The Reading of the Word
This morning, we continue in the Gospel of Mark, as we come to Mark 1:29-39.
Last week we read of Jesus’s preaching and casting out a demon in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Our passage this morning picks up on the very same day.
With that in mind, please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.
1:29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 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.
35 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. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 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.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray …
Prayer of Illumination
Let your saving hand be close to us,
for we have bound ourselves to your precepts.
We long for your salvation, Lord,
because your law is our delight.
Give our souls life, that we might praise you,
and help us now through your word.
We have each gone astray like lost sheep.
As we come to your word now, we ask you to seek us.
For we have not forgotten your word to us.
Grant this, we ask, in Jesus’s name. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:173-176]
A lot happens in our text this morning, but most of it takes place within the span of less than 24 hours. And so we will take these events as a whole.
And as we do, we’ll see that together they raise important questions about who Jesus is, and how we might respond to him.
And so this morning we’ll consider three possible ways that we might respond to Jesus – three ways of treating Jesus that our text brings to our attention.
We might treat Jesus as a spiritual salesman to transact with. We might treat Jesus as a personal trainer to employ. Or we might treat Jesus as a loving king to follow and serve.
Treating Jesus as a Spiritual Salesman
So first, we might treat Jesus as a spiritual salesman to transact with.
And this view has something to do with how we think about the relationships between the different actions Jesus is taking here.
First, Jesus is preaching. We see that in verses 38 and 39, and we saw the same thing earlier in verses 14 and 15.
Second, he is healing. That comes up in a specific story about Simon-Peter’s mother-in-law, in verses 30-31, and then is generalized in verses 32 through 34.
Third, he’s driving out demons. That was the focus of our text last week, and we see it again here in verses 32-34 as well as verse 39.
So he is preaching, healing, and driving out demons. Now, how do those three things relate? What’s the connection between them?
As we consider that question, the problem with us as modern people, shaped by a secular culture, is that we all too easily read this as if Jesus has come to sell us something. We see his teaching as what he is selling. And the miracles he is performing are his advertisements. They are meant to wow people, to get their attention, so that they will sign up for the religious product he is offering them.
In our secular post-modern world this is how we often think of religious claims. There is a spiritual marketplace where different representatives come out and try to impress us with their product, so that we will sign up for what they are offering.
And so, when it comes to Jesus, we can tend to think of it as if some people are impressed and sign on for the product – they accept his teaching. While others are not as impressed and pass on the offer.
But, as N.T. Wright has pointed out, the works of Jesus described here are more than just ways of getting attention. They are signs about who Jesus is, and what his relationship to the world is.
Because Jesus isn’t simply performing magic tricks here. He’s not just manipulating things in impressive ways. He is, instead, restoring things. And Wright puts it, he is: “enabling [the created order] to be more truly itself.” [Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 187-188]
“Enabling [the created order] to be more truly itself.” These three actions of Jesus were part of a united work of restoration of the created order.
Jesus shows up in Capernaum, and he begins to restore. He preaches repentance and faith in God, thus restoring the relationship between people and their Maker. He heals those who are sick, thus restoring the broken physical world, bringing it a bit closer to what it was intended to be when it was created. And he drives out demons and evil spiritual forces, who were never meant to oppress God’s good, created world.
Jesus’ work is not a work of selling a religious product – it is a work of holistic restoration: of bringing the world a bit closer to what it was meant to be, of enabling the created world to be more truly itself.
At its root was Jesus’ preaching, which is why Jesus mentions it in verse 38 – because it was in his preaching faith and repentance that Jesus was restoring people’s relationship to God. But Jesus’ healings and exorcisms were not just nifty proofs added to his preaching – they were natural extensions of the kingdom of God that Jesus claimed was at hand. That kingdom brought restoration, and that restoration included the heart of each person, the physical body of each person, and the spiritual realm over each person.
So the first thing we need to see is that Jesus has not come as a spiritual salesman for us to transact with, but he has come to bring holistic restoration.
But once we see that, we need to ask what that restoration is for.
Treating Jesus as a Personal Trainer
And that brings us to our second tendency: our tendency to treat Jesus as a personal trainer to employ.
Because lots of people work for restoration. But it can be in very different ways and for very different purposes.
So once we realize that Jesus is much more than a spiritual salesman, that he has come to restore us in all sorts of ways we didn’t even think possible, we may readily embrace that. We may rightly rejoice in that. But there is still a danger of misunderstanding.
Because we can also approach Jesus for restoration in a way that is contrary to his mission and ministry.
Now, what do I mean by that?
Well, it might be helpful to stop and actually think about someone’s relationship with a personal trainer. I’ve never had a personal trainer, so I have to use my imagination a bit.
If you were to only look at their interactions in the gym, it can sure seem like the trainer is in charge and the client is under their authority. The personal trainer might be rigorous and demanding – they might prescribe not only exercises for the client, but a way of life, including their diet, how much they should sleep, how much water they should drink, what their daily schedule should be and more. And in their direct meetings, the trainer might make strong demands of the client, which the client obediently does their best to fulfill.
But at the end of the day, who really works for who in that relationship?
Despite the appearance that the personal trainer calls the shots, the truth is that the trainer is the one who really works for the client. And that becomes especially clear if we ask who gets to decide what to do with the results of their work.
A good personal trainer is really doing a work of restoration – they should be restoring health to the client where it was lacking. But then who gets to decide what to do with that restored health? Well, the client does. The personal trainer might be very important to the process of the restoration itself, and the client may need to follow their rules, but at the end of the day the personal trainer has no say over what the client actually does with the restored health they receive. The client might tell their personal trainer that they intend to use their newly restored health to begin a career in the military on the one hand, or to pursue a career in Irish step dancing on the other, and no matter what the personal trainer thinks about either of those options, it’s not their place to object or command them to do otherwise. The personal trainer is the employee of the client. They provide a service, they help restore health, and then the client is free to do with that restored health what they please.
And I think we can be tempted to treat Jesus the very same way.
In other words, maybe we believe in the God of the Bible. Maybe we believe in a Christian view of sin and salvation. Maybe we believe that God gives us a rigorous moral framework to live by. Maybe we believe that in all of this, God brings great restoration to our lives. But what is the purpose of that restoration in this life? What is it for?
I think that far too often we believe that God restores us, but then what we will do with those restored aspect of our lives is completely up to us.
We might think that way about our individual lives. God, in his grace, may restore our hearts, and our souls, and our lives – he may grant us order and peace and productivity. But then, often, we assume that what we do with those blessings is completely up to us.
The same can be true in our families, as God, in his grace, may bring restoration to our family life … after which we may tend to assume that the blessings of our family are for us and us alone.
And in a similar way, God may restore our church community by shaping us more and more into a church that is united, and lively, and active, and faithful. But then we can often assume that that church community is mainly there for us to enjoy and use for ourselves.
In each case, the temptation is to treat God like a personal trainer. Yes, when it comes to growth, it looks like he is in charge. But the minute that growth is achieved, we tend to brush him aside from the question of how we use that growth. We act, in other words, as if he works for us.
Do you see that tendency in your life?
We see it here in Peter and the other disciples.
In verses 29-34 we get a brief picture of what must have been an amazing evening. After preaching in the synagogue, Jesus is now extending the work of restoration that began with his sermon. He has called the people to restored relationships with God. He is healing their broken bodies. He is breaking the oppression of demons – of these evil spiritual forces in their lives. He is doing a holistic work of restoration.
The next morning, Peter and the other early disciples get up, and Jesus is gone. And they go looking for him. A couple commentators point out that with our English translations we can miss something about the nature of their search.
They point out that the term translated “search for” in verse 36 may be better translated as “pursued” or “hunted.” [Edwards, 66]. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible in Jesus’s day, the word is used “to describe hostile pursuit.” One writer concludes: “For the Biblically literate Greek reader, this would give a malevolent tone to Simon’s report, ‘Everyone is looking for you’” in verse 37 [Horne, 45]
And in Mark’s use of the word throughout his gospel, it always carries a negative connotation – it always “connotes an attempt to […] control rather than [to] submit and follow.” [Edwards, 67]
Jesus has come to Capernaum, and he has brought restoration. Everyone acknowledges that it is Jesus who has done this. But it seems to be implied that Peter and the people of Capernaum feel that they should be the ones to determine what happens next with that restoration. We see them going to get Jesus. We see them ready to put him back to work to fulfill their vision, for their purposes and agenda. But we don’t see them asking Jesus what those purposes should be. Quite the opposite. Peter seems to be stopping just short of ordering Jesus around.
Jesus brings restoration. But now they think they get to use that restoration for their own purposes.
That is what we see. But Jesus is not having it.
He refuses Peter’s attempt to control him, and he sets a different trajectory in verse thirty-eight.
Treating Jesus as a Loving King
Which brings us to our third way we might respond to Jesus: we might treat Jesus as a loving king to follow and serve.
And to see this more clearly, we need to consider Jesus’s mission, and then how we fit into it.
What is it that leads to Jesus’s decision to move on from Capernaum?
We should note that it’s not to move on to something bigger and better than Capernaum. As one commentator points out, while Mark calls Capernaum a “city” in verse 33, Jesus calls where they’re going “towns.” Jesus is not trying to move on to somewhere larger or more prestigious. [France, 112-113]
But if that’s not it, then what is it that leads to this decision?
The answer is the heart of God and his intentions for the world.
In verse thirty-five, Jesus turns his attention to God the Father. And it is there that he is oriented again to his kingly mission.
For his mission is a kingly one. He comes not as a spiritual salesman peddling a new way of thinking about the world. He comes not as a personal trainer, enabling us to fulfill our plans for this world.
He comes as a loving king on a mission to bring restoration. For he is the rightful king of the universe – he is the Son of God. And he restores us because he loves us, and because he wants us to join him in that mission.
God’s mission in the world is to bring total restoration. The heart of the triune God overflows in love, even for his rebellious creatures. That love flows out from the heart of God the Father, and it motivates the mission of Jesus, the Son. And as Jesus retreats to pray, he focuses again on why it is that he came.
Peter and the disciples and the people of Capernaum might have had a great plan for how they could use Jesus’ mighty deeds of restoration for their own benefit – how they could have created a little island of health, and wholeness, and peace in Capernaum. But that was not why Jesus came. He came for the world. And so Jesus knew he must go out from there, driven by love, as a conquering king – out to fulfill his Father’s purposes.
And he calls us to follow him in that work – to serve him in that work.
And Peter’s mother-in-law gives us a picture of that.
Look again at verses 30-31: “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.”
It would seem that Mark wants us to notice the difference between Simon-Peter and his mother-in-law. Simon-Peter responds to Jesus’s mighty deeds of restoration by trying to run the show and decide how this new restoration should be used. Peter’s mother-in-law responds by joining Jesus, and serving. [Edwards, 60]
Mark is pretty clear that it’s not Peter we should look to for guidance here, but Peter’s mother-in-law.
And, in Peter’s defense, we should remember that the early church testifies that Peter was Mark’s guide in writing this Gospel [France, 36-38]. Which means that it’s probably Peter himself who wants us to look, and see, that we should be emulating his mother-in-law here, not him.
And in her, what we see is that we are not just to obtain a spiritual product from Jesus, we are not just to receive restoration from Jesus, but rather, we are to be taken up into his larger purposes, so that his work in us draws us into his mission in this world.
In that way, Jesus is less like a good personal trainer and more like a good military leader.
As I reflected on this theme, I took a look at an Army Field Manual on “Holistic Health and Fitness”. “The principal audience” for the manual, as it explains in the preface, “is leaders at all organizational levels” – both officers and civilians in leadership positions. When it comes to the work of building and restoring health in soldiers, the manual states that all leaders have a part.
A good military leader needs to be about the work of bringing and restoring health and fitness in his soldiers.
But what is that health for? What is that fitness for?
Well, the manual explains – it says: “The goal of the Holistic Health and Fitness System is to build physical lethality and mental toughness to win quickly and return home healthy.” [Army, FM 7-22, Preface (p.ix)]
Now, I’ve never been in the military, so I can’t speak to how well the Army’s system works, or what this looks like on the ground.
But it’s the stated goals that I want to especially point out this morning.
The manual says that the goal of the leader’s work in building and restoring health and fitness in the soldiers, is so that soldiers are able “to win quickly and return home healthy.”
There are two important elements there. First, the restorative work in the soldier is intended for their good. It is to make them fit, and make them able to “return home healthy.” That individual aspect for their good matters.
The other goal mentioned is that leaders are to develop this health and fitness in their soldiers so that those soldiers can “win quickly”. In other words – they can effectively serve the mission of their leaders, from their officers up to their Commander in Chief.
The leader’s work of building health is for the soldier’s good. But that’s not the only thing it’s for. It’s also for a larger purpose. And the shape of that larger purpose is not usually up to the soldiers themselves. The leaders will instead be the ones to unite the fitness that has been developed in a soldier with a larger mission that is bigger than the soldier himself.
Which is one reason why a military leader is very different from a personal trainer. On one level, some of what they are doing may look the same. They both give orders with the goal of building and restoring health in someone else. But unlike a personal trainer, a military leader will have a lot to say about what his soldiers do with the restored health and fitness that he works to develop in them.
If a soldier showed up one day and thanked the officer over him for all he had done to make him fitter and stronger, and said he’d like to continue to receive that physical fitness direction from him, but instead of using that fitness in military service, he’d like to just come in for the training, and then be free to go and use that training for whatever he wanted to do … it would be a nonstarter.
That would have been the expectation with a personal trainer.
But not with a military leader. Because a military leader is getting his soldiers in shape – he is training them and restoring their health – for a purpose. A good leader sincerely cares for his soldiers and their wellbeing, of course. But he also wants to use his work in them to incorporate those he leads in a larger mission, that they can serve and be a part of.
We see that same pattern in our text in a deeper and more holistic way.
God has a mission to renew his world. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ to us, to forgive us, to renew us, and to lead us.
In relationship with him we receive the holistic restoration that comes with salvation. We know him, we receive the benefits of knowing him, and we have union with him. And true union with Christ takes us up into his mission.
And that means a few things.
It means that as an individual Christian, your salvation is not only for you. Your spiritual growth, your faith, your knowledge, your obedience to Christ, the variety of ways God is restoring you, is for your good, but it is not for you alone. God intends for you to use those gifts for the good of others, and to bring restoration into their lives.
How has Christ restored you? How has he blessed you personally? And how should you use that to go out and serve others? It doesn’t need to be dramatic. Peter’s mother-in-law’s service was remarkably ordinary. But stop and ask: where might you be using the restoration Christ has given you for your own purposes, when he intends for you to use them for his purposes?
This also means that your family does not exist for itself alone. God has richly blessed many of our families. In many cases he has brought wholeness and health where there is so often brokenness and dysfunction. And of course, on some level, if your family has that health, it is a gift for you to enjoy. It is intended for your good. But it’s also intended for more than that. God has blessed your family so that your family can be a blessing to others – reaching out to them, drawing them in, just as God did with you. Who might Christ be calling your family to love and to serve in this way?
Our spiritual growth is not for us alone. Our families are not for us alone.
And also, our church is not for us alone. This is a lesson that Peter had to learn over and over.
Again and again, Peter tried to build a perfect little spiritual island. We see that first here at Capernaum, in Mark 1. We see it again in his earthly fellowship with Jesus in Mark 8. Then we see it again on the mountaintop at the transfiguration in Mark 9. And yet again among the Jews in Acts 10. Over and over, God had to draw Peter close in order remind him once more that Christ’s church is supposed to be driven, by the love of Christ, outside of themselves, and towards others.
And we too can be guilty of Peter’s mistake. We can sometimes want our church to be a little spiritual island in the midst of a sea of brokenness. We can sometimes want to bring Jesus safely within the gates of our little Capernaum, and just hole up here with him.
But just as he would not accept that back then, so he will not accept that now. Instead, as he called Peter to follow him as he went outward, so he calls us to do the same.
Our drawing close to God together in worship is actually meant to drive us out in mission. Every Lord’s Day we come, and we gather in God’s special presence. And every Lord’s Day after he speaks his restoring Word to us, and draws us to his restoring Table, he once again sends us out. He commissions us, and blesses us, and calls us to go out and extend his loving work to others.
This is what we see in our text – Christ comes not as a spiritual salesman, not as a personal trainer, but as a loving King, whom we are called not only to receive restoration from, but to follow and serve in his larger mission.
Guarding Against Misunderstandings
That is what we see here. But even as we see that, we need to be careful to guard against three possible ways of misunderstanding it.
The first possible misunderstanding is to hear this, and to lament that the calling Jesus gives us is so this-worldly.
We come to church for something beyond this world, don’t we? We don’t want to end with a focus on this world, but on the next. We don’t want a mission for the here and now, but rather, we want a foretaste of the life that is to come.
And yet, I would argue that that is exactly what this is.
Yes, the object of our love and work is this world. But the task Jesus calls us to is anything but this-worldly.
When we think of the life that is to come, or the otherworldliness of God, we tend to focus on the joy and peace and blessing of God’s presence – and indeed those are otherworldly things that we should long for, and desire, and anticipate as God’s blessings for us when we go to be with him, and when he makes all things new.
But another aspect of that other-worldly life – in fact a very important aspect of that other-worldly life – is the heavenly love of the life that is to come.
The love of heaven is a love that is focused on blessing others, not grasping for ourselves. The love of heaven is a love that is self-forgetful rather than self-centered. It is a love that delights to see others blessed. It is a love that extends its concern beyond itself. It is a love that is rooted in God, and grows out of the heart of the Trinity. And when we participate in that love – when we seek to live out that love for others here and now – we get a foretaste of the life that is to come. We get a foretaste of what it will be like to be made new and share in Christ’s character. We get to live out, in some small way, the pattern of heaven, here on earth.
Our calling to the mission of Christ is not a this-worldly calling. It is instead a calling to live out a heavenly pattern of life, even while we still dwell in this world.
The second response we need to guard against is the idea that this call is for other people but not for us. That it’s the work of pastors. Or that it’s the work of the elders or deacons. That we’re just here to receive.
The Apostle Paul does not tell us that God gives the Church ministers so that they can do the work of ministry on behalf of the people of God. He tells them that God gives ministers to the Church so that they can equip the people of God for the work of ministry.
We bring God’s word and work to you, so that you can then bring it to others.
What should that look like in your life? Who around you do you need to more intentionally show the restoring love of Christ to, in word or in deed? In what relationship have you been thinking a lot more about what you can get from them to enhance your own kingdom … but Christ is calling instead to share with them the blessings of his kingdom?
What are the strengths of your family life? How has God blessed, and gifted, and restored you as a family? And how might those blessings overflow to others with the blessings of Christ’s kingdom? Who might you reach out to together? Who might you seek to draw in?
And then what might God be calling us to beyond the walls of our church? What non-Christians has he brought into your life? What kinds of service has he gifted you for? Are you taking those opportunities to follow him, and to serve his kingdom? And if not, what is a first step you might take?
The call to serve Christ’s kingdom is not just for other people. It is for every one of us.
Again, it need not be grand. It may be small. But if there is nowhere you are serving the kingdom on a regular basis, then you need to stop and consider what the Lord might be calling you to do.
Finally, the third possible misunderstanding is that all this work is about us.
We can look at this task, and feel the weight of it, and conclude that either that we need to work hard to earn Jesus’s approval, or that we’ll never measure up so we might as well quit now.
But neither of those things are true in our text. And so, we must resist the temptation to think in such ways.
First, remember Peter’s mother-in-law. Her ability to serve came not from herself. Jesus first had to heal her. In the same way, while we are the ones who do the serving, it is Jesus who gives us the ability. And our first step must always be to look to and rely on him.
Second, when we see our shortcomings and our failures, we need to remember Peter.
Peter got it wrong here in chapter one. But Jesus did not abandon Peter in our text this morning. He kept working on him. He did not abandon Peter after Peter tried to talk him out of going to the cross. He did not abandon Peter when Peter wanted Jesus to just stay with him on the mountaintop with Moses and Elijah. And he did not abandon Peter when Peter tried to limit the kingdom to the Jews. Over and over Peter made the same mistakes. But Jesus kept working on Peter. He is far more patient with us than we often are with ourselves. And over time, Peter grew. Not all at once, but bit by bit.
And Jesus does the same work in us. We are not where we should be. But we should not despair. Instead, we should look to Jesus, and trust that as he worked day by day, and year by year, in Peter, so he will with us, if we continue to follow him and seek his leading.
And so let us look to Jesus in faith. Let us receive the salvation he offers. Let us embrace the restoration he wants to work in us. And then, let us seek to use what he has given us in service to him.
For he is our good and loving king.
This sermon draws on material from:
Army, Department of the. FM 7-22: Holistic Health and Fitness. October 2020. https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN30714-FM_7-22-000-WEB-1.pdf
Bayer, Hans. Introduction and notes to Mark in The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.
Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark. NIGTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.
Horne, Mark. The Victory According to Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.
Keller, Timothy. Jesus the King. New York, NY: Penguin, 2011.
Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.
Wright, N.T. Mark for Everyone. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.
This sermon draws from portions of my 7/23/17 sermon:
“The Nature of the Kingdom”
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