Mark 1: “Just the Facts”
Sunday morning worship, April 8, 2018
(Video) Although I can’t show a video of Detective Sergeant Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb on the TV show “Dragnet,” actually saying the phrase “Just the facts, ma’am,” that is the line that has come to signify the heart of the show. Snopes.com says Friday actually said, “All we know are the facts ma’am” when questioning women. Satirist Stan Freberg’s spoof of Dragnet in 1953 popularized Friday’s catch phrase in the form we now attribute to Friday and Webb. But it is Webb’s rapid fire, staccato speech pattern that came to my mind in quickly reading through Mark 1. In the 45 verses our English Bibles break this chapter down into, Mark introduces us to “Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” in 1 verse, covers the life and ministry of John the Baptist in 7 verses and the baptism of Jesus by John in 3 more, the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness in 2 verses, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in 2 verses, the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John in 4 verses, Jesus’ public teaching and the healing of a demon possessed man in 8 verses, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in 2 verses, the healing of the sick of an entire town in 2 verses, Jesus’ prayer life and his travelling throughout Galilee “preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” in 5 verses, and Jesus’ healing of a man with leprosy and the spread of Jesus’ fame in the final 6 verses. In those 11 small stories the only emotional or explanatory word used is the word “indignant” in v41. Mark, telling the gospel story of Jesus from Peter’s eye-witness accounts, is in a hurry to give his audience “just the facts.”
Now go back through those same stories and notice some of the “time” elements: “the beginning of” (v1); “I will send” (v2) and “prepare” (v3); “and so John the Baptist appeared…preaching” (v4); “at that time Jesus came…and was baptized” (v9); “at once the Spirit sent” (v12); “after John was put in prison” (v14); “the time has come” (v15); “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee…come, follow me” (vv16-17); “when he had gone a little farther” (v19); “without delay” (v20); “they went to Capernaum” (v21); “news about him spread quickly” (v28); “as soon as they left the synagogue” (v29). I won’t continue; the point is made. Peter probably wouldn’t have been the man he was if serving Jesus to him meant coming to church on Sunday and sitting in a pew listening to someone talk and then returning to his other life until the next Sunday came.
So please reflect with me for a moment. Try to envision a family of 6-8 or more living in a house something like the one pictured on the screen. The two websites listed below provide a more vivid picture of a “typical village-dweller’s home” than I can in the time I have. But basically an open court area was surrounded by small rooms covered by flat roofs. The flat roofs provided a kind of second story to houses and thus had railings for protection against falls. Cooking and socializing were done in the open court; the smaller rooms were for sleeping and storage. Often animals were brought into the homes as well. “Families, sometimes including several generations, tended to live under one roof and had little or no privacy.”1 Windows were few, small, and set high to favor early morning light and “gave some protection from the cold winter winds and heavy rain.”2 The homes of all but the more affluent were mostly utilitarian and not designed for reflective study or time to sit quietly and think. Interior lighting was poor in comparison. Now compare and contrast this kind of life with our own. No one had their own bedroom and most possessions were shared. Multiple generations and often extended families lived together. Most of life was lived outdoors or in the streets. The telephone, internet, television, and all communication devices as well as all forms of media, broadcast or print, hadn’t been invented yet. Most people walked or rode horses/camels meaning most of daily life was lived in a much smaller geographical area. Lack of refrigeration limited the food sources available.
My point is simply that life was more communal, lived more outdoors than inside, and time spent surviving triumphed over individuality and introspection. Hiding character traits or activity choices was pretty much impossible. This kind of social pressure, living life where every bit of news was shared from person to person and fueled most conversations, helped to enforce community standards. So when we read statements like, “that evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door and Jesus healed many who had diseases” (Mark 1:32-33), Mark isn’t exaggerating. For Jesus to find a solitary place in which to pray, it was necessary for Him to get up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark” and leave the house (v35).
Despite all of these differences, the gospel message is still the same: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15). John the Baptist came to prepare the way for this message. Jesus identified with John and by inference with the Old Testament Scriptures when Jesus submitted to John’s baptism. Jesus’ healings demonstrated His power over the spirit world we cannot see. Jesus’ teaching still led to an eternal relationship with the God of Israel who is also the Creator God and Father of all mankind.
Our job today is still to spread the good news of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Our studies in Mark will not help us if our sole intent is to get people to come to our church and sit in pews and listen to someone speak so that people can feel good and then return to the rest of their lives unchanged. To Mark and Peter, following Jesus meant changing lives. In Mark’s words,
“As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (1:16-20).
John’s message was to repent of our sins (1:4). John didn’t even have a home. He lived in the wilderness and wore the same clothes and ate the same food all the time: “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey” (1:6). How would we reach such a man if our faith was only exercised in these pews and in the privacy of our vastly-different-from-Bible-times homes? Jesus’ teachings and healings were at a minimum something new to talk about in a world lived with a much smaller perspective than the satellite-news saturated world in which we live. The messages of John and Jesus were exciting in a world in which no real prophet had ministered in more than 400 years. Today John’s and Jesus’ messages are more than 2000 years old. Our advertisers thrive on the newest and latest. How do we market the “tried and true”? I promise it won’t be by sitting in pews.
I believe our answer comes in meeting needs. Look once again at Mark 1 through this lens. John the Baptist’s ministry met the need of preparing the public to hear the message Jesus was bringing. John revived the spirit of repentance among the people so that when guilt-plagued people encountered Jesus’ offer of freedom from that guilt and an offer of forgiveness and new life. Jesus’ message was well received by those burdened by life. Jesus’ baptism by John met the need Jesus experienced in this life for giving glory to His Father: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). What son wouldn’t want to hear his father say those words in a meaningful way? Jesus’ promise to make Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John fishers of people raised their vision beyond their work-a-day world. Jesus’ invitation to “Come, follow me” met their relational needs (1:16-20). Jesus’ teaching and healing powers attracted the needy crowds (1:21-28).
We must begin anew to ask ourselves and find definite answers to the question, “What needs in my life has Jesus met?” If we can’t answer that question, we have nothing to offer others. But if in our examination we find that Jesus has met our need for a life changed from activities that lead to guilt to activities that lead to “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), we have something to offer. If our relationship with our family members has improved because of what Jesus has done in our lives, then we have something to offer. If our relationship with Jesus has improved the way we experience our work-a-day world, then we have something to offer. If Jesus’ personally extended invitation to “come, follow me” has resulted in a new spirit within us that helps us understand and function daily in this world, then we have something to offer. If our faith in Jesus and the God of the Bible is simply getting up on Sunday morning and coming to church, hoping to make a few friends, and praying our kids turn out well, then we have nothing to offer. As we begin our studies in Mark, we will be challenged to act as well as reflect. We will be challenged to carry our faith outside of these walls. We will be challenged to be changed in every way as we follow Jesus. Let’s make this journey together and encourage each other along the way with our victories and with the joy we experience in seeing others experience what we have to offer.