Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Solitude

Ministry: Private & Public, 28 May 2017

Ministry: Private & Public
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 1:35-45

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Jesus used his private time to prepare for his public ministry.

Today we’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus based upon Mark’s biography of the Messiah. His gospel—or good news—is short and sweet. In the final verses of chapter one, we see aspects of Jesus’ private and public life and ministry.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

Note this is the morning after a busy Sabbath! The day before he was healing, preaching, and exorcising demons.

Again, I love Mark’s details in the midst of his headlines. It wasn’t just morning, it wasn’t just early morning, it wasn’t just very early morning, it was very early in the morning while it was still dark! So Jesus seeks solitude before everyone awakes to pray. The Greek word for “solitary” (eremos) is used to speak of the wilderness, the place where the Jews wandered for forty years, where John the Baptist was calling people to repentance, and where Jesus was tempted.

God uses the wilderness. It’s not a comfortable place, but it is in those bleak and hopeless places in our lives that God does some of His best work.

This isn’t a desert, but it is deserted. It is a great place for Jesus to pray. Why did Jesus pray? The same reason we pray…to talk with the Father. To submit. To listen. To be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I believe Jesus sets an example for us to follow. Some of you saw the movie War Room. Jesus didn’t have a dedicated place, but he sacrificed sleep to surrender, to be with the Father.

Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:36-37)

I’m guessing they did not get up early and look for Jesus in the dark. It’s even more unlikely that the crowds were looking for Jesus very early in the morning. Jesus devoted serious time to prayer, most likely several hours. Based upon the text, Jesus has four followers at this point. They aren’t even called disciples yet, but mere companions. They aren’t listening to Jesus, they frantically talking to him. The original Greek conveys the idea that they were hunting for Jesus. I can just hear them. “There you are! The crowds are looking for you! Come on! You can pray later!”

Jesus replied,
“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

Jesus is a man on the run…or walk! He tells them he came to preach, which he does…and drives out demons. He didn’t come to heal, he came to preach. Healing gave him credibility and authority, but it wasn’t his primary purpose. He came to call people to repentance, to change, to follow him. He didn’t come to do magic tricks. He came to preach. This is the last time Jesus’ preaching is mentioned in the gospel of Mark. He will later send the twelve apostles to “proclaim” or “preach” the message.

What did he preach? We saw a few weeks ago in verse 15:

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

Returning to verse 38…

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

Jesus has little success in his hometown of Nazareth or here in Capernaum. Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus will denounce Capernaum.

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. (Matthew 11:23)

Yikes! So Jesus and the four fishermen travel, preach, and drive out demons.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)

He doesn’t ask to be physically healed, but rather to be made clean, a spiritual and social change. This word “leprosy” was used for as many as 72 different skin conditions. I made the mistake—or not—of doing a Google Image search for “leper.” It was so shocking and tragic. Here’s what the law prescribed for lepers:

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

In several Old Testament stories, people were punished by God with leprosy, so imagine what people thought of lepers.

- They were physically sick
- They were considered unclean, unholy
- They had to live alone and stay 50 paces away from others

Both the medical disease and the spiritual impurity were considered contagious. Lepers couldn’t work so they had to beg. It was catastrophic in many ways—physical, spiritual, social, financial. The man asks to be clean rather than healed because social and spiritual restoration mattered more than his physical body.

Lepers were untouchables…literally. Can you image never being touched by another human?

Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man.
“I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:41-42)

Obviously, the man got within 50 paces of Jesus since Jesus touched him. That touch must have been incredible! Anyone in sight would’ve thought Jesus was crazy to contaminate himself with a leper. Instead, Jesus transmits wholeness and holiness to the leper. He has authority. He has power. And he has given it to us through the Holy Spirit.

Why was Jesus indignant and angry? Some translations say he was moved with compassion, others that he was filled with pity. Compassion makes the most logical sense, but if he was actually angry, it probably wasn’t because the man broke the 50-pace barrier. Anger doesn’t seem to fit the interruption. Most scholars suggest he was angry at the evil forces who claimed the leper as their victim. That would be holy, righteous anger. We need to be angry at sin, at injustice, at evil.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 
“See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:43-44)

Jesus sends the leper away. The word to describe Jesus’ strong warning is used to describe a horse snorting! He is serious! Perhaps he risked attracting people who only wanted to see magic tricks rather than listen to his preaching.

Was this reverse psychology on the part of Jesus? Keep your healing a secret. Is that even fair?! People aren’t going to notice the leper is healed? But Jesus seems to be saying to the man, “Don’t blow my cover!”

The priest was to determine whether or not a person had leprosy and whether they were cured. I’m grateful that’s not in my job description! You can read more about the treatment of lepers in Leviticus 13 and 14. The cleaning is an eight-day process with sacrifices. Of course, without the priest’s approval, the man cannot re-enter society.

Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:45)

He disobeyed Jesus’ strong warning! He proclaims the news. The publicity leads to audiences rather than congregations, fans rather than followers. Donovan notes four ironies:

1) A disobedient man is one of the first to preach the good news about Jesus
2) Jesus’ popular hurts rather than helps his ministry
3) The leper begins outside of society and is restored to it. Jesus begins in public and has to live outside. The two men trade places!
4) Jesus’ power to heal becomes the reason he cannot move about

But he didn’t have to move. The people came to him!

So What?

I want to end by going back to the beginning. Before Jesus heals the leper, he spent time alone with God.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

This is where he sacrificed. This is where he prepared. This is where he worked.

This week is the beginning of the NBA Finals. For the first time in NBA history, the same teams—Cleveland and Golden State—will face each other for the third year in a row. Millions will watch the marquis matchups including LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The players will give their all for 60 minutes. But the real work is done before the games. In the weight room. During practice. Making good choices at mealtime. In mental preparation.

NBA players don’t spend every day lounging around watching Netflix, drive to the arena, play for an hour, and then go to bed and do it all the next day. They train. Most of the work is done off the court.

This is true for Jesus. He didn’t just show up for work, preach and heal. He prepared when no one was looking. His private life made his public life possible.

Many want to play in the NBA, but few are willing to do the hard work off the court to be ready at game time.

Many want to do miracles, but few are willing to do the hard work on their knees to be ready.

What about you? How committed are you to following Jesus? What have you sacrificed? Sleep? Time? Money? Energy? Dreams?

Are you willing to pay the price to radically follow Jesus…or are you just a fan?

N.T. Wright writes,

As we Christians pray today, especially when this prayer is costly and sacrificial, not merely a perfunctory few minutes now and then, the presence of this same Jesus is promised, by his Spirit, to guide and encourage us. Part of this guidance will be the discernment to know when to speak and when to be silent, when what we are called to do should be kept secret and when it should be celebrated publicly. Sometimes, in some countries and in certain situations, some Christians will know, in prayer, that it is better not to attract too much attention to themselves. This isn’t cowardice; it’s wisdom. But if, as in Jesus’ case, word leaks out anyway, we can remain confident, especially through prayer, that this same Jesus is with us as we face the cost of being kingdom-people, bringing the news and power of Jesus’ healing love to the world.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is our country’s most hallowed and somber holiday. It’s not a day to honor our military—that’s veteran’s day—but to remember those who paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom. I’m grateful for their sacrifice and would like to pause for a moment of silence to remember them.

I’m also grateful for the true heroes of the faith—men, women and children who paid the ultimate price to follow Jesus. History is filled with martyrs. You can learn about them at
www.persecution.com.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates 90,000 Christians were murdered for their faith last year. That’s like filling 5/3 Field nine times! At least 29 died Friday in Egypt, including children.

What would possess a person to die for their faith? Passion, commitment, and quality time with God in prayer. I freely admit I’m a spiritual wimp. I need more quality time with the LORD…not because I’m a pastor, but because I claim to follow Jesus. That requires action. It involves preparation. It necessitates sacrifice.

Conclusion

As we continue to look at the life of Jesus, it’s easy to be awed by his miracles and teachings. But his public ministry was only possible because of his private preparation. He invites us to follow his example.

Credits:
some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and Richard Niell Donovan.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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