The who, the what and the why (Mark 1:21-45)

One thing that I get terrifically irritated by is when someone hijacks my message. I choose my words carefully, I try and articulate myself thoughtfully and then someone willfully mis-communicates me. For example, you can be in a work setting and you present your opinion on solving a particular problem. Someone else chimes in enthusiastically “Yes, yes, I see! I think what you’re saying Julia, is that its all Eric’s fault!” Suddenly everyone is whipped up into a frenzy and there’s practically a hiring freeze on anyone called Eric or sounding anything like Eric.

This can happen in so many settings. At home, with school mums and teachers, and even at church. Sometimes its how the words are offered and sometimes it depends on what ears you listen with.

Note: This is a stand alone blog that doesn’t depend on any other piece. But it runs as part of an online Bible study in Mark and throughout there are links to previous observations. You can dip in and out or start at the beginning if you like. If not, that’s also fine – you don’t need to have started at the beginning to be able to get into this blog.

In today’s passage, Jesus knows what ears people are listening with and is careful to craft what he is communicating. Last week we saw it all started with a bang – like a big opening musical number. Jesus has been very publicly identified as the Messiah, and the Son of God. We saw that these two roles were not necessarily linked in the Jewish consciousness at the time. The Messiah was just someone to be sent by God – not necessarily his Son. They were expecting a prophet, or another David – a knight in shining armor who would arrive on flaming chariots and drive out the oppressive Romans.

In the passage from verses 21-45, Jesus makes some very clear and pointed statements about himself which links him to deeper messages expressed in Old Testament prophecies.


In verses 21-28, Jesus drives out demons. Now, we see in other places other people driving out demons (check out Luke 9:49) so this doesn’t necessarily announce Jesus as anything truly spectacular. The difference here is that the demons know Jesus. They know who he is. How would the spirits and demons know who he is? In James 2:19, James says to his audience “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that.” The demons are from the spiritual realm – they know the one who is from God and is God. While demons may be driven out by others, they do not know them.

Jesus however has authority. The people were amazed at his teaching (Mk 1:22) because he had authority. We would associate that with someone who has qualifications to teach. But Mark says the people were amazed because Jesus was not as the teachers of the law. The Greek, exousia which is translated here as “authority” carries more weight than we assume. It carries with it a sense of authority delegated by God. It means Jesus’ words were heard by the people and they knew this was no ordinary teaching. The words carried the weight of God himself.

So we had the big opening musical number that announced Jesus’ presence. Now we see he has the authority of God and demons recognise him. Could Jesus be the avenging angel of God come to save the Jews?

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Verses 29-40 remind us particularity of Isaiah 35:5-6. Here, Isaiah prophecies that “the eyes of the blind [will] be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” These are the very signs of the Messiah in whom, Isaiah 35:2 says “they will see the glory of the Lordthe splendor of our God.” And here is Jesus in vv29-40, healing “many who had various diseases.” (Mark 1:34)

But healing people is not why Jesus came. In verse 28 Jesus says “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” He came to preach the gospel. The healing is so people might know that he is the Messiah. It is so he might communicate that in him, people are seeing the very glory and splendor of God.

But in the same significant passage of Isaiah, the prophecy continues “your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” (Is. 35:4). This is what the Jews were expecting. Yes! A bit of vengeance and some victory on the battlefield. Some smiting and some slaying! Of course we, on this side of the cross, can read this from the perspective of Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s righteous judgement. But 2,000 years ago, Jews were looking for a Thor-type hero to come dashing in on a chariot.

This is what Jesus had to avoid. Because it was a very real risk that people, in hearing with ears of desperate hope, could hijack his message and his ministry. In the gospel of John, we read that “after the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say,Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:14-15).

So, Jesus is communicating his messages, but he has to do it carefully – spoon feeding his hearers so they have time to adjust their cultural expectations to be able to hear and understand the truth of why he had come. They were expecting a prophet and a king. They were not expecting God himself, made human, to sacrifice himself for the world. That’s why, when Jesus heals the man with leprosy in Mark 1:40-45, Jesus told him not to tell anyone. Jesus needed to control the message as much as possible. He told the healed leper to present himself to the priests (for giggles check out Leviticus 14:1-32 where people cleansed of skin diseases had to be “cleared” by the priest to re-enter community). But the healed man was not to tell anyone else (which of course he did).

So the thread of this is:

  1. Jesus presence is announced
  2. We begin to see that he is from God by his authority
  3. His actions realise the prophecy of Isaiah 35:5-6
  4. Which leads us to realise that we are seeing the very splendor and glory of God (Isaiah 35:2)
  5. Jesus has come to enact God’s vengeance and judgement (Isaiah 35:4)
  6. But not in the way that the people think and so the message has to be carefully controlled and communicated. People need to be able to understand and follow along because –
  7. In Isaiah 35:8-10 Isaiah had continued his prophecy “and a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Jesus is not just here to drive out the Romans. Jesus is here to preach the good news. There is a way, a journey. This is so much bigger than anyone could have anticipated. This is a heart journey.

At this point, Mark’s readers must have been asking each other “what the….?” and “what is this “way”?” Their minds must have been absolutely blown. They must have been on the edge of their seats trying to put it all together in their minds.

This is exactly where the disciples must have been. Everything they thought they knew is kind of right but sort of wrong. Who is this guy? And where is this going?


Post me your comments and questions and lets get some online chat going!! And if you want to follow along, I’ll post the next online Bible study about the same time next week 🙂

15 thoughts

  1. Thanks for your post. I was just wondering if you know much about synagogues in Jesus’ time? I find it interesting Jesus was able to teach at the synagogue (v21) when the saducees and pharisees accuse him of doing what he does through Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24). I find it strange they’d let someone they thought was being led by the chief of evil spirits teach in the synagogue.

    1. I really like this question because it made me consider the historical operation of the synagogue. Remember the concept of the synagogue had really risen with the exile – when the Israelites were physically removed from the temple. The temple was a place of ritual and sacrifice whereas the synagogue because more a place of study and prayer. Someone coming in to teach had to be permitted though. Travelling rabbis were often invited to teach in the synagogue (and they didn’t have Google to suss out what their track record was).

      Jesus had his miracles which would have opened doors – and he was the head of a new Jewish “sect” that was gaining a serious following. We might imagine that the priests were intrigued by his miracles and by what authority he spoke, even though his growing popularity clearly alarmed them. As keepers of the Jewish religion, the priests may also have wanted to know what Jesus’ teaching was from his own mouth. What he then taught must have astonished and scared them – hence the alarmist cry of Beelzebub in Matthew – it may also have been deliberate to invite him in, have his teaching clearly stated and just as clearly denounced by them in the synagogue in front of all the people. There’s a certain amount of this that is conjecture, but in terms of the culture of the day, there are several reasons that Jesus could/would have been invited to teach at the synagogue. Hope this helps!

      1. Wow. Whenever I read that passage I always assumed the temple and synagogue were the same thing but after reading your response I did some research and they’re very different. Considering what the synagogue was it makes sense that Jesus was able to teach there. This has opened my eyes to so much more in the scriptures. For example it’s given me greater understanding about the fear of the parents of the blind man who Jesus healed, of being ‘put out’ of the synagogue (John 9:22). I always thought it meant they couldn’t go to the temple building – kind of like not being allowed to attend church on Sunday- but it’s more than that. The synagogue, from what I now understand, is their community and the social hub of the jewish community. To be ‘put out’ would be a big deal.

  2. I’m challenged by verse 35 where it says Jesus rose ‘a great while before day’ and went out to a solitary place to pray. I’m not good at getting up early or staying up late. I’m a middle of the day person. I find when I try getting up early to spend time with God that I feel like I spend the whole time fighting to stay awake. It never feels like quality time. However so many biographies of men and women of God speak of them getting up early to spend time with God. Do you think it’s imortant to get up early to spend time with God in prayer or would it be better to sleep and then spend time with God when I’m more alert and not fighting to try stay awake?

    1. I know what you mean Alison – I read about people like Martin Luther and others who get up at about 4am to spend at least 2-3 hours in prayer and meditation before starting the day. I am NOT a morning person and I’ve always thought those people who did that were somehow extra holy and amazing and that its the kind of thing I should be doing. But remember this stuff (particularly looking back at Jesus) is descriptive, not prescriptive. Getting up before dawn is not prescribed in the Bible. It describes an activity of carving out from the day a time of physical and spiritual space to spend with God. That’s the key I think.

      1. That’s exactly how I think too. If I don’t get up early I feel guilty and like I’m not putting God first and if I do get up I feel exhausted and feel like I’m not giving God my best throughout the day. It’s a good point you made about this verse being descriptive rather than prescriptive. For me there is deems to be something special about spending time with God at the start of your day, even if it’s only a short period of time. I find it’s different to spending time with Him at other times during the day and I really miss that time and notice a big difference when I don’t have that morning time. I’m looking forward to my holidays when I can have that morning time again.

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