The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These words mean, not the title of the book, but the commencement of the narrative; and so they depend upon what follows, namely, "as it is written" ( καθῶς for ὠς), "even as it is written." The words "the gospel of Jesus Christ" do not signify the book which St. Mark wrote, but the evangelical teaching of Jesus Christ. St. Mark means that the gospel announcement by Jesus Christ had such a beginning as had been predicted by Isaiah and Malachi, namely, the preaching of John the Baptist, and his testimony concerning Christ, to be fully laid open by the preaching and the death of Christ. The preaching of repentance by the Baptist was the preparation and the beginning of the evangelical preaching by Christ, of whom John was the forerunner. It has been well observed that St. Matthew and St. John begin their Gospels from Christ himself; but St. Matthew from the human, and St. John from the Divine, generation of Christ. St. Mark and St. Luke commence from John the Baptist; but St. Luke from his nativity, and St, John from his preaching. The words, the Son of God, are rightly retained in the Revised Version, although they are omitted by some ancient authorities.
Even as it is written in the prophets. The weight of evidence is here in favor of the reading "in Isaiah the prophet." Three of the most important uncials ( א, B, and L), and twenty-six of the cursives, have the reading "Isaiah." With these agree the Italic, Coptic, and Vulgate versions. Of the Fathers, Irenaeus quotes the passage three times, twice using the words "in the prophets," and once "in Isaiah the prophet." Generally the Fathers agree that "Isaiah" is the received reading. The more natural reading would of course be "in the prophets,'' inasmuch as two prophets are quoted; but in deciding upon readings, it constantly happens that the less likely reading is the more probable. In the case before us we can hardly account for "Isaiah" being exchanged for "the prophets," although we can quite understand "the prophets" being interpolated for "Isaiah." Assuming, then, that St. Mark wrote "in Isaiah the prophet," we may ask why he mentions Isaiah only and not Malachi? The answer would seem to be this, that here the voice of Isaiah is the more powerful of the two. But in real truth, Malachi says the same thing that Isaiah says; for the messenger sent from God to prepare the way of Christ was none other than John, crying aloud and preaching repentance as a preparation for the receiving of the grace of Christ. The oracle of Malachi is, in fact, contained in the oracle of Isaiah; for what Malachi predicted, the same had Isaiah more clearly and concisely predicted in other words. And this is the reason why St. Mark here, and other evangelists elsewhere, when they cite two prophets, and two or more sentences from different places in the same connection, cite them as one and the same testimony, each sentence appearing to be not so much two, as one and the same declaration differently worded.
John came, and preached the baptism of repentance. John came, that is, that he might rouse the people to repentance, and prepare them, by the outward cleansing of their bodies, to receive the cleansing of their souls through Christ's baptism, which was to follow his. So that the baptism of John was the profession of their penitence. Hence they who were baptized with his baptism confessed their sins, and thus made the first step towards the forgiving mercy which was to be found in Christ; and the seal of his forgiveness they were to look for in his baptism, which is a baptism for the remission of sins to all true penitents and faithful believers. Christ's baptism was, therefore, the perfection and consummation of the baptism of John.
Clothed with camel's hair. This was a rough, coarse garment, characteristic of the doctrine which John taught, namely, penitence and contempt of the world. Camels abounded in Syria. And a leathern girdle about his loins. Not only the prophets, but the Jews and the inhabitants of Syria generally, used a girdle to keep the long flowing garment more closely about them, so as to leave them more free for journeying or for labour. Thus our Lord says (Luke 12:35), "Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning." And he did eat locusts and wild honey. The insect called the locust ( ἀκρὶς) was permitted to be eaten (see Le John 11:22). It was used as food by the common people in Judaea. The Arabs eat them to this day; but they are considered as a common and inferior kind of food. They are a sign of temperance, poverty, and penitence. The wild honey ( μέλι ἄγριον) was simply honey made by wild bees, either in the trees or in the hollows of the rocks. Isidorus says that it was of an inferior flavour. Both these kinds of food were consistent with the austere life and the solemn preaching of the Baptist.
The latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. This was the menial office of the slave, whose business it was to take off? and put on the shoes of his master, stooping down with all humility and respect for this purpose. Thus John confessed that he was the servant of Christ, and that Christ was his Lord. In a mystical sense the shoes denote the humanity of Christ, which by its union with the Word became of the highest dignity and majesty. St. Bernard says, "The majesty of the Word was shod with the sandal of our humanity."
I baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with [or in] the Holy Ghost. It is as though he said, "Christ will pour his Holy Spirit so abundantly upon you, that he will cleanse you from all your sins, and fill you with holiness and love and all his other excellent graces." Christ did this visibly on the day of Pentecost. And this he does invisibly in the. sacrament of Holy Baptism, and in the rite of Confirmation, which is the completion of the sacrament of Baptism. John baptized with water only, but Christ with water and the Holy Spirit. John baptized the body only, Christ baptizes the soul. By how much, therefore, the Holy Spirit transcends the water, and the soul excels the body, by so much is Christ's baptism more excellent than that of John, which was only preparatory and rudimentary. If it be asked why it was needful that our Lord should be baptized with John's baptism, the best answer is that given by Christ himself, "Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness;" it becometh us—me in receiving this baptism, and you in imparting it. Christ was sent to do the whole will of God; and as in his circumcision, so in his baptism, "he was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin."
Straightway ( εὐθέως) coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened ( σχιζομένους); literally, rent asunder. The word εὐθέως occurs more than forty times in this Gospel, and is so characteristic of St. Mark that, in the Revised Version, it is uniformly rendered by the same English synonym, "straightway." He saw. Elsewhere we are told (John 1:32) that St. John the Baptist saw this descent. The earliest heretics took advantage of this statement to represent this event as the descent of the eternal Christ upon the man Jesus for personal indwelling. Later critics have adopted this view. But it need hardly be said here that such an opinion is altogether inconsistent with all that we read elsewhere of the circumstances of the Incarnation, and of the intimate and indissoluble union of the Divine and human natures in the person of the one Christ, from the time of the "overshadowing of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Highest." The Spirit descending upon him at his baptism was not the descent of the eternal Christ upon the man Jesus. It was rather the conveyance to one who was already prepared for it as God and man, of office and authority as the great Prophet that should come into the world. St. Luke says particularly (Luke 3:21) that it was when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, that the Holy Spirit descended upon him; plainly showing us that it was not through the baptism of John, but through the meritorious obedience and the prayer of the Son of God, that the heavens were "rent asunder," and the Holy Spirit descended upon him.
Driveth him ( ἐκβάλλει); literally, driveth him forth. That Holy Spirit, which not long before he had received at his baptism, impelled him with great energy; so that of his own accord he went forth, armed with Divine power, into the desert, that there, as in a wrestling-place, he might contend alone with Satan. There Christ and antichrist met, and entered upon the conflict upon the issue of which our salvation depended.
Forty days tempted of Satan. St. Mark gathers up the whole temptation into this one sentence; and the passage would seem to imply that the three temptations recorded by St. Matthew and St. Luke were not the only trials through which our Lord passed during those forty days, although they were no doubt the prominent and the most powerful assaults upon our Redeemer. And he was with the wild beasts ( μετὰ τῶν θηρίων). This shows the extreme solitude of the place. It shows also the innocence of our Lord, that there, in that wild and desolate district, amongst lions, and wolves, and leopards, and serpents, he neither feared them nor was injured by them. He dwelt amongst them as Adam lived with them in his state of innocence in Paradise. These wild beasts recognized and revered their Creater and their Lord. And the angels ministered unto him. This, as we learn from St. Matthew (Matthew 4:11), was after his temptation and victory. Some have thought that Jesus became known to the devil as the Son of God, by the reverence and adoration of the angels. Thus Jesus showed in his own person, when alone he had striven with Satan and, had overcome him, that heavenly comfort and the ministry of angels are provided by God for those who overcome temptation.
Now after that John was put in prison ( μετὰ τὸ παραδοθῆναι); literally, was delivered up. This was our Lord's second coming into Galilee. Galilee had been specially designated as the scene of the Divine manifestation (see Isaiah 9:1, Isaiah 9:2). The land of Galilee, or of Zebulun and Naphtali, had the misfortune to be the first in the sad calamity which fell upon the Jewish nation through the Assyrian invasion; and, in order to console them under this grievious affliction, Isaiah assures them that, by way of recompense, they, above the rest of their brethren, should have the chief share in the presence and ministry of the future promised Messiah. It seems probable that our Lord remained some time in Judaea after his baptism. From thence he went, with Andrew and Peter, two of John's disciples, into Galilee, where he called Philip. And then it was that he turned the water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana. This was his first coming out of Judaea into Galilee, related by St. John (John 1:43, etc.). But the Passover brought him back into Judaea, that he might present himself in the temple; and then occurred his first purging of the temple (John 2:14). Then came the visit of Nicedemus to him by night; and then he began openly to preach and to baptize (John 3:26), and thus incurred the envy of the scribes and Pharisees. Therefore he left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee; and this is the departure here recorded by St. Mark and by St. Matthew (Matthew 4:12). Hence it came to pass that it was in Galilee that Christ called to himself four fishermen—Andrew and Peter, James and John.
The time is fulfilled; that is, the time for the coming of Messiah and of his kingdom. The kingdom which had been shut for so many ages was now to be reopened by the preaching and the death of Christ. The time is very accurately indicated. St. Matthew tells us (Matthew 4:12) that "when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;" and then presently afterwards he adds, "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." The time and place are also accurately specified by St. Peter (Acts 10:36, Acts 10:37), where he tells Cornelius that "the word of peace, preached by Jesus Christ, was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached.'' It was necessary that these circumstances should be carefully detailed, because they were among the proofs of the Messiahship of Jesus. Elias must come first; and he had come in the person of the Baptist, although the prophecy probably awaits its full accomplishment in the actual reappearance of the great prophet of Israel before the second coming of our Lord. Repent ye, and believe the gospel. These words may be regarded as a summary of the method of salvation. Repentance and faith are the conditions of admission into the Christian covenant. Repentance has a special reference to God the Father, and faith, to Jesus Christ the eternal Son. It is in the gospel that Christ is revealed to us as a Saviour; and therefore we find Jesus Christ, as the object of our faith, distinguished from the Father as the object of our repentance. Repentance of itself is not sufficient—it makes no satisfaction for the Law which we have broken; and hence, over and above repentance, there is required from us faith in the Gospel, wherein Christ is revealed to us as a propitiation for sin, and as the only way of reconciliation with the Father. Without faith repentance becomes despair, and without repentance faith becomes only presumption. Join the two together, and the faithful soul is borne onwards, like a well-balanced vessel, to the haven where it would be.
Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee; a better reading is ( καὶ παράγων), and passing along. Our Lord came up from the south, passing through Samaria, till he reached Cana of Galilee. He then passed along by the seashore towards Capernaum; and on his way found the four disciples whom he had previously nominated, but who were now engaged in their calling of fishermen. St. Mark then relates the circumstances of their call in the exact words of St. Matthew, which were in all probability those of apostolical tradition ('Speaker's Commentary'). It will be seen that St. Mark's account, in this introductory portion of his Gospel, is very concise, and that there are many things to be supplied from the first chapter of St. John; as, for example, that after our Lord's baptism by John, and afar his fasting and temptation in the desert, the Jews sent messengers to the Baptist, to inquire of him whether he were the Christ. John at once confessed that he was not the Christ, but that there was One even then among them, though they knew him not, who was indeed the Christ And then, the very next day after, Jesus came to him, and John then said to those around him, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Upon this two of John's disciples at once betook-themselves to Jesus. The first was Andrew, who forthwith brought his own brother Simon, afterwards called "Peter," to our Lord. Again, the day after the, our Lord called Philip, a fellow-citizen with Andrew and Peter, of Bethsaida. Then Philip brought Nathanael. Here, then, we have some more disciples nominated, who were with Jesus at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. Then Jesus retched again into Judaea; and those disciples "nominate," as we might call them, went back for a time to their occupation of fishermen. Meanwhile our Lord, while in Judaea, wrought miracles and preached, until the envy of the scribes and Pharisees constrained him to return again into Galilee. And then it was that he solemnly called Andrew and Peter, and James and John, as recorded by St. Mark here. So that St John alone gives some account of the events of the first year of our Lord's ministry. The three synoptic Gospels give the narrative of his public ministry, commencing from the second year. He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea. ( βάλλοντας ἀμφίβληστρον ἐν τῇ θαλάσση). Such was the text underlying the Authorized Version; but a better reading is ( ἀμφιβάλλοντας ἐν τῇ θαλάσση). St. Mark thinks it unnecessary to mention the net at all; though doubtless it was the ἀμφίβληστρον, or casting-net. When our Lord likens his gospel to a net, he uses the figure of the drag-net ( σαγήνη), a net of a much larger size. But whether it be the casting-net or the drag-net, the comparison is a striking one. It is plain that, in the pursuit of his calling, the fisherman has no power to make any separation between the good fish and the worthless. He has little or no insight into what is going on beneath the surface of the water. So with the "fisher of men." He deals with the world spiritual and invisible; and how, then, can he be fully conscious of the results of his work? His work is pre-eminently a work of faith. It may be observed here that St. Mark, in this earlier part of his narrative, speaks of St. Peter as Simon, though afterwards (Mark 3:16) he calls him Peter. We may also notice here, once for all, St. Mark's constant use of the word "straightway" ( εὐθέως or εὐθὺς). This word occurs no less than ten times in this chapter. In the Authorized Version the word ( εὐθέως)is rendered indifferently by various English synonyms, as "forthwith," "immediately," etc.; whereas in the Revised Version it has been thought fit to note this peculiarity or mannerism in St. Mark's Gospel by the use of the same English synonym, "straightway," throughout this Gospel. The Holy Spirit, while guiding the minds of those whom he moved to write these records, did not use an overpowering influence, so as to interfere with their own natural modes of expression. Each sacred writer, while guarded against error, has reserved to him his own peculiarities of style and expression.
Mark 1:19, Mark 1:20
The calling of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. St. Mark hero mentions that they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants ( μετὰ τῶν μισθωτῶν). This mention of the "hired servants" is peculiar to St. Mark. He often follows the narrative of St. Matthew; but he adds little details such as this, here and there, which show that he knew St. Matthew's narrative to be true, and also that he was an independent witness. This circumstance here incidentally mentioned shows that there was a difference in position in life between Zebedee's family and that of Simon and Andrew. It appears that all Jews had free right of fishing in the sea of Galilee, which abounded in fish. Zebedee, therefore, whose home seems to have been at Jerusalem, had a fishing establishment in Galilee, probably managed by his partners, Andrew and Simon, during his absence. But he would naturally visit the establishment from time to time With his sons, and especially before the great festivals, when a larger supply of fish than usual would be required for the visitors crowding to Jerusalem at that time. (See 'Speaker's Commentary.')
And they went into Capernaum; literally, they go into Capernaum ( εἰσπορεύονται). St. Mark is fond of the historical "present "tense, which often adds life and energy to his narrative. Who go into Capernaum? Our Lord and these four disciples, the elementary Church of God, the nucleus of that spiritual influence which is to spread wider and wider unto the perfect day. It does not follow that this going into Capernaum took place on the same day. They would not have been fishing on the sabbath day. The synagogue here spoken of was the gift of the good centurion of whom we read in St. Matthew (Matthew 8:5) and St. Luke (Luke 7:2). Thus the first synagogue in which our Lord preached was the gift of a generous Gentile officer. It was an emblem of the union of Jews and Gentiles in one fold.
They were astonished at his teaching ( ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ). The verb in the Greek is a very strong and expressive one; it is a very suitable word to express the first impressions of utter amaze-sent produced by our Lord's "teaching." There were several things which caused his teaching ( δίδαχη) to differ from that of the scribes. There was no lack of self-assertion in their teaching; but their words did not carry weight. Their teaching was based chiefly on tradition; it dwelt much on the "mint and anise and cummin" of religion, but neglected "judgment and mercy and faith." Christ's teaching, on the contrary, was eminently spiritual. And then he practiced what he taught. Not so the scribes.
Thus far St. Mark's narrative bears the character of brevity and conciseness, suitable to an introduction. From this point his record is rich in detail and in graphic description.
And straightway there was in their synagogne a man with an unclean spirit. According to the best authorities, the sentence in the Greek runs thus, καὶ εὐθὺς ἦν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ αὐτῶν· And straightway there was in their synagogue, etc. This word "straightway" adds much force to the sentence. It marks the immediate effect of our Lord's preaching. A man with an unclean spirit. The words are literally, "a man in an unclean spirit" ( ἐν πνεύματι ἀκάθαρτῳ); in his grasp, so to speak; possessed by him. There can be no reasonable doubt as to the personality of this unclean spirit. The man was so absolutely in the power of this evil spirit that he seemed to dwell in him; just as the world is said by St. John (1 John 5:19) to lie "in the evil one" ( ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ). And he cried out. Who cried out? Surely the unclean spirit, using the possessed man as his instrument. In the case of a true prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he is permitted to use his own gifts, his reason, and even his own particular manner of speech; whereas here a false and lying spirit usurps the organs of speech, and makes them his own.
The expression, ἔα, incorrectly rendered Let us alone, has not sufficient authority to be retained here, though it is rightly retained in the parallel passage in St. Luke (Luke 4:34), where it is rendered in the Revised Version "Ah!" or "Ha!" If rendered, "Let us alone," or "Let alone," it must be assumed to be the imperative of ἐάω. It will be observed that this cry of the unclean spirit is spontaneous, before our Lord has addressed him. In real truth, the preaching of Jesus has already thrown the whole world of evil spirits into a state of excitement and alarm. The powers of darkness are beginning to tremble. They resent this intrusion into their domain. They feel that One greater than Satan has appeared, and they ask, What have we to do with thee? Wherein have we injured thee, that thou shouldest seek to drive us out of our possession? We have nothing to do with thee, thou Holy One of God; but we have a right to take possession of sinners. Beds says that the evil spirits, perceiving that "our Lord had come into the world, believed that they were about at once to be judged. They knew that dispossession would be their entrance upon a condition of torment, and therefore it is that they deprecate it." I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. St. Mark is very careful to bring out the hidden knowledge possessed by evil spirits, which enabled them at once to recognize the personality of Jesus. It was given to them by him who has supreme power over the spiritual as well as the material world, to know as much as he saw fit that they should know; and he was pleased to make known as much as was needful. "But he made himself known to them, not as he makes himself known to the holy angels, who know him as the Word of God, and rejoice in his eternity, of which they partake. To the evil spirits he made himself known only so far as was requisite to strike with terror the beings from whose tyranny he was about to free those who were predestinated unto his kingdom and the glory of it".
Hold thy peace, and come out of him. It was necessary that our Lord should at once assert his absolute power over the evil spirits; and not only this, but also that he should show that he had nothing to do with them. Later on in his ministry it was objected to him that he cast out devils by the prince of the devils. Then, further, the time was not yet arrived when Christ was to be publicly proclaimed as the Son of God. This great truth was to be gradually unfolded, and the people were to be persuaded by many miracles. But at present they were not prepared for this, and therefore our Lord charged his apostles that they should not make him known.
And when the unclean spirit had torn him; and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him ( καὶ σπαράξαν αὐτὸν). The Greek word σπαράσσω may be rendered in the passive to be convulsed. It is so used by medical writers, as Galen. It could hardly here mean physically "laceration," for St. Luke (Luke 4:35) is careful to say that "when the devil had thrown him down in the midst, he came out of him, having done him no hurt." At all events, the expression indicates the close union of the evil spirit with the possessed man's consciousness and with his physical frame. And the manner in which he departed showed his malignity, as though, being compelled by the supreme authority of Christ to leave the man, he would injure him as far as he was able to do so. But the power of Christ prevented him from doing any real injury. And all this was done
What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? The now generally approved text gives a different rendering, namely, What is this? a new teaching! ( τί ἐστὶ τοῦτο δὶδαχη καινή). If this is the true reading—and there is excellent authority for it—it would mean that the bystanders inferred that this new and unexampled power indicated the accompanying gift of a "new teaching," a new revelation. Nay, more, it indicated that he who wrought these miracles must be the promised Messiah, the true God; for he alone by his power could rule the evil spirits.
All the region round about Galilee; more literally, all the region of Galilee, round about; and the best readings add "everywhere" ( πανταχοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον τῆς γαλιλαίας). This is, of course, said by anticipation.
They came; a better reading is, he came ( ἤλθεν). St. Matthew and St. Luke speak of this house as the house of Simon Peter only; but St. Mark, writing probably under St. Peter's direction, includes Andrew as a joint owner with Simon Peter.
Mark 1:30, Mark 1:31
Lay sick of a fever ( κατέκειτο πυρέσσουσα). St. Luke (Luke 4:38) uses a stronger expression, "was holden with a great fever" ( συνεχομένη πυρετῷ μεγάλῳ). There were marshes in that district; hence the prevalence of fevers of a malignant character. There is no mention of the wife of Peter by name in the New Testament. We may infer, from the fact that his wish's mother lived with him, that he was the head of the family. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:5) intimates that he was a married man, and that his wife accompanied him on his missionary tours. According to the testimony of Clement of Alexandria, and of Eusebius (Luke 3:30), she suffered martyrdom, and was led away to death in the sight of her husband, whose last words to her were, "Remember thou the Lord." St. Mark here tells us that Jesus came and took [Simon's wife's mother] by the hand, and raised her up. St. Luke (Luke 4:39) says that "he stood over her and rebuked the fever." Immediately the fever left her. The word "immediately" ( εὐθέως), familiar as it is to St. Mark, is here omitted by the best authorities. But the omission is of no importance; for the fact that "the fever left her," and that she was at once strong enough to "minister to them," proves that it was not like an ordinary recovery from fever, which is wont to be slow and tedious.
At even, when the sun did set. It was the sabbath day; and, therefore, the sick were not brought to our Lord until six o'clock, when the sabbath ended. When the sun did set ( ὅτε ἔδυ ὁ ἥλίος). St. Luke's phrase is ( δύνοντος τοῦ ἡλίου), "When the sun was, so to speak, submerged in the sea." So in Virgil, 'Aeneid,' lib. 7.100—
"... qua sol utrumque recurrens
the popular idea being that, when the sun sets, it sinks into the ocean.
Mark 1:33, Mark 1:34
The whole city was gathered together at the door. This would probably be the outer door in the wall, opening into the street; so that this need not be regarded as a hyperbolic statement. It is evidently the description of an eye-witness, or of one who had it from an eye-witness. He healed all that had need of healing, and he suffered not the devils to speak, for the reasons. assigned at Mark 1:25.
And in the morning, at great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. Our Lord thus prepared himself by prayer for his first departure on a missionary tour. This would be the morning of the first day of the week. A great while before day he left the scene of excitement. That was not a time for preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. The miracles attracted attention to him, but they were not the object for which he came. They were necessary as means of stirring and awakening men's minds, and of fixing their attention upon him and upon the great salvation which he came to reveal. So he left the miracles to do their subordinate work; and he himself went into a desert place, that he might pray with more quiet and less distraction. He retired that he might escape the applause of men, which they were ready to lavish upon him after seeing so many miracles; that he might thus teach us to shun the praise of men. Let us learn from Christ to give the early morning to prayer, and to rise with the dawn of day, that we may have time for meditation, and give the firstfruits of the morning to God. The early morning is favorable for study; but it is specially dear to God and his angels.
And Simon and they that were with him followed after him κατεδίωξαν the word implies an "earnest pursuing." They that were with him would doubtless include Andrew and James and John, and probably others whose enthusiasm had been kindled by Simon Peter. St. Luke, in the parallel passage (Luke 4:42). tells us that "the multitudes sought after him, and came unto him, and would have stayed him, that he should not go from them."
All are seeking thee. The "thee" is here emphatic ( πάντες ζητοῦσίσε).
Mark 1:38, Mark 1:39
These two verses indicate the extent and duration of our Lord's first missionary journey. It must have been considerable. He preached in the synagogues. This would be on successive sabbaths. According to Josephus, Galilee was a densely populated district, with upwards of two hundred villages, each containing several thousand inhabitants.
The healing of the leper is recorded in all the three synoptic Gospels; but St. Mark gives more full details. From St. Matthew we learn that it took place after the sermon on the mount; and yet not at the very close of his missionary circuit, St. Luke (Luke 5:12) says that the diseased man was "full of leprosy" ( πλήρης λέπρας). The disorder was fully developed; it had spread over his whole body; he was leprous from head to foot. This leprosy was designed to be specially typical of the disease of sin. It was not infectious. It was not because it was either infectious or contagious that the leper was bidden under the Jewish Law to wars others off, in the words," Unclean! un-clean!" It was in some cases hereditary. It was a very revolting disease. It was a poisoning of the springs of life. It was a living death. It was incurable by any human art or skill. It was the awful sign of sin reaching unto death; and it was cured, as sin is cured, only by the mercy and favor of God. No wonder, then, that our Lord specially displayed his power over this terrible disease, that he might thus prove his power over the still worse malady of sin. St. Mark here tells us that this leper knelt down ( καὶ γονυπετῶν). St. Matthew says (Matthew 8:2) that he "worshipped him," ( προσεκύνει αὐτῷ); St. Luke says (Luke 5:12) that "he fell on his face" ( πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον). We thus see that the scriptural idea of worship is associated with some lowly posture of the body. But with this worship of the body, the leper offered also the homage of the soul. His prostration of himself before Christ was not merely a rendering of honor to an earthly being; it was a rendering of reverence to a Divine Being. For he does not say to him, "If thou wilt ask of God, he will give it thee;" but he says, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." It is as though he said, "I know that thou art of equal power with the Father, and therefore supreme Lord over diseases; so that by thy word alone thou canst remove this leprosy from me. I ask, therefore, that thou wouldst be willing to do this, and then I know that the thing is done." The leper had faith in the Divine power of Christ, partly out of his own inward illumination, and partly by the evidence of the miracles which Christ had already wrought. If thou wilt, thou east. Observe the hypothetic expression, "If thou wilt." He has no doubt as to Christ's power, but the words, "If thou wilt" show that his desire for healing was controlled by resignation to the will of God. For bodily diseases are often necessary for the health of the soul; and this God knows, though man knows it not. Therefore, in asking for earthly blessings, it behoves us to resign ourselves to the will and wisdom of God.
Observe in this verse that Jesus stretched forth his hand and touched the leper. Thus he showed that he was superior to the Law, which forbade contact with a leper. He touched him, knowing that he could not be defiled with the touch. He touched him that he might heal him, and that his Divine power of healing might be made manifest. "Thus," says Bode, "God stretched out his hand and touched the human nature in his incarnation, and restored to the Church those who had been cast out, that they might be able to offer their bodies a living sacrifice to him of whom it is said, 'Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Molchisedec.'" I will; be thou clean; literally, be thou made clean ( καθαρίσθητι). It is well observed here by St. Jerome that our Lord aptly answers both the petitions of the leper. "If thou wilt;" "I will." "Thou canst make me clean;" "Be thou made clean." Indeed, Christ gives him more than he asks for. He makes him whole, not only in body, but in spirit. Thus Christ, in his loving-kindness, exceeds the wishes of his supplicants, that we may learn from him to do the same, and to enlarge our hearts, both towards God and towards our brethren.
Straightway—St. Mark's favourite word—the leprosy departed from him. There is no interval between the command and the work of Christ. "He spake, and it was done." His will is his omnipotence. By this act Christ showed that he came into the world as a great Physician, that he might cure all diseases, and cleanse us from all our defilements. The word "straightway" shows that Christ healed the leper, not by any natural means, but by a Divine power which works instantly. He is alike powerful both to commend and to do. St. Matthew says here (Matthew 8:3) that straightway "his leprosy was cleansed" ( ἐκαθαρίσθη αὐτοῦ ἡ λέπρα). There is here what is called a "hypallage," or inversion of the meaning, which is, of course, that "he was cleansed from his leprosy."
And he straitly charged him. The Greek verb here ( ἐμβριμησάμενος) has a tinge of severity in it, "he strictly [or sternly] charged him." Both word and action are severe. He straightway sent him out ( ἐξεβάλεν αὐτὸν). It may be that he had incurred this rebuke by coming so near with his defilement to the holy Saviour. Christ thus showed not only his respect for the ordinances of the Jewish Law, but also how hateful sin is to the most holy God.
See thou say nothing to any man. St. Chrysostom says that our Lord gave him this charge, "to shun ostentation, and to teach us not to boast of our virtues, but to hide them." It is evident that he wished to draw the thoughts of men away from his miracles, and to fix them upon his doctrine. Go thy way, show thyself to the priest; the priest who in the order of his course presided over the rest. Our Lord sent him to the priest, that he might be seen to recognize their special office in cases of leprosy; and further, that the priest himself might have clear evidence that this leper was cleansed, not after the custom of the Law, but by the operation of grace.
But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to spread abroad the matter. It seems difficult to blame the man for doing what he thought must tend to the honor of his Healer; though, no doubt, it would have been better if he had humbly obeyed. And yet it was to be expected that the knowledge of our Lord's mighty works would be published by others. In this particular instance the effect of this man's conduct was probably unexpected by himself; for it led to the withdrawal of Christ from Capernaum. The crowds who were attracted to him by the fame of his miracles would have hampered him, so that he could not have exercised his ministry; for even in the desert places they sought him out, and came to him from every quarter.
It should be noticed here that this first chapter of St. Mark embraces, in very condensed form, about twelve months of our Lord's public ministry, from his baptism by John. And it is a record of uninterrupted progress. The time had not then come for the opposition of the scribes and Pharisees and Herodians to show itself. It was, no doubt, wisely ordained that his gospel should take root and lay hold of the hearts and consciences of men, as it must have done in the minds of the Galilaeans more especially, before it had to encounter the envy and malice of those who ultimately would bring him to his cross.
The beginning of the gospel.
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God." The writers of the first four books of the New Testament are called evangelists, because they gathered up, put into writing, and published to the world the accounts of the Lord Jesus which were current among the first Christians, and which were constantly repeated by the first preachers of our religion. They did this under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and their treatises come to us with Divine authority. Not only is the record credible; it is such that it claims our attention, and demands and justifies our faith. Of these four evangelists, Mark is one—doubtless the "John whose surname was Mark"—of whom we read in the Book of the Acts that his family resided in Jerusalem, and that he himself was a fellow-labourer with the Apostle Paul. It has generally been held that Mark was especially under the influence and guidance of Peter. The opening sentence of his Gospel is brief, striking, and full of meaning and of Divine truth.
I. Observe the SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BEGINNING OF THE GOSPEL. Matthew and Luke begin their narratives with a relation of the circumstances of the birth of our Lord; John commences with the pre-existence of the Word; Mark, whose treatise is the shortest, opens with the inauguration of our Lord's ministry. This second Gospel begins with Christ's baptism, and closes with his ascension. "The beginning" suggests the time when the gospel was not. Before the gospel was the Law. "The Law and the prophets," said Jesus, "were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached." What a different world it must have been to live in when there was no gospel!—at least in the full, the Christian, meaning of that term. "The beginning" suggests a foretold and appointed time. It was in the fullness of the time that the promised Messiah appeared, at the conjunction of national and of universal history foreseen by the Omniscient and indicated in prophecy. Accordingly the sacred historian at once appeals to the writings of Malachi and Isaiah to show the real continuity of sacred history. Nothing of God's appointment occurs haphazard; he sees the end from the beginning. "The beginning" points on to the completion. "Better," says the wise man, "is the end of a thing than the beginning;" yet the beginning is necessary to the end. It was so with the earthly ministry of Christ. It grew in solemnity and spiritual power as it approached its period; yet the earlier stages were preparatory for those which followed, and indispensable. That Christ's ministry dated—according to apostolic teaching—from the baptism of John, is apparent from Peter's language upon the occasion of the choice of a twelfth apostle, from his discourse before Cornelius, and from Paul's discourse at Antioch of Pisidia.
II. Observe the SIGNIFICANCE OF THE GOSPEL—the term By which the substance of the Christian record, is here designated. The meaning, generally speaking, of the term is "good news," "glad, welcome tidings." But the Christian use of the terra—which has absorbed all the meaning attaching to this glorious word—is special. The gospel is the designation of the facts and doctrines of Christianity. We look for these facts and doctrines in the writings of Mark and of the other three evangelists. The gospel was spoken in words, e.g. as here. The gospel was embodied in deeds and sufferings, e.g. in this record of Mark, the gospel of power. The gospel came from God, who alone was able to impart the blessings it promised. The gospel came to men—sinful, needy, helpless; who, without a gospel, must have remained in wretchedness. The gospel proclaimed pardon for sin, peace for the conscience, renewal for the whole nature, guidance and strength for the spiritual career, salvation, and life eternal.
III. Observe the SIGNIFICANCE OF THE APPELLATIONS HERE APPLIED TO HIM who is the Author, the Theme, the Substance of the gospel.
1. He is denominated Jesus—the name he bore as a human being, suggestive, therefore, of his humanity, yet in itself implying that he was the Salvation, the Help, of Jehovah.
2. He is denominated Christ—an official name, denoting his anointing and appointment by God to the discharge of the Messianic offices, as the Prophet, Priest, and King of men. (Note that the combined name, Jesus Christ, does not occur elsewhere in the first three Gospels.)
3. He is denominated the Son of God—a designation which impresses upon us his divinity and authority. Whereas Matthew opens his Gospel by showing that Jesus is the Son of David, a fact of special interest to the Hebrews, Mark takes a higher flight. These three appellations together present us with a full, delightful, instructive, and spiriting representation of our Saviour's nature and mediatorial work and qualifications.
1. You need this gospel.
2. This gospel is sufficient for you.
3. This gospel is adapted to you.
4. This gospel alone can bless you.
5. This gospel is offered to you.
The ministry of the forerunner.
This evangelist enters, upon his treatise with no further preface than is to be found in the first verse. He has to tell the good news concerning Jesus Christ the Son of God. And he begins his narrative at once, with an account of the ministry of that grand, heroic prophet, whose great distinction it was to be the herald of the Messiah, and whose greatness was in nothing more apparent than in this—he was willing to be superseded by his Lord, and to be lost in him: "He must increase, but I must decrease."—In these verses we have—
I. A GLIMPSE OF THE FORERUNNER'S PERSON AND CHARACTER.
1. He was a priest. This we learn from St. Luke's narrative of his parentage and birth. John owed something of the respect and acceptance he met with to this fact. Yet his ministry was not sacerdotal, though his education and his associations must all have fitted him to testify to "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world."
2. He was a Prophet. As Christ himself bare witness, "a prophet, yea, and more than a prophet." He spoke forth the mind of God. He did not sacrifice for the people or reason with them; he declared to them the message he had received from heaven.
3. He was an ascetic in the wilderness. In his dress and mode of life he resembled Elijah the Tishbite. He lived in the wilderness of Judaea, and in the wilder parts of the valley of the Jordan. His raiment was of cloth woven from coarse camel's hair; his food was that of a child of the desert, "locusts and wild honey." He wore no soft raiment; he was no reed shaken by the wind. Independent alike of the luxuries of life and of the approval of his fellow-men, he lived apart.
4. He was a fearless, faithful preacher. He did not ask—Is this message what the people wish to hear? but—Is this the word of the living God? When the Divine commission was entrusted to him, no power on earth could prevent him from fulfilling it.
II. A STATEMENT THAT HIS MINISTRY WAS PROPHETICALLY FORETOLD. Mark quotes from Malachi, the last of the prophets, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he will prepare my way before me." He quotes from Isaiah, "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." The forerunner was himself conscious of this; for, disclaiming Messiahship, he claimed to be the voice of the King's herald. Jesus, too, made the same assertion, "If ye will believe it, this is Elijah, which was to come." All was ordered and predicted beforehand by the wisdom of the Most High.
III. A view OF HIS REMARKABLE SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. John did no miracles. But he spoke with a Divine authority; and he exercised an influence which was felt throughout the whole nation, and which was an historical and recognized fact. The elements of his ministry were these:
1. The prediction that the kingdom of God, or of heaven, was at hand.
2. An appeal to repentance, based upon the approach of the new kingdom.
3. The administration of a rite symbolical of spiritual purification.
IV. An INSIGHT INTO THE REMARKABLE RESULTS OF THIS MINISTRY.
1. A general and profound impression was produced.
2. The most sinful classes shared in this moral awakening.
3. The religious leaders of the community were led to interest themselves in his message.
4. The political rulers of the land came to some extent under his influence.
5. The ardent and religious youth were at once attracted and awed by the presence and ministry of the prophet. The choice spirits of the generation rising up, the flower of the Hebrew youth, became his disciples.
6. There resulted a widespread conscience of sin, and a hope and desire for a great Saviour.
V. A DESCRIPTION OF HIS GREAT OFFICE AND FUNCTION. Above all, John was the forerunner and the herald of the Messianic King, even Jesus. Even before he met his cousin, before he administered baptism to him, he bore witness concerning him. He witnessed:
1. To his personal superiority, speaking of him as" One mightier than I."
2. And to his ministerial superiority; for while John's baptism was one with water unto repentance, that of Jesus was "with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Events proved the truth of this testimony.
APPLICATION. To receive the witness of John is to acknowledge the Messiahship of Jesus, to yield heart and life to the Saviour, seeking through him the forgiveness of sins, the renewal of the heart, and the consecration of the whole being.
The baptism of Christ.
As this evangelist commences his treatise with what he terms "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ," it is natural that our Lord should first be introduced by him as devoted to his ministry of benevolence in the rite of baptism; for this incident in our Saviour's life is justly held to have inaugurated his public work. What a hold the event has taken upon the Christian mind may be seen from the vast number of pictures in which the religious artists of all Christian countries have depicted the baptism. A striking scene for a painter, and a delightful theme for the preacher!
I. The baptism of our Saviour exhibits HIS RELATION TO THE FORERUNNER. The ministry of the herald preceded that of the King. Jesus was yet in the seclusion of Nazareth when John was attracting multitudes of all classes, and from all parts of the land, to his teaching and baptism in the Jordan valley. When Jesus came to John it seemed, to ordinary judgments, that the less came to the greater, the obscure to the famous. But it was not so. To all around the relation between the two was unknown. Nevertheless, to the two it was clear enough. The forerunner knew that his mission was temporary and introductory, and that "the coming One" should eclipse his light as the sun extinguishes the bright morning star. Hence the reluctance of the Baptist to do anything which might seem to militate against the just dimity of the Being in whom he recognized the Messiah. "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" This was the Person whose shoe's latchet he had declared himself unworthy to unloose. A slave would untie the thong of his master's sandals and bear them in his hand; John deemed even such an office too honorable for himself to discharge for the anointed King of mankind. It was not only in the presence of Jesus that John felt thus; the constant conviction of his mind was this, "I must decrease, but he must increase." But the witness was not all on one side. Jesus also bore testimony to John. In the very act of submitting to the baptism of the prophet, he acknowledged that prophet's greatness and ratified his claims. And he, in express words, testified to John's unique position, as predicted by the ancient prophets, and of the man himself and his character and work declared, "Of men born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist."
II. The baptism of our Saviour exhibits his relation to the human race. There seems to be no way of explaining and justifying this historical fact except by admitting that Jesus was specially the representative man. In endeavoring to explain, to account for, the baptism of our Divine Saviour, we are met with a serious difficulty. The baptism of John was unto repentance and with a view to the remission of sins. Men came, and were invited to come, to receive the symbol of a cleansing which, being spiritual, could only be wrought by a spiritual process. The publicans, harlots, and soldiers, whose conscience accused them of sin, in coming to John's baptism, confessed their wrong doing and ill desert, and professed their desire, by repentance and reformation, to escape from the trammels of evil and to live a holier life. They were warned that mere feeling, mere conformity, mere profession, mere water baptism, were all insufficient, and, if alone, worthless; and they were directed to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. Now, in the case of such persons, and, we may add, in the case of all the members of a sinful, guilty, race, a moral purification was and is indispensably necessary. But what reason, what appropriateness, what meaning, could there be in the reception of a baptism such as this by the sinless Saviour of the world, the holy and faultless and beloved Son of God? What need had he to confess and to ask pardon for sin? He had no sin to confess, no repentance to work out. If he required no spiritual purifying, to what purpose should he undergo the rite of lustration? The only answer seems to be that Jesus did this, not as a personal, but as an official and representative act. The circumstances of Christ's life and death are not to be understood unless we bear in mind that he acted and suffered as the second Adam, as the federal head and representative of humanity, as the Son of man. So regarded, w