Eleven weeks in and I wonder how you’re doing. Maybe you’ve been trying to make the most of the time and weather: learning new skills and discovering, like the Apostle Paul, that the Christian message is not chained even though we’ve been under house arrest. I’ve been doing a bit of gardening and learning that if you plant summer bulbs upside down they struggle to appear, though they do if you correct them and water them; and I’ve also discovered that Mark’s Gospel isn’t chained and can still be planted and watered through lockdown – Christianity Explored online at JPC which is based on Mark has attracted folks from around the country and things which were upside down and the wrong way round in people’s minds are being lovingly corrected by Jesus through Mark. Or perhaps you’re just waiting for some good news – a miracle vaccine and evidence of a better future – but feeling a bit fed up.
Well, if you’re down and ready for some good news, take heart; for the message of Mark’s Gospel is that bad times can become good times through Jesus Christ. Look back to Mark 1.1:
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
Mark’s saying that Christianity is good news – that’s what the word ‘gospel’ means. It’s good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Perhaps you’ve never seen that so starkly before. You see it’s not all about rules and rituals or being boring but rather it’s the best news ever about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died and rose again that we might really live as part of God’s Kingdom through faith in him, God’s chosen King. Do you see? It’s so easy to miss this but so important that we don’t, if bad times are to become good times in our lives and beyond through Jesus Christ. That’s not to say the good times will always be easy. No. Jesus never promises that in this world but he does promise life with God now and forever and so life full of meaning and purpose. Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, says his faith in Christ gives him life, a life which he can’t not speak about, and a deep security which means he has nothing to fear. One of his players, Bobby Firmino, was recently baptised saying similar things, with teammate Allison Becker acting as his sponsor. Justin Bieber, the pop star, recently shared his Christian testimony with his 137 million followers on Instagram, saying that after fame had left him hurting, broken and empty, he’d found hope and new life through faith in Jesus. Do you want to begin to taste this new life in Jesus too?
Well then, don’t miss this next bit about how you can receive that life, verses 14 and 15
"Now after John [the Baptist] was arrested [for challenging King Herod’s immorality], Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel [good news] of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent [change your mind] and believe in the gospel.'"
From God's perspective, this was a good time and the right time for Christ to begin his ministry on earth. It was the right time for God the Son, to live, teach, die and rise again. And the nub of what Jesus was saying at this time was that God, the God of the Bible, is the ultimate King. The ultimate authority isn’t Herod or the Roman Emperor. The ultimate King over all is almighty God and in Jesus Christ his kingly rule has directly entered time and space. That was the good news. So people needed to repent and admit they’d been ignoring or defying God's kingship over their own lives. They needed to ask for God's forgiveness. And they needed to believe the good news. Repentance on its own doesn’t save us from sin, guilt and fear and bring new life. We need to believe the good news. For there is a way out of the mess, through the Cross of Christ where sin can be forgiven and then through the power of the Holy Spirit that can be received for a new life. Yes, bad times can become good times through Jesus Christ. Who needs to hear that and then repent and believe?
But you say tell me more. Why should I believe and trust in Jesus Christ? Is he really God the Son? Why should I accept him as King and my King?
These questions all relate to Jesus’ authority and identity. And this is what Mark chiefly addresses in his first eight chapters. He knows this is such a key issue.
You see, as the Christianity Explored course says, if we don’t get Jesus’ identity right then we’ll relate to him in totally the wrong way or even just ignore him. Mark want us to recognise Jesus for who he really is – the Son of God and the Christ or Messiah, a title, not a surname, which means God’s only chosen King. And Mark gives us remarkable evidence for this being true, which was given to him personally by Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples. And here in verses 21 to 34 this evidence shows Jesus’ inherent power and authority as God the Son and Christ the King – in teaching, over the power of evil, and over sickness.
1. Jesus Christ’s Inherent Power and Authority to Teach (v21-22)
"And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes."
What set Jesus apart was the way that he taught. The teachers of Jesus’ day didn’t come up with their own material. They just offered opinions on what others had said. Jesus was very different. He didn’t need to stand on anyone else’s thoughts for Jesus has such authority in himself. He is God. Look at the people’s reaction in verse 22, they were astonished at his words for he taught them as one who had authority! And verse 27, “What is this? A new teaching with authority!”
This young man with hardly any formal education was suddenly giving answers that baffled even the wisest teachers. He could teach powerfully and authoritatively. But was he able to live out what he taught? Jesus was no hypocrite, unlike the scribes. On the cross, he prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23.34). Now, that’s practising what you preach.
2. Jesus Also Has Inherent Power and Authority Over the Power of Evil (v.23-27)
In verses 23 to 27 Jesus cured spiritual suffering, releasing people from demonic oppression.
"And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 'What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.' But Jesus rebuked him, saying, 'Be silent, and come out of him!' And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed…'He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.'"
Jesus has inherent power and authority over the devil. The Bible makes it clear that through Christ, the devil is a defeated being, though still active. Maybe some of you have raised eyebrows at this belief in a devil today. Well the Bible teaches that the evil in this world is not fully accounted for by adding together the sum total of individual human misdeeds. There is, so to speak, a super-plus. And that you’re to think of that super-plus not as an 'it' but a 'he', not as an impersonal force but as an intelligent power.
You’re thinking OK but how does this man with an unclean spirit apply to me? Well this is the extreme of the spectrum on which we all lie: we’re all by nature ‘under sin’, under ‘the dominion of darkness’, in the kingdom of Satan; we’re all possessions of the ‘strong man’ (Satan) of Mark 3.27 and needing the Stronger One (Jesus Christ) to release us from bondage to him. Do you see?
3. Jesus Also Has Inherent Power and Authority Over Sickness (v29-31)
"And immediately Jesus left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them."
Jesus demonstrates his absolute authority over sickness. With just a touch of his hand the fever is cured. But this wasn’t all. At once "she began to serve them." This was also remarkable, no bed rest to aid recovery was needed. What do we learn? Christ can heal. He is God and King. Yes God uses means so, if necessary, urgent medical help is to be sought. But the first thing to be done, is to cry to the Lord Jesus for help. You see we live in a world of sin and sorrow. There can be days of darkness in a person's life. Let’s know what to do, when sickness, or bereavement, or loss, or disappointment break in. Let’s do as they did here. Let’s at once "tell Jesus."
But perhaps you’re saying, 'can you really believe in these miracles today?' Well as one professor has said, “you can’t strip the gospel record to a plain commonplace tale devoid of the miraculous and the supernatural. The early Christians believed that, in Christ, God had been at work in new and astonishing ways and they had the evidence of their own eyes to support their faith." So Jesus was healing and restoring wholeness. Is that really so surprising if Jesus is God the Son, through whom all things were created, and if he’s King?
And this wasn’t just an isolated incident. In verse 34 he cured whole crowds of sick people and released more people from demonic oppression. Verses 32 to 34,
"That evening at sunset they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him."
Soon afterwards Jesus also cured a man with leprosy. He was filled with compassion for this man whom others rejected, and his touch instantly healed him. Jesus has inherent power and authority over sickness and over the power of evil.
So what does this mean for us?
To be subject to evil, sin, Satan and to be subject to sickness and mortality are consequences of the fall, spelt out in Genesis 3. So like all Jesus’ miracles, these aren’t just creation miracles (signs that he’s God the Son and co-Creator), but kingdom miracles (signs that he’s the King with authority to rescue us from our rebellion against God and its consequences). They’re signs and foretastes of what things will look like when he returns to rule unopposed. Will you turn to Christ as your God and King and know his gracious rescue and rule in your life?
You see, "The life of Christianity," said Martin Luther, "consists in possessive pronouns." It’s one thing to say, "Christ is a Saviour." It’s quite another to say "He’s my Saviour and my Lord, my God and my King." Even the devil can say the first. The true Christian alone can say the second. What can you say?
To find out more, request a free book and to sign up for our Christianity Explored Tasters go to our site www.whyjesus.org.uk. God bless you.