Mark 1: King Wisdom
When we think of royalty or kingship we often merely consider the authority involved, the dominion or rule that a king or queen may wield. But in Scripture, a godly king rules not with brute force or coercion. A godly king rules through the mystery of wisdom.
The Wisdom of God
The gospel of Mark begins with another loaded term: the very first word is ‘ARCHE’ or “beginning”. This might remind us of Creation, perhaps the gospel of John, but consider the word “beginning” in conjunction with some of the other context: We’ve already established that Jesus is a King, and that his gospel proclamation is a royal announcement, a political proclamation. This gospel is accompanied by a “voice crying out” and saying things like “Make [your] paths straight.” This King is also saying strange things, riddles like “I will make you fishers of men.” These themes and words should remind us of the book of Proverbs and King Solomon, the wise man (Pro. 1:1, 7, 20-21, 23, 2:8, 15, 20, 3:6). Mark is indicating with these allusions that Jesus is not only the new King, but also a new kind of King, a Solomonic King.
The word “wilderness” is not an empty word either. The wilderness wanderings of Israel were a particularly significant part of the story of Israel, a cautionary tale if there ever was one (Josh. 5:6, Ps. 78:13ff, 95:8-9). Notice how all of Judea went out to John (1:5) and then entire cities and regions begin coming to Jesus (1:33, 37, 45). But if the center of Israel is in the wilderness again this means that the current Israel must be some kind of Egypt, and it must also mean that Jesus is ushering in a new Exodus, a new conquest. This is made clear by the mere mention of the Jordan (1:5). We should also notice the characterization being played out. If John is a Moses in the wilderness, then Jesus is the greater Joshua. But a hairy man with a leather belt in the wilderness (2 Kgs. 1:8) means that John is also an Elijah making Jesus an Elisha. Mark emphasizes this, by making Jesus John’s successor (1:14). With John and Jesus in the wilderness, the implicit question is: Who will prove themselves to be the faithful Israel? Who will fall in the desert? Who will test God saying, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” (Ps. 78:19)
Notice that in Capernaum there is an “unclean spirit” in a man in a synagogue, and that evening many who are “demon-possessed” were brought to Jesus for healing. There does not seem to be a dramatic difference between these two afflictions, and it is likely that the difference is merely in terminology meant to highlight the problem with the first situation: an unclean spirit is in this synagogue (and perhaps ALL of them: Mk. 1:39). The language of “unclean” also connects to the last vignette (vv. 40-45) where a leper is in need of “cleansing”. Leprosy made it impossible for one to enter the temple. Ceremonial uncleanness was a reminder of the way the Old Creation worked: sin infected everything: the world was oriented in such a way as to make sanctification an uphill battle. When Christ comes on the scene he begins driving the demons out (v. 1:26, 34, 39). But where in the Old Covenant, no one was allowed to touch the unclean person or anything he/she had touched, Jesus touches him, and becoming “unclean” himself makes the leper “clean”.
The Messianic Secret
Related to the wilderness theme, where a new center is being made outside the old center, is also Jesus’ reluctance for fame or the Messianic Secret. The gospel is openly declared, but Jesus’ identity is a guarded fact (v. 24-25, 34, 37-38, 44). He has secret haunts outside of town where he hangs out, and when lots of people are looking for him, he heads off to other cities, saying, “mission accomplished.” (v. 38) This theme is found throughout Mark, but notice also WHO know Jesus’ identity: the unclean. The Jews in the synagogue are astonished and left wondering what kind of new theology this is and go home to their blogs to split theological hairs (v. 22, 27). Of course for the reader there is no secret (Mk. 1:10), but it is fitting that Jesus’ lifestyle be an enigma, a riddle, as He is a King, but a different kind of King. The “secret” is not that Jesus is a king, but the kind of king that Jesus came to be. And thus Mark foreshadows the work of preaching the gospel when the leper goes out “preaching freely” (v. 45). Preaching what? Preaching that Jesus “touched” him (became unclean) and made him clean. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus is preaching in dark sayings, riddles, and mysteries, but his disciples will go out and proclaim freely what has been done.
Notice all the Davidic themes: We have the rightful King in the wilderness (compare 1 Sam. 23:14ff) and a tyrannical king on the throne (implied in Mk. 1:14). Of course the story of Saul and David also involves warfare between the Holy Spirit’s anointed and the evil spirit that haunts Saul (1 Sam. 16:13-14).
We live in the New Creation, the conquest of the world. In the resurrection, Jesus stormed Hades and delivered a crushing blow to the powers of darkness. But if we have been made kings and queens with Jesus we should also expect that now more than ever wisdom is necessary. Consider the confusion and chaos of David’s day: ark, tabernacle, high places, Saul, David, Samuel… What were God’s people to do? It is a very similar situation to the world of Mark 1.
Follow your King; run to the roar. Where is their confusion? Where is their distress? Where is the biggest problem? Is not your King before you? Follow him.