. Sometimes a dose of cold, hard reality (like the kind that was delivered by John) may be the only thing that will save some people from really serious trouble.
"John announced: 'Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!'” (Mark 1:7-8 NLT).
John the Baptist's message was the right thing at the right time and a large portion of his audience responded positively to what they heard from him. For instance, Luke chapter three tells us...
"So the people asked him, saying, 'What shall we do then?' He answered and said to them, 'He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.'
Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Collect no more than what is appointed for you.' Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, 'And what shall we do?' So he said to them, 'Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages'" (Luke 3:10-14 NKJV).
So John simply advised his listeners to conduct themselves in a manner that honored God. Of course, this advice is just as good today as was in John's day for people are always more impressed with what we do rather than simply what we say.
Now its clear that John was very direct and straightforward in communicating his message but even though John may have been a no-nonsense kind of preacher, there was another side to him that is often overlooked. Sure, John could be tough when it was necessary but its sometimes easy to forget that John was also a very humble man as well.
You see, John knew what he had been called to do. He had no delusions of grandeur or aspirations to do anything other than what God had called him to accomplish. We can see a good example of this humility in the passage from Mark cited above where John is quoted as saying, “'One is coming after me Who is greater than I. I am not good enough to get down and help Him take off His shoes'" (Mark 1:7 NLV).
John never lost sight of his calling and when he was given the opportunity to represent himself as someone other than who he really was, he refused to take it- and John was given a further opportunity to demonstrate this humble attitude when Jesus came to him to be baptized.
"It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, 'You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'" (Mark 1:9-11).
While Mark provides us with some basic information regarding Jesus' baptism, a look at the Gospel of Matthew provides us with some additional detail...
"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?' But Jesus answered and said to him, 'Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he allowed Him" (Matthew 3:13-15).
The subject of Jesus' baptism brings up an important question: if Jesus was God and had no sin, then why would He be baptized? Well, we can address this question in a manner that is helpful in answering some other questions about Jesus as well. For example,
In looking at these questions, its important to recognize that every inquiry that begins with the words,"If Jesus was God, then why…" misses something very important. You see, Jesus was God but He was a human being as well. In fact, Jesus was not only a human being- He was the perfect human being. As the perfect human being, Jesus put aside His prerogative as God to do everything that a perfect human should do; things that included praying, learning, and being baptized. If a perfect human being couldn't or wouldn't do something, then Jesus didn't either. And if a perfect human could or would do something, then Jesus did so as well.
In submitting to John's baptism, Jesus "fulfilled all righteousness" by effectively identifying Himself with fallen humanity. In Hebrews 2:17 we read, "For this reason (Jesus) had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people." This same attitude would later result in Jesus' ultimate identification with sinful human beings through His death on the cross.
"Immediately the Spirit drove 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" (Mark 1:12-13).
The wilderness of Judea was a barren, uninhabited desert wasteland in Jesus' day. Yet this was the arena where Jesus faced off against the greatest enemy humanity has ever known- Satan himself. Luke's account of this experience tells us...
"Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan River, being urged by the Spirit out into the barren wastelands of Judea, where Satan tempted him for forty days. He ate nothing all that time and was very hungry" (Luke 4:1-2 TLB).
While Satan is sometimes depicted as God's equally powerful opposite, the truth is that his ability is limited. Unlike God, Satan is not all knowing nor can he be everywhere at once- and unlike the all powerful God of the Scriptures, he is also capable of being defeated...
"The devil said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.' Jesus answered, 'It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'' The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, 'I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.' Jesus answered, 'It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.''
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 'If you are the Son of God,' he said, 'throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ''He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'' Jesus answered, ''It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.''' When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time" (Luke 4:3-13 NIV).
So Jesus ultimately defeated Satan by holding firm to the truth of God's Word and applying it in the midst of temptation. Following this, the devil departed- for the time being at least. However, notice that Satan did not get tired nor did he give up; he simply waited for an opportune time. This is why its important to continually "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).XIII
"Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14-15).
The region of Galilee was located in the northern portion of Israel and near the end of the 1st century, a Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus reported that two hundred and forty cities and villages existed there at that time. (1) With so many cities and such a potentially large population situated within this area, this region made an ideal place for Jesus to embark on an evangelistic tour.
Jesus' message to those who heard Him speak on this missionary journey was simple: "The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near. Change the way you think and act, and believe the Good News" (GW). However, this trip was productive in another regard...
"And 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. Then Jesus said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.' They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him" (Mark 1:16-20).
The Sea of Galilee is also known as the Lake of Gennesaret and the Sea of Tiberias in the Scriptures. Fed by the Jordan River, this freshwater lake is almost 13 miles (20 km) long and ranges in depth from 80-160 feet (24-30 m). The lake is also bordered on three sides by steep, mountainous cliffs that rise up to 2700 feet (823 m) high. This was the place where Jesus called the first of His twelve disciples.
In calling these men to "follow me," Jesus was not just inviting Simon, Andrew, James, and John to accompany Him on His journeys but to accept a student-teacher relationship with Him. We should also notice how Jesus adapted His message through His use of a fishing analogy to effectively communicate with those who were fisherman. In other words, Jesus presented His invitation in a way these men could easily grasp- and we'll take a closer look at the first four men that Jesus called to be His disciples next.
(1) The Life of Flavius Josephus 45
"As Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew. They were fishermen and were casting their nets into the lake. Jesus said to them, 'Come with me! I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish.' Right then the two brothers dropped their nets and went with him" (Mark 1:16-18 CEV).
It may be easy to think that Jesus only sought the "best and brightest" to be His disciples but the reality is that God doesn't always choose the most skillful or accomplished people to achieve His purposes. In fact, it is often just the opposite for if we take a moment to look at the twelve men that Jesus originally called to be His disciples, we'll quickly find that these men were far from perfect.
Take Simon Peter, for example. Whenever the twelve disciples are listed within the Scriptures, you'll always find Peter listed first. This is not surprising because Peter was also involved in a number of other "firsts" in the New Testament. He was first (along with Andrew) to be called to be Jesus' disciple as seen above. He was also the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah according to Matthew 16:13-17. Finally, it appears that Peter was the first person to see Jesus again following His death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
Peter was the one disciple among the group of Jesus' followers who always seemed ready for action. For instance, it was Peter who drew a sword to protect Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10). He was also the man who walked on water with Jesus (Matthew 14:28-29). In fact, it was Jesus Himself who gave him the name "Peter" which means "rock" in Greek (Matthew 16:18).
Despite these successes, Peter's relationship with Jesus wasn't entirely smooth. For example, Jesus once publicly reprimanded Peter when Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going to the cross (Matthew 16:21-23). And of course, it was Peter who denied Jesus three times just prior to His crucifixion (Matthew 26:33-34). Despite these things, Peter eventually went on to be greatly used by God in the early church and his work continues to inspire Christians today through the Biblical books that bear his name. He is thought to have written these God-inspired Biblical books (1 and 2 Peter) from Rome where tradition says he was put to death for being a Christian around A.D. 67.
We'll take a look at the other three disciples that Jesus called in Mark chapter one next.XV
"Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.' And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. (Mark 1:16-20 ESV).
Andrew was Peter's brother and also worked as a fisherman. In fact, Andrew and Peter had a house together in the town of Capernaum as we'll see later in Mark 1:29. Andrew had earlier been a follower of John the Baptist and originally met Jesus through John (John 1:40). Andrew isn't mentioned very much within the pages of the Scriptures- just a few lines scattered through the Gospels. Tradition holds that Andrew was later put to death by crucifixion on an "X" shaped cross in Greece.
Then there was James, a man who must have been something of an explosive, reckless guy. On one occasion James wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy a village that had rejected Jesus (Luke 9:53-54). This may help explain why Jesus nicknamed James and his brother John the "Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17). James was put to death sometime between AD 42-44 by King Herod Agrippa I. Of all the apostles, James' death is the only one that is mentioned in the Scriptures (Acts 12:2).
Next up is James' brother John, who also happened to be a fisherman. John was probably James' younger brother for whenever the brothers are listed together, James is always listed first and John second. Their mother once asked Jesus if James and John could sit at His right and left when He entered into His kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21), a request that the other disciples didn't appreciate (Matthew 20:24). Later on in his life, John was banished to Patmos, a 10 mile (20 km) long, 6 mile (10 km) wide island off the coast of modern Turkey. Tradition says that John was in exile for 18 months and is believed to have died sometime around A.D. 100.
The New Testament book of Acts later tells us that "These are the men who have turned the world upside down..." (Acts 17:6 Phillips) and also tells us why: "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13 NIV).XVI
"Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught" (Mark 1:21).
The city of Capernaum was a seacoast town located near the northwestern shore of the sea of Galilee during the New Testament era and it was the place that Jesus chose as the “headquarters” for His ministry in that area during this period. While Capernaum's main industry was associated with fishing and related trades, its believed that there were a number of other commercial industries there as well. This helped make Capernaum an ideal hub for Jesus' evangelistic tour through that region.
It appears that Jesus wasted little time in beginning His ministry in Capernaum for Mark tells us that "...(a)s soon as it was the Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach" (ISV). The "synagogue" mentioned in this verse represented an important facet of first-century Jewish life. The concept of a synagogue for study, worship, and social interaction first began during the period of Babylonian exile when the Jewish people were deported to what is known today as modern-day Iraq around 581 B.C. With no ability to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, the idea of a local synagogue for meeting and worship began to develop. This arrangement later continued when the Jewish people began to return to Israel around 538 B.C.
By Jesus' day, the synagogue had developed into a multi purpose facility. A synagogue could be started with a minimum of ten men and once established, a synagogue might be utilized as a school, a place for social activity, and most importantly, a place of worship. Synagogues were generally overseen by a council of elders led by an overseer, or "ruler of the synagogue" (see Luke 8:41). A typical Sabbath service would consist of worship, a reading from one of the books of the Old Testament Law and a reading from one of the books of the Prophets. This portion of the service was especially important because people typically did not possess copies of the Scriptures in those days. This meant that anyone who wished to have access to God's Word often had to wait until the Sabbath when portions were read in the synagogue.
A sermon or teaching would typically follow these readings. Since there were no established spiritual leaders within the local synagogue, the synagogue ruler would usually invite a visiting rabbi or teacher to come and speak. Jesus took advantage of these opportunities (as seen above) as did the Apostle Paul (see Acts 13:15-16). However, Jesus' message to the congregation was quite unlike anything they'd heard before- and we'll soon see why.XVII
"Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:21-22).
The first century "scribes" mentioned above were a group that represented the literary class of that culture. These were the men who studied the Scriptures and served as the copyists, editors, and teachers of the law. They were very particular regarding these responsibilities and followed an intricate system of requirements for copying the various Old Testament manuscripts.
For instance, the scribes counted the lines and individual letters within each section of copied text to make sure nothing was added or deleted. They washed and used a new pen whenever it came time to copy the name of God into a new manuscript. The scribes were very diligent in attending to these duties and because of this, the general population looked to them to serve as the interpreters of the Law and it's application. These men, along with a related group known as the Pharisees helped constitute the religious establishment of Jesus’ day.
In seeking to communicate the meaning and application of God's Word, the scribes relied heavily on the traditions and interpretations that had been established over previous generations of Rabbinical study. The problem was that these interpretations had become something of a "ladder" that had to be scaled in order to reach the meaning of God's Word. Every authority from the past functioned as another rung on this interpretive ladder- and by Jesus' day, so many rungs had been added that there was no guarantee that someone could climb past them all to actually discern the meaning and application of the Scriptures.
While the scribes based their teaching on various spiritual authorities from the past, Jesus instead spoke on His own authority in proclaiming the Scriptures. You see, Jesus knew the message of God's Word but more importantly, He knew the Author of God's Word. Jesus' familiarity with the Scriptures and His familiarity with the God who inspired those Scriptures resulted in teachings that were both credible and inherently authoritative. This authoritative message had an immediate effect on Jesus' audience- they were amazed (CEV) or astonished (ESV) at what they heard because "...He taught them as One who had the right and the power to teach and not as the teachers of the Law" (NLV).
However, Jesus' message was not well received by everyone within the synagogue that day and His sermon was about to receive interruption from an unlikely source.XVIII
"Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, 'Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!'" (Mark 1:23-24).
There are those who believe that modern humanity has become so technically, socially, and intellectually advanced that we’ve moved beyond a belief in primitive superstitions like demonic beings and evil spirits. There are others who believe that what ancient cultures once identified as "demonic possession" actually represented one or more forms of mental illness.
For the most part, it's probably true that modern society is less superstitious than previous generations (at least about some things). Its also easy to see how mental illness may have been associated with demonism in less enlightened times. Yet, a preoccupation with demonic themes remains common in various forms of media today and examples of modern-day demonic possession may still be seen in those who claim to "channel" the spirits of the dead or within those religions that encourage communication with the spirit world.
The author C.S. Lewis once said,"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe, and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." For His part, Jesus didn't view the idea of a demonic being as the pitchfork-carrying product of an overactive imagination. Instead, Mark 1:23-24 reports that Jesus was actually confronted by a hostile spiritual entity (or entities) in a place that was dedicated to the worship and study of God and His Word.
The fact that the man who confronted Jesus was not suffering from a delusion or a form of mental illness is verified by the fact that he positively identified Jesus for who He really was-"I know who you are! You are God's Holy One" (CEV). This was a fact that no human being on earth could know except perhaps for Mary and Joseph.
A second clue is found within the rhetorical question posed of Jesus: "...what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?" (KJV). This question implies that Jesus and the speaker had absolutely nothing in common, a remark that would not be expected of a person (even someone mentally unbalanced) who had simply come to hear a visiting rabbi speak.
Finally, there was this statement of dread anticipation: "Have you come to destroy us?" (CEV). While Jesus had proven to be an astonishing teacher, He hardly represented a death threat- unless of course, you were a malevolent spiritual entity who had taken residence within a human being created in God's image. We'll see why that entity had a definite reason for concern next.XIX
"...'Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!' But Jesus rebuked him, saying, 'Be quiet, and come out of him!' And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him" (Mark 1:24-26).
In looking at the events of this passage, we might say that what Jesus didn't do is almost as important as what He did do. For instance, Jesus did not engage in a great theatrical display while confronting this demonic entity. There were no mystical words or incantations. He didn't employ any "hocus pocus" or sleight of hand. Jesus didn't take part in a flashy demonstration to draw attention to Himself. He simply took care of the problem in a quiet, dignified manner.
Since this demonic being accurately identified Jesus' full nature, we might also question why Jesus chose not to accept this testimony. One possible explanation becomes clear when we consider the source of this information. While this demonic being accurately represented Jesus in this particular instance, there was no likelihood that he (or others like him) would continue to do so in the future. As the late apologist and teacher Dr. Walter Martin once said, the devil is willing to hide one ounce of falsehood in ten pounds of truth if that's what it will take to get you to believe it. Besides, a malevolent spiritual being is hardly the best choice to serve as a public representative.
Jesus also had to think about the public reaction to such information. The Jewish people (who had been seeking the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures) might have quickly spread the word regarding this revelation and made it difficult for Jesus to minister and communicate His message. Later on we'll find that even without this testimony, the crowds eventually pressed in upon Jesus anyway. Then there was the potential response of the Roman government. The news of a new leader who was reported to be the "Holy One of God" might have been viewed as a threat to the Roman governing authority, a charge that might have led to Jesus' arrest.
Finally, there was the reaction of the religious establishment to consider. These leaders would eventually go on to falsely accuse Jesus of acting in concert with Satan (see Matthew 12:22-24). To have a demonic being offer such testimony about Jesus would only lend support to such charges. So rather than permit an enemy to represent Him, Jesus retained the option to release such information at the time of His choosing.XX
"Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, 'What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.' And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee" (Mark 1:27-28).
So Jesus demonstrated His power over the spiritual realm in the same manner in which He taught- with authority. (1) But Jesus was soon about to demonstrate His authority in another manner...
"Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once. So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her. And she served them" (Mark 1:29-31).
Luke's gospel tells us that Simon Peter's mother in law was suffering from a high or "great" fever (Luke 4:38-29). This indicates that she was more than just mildly ill- this could have been a potentially life threatening event. In looking at Jesus' response to this situation, there is much we can learn about His character and attitude towards those who were in need.
For instance, we should first notice that this healing took place in a private home. It also involved a limited group of witnesses, and a person (Peter's mother in law) who was presumably nothing more than just another member of the general population of that time. Taken together, these observations tell us that Jesus was not someone who was interested in performing for the benefit of an audience, nor was He concerned about that status of those who received His help. We can also say that Jesus' ability to heal was not confined to a specific location (like a synagogue, as was the case earlier) and He was clearly willing to act upon the need that was brought before Him.
Finally, we should note that this healing was complete in every respect. In other words, Peter's mother in law didn't experience a period of convalescence as we might ordinarily expect for someone who had recently recovered from a severe illness. This can be confirmed by the fact that she responded by preparing a meal for Jesus and His disciples after she had been made well. In this regard, Peter's wife's mother establishes an important pattern for Jesus' followers today; her example reminds us that Jesus ministers to us so that we might serve and minister to others as well.
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary On The Whole Bible
"At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him" (Mark 1:32-33).
Mark 1:28 tells us that the "News about Jesus quickly spread all over Galilee" (CEV) as a result of His teaching and healing of a demon possessed man earlier in the day. In response, the sick and afflicted of that area began to line up at Jesus' door that evening to see if He could help them as well. And just as before, Jesus did not permit the demonic entities He encountered to identify Him in any way, thus enabling Him to maintain control of the information He chose to reveal about Himself.
"Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed" (Mark 1:35).
For some, prayer represents a kind of last resort, or something to try when everything else has failed. But if you examine the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, you'll find that Jesus was not like those who seek to pray only when they're in trouble or in need of help. In fact, we're told that Jesus actually spent a considerable amount of time in prayer. For example...
While Jesus had surely been wearied by the amount of time required to heal the inhabitants of an entire city, He still chose to arise long before daylight to pray. It seems that Jesus took the words of Proverbs 2:3-6 seriously...
"...if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" (NIV).
While everyone may have been searching for Jesus following His departure toa solitary area for prayer, the question is, why? Perhaps some were seeking a physical healing or relief from spiritual oppression. Some may have desired to hear more from the Man who was unlike any of the religious leaders who had preceded Him. Others simply may have wanted an escape from the confines of their commonplace, everyday lives to seek out the excitement associated with this new miracle-working Rabbi from Capernaum.
But whatever personal motivation drove others to search for Him, Jesus did not allow His new found popularity to distract Him from His responsibility to communicate the Word of God. While Jesus' miraculous healings were important, they were primarily designed to authenticate the message He brought: "The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near. Change the way you think and act, and believe the Good News" (Mark 1:15 GW).
"Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, 'If You are willing, You can make me clean'" (Mark 1:40).
Leprosy is one of the world's oldest known diseases and in Biblical times, it was often used to describe any kind of serious skin condition. In Jesus' day, "leprosy" was most closely associated with any skin disease that resulted in sores or white spots under the skin. Today, leprosy is also known as "Hansen's Disease," a condition that attacks the nerves of the hands, feet and face.
Leprosy was treated as a very serious disease in the days of the Scriptures and a person afflicted with leprosy became ceremonially unclean according to the Old Testament law as a result. A person suffering from this disease was compelled to announce the words, "unclean, unclean" whenever someone approached and required to live in isolation away from other people for as long as their disease persisted according to Leviticus 13:42-46.
So this man not only suffered from a severe medical condition but an affliction that led to physical and emotional isolation from others as well. We'll look at the way that Jesus responded to this man's request next.
"Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, 'If You are willing, You can make me clean.' Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, 'I am willing; be cleansed.' As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed" (Mark 1:40-42).
While this healingserves as the focus of the passage quoted above, there are some additional details regarding this encounter that are important as well. The first of these details involves this man's approach to Jesus in asking for His help.
While Mark could have reported that this man simply asked Jesus to heal him, he instead chose to detail the manner in which this man approached Jesus, specifically stating he implored or beseeched (ASV) Jesus for His assistance. We're also told that this man knelt before Jesus, thereby assuming the universal posture of humility and respect. Finally, he offered his petition by saying, "If it is your pleasure..." (BBE), "If you're willing..." (GW), or, "If you want to... you can make me clean" (GNB). This approach offers an opportunity to contrast the form of this man's request with that of another man who once approached Jesus...
"Someone in the crowd said to (Jesus), 'Teacher, tell my brother to give me my share of the inheritance that our father left us.' Jesus said to him, 'Who appointed me to be your judge or to divide your inheritance?' He told the people, 'Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having a lot of material possessions'" (Luke 12:13-15 GW).
Notice that this second man issued a directive to Jesus and that the implication behind Jesus' response indicates that his demand was motivated by greed and materialism. In this respect, the man who asked Jesus to enforce the terms of his family inheritance serves to illustrate a warning from the New Testament book of James...
"You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:2-3 NIV).
In contrast, the man suffering from leprosy approached Jesus in humility with a request, not a demand. He also prefaced his request by saying, "If you are willing..." So it seems that this man realized that it was far better to ask Jesus for what He was willing to provide then to tell Him what He ought to do.XXIV
"And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, 'If you will, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, 'I will; be clean.' And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean" (Mark 1:40-42).
Another underlying aspect of this man's request is his genuine belief that Jesus had the ability to heal him: "If You are willing You can make me clean" (emphasis added). This brings to mind another important principle found in the New Testament book of James...
"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does" (James 1:6-8 NIV).
The Biblical book of Hebrews also tells us...
"...without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).
In other words, anyone who approaches God must believe that He exists, that He is willing to do what He says, and that He will make good on His promises. These are essential beliefs that we must possess if we expect God to answer our requests.However, we should not mistake genuine faith for "blind faith" or a faith that has no actual basis in reality. Real Biblical faith involves a belief in a God who has already proven Himself. In this instance, the man suffering from leprosy had no doubt seen or heard of what Jesus had done for others and had become convinced that Jesus could helpif He was willing to do so.
For the person who may feel as if he or she lacks this kind offaith, the thing to do is to be honest with God and ask Him to provide the kind of faith that is good and acceptable to Him. As Jesus will later go on to say on Mark 11:24, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Remember that the Apostle Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen for the dead until Jesus actually appeared to him- and Jesus' response at that time was to say, "you believe because you see me here, but blessed are those (like those of us reading these words today) who do not see and yet believe" (see John 20:24-29).
"And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 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 those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them'" (Mark 1:43-44).
If Jesus had simply desired to become known as a miracle worker, then it would have made good sense for Him to allow the man who received this miraculous healing to announce what had been done for him. But unlike those who seek to publicize and sensationalize such things, Jesus instead instructed this man to keep quiet about what had just occurred. The question is why?
One obvious answer is that such a dynamic testimony would be certain to attract a crowd of spectators as well as those with legitimate physical and spiritual needs. Since it is only possible to relate to a limited number of people at once, this would have made it more difficult for Jesus to interact personally with others. As we'll see in the final verse of this chapter, that's eventually what came to pass. However, there were some other reasons that might help explain why Jesus directed this man to remain silent.
One important clue is found in Jesus' instruction to "show yourself to the priest." By issuing this directive, Jesus was instructing this man to fulfill the requirement found in Leviticus 14:1-32, a section of the Old Testament law that specifically dealt with his situation. Once the priest had examined this man and found him to be in good health, he could then offer the prescribed offerings and be restored from his previous state of ceremonial uncleanness. However, notice that Jesus added a reason for issuing this order:"show yourself to the priest... as a testimony to them" (emphasis added).
As we'll see later on in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus went on to encounter a great deal of difficulty with the spiritual leadership of His day. By sending this man directly to the priest, Jesus effectively provided a first hand opportunity for the religious leadership to examine His credentials without any pressure or influence from the general population. It would validate Jesus' genuine ability to heal the sick and also demonstrate His respect for the Law of Moses. In short, it would serve as "a witness to them" (BBE) for both the man who had been healed and the Man responsible for that healing as well.
At least, that's the way it might have worked- if only someone had been willing to keep quiet and follow instructions.XXVI
"'See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'
However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction" (Mark 1:44-45).
The man who had been healed from this serious medical condition was surely overjoyed over what Jesus had done for him. The chance to live, work, and enjoy everything life had to offer again must have been overwhelming. He must have been excited at the opportunity to leave his state of isolation and rejoin the social community that he had once been a part of. He now had an option to marry and have children, a sign of great blessing in the culture of his day.Jesus had given this man much more than just a physical restoration to good health- He had provided him with an opportunity to be normal once more.
With these things in mind, its easy to understand how this man could not contain himself from telling others about what Jesus had done for him. Yet no matter how well intentioned he may have been, the reality is that this man deliberately and systematically disobeyed a direct instruction from Jesus: "...he went off and proceeded to proclaim it aloud and spread news of the affair both far and wide" (Moffatt NT). As a result, "...he talked so much that Jesus could not go into a town publicly. Instead, he stayed out in lonely places, and people came to him from everywhere" (GNB).
Even though this man may have meant well, his actions actually hindered Jesus' ministry instead of helping it. While he may have been successful in generating a sense of honor and respect for the Man who restored him to health, his testimony actually made it more difficult for Jesus to minister to others (like himself) who also needed help.
The important thing to remember from this event from Jesus' ministry is that choices bring consequences. We never "help" God by acting contrary to His instructions or by substituting something else that may seem to be better or more effective. While God is never limited by our choices, a decision to act in a manner that disregards God's direction is more likely to set back His agenda rather than advance it.Previous