Mark 1:1-11 identify Jesus of Nazareth. In Verse 1 He is the Son of God. In verses 2 and 3 He is the One foretold by the prophets. In verses 4-9 He is acclaimed by John the Baptist. Each of these identifiers is an important person whose word carries great weight. “Son of God” is the testimony of Peter, who knew and followed Christ during His earthly ministry. The prophets are the called and inspired voice of God in the Old Testament. Their testimony shows that Jesus of Nazareth is the message of the entire Bible. John the Baptist is the first prophet to appear in Israel in four hundred years. He is universally regarded as the authentic voice of God in his generation. His message is that Jesus of Nazareth is the One whose latchet John is not worthy to unloose , who comes to baptize with the Holy Ghost.
The most important witness to the identity of Christ comes from God Himself. Twice, in verse 10 and 11, God identifies Jesus as the Messiah. In verse 10 God the Holy Ghost descends upon Him. In Verse 11 God the Father says, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In verses 12 and 13, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, goes forth as a soldier into battle for the minds and souls of mortals. His conflict is with Satan, who tempts Him constantly during the forty days. His weapon is the Bible and the ministration of angels.
Mark wants us to know he is not writing about a mere human or human events. His Gospel is about God, who became a Man yet still remained God. It is about the things He did and the words He said while He lived, and died, among us. From the very start His life is shown to be a battle in which the souls of human beings are the prize. This understanding sets the tone for the entire book.
Verse 15 is a short summary of Christ’s message. “The time is fulfilled” means the end times have begun. The world has entered the era in which the prophesies and promises of the Old Testament are being fulfilled. The One foretold by the prophets has arrived to begin His Divine Kingdom. Therefore, turn from sin to God, and believe the Message of Christ.
Walking the shores of Galilee, our Lord now calls Simon and Andrew, and James and John. These men will become the core of His disciples and the foundation of the Church after Christ’s Ascension. Details of their lives and call are found in other places. John’s Gospel, for example records that Peter and Andrew were with John the Baptist, and followed Jesus after hearing John point to Him as the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:36-42). But Mark moves rapidly to pivotal events which show the Divine essence and power of Christ.
First, is His teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum, found in verses 21-22. The shocking thing about Christ’s teaching is that He teaches with the authority of God. His is not the scholarship of a student of the Scripture. His was the sure knowledge only possessed by the Author. The hearers recognised this immediately.
Second, also happening in the synagogue, is the spiritual healing of the man with the unclean spirit (vss. 23-27). The unclean spirit is a demonic presence in the life of the man. So pervasive is the demon’s presence it is called in other places demon possession. The man is completely unable to free himself of the devil’s grasp. But Jesus is Lord, and even devils must yield to His absolute power. That is the conclusion reached by the witnesses in verse 27. If Christ has authority/power over unclean spirits, He is superior to them. And who is superior to them, but God Himself?
This is exactly what most Jews want from the Messiah. In fact, this is the idea of the Messiah Jesus confronts in the synagogue and the Temple, and in popular Jewish culture during His entire life. If He uses His Divine power to be that kind of Messiah, He will be gladly received and welcomed by virtually every Jew, from the High Priest to the Pharisees to the “man in the street.” He will be loved and honoured. He will not face opposition. He will not be crucified.
So Jesus needs to be reassured about the true nature and purpose of the Messiah’s mission. How does He find reassurance? Prayer. His prayer naturally includes the liturgical prayers and memorised Bible passages of His people. It is likely that it includes much meditation on Bible passages that deal with the Messiah. These would be the same passages He had relied upon in the wilderness temptations, which would also sustain Him over the next three trying years. We can be sure that the same passages will be called upon in Gethsemane, and that the prayers of our Master this night in Galilee are deeply fervent and offered in complete willingness to obey the Father.
Second is verse 38. Here Christ has reached a decision. He is not sent to dispense physical healing and material prosperity. His calling is to heal souls the only way that can be done, by going to the cross. Meantime, rather than devoting Himself to physical healing, He will spend His time preaching about the true mission of the Messiah, and the true will of God as revealed in the Bible. As He said in verse 38, “therefore came I forth.”
What is the point, then, of the miracles? First, they show the compassion of Christ. We often read that He was moved with compassion, and, therefore, healed, and blessed, and even raised the dead. Second, they show our needs and our inability to solve our greatest problems. Sickness comes. Evil grips us. Death takes us all away. There is nothing we can do to prevent these things. We are completely helpless before them. Third, they show the identity of Christ. Who can heal miraculously? Who can command devils? Who can do these things? Only God. Therefore, if Jesus of Nazareth can do what only God can do, then Jesus of Nazareth is God.
Jesus continues to heal during the rest of His ministry. But He does not allow Himself to be reduced to a healer only. He uses healing to show His power and identity, and to point to the greater healing of the soul to eternal life, which He will accomplish on the cross.
Leprosy, in this passage, is a symbol of sin. Sin makes us unfit for fellowship with God, and unfit to participate in the life and fellowship of His Church. An amazing thing about sin is that it often leads us to voluntarily excommunicate ourselves. We willingly reject the Church’s ministry and service, because we value other things above the Church. But separating ourselves from the people of God is the same as separating ourselves from God. Just as a cell outside of the body dies, a cell of the Body of Christ dies when separated from His Body.
But isn’t it possible to worship God at home, or in a beautiful forest or at the seaside? Yes, and we should worship Him in these places. But this does not mean we are to neglect the assemblies of the Church. Nor does it mean worshiping God in other places is a replacement for worshiping Him in a Biblical Church, whenever possible. We are not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). Note that this verse in Hebrews places neglecting the Church in the category of willful sin after appearing to become a Christian, for the following verse says, “if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgement and fiery indignation.”
Mark emphasises Jesus touching the leper. This is symbolic of the fact that God comes to us while we are yet sinners. He does not wait for us to make ourselves righteous. We cannot do that: we cannot heal our souls of the leprosy of sin. But Jesus comes to us in our sin to cleanse us from it and bring us back into full fellowship with Him and His Church.
Notice Jesus tells the man to go to the priest and make an offering in the Temple. The man was excluded from the Temple. Now He is instructed to go into it and participate fully in its services. The priest will pronounce him clean, and he will be able to take His place again among the people of God and in the house of God. He has been made clean in body and soul. He has been restored to God. In the same way, becoming a Christian means becoming a member of the Church. We are restored to the fellowship of God’s people as we are restored to fellowship with God. One necessarily includes the other.
Contemporary evangelicalism lays much stress on “witnessing” for Christ, meaning, telling others about Jesus and inviting them to become Christians. Thus, Jesus’ command to tell no one about this healing surprises and confuses many. At the time of this healing, the popular idea of a health and wealth Messiah prevented many from receiving the real message and ministry of Christ. If people heard about this healing they would come to Jesus in huge numbers, looking for their own miracles and healings. They would continually try to force Jesus to be a health and wealth Messiah, rather than a healer of souls. So Jesus compels silence from the former leper. But the leper published it much.
Jesus uses the palsied man to proclaim His real nature and ministry. He doesn’t say, “you are healed.” He says, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” This raises an important question which the scribes rightly asked, “who can forgive sins but God only?” The scribes realised Jesus was claiming the authority to forgive sins. If He is not God, He has no such authority. To claim it is blasphemy, for it is a claim to be nothing less than God. If He is God, then He is exercising His Divine authority in forgiving the man’s sins.
So Jesus is presenting us with a decision. We must decide whether He is a blasphemer or God Incarnate. Many have shown that it is impossible to say Jesus was just a good teacher or a moral/religious reformer, for His claims went far beyond that. He must either be who He claims to be, or He must be a liar and a deceiver.
His actions prove His words. He heals the man’s paralysis, thus doing again what only God can do. The point is simple: healing the man is something only God can do. If Jesus heals him, He, Jesus, is God. If He is God, He has full authority to forgive sins.
This is important to us because we are sinners who need forgiveness. This passage is a great encouragement to trust Jesus to forgive us. If He is who He says He is, and His actions prove He is, then He has authority to forgive our sin completely. Let us, therefore, seek His forgiveness.
It is noteworthy that He does no healing this time. His ministry is confined to proclaiming that message encapsulated in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel.”
When the “sermon” is over, our Lord goes back into the city and confronts Levi with the command, “Follow Me” (2:14). Levi is identified as the son of Alphaeus, “sitting at receipt of custom.” Levi was a tax collector for the Romans. Mark calls him a publican. The Jews considered him a traitor and an apostate. Verse 15 calls him a sinner, meaning he is outside of the people of God, and, therefore, outside of God. We would say he is “lost.”
Jesus agrees. He includes Levi when He says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners unto repentance.” But our Lord has plans for Levi. Levi will indeed follow Christ, and will be known forever as Matthew (Mt. 9:9), Apostle, and author of the Gospel that bears his name. He will write his Gospel to show the Jews that Jesus is their Messiah, and all their hopes and desires are fulfilled in Him. Many believe Matthew’s was the first Gospel to be written, and that it was originally in Hebrew or Aramaic, which he later translated into Greek. We know Mark’s Gospel was written by A.D. 50. Matthew’s is considered to be much older. Both were written during the active ministry of the Apostles, and during the life time of many eye-witnesses to Christ. This is a powerful testimony to their truth and reliability.
Christ’s words in 17-20 do not mean Christians should not fast. They do mean fasting is not the measure of Godliness. Fasting is a time of putting aside the world and seeking God. It is also a time of self-discipline, denying certain needs in order to gain more control over the desires of the flesh. Perhaps some of the prevalent spiritual laziness we see today could be helped by some prayer and fasting.