The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Activity

Having introduced the Perfect Servant (1:1-13), Mark records His works. A servant is valued according to his labour, so the second major section of Mark (1:14-8:21) focuses upon:

The Servant’s Activity (1:14-8:21)

“He hath done all things well” was the exclamation of a few astonished observers as they witnessed the Lord’s power to make “the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak” (7:37).[1] However, the general response was more disappointing. Men exhibited hostility toward Him (3:6), unbelief in Him (6:6), and misunderstanding of Him (8:21).

Isaiah’s second Servant Song contains this lament: “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God” (Isa 49:4). The response of people to the Servant is contrasted with God’s assessment. While despised by men, the Lord Jesus served with the certainty that His work was valued by His God.

This large section of Mark is divided into three cycles of activity. The first lays weight upon the authority of the Servant (1:14-3:6).

The Authority of the Servant (1:14-3:6)

Mark gives a brief summary of the Lord’s ongoing ministry (1:14-15) and His call of Simon and Andrew, James and John (1:16-20). After this he focuses upon the authoritative actions (1:21-2:12) and answers (2:13-3:6) of God’s Servant.

Authoritative Actions (1:21-2:12)

Five distinct cameos, all related to the Servant’s authority, are included. His authority spans the spiritual, natural and personal realms. He could expel demons and forgive sins (1:21-28; 2:1-12). He could touch the fevered and the leprous and banish their ailments (1:29-34; 40-45). He also exercised self-discipline (1:35-39).

In the cosmic conflict with the devil, the Lord’s authority was demonstrated in the exposure and expulsion of the forces of evil from their conquests. Attending the Capernaum synagogue, listening to the teaching of the scribes, was a “man with an unclean spirit” (1:23). However, the teaching of this Servant was different. He “taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes” (1:22), which immediately caused a reaction. The man “cried out, saying, Let us alone” and expressed fear of judgment. The unclean spirit had recognised this teacher as “Jesus of Nazareth” and as the “Holy One of God” (1:24). The Lord’s close association with a sinful place had left no contamination on His sinless person. He was a Servant with moral authority. He expelled the demon and His fame spread.

Authority was also seen in the healing of Simon’s wife’s mother who “lay sick of a fever” and who, upon being lifted up by the Lord, was immediately in such a good state of health as to be able to minister unto them (1:29-31). The story of the leper (1:40-45) shows similar characteristics. The immediate and complete cleansing of his disease resulted in the Lord’s fame being spread abroad.

The supreme act of authority, however, was the forgiveness of sins (2:1-12). A paralysed man was carried on a stretcher to see the Lord. However, the home in which the Lord was preaching was packed to capacity. Four friends carried the paralysed man up to the flat roof and, having made a hole, lowered him down to the feet of Jesus. The Lord’s response took everyone by surprise: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (2:5). To the watching scribes this was blasphemy: “Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?” (2:7).

The observation of the scribes was not without reason. The only person who can forgive anyone is the person who has been wronged. Recognising that all sins are ultimately against God, it is true to say that only God can forgive sins. Being the offended party, God alone has the right to pardon the offender.

The Lord, knowing their thoughts, challenged them, “Is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?” (2:9). His point was that while both commands are easy to make, the second command necessarily produces an easily verifiable result. The authority of the person making the command would be immediately confirmed or denied. So the Lord gave a clear demonstration of the unique authority He possessed by saying to the paralysed man, “Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house” (2:11). The immediate result produced amazement and worship as the man “arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all” (2:12).

Why did the Lord do this miracle? He did it so that they would “know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (2:10 ESV). Only God has the right to forgive sins – that’s true. Yet, Jesus had the right to forgive sins. This was a Servant with divine authority, because He was no less than God incarnate.

Is there a practical lesson here? In the central cameo (1:35-39) we have insight into the Lord’s private prayer life. “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (1:35). He went into the presence of God to pray and He came out from the presence of God with purpose. When the disciples found Him they said, “All men seek for thee” (1:37), implying that the Lord should encourage the popularity He had gained. The Lord, however, was not directed by popularity but by divine purpose. He responded, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth” (1:38).

The authority that disturbs the devil’s domain, and accomplishes God’s will, is authority from God’s presence. The secret of the Perfect Servant is recorded by Isaiah: “He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isa 49:2-3). If we are to serve with true spiritual authority, we must prioritise private communion with our God, as the Perfect Servant did.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.