II. Initial Ministry in Galilee (Mark 1:14–3:6)
II. Initial Ministry in Galilee (1:14–3:6)
1:14-15 John, the Messiah’s forerunner, was arrested (1:14; see Matt 14:3-5). After this, Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee and proclaimed, The time is fulfilled (1:14-15). The kingdom of God had come near in the person of the King. Here at the beginning of Jesus’s preaching ministry, then, he highlights that the focus of his mission is to declare and manifest the kingdom of God—the visible manifestation of the comprehensive rule of God over every area of life. How should people respond to this message? We should repent (change our minds about sin) and believe the saving message of Christ so the promise of the kingdom can come (1:15).
1:16-20 Jesus then called his first disciples, two sets of brothers. He used the occupation of Simon (Peter) and Andrew to challenge them to follow him: I will make you fish for people (1:16-17). God will often do something similar when he calls us to become disciples; he’ll link our backgrounds and experiences to his purposes for our lives.
Jesus also called James and John (1:19). Though they had much to learn (see 10:35-45; Luke 9:51-56), they knew that God’s kingdom was to overrule every other thing and relationship in their lives. Thus, they left everything and followed (1:20).
1:21-22 In 1:21-34, Mark presents examples of Jesus’s public ministry: teaching with prophetic authority (1:21-22), exercising power over the forces of darkness (1:23-28), and performing miraculous healing (1:29-34). When Jesus entered Capernaum, a village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, and began to teach in the synagogue (1:21), those who heard him were overwhelmed. The scribes who normally taught them were nothing like Jesus. He taught with authority (1:22), making God’s Word powerfully clear.
1:23-24 Jesus followed the authority of his words with the authority of his actions. In the synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit—that is, a demon. The demon rightly saw Jesus as a threat to his ongoing destructive work in the man’s life. The kingdom of God had come near in the person of the King, and it meant bad news for Satan’s forces. I know who you are—the Holy One of God, the demon said (1:24). Demons have the insight to know who Jesus is, but they’re unwilling to worship him. As James says, it’s possible to believe in God yet be unwilling to follow him (Jas 2:18-20). This demon acknowledged Jesus’s ability to destroy him (Mark 1:24).
1:25-28 Though the demon spoke the truth, Jesus had no intention of letting a follower of Satan be his spokesman to fuel the accusation that he was in league with the devil. So with an authoritative command, Jesus banished the spirit from the man (1:25-26). This caused his growing fame to soar even higher and spread even wider (1:27-28).
1:29-31 Still in Capernaum, Jesus and his four new disciples visited Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick in bed with a fever (1:29-30). Jesus miraculously raised her up and cured her. What’s equally important to Mark is that she served Jesus as a result (1:31). The only appropriate response to God’s goodness in your life, in fact, is gratitude and service.
1:32-34 When news got out about Jesus’s ability to heal, people started bringing all of their sick and demon-possessed loved ones to him. After the sun had set (1:32), the Sabbath was over (see 1:21), so people had the freedom to carry burdens such as stretchers. He mercifully healed the sick and drove out many demons, not letting the agents of evil testify about his identity (1:34).
1:35 In spite of his exhausting ministry, Jesus woke very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went to a deserted place to pray. He sought the fellowship of his heavenly Father—away from the distractions of the world. If the Son of God considered uninterrupted prayer such a priority, why do so many Christians consider it an afterthought?
1:36-38 When his disciples found him, they were annoyed, saying, Everyone is looking for you (1:36-37). Apparently they thought he wasn’t capitalizing on the opportunities his popularity afforded him. Jesus, though, had not come merely to please the masses with miracles. He came to preach the good news and prepare people for God’s kingdom (1:38).
1:39-41 Moving on from Capernaum, Jesus traveled and ministered throughout Galilee (1:39). On one occasion, a man with leprosy . . . begged him to make his body clean (1:40). With this scene Mark wants his readers to know that Jesus’s healing ministry wasn’t perfunctory. When he heard and saw the man, he was moved with compassion (1:41). The sinless Son of God is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, so let us approach [his] throne of grace with boldness (Heb 4:15-16).
Jesus’s compassion was displayed not only by his willingness to heal the man, but also by the manner in which he healed him: Jesus reached out . . . and touched him (1:41). Understand: No one touched a leper. Doing so risked infection and made Jews unclean according to the Mosaic law. But the Son of God fears no uncleanness. He cannot be contaminated; he can only purify.
1:42-45 When he cleansed the man, Jesus warned him to say nothing to anyone but to show himself to the priest and offer the appropriate sacrifice for his cleansing (1:42-44). Nevertheless, the man spread the news everywhere about what Jesus had done. As a result of his disobedience, the man hindered Jesus’s ministry because he could no longer enter a town openly (1:45).
2:1-2 Jesus returned to Capernaum again (2:1). Once the people discovered where he was staying, the place where he taught God’s Word grew so full that no one could stand even in the doorway (2:2). When Jesus Christ preached, he drew a crowd.
2:3-4 While he was there, four men brought him a paralytic, carrying him on a mat (2:3). The paralyzed man could not seek out Jesus on his own, but these four friends cared enough to take him where he needed to go. The problem was that they couldn’t approach Jesus about him because of the crowd (2:4). The sermon listeners were actually blocking access to Jesus. Undaunted, the man’s four friends carried him to the roof of the house. The homes in Galilee were built with outside staircases you could ascend to access their flat tops. Once there, they dug up the mud and thatch roof and lowered the man through the hole (2:4).
Some Christians will invite friends to church but not invite them to Jesus. They’ll invite them to hear sermons, choir concerts, and to see special programs, but they won’t tell them about the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. These four men knew that getting their friend to a building wasn’t the goal. Getting him to the Master was.
2:5 Jesus saw their faith. He witnessed collective faith. We weren’t meant to be Lone Ranger Christians. We need one another. Sometimes our circumstances can be so overpowering, in fact, that we even need to piggyback on the faith of others. Have you gathered people around you who will carry your burdens (see Gal 6:2) when your faith is dull?
When he saw his friends’ faith in action, Jesus told the paralyzed man, Son, your sins are forgiven. Now, these men had not brought their friend to Jesus because of a sin problem but because his leg muscles didn’t work. Yet Jesus knew there was a deeper issue beyond the problem they could see. Similarly, no matter how poor your physical condition, your spiritual condition must take priority. Unforgiven sins are more detrimental than unhealed limbs. Spiritual sickness is worse than broken circumstances. And spiritual healing can reverse sin’s physical consequences.
2:6-8 Some in the crowd weren’t excited about what Jesus said. Some of the scribes were questioning his words in their hearts (2:6) While they hadn’t spoken out loud, Jesus perceived supernaturally what they were pondering (2:8). This is a reminder that there isn’t a moment that goes by that Jesus doesn’t know exactly what you’re thinking.
What was it that concerned the scribes? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? (2:8). While they were right that God alone could forgive sins, they had Jesus all wrong. He possessed divine authority because of his divine nature. And he was about to demonstrate that authority for all to see.
2:9-10 Jesus asked the skeptical religious leaders which was easier—to tell a lame man that he was forgiven or to tell him to get up and walk (2:9). Only God could accomplish either, but only one action produced physical results. So Jesus told them he would validate his authority to do the one (forgive sins) by demonstrating his authority to do the other (make a paralytic walk). His ability to accomplish a visible miracle would confirm his ability to accomplish an invisible spiritual one (2:10).
2:11-12 Jesus commanded a man with lame legs to get up—and a man with healthy legs got up! Then he went out in front of everyone. Mark doesn’t tell us how the scribes responded to this miracle, but we know how the crowds did. They were astounded and gave glory to God (2:12). Don’t go to Jesus for help with your physical circumstances unless you’re willing for him to deal with your spiritual circumstances. And when he does, testify about it to others so that you and they can give God the glory.
2:13-14 Jesus’s ministry was growing; many people flocked to hear him teach (2:13). One day he approached a man named Levi (also known as Matthew; see Matt 9:9), a tax collector sitting at the toll booth. As he did with the others (1:16-20), Jesus told Levi to follow him (2:14). It was one thing to enlist fishermen as his disciples; it was another to enlist a tax collector. Jews who served as tax collectors were considered unclean because they worked for Gentiles. Moreover, they typically charged extra taxes to keep for themselves (see Luke 19:1-10). Having a thieving tax collector as a disciple wouldn’t improve Jesus’s reputation among the religious elite.
2:15-16 Showing his level of commitment to Jesus, Levi invited him and his disciples to his home to eat with many tax collectors and sinners (2:15). This was too much for the scribes and Pharisees who kept themselves physically separated from unclean types. So they harassed Jesus’s disciples, wanting to know why a “holy” man would hang out with such people (2:16).
2:17 Obviously, the religious leaders had misunderstood Jesus’s mission—and so have some church-goers today. It’s the sick who need a doctor. It’s the bad who need good news (see 1:15). Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous to enter into fellowship with God, nor the self-righteous (like the scribes and Pharisees) who didn’t perceive a need for spiritual help. Rather, he came to call sinners, those who are spiritually bankrupt and know it. So when was the last time you spent time with a sinner—not so you could share in sin but so you could point him to your Savior? If engaging with the lost is repulsive to you, you’ve lost sight of Jesus’s mission and the calling on the church.
2:18-22 When people observed the followers of Jesus, they noticed something different. Though John’s disciples and the Pharisees fasted, the disciples of Jesus didn’t (2:18). The Old Testament certainly expected God’s people to fast periodically, but Jesus said the circumstances in his day were different. The presence of the Messiah was a time for rejoicing and celebration. It would be no more appropriate for his followers to fast in his presence than for friends of a groom to fast at his wedding (2:19). Fasting would come later—when the groom was taken away (2:20). After Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension, the legitimacy of fasting would resume for his people. You can’t put a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment (2:21) and you can’t put new wine into old wineskins (2:22). In other words, the newness of the Messiah and his kingdom wasn’t compatible with their expectations.
2:23-24 The Jewish religious leaders had accused Jesus of blasphemy (2:1-12) and fraternizing with sinners (2:12-17). Here they accuse him of violating the Mosaic law. One Sabbath day while Jesus and his disciples walked through grainfields, they picked heads of grain to eat (2:23). But the Pharisees would have none of that (2:24). In their view, picking grain was tantamount to harvesting, harvesting was work, and work was forbidden on the Sabbath. Therefore, they labeled Jesus a lawbreaker.
2:25-28 Jesus replied to the charge against him by emphasizing how deficient these “experts” in the law were in their knowledge of Scripture: Have you never read . . . ? (2:25). His first example was David, who took the bread of the Presence for himself and his hungry men when he was on the run from King Saul (2:25-26; see 1 Sam 21:1-6). If the Lord’s anointed could eat the sacred bread when in need and be innocent, how much more could the Anointed One do the same? The Sabbath was made for man (2:27), to meet people’s needs and benefit them. It was not to be a mere religious observance, absent of all compassion. Furthermore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (2:28), which was another claim to deity. As God, Jesus had established the Sabbath; therefore, he knew its proper function. Once again, his reasoning silenced the Pharisees, but their hatred grew. This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus offended their Sabbath sensibilities.
3:1-2 On another occasion Jesus, a man with a shriveled hand, and the Pharisees were together in a synagogue (3:1). It was a perfect storm because Mark makes it clear that the Pharisees weren’t there to learn from Jesus. Instead, they were watching him closely to see if he would heal the man on the Sabbath. If so, they would have cause for accusing him of defiling the Sabbath (3:2).
3:3-4 Jesus had no intention of backing down from this public confrontation. He had the man with the shriveled hand stand before everyone in the synagogue (3:3). Then he posed a question to the Pharisees in order to make their motives clear: Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save life or to kill? The answer was obvious. Failure to do good and save life would actually be a violation of the law. But they were unrepentant, remaining silent (3:4). They had no intention of answering the questions of this upstart rabbi, nor did they have an adequate response to give.
3:5-6 Jesus was filled with both anger and grief over the hardness of their hearts. They were zealous for religious tradition but remained insensitive to the poor man’s need. Once again, Jesus healed by commanding a person to do what he was incapable of doing without divine help (see 2:10-12). He told the man to stretch out his hand, and in an instant his hand was restored (3:5). This miraculous act was exactly what the Pharisees were looking for. They began plotting with the Herodians—political supporters of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee—to kill Jesus (3:6). Religion and politics joined forces against the true King.