THE SON OF GOD Mark 1“A voice came from heaven: ‘You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased’ ” (Mark 1:11).With almost no introduction, the author plunged into an account of events that proved his theme: Jesus is the Son of God.
A very early tradition, traced back to the Apostle John himself, identifies Mark as the writer of this Gospel. He apparently accompanied Peter when Peter was in Rome, and according to very early church historians, reflected Peter’s preaching in his Gospel. But John Mark himself has a fascinating story. He was the young son of an early Jerusalem convert, a woman to whose house Peter went after he was released from prison (Acts 12:12). Mark traveled briefly with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (13:5). But Mark deserted the missionary team (v. 13). Paul was so upset with him that when Barnabas insisted on taking Mark (who was also his cousin) on another journey, the two seasoned missionaries split up (15:36–41). Yet later we meet Mark again, in Paul’s epistles! There we see Paul’s attitude had changed: Mark was not only to be welcomed by the churches the apostle had founded (Col. 4:10), but in prison Paul asked that Mark come to him “because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). What a lesson these few verses about Mark have for us today. First they warn us. Let’s not be too quick to give up on young people. They can and will make mistakes. But with the kind of loving care and second chances that Barnabas fought to give Mark, they can grow and change. Second, these verses encourage us. Like John Mark, you and I may at times go back on our commitment to the Lord or to ministry. How wonderful to realize that such failures do not disqualify us. John Mark not only went on to become a leader in the early church—God chose him to write one of the books of our Bible! Whenever we open the Word of God to Mark’s Gospel, we’re reminded that God is willing to give us too yet another chance—and that if we take that chance, He will use us for His glory.
John the Baptist came in accordance with prophecy to announce Jesus’ appearance (1:1–8). At Christ’s baptism He was identified as the Son of God (vv. 9–13). He began His work by calling disciples (vv. 14–20), driving out evil spirits, and healing (vv. 21–34). Jesus found strength in prayer as He traveled throughout Galilee (vv. 35–39), demonstrating God’s compassion by His healings (vv. 40–45).
Understanding the Text
“The Son of God” Mark 1:1.
In Hebrew and in the Aramaic spoken by Jews in the first century, “son of” often represented descent or dependence. In one sense human beings and angels are “sons of” (beings created by) God. Yet “son of” can have another meaning: a meaning that is rooted in identity. To say a person is a “son of man” means that he or she is a human being. In what sense did Mark use “Son of God” in his very first verse? Clearly in the most significant sense: Jesus is one with God. Jesus is God. Mark did not argue this point. Instead he went on to demonstrate it, reporting a series of unique events and acts that made it clear just who Jesus is. Perhaps this is one of the greatest values of Mark’s brief Gospel. As we read, we are reminded again and again that the One whose adventures we share is the Son of God, come to live in our world; come to display in all He says and does the once-hidden character of our God. If we keep this in mind, we will often be awed by Jesus’ display of the love and grace of God. And we will often be moved to pause and praise. “So John came, baptizing” Mark 1:2–8. With no further introduction, Mark went into the exciting events that preceded Jesus’ public appearance. In fulfillment of prophecy God sent a messenger to prepare the way for His Son. The messenger, John the Baptist, predicted One “more powerful than I” was to appear soon. He urged his listeners to prepare by repenting, and offered water baptism as a sign of repentance and appeal for forgiveness. Yesterday a Christian sportsmanship award was given to a member of our church softball team. When the “Jim Smith Award” was given, the presenter had to choke back his tears. You see, Jim Smith had been his “John the Baptist.” Some years earlier Jim had guided him to Christ and shown him how to live a Christian life. You and I too can continue John the Baptist’s ministry. Like Jim Smith, we can speak of the “more powerful One” who is about to appear again. We too can urge people to change their hearts and minds about God, and receive forgiveness. We can promise that those who do look to God’s Son, Jesus, will not only be forgiven but will also receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. We can understand our mission in life as Jim Smith and John the Baptist understood theirs—the mission of messengers sent to “prepare the way for the Lord” in the hearts and lives of our friends. “You are My Son, whom I love” Mark 1:9–12. John said little about the baptism or temptation of Jesus. What he did say was clear evidence of Christ’s deity. During the baptism, John saw the Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove, and heard a voice identify Christ as God’s Son (v. 11). And, after being tempted by Satan, “angels attended Him.” Thus three lines of testimony identify Jesus as Son of God: the testimony of the Old Testament prophets, the testimony of God Himself, and the testimony of miraculous events. It’s encouraging to remember when we do undertake a John the Baptist-like ministry and point others to Jesus, that God still testifies to Christ’s identity as we share Him. We have the external witness of Scripture. We have the internal witness of God’s voice, speaking directly to the heart of the person we’re witnessing to. And we have the miracle of God’s transforming work in our own lives. “They left their nets and followed Him” Mark 1:14–20. The other Gospels make it clear that Jesus and these fishermen had spent time together before the call described here. But notice what Mark emphasized in his story. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they left their nets “at once” (v. 18). “Without delay” He called John and James, and they responded so quickly that they “left their father . . . in the boat” (vv. 19–20). The urgency we sense here permeates the Book of Mark. Jesus needed to reach as many as possible in the few short years of His ministry. And He needs now, as He needed then, disciples who feel the urgency too. “He even gives orders to evil spirits, and they obey Him” Mark 1:21–34. Mark continued to demonstrate the truth of Jesus’ deity. He taught with “authority.” He cast out evil spirits, who knew and identified Him as “the Holy One of God.” He healed all sorts of diseases. As the news spread over Galilee, it was increasingly clear that a unique Individual had appeared. For some strange reason our day has seen a rise in interest in the occult. Horror books and films dwell on the demonic, and more than one serial killer has committed his or her crimes in the name of the devil. Many high schools even have small groups of Satan worshipers, perhaps in imitation of music groups that exploit the dark side of spirituality. Even in our little Florida county, the sheriff’s office made it a point to ask teachers to report any indications of Satan worship by teens! How good it is to remember that Jesus truly is the Son of God. All Satan’s forces are helpless before Him. “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man” Mark 1:40–45. If we ever wondered whether the Gospel ministry should focus just on preaching salvation, or involve meeting a wide range of human needs, here’s our answer. We follow Jesus’ example. Lepers in biblical times were not only diseased, but also were social outcasts. They were cut off from all normal contact with healthy persons, and suffered not only from their sickness but also from isolation and rejection. When one such person came to Jesus, the text says He was “filled with compassion.” The Greek word indicates that Christ was deeply moved. But it indicates more. It suggests an empathy and emotional response that moves a person to action. In His action Jesus not only healed the leprosy, but He also touched the leper. Christ was sensitive to the need for healing, but also sensitive to the need of this rejected man for the touch of another human hand. Christ’s love moved Him to meet the psychological as well as physical and spiritual need. No human need should be ignored by those whose mission is to introduce others to Jesus Christ, for Christ’s concern extends to every need a human being may have.
Boring and Offensive (Mark 1:35–39)
That’s what my wife called yesterday’s sermon. “Boring and offensive.” No, I wasn’t preaching. And neither was our pastor. It was a guest preacher, who exhorted our congregation to greater involvement in social action. But in the process downplayed the importance of nurturing personal relationship with the Lord. “That,” my wife later insisted, “is a perfect illustration of secular humanism.” And she’s totally down on that. As usual, my wife’s analysis was quite accurate. Yet the last incident in this chapter pictures Jesus’ deep concern for the physical and psychological health of a leper! Isn’t that social action? Of course it is. And it tells us, as the preacher yesterday tried to, that you and I too are to have honest concern for social and psychological needs, as well as for the spiritual needs of others. The problem arises only when we isolate our relationship with God from our works. What bothered my wife was the fact that every kind of ministry has to be rooted in and grow out of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Ministry is no substitute for fellowship with God, just as good works are no alternative to salvation. What we see in this story is that Jesus’ own ministry of preaching and service was rooted in, and grew out of, His personal relationship with the Father. That’s what’s so challenging. Jesus was so active. He was concerned about every need of the people of Galilee. He was constantly on the go; always in ministry. And yet even Jesus could not afford to neglect time alone with His Father. So what did Jesus do? He got up early. He went off to pray “while it was still dark” because He knew every daylight hour would be taken up serving others and preaching His Good News. “That’s why I have come,” Jesus said, referring to His preaching. He had to get His work done. But in order to minister effectively, He had to have His time with God too. That’s really what was wrong with yesterday’s sermon. It failed to remind us that whatever we do, it must flow from our relationship with Jesus, and that even the doing of good deeds must never be allowed to supplant time devoted to deepening our relationship with our Lord.
To be effective in any ministry, spend significant time in prayer first.
“I have so much work to do today, I had to spend two hours in prayer first to be able to get it done.”—Martin Luther