Why Did Jesus Come?
A sermon on Mark 1:9-39 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 5/2/99
Why are you here? I don't mean why are you here at church this morning, but: Why are you on this earth? What is the purpose of your existence?
This is not a question we are used to answering. We frequently ask each other:
But we much less frequently address the more important question: Why are you here?
Last week we began to examine the book of Mark, looking at the beginning of the gospel, the preparation for the coming of Jesus. In verses 9-29 of chapter 1 which we examine today, Mark helps us to answer the question: Why did Jesus come?
Why did Jesus come? What was his purpose?
Many of us would say he was born to die. As Charles Wesley wrote:
He left his father's throne above --
So free, so infinite his grace --
Emptied himself of all but love
And bled for Adam's helpless race.
Undoubtedly Jesus came to die on the cross. But Jesus didn't simply appear on the scene and die. He spent three years in public ministry. Why? What purpose did that time serve? How did Jesus ensure that he served that purpose? And what lessons can we draw from Jesus' life so that we too serve the purpose for which God calls us?
The verses we consider today address the purpose of Jesus' coming again and again. Consider the following verses, which all contain the same Greek word for "come" (in some cases the word includes a prefix which adjusts the meaning to "come out of"):
Before we examine verses 9-39 in detail, let's remind ourselves of what Mark writes in the first eight verses of this chapter, the beginning of the gospel as preached by John.
God prepares the way for Jesus by sending John into the wilderness. John did not follow man's prescriptions for drawing crowds; he did not stay in the city, in relative comfort, close to large numbers of people. Instead, God sent him into a dry, dangerous region, a long, hard walk from the population center. We suggested that John's preaching the good news in the wilderness is a picture of our needing to be uncomfortable, our needing insecurity, if we are to respond to the gospel message.
Second, John prepares the way by helping the Jews to see their need for a Savior. Jesus will say later that he came to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance; John shows the people that they are all sinners, they all need a savior.
Third, John doesn't stop with declaring that people are sinners! He is preaching good news, not bad news. The good news is that, sinners though we are, God's grace is abundant: If we repent, God will forgive us. Recall that this message is in stark contrast to that preached by the teachers of the law at this time. They misunderstood and misapplied the Old Testament law, telling the people, "God requires you to do X, Y, and Z. If you make certain errors, you can offer sacrifices to assuage God's wrath. But if you make other errors, there is no hope for you!" John's message is a stark contrast: There is hope! Grace is abundant! God will forgive!
Finally, although John's message is good news indeed, it is only the beginning of the gospel. John recognizes that he is only preparing the way, that one is coming who will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit." For Jesus not only provides us forgiveness; the full gospel is that he will perfect us, he will transform us into His likeness -- we will become his perfect and holy bride.
In today's section, verses 9-13 describe Jesus' preparation for ministry. The rest of verses 14-39 show Jesus performing two different types of tasks: Preaching and teaching -- both to the general public and to an intimate, small group -- and compassionate acts, healing and casting out demons. The section culminates with Jesus going off alone, to pray, asking: "Why did I come? While I am on earth, am I primarily a preacher or a healer?" These topics outline the remainder of today's sermon.
PREPARATION FOR MINISTRY
And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased." (Mark 1:9-11)
Why did Jesus ask John to baptize him? John's baptism is "of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." Why then would a sinless man engage in it?
Jesus' baptism is the first step he takes on earth to identify himself with sinful humanity -- the first step of the road to the cross.
In addition, God uses this occasion to anoint Jesus with the Holy Spirit. Now, surely Jesus already had the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even while in the womb; certainly if that was true of John it was true of Jesus also. But the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus here serves as his anointing for ministry, in the same sense that the Old Testament prophets and kings were anointed (with oil, symbolizing the Holy Spirit) for ministry. Jesus himself refers to this anointing when he reads from Isaiah 61 upon his return to the synagogue in Nazareth, as recorded in Luke 4:19:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.
God also speaks audibly (one of only three times this happens in Jesus' life). It is interesting to note that the words of God differ in the gospels; Mark and Luke record God speaking to Jesus: "You are by beloved son." But Matthew records God speaking to the spectators: "This is my beloved son." I believe each person heard what God intended him to hear: the people heard God declare to them his pleasure with Jesus' life to date, while Jesus heard God speaking directly to him. God the Father encourages Jesus in this way prior to the beginning of his public ministry.
And immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. (Mark 1:12-13)
The Spirit impelled Jesus -- to be tempted! Why? Why was it God's will for Jesus to undergo temptation?
Turn in your Bibles to Deuteronomy chapter 8. Jesus quotes this chapter in the Matthew and Luke accounts of his temptation:
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
The Israelites are in the wilderness forty years; Jesus is in the wilderness forty days. Jesus here recapitulates the experience of the Israelites. Why were they tested, or tempted those forty years? This passage gives two reasons: First, to humble them. To show them that all that they had came from God, the giver of all good gifts. To show them that they are to feed on the word of God, and not depend on the things of this world to sustain them, to give them joy. To bring them to the point of acknowledging their own weakness, and witnessing God's strength. Although Jesus certainly knew these truths prior to this period in the wilderness, knowing and truth and living it out are two different things. The author of Hebrews says Jesus was made "perfect through suffering" (Heb 2:10); that is the idea here, in his temptation.
The second reason given in Deuteronomy for the Israelites' period of testing in the desert is so that God would know what was in their heart, to see if they were willing to keep his commands. Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was tempted in exactly this way. Satan tempts Jesus:
But Jesus proved his obedience through his dependence on the word of God to combat Satan.
Luke ends his account of Jesus' temptation with a very interesting phrase:
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13)
"Until an opportune time." Jesus' temptations did not end with these 40 days in the wilderness. Indeed, the book of Mark suggests that Satan tempted Jesus again and again. That opportune time came frequently, and it came soon, as we will see in the rest of this chapter.
PREACHING AND TEACHING
With the preparation for ministry accomplished, Jesus begins to preach and to teach, as we read in verses 14-28:
14 And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
16 And as He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." 18 And they immediately left the nets and followed Him. 19 And going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.
21 And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 And they were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 ¶ And just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, "What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are--the Holy One of God!"25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" 26 And throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice, and came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him." 28 And immediately the news about Him went out everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee. (Mark 1:14-28 NASB)
Jesus preaches publicly and privately. Today we won't look at the private teaching, the teaching to his intimate group of disciples, except to note Jesus' purpose in that teaching: verse 17, "I will make you fishers of men." Jesus spends time with them in a small group not to make them superspiritual, not so they can attain for themselves some inner harmony with the universe, but so that they will be effective agents in God's plan to draw men to himself.
What was the content and nature of Jesus' public preaching and teaching? There are six characteristics given in this section: Three facts, two responses, and one quality.
These three facts lead Jesus to call the people to two logical responses: "Since all this is true, since you have the opportunity to enter the kingdom, you must repent and believe the gospel! Turn from your errors! Turn from sin! Turn from mere formalism! And believe that the good news is true!"
Finally, let's consider the quality of Jesus' teaching. Verses 22 and 27 say that the people were impressed with Jesus' authority. Matthew puts the words we find in verse 27 at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, giving us a clue as to the reason for this reaction of the people. Recall that at this time, most teachers of the law would spend considerable time quoting the interpretations of other rabbis. The authority was vested in these commentators, not in the speaker.
The pattern of Jesus' speech, as recorded in Matthew 5 to 7, is strikingly different. Again and again Jesus says, "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . ." For example, consider Matthew 5:27-28:
You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; 28 but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. (NASB)
Furthermore, at the beginning of verse 28 (and every other similar verse in Matthew 5) there is a strong emphasis on the word "I." Jesus emphasizes his authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures. This was new, and astounds the people.
So Jesus preaches the gospel of God, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the nearness of the kingdom; he then calls people to repent and believe this gospel. And authority characterizes all that he says. This is the content and nature of his public preaching.
MINISTRY OF COMPASSION
Beginning in verse 23, Jesus deals with demons and, subsequently, illness. It is important to note that the casting out of this demon takes place while Jesus is teaching. The demon tries to disrupt Jesus' teaching by crying out. Interestingly, his question concerns Jesus purpose: he suggests that Jesus came, not to teach, but to destroy demons. I suggest that this was a further attempt by Satan to divert Jesus from his primary ministry, not only by disrupting the teaching itself, but also by persuading him to spend his time and energy in the future casting out demons. Satan did not win Jesus over to his side while in the wilderness; he did not succeed in getting Jesus to bow before him. So he tries to divert him from his primary calling, and to divert the people from listening to his teaching.
The first cases of physical healing recorded by Mark occur later this same day:
29 And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Him about her. 31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them. 32 And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city had gathered at the door. 34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
Peter's mother-in-law was not trying to disrupt his teaching, nor were most of the ill who came to his door later that evening. But Jesus has compassion for these hurting people, and he heals them -- he heals many of them, for "the whole city" came to the door.
Now, isn't this a good thing? Jesus has attracted a huge crowd by his casting out a demon and by healing. He is curing people of all kinds of diseases, easing their suffering. He is freeing people from the presence of evil demons in their lives. Isn't this just what he wanted? Isn't this why he came?
WHY DID JESUS COME?
Let's keep reading:
35 And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. (NASB)
Jesus goes off alone, early in the morning, to pray. Why?
He had not followed Satan's advice -- he had not thrown himself off the top of the temple to impress the crowds. But now Satan has found an opportune time. The crowds are coming. They have real temporal needs, which Jesus can meet. They adore him when he heals and casts out demons, and Satan tempts him to perform for their applause. I believe Jesus is faced with a series of questions:
"Who am I? Am I a healer? Am I called to cast out demons? Am I looking for crowds, for political power? Human adoration and thanks for healing are welcome; is this what I should try to do?"
Jesus knew that he came to do the will of his Father in heaven. So he prays to that Father, submitting the humanness, the human attraction to crowds and adoration, to the Father's will for himself. He rejects the temptation to play to the crowds.
But the temptation continues:
"There are all these needs, Father! These illnesses are horrible; so many have demons! I can help! Is this my task -- to cure physical disease, to destroy demons?"
We see the answer to this question in the next few verses. The disciples wake up, thinking, "Oh boy! Look at the crowds! We're doing great! But where is Jesus? Where is our main attraction?"
36 And Simon and his companions hunted for Him; 37 and they found Him, and said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You."
I believe there is a reprimand contained in that statement to Jesus. "Jesus, you left us in an awkward position. All these people expect you to heal them. Now, come and do your job!"
38 And He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for." (NASB)
That last phrase reads "that is why I have come" in the NIV. Jesus has been struggling with the question, "Why did I come?" And he knows the answer. Prayer, obedience to the Father, leads him to this decision. He tells Peter, "This is who I am; this is my purpose. I came to preach the gospel, to prepare you for ministry." And, though he does not yet tell Peter, he knows he has come to die. He realizes that his primary ministry is not dealing with the short term alleviation of human suffering, as great as those needs are. Instead, his call is to preach, to teach his disciples, to proclaim and live out the Gospel -- and then to die in order to make that Gospel a reality.
But note verse 39:
39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.
He emphasizes his preaching -- but note that he still casts out demons. And we will see next week that he still heals. Jesus' compassion does not end, and there are times when dealing with disease and demons provides wonderful pictures of the gospel message. But Jesus resists the temptation to follow the will of the crowds and become primarily a healer; he resists the temptation to be diverted from his calling: the calling to right, forever and ever, all the effects of sin on this world.
Ray Stedman puts it this way:
Now, God does heal -- and thank God for physical healings. But they are only temporary blessings at best. What Jesus continually emphasizes is the healing of the spirit of man -- the healing of bitterness and hostility and lust and anger, of worry and anxiety and a critical spirit. This is what he is after: deliverance from these ugly and evil things -- because this is of eternal value. The healing of the spirit is a permanent thing. So Jesus turns his back on popular acclaim, tries to suppress it and keep it under control, in order that he might be free for the ministry of greater importance
Jesus had a clear sense of mission, of purpose. Satan tried to distract him from that purpose, through direct temptations to use his powers for his own good, to become king of this world without going through the cross, and to draw men to himself by showmanship instead of sacrifice. After failing to get Jesus to yield, Satan also tried indirect methods: to divert Jesus into meeting short-term, temporal needs: fighting demons instead of conquering death; dealing with physical illness instead of spiritual salvation.
We frequently face similar choices, even on a secular level. A week ago Saturday I was in New York in a meeting sponsored by a foundation which is trying to help the Burmese people. As many of you know, there are hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees who have fled oppression. The foundation is dealing with the question: How do we best use our scarce resources? Do we try to alleviate the short-term suffering of the refugees? Do we provide for their immediate needs? Or do we invest in education, so that if the present government falls, there will be qualified, well-trained people to lead this country? Should we focus on short term needs or long-term investments?
That foundation decided to do some of each; both are important. But there is always a temptation to allow the urgent to dominate our time and energy to the extent that we fail to make the investments that pay off in the years ahead.
What about you? Do you have a clear sense of mission, of purpose? Why are you here?
If you are not a Christian, I tell you: The kingdom of God is near! You have this opportunity to draw near to God; don't let it pass. You will find your mission, your purpose, by repenting and believing the gospel.
If you are a Christian: Why did God call you? For he did have a purpose in calling you. What is your gift? Are you exercising that gift?
If you are not a Christian, Satan will do his best to keep you from the Lord. When he fails in that task, he will try to make you ineffective and unproductive as a Christian, keeping you from acting out your faith. Failing that, he will do his best to distract you: if you are determined to engage in ministry, he will try to put you into a task for which you are not gifted, to divert you from your calling.
Jesus was called to teach and preach. But Jesus did have compassion on people, he did deal with some short term needs. Some of us here this morning are called to ministries of compassion; we together are the body of Christ. Not all of us are mouths, proclaiming the gospel. Some are gentle hands, soothing the hurts of this world. Some deal with long term, eternal issues; some deal primarily with short term needs.
But each of us has a ministry, a calling. Don't be diverted from yours! Don't try to become someone else!
We have access to the power of the Spirit to live lives worthy of his calling. Do so! Step out in faith! Open your eyes and see the opportunity for ministry!
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 5/2/99. I found Ray Stedman's two sermons on this passage especially helpful; they are available on thePBC web site.
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