First Act. Presentation of Jesus: Mark 1.14-8.30
Scene 1: The Authority of Jesus: Mark 1.14-45
➨ Read Mark 1.14-45 (NIV) with verses or
➨ Read paperback version of The Books of the Bible (TBoTB). pp. 1771-1772 or
➨ Read the text without verses by clicking on the link below.
Passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you into fishers for men.” Immediately they left their nets, and followed him.
Going on a little further from there, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him.
They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath day he entered into the synagogue and taught. They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes. Immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, saying, “Ha! What do we have to do with you, Jesus, you Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know you who you are: the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
They were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching? For with authority, he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” The report of him went out immediately everywhere into all the region of Galilee and its surrounding area.
Immediately, when they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. He came and took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by demons. All the city was gathered together at the door. He healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons. He didn’t allow the demons to speak because they knew him.
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, he rose up and went out, and departed into a deserted place, and prayed there. Simon and those who were with him followed after him; and they found him, and told him, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He said to them, “Let’s go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason.” He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons.
A leper came to him, begging him, kneeling down to him, and saying to him, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”
Being moved with compassion, he stretched out his hand, and touched him, and said to him, “I want to. Be made clean.” When he had said this, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was made clean.
He strictly warned him, and immediately sent him out, and said to him, “See you say nothing to anybody, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.” But he went out, and began to proclaim it much, and to spread about the matter, so that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was outside in desert places: and they came to him from everywhere.
It is interesting that in a lot of churches, we have reduced the concept of authority to pastoral leadership over a flock or in charismatic circles, prophetic leadership over pastors and so-called apostles over everyone.
Early in my career when I was part of a traditional Pentecostal denomination, I was sitting in a room with three elected officials who served on a district level. They were not happy that I had suggested in a sermon that I was unsure about a specific doctrinal alignment that was held uniquely by that denomination. One of the church board members had slipped into the audio room of the church, removed the original sermon tape, and delivered it to the office to these officials. They called me on the carpet. When they questioned me, it seemed that their attitude suggested that “we know you are guilty, you just need to admit it.” I refused to recant what I had said. The senior member of the group then told me that I was being insubordinate to his authority. He clearly thought that I was “under his authority.” I have wondered about that idea for years and have seen that very same idea at work in churches, often in an abusive fashion. I only wish that I had known about this part of Mark’s Story of Jesus at that point in my church career. It seems clear to me that Jesus did have authority over lots of different things, but over others, well, I’m not so sure. Let’s see how that works out here in these first stories written by Mark.
Observing Mark’s Story
Mark’s Gospel takes a distinct turn at Mark 1.14 in his story of the ministry of Jesus. We must remind ourselves when reading Mark that the works and words of Jesus present the same message of Jesus: the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. These starting stories of Mark can be seen as follows:
First, a story about the commencement of the ministry of Jesus (Mark 1.14-15).
Second, a story about the call of the disciples to follow Jesus (Mark 1.16-20).
Finally, Mark shares six commanding (authority) miracle stories. They demonstrate Jesus’
- Authority in Teaching (Mark 1.21-22)
- Authority over Demons (Mark 1.23-28)
- Authority over Illness (Mark 1.29-31)
- Authority over Sickness and Demonization (Mark 1.32-34)
- Authority in Prayer (Mark 1.35-39)
- Authority over Leprosy (Mark 1.40-45)
Interpreting Mark’s Story: Mark 1.14-45
Commencement of Jesus’ Ministry (Mark 1.14-15)
Using a flashback storytelling technique, Mark tells his first readers that John was in prison. His hearers and readers are told why and what John’s fate was. After his shaping in the wilderness, Jesus emerges proclaiming the kingdom of God. Mark’s summary in this section breaks easily into two components: God’s part and humankind’s part.
- The first component was God’s part, which consisted of God creating the right time for the event of Jesus. The word time infers that an epochal event was occurring through the ministry of Jesus He was bringing his kingdom of God (rule) near. The rule of God was being seen by his hearers and readers in a way in which it was not expected by them. The Jews would soon discover that the kingdom didn’t look the way they thought it would look in the ministry of Jesus.
- The second component of Mark’s summary statement demonstrates humankind’s part. Jesus used a common figure of speech: repent and believe to suggest that humans are expected to change their direction in life. In almost any church in USAmerica, you could ask a congregant what that phrase meant and the response would be something like: “Stop sinning and say the sinner’s prayer so you can go to heaven when you die.” Part of this statement would be true: “Stop sinning.” But repentance may have a totally different kind of meaning than what is common in ChurchWorld today. Wright suggests that “…it meant turning away from the social and political agenda,” which Israel had. To repent is/was to change one’s mind and lifestyle and move back toward the face of God. It was a call for Israel to turn back to their loyalty to Yahweh with the expectation that they would see God rescue them. One could say that Mark was telling his first readers that they needed to change the story they were living in and begin to live into the story that Jesus had shared. Finally, to believe means to be persuaded. God has done his part; it’s our choice to do ours. We must be persuaded that the story that we have lived in has to be changed with a new and more vibrant story revealed by God through Jesus. What makes this difficult to put one’s arms around is that most every church thinks that is what they are doing when they meet on any given Sunday. The question would be if we are following the Story of Jesus given by Mark: have we or are we sufficiently turned toward God and away from the cultural ideas about God that have consumed us?
We have grown accustomed to our present cultural situation to accept the cultural story and continually adapt and live in that story. We continue to have a notion that whatever the present culture suggests is loving and kind, we should adapt to it. Adapting to present cultural change moves us further backward. Living into the story of Jesus moves us forward. Our choice!Adapting to present cultural change moves us further backward. Living into the story of Jesus moves us forward. Our Choice. Click To Tweet
Behind the Scenes
What is the kingdom of God? There were two basic thoughts about the kingdom in the day of Jesus. First, some thought it was political, something like David’s kingdom in the Old Testament, a military, and nationalistic kingdom. This kingdom would take the pressure of Rome’s foot off the neck of Israel. This was the hope of the Jews in general (John 6), and the disciples in particular (Acts 1).
The other thought was that the kingdom would be apocalyptic. This view saw no hope for the restoration of Israel. The focus here was a belief that God would bring the whole world to an end and replace it with a new one (the age to come).
Neither of the ideas was what Jesus was preaching. In short, the kingdom of God is the rule or reign of God in the world, which Jesus demonstrated and highlighted in this present evil age by his works and words. The message of the kingdom was the only message that Jesus proclaimed. We should take heed to proclaim what he proclaimed rather than the fragmented presentations that are found on most Sundays is churches around the world.
Call of Jesus’ Disciples (Mark 1.16-20)
The men and women that Jesus called were ordinary folks living in community with each other.
Think for a moment what those words would have sounded like to these fishermen. Most likely they were a part of a family trade that had stretched back for many years, passed from family members to new family members. Think about what you would have done if Jesus would have walked up to you on a busy afternoon while you were working in a business and told you to leave your work behind and follow him. What would you have done? While this seems a stark reality to ask, it was a part of the family history of Israel. Remember, the larger family clan they were a part of had been asked by God to leave the security of their home in Egypt and go to a different land. Could it be that Mark was suggesting in his story of Jesus that the old family business of being the people of God should be put behind them? They would have understood the story of their ancient family being called to leave Egypt and journey to a land that God would show them. It could be that they were being asked to write and live a new story about living as God’s people within the kingdom of God.[ref]N. T. Wright, Mark for Everyone. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 8.[/ref]
For Jesus, there was/is no skill used in a legitimate business that cannot be used in the work done on behalf of Jesus. Every person needs something into which his or her life can be invested. Your occupation: lawyer, printer, housewife, teacher, corporate executive, childcare provider, caregiver, etc., to name a few is a worthy occupation that can be lived by kingdom standards in this present evil age. In short, your present work becomes your ministry. Work is not just a place that you earn a salary. There really is no special class of ministers, even though ChurchWorld has impregnated herself with such a misguided view. Ministers are ministers when they minister. Otherwise, they are just Joan and Jim.
Commanding Miracles (Mark 1.21-45)
Jesus was driven into the wilderness, empowered, and came out proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. In this larger section, Mark turns his attention to sharing the stories, which demonstrate that proclaiming the kingdom of God with authority was the ministry of Jesus. Sadly, we have substituted the idea of human authority in the church for the idea of authority in the kingdom of God. I wrote an article entitled: “When Leadership in ChurchWorld Looks Just Like Leadership in the Secular Culture.” where I discuss the concept of church position and hierarchy.
Authority in Teaching (Mark 1.21-22)
Jesus taught with authority. The teachers of the law of the day usually taught using the authority of their predecessors. They would quote their favorite Rabbi as support for what they were teaching. When Jesus taught, those listening heard a different kind of authority, captured in a different story. He stretched their minds in radical ways. The result of his teaching was that his hearers were amazed. To be amazed was to be altered from a normal condition and thrown into a state of excitement, not hysteria, but excitement. Where are the teachers with authority in the church today?
Authority over Demons (Mark 1.23-28)
While Jesus was teaching, a demonized man manifested and cried out aloud. Apparently, the kingdom’s presence of Jesus causes unclean spirits to disclose themselves. The cry of terror is loaded with the language of defense and resistance. The first expression in verse 24, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? is common in the Old Testament in the context of combat and judgment. It could mean something like “you have no business with us.” The second expression “…Have you come to destroy us?” is not a question but a declaration and would be better translated: “You have come to destroy us” or as The Message translates it: “I know what you’re up to!” This conflict language demonstrates that the demonic power understood more clearly the decisive significance of the presence of Jesus than the people did. The third expression is not a confession. The speaking demon attempted to gain control of Jesus by the use of his name. It was commonly believed that the use of an individual’s name would secure mastery over him.
Jesus spoke only a few power-packed words (Mark 1.25). First, he said, “be quiet.” The action of this word suggests that an outside source (Jesus) was demanding the demon to stop talking and be silent. The original word means to choke, muzzle, or to make one speechless. For the Roman reader, this word demonstrated the power of Jesus. The picture contained in the word is to put one’s hands around the throat squeezing its throat to silence. Not a picture that is often thought about when thinking about Jesus as a “kind and gentle” man. Second, Jesus spoke sternly, which means rebuke, chide, or censure. Jesus only rebuked him once, not over and over again. Finally, he said, “come out of him.” The action of the word infers that the demon had no choice but to stop the interference that was occurring and go away. This episode caused the synagogue attendees some alarm. Duh!
➨ Excurses: The Devil is the Father of Lies
One of my theological mentors along the way was Dr. James Kallas. I took courses from him at a graduate school in Southern California and during my first doctorate. He is a Lutheran scholar and of this writing still lives in Southern California. When I worked for John Wimber, I introduced John to the writings of Dr. Kallas. Kallas who believed that the kingdom of God can be summarized as: There is a cosmic war going on! This war is between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. While Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension were the decisive battles of the war, the war has actually been won. We now live in the tension between the now and the not yet, carefully holding the tension between the two.
I had a conversation a few years ago with Kallas, who suggested to me that one of the issues in the contemporary world was that we don’t have a clear discerning of what the enemy is still doing in the present. He reminded me that Jesus said that Satan was the “father of all lies,” and that one of the lies that he has used to deceive the church is that demons act in the present like they acted in the Bible stories. We look for manifestations of demonic activity that looks like the demonic activity found in the stories of Scripture. Instead, he suggested that we should note that demonic activity comes in our time and space in different kinds of manifestations and that we simply don’t discern the circumstances as being demonic. He ventured a couple of examples: alcoholism and drug abuse. He did not explore all the ramification of those thoughts, only shared it.
I have thought about that conversation on more than one occasion, asking the question: What in our world is rooted in demonic activity? In terms of alcoholism, we, as a society have been persuaded that it is a disease. [ref]Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers, “Disease of Addiction Synopsis,” Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers, (accessed June 6, 2016). Since 1956, the American Medical Association has recognized and defined alcohol addiction as a primary disease, not a secondary symptom of an underlying psychological or medical illness.[/ref] It runs against the medical scientific grain to suggest that demonic activity runs at the roots of this condition. Isn’t that possible, or have we been recipients and carriers of Rudolf Bultmann’s demythologizing. [ref]Rudolf Bultmann., Kergyma and Myth: A Theological Debate. (London: SPCK Publishing, 1953), 5. Bultmann believed that Jesus believed in demons but modern man should not. The language of the New Testament like demons, disease, end of the world, and cosmic warfare, are archaic superstitions of an antiquated age. These ideas are no longer acceptable to the educated. Bultmann wrote the following in 1953, “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of demons and Spirits.[/ref] By the way, Kallas’s first book The Significance of the Synoptic Miracles [ref]James Kallas, The Significance of the Synoptic Miracles (Woodinville, WA: Sunrise Reprints, 1961 Reprint 2010).[/ref] was and still is a push back on Bultmann’s ideas. Let me say here that I am not one of those folks who sees a demon behind every tree or that thinks that everything that happens has a specific demon activity attached to it. However, having said that, there is a “ruler of this present age” that is out to destroy God’s world by every means possible and that includes deluding folks to think that he is not real or to think that someone thinking that he is real is somehow crazy.
However, for the sake of conversation and realizing that there are other factors to take into consideration, I think it is fair to explore the idea that in addition to scientific thought that there is also a spiritual component at work in our world in a way that has a different idea for one’s life that is not the same as God’s idea. What if both science and theology are involved and that the theological position is at the initiation phase of an addiction caused by demonic influence and once the influence is chosen as a way to proceed, what science suggests as reason become a reality. These are opening thoughts about possibilities not hard and fast conclusions.
In our time, early twenty-first century, there are many issues facing the church one of those issues is homosexuality or sexual behavior between those of the same sex. Dr. Gregory Herek (University of California, Davis) says that:
By the end of the 19th century, medicine and psychiatry were effectively competing with religion and the law for jurisdiction over sexuality. As a consequence, discourse about homosexuality expanded from the realms of sin and crime to include that of pathology. This historical shift was generally considered progressive because a sick person was less blameful than a sinner or criminal. [ref]Gregory Herek, “Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health,” Gregory Herek, PhD., (accessed June 16, 2016). It should be noted that the site listed above suggests that it provides factual information to promote the use of scientific knowledge for education and enlightened public policy related to sexual orientation.[/ref]
There has also been a long-standing fight between science (psychiatry) and theology for jurisdiction over defining sexuality as a belief that homosexuality was a mental disorder, a disease, or caused by genetics. [ref]Brian Stallard, “Homosexuality Is Genetic: Strongest Evidence Yet,” Nature World News, (accessed June 15, 2016, from natureworldnews.com but is no longer available at that site).[/ref] That debate turned decisively against theology after the Stonewall riots in 1965 in New York City. It has progressed over the years to a standing belief in society that homosexuality is permissible and if one takes a different view, he or she is labeled as homophobic. Another issue could be the gender self-selection argument.
ChurchWorld has become embroiled in the controversy in an internal debate. As an observer, I wonder if theology has not accounted for the premise of a presupposition based on Bultmann’s demythologizing, (see above) and not engaged with a different point of view presented by Paul Hiebert in his article: “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” where he suggests that the Western world has a blind spot that does not account for a “spirit” world. [ref]Paul Hiebert, “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle: (Missiology: An International Review 10:1. 146-158).” The American Society of Missiology: Biola University, La Mirada, CA., (accessed June 15, 2016).[/ref]
So, here’s the question to consider: What if the thought that “same-sex relationships are okay” is simply a deception presented by the “father of lies?” What if same-sex relationships have a demonic root and we simply don’t see it because we are looking for some weird “living in a cemetery, cutting one’s self” kind of activity or other activity made popular by films coming out of Hollywood like, “The Exorcist.” Or, in a different vein, the TV show “Lucifer” who is a character seeking “bad actors in LA” that he can punish. Herein the whole concept is to domesticate Satan so he is more easily accessed by humankind. What if theology has been bent toward a Western scientific worldview and not taken due consideration of a different worldview that collides with it? What if theology has submitted to the Zeitgeist [ref]Zeitgiest is a German word that means the “spirit of the age.”[/ref] or “spirit of the age,”and drank the Kool-Aid of the day? Isn’t it time that Jesus followers recognize the “ruler of this age” and put on the “complete armor” and “resist” the ruler of this age. This is surely a spiritual battle played out on the terra firma where we live?
…behind culture is the powerful figure of the Devil seeking anyone who he can devour working through his minions of demons.
This doesn’t mean that those participating in a gay lifestyle or being addicted to drugs or alcohol make them bad people, no more than a pastor/elder/deacon who has an addiction helped along by demonic activity creating a less than real humanity that Jesus brought into the world. We are all less-than-human and to some degree, this makes us susceptible to be influenced by another spirit world. At least, we should become aware of this concept. Tom Wright has some interesting thoughts on this subject in “Communion and Koinonia: Pauline Reflections on Tolerance and Boundaries. It is a dense article but well worth the time to read and consider his thoughts on the subject of how culture influences what we believe and how we act, and I would add that behind culture is the powerful figure of the Devil seeking anyone who he can devour working through his minions of demons. Remember, these are opening thoughts about possibilities not hard and fast conclusions.[ref]I am in an ongoing conversation with a friend who is a scientist and a Jesus follower. Information garnered from our conversation will most likely show up in future studies. [/ref]
Authority over Illness (Mark 1.29-31)
In this story, Peter’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. On the Sabbath returning from the synagogue, Jesus healed her in this fashion. First, he took her hand. The words indicate “a firm grip” not a mere touch. Second, the text says: the fever left her. The intent of the language suggests that the fever left at once, not gradually. Finally, she began to serve them. This was a beautiful fitting response to the healing word of Jesus. She got up and served them. What do we do when we receive healing from Jesus? Of course, that question would only pertain to those who actually believe that Jesus still heals and are willing to pray for that healing in addition to praying for the “doctor’s hands” to be guided. Okay, I’ve gone to meddling.
Authority over Sickness and Demonization (Mark 1.32-34)
News traveled fast about Peter’s mother-in-law in the small community and when the Sabbath was over, folks came in large numbers to where Jesus was. They came to experience the same freedom from the evil one that the demoniac had received in the synagogue and the mother-in-law had received in her home. Jesus healed the many ones with various diseases and drove out many demons and would not let them speak. The text implies that the demons kept insisting on speaking, but Jesus would not permit them to do so. The power of Jesus over the kingdom workers of Satan was being demonstrated.
Authority in Prayer (Mark 1.35-39)
Early the next morning, Jesus found a quiet place to pray. It was not unlike the wilderness. Prayer was the avenue through which Jesus received reinforcement after a time of ministry, not necessarily an “asking for specific needs” session. Refreshed and empowered, Jesus traveled through the region proclaiming that the rule of God had come into this present evil age and demonstrated his message by casting out demons. The model that seems to be the most prevalent in the church is to pray before for a need to be met, while that is not wrong, one wonders when the church will capture the thought that praying after needs are met is powerful and keeps any “ministry events” that occurred in perspective by thanking the one who provided the event in the first place and may take the often self-imposed “look at what I did or what the Lord did through me” capacity away for self-absorbed prayers.
Authority over Leprosy (Mark 1.40-45)
The leper in this story came and begged Jesus to make him clean. The word if suggests that the leper was uncertain about Jesus’ ability to do what he had asked. In the Greek language, there are four different ways to translate the word “if.” In this case, it is: “if, maybe you can and maybe you can’t heal me.” This uncertainty points to the conclusion that the person who has a need does not always have to have faith for a positive result to happen. I think it is simply a wrongheaded theology to teach or tell folks that they didn’t receive a healing or deliverance because they had no faith. The language here abolishes that kind of abusive theology. Watch out for this error and swiftly cut it out of your own prayer life and the prayer life of any group of congregants with which you may be associated. We need to learn to ask Jesus for help regardless of the status of our faith at the moment.
Jesus was filled with compassion. This phrase could be translated moved with anger. Again, this is not a thought that is usually on the tip of one’s tongue when thinking about Jesus. He was angered at the devastation that had been forced on his creation by the fall of humankind and the present control of the enemy. Anger is not only a feeling; it is what we do with it that becomes righteous or unrighteous. We need to learn to be angry about what God is angry about.
Jesus reached out and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” The touch was significant in two ways: First, from the leper’s point of view, it was an unheard-of act to be touched by a clean person. It must have moved him deeply. Touching a leper rendered the toucher unclean. However, in this case, the one who was unclean when touched by the one who was clean became clean. A complete reversal of what was expected. Such is life within the kingdom. Second, from Jesus’ point of view, he did not hesitate to act in violation of the regulations of not touching someone who was deemed unclean. The work of Jesus and the word of Jesus meant the same thing—cleansing for the leper. Immediately leprosy left and the man was cured.
In this healing, Jesus proclaimed to the Jews that he was God by his actions. The Jew believed that only God caused leprosy. For leprosy to be healed, only God could undo the curse (see Numbers 12). We are always looking for the text of Scripture to say that Jesus is God. Here is a passage that demonstrates that Jesus is God by his actions. Actions sometimes do speak louder than words!
Jesus told the leper to go to the priest and do what needed to be done. This was a part of the healing remedy for the person. His social life was going to be drastically affected by his return to a normal lifestyle. We must remember that a person is interconnected not separate parts. By asking the man to carry out the procedure, he was placing the priesthood in a position to accept or reject him as God while at the same time confirming the wholeness of the man....a passage that demonstrates that Jesus is God by his actions. Click To Tweet
Living into Mark’s Story
- How does the rule of God invade your day-to-day life (Mark 1.15)?
- As an ordinary person, how does God use you to minister in his kingdom (Mark 1.16)?
- In what ways do you constantly have to break with your former life (Mark 1.16-20)?
- Jesus did not carry on a conversation with the demon. His aim was to cause the demon to cease having control of the individual. What does this teach you? (Mark 1.23-28).
- No one ever gets mad at you when you pray for them and they are healed. When is the last time you prayed for someone (Mark 1.29-31)?
- When the kingdom of God comes, there is relief from pain and affliction. How has that been true in your life and the life of others with whom you pray (Mark 1.32-34)?
- Our actions can affect the plan of God. How do your actions affect God’s plan (Mark 1.45)?
- Read Mark 2.1-3.6
Tom Wright. Mark for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone [Paperback]
Ben Witherington III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.
William L. Lane. The Gospel according to Mark: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)