The Public Ministry & Private Life of Jesus – Mark 1:35-45
Good morning! If you can grab a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. This morning, we are going to be in Mark 1:35-45, where we will be looking at the public ministry and private life of Jesus.
For the past month, we have been going through this sermon series in Mark, looking at this portrait of Jesus as the Suffering Saviour and Conquering King, and we are starting to see Jesus entering into His public ministry.
But where we would expect to see Jesus wanting to get people to spread the good news of His coming, what we actually see is Jesus telling people to keep quiet about Him, which indicates to us something about Jesus, and that is that Jesus wants followers, not fans.
Jesus doesn’t want fans who want to be close enough to Jesus that they get all the benefits of Jesus without actually following Him. No, Jesus wants followers who are actually going to do what He tells them to do.
And so, this morning, we are going to look at the public ministry and private life of Jesus. And what we are going to see is how Jesus can say what He says and do what He does, in the healing of a man with leprosy, and then we’re going to look at two implications of this for us, as followers of Jesus.
So, if you have your Bibles opened to Mark 1, we are going to begin in verse 35 and read through to the end of the chapter. Mark 1, beginning in verse 35: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ 38 And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. 40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and 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, for a proof to them.’ 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”
If you remember from last week, Jesus and His disciples were at Peter’s house, and the whole city had gathered at the door, because Jesus was there and was healing the sick of their various diseases and casting out many demons.
This went on well into the night. And you would think that Jesus would be exhausted the next day after a night like that, right? After all, He is fully human, like us, and I know I get exhausted after I’ve been around a big group of people for a significant period of time. Helena doesn’t understand that, because she's an extrovert who gets really energized when she's been around people. She will just want to continue talking and I will just want to go to bed.
But here, Jesus has just endured a grueling night of ministry, and verse 35 says, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
Now, Mark records Jesus praying only three times in his Gospel account. The first time is right here in Mark 1:35, as Jesus is beginning His ministry. The second time is in Mark 6:46, after the feeding of the five thousand. And the third time is in Mark 14:32-39, when Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Three times, Mark records Jesus praying. But think about this: Jesus is the Son of God, the One for whom John the Baptist prepared the way, the One who withstood the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, the One who equips those whom He calls, and the One who casts out demons and heals people. And yet, He needs to pray. Does that not strike you as odd?
But it’s here that we actually get a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus. You see, Jesus recognizes that He cannot say what He says and do what He does apart from the will of His heavenly Father. This isn’t Jesus going out and finding a quiet place and cashing in on some “me” time. This is Jesus communing with the Father, because He knows that this is what is fueling His public ministry.
Many people know Billy Graham for his evangelism and his crusades, but not many people realize that he was a dedicated man of prayer. Before he ever reached the pulpit, he was praying. He continually asked others to pray for him and with him. If a person asked him how they could best help the crusades, he would always say the same thing: “Pray.”
A couple of months before the 1949 tent revival in Los Angeles, Billy Graham faced a crisis of faith.
A good friend of Graham’s had challenged him on his approach to the Scriptures, claiming that people no longer accepted the infallibility of the Scriptures—that they are without error. Graham still believed in the deity of Jesus and the validity of the gospel, but he grappled with his belief of the Scriptures.
One day, Graham went out for a walk on the grounds of a retreat center, where he was to preach at, the next day. And on that walk, he found himself praying to God through the doubt that he was facing. And he said, in that moment, it was like God started to work in him, eventually bringing him to the place of faith in the inspired Word of God.
The reason why Billy Graham was a man of prayer is because it was what fueled his public ministry. And if we’re honest, oftentimes, we look for other ways to fuel our public ministry. We see one of these ways exemplified in the next two verses.
Look at verses 36-37. “And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’”
Jesus and His disciples had an amazing night of ministry, the previous night, but now Jesus is nowhere to be found. He left early in the morning, and now the crowds are starting to come back, looking for Jesus to continue healing and casting out demons, so the disciples start to search for Jesus.
But notice that they’re looking for Jesus because of what He can do, not because of who He is.
They're looking for Jesus because He’s popular and the disciples want to accommodate this surge in popularity. They love the fact that everyone is looking for Jesus. They want to have more evenings like the one they just had. They want to keep this going.
But the problem is that popularity is fleeting, isn’t it? One minute, you might be popular, but in the next minute, you might not be. All you need to do is look on Facebook or Twitter to see that that’s true.
But popularity is intoxicating, isn’t it? Once you have it, you want more of it. And many of us will spend the majority of our lives trying to attain or maintain popularity. It’s why many of us are constantly checking our phones, seeing if people are trying to get a hold of us. It’s intoxicating to have a group of people think highly of you. It’s actually what drives us to do most of the things we do.
And in our text, Jesus is popular, but it’s not what drives Him to do what He does. If that were the case, Jesus would be pandering to the masses, but He’s not. Jesus is going to say some things during His public ministry that is going to make people feel very uncomfortable.
For example, in John 6:53, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Now, obviously, Jesus is speaking figuratively here, but the people don’t understand that and they actually walk away from Jesus in disgust.
The disciples, on the other hand, are thriving on the popularity of Jesus, so much so, that they interrupt Jesus’ time with the Father, in order to appease the people who were looking for Him. But Jesus doesn’t seem to care. Because what’s His response in verse 38? Jesus says to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
The disciples were attempting to use Jesus to gain popularity, and Jesus is confronting their sinful desire by pointing them to the reason why He came, and that is to proclaim the gospel of God.
Jesus did not come to be popular. It’s why He doesn’t just stay in one spot. No, Jesus came to preach the good news that salvation has come. And it says that “he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
That was the mission of Jesus. And as followers of Jesus, that’s our mission, as well. We are followers of Jesus, not followers of popular opinion. And what this means is that, regardless of whether every seat in this building is filled on a Sunday morning or there is only a handful of us, the gospel of Jesus Christ is going to be preached and not teaching that will tickle people’s ears.
The moment we begin to compromise on the gospel is the moment when we choose popularity over Jesus. And honestly, that can only hold up for so long. Sooner or later, the hype will begin to fade and we will become exhausted, because we’re spending ourselves over something that is fleeting.
And Jesus knows this. It’s why He prioritized time with the Father. Though fully God, He still needed to pray. He models this perfectly for us. And it’s what prepares Jesus for what happens next.
Look at verse 40. “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’”
If you are unfamiliar with leprosy, it is a skin disease, which makes it difficult to diagnose and heal. But if you had leprosy, what would happen is you would begin to lose the nerve endings at the extremities of your body, so that your nose, your ears, your fingers, your toes, and bits of your body would eventually fall off.
You could have boiling water poured on your hand, and you wouldn't feel it. You could step on a nail, and you wouldn't feel it. And while this sounds really handy for you farmers, it would actually make you prone to all kinds of other diseases.
Leprosy robbed individuals of their health, but it also robbed them of their name, occupation, habits, family, and worshipping community. The clothes of lepers were considered to be infectious. Walls of the house where a leper lived were considered infectious. To ensure against contact with society, lepers were required to make their appearance as repugnant as possible.
Here is what Leviticus 13:45-46 says that lepers were to do: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
Apart from the supernatural healing of God, which we see in the case of Naaman in 2 Kings 5, the only thing that could be done for lepers was to put them in quarantine, miles outside of the town, somewhere where they could be secluded and wouldn’t come into contact with anyone else.
And what does this leper do? He comes to Jesus. That’s what he does. He has heard of the healings that took place in Capernaum: Peter's mother-in-law and others with all kinds of diseases. He had heard something about this Jesus, who had the power to heal him.
So, he goes to Jesus, and he goes in broad daylight. You can imagine the scene. People see him coming and start to get out of the way, because they don’t want to come in contact with him, lest they become infected. They’re talking about him, but he doesn’t care about what they’re saying. Whatever embarrassment he might face, he's heard that there is Someone in town who can cure him.
This leper is compromising Jesus’ ritual cleanliness. He is risking everything, breaking both law and custom, on the chance of being healed and restored by Jesus. No obstacle, not even the decrees of the OT Law itself, is going to prevent him from coming to Jesus.
He kneels before Jesus, not really sure of what to expect, and he says to Him what I can only imagine he rehearsed over and over in his head on the way to Jesus: “If you will, you can make me clean.”
Notice that the leper doesn’t question Jesus’ ability to save him. The leper doesn’t say, “If you are able, you can make me clean.” No, the leper knows that Jesus is able, but is Jesus willing? That’s the question.
When Jesus was healing people in Capernaum, it says that he healed “many who were sick with various diseases.” It doesn’t say that He healed everybody. It’s not like Jesus went door to door, asking for the sick people to come out so that He could heal them. Is He able? He sure is. Is He willing? That’s a different story. And that’s what this leper recognizes.
I’ve heard a number of people say, “Jesus doesn’t want you to be sick. Jesus wants you to be well. He wants you to live a healthy and prosperous life.” And all the while, these same people are getting sick and they're getting old and they’re dying, because we all die. The logic doesn’t make sense.
So, the question of whether Jesus is willing to heal this leper is a valid one, because it’s not like Jesus is under compulsion to heal him. It’s not like the leper is saying to Jesus, “Because you're God and you're able to heal me, then you must heal me.” That would be audacious. God is not under compulsion, because He is God, to heal.
But what do we know about Jesus from what Mark has told us, so far? We know that Jesus has come to bring the good news of the kingdom of God, and we know that He has unparalleled authority over all of Creation.
And what that tells us about Jesus is that whenever He is going to be confronted with the effects of sin in the world, He is going to bring it under the dominion of God. Jesus is not going from place to place, looking for everything that is wrong with the world. He is going around proclaiming a message that the kingdom of God is invading this sin-sick world. And the result of contact with Jesus and this kingdom is that the blind will see, the lame will walk, and the dead will be raised.
When we get to Mark 5, we’re going to see a woman who was bleeding for 12 years, and all she does is touch Jesus’ garment, and she’s healed. Jesus doesn’t even need to touch people to heal them. That’s what Jesus is able to do.
But we see here that Jesus is indeed willing to heal this leper. Verse 41 says that Jesus, moved with pity, “stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’” There is no hesitation from Jesus. We would expect Jesus, a Jew, to protect Himself from being contaminated by the leper, but He doesn’t. Jesus responds with compassion. Rather than turning away from the leper, Jesus turns towards him and touches him and proclaims him, “Clean.”
Now, I just want to draw your attention back to Leviticus 13, because I think this is important in our understanding of Jesus. When a person had a case of leprous disease—in other words, they noticed one day that there was an issue with their skin that was not quite right—they were to go to the priest, who would then put them in quarantine for a week to see if the disease spread.
But when they were re-examined by the priest, and the diseased area was no longer diseased, do you know what happened? The priest, it says, would pronounce the individual, “Clean.”
1. And here is implication #1 that I want us to see. When Jesus touches the leprous man, and says to him, “Be clean,” Jesus is showing Himself to be the true and better High Priest, who doesn’t need to send you away and see you in a week to see if anything has changed, He can change you in the moment. That’s what He does this for this leper. Look at verse 42. “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”
In that moment, Jesus removed the social, physical and spiritual separations prescribed by the OT Law and the customs of the day. One minute this man had leprosy, sores all over his body, maybe even bits of his body missing, and the next minute he was completely restored.
And instead of Jesus becoming infected by the disease of the leper, the leper becomes cleansed by the holiness of Jesus. Isn’t that a beautiful exchange?
What this reveals to us about Jesus is that He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s not afraid of your mess or my mess. He’s not repulsed by us. He welcomes us. He doesn’t turn us away; instead, He turns toward us. That’s the kind of Saviour we have.
That’s implication #1. But then, look at verses 43-44. “And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and 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, for a proof to them.’”
Notice that even though Jesus healed the man, He still honours the OT Law. Even though Jesus shows Himself to be the true and better High Priest, He still wants the man to show himself to the priest. But to no one else. As tempting as it would be to want to tell the world that you can feel again and that you can walk down the streets of the town without having to yell, “Unclean,” this man was to tell this to no one.
And again, we’re thinking that this is a strange way of going about your public ministry, but it’s what Jesus is commanding this man. It’s like the command that God gave to Adam and Eve to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It maybe didn’t make sense to them that they could eat from every other tree, except that one, but it’s a matter of trusting God that He knows best.
Regardless of how foolish it sounds or how contrary it seems, this command of Jesus was one that this former leper was to obey.
But look at verse 45. “But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”
We don’t know whether or not the man ever went and showed himself to the priest, but what we do know is that he broke Jesus’ command to not say anything to anyone. It seems like he is after the same thing as the disciples: popularity. He wants to be the one to spread the news, but it’s not what Jesus asked of him.
And I want us to see the irony here. Mark begins this story with Jesus on the inside and the leper on the outside, but by the end of the story, Jesus is on the outside “in desolate places” and the former leper is on the inside talking freely with those around him about what Jesus did. The leper and Jesus have traded places, but in more ways than one.
2. And here is implication #2. Back in Leviticus 13:46, anyone who had leprosy was considered unclean for as long as they had the disease, and it says that “he shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
Well, turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 13:12. The author of Hebrews is drawing a parallel between Jesus and the animals who were killed as a sacrifice for sin. According to the Old Testament, what the high priest would do is he would take the blood of the animal and sprinkle it around the Temple, but the remains of the animal he would take outside the camp to be burned.
But then, we read this, in Hebrews 13:12. It says that “Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.”
And now, we are drawn to the crucifixion of Jesus and how Jesus was indeed taken outside the camp, as it were. He was taken outside of Jerusalem, and there He is crucified as the once-for-all atonement for sin.
So, follow this: What we need to see is that this former leper found himself outside the camp because of his infirmity, and the only reason he finds himself inside the camp is because Jesus goes outside the camp and takes his place.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Here is how this beautiful exchange unfolds for all those who put their faith in Jesus: Jesus takes our place on that cross, bearing the penalty for our sin upon Himself, and what we receive is not judgment for our crimes of rebellion against holy God but the perfect righteousness of Jesus, so that when the Father looks upon us, He no longer sees our infirmities, He sees His perfect Son.
By nature, we find ourselves outside the camp, separated from God and from His people, with the promise of a lost eternity. This is where each one of us finds ourselves, at one time. It’s like we are born lepers, with no hope of ever coming into the camp.
But by the grace of God, Jesus comes outside the camp to where we are, and He touches those whom He wills to save, and He takes our place, bearing our sin and guilt and shame, so that, by faith, we are able to enter into that glorious city where God dwells.
This is the glorious reality for the Christian. And if you are here this morning, and you have never put your faith in Jesus, if you have not experienced this exchange, where your sins have been forgiven and you are in right standing before God the Father Almighty, then I encourage you to come to Jesus, today.
And for those of us who are followers of Jesus, who have experienced this glorious exchange, I pray that we would be careful to not respond how the leper in our text responded, by loving popularity more than Jesus.
It should rightly alarm us that we can see such faith in Jesus and His ability to do the unimaginable in own’s life, and yet, at the same time, see no evidence of the heart of a disciple of Jesus. But this is the difference between a fan of Jesus and a follower of Jesus.
I said earlier that a fan of Jesus wants to be close enough to Him that they get all the benefits of Jesus without actually following Him. On the other hand, a follower of Jesus will actually do what Jesus tells them to do.
What Jesus is after is not a fan, but a follower. Jesus doesn’t want individuals who are going to be on the fence, who will love Him in the good times, but will abandon Him in the bad times. No, Jesus wants us to either be all-in or all-out. And if we’re going to be all-in, then it’s going to require commitment.
And I’m not talking about Sunday morning church attendance. Jesus isn’t after our church attendance, if it means that we aren’t going to do what we hear the Word of God telling us to do. That’s what we mean when we say we are committed to Jesus.
Are we looking into the mirror of the Word of God and doing what it says? Are we daily confessing our sins to God? Are we humbly submitting to King Jesus, going and doing what He would have us go and do?
The gospel is not some kind of commodity that can be sold, where people can have their Jesus on the side, while they continue to live how they want. That’s not the Christian life. That’s being a fan of Jesus, not a follower of Jesus. Jesus is after so much than that. He’s after your heart. He’s after your commitment.
And it’s not like Jesus expects followers to be perfect. It’s not like there’s this expectation that we will get this right all the time. Being a follower simply means that we understand we are sinners saved by grace. It means that we understand our need for Jesus, every single day of our lives.
The question is: Are you a fan of Jesus, or are you a follower of Jesus? How you answer that question will determine whether or not you take Jesus seriously enough to do what He tells you to do. Let’s pray…