L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
This beginning is not that of John 1:1, which speaks of the Lord's eternal existence "with God," and as being God; nor is it that of creation (Genesis 1:1), but of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coming in blessed Servant character. Its introduction is seen in the ministry of John the Baptist. There was no need for Mark to even mention John's birth (as in Luke), no more than that of the Lord Jesus; for it is simply John's service that is seen here in preparing the way before the Lord Jesus. Malachi 3:1 had prophesied of him (v.2); and so had Isaiah 40:3 (v.3). He is called "My messenger" and "a voice." The important thing about a messenger is the message he brings, and a voice is important for what it speaks. The Lord Jesus (though far more than a messenger) was bringing the matchless message of the grace of God. The way must be prepared for this, however, and John's message was that of calling men to repentance, the only attitude that will rightly appreciate God's grace.
It is not even mentioned that John was of a priestly family, but his service is foremost, as he baptized in the wilderness, preaching the baptism of repentance with a view to the remission of sins. Being a priest, he might have asked permission to preach in the temple, but he went instead to the wilderness, for this was consistent with the fact of the spiritual desolation of Israel. No imposing legal forms and ceremonies were present to attract men, but the solemn, serious declaration of men's guilt and God's requirement of their repentance. They were baptized, that is, figuratively buried in the muddy Jordan River, confessing their sins. Jordan is typically the river of death, running into the Dead Sea. It was God who brought the crowds from Judea and specially Jerusalem, to virtually accept the sentence of death against themselves, a death deserved because of their sins.
John's clothing is said to be of camel's hair, with a girdle of skin. The camel is a burden bearer, a suitable reminder of John's own character. The girdle speaks of his personal self-discipline. His food was locusts, the symbol of a desolate country, and wild honey, suggesting the sweetness of truth gathered independently of men. For he was a solitary witness sent from God.
The only words of John recorded in this Gospel are in verses 7 and 8, a witness to the person of the Lord Jesus as mightier than John, who was unworthy to do the least menial service for Him; and prophesying also of His great work of baptizing with the Holy Spirit in contrast to John's merely baptizing with water. John's words are much more fully reported in Matthew, Luke and John.
The baptism of the Lord Jesus by John is only briefly recorded also, with nothing mentioned of John's objection (Matthew 3:14). The Lord was baptized with the baptism of repentance as identifying Himself with repentant Israelites, virtually binding Himself to take the responsibility for their sins, which would require the death of the cross. God bears witness to Him in this act of self-humiliation by the descent of the Spirit as a dove to dwell upon Him. This is the bird of love, of sorrow and sacrifice, involving the fact of the Father's full complacency in Him, as does the opened heavens and the Father's voice, "Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."
Matthew 4:1 speaks of the Lord's being "carried up" to the wilderness; Luke 4:1 of His being "led up;" but Mark of His being impelled by the Spirit. As King, the Spirit carried Him, as in a palanquin; as the Man He was led; as the Servant He was impelled, each of these being beautifully appropriate in its place. His forty days in the wilderness is almost passed over except to mention His being tempted of Satan and that He was with the wild beasts. Certainly they had no antagonism against Him, their Creator, as man does; but in being prepared for service for mankind He was totally away from man for the time. Angels however ministered to Him, not to provide food, but evidently to sustain Him physically, for He fasted the full forty days (Matthew 4:2). Matthew mentions the angelic ministry only after the devil had left Him (Matthew 4:11).
Mark passes over the time of the overlapping of John's ministry and that of the Lord Jesus in Judea (Compare John 3:22-36; John 4:1-2), and notices briefly John's imprisonment, then the Lord's going to Galilee to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God. Verse 15 shows the theme of his message, that the time foretold by the prophets was fulfilled and the kingdom of God had drawn near. This kingdom was certainly that prophesied of in the Old Testament, of which Israel was aware, though it was appearing in a different form than the Jews expected. But His message to the people was the same as John's -- repent and believe the gospel. He would not in any way minimize the importance of what John declared, though he surely had more to add, above all the great act of offering Himself.
Walking by the sea of Galilee, He met Simon Peter and Andrew. Their first meeting is recorded in John 1:37-42, when the Lord had changed Simon's name to Cephas, or Peter, when in Judea. Now the time had come for their being called to service in following the Lord. Their occupation was symbolical of the work to which they were called. Casting the net into the sea surely speaks of the work of the gospel, the drawing of souls to the Lord, as He Himself indicated by His words, "Follow Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." His Word had precious effect: they immediately forsook their nets (their very means of livelihood) and followed Him. Later on, (in Luke 5:4-11) Peter needed a shaking experience and the Lord's further words, "Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men" before we are told that he, together with John and James "forsook all and followed Him." It appears that Andrew's work was personal evangelism, Peter's public.
Going a little further, the Lord called James and John as they were in the ship mending (or "restoring") their nets, which is an indication also of the work to which they were called. For if the nets were to be useful in catching fish, they must be kept in good repair. Does this not speak of pastoral work of restoring souls that they might continue to be useful in the Lord's work? They left their father, for natural relationships must give place to the Lord's authority. Still, they did not leave him alone, without help, for there were also servants in the boat. When the Lord calls, He does not ignore the proper needs of one's relatives. Verse 21 records the beginning of the Lord's ministry in Capernaum, where Matthew 4:13 tells us He came to dwell. His teaching in the synagogue immediately attracted the attention of the people as being unlike that of the scribes, who could not speak as persuaded of the truth of what they taught, for they mixed the Word of God with men's traditions. He spoke with authority, for He had the truth from God.
However, satanic power is quickly evident in opposition to Him, in the synagogue. A demon possessed man could be present there without fear of challenge by the scribes and Pharisees, but the power of the Lord Jesus in His ministry was a threat to the authority of the evil spirit. It is the demon's voice speaking in the man, admitting his fear that the Lord had come to destroy him and other unclean spirits, for he knew Christ was the Holy One of God. Yet he would not call Him "Lord" (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3). The Lord Jesus then demonstrated His own Lordship over the spirit by rebuking and commanding him to come out of the man, a command the spirit could not disobey, though in doing so he callously shook his victim with one last convulsion.
Satan's power had been allowed to remain unchallenged in the Jewish synagogue: now when Satan is defeated, the people are amazed, asking, "What new doctrine is this?" Actually, the doctrine of the Old Testament, if obeyed, would have hindered the presence of evil spirits in Jewish places of worship; but once Satan is in, he is not easily expelled. Now however, a stronger than Satan had come. The report of this of course spread throughout the region of the Galilean Sea.
This same Servant of God is then seen to also have power over sickness, which is a result of sin. Simon and Andrew were living in the same house and Simon's wife's mother is quickly relieved of a fever that had put her in bed. The fever is typical of the restlessness occasioned by sin. In just taking her by the hand, the healing power of the Lord Jesus so fully restores her that she immediately rises and serves them, using her hands for His pleasure.
However, the day's work was not yet finished. The evening too was occupied with His healing many who were diseased and others possessed with demons, with the whole city gathering together evidently at the door of Peter's house. In casting out demons, we are told He did not allow them to speak because they knew Him. Verse 24 has indicated this, with verse 25 speaking of His silencing the demon. As to His person, He would not accept the testimony of demons (Compare Acts 16:16-18). More than this, He was acting in the capacity of God's Servant, not as the God of glory.
In spite of the long hours of labor that day, He rose early the next day, not to begin the day with service, but with prayer in a solitary place. How vital a need is this for every servant of God! Indeed, one would say, if necessary for Him, how much more so for us! Morning by morning He received guidance from God (Isaiah 50:4). But Simon and others with him were a little too anxious as regards service. If they had followed His example in being in prayer, they may have discerned the mind of God more accurately, as He did. Going out to find Him, they told Him that everyone was looking for Him. Men's apparent interest, however, does not decide His movements: He was guided entirely by His Father's will. The neighboring towns also must hear the Word of God from His lips, for He was sent for this purpose. Too often it is merely men's curiosity that moves them: He would not cater to this. Throughout all Galilee He preached in the synagogues and cast out demons, His power in service being proven superior to that of Satan.
The account of the leper in verses 40-44 is almost identical to that of Matthew 8:2-4. The man recognized himself to be subject to the Lord (he kneeled to Him), and that the Lord has authority even over a deadly sickness: He was able to heal him. His only question was as to whether the Lord Jesus was willing to do it. Thank God that the love of the Lord Jesus is no less great than His power Moved with compassion, He touched the leper, accompanying His healing touch with His assuring words, "I will: be thou clean." The dread disease immediately (not gradually) disappeared. This illustrates His great power over sin, of which leprosy is a type; though we know that more than His Word was required to remove the guilt and power of sin from mankind: His great atoning sufferings on Calvary would alone display both the power and love that were necessary to accomplish this work.
The Lord forbids the man to tell others of this, but tells him rather to show himself to the priest and conform to the law Moses had prescribed in case of the healing of leprosy. This would be solid testimony for the priests as regards the reality of the man's healing, without the excitement that many words might cause. The man however was not obedient, just as today there are some who put such emphasis on healing that the true work of God is hindered. Bodily healing is a simple thing for the Lord; but the deeper work of soul exercise is far more important, a work that may be stifled by the excitement occasioned by visible miracles. The miracles were generally signs intended to draw attention to the truth proclaimed by the Lord Jesus. His Word being put in the background by undue emphasis on His miracles, rather than on their significance, He could therefore not openly enter into the city, but remained in more deserted areas. Yet people came out to Him from every direction. This sober discernment and wisdom of God's Servant is precious to contemplate. Later we find the Lord returning to Capernaum, where many gathered at the house (no doubt Peter's house) when they heard of His presence there. The crowd became so large that the house was not adequate for them. As the true Servant of God, He preached the Word.
Sunday, March 26th, 2017
the Fourth Sunday of Lent
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