Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
The Compassionate One
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.
40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Mark 1:29-45 – ESV
There is an aspect of Jesus’ ministry here that requires our attention: When Jesus casts out demons, heals a person with leprosy, or performs one of the other miracles we see in this passage, he is doing something radical in his world. He is rejecting a whole way of thinking about people and their problems. When the society of that time was confronted with what it called demon possession it was common for them to take sticks and beat these people into submission, or to give them poison thinking that if they vomited they would vomit out the demon. It is unbelievable what a person like this might have been through.
My father was put in a mental hospital in the late 1960s in Louisville and I was never able to visit him, but the people who did said the wards were like going to hell. People are not treated well when others don’t understand what is going on. In Jesus’ time they would write off these marginalised people, saying “It proves I am a godly person if I have nothing to do with that person.” “It proves I am a godly person if I avoid the leper.”
Jesus rejected this whole way of thinking about people and their problems. When Jesus saw a demon possessed person, a leper, or even a mother-in-law with a fever, Jesus saw a hurting person. He gave them love, acceptance, kindness, and dignity. Having anything to do with a person with leprosy would have made you unclean yourself. For Jesus to reach out and touch a leper, was not just a mere action, it was reaching across all of those barriers that society had put up and instead saying that this person is lovable and valuable in God’s sight.
We need to remember this: If we are not saying, “Give me compassion for the excluded, and compassion for the hurting” then we are not yet following Jesus. As we go through our world, through the courthouses, the hospitals, the classrooms, and the community, we will see all sorts of people of whom our world says, “They are in that unacceptable group and deservedly so.” Jesus calls us to be willing to go across that barrier, not just out of some sort of feel good duty, but out of true genuine compassion.
The gospel tells me that despite all my failings and imperfections Christ loved me, included me, cleansed and forgave me. Therefore I can go and eat dinner at a table with someone with whom I wouldn’t normally eat, talk with those with whom I wouldn’t normally talk, and befriend those who are not supposed to be in my group. That is following Jesus.
Jesus is calling us to reach across barriers and get out of our comfort zones. He is calling us to draw a larger circle of God’s love than just the people with whom we are comfortable. He wants us to include people who are different from us without excluding those who are like us. To cross the barriers, reject cliques, and to treat people as Jesus treated them is a powerful demonstration of the gospel. I want you to notice as we read through Mark what happens as Jesus does this: In verse 32, the whole town gathered at the door; In verse 45 Jesus could no longer openly enter a town. Over in chapter three so many people were being brought to Jesus that he had to teach from a boat because the crowds were so crushing. In chapter six, facing yet another large crowd, and despite a lack of food and rest, Jesus had compassion “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Did Jesus face these crowds in these passages and elsewhere because he was a miracle worker? Yes, but more so because Jesus treated, and reached out to, and loved, and touched the unacceptable and the excluded. People came running to him, lepers came from their hiding places, and prostitutes came from their hiding places. People who were ashamed of their family members brought them to Jesus.
Do you understand what Christianity means if we practice this? What would a church look like if it was Jesus’ church? Would it be only for nice white families with no problems, two cars and two kids? No. Jesus’ church would include all kinds of people, with all kinds of problems, who would be drawn together by the acceptance they find in Jesus Christ. They would not be ashamed but welcomed and there would not be one hint of anyone saying, “We’re happy we don’t have that kind of person here.”
I cannot say I am following Jesus Christ if I am not willing to pray that the authority and the power of Jesus would change the lives of those around me. I don’t believe it is up to me to diagnose people’s problems, but it is appropriate for me to say “Lord Jesus Christ, send your Spirit and work in this life. Do what only you can do.” God saves people, heals people, delivers people and changes people. A rationalistic Christianity that excludes this is wrong. It doesn’t need to be a show, and it doesn’t need to be self serving, and it can’t be a circus, but it can’t be left out. You can’t have powerless Christianity. Our Savior has authority over everything, including demons and illness, and he extends it to people that our world has written off.
That includes us. All of us know what it is like to feel unaccepted. The word “stigma” may not be in vogue anymore, but if you have been divorced you know what stigma is. If you have been unemployed you know what stigma is. If people look at you as a failure, or as somebody they don’t want to talk to or know, then you know how powerful it is to realize that Jesus Christ includes you and accepts you. There is no time that I need Jesus more than when I feel unacceptable to myself and to others. I am acceptable to him and he will always come and stand by me, and embrace me, and love me. He doesn’t exclude me, and he doesn’t blame me.
The kind of Christianity that presents a Christ who blames people and excludes people is not following the Jesus of the gospels. In the New Testament when someone has to be excluded from the church for reasons of church discipline, it is a heartbreaking matter because Jesus Christ is an includer, not an excluder. Our gospel needs to start at that. You need to feel what it is to follow a Christ who looked at a demon possessed man and said, “Bring that man to me and I’ll help him.” Jesus looked at illness. He looked at stigma. He looked at all of that and said that in the Kingdom of God it is a whole different thing. Those barriers are gone. I pray that you experience that for yourself through the gospel.
In our next chapter I will elaborate a little more about what this should and shouldn’t look like in a church today.
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