(1.14-20) After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Through the end of August,
we’re going to be following Jesus around in the gospel of Mark
and asking ourselves “what would it look like for us to take Jesus seriously?”
To take Jesus serious in the good news that he is announcing.
Last week we said that the gospel according to Jesus
is that the kingdom of God has come near.
“The reign of God hath come nigh.”
That’s the gospel according to Jesus.
That the rule and reign of God—
the dominion of God,
the realm where God is in charge,
the sphere of reality where things are as God wants them to be…
…that is coming close.
That’s the good news that Jesus is proclaiming.
That’s the story that Mark is telling.
As we’re watching Jesus over the coming weeks—
wherever Jesus is going,
whatever Jesus is doing,
we’re watching the rule and reign of God come close.
Can I be honest with you for a minute?
I have zero interest in us gathering together on Sundays
just because that’s what churches are supposed to do.
I have zero interest in studying the Bible
just because someone told me that good boys and girls are supposed to do.
I have zero interest in preaching a sermon
just because that’s what pastors are supposed to do.
I have zero interest in any of those things.
What I AM interested in—
What I DO desperately want—
What I REALLY AM chasing after is what Jesus is talking about right here.
I’m interested in discovering what God is like
and what it means to live under his rule and reign.
God and the kingdom.
That’s what I’m interested in.
I’m interested in who God is,
and what the best possible kind of life looks like.
That’s why we’re following Jesus through the gospel of Mark for a couple of months.
Not just to know some information
but to begin to take Jesus seriously.
Because central to the story of Jesus is that Jesus invites people to follow him.
Not “just Simon and his brother Andrew,”
not just the sons of Zebedee,
not just people back then.
The church confesses that Jesus is alive
(that’s what we confessed together in the Apostles’ Creed)
and that Jesus is still inviting people to follow him.
Still inviting people to journey with him,
still inviting people to enter into life,
still inviting people to taste salvation,
still inviting people to experience things as God intends them to be.
I want to take Jesus seriously.
I want us to be a community learning to take Jesus seriously.
And so in the coming months, I hope that our reflections through Mark will be spurring us in that direction.
So without further ado, let’s pray before we listen to our passage for today
and then we’ll make some brief reflections and come to the table.
we invite your kingdom to come
in our lives, in our families, in Belleview Christian School, in northwest Denver.
In these moments,
we ask that you would speak through these ancient words,
and that you would give us ears to hear your voice.
May your word and your Spirit give birth
to faith and hope and love in us
even right now.
Come speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.
We ask these things through the name of your Son Jesus,
who, together with you and the Holy Spirit, rule and reign the universe,
One God, now and forever, world without end, Amen.
(1.21-39) They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
This is the beginning of Jesus’ public activity here in the gospel of Mark,
and this really gives you a good feel for what Mark’s story feels like.
You can see both the action of Mark
and the secrecy of Mark in this story.
The gospel of Mark were to be made into a movie,
to really do it justice it would need to be an action movie.
The four gospels preserved for us in the New Testament have a lot in common.
(They’re all bearing witness to the same historical events and the same historical person—
of course they have a lot in common.)
But the four gospels also feel different.
They emphasize different things.
They tell their stories in different ways.
The four gospels all taste a little different—
they’ve all got their own distinct flavor.
Mark isn’t dialogue-driven drama like Matthew,
Mark isn’t a joyful, surprise-filled musical like Luke,
and Mark isn’t an independent arthouse movie like John.
Mark is an action movie.
Read through Mark,
and you’ll find it surprisingly scarce on Jesus telling parables
or the actual content of Jesus’ teaching.
If you want parables,
Matthew and Luke will give them to you—in spades.
If you want the content of Jesus’ teaching,
Matthew will give you the Sermon on the Mount,
Luke will give you the Sermon on the Plain,
John will give you all kinds of interesting stuff.
But if you want action,
(if you want Jesus to burst onto the scene and blow some stuff up)
Mark has got you covered.
Jesus has arrived at just the right time to start kicking some booty—
he’s here to proclaim the kingdom and absolutely trash the forces of evil.
Seriously, Jesus just trashes the forces of evil
(diseases, hunger, the demonic, even death itself)
and spreads life wherever he goes.
That’s what Verse 39 really sums up the heart of what Jesus goes around doing in Mark:
(1.39) So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
That’s the way Mark characterizes the public activity of Jesus.
And then a couple of chapters later (in chapter three)
Jesus forms a posse to help him do the same thing:
(3.14) He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.
What we read in our passage today
is like the opening action sequence of an intricately-woven action movie.
Jesus comes into the synagogue on the Sabbath and begins to teach (v21).
What is saying? What is he teaching?
Mark doesn’t tell us.
For Mark, the emphasis isn’t on what Jesus said but on what Jesus did.
Jesus performed an exorcism.
Jesus trashed some evil.
During the middle of Jesus’ teaching
a man possessed by some kind of evil, impure spirit (v23)
starts shouting at Jesus.
It’s really a terrifying scene—
I mean, imagine how scary it would be if someone started shouting right now.
Someone is shouting
and it’s obvious that something’s wrong with him.
This guy starts shouting Jesus’ deepest identity
(“I know who you are (v24)—the Holy One of God!”).
Speaking the name of someone in the ancient world
was considered to be a kind of magic.
People thought that if you could get speak and control someone’s name— someone’s deepest identity, someone’s most essential life-force— then you could gain control over them.
What a terrifying moment—what’s going to happen?
Whatever this evil spirit thought would happen didn’t.
The spirit doesn’t gain any mastery—any power—over Jesus.
Jesus simply rebukes the spirit and tells him to come out.
No chanting, no incantations, no ritual,
Jesus simply speaks
and evil flees with a shriek.
Evidently the world isn’t animated by the rules of ancient magic.
There’s a new power in town—a real power in town.
And everyone who sees this is baffled and dumbfounded (v27).
Score: Jesus, One; Evil, Nothing.
And as the story continues—as the day goes on—
it’s like Jesus just keeps scoring.
Evil spirits flee shrieking from his voice,
but fevers also vanish at his touch (v30).
Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is set free from her illness
so that she can serve the people that she loves.
And by the time the Sabbath is ending—by the time that evening comes (v32)—
we’ve got “the whole town” (v33) gathering at the door of the house.
And Jesus spends what was presumably a long night trashing the forces of evil and spreading life.
Jesus spends all night just like Simon’s mother-in-law—
serving those that he loves.
But there’s something that strikes me as funny here.
Jesus is an action hero in Mark, but it’s like he’s an action hero who’s constantly trying to keep the action quiet.
Jesus is a man of action in Mark
but he’s also a man of secrecy.
Mark’s has got an emphasis on secrecy in his account of Jesus’ life
that is unparalleled in any other gospel.
Here he doesn’t “let the demons speak (v34) because they knew who he was.”
But if you keep reading through the gospel of Mark,
you’ll keep coming across this theme:
(3.9-12) Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.
After he raises a little girl from the dead in chapter five,
(5.43) He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
As he’s traveling in chapter seven:
(7.24) Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.
After he heals a deaf and mute man verses later,
(7.36) Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.
In chapter eight he asks his disciples who they think he is,
and after they say, “You are the Messiah,”
(8.30) Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
As they’re traveling in chapter nine:
(9.30) They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were…
Again and again and again in the gospel of Mark,
we’ve got Jesus doing the most amazing action,
and simultaneously trying to hush all of it up.
What is this all about?
Good grief, Jesus, you’re here announcing and establishing the kingdom of God
announce the kingdom from the rooftops—from the mountaintops— establish the kingdom in full view of everyone—put those healings on YouTube.
Why the secrecy?
Why the covertness?
Why the hush hush?
Why shouldn’t those parents tell everyone
that you raised that girl from the dead?
Why shouldn’t your disciples tell people that you’re the messiah,
that you’re the king come to rescue the Jewish people and save the world?
In fact, this raises big questions that I wonder about sometimes—
Why doesn’t God the Father just make his presence known to the world?
Wouldn’t a voice from heaven saying “Guess what? I’m real” make him a lot easier to believe in?
Why didn’t Jesus come in a century when everyone had videocameras on their cellphones?
Wouldn’t one iPhone inside the tomb on Easter morning
have made things a whole lot easier?
Why doesn’t the Spirit of God just guide me through life like Siri guides me in my car?
Wouldn’t an obvious step-by-step be easier
than all the mystery and all the ambiguity that we experience?
I’m glad Mark brought this up—
why all the secrecy, God?
why do you always seem to be hiding the action?
why not just a loud-and-clear display of power and be done with it?
Jesus could be loud-and-clear,
but he chooses to be hush hush.
God could be loud-and-clear,
but he chooses to be secretive.
That’s frustrating to me.
The world that Jesus walked
is still the same world we walk.
The demons are shouting.
The fevers are raging.
The children are dying.
The kingdom of darkness is loud and pushy and obvious.
And we wish that God would be too.
But he’s not. Turn with me to Mark 4.
Listen to one of the few parables that Jesus tells in Mark.
In fact, it’s a tiny little parable that only shows up in the Mark:
(4.26-29) “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Jesus says that the kingdom has come near
but it’s just unlike anything we are expecting.
This is what the kingdom of God is like—
this is what the rule and reign of God is like—
it’s like a seed secretly growing.
The farmer doesn’t have anything to do with it— the kingdom is growing all the time (night and day) regardless of what we do (whether we sleep or get up).
it sprouts and grows (v27)
but we do not know how.
The action of God is not loud or pushy or obvious.
It’s a secret.
But, make no mistake,
the kingdom is growing
and there will be a harvest.
As we begin to take Jesus seriously,
what would it look like for us to respect his secrecy?
To respect the quietness of God?
Most of the time, I’m watching for noisy action from God.
But what if God already acting—he’s just quiet and modest?
What if God is already speaking and acting and saving—
what if God is already at work in our lives?
In those places that are hopeless,
in that darkness that is unbeatable,
in that situation that is unbearable?
What if God is already there?
What if God is already working?
What if taking Jesus seriously means
trusting the subterranean work of God?
What if taking Jesus seriously means
that we’ve got to learn to ask for faith to trust
that God’s kingdom will grow even when we do not know how?
Jesus is inviting us to follow him—
even when he’s secretive.
Jesus wants us to experience things as God intends them to be,
Jesus wants us to taste salvation,
Jesus wants us to enter into life,
—and so Jesus invites us to come to this table.
This table is the zenith of divine secrecy—
the crowning crescendo of Christ’s covertness.
How could it be that
…the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Body broken and blood poured out.
Isn’t this where all the secrecy leads?
To people getting hurt?
How can a kingdom come this way?
And yet—the church confesses—through the secrecy of this table
God (in his wisdom) was bringing about the best kind of good for the world.
I mean, we would not have crucified the Lord of Glory
if we had known it was him (cf. Acts 2.8);
and yet God was quietly opening the path to life
by sabotaging death from the inside.
What if despite his hiddenness, God is actually at work—in deep, subterranean places?
What if we began to realize
that the secrecy of God is driven by the love of God?
What if God’s secrecy is central to him growing his kingdom?
If God forced his rule and reign on the world,
we might grovel and beg before him
but would we ever freely love him?
If God forced his kingdom to come and his will to be done in our lives,
we might have clarity and certainty
but would we ever learn to trust him?
What if God is growing things through the secret and the quiet
that just can’t grow any other way?
What if the world is animated by something different
than ancient magic or modern convenience?
What if we learned to gaze at the cross,
and realize that the quiet love of God animates the world.
Quiet, self-giving, long-suffering love.
It still leaves the world baffled and dumbfounded.
That’s what is at work in the world, that’s what is at work in our lives, that’s what this table is inviting us to live in.
To live in the kingdom—
where we trust and celebrate
that quiet, self-giving, long-suffering love rules the universe,
and where we begin to embody quiet, self-giving, long suffering love around us.
In a moment, you’ll be invited to come down the center aisle,
receive a cracker, dip it in some juice, and return to your seats along the sides.
A lot of mornings, this doesn’t feel like anything special.
But as we come this morning, may we recognize that God is present and acting even here— even in the ordinary and the boring of crackers and juice.
May we remember that God and his messiah are already at work
even when we cannot recognize it;
may we trust that the kingdom is growing
even when we do not know how;
and may we all cling to the cross
until we finally see the harvest and feast with the king.