Why is it so important for us to understand Jesus on his own terms?
This is the first of a three-part series.
What was Jesus’ mission? It seems there are no few answers to that question. Those serving in government might be most familiar with Jesus, the political advocate. Too easily, Jesus becomes the loudest proponent or most strident opponent of whatever issue Congress debates at the moment.
But as avowed disciples of Jesus, it is imperative that we understand exactly what Jesus came to do.
I think Mark provides a helpful vignette in the first chapter of his gospel for understanding Jesus’ own intentions. Over the course of three devotionals, we’ll look at three parts of Jesus’ early Galiean ministry to grasp what those intentions are.
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28)
It is no small thing that Jesus’ early Galiean ministry begins with an exorcism. How does that sit with you? After all, those of us inundated in America’s rationalist culture tend to balk at such fantastical accounts. At least in my own experience, when Americans speak of Jesus, they tend to draw from The Gospel of Matthew. There is Jesus, the wise teacher, beautifully articulating the nature and ethics of the Kingdom of God.
Mark barely references The Sermon on the Mount and immediately brings us to Jesus the exorcist and miracle-healer. But that is not to say Mark dismisses Jesus’s teaching authority. Notice in Mark 1:21-22 that it is Jesus’ teaching that first draws the crowds to him.
Still, as soon as Jesus begins teaching a man with an unclean spirit enters the scene. And perhaps most interestingly, this evil spirit is the first to correctly identify Jesus’s true identity: the Holy One of God.
Knowing Jesus’s true identity is an essential prerequisite for answering our original question of Jesus’ mission. The two are inseparably bound. From the first verse of his gospel, Mark plans to send us along a journey to figure out exactly what it means that this Jesus of Nazareth is the “Christ” and “Son of God.”
We know he’s come “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”
It’s Jesus’s early Galilean ministry that will fill in the first blanks of what such a message actually means.
In today’s passage, we see Jesus pushing back and silencing the forces of Satan. The ministry of Jesus is literally spiritual warfare, reclaiming territory from the enemy.
It stands in stark contrast to the expectations of God's people at the time. After all, wasn’t the Messiah supposed to come as a conquering king, destroying the pagan occupiers, and reconstituting the physical land of Israel for holy living?
That Jesus totally repudiates these expectations has implications even for those of us today.
The first is that though death was defeated on the cross, spiritual battles with sin and Satan continue today. We await for the consummation of the victory, but until then we are still soldiers of spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6 is helpful for further instructions.
The second is that where the gospel of Jesus Christ goes, so goes the Kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is not tied to any physical place on earth, but takes root in the hearts of His people. And as we advance the good news and proclaim it among every tribe, tongue, and nation, God’s kingdom spreads across the world.
Robert Hasler is a Ministry Associate and Director of Communications for Ministry to State and cohost of The Will & Rob Show.