(52) This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” – Mark 2:12

After being baptised, Jesus went into the desert for forty days to fast and pray and prepare for preaching and teaching in public. Luke and Matthew describe how he was tempted by Satan. Jesus dealt with all his temptations in the same way, by quoting from the Old Testament scriptures. This demonstrated the power of the words he quoted from Deuteronomy, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 quoted in Matthew 4:4). It is good to know that we have access to the same method of resisting temptation as Jesus did.

When Jesus returned from the desert he started going round the region of Galilee – the Roman name for the northern part of Israel where Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth – preaching that “The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Mark then gives us a quick-fire succession of events from Jesus’ early public life.

Jesus called disciples to follow him, starting with two pairs of brothers who were fishermen – Peter (originally known as Simon) and Andrew, and James and John – some of whom had been disciples of John the Baptist before meeting Jesus. Later we read that he called eight more to make twelve disciples, close companions that he shared with most closely.

Jesus’ teaching “amazed” the people “because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22). There was just something about his grasp of the Old Testament scriptures and the way he spoke to the people that grabbed their attention.

His teaching drew crowds, including people who were sick and who were ‘possessed by evil spirits’. This group has the habit of noisily revealing who Jesus was which Jesus discouraged at this time. Jesus healed these people which gave even more reason for crowds to gather. Normal life became difficult for Jesus and his disciples. Mark tells us that while they were at Peter’s house preparing to eat the people brought all the sick and demon-possessed people to him and “the whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases” (Mark 1:33-34). The people now had someone who was more popular than John the Baptist.

But Jesus did not let popularity drive his agenda. The morning after the crowds had gathered at the door Jesus got up very early and went out into the countryside to pray. Peter and the other disciples eventually tracked him down saying that “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:37). They were surprised when Jesus said that it was time to move on to other villages. Healings resulted in the word about Jesus spreading even more quickly which meant that Jesus had to keep out of the towns to avoid the crowds getting out of hand.

When he returned to the town of Capernaum, Jesus was confronted by a man who was paralysed. He forgave his sins and told him to pick up his mat and walk. When he did this the crowds were amazed, “and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” (Mark 2:12). Jesus’ popularity also brought him to the attention of the religious authorities and they joined the crowds to listen to what Jesus said and see him work miracles. But they came with critical minds, looking for evidence to catch him out.

When Jesus heals a man with a shrivelled hand on the Sabbath the religious leaders see this as a violation of the fourth commandment, which prohibited work on the Sabbath, a clear case of putting the letter of the law above the needs of the individual. Jesus is angry with them, not only for their lack of compassion, but also for their hypocrisy. He pointed out to them that if they had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath they would work to get it out and a man is more valuable than a sheep. Despite this, the Pharisees decide that Jesus must be done away with so that social order and their place within it is maintained.

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