Faith and Family

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35 ESV

An examination of the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke reveals that Mark has taken some liberties concerning the timeline of this event. Both of the other two gospel writers indicate that Jesus had other things to say after His response to the accusation that He was demon-possessed. According to Matthew, Jesus had some very direct and condemning words for the scribes who had been so quick to dismiss His miracles as the work of Satan. Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is good, it will produce good fruit. If it is bad, it will produce bad fruit. So, you can know the state of the tree by examining its fruit. Then, Jesus drove home His point.

“You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” – Matthew 12:34-37 NLT

And Matthew adds that these very same scribes, accompanied by some Pharisees, would later approach Jesus and demand, “show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority” (Matthew 12:38 NLT). These are the same men who had accused Jesus of being demon-possessed. They had flatly stated, “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22 ESV). Now, they demand that He perform a sign to validate His authority. But Jesus called them out, exposing the true nature of their hearts.

“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign…” – Matthew 12:39 NLT

There was nothing Jesus could do that would convince these men of His God-given authority. He even alludes to the fact that He will die and resurrect three days later, but they will still refuse to believe.

“…as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” – Matthew 12:40 NLT

Even His death, burial, and resurrection would not convince these men. They would never accept His claim to be the Son of God.

“…you refuse to repent.” – Matthew 12:41 NLT

“…you refuse to listen.” – Matthew 12:42 NLT

And Matthew records that Jesus wrapped up His condemnation of the religious leaders by comparing them to someone who had been freed of a demon. With the coming of Jesus, they had been exposed to the truth and offered freedom from their captivity to sin and death. But while they had heard the truth, they had refused to accept it. So, Jesus indicates that their rejection of Him will have dire consequences. Their “demon” will return, bringing his companions with him, and leaving them in a worse state than before.

“…the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:45 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke includes a series of parables that Jesus told to the crowds. One was the parable of the soils, in which He explained, “The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity” (Luke 8 14 NLT).

And Luke adds another insightful message from Jesus.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” – Luke 8:18 NLT

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because it provides context. The way Mark describes the arrival of Jesus’ family, it could leave the impression that they just showed up right after His confrontation with the scribes. But as we have seen, Jesus had a few other salient messages He had delivered before their arrival. And what He had to say is crucial to understanding HIs response to the news that His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him.

John reveals that Jesus’ own family members were having a difficult time accepting that He was the Son of God. John flatly states, “…not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). And, according to Mark, their disbelief had prompted them to conclude that Jesus had lost His mind (Mark 3:21).

None of the gospel writers tell us why Mary and her other sons showed up. According to Matthew, Jesus was given the message: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you” (Matthew 12:47 NLT). Mark indicates that they stood outside the place where Jesus was teaching and “called him.”

Had Jesus’ brothers convinced Mary that her oldest son was crazy? Had they come to take Jesus away? Even though Mary had been given divine insight into the nature of her Son’s identity and mission, it is likely that she struggled with His strange behavior. His actions would not have validated the message she had been given by the angel Gabriel more than 30 years earlier.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

Since the day He had left their home in Nazareth, Jesus had been traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. Mary had been keeping up with His whereabouts and hearing the rumors about Him healing and casting out demons. But she had also heard about the episode in Jerusalem when He had thrown out the money changers and overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple. She knew that He had become a target of the religious leaders. And it is likely that she had heard all the rumors about her Son, including that He was demon-possessed. So, she had shown up with her other sons in order to talk to Jesus. As a loving and concerned mother, she wanted to see how He was doing.

But upon hearing that His mother and brothers were outside, Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33 ESV).

At first blush, this statement comes across as surprisingly harsh and uncaring. But we have to consider the context. Jesus has been speaking about hearing and believing. He has emphasized the tendency to reject His ministry and message. Luke records that Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9.

“When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand. – Luke 8:10 NLT

John reports that Jesus “came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had been teaching, preaching, and healing. He had been calling the people of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4;17 ESV). And yet, there were still those who refused to believe, including His own brothers. So, when Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers,” He was indicating that there was another kind of relationship that was far more critical than that of mother to son or brother to brother. Being born into the same family as Jesus had not helped His brothers believe. Having a sibling relationship with Jesus was not enough to secure a faith relationship with Him. Even Mary and her sons were going to have to believe in who Jesus claimed to be.

This brings to mind a statement made by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to the Judean wilderness to watch him baptize. When John had seen them, he had called them a “brood of snakes”  (Matthew 3:7 NLT). Then he exposed the fallacy behind their assumption that, because they were blood descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed a right relationship with God.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

Notice his emphasis on the bad tree that produces bad fruit. And don’t miss that he tells these men that being a blood-born relative of Abraham was no guarantee of acceptance by God. John demanded that they repent and turn to God.

That was the very same message Jesus preached, and it applied to all, including His mother and brothers. They too would have to hear, receive, and believe. And Jesus turned and motioned to His disciples, saying, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35 NLT).

According to John’s gospel, Jesus gave the only “work” or requirement that God has placed on mankind.

“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

Everyone, regardless of their social status, religious affiliation, economic standing, educational achievements, or whether they were a relative of Jesus, was required to believe in Him as the one sent from God. The disciples were struggling, but continuing to express their belief in Jesus. It’s likely that Mary and her sons were wrestling over the disconnect between Jesus’ behavior and their expectations. He wasn’t acting like a king. He wasn’t behaving like a Messiah. And the religious leaders were just flatly denying that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

But Jesus made it clear. For anyone to have a relationship with Him, they would be required to believe in Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Risky Business

23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:13-30 ESV

“He’s an amazing miracle worker.”

“He’s crazy!”

“He’s demon-possessed.”

The opinions about Jesus were all over the proverbial map. Some people loved Him, while others, like the Pharisees, harbored an intense and intensifying hatred for Him. But regardless of the diversity of opinions about Him, everyone would have agreed that this man from Nazareth was impossible to ignore. They couldn’t explain Him but neither could they dismiss Him.

And Mark indicates that a group of scribes had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee just to investigate this rural Rabbi was causing such a stir. It is likely that these men had been sent by the high priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and given the responsibility to find legal evidence to use against Jesus. As experts in the Mosaic law, as well as the oral and traditional regulations of the Jews, these men would have been well-qualified for their task.

Yet, despite their knowledge of the law, their initial assessment of Jesus was that He was possessed by a demon and under the control of Satan.

“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” – Mark 3:22 ESV

They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus did supernatural wonders and signs. It was obvious that He had powers and abilities that were not of this world. But rather than admit that Jesus was the Son of God, they accused Him of being in league with Satan.

By declaring that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul,” they were hoping to link Jesus to the demonic realm. The Greek name “Beelzebul” means “lord of the house or dwelling,” and it was used to refer to Satan, who was lord over the dwelling place of evil spirits. This accusation would have been well-understood by all those who heard it, and it would have shocked and surprised them.

Matthew and Luke provide additional context for this scene. The pronouncement by the scribes didn’t come out of the blue but was based on their assessment of a miracle Jesus had just performed.

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” – Matthew 12:22-23 ESV

The people were so impressed by what Jesus had done that they questioned whether Jesus might be the Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of David, and the heir to his throne. But Matthew records the quick and calculated rebuttal of the religious leaders.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

They were hoping to dispel any thoughts that this man, Jesus, had been sent by God. By linking His activities to Satan, they were attempting to tarnish His reputation and turn the people against Him.

Rather than wasting their time gathering forensic evidence providing that Jesus had violated their written and oral laws, they simply accused Him of being under the influence of Satan. In doing so, they put their argument against Jesus in terms the common people could understand. The scribes and Pharisees had little respect for the average Jew because they viewed them as being ignorant of the law. John records a very blunt assessment made by these very same religious leaders of their own people.

“…this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!” – John 7:49 NLT

But if there was one thing these uneducated and superstitious people could understand, it was the difference between good and evil. By associating Jesus with Satan, the scribes explained His power and, at the same time, maligned His character.

Yet rather than responding in anger, Jesus simply answered their accusation with a parable. He provided a well-reasoned response to their assertion that quickly exposed its absurdity and their own lack of judgment.

“How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive.”  – Mark 3:23-26 NLT

Through the use of simple reasoning, Jesus dismantled the very foundation of their argument. And He did so in terms the people could understand. You can almost see them looking at one another as Jesus spoke, nodding their heads in approval. The things He was saying made sense to them.

But Jesus was not done. He continued to point out the flawed logic behind their accusation.

“Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.” – Mark 3:27 NLT

Why would Satan cast out one of his own demons? That would be counter-productive. And how could anyone cast out a demon unless he possessed a power greater than that of the demon?

Whether the religious leaders realized it or not, Jesus was taking them to school. He was providing them with a lesson on divine power and authority. Jesus had subtly moved the point of emphasis from casting out demons to the plundering of the home of “a strong man.”  It would seem that Jesus has shifted His focus to the religious leaders and the powerful hold they had over the nation of Israel. It explains what happened when Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and saw how the priests of God had transformed His Father’s house into a carnival-like atmosphere.

He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” – John 2:14-16 NLT

Jesus had come to do the will of His Father, and He was operating under the power of the Holy Spirit. He had God-given authority and Spirit-enabled power to do what He did. But when these pride-filled men accused Jesus of operating under the influence and power of Satan, they had crossed the line. And Jesus clearly warned them that they were walking on thin ice.

“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” – Mark 3:28-29 NLT

Their flippant and poorly-reasoned accusation against Jesus had been a dangerous mistake. Whether they realized it or not, He was the Son of God, and they had just accused Him of fraternizing with the enemy. They had also attributed the work of the Spirit of God to the prince of this world. And in doing so, they had refused to accept the will of God. In essence, they had offended all three members of the Holy Trinity. And Jesus calls it exactly what it is: blasphemy.

And while blasphemy was normally a forgivable sin, in this case, Jesus was describing a condition in which men willingly and repeatedly reject the will of God, the claims of His Son, and the power of His Spirit. These men had been given ample evidence of who Jesus was. In a sense, the entire Godhead had provided testimony that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The Son of God. But these men had refused to believe. And it would be their stubborn disbelief that would prove to be the unpardonable sin.

Blasphemy is nothing more than speaking of God in terms that are disrespectful and derogatory. It is to dismiss the word of God and to reject the will of God. In denying Jesus as the Son of God, the religious leaders were snubbing their noses at God Almighty. They were rejecting the truth as found in His Word. And by attributing the power of the Spirit of God to Satan, they were robbing God of glory.

Blasphemy is a sin, and all sin is forgivable by God. But the one who repeatedly rejects the testimony of God regarding His Son runs the risk of committing the unpardonable and unforgivable sin. The apostle John put it in rather stark but understandable terms:

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
 – John 3:18 NLT

The religious leaders stood condemned because they refused to believe the testimony of God concerning His Son. Not only that, they had dismissed the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power displayed through the life of the Son, falsely attributing it to the enemy.

They had accused Jesus of being possessed of a demon. But there are those who accuse Jesus of being nothing more than a man. Others claim He was a moral teacher who had the ability to perform miracles. But they deny that He was the Son of God. Some deny that He ever existed at all. And over the centuries, there have been those who have denied His virgin birth, His sinless life, His death and resurrection, and His atoning work on behalf of man. And in doing so, they have committed blasphemy. And all those who persist in rejecting the Son of God as the Savior sent by God, will be “guilty of an eternal sin.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lunatic Fringe

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” 

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”  Mark 3:13-22 ESV

Jesus had a lot of followers. You might even call them fans. Mark stresses that they came from “Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 3:7-8 ESV). In other words, they came from all over the place and they followed Jesus wherever He went. To the point where Jesus had to institute His own form of crowd control.

he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him. – Mark 3:9 ESV

But it would be wrong to assume that all these people were dedicated followers of Jesus. The crowds would have contained a mix of the curious and the semi-committed. There were always those in search of healing. There were likely some who were simply bored and in search of entertainment. And there is little doubt that some were legitimately intrigued by this Rabbi from Nazareth.

But Mark indicates that a time came when Jesus decided to narrow the field of His followers. Mark doesn’t provide any insight into how Jesus carried out this winnowing process but simply says that Jesus “called for those he wanted, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13 NET). Did He walk through the crowd pointing out those He wanted to accompany Him? Did He call them by name? We don’t know. How many did He call – 50, 100, or more? The text doesn’t tell us. All we know is that Jesus made a conscious decision to choose some and not others. We have no idea what criteria He had for making His selection. But we do know that from among all those He called, He set apart 12, and Mark provides us with their names.

Luke provides another important detail to the story. It seems that this entire selection process had been proceeded by a night-long prayer vigil.

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles… – Luke 6:12-13 ESV

Before Jesus began this recruiting process, He had sought the will of His Father. And this essential detail sheds light on another prayer Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father more than three years later.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. – John 17:9-10 NLT

Jesus had sought to know the will of His Father and, in response, He had been given the identities of those He was to choose, including the 12. And Mark provides us with their names.

Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. – Mark 3:16-19 ESV

Mark states that Jesus “appointed” (poieō) these men. The Greek word means “to make a thing out of something.” Jesus took these 12 men and ordained or set them apart for a special assignment.

…that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. – Mark 3:14-15 ESV

These ordinary men had been handpicked by Jesus and given an incredible opportunity to serve as His apostellōs or “sent ones.” They had been divinely chosen by God, called by Jesus, and set apart for a special two-part assignment. First, they were called to “be with him.” Jesus was inviting them to experience a personal and intimate relationship with Him. For the next three years, they would be given the unique opportunity to spend all their time with Jesus, and this intensive, full-time exposure to the Son of God would prove to be life-transformative.

But as the term “apostle” implies, there would be more to their relationship with Jesus than companionship. They would be expected to preach and be given the authority and power to cast out demons. These blue-collar nobodies from the backwoods of Galilee were going to become the hand-picked spokesmen for the Son of God. And to validate the message Jesus would give them, they would be equipped with divine power to perform miracles. But this would not be a permanent or full-time capability. Luke lets us know that Jesus would be the one to dictate the time and the place for their God-ordained powers to be exposed.

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases,  and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. – Luke 9:12 ESV

Matthew adds another level of detail, outlining the instructions Jesus gave to the 12 before sending them out on their own.

“Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!

“Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed.” – Matthew 10:5-10 NLT

The thought of possessing the power to heal or to cast out demons would have been heady stuff to these men. But Jesus wanted them to know that there would be more to their work than performing miracles. Their ministry would be restricted to their own people – the Jews. And they would be required to use the supernatural powers placed at their disposal to validate the message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. And their efforts were marked by humility and complete dependency upon God. They were to go empty-handed and wholly reliant upon the provision of God.

Over the next three years, these 12 men were going to learn some invaluable lessons. They would be tested. There would be plenty of times when they found themselves confused and conflicted by their relationship with Jesus. They would experience moments filled with awe and wonder as they took in all that Jesus said and did. But there would be just as many times when they would be left shaking their heads in disbelief as they tried to comprehend Jesus’ puzzling parables and His perplexing behavior.

In spite of their close relationship with Jesus, even the 12 disciples would find Him to be an enigma at times. And Mark indicates that this confusion over Jesus was commonplace. Even the family of Jesus found His behavior difficult to defend.

When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. – Mark 3:21 NLT

We know that Jesus had brothers and sisters. Technically, they would have been his half-brothers and half-sisters because Joseph was not the father of Jesus. But these siblings were confused by their brother’s actions. So much so, that they assumed He must be crazy. Keep in mind, they had witnessed an extreme change in the pattern of Jesus’ behavior. At some point, He had walked away from their home in Nazareth and made His way to the Judean wilderness, where He was baptized by John. Then He had disappeared for more than 40 days and nights, only to reappear again, preaching a message of repentance and declaring that the kingdom of heaven was near. This was not the Jesus they had grown up with. His sudden and strange change in behavior left them perplexed and concerned that He might be mentally unstable.

And Mark adds that there were others who found Jesus’ actions less-than-normal.

But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” – Mark 3:22 NLT

His family thought He was crazy. The religious leaders thought He was demon-possessed. And everyone else would wrestle with their own opinions as to who He was and how to explain the amazing things He said and did. And the 12 men He had just chosen would find themselves at the center of all the controversy, wrestling with their own expectations and apprehensions regarding His identity and the nature of their relationship to Him. There’s little doubt that they had moments when they questioned their own sanity. Had they lost their minds? Were they crazy for following this strange Rabbi from Nazareth? Having left everything else behind, had they sacrificed it all just to become part of the lunatic fringe? Time would tell.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Power to Love

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. Mark 3:1-12 ESV

After dropping the bombshell statement, “the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 ESV), Jesus simply walked away. Mark provides no details regarding the response of either the crowd or the religious leaders, but it’s safe to assume that it was a strange mix of awe, confusion, and anger. The people found themselves fascinated with and strangely drawn to Jesus. But the religious leaders were becoming increasingly more concerned with His growing popularity and blatant disregard for their oral laws.

Mark faithfully records the remarks made by Jesus concerning the Sabbath and His relationship to it and then skips to yet another Sabbath encounter. Luke makes it clear that this event took place on a different Sabbath.

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. – Luke 6:6 ESV

Mark provides a subtle reminder that this was not the first time that Jesus had attended the local synagogue in Capernaum.

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. – Mark 3:1 ESV

In chapter one, Mark described Jesus’ first visit and the scene that took place.

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.…And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. – Mark 1:21, 23 ESV

On that occasion, Jesus had created quite a stir by casting out the demon and restoring the man to health and wholeness. The people, who had marveled at the authoritative nature of Jesus’ teaching, had been treated to an even more spectacular display of His power.

Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” – Mark 1:27 NLT

Now, on yet another Sabbath, Jesus encounters a man with a withered hand. Was this just a coincidence? Had the man heard what happened the last time Jesus came to town and decided it was his turn? Or was this man a plant, purposefully placed in the synagogue by the religious leaders? This last option should not be considered far-fetched because Mark indicates that these men “watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him” (Mark 3:2 ESV).

As far as they were concerned, Jesus was already guilty of being a law-breaker. He had cast out a demon, healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and allowed His disciples to “harvest” grain – all on the Sabbath. Now, they were looking for additional evidence to convict Him as a serial violater of their Sabbath laws.

Jesus seems to know that this man was being used. He was nothing more than an innocent victim and an unwitting pawn in the evil schemes of the religious leaders. So, Jesus invited the man forward then addressed His adversaries with an unexpected question.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” – Mark 3:4 ESV

Jesus purposely juxtaposed the legal requirements of the law with the moral obligations that were intended to accompany all of God’s commands. The Mosaic law was never meant to be a sterile list of dos and don’ts. The commandments of God were intended to guide God’s people toward behavior that reflected their love for Him and for one another. On a later occasion, Jesus was asked by some scribes, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28 ESV). And Jesus had Jesus responded, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV).

So, when Jesus asked the religious leaders if laws concerning the Sabbath were intended to produce good deeds or bad ones, they knew the right answer, but refused to speak up. Their silence condemned them. They had no compassion for the man with the withered hand. He was just a means to an evil end. Their hearts were wicked and their intentions were anything but good. They greatly desired to see Jesus heal the man, but not so they could rejoice in his miraculous transformation. They were hoping to use his healing as evidence against Jesus.

And Mark reveals that Jesus was fully aware of their evil intentions and angered and grieved by their actions.

…he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart. – Mark 3:5 ESV

But rather than lecture them about their faulty understanding of the law, Jesus simply turned to the man and said, “Stretch out your hand” (Mark 3:5 ESV). And as soon as the man did, his withered hand was miraculously and immediately restored.

Remember what Jesus asked the religious leaders: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm?” In other words, Jesus was asking if doing something loving and beneficial for another human being could ever be in violation of God’s commands. By healing the man’s withered hand, Jesus was expressing love for His neighbor. And in doing so, He was loving one made in the image of God. For Jesus to have the capacity to do something about the man’s condition and refuse to do so would have been an act of hatred. And the apostle John lets us know why this kind of loathing of another human being is so dangerous.

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:9-11 ESV

And John provides further insight into the danger inherent in our failure to love other.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:20-21 ESV

The religious leaders would have vehemently defended their love for God. And yet, John infers that their lack of love for the man with the withered hand was proof of their hatred for God. They failed to love those things that God loved, including the helpless, hopeless, defenseless, diseased, and disenfranchised. By healing the man’s condition, Jesus was expressing His love for God by loving a child of God.

And just a few verses earlier in his letter, John wrote: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12 ESV). The point John is trying to make is that when we love others, we are actually demonstrating the love of God. We become conduits of that love. The Greek word that is translated as “perfected” is teleioō and it means “to accomplish” or “to carry through.” God’s love for us flows to us and through us to those around us. And He receives glory.

But we get a real glimpse into the darkened hearts of the religious leaders when Mark records that they, “went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 2:6 ESV). Rather than rejoice over the clear display of God’s power as demonstrated in the miraculous restoration of the man’s hand, they stormed from the room and began plotting Jesus’ demise.

But while His adversaries planned and schemed, Jesus continued to express the love of God by ministering selflessly and sacrificiously to the growing number of people who flocked to His side.

…a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. – Mark 3:6-7 ESV

News about Jesus had spread far and wide, and people were coming from all over the land of Palestine to see this miracle worker for themselves. And many of those who had made the arduous journey to see Jesus were suffering from various diseases, disabilities, and even demon-possesion. And Mark indicates that Jesus “healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him” (Mark 2:10 ESV). Jesus was literally mobbed by the masses of people, forcing Him to have a boat ready to aid His escape should the situation grow too intense.

Every time Jesus healed someone, He was manifesting His Heavenly Father’s for them. He was living out John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” And But the greatest demonstration of God’s love was yet to come. And as He would later tell His disciples, the ultimate expression of that love would take the form of His own self-sacrifice.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13 ESV

We have all used the expression, “I love you to death!” But for most of us, it is just a form of hyperbole, exaggerated speech intended to drive home a point. Yet for Jesus, those words would become far than a rhetorical statement. He would actually love the world to death. And rather than offering healing from a physical disability, Jesus would offer His life as an expression of love so that the spiritually sick might have life.

And it should not go without notice that every time Jesus cast out a demon, these other-worldy beings testified to His identity: “You are the Son of God” (Mark 2:11 ESV). They recognized His divine nature and the power and authority He wielded. These demonic beings were subject to His power and incapable of experiencing His love. But they were able to confirm His identity as the Son of God and the future Savior of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Rest for the Weary

23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:23-28 ESV

The disciples of John had come to Jesus, wanting to know why He and His disciples didn’t follow their lead and keep the fast days appointed by the Pharisees. Their question has a certain sense of superiority about it because the brand of Judaism under which they were raised placed a heavy emphasis on religious performance. In a sense, the practice of one’s faith had become competitive rather than contemplative. It had become more about outward appearances than the inner disposition of the heart.

That is why Jesus dedicated a large portion of His sermon on the mount addressing the hypocrisy associated with a performance-based religion.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity!” – Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. – Matthew 6:5 NLT

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.” – Matthew 6:16 NLT

Jesus had come to free the people from this dead-end existence of religious ritualism and rule-keeping. Not long after delivering His sermon on the mount, Jesus had issued what has come to be known as His Great Invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

Jesus was offering rest to those who were worn out by the constant pressure to measure up and keep up with all the rules, regulations, rituals, and rites associated with their religion. It was a non-stop and never-ending treadmill of existence based on effort and earning. But Jesus had come to offer something far better: rest for their souls (Matthew 11:29).

Which brings us to today’s passage. The scene is a wheat field somewhere in Galilee.  Mark describes Jesus and His disciples taking a short-cut through the field and as they did, the disciples were casually plucking off the heads of grain and eating them as a snack. They were not doing anything illegal because the Mosaic Law had made allowances for such behavior.

“When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, but you must not carry any away in a basket. And when you enter your neighbor’s field of grain, you may pluck the heads of grain with your hand, but you must not harvest it with a sickle.” – Deuteronomy 23:24-25 NLT

But as Mark reveals, the problem wasn’t what they were doing, it was when they were doing it. It was the Sabbath. And there were all kinds of rules associated with this particular day of the week. God had originally established the Sabbath as a day of rest and had included its observance as part of the Ten Commandments.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work.” – Exodus 20:8-10 NLT

And God had provided the people of Israel with the rationale behind His setting apart of this one day above all the other days of the week.

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” – Exodus 20:11 NLT

It was to be a day of commemoration, on which the people were to set aside all their normal daily activities so that they might recall what God had done on their behalf. He was the Creator-God, who made the universe and all that it contained, including them. Observing the Sabbath was intended to remind them of their complete dependence upon God. Their human effort was of no real value. Their very existence was totally dependent upon God and by resting on the seventh day, they were placing all their hope in Him. He would meet their needs. And God had illustrated this principle to the people of Israel long before He set apart the seventh day as holy.

When the Israelites had been making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, God had graciously provided them with “bread from heaven.”

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” – Exodus 16:4-5 ESV

This bread from heaven (manna), was to collected daily, but on the sixth day, they were to collect enough to meet their needs for two days. On the seventh day, they were to “rest” from their gathering of manna.  God had provided all that they needed.

The Sabbath was to have been a reminder of God’s provision for all their needs. But over time, the religious leaders of Israel had managed to turn the Sabbath into a rule-laden, performance-driven day where everything was measured by human effort. They had transformed the God-ordained mandate to rest into a form of work. And the religious leaders had created a litany of man-made laws that were used to measure the peoples’ observance of this day of rest. It had become all about their ability to keep all the laws that had been placed on this one particular day.

According to the Mishnah (the oral law of Israel), there were 39 different categories of laws associated with the keeping of the Sabbath. They included laws concerning carrying, burning, cooking, washing, harvesting, and threshing. According to this oral law, a Jew was forbidden to light a candle on the Sabbath but could hire a Gentile to do so. It was also considered Sabbath-breaking to gaze at one’s image in a mirror. So, this day of rest had actually become a day of wearisome and burdensome rule-keeping.

So, when the Pharisees observed Jesus’ disciples plucking wheat, they condemned them for “reaping” on the Sabbath. And they confronted Jesus for allowing His disciples to violate their oral laws.

“Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” – Mark 2:24 NLT

And Jesus, knowing these men prided themselves on their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, used a story contained in the writings of Samuel, to justify the actions of His disciples (1 Samuel 21:1-6). Jesus recounts how David, who was on the run from King Saul, had arrived at the town of Nob and asked the high priest to provide food for him and his soldiers. The only bread available was “the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 21:6 ESV).

According to the Mosaic Law, this bread was reserved for the priests alone. Yet, Jesus points out that when David “was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him…entered the house of God…and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him” (Mark 2:25-26 ESV). In doing so, David was actually violating the law, but in this case, it was acceptable because David was the Lord’s anointed. David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. He was to be the God-ordained replacement for the disobedient and disappointing King Saul.

And Jesus points out a major flaw in their understanding of the Sabbath.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27 ESV

God had set apart the Sabbath as a reminder to the people of Israel that He was their provider. He would care for them. It was to be the day on which they rested from all their vain efforts at self-provision and relied completely on the One who made the universe and all it contains. God had allowed the feeding of David and his men because David was the Lord’s anointed. The physical needs of David had taken precedence over the laws concerning the holy bread.

And Jesus points out to the Pharisees that he, as the Son of Man, was “lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 ESV). As God’s anointed, Jesus had the full authority to allow the behavior of His disciples. He was placing their well-being above the oral law of the Pharisees. God had made the Sabbath and, as the Son of God, Jesus had every right to do what He deemed to be holy and acceptable on the Sabbath. 

Jesus had come to bring rest to the weary and to remove the burden of performance and religious rule-keeping. For the average Jew, the Sabbath had become a burdensome and tiring 24 hours marked by constant vigilance and fear of violating the rules. There was no rest. But Jesus had come to change all that.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Feasting, Not Fasting

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:18-22 ESV

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each recorded the following scene as having taken place immediately after Jesus shared a meal with “many tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:15 ESV). The timing is important because it establishes the context for what happened next. Jesus’ decision to accept an invitation to dine at the house of Levi (Matthew) had left the Jewish religious leaders disgusted. Their view of Him had reached an all-time low because He had chosen to consort with known sinners. In addition to being a blasphemer and trouble-maker, this radical Rabbi from Nazareth was a poor judge of character.

So, immediately after His dinner at Levi’s house, Jesus was confronted with a question regarding His behavior. But it came from an unexpected source. While Mark simply indicates that some “people” posed this question to Jesus, Matthew reveals that it was actually some disciples of John the Baptist.

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” – Matthew 9:14 ESV

These men were confused by the behavior of Jesus and His disciples. It could be that they were just as alarmed at Jesus’ choice of dining companions, but rather than bring up what Jesus had just done, they chose to question what He and His disciples failed to do: Fast.

As good Jews, the disciples of John would have faithfully kept the various written and oral traditions of their people, and that would have included requirements regarding fasting. But according to the Mosaic Law, there was only one day set apart by God for fasting, and that was the Day of Atonement.

It will be a Sabbath day of complete rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. This is a permanent law for you. – Leviticus 16:31 NLT

But over time, the Jews had prescribed additional fast days. By the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the Pharisees had instituted a twice-weekly fast, and it was this fasting to which the disciples of John referred. These additional fast days were intended to be an outward demonstration of one’s dedication to God. They were visible acts of righteousness that let others know you took your religious commitments seriously. But it was just such outward displays that Jesus had warned about in His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1 NLT

And Jesus had purposefully focused His attention on fasting and pointed out how this practice of self-denial had become a means for self-promotion.

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18 NLT

Yet, here were the disciples of John asking why Jesus and His disciples failed to honor the twice-weekly fast – as they did. By admitting that they were fasting, these men violated the warning Jesus had issued: “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious.” But for them, fasting had become a sign of righteousness. It was a mark of one’s spiritual commitment.

But they failed to realize that Jesus had come to bring something new. Their attempts at self-righteousness were totally inadequate. Their outward displays of self-denial were doing nothing to elevate their standing in God’s eyes. It brings to mind the stinging rebuke that God issued against the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah.

Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood. – Isaiah 1:13-15 ESV

And the apostle Paul brings up the same subject in his letter to the believers in Corinth,

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. – Colossians 2:16-17 NLT

Paul provides a much-needed insight into what is going on in Mark 2:18-22. With the coming of Jesus, all of the rules associated with Judaism were changing. The temple, the Sabbath, the feasts, and the festivals were all intended to point toward the coming of the Messiah. They were, as Paul put it, “shadows of the reality yet to come.” And as Paul makes clear, “Christ himself is that reality.”

The author of Hebrews reinforces Paul’s understanding about the purpose behind the former system of rules and regulations associated with the law.

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. – Hebrews 10:1 NLT

Jesus’ arrival had ushered in a new era. The old was giving way to the new. Jesus had come to do what the law was never intended to do: Restore sinful men and women to a right relationship with God.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

And Jesus drives home the point that His presence with them ruled out the need for fasting and rule-keeping. All their self-empowered efforts to earn favor with God were no longer necessary. Just as a sick person cannot make themselves well, sinners cannot make themselves spiritually whole and acceptable to a holy God. They must simply admit that they are sick and in need of a physician.

So, Jesus attempts to inform the disciples of John that their fasting was in vain. Rather than deny themselves food, they needed to recognize the presence of the Messiah and feast alongside Him. Just as the tax collectors and sinners had dined with Jesus in Levi’s house, Jesus was inviting the disciples of John to celebrate alongside Him. And He used the metaphor of a wedding feast to illustrate His point.

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. – Mark 2:19 ESV

The scene of wedding guests fasting and mourning while attending the festivities was meant to be ludicrous. Fasting would have been the farthest thing from their minds. And Jesus wanted these men to know that His presence among them was intended to be cause for celebration. Their long-awaited Messiah had finally come, and He was bringing “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). And as the angels told the shepherds in the field on the night of Jesus’ birth: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 ESV).

The Messiah (the bridegroom) had come and that was cause for celebration. But Jesus indicates that a time of mourning would come soon enough because He would one day leave them.

“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” – Mark 2:20 ESV

With this somewhat cryptic statement, Jesus made reference to His coming death. While this foreshadowing of His coming death would have escaped those in His audience, it was meant to reinforce His call to celebrate His presence. He had come and it should have been a time of joy and feasting. But the Jews were busy grumbling, doubting, and disbelieving.

Then Jesus reinforces the radically new nature of the days in which they lived. He was disrupting the status quo. He was turning everything on its head and introducing a whole new means for sinful mankind to be restored to God. And His arrival was not intended to be an add-on to the old way of going things. It wasn’t going to be the law + Jesus. Don’t miss what He said in His sermon on the mount.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. – Matthew 5:17-18 NLT

He had come to fulfill all that the law required. And in doing so, He was eliminating the any requirement that men keep the law in an effort to assuage the anger of a just and righteous God. Jesus was going to satisfy God with the sacrifice of His own life.

To drive home His point, Jesus used the analogy of using a new piece of unshrunk cloth to sew a patch onto an old garment. They would be incompatible and prove to be unsuccessful in solving the problem being addressed. And it would make no sense to store new wine in an old wineskin because the fermentation of the new wine would cause the old wineskin to burst.

Jesus had come to do a new thing. And while the way He lived His life seemed to be inconsistent and incompatible with what the Jews had come to know, He was introducing “new cloth” and “new wine” – a new way that was meant to bring new hope to a lost and dying world. And the apostle Paul would have us rejoice in the fact that old has been replaced with the new – all because of Jesus.

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Danger of Self-Righteousness

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:13-17 ESV

Jesus has just displayed His power and authority over the physical realm by healing the paralyzed man. But, more importantly, His astonishing ability to restore the man’s health was a demonstration of His God-given authority to forgive sin. As the Son of God, Jesus had come to earth in order to set men free from their slavery to sin and their condemnation of death. The formerly paralyzed man, while physically whole and forgiven, would still end up committing sins and face the ultimate penalty for doing so: physical death and eternal separation from God.

But Jesus had become a man so that He might serve as the substitutionary atonement, the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind. His death on behalf of sinful humanity would satisfy the just and righteous wrath of God, and provide all those who placed their faith in His atoning work with a way to be restored to a right relationship with His Father. And, as a result of Jesus’ selfless sacrifice, they would enjoy forgiveness of all their sins – past, present, and future. The author of Hebrews describes it this way:

…he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. – Hebrews 9:26 ESV

And the psalmist provides us with a powerful reminder of the sin-forgiving power of the Son of God.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
 – Psalm 103:12 BSB

Mark transitions his narrative from the crowded confines of Simon and Andrew’s home to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. But will maintain his emphasis on Jesus’ power and authority to forgive sin, and continue to reveal the growing divide between Jesus and the religious authorities.

While walking along the seashore, Jesus continued to teach the crowds that continued to follow Him wherever He went. And as they made their way along the roadway that ran from Capernaum to Damascus and along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, they came across the tax booth of a man named Levi. This was not some chance encounter but a divinely-scheduled appointment. When Levi woke up that morning, he had no idea that his day would include a one-on-one meeting with the Messiah of Israel.

Luke describes Levi as a “tax collector” (Luke5:27). His chosen profession would have made Levi highly unpopular with his fellow Jews. He was an employee of Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed puppet king of Israel. And his job was to collect all taxes having to do with trade and customs. Because Capernaum was located on a major trade route from Damascus, Levi would have been responsible for collecting export and import fees, sales and customs taxes, as well as tolls. But what made men like Levi particularly unpopular was their tendency to extort additional fees and surcharges from the fellow Jews. Tax collectors were seen as social pariahs who worked for the enemy and took advantage of their own people to line their pockets.

So, when Jesus issued Levi an invitation to follow Him, the Jews would have been shocked and appalled. In their minds, Levi was a traitor to his people and the epitome of a godless sinner. And to make matters even worse, Mark reveals that Jesus decided to share a meal with this social outcast. Luke records that Levi threw a party in Jesus’ honor and invited a large number of guests.

Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. – Luke 5:29 ESV

And Mark provides the added detail that “many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Mark 2:15 ESV). It seems that Levi was forced to invite his friends, who like him, were considered to be the dregs of the community.

Yet, Jesus accepted Levi’s invitation to dine at his house and willingly chose to associate with those whom the Jews considered as unclean and unacceptable. And Jesus’ actions did not go unnoticed.

But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” – Mark 2:16 NLT

They were shocked and disgusted by this shameless display of poor judgment on Jesus’ part. He should have known better. By entering Levi’s home and sharing a meal with this motley collection of sinners, Jesus had made He and His disciples ceremonially unclean. They had contaminated themselves.

There is a clear us-versus-them vibe going on. The Pharisees viewed themselves as righteous because of their meticulous adherence to both the written and oral laws of the Jews. They were the law-keepers and the law-enforcers. And, as far as they were concerned, Jesus had chosen to associate with the scum of the earth. By entering Levi’s home, Jesus had done the unthinkable and unforgivable.

The Pharisees had no compassion for people like Levi. They had no desire to reach out to those whom they considered sinners. They bore no sense of responsibility for the spiritual well-being less fortunate, whom they considered to be unworthy of mercy. In the minds of the Pharisees, it was the sin-prone common people who held back the nation of Israel and kept it from enjoying the full favor of God. To the self-righteous Pharisees, it was the sorry likes of Levi and his friends that kept Israel from being all that it could be. They were a blight on the nation and now, Jesus had clearly revealed His love for the unloveable and His heart for the irredeemable.

But Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He was fully aware of the disgust and distaste His actions had caused, and He chose to address the issue head-on.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17 ESV

With this simple statement, Jesus exposed the glaring difference between Himself and His accusers. They considered themselves to be spiritually healthy and whole. They were well and had no need of a Savior. But what they failed to understand was that their good deeds were of no value to God. As the prophet Isaiah had written hundreds of years earlier: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

Jesus was not impressed by the Pharisees and their outward displays of righteousness. He would later call them out for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion.

“…they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:3-4 NLT

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. – Matthew 23:13 NLT

These men considered themselves to be the cream of the crop, the religious elite of Israel whose unblemished behavior guaranteed them a place in God’s kingdom. But Jesus let them know that their self-confidence was misplaced and mistaken. He had come to minister to the sick – those who recognized their spiritual malady and sought help. Like the paralyzed man, the tax collectors and sinners gathered in Levi’s home were in need of assistance. They knew they were sinners and were fully aware that they lacked what was necessary to “heal” themselves.

It was the apostle John who wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). The sinners reclining around the table with Jesus were just the kind of people Jesus came to save. They were sinners in need of a Savior. And if they would only confess their sin, they would know the joy of having their sins forgiven and their spiritual sickness healed.

But the Pharisees, riddled with pride and a misplaced sense of self-righteousness, were unable to see their need and unwilling to confess their sins. But their self-confidence would ultimately result in their own self-destruction. Their stubborn insistence that they were well would be their downfall. And the apostle Paul describes the dangerous path they had decided to take and the deadly destination to which it would lead.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. – Romans 1:21-22 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Which is Easier?

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12 ESV

Mark has noted that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39 ESV). One of the miracles He performed on that ministry junket was the healing of the man with leprosy. Jesus had physically touched the unclean man, removing all traces of the disease and leaving him completely whole and ceremonially pure. And while he had been warned by Jesus to tell no one, the man couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Eager to spread the news about his restored condition, “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” (Mark 1:45 ESV).

Eventually, Jesus returned to Capernaum, the small town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He had established His base of operations. But as news of His miracles continued to spread throughout the region, the crowds grew in number and intensity. They had heard the rumors describing how Jesus had “healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 ESV). 

These fantastic reports created a sense of hope and longing among others suffering from sickness and affliction. Their desperate desire for healing and restoration drove them to seek out this miracle-working Rabbi from Nazareth. And Mark indicates that they showed up in Capernaum, surrounding the place where Jesus was staying. This was most likely the home of Simon and Andrew, where Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law.

The emboldened crowd pushed its way into the home, filling it to capacity and spilling out into the street. And Jesus took advantage of this captive audience by “preaching the word to them” (Mark 2:2 ESV). The Greek word is logos and it can literally be translated as “word.” But it refers to the communication of a particular concept or idea. Earlier in his gospel, Mark indicated that Jesus had picked up the ministry that John the Baptist had begun by “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’” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV).

So, those who had crowded their way into the home of Simon and Andrew were forced to hear a sermon from Jesus. They had come seeking healing but were given a lesson on their need for repentance. The good news was that the kingdom of God was near. The bad news was that they were not prepared to enter that kingdom. They had sins for which they needed to repent. That had been the whole purpose behind John the Baptist’s ministry in the Judean wilderness.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:4-5 ESV

And it seems likely that “the word” that Jesus spoke that day contained ample references to the need for confession of sin. But confession without forgiveness is incomplete. As John wrote in his first letter, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Confession and repentance, while necessary, will not provide anyone with entrance God’s kingdom. Without forgiveness, the stain of their sins will remain, leaving them unworthy to enter into God’s presence. The whole sacrificial system of the Jews was based on the fact that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Sacrifices had to be made. An innocent life had to be taken. Blood had to be spilled.

So, as Jesus preached to the people, He likely declared their need for forgiveness. They had come seeking physical healing but He made sure that they understood their need for something far more significant. And in the sovereign will of God, an opportunity presented itself to demonstrate just what Jesus was trying to communicate.

As Jesus was preaching, four men showed up carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet. When they found it impossible to get through the mass of people crowded into the small home, they made their way to the roof. In an act of desperation, they created a hole in the roof and lowered the pallet into the room where Jesus was speaking. The noise they made and the debris that rained down as a result of their frantic efforts must have brought Jesus’ sermon to an abrupt end. All eyes were fixed on the ceiling as the bed containing the paralyzed man was lowered into the room.

What happens next is significant. Mark states that upon “seeing” the faith of the friends who had lowered the man into the room, Jesus spoke. But before we look at what Jesus said, it’s essential that we examine how He “saw” their faith. Like everyone else in the room that day, these men had come with a specific purpose in mind. They had gone through all the effort to carry their friend to the home, dig a hole in the roof, and lower him into the room because they believed that Jesus could heal him. Their faith was clearly evident. They longed to see their friend made whole and they believed that Jesus had the power and authority to make it happen.

They believed that Jesus could heal. But what they did not know was that Jesus could also forgive sin. And, upon seeing their faith, Jesus spoke. He turned to the man laying on the pallet and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:6 ESV). Rather than offering the man physical healing, Jesus declared him to be spiritually whole. Jesus gave him something no one in the room had ever expected to receive that day.  And this statement left the crowd in stunned silence. They didn’t know what to say.

But Mark lets us know that there were some scribes in the room who heard what Jesus said and immediately declared Him to be a blasphemer.

“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Mark 2:7 ESV

They had come expecting to see Jesus perform some miracles. They were curious as to whether the rumors about Jesus were true. But when Jesus offered the paralyzed man forgiveness for his sins, they were shocked and appalled. In the minds of the Jews, sickness was directly correlated to sin. Sickness and disease were considered punishments from God for sins committed against Him. And the worse the disease was, the more egregious the sin that caused it must have been. They considered this man’s debilitating paralysis a punishment from God and here was Jesus declaring that his sins were forgiven. And yet, they must have keenly observed, the man remained completely immobilized and unable to move from his pallet.

Jesus, well aware of the debate that His words had stirred up, posed a question to the scribes:

“Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” – Mark 2:8-9 ESV

In their minds, Jesus had committed the unpardonable sin. He had dared to place Himself on equal standing with God, who alone could offer forgiveness for sins. But Jesus pointed out that offering forgiveness of sins was easy. Anyone could do it. The question was, did He have the power and authority to do so. If given the chance, they would have responded with a categorically emphatic, “No!”

But to prove that He had the power and authority to forgive the man’s sins, Jesus proceeded to do what was obviously the more “difficult” thing. And He makes sure they understand the motive behind the miracle He is about to perform.

“So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” – Mark 2:10 NLT

Then He proceeded to do something that was going to leave everyone in the room slack-jawed and surprised.

Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” – Mark 2:10-11 NLT

Again, speaking those words was easy. Anyone could have done it. But when Jesus spoke amazing things happened, and this time would be no different than all the others. As soon as the words left Jesus’ mouth, “the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers” (Mark 2:12 NLT). In a split second, the man’s paralysis was completely gone. He had been miraculously restored to full health and vitality. And, if this man’s sickness had been the result of sin, then his sins must have been forgiven. It would have been obvious that he was no longer under any form of divine punishment or condemnation.

By doing what He did, Jesus was not confirming the scribes’ belief that the man’s illness was a result of sin. He was demonstrating that He had the God-given power and authority to restore both physical and spiritual health. He could irradicate the effects of sickness and eliminate the condemnation of sin.

The formerly paralyzed man was not made sinless by Jesus’ actions. He was made physically whole. The sad reality is that, in his newly restored state, that man went on to live a life marked by sin. It was inevitable and unavoidable. But by healing the man, Jesus was demonstrating His divine power. If He could restore a paralyzed man’s capacity to walk, He could also restore the spiritual health of a humanity paralyzed by sin. And that is exactly why Jesus had come to earth.

The people “were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2:12 ESV). But which was easier, “to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?” (Mark 2:9 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Sinner Condemned and Unclean

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 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.  Mark 1:35-45 ESV

Mark has clearly established that Jesus exuded a certain power and authority that revealed itself in His words and actions. When spoke in the synagogue in Capernaum, the people took notice, but when He cast out the demon, they were blown away. Jesus simply spoke a word of command and the demon was forced to leave the man he had been tormenting. The same thing happened when Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. With nothing more than a spoken word, Jesus exorcised her debilitating fever and restored her to health.

But in today’s verses, Mark provides a glimpse into the source behind Jesus’ power and authority. After a very full day of activities, Jesus rose very early the next morning, well before dawn. It is likely that His disciples were still fast asleep when Jesus rose and “went out to an isolated place to pray” (Mark 1:35 NLT).

Mark provides no details concerning Jesus’ destination or the content of His prayer.  But this early-morning excursion by Jesus reveals His intimate relationship with His Heavenly Father and His desire for fellowship and instruction. We know from the four gospels that Jesus made a habit of getting alone with His Father. He regularly sought the companionship of the Father and, in doing so, revealed His humble dependence upon His Father’s will. Jesus repeatedly expressed His complete reliance upon God.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 NLT

“I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.”  – John 5:30 NLT

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” – John 12:49-50 NLT

Jesus, the Son of God, regularly sought time alone with God, but not just for fellowship. He also sought to know the Father’s will. Isaiah provided a Spirit-inspired, prophetic glimpse into this unique relationship between the Father and His Son.

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom,
    so that I know how to comfort the weary.
Morning by morning he wakens me
    and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
    and I have listened. – Isaiah 50:4-5 NLT

Mark gives no indication as to how long Jesus was gone but by the time His disciples woke up, they began to wonder where He was. They immediately began a search for Him, and when they found Him they inquired as to where He had been. This scene is reminiscent of one recorded in the gospel of Luke. It took place in Jerusalem when Jesus was only 12-years-old. He had made a trip to the capital city with the rest of His family for the annual Feast of Passover. But when the feast was over and His family had begun their return trip home, they discovered Jesus was missing. So, they returned to Jerusalem, and three days later they finally found Jesus at the temple, “sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions” (Luke 2:46 NLT).

When Mary and Joseph expressed their frustration and concern to Jesus, He responded, “But why did you need to search?…Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 NLT). This was actually a Hebrew idiom that could best be translated, “Didn’t you know that I must be in the [things] of my Father?” Even at 12-years-of-age, Jesus was seeking those things that concerned His Father. And more than 17 years later, Jesus was still seeking to be “in the things of” His Father.

Upon finding Jesus, the disciples informed Him, ““Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37 ESV). Jesus was in great demand. But while the disciples and the crowds were desperately seeking Jesus, He had been spending some much-needed time alone with God.

This time, Jesus didn’t explain His actions, but simply replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came” (Mark 1:38 NLT). Notice that Jesus puts the emphasis on preaching. This ties directly back to what Mark wrote in verses 14-15.

Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” – Mark 1:14-15 NLT

It was for this reason that Jesus had been sent to earth by His Father. He would spend just over three years declaring the Good News of God’s Kingdom and then offer His own life as the atoning sacrifice that would make it possible for sinful men and women to enter into that Kingdom.

It’s interesting to note how Mark describes what happened next: “So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39 NLT). He describes Jesus as preaching the Good News but also casting out demons. Jesus was declaring the coming of God’s Kingdom while, at the same time, singlehandedly and systematically dismantling the kingdom of Satan. In a sense, Jesus was telegraphing the future impact and import of His coming death. With His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus would destroy Satan’s monopoly over the lives of men. The apostle Paul put it this way:

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT

While Mark indicates that Jesus traveled throughout Galilee preaching in synagogues and casting our demons, the first miracle he describes Jesus performing involves a leper, not a demon. This man, who was obviously a Jew, suffered from a horrible disease that left him in pain and agony but also ostracized him from his faith community. Lepers were considered ceremonially unclean and the very visible symptoms of the disease would have made him an object of scorn and derision.

But this man made his way to Jesus, expressing his desperate need for help and his firm belief that Jesus could heal him.

“If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” – Mark 1:40 NLT

Mark provides no explanation for this man’s remarkable expression of faith. It is most likely that news of Jesus’ healing power had spread to his community and this man saw in Jesus a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be freed from his disfiguring and, ultimately, deadly disease.

And with great specificity, Mark describes what happened next:

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” – Mark 1:41 NLT

Jesus probably saw in this man a tangible illustration of every Israelite’s predicament. In a real sense, they were all unclean and condemned to a life of permanent separation. But, unlike this man, their separation was spiritual and left them alienated from God. They carried about them the scars and mars of their sins, which made them unacceptable and unclean to a holy and righteous God. And like the leper, there was nothing they could do to help themselves. But Jesus had compassion. He cared.

And this time, rather than just speak, Jesus reached out and touched. In spite of the man’s condition, Jesus willingly and deliberately touched the man. According to the law, this action would have rendered Jesus ceremonially unclean. But He was willing to take that risk. In a sense, Jesus took on the man’s leprosy and left the man with wholeness. Once again, this foreshadows what Jesus would accomplish with His death on the cross.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows… – Isaiah 53:4 BSB

And Mark reveals that the man’s condition was changed instantaneously.

Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. – Mark 1:42 NLT

And Jesus commanded the man to tell no one but to go straight to the temple where he was to seek confirmation of his healing from the priest. Then he was to present a thanks offering. According to the Mosaic law, it was required that a leper be examined and declared free of the disease before he or she could be restored to fellowship within the community. Jesus also warned the man to refrain from telling anyone about what had happened. This may come across as a rather strange and unnecessary command but when the man violated it, it is easy to see why Jesus gave it in the first place. Of course, no one can blame the man for his enthusiasm and excitement. He wanted everyone to know that he had been healed and was absolutely clean for the first time in a long time.

But as the news of his healing spread, the crowds grew, forcing Jesus to take His ministry outside the crowded confines of the cities. But His relocation did little to stop the steady flow of people seeking healing, help, and hope.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Authority & Power

21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 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.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

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

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. Mark 1:21-34 ESV

In his gospel account, Luke reports that “Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone” (Luke 4:14-15 ESV). And Mark provides a glimpse into one such occasion.

After calling Andrew, Simon, James, and John to be His disciples, Jesus and His new recruits made their way to the town of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. On the Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the local synagogue. The synagogue was the building in each community where the Jews gathered for worship, prayer, and instruction. The Hebrew word is beit k’nesset (literally, House of Assembly). The Jews typically referred to this building as a synagogue, which is the Greek translation of  beit k’nesset.

The synagogue came into existence during Israel’s Babylonian captivity. After the Babylonians defeated Judah in 597 B.C., they took tens of thousands of Israelites captive and transported them to Babylon. With no access to the temple, the Jews were forced to come up with an alternative place of worship. Even after the Jews returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, they continued to build synagogues in their local communities.

The synagogue was a place of prayer and instruction. And when the Jews gathered on the Sabbath, they would read from the Torah, the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). After the reading of the sacred Scriptures, there would be a time of teaching or instruction.

Mark indicates that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Because Jesus was recognized as a Rabbi, it would have been quite normal for the leadership of the synagogue to extend Him this honor. But while Mark makes much of the peoples’ reaction to what Jesus’ taught, he provides no details concerning its content. He simply states, “they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22 ESV). The Greek word Mark used conveys the idea that they were “blown away” by the force of Jesus’ words. It seems that they were astonished or amazed, not so much by what Jesus said than by how He said it. He taught with authority (exousia). The people in the synagogue that day had never heard anything like it. In a sense, they felt like Jesus spoke as if He knew what He was talking about.

Mark purposefully contrasts the instruction of Jesus with that of the scribes. These men were considered the experts in the Law of Moses. Their job was to study the Law, transcribe it, and provide written commentaries about it. But Mark infers that these well-educated men lacked the authority and power that Jesus possessed. This will be the first of many contrasts that Mark establishes between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel.

And, as if to illustrate that Jesus didn’t just have a way with words, Mark describes an encounter between Jesus and a man with an “unclean spirit.” Mark indicates that as soon as Jesus had finished speaking, this demon-possessed man interrupted the service, crying out, “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” (Mark 1:24 ESV).

Evidently, this man had been in the room the entire time. But it was Jesus’ authoritative teaching that caused the demon(s) within the man to react in fear and anger. They had literally been struck by the power of Jesus’ words. The demon’s use of the plural pronoun, “us” may indicate that the man had more than one demon or that there were other demons present in the synagogue that day. Whatever the case, the demon had immediately recognized the identity of Jesus, referring to Him as “the Holy One of God.” This demonic being clearly knew who Jesus was and why He had come. He even asked Jesus if He planned to destroy him and his fellow demons right then and there.

With his description of this encounter, Mark establishes yet another point of conflict that will characterize Jesus’ earthly ministry. Not only will Jesus find Himself at odds with the Jewish religious leaders, but He will also be engaged in a battle with what Paul describes as “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

But these spiritual forces were not relegated to the invisible world. They had infiltrated the realm of men and were wreaking havoc among God’s chosen people. This will not be the last of Jesus’ encounters with demons. But these other-worldly invaders were going to prove no match for the Holy One of God.

Jesus refused to answer or even acknowledge the demon’s question, choosing instead to shut the demon up by casting him out. The Greek word translated as “rebuke” can actually mean “to censure or silence.” Rather than verbally castigate the demon, Jesus simply removed his ability to speak by forcing him to vacate the man’s body.

“Be silent, and come out of him!” – Mark 1:25 ESV

With no host to occupy, the demon found itself with no means of communication.

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. – Mark 1;26 ESV

This strange and disturbing scene left those who had witnessed it even more amazed and astonished than ever. But notice that they connected what they had seen to the teaching of Jesus.

“What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” – Mark 1:27 NLT

Jesus’ words carried real power. It could not be said of Jesus that He was “all talk, no action.” Unlike the scribes, who could probably describe what the Scriptures had to say about demons, Jesus could control them. He had power over them. His words had authority. And this distinction did not go unnoticed. Mark indicates that “at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mark 1:28 ESV). And that means that it wasn’t long before news of what Jesus had done made its way to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. As Jesus’ fame spread, so did His infamy. And before long, Jesus would find Himself doing battle on multiple fronts.

But Jesus was not done demonstrating His power. After His exorcism of the demon in the synagogue, Jesus made His way to the home of Andrew and Simon. Mark indicates that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill. It is likely that Simon (Peter) told this story to Mark and that is why it is included in his gospel account. When Jesus was informed of her illness, He simply took her by the hand and she was immediately healed. Without a word being said, she went from suffering to serving. This point should not be overlooked. In the scene that took place in the synagogue, the emphasis was on Jesus’ words. He spoke as one having authority. But on this occasion, Jesus said nothing. He took the woman by the hand and she was immediately healed. It was another case of Jesus demonstrating His power and authority, but this time without words.

This latest episode only increased Jesus’ notoriety and further inflamed the curiosity of the people. Mark reveals that by the end of the day, the crowds had gathered outside the home of Simon and Andrew. News had spread and it wasn’t long before “all who were sick or oppressed by demons” made their way to Jesus. And Mark indicates that “the whole city was gathered together at the door” (Mark 1:33 ESV).

And what did Jesus do? He “healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 ESV). He demonstrated His power and authority – over disease and demons. In a sense, Jesus gave proof of what the demon had said. He really was the Holy One of God and the source of His authority and power was divine, not human. He was able to do what He did because of who He was. But the people, while impressed by what they saw, were not yet convinced of His divinity.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson