John Paton’s autobiography, published by The Banner of Truth, is my brother’s favorite. It tells the story of a dear brother in the Lord, who spent his life to make Jesus known among cannibals.
In the beginning of his book, Paton focuses on his father, who had an actual prayer closet in his house, a small room set aside for the purpose of time alone with God in prayer. Paton remembers hearing his father speak with God as a child speaks to his father, as a subject speaks to his King. Through the walls, the children of the Paton family could hear their father passionately praying to God on behalf of his beloved family. That memory was ever burned into the mind of Paton, even when his father had long since died, even when Paton was on the other side of the world, preaching the gospel to cannibals. Paton’s father walked with him down the road, the last time they would see each other in this world, as Paton began his journey to ship off to Vanuatu. Exchanging parting words and an embrace, the son walked away without looking back, knowing that he would be overwhelmed with tears if he did so. After turning a bend in the road, and out of his father’s sight, Paton scrambled to the hill top to steal one more concealed look at the man he loved most in life. What was his father doing? His father stood where he had left him, his face a picture of tearful joy, praying to God Almighty on behalf of his son.
Mr. Paton loved prayer. He loved to commune with his Heavenly Father. He loved to praise him and thank him and make his needs and desires known to him.
And so did our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son in the flesh. That’s what we find him doing in Mark 1:35, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”
What did we find Jesus doing at the end of the previous passage? Mark 1:34 says that, “He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” Many is a much understated way to put it, as all of Capernaum had come to him. And when did Jesus do this? Mark 1:32 tells us after the sun had set. The sun goes down, after a full day of preaching with the authority of God himself, because he is God himself, and then the whole city gathers around him for healing. That was a long day, and a late night.
I’ve worked some long shifts in my life, and do you know what I do if I can? I sleep in the next morning. At a minimum, I push my alarm induced sleep interruption back to the last possible minute. In fact, most mornings I tend to do that no matter what the night before was like.
Thank God that Jesus is a better man than me. A truer man. He preaches like no man had ever preached before, catches the last part of the day for a nice healing of Peter’s mother in law, and then finishes it up with a whirlwind hospital shift, fixing ailments and chucking demons.
His eyes don’t shut until the sun is long gone. And his eyes open back up well before the sun has finished its nightly sleep.
Jesus Christ, true, perfect man, gets up before the sun because he wants to pray to our Father in heaven. He loves his Father. He is jealous for time with him. He is eager to get up and commune with his Father. There is no other way he wants to start a day, one of the few days of ministry God gave him. He knows that all he does is in the hands of the Almighty God, to whom he has the unmatchable privilege to speak and be heard.
Jesus shows himself here to be wise, does he not? Do you remember what the Psalmist writes?
Psalm 119:147 “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words.”
The good life is dedicated to and dependent upon God, and this dedication and dependence is demonstrated by the Psalmist and Jesus as they get up before dawn to enjoy God in prayer. Martin Luther’s life shows the same thing. He spent hours at the beginning of his day alone with God in prayer and Bible reading.
Now, an early morning, pre-dawn prayer session is no burdensome law that must be followed by the Christian. But look at Jesus, and recognize the privilege you have in prayer. God refuses to hear the prayers of those who rebel against him. Yet, though you sin every day, because Jesus has died for you and risen from the grave, you have been given prayerful access to God. In Christ, you are a child of God. You are no longer his enemy. You have the privilege to come to your Heavenly Father and make known all your requests. You can come to him in prayer and praise him, confess your sins to him knowing that there is forgiveness for you, thank him for all his wonderful works, and tell him your desires. What a gift to be able to pray. Have you enjoyed this gift? Have you made much use of it?
Let’s keep going in our passage. Mark 1:36-39 reads, “Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’ 38 He said to them, ‘Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.’ 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.”
Now, when you think about Jesus’ earthly ministry, before he died on the cross and rose from the grave, what do you think about? What stands out most? If you’re new to the Bible, what are the things you’ve heard about?
Most likely you think of Jesus’ miracles. He walked on water. He turned water into wine. He commanded the storm. He fed thousands with a sack lunch on two occasions. He healed many by the power of simple touches and simple words. He raised a dead man to life. Jesus did many miracles. And, as they’re recorded for us in the gospels, he wants us to remember them, to think about them, to understand them. The whole book of John is organized around these miracles, or signs, as John calls them.
In light of all this, what Jesus says here may be unexpected by you. He says that he came to preach. The Son of God was born in Bethlehem to grow up and spend his three year ministry as a preacher. And what did he preach? Jesus preached the gospel of God. The answer to all the promises of God found in the Law and the Prophets, found through the pages of the Old Testament, has arrived. The Dragon Slayer of Genesis 3:15 is here. The ark who saves his people from the good fury of God is here. Abraham’s seed through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed is here. The one who will lead his people in a new and greater exodus out of slavery is here. The scapegoat and sacrificial lamb is here. The King from David’s line is here to rule. Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, who would die for his people and raise them with him to eternal glory, has arrived. Daniel’s Son of Man, with all authority, has come. God with us is with us.
Jesus was a preacher, a preacher of very good news. As foretold, he was the greatest of all the prophets. The miracles he did were in fact signs, meant only to point to the truth of his proclamation.
And while there are things unique to Jesus’ work that we don’t do, prayer and preaching has been central to Christianity for 2,000 years, and will continue to be so until Jesus returns with his army. Prayer and preaching is at the heart of Christian ministry.
It was at the heart of the ministry of the apostles and is the heart of the ministry of faithful pastors today.
Acts 6:1-4 “So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Colossians 1:9, 25-29 “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”
2 Timothy 4:1-2 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
1 Timothy 1:2 “An overseer, [aka a pastor], must be able to teach.”
Prayer and the proclamation of the truth is at the heart of the ministry of every church member.
Ephesians 4:15-16 “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Are you an elder, or soon to be one? Join with Jesus here in Mark 1. Be constant in prayer and preaching.
Are you a member of a church? Join Jesus here in Mark 1. Be constant in prayer and the speaking of the truth.
Our power, our life, our hope, our transformation, and our endurance come through the means of our prayers and proclamations.
Are you not a Christian? Know this. I pray for you. You will die and then face judgement. And in that judgement you will be found guilty and sent to eternal torment, unless, while there is time, you turn to Jesus Christ in faith. Jesus announced that the Savior and King of sinners, he himself, has come. I announce it to you as well. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
Let’s pick the passage back up at Mark 1:40.
“And a leper came to Jesus”
Now, a leper is a man with a skin disease. A range of skin diseases were considered leprosy at this time, sometimes as severe as to lead to parts of your body just rotting off. But no matter the severity of the skin disease, leprosy was a disease that, if contracted, meant living an isolated nightmare the rest of your days. To get leprosy meant being cut off from life in God’s covenant community, and being cut off from all the blessings that came with that life. You could no longer live with your family. You could longer be with your friends. You were no longer welcome in the temple. You couldn’t participate in any of the sacrifices or festivals God had given to his people. You were cut off and cast out.
Do you remember the Ebola crisis in West Africa a few years back? The only way to stop that thing was to quarantine victims. When folks got it and were allowed to travel wherever and be around others, it spread. They had to be isolated, for the sake of others. For them, they were left to wait and see, and pray. Maybe God would heal. Maybe he wouldn’t.
While this story is specifically dealing with leprosy, please know that your sin is far more devastating than skin disease or Ebola. No matter its severity in your opinion, no matter how bad you think it is, it is bad enough to cut you off from right relationship with God, thrown into outer darkness. And just as no leper could cook up a cure for his disease, you are unable to fix your sin problem. Left to ourselves, the chains of sin will always bind us in the outer darkness, where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So this leper came to Jesus, “beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.'”
This leper knows that he has no claim on the healing power of Jesus. He is not entitled to anything from Jesus. He isn’t owed a single pence. But he also knows that Christ, and Christ alone, is able to make him well. He knows himself powerless to cleanse and heal. He knows that no priest at the temple can do it. Jesus is his only hope. And he recognizes that, because Jesus has the POWER to heal him, it is completely dependent on the WILL of Jesus to heal him. If it is the will of Christ, he will be well. If Jesus wants to, it shall be done.
And this parallels well with our problem of sin. I cannot mediate for myself before God, because I am filthy and cannot make myself clean. No other mere man can bring me into right relationship with God by cleansing me of sin, for no mere man has the power over sin—and that means Catholic priests are lying posers. Jesus is the only hope of sinners. Only Jesus, God in the flesh, can cleanse me of my sin against him. And only Jesus can represent me before God that I might be right before him.
Jesus is the greatest of High Priests, the one who comes in the line of Melchizedek, for he cleanses his people of all the stain of sin and brings them permanently into right relationship with God, to be enjoyed forever. He does this on our behalf by dying in our place for our sin and washing us with his blood, white as snow. This is the great gift he gives, the Great High Priest from heaven.
And as the leper recognized, so too must we recognize that he gives this gift according to his own free will. He cleanses whomever he wants to cleanse. Jesus came to cleanse, with every drop of blood he shed on the cross, all those chosen before time, according to the free pleasure of God.
Only Jesus can save you.
If you are a Christian, know that he has made you whiter than snow. The leprosy of your sin is gone. He has done everything required to bring you clean into the presence of God with all his people, to live abundantly forever. Give him thanks.
If you are not a Christian, you must know that Jesus owes you nothing, and if you are to be saved, if you are to be cleansed of your sin, you must beg him on the basis of his mercy and grace. Plead for him to be compassionate, as he was with the leper. Call on him, from the depth of your heart, for salvation.
“41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.”
Will you be cleansed of your sin? Jesus alone is able to make dirty sinners like you and me clean.
Continuing in Mark 1:43, “And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”
We have seen from Mark 1 tonight that Jesus is the Greatest Prophet and the Greatest Priest. Now we see that he is the Greatest King, the High King of Heaven. As King, he gives to men binding instruction that must be obeyed.
Sometimes we think that he just wants us to respond to his healing grace with exuberance and passion. “Get excited and DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING, for Jesus!”
If he says something that doesn’t make all that much sense, just table it and do what feels right. “Listen to your heart!” And then if anyone challenges you on it, just rebuke them for trying to quench the Spirit!
Well, we read of this man, healed of his leprosy by the free grace and mighty power of Jesus, getting clear instruction from Jesus the King, and then doing the exact opposite; and we rightly recognize him to be a fool. I think it is fair to say that this man likely thought he was doing Jesus a favor. “Jesus did so much for me. The least I can do is ( ).” Well, if any word other than “obey” is in that blank, then the leper needs to think again. When we try to worship Jesus according to our own wisdom, things do not go well, and he is not pleased. Here, the consequence of the leper’s disobedience is that Jesus could no longer enter a city to preach. The greater consequence is that the High King was dishonored by disobedience. And those who trust him and love him don’t want to bring dishonor to the King.
Maybe, in our churches, we think it makes sense to not require everyone to obey King Jesus’ command to identify with him and his people by being immersed in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Maybe we think it makes sense to let people just pretend and get sprinkled, as long as they are sincere. But the King insists on our worship being according to his Word. He wants it no other way, and is not honored any other way.
Maybe, in our churches, we really want to “reach the lost”, so we think it best to preach fluffy sermons and have the best rock and lights show in town with the best looking people we can find up front. And we don’t make church membership exclusive because we want people to have a feeling of belonging. We think it best to be inclusive. Well, as always, King Jesus knows what is best, and communicates that to us in the pages of Scripture. When we try to “reach the lost” according to our own wisdom, and not according to the word of Christ, we are left with folly, and end up with a bunch of people who think they are Christians but are not.
If you are not a Christian, know that you are in rebellion against King Jesus, who demands obedience. If you go the rest of your days in disbelief, going your own way, doing your own thing, you will come to him on Judgement Day, and he will throw you into the lake of fire. You will burn, and really feel it, forever and ever and ever.
I warn you of this because I love you. Why keep going your own way, when it only ends in fire? Jesus died and rose again so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. Trust Jesus as your Savior and King. Why perish, when you can be forgiven of all your sin and rebellion and receive eternal life?
In Mark 1:35-45, we see Jesus the prayer, the preacher, and the healer. He is the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. There is no one like him. Believe in him, the only hope for sinners like us. Follow him, the Lord whose instructions are best and always lead to green pastures. And tell the world about him. Preach the good news of this crucified and risen Jesus to anyone who has a heartbeat.