From the beginning of Mark we have heard why Jesus came. He said it plainly in Mark 1:38, “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. He came to tell us about God and ourselves. He came to reveal himself in his words. AND he came to show us in his actions that his words are trustworthy and to be believed. This is the theme Mark is working with in his telling of the story of Jesus. Jesus has a message for us all and confirms the truth of his message in what John would call “wondrous signs.” Keep in mind, though, that signs always point elsewhere. In this case, the miracles are to take us to his words, his authoritative teaching.
As a writer and storyteller, I understand something about theme. I understand what it takes to shape a story that captures a reader’s interest and at the same time projects a coherent message. The problem with Mark for us is we all know the story already, or think we do. We are confident in our churchology. But the real truth for us, just like the first century audience, is we constantly miss the preach and teach (words) for the miracles (actions). We are enamored with the manifest expressions of God’s love, mercy, grace, healing, and willingness to positively impact our lives; and none of that is wrong, but that is not the message. The words are supposed to be the message.
Consider a first century reader, if you can set aside your knowledge of Jesus for a minute. Certainly a first century reader might know little or nothing about the man. Without all of our preconceived notions about who Jesus is, here is how a first century person might have read the story:
Okay. John, the Baptist, I vaguely remember him, he said this man would baptize us in the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? And what is the Holy Spirit? Hmmm…Let me read on.
Okay, I see the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and a voice, God’s voice said, “This is my son with whom I am pleased.” So I assume Jesus is going to send the Spirit to descend on us at our baptism and make us sons and be pleased with us. Well, I still don’t know what that means, but it is a nice image. But what would make God pleased with me? It is a fair question…Let me read on.
So he goes into the wilderness to fast and pray. Good image. Then John gets locked up and it is time to start, or so he says. And he comes preaching three things as far as I can tell. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, repent, and believe this good news. Nothing new there.
On the surface it sounds sort of like that guy with the sandwich signs downtown. “Repent! The End is Near!” I mean, there are people all over the empire, and especially in Judea yelling the words. Of course, Jesus doesn’t actually say “the end is near.” He says the Kingdom of Heaven is near, I assume he means coming. Still, it must be the end of our current world order, world culture, maybe the end of civilization as we know it. But then he has given it a twist. Basically, as I read it he is saying: repent because heaven is coming to earth, and we should believe this good news. It is great news if it is true. Heaven on earth sounds fantastic, but where is the proof?…Read on.
Okay, now his work is beginning.
He preaches with authority; but wait, am I missing a page? Where is the teaching part? Did Mark leave it out for some reason? Huh? I guess all I can do is keep reading and see if it makes sense.
So he teaches some unknown words with authority and then he casts out a demon and everybody is amazed. I would think so. But then they don’t appear to be concerned about his preaching in any case. Maybe that is why Mark left it out. They just start bringing him every sick and demon possessed person they can find.
Okay. I suppose I would too if some miracle worker came into my town. But then Jesus says something really interesting. He says, let’s go to other towns to preach because that is the reason he came.
Imagine, a man with power like that, but he came with a message to preach. But what is the message? I must be missing a page. Why did Mark leave out the teaching part? The next thing in the story is Jesus heals a leper. I see he has nothing against healing people, but by then he can’t even go into a town and even in the wilderness they come to him to be healed. But where is the message?
It must have been very frustrating, trying to tell people something when all they want is a miracle. I know I am getting frustrated. What is it he is trying to preach?…Read on.
He goes to Capernaum which is home, I assume. But there his house fills up with so many people they can hardly move. Big surprise at this point! Some men have to break through his roof to bring him one sick man. And then? He forgives the man’s sins. Hmmm.
I’m kind of with the lawyers on that one. Who is he to forgive sins? But wait. He makes it a point. Of course it is easier to say the man’s sins are forgiven. Anybody can say that. Anybody can say anything. But then he heals the man like to prove that he is able to forgive sins.
Oh, wait, I get it. First he tells the words, and then he shows by his actions. You know, most people do it the other way around. They see something and call it a miracle, and then explain it. Jesus isn’t explaining. He is teaching. He is preaching. The action follows.
So I get it. First he tells us the Kingdom of Heaven is near – Heaven is coming – and we should repent and believe this good news. Then he proves his words by casting out all of the evil things, demons if you will, that keep people oppressed, and he heals them of their diseases and all that this broken world has inflicted on them. That is amazing.
Now, forgiveness of sins is part of his message too – that teaching page I am missing. Jesus, the one person that God called son and with whom God was pleased, is actually empowered to forgive sins. Now, that is something!
You know, that is the problem I have with all those repent mongers out there. When I did wrong, and knew it, no matter how sincerely I repented I just sort of had to guess that I was forgiven. Now I understand if this Jesus forgives my sins then they are gone, really gone. There is no guessing about it.
I asked earlier, what would make God pleased with me? Well, if I was forgiven all my sins, why shouldn’t God be pleased with me? That is powerful! I like this Jesus guy. Still, I have other questions, but Mark has me intrigued to see how this turns out.
Right now, I want to hear more of what this man has to say. I mean, I understand the miracles. They say God loves us and will never leave or forsake us, yadda-yadda. God is willing, as Jesus said. I get that. I have always gotten that. But the point of the miracles here is strictly to underline the words. It isn’t the healing of the paralytic that matters. It is the forgiveness of sins in Jesus.
I get it. I want more of it. I want to find out how I can get some of that kind of no-doubt about it forgiveness. Mark has me hooked. What else does this man have to say? I think I better read on…