Last week we saw how Mark was emphasising for us the Lord’s power and authority. We saw it in the way the Lord summoned those men who would become his apostles. All he had to do was call them, and they left their work and their families to follow him. Then we saw his power and authority to teach and to drive our demons. He was teaching in the synagogue and the people were impressed because he taught them with an authority which was missing from the teachers of the law. And then, when that man with an evil spirit interrupted the meeting, the Lord was able — with a word of command — to silence the demon and to send it away. And finally, we saw his power and authority to heal. First, he healed Simon’s mother-in-law; and then he healed all the people who came to the house where he was staying. He healed them all.
And so, Mark was showing us the Lord’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King and he came into the world to set up his kingdom by binding the Devil and his demons and by delivering his people from their misery. And this was a foretaste of what he will do when he comes again to destroy the Devil completely and all who have sided with him; and to bring his people — all who have repented and believed — into his glorious kingdom to come in the new heavens and the new earth where there will be no more sorrow or suffering, no more illness, but only everlasting joy and happiness. Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King and we may enter his kingdom now, in this life, and receive the hope of everlasting life in his glorious kingdom to come, by turning from our sin in repentance and by turning with faith to Christ the Saviour.
Mark has shown us some of the things the Lord was able to do. He could teach in the synagogues. He could drive out evil spirits. He could heal the sick. He was able to do many things; and do them all well. But what was the most important thing? What was his priority? What did he regard as his most important work at that time? That’s what the first part of today’s passage is about.
Verses 35 to 39
And so we read in verse 35 how very early in the morning, while it was still dark, the Lord Jesus got up and he left the house where he was staying and he went off to find a solitary place where he could pray. But look: if he wanted some peace and quiet, he wasn’t going to get it, because here comes Simon and his companions. They’re looking for the Lord Jesus. In fact, the word Mark uses can mean that there were hunting for him, pursuing him, tracking him down. Why were there looking for him like this?
According to verse 37, they were looking for him, because everyone was looking for him. We can imagine them, waking up, and going outside, and finding even more people who had come to see the Lord Jesus, as they had done the night before, so that he could heal them of their diseases. We can imagine all these people, looking for the Lord Jesus. Where is he? Is he inside the house? Will he come out and do for me what he did for my friends last night? I’m sick. I’m ill. And I heard that he could heal me. So, where is he? And we can also imagine the embarrassment of the disciples, having to admit that they don’t know where he is. And we can imagine them feeling helpless: all these people having come, looking for help, and we’re not able to do anything to help them, because the Lord is not here. And so, they began to look for him and they kept looking until they found him. And when they found him, they said to him:
Everyone is looking for you.
In other words:
Everyone is looking for you. So come with us and we’ll go and see them, so that you can heal them.
But then what a surprise for them, because the Lord answered them and said:
Let’s go somewhere else….
He was saying:
Yes, I know all those people are looking for me; and I know I could go back with you to the house and heal all who come to me there. However, it’s time to move on and to go to the neighbouring villages.
And here we discover what the Lord’s priority was. What was his priority? To heal? To cast out demons? No, his priority was to preach. He said in verse 38:
Let’s go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.
‘That’s why I have come.’ Why has he come? In order to preach. That’s his priority; that’s what he considered his most important work at that time. It wasn’t to heal, even though there were many people who needed to be healed. And it wasn’t to cast out demons, though that was undoubtedly an important work. His most important work was to preach, because he had come, not to heal as many people as possible, but to teach men and women and boys and girls that they needed to repent and to believe the good news, because the kingdom of God was near.
And so, Mark tells us how he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues as well as driving out demons.
That was the Lord’s priority. Of course, it became the priority of the apostles, didn’t it? You have that remarkable story in Acts 6 about the early church and the daily distribution of food to the widows. The early church wanted to care for their needy members in practical ways. So, they provided food each day for these widows who had no one else to rely on. But there was a problem: some of the widows complained that they were being overlooked and they weren’t getting as much as some of the other widows. And the problem was reported to the apostles, who agreed that this was something that needed to be sorted out; it wasn’t right for some of the widows to be overlooked like this. However, do you remember their solution? Their solution was to appoint seven deacons to look after the distribution of the food. And the reason they appointed the deacons to this work, instead of taking care of it themselves, was because the apostles knew it wouldn’t be right for them — the apostles — to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.
Waiting on tables was important; helping the needy widows was important; someone needed to oversee that important work. However, the ministry of the word of God — in other words, the preaching ministry — was too important to neglect. So, the apostles followed the Lord’s example of making preaching their priority. And if you know the story in Acts 6, you’ll know how, at the end, we read how the word of God spread and the number of disciples increased rapidly. Because the apostles gave themselves to preaching, God’s word spread and men and women heard their message and they repented and believed the good news and they were added to the church.
This was the Lord’s priority; it was the apostles’ priority. And the Apostle Paul wanted Timothy to make it his priority too. Timothy had become the pastor of the church in Ephesus; and the Apostle Paul wrote two letters to him, giving him advice and instructions about what to do. And among the things Paul said to Timothy, was this:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
Devote yourself to it. In other words, there are lots of things you could be doing, Timothy, but make this your priority and devote yourself to it.
And it’s been the same ever since, because in every generation, the Lord has raised up preachers to read the Scriptures publicly and to preach and to teach his word.
Why is preaching so important? Why did the Lord Jesus make it his priority? Why did the apostles make it their priority? Why did Paul tell Timothy to devote himself to this task? Well, it’s because faith come by hearing. Isn’t that what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10? He said faith comes from hearing the message. And since true faith is always accompanied by repentance, we might say that faith and repentance come from hearing the message.
Paul explains in Romans 10 that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved. But how can they call on him unless they first believe in him? And how can they believe in him unless they first hear of him? And how can they hear of him unless someone preaches to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? So, in order to call on him, you must believe. And in order to believe, you need to hear. And in order to hear, you need a preacher sent from God. And the good news is that God has raised up preachers and sent them out to preach his word so that sinners might hear and believe and call out to him for salvation.
The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King. And he came into the world to set up his kingdom by binding the Devil and all his demons, and by delivering his people from their misery as a foretaste of what he will do when he comes again in glory and power to destroy his enemies and to glorify his people. But he also came into the world to set up his kingdom by preaching to all that they must repent and believe; and all who repent and believe are added to his kingdom.
The Lord Jesus began this work while he was on the earth. After his ascension to heaven, he sent his Apostles to continue his work. And since the days of the Apostles, he has continued to raise up preachers and to send them to preach the message that sinners everywhere need to repent and believe in order to enter the kingdom of God.
And since the preaching of God’s word is so vitally important, then we ought to pray to the Lord to send out more and more preachers to proclaim his word. And we ought to pray to the Lord, asking him for opportunities to invite our friends and neighbours to come to church on Sundays in order to hear the preaching of God’s word. And we ought to pray for the Lord to work through the preaching of his word so that sinners everywhere will be convinced and converted and will turn from their sin in repentance and turn with faith to the Saviour, because the way to enter God’s kingdom and to receive the hope of everlasting life is through repentance and faith which comes through hearing the message.
Verses 40 to 42
However, that’s not the end of our passage today. We’ve still got verses 40 to 45 to deal with. And isn’t it interesting? The Lord has just told Simon and his companions that preaching, not healing, was his priority. Nevertheless, whenever this man with leprosy came to him, appealing to him for his help, the Lord didn’t turn him away. He didn’t refuse to heal the man, saying that he has no time to heal, because preaching was his priority. No, when this poor man came to the Lord Jesus, begging to be cleansed, the Lord was filled with compassion for him and he cleansed him of his disease.
And so, look what Mark tells us. This man came and fell on his knees before the Lord, and said:
If you are willing, you can make me clean.
So he believes the Lord is able to help him; but is he willing to help him? That’s they key question here: is the Lord willing to deliver this poor man from his trouble?
And the answer, of course, is yes, because the Lord is always willing to help anyone who comes to him humbly, confessing their need. He’s willing to help anyone here today, who turns to him humbly confessing their need. Sometimes people come to church in the wrong frame of mind. Instead of coming to church humbly, confessing their need — their need for forgiveness, their need for instruction, their need for strength — instead of confessing their need, they come proudly, because they think they don’t need forgiveness, and they think they don’t need instruction, and they think they don’t need strength. Forgiveness is for others, but not for me, they think. I haven’t done anything wrong. Instruction is for others, but not for me, they think. I already know enough. Other people need strength, they think, but not me, because I’m a strong Christian. And when we come to church like that, we leave with nothing. But when we come humbly, confessing our need, what do we find? That the Lord is willing to help us just as he was willing to help this poor man who was suffering from this terrible disease. And so we read how the Lord was filled with compassion and he reached out and touched the man and said to him:
I am willing. Be clean!
And immediately, immediately, the leprosy left them man and he was made clean. This terrible disease was gone.
Verses 43 to 45
Afterwards the Lord told the man to go and show himself to the priest and offer the sacrifices Moses commanded for his cleansing. According to the law of Moses, if someone was healed of an infectious disease, the priest had to examine the person in order to confirm that the person was better. And there were certain sacrifices which the person needed to offer in order to be restored to fellowship. So, the Lord told the man to go and to do whatever the law of Moses said he needed to do.
But the Lord also forbade him from telling anyone else what had happened. Now throughout Mark’s gospel we see the Lord forbidding demons and evil spirits and people from telling others who he is. However, it’s not entirely clear why he forbids them.
One possibility is that he didn’t want people to misunderstand who he is and why he had come. They would hear that God’s Anointed King had come and people might misunderstand and think that, since he’s a king, he had come to raise an army to lead the Israelites into war with the Romans. But that’s not why he had come. And so, perhaps he didn’t want people to misunderstand.
Or perhaps he didn’t want this man to talk about what the Lord had done for him because of what we read in Isaiah 42. In Isaiah 42, God Almighty is talking about his special servant who was to come into the world. In other words, he was talking about the Lord Jesus. And this is what he said:
He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
In other words, when my special servant comes, he’ll not make a noise; he’ll not make a fuss; he won’t come, loudly, drawing attention to himself. Instead he’ll come quietly. And so, here’s the Lord Jesus, telling this man to keep to himself what the Lord had done for him. Don’t go and broadcast it around. For now, at least, don’t say a word to anyone, except the priest, because Isaiah 42 makes clear that it’s God’s will for the Lord Jesus to go about his work quietly.
Those are two possibilities. Or perhaps the reason for silence is because the Lord knew what would happen if this man began to speak openly about what the Lord had done for him. After all, look what happened according to verse 45: because the man disobeyed the Lord, and because he talked freely about it, the Lord Jesus was no longer able to enter a town openly; instead he had to stay in lonely places. Because this man spread the news, too many people were now looking for him. And presumably there were looking for him, not in order to hear him preach, but in order to be healed by him.
There are two lessons here, I think. The first is this: the Lord’s people ought to obey him. The Lord had done something wonderful for this man: he had cleansed him from this terrible disease. You’d think that the man would have shown his gratitude by doing what the Lord said. But instead of obeying him, he disobeyed; and the Lord’s work became more difficult because of this man’s disobedience. You might think to yourself, that surely it’s a good thing to tell others about what God has done for us. But not in this case; in this case, the man was commanded to say nothing. And the way we ought to show our gratitude to the Lord for what he has done for us is by obeying him. What has he done for us? Well, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper speaks to us of what he has done for us. The bread speaks to us of how his body was broken for us. The cup speaks to us of how his blood was shed for us. The Sacrament speaks to us of how he laid down his life for us and for our salvation. He loved us and gave up his life for us. And so, we ought to demonstrate our gratitude to him by doing what he says and by obeying his laws and commandments.
I’ve mentioned before the Heidelberg Catechism which is divided into three parts: there’s guilt and how we’ve disobeyed God; then there’s grace and what God has done to save us; and then there’s gratitude and how we demonstrate our gratitude by keeping his commandments.
So, that’s the first thing. Unlike this man, we ought to strive to obey the Lord’s will. But notice finally the emphasis here on being made clean. In verse 40, the man said that the Lord can make him clean. In verse 41, the Lord touched the man and said: ‘Be clean!’ In verse 42, it says the leprosy left him and he was cured; a more literal translation is that he was made clean. In verse 44 the Lord told him to offer the sacrifices for his cleansing. The emphasis on cleansing is significant, because this healing miracle is a little picture of what the Lord does for all who repent and believe. Whoever repents and believes can rejoice because the Lord Jesus is willing and able to cleanse us from the guilt of our sins.
Our sin makes us feel dirty, doesn’t it? We do something we know is wrong, and it makes us feel dirty and unclean. We feel unclean and we want to wash away the stain of our sin and to rub out that feeling of guilt we have. Maybe even this past week, there was something you did, and you still feel dirty because of it. When you think of what you said or did, you’re ashamed and want to rub it out. Maybe there was something you did last night and you’re now feeling unclean because of it. The good news is that, when we repent and believe the good news, we’re washed and cleansed and pardoned by God for the sake of Christ who died for us. Guilty sinners only need to turn to God in prayer, and confess your sins, and say:
If you are willing, you can make me clean.
And he’s always willing to cleanse and to forgive whoever comes to him humbly, confessing their need.
We’ve been reading in the book of Revelation about the new Jerusalem on Wednesday evenings. The new Jerusalem isn’t a city; it’s the glorified church which will fill the new heavens and the new earth when the Lord Jesus comes again. And we’re told at the end of Revelation 21 that nothing unclean will ever enter there. Nothing unclean. But the good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed King, is willing and able to make clean whoever repents and believes the good news.