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The literary structure of Mark 2:18-22

We’re in the gospel of Mark, chapter 2:18-22. This is the third story in a sequence of five stories of conflict that we’ve been working our way through.

You have a handout – Five conflict stories on how these stories are put together. I would just quickly highlight three things. 1) You can see in the left and right hand columns how these five stories parallel each other in various ways. 2) Each story tells us something about who Jesus is (center column). And 3) the two parables at the very center reference all five stories, not just ours, the third.

Alright, let’s work our way through our verses for today.

Mark 2:18-22

We begin with some background.

18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting.”

The Law of Moses only requires one fast, a 24 hour fast on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29). (Although later there were other fasts that began to be observed – Zechariah 8:19; Esther 9:31; Nehemiah 9:1).

In our story we’re dealing with voluntary fasts, that go beyond what is required. These were usually from sunrise to sunset. Voluntary fasting was one of three key practices in ancient Judaism, along with prayer and giving alms. And it was highly regarded as a mark of devotion to God.

In Scripture, fasting is connected to things like mourning a death, repenting for sins, or when you’re dealing with hard times and you’re desperate for God’s help. It’s self-denial – not eating – connected to humility, lowliness and sadness. (In Matthew 9:15 the word “fast” is replaced by “mourn,” the two ideas are so closely related. Also in Matthew 6:16 Jesus criticizes putting on a show of mourning when you fast.)

Fasting is also associated with prayer (Luke’s version of this story adds in prayer to the topic of fasting – 5:33). It’s a way of intensifying your prayers in order to make your feelings or your needs known to God; the urgency of the situation (Matthew 6:16-18).

  • Regarding John the Baptist, Jesus describes him as someone who came “eating no bread and drinking no wine” – Luke 7:33. That is, he was known for fasting and not drinking alcohol. His disciples must have followed suit.
  • The Pharisees were also known for fasting. They did this twice a week (Luke 18:12) on Mondays and Thursdays.

So both John’s disciples and the Pharisees maintained a lifestyle characterized by rigorous voluntary fasting.

This brings us to the question.

 18And people came and said to him (Jesus), ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’”

There were different religious groups among the Jews, and there is a comparison going on here. John’s group and the Pharisees seem really serious and devout. And so the question is “Are you guys slackers?” This question may well have been raised because, in the previous story Jesus and his disciples are feasting with tax collectors and sinners. And although the question is addressed to Jesus about his disciple’s behavior, it’s meant as a challenge to Jesus who is their teacher.

Jesus’ answer

19And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.’”

Now, Jesus and his disciples would have fasted from time to time, for instance on the Day of Atonement. And since Jesus gave them teaching on voluntary fasting in Matthew 6:16-18, it seems reasonable that they put this into practice on occasion. But they were not known for fasting. They did not maintain a rigorous lifestyle of fasting. This is the issue here.

Fasting, as we saw, would more likely be linked to funerals, where there is mourning and lowliness. But Jesus makes the case that his presence among the people is like a wedding. And weddings were all about celebrating and feasting – for seven whole days! Fasting would have been unheard of at such an event. As Jesus says, “they cannot fast” in such a setting.

So he’s making a claim about himself – Jesus is the bridegroom. The image of God as the husband of Israel was well known in the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5-6; 61:10; Ezekiel 16; Hosea). But here Jesus has this role (See also Ephesians 5:22ff; Revelation 19:6-9; John 3:29) – and his disciples are his groomsmen or wedding guests.

His coming signals the enactment of the new covenant between God and his people – his bride, seen as a marriage renewal. His coming also signals the arrival of the promised kingdom of God which was also depicted with wedding imagery. (For the coming of the kingdom and wedding themes in the New Testament see Matthew 22:1-14; 25:1-13 and Revelation 19:7-9)

And so it’s a time of celebration. This is why Jesus was a “feaster,” not a faster. He maintained a lifestyle of celebration and joy, not mourning and sadness. As he says about himself in Luke 7:33, in contrast to John the Baptist, “the Son of man came eating and drinking.” And he celebrated so much that some slandered him as “a glutton and a drunkard.” And this is why he and his disciples were feasting in the previous story.

So Jesus is saying, the new has come! I’m here! The kingdom of God is here. And this has an impact on some traditional practices. The old has to change.

If these other Jewish groups had recognized Jesus’ claim, they too would have changed their practices from a lifestyle of fasting – to a lifestyle more associated with feasting. But they didn’t accept Jesus’ claim, and so they didn’t change their practices.

20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.”

If v. 19 emphasizes Jesus’ presence with them and what this means, v. 20 emphasizes when Jesus will be absent from them. The phrase “is taken away” is ominous. It’s a veiled reference to his death. (It’s likely an allusion to Isaiah 53:8) Jesus is saying that after his death, in those days, his disciples will fast. (Fasting and death/mourning/a funeral are once again connected.) (See John 16:19-20 for a similar idea)

So this new thing, a lifestyle of celebration, is a change of practice specifically related to Jesus’ presence on earth.

Next comes two parables about the new and the old. 

21No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.

22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins.”

These both make the same point, there’s an incompatibility between the new and the old.  In the first, the new is the unshrunk cloth. If you sew this onto an old garment, the patch will shrink and everything will be ruined.

In the second, the new is the new wine. If you put it into an old wineskin that has already been stretched out and is brittle, when the wine continues to ferment and expand, it will burst the wineskin and everything will be ruined. There’s an incompatibility.

Jesus draws out the positive point in the last line –

22But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

The new of Jesus’ presence and the kingdom requires some new practices, not grafting the new onto the old (the patch) or putting the new into the old (wine). With Jesus’ coming – things get changed up!

Some things to take home

1. Jesus’ divine identity. As we have seen several times now, most recently when Jesus forgave a person’s sins, Jesus takes on the role of God. Or to say it another way, he is the Son of God.

In our text today he identifies himself as the bridegroom of God’s people, who of course, is God. This is who Jesus is. He is not just a prophet. He is not just the Messiah. He is not just a son of God – a powerful ruler or heavenly being. He is the Son of God. This is who our Savior is.

2. Do you fast? This is a challenge that this passage presents to us. Jesus specifically says that after his death, “they will fast in that day.” This is the time we live in now.

If you don’t already, I encourage you to try fasting as a way of engaging in intense prayer, lifting up your sorrows and problems to God. And God will hear you since he is especially attuned to the lowly.

Although, remember to do it according to Jesus’ teaching – so that we don’t advertise our fasting by playing the part of a mourner, as he teaches in Matthew 6:16-18.

3. Are you living in the new that Jesus teaches? As we saw, the change with regard to fasting was temporary, being specifically related to Jesus’ bodily presence with us.

But as I pointed out, the two parables on the new and the old, at the very center of the five stories of conflict, also point back to the first two stories and forward to the last two stories.

  • In the first two stories – with Jesus’ coming the kingdom brings in a time of mercy and forgiveness, so that Jesus now announces forgiveness and extends mercy even to notable sinners.
  • And in the second two stories – with Jesus’ coming the kingdom brings with it a new way of observing the Sabbath for Jesus’ Jewish followers, that emphasizes that it’s made to bless people, and doing good to others on the Sabbath is encouraged.

The coming of the kingdom changes our practices in these ways also. And if the fasting example is mostly temporary, these are long-term changes that clarify for us what God’s will is with regard to how we treat “sinners” and how we might observe Sabbath.

 

The literary structure of Mark 2:13-17

We’re in the Gospel of Mark today, looking at the call of Levi and the subsequent meal in his home. This is the second in a sequence of five stories of conflict. Last time the conflict was over Jesus’ claim to forgive someone’s sins. Today it’s his practice of sharing fellowship with sinners.

Let’s jump right in –

Mark 2:13-17

v. 13- “He (Jesus) went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.”

As we have seen, Jesus was a celebrity, especially because of his ability to heal. Crowds followed him everywhere. He was always getting mobbed. And so here he takes advantage of this to continue to teach them about the coming of the kingdom of God (1:15).

v. 14 – “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth. . .”

[Notice the parallels with 1:16-20, the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John: Jesus took the initiative, he was “passing by”; it took place beside the sea; Jesus saw; there is a reference to occupation; the call “follow me”; and an immediate response of leaving their occupation]

It’s interesting that in the first gospel the name of the person in this story is “Matthew,” not Levi. And there’s also a James the son of Alphaeus, who is one of the twelve. Most likely Levi and Matthew are the same person. And perhaps Levi/Matthew and the apostle James, the son of Alphaeus were brothers. It’s hard to know how it all fits together with the information we have.

In any case, Levi was a tax collector (technically a toll collector). Specifically he would have been employed by someone to collect customs fees and road tolls. He most likely had a booth along the road through Capernaum, which was a significant trade route (the Via Maris from Damascus to Caesarea). The money would go to his boss, who would give the proper portion to Herod Antipas, who ruled in Galilee.

Tax collectors were despised and treated as outcasts, for several reasons. I’ll mention just two. First, they were seen as collaborators with Rome, Israel’s oppressive overlord, since they worked for Herod, Rome’s installed puppet leader. And also they were often dishonest and charged too much, to increase their own income. They are associated in the New Testament with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), extortionists, the unjust, adulterers (Luke 18:11) and Gentiles (Matthew 18:17). None of these kept the Law of Moses and all of them were classified as “sinners.”

So Jesus sees Levi sitting at his toll booth, doing his work.

v. 14 – “. . . and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

When he says, follow me, Jesus is asking Levi to leave his current life behind so that he can travel with Jesus, learn from him and minister with him, just as he has already done with Peter, Andrew, James and John.

It’s possible that Levi had previous interactions with Jesus. Peter did before his call from Jesus, even though Mark doesn’t tell us about them. So it’s possible. Either way, Levi makes a radical break. He leaves his career behind. We will see in a moment that he had a house. But one can also wonder, was he married? Did he have kids? Was he supporting his parents? Whatever his exact circumstances, he had to sacrifice to follow Jesus in this way.

v. 15 – “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

[Jesus is a bit like David here collecting outcasts to himself – 1 Samuel 22:2].

The references “he” and “his” in the first phrase are vague. But it’s best to say that Jesus is eating in Levi’s house (Luke 5:29). Usually you would sit to eat. It was only for a special meal or banquet (Luke 5:29) that you would you recline, that is, lay on cushions or a couch and eat off of a short table.

“Sinners,” as we saw,  is a broad term that covers Gentiles and also Jews who don’t keep the Law of Moses in significant ways. Maybe they aren’t even trying. It’s a lifestyle of sin.

What’s going on here is that Levi, now a committed worker for Jesus, has invited his friends and coworkers, fellow tax collectors and sinners, to meet with Jesus, and to hear his message of the kingdom.

Many tax collectors and sinners were interested in Jesus and many “followed him,” our verse tells us, perhaps in the crowds that followed Jesus around, or perhaps as repentant disciples. (As Jesus said to the Jewish leaders in Matthew 21:31, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”)

And Jesus freely joins in with them in this feast.

v. 16 – “And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”

The scribes of the Pharisees, or experts in the Law, want to see what’s going on. A meal like this would’ve been public knowledge in a small town like Capernaum. And they aren’t happy with what they see. They ask Jesus’ disciples, “What in the world is he doing?”

That’s because the Pharisees took a separation approach to sinners. The righteous must be separate from those that are morally or ritually unclean. And the walls of separation must be maintained. And they especially applied this to who you ate meals with.

To be with sinners (especially to eat with them) is to send the wrong message; one of condoning their disobedience to God. And in ancient cultures to eat a meal with someone did convey open fellowship with each other.

And then there is the concern that if you are with them you will be contaminated by them, through ritual impurity for sure, but also by means of bad moral influence.

Perhaps they even said, “if sinners want to repent, they know what to do according to the Law of Moses. Let them get their lives in order first. Then we’ll fellowship.”

So Jesus’ actions were disconcerting and threatening to their way of looking at things. He isn’t playing by their rules.

v. 17 – “And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Jesus uses a common proverb to make his point: What good is a doctor who never goes around a sick person? Of course doctors have to be with them. How else can they help them? In the same way Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance and kingdom entrance; he calls them to be made whole. This is precisely why Jesus came. God sent him to do this.

Now, when Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” he acknowledges that there is a difference between a person who seeks to follow God and when they fail, finds forgiveness and moves forward – and a person who isn’t even trying to follow God; sinners who live a lifestyle of sin. And Jesus speaks of those who are righteous (Mark 6:20; Matthew 10:41; 13:17; 13:43; 25:37; Luke 1:6; 2:25; 23:50).

But we also have to acknowledge that with the coming of Jesus even these relatively more righteous ones are called to repentance in light of the fuller revelation of God’s will that he brings. (Just as those with faith in God are called to have faith in Jesus and his bringing forth the promise of the kingdom.) (This saying is similar to Luke 15:7, given in a very similar context, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance.”) (The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous – Luke 18:9, but Jesus often pointed out the ways that at least some of them failed in this regard.)

Instead of a separation approach, Jesus took a redemptive approach to sinnersYou have to be with them to give them the message of new life. Yes, this can seem scandalous because people might think that you’re condoning sin, or even sinning yourself. But the point is to be able to share the message of the kingdom and repentance and forgiveness and new life. So it’s worth the risk.

Instead of sin contaminating him, Jesus saw his love and truth as able to transform them; to make them well. Righteousness is contagious, not sin. Yes, you risk ritual impurity, and you do have to be careful of moral influence if it’s an area of weakness for you. But other than this, it’s worth the risk.

It’s no wonder that so many people responded to Jesus. They were used to rejection and scorn. And this didn’t lead to their transformation. But now Jesus comes to them, and he comes with grace – “I know you’re sinners, even notorious ones, but God is offering you the kingdom too. Repent and you can enter in and have new life.”

Let’s end with –

Some questions

 How do you treat sinners? Are you more like the Pharisees or more like Jesus? Here’s a test: There was a Christian man who went to biker bars so that he could be with those who needed Jesus. God put them on his heart. He sought to befriend those he could, to show them the love of Jesus. But when others in church found out about it they were shocked! John goes to bars every Friday night! We’ve never heard of such a thing. What’s he thinking? That’s not a place for good Christians to hang out. He should be thinking about his witness!

Do you agree with John or those in his church? Whose concern for witness is more genuine – John’s actual witness to people or the church’s concern for mere reputation?

Jesus calls us to be with sinners, not stay away from them. Unless, of course you have a weakness, that particular people or circumstances might tempt you to give in to. Short of this we are called to be with them, not just to hang out with each other, the “well” ones; those that we are comfortable with in the church building. We are to be with them so that we can share with them about Jesus, his love and his grace.

And this is not just about outside the church. Sinners should be welcome in our church. Do people have to clean up their lives before they come to church? No! Church is the place they need to be, to be able to get clean and be transformed by Jesus.

Do you introduce your friends to Jesus? Levi’s an excellent example. He immediately invited everyone he knew to a banquet so that they could meet Jesus and hear his message. In what ways might you connect your friends and co-workers to Jesus?

Are you struggling with sin? Are you stuck in a lifestyle of sin? If this describes you, Jesus comes to you today and he comes with love and grace. He comes to offer you new life; a new start; forgiveness. He comes to you as the good physician to make you well.

What must you do? Receive his grace. Be like Levi, repent of your sins and give yourself fully, radically and sacrificially to follow Jesus. This is the path to wholeness. I encourage you, respond to Jesus today.

The literary structure of Mark 2:1-12

We’re back in Mark. Today we enter a new section of the book – “five stories of conflict” which runs from chapter 2 through chapter 3:6. These stories demonstrate that although Jesus is loved by the crowds – mostly for what he can do for them – his message and his display of authority created opposition from many, especially the Jewish leadership.

In our story today, the first of the five, the conflict is over Jesus’ authority to forgive a person’s sins.

Mark 2:1-12

1And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.

Last time we saw how Jesus expanded his ministry into all of Galilee (1:38). And now “after some days” he returns to Capernaum, his home base. But he does so quietly because of the press of the crowds (1:45). Nevertheless word gets out and he is once again swamped by a crowd. The house, most likely Peter and Andrew’s, is packed with people.

We also saw last time that his priority is preaching (1:38). And this is what he’s doing in the house, “preaching the word.” As stated in 1:15, he proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

3And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

So this man is so disabled that he can’t walk or otherwise get to Jesus, but must be carried by four friends. The word used for “bed” here refers to a poor person’s mat or mattress.

Well, on their way to Jesus they encounter an obstacle, the crowd around Jesus is blocking their way. Undaunted they make their way up the outside staircase onto the flat roof – both typical features of a Palestinian home at this time.

It says literally that they “unroofed the roof” and they were “digging it out.” That is, they removed the material between the roof beams to make a hole for the man to be lowered through. (Luke says there were tiles involved – 5:19)

Can you imagine the mess that would have fallen on those below? And I wonder what Peter and Andrew thought of their new sun roof? Whatever others were thinking, Jesus saw faith.

5And when Jesus saw their faith. . .

When Jesus says “their faith” this includes the faith of the disabled man, who is surely a participant in this quest to get to Jesus.

And here is a lesson on faith from these five men. First, it overcomes all obstacles to get to Jesus. Faith is persistent and doesn’t give up. And also it can be seen. Our verse says, “Jesus saw their faith.” He could see it because faith is not just about words, but is demonstrated in actions that can be seen.

. . . he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This is surprising to us. He came for healing not forgiveness. But this would not be surprising to a Jewish audience. In Scripture, sin and sickness are often connected (Deuteronomy 28:25ff; Numbers 12:9-15; 2 Chronicles 26:16-21; Isaiah 38:16-17; James 5:14-16;1 Corinthians 11:27-30; Psalm 41:3-4; Psalm 103:3; Psalm 107:17; Isaiah 33:24). There’s a connection in general – sickness is a part of a fallen world marked by sin. But also an individual’s specific sins can bring sickness upon them.

Now, Jesus is clear that there is not always a direct connection, as he points out in the case of the blind man in John 9:3 (See also Luke 13:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 4:13-14; and, of course, the book of Job). But this doesn’t mean that sometimes there isn’t a direct connection (See John 5:14). And there is a direct connection here, according to Jesus. None of this would have been controversial to his audience.

 What’s controversial is that Jesus personally forgives the man’s sins. (The phrase “your sins are forgiven” could be interpreted as a divine passive so that Jesus is saying, “God forgives yours sins.” But this wouldn’t be controversial (2 Samuel 12:13). The conflict that follows and Jesus’ further statements only make sense if he is personally forgiving this man’s sins. See also Luke 7:48-49) In Scripture, only God forgives sins. How could someone who is not God, a mere human, do this for God?

6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Scribes are experts in the Law of Moses. Their response is understandable. It is true, only God can forgive sins. (The phrase “God alone” can also be translated “except the one God” – a reference to the Shema). Forgiveness is a divine prerogative or right. And for a mere human to claim this is to blaspheme. And the penalty for blasphemy is death by stoning – Leviticus 24:10-16. (He is later executed based on this charge – Mark 14:63-64.)

Now notice that they do not say these things out loud, they think them in their inner person.

8And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?

Jesus has already displayed the ability to know what is in a person’s heart when he knew what the disabled man’s sins were and forgave them. Now here he knows what the scribes are thinking. But they take no notice of this.

Jesus continues in his response to their thoughts.

9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?

 The argument Jesus is making is from greater to lesser. He’s saying, if he can do the more difficult thing, this guarantees that he can do the easier thing. It is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” because there’s no way to see that the person is or isn’t forgiven. But the results of saying “be healed” can be seen. The person is either healed or is not healed. This is harder.

So his ability to heal the man, the harder thing to say, shows that he can also forgive the man, the easier thing to say.

And in context these two things are connected. Since Jesus sees the man’s ailment as a consequence of his personal sins and the others would almost certainly agree his healing would demonstrate his forgiveness. God would not heal the man unless his sins were forgiven. So the fact that, as we will see, he is healed shows that Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness was indeed effective. It becomes a visible evidence that he’s forgiven.

And finally, God would not honor the words of a blasphemer. But here the man is healed.

10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”-

The phrase Son of Man is how Jesus characteristically refers to himself in the Gospels. Jesus seems to like this title because it concealed his identity to those not interested in following him, but revealed who he is to those who were.

It conceals in that in the Old Testament it mostly just means “a human” or “a mere person” – in contrast to God (Psalm 8:4; Ezekiel).  And Jesus is talking in the 3rd person. So the outsider would ask, “Who’s he talking about?”

But for his followers they know he is talking about himself and he is referring to Daniel 7:13-14, which refers to a human being who is given “authority  which will not pass away . . ..” (LXX) and who is involved with God in the judgment of the nations.

Jesus is saying, “This is who I am; and I have this divine prerogative to forgive – not just on the final day in the courts of heaven, but also now ‘on earth.'”

To demonstrate that he has this authority, picking up the end of v. 10 –

he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all . . .

So he gets up off the ground, then bends over to pick up his bed and then walks home – a clear demonstration of his healing. If he had trouble getting through the crowed before, I bet he doesn’t now!

And after this it goes on to say about the crowd –

. . . so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The crowd is astonished and gives praise to God. They have never seen a man forgive sins like God does and then prove it by healing the person.

Let me end with 3 more brief lessons from this story.

Jesus has all authority. As we have seen he has authority or power to teach new things; to cast out demons with a word; to heal people by simply speaking; and now we see that this includes forgiving people their sins. Jesus has all this power.

And we learn about Jesus’ unique identity in this story. He tells us that he is the Son of Man of Daniel 7; the somewhat mysterious, exalted figure who is with God when the nations of the world are judged on the final day.

And even more than this he is the Son of God in human form. In answer to the question of the scribes, yes only God can forgive sins, which is why Jesus can forgive sins. Here we see again Jesus’ divine identity.

And then finally, in all this Jesus is making the kingdom of God present. He does this when he sets people free from Satan – exorcisms; when he brings new life – through healings and making people whole; and here when he forgives sins, extending God’s mercy (Jeremiah 31) and bringing people into new relationship with God.

(Now, he forgives, not by saying sin doesn’t matter, but on the basis of his coming death which atones for sins (Mark 10:45; Mark 14:22-24.) This is the basis of all these kingdom blessings. And his death is alluded to in our story. For the charge of blasphemy is a capital offense and is indeed why he was eventually executed on the cross (Mark 14:64).)

Jesus makes the kingdom real in people’s lives.

As we think of who Jesus is and what he does in this story, we too should respond as the crowd does by giving praise to God.

The literary structure of Mark 1:35-45

We’re back in Mark, and as we’ve already seen Jesus has established a home base in Capernaum, has started his church by choosing leaders and beginning his first house church and has displayed his authority in his teaching, healing and exorcism ministries. In our passage today, 1:35-45, he struggles with the crush of the crowds. Word is getting out about his power to heal and the press of people is overwhelming. We see in our verses how he hopes to counter this, but in the end fails.

Let’s begin with the first few verses that talk about –

Jesus’ purpose in coming: Mark 1:35-39

35And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

Remember, Jesus has just spent a very long day preaching in the Synagogue, casting out a demon there, and then healing Peter’s mother in law. And then that evening, which in the Jewish reckoning is the next day, many of those in need in Capernaum came to Jesus to be healed and helped; a crowd gathered at the door of Peter and Andrew’s house.

So Jesus likely hasn’t gotten much sleep. And yet he’s up very early in the morning. He does this so that he can find time to pray.

He gets away from the weight of the needs around him to get alone with God. “A desolate place” here doesn’t mean a desert. It means somewhere where people are not. (See also Mark 6:46; 14:32-39 for Jesus at prayer.)

This leads us to the first of three lessons I want to highlight for you today: #1. The importance of prayer. Jesus depended on it as his source of strength and guidance. He needed his power replenished by the Spirit and wisdom as he is about to make a big decision. And if he depended on it, how much more do we need it!  And he models for us that when things get hectic and stressful, this is not the time to cut prayer out of our lives to make things more simple for us. This is precisely when we need prayer the most.

36And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”

You can just imagine that early in the morning the crowds came back to Peter’s house looking for Jesus with the sick and needy. And so Peter and Andrew and then the other disciples wake up and are like, ‘Hey where’s Jesus?’ And they begin frantically searching for him.

38And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Instead of staying in Capernaum and healing everyone who had a need there, after prayer, he decides to expand his ministry throughout Galilee.

And notice the focus, Jesus didn’t come to heal every person. Jesus came to preach the word of the kingdom. As chapter 1:15 says, he proclaimed “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” Healing and miracles are intended to draw attention to the message; to verify that it is true. But they aren’t the end all and be all. They aren’t the point in themselves.

But now in Capernaum the crowds are focused on these signs and not necessarily on responding to the message of the kingdom with belief and repentance.

This brings us to the second lesson from our passage: #2. The Word is more important than healing and miracles. In terms of Jesus’ ministry, he didn’t come to fix people’s earthly needs, even though compassion for needs is important. He came to call people to faith and repentance. And remember all the people he healed, eventually still died. But those that came to faith and repentance experience new life into eternity.

It’s the same with us. We can pray to God for healing, but it’s not God’s purpose to heal everyone now. It’s his purpose to call all to faith and repentance. On the final day we will all be healed. Yes, God heals now and we should pray for it. And God answers, I believe, especially as a sign that the message is true. But he doesn’t always heal now.

And as a church we need to remember this lesson on priorities. Some churches practically abandon preaching the word and seeking a response to show compassion to those in need. Yes, we must show compassion. But our purpose in everything is to call people to faith and repentance.

So along these lines, Jesus goes to other towns and synagogues to minister there, hoping people will respond to his message – not yet being focused on his healing power. But then something happens that messes up his plan.

Jesus heals a leper: Mark 1:40-45

40And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”

Leprosy here refers to several skin diseases, not just what we call leprosy, which is Hansen’s disease. It could even include things like psoriasis and eczema. To have leprosy was to have a serious skin disease, but it was also to be a social outcast, since you would be classified as perpetually ritually unclean (and probably contagious as well).

Leviticus 13:45-46 says this about a leper: he “shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ . . . His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

According to Numbers 12:12 the leper was seen as similar to a corpse. They were the walking dead. And it was held that only a miracle from God could cure a leper. It was like raising someone from the dead (2 Kings 5:7).

Although lepers were to stay away from others, in this case the man ‘understandably’ breaks the rule, because this is not a normal situation. Here is someone who can make him clean. And so he comes right up to Jesus and kneels before him. He has faith that Jesus can heal him, the only question is if Jesus wants to heal him and make him clean.

41Moved with compassion, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

 [More people are now accepting the textual variant “Jesus was indignant” (NIV 2011). If this is the correct reading it would mean either that Jesus was angry at the ravages of the disease on this man (Edwards, Judges 10:16) or that he is angry because he knows his plan to focus on preaching and to get away from the crush of the crowds will now be upended by healing him.]

Jesus has compassion on the man. Clearly this was a terrible life he was living. He didn’t turn him away out of revulsion for his condition. He consented and healed the man. He made him clean from his leprosy. Again, Jesus’ amazing healing power is evident. He can heal what others think is impossible to heal and he can do so “immediately.”

Jesus’ compassion is displayed in that while most would run away horrified, he touches him. Now, normally if you touch a leper you become ritually unclean. Becoming ritually unclean wasn’t wrong, it was just a part of life. And as long as you follow the Law to be cleansed you’re fine. But here it’s probably better to say that Jesus transmits his cleanness to the man, rather than saying that the leper transmitted his uncleanness to Jesus. (See also Mark 5:41 ff.).

Our final lesson is: #3. Jesus’ great compassion. Even though the man is an outcast, loathed by all and even though healing the man will make his life harder because he will be mobbed by even more crowds, he does so because he’s moved by concern for the man’s problem.

And we need to remember that Jesus is ever the same. He has the same compassion on us in our times of need and suffering; when we are revolting and filthy. And we can come to him knowing what his heart is towards us.

And in turn we are to have the same compassion on others in need. Even if it makes our lives more difficult. Even if they are people that are considered unclean or outcasts, we are to allow Jesus to touch them through us.

43And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Leviticus 14 outlines the process of being declared clean from leprosy by a priest. Remember it was not just about being healed, he had to be certified as clean by a priest in order to reenter society. Jesus wants this to be a witness to the priests and all involved in this process that Jesus and his message are true.

Notice Jesus’ concern for the details of the Law of Moses. Some portray Jesus, especially in Mark, as indifferent to the Law, but this is wrong as we will see.

v. 43 says that Jesus “sternly charged” the man to tell no one. He’s really serious about this. Perhaps he thought that by the time the leper completed the process of being declared clean, a minimum of 8 days, plus travel to Jerusalem and back for sacrifice, he could finish his preaching tour without being mobbed by crowds looking for healing.

45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Before, the man understandably disobeys the Mosaic rules to get to Jesus. And now he ‘understandably’ disobeys Jesus’ instruction. How can he keep quiet about his healing? He’s not only healed, he has a life again. For sure, it’s not right to disobey Jesus here, but we can understand it.

And what he does is not bad in itself – he becomes a proclaimer of Jesus; he spreads the word. It’s just that it derails Jesus’ plan to be able to preach throughout Galilee without the crush of crowds seeking healing.

Finally, notice how Jesus and the leper trade places. The leper was not able to enter any town. But now that he is healed he can. At least once he’s certified as clean. But since he told everyone about this, now Jesus is not able to enter any town. At least not openly. The problem Jesus had at the beginning of story remains. He has to go out to desolate places to escape being mobbed by crowds.

Let’s remember together our 3 lessons:

1. The importance of prayer, especially when life is crazy.

2.  Preaching the Word is more important than healing and miracles or more generally helping meet people’s earthly needs.

3. Jesus’ compassion. Even though the man is an outcast, even though it will make his life more difficult, he helps the man.

Let me end with a question: Who might God bring across your path this week that he wants you to have compassion on,  even if the person is repulsive to you and even if helping the person will make your life harder. Keep your eyes open!

We’re finishing up a section of Mark – chapter 1:16-34. We’re in the last part today.

This is a unit of material that all fits together. I have a handout for you that shows how this is so. The main thing I want to point out is that there’s a repetition of themes in this passage:

  • A1 echoes A – they both have to do with Jesus establishing his church.
  • And B1 echoes B – they both have to do with the display of Jesus’ great authority or power.

So vs 29-31 are not just about Jesus being in a home. These verses describe a forming house church. And vs. 32-34 are not a random set of healings and exorcisms. These verses are meant to extend the picture of Jesus’ amazing authority, already seen in section B.

Alright let’s begin with the first part of our passage for today –

Mark 1:29-31

29And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

So Jesus has just cast out a demon during the Sabbath synagogue service. And now he comes to Simon or Peter and Andrew’s home in Capernaum.

It wasn’t unusual for extended family to live together like this in one home,  Peter, and as we will see, his wife and mother-in-law and Andrew. We don’t know if Andrew was married. [Paul also tells us that Peter is married in 1 Corinthians 9:5.]

There’s a contrast in this passage between the synagogue and the newly forming church. The phrase, “he left the synagogue and entered the house” means more than you might think. We have to understand that the early church in Jesus’ day and in the book of Acts and beyond – met in homes. So, as we will see, this isn’t just a home, it becomes the first house church that Jesus establishes.

30Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

[This is the shortest recorded healing in the Gospels.]

In the ancient world a “fever” wasn’t seen as a symptom of another illness, but was viewed as its own ailment. And what they called a fever could be very serious. In John 4 (vs. 46-53) the person with a fever was at the point of death.

Notice, she was laying down, but Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her up. This is a beautiful picture of how Jesus works in our lives, isn’t it? He touches us and where we are low, broken and down – he raises us up by helping us, healing us and giving us new life.

The fact that she was healed is established in that she gets up and begins to work right away. She didn’t need recovery time. She was healed immediately.

This woman’s response, no doubt from gratitude to Jesus, is an example to us all. It says, “she began to serve them.” The word “serve” here is an important one. It’s a word that Jesus uses to talk about what it means to follow him (Mark 9:33-37; 10:42-54). She’s a model disciple here – serving others. (She is doing what the angels did for Jesus in Mark 1:13. It’s the same word.)

Specifically, she was likely serving food and giving hospitality to the guests in her home.

In the New Testament there are two basic kinds of service: 1) sharing the word – preaching or teaching, and 2) meeting the practical needs of others.

  • Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10-11 – “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies”
  • And in Acts 6:1-4 Peter speaks of “the service of the word” – the apostle’s preaching and “table service” – what the Deacons did in taking care of the practical needs of the church in Jerusalem.

Now, all Christians share the gospel and serve the needs of others, but we each have specialties based on our calling and gifting.

So we have here a forming house church. The disciples have been chosen to proclaim the word, and the woman represents the house church as a support network for each other and for those out proclaiming the word. The service of the word and table service.

Also notice the example of intercessory prayer in this passage. The disciples make known to Jesus the need of Peter’s mother-in-law. And Jesus heals her. The church is to be a place where we pray for the needs of others.

With regard to the contrast between the synagogue and this forming house church – the synagogue marveled at Jesus’ authority, but didn’t respond with faith and obedience. Peter’s mother in law, an example of the church, responds correctly. She served Jesus and his followers.

 One final point, notice that this healing took place on the Sabbath, right after the synagogue service. This will become an issue of great conflict with the Jewish authorities in chapter 3.

This story challenges us in several ways:

Where do you need Jesus to raise you up? What’s your need? What’s your burden this morning? Look to Jesus for he’s the Savior; the one with all power and authority to act for us.

Are we bringing the needs of others to Jesus for help? Intercession is a ministry of connecting people in need with the one who can help through prayer. Are we regularly praying for others?

When Jesus raises you up, do you serve him and his people? This is the right response, to use the gifts that he gives us to serve others.

Let’s continue on . . .

Mark 1:32-34

32That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33And the whole city was gathered together at the door.

At sundown is when the Jewish day ends. So the Sabbath is over at this point and Sunday has begun. This is noted because bringing the sick to Jesus, and even Jesus’ healing ministry could be seen as a violation of the Sabbath. So they waited.

When it says, “all” the sick and demon oppressed, and the “whole” city, we have some hyperbole going on. As we will see later, not all the sick in Capernaum are healed here (for instance, 2:3). But it does point to how broad Jesus’ ministry is. He’s having a very large impact on the city.

[Notice how Mark distinguishes between the sick and the demon oppressed. They are not the same.]

The “door” where people are gathering, refers to the door of Peter and Andrew’s house.

34And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

When it says he healed “many” and cast out “many” demons, this is just another way of saying “all.” This is how ancient Jews used this word (3:10; 10:45). (Matthew reverses the adjectives. See Luke 4 also).

Jesus’ great authority is displayed here in that he can heal any kind of disease, not just some. No disease, or demon for that matter,  is too difficult for Jesus. And he can heal and cast demons out of many people, not just a few.

 Now, we are told here that “the demons knew him.” They are from the spirit world and know who Jesus is – the Son of God become human. But Jesus uses his authority to silence them. He does this, as we saw, because he wants to reveal himself in his own way and own time.

As we see in this story and beyond, Peter and Andrew’s house church becomes the base of operations in Capernaum (2:1; 3:20; 7:17; 9:33),  not the Synagogue. And the description of this first house church presents a beautiful image of the church, which I would hold up for us today.

  • Jesus is in the church (the house), the Savior who has all authority and power to help and save.
  • And the church doesn’t try to keep him just for themselves. The door is open.
  • And everyone in need gathers around to be made whole by Jesus.

May we be just such a church, with Jesus powerfully present in our midst, with our door open to those in need.

May we be the place where the needs of the world are met by the love and power of Jesus.

And may those so blessed come to serve and honor him; to believe the good news and repent and thus enter the kingdom of God.

This is who God calls us to be.

The literary structure of Mark 1:21-28

Last week we saw how Jesus called out the first leaders for his new community – Simon, Andrew, James and John. The story of Jesus’ early ministry in Capernaum continues today with Jesus teaching and casting out a demon in their synagogue.

Let’s begin with some –

Background

Capernaum was a fishing town. As I said before there was a booming fishing industry around the sea of Galilee as this time. It had a significant North-South trade route running through it and so it had a customs office for taxes. And there was also a small Roman garrison there.

Here’s a map . . .

map of Galilee

This is a picture of the 4th century synagogue, with the floor of the first century synagogue under it, where Jesus was teaching and ministering in our story today.

Capernaum Synagogue

[bibleplaces.com]

Let’s look at our story –

Mark 1:21-28

21And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.

Jesus and his new disciples come into the city and are attending the weekly worship service at the synagogue. Jesus must have taught enough that the local synagogue leader had heard of him and asked him to teach, as was the custom to do with traveling teachers.

Mark doesn’t tell us what he taught. We know it had something to do with his basic message in chapter 1:15 – “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” And it would probably depend on what the Scripture reading was in the synagogue service that day (Luke 4:17ff).

Mark’s focus isn’t on what he taught, but how he taught – “as one who had authority.” The scribes taught based on citing tradition and various teaching authorities. So and so said this and so and so said that. Their authority came from being a scholar and they simply placed their opinion alongside others in expounding on the Law.

Jesus taught based on his own authority as Messiah and Son of God. Perhaps a part of his teaching here is like what we find in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, where he says several times, “you have heard that it was said to those of old. . ., but I say to you . . .” – and then he clarified and raised the standard of Old Testament teaching.

Jesus spoke clearly and authoritatively about God’s will to the people. As he said in Matthew 7:24, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them . . .” will make it through the final judgment. His words determined one’s eternal destiny.

The result of his teaching was that they were “astonished”; it blew them away.

Well, if Jesus’ authority in comparison to the scribes stood out to his audience, certainly his authority, or as it can also be translated “power” stands out in the next episode in relation to demons.

23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”

An unclean spirit is another way of saying “demon” (e.g. Mark 5:2; 15) Demons are spirits that are in rebellion against God and under the dominion of Satan (3:22-23). Paul, referencing Deuteronomy 32:17 (also Psalm 106:37) tells us that demons are the spirits behind the idols that pagans worship (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).

It’s unclean in that it’s contaminated by sin and evil and thus it makes the man unclean. Here the spirit has control of the man so that it speaks through him.

Now we want to avoid two extremes in talking about demons. The first is saying that demons don’t exist because in our culture we only believe what we see. The second is  thinking that demons are behind every bush; that they’re the cause of anything that’s bad.

Let me give you an example in relation to the second extreme. Scripture tells us that demons can cause physical problems – being deaf or unable to speak. But not all such physical problems are related to demons. And Jesus heals people in numerous cases, where there’s no exorcism involved. The key is that when a demon is involved, it means there’s a personal, destructive, supernatural force at work. And this force has to be dealt with for the symptoms to be resolved.

The demon asks, “What have you to do with us?” This comes from a Hebrew idiom. (Literally, “What to us and to you.” It is used several times in Scripture). It means ‘what business do we have with each other?’ Or even, ‘get out of my face.’

Notice that this demon speaks for his comrades too. “Have you come to destroy us?” It’s threatened and defensive. And it should be, because it knows who Jesus is. All the demons know who he is (1:34) since they are from the Spirit world. And though they cause people to fear, Jesus causes them to fear.

The title “holy one of God” is likely the same as saying, “the Son of God,” which is what the other demons in Mark call Jesus (3:11; 5:7).

25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.

Jesus’ authority stands out here. Others at times cast out demons (9:38). But not like this. They relied on magic, incantations and spells. Or they prayed to God who acted for them. Jesus casts out the demon with a simple command. Not even a prayer to God. And there’s really no struggle. Jesus speaks and the demon has to obey, even though it tries to resist.

Why silence the demon??? It’s not that what they say is wrong. Mark expects us as readers to take into account what they say, because demons do know who he is (1:34). It’s that Jesus wants to reveal the fullness of who he is in his own time and in his own way.

In terms of the bigger picture and in answer to the demon’s question – Jesus has come to defeat and destroy them. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God has come with his coming – and wherever it comes there is a clash with the kingdom of Satan. And so here we see, right at the beginning of his ministry (and will continue to see) that God’s kingdom will win this war.

27And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

The people recognize that this is really different. And they are amazed. What’s going on? A new teaching backed up by a demonstration of God’s power through Jesus in the casting out of a demon. Here is someone who speak with God’s authority, clearly, about God’s will. And backs it up with actions that show that God is working powerfully through him.

28And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

 Jesus becomes a celebrity. As we will see, crowds begin to swamp him.

As we will also see later, just because people are amazed by Jesus doesn’t mean that they believe in him or accept his message “to repent and believe the good news.” In fact, many of these same people will turn on him and reject him (Matthew 11:23-24).

And isn’t this true today? Many are amazed by Jesus in various ways, but never give their life to him. Jesus is popular; he’s famous, but no one does what he says or trusts in him with their very lives. Being amazed and believing in him and obeying him are quite different things.

Let me end by sharing –

Two truths

 – I want you to take with you and put into practice.

Jesus speaks clearly and authoritatively to us about God’s will for our lives. He teaches us how to live.

And as the crowd said, it’s “a new teaching.” In his teaching Jesus revealed God as God had never been revealed before. He gives us the highest and final revelation of God. It is in accord with what came before, but it goes above and beyond it.

Do you build your life based on his teaching (Matthew 7:24-27)? Or do you pick and choose what you accept? And then add in some of what this person teaches, some of what that person teaches and, of course, what you think is right?

Jesus is our teacher and authority for all of life. Build your life on his teaching. Study it. Understand it. Put it into practice.

The second truth is this – Jesus sets us free from Satan and his demons! We need not be under Satan’s power.

We see today what happens when an unclean, unholy spirit comes up against the Holy One of God – anointed with the Holy Spirit, indeed, the anointed one. Jesus wins. And he wins every time!

We can be free and we can be free of our fears of demons and all the power of evil, for Jesus not only sets us free, he protects us and cares for us. Trust in him; call out to him and he will deliver you.

The literary structure of Mark 1:16-20

Alright, we’re back in Mark. John the Baptist has come and prepared the way. Jesus has been revealed to Israel in his baptism and has committed to his mission. And Jesus has successfully overcome the testing of Satan.

Mark tells us in 1:14-15 that “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” This tells us that Jesus is going around Galilee preaching this.

And now today we begin to see him in action in specific stories, here ministering to two sets of brothers – Peter and Andrew, and James and John. Let’s look at these two parallel calling stories of these four fishermen.

Mark 1:16-20

And we begin with some background

16Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee . . .”

The sea of Galilee is really an inland fresh lake. It’s 12.5 miles long and 7 miles wide at its widest point. Jesus is around or even on the Sea of Galilee for most of his ministry in Galilee. This is the central setting all the way through chapter 8 of Mark.

map of Galilee

Fish was the staple meat item in the ancient Greco-Roman world. And there was a booming fishing industry at this time in Galilee – with fish even being exported to Syria and Egypt. As we will see, James and John’s father Zebedee had a boat and hired hands to work. And Luke 5:10 tells us that Simon and Andrew and James and John were business partners. So, they were not dirt poor laborers, as they are sometimes portrayed – but more like middle class, business-people.

The calling of Simon and Andrew

16. . . Jesus saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Simon, or as he’s nicknamed by Jesus, Peter (3:16) and Andrew are originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44) but now live and work in Capernaum. (It’s not clear whether they were on the shore or in a boat).

Jesus calls them to “follow me.” Literally he says, “come after me.” He’s inviting them to become his disciples and full time apprentices (France). They are being called to join him in his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

He specifically says, “I will make you become fishers of people.” The idea seems to be that just as they cast their nets and gather together fish, so they will come to gather together people for the kingdom of God. (Fishing references in the OT are all negative – Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14-17; Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 29:4-5). (See Jesus’ positive image of net fishing as gathering in people for the kingdom in Matthew 13:47-50) (The negative view of the Sea and the deep may be in the background here. It represents chaos, evil and death. The “fish” are delivered from this.)

And Jesus will train them to do this, “I will make you become” this. This is why they need to follow him and learn from him. And we see them doing just this, especially after Jesus’ death and resurrection in the book of Acts.

There’s no need to think that this is the first time they met Jesus. As Mark indicates, Jesus has been preaching the good news in Galilee (1:14-15). And the Gospel of John tells us that Andrew and Peter knew Jesus before this, with Andrew, at least, being a disciple of John the Baptist. (The way Luke tells the story in 5:1-11, Jesus is first in Simon’s house and there is also a miracle involved on the boat before they leave everything).

So their response, “immediately they left their nets and followed him” wasn’t done on a whim. They knew who Jesus was and had considered his message. (Most commentators go on about how Jesus’ authoritative presence and call is the explanation for them immediately leaving their nets to follow him. But, of course, many didn’t listen to Jesus, including the rich young ruler – Mark 10:17-22. His authority is rather displayed by his call to “follow me.” More below.)

The calling of James and John

19And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

There are several people named James connected to Jesus. This is not James the son of Alphaeus, one of the 12 (3:18). And it’s not James the brother of Jesus, who later led the Jerusalem church. James the son of Zebedee is the one who was killed by Herod Agrippa as described in Acts 12:1-2. So this was a fateful decision for him. He died for his choice here to follow Jesus.

As with Peter and Andrew, Jesus engages them in the midst of their work of fishing. Here, it says, “he called them.” If Peter and Andrew’s calling emphasized leaving career behind, here the emphasis includes not just the family business but also leaving family behind. It says, “they left their father Zebedee.”

These four disciples remained important for the Christian movement. They are the first four names on all the lists of the 12 apostles in the New Testament (See also Mark 13:3). And the three – Peter, James and John became the inner core of his disciples (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33), with Peter being the leader.

Now, let’s look at some –

Key themes and challenges

– from this passage.

First, there’s a real emphasis in this first part of Mark’s Gospel on Jesus’ authority or power. As we will see in the next few chapters – Jesus has authority over demons, to forgive sins, to heal, to perform miracles, to rule on proper Sabbath observance and so on.

This shows up in our story in that Jesus operates differently than Jewish rabbis did. They waited for students to seek them out. But here Jesus calls those he desires. And he does so in a distinctive way. He doesn’t say, ‘come follow God,’ or ‘follow the Law.’ He says “follow me.” He is the focus. (There are some similarities with Elijah’s prophetic call of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21).

Well, Jesus is our authority. It’s not Moses, but Jesus. As he says in Matthew 23:10 – “You have one instructor, the anointed one” or “Christ.” And it’s Jesus who gives us the highest revelation of God’s will and purpose for our lives – not just as a fellow human being, but as God incarnate. Jesus is our authority and we are to follow him as well.

A second theme is just this, following Jesus. As I said, Jesus calls these four fisherman to be his full time apprentices. This meant that they had to leave their occupations behind and their family, so that they could travel with him. They literally followed Jesus around Galilee and beyond, learning from him.

As Peter later reflected in Mark 10:28, speaking to Jesus, he said “we have left everything and followed you.” Now this didn’t mean they sold everything they had, like Jesus asked the rich young ruler. Peter and Andrew still had their boat and fishing gear as we see in John 21:3. And likely the boat Jesus uses at various times during his ministry was theirs (or James and John’s). And they kept their house; it doubled as a house church. And they still saw their family. As we will see soon, Peter and Andrew’s house in Capernaum becomes their home base.

But it was a severe disruption and change in their lives. In that sense they are models for those called to lead and to proclaim the good news of Jesus today. These first leaders in Jesus’ newly forming community had a change of vocation and a change in their family life.

Now all Christians are called to follow Jesus in a more general way, as Jesus says in Mark 8:34 – “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Whether you are a leader or not, following Jesus will change everything about your life. Just think for a moment about what it means to deny yourself and to take up your cross. And in this sense these four followers of Jesus are models for all Christians.

A third theme is Jesus’ new community. The ‘authorities that be’ have already rejected John the Baptist, who was to turn their hearts to God. And soon they will reject Jesus as well.

And so right away Jesus begins to build an alternative people of God; a remnant. And this means selecting and training leaders. A few verses from ours today (1:29-34) he also plants his first house church. These are the ones who will support him and these leaders as they minister.

But what I want to highlight is the priority Jesus places on the church; his community. It’s right at the top. And so I ask you, ‘Do you prioritize the church, God’s new people, God’s new nation on this earth?’ It’s absolutely central to God’s plan for the kingdom. We are the people God has chosen to use to transform the world  and no other. Is it central to you?

And then one final theme, people fishing. These four fisherman were called to “become fishers of people” as leaders among his people. But all of us are to be involved in this in whatever way we can; it’s the call of the whole church, not just its leaders.

And so I ask, ‘How are you doing gathering people in for the kingdom?’ With the gifts that God has given you and with the circumstances of life that God has put you in, how’s it going?

This story shows us that Jesus didn’t come to do everything for us. He came to do what only he could do,  but what we can do he came to empower us to do. We are a part of God’s kingdom plan and we can’t be passive; we can’t sit on the sidelines. We must also, like these disciples join in and follow Jesus and take up the work.