Disease, demon possession, and darkness, that is the context for this reading from the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick (v. 30), and many others suffered various diseases (v. 32, 34). A man in the synagogue was oppressed by an unclean spirit (v. 23-26) and he was not alone (v. 32, 34). The darkness which followed sundown (v. 32) was not simply literal. It summarized the spiritual and physical condition of a creation corrupted by sin. This was the world into which Jesus was beginning His ministry. The direct temptation of the Devil (v. 12-13) was only the beginning.
Jesus was not intimated, however. Undeterred by the Devil or the disease or the demons or the darkness, He went on the offensive. With recently gathered followers by His side (v. 16-20), He taught in the synagogue with authority (v. 22, 27). With the crowds paying close attention, He exercised lordship over the physical and spiritual forces of evil. His rule was clear for everyone to see, and His fame began to spread (v. 28). Then, after a night of wrestling power from the prince of this world, Jesus withdrew to a desolate place for conversation with the Father.
It was predictable for the people to still be seeking Him the next morning (v. 36-37). He was breaking the darkness, as several hymns put it. The people were increasing with hope.
But Jesus had other things in mind. He informed His disciples that He would not stick around and satisfy every appeal in town. R.T. France describes what this meant:
“Here for the first time, we meet a recurrent theme of the gospel, that of the difference between Jesus’ programme and His disciples’ (and still more other people’s) expectations. It is not just that He is one step ahead of them; His whole conception of how God’s kingship is to be made effective is quite different from theirs. While they would naturally pursue the normal human policy of taking advantage of popularity and building on success on their own home ground, following Jesus will increasingly involve them in having to learn a new orientation” (The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, 111).
And what is Jesus’ “programme” in Mark’s gospel? What is His conception of, “How is God’s kingship made effective?” It would happen through preaching. “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach (κηρύξω) there also, for that is why I came out” (v. 38). Here Jesus makes explicit the nature of His mission. He has come not to heal or cast out demons for a select few in a single location, but to preach, and to preach to more and more people.
Jesus has come not to heal or cast out demons for a select few in a single location, but to preach, and to preach to more and more people.
“Preaching” in our context often connotes moralistic beratement. “Don’t preach at me!” “Practice what you preach!” κηρύσσω, however, means: “Announce,” “Proclaim out loud,” or “Make known.” Jesus has come to make an announcement. And what does He announce? Mark does not spell it out here, but the Centurion at the cross makes it known, as do the demons: “Surely, this man was the Son of God” (15:39; 3:11-12; see also Mark 1:1).
As the Son of God and Lord over creation, Jesus was demonstrating His divine authority and sovereign rule in this text. Demonstrations would continue throughout His ministry. They would culminate in the ultimate sign of His lordship on Easter morning. The announcement of His resurrection would provide life and salvation which exceeded even the temporary healings and exorcisms described in our text.
Which brings us to your hearers. The world is still dark. It is still filled with disease. The Devil and the demons still tempt and oppress. Much like the people in verse 37 of our text, your hearers come to worship this weekend looking for Jesus. They are looking for help and looking for healing. They look for the Lord to reign graciously over their particular struggles with darkness.
Your hearers come to worship this weekend looking for Jesus.
Often, Jesus seems to depart for other towns. He seems to leave us in the darkness and without deliverance. You should acknowledge this reality for your hearers. They need you to understand their struggles with doubts and despair.
But the preaching continues! The announcement goes forth. That is how Jesus continues coming to town after town, even to yours. Through you, Jesus proclaims His victory over all the forces of darkness. Through the promises you speak in His name, He makes known and spreads forth the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
As you consider the darkness in your hearers’ lives, it would be easy to list the usual suspects—the pandemic, social unrest, political dysfunction, and economic uncertainty. But your hearers have heard much about these lately. It might be more helpful to dig deeper, to poke and prod at more specific problems casting shadows over their lives: Doubts sown by the Devil, family relationships sick with selfishness, and the internal demons of fear, suspicion, or jealousy.
Jesus has come to defeat these, too. He has come to forgive, restore, comfort, and encourage. And when He returns, He will break the darkness once and for all. That is the promise you get to preach. This is how Jesus’ mission continues in your town.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 1:29-39.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 1:29-39.
Lectionary Podcast- The one and only Dr. Walter Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 1:29-39.