The ministry begins, vv. 14-20 (continued)
It seems clear from Mark’s structure of events that those who accepted the Lord’s preaching were few. Rather than the multitude, there were four disciples who were prepared to leave their nets and follow the Saviour. Their call has a number of practical lessons:
1 It was beyond social class – Simon and Andrew were ‘casting a net’, v. 16, in the relative shallows of the sea indicating they operated at a different level to that of James and John who were ‘in the ship’, v. 19.
It is this miracle that Mark chooses to mention first in his gospel. It is a miracle that tells us of the need of the Servant’s ministry and the authority with which that ministry is to be accomplished. The key words would be ‘astonished’ and ‘authority’, for what the Saviour did was met with astonishment and what He did manifested His authority both in His words and in His deeds.
The Lord makes His way to the synagogue as the place where the people would gather on the Sabbath day. It is a place that gives Him opportunity to teach, a discourse of some length, and an audience that seemed ready to hear.
Mark does not record the content of the Lord’s message but He does record its effect, ‘They were astonished at his doctrine’, v. 22. Wuest comments, ‘They were astonished, ekplesso, a very strong word meaning, to strike with panic, shock in a passive sense to be struck with astonishment, amazed. The verb is in the pictorial imperfect, describing the prolonged amazement of the audience’.3 Mark’s phraseology suggests that the astonishment was twofold. They were astonished at what He taught and the manner in which He taught. Their amazement was also ongoing. It continued throughout His discourse as new truth upon new truth was uttered. They were shocked out of their normal slumber, surprised by what they heard, stunned by the One who spoke.
Their conclusion was that the Saviour was a man who ‘taught them as one that had authority’, v. 22. He did not rely upon the teachings of others. He did not rely upon tradition and ritual. The Saviour spoke with a freshness and with an authority that was His own, derived from none other. What a testimony to the words of the Saviour.
What makes the event remarkable is the scene in which it takes place. Mark tells us that ‘there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit’. It was ‘their synagogue’. Although it was a place that they had set aside for the worship of God and the teaching of the law, it was clearly their place and not one that was owned of God. This is underlined by the fact that in the midst of the synagogue was this man possessed with an unclean spirit. Alan Cole comments, ‘it is a strange commentary on the spiritual condition of Capernaum that a demoniac could worship in their synagogue with no sense of incongruity, until confronted by Jesus’.4 The addition of the word ‘unclean’ exposes the nature of the possession. The spirit was impure, morally foul, and likely to render the man the same.
Mark does not tell us but we are liable to speculate upon how long this possessed man had been in the synagogue and how often he had attended. It would appear obvious that his presence had not been detected or exposed until the Saviour came and until He spoke.
The presence of the Saviour causes this spirit to cry out, v. 23. The tension between the Saviour and the spirit was obvious as they were in moral and spiritual opposition. That opposition is clear from what the spirit said. He bore testimony to the Saviour.
The statement of the spirit is also remarkable in what it tells us of the spirit world. The man speaks as the mouthpiece for the unseen demon world. He expresses their fears and their expectation and testifies to the authority of the Saviour Himself.
The Saviour does not welcome the testimony of the man with the unclean spirit. He has nothing in common with the unclean and evil world and does not seek, by default or by silence, to be associated with it. Hence, the man and the unclean spirit must be silenced and the man delivered. The Saviour issues His rebuke and His twofold command.
The language used is strong. The rebuke does not bring the unclean spirit to a conviction or acknowledgement of sin, but it is issued as a means of enforcing the silence that the Saviour requires. The phrase ‘hold thy peace’ is to muzzle the cry of the spirit and is followed by that command that will bring the release of the man.
The language used is simple. Only eight words are recorded as spoken by the Saviour. There is no elaborate ritual. The authoritative word of the Saviour is sufficient.
Though the unclean spirit must obey the command of the Saviour, for it is powerless to resist, it does not do so without a struggle. The man is convulsed in a spasm that affects his whole body. A loud shriek is uttered, whether in defeat or seeming defiance is not clear. Finally, Luke tells us that the man was thrown into the midst of the synagogue.
The struggle is short. The foe is defeated. The Saviour is triumphant. The victory is decisive and conclusive, ‘he came out of him’.
As the teaching of the Saviour sent a wave of surprise and shock through the synagogue, so this act of deliverance for the possessed man brought a fresh wave of shock and a resulting animated discussion.
Marks tells us, ‘they were all amazed’, v. 27. It affected all the members of the synagogue. They were frightened, awe-struck at what they had witnessed. The sad thing was that their discussion was one that focused upon the words and actions of the Saviour. They ‘questioned among themselves’, v. 27. There was no thought for the person who could accomplish such things or command with such power. Hiebert comments, ‘How pathetic it is that they were occupied with the effect and failed to enquire further about the person before them’.5
From that animated discussion within the synagogue, Mark tells us, ‘His fame spread abroad throughout all the region’, v. 28. The story was told. The message was spread.
‘The prefixed preposition implies a separation, here, a separation from the fishing business to the preaching of the Word of God. The participle is in the aorist tense, speaking of a once for all action. It was a complete break from their former life, and a permanent one’, Wuest, pg. 29.
‘The call implied the need for intensive training for the new task’, Hiebert, pg. 46.
Wuest, pg. 30.
Alan Cole, Mark. An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Press, 1969, pg. 61.
Hiebert, pg. 52.