Mark 1:16-28, Calling to Discipleship and Confronting the Demonic

[January 17, 2010] Where did the Gospel according to Mark come from? It came from Peter—who accompanied Jesus—retelling the story of Jesus as he compared and validated the two accounts of the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke. He skipped the story of the Jesus’ birth and infancy and quickly summarized the baptism and temptation of Jesus, where for him the Gospel really begins.

Jesus’ Preaching, the K?rygma (Mark 1:14-15)

In Luke Jesus’ ministry begins in Nazareth when Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 and says, “This Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The passage from Isaiah is about the Servant of the Lord being anointing with the Holy Spirit and announcing the “Year of Jubilee” (the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel when liberation would at last come). In Matthew Jesus’ ministry begins with the Sermon on the Mount, which describes the condition of a disciple as one who lives within the sphere of Jesus (who is the kingdom of God drawn near).

Peter (the voice behind Mark’s gospel) summarizes both Matthew and Luke by saying that Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of God with the words, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The Gospel, the “joyous news,” is that the One whom God promised through the prophets has come. The only appropriate response is to turn to Him, away from everything else, and believe. To believe means to adhere and commit to Him, and give Him your allegiance, loyalty, fidelity, trust, and faith.

The Call to Discipleship (1:16-20)

So immediately, following the scroll of Matthew’s gospel, Peter tells us what this looks like. Jesus is passing beside the Sea of Galilee in the early morning, when the fishermen—who work at night—are bringing in their boats. He sees two fishermen still working and says to them, “Come after Me and I will make you become fishers of men.” At once they leave their work and follow Him.

That is the response Jesus is looking for. Period. They bring their boat to shore, leave their nets and follow Him. Jesus calls two others and they too drop whatever they are doing and follow Him.

To repent means to turn around and leave your old mind behind. But not just turn around. It is about turning TO Jesus: turning away from everything else to Him: not His teachings, or the teaching about Him, but Him Himself, Him as present, Him as personally calling you. It means turning your face to His face and submitting your whole life to Him, your entire being and living, submitting not to His ethical teaching, but to His Person. It means to surrender to the relationship, this relationship. Everything else in your life has to align itself to this or be gotten rid of.

Even though this story is about the calling of Jesus’ inner circle (for these four were privy to things that none of the other of the Twelve were), they are also set before us as the pattern of discipleship. Peter, Andrew, James and John are graphic examples. To be a Christian is to do what they have done. This is what Jesus wants of you and me. When you hear the Gospel, He—He who is alive, right now in an eternal present, in the reality of heaven that is just behind the “curtain” of our blindness, who is present here and now among us by the Holy Spirit, using the words that you hear in the text to awaken you—He is calling you, personally, by name, “Come after Me and I will make you become a fisher of men.” What is your response?

Jesus wants us to become fishers of people, those who cast a net and gather them in. The image is not of the angler who uses a hook to bait and catch the individual fish. We catch people with a net. They are drawn in, they and their companions, before they even know it. This corresponds to the image of Jesus and His disciples “catching” people in their homes and in their working life by simply sharing their lives, mingling their own lives with theirs, and speaking not aggressively but with openness.

Teaching with Authority (1:21-22)

Peter next turns to the scroll of Luke’s gospel and begins to comb through that until chapter 3. From here until the next break in 3:7-19, Jesus simply serves the people with who He is. He goes from one act of service to another. He attracts many people—we hear about that—lots of people come to Him. But He also keeps raising the stakes, becoming more and more provocative, and slowly opposition develops until in 3:6 they want to destroy Him. This is also the setting of the church in the world. We are supposed to have a similar presence, to be in the world the way Jesus was.

But notice that the most important way that Jesus serves people is by teaching them (see 1:38; 2:2, 13; 3:14). He Himself, His healing presence, and His presenting Himself with His teaching authority, elicit the demons in people. With that same authority which He has when He teaches, He also casts these demons out. So we will see in Mark’s gospel that casting out demons accompanies the teaching (see 1:39; 3:14-15). Jesus, His healing presence and His teaching us, calls out our reaction, looking for our response, but sometimes the first thing that responds is the demons that are in us. These have to be cleared away before He can get on with us and have a base to work.

Confronting the Demon in the Synagogue (1:23-26)

This is what we see happen in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus is teaching there in the synagogue, and intends to use Capernaum as His home base from which He will tour the region of Galilee to preach. But as He is teaching a man stands up and starts shouting at Him: “What have we to do with You, Jesus, Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us?” Jesus is from Nazareth, another but less significant town in Galilee, and so it sounds like this man is saying, “You are from out of town. We don’t know you. What do we have in common with you? What are we going to do with you?” And then the man says what he is afraid of: “We’re happy with things the way they are. Now You come to our town and you’re shaking things up. Have You come to destroy us?” It sounds like a natural reaction based on fear and prejudice. This is also the fear that we can find lurking in any synagogue or church. The presence of Jesus among us, and the light that comes from His presence in the Word, threatens to shake things up and we are frightened that it might even destroy us. People do not want the kind of unattached freedom that the Gospel calls us to. We want to hold on to the familiar, for it gives us security.

But behind this fear, when it comes to Jesus, is something else. There is a spiritual power at work, the spirit of the world. The world in this sense is an alternate realm of our own creation that is organized to exclude God, unless we give what-is-not-God (what we call “God”) a servile religious function. The world gets into us, into our psyche, and has a huge hand in forming our sense of self, our identity. But there is nothing innocent about the world. It is devilish, Satanic. Demons are the internal manifestations of the world when it seeks to possess and take control of us. Imagine them how you will, this is what demons are essentially. And what happens when Jesus becomes present to us is that the demonic, the demons, recognize Him. “I know who You are—the Holy One of God.” They feel utterly threatened by Him because of what they are. Jesus and the “world”—in the sense of this antithetical realm—do not intersect. The devil has no ground in Him whatsoever. His very presence is a threat to the world which struggles hard to call itself into being without God. It never succeeds, in any case, existing only as an illusion, though it tries to think that it is the only reality. But the true reality of Jesus, His personal presence, exposes the lie and undoes it. It is a real threat to the world’s existence. “Have you come to destroy us?” It is the demon who actually speaks this, not just the man.

But the illusion of the world has no real power in the presence of Jesus, who is the personal presence of reality. He can directly rebuke the demon—now that the demon is exposed—and the demon, however loudly it protests, simply comes out of the man. This is the power, the authority of the Person of Jesus, of His personal presence.

The Authority of His Teaching (1:27-28)

The people now recognize His authority and call it a “new teaching.” Aside from the announcement of the Gospel, the Gospel of His coming (and the drawing near of the kingdom of God), the Gospel according to Mark has given no other teaching of Jesus, nor has Jesus given any other instructions besides “repent and believe.” In this gospel the teaching is the presence of Jesus through His actions. Here the “teaching” is the way the demon naturally comes out of the man when Jesus confronts it directly.

The authority of Jesus has to do with His Person, that He is the coming of God announced by Malachi and Isaiah and John the Baptist. It is unimaginable how God could “come”—since God is already here in all places at all times—unless God comes as a “Person,” as a face who confronts our face as “I and Thou.” God is not some sort of “essence” (as we know it) but encounters us in personal communion. Otherwise God is beyond our knowing or understanding, cataloging and categorizing. But God does come to us as an “I am” facing a “you.” Jesus comes to us as the “I am” of God when He addresses us as “you.” When we hear the Gospel is when we hear this “I am” of God in the face of Jesus and we hear Him addressing us as “you,” addressing us in our own “I am,” shattering all the other identifications that we have acquired over a lifetime. In His presence we are nothing other than this “you,” this “I am” in the presence of God’s “I am,” which is calling us into communion with Himself. When we are there, we surrender everything to Him (for there is no other reality, for the illusion of the world has been dissolved).

Now that Jesus has exposed the demon and cleansed the synagogue of it, He can preach and heal freely since the people now recognize His—this—authority. May He have the freedom of that authority among us.

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