A Study of the Book of Mark - Bob Sawvelle

I love early mornings, especially with a cup or two of coffee! I enjoy the freshness of a new day. Most of all, I cherish those waking moments with the Lord. Early morning “devotional time” for me has been the most enriching in my life.

During those quiet moments, often in silence and solitude, I receive the clearest affirmation, encouragement, and direction from the Father for my life and assignment in God’s kingdom. It seems this may have been the case for Jesus as well.

Early in the morning, Jesus prays in a solitary place.

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”

But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons. – Mark 1:35-39

In these verses, we read how Jesus got up a great while before daybreak, to spend time with the Father before the “tyranny of the urgent,” the press of life and of ministry, vied for his attention and energy. Mark illustrates the source of Jesus’ power to deliver the oppressed and heal the sick—His prayer life.

Yes, Jesus has been “anointed” and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the Messiah or Christ. But Jesus demonstrates that His prayer life, His communion with the Father, sustains and empowers His life for ministry. Jesus, as the Son of God, is yielded and dependent upon the Father and Holy Spirit. Jesus time with His Father was His top priority. Three examples in Mark demonstrate this:

Jesus Prioritized Prayer over Public Ministry

The night before, the entire city is gathered at Simon (Peter) and Andrew’s home. Jesus has just healed Peter’s mother in law earlier in the day, and now at sunset, everyone gathers for prayer to be healed or delivered from demons. Jesus must have been praying late into the evening. Yet, despite exhaustion, He cuts His sleep short to get up early to pray. He knew that prayer was a higher priority than a full night’s sleep.

Have you ever been exhausted? You may have wondered, “How can I get up and pray?

In our fast-paced world, it’s challenging. But Jesus demonstrates that value of communion with the Father in this passage. “Having risen a long while before daylight…” Interceding? Perhaps. Looking for more power? No, power is a byproduct of intimacy with the Father. You must learn to value God’s presence through prayer (communion with God). All lasting fruitfulness in life flows from your intimacy with Jesus (John 15).

Everyone is looking for you.” Pressures of daily life tend to crowd time out with God. Seeking God, valuing time in His presence, must take first place in your life (Matthew 6:33).

Jesus Prayed to Stay Focused on His Assignment

And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Mark 6:46-47

Jesus has just multiplied the loaves and fishes for the 5,000. All four gospels record this miracle, but in John’s gospel, we read that the people want to make Jesus king (John 6)! After all, we like to have God in charge when are needs are being met—perhaps not so much when He is the loving Father bringing correction.

What does Jesus do? He gets the disciples into a boat and sends them across the lake. Alone, He goes up on the mountain to pray. Do you have a place to get alone with God?

I have a home office that I spend many hours in, to study God’s word and pray. But I have also discovered that going outside for a walk or a hike in the in the mountains is an excellent place to be alone and talk with God.

In fact, there have been times in my life when I have been at a major crossroads. During these times, solitude and silence were cherished. In these moments, the Father has reaffirmed my call or present assignment. Doubts fade, peace presides, and clarity develops in my mind.

I heard once, “You don’t know the truth of any situation until you have heard from Jesus.” Prayer keeps you focused on God’s truth and on your assignment.

Jesus Prayed in Moments of Decision

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons. Mark 3:13-15

Once again, Jesus goes to a mountain to pray. The mountain almost always is a picture of time with God. Jesus has some decisions to make. Out of all the disciples, He is going to choose twelve who will be with Him intimately for three years. In fact, the fate of the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom hinges on Jesus teaching and imparting to these twelve the message and ministry they must carry after He is ascended.

Luke records that Jesus, “continued all night in prayer” (Luke 6:12). I’m sure as Jesus waited on the Father, asking Him for direction as to who to choose, the conversation might have gone like this, “Father, do you have anything to say about that matter?” By the end of the night, Jesus confidently chose the twelve.

Your confidence in life’s major decisions will rise exponentially as you learn to wait on the Lord in prayer to hear His heart and direction. God longs to give clarity to our lives, but He is after relationship foremost. Clear direction comes to those who value time in God’s presence as a lifestyle. You could argue the point that God’s “love language” is quality time with those He loves. What about you?

Ministry in Galilee—Demonstrations of Healing Continue

 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction. Mark 1:40-45

After Jesus spends the early morning in prayer, Mark records this remarkable healing of Leprosy. Remember, healing and deliverance demonstrated the truth of God’s Kingdom, but it also brought hope to the people. God cared! It demonstrated God’s love and compassion—and still does today!

For those who were tormented by demonic spirits, Jesus set them free. (Mk 1:21-28, Lk 4:31-37) We read in the gospels where multitudes would follow Jesus, and He would take the time to heal all who were sick and those who were tormented by demonic spirits. (Mt 12:15-21, Mk 3:7-12, Lk 6:17-19)

The people at times desperately wanted Jesus’ healing touch. Luke records the reaction of the people, “And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (Lk 6:19) For Mark, healing and deliverance are central components to the ministry of Jesus.

Continuing the theme of displays of Kingdom power, or the inbreaking of God’s kingdom, Mark now tells the story of a man with leprosy being healed.

Leprosy, in ancient times, was a terrifying and hideous disease. Leprosy could refer to a variety of skin disorders, including actual Leprosy (Hansen’s disease), in which a bacterial infection causes the skin to ulcerate, resulting in oozing sores, disfigurement, loss of limbs, and occasionally blindness. Leprosy during this period was incurable and basically a death sentence.

Besides of the physical ravages this disease caused, those with leprosy were ostracized from Jewish society, imposed by Levitical law: “Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Lev. 13:45-46 NKJV

The leper was ritually unclean and barred from entering the temple and participating in the liturgy of Israel. The Law could do nothing to help a Leper; it only protected the community from the spread of the disease.

By approaching Jesus, this leper makes a bold move. Not only does he violate the mandates of the Law, but he risks the familiar horror and revulsion by others at the sight of a leper. Imagine the shame and stigma associated with this disease. But Jesus demonstrates that grace is superior to the law and allows the man to come near!

I had the opportunity several years ago, while on a mission trip to India, to go minister at a leper colony. Nowadays, this disease can be treated, if caught early enough. If it’s not caught early enough, often times those afflicted will lose fingers, etc. Going to this leper colony was a very eye-opening experience for me; it was very humbling. I literally felt like I was in biblical times. There were people with bandages over their hands, where they had lost fingers — you could just feel the shame and stigma these people had to endure.

Do you know what they wanted more than anything? Just for someone to be near and touch them just to love on them. Someone to be confident that He Who is in us is greater. We were able to hug on and pray for these precious people and make them feel loved.

The leper in Mark’s recount kneels before Jesus, a sign of reverence and petition (Psalm 22:30; 95:6). His plea, “If you are willing,” demonstrates his confidence in Jesus’ power. Notice, he doesn’t ask Jesus to heal him, but to make him clean—to be able to participate in worship with God’s people. The deepest longing in the human heart is connection with God and with others. To be loved and accepted by God and community is HUGE!!!

At the sight of this man in vs. 41, Jesus is “moved with compassion.” The English phrase, “moved with compassion,” is from a Greek word orgizō, which means: to make angry, be enraged, moved with anger. Where was Jesus anger directed? Toward the man, or toward the injustice of the disease? TOWARD THE DISEASE AND SATAN!

According to 1 John 3:8, Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.” Since sickness is rooted in the kingdom of darkness, healing would be a way of destroying the enemy’s plans. Healing would take the focus from the kingdom of darkness and turn it toward the kingdom of God—it points the person toward the kingdom of God.

Jesus healed to see the people set free from the oppression of the enemy. Throughout His ministry, it becomes evident that the “foreign occupation” of sin, Satan, disease, and death are being overthrown.

In verse 42, Jesus responds to the man, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He speaks, immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Why did Jesus tell the man, “Don’t say anything to anyone?” Go show yourself to the priest. A priest’s pronouncement of a clean bill of health would allow him to reenter society and participate in temple worship again. No more rejection and isolation!

Part of the prescribed right (Lev. 14:3-7), was to take two clean birds, one to be sacrificed and the other, to be dipped in the blood of the first and released to fly away free. Symbolic foreshadowing of Jesus sacrifice. The leper experienced the cleansing grace of God, soon all would by the blood!

BUT the man told everyone he could! The result, Jesus couldn’t openly go into the city, stayed out in the country. BUT the people found Him and came from all over.

Why was Jesus concerned about the man telling others? Scholars refer to this as the “Messianic Secret.” The people were expecting a political Messiah who would liberate them from Roman tyranny. But Jesus came to bring a much greater liberation—from the domination of sin, Satan, and death—and His mission was inseparably linked with the laying down of His life on the cross. Until that mystery was revealed, he couldn’t risk the reports of the miracles generating a false messianic enthusiasm.

A Couple of Thoughts

Leprosy was (is) an outward sign of the inner uncleanness experienced by all fallen human beings. But, the grace of God, given through Jesus and His blood, provides the cleansing and freedom that every heart longs for. True freedom is discovered through surrender to Jesus, in the arms of the Savior, who died that you could be made whole and live free of sin and shame.

Satan’s master strategy is not to get you to live in flagrant sin, but to bring you into a place of passive relationship with God. To get you to avoid prayer, Bible reading, servanthood, etc.

Prayer, reading your Bible, and daily devotions with God, must become part of your DNA. As James said, “The effective prayer of a righteous man avails much!”

Keep in mind, that to prevail in spiritual power, it requires a lifetime of intimacy with God!

Bob Sawvelle

For more on this topic, feel free to watch The Book of Mark, Part 4 from Passion Church:

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