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The Gospel of Action
By Ralph Earle
Moody PressCopyright © 1970 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
THE PERIOD OF PREPARATION 1:1-13
1. The Title (1:1). This first verse may be taken as a heading for the entire book or as referring only to the ministry of John the Baptist. Many of the early church Fathers preferred the latter. Modern commentators are divided in their opinions about this.
The word gospel (euangelion) means "good news." So we might translate the title: "The beginning of the glad tidings about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The good news of salvation begins with the historical fact of Christ's life, death and resurrection. Christianity is not some nebulous philosophy; it is firmly rooted in history. It is more than an ethical system; it is a way of salvation. Someone has well said that the gospel is "not good advice but good news." It is the glad tidings that what we could not do for ourselves Christ has done for us on the cross.
2. The Ministry of John the Baptist (1:2-8). All the gospels present the events connected with Jesus' life and ministry as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. So here Mark quotes Malachi 3:1 (v. 2) and Isaiah 40:3 (v. 3) as predicting the work of the forerunner of the Messiah. John was to prepare the way for Jesus. Recent versions have "Isaiah the prophet" instead of "the prophets" in verse 2 (see ASV) in accordance with the oldest Greek manuscripts. The main emphasis was on the quotation from Isaiah, as a comparison with Matthew and Luke will show. His prophecy was the best loved and most widely read by devout Jews in Jesus' time, as the large number of Isaiah manuscripts in the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran would seem to indicate.
John told the people to repent, in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Those who repented he baptized in the Jordan River, as they were "confessing their sins" (v. 5). Repentance (v. 4) means literally a change of mind, that is, a changed attitude toward God, sin, and oneself. The Baptist declared that while he baptized with water, the coming one would baptize with the Holy Ghost (v. 8). Water baptism, practiced by Judaism and other religions, is important. But the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which only Christ can give, is all-important.
John the Baptist was a rugged prophet from the wilderness. He was clothed in the rough sackcloth made of camel's hair. He ate locusts (similar to grasshoppers) and wild bees' honey (v. 6). He was a fearless preacher like Elijah of old.
3. The Baptism of Jesus (1:9-11). Large crowds were coming to hear John preach and to be baptized by him (v. 5). But one day a unique figure appeared on the banks of the Jordan. It was John's relative, Jesus. He had come from His hometown of Nazareth, which was situated to the northwest in central Galilee. He did not need to repent, for He had never sinned. But as the representative man who was to die for our sins He had to identify Himself with mankind and submit to the repentance-baptism (cf. Mt 3:13-15).
As Jesus came up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened. Mark alone uses here the strong word schizo (cf. schism), which means "split apart." This is an example of the vivid language of Peter.
It is at the baptism of Jesus that we have the first clear revelation of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit descended as a dove on Jesus, and the voice of the Father proclaimed: "Thou art my beloved Son." Here the three Persons are clearly distinguished. The deity of Jesus is a basic, vital part of the gospel. Without a divine Redeemer there is no salvation from sin. Christianity is the only religion which claims an eternally divine Founder (cf. 1:1). When we surrender the deity of Jesus, we relegate Christianity to a lower place as simply one of the many religions of the world.
4. The Temptation of Jesus (1:12-13). Again we note the word immediately (cf. Introduction). All three synoptic gospels place the temptation of Jesus right after His baptism.
Once more we find Mark using a stronger word than Matthew and Luke. He says that the Spirit driveth Jesus into the wilderness. There on the rocky, barren hillsides of the Wilderness of Judea, Christ was tempted for forty days by Satan. Matthew and Luke each record three distinct temptations of Jesus. Mark gives only a brief summary statement of this crucial experience in Christ's life.
It was necessary that Jesus' public baptism should be followed by a private period of testing. He must be tempted in all points as we are, that He might be our merciful and faithful High Priest (Heb 2:17-18; 4:14-16).CHAPTER 2
THE GALILEAN MINISTRY 1:14–9:50
1. The Beginning of Jesus' Ministry (1:14-15). The arrest and imprisonment of John the Baptist marked the commencement of Jesus' great Galilean ministry. He did not wish to run in competition with His forerunner. But when John's voice was silenced, a greater Preacher appeared. He was "preaching [lit., proclaiming or heralding] the gospel of the kingdom of God." This kingdom had now come in the person of the Messiah. The command was "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." To the Baptist's preaching of repentance there was added the new note of believing the gospel, the good news of salvation.
2. The Call of the Four Fishermen (1:16-20). John 1:35-42 shows that these four men formerly had been disciples of John the Baptist. But when he pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, they followed Him to His abode. This poses no conflict with the synoptic account. In the latter we have the call of these four fishermen to full-time service. They were asked to leave their business on the lake and follow Jesus as fishers of men (v. 17). They "straightway forsook their nets, and followed him" (v. 18). Their obedience was immediate and complete. It should be noted that forsaking must always precede following. We cannot follow Jesus until we are willing to forsake our own plans and wishes.
As usual, Mark adds a little item of interest. He says that James and John left their father Zebedee "in the ship with the hired servants" (v. 20). The aging father was not left bereft and helpless by the departure of his sons. The hired servants would enable him to carry on the prosperous business of the family.
Christ calls busy men. The ministry is no place for idlers and quitters. The New Testament portrays these four apostles as active workers before the Master called them to His service.
3. The Cure of a Demoniac at Capernaum (1:21-28). Jesus chose Capernaum as the headquarters of His great Galilean ministry. This commercial city was on the main road of caravan traffic between Egypt and Damascus. While the obscure mountain village of Nazareth was a better place for Christ to live in as a child, His public ministry needed the wider perspective of a busy city.
On the Sabbath day Jesus entered the synagogue and began to teach (v. 21). The people were astonished at His doctrine (better, "teaching"). The scribes were in the habit of quoting the opinions of various rabbis, but Jesus spoke with direct divine authority (v. 22).
In the synagogue that Saturday morning was a man with an unclean spirit (v. 23)—Mark's favorite designation for a demon. The spirit recognized who and what Jesus was. He suddenly cried out, identifying Him as "the Holy One of God" (v. 24), that is, the Messiah. Christ rebuked the unclean spirit and commanded him to "hold thy peace [lit., "Be muzzled!"] and come out of him" (v. 25).
Why did Jesus refuse the testimony of this demon to His deity? Probably He objected to the source. Also it was not yet time for Him to be proclaimed publicly as Messiah. Such an announcement might precipitate a political revolt against Rome.
Cruelly the unclean spirit convulsed its victim and screamed out in anger and frustration. But it had to obey the divine command and so came out (v. 26). The amazed onlookers exclaimed, literally, "What is this? A new teaching!" (v. 27). The report of this incident quickly spread throughout Galilee (v. 28). This is the first miracle of Jesus recorded by Mark and Luke. Matthew omits it.
4. The Healing of Peter's Mother-in-Law (1:29-31). After the synagogue service Jesus and His disciples went home for dinner at Peter's house. (This was the big meal of the day, as the Jews did not ordinarily eat before going to worship.) They found Peter's mother-in-law in bed with a sudden raging fever (v. 30). But the guest of honor became the physician of the hour. The woman was healed instantly and served the dinner. One can imagine the joy with which she waited on Jesus. The whole incident shows the Master's love for people and for the home.
5. A Sunset Healing Service (1:32-34). The Jewish Sabbath lasted from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. During this time no one could carry any burden. So, as soon as the sun went down Saturday evening, the people began bringing those who were sick or demon-possessed to the door of Peter's home. The exciting news of what had happened that morning in the synagogue had spread throughout the city. Doubtless some had also heard how Jesus had healed Peter's mother-in-law. Anxious friends and relatives could hardly wait for the sun to set so that they might bring the needy ones to this miracle-worker in their midst. It seemed to Peter that "all the city" was gathered in front of his house (v. 33).
Jesus healed many who were afflicted with "divers [various] diseases and cast out many devils" (v. 34). The word devils should be demons. The Greek is careful to distinguish between diabolos (devil) and daimonion (demon). The former is always singular in the New Testament when applied to Satan, for there is only one devil. The latter is usually plural, as here, for there are many demons (evil spirits). It is incorrect to speak of "devils," though many British scholars still do it.
Again we are told that the demons knew him but that He did not permit them to testify to His identity. This was His settled policy.
6. A Sunrise Prayer Time (1:35-39). The Greek text has three adverbs (very, early, by night) to emphasize how early it was when Jesus rose and went out of the city to a solitary place to pray. He had just had an extremely busy day in Capernaum. Now he needed spiritual renewal, more than a long sleep, as well as fresh guidance from His Father concerning which direction to take. If Jesus felt this need for prayer, how much more should we!
Peter (Simon) and the other disciples "followed after him" (v. 36)—literally, "hunted him down." Evidently He was in such a secluded place they had some difficulty in finding Him. When they did discover where He was, they informed Him that everybody was looking for Him (v. 37). There were many sick people who had failed to get to Jesus the night before but anticipated reaching Him in the morning. To their dismay they found that He had left town.
The disciples doubtless were disappointed when Jesus answered that He must go into the adjoining country towns, rather than back into the city. His primary ministry was not to heal the sick but to preach the gospel. Many people had not yet heard; He must go to them. It was for this purpose that He "came ... forth" (v. 38). Came forth from where? Some scholars answer, "Capernaum." But the parallel in Luke 4:43, "for therefore am I sent," seems clearly to indicate heaven. Christ came forth from the Father to proclaim the gospel. Redeeming the souls of men was more important than healing their bodies.
Verse 39 makes a summary statement about Jesus' synagogue ministry "throughout all Galilee." It was primarily a preaching tour, though He also cast out demons.
7. The Cleansing of a Leper (1:40-45). Lepers were considered unclean and so were required to keep a safe distance from their fellow Jews so that they would not contaminate them ceremonially. But this leper came hurrying to Jesus for help. Since he sensed no opposition from the Master, he continued until he knelt right in front of Him, so near that Jesus could touch him (v. 4.1). This is a good illustration of the truth of the promise, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (Jn 6:37).
The leper had more faith in Christ's power than in His love. He said, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean" (v. 40). The Master was "moved with compassion." This phrase, found frequently in the gospels, has the participle in the aorist tense, so it is more adequately translated "gripped with compassion." This was Jesus' immediate reaction when confronted with human need.
In a spontaneous gesture of divine love Christ reached out with His hand and touched the leper, thereby contracting ceremonial defilement in the eyes of the Pharisees and Sadducees. But instead divine power annulled the contamination and effected a cure. All the Master had to say was, "I will; be thou clean." His love was equal to His power. In fact, the two cannot be separated, for divine love is the greatest power in the universe. As soon as Jesus spoke in love, the leper was instantly healed. Since leprosy was considered an uncleanness, the word used to describe the cure is cleansed (v. 42).
At this stage in His ministry Jesus was seeking to avoid publicity. The multitudes thronging around Him to be healed would hinder His evangelistic ministry. So He sternly charged (v. 43)—a strong term in Greek—the man not to tell anyone about his cure but to report it to the priests, that they might officially pronounce him clean (see Lev 14:1-32). Instead the man told everybody about it. The unwanted result took place. Jesus could not even enter the city during the day but had to remain outside in unpopulated areas. Still the crowds kept thronging to Him.
8. The Healing of a Paralytic (2:1-12). At the completion of His tour of Galilee (1:39), Christ returned to Capernaum. "It was noised that he was in the house" (v. 1) is better translated "It was heard, 'He is at home.'" As would be expected, immediately a crowd gathered, and soon it was impossible to reach the door of Peter's home. But Jesus was now doing what He always wished to do: "he preached the word unto them" (v. 2).
There was one needy man in Capernaum who had failed to get in on the famous sunset healing service (1:32-34). We can imagine that, when he heard about it, he cried out in disappointment, "Why didn't you take me to Him?" Probably his relatives assured him that they would do so the next day. But with morning came the disquieting news, "The Master is gone." His hopes blasted, the poor paralytic had to remain in his misery. ("One sick of the palsy" [v. 3] is one word in Greek, paralyticon, and should be translated "a paralytic.")
Now came the exciting news, "He is at home." Four men—only Mark gives this interesting detail—each took hold of a corner of the padded quilt on which the helpless paralytic was lying, and using it as a stretcher they started for Peter's house.
But when they arrived they could not get near Jesus because of "the press" (v. 4)—not newspaper opposition (!), but simply "the crowd." Nothing daunted, these four persevering friends laboriously carried the paralytic up the outside stairway onto the flat roof of the one-story home. Here they literally "unroofed the roof." That is, they dug down through the hard-packed dirt. Then they broke up the tiles (cf. Lk 5:19). When they had made a large enough hole, they lowered the paralytic on his pallet right down in front of Jesus.
When Christ saw their faith—the faith of the four and also probably of the paralytic—He said, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee" (v. 5). The Greek says, "Your sins are [or, have been] forgiven you." It was not a wish; it was an accomplished fact.
Two things may be deduced from this. The first is that the man's greatest need was not the healing of his body but the saving of his soul. The second is that the man's paralysis may have been brought on in part by a massive guilt complex. He must first be relieved of his burden of sin before healing could take place. The Jewish Talmud contains an old saying of the rabbis: "No one gets up from his sickbed until all his sins are forgiven" (Ned. 41a).
As usual, there were some scribes (Pharisees) sitting there, "reasoning in their hearts" (v. 6). They were saying to themselves, "Why does this man talk this way? He blasphemes! [so reads the best Greek text] Who can forgive sins but God only?" (v. 7).
When Jesus "perceived in his spirit" (v. 8) their inner thoughts, He challenged them. Which was easier, to tell the paralytic his sins were forgiven or to tell him to get up and walk? (v. 9). To prove that "the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins" (v. 10), Jesus turned to the paralytic and commanded him to rise, take up his pallet, and go home (v. 11). The helpless victim immediately stood to his feet, threw his padded quilt over his shoulder, and walked out, leaving an astonished crowd behind.
The point of this incident now becomes clear. The scribes held that a man could not be healed until all his sins had been forgiven. The paralytic had been obviously healed; no one could deny it. But according to the rabbinical saying, that meant that his sins must first have been forgiven. How then could these religious rulers deny Jesus' power to forgive sins?
Excerpted from Mark by Ralph Earle. Copyright © 1970 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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