In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. – Luke 1:26-38
There’s a small town in Israel about six miles south of Jerusalem surrounded today by a high wall with armed soldiers in turrets. Unlike the Palestinian residents of that city, tourists can sometimes go in and out after the bus has been thoroughly searched. A great deal of biblical history happened there especially because it is the City of David. It gets lots of attention.
Nazareth is much more obscure, but one really big thing that took place there (Luke 1:26) is that the same angel who appeared to Zechariah in the temple appeared to the young virgin named Mary. Certainly the old priest Zechariah and his wife heard an amazing announcement, but it can hardly compare with what Mary heard. Elizabeth and Zechariah, well past the age to hope for children, know that the Lord opened the womb of Sarai and Hannah. Those miracles are related, but at least these ancient sisters of ours were married. Mary isn’t yet! She is a virgin and the only explainable way for her to have a child is dishonorable and sinful.
But she is going to have a baby, and it isn’t dishonorable or sinful. Just like the other miracle children given to barren women in the bible, for Mary it is God’s sign that He is starting something new. It’s always been the case that an old couple having their first child means new life. How much more then if a virgin conceives! Surely this is the mark of the beginning of a new creation.
The angel gives more information to Mary than we sometimes notice. She asks a direct question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” She receives a direct answer, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Just like the Spirit overshadows the water at the beginning of the world (the Spirit fluttered over the face of the waters) and forms the new creation, the Spirit will overshadow Mary to form a new creation in her womb. This is the womb of the new world. And that makes a lot more sense as to why her song (the Magnificat) contains joy about the overthrow of the wicked rulers of the world and the righteous people of God being exalted.
We’re not talking about a pagan god intervening in the lives of mortals. This God is the one St. Augustine said made us for love, love which will care for us and take us up into His saving purposes. Mary is a great example of what happens when God works by grace through people. His power from the outside and the indwelling Spirit within together bring about things which would be unthinkable any other way. That’s the kind of love He has for His people. And that’s the gospel!
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. – Mark 1:21-28
Israel is baptized in the Red Sea and goes into the wilderness for warfare with unbelief. Joshua is called and passes the waters of the Jordan to go to warfare in Jericho. Elisha, too, receives a double-portion of the Spirit and passes the waters of the Jordan to go to Jericho. Jesus is baptized at the Jordan and goes into the wilderness for warfare. When the first disciples are called (from the Sea), it would be quite reasonable to expect that they would go to the wilderness for some sort of battle. They apparently don’t.
John the Evangelist says that Jesus’ first miracle, the first of his miraculous signs, is turning water to wine at Cana in Galilee. Mark highlights something else at the beginning of his gospel. After His disciples are called, instead of going into the wilderness for warfare, they enter a synagogue and find out that that’s where warfare is needed! “A man with an unclean spirit” meets them and starts up a conversation. Jesus wages war on this principality, which throws the man into convulsions before leaving.
Now, the careful grammarians among us just thought critically, “Pastor Mark misused ‘principality’ because that’s a place, but this was a demon. In keeping with Ephesians 6:12, he should have used the word ‘power.’” Nonetheless, I would defend myself by stating that Jesus and the disciples may well have entered a principality by going into the synagogue. Notice the unclean spirit’s words: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” What’s with the plural “us”?
I think in the past I’ve always thought of the “us” as referring to the company of demons. That makes sense, but is it correct? The company of demons already know what Jesus has to do with them, and that He will at least try to defeat them. The question, if taken as coming from a single unclean spirit on behalf of them all, really doesn’t make that much sense.
What do you think it looked like there in the Capernaum Synagogue? Was it like an American horror movie with a man standing there moving his mouth except producing a voice like James Earl Jones under lots of digital processing? Or was it a man with his own regular voice standing there saying what he wanted to say, but which was actually a demon? With apologies to Hollywood, it was the latter, and I think that changes the scene a lot for most of us. While it is true that a few chapters later Mark tells us about a man who was held by a legion of demons, this one is singular, yet speaks in the plural.
So if the “us” is not the company of demons, who is it? It’s the synagogue. This demoniac perceives Jesus as a threat to the synagogue. As far as we can tell from the text, he is worried that Jesus will mess up their synagogue structure with its meaning, power, etc. And doesn’t this make sense when you consider that John the Baptizer was calling people to repent of relying on Old Covenant shadows and get deliverance? Israel was not their home. They were acknowledging that they were still under bondage in the world, along with its entangled sins. And so they confessed it. The synagogue system was developing as a center of public and religious life in order to expand Judaism out from Jerusalem, and Jesus came to mess all that up. Interestingly, behind the scenes, we find that the Evil One is running things in that principality. As a result, by chapter 3, the synagogue is in a murderous rage, and Jesus is forced to flee and regroup.
Meeting Mark’s purpose, we see Jesus here as the greater David. Wicked King Saul was tormented by a demon, and who was called to exorcise that demon? It was David (1 Sam. 16). Both David and Jesus are filled with the Spirit through anointing, both find an evil spirit tormenting someone, and both are able to remedy the situation. Jesus has, we’re told, “A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” That’s the gospel!
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. – Mark 1:14-20
Jesus is baptized, goes into the wilderness with the wild beasts for his training, and emerges doing something specific: preaching. Mark leaves most of the details to the other gospel writers. He is making a clear transition from John the Baptizer to Jesus. John has been the preacher so far, but now he is in prison, and Jesus is clearly John’s successor and the prominent one on the scene.
Mark summarized Jesus’ message: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. The original audience must have heard this as a very radical message: deliverance for God’s people by trusting the messenger. That’s asking a great deal, especially considering that if what he was saying is true, then God’s kingdom was coming close. Jesus is not only called to serve God’s kingdom, but to be God’s kingdom. What a claim!
This gets illustrated plainly in the next scene, the calling of the first four disciples. In our day, families sticking together is generally unimportant. The preeminent, untouchable priority for us is a job. A new and apparently better job offer in another part of the country or world is an automatic and unquestioned reason to leave family, friends, church, and everything else with two-weeks’ notice. That was not the case in Mark’s world. For them it was family. Lacking telecommunications and relatively easy travel, along with strong cultural expectations, one simply never considered leaving the family, which usually meant the family trade as well.
Jesus comes along and calls these men literally in the middle of their family business: he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. This is remarkable. It reminds me of the call of Abraham. He was to leave his family and everything he had known for his already long life and go to an unknown place based on nothing more than God’s call.
Then the calling of the sons of Zebedee is even more stark. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. They apparently didn’t even have a last meal with their father, but up and left him quite literally “in the boat”! Mark is revealing to his readers that the old family business of the people of God is over. It’s not the way it used to be. This isn’t a new piece of good advice; it’s not a different political agenda; it’s not even a new kind of spirituality. While it might in time lead to advice, political disruption, and spiritual expression, Jesus’ call is more than all of these. It is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. To join it is to repent of the old and find rescue and freedom in the new.
I confess that my heart goes out to Zebedee. That seems pretty harsh, and I wonder if he wept openly in the boat with the hired servants looking on and feeling sorry for him. Jesus upsets things though. His contemporaries undoubtedly trusted in all sorts of things as we do. For them it was their ancestry, their land, their laws, and especially their temple. I suspect that, like us, they trusted in their God as long as he did what they expected him to. But Jesus was calling them to trust the good news that their God was doing something new. In order join in, they had to break ties will all their other allegiances. It wasn’t easy then, and it isn’t easy now. But when Jesus calls you, your response is “immediate” because the Spirit had descended on Him. And the reward is as unimaginably good as it is everlasting. That’s the gospel!
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. – Mark 1:9-12
There are just four little verses here, but so much is taking place! For one, we see that John the Baptizer is the new Elijah. Not only does he dress like Elijah, but God’s similar action at the Jordan River is impressive. Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan on dry ground and that’s when Elijah asks Elisha what he could do for him. Elisha asks for a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. So there, on the western side of the Jordan, Elisha received his request as Elijah ascended to heaven and his “mantle” fell and struck the Jordan, which divided the waters and Elisha crossed over to Jericho and healed the city’s cursed water.
Moses also ascended on the west side of the Jordan (“opposite Jericho,” Deut. 34:1). Joshua was his successor who also received the Spirit to continue God’s work. Joshua crossed the Jordan on dry ground and went to Jericho to wage war and destroy it.
This demonstrates that John the Baptizer is the new Moses and Jesus is the new (and better!) Joshua; John is the new Elijah and Jesus is the new (and better!) Elisha. There was passing through the waters of the Jordan into places away from the Promised Land that battle could be fought. John baptizes Jesus who receives the Spirit and goes away to the wilderness to wage war against principalities and powers in high places, the spiritual forces of wickedness—and wins!
If we think for a minute about Jesus’ baptism, even more remarkable things are revealed. Mark says that Jesus saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. We’re used to hearing the Spirit described in such terms, but that would have been a real shocker to the original audience. The only place the Spirit of God was likened to a dove was in the Targum. That’s the Aramaic version of the Law and Prophets. Hebrew was more for study, so the Targum was in the everyday language of Jesus’ time. The creation account of Genesis 1:2 says the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters, and God said, ‘Let there be light.’ The word translated in the ESV “hovering” also means “fluttering.” To capture the image, the rabbis who compiled the Targum said, “And the Spirit of God fluttered above the face of the waters like a dove, and God said: ‘Let there be light.’”
Here we have the same three parties present at Jesus’ baptism as in the creation account: God the Father, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word, through which He creates. Not only that, but the Spirit was over water! In the same way that creation was the work of the Triune God, Mark is saying that the redemption of the world (i.e., the rescue and renewal of all things) has begun with the arrival of King Jesus.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit above the waters speaks. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Think of it: Jesus is baptized and he is enveloped with the best thing anyone could ever hear from their father: “I’m delighted with you!” There’s so much more here I’d like to say, but let us be clear that the heart of all Christianity is summarized here. When the living God beholds every person baptized into Christ Jesus, He looks at each one and says, “You are my dear child: I’m delighted with you.” And that’s the gospel!