F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
THE WRITER of this Gospel was that “John, whose surname was Mark,” (Acts 15:37), who failed in his service when with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, and who afterwards became a bone of contention between them. He first failed himself, and then became the occasion of further failure with others greater than himself. This was a sorry beginning to his story, but eventually he was so truly restored that he became serviceable to the Lord in the exalted work of writing the Gospel which presents the Lord Jesus as the perfect Servant of Jehovah, the true Prophet of the Lord.
He entitles his book, “Gospel” or “Glad Tidings” of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” so from the very outset we are not allowed to forget who this perfect Servant is. He is the Son of God, and this fact is further enforced by the quotations from Malachi and Isaiah in verses Mark 1:2-3, where the One whose way was to be prepared is seen to be Divine, even Jehovah Himself. The mission of the messenger, the one crying in the wilderness, is the very beginning of His glad tidings.
That messenger was John the Baptist, and in verses Mark 1:4-8 we get a brief summary of his mission and testimony. The baptism that he preached signified repentance, for the remission of sins, and those who submitted to it came confessing their sins. They had to acknowledge they were all wrong. Very fittingly therefore John kept himself severely apart from the society that he had to condemn. In his clothes, in his food, and in his location, going out into the wilderness, he took a separate place.
Moses had given the law. Elijah had accused the people of their departure from it, and had recalled them to a fresh allegiance to it. John, though he came in the spirit and power of Elijah, did not urge them to keep it, but rather to honestly confess that they had utterly broken it. This prepared them for his further message concerning the infinitely greater One who was just to come, who would baptise with the Holy Ghost. His baptism would be far greater than John’s, just as personally HE was far above him. He who can thus pour forth the Holy Spirit cannot be less than God Himself.
The beginning of the Glad Tidings in the work of John being thus described, we are introduced next to the baptism of Jesus. This is condensed into verses Mark 1:9-11. Here, as all through this Gospel, the utmost brevity and conciseness characterises the record. Jesus comes from Nazareth, the humble and despised place in Galilee, and submits to John’s baptism; not because He had anything to confess, but because He would identify Himself with these souls who in repentance were making a move in the right direction. It was just then, ere He came forth in His public ministry, that Heaven’s approbation of the perfect Servant was manifested, lest any should misinterpret His lowly baptism. The Spirit descended upon Him as a dove, and the Father’s voice was heard declaring His Person and His perfection. The Servant of the Lord is Himself sealed with the Spirit; the dove being emblematic of purity and peace. Having become Man, He must receive the Spirit Himself; presently in His risen estate He will shed forth that Spirit as a baptism upon others. In that Spirit He went forth empowered to serve. It is also to be noticed that for the first time there was a dear revelation of the Godhead, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The first action of the Spirit in His case comes before us in verses Mark 1:12-13. Coming forth to serve the will of God, He must be tested, and the Spirit thrusts Him forth to this. Here for the first time we find the word “immediately” which occurs so often in this Gospel, though it is sometimes rendered as “anon,” “forthwith,” “straightway.” If service be rendered rightly it must be characterised by prompt obedience, hence we see our Lord as One who never lost a moment in His path of service.
He must be tested before He publicly serves, and the test takes place at once. When the first man appeared he was soon tested by the devil and he fell. The second Man has now appeared and He too shall be tested by the same devil. Only instead of being in a beautiful garden He is in the wilderness into which the first man had turned his garden. He was with beasts who were wild because of Adam’s sin. He was tested for forty days, the full period of probation, and He emerged as Victor, for holy angels ministered to Him at the close.
No details as to the various temptations are given to us here; only the fact of it, the conditions under which it took place and the result. The Servant of the Lord is fully tested, and His perfection is made manifest. He is ready to serve. So in verse Mark 1:14 John is dismissed from the story. The beginning of the Glad Tidings is over, and we plunge without further explanation into a brief record of His marvellous service.
His message is described as “the Gospel of the kingdom of God,” and a very brief summary of its terms is found in verse Mark 1:15. The kingdom of God had been spoken of in the Old Testament, notably in Daniel. In Daniel 9:1-27 a certain time had been set for the coming of Messiah and the fulfilment of the prophecy. The time was fulfilled, and in Himself the kingdom was near to them. He called upon men to repent and to believe this. With this proclamation He came into Galilee. For the moment He was alone in this service.
But He was not alone for long. Here and there His message was received and from the ranks of those who believed He began to call some who should be more closely associated with Him in His service, and in their turn become “fishers of men.” He Himself was the great Fisher of men, as is revealed by the two incidents recorded in verses Mark 1:16-20. He knew whom He would call to His service. Seeing the sons of Zebedee He called them “straightway,” and it is said of the sons of Jonas that when He called them “straightway they forsook their nets and followed Him.” As the great Servant of God, He was prompt in issuing His call: as under-servants they were prompt to obey.
It is worthy of note that all four who were called were men of diligence in their work. Peter and Andrew were engaged in their fishing. James and John were not lolling about during their time of leisure. They were mending the nets.
In verse Mark 1:16, “He walked,” but in verse Mark 1:21, “they went.” The men whom He had called were now with Him, listening to His words and seeing His works of power. Entering Capernaum, He taught “straightway” on the sabbath, and authority marked His utterances. The scribes were mere retailers of the thoughts and opinions of others, falling back on the authority of great Rabbis of earlier times, so it was this note of authority which astonished the people. It was so distinct that they at once detected it.
He was indeed that Prophet with the words of Jehovah in His mouth, of whom Moses had spoken in Deuteronomy 18:18, Deuteronomy 18:19.
And not only had He authority but also power—real dynamic force. This was manifested on the same occasion in His treatment of the man with an unclean spirit. Controlled by the demon, the man recognised Him as the Holy One of God yet thought of Him as One bent upon destruction. Thus challenged, the Lord revealed Himself to be the Deliverer and not the destroyer. It is the devil who is the destroyer, and hence the demon, who was his servant, did as much as he could in that line by tearing the poor man before he came out of him. He could not retain his grip upon his victim in the presence of the power of the Lord.
Again the people were filled with amazement. They now saw “authority” expressed in His work, as before they had felt it in His word. Their question therefore was two-fold: what thing? and what new doctrine? These two things must ever be kept together in the service of God. Word must be supported by work. When it is not thus, or when, even worse, our works contradict our words, our service is feeble or vain.
In His case both were perfect. His teaching was full of authority, and with equal authority He commanded obedience even from demons; hence His fame spread abroad with a promptness which was in keeping with the promptitude of His wonderful service for God in regard to man.
We have not yet finished with the activities of this wonderful day in Capernaum, for verse Mark 1:29 tells us that having left the synagogue they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew. This they did “forthwith,”—that same characteristic word, indicating promptness. There was no waste of time with our blessed Master, nor was there waste of time with His new followers, for they present to Him “anon”—the same word—the case of need in that house. Human need, the fruit of human sin met Him at every turn. It was as evident in the house of those who had become His followers as it had been in the synagogue, the local centre of their religious observances.
Demoniac power was manifest in the religious circle, and disease in the domestic circle. He was more than equal to both. The demon left the man completely and at once. The fever left the woman with similar promptness, and no period of convalescence was necessary before she resumed her ordinary household duties. No wonder that very soon “all the city was gathered together at the door.”
The picture presented in verses Mark 1:32-34 is very beautiful. “At even, when the sun did set,” the work of the day being over, the multitudes gathered bringing a great concourse of needy folk, and He dispensed the mercy of His healing power in all directions. He would permit no testimony to Himself to be uttered by the powers of darkness. The mercy and might displayed were sufficient witness to who it was that was serving amongst men. In his Gospel John tells us that there were many other things that Jesus did, which have not been put on record. Here some are indicated without details being given.
The story, as given to us by Mark, moves rapidly forward. Till late in the evening the work of mercy went on, and then long before day He rose up and sought solitude for prayer. We have just noted the authority and power of God’s perfect Servant. Here we see His dependence upon God without which there can be no true service. The Servant must hang upon the Master, and though He who serves is “Son,” HE does not dispense with this feature: rather He is the highest expression of it in perfect obedience. We read that He learned obedience “by the things that He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8); and this word doubtless covers all His pathway here and not merely the closing scenes of suffering of a more physical sort.
What a voice this has for all who serve, no matter how small our service! His day was so full of activity that He took a large part of the night for prayer: and He was the Son of God. Much of our powerlessness is occasioned by our lack in the matter of solitary prayer.
The next four verses (36-39) show us the devotedness of God’s Servant. Simon and others appear to have regarded His retirement as unaccountable diffidence, or perhaps as a waste of valuable time. All were seeking for Him, and He seemed to be missing this tide of popularity. But popularity was by no means His object. He had come forth in service to preach the Divine message, and so regardless of popular feeling He went on with His service through the towns of Galilee. He devoted Himself to the mission with which He had been entrusted.
And now, in the closing verses of this first chapter, we have a lovely picture of the compassion of this perfect Servant of God. He is approached by a leper, in body about as loathsome a specimen of humanity as can be.
The poor fellow had some faith, but it was defective. He was confident of His power, but had doubts as to His grace. We should have been moved with disgust, considerably tinged with indignation at the aspersion cast upon our kindly feelings. He was moved with compassion. Moved with it, mark you! Not only did He view this miserable specimen with compassionate love but He acted. The deep fountain of Divine love within Him rose up and overflowed. With His hand He touched him and with His lips He spoke, and the man was healed.
There was no actual need that He should touch him, for the Lord cured many a desperate case at a distance. No Jew would have dreamt of touching him and thus contracting defilement, but the Lord did so. He was beyond all possibility of defilement, and His touch was one of sympathy as well as of power. It confirmed His word, “I will,” and removed all doubt of His willingness from the man’s mind for ever.
Again we see how our Lord did not court popular enthusiasm and notoriety. His instruction to the man was that he should allow the testimony to his cure to flow in the channel indicated by Moses. He however, filled with delight did the very thing he had been told not to do, and as a consequence for some days the Lord had to shun the cities and dwell in desert places. Very few things stir up human interest and excitement more than miraculous healing, but He was seeking spiritual results. There are modern healing movements which create considerable excitement in spite of the fact that their so-called “healings” are very unlike our Lord’s. The actors in these movements most certainly do not retreat from the blaze of publicity, but rather delight in it.
Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
the Second Week after Easter
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