Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Mark 1

Verses 1-45

( Mark 1:1-20) THE PREPARATION OF THE WAY OF THE LORD

In the gospel of Mark the Holy Spirit presents the Lord Jesus in all His lowly grace as the Servant of Jehovah. Nevertheless, we are ever to remember that the One who stoops to become the obedient Servant never ceases to be Who He Isaiah, as a Divine Person, because of what He became as a lowly Servant in the likeness of men. Thus, to guard His glory, the gospel opens with a sevenfold witness to the greatness of His Person.

(V:1) The first witness is the writer of the Gospel. Mark, who is used by the Holy Spirit to bring before us the One who made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, opens his gospel by reminding us that He is "Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

(Vv2, 3) Secondly, the prophets are quoted, as bearing witness to the glory of His Person. They not only foretell His coming, but they announce His glory. Jehovah"s word to Malachi Isaiah, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me." The Spirit applies these words to Christ, for He says, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way." Jesus of the New Testament is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. ( Malachi 3:1). The second quotation from Isaiah speaks of preparing the way of the LORD. Thus again it is Jehovah whose way is prepared- for Jesus is Jehovah. ( Isaiah 40:3).

(Vv4-8) Thirdly, we have the witness of John, the Forerunner, to the glory of the perfect Servant. On the one hand, he bears witness to the sinful condition of Prayer of Manasseh, and the need of "repentance for the remission of sins;" on the other hand, he witnesses to the glory of the One who had come in lowly grace as the Servant to meet man"s need. He takes his stand in the wilderness, "and there went out to him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem." Long centuries before, the Lord had said to the prophet, "Behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart" ( Hosea 2:14). As one has said, "There was no talking to her heart . . . in the fair and flourishing city . . .; but out in the cold, hungry, waste wilderness, He allured her," there to speak to the conscience and win the heart. And to-day how often this way is taken with sinners, and, indeed with saints. We seek comfort and ease, too often to find our hearts growing cold and careless; then the Lord breaks in on our ease with sorrow and trial, in order to speak to our hearts and attract us to Himself.

Appealing to the conscience, John shows that our sins have turned the fair creation into a moral wilderness, and separated man from God. His manner of life, lived apart from the world, was in consistency with his testimony. Above all, he bore witness to the glory of the One that was coming. If the One who "thought it not robbery to be equal with God," stoops to become a Prayer of Manasseh, and takes the form of a servant, John, the greatest among prophets, delights to own that a yet greater Servant has come, the latchet of whose shoes he is not worthy to unloose. John may, indeed, baptize with water, and by this sign of death separate people from their former associations with a corrupt world, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Ghost- a Divine Person- the seal that henceforth believers belong to Christ in a new world.

(Vv9-11) Fourthly, we have the witness of the voice from Heaven to the glory of Christ. In infinite grace the Lord submits to baptism, thus identifying Himself with the godly remnant in separation from the guilty nation. Straightway the Father"s voice is heard declaring His glory as the "beloved Song of Solomon," the One in whom the Father finds His delight. Already, in days of old, Jehovah had said by the prophet, "Behold my Servant . . . in whom my soul delighteth: I will put my Spirit upon Him" ( Isaiah 42:1). Thus the voice from heaven can say, "My Servant" is "My beloved Son." It has been truly said, He was "sealed by the Holy Spirit even as we are; Hebrews, because He was personally worthy of it; we, because He has made us worthy by His work and by His blood" (J.N.D.).

(Vv12, 13) Fifthly, we have a brief allusion to the temptation in the wilderness. The temptation of our first parents in a garden of delights brought out their weakness whereby they were overcome by Satan. The temptation of our Lord, in a wilderness, became a witness to His infinite perfection, whereby He overcame Satan.

Sixthly, creation, itself, bears witness to the glory of His Person, for we read, He was "with the wild beasts." However much the beasts may fear men, they have no fear of this blessed Prayer of Manasseh, for Hebrews, indeed, is their Creator.

Lastly, we read, "the Angels ministered unto Him." The One who came to be the Servant Isaiah, Himself, served by angelic hosts. He is none less than "the Song of Solomon," "the First Begotten," of Whom, when He comes into the world, it is said, "Let all the angels of God worship Him." ( Hebrews 1:5-6)

Thus, in their various seasons, heaven and earth, prophets and angels, declare the glory of Jesus as a Divine Person and so prepare the way of the Lord for the lowly place He was about to take as the Servant among men.

It will be noticed that, in this gospel, no genealogy is given, and no details of His birth, or circumstances of His early life are recorded. These details, so precious and needed, duly recorded by others, would hardly be in keeping with either the Gospel of Mark or John. Here, as the Servant, He takes a place beneath all genealogies, whereas, in the gospel of John, as the Song of Solomon, He takes a place above all human genealogies.

Following upon this sevenfold witness to the glory of His Person, we have, in these introductory verses, the record of the event that prepared the way of the Lord to enter upon His public service, the character of His service, and the sovereign grace that chose others to be His companions in service.

(V:14) It is significant that it was after John had been "put in prison" that Jesus came forth to serve. Nature might argue that if the Forerunner is rejected it will be useless for Jesus to proceed with His mission. But God"s times, and ways, of action, are very different to those of men. The ministry of John, as indeed the rejection of John, was a demonstration of man"s sin and need; but this only prepared the way for, and proved the need of, a ministry of grace that alone can meet the need. When the world proved its sin by rejecting John, God declared His grace by sending Jesus.

(V:15) The great end of the Lord"s service, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, is summed up in this verse. He was present in the midst of Israel to proclaim that the Kingdom of God had drawn nigh- a Kingdom marked by righteousness, peace, and joy ( Romans 14:17). Already, John had come in the way of righteousness, convicting men of their sins- now the Lord was present- not to judge men for their sins, - but in grace, calling men to repent in view of the glad tidings that proclaims the forgiveness of sins.

(Vs16-20) We then learn the grace of the Lord that identifies others with Himself in service. He passes by the official priests, the learned scribes, and the religious Pharisees, and takes up humble fishermen. Simon is one who can say, "Silver and gold have I none," and of whom the world said he was an "unlearned and ignorant man" ( Acts 3:6; Acts 4:13). The lack of riches and human learning is no hindrance to being a companion of the Lord, or to being used in His service. Nevertheless, however humble the calling of those the Lord may engage in His service, they are not unemployed. These simple men were pursuing their occupation of fishermen, when the Lord called them to become fishers of men. The Lord"s service is not to be taken up by those who have nothing else to do.

Moreover, His servants need to be fitted for service, and this training can only be effected by being in His company, therefore, the Lord"s word is "Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." This is still true, for the Lord"s word remains, "If any man serve Me, let him follow Me" ( John 12:26). Alas! we may be content with believing the gospel for the benefit of our souls, and know little of going on to follow the Lord in the path of faith and lowly obedience that prepares the way for service. We may not be called to literally forsake all, as with the disciples when the Lord was present on earth, but if we are to serve Him it can only be as, in spirit, He becomes the blessed Object before the soul. All may not be called to surrender their daily calling. This, indeed, is only the path of a few. The majority of God"s people are definitely told to remain in their earthly calling ( 1 Corinthians 7:20). Nevertheless the Lord has some service for all, for "Unto every one is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" ( Ephesians 4:7). This service will involve the surrender of all those things that would entangle us in the affairs of this life, and can only be carried out as we keep near to Him. On the part of these disciples there was an immediate response to the Lord"s call, for we read, they "followed Him," and again they "went after Him."

( Mark 1:21-45) THE PERFECT SERVANT

The Lord"s way has been prepared and the companions in His path of service have been chosen. In the portion that follows we have the record of certain incidents that very blessedly set forth the perfect Servant. In the glory of His Person He must ever be alone; but in His service we have the perfect pattern for any servant of the Lord. Peter gives us a very beautiful epitome of the Gospel of Mark when he says, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him." ( Acts 10:38). We, indeed, are not called to perform miracles of healing, for in a day of failure the Church has been shorn of her ornaments; but in the manner of His service we are called to follow Him.

(Vv21, 22). Accompanied by His disciples the Lord entered the synagogue at Capernaum and taught on the sabbath day. At once we see an outstanding mark of the perfect Servant, for we read, in contrast to the scribes "He taught as one that had authority." His word did not consist of mere arguments that appeal to reason, but He spake with the authority of One who proclaims the truth in convicting power. In our day, and measure, we are to use any God-given gift with authority, for, says Peter in his Epistle, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." ( 2 Peter 4:10-11). If we present doctrines with all the arguments for and against, leaving our hearers to judge whether it be truth or not, we shall hardly be speaking with authority, but rather as those who are groping for the truth. We are to speak as those who by grace, know the certainty of the truth they proclaim. This is not inconsistent with the lowly mind, for indeed it is the lowly that will know the mind of God, as we read, "The meek will He teach His way" ( Psalm 25:9).

(Vv23-28). The casting out of the unclean spirit makes manifest another mark of the perfect Servant. If He speaks with authority, His word carries power. In the place of religious profession there was a man with an unclean spirit. The presence of Jesus is intolerable to such; thus, "he cried out, saying, Let us alone." Whatever the ignorance of Prayer of Manasseh, the demons know that this lowly Servant- Jesus of Nazareth- is none less than the Son of God. The Lord, however, will have no witness borne to Himself by the Devil. Thus He rebukes the demon, silences him, and commands him to come out of the man. The demon having shewn his power over the man by tearing him, and crying with a loud voice, has to submit to the yet greater power of the Lord by coming out of the man.

The audience, already astonished that He taught with authority, are now amazed at the power that accompanied His word of authority, to which even unclean spirits have to submit.

(Vv29-34). Yet another beautiful trait of the perfect servant comes before us in the scenes that follow. Though this blessed One has all authority and power He is accessible to all. When He enters the humble home of a fisherman, and there is one in need of His healing power, we read, "Anon they tell Him of her." Again, when the sun was set, "they brought unto Him all that were diseased." With the great men of this world it is far otherwise. The greater their authority and power the less accessible they are to the poor and needy. Nor is the Lord any different to-day: though high in heavenly glory we can "tell Him," and bring "unto Him," all our sorrows and our needs.

Not only did He heal men of divers diseases, He also delivered them from the power of demons. But while manifesting His complete power over demons, He "suffered not the demons to speak because they knew Him". As one has said, "He refused a testimony that was not of God. It might be true, but He would not accept the testimony of the enemy."

(V:35). The crowded scene of the busy evening is followed by an early morning scene when, a great while before day, we are permitted to see the Lord departing into a solitary place to pray. Thus we learn that dependence upon God, expressed by prayer, is another mark of the perfect Servant. The power of service in public is found in prayer in secret. We hear the voice of Jesus, through the prophet, anticipating this moment, as He says, "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the instructed, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the instructed." ( Isaiah 50:4). We have seen the Lord using the tongue of the instructed; now we see Him with the opened ear, to hear as the instructed. Thus we learn that prayer is behind His teaching (21), and His preaching (39). Well for us to seek to follow His perfect example and begin our day with God in prayer, before we face our fellow men in public, for it is difficult to find a "solitary place" in the burden and heat of the day.

(Vv36-39). The disciples follow, and having found the Lord, they say, "All men seek for Thee." This brings to light another mark of the perfect Servant- the refusal of mere popularity. Nature might argue that if all are seeking us, it is the time to stay: but that was the moment when the Lord said, "Let us go into the next town." As the Servant of Jehovah He was not here to win popularity, but to do the will of God.

(Vv40-42). we have seen the power of the servant, and the secret of power; now we are permitted to see the grace that makes the power available for the vilest of sinners. A poor leper, driven by his need and attracted by a power which he realises can meet his need, comes to the Lord, but with a doubt as to His grace to use the power on behalf of one whose loathsome disease made him an outcast from man. Thus, he says, "If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." Looking at Christ he had no doubt as to His power; looking at himself he questioned the Lord"s grace. Song of Solomon, at times, with ourselves, if we get a view of the blackness of our hearts, we may question the grace of His heart, until, in His presence we find, like the leper, that the heart of Jesus is "moved with compassion" towards the vilest of sinners that turns to Him. Even Song of Solomon, the woman at the well, and the thief on the cross, found in Jesus One that knew the worst about them and yet had grace in His heart for them. His grace is greater than our sin. In the case of the leper, the Lord dispels the doubt by His words, "I will," expressing the love and compassion of a heart that is ready to use His power on behalf of a needy man.

(Vv43-45). Another beautiful trait of the perfect Servant is seen in what follows. He does not seek His own glory, but the glory of the One He serves. So hear the Lord saying to the healed leper, "See thou say nothing to any man." Nevertheless, he is to tell the priest and thus the law becomes a witness to the presence of God in grace. Under the law, God alone could heal the leper, and the priest could only bear witness to what God had done.

Thus, at the outset of the Lord"s path of lowly service, there passes before us His perfection as the Servant. His service is marked by authority, accompanied with power. His power is combined with accessibility to the lowly and the needy, and exercised in dependence upon God: he refuses to use His power to gain popularity; it is combined with tender compassion, and never used simply to exalt Himself.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Mark 1". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/mark-1.html. 1832.