Now would you please take your Bibles in hand and turn with me to Mark’s gospel, chapter 1; page 836 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. And we are considering the words of verses 29 through 39 of Mark chapter 1.
You might say that this part of the chapter reads a bit like a sort of a journalistic documentary, you know, as the camera follows Jesus across the course of one whole day; one twenty-four-hour period. If you trace back to verse 21 for a moment you will see that the passage we considered last week begins on the Sabbath morning. And then, verse 29, He went directly from the synagogue where He sees accustomed to have gone every Sabbath, verse 29 tells us He went directly to the home of Simon and Andrew. And then notice the events that follow in verse 32. They take place at Simon’s home after sundown. So now we’re into the evening of the Sabbath day. And then, Jesus, while it’s still dark, very early the next morning, retreats to a desolate place in verse 35 for prayer. And so you see how it goes. It’s morning all the way to morning – a twenty-four-hour period; one whole day in the life of Jesus.
And last time, if you will remember, we sort of paused the documentary at verse 28 at the end of the remarkable account of the events that took place in the synagogue with the demon-possessed man that Sabbath morning. And now we are pressing "play" once again and resuming this day in the life of Jesus as we see three more facets of Jesus' ministry and of His kingdom. That is Mark's agenda for Mark chapter 1. It is to show us the nature of the kingdom of Jesus Christ to help us understand what sort of King He really is.
And so I want you to look with me at the passage and notice the three headings we’re considering in verses 29 to 39. First, I want you to see Jesus’ compassion; the compassion of Christ as He cares for the sick and for the needy. That’s in 29 to 34. Then secondly, Jesus’ communion that He has with God the Father as He comes apart for a time to pray in verse 35. So compassion, then communion, and then finally Jesus’ commission. He is sent on a particular errand in verses 36 to 39. He has come, we are told, to preach. So compassion, communion, commission.
Now before we turn to work through that outline and read the passage together, let’s bow our heads once more as we pray. Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, we come to You now asking You to be the Preacher, the Teacher of our hearts by Your Word and Spirit that we may meet with You and receive again Your compassion, Your grace, Your tenderness and love. For we ask this in Your name, amen.
Mark chapter 1 at verse 29. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And immediately he,” – 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.
That evening at sundown 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.
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy Word.
When I was in seminary, it was then the practice in the Free Church of Scotland college for each new class to begin with the ringing of a bell. And when the bell rang, we all had to be at our seats. And on this particular occasion, it was a Hebrew class and we were all ready, present and accounted for when the bell rang, but the professor didn’t show. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes went on into the class and still he didn’t show. And eventually and suddenly, the door sort of burst open and this large, imposing figure, Professor McAye, our Hebrew professor, burst into the room red-faced and flustered, carrying assorted papers and books in both arms. He marched to the front and sort of dumped them all on the desk and said, “Well, I suppose I have to leave my real work to come and deal with you people!” Now, understand, this was a Scottish seminary, and yet, that was actually quite unusual behavior. That was a joke! Despite the fact that he had to deal with brainless clots like me, he normally exercised the patience of Job in dealing with us. But today, Professor McAye was filled with frustration. It turns out that he was under a publisher’s deadline. He was writing a commentary on a book of Old Testament Scripture and had been immersed in it. When the bell rang it took him by surprise and he was really frustrated. For him, on that moment, teaching a class was a decided inconvenience.
Now in this part of Mark chapter 1, we get a very clear glimpse of the overwhelming demands on Jesus’ time. Don’t we? Ministry for Him was relentless. The crowds will not leave Him alone so He goes to worship on the Sabbath at the synagogue. He’s due to preach, His preaching is interrupted, and He has to deal with a demon-possessed man. When He finally makes it to the door and gets home with Simon and Andrew, James and John, for lunch that afternoon, He still can't quite unwind because Simon's mother-in-law needs His help. She is burning up with a fever and is in need of healing. And that night, instead of rest, after dark has fallen there is a knock at the door, the door is opened, and there is the entire town it seems bringing all their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus for His mercy. When He finally manages to steal a few moments and He sneaks away, as it were, in the dark to a desolate place to pray, even there His disciples track Him down and press upon Him still further the claims of the crowd who urgently want to see Him.
He has hardly a moment to draw breath without someone making demands upon Him. And yet, we don’t see Him get frustrated here. Do we? He doesn’t get impatient with a needy crowd. He doesn’t call these desperate people coming to Him, He doesn’t call them a distraction. They’re never an interruption. People, for Jesus, are not an inconvenience. The fact is, He’s here for them; He’s here for us.
If you’ll look at verses 29 to 31 you’ll see part of the explanation for His extraordinary forbearance and patience with the crowds as He pours Himself out relentlessly in ministry in the way that He does. It has to do with Jesus’ compassion; Jesus’ compassion. Simon, Andrew, James and John, as we’ve said, they all go back with Jesus to Simon’s place for lunch after the services are finished at the synagogue. And when they get there, they discover Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. The Greek word is actually “a fire,” so she’s burning up. And in those days, that was potentially a life-threatening condition. She’s in bed, and look at verse 31. “He came to her and took her by the hand and lifted her up,” He raised her up, “and the fever left her and she began to serve them.”
Just notice that Jesus takes her by the hand. That is just a small detail, but Jesus didn’t have to heal her that way. Did He? He exorcised the demon from the possessed man in the synagogue back in verse 25 simply with a word of command, “Shut up and come out,” and the demon obeys. In chapter 2, there’s a paralyzed man and Jesus simply tells him, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk,” and the man is suddenly healed and enabled to obey at the word of Jesus. He doesn’t have to heal with a touch, and yet here, this poor woman, burning up, consumed by this fever, receives the touch of the hand of Jesus Christ. Unlike us, when confronted with someone in a sick and fevered condition, Jesus doesn’t pull back. There’s no fear for His own vulnerabilities. No, He holds her hand. It’s just a little note of His deep compassion; His tenderness.
This is love. Isn’t it? When Jesus deals with us, it is never perfunctory or mechanical. It’s always personal and kind. I’m reminded of Isaiah 41:13. “I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand. It is I who say to you, ‘Fear not. I am the one who helps you.’” And here He is now, taken flesh, dwelling among us, touching us with His hand, and bringing healing.
Nature of the Kingdom
Now you will remember that part of Mark’s agenda is to teach us about the nature of the kingdom that Jesus’ coming inaugurates. And this healing is a part of that agenda. Jesus has come, I think we are being told, He’s come to restore and to make whole what sin has marred and broken. One day, because of Jesus, because of His obedience and death and glorious resurrection, one day there will be no more sickness, no more fever, no more death, no more sorrow. The Lord will wipe away every tear from our eyes one day. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth; a home of righteousness. One day all things will be put right at last. And that is the mission, the errand upon which Jesus was sent. That’s why He bled and died and rose and reigns. And here we get just a little glimpse of that purpose ahead of time.
Response of Service
And do notice what happens when Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. It’s an extraordinary thing when you think about it. One moment she is limp, burning with a temperature, perhaps shivering and trembling, sweating; everyone is filled with concern for her life. The next moment, she’s never felt better and she’s busy serving them. Probably a reference to her now serving them the now delayed Sabbath lunch. She’s busy serving. It’s an amazing moment. A great reversal has taken place because of the compassionate touch and healing grace of the Lord Jesus. And even here too, I think, we have just a little hint, an adumbration of the purpose of Jesus’ coming. When He brings His compassionate grace and mercy to bear upon us and begins to put our lives the right way up again at last, He calls us to serve Him. When, in His compassion, He brings us to Himself and renovates us, there is a response that is appropriate. It’s the response of service.
There was once a very talkative lady who came to know the Lord Jesus under the ministry of the great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And she came to Spurgeon on one occasion to explain to him the blessing she had received under his preaching ministry. “Oh, Mr. Spurgeon,” she said, “Christ has changed my life and He shall never hear the end of it!” And that’s absolutely right. Isn’t it? When Jesus breaks into our lives, in His love, in His grace, when His compassion begins to set our lives right side up again, our response should be the same as Simon’s mother-in-law here that Sabbath afternoon – we should begin to serve. Or the same as this lady under Spurgeon’s ministry – He should never hear the end of it. Our lives are to be now devoted to Him. Compassion calls us to serve.
While we're thinking about Jesus' compassion, notice just how expansive it is. It's not private; it's not reserved just for the inner circle – His disciples and their family. No, it reaches to the whole town. Doesn't it? Look at verses 32 through 34. After nightfall, apparently the whole town shows up at Simon's door looking for help from Jesus. They brought the sick and the demon-possessed. Just as an aside, it is not uncommon to hear enlightened sceptics to speak with some condescension about the primitives of Bible times and how these poor benighted people simply misdiagnosed natural illness because they, in their superstitious minds, "They saw demons and spirits everywhere you know. That's what this language of demon possession is really about." But that's not at all the case. If you see carefully in the text, Mark is very clear. There is a distinct difference that everyone could identify and tell between demon possession and the sick who needed healing. And we ought to resist, I think, any kind of condescending prejudice toward the authors of Scripture; any sort of chronological snobbery. No, they knew fine the difference and exactly what they were doing as they brought these needy ones to Christ. And Jesus responds with abundant grace and welcomes them and cares for them.
Notice when they did it. That evening, at sundown. You may know that the Jewish Sabbath concluded at sundown. So the people have waited till then to bring their needy to Christ. We’ve already noticed, if you were with us last time, you will have noticed the subtle indictment of the religious traditions and system of rabbinic thought and the burdensome formalism that marked the religion of the synagogue that sort of laces Mark’s gospel. There was an implied indictment of the religion of the synagogue in the previous section that we saw last time. It seems as though the demon-possessed man was quite at home in the synagogue, that is, until Jesus rose and began to preach. There's a subtle indictment of the synagogue. And there is also here, I think too, a subtle indictment of the traditions and the regulations that had come to encrust the law of Moses, with all their additions to it from the scribes and the rabbis, because the people here are more concerned to uphold the traditions of the fathers than they are to show mercy and apply grace and compassion. It would have been considered Sabbath-breaking work to bring the sick and the needy to Jesus, so they wait till the sun goes down.
It’s as though to say, after the synagogue services are concluded, after the sun has set and the Sabbath is over, now the real work of the kingdom begins – at night, out in the open air. The people are more concerned about the traditions of the rabbis than real compassion for the needy. Jesus, in chapter 3, will have to challenge them directly on precisely this point. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath,” He asked, “to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” And they were so ensnared by the traditions of the scribes and the fathers that they could not answer Him. And so to demonstrate the lawfulness of doing good on the Sabbath day, Jesus healed a man. But here, Jesus doesn’t rebuke them. He doesn’t turn them away after a long hard day of public and private ministry. No, His compassion is expansive enough for them all and He heals them and casts out their demons.
I suspect some of us have rather lost sight of the compassion of Jesus. You may be very ready to confess it with your lips and believe it to be true in your mind. Is Jesus compassionate? “Oh yes, very compassionate!” But is it really operational and functional in your heart, in your life? We may think in practice of a severe and cold Christ, reluctant, always shrewdly assessing looking for the worthy and the qualified. And so we shrink back and we disqualify ourselves and we say, “He doesn’t want to hear from me. My trials and burdens are surely beneath Him.” But here, we see the vast throng crowding around His door pressing for His help and He heals and He touches and He pours out His compassion. There is a largeness in the compassion of Christ, broad enough and wide enough to embrace you. So you can go to Him. You don’t have to pull back; you can press in. You can go to Him. His heart is touched with compassion for you. A high priest who is not unable to sympathize with us in our weaknesses. He’s touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He cares. There is a tenderness in Jesus. Why hold back? Why not turn to Him and pour out your heart? Go to His throne that you may obtain mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need.
Then secondly, notice not only the compassion of Christ but His communion; His communion with the Father. Look at verse 35. “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place. And there he prayed.” Now I know why I need to pray. I’m a busy man. I’m a sinful man. I’m a mere man. But why does Jesus need to pray? We know for sure He never once prayed a prayer of confession. Do you ever use the ACTS acronym to help you pray? Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Jesus never had the “C” in His prayer routine. He never sinned; never once. His prayers were supplication, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of lamentation, grieving over the suffering and sin of the people He came to save. But there was never once a cry to God for forgiveness. Doubtless, He prayed for sustenance, to be strengthened and kept amidst all the wearisome and burdensome demands that were placed upon Him as He poured Himself out for the good of others. No doubt, as He tells us elsewhere, He prayed for His disciples. “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you.” Jesus prays for His disciples that we might be sustained and kept and strengthened.
No doubt these were the features of His prayer, but isn’t it remarkable simply to notice that He is praying at all? Why does Jesus pray? Isn’t He, after all, the divine Son? What need has He to pray? You don’t mean to say that He’s really a man, do you, with all the limitations and liabilities of creatureliness, sin excepted? You don’t mean to say that there are things He did not know, that there were limitations to His understanding, to His energy, to His physical stamina? You don’t mean to say that He was really a man, do you? Well yes, that’s precisely what I mean to say. “The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.” He is a man. And as a man, our Savior, the Lord Jesus, needed to pray. Jesus needed to pray – to be upheld and strengthened and sustained!
Now that is, at once, enormously challenging for us and enormously encouraging. It's challenging because if Jesus needed to pray, do we really think we have no need to pray? Those of us who serve as officers of the church to whom is entrusted the care of the flock, don't you need to pray? Those of us who, this coming week, will be laboring in Vacation Bible School, seeking to point young children to the Lord Jesus, coming with all their baggage and different backgrounds and needs, don't you need to pray? Parents, struggling to raise your children in the admonition and training of the Lord in this digital age with all its temptations and dangers, don't you need to pray? Young adults beginning to lay foundations for the rest of your life, perhaps seeking a spouse or beginning a new career, don’t you need to pray? Look at your heart and see all the liabilities of your nature and your proneness to sin and backsliding and wayward wandering, taking wrong turn after wrong turn, misunderstanding, transgressing, disobeying, leaving undone duties to which we are called, and doing that which has been forbidden. Don’t we need to pray? Here is Jesus – holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners – He needed to pray, and if He needed to pray, how much more do we? There’s a challenge here, isn’t here?
There’s also a great encouragement, because the one to whom we turn, the one who presides upon the throne of glory and grace, is the same Christ we see here calling out to the Father Himself to be sustained and strengthened. That means He knows what it is to need help. He knows what it is to cry out for strength. He’s one to whom you may turn, confident that He understands. You will have His ear, filled as He is with compassion for you. So here is Jesus full of compassion and Jesus committed to communion with God summoning us who seek to follow Him to follow in this part of His path to the place of prayer.
Compassion. Communion. Then thirdly, notice Jesus’ commission; verses 36 through 39. Jesus was given a particular mission to fulfill, a commission from the Father. Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him and they found Him in this deserted place and they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You. the ministry is going really well! Last night was awesome, Jesus! I mean, they love You! They can’t get enough of You! In fact, they’re all crowding around Simon’s house right now, chanting Your name! Let’s go back. Let’s build some momentum. Let’s start a movement. Let’s change the world! Now’s our opportunity! This is exciting!” “Let us go on to the next town that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out,” He said. He just doused them in a large bucket of ice water. Didn’t He? They want to put Jesus back in front of the crowds, ASAP. Their excitement is a fever pitch and Jesus wants to bail. What’s going on?
Well, Jesus has a commission, an errant to complete, a mission to fulfill. He came out, He says, “in order to preach.” He was sent to preach. He’s not really interested in attracting crowds or making a name. He aims at modesty not display; at humility, not power; at faithfulness, not popularity. That’s the character of His kingdom, so contrary to the values of the world. He certainly doesn’t want to be the resident magic miracle worker for the town of Capernaum and so He resolves to move on and to preach elsewhere.
Temptation of Miracles
And I think that actually speaks very helpfully to two temptations to which the disciples, the crowds, and we are all liable. First is the temptation to want Jesus only for what He can do for us. That was a real temptation for the crowds. They loved Jesus, the miracle worker; Jesus who can heal with a word or a touch; Jesus the magic healing man. He’s handy to have around! But as we saw when we looked at Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue, when Jesus began to teach and to call people to repent and believe, to touch their hearts and to summon them to Himself, well the reactions were entirely different. That’s a much more uncomfortable thing altogether. But you see, Jesus just will not be used. His compassion, while real and abounding, is not simply a means to deliver to us the best life we always wanted, to make everything just right once again that we might be happy and healthy and whole. Jesus will not be used, because you see, what you get in the Gospel isn’t just blessings. You get the benefactor Himself. And the message Jesus preached wasn’t, “I can make you whole.” The message Jesus preached was, “I will give you Myself, and in fellowship with Me, you will come to know the living God and find your purpose and begin to live under His reign at last.” And so, this withdrawal here, while it seems perplexing at first, is really a way for Jesus to ensure that He is not used and manipulated.
Temptation Beyond the Teachings
The other thing to say, the other temptation it addresses, has to do with the temptation to think we can have access to Jesus somehow unmediated by teaching; that somehow behind the teaching of the Bible there is a more basic way to know and meet with Jesus. But you see, Jesus is insisting that preaching provide the context for His whole ministry. There is no uninterpreted Jesus to which we can get back to by peeling away the layers of Bible teaching. No, Jesus Himself taught and preached Himself why He came, the implications of His arrival, the significance of His ministry, because truth matters. It’s not good enough, you see, to talk about Jesus, say you believe in Jesus, that you love Jesus, and that you follow Jesus. That’s all well and good. But who is this Jesus that you say you believe in and love and follow? Do you know the Biblical Jesus? The Christ of Scripture? The Christ that Christ Himself preached and His apostles proclaimed, recorded for us in the pages of the holy Book?
The miracles and the exorcisms that Jesus performed, you see, were signs of His kingdom, but they were signs that had to be interpreted, and so Jesus came preaching. Donald McLeod, another of my old professors back in Scotland, used to say that the Presbyterian Church “has a liturgy of listening.” A liturgy of listening. That is, we hear the Bible read and preached and prayed and sung. It’s not primarily visual or tactile, but rather it is an auditory thing. We hear the voice of God speaking in the Word of God. We meet with Christ in the pages of holy Scripture. Christianity that’s impatient with preaching is not the Christianity of Jesus Christ, you see. And so Jesus went throughout all Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. There is a mission laid upon Him of which He was conscious, driving Him forward.
There’s a sense in which we have to say Jesus is the great evangelist. Bethan Lloyd-Jones, the wife of the famous Martyn Lloyd-Jones, probably the greatest preacher of the 20th century, said, "You will never understand my husband until you understand that he was, first of all, an evangelist." And we have to say that about Jesus here. He is, first of all, an evangelist. He wants to go to other towns and other villages that He may preach there also because He wants people to know Him and to trust in Him and to believe in Him.
Now how are we to respond to all of that? If the compassion and grace of Jesus breaking in upon our lives summons us to service, what shape might that service take? Well, Jesus told us, didn't He? "Go into all the world and make disciples." He called us to join Him on the mission entrusted to Him, now entrusted to us, to go proclaim good news far and wide and to make disciples of all people. There is a summons laid upon Christ that Christ, in turn, has laid upon the church to go and to make Him known.
So here, we see the compassion of Jesus. What a great encouragement to come to Him instead of running from Him. He is “the Lord, the Lord, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” He is the Lord who holds you by your right hand and says, “Fear not, for I am with you.” You can come to Him, this Jesus. His heart is tender toward you, ready to give you grace. Here we see Jesus a man of prayer, having communion with God, challenging us to be people of prayer who follow Him and comforting and encouraging us as we do, knowing that the one to whom we turn in prayer is the one Himself who knows what it means to pray. And here we see the commission of Jesus, sent to preach, came out in order to preach. The only Jesus there is, is the Jesus, Jesus taught, and the Jesus the disciples proclaimed and the Jesus we meet in Scripture. And He is now entrusted to us. The message about Jesus entrusted to us that we may join Him on His mission of making Him known to the ends of the earth. Jesus’ compassion can change us, and when it does, He wants to use us for His glory.
Let’s pray together.
Lord Jesus, would You please take hold of our hearts and begin to turn our lives the right side up again at last? We pray that You would change us by Your compassion and grace and then deploy us in Your service, that like Simon’s mother-in-law, we might rise to serve You, that we might never let You hear the end of it as we celebrate Your grace, and all around us may learn of the good news about Jesus as we go prayerfully to make You known. For we ask it in Your name, amen.
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