I mentioned a few weeks ago how Mark, through the Jesus story, is showing his readers what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We’re presented with a brief prologue introducing themes such as suffering, redemption, proclamation and authority. Jesus calls some disciples and he begins his ministry in Capernaum. While it isn’t explicitly stated, it is obvious the disciples’ task is to observe Jesus in order to become like Jesus. This is what disciples of rabbis do.
From the incident in Capernaum until the end of chapter 1 a pattern emerges that does not seem accidental. I call it the M-1 pattern. It is a pattern depicting Jesus’ mission and ministry priority in Mark 1. (There’s a triple entendre here, if you like that sort of thing. Or to make matters even worse I suppose I could label it MP3--but let's not get too silly). Let’s explore it together shall we?
They enter 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 their scholars. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an unclean spirit shouted, "What do you want with us, Jesus Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—God’s Holy One!"What is this M-1 pattern? When it comes to his mission we notice the first thing Jesus does is teach or proclaim. It actually happens when he enters into Galilee—but we see the structure more clearly starting in Capernaum. Notice he enters in the synagogue, he teaches, he throws out a demon, then he heals those who are suffering. The pattern repeats itself in verses 39-45. He enters synagogues, he teaches, he throws out demons, and then he heals hurting people.
"Silence!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" Violently the man and the spirit came out of him shouting.
The people were so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey him." News about him spread quickly throughout 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 tell Jesus about her. He went to her, took her hand and lifted her up. The fever left her and she began to serve 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 a variety of diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew him.
Very early in the morning, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a wilderness place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions hunted him down, and when they found him, they say: "Everyone is looking for you!"
Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can proclaim there also. That is why I have come." So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
A man with leprosy came to him and begging him from his knees, "If you choose, you can make me clean."
His heart churning with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I choose," he says. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was clean.
Jesus sent him away at once with a severe warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a sign for them." Instead he went out and began to proclaim it freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer openly enter a city but stayed outside in the wilderness. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
You may have noticed I left a couple of verses out: 35-38. Jesus goes off to the wilderness where he prays. Simon and the others hunt him down. Why? Well, everyone is looking for him, and the reason seems obvious. The night before he was healing people, and now he’s being sought out for the same thing. That’s an assumption, but most everyone seems to agree this is what is at stake. Notice Jesus’ reply: Let’s go somewhere else to the nearby villages so that I may proclaim there also, that is why I have come. With that statement, Jesus gives us his missional priority: Mission #1 is proclaim and teach the rule of God. Wait Jesus, there are still sick people in Capernaum! Hold on, folks still need you. I’d love to stay—and as important as those things are, I have a mission that is more important: proclaiming the good news of God’s rule. In fact, Mark ends his book on a question mark emphasizing this priority. There is strong manuscript evidence to believe Mark ends his book in chapter 16:8 – Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. A rather abrupt ending—but one that makes a point. The women were told by angelic messengers to tell the good news: Jesus has risen. But they are afraid and remain quiet. Will the persecuted Christians in Rome do the same? Will they neglect their missional priority? Will we do the same? Or will we proclaim the good message?
There is something else closely tied to this proclamation of God’s rule—something so closely tied to the teaching of Jesus that you wonder if it is part of the missional emphasis or a result of the mission. In chapter one do you notice how teaching is directly tied to the confrontation and defeat of demons? It is as if the mission of Jesus is to invade Satan’s turf and to free those he holds captive. This coincides with Luke’s description of Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth when he said he has been anointed to proclaim good news to the poor and sight to the blind and release to the captives. These are all parallels, saying much the same thing. Sight to the blind is most often a metaphor describing those who are in a dungeon. They cannot see because they are underground and imprisoned.
So the priority of Jesus’ ministry and mission is to proclaim the good message and release those held captive by Satan’s power. Secondary, but still an important and not to be neglected task—is to bring healing in the world. The natural consequence of Satan’s deception is sickness and death. We must never get the idea the mission of Jesus excludes bringing physical wholeness to people. It goes hand in hand with Jesus’ ministry. Jesus reacts out of God’s compassion for a broken world. His heart churns within him when he witnesses the leper and the sick and the dying (literally: his guts are churning). But, even so, he keeps the main thing the main thing: M-1 priority is to share the message and release the captive. Subservient to that priority is to bring healing to the hurting.
But I left something out, didn’t I? The very center of the M-1 pattern. There is teaching and proclaiming in the synagogue, there is throwing out demons, there is healing people—and then the pattern repeats: but wait. What happens before the pattern repeats? Very early in the morning, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a wilderness place where he prays. The center—which in many literary devices points to the most important issue—is Jesus’ relationship with his Father. We should have figured that out earlier. John the baptizer was talking about Jesus being empowered by God’s Spirit, we see the Spirit descending on Jesus at his baptism and the Father speaking his blessing on Jesus. His wilderness experience is an exercising in suffering—but it is an exercise in trusting completely in God.
Jesus, the rabbi understood what later rabbis came to understand. The Hasidic rabbi, Moishe Leib of Sassov once said, A man who does not keep an hour a day for himself is not human. The mission of God—to rescue men and women from Satan’s rule, to bring healing to the oppressed can become too much. As Elie Wiesel said, “In order to give, man must be; and man’s being is rooted in solitude.” I would add: rooted in the presence of God.
So the M-1 priority—the missional priority and the ministry priority—is rooted in the presence of God. We cannot accomplish the mission without consistent reliance on God. We cannot serve others in God’s power if we do not seek God presence. We cannot relate spiritually with others if we are not in regular relationship with God. Our relationship with him must be at the very center of the mission and the ministry. This isn’t really anything new, is it? It’s just a different way of expressing the great commands: Love God and love your neighbor. Before you can love your neighbor, you have to spend time loving on God and experiencing his love for you.
There are some pragmatic things you can be doing to live out this missional priority. First of all, root yourself in God. If you are not involved in regular quiet time or solitude where you are silent before God in prayer, where you contemplate his word to you—then you need to start. There are literally thousands of ways to do this. If you would like some ideas send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Secondly, begin to look for ways to introduce Jesus to the people you know. It’s time we started talking about what’s important to us. You don’t have to teach a Bible study. Just tell your friends what you think about Jesus! Tell his story and tell your story. Then look for ways to serve others. Find a ministry, a way to bring Jesus’ love into the lives of others. Get together with a small group of like minded friends to explore ways to serve your community, but do something!
So what does it mean for us to be disciples of Jesus? Mark tells us that we must embrace the M-1 priority. For Jesus, his ultimate mission was to proclaim the rule of God—evicting Satan from the lives of people. Everything else was subservient. But right beneath proclaiming God’s rule was bringing healing and hope to those who hurt.
So may you live as a disciple of Jesus. May you engage in his mission. May we rise as a group of disciples and march in step with Jesus as we embrace the M-1 principle!