Note: This passage was included during Lent. I’ve included it again since it is a very important one, helping us understand Jesus’ earthly struggle. You may wish to skip my meditation or do your own.
From vv 21-34, Mark describes the activity of Jesus in a twenty-four-hour period, beginning with the sabbath (1:21), through sunset (1:32) and ending early the next day (1:35). The description and ordering of this rather busy day isn’t meant to be interpreted literally. Mark isn’t merely recording historical details so we can pass some Bible history exam. We must look beyond the literalness to discern Mark’s symbolism and intended meaning. I’m not suggesting these events and miracles didn’t literally happen, but that there is also a symbolic meaning to them. It seems we have in this single day a snapshot overview of Jesus’ public ministry. This representative day, where Jesus alternates between public and private spaces, anonymous groups of people and small groups of friends/disciples, between community and solitude, will be Jesus’ pattern throughout. The solitude for Jesus was no easier than it is for us today; just as he had to make it happen (as in 1:35), so too do we.
Prepare to listen. Be silent for as long as you need. Pray: Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening. (1 Samuel 3:9)
Read Mark 1:21-28
21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
It’s not surprising that Mark has placed this story as Jesus’ first public act. Symbolically, it gives, in a nut shell, the story of Jesus—conflict with the demonic and the religious authorities. The setting is the synagogue (Jewish sacred space) in Capernaum (a very Jewish town in a mostly Gentile Galilee) and the day is the sabbath (Jewish sacred time). Many stories of Jesus that involve conflict with the Jewish religious leaders happen on a sabbath in a synagogue.
The conflict is hinted at in two terms describing the reaction of the synagogue audience: ‘astounded’ (v22) and ‘amazed’ (v27). They frame the story of exorcism, one at the beginning and one at the end. The terms have negative tones, connoting “not just incredulity but a kind of panic associated with the disruption of the assumed order of things” (Myers. 2015, p. 142). We meet the people who will be against Jesus all the way to the end. As the story progresses we’ll learn that Jesus’ most active opponents are the Jewish religious leaders, although that’s only hinted at in this story. What is clear is the symbolic meaning of this story as it portrays the ultimate conflict that wages between God and the satan. The story also assures us of the ultimate victory by Jesus. With a few words of command (‘Be silent, and come out of him!’), Jesus demonstrates his power over evil. This story, in other words, gives us hope, preparing us for Jesus’ eventual triumph over those who oppose the way of God, both in the physical and spiritual worlds. As the Story progresses and gets tense, especially towards its end, this is the story to which we can return for the assurance that Jesus has the power and authority to overcome and will, in the end, win. It is also assurance for us now as we look at the state of the world and wonder about God’s power to achieve victory. Read the story again, and be assured.
What astounds and amazes you about Jesus—both in a negative and positive sense? Can you still follow him?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord Jesus, when I struggle and wonder whether you’re still in control, may this story be the assurance I need to stay true and loyal to the end. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world, assured of his power over evil.