Calling the Disciples and Ministering in Capernaum – Mark 1:16-31

Mark moves Jesus’s story into Galilee quickly. In these 16 verses, Jesus calls His first four disciples, teaches in a synagogue, casts out a demon, and heals Peter’s mother-in-law. There are some interesting side trips along the way as we think about Zebedee, Peter’s wife, Jesus’s authority, and social media. Join me as we continue this wild ride through the life story of Jesus.

16. Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 17. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. 18. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. 19. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. 20. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

When Jesus went to Galilee, we see from verse 15 that He began preaching. According to A.T. Robertson, the book of John reveals a year of ministry between His baptism and His ministry in Galilee. By the time verse 16 rolls around, it’s likely that Jesus was becoming well known. Jesus went everywhere to proclaim the Kingdom of God and here we see Him walking by the sea, finding these fishermen. Robertson notes that Simon (later Peter) and Andrew, and James and John were all partners. Based on my understanding of the nature of teachers in that time, and the nature of Jesus, I believe that Jesus deliberately went to this location looking for those four. Jesus, as a teacher of those days would, was looking for disciples. His mission was obviously greater than any of the other teachers, because Jesus would be preparing His disciples to proclaim the gospel to the whole world. Again, based on the the nature of those times, I believe that all four of those fishing buddies/partners may have sought to be accepted as disciples by other teachers of the day and were rejected. Giving up on their hope of becoming rabbis, they worked together as fishermen until Jesus came and promised that they would become fishers of men. Paul described that situation in 1 Corinthians 1:28. While I could be wrong in my understanding, I can’t help but think that Paul might have had the same belief.

It’s interesting how quickly James and John left the family business. Again, I think that adds strength to the idea that they had wanted to connect with a teacher and had been rejected. I think their father understood and his love for his sons meant that he didn’t do anything to stop them from following their desire and commitment to God. Years ago, when I went into the ministry, my Father could have tried to urge me to join the family business of real estate. He encouraged me to follow the path that God was leading, even though I could have eventually inherited a business with my name already on the sign. We sometimes forget that parents have dreams for their children that are waylaid when they seek to follow Jesus. So, praise God for those parents like Zebedee and my father who encouraged their children to follow God’s call and pray for those who might have difficulty dealing with that call.

All my speculation aside, the most important truth of this passage is that Jesus picked these four men specifically to be His disciples and they answered the call. There is no doubt in my mind that they had heard of Jesus, and were ready to follow Him without hesitation.

21. And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. 22. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. 23. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24. Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.

Jesus and His four disciples went to Capernaum. Luke and Matthew tell how His hometown people in Nazareth had rejected Jesus (both in chapter 4 of their gospels) and Capernaum is recognized as His home base. There is even talk that the synagogue where Jesus taught there has been discovered and could be restored. I wonder if that would make that place a shrine, ultimately an idol of some sort, where people went to worship the location instead of marveling at the Savior. It is obvious that Jesus was with His fellow Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. It is evident that He had been recognized as a teacher in that they allowed Him to teach. The amazing part of His teaching is that He taught with authority. The teaching method at that time involved invoking the names of past, well-known rabbis to verify what they themselves were teaching. Paul studied under one of the rabbis that Jewish teachers quoted, and we see Gamaliel play a part in the early days of the church. He may have been an adversary, but he was honest. Teaching would include the phrase “As <insert famous rabbi’s name here> said…” They wouldn’t use their own authority as they taught. Jesus didn’t quote the rabbis or give them attribution. In the Sermon on the Mount, He uses the construction of “You have heard it said…but I say…” This is the authority that He taught with. This is the authority that the Pharisees questioned Him about. This was the authority that amazed the people.

In the middle of His teaching, trouble popped up. A man with an evil spirit cried out interrupting His teaching. It’s interesting that the evil spirit knew his enemy and knew his enemies mission. He wanted to be left alone, he knew that Jesus would destroy that evil, and he knew that Jesus was the Holy one of God, the Messiah, God the Son. It sure did interrupt the synagogue teaching, though, and Jesus didn’t want to deal with the crowds and the political expectations the people had for the Messiah. His mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God was much more important than all of that.

25. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. 26. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.

As I read this, I thought of a character who, in some situation comedy that I can’t remember, used to say, “Shut up your mouth.” I know Jesus didn’t say that, but even His politely worded rebuke was powerful. The evil spirit damaged the man somehow, perhaps leaving him convulsing on the ground and came out of him screaming. Evil leaves its mark, and even though the man was now free of that evil spirit, I have no doubt that people in future years would remind him of the time that he interrupted Jesus while he was teaching in the synagogue. We often hear people wondering why Jesus came at the time He did and not now. Let me just say that if this happened in today’s world, just about everyone in the synagogue would have captured the encounter on their cell phones and uploaded the video to their YouTube accounts and the man would have become infamous. For those of us who follow Christ, though, our reaction shouldn’t be to look at and admonish or mock the one who had been demon-possessed. We should look at how Jesus released that man from the stranglehold the demon had on him and freed him from his sin making him a new creation.

It saddens me today when people, especially those who have achieved some measure of fame, come to Christ and those who follow Christ at skeptical. Rather than welcoming those who have joined the family of God, they bring up the new believer’s past. They doubt the sincerity of the change. They browbeat them so much that when the new believer looks to get away from the persecution, they often end up among those who would lead them back into their old way of life. We need more people like Barnabas, who opened the door for Paul to enter into fellowship with the Christians in Jerusalem.

27. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. 28. And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.

If the people were amazed that Jesus taught with His own authority, how much more did this display of spiritual authority astonish them. Not only did He neglect quoting all the “experts” who had guided the teaching of their rabbis as long as they could remember, He had shown a spiritual authority over evil, over unclean spirits. The evil spirits knew who He was and they obeyed Him. And, even without computerized social media, His fame went viral. People all over the region heard about Jesus and wanted to know more. In the verses that will begin next week’s passage we’ll see that people from all over brought those who needed to be healed to Him as soon as the Sabbath was over. His fame began spreading on the day when people weren’t allowed to travel more than a certain distance.

One of the problems I have is that I’ve been a follower of Jesus for so long, I’ve lost that sense of wonder and awe when I see miraculous works of God. I expect them. Our pastor will often ask us, “What do you see God doing these days?” I usually don’t have much to say, not because God isn’t working, but I’ve grown accustomed to that from God. If I had one prayer today from this study it would be that God would remind me of the wonder in the way He works even in the simple things and that I would be struck with awe as I recognize His presence and His work.

29. And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30. But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. 31. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.

When the men left the synagogue and went home, the expectation was that the women had prepared an afternoon meal for them. Women weren’t required to follow some of the rules of the Sabbath if it involved preparing a meal. Jesus and the other four went to Simon and Andrew’s home, only to discover that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick. As an aside here, I wonder if one of the reasons Capernaum became the base of operations Jesus used was so that Peter and Andrew could keep in touch with their family. I also wonder what happened to Simon’s (Peter’s) wife. We learn about his wife here, but only hear about her later on by implication when Paul asks about whether or not he had the right to bring a wife along on his journey as Peter (among others) did. There is an extra-biblical account that Peter’s wife died a martyr and that Peter rejoiced about her life in Christ and her call home. But, in this passage, it’s Peter’s mother-in-law in charge of the cooking, and she was sick and things hadn’t been done. They told Jesus and Jesus went in to see her, took her hand, and she was healed. She was healed so quickly that she got up and served them.
Please note: Jesus didn’t heal her so that she could make lunch. He healed her because she was sick. She got up and ministered, or served them, because that is what she enjoyed doing. We’ve all known those ladies who find ways to ply us with food whenever we visit. My mother always sought to make sure that we had something to eat when we visited her, even in the last years of her life when she was bedridden. The message here is that Jesus releases us from the sickness, the evil spirits, or the chains that bind us so that we can do those things we’re called to do in God’s Kingdom. No job in His kingdom is so small that it should be overlooked, no job is so great that it can’t be done, as long as we’re serving God in obedience to His call on our lives. Our responsibility is to discover what God’s called us to do, and then to do it cheerfully, whole-heartedly, serving God rather than men.


About rockyfort

I am a retired Middle School Teacher. I share each day what God is teaching me from reading His word hoping that people can benefit from reading what God has taught me.
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