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The office of John the Baptist. Jesus is baptized: tempted: he preacheth: calleth Peter, Andrew, James, and John: healeth one that had a devil, Peter's mother-in-law, and many diseased persons; and cleanseth the leper.
Anno Domini 26.
Mark 1:1. Of Jesus Christ the Son of God— This exordium is singular; for while the other Evangelists describe our Saviour as the Son of man, St. Mark, in express words, stiles him the Son of God. A title the most likely, as being the most august, to engage the attention and obedience of the Romans, those Lords of the earth, to the religion which was promulgated by him. In describing this religion, St. Mark has brought together so many of our Saviour's discourses and miracles, as might serve to exhibit a general view of his character, and shew the world at the same time what kind of principles they were concerned to embrace, and what course of life they were bound to lead, who professed themselves his followers and disciples. This fully answered the end of his design. The present verse may be connected with the following; and the sense will be, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ began, according to the prediction of the prophets, with the preaching and baptism of John the Baptist. I shall not take up the reader's and my own time by insisting upon those passages in this or the following Evangelists, which have been already explained in the notes on St. Matthew, and which explanations will be found by the copious marginal references.
Mark 1:12. Driveth— Conveyeth.
Mark 1:13. And was with the wild beasts— St. Mark is often very circumstantial in his narrations, and adds many things for the sake of the Romans or Gentiles in general, to enable them the better to understand him. Thus, as a Roman might not know how wild and uninhabited the deserts of Arabia were, in which Christ was tempted, he adds here, and was with the wild beasts. See Owen on the Gospel, and Grotius
Mark 1:14. Now, after that John was put in prison, &c.— We have here a remarkable particular in the conduct of our Saviour: no sooner was he informed that Herod had thrown John in prison, than he quitted Judea, and went into Galilee. (Comp. Mat 4:12—to the end.) And traversing it all over,—as well that part of it which was under Herod's jurisdiction, as that under Philip's; see Mar 1:39 and Matthew 4:23.—he there began first to preach continually to the people, elected several of his disciples to accompany him wherever he went, performed most astonishing works, and drew the attention of the whole country upon him. Now, had Jesus and the Baptist been associate impostors, as some infidels have supposed, nothing seems more improbable than that Jesus should single out this particular time, and the dominions of that particular prince, who had but just then imprisoned his partner in the same wicked imposture, in order there first to make trial of all his devices, procure more associates, and attended by them to draw the multitude about with him from all parts of the country. In an impostor, this would have been voluntarily seeking the same fate that his fore-runner had but just experienced, and in reality provoking Herod to put an end at once to all joint-machinations: but this is what no impostor whatever can be supposed desirous to have done. See Bell's Inquiry into the Divine Missions, &c. p. 388.
Mark 1:19-20. Ship— Boat.
Mark 1:21. On the sabbath day— In the Greek it is plural, τοις σαββασιν, and, when compared with the parallel place in St. Luke, shews that it was the custom of Jesus to frequent these places of worship on the sabbath days. The addition of this circumstance seems therefore intended to intimate, that Christ was free from the imputation of profaning the sabbath, which was objected to him by the Jews. See Mat 12:1-2 and Grotius. Dr. Heylin renders the latter part of this verse, where he immediately began to instruct publicly in the synagogues, to which he went on the sabbath day.
Mark 1:23-24. And there was in their synagogue, &c.— It seems plain from what is said afterwards, Mar 1:27 that the other persons then present did not know Jesus to be the Son of God; how then should the demoniac know this, if he had been only mad, as some would vainly suppose, and not really possessed by an evil spirit? This case was so remarkable, that, as the Evangelist adds, immediately our Lord's fame spread abroad, throughout all the region round about Galilee. However, though madmen might not know Christ, yet the devils could not be ignorant of him, from the time of his baptism, when the voice from heaven said, This is my beloved Son, &c. and therefore Satan soon after, in one of his temptations, says, If thou be the Son of God; Matthew 4:6. See Ward's Dissertations, p. 79 and on Matthew 8:29.
Mark 1:26. Had torn him— Had thrown him into convulsions. That this is a proper translation, though circuitous, appears from St. Luke, who informs us, that the spirit did not hurt him. It is remarkable, that in all the cures of this sort which our Lord performed, the person to be cured was agitated by the demon who possessed him in the most violent manner, at the time of the cure, and raised to perfect health by the expulsion of the demon in an instant. The reason was, that thus the reality and greatness, both of the possession and the cure, were fully proved, to the conviction of every beholder; and therefore the demon was probably in some sense compelled to exert himself.
Mark 1:29. They entered into the house of Simon— Peter was a native of Bethsaida; and when first admitted to Christ's acquaintance, seems to have had his residence there: but happening to marry a woman of Capernaum, as is generally supposed, he removed thither with his brother Andrew; and there they prosecuted their common business of fishing, in company with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who lived with them in one house. On the cure of St. Peter's wife's mother we shall speak, when we come to Luke 4:38-39.
Mark 1:30. Anon— Forthwith.
Mark 1:32-33. And at even, &c.— The news of the miracle above related being spread through the town, those who had sick relations or friends resolved to apply to Jesus for a cure: only, because it was the sabbath, they did not immediately come to him; they waited till the holy rest was ended, which, according to the Jewish form of the day, was at sun-setting; and then they brought their sick in great numbers to him, fullypersuaded that he would heal them. The persons who attended the sick, or who brought them to be cured, together with the towns' people, whose curiosity and admiration were excited by the reports of the two miracles performed that day, made such a crowd at St. Peter's house, that it looked as if all the city had been gathered together. See the notes on Matthew 8:4; Mat 12:16 for some reasons why our Saviour suffered not his miracles to be publicly spoken of.
Mark 1:35. A great while before day— 'Εννυχον λιαν, when the night was very far advanced, and consequently just before the dawn of day.
Mark 1:38. The next towns— The neighbouring towns.
Inferences.—Respecting John the Baptist and our Saviour's baptism, see the Inferences on Matthew 3:0.; and on our Saviour's choice of his disciples, &c. we shall enlarge in the Inferences on Luke 5:0. Let us at present contemplate the great Redeemer of our souls, giving us a proof of his divine power to heal our spiritual defilements, by curing the leper who applied to him.
Our souls are overspread with the leprosy of sin, and where should we apply for help, but to the healing power and recovering grace of the adorable Saviour? Be the malady ever so deep, inveterate, or spreading, we may surely adopt the words of the leper before us, and say, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. There is nothing better than frequently to make this prayer, and to be always disposed in heart to do so.
If we are so happy as to have received the favour of a cure, we are under the obligation of no command to conceal it. It is, on the contrary, our duty most gratefully to publish it abroad, for the honour of our benefactor, and the advantage of those who may be encouraged to make the same application, in humble hope of the same success. But when will the happy time come, that men shall be as solicitous about their spiritual welfare, as about the health of this mortal body? Almighty Physician! exert thine energy in this instance, as a token of further favours; convince men of their pollution and danger, and bow their stubborn knee, that it may bend in submissive and importunate supplication.
We may learn from the instance before us, that the cure of our souls is the pure effect of the goodness and free mercy of God; and that Jesus Christ performs it by his own divine authority; (he put forth his hand, Mark 1:41.)
The compassionate air with which the cure of this leper was wrought, ought to be considered by all spiritual physicians as a lesson of condescension and tenderness; and the modesty with which it was conducted, should engage them to avoid every appearance of ostentation and vainglory.
Once more, let us be taught, from our Saviour's example, (Mark 1:35.) how good it is for a man to withdraw himself from business and labour, in order to converse with God alone. Christ himself found it proper to depart into a solitary place to pray, when crowds of admirers were flocking in upon him: and, like him, those who are engaged in the scenes of public business, and fill them up with the greatest applause, should yet resolutely command seasons for retirement; remembering, that the more various and important our public labours are, the more evidently do we need to draw down succour by ardent prayer, that we may be strengthened and prospered in them. Prayer is so necessary to him particularly who preaches and labours in the church, that, far from dispensing with himself on this account, he ought to take a time for it out of that which belongs to rest, and the other necessities of life, rather than be deficient therein.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, St. Mark commences his history with the account of John's baptism, the messenger sent before the Messiah, according to the ancient prophesies, to prepare his way. Isaiah and Malachi had both spoken of him, Isaiah 40:3. Mal 3:1 and agreeable thereunto John commenced his ministry in the wilderness, calling the people to repentance, and faith in the promised Messiah, in order that they might obtain remission of their sins.
1. John's preaching was in some sense the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Not that the gospel then first began to be published; for it had been the subject of the ministry of all the prophets, and, in the promise of the seed of the woman, had been preached to the first man immediately after his fall: but the gospel dispensation, in opposition to the law, was more immediately proclaimed from the baptism of John, whose office it was, particularly, to point the people to the Lamb of God, now made manifest in the flesh to take away the sin of the world; though that dispensation was not properly opened before the day of Pentecost. This was the glad news that John declared, the Gospel of Jesus Christ who is both the author and subject of it; and, as the Son of God, endued with all-sufficiency for the great work of man's salvation, which he came to accomplish. To him the Baptist bore witness, acknowledging his surpassing dignity, and confessed his own unworthiness to be employed in the meanest offices by his Lord; and whilst, in consequence of his preaching, and the people's profession of repentance, he admitted them to baptism in token of repentance for the remission of sins, he bade them expect a more efficacious baptism than this of water, even of the Holy Ghost, which the Messiah, to whom he directed them, should shed on them abundantly, to cleanse them from all their iniquities.
2. His appearance was singular, as that of the ancient prophets, and his dress and diet bespoke his mortified spirit and deadness to the world. A rough camel's hair garment, tied with a leathern girdle, defended him from the cold; and locusts and wild honey, such as the wilderness afforded, satisfied his hunger. Note; They who preach the Gospel, must learn to endure hardness, and be ready, whenever duty calls, to forego any of the delights of sense, for the sake of the service in which they are engaged.
3. Multitudes attended him, and appeared deeply affected with John's discourses, confessing their sins, and desiring to be admitted to his baptism. The word of the Gospel is powerful. The doctrines of repentance and faith, when urged upon the heart, awaken the conscience: and all who truly preach Jesus Christ, will assuredly see the success of their ministrations. They who have never known themselves instrumental to the convincing and converting one sinner, have reason indeed to believe that they were never called to the ministry of the Gospel.
2nd, The account of Christ's baptism and temptations St. Matthew has recorded more at large, Matthew 3-4
1. He was baptized of John in Jordan. Not that he had any sins to confess, though in the likeness of sinful flesh; but he would comply with every instituted ordinance of God; and now also he was eminently to be pointed out as the Messiah, and to enter upon his mission. Accordingly the heavens were opened, the Holy Ghost visibly descended upon him, and God the Father, by an audible voice, bore testimony to him as his Son, and declared his perfect satisfaction in the undertaking in which he was engaged. Note; (1.) If God is ever well-pleased with us, it can only be in and through his dear Son. (2.) Whenever we are truly baptized into Christ, the Spirit of God will as really be communicated to us as it visibly descended upon him.
2. He immediately entered upon his temptation, led by the Holy Spirit from the brink of Jordan into the howling wilderness, to make his abode with beasts, while Satan sharpened every poisoned arrow in his quiver against him; but, to his bitterest disappointment, though in this lonely desert, he found all his arts foiled by this second Adam, which even in Eden he had practised with such success upon the first. Thus Christ bore with all the tempter's malice, and baffled all his wiles; till Satan, despairing, at last quitted the field, unable to make the least impression: and then the angelic hosts, who had with admiration beheld the dreadful conflict, appeared to congratulate the Saviour's victory, and to minister to his hunger. Note; (1.) Every converted soul must prepare for temptation. (2.) Christ knows what sore temptations mean. He tenderly compassionates his suffering people, and is near to succour and defend them.
3rdly, When John's ministry was finished by his imprisonment, Christ came into Galilee, and there,
1. He preached the Gospel of the kingdom of God, inviting all his countrymen to come and partake of the inestimable blessings of that dispensation of grace which he came to publish, the time being fulfilled which had been marked out for the appearing of the Messiah by the prophets; and therefore, as his kingdom was immediately to be erected, he exhorted all his hearers to repent, and believe the Gospel; to discover, acknowledge, and bewail their offences against God's holy law; to renounce their vain confidences in themselves; to change their mistaken sentiments concerning the nature of the Messiah's kingdom; and, instantly turning to him, to receive the glad tidings that he brought of the salvation which he came to procure for them, even pardon, peace, righteousness, and eternal life, the gift of God through the sacrifice and intercession of his Son. Note; (1.) The Gospel will be glad tidings to none who do not see and feel their misery and guilt; and, instead of flattering themselves in their own eyes, now change their minds, and stand convinced of their lost estate. (2.) Faith in the Gospel word entitles us to claim the fulfilment of all the promises: nor is it any presumption, rejecting all confidence in ourselves, to be confident of the Saviour's love and faithfulness.
2. He called four of his disciples to a more constant attendance upon him, that they might be better qualified for the work in which he designed to employ them. (1.) They were fishers; for the kingdom of Jesus was not to be erected by the wisdom of men, but by the power of God. (2.) He found them at their vocation. Honest industry in his sight is highly commendable. (3.) They were two pair of brethren; and that is an additional happiness, when they, who are so near to each other in blood, are united together in one Lord. (4.) They left all to follow Christ. When he calls, we must count nothing too dear to part with for his sake.
3. With these disciples, his attendants, he entered into Capernaum, and on the sabbath preached in the synagogue to the astonishment of the auditory; such a divine power and authority attended his teaching, as the people had never found under their scribes and rabbis. Note; the Gospel word is mighty and powerful. No wonder then if the preachers of it are distinguished from the insipid doctors of moral virtue, philosophical disquisitions, or empty formality.
4thly, Christ confirmed his mission by his miracles. And, to give the greater weight to his discourse, we find him,
1. Calling out a devil from one possessed. He is called an unclean spirit; for he is such in his own nature; by his suggestions he defiles the consciences of men, and, by the temptations that he presents before them, seduces them into all impurity of body and soul. Dreading the presence and power of Jesus, he cried out, using the man's organs of speech, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee? They knew themselves unable to contend, and therefore tremble at the thought of being dispossessed of their prey: but, to do him all the mischief in their power, this fiend seems in reproach to call him Jesus of Nazareth: and though he adds, I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God, there was probably the most malicious design couched under that fair confession, even to raise a suspicion of confederacy between Jesus and Satan. Christ therefore silences him, disdaining to receive a testimony from him, and disappointing his malicious designs: with a sharp rebuke he bids him instantly quit his prey, and leave the body which he had possessed; and, though furious at being dispossessed, with a fearful outcry, as if he would have rent the man in pieces, or designing to terrify the spectators, he departs; compelled, though with reluctance, to yield to the commanding voice of Jesus. Note; (1.) Though such possessions may not now be frequently found, how many, under the influence of an unclean spirit, are still led captive by the devil at his will! (2.) The grace of Jesus is still the same, and he can and does subdue the strongest power of Satan in the believer's heart. (3.) Many a poor sinner, when Christ first approaches him with the Gospel word, is grievously harassed, and cries out, as if his misery was now greater than ever before; but these terrors are the forerunners of peace and joy in believing.
2. The people were all amazed at what they heard and saw, and could not help saying one to another, What thing is this? Never was such astonishing power before exerted! What new doctrine is this? delivered with such majesty, and confirmed by such miracles. He acts not as exorcists, by charms and invocations; but with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him, unable to make the least resistance. Hereupon the fame of his preaching and miracles began to be exceedingly spread through all the region round about Galilee. Note; Christ's doctrine was not new, but the old doctrine which had been from the beginning; but had for a long time been so forgotten and neglected, that it appeared now quite uncommon—As in these days, the doctrines of the Gospel are by many called new doctrines, because, alas! we have for a long season in general so grievously departed from them.
5thly, Wherever Jesus went, he left the glorious marks of his power and grace.
1. Soon after he had retired from the Synagogue to Simon's house to take some refreshment, some of the company informed him of the illness of Peter's mother, confined to her bed with a fever. Immediately he arose, went to her bed-side, lifted her up, and instantly the fever left her. The cure was perfect; not so much as any weakness remained; but she immediately arose, and waited on Jesus and the guests. Note; When we have experienced the Redeemer's healing grace, it becomes us to shew our gratitude by immediately employing the strength that he has given us in his service.
2. A multitude of other cures were wrought by him the same day. For no sooner was the sabbath ended (before which they might scruple to carry the sick to him) than the door was crowded with patients, and not one went away without a cure; and many devils were ejected by his word, whom he permitted not to say that they knew him, (as the words may best be rendered,) not choosing to have them speak ought concerning him, lest it should give occasion to suggest that there was a confederacy between him and them.
3. After some needful repose, very early in the morning, he retired to a solitary place, that he might, uninterrupted, enjoy sweet communion with his Father in secret, and pour out his soul in prayer before him. Note; (1.) Early rising is as profitable to the soul as the body; while sloth is alike hurtful to both. (2.) When our spirits are most fresh and vigorous, it is then the properest time to retire for prayer and communion with God.
4. Peter and his companions no sooner missed him in the morning, than they sought him out, and desired him to return to Capernaum, there being such great inquiries made after him. But Christ could not confine himself there; the rest of the country must share his ministrations, being partly sent for this purpose to go about preaching and working miracles through the whole land: and accordingly he did so, his disciples attending him in his travels, hearing his divine teaching, and beholding the wonders of his power and love.
6thly, The miracle recorded Mar 1:40-45 was before related, Matthew 8:2; Matthew 8:34. We are taught by it,
1. What we naturally are—poor, defiled, loathsome sinners, under the incurable disease of a corrupted nature; and desperate, unless the great physician of souls exert his healing power on our behalf.
2. Whither we must go—to Jesus; bowed down under the sense of our vileness, and unworthiness to approach him; yet casting ourselves at his feet as alone able to relieve us from our misery, and with a humble persuasion that he will not spurn us from him, but that he is willing as well as able to help and heal us.
3. Christ never rejects the souls of the miserable that fly to him: his bowels of compassion yearn over them; the hand of his grace is sure to be stretched out towards them. And though we often come trembling, between fear and hope whether he will receive, pardon, help, and save us, he is pleased to remove our doubts, and says to our souls, I will, and power instantly accompanies his promise.
4. To those whom Christ cures, he gives a strict charge; and they must carefully obey his injunctions, and especially beware not to return unto folly, lest a worse thing happen unto them; but daily they are called to present themselves, body, soul, and spirit, before the great high-priest of their profession, that he, who has made them clean, may keep them clean.
5. They who have tasted the love of Jesus, delight to spread the savour of his name, and to testify their gratitude towards him both with their lips and in their lives.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Mark 1". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany