Mark 1.21–45 describes three miracles Jesus: the exorcism of a demon-possessed man (vv. 21–28), the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 29–34), and the cleansing of a man with leprosy (vv. 40–45).
What lessons about Jesus do these miracles teach us?
First, Jesus was a man of word and deed. We usually—and rightly—think of Jesus as an excellent teacher. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (v. 22). And yet, during his lifetime, Jesus was also well known as an exorcist and miracle-worker, as the three miracles of Mark 1.21–45 attest.
We modern people appreciate the spiritual and moral depth of Jesus’ teaching. But Jesus’ miracles make us uncomfortable because the modern age has taught us to distrust events with supernatural explanations. Would Jesus have laughed or cried at our simplistic anti-supernaturalism? I don’t know, but I am certain he would have insisted on keeping word and deed together. The central doctrine of his teaching was, “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1.15). For him, God’s kingdom was not an intellectual abstraction but a demonstration of divine power. “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God,” he said, “then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12.28). The power of Jesus’ deeds proved the truth of his words.
Second, Jesus’ ministry was holistic. He restored the spiritual wellbeing of the demon-possessed man, the physical wellbeing of Peter’s ill mother-in-law, and the social and emotional wellbeing of the leper. In biblical vocabulary, leprosy describes a variety of skin diseases. According to biblical law, whomever or whatever the leper touched became unclean. So the leper had to separate himself or herself from society and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever someone came near (Leviticus 13.45–46). According to Mark, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man” (v. 41). This gesture not only healed the man’s disease, it also reconnected him to human society.
Third, the power of Jesus’ success was prayer. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed\” (v. 35). According to Luke 5.16, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” In Mark 9.29, Jesus attributed a successful exorcism to prayer: “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Through prayer, Jesus tapped into the current of divine power that made his miracle-working possible.
Fourth, Jesus’ identity was clear. A demon exclaimed, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (v. 24). Oddly, Jesus commanded the spirit, “Be quiet!” (v. 25). According to verse 34: “he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” And in verse 44, he told the leper, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone.” Why the concern for secrecy? Probably because a ministry like Jesus’ was susceptible to misinterpretation. The crowds wanted a powerful Messiah, not a crucified Savior. Jesus was both.
Indeed, we might say that Mark 1.21–45 shows the both/and character of Jesus. Both word and deed. Both spiritual and physical, social and emotional. Both ministry to others and solitary prayer. Both power and the cross. As we follow Christ, may we be both/and as well.