A few years back, if you had walked into our house, you would have seen an end table with a glass top that you could lift up and some items inside of it. (The reason you wouldn’t see it now is because I accidentally stepped through it when we were moving it back from Louisville – but that is beside the point!) And if you would have looked inside of that glass-topped end table, you would have seen a calendar opened to October 3. And on that page of the calendar, you’d have read Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.”
Now, if you had ever walked through and seen that calendar on that day with that Scripture text, you might have thought, “That’s a good reminder about the blessing we have been given by the Lord in our children.” And it is. But that’s not why Lili and I placed it in our end table. We had it there because there’s a whole story behind that calendar.
The reason that calendar means so much to us goes back to a January night in 2002. I was up in Louisville, KY taking a class, staying at a friend’s house who lived close to the seminary. And during that time, Lili and I had been praying about whether or not we should try to have a baby. We’d been married a year and a half, and we had begun praying for wisdom. And later in that week, after conversations and continued prayer with Lili, I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed praying. In that prayer, I said, “God it seems like you want us to try to have a child, but it’s a big step for us. It’ll change our lives. So, would you be willing to confirm that this is what you want us to do? I know you are not obligated to do so, but I just ask that you would graciously confirm our decision to try to have a child if you would.” And as I looked up from praying on this January night, right in front of me sat a calendar, opened to October 3rd and it read, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” So I said, “Alright, Lord, it seems you’re confirming our decision.” Then I asked the couple if I could buy them a new calendar and take theirs, and the first week of November that year Michael came into our lives. That’s why that calendar sat in our end table always opened to October 3rd.
Sometimes things just don’t strike you as weighty as they are until you know the story behind them. And I think that is the case with Jesus’ words in Mark 1:14-15. You see, in the beginning, we know that God created Adam and placed him as one in his image to reign over the whole earth. He was to exercise his reign, subdue the earth, and have dominion over it. All was good. In fact, it was very good.
However, after Adam’s sin in Genesis 3 the enemy of death comes in to reign over the world. After Genesis 3, Adam and all his descendants are corrupted by and enslaved to sin and will die. Satan, sin, and death exercise their ferocious dominion over every corner of the earth, and the creation itself is a place that brings forth thorns and thistles. After the fall, creation becomes nothing less than enemy-occupied territory.
However, throughout the Old Testament, God makes and continues to reiterate a promise. He will come and establish his kingdom, his reign, and his saving rule over the earth. It was this invasion of God’s kingdom, reign, and saving rule into this world that had become enemy-occupied territory that the saints would have awaited. It is, then, in this light that Mark tells us in 1:14-15, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
So, you see that what Jesus is announcing is that God’s kingdom, his reign, and his saving rule has invaded this age. God’s king has come into enemy-occupied territory. And the reason Jesus can say that God’s kingdom is at hand is because Jesus is God’s king. And if the Old Testament affirms that God himself will bring his kingdom and saving rule on the earth, then this is Jesus attesting that he is God the Son.
But in our text this morning, we will see that Mark doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing necessarily on who Jesus is. That’s how he opened his gospel. Rather, he focuses on what Jesus does, and that’s what I want us to see this morning. What is it that Jesus does, as he brings the kingdom of God and invades this creation which has become enemy-occupied territory with God’s saving rule? Mark tells us what Jesus does in a series of stories. We’ll not each of Jesus’ actions as we consider each of these stories.
First, we see that . . .
Jesus calls people into God’s kingdom
After giving us Christ’s proclamation that the kingdom is at hand and calling people to repent and believe, Mark tells us about Jesus calling some to follow him. Specifically, he tells us in verses 16-20 that Jesus called four men to himself, and all of them he called to himself while passing by the Sea of Galilee. First, Mark tells us about Simon (who will later be named Peter) and his brother Andrew, “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (1:16-18).
Then, we read of two others: “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him” (1:19-20).
Now, we aren’t supposed to read this story and think, “Oh, that must have happened all the time in the first century in that area of the world.” The fact is, it didn’t. It’s true that there might be traveling teachers, but they had followers as individuals just decided they wanted to be their pupils. You don’t have traveling teachers wondering around and authoritatively commanding random individuals to follow them.
Furthermore, these men were leaving their jobs. We read of Simon and Andrew that they were fisherman. But they leave their nets and follow him. And James and John not only leave a lucrative fishing business (apparently making enough money to hire servants) but they also leave their father, Zebedee.
So, what is Jesus doing, and why are these men responding by leaving behind their careers and family while being told not much more than, “Follow me”? The answer to the first is that Jesus is calling people into God’s kingdom. He is calling people to come and submit their lives to the rule and reign of God.
And this had been foretold. In Ezekiel 34, God had pictured his people like sheep who were scattered all over the face of the earth, and God had declared that he would come and gather his sheep to himself. He would call them to himself, and they would come to him. Therefore, when Jesus says in John 10 that he is the good shepherd, it’s not as if he has just landed on a good metaphor. Rather, he’s telling us that he is God the Son incarnate (the God-man), who is coming to gather God’s people, his sheep, into his kingdom. And this is exactly what Jesus is doing in Mark 1:16-20.
But why are these men willing to leave everything to respond to his call? The answer again is wrapped up in Jesus gathering the sheep. He tells us in John 10 that his sheep will hear his voice and follow him (John 10:27). And we see it happening right here in Mark 1:16-20.
This is what sometimes is referred to in theological discussions as God’s effective (or effectual) call. Jesus is going out and issuing a call that is drawing men into God’s kingdom. We, I believe, are to read these verses and say, “He is calling them to himself with great authority so that they are almost miraculously responding.”
Furthermore, Jesus tells them that he is going to make them into individuals who will be privileged to call others into God’s kingdom as well. That’s what he means when he says to Simon and Andrew that he will make them “fishers of men.” This is why Jesus, after his resurrection, appears to his disciples and says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus was going to continue to call his sheep to himself through the witness of his followers, and he still does it today.
In fact, if you are a believer it’s because through the gospel witness of someone, Christ called you to himself, and you were like a sheep hearing his shepherd’s voice and responded in faith. And, if you are a believer, you have been charged with the full authority of Christ to go and call others to repent and believe in Christ so that they too might become those who are subjects in God’s kingdom. If you are not a believer, we pray today that by hearing the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross to bear the penalty for the sins of anyone who will believe in him, and rose from the dead on the third day, you might find your heart drawn to bow your knee in faith to the Lord and King, Jesus of Nazareth.
As we continue to see what Christ, as the King in God’s kingdom, is doing, we also see that . . .
Jesus exercises power over demonic forces
After calling the first four of his disciples to himself, the next event we find is Jesus going into the synagogue in Capernaum. He goes into the synagogue there and begins teaching. And it would have been the pattern for most teachers in the synagogue simply to quote and refer to the traditions that had been taught before them - but not Jesus. He taught with the authority that he knew was his as God the Son. Thus, we read in verse 22, “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”
But it wasn’t just his teaching that demonstrated his authority. We also see his power over demonic forces, for as Jesus began teaching , Mark tells us that there was a man with the unclean spirit, and the unclean spirit began crying out and addressing Jesus. We read his words to Jesus in verse 24. He cried, “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.”
It seems that this demon understood clearly that Jesus was the promised one who was coming to crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). So, though there was only one demon here, he spoke as a representative of the rest, asking if Jesus was already going to destroy them. But Jesus simply tells him to shut his mouth, and he commands him to come out of the man, after which convulsing the man and crying out with a loud voice, he did. Thus, Mark writes, “And 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.’”(v.27)
Christ came into enemy-occupied territory where the reign of Satan, sin, and death had been clear for years, and he instantly demonstrates his power over this demonic spirit. He instantly confirms that the enemy will be no match for him.
Now, we might ask, “What does this have to do with us?” After all, perhaps we think that demonic activity appears to be a lot less common now than it did then. I mean, Mark will tell us numerous encounters Jesus will have with demons, and I would dare say that not many of us could tell similar stories in our own lives.
However, consider this: the Bible tells us that before any of us had placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we were “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:2-3).
That doesn’t sound like we were simply walking on some neutral ground before we decided to believe, does it? Absolutely not. We were captives to our sin and to the enemy, and the spirit that is at work in those who are in rebellion against Christ was at work in us. So don’t think that somehow evil spirits working in men’s lives so that they rage against the Lord is somehow uncommon to 21st century America. Not only is it not uncommon now, it was once descriptive of us.
This is also why Paul describes our salvation in terms of being transferred from the rule of Satan into the rule of God when he writes in Colossians 1:13-14, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Our salvation is a miraculous and powerful work by our Lord whereby his powerful and effective voice speaks into our lives as we are held captive by our sins and death and brings us out of that domain of darkness and makes us subjects of the kingdom of Christ. That is the miracle that happened when we first believed.
Therefore, do not read this story and think we are somehow far removed from it. Rather, read this and get a clearer glimpse into what has happened in your life if you’ve believed in Christ for your righteousness. You’ve been redeemed through the powerful work of our Lord from your captivity to Satan, sin, and death.
And if you’re not a believer, then if you will believe this day, your life will demonstrate the powerful saving rule of God, as you will be transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
Yet, we not only see Jesus calling people into the kingdom and exercising his power over demonic forces, but we also see that . . .
Jesus overturns the curse of the fall
The next scene in Mark’s gospel is Jesus leaving the synagogue and going to Simon and Andrew’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law had a fever, and so they mention this to Jesus. Therefore, Jesus walks in, takes her by the hand, and immediately she is healed and serves them. This is followed by that evening a number who’d heard of Jesus’ abilities coming so that those who were sick (and oppressed) might be health. So, we read in verse 34, “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”
Now, again, we might not think that making a woman’s fever go away is anything spectacular necessarily or demonstrates the invasion of God’s kingdom into enemy-occupied territory, but actually it is and it does. Remember, prior to Genesis 3, death is not around. Death is an enemy that reigns over the created order after Adam’s sin. As originally created sin, death, pain, and suffering were not part of the created world. This means that though Peter’s mother-in-law is not necessarily suffering through an illness because of her specific sin, she is suffering with an illness because she lives in a world where sin has opened the door for the reign of death. Thus, in this fallen world, we all understand the reality of sickness and death. They are unavoidable realities.
Therefore, when Jesus comes into the world healing people of their sickness, he is demonstrating his authority over sickness and death. He is actually giving us a glimpse of what eternity will be like when sickness, sin, and death will be destroyed and will be no more.
What this means for us, then, is that it is good and right for us to pray that God might heal us of sickness. We know that death has not yet been fully defeated, and sin will continue to reign in this world until Christ’s return. However, we also know that Christ delights in demonstrating his power over sickness and death on occasion. It’s not his main mission in the world, but it is something that he was more than willing to do on several occasions as he walked the earth. Therefore, though we know that we will not always be healed and we all will eventually die, it is good and right to ask God to heal us of our sickness and suffering, and we can know that on occasion he may be well pleased to do so. And when he does, it is a reminder to this world that death one day will indeed be completely destroyed.
This reality that Jesus comes demonstrating his ability to overcome death also reminds us to fix our eyes on the glory that awaits us. How does someone who is battling cancer so that it is eating away at their body, for example, persevere in faith and trust and joy day after day? Paul seems to give us an answer when he tells us that the suffering of this world is not worthy to compare to the glory that one day will be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18). And we can know that that day where there will be no more sickness, no more pain, and no more death is certain because Jesus has authority over death and will one day destroy it completely.
Finally, Mark shows us that . . .
Jesus obeys the will of his Father
After healing numbers of people that night, Mark tells us in verse 35 that Jesus got up the next morning early, before the sun had even come up, and he went to a desolate place and prayed. Now, he is modeling for us dependence on the Father, and Mark is also showing us, no doubt, what extremes Jesus had to go to in order to stay away from the crowds.
But why does he not want the demon proclaiming who he is and why is he trying to avoid the crowds? After all, it’s clear that he is. We read that when the disciples came to him and told him in verse 37, “Everyone is looking for you,” his response isn’t, “Hey, now I’m getting the fame I’ve been seeking.” Rather, he says, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (v. 38).
He’s avoiding the crowds because the purpose for which he’d been sent into the world wasn’t simply to come, heal people, and cast out demons. His purpose was to go and preach that God’s kingdom was at hand because God the Son, the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, was here. He was coming to proclaim the good news and tell people to repent of their sins and believe in the Son.
Similarly, we read the story of a leper approaching Jesus in verses 40-45, who said to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean” (v. 40). Clearly, he knew Jesus could do it, the only question was if he was willing. And Mark tells us that Jesus pitied the man, reached out, touched him, and healed him. This is powerful because this should have made Jesus unclean but instead Jesus overcame the power of the disease and made the man clean.
But then notice what Jesus does. He tells the man not to tell anyone (again, perhaps because this would end up causing others to try to distract him from the mission and make his ministry simply one of healing the diseased). But he also tells him to go and show himself to the priest and making the offering commanded in the law of Moses.
Do you see what’s going on here? Jesus is God’s king, but he comes onto the scene sending the clear picture that he has come to fulfill the purpose for which he had been sent by the Father, and he comes in order to obey God’s law which had been given to Moses. Jesus comes as God’s King, submitting himself to his Father’s commands.
How much more, then, should we submit ourselves to the commands of God? If the Son of God merely committed himself to obeying and honoring his Father’s commands, dare we ever think that we are wiser than God and that there is something we can do that would be better or more helpful than simply knowing God’s commands and obeying them.
So, what does Jesus, who is the King of God’s Kingdom, do as he comes onto the public stage? He comes calling people into his kingdom, exercising power over demonic forces, destroying the power of death, and obeying the will of his Father. Mark is clearly showing us in these actions that the Savior promised as far back as Genesis 3 who would come and bring God’s kingdom, reign, and saving rule into the world has come, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.
But interestingly, the story ends with a note of disobedience. The man healed of leprosy had been told to tell no one. Yet, Mark ends this section, “But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news , 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” (v. 45).
Why would Mark ends this section on such an unsettling note? Perhaps it’s to make us ask the question, “How are we responding to Jesus?” Perhaps it’s easy for us to look at this man who blatantly disobeyed God the Son in the flesh and think, “What is he thinking?” But perhaps we should examine our own lives. Are we blatantly disobeying God’s clear king? He sent his disciples into the world to make other disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all things that he has commanded. So, are we obeying all things that he’s commanded? Are we obeying Jesus, who is the Christ?
Perhaps as we close in a time of silence this morning, you can take this time, remembering who Jesus is and repenting of any disobedience to his commands. He will graciously have pity on you and forgive you of your sins so that you might know you are forgiven and walk in a way that honors him. And we can also know that our repentance will be answered with forgiveness because Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day. That is something we will now remember and proclaim as our only hope as we come to the table. Amen.