The gospel of Mark, chapter 1, and we will begin reading at verse 35, and read through verse 39.
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee. And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth. And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.
If there is one thing that stands out in this chapter that records many remarkable events at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, it is this: that what took priority in the mind and ministry of Jesus was the preaching of the gospel. As we noted before, the Gospels are written to tell us about the person and work of Jesus Christ. And this little section tells us what it is that motivated Jesus, what it is that kept Him going, what it is that caused Him to get up early in the morning and to stay up late in the work that He was doing. We have looked in this section at one day in the life of Jesus. And what a day it was! What was it that moved Him in His work in the synagogue, in His healing, and now in His prayer? We find the answer to that in the words of Jesus in verse 38: “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.” That is a very telling statement. He is deeply conscious of the fact that He has come from heaven, that He is sent from God into this world, and that God has given Him a task to perform. “For therefore” He said, “came I forth.” As the Messiah, He is the anointed of God, He is appointed by God, and there is nothing that will move Him from the course that He takes and the task that He has been given. That is behind these words. When He says, “Therefore came I forth,” He is not merely saying, “I came from Nazareth to Capernaum to do this.” He is saying, “I came forth from God, I came forth from heaven with a task.”
This is prophesied in the Old Testament in Psalm 40 when it says, “I come to do thy will, O God.” And that prophecy is quoted twice in Hebrews 10 as the words that Jesus spoke as He came into the world, as He came into the flesh. So, in the whole of Jesus’ life, in every moment of His consciousness, He is deeply aware of this, that He has come from God with a task, as the Messiah, the Anointed, to fulfill.
Now, we, of course, are not surprised by that because we understand the person and the work of Jesus. We know who He is, we know His identity, and we know why He came. We know why He came in our flesh. But here, in this passage, the statement of Jesus is a very surprising thing for the disciples to hear. This is one of the things that they must learn as they follow Jesus—not only who He is, but why He came.
You remember that, the previous evening, the end of the Sabbath, after it was dark, many had gathered at the door of Peter’s house to be healed. People brought their sick and those who were demon-possessed, and Jesus labored late into the night walking among them, touching them, rebuking the demons. And it is not wrong for us to assume that this went on very late into the night. In verse 32, the present tense indicates that they kept on bringing all that were diseased and possessed with demons. And verse 33 says, “the whole city was gathered together at the door.” So Jesus labored long into the night. He gets to bed very late.
And now, in verse 35, we read that He arises very early in the morning, with perhaps as few as three or four hours of sleep. And He gets out of town, He beats the crowd. I say that because in verses 36 and 37, this is what Peter describes. He wakes up and he goes to the door of his house and finds that the crowds have gathered again. He says to Jesus, “All men [everyone] seek[s] for thee.” And, in verse 36, we see that Peter and the other three disciples (Andrew, James, and John) and perhaps more, go on a hunt for Jesus. “Simon and they that were with him followed after him.” The word followed here does not mean that they knew where He had gone and that they went with Him, just at a distance behind Him, but it has the idea of pursuing. When Paul is in prison in Rome and none of the Christians knew where he was, in II Timothy 1:17, he says of Onesiphorus, that he “sought me out very diligently and found me.” That is the same word here: they sought Him out very diligently, they hunted for Him. Then they found Him, and the interaction that they have with Jesus here shows why they were looking for Him. Their intention, of course, was to bring Him right back to Capernaum where all men, everybody, is waiting for Him. They saw this as an opportunity for Jesus to bring His ministry to the next level, as it were. Here was a core group of interested seekers. Jesus had an opportunity here, really, to get something going.
Sadly, this shows how little these disciples understood. This is why Jesus called them to follow Him, so that they could learn these lessons. Here is Peter. He is a leader. He is a planner. He has a plan for Jesus. He is going to be Jesus’ campaign manager, we would say. But what they do not realize, and what they must learn, is that Jesus did not come into the world for popularity. Jesus did not come simply to heal the sick and be a miracle-worker. He is not motivated by the whims of the multitudes and popular opinion. But, instead, He is come very consciously to do the will of His Father. And that day, though He could have returned to Capernaum and healed many more, He had something more important to do. And He knew why He had come. His purpose was not humanitarian, His purpose was not social, His purpose was not political. So He surprises His disciples in verse 38 when He says to them, “Let us go elsewhere—into the next towns. There they will not know Me. There the crowds will not follow Me for healing or for relief from suffering.” And what explains this answer of Jesus to the disciples is an amazing consciousness of and resolve to do the will of God. He will not be distracted from His task by the urgent press of the multitudes. He did not come to create this side-show, as it were. But He came to accomplish the purposes of eternal God. This was His priority. As He said in Luke 2, at twelve years old, “I must be about my Father’s business.”
As we reflect on this, we ought to ask ourselves about our own priorities and our own motivation. How easily are we not distracted from the task at hand that we have from God by trivial things? Hebrews 12 exhorts us this way, to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith. Then it describes His perseverance. And that is what is happening here in Mark, chapter 1. Think Hebrews 12:3: “…who, for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God.” So, He came to do the will of the Father. That is what He means here. “Therefore came I forth” to do the will of God.
Now, what exactly was the will of God that He came to do? Here in this chapter Jesus expresses that, in contrast to the miracles of healing, the will that the Father has for Him at this point in His ministry is the task of preaching the gospel. This is how He bursts onto the scene in verses 14 and 15. This is how He begins His public ministry in Capernaum. He preaches with authority. But, at the end of that first Sabbath, when the focus and attention of the people have turned away from the words that Jesus had spoken, the authority of His teaching, to amazement at His healing powers and coming for that, He says, it is time for Me to move on. “Therefore came I forth.”
Now that expression, Jesus’ consciousness of why He came, we find repeated over and over in the New Testament. We can list a number of texts (as many as 30) that use this kind of language. And that explains the work of Jesus as coming from the Father, into the world with a purpose. He has come to destroy the works of the devil (I John 3:8). He has come to give eternal life (John 6:51). He has come to do the will of the Father (John 6:38). He has come to save sinners (I Timothy 1:15). He has come as the light of the world (John 12:36). He has come to witness to the truth (John 18:37). He has come for judgment (John 9:39). And all of these look to the cross, have as their goal the cross. This is why here at the beginning of His ministry, He preached. Because this would lead to the cross. The repentance and the remission of sins that He began to preach, and the coming of the kingdom had its basis in the cross. The offense that His preaching would bring, the offense that was caused among the Jews, was in the end the way that would bring Him to the cross. And this was His obedience that would lead to His rejection and His crucifixion.
You see Jesus emphasizing this to His disciples, teaching them this as their years with Him progress. So that Peter, later on, confesses: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then we read this, that Jesus began from that time to show how He must suffer and die. And Luke tells us that, in the final months of His life, Jesus set His face like a flint toward Jerusalem. All His life and all His ministry were lived not just in the shadow of the cross but with the goal of the cross before Him. For Jesus, rather than aspiring to popularity, aspired to rejection and death by crucifixion. That was His resolve. And that is going to be so difficult for the disciples to grasp. In fact, they really will not understand it until the Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost. Therefore came I forth.
Now, what we must see here is not just the perfect obedience of Jesus to the way that the Father has laid out before Him, the way of suffering; but we should see also here His deep love and commitment to us and to our salvation. I could put it this way: Jesus’ concern for us is not our temporal health and happiness here on the earth. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. “I am come that they might have life.” And “this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing.” That is the beauty of Jesus’ resolve here.
And it is this resolve that explains His private prayers also early on this Sunday morning. Verse 35: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” He crept out quietly, to be away from the multitudes, to be away from the disciples, to be alone with His Father.
There is a lot for us to learn here from the example of Jesus praying. I want to come back to that in just a few minutes. But, first, we must ask this question: Why did Jesus pray? Why did He have to pray? What does it teach us about Him? There is something very intriguing, something very telling, in the fact of His praying. Three things. Dependence upon God, submission to God, and intercession for us.
Jesus expressed in prayer His dependence on God. Really, there is nothing in all of His life and ministry that demonstrates His complete humanity so much as this, that He prayed. Prayer was His strength. He who lived as God in the flesh and in a constant, continual consciousness of God Himself, and in communion and fellowship with God, He still needed these extended times of prayer. And that is because, in His human nature, He did not know what a day would bring. He was assailed constantly by all kinds of pressures and temptations. And He depended completely on the strength that God supplied by His Spirit. He says in John 5:19: “I can do nothing of myself.” So, first, His praying showed His humanity.
Second, His praying showed His submission. In His prayers, He subjected His own human will to the will of the Father. We know this especially from His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as He struggled with the impending suffering of the cross and submitted His will to that of the Father, “not my will but thine be done.” And that really is what is going on here in Mark chapter 1, when Peter comes with the promise of popularity and success. Well, Jesus had already prayed about this. He already knew that He must not give in to this temptation of popularity, that He had to fight that. So, He went out to pray. He began the day: “Lord, what about today? Show Me Thy way.” And when Peter came with his suggestion, He knew that this is not the way, not that. He did not come just to do miracles, but to teach.
And third, Jesus’ praying was intercession. Now, what we see in His prayers of intercession is an amazing selflessness and serving. What I mean by that is that Jesus did not turn to God in prayer only when He felt that He needed it Himself, but in prayer He always had before Him the glory of God and the salvation and the needs of His people. We can be sure that this morning Jesus is praying for His newly-called disciples who, the previous day, had received first impressions of His power and His popularity. And He must have interceded for them, that they might learn the priority of His preaching. His intercession included as well prayers for the forgiveness of His people: “Father, forgive them”; prayers for faith in His audience: He prayed before He taught and did miracles. And one of the most beautiful and somewhat surprising prayers of Jesus is recorded in Luke 22:31, 32, after Peter has boastingly said he would never leave the Lord or deny Him, Jesus says this: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” Jesus Himself is facing the suffering of the cross, and here He is praying for them: “I’ve prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not.” He anticipated Peter’s temptation. He was already praying for him, for Peter himself would be tempted. And His prayers would be the power of Peter’s sanctification and of Peter’s repentance and Peter’s restoration. And the beauty of it is this, that He still, today, makes intercession for us like this.
That is what is going on here. Jesus is praying. There are some lessons for our prayer life from Jesus’ praying, Jesus’ example in praying. If He needed prayer, how much more do not we need prayer.
At this moment in His ministry, Jesus could have said, “I’m tired, I need sleep, I’m busy, I’ve so much to do.” But, in the midst of the chaos, He pulled away to pray. And His prayer kept Him on task, His prayer gave Him perspective as He consciously walked in God’s will. And, if we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that His entire ministry was characterized by prayer. In one of the commentaries I perused, there is a whole list of references of when Jesus prayed. I do not have time to read all of them. But here are some of them. Jesus prayed before His baptism, before He called His disciples, before His miracles, before His transfiguration, and in His transfiguration on the Mount, while He was teaching His disciples, at Lazarus’ tomb, during the Last Supper, in the Garden, from the cross, after His resurrection. And, you see, Jesus’ prayer was a part of His ministry. It was His High Priestly office.
And like Jesus, we need to pray. We face mounting pressures and schedules that are full, and all too often we are too busy for prayer. We go out in our own strength. We live on autopilot. Then we are tempted and weak and we are distracted and selfish because we are not praying.
You see in Jesus here the discipline of His prayer. Martin Luther, who was known as a man of prayer, said this once: “Work from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours of the day in prayer.” Do we have that kind of discipline in prayer? So we learn from Jesus’ prayers.
Then, third, we have here His public preaching. We have seen already in that statement in verse 38 that His preaching was His priority: “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.” This was the will of God for Him, to preach, to be a preacher. So the next verse says, “And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.” And in that verse, Mark summarizes months of the ministry of Jesus in which He repeated in every town and every synagogue of Galilee what happened this first Sabbath in Capernaum. He spoke with authority; He was confronted by the demons and He rebuked them and cast them out. And the people marveled, and they flocked to Him for healing. And over and over Jesus moves on because they come to Him only for His miracles and He will not be diverted from His mission to preach the glad tidings of the gospel and to call people to repentance from their sins.
I want to finish this message by emphasizing and applying that to us, to you, personally. The ministry of the Word should have the same priority in our lives as it did in Jesus’ life. Maybe not for most of us as preachers of the gospel, but still the Word and the preaching of the Word should remain central. That means attending to the ministry of the Word in a church where it is faithfully declared and where it is front and center in the church. Where a church does not major on preaching, that is the wrong place to be. A church will have many faults, there is no perfect church. We have many faults. We are a company of sinners. But there is one thing that is our central task and something that holds us together and that equips us as Christians. That is the preaching of the gospel. And, having the preaching of the gospel central in your life means attendance and participation. That does not mean that you have to get up and preach. But it does mean that you regularly hear and that you prepare to receive the preached word; that you pray for the application of the word in your own life and thinking; that you support the ministry of the word with your prayers and with your finances. It is the truth declared that sets us free. It is the preaching of the gospel that equips us to minister and serve in the church. It is the truth of God that brings us together in our fellowship.
Jesus was a preacher. Let us see the importance that He puts on preaching and let us despise not prophesying.