I think I speak for most men when I say that there are very few redeeming things about shopping. In fact, I can think of only two: 1) the electronics department, and 2) the food sample tables. Have you learned about the sample tables? These are tables—seen all over many large supermarkets—manned by one individual cooking sample foods on the spot and inviting you to partake. Now the host’s goal for the sample table is different from my goal for the sample table. Their goal is to get me to purchase something; my goal is to fill up on free samples. Sometimes I’ll go to the supermarket just to get a free meal. I’ll tour the sample tables in a strategic circuit over and over again until I begin to receive threatening glances from those manning the tables. Then I move on to the electronics department.
We sometimes treat Jesus like a supermarket sample table. We partake for our own good, but we’re not interested in “buying in” to the product itself. Why do you follow Jesus? Is it for self-interest or divine interest? The Gospel of Mark compels us to answer the question, “Do I follow Jesus because of who He is, or because of what He can do for me?”
Mark chapter one provides a multiple choice question for the reader: How have you responded to Jesus? Mark provides us with four possible responses, challenging us to determine which response to Jesus most resembles our own. Mark wishes to quickly establish why we are following Him, because if we are following for the wrong reasons, ours will not be a lasting response.
1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way,
1:3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
1:4 In the wilderness John the baptizer began preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 1:5 People from the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. 1:6 John wore a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 1:7 He proclaimed, “One more powerful than I am is coming after me; I am not worthy to bend down and untie the strap of his sandals. 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
1:9 Now in those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 1:10 And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 1:11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.” 1:12 The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. 1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, enduring temptations from Satan. He was with wild animals, and angels were ministering to his needs.
In characteristic form, Mark anxiously tells his readers the answer to the riddle in the first verse of the book. Who is Jesus? He is the “Son of God.”
The best verbal responses to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark come from demons (1:24; 3:11; 5:7) and the centurion (15:39), each of whom recognize Jesus as God’s Son. In Mark 1:1-13, those who have a broader perspective have the right view of Jesus, namely that He is God’s Son: Mark (1:1), the Father (1:11), and demons (1:24). Notice that the angels attend Jesus in the wilderness—they certainly know who this Guy is and respond well.
John the Baptist responded well to Jesus in word and deed, ultimately giving his life for the Gospel (6:27; only John and Jesus die for the Gospel in Mark’s Gospel). John held a high view of Jesus and confirmed his faith at Jesus’ baptism. John believed rightly about Jesus, and he served his Savior to death. In the Gospel of Mark, John is lifted up as a good example of one who follows Jesus and suffers for him to the end. John knew that whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake would find it. He humbly welcomed Jesus onto the public scene, knowing well that shadows were starting to fall over John’s popular public ministry. He had a lasting response in word and deed to the true identity of Jesus (the purpose statement of Mark). John followed Jesus for who He was. Nothing more, nothing less.
Does John’s response to Jesus resemble yours? If so, select #1—“An exemplary response to Jesus”—as your answer to the question “How have you responded to Jesus.” If not, just wait: There are three more responses to look at in chapter one.
1:14 Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. 1:15 He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” 1:16 As he went along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). 1:17 Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.” 1:18 They left their nets immediately and followed him. 1:19 Going on a little farther, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother in their boat mending nets. 1:20 Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Jesus can say that the kingdom of God is near because He, the King, is near. Jesus will revisit this subject in chapter four, where this kingdom will be described in detail.
Peter and Andrew, James and John—they all responded with haste. While their initial response is immediate, the text later demonstrates that they certainly didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Although these disciples follow Jesus immediately, the rest of the Gospel shows that they failed to consider the cost. And the cost turned out to be too high; they all abandoned Jesus before ultimately coming back to him.
Can you think of anyone else in the New Testament that endeavored on a journey without fully considering the cost? That’s right—John Mark, the author of this Gospel. You remember the story. When Paul and Barnabas embarked on their first missionary journey, they chose to take along Barnabas’ cousin Mark. During the first leg of the journey, however, Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas, presumably when the going got tough. Could it be that Mark had signed on too hastily? Could it be he had failed to consider the cost? It is speculative, but likely. Fortunately, Barnabas saw fit to permit Mark to join him on another challenging journey later, and Mark succeeded. Likewise, the same disciples that follow Jesus “immediately” in this chapter will abandon him just as quickly at Gethsemane. There is nothing wrong with following immediately; there is everything wrong with following immediately without counting the cost. The Gospel of Mark places a higher priority on a lasting response than an immediate one.
Does the disciples’ response to Jesus resemble yours? If so, select #2—“An immediate response to Jesus”—as your answer to the question “How have you responded to Jesus.” If not, just wait: There are two more responses to look at in chapter one.
1:21 Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 1:22 The people there were amazed4 by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law. 1:23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, 1:24 “Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, “Silence! Come out of him!” 1:26 After throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 1:27 They were all amazed so that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits and they obey him.” 1:28 So the news about him spread quickly throughout all the region around Galilee.
The scene here is a Jewish Synagogue (at least four times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus will enter a Synagogue to teach). Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit.5 Note the contrast here, the demon knows who Jesus is and refuses to follow; the people flock to Jesus but don’t know who he truly is. News is spreading about Jesus; there is intrigue. These people come to Jesus because they are impressed with 1) his authoritative teaching, and 2) his ability to command demons.
Several years ago I spent a summer in Colorado at a training institute. Another trainee at the same institute was an amateur magician, who offered weekly pro-bono magic shows—mainly for the kids. The first time my wife and I saw his performance, I was amazed. Even though I was an adult (by most standards) I began to dream about doing such amazing things myself. I dreamed of large audiences, of laughter, of applause, of jaws dropping. I took those dreams to the store with me and bought my very own magic set and practiced nonstop until I came to realize that I was a terrible magician. I remember distinctively being disappointed. That is, until I attended the next week’s magic show. Suddenly I was not so impressed with his performance. Most of his tricks were repeats from the week before. After I saw the magic show for the third time, the newness was gone; I was no longer impressed. I left looking for a new dream to follow.
That’s what happens to an emotional response: It begins with enthusiasm but peters out in just a short period of time.
Does the crowd’s response to Jesus resemble yours? If so, select #3—“An emotional response to Jesus”—as your answer to the question “How have you responded to Jesus.” If not, just wait: There’s still one more response to look at in chapter one.
1:29 Now as soon as they left the synagogue, they entered Simon and Andrew’s house, with James and John. 1:30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying down, sick with a fever, so they spoke to Jesus at once about her. 1:31 He came and raised her up by gently taking her hand. Then the fever left her and she began to serve them. 1:32 When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and demon-possessed. 1:33 The whole town gathered by the door. 1:34 So he healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
1:35 Then Jesus got up early in the morning when it was still very dark, departed, and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer. 1:36 Simon and his companions searched for him. 1:37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” 1:38 He replied, “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came out to do.” 1:39 So he went into all of Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
1:40 Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” he said. 1:41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” 1:42 The leprosy left him at once, and he was clean. 1:43 Immediately Jesus sent the man away with a very strong warning. 1:44 He told him, “See that you do not say anything to anyone; but go, show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” 1:45 But as the man went out he began to announce it publicly and spread the story widely, so that Jesus was no longer able to enter any town openly but stayed outside in remote places. Still they kept coming to him from everywhere.
Miracles have a higher purpose than healings and exorcisms. They are meant to authenticate the teachings and identity of Jesus. To seek Jesus for His ability to heal is simply not adequate. This is partly the reason for the Messianic Secret: Jesus’ tendency—especially in the Gospel of Mark—to command people not to tell anyone who He is (e.g., 1:25; 1:34; 1:43-44).6
Jesus didn’t want to be viewed merely as a miracle-worker.
In this passage, Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law precipitates “all who were sick and demon-possessed” coming to Him. When the disciples notified Jesus that everyone was looking for Him, Jesus communicated that He preferred to go elsewhere. Not a very good church growth strategy! Why would He do such a thing? Apparently because the motives of those seeking Him were impure. They sought Him for selfish reasons, nothing more. Even the man that Jesus has compassion on disobeys Jesus’ “strong warning” by announcing Jesus’ whereabouts publicly.7
Remember, the goal of the food sample table at your local supermarket is that you would buy the product. The samples are not designed to satisfy completely; they are meant to authenticate the quality of the product on the shelf or in the freezer and thus persuade you to purchase. Likewise, Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms are not intended to satisfy completely; they are designed to authenticate the true identity of Jesus and thus persuade you to embrace Him. Jesus desires for us to do more than merely sample for our own good. He wants us to consume, to purchase, to entirely buy in. Do you treat Jesus like a sample table?
Why are you following Jesus? Are you in it to get something from Him, or are you in it for Him alone?
Does the selfish response to Jesus resemble yours? If so, select #4—“A selfish response to Jesus”—as your answer to the question “How have you responded to Jesus.” How did you do on the multiple choice test?
Each lesson will conclude with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We will refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for chapter one is Mark 1:1.
“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
With this verse, Mark summarizes the message of the book. That is the true identity of Jesus; reflect on that, and determine today to have a lasting response to that true identity in word and deed.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
3 Εὐθὺς (“immediately”) occurs 41 times in Mark, and only 19 times in the NT outside of Mark. It occurs 12 times (30% of the Mark occurrences) here in this first chapter.
4 Mark uses “amazed” or “astonished” about 20 times to describe people’s reaction to Jesus, and shows that these aren’t sufficient responses to God’s Son.
5 Mark speaks of “demons” or “unclean spirits” about 25 times in his Gospel.
6 Matthew S. DeMoss and J. Edward Miller, Zondervan Dictionary of Bible and Theology Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002), 150-51.
7 Jesus had commanded him to show himself to the priests. A leper was not welcomed back into a community until he had been declared clean by a priest, and had offered appropriate sacrifices according to the book of Leviticus.