Maybe you know someone who takes a long time to get to the point in a conversation. Sometimes these are the same people who (after several minutes of not getting to the point) say, “to make a long story short . . .” but of course by then it’s too late.
The writer of the second Gospel, Mark, didn’t have that problem. Mark’s is the “action gospel” that focuses on the deeds of Christ. It shouldn’t surprise us that after one introductory verse and twelve verses describing Christ’s preparation for ministry, Mark gets right to the point, which for him is the public ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus began ahis public ministry some time after John was thrown into prison. John had said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Now John’s hope was being realized. The plan of God was unfolding according to divine schedule, as it always does, and as it is in your life right now.
Mark helps us to understand that Christ’s ministry revolved around preaching, discipling, and healing, three activities of the Savior which God’s children increasingly value as they gain deeper experience with him.1
Jesus’ Preaching Ministry (1:14–15, 21–22, 35–39)
Jesus began his preaching in an important location, the synagogue (1:21, 39). Jesus’ first mission was to redeem the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 10:6; 15:24). After all, to them “pertains the adoption, the glory, the covenant, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4). For thousands of years God had been grooming the Jews to receive their Messiah. Now “the time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:15). All of the messianic arrows of the Old Testament are aimed at Jesus of Nazareth.
The Priority of Jesus’ Preaching
After being tested in the wilderness, the first thing Jesus does is preach the gospel. “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’” (1:14–15). Jesus later announced to his disciples that preaching was a chief reason why he came to earth (1:38). What a commentary on the importance of preaching!
The Bible teaches that preaching is the main vehicle of the Christian message (Rom. 10:14–15). And although the mission of the church isn’t limited to preaching, churches must stay in step with Jesus in prioritizing the public declaration of the gospel. Churches demonstrate a high view of preaching by ensuring that other elements of worship never supplant the sermon. Churches must maintain a commitment to call gifted and godly ministers and to ensure that their preachers receive ongoing instruction and encouragement in their heralding task. Individuals within a congregation honor the priority Jesus gives to preaching by being mentally, spiritually, and physically prepared to receive the word from the pulpit as the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13). Congregants who are serious about truly hearing God will engage the preaching both during and after the sermon.
Part of engaging the sermon means knowing what to listen for.
The Content of Jesus’ Preaching
There are two main parts to Jesus’ simple message. The first is an indicative statement, that is, a statement of what is: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” The second is an imperative statement, that is, a statement of what should be done: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15). Biblical heralds help listeners understand the truth about important matters such as grace, sin, and the life to come; that’s the indicative. But they also bring truth to bear on the listeners’ wills by declaring their obligations; that’s the imperative. As the master preacher, Jesus does both.
Jesus announces the reality that the kingdom is at hand (1:14–15) by saying at least four things about the arrival of the reign of God.2 First, the kingdom physically came in the incarnation of Jesus. He is the king who is overturning the kingdom of darkness–and he is here! And though bodily absent, Christ is still ruling from heaven through his Spirit. Second, the kingdom gradually comes as hearts and lives are won over to God through the gospel. Third, the kingdom has structurally come as Christ builds his church on earth. Christ calls people to both a personal and communal relationship with him. Fourth, the kingdom will universally come on the last day. The kingdom is both a present reality and a future expectation.
Jesus answers the important matter of how one becomes a citizen of this kingdom by issuing two imperatives: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” We could say that he demands a dual response to the preaching of the kingdom. First, Jesus commands: “Repent!” With this command, Jesus is not calling for a one-time expression of sorrow over sin. Rather, he calls sinners to “undergo a radical change of heart and life, a complete turnabout of life.”3 To repent is to grow increasingly dissatisfied with sin and to turn from it in disgust. Jesus’ second command is to become increasingly satisfied with him. To believe in the gospel is to know the good news that “not only to others, but to me also, remissions of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”4 To believe in the gospel doesn’t merely mean to know it is true. It means to stake your life on its truth. I believe the gospel when I trust that Christ provides healing for my sin, remission for my guilt, and a gracious reward of heavenly glory.
The Authority of Jesus’ Preaching (1:22)5
Although Jesus preached quintessential good news, not everyone was impressed (cf. 2:7). Notably, however, everyone recognized that Jesus wasn’t just sharing the opinions of men. They could tell that he spoke with a superhuman authority. With unique suitability, Jesus’ preaching was saturated with the Old Testament formula so commonly used by heavenly spokesmen: “Thus says the Lord.” This is what true preaching always says. Martyn Lloyd Jones said that in preaching, “The hearer . . . knows that he has been dealt with and addressed by God through the preacher.”6 Of course, Jesus did so as no other can.
Still, Jesus did not do his preaching alone. In close connection with Jesus’ preaching ministry was his discipling ministry.
Jesus’ Discipling Ministry (1:16–20)7
The Son of God chose to call disciples. Think about that. We might wonder, wouldn’t it have been better if the Lord of glory would have worked his ministry of reconciliation alone? Couldn’t he have done it better, without the disciples misunderstanding his mission, putting their feet in their mouths, and often, just plain getting in the way (cf. 8:33)? After all, don’t things usually get messy when we involve other people? These concerns notwithstanding, Jesus chose to call disciples.
Who Are the Disciples?
Although the word isn’t used in Mark 1, Jesus’ followers were disciples, literally “students.” Before they were called they were simple, ordinary men. Some were pious (John 1:47); others were not (Mark 2:13–17). Jesus’ group of disciples consisted of both blue- and white-collar workers. In many ways they were no different from you and me; and for good reason.
In their unique callings the disciples are prototypical Christians; they are like mirrors in which we see our own weaknesses, and how God provides strength to follow him. Their call is reflected in ours.
To What Were the Disciples Called?
First, Jesus calls the disciples to follow him (1:17). The implication is that all else is left behind. They could not stay in their boats and follow Jesus at the same time. Amazingly, they immediately left their nets (v. 18) because God had opened their eyes, causing them to see infinite value in Jesus and his kingdom; they perceived that nothing they could desire could compare with Christ (Ps. 73:25). To this day, no one will forsake the world, take up his cross, and follow Christ unless that person sees see him as incomparably more valuable than everything else (Mark 8:34).
Second, Jesus calls his disciples to be changed by him. He says, “And I will make you become fishers of men” (v. 17). What these men are, here on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, is not what they will become. Are you planning to be changed in your pursuit of Christ? Are you willing to have your prejudices conquered? Are you prepared to undergo the painful transformation called sanctification (Rom. 12:2)? The Christian life is a constant becoming.
Third, Jesus calls his disciples to become fishers of men (1:17). In calling the disciples away from their nets, Jesus isn’t diminishing their profession. Instead, he uses their secular vocation as a powerful illustration of the call of discipleship. “You know how to fish for fish, now fish for people! Jesus might likewise have called Matthew—the tax collector—to now collect the tithes of gratitude from God’s people. When God converts a farmer, he calls him to cultivate godliness in himself and others. When he calls a carpenter, he calls him to build up the family of God. When people become followers of God, they become acutely interested in the salvation and sanctification of those who are yet swimming in a sea of despair.
Jesus’ Healing Ministry (1:21–34, 40–45)
Jesus came to preach and to disciple. But he also came to heal.
Why Did Jesus Heal?
There are at least seven reasons why Jesus’ healings are integral to his ministry. First, he healed to authenticate his divinity. Anyone can teach, but only God can perform healing miracles (2:9–12). Second, Jesus healed to authenticate his preaching. The two seem always to go together (e.g., 1:39); Jesus never pursued a mercy ministry divorced from the ministry of the word. Third, Jesus healed to promote faith. Later in his ministry he told his Jewish critics: “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:38). Fourth, Jesus healed to gain favor with the people. Sometimes he warned people not to talk about the healings because he didn’t want to become a sensation.8 Still, his healing was highly regarded by many (Mark 1:37; 5:20) Fifth, Jesus healed to showcase his love (Mark 1:41, Matt. 9:36). All of his miracles were for the benefit of others.9 Sixth, Jesus healed to demonstrate man’s appalling need.10 Just think about all we learn of human suffering and need for a healer through the healing accounts in the Gospels. Our understanding of our plight would be impoverished without them. Finally, Jesus healed to point to a day when all things will be made right. His earthly mercy ministry foreshadows a day when “God will wipe away every tear” from the eyes of his redeemed people. “And there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Two Types of Healings
Jesus heals both soul and body. He is a total healer!
First, Jesus heals the demon possessed (1:21–28). Jesus’ first healing miracle teaches us the sobering reality that the great battles in this world are not fought against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers (Eph. 6:12). In a culture dominated by philosophical materialism, Christians still believe in the existence of ghosts or spirits. And because the Bible teaches about the danger of unclean spirits—the Bible says that unclean spirits torment their hosts (Luke 6:18; Acts 5:16)—Christians handle demonology soberly and not for the purpose of entertainment. At the same time, believers are not paralyzed by fear over the world of darkness. Christ has authority over the spirit world. In fact, this is why Christ came, as the demon asked: “Did you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1:24). The implied answer is yes. Even unclean spirits obey him (1:27).
Second, Jesus heals the sick. There are three examples in this chapter of Jesus’ ministry to the sick. Each example highlights a component of Jesus’ healing ministry. First, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 29–31). This was a total healing. A remarkable detail is given in verse 31: After the woman was healed “she served them.” I have heard people scorn the fact that Peter’s mother-in-law served Jesus and his band of followers shortly after having been bedridden with a fever. “The woman was ill with a serious fever and isn’t even allowed time to fully recover before returning to service?” But that’s the point: she was fully recovered! She had no need to rest; Jesus had restored her!
Then, Jesus heals the multitudes (vv. 32–34). Here is a great healing. Too often beleaguered Christians limit, in their own minds at least, Christ’s ability to heal. We give the impression that the Lord’s arm has been shortened (Num. 11:23); that he no longer works wonders on a grand scale. God’s word challenges the limitations which our little faith places on the power of God.
Finally, Jesus heals the leper (vv. 40–45). This was a compassionate healing. If you’ve ever seen Ben Hur, you have a pretty good sense of how “untouchable” lepers were. They had their own communities where they could languish well apart from normal society. At one point in the movie, Judah Ben Hur is talking to Pilate after seeing where his “mother and . . . sister live what’s left of their lives.” He reminds Pilate that they have become “lepers and outcasts without hope!” Jesus ignores the societal demarcations of his day. He looked at the leper with compassion “and touched him” (1:41).
We need to grasp the humiliating truth that we are that leper. We do not have rotting skin but, by nature, we have rotting, stinking hearts that separate us from the holy society of God. But in his condescending love Christ comes to us and says, “I am willing to make you clean.” One commentator says, “The whole of the gospel is here in a nutshell.”11
The first hundred days in office have come to be seen as a harbinger of the remainder of a public servant’s term. Think of Mark 1:14–45 as Christ’s first hundred days in office as the servant of God. What will his ministry be about? It will be about preaching, discipling, and healing. If you had been around during Jesus ministry, how would you have fit in to his ministry? Are you submitting to the preaching of Christ? Are you being discipled? Are you being healed by Jesus? Do you bring your hurts, your sins, your frustrations to Christ and say, “I want to be cleaned”? To use Jesus’ own phrase, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus is calling us to enter in by repenting of our sins and believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lesson 3 Notes
1. Christ also came to suffer and die for the sins of the elect, but Mark doesn’t unveil Christ’s suffering ministry until Mark 8, when Christ sets his face to Jerusalem.
2. This division (with the exception of the reference to the church) is from R. Alan Cole, The Gospel According to Mark: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 112. Cf. William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, New Testament Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 56–57.
3. Hendriksen, Mark, 58.
4. Heidelberg Catechism answer 21, from the Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids: Publication Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, Inc. 1959), 25.
5. Hendriksen provides five additional ways in which Jesus’ teaching differed from that of the scribes: truth not speculation, significance not trivialities, system not rambling, vivid illustration not dry lectures, love for listeners (Mark, 63).
6. Preachers and Preaching (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 56.
7. More will be said regarding Jesus’ call of the disciples in connection with Mark 2:13–17 and Mark 3:13–19.
8. Jesus seems to forbid men to freely publish his reputation until the time when God reveals to Peter just who Jesus is (Mark 8:29). See Cole, Mark, 116.
9. One exception is the miracle of the money in the fish’s mouth, which allowed him and Peter to pay the temple tax (Matt. 17:27).
10. Herbert Lockyer, All of the Miracles of the Bible: The Supernatural in Scripture Its Scope and Significance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1961), 153.
11. Cole, Mark, 118.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1. Reflect on Jesus’ statement “the kingdom of God is at hand.” How can a robust understanding of God’s kingdom affect our Christianity?
2. How does Jesus’ call to his disciples to “follow me” inform our approach to discipleship?
3. How is Jesus’ preaching authority reflected in Christian preaching today?
4. Why is it important to view biblical preaching as being authoritative?
5. Are there ways in which Christians take dark spiritual things too lightly today?
6. What does Jesus’ healing ministry teach us about a ministry of mercy today?
7. How do you suppose Jesus’ prayer ministry (v. 35) related to his preaching ministry (v. 38)?
8. Do we ever underestimate Jesus’ compassion toward hurting sinners (see. v. 41)?