Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 1
Overview of all
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
1. Jesus' Gospel
Mk 1:1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God
How easy it is to think about the Gospel in almost mechanical terms, ‘the abc' of the Gospel, whereas in fact it is all about a person, the Son of God. The Gospel is all about coming into a living relationship with God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit – and that all because of what Jesus did on the Cross for us.
Yes, it is really a two part thing: what Christ did for us on the Cross (past history to be apprehended today so it becomes meaningful for me and is the means to bringing me into a new life) and then the living out of that life under Christ's direction as he directs me from the throne room of heaven by the means of his Spirit here and now.
So Mark is going to open up the story so that we can see what to believe and why we can believe it. It is a unique story; there is none other like it in all the earth or in all of history, for it is the story of God coming to the earth in human form. That is a staggering claim but that is what this Gospel is all about. This book is ALL about Jesus. What is frustrating about it sometimes, is that it seems to come over as the notebook of a college student who sat on the sidelines (sometimes getting totally involved!) making notes. There is so much more that could have been written – but wasn't!
Notes are easy to read but frustratingly limited and so the intelligent reader may have many questions but you'll have to hold on to them until you get to heaven. In the meantime there is plenty to keep you absorbed. There is sufficient here upon which to build your faith in this God-man, Jesus Christ.
The challenge comes, will I take this in and devour it like a starving man or will I treat it with familiarity and thus with contempt? I am about to read the most incredible story that has ever been written. I am about to read historical accounts which should blow my mind away. This is the unique story of the Son of God. There never has been and never will be anyone else like him because he is God in the flesh – and that blows my mind to start with.
Lord, I'm going to need help with this. I've read this simple Gospel many times. Please deliver me from the curse of familiarity and make it come alive like it is the first time I've ever read it. Help to realise afresh the wonder of what is here. Amen.
Mk 1:2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
I once heard of a group of people who said we didn't need the Old Testament, but I find the Gospels and, indeed, the whole of the New Testament littered with quotes from the Old. I wonder if we just take them for granted? We shouldn't do for they produce a unity and harmony in the Bible.
Do we take for granted (or perhaps ignore or deny) the presence of these figures in the Old Testament who are referred to in the text as prophets? These were men who, it seems, had an open ear to God and a mouth that passed on what they heard. There are massive chunks of the Old Testament that display the writings of these men.
The prophets say to us that God is a God of communication. The writer to the Hebrews declared, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:1,2). There it is: God spoke – again and again! Back then He spoke through prophets, but now he has spoken through His Son, Jesus. No wonder John in his Gospel describes Jesus as ‘the Word': “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:1,14). A word is a means of communication!
So we have these ‘prophets' who spoke out during the Old Testament period and who, every now and then, made reference to a coming One. It is said that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament that find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ, over 300 times that God's heart was picked up by these listeners, these prophets, who caught something of the divine plan. It seemed like God couldn't keep a secret! He had to let out little bits and pieces of the plan that has been formulated, the Scriptures tell us, from before the very foundation of the world.
Today we speak of ‘government leaks' when someone lets out a bit of privileged information. God was giving it all the time to His chosen people. Jesus' coming was no surprise to those who listened to the prophets. Lord, give me an open ear to catch what you are saying in your word and in your world today. Help me be a listener.
Mk 1:2,3 "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"-- "a voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "
The next verse will tell us that this refers to John the Baptist but here is the marvel, that God revealed His strategy by dropping these hints into Isaiah's spirit centuries before it actually happened. Many squirm at this, that God knew and so spoke about it before bringing it about. It reveals three things about God: first that He knows the future, second, that He speaks to us and, third, that He acts and brings things about. This shouldn't surprise us because He is almighty God, the Creator of all things, the Bible says, and so it shouldn't come as any shock to hear these things.
But it says something else as well. It says that the Gospel writer, Mark, was inspired to link these prophetic words to John as one who would prepare the way for Jesus. Perhaps we take this for granted, but we shouldn't, this ability of the Gospel writers (for they all do it) to tie in the present circumstances with the declared will of God through the prophets of the Old Testament.
And there's something else about the content of these words: it implies that Jesus needed help, that John would prepare the hearts of the people – through his preaching and baptizing – for Jesus to come and be received by them. The other side of this particular coin is that the people needed preparing; the state of the land was obviously such that if Jesus came without any warning it would have been harder for him to be received by the people.
But why was it important that he be received, especially when we know that near the end of the story it was important for him to be rejected and crucified for our sins? He had to be received so that he had opportunity to teach and to reveal the love of his Father in heaven. It wasn't only about the Cross (although that was vital); it was also all about revealing God to His people.
Lord, thank you that you know the future, thank you that you speak to us today, thank you that you act into this world of yours and bring changes. Thank you also that you inspire us and that you send us help in the form of your Holy Spirit and through other human beings. Thank you that you want to reveal your love to us. Help me understand and learn these things and may they be a reality and not mere words.
4. The Messenger
Mk 1:2,3 "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"-- "a voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"
Watching the way the Gospel writers use references from the Old Testament is a strange thing. The first part of our verses today is from Malachi 3:1 and the latter part from Isaiah 40:3. One suspects that these verses from the Old Testament were in common usage by the early church. It is thought that this Gospel was written by Mark a protégé of Peter's and that Peter either dictated it or told what he knew so Mark then wrote it, neither being particularly well educated. But however they put it together they still had in the back of their minds these verses from the Old Testament that were generally considered to be prophetic words speaking about what had recently happened.
So, said common knowledge in the Church, the Lord had promised through Malachi that before He sent His anointed one, the Messiah or deliverer, He would sent someone else as a messenger bringing God's word to prepare the way for the Messiah, preparing the hearts of the people to receive him when he appeared. Moreover, said common knowledge in the Church, this messenger is going to appear in the desert, as Isaiah had prophesied, preparing the way for God to come to the land. When rulers came, a small army of engineers would go out ahead and clear the road to make it easy going for the ruler, making it a straight road so it was the shortest and more direct route. That is what this messenger is going to do, clear away the rubbish from people's hearts so that the way was clear and direct for the Messiah to be taken directly to their hearts when he came.
Now of course all this wasn't realised before it happened and so these prophetic verses would only be recognised for what they were in hindsight. But isn't that exactly how it so often is with the Lord. He speaks and we nod wisely without understanding. Then He acts and we suddenly realise what we had heard was Him and that this was a sovereign act of God we have just witnessed.
Lord open my eyes and ears that I may see and hear and understand when it is you speaking into my life. Help me to see your hand moving in this world, doing exactly what you said you would do. Please forgive me that so often I am slow of understanding and don't realise what I am hearing and then what I am seeing. May I be someone who understands the times (1 Chron 12:32 ).
Mk 1:4,5 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River .
And so we arrive at the first historical facts of this Gospel. At a particular place in time-space history a strange prophet appears in the wilderness of Judea and starts preaching. He tells anyone who will listen that they need to repent. Talk of repentance always implies there is something wrong in our lives and we need to turn away from it. Now this is all very strange because if you were a preacher wanting to turn the hearts of your people back to God, the obvious place you would go would be to towns where there are people – for this is exactly what Jesus did when he came. But John doesn't; he operates in the desert where people don't reside.
Presumably he stops passing travellers and challenges them. Soon people hear there is a prophet in the wilderness and they start going out to listen to him. There is clearly a hunger in people's hearts and people flock out to hear him. He has an uncompromising message: repent! So they do! This tells us two things: first that the nation was in spiritual decline that this needed to happen; second, that there was a hunger in people's hearts. It had been centuries since there had been a prophet from God in the land. Over four centuries had passed since God had spoken to this people. That is a long time. Perhaps many thought that God had utterly given up on them. Where were the days of their history when God spoke and acted into the life of this nation? Is this a sign that God is coming and speaking again?
But he also baptises them. Baptism is first and foremost a sign of being washed clean. If you have truly repented then show the sign of it by being washed clean in the River Jordan. So the crowds came, listened to him and, one by one, confessed their sins to him and were baptised by him. God is surely at work in all this for this seems just like a revival where God sovereignly moves on the hearts of people and brings them to repentance.
Lord, please have mercy on our nation. Come and speak and convict and turn the hearts of people back to yourself. Bring about a national repentance that moves people to confess and forsake their sins and turn back to you!
6. The Marks of a Prophet
Mk 1:6 John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
Real prophets, I suspect, are fairly few and far between. Prophetic gift, I believe, abounds. You've only got to do a simple study in 1 Corinthians 14 to see the use and benefit of the prophetic gift in the local church, but prophets are a ministry to the wider body. John is a prophet in the mould of the Old Testament prophets – even in appearance: “They replied, "He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist." The king said, "That was Elijah the Tishbite." (2 Kings 1:8)
Why such rough clothing? I suspect the answer is so that you didn't need to change your clothes often, especially if you lived in the desert and didn't have a wardrobe with you! It may also be a sign of their austerity; these are men who don't care much for the values of the world; their head is in heaven even if their feet are on earth.
Why the diet? Simply because that was all that was around. Locusts were a ‘clean food', although some suggests this refers to a form of plant. That's what he ate because there wasn't a supermarket nearby!
The thing about prophets is that they stood out like signposts to heaven. They sometimes did freaky things. Isaiah, for instance, went round for three years, probably only in a loincloth (see Isa 20:1-4) as a sign, at the Lord's command. Ezekiel had to publicly lay on his side for a long time as another sign (see Ezek 4:4). Virtually all of the prophets seemed to get opposition from kings and the people. They acted as a conscience for the nation and as such, especially in times of apostasy, they were unpopular. We aren't told of anything similar in the New Testament but there were clearly prophets operating (e.g. Acts 11:27 ,28) who stood out more by the message they brought than for anything else. Today in many churches prophetic gift is common although prophets are fewer.
Lord, open my ear to hear what you are saying about our world today and what you want us to be doing in it. Your word reveals you as a God who communicates with His people, yet so often they did not ‘hear' because their minds were closed to you and they had turned their backs on you. May that not be true of us in your Church today. Open our ears to hear what you wish to say to the Church and to the world today.
7. The Message of a Prophet
Mk 1:7,8 And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
You wonder what people though when they listened to John. Initially his message was one of repentance but it was repentance for a reason. The reason? There was one coming after him who was coming with power! But there was more than that; John considered this person so great that he, John, wasn't even worthy enough to be his servant. But why would he think that? Surely John could have been a servant to a king? So this person is going to be greater than a king? What sort of person is this coming one going to be?
So what more did John say about him? He is going to baptize people in the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? Well John immersed people in water as a sign of their cleansing, so this coming one is going to immerse people in God's Spirit? How can that be? What do we know from the past of God's Holy Spirit? He brooded over creation (Gen 1:2), He came on a man and filled him with creative ability to design and make materials for the Tabernacle (Ex 31:3), He enabled seventy elders to prophesy (Num 11:25), He came on Balaam and enabled him to prophesy (Num 24:2,3), He came upon a variety of judges to empower them to lead (Jud 3:10, 6:34 etc.) He came upon Saul and enabled him to prophesy (1 Sam 10:10 ) and also stirred him to lead Israel (1 Sam 11:6) and came on David to lead (1 Sam 16:13 ).
In other words, whenever the Holy Spirit came, He brought power and change. So this coming one is not merely coming with words, he is coming with the power of God to change people! This is a new era! So far God's people have sought to follow God's rules (the Law) in order to be God's people, but now it sounds like God Himself is coming in power to change His people on the inside. Is this what Jeremiah meant when he prophesied, “ I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD.” (Jer 31:33,34)
Lord, let your Spirit transform my life and keep on transforming it. Thank you for the wonder of what you have done already by your Spirit because of what Jesus achieved on the Cross.
Mk 1:9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan
As far as the public were concerned this was the first recorded appearance of Jesus as an adult. John is baptizing people in the Jordan in Judea and Jesus travels down from Galilee in the north to be baptized. Luke records that Jesus was about thirty years old (Lk 3:23 ). Matthew who records the most about John's ministry, records John as objecting to Jesus to baptizing him: “John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.” (Mt 3:14,15) John was Jesus' cousin and so John would know him and had drawn his own conclusions. He knew something of who Jesus was and his conclusion was a) Jesus didn't need baptizing and washing free from sin and, b) he John needed the baptism that Jesus came to bring.
Yet Jesus insists and is baptized. In the next meditation we'll see what happened, but for now we simply note that, for the sake of appearances, to appear to do the right thing, Jesus was baptized. The Greek word for baptism is the same word used for a ship sinking into the sea or a cloth being immersed in liquid. It is all about being immersed completely, being washed completely. But the apostle Paul also used it to suggest a picture of dying and being buried. It is an act of dying to self and then of being raised to a new life. It is a very powerful picture and is often accompanied by a powerful change in the believer when they are baptized.
Not only was Jesus baptized and not only were his disciples baptized but both he and they taught baptism. It is an outward sign of commitment and of what has already taken place at conversion – a washing clean of sin, a dying to self, and being raised to a new life. No wonder it has often been a point of contention in some Christian circles and been replaced by sprinkling of infants which in no way conveys the same things as what has happened to an adult believer.
Lord, please forgive us that we have watered down this amazing picture that is conveyed through baptism – of commitment of an adult, of being washed clean, of dying to self and the old life, and of being raised to a new resurrection life, empowered by your Holy Spirit. Thank you for these wonderful truths that are conveyed in baptism, realities of what has happened and is happening in our lives as believers.
9. Affirmation & Revelation
Mk 1:10,11 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Jesus is being baptized. He has gone down into the water and as he comes back up out of it something happens. Who the ‘he' is, isn't quite clear. Is it Jesus or is it John. I suspect John. He is a witness and he is the one who testified to what he saw.
It's an interesting description: “he saw heaven torn open.” When you tear something you do something forcefully. It isn't natural; it is something done to the cloth. It is like it is saying the presence of Jesus caused heaven to be forced open so that the Spirit and the Father would be revealed.
What happened? The Spirit came down on Jesus. How did John see that for the Spirit is spirit – unseen! I don't know. Perhaps in his spirit he saw this happen. The fact that it is described as “like a dove” means that it wasn't a dove but it come down gently. Does this mean that this was when Jesus became the Son of God as some heresies insisted? No, he had always been the Son of God from the moment he was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit. This was simply a reinforcing or reassuring. That is supported by a voice that came from heaven affirming Jesus. How beautiful.
What is taking place has a double effect. First of all, I suggest, it was affirming Jesus. The human side of the Son of God needed that. Second, it was revealing Jesus for who he was; we needed that. It is a significant point of history. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all manifested at the same moment. That was a rare thing, at least that clearly. There is a sense that in everything Jesus did, all three were involved (see Jn 5:17 ,19) but this is a special occasion. It seems to confirm that what Jesus did by being baptized was very right, exactly in line with the will of the Father. It pleases Him that His Son is walking the path they laid down from beginning of time.
Lord, may it be that my obedience pleases you. Lead me, guide and show me the way, that I may walk in it and please you. Remember my humanity, Lord, and grant me regular encouragement, that I may walk in the light of your revealed will. May my obedience be a blessing to you and may I know the further equipping of your Spirit.
Mk 1:12,13 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Theologians debate whether Jesus, as the Son of God could ever sin. Satan obviously thought, as a man at least, Jesus could, otherwise he wouldn't have bothered trying. Moreover, if this hadn't happened, we wouldn't have had Jesus' example of how to overcome temptation – speak out the will of God in answer to every temptation, because that is what Jesus did every time when he was quoting Scripture.
Does temptation only happen when Satan is around? James stated that, “ each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (Jas 1:14). It is ultimately our sinful nature that Satan appeals to, so in that respect, he was on a losing wicket with Jesus! Yet he still tried.
What is always fascinating in these verses is that it was the Holy Spirit who initiated this episode. The Holy Spirit initiated a time of vulnerability and weakness in Jesus, (being hungry from a forty day fast) so that Satan, seeing that vulnerability, would come and try to bring Jesus down. God clearly wanted to show us that it is possible to overcome even when we are feeling very weak. Our cry that “Satan made me do it!” is revealed by this episode to be a groundless and false cry. If Jesus, in his humanity, and in his utter weakness, could overcome, by simply declaring the will of God each time, so should we.
Our vulnerability comes, however, from the fact that we allow wrong thoughts or wrong attitudes to prevail in our minds and it is these that Satan plays upon, and because we have accepted them for so long, it makes it doubly difficult not to give way to his wrong suggestions. Our insecurities and our fears make us negative about other people and so Satan can tempt us to speak out badly against them, or even act against them, and when we do, we sin. In this sense Satan simply reveals our sin or wrong attitudes or, in Jesus' case, his absence of them!
Lord, thank you that you overcame temptation, even at your point of greatest weakness. Thank you for the example you gave us. Thank you that you have clearly revealed your will. May you find in me one who sticks steadfastly to it and, by the help of your own Spirit, overcomes and thus resists the works of the enemy.
Mk 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee , proclaiming the good news of God.
If we were first time readers of this Gospel we might, at this point, be somewhat startled by the abruptness of what we read: “After John was put in prison.” Pardon? How did that suddenly happen? Where did that come from? Why was John put in prison? Peter, who we believe is the source behind Mark, has this somewhat abrupt style. Often we find the word ‘suddenly' being used by him. It was all a bit of a rush in his eyes, a surprise. I'm sure if you were a disciple of Jesus, life was like that. You got up in the morning never knowing what the day was going to bring, and when it did come, it was a surprise. Perhaps that is one of the reasons behind Peter's style.
We have to wait until chapter 6 to see what happened with John and so for now we'll simply note it happened and move on. But it is necessary to say that he was imprisoned and killed at the hands of a sinful Herod and his family. It wasn't a good thing. So, we might have thought that Jesus starting his ministry, waiting until John was gone, was a planned thing, but the events that remove John are really out of his hands.
We might wonder what might have happened if John hadn't gone to prison. Would he have just stopped preaching and let Jesus take centre stage? Of course we don't know. It just happened. That's how life is so often. It just seems to happen and so we have to take the circumstances and get on with them. So John, who has been preaching in Judea in the south, is off the scene and so Jesus starts his preaching as a continuation, it seems, but he moves north to Galilee where he spends most of the next three years exercising his ministry.
Why Galilee ? Perhaps because it was furthest from Jerusalem and possible interference from the religious authorities based there. God certainly knew that this is what would happen: “ in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isa 9:1,2). The light has now arrived, just like Isaiah had prophesied!
Lord, thank you for coming into this world and revealing yourself. Thank you for the light you bring us. Lord, help me to just take the circumstances that I find facing me today, and live with your love and grace - whatever!
12. Good News
Mk 1:14,15 Jesus went into Galilee , proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"
Repentance is one of those words in the Christian vocabulary which is necessary but so often disliked. Because of that sinful nature we were all born with, none of us like to be told to change. Change is what repentance is all about. Some people describe it as making a hundred and eighty degree turnabout. It is turning from unbelief to belief, from being self-centred to God centred, from being unrighteous to righteous.
So Jesus came proclaiming good news. Again many people, if you ask them about the Christian faith, say it is a bunch of ‘you must not' or ‘you should not' things, yet Jesus came bringing good news and those things by most people's standards don't constitute ‘good news'. No, good news is news we all like.
So what was this ‘good news'? It was that the time had come, the kingdom of God was about to be revealed. Yet again that old sinful nature doesn't like the sound of that – God's kingdom? What about my own? What about my rule, what I think? And therein in the deception because if we were able to think about it dispassionately, we might concede that, so far, we haven't made the best out of our lives. The truth of the Gospel is that God is far better at getting the most out of our lives than we are, and that is what He wants to do when we hand the reins over to him. That is what ‘the kingdom' or rule of God is all about, but we struggle to believe that.
No wonder that Jesus had to cry that out: turn from your unbelief and turn to believing that God loves you and wants to bless you and make the most out of your life. Believe this good news! How the people, the religious authorities and even Jesus' disciples struggled with this. How we still struggle with this! It is a sign of the old sinful nature that clings on, that we find it so difficult to believe these wonderful things – that God loves me and has come in the form of His Son to set me free from that old unbelieving nature and to release in me a new hope and a new wonder.
Lord, I am so sorry that I am so slow to believe the wonder of the Good News that the New Testament speaks about – that you love me whole heartedly and have plans for my life that just mean goodness and more goodness for me. I believe it! I really do!
13. Ordinary Men
Mk 1:16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee , he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
I used to live near the sea where there were fishermen who went out in their boats everyday to make their living by catching fish. They tend to be a breed a bit apart. They don't live comfortable lives; they live according to the constantly changing tides, and they have little to do with the rest of us. And the first people that Jesus chooses to travel with him for the next three years are fishermen. No scholars, not religious people, not especially good people, not pillars of society – but fishermen. Very ordinary people. This is a new day, a new religion obviously!
Why does God choose who He chooses? The only answer I can come up with is that He chooses people He knows will respond to Him and who will change as He leads and guides them through life. I have wondered if Jesus chose some fishermen because they were rugged individuals who didn't care about the creature comforts of life and who could cope with all the travelling that would be involved in following Jesus in the three years ahead.
I have been especially struck as I have read the Bible over many years, how God chooses ordinary people, and then how he changes them. Peter (or Simon as he is called here) was a rough and ready individual wh was constantly opening his mouth and putting his foot in it, yet in the course of the years he would be transformed to become one of the leading apostles, a leader of the new church. Who would have believed it? Jesus would! For this is the key, Jesus knows people and knows what we can become. God had had centuries of working with mankind and knew what He could do with ordinary people. Take Jacob, for example, a twister and a schemer, and yet by the end of his life he is the father of a nation, a prophetic patriarch and a man who receives respect from kings. Or take his son, Joseph, a spoilt brat who is transformed into a wise and compassionate world leader. Amazing! So now Jesus chooses these first two men who will not have a clue what is coming – but it will be good!
Lord, I marvel at the way you take ordinary people and transform them, not because hey are good but just because they are available. I marvel at what you have done with my life over the years – and I am so grateful. Please continue your work of hanging me and may I be an instrument who helps others come to you and likewise be changed.
14. To follow Jesus
Mk 1:16-18 they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
I fear that sometimes, for some of us, the Scriptures become so familiar that we lose the dramatic nature of what we read. I feel sure that that is so here. We observed in the previous meditation that these were ordinary men. Now John's Gospel tells us that Andrew at least, had been a disciple of John the Baptist (see Jn 1:35 -40) and had gone on to meet Jesus and then introduced Simon to Jesus, so they clearly had a spiritual awareness before this incident. Luke gives us a fuller picture of what happened (see Luke 5) which indicates that it was a rather more dramatic incident than is recorded here.
Yet, whether we take the shorthand version here or the longer version in Luke, this is a dramatic incident. These two ordinary fishermen encounter Jesus again and when he calls them to follow him, they just get up and leave their livelihood to go after him. Note that it is a calling to follow a person, not a religious way of life, in fact if you read on through these Gospels you will find that life with Jesus was far from the normal view that people might have of a religious life.
The key thing about following Jesus is having to place complete trust in him without knowing where he is going. There are one of two places in the Gospels where Jesus indicates where he is going next (e.g. Lk 4:43 Mk 10:33 ), but mostly the role of the disciples was to just go with Jesus wherever he went.
Of course the word ‘disciple' not only means a follower but it also has the sense of a learner about it. A disciple followed a master and learnt from him. He was a master mentor. The only thing Jesus told these two men is that he would make them ‘fishers of men'. How do you ‘catch' men? That is what they were about to find out, but I am fairly sure that at that point they really didn't have a clue what was coming. Today we ‘follow' Jesus by surrendering our lives to him at conversion, seek to obey the teaching of the New Testament, and respond to the prompting and leading of his Holy Spirit.
Lord, when you call us, you call us not to follow a set of rules, but to enter into a living relationship with you. Open my ear so that I may be alert to your leading in my life. Teach me and guide me and take me where you will.
15. Variety of Followers
Mk 1:19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.
Two meditations ago we considered how Jesus chose such ordinary men. Here are now two more very ordinary men who get called by Jesus to follow him. These two however later get the nickname ‘Sons of Thunder' because they started out being such fiery followers. That is strange because John ends up being the apostle who was most aware of God's wonderful love and that brought about such an incredible pastoral heart in him.
These may be just some more fishermen but they are unique individuals. There are some cults of which it is said they just produce clones. That could never be said of mainstream Christianity because the Lord takes individuals and keeps them as individuals and in fact develops their uniqueness and individuality. Here is a mystery for the New Testament also speaks of the Church as the body of Christ and the emphasis is on the individual parts and yet they all work in harmony.
Chinese Christian leader, Watchman Nee, wrote a book emphasizing the difference in calling of these men, Peter who was called after fishing and who became the ‘Great Fisherman' and then John who was called ‘preparing' or ‘mending' his nets and who role and writings in the New Testament seemed to focus on mending or strengthening the early Church. Peter ended up being martyred while John was the only one of the twelve apostles to die of old age. Both started from the church in Jerusalem but Peter ended up in Rome while John ended up in Ephesus before and after a period of exile on the island of Patmos .
Yes, when you become a Christian you need not have any fear that the Lord is just going to clone you and make a uniform pattern Christian out of you. There is no such thing! Each one of us is unique and we have a unique calling and a unique experience of the Lord. Some of us the Lord will turn into apostles, others prophets and others Pastors or teachers and other just unique witnesses. He sees our character and He sees what we are capable of and uniquely draws us out to be that unique person, gifted by Him.
Lord, thank you that you do not try to make me be like anyone except your Son, Jesus. Thank you that you have made me a unique individual and you love me as an individual and you will take me and use me as an individual.
Mk 1:20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
“Without delay” – such simple words we might even miss them. But why say that? Was it that they had already witnessed what had happened with Andrew and Simon and so there didn't need to be any preliminaries? Did Jesus just say to them, “OK, you saw what happened. I want you to join us too.” Whatever it was, it was a brief encounter resulting in them leaving the family business. Wow, this is slightly different from Andrew and Simon, this means a separation from father who probably ran the business.
What was it about Jesus that could call forth this sort of commitment that meant abandoning even the family? Now that might have happened with Andrew and Simon but there was no mention of it. This accentuates the significance of the calling and the separation it calls into being.
Later Jesus was to declare, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37) This is a unique call that Jesus brings: if you are going to follow me it has got to be utterly wholehearted. If family try to call us away from Jesus we are not to heed them. Our loyalty to him has got to surpass family. He is the Son of God and He knows best for us. If family challenge that, they we have to reject family advice to heed what Jesus says.
That is the measure of the call to separation that comes with the call to follow Jesus. There can be nothing or no one who competes with his call. That may be difficult sometimes but it is a case of, will we listen to God or to those close to us?
Now we should never do this out of bad feelings about our family. It only comes when we recognise our plight and realise that Jesus alone is the answer to it – and that is not about a single commitment at a particular point of history, although it is that; it is a lifelong response. It is what we give ourselves to for the rest of our entire lives. Jesus doesn't say just follow me for the next week or the next month or the next year. His call is without end!
Lord, I surrender my life to you for you to lead it, both now and for ever more.
17. Synagogue Teacher
Mk 1:21 They went to Capernaum , and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.
I marvel at how we take things in the accounts of the Gospels for granted. For instance I don't think I've ever really pondered on the fact of Jesus going into the synagogue of the town where he now lives, and teaching there. The synagogue was first and foremost a place of gathering of the children of God for teaching. But would anyone have been allowed to stand up and teach? The answer has got to be no. It has got to be someone of standing, someone who the synagogue leaders trust. So somehow Jesus' reputation has already grown so that these synagogue leaders are happy for him to teach in their synagogue.
Now it is clear from Jesus' later teaching that he had not come to bolster up the present religious regime in Israel so it might seem surprising that he goes into the synagogue, the bastion of local religion and teaches there. It is, I suggest, simply an illustration that says that Jesus will take any and every opportunity to speak to the people.
The apostle Paul, in his early days of preaching at least, always started off from the synagogue of whatever town he was visiting. Perhaps it is the Lord giving the religious people, first of all, the opportunity to respond afresh to His love. After all, you would expect the religious people, those with hearts apparently inclined towards God, to be the first to respond when the Lord comes and speaks. Unfortunately that is not always so. Yes, there were people in Israel with clear and open hearts to the Lord as the gospels show, but many, especially in authority, struggled with Jesus and with what he was saying.
Is it perhaps that God comes and speaks truth always, and we aren't always comfortable with the truth? Is it perhaps that God comes and demands to be the head of His people and we don't like being given instructions?
Those of us who ‘go to church' would, I suspect, be the first to declare our allegiance to the Lord, but I wonder how open we are if He comes and speaks truth and demands obedience in all issues of our lives?
Lord, grant that you find in me an open heart that will listen to you and will obey willingly what you say. Help me, please, to move in faith, responding when your Spirit speaks.
18. A Different Teaching
Mk 1:22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.
I have listened to many sermons over the years and I have reached a conclusion: a preacher is able to convey only as much truth and with as much anointing as he personally has received, and the amount of truth or the anointing is obvious if you are aware of these things. Two different men can preach the same sermon and they will be completely different, because the life of a sermon comes from the life of the individual. It's a scary thing to be a preacher because your preaching reveals you!
So Jesus comes to a synagogue and they allow him to teach, and suddenly they realise that here is someone quite different. This man knows what it is all about, this man speaks with authority. Yes, he knows the Scriptures, but then so did the Rabbis. But there is something more and it is more than just knowing the texts. This man knows what is behind them, this man knows the truth, this man knows God. Yes, all of that would be behind these words.
This man is different; he's not like the teachers of the law. Oh yes, they had plenty of them and they just seemed to convey lifeless information; it seemed all a bit unreal when they spoke. They spoke about the law and the past in ways that tended to leave you somewhat bored. It was just old history and, after all, God hadn't spoken for centuries. This was the religion of yesteryear.
And then Jesus got up and spoke and suddenly it wasn't like that any more. There was life in what he was saying. He meant what he was saying. Indeed, he knew what he was saying and that was more than just knowing the right words in the book. This man, somehow, stepped right into the book and it came alive; this man made the book real and relevant. No longer was this just turning up to hear dry and dusty words every Saturday morning in the synagogue. Suddenly life is there, and truth is there and it is vibrantly alive.
Lord, please help me when I speak out your word, to have your life. May I convey life through your word. Deliver us from thinking it is an irrelevant book, meaningless for today's age. Thank you that your word is real and relevant for every age and that never changes. Thank you for the wonder of your word. Please help me convey that to others.
Mk 1:23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out
I am always intrigued by this episode early in Jesus' ministry. I am intrigued that a demon possessed man was in the synagogue. That perhaps challenges many of us. First of all it might challenge those of us who are uncertain about the reality of the existence of demons. If you've never encountered a demon possessed person and seen their supernatural strength or heard the unearthly voice(s) that may speak, you have to simply take on trust the Gospel accounts.
But then it may challenge those of us who do believe in demons and demon possession but who see such people as being always totally out of control. Now in my experience that does happen sometimes but I have also observed that a possessed person doesn't always manifest the demon. In fact much of the time they seem fairly normal. That surely must have been the state here for surely the synagogue leaders would not have tolerated a man breaking lose in their synagogue.
What I also find intriguing is that this man existed in this synagogue without manifesting the demon. I say that because what I have observed over the years is that demons get upset when God turns up in His people. This would suggest a somewhat low level of spirituality in this synagogue that he could be there comfortably!
It is Jesus' presence that so often seems to trigger demonic manifestation and that occurred in this synagogue on that day – and not before it! Until then, it appears he was comfortable in this place of teaching. I have to confess we have had people into our own church who turn out to be struggling with demons and it was not until the presence of the Holy Spirit was felt did they manifest. This shows that both God and the enemy can both be present but there is no conflict until the Lord makes His presence known in our realm. At that point the enemy starts getting agitated as we'll see in the next meditation.
It does appear that we can continue in our religious lives, comfortable with mediocrity or even with sin, until the Lord turns up and makes His presence known. At that time things start happening.
Lord, we need you to turn up in our churches and in our lives to deliver us from the mundane and from the little unrighteousness that we might otherwise tolerate. Please come.
Mk 1:24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth ? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!"
I am amazed at the things I sometimes find myself saying, or that I hear other people saying. It seems that sometimes we can't help but blurt things out. I always find myself laughing when I think of Peter, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a storm, in the middle of the lake, as he sees what appears to be Jesus, blurting out, “Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." (Mt 14:28) I'm sure later on when he looked back on that incident he would have thought to himself, “Whatever was I thinking about!”
I say this for I can see no other reason for this demon possessed man in the synagogue to interrupt that is going on and cry out like this. Almost by definition there is a foolish hostile opposition to God in demons. It seems to me that these words come tumbling out like they do from a little child having a tantrum. It seems they can't help themselves. When a child grows up, for the sake of appearances, they bite back their words and restrain themselves, but when they are young there is no such restraint; they just pour out what comes to mind, heedless of how it appears.
This is how it seems to be with this demon possessed man. All his inhibitions seem to have gone (like when someone is drunk?) and he just pours out what comes to mind. Now is it the man or the demon? Surely it has to be the latter? When refers to ‘us' would that have meant the people in the synagogue? Surely not for Jesus gave no indication of that. In fact in Luke's account of Jesus first teaching in a synagogue it is clear that Jesus has come to help people. No, surely the ‘us' refers to the demonic world on earth.
Out of a sense of fear or doom this demon cries out for he, unlike anyone else there, recognises the power and authority in Jesus. He knows that Jesus has both the authority, and the power to back up that authority, that could bring an end to the quiet existence of this demon. The fear that rises in it cannot be held in and so he plaintively cries out in defensive desperation. He knows his time of occupation in this man is near its end. When we face eviction we get upset, and this demon is no exception. He knows what is coming and cannot hold himself back.
Lord, thank you that your authority and power is supreme and none can stand before you. Thank you that you are the Lord!
21. Raw Authority
Mk 1:25,26 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
You might think that when Jesus is being revealed for who he is by a man in the synagogue he would have approved that, but no! He tells the man to be silent. Why? Perhaps because this is an unrighteous and ungodly interruption from the enemy and it doesn't actually help. Jesus will be revealed by his works and his words, not by demonic powers. On the day of Pentecost Jesus declared, “ Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs , which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22 ). So this present outburst was not the right way. Right, stop it!
But Jesus isn't going to leave it there; he's going to get this demon out of this man. Now if you know anything about demons you'll know that they don't like giving up occupancy of a person who has surrendered to the enemy. Just speaking nicely to them and asking them to leave will not do it. There will be only one thing that will get a demon out once it has taken possession and that is the raw authority of God!
You want to see that raw authority in action? It's here! “Come out of him!” That's it. That's all it needed, just four words that have their origins in heaven and spoken out on earth. This is the Son of God speaking, the perfect representative of the Father in heaven. Jesus said, “ the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:19) The Son ‘sees' or catches the heart of the Father and does His bidding – and it is done! When God speaks a word of command, it is done. Yes, it IS done! What is so incredible is that the Father rarely speaks such words to humans. He grants us free will, but where it suits Him that is no so for demons. They are rebellious evil spirits and as such are existing on borrowed time. When He wants them out, He simply speaks it and they HAVE to obey!
Whether they obey because they know they have to or whether they are impelled to by the power of God is never clear, but the outcome is always the same – they leave! There is no recorded instance in the Gospels of a demon refusing to obey Jesus. The individual may not have been able to set himself free, but Jesus was – and he didn't ask permission!
Mk 1:27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching--and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him."
This is one of those verses, I believe, that indicates that there was a rather low level of spirituality in Israel at this time. We have already observed in meditation 18 that the people in the synagogue had been amazed at the authority that came out when Jesus started teaching. Now, a second time within a few verses, we are told they were amazed. Previously they had been amazed at the way he taught, but now they are amazed at the authority Jesus exercises in dealing with demons.
Now that the man had called out and had been delivered, it was clear what his state had been and is now. It is clear that he had been demon possessed and was now delivered and it is clear that it is Jesus who had set him free. This was to be repeated hundreds of times in the three years ahead but for the moment it was an unusual event. The obvious presence of so many demon possessed people in the land, as became obvious when Jesus starts ministering, is an indication of the low spiritual state of the land. You only become demon possessed when you really open up your life to the enemy by participating in dark things of the occult. The people obviously know about evil spirits for they recognise what has happened. What is unusual in their experience is a demon possessed person being delivered!
What this suggests is that they had a form of religion in the land at that time without there being any power or reality in it. How easy it is to simply perform religious acts without their being any reality to it, without the presence of God in it. I wonder how many churches exist today where this is the case, where they are simply going through a religious performance but know little or nothing of the powerful presence of God bringing new birth and transforming lives? I wonder how many church services are simply a matter of routine to create a warm emotional feeling by being in an ancient building using ancient words, yet where the presence of God is unknown and the direction and power of the Holy Spirit is completely absent?
Lord, please deliver us from powerless religion. Please deliver us from boring routine. Please come and presence yourself in our gatherings and make your presence known as you guide us and teach us and heal us. Lord please come and do this for us.
Mk 1:28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee .
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson, I believe, who said, “ Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” That was a simple way of saying, ‘make something that the world wants and they will flock to you.' Now the first stage of that is the word getting out that you have better mousetrap – or a better religion! Until Jesus arrived, all Israel knew was institutional religion, dry, dusty and orthodox – and dead! Suddenly an exciting preacher turns up who speaks like God is real and then does stuff to show a power that had been absent from the land for centuries. No wonder the news spread quickly over the whole region.
What we have in this verse is a shorthand version of what crops up again and again in the Gospels, for example, “ Jesus went throughout Galilee , teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee , the Decapolis , Jerusalem , Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” (Mt 4:23-25). He healed every disease and sickness in those who came to him! No wonder it was ‘large crowds' who came. Here was a preacher who came transforming lives for the better.
But it wasn't only the power to heal. We do need to reiterate that his teaching was attractive. After the Sermon on the Mount, we find, “When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.” (Mt 8:1) Yes, surely it was his healing reputation but what he said and how he said it also drew the crowds. Yet isn't this true whenever God is moving? Great crowds flocked to John the Baptist (e.g. Lk 3:7) and they have flocked to any great anointed preacher throughout Church history. Partly it is the man but (certainly in revivals) it is the power of the Holy Spirit convicting people of their need, and so crowds flock to wherever it is that that need is being met. Hungry unbelievers don't really know what they want, but the word spreads like wildfire and the crowds flock to hear.
Lord, please come again to our land with revival power. Draw people to yourself. Come in power and let the word spread like wildfire!
24. House church
Mk 1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.
Such a simple verse but such profound meaning! Think of religion in general and what religious people across the world think. So often it is the picture of a big, awesome, unreachable God who makes such demands, that adherents of the religion have to jump through hoops in performing their pious acts – which they only can hope will please their deity.
Then you come to this verse and look at what is behind it. A preacher, a rabbi goes into a home of some of his followers. Nothing remarkable about that until you realise that the Gospels declare that this rabbi is the Son of God himself, come from heaven for a temporary (33 years) time on earth. The Son of God? The second expression of the Godhead – this is God Himself walking into this house.
But there has been no preparation. If this had been a king the preparation team would have gone ahead and checked the place out to see if it was worthy of his visit. The security people would check that there were no likely risks to him in this poor dwelling with these fairly poor people. The people haven't prepared themselves. They haven't washed or carried out special rituals to enable them to meet this personage.
In fact, when it comes down to it, they are completely blind to his greatness and they just think of him as another man – and he's not bothered by that. He is not upset that they are not falling on the ground worshipping him. He's not upset that they don't refine their language or clean up their habits to acknowledge his holiness – for he is holy, even if they do not realise it. No, he is not put out by their ignorance and their ordinary approach to him.
No, this is the One real God, supreme and almighty and he has nothing to prove. He doesn't need people to give him glory – it's his anyway and he is comfortable in being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in disguise! In fact if they did recognise him they would flee from him and he wouldn't later be taken by them and sacrificed as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. No, he comes in simply humility and gentleness.
Lord, thank you that this is how you are!
25. Jesus in the home
Mk 1:30,31 Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
So God walks into this house in human form. Again, we suggest, we might take this for granted but it is incredible! Does he come to be religious? Does he comes to demand homage and worship? That's what the gods of the world would seem to demand. No, this God comes in and enters into the life of the home in the most ordinary and yet extraordinary ways.
They talk together and they tell him that Simon's mother-in-law is unwell. (Incidentally for future pope watchers, please notice that your first pope is married!) So far it is a very ordinary episode in the life of these people. So Jesus says he's really sorry to hear she's not well and they get on with the business of the day. Well, no, they don't actually – although if it was a modern church they might!
No, presumably Jesus asks where she is and he goes in to her. We don't know if he said anything to her – presumably he did – but he just takes her by the hand and she gets up, and suddenly she is well! If you wanted to be cynical you would say she had a convenient headache and hadn't wanted to meet Jesus but the facts were that she had had a fever. It's just that the power of Jesus flowed to her as he reached to her and that power overcame the fever and left her well! So she gets up and serves them and does the sort of things that the woman of the house tends to do!
Now the comment I just made about a ‘convenient headache' is an example of the common excuses that people make when they struggle to believe the things Jesus did. The fact is, as we read through all the Gospels, he healed many people and performed many miracles. Power wasn't a problem for Jesus – he was and is God. To challenge that is to challenge whether he is the Son of God and to challenge the very Gospel records themselves. The more you study these things the more you find there is little room to doubt – except our own will, we don't like the consequences that must flow!
Lord Jesus, thank you that you came in humility and put off all of the glory you had in heaven. Forgive us if, because of this, we sometimes stumble over your mighty power. I affirm my belief in your word: you are God and you do still heal. Thank you so much!
26. Mass Healings
Mk 1:32-34 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
a number of years ago some people I knew went out to Africa to witness a healing campaign that was happening in one particular country. When they came back they testified to amazing things they saw but one particular comment stayed with me. They said that for the first three days their minds struggled to keep up with what their eyes saw. I think that that was how it must have been with Jesus. See what the text says.
That evening after sunset – after the working day had ended. The people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed . Note the ‘all'. His reputation had so spread that the people were in no doubt that he could heal whoever came to him, sol they brought anyone who was sick – it was a lot of people. The whole town gathered at the door!
And he healed ‘many' and he also drove out ‘many' demons. Now this account doesn't say ‘all', just ‘many' which suggests that were some who weren't healed at this stage. But don't be put off by that, still ‘many' were healed and delivered from demons. This was a major healing event. As we commented previously, Jesus had the power to bring literal physical change to bodies. One minute there was sickness, the next there wasn't!
Now this account is a simple factual account of what happened but it doesn't lay down any principles for healing. The difficulty for those of us who are sick or who have long-term illnesses or infirmity, is to grasp that it is possible for us to be delivered from whatever it is. When we have such an illness it is very difficult, if not impossible to have faith to believe for healing, unless God turns up and speaks and generates faith. In every healing, faith is an ingredient – even if it only comes from Jesus. In the Gospels Jesus initiated healings and the fact of him healing people released faith in others for them to be healed. He alone is the healer and in him alone can we trust for our healing.
Lord, thank you that you do heal. Please speak to me to release faith in me for you to move how you want to move, whether it be in healing or in any other way.
27. Jesus' Prayer Life
Mk 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed
I have to confess, if there are mysteries in the Christian life (and there are!) prayer rates very highly on the list. Over the years I have pondered prayer long and hard. On one hand I find it so easy as to be almost pointless; on the other hand it is hard to be real.
Why does the Bible encourage us to pray when the Father knows every word we utter before we've said it? Why is it that sometimes the Father seems to hold back acting until we have prayed? How is it that sometimes break-through doesn't happen until we have prayed our socks off? Why is it that if prayer is so important so many of us find it so difficult? I've got answers now to each of these questions but I'm not going to utter them – they are probably only a quarter of the truth!
Eventually I have reached a simple conclusion: God encourages us to pray, simply because He likes hearing His kids talk to him. I've also come to a second, slightly more complex conclusion: often when I pray I come away strengthened, clearer in mind and purpose and surer of my calling, i.e. in some way God talks to me, whether I am aware of it or not, and I am changed – and I need changing!
Now I don't believe Jesus needed changing but in the verse above we find Jesus going out to be on his own, away from anyone else, to pray early in the morning. Some have suggested he needed to lay out the day before the Father, to check it out with Him, but we aren't told that he did that every day. Perhaps he did but we just aren't told.
The emphasis in this verse, it seems, is the thing about being on his own. Praying with others is good but sometimes it seems it is better to be just alone with the Father. I suspect those are times when we need to pour out our hearts and need to hear what is on the Father's heart. Other people might be a distraction then. Beyond that there is not a lot we can say. Prayer obviously was a feature of Jesus' life, even as the Son of God – perhaps more so because he was and is the Son of God.
I make time to talk to my wife, not because I have issues to sort out with her, but simply because I love her and it is the most natural thing to do, to talk and share. Perhaps that is how it is with Jesus and his Father. Father, thank you that you are just a word away and you delight in hearing from us.
28. The Bane of Fame
Mk 1:36,37 Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"
Being famous isn't all it's made out to be! People point at you or want your attention and generally stop you being the person you could be. But actually Jesus is more than famous – he is on call. He has a commodity that people want – the power to heal and change people. Suddenly he is a wanted man! They don't want him for who he is but for what he can do. In churches that put themselves out to be caring, leaders find the same thing. When there is a crisis it is the Pastor who is called for and it can be any hour of day or night. When you place yourself at God's disposal, that is how life becomes.
Jesus has purposefully gone out to be on his own to pray and the disciples come looking for him and impose themselves on him. Theyt don't think, “Jesus vhas gone off to be alone; we'd better leave him until he's ready to come back.” No they charge off and find him and declare, “Everyone is looking for you.” If it had been me I suspect my reply would have been, “So?” but we'll see in the next meditation that Jesus came up with a slightly different answer.
The thing the disciples had not yet learnt was that Jesus knew everything and Jesus knew best. Of course Jesus would have known that everyone was looking for him. How we like to tell him (in prayer) what he already knows. How we like to tell Jesus what he ought to do, as if somehow he lacked the wisdom we thkink we have!
When the disciples said, “Everyone is looking for you,” they were really saying, “You really ought to come and attend to these people who are hear who want to see more of you.” The night before hehad ministered to great crowds. Wasn't that enough for the time being? They obviously thought not, Jesus is about to disagree.
How can we learn not to think about Jesus as our servant who is at our beck and call? Jesus has his own plan of working and, yes, it does include us, but he does know best and so we need to learn to seek him out and then do what he has said and get on with it without keep on referring back to him. Get on with what he's told you to do. Yes, look to him for his grface and wisdom by all means, but believe him and obey him and just get on with it without having to come back to him and get confirmation after confirmation. Father, thank you for what you have said. I will get on and do it!
29. A Life of Purpose
Mk 1:38,39 Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." So he travelled throughout Galilee , preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
We commented in the previous meditation that Jesus had other ideas than stay around and minister some more to the people of this particular place. He's shared the Good News here in both word and deed and he's not going to keep on doing it, but now he's going to move on and do it elsewhere in Galilee . He's come, he says, to share the good news of the arrival of God's kingdom all over the land, not in just one place.
Perhaps sometimes we get bogged down in one place or reaching out to one particular group. Recently in our local church we have been thinking about the local community and have come to the conclusion that there isn't such a thing – there are lots of communities! In our modern world we tend towards groups, so young people tend to be one community, single parents may be another, and so on. The only reason for seeing them as different groups or communities is to recognize that they have different specific needs, and making it clear what they are sometimes makes it easier to reach them as we minister to those needs that a peculiar to that group.
Yet the truth is that overall we all have the same needs – to be loved by God, forgiven our sins and empowered to live new lives. That is true of every person, whatever colour and whatever people grouping they come from. We are all sinners needing to be reconciled to God, forgiven and cleansed and given a new direction and a new power to live lives of the kingdom of God .
You make think that my referring to different people groups and different ‘access needs' is unnecessary, but it is exactly what Jesus and the early apostles did. For them it was a case of going to the local synagogue for that was the meeting place of of the religious (hopefully, God-seeking) Jews. Hopefully there would be the most open group of Jews. But then later Jesus went to the ‘sinner groups' the tax collectors, prostitutes etc. These were all different people groups who had a slightly different outlook on life and who would be approached in different ways. In the synagogue the approach was through the Scriptures. To the ‘sinner groups' it was with the compassionate, caring and accepting love of God. Father, thank you that you love all of us.
Mk 1:40-42 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
There is healing and there is healing! I mean, it is all very well to stand at a distance and speak a word of command and watch someone be healed, but it is something else to go up close and touch them – especially when they have a possibly infectious skin disease! There is clearly more to healing than simply speaking words of command when you have the authority.
Jesus, it appears, is much more concerned with the man as a whole person than with just his skin. If it had just been his skin he could have spoken a word and that would have been it – healed! But Jesus feels for this man, he is moved by this man, he feels compassion for this man, he enters into his plight and that plight means that here is a man who is isolated by his disease. People would have kept a distance from this man and so as much as having his skin healed, he is in need of human contact, and so Jesus gives it to him – he touches him and then heals him.
You know, you can be in a room full of people and yet be lonely. Some of us struggle with a sense of isolation. The way we have been brought up, or the things that have happened to us in life, means we are left feeling isolated. We either long for or fear human contact. For some it may be a “if only…” as we dream of someone putting an arm around us. The church should have many arms to offer on Jesus' behalf, but even so, isolated people sometimes need to be made to feel secure before they can respond to such overtures of friendship and contact.
And then there are some of us who deep down fear the contact, fear the change. If I open myself up to others, then the inner me will be revealed and I am not sure I want that. When Jesus approaches such people he does so ever so gently. He understands our needs and understands we can only cope with slow change and so it is just the lightest of touches to start with - the thought of a complete embrace would make us run a mile!
Lord, thank you that you understand each of us and you meet us in the way you know we can cope with. Thank you that you feel with us.
Mk 1:43-44 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them."
Now we aren't told why Jesus instructed the healed-leper not to tell anyone he had been healed but we may surmise that it was because Jesus wanted to do more that just heal people. In his mind sharing God's love through words of explanation and teaching was just as important as healing their bodies. Healing, from our perspective, is very important when we have suffered with an illness or infirmity, but actually establishing a relationship with the Lord is even more important, and that needs instruction and guidance and teaching.
So why did Jesus instruct the man to go to the priest and make a sacrifice? The answer has to be to conform to the Law which required this to be done. The priest acted as a physician and he would confirm that the healing had taken place. The purpose of the sacrifice was to bring the man back into the religious community from which he had been banished because of his leprosy. A sacrifice could be a means of receiving cleansing and forgiveness and would thus deal with any sin that had been involved. But it could also be a thank offering to say thank you to the Lord for healing him.
Now I am always slightly puzzled by Jesus' instruction here because Jesus always knew people and knew what their responses would be and so I am sure that Jesus would know that the man IS going to go and tell everyone what has happened to him, because it was so wonderful! So if he knows the man is going to disobey his words, why bother to speak them in the first place? My conclusion is that Jesus is going to speak what is right even if he knows we will disregard it.
The right thing is to go to the priest and go through the procedure laid down in the Law. The helpful thing will be to go away and not tell anyone. That is the right thing and the helpful thing and Jesus speaks these things even if he knows the man will disregard them. We'll see in the next meditation that it was almost unrealistic to expect this man to say nothing, but it still needs saying. What will Jesus feel about the man disregarding his words? He will still love him. If he knew what would happen before he gave the instructions, he would have known it before he had healed the man – but he still does heal him! That needs some thinking about for it is truly wonderful, this grace of Jesus!
32. Impossible Silence
Mk 1:45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere
We commented briefly in the previous meditation about the impossibility of the healed leper remaining quiet. Here we now see him going out and talking about what had happened to him. After all, he has been healed of a disease that separated him off from the rest of society and so now he is free to talk with anyone who will listen. No wonder he doesn't remain quiet. In fact we need to reiterate our previous comment: it is quite unrealistic to expect him to remain silent about what has happened.
By making he previous request of him to remain silent, Jesus was indicating his preference not to have to deal with large crowds who just wanted healing and perhaps nothing more. He has come to share God's love in word and deed, as we said previously, and masses of crowds pressing for healing, prevents the sharing by word. It was a problem that Jesus encountered again and again and thus we find him preaching off the side of a hill or mountain (Mt 5) or from a boat (Lk 5) where he could continue preaching and teaching and being heard by the larger numbers.
Thus we find at the present, Jesus being unable to carry on in the town and having to remain out in the countryside so that only those who were really keep to meet Jesus would have bothered to go out looking for him – and they did.
There clearly were many who had a spiritual hunger and who wanted to hear what Jesus had to say and so sought him out, even when he appeared hidden away. There are signs in the Gospels of both a spiritual dearth and a spiritual hunger in the land.
The question might arise today, how spiritually hungry are we? Are we content with a little spiritual input on a Sunday morning each week, or do we seek out the Lord to know Him whenever we have the opportunity? We live in a very materialistic age. Do we allow that materialistic spirit to pervade our lives or do we ensure the spiritual aspects of our lives are fed as we seek out the Lord? Lord, draw my heart, stir in me a hunger and thirst that nudges me to seek you out, and refuses to be content with materialistic fodder.