The Mission of the Servant King – Mark 1:21-45
We are working our way through the Gospel of Mark in a series called “The Servant King.” The Servant King has arrived and all that was sad is coming untrue (Lord of the Rings). When His Kingship breaks through, all other thrones, including the mini-sovereign god of self, will now fall. Last week, we saw the King did not just arrive and we all watch Him, but He calls people to join in His mission.
What His mission going to be about? What we will find is that He will not go about strutting about showing us His power like He has magic tricks; nor will He go about just to challenge people with academic debate. He’s coming to redeem and fix a broken world. He’s coming to begin the process of restoring this world and our hearts as it was meant to be. We try to hold everything together from our bank balances, our marriages, our planning for the future, our appearances, etc. But everything’s broken. This world is broken. Bad kings rule. There is poverty and injustice. Our bodies are dying every day. There is disease and sickness. Our souls are broken. Relationships break. There is betrayal. Divorce. Bitterness. Unforgiveness.
We need a Servant King to breakthrough our world not just to rescue us, but to restore us and our world. And we have one. We have a beautiful King who enters our brokenness and beautifies it, but there is a cost to bring beauty in the broken and calls us to mission. As Kevin DeYoung says, “We are not called to bring a broken planet back to its created glory. But we are to call broken people back to their Creator.”Let’s explore that today. What is the mission of the Servant King?
I. Reestablish His authority (vv.21-39).
Jesus leaves the seashore for the city of Capernaum (Ka-per-nee-um), where the bulk of ministry would happen. Notice “they” went (cf. v.29). He does not call them to attend endless seminars on discipleship training…Discipleship in Mark is not about mastering theoretical ideas; it is about mission, a common mission with Jesus (6:7, 30). They learn on the way with Jesus. The Servant King’s team is with him, but the funny thing is that they don’t actually do anything except when they are not saying or doing dumb things in the Gospel of Mark. This is ministry isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t need us, but is glad to have us on His team in spite of our inadequacies and failures. Any real fruit in the end is from us watching Him work. This whole episode is about Jesus reestablishing His authority (v.22 and v.27). First:
a) By showing the primacy of the Word
He enters the synagogue and starts teaching. The synagogue had a multi-purpose: worship on the Sabbath, school during the week and courtroom to try minor cases. A typical service would consist of prayers, reading the OT and teaching, which was open to any qualified individual selected by the ruler of the synagogue. This is why Jesus can just show up and preach.
The scribes, who had a Ph.D. in theology of that day would teach from authority, citing and footnoting everyone, even Tim Keller. But Jesus did not teach from authority, He taught with authority. There was a freshness to it, a directness that went down deep into their heart and was disturbing them. The idea of being “astonished” meant literally more than a “Wow” but an uncomfortable terror. They are feeling conviction because Jesus has come not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable.
What was sad that was that all this time they were being starved and did not know it. Jesus shows up, they are like orphans who had been eating leftover cold and hard fries from the McDonalds dumpster taken to a gourmet buffet. But the problem was, they went and sat down and never ate. Jesus says in Matt. 11:23-24 that Sodom was in a better condition than the city of Capernaum because of their unbelief. He never forces anyone to come under His Word.
Later, in vv.36-39, Jesus is praying and the disciples all try to find him because “Everyone is looking for you!” The disciples evidently want Jesus to capitalize on his notoriety as a miracle worker.  Really they are looking for Him to meet their needs. Jesus responds, “Let’s keep moving that (purpose) I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” In other words, “I have to go to everybody else too…I’m not just going to meet the needs you know you have through deeds; I’m also going to meet the needs you don’t know you have through the preaching of the Word. I’m going to preach the Word. I’m going to call people to be converted. I’m not just going to feed the hungry and heal the sick. I’m also going to minister and preach the Word.”
When Jesus preached the Word, he says earlier in Mark 1:15, “Repent …” That’s the ministry of the Word. “Repent. You need to be converted. You’re insufficient in yourselves. You’re flawed. You’re weak. You need God. You need grace. You’re a sinner.” We don’t want to hear that. See, when you feed the hungry and you heal the sick, those people know they’re hungry and sick. Meeting the needs through deeds is needs we know we have, but Jesus says, ‘You also have a lot of needs you don’t know you have, and it won’t be loving for me not to try to meet those too.’”
I was convicted by this and those of you who lead small group, preach or teach in children’s ministry or even lead worshippers, hear this. Most of the time I want to desperately impress you and want your applause and approval, but I am reminded here that I am not the meal, but the waiter who brings it to you. I am not even the chef. I used to evaluate sermons on your expressions or your feedback, but the best way to evaluate your service is to look at your heart afterward. Are you thinking, “Man, I’m good. Glad I worked so hard” or “Man, I’m horrible. I shouldn’t have said that. Why didn’t I do this?” or “Jesus, you are amazing! I am in awe of you.” When I am overwhelmed by how great Christ is at the end, I know God was speaking and Christ was exalted. If I am overwhelmed by my greatness or my badness, I know my flesh was exalted.
Secondly, is it possible to sit down for a meal and never eat? Sure and I wonder how many of us are doing that. Sleeping late Saturday night, filling your time with video games, social media and television, rolling out of bed late and strolling in here, with your arms crossed, critiquing everyone and everything else around you, judging the preacher, not singing, waiting for the service to be over, eating some rice, talking about sports and going home. We come starved and leave starved.
This is a place to meet the Lord. It is our job to get something out of the preacher no matter who it is. We are not called to be spectators on the sideline, but active participants in the game. Whenever there is no authority, there is disorder and chaos. All week being in the world, our wheels are not aligned and we are driving off the track. We get too comfortable and want Jesus to be our vending machine to meet our needs, but when the real Jesus shows up, He reestablishes authority by the power of His Word and turns disorder into order and shows us needs we didn’t even know we had.
b) By emphasizing the Word with deeds
Word always goes with deed. You need both for ministry. Whenever Jesus shows up in the Gospels, “all hell breaks loose” literally. Light always exposes the darkness. Sin grows in the dark, like mold. Only when you shine the light of the beauty of Christ can we see our sin. Our pride and sin is broken down only when His beauty breaks through. I don’t think he was a regular attendee of the synagogue because he would be ritually unclean. He’s just showing up to fight. A man with an unclean spirit is ready to battle the One anointed with God’s Spirit.
The language here “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The “us” indicates that there is one leader of the many speaking or one demon talking about the kingdom of darkness as a whole. These are fighting words, words of combat. You can sense fear, which has gripped this demon. The presence of Jesus means the end of the road for him. Jesus had invaded the territory of this spirit. As Sinclair Ferguson says, “The coming of the King and the inauguration of His kingdom implied the destruction and end of the kingdom of darkness.” Notice Jesus does not tell him to get out because He was teaching. Word and deed always go together.
There is also an indictment on the spiritually dead people. The demon acknowledges quickly the person of Jesus shrieking that Jesus was “the Holy One of God,” (meaning sinless and the One who was consecrated to God to be sent to destroy the works of the devil). It is sad when the demon shows up to church and recognizes Christ faster than those attending! He says this while the people just sat there and looked. Usually in an exorcism, you would call out the name of the opponent and it was believed that doing so would give you tactical advantage in manipulating and defeating it. The demon is about to be exorcised and he is trying to exorcise Jesus as a last minute attempt.
Jesus uses no magic tricks or incantations, but with a word, literally “Shut up!” commands obedience and the demon leaves the man. The Servant King with His authority reestablishes order and peace in this man’s life from a life of disorder and chaos. Satan’s powerful rule over people’s hearts is coming to an end. People are again amazed that not only is His teaching fresh and new with authority, but His authority even extends to the supernatural demonic realm. Jesus can deliver anyone from the worst of situations.
What do we do with all this demon stuff? Well, avoid reductionism. What is that mean? It means either reducing everything to the devil or reducing everything to science and medicine. Notice in vv.32-34. There is a distinction between people who were sick and people who had demons. Jesus doesn’t see the demon-possessed man and call for a doctor. Neither does he see Peter’s mother-in-law and start casting out a demon. In Matt 4:24, it says that they brought demon-possessed and the epileptics and people with all kinds of diseases and pains.
Sometimes we can just label people’s issues in a simplistic and naïve way. It’s easy to just say, “It’s all psychological or mental issue.” Or “it’s all spiritual” or “It’s all biological.” Most of the time, there are several factors that are interlocking. It’s complex and multidimensional, but we must never label and put people in a box. It’s a lot more complicated. I don’t think believers can be demon-possessed, but I do think believers can be strongly affected and influenced. The enemy definitely works with our emotions.
Not only is this Jesus big able to teach and cast out demons with authority, notice He is not too big to visit a house either. He’s interested in the “small” stuff like a fever. Actually everything is small to Him. Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever (more evidence that Mark got his info from Peter to write this). If this was Peter’s house, that means his mother-in-law’s husband had died and she had no living sons, causing her to move in with her daughter and son-in-law. Notice Jesus moves close, takes her by the hand and gently lifts her up. He also is breaking a lot of rules here. Healing on the Sabbath? Touching a woman? Touching a sick woman making you unclean? Touching a sick woman on a Sabbath?! He is already controversial. In Christ, we see strength but with great tenderness. He see absolute power and control and unbending convictions, but utter approachability and sensitivity. He is the King, but a Servant King!
Notice she “began to serve them.” This means she is fully restored, not just “feeling better.” “Serve” is a typical word in Mark highlighting discipleship. Here we see that anyone can be a disciple, even a mother-in-law.. This is the goal of Jesus’ mission. His Word, which is always coupled with His works is to make disciples out of people who would serve the Servant King as they were served by Him. This must be our goal too!
c) By demonstrating priorities
Jesus is so busy and everyone is coming non-stop to see him and so He goes to pray. We say, “It’s so busy, I have no time to pray.” Jesus says, “It’s so busy, I have to pray.” Pastor Tim Keller says, “Jesus’ response to a time of extreme busyness, a time of tremendous opportunity, incredible popularity, over-the-top productivity … Jesus’ response to that time is very different than what you and I do, because when you and I come into a time of incredible popularity, productivity, opportunity to get so much done, to do so many things we’ve always wanted to do, the first things that go are quiet, solitude, and prayer … squeezed out.
Jesus, the busier he gets, the more he prays. The more vastly and greater his busyness increases, the greater his time of prayer. If you and I are flawed, weak people, and he’s the Son of God, and if he thought he needed more prayer the busier it got, how much more would we need it? Jesus was standing in the middle of the opportunity that was going to change the world. His opportunities were literally going to change the course of history, and he still thought prayer was too important to let be squeezed out. If he thinks it’s that important, if it’s that big a priority, if he increases his prayer when busyness increases, where do we get off living the way we live? So first of all, we see the supreme priority of prayer. Nothing else is more important. Nothing can squeeze it out. Nothing is a higher priority. Nothing can squeeze it out … not changing the world forever. So we have to pray.”
But what we need is a Servant King to reestablish His authority in our lives by His Word, His deeds and reprioritizing our lives again. All sin is disordered love, Augustine said. It is not that we love the wrong things, but we love them in the wrong order and in the wrong amount. Right things in the wrong order cause disorder. There was a little girl who, failing to reassemble a torn up map of the United States, discovered that on the reverse side was a picture of George Washington and that by putting his picture together she also assembled the map. This illustrates a profounder truth. Nothing can be assembled, either one’s life or the universe, apart from Christ. But when we know Him all things else find their place, for by Him all things consist, and we are complete in Him. When the Servant King breaks through and establishes His authority, the order returns in our lives. Secondly and lastly, the mission of the Servant King is also to:
II. Redeem us completely (vv.40-45)
As King, He exerts the authority of His Word and power, but as a Servant, He redeems us completely. Leprosy was not just a disease back then. It was a total condition. It affected you in every way—physically, socially, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. They were like the zombies we see on TV, the walking dead from whom everyone runs from. Physically leprosy ate you alive (Lev. 13-14). You lose all nerve sensation and fingers and toes can start falling off. Socially you were an outcast because some thought you were contagious (not true, however) and others didn’t want to be called “unclean,” leading you, if a leper, to live in lonely places. They say even babies need constant touch, but lepers would not feel human touch forever. So it’s pretty bold for this leper to come this close and fall before Jesus like a mass of rotting flesh.
It also meant absolute emotional isolation from human community. Even if they saw a human being at a distance, they had to cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” Socially cut off, emotionally alone, physically and psychologically falling apart. And spiritually, most people thought lepers were cursed by God. And you were punished if you came near a leper. One rabbinical writing says, ““If an unclean man [afflicted with leprosy] stood under a tree and a clean man passed by, the latter becomes unclean.”
So this leper is asking for it all. He comes for cleansing physically, emotional and psychological wholeness, social acceptance and total healing. His needs are multi-dimensional and he finds that Jesus is a multi-dimensional Savior who will give him everything he soul needs. This Servant King has come to redeem us just to give us salvation, but to also put us in community, be the object of our affection and change every aspect of our lives. Jesus is “moved with pity,” meaning “He felt it in his stomach. Jesus’ reaction went beyond pity and sympathy or even empathy…Jesus feels His way into the leper’s needs.” It was gut-wrenching compassion.”
Jesus actually touches him. He doesn’t recoil in protection and defense. He does the opposite. He touches the untouchable. Does He need to touch somebody to heal them? No He does not. He can heal with a word or with a thought. So Jesus is not touching him because his body needs it. He’s touching him because his soul needs it. He’s doing it out of love. Here is a man starved for love. If you love somebody, you try to meet all the needs you can see. And by touching him Jesus is saying, “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you have done, what’s been done to you, how inadequate you feel, how ashamed you are, how bad the guilt is for if you come into contact with me, you’re clean. It doesn’t matter how stained or how tainted. It doesn’t matter! I am the very definition of clean.” Unlike an ordinary rabbi, Jesus is not polluted by the leper’s disease; rather, the leper is cleansed and healed by Jesus’ contagious holiness.
This is ministry. We must identify and love people and get them into contact with Jesus who alone can clean them. He is whole again as his fingers, toes, eyebrows and eyelashes all come back and I can see him running around, “I’m clean! I’m clean.” He sends him away to the priest. Why? They are the public health officers who can certify that he is healed and more importantly, integrate this lonely leper back into community. He also tells him forcefully not to broadcast this healing because Jesus did not come to be famous and draw a crowd. He came on a mission to die and did not want the miracles to be a distraction. Of course the leper doesn’t listen, forcing Jesus to hide. Jesus told this man to keep quiet, and yet he told everybody. Jesus commands us to tell everybody—and we keep quiet!
Notice at the end of the story that the leper and Jesus have traded places. The leper, who was on the outside, is now clean and is integrated back into community and no longer out alone, outside the city. Jesus who was on the inside, in the city with community, goes outside, into lonely places. The leper and the Christ have traded places: the outsider is brought in as the Chosen One is cast out.
But this is also a picture of what will happen to Jesus at the end of His life. He will trade places again, except this time, with us. All of us have a disease far worse than leprosy. We are all contaminated with sin living in isolation and alienation from God.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the late English journalist, shares about a time he had moved to India to teach English. In his early twenties, he strolled down to the nearby river. Bathing in rivers is common in India, then and now. In those early evening hours, Muggeridge’s eye spotted the silhouette of a woman bathing on the other side. His heart began to pound with “wild unreasonableness which is called passion.” Suddenly seized by his lustful imagination, he lunges into the water and crosses the river.
After he splashes over to the other side, he emerges face to face with that naked woman and almost fainted. Before him was a wrinkled woman, her feet deformed, toothless, wracked with leprosy. Her eye- sockets eroded, her fingers stumpy. He threw himself back into the water with a fright, and casually drifted in the stream, shocked over the confrontation. He first said, “She was old and hideous…and her skin was wrinkled and, worst of all, she was a leper…This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask. What a dirty lecherous woman!” But then the rude shock of it dawned upon him—it was not the woman who was lecherous; it was his own heart. Who can save us from a leprous and lecherous heart?
We have one who has come. He’s the Servant King. He who knew no sin, would become sin so we could become the righteousness of God. He will be treated like a leper. He becomes a leper for lepers and sin for sinners. The Bible says He was crucified outside the gate, outside the city. Do you what was outside the city? The garbage dump. The place for lepers. He becomes an outcast. The perfect spotless Son of God becomes unclean so we could be clean through and through. The only way we could ever be taken from our isolation and brought into the presence of God was if He left the presence of God and went Himself into isolation. And that’s what He did on the cross because Jesus was forsaken, because Jesus was treated as an outcast, we are accepted and welcomed into the presence of God.
For us to be made clean, Christ had to be reckoned unclean for our sakes. Jesus didn’t overlook uncleanness; he conquered it. And he didn’t just conquer it; he traded places with it. Now lepers of every kind can be clean. Do you truly want to come under this Servant King’s authority? Do you want this rich interior life of prayer? Do you want His Word to leave you astonished and amazed? Do you want Him to reprioritize your life and turn chaos and disorder into peace and order? Do you want His compassion, bold yet tender to put our hands on a dying humanity? How can we get to be on that kind of mission like Him? See Him go on mission for you. Gaze and gaze and gaze into the scandalous offer of this multidimensional unconditional love for our leprous and needy hearts. This is the Gospel. Gaze until your eyes burn and your hearts melt and your feet move. His love has neither brim nor bottom. His blood can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone. As the old hymn goes:
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
DeYoung, K. and Gilbert G. What is the Mission of the Church? Quoted in http://tollelege.wordpress.com/category/kevin-deyoung/ Retrieved January 23, 2014.
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Retrieved January 25, 2014.
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“His Own Heart was Lecherous,” https://bible.org/illustration/his-own-heart-was-lecherous Retrieved January 25, 2014.
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DeYoung, K. (2013, July 17). How Jesus Traded Places with a Leper. Ibid.
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