If we look at the events recorded in these verses, we can discern an attempt by Mark to show how faith is built up in a person. Here we see how faith was built in Peter and the other disciples. His statement in verse 29 is not an isolated or sudden event, but the end of a process. We may fail to see this if we take Peter’s statement out of context.
The first event in this chain occurred when Jesus healed a deaf man and restored his ability to speak. The second event was the feeding of the crowd. The third was the restoration of sight to a blind man. Here Jesus performed a healing in stages. This should not be taken as a prescription for how we should heal people. It is a symbol of growth in faith. The man did not see clearly at first, but eventually received full sight. When individuals come to faith in Christ the Holy Spirit enlightens them understand the basic truth of salvation but they must still grow as disciples and thus see clearly all that the Lord had revealed.
The 3 events described here were all prophesied of the Messiah. Although Peter and the disciples had been with Jesus for some time, they had heard Him speak but were deaf to His message. They had seen the signs He performed, but were blind to their significance. Now when they saw them in such quick succession they realized who He was. Now they could hear and see. Now they could speak and proclaim that He was the Messiah. They had grown through the process and knew who Jesus was, but they still misunderstood what the work of the Messiah was to be. They thought it was to be all immediate splendor and glory. Yet the path to that glory, as Jesus pointed out, was through suffering and shame.
In the book of Leviticus, we find the laws concerning ritual uncleanness, vows and clean and unclean foods which Jesus addresses here. Jesus upheld the Law but not the man-made traditions of the Pharisees and their predecessors. For example, ritual washing of hands and cups had originally applied only to the priests in the tabernacle, but human tradition now applied it to all Jews. Jesus made the point about Korban to illustrate the fact that tradition had set itself above the Law and nullified its God-given intent. The Law was meant to help people to lead lives of holiness by showing them their sinfulness and depending on the Lord for mercy and help. Tradition made holiness something man could achieve by performing rituals and following rules.
While such rules and laws may give the outward appearance of piety, they do nothing to change the heart attitude of a person. In fact, as Jesus maintained, those who advocated for them were hypocrites. They attempted to follow rules out of a desire to look good on the outside. On the inside they did not love God or their fellow man. Jesus said that food, dirty hands and cups did not make a person unclean or unholy. The evil thoughts and actions that arose from the heart corrupted a person, not what came from outside.
Sadly, many believers today hide behind a cover-up of good deeds and religious actions. They set a standard or norm of does and don’ts, traditions, rules and interpretations by which they judge the spirituality or holiness of others. They behave just as the Pharisees did and are just as hypocritical. Their many pious actions and words are often corrupted by inner evil desires such as vengeance, greed, covetousness, and pride. Yet righteousness is not a matter of mere outward actions and behavior. It is a matter of a heart that is humbled and surrendered to Jesus.
Jesus amazed people. He went about touching unclean people, healing sick men and women and casting demons out of the possessed, things which no one had ever seen. And so His popularity grew. Everyone could see He was more than just an ordinary teacher or prophet. Yet in his home town, the people refused to acknowledge that He was anything special or had any authority. They saw Him as a mere carpenter who had no religious training.
Jesus’ fame grew even more as He sent forth His disciples to preach, heal and cast out demons. This attack on the kingdom of darkness attracted the attention of King Herod who thought John the Baptist has arisen from the dead and was coming back to judge him. He had imprisoned John because he dared to speak boldly against Herod’s adultery. Herod was a weak-willed bully who was afraid of God but one day, inflamed by drink and the seductive dance of his stepdaughter, he made a rash vow and had John the Baptist beheaded. Apparently his fear of God was far outweighed by the opinions of his friends.
God often uses fear to turn sinners to Him. Unfortunately, Herod, like most people today, was too proud to allow his fear to lead him to humility and repentance. His behavior is imitated by many politicians and other people today who ignore the voice of the church of Jesus Christ which is calling out for godliness in government and personal life. Yet so many political leaders prefer to maintain the favorable opinion (and money) of their supporters rather than heed the voice of the Lord. Whether or not they realize this, they have put their eternal souls in jeopardy and have led many astray. We must pray for them that they would humble themselves before the Lord.
Another aspect of Jesus’ ministry was defeating Satan and his minions. He went out of His way to enter into a confrontation with Satan’s forces who had possessed a man on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. This was an awesome encounter for the demons had so debased and abused the man that they had stripped him of his humanity. He resembled an animal, a brute beast.
The fact that the man dwelt alone tells us that people were afraid of him and had given up on him. Often the devil attacks us with fear to try and convince us of his power and his ability to get at us. In addition he tries to belittle us and tells us we are no good, that we are nothing but swine. In this way he hopes to make us turn from God, to make people forsake His mercy and so perish.
We should observe Jesus and see that He was not intimidated even though the demons tried to make Him afraid with the name “Legion”. This meant that there were over 2000 demonic spirits in possession of the man. That, along with the man’s ghastly look, disgusting smell, bizarre actions and terrifying cries would cause most of us to panic and run. But Jesus was not intimidated. He did not negotiate, waste time or argue. The demons could do nothing but acknowledge that they were in the presence of a superior force, the Almighty Himself. He cast them out with a command.
When the devil attacks us we must always cling to Jesus. He is the supreme authority. The devil’s power over those who are in the Spirit of the Lord is non-existent. The Lord will defend us if we hold fast to our faith in His truth and trust Him to save us. When we stand fast in the power of Christ we need never fear Satan nor succumb to his temptations and when we do feel our selves succumbing we can always rely on Jesus to carry us through.
The parable of the Sower reminds us that not everyone who hears the gospel will believe. Those who are hostile to God will never be convinced. Those who care more about money and fame will similarly refuse to believe. Those who are open to God’s will and earnestly seek Him will ultimately find Him. This should never excuse us from our responsibility to preach the gospel to everyone, not just those we think are the most likely prospects.
Yet some believers do hesitate to witness for the gospel, usually out of fear or ignorance. Some are afraid of the hostile and vitriolic reactions that some people have toward the gospel. Some are afraid they will be unable to answer the tough questions unbelievers pose. Some are afraid they will not know how to respond or that they will look foolish.
We are called to let our light shine so that our words and lives disclose the truth of salvation and love in Jesus. We cannot hold back the gospel out of fear or the difficulties and persecution we will encounter. After all, Jesus is in the boat with us and we will always successfully ride out the storm. He will provide us with the wisdom to say the right words and do the right thing at the right time.
Jesus here is confronted by His family who seem to be embarrassed by His ministry. I have felt such feelings in my family especially when I first became a Christian. My family thought I was crazy. After all, I was baptized, confirmed and raised a Christian in the Roman Catholic Church. What else did I need? At that time they believed that only Catholics were guaranteed a spot in heaven, although it was not a sure thing. Even Catholics still had to earn their way to get there although they at least had a chance that no one else had.
It was not easy for me to turn from the family and its traditional religious values because it brought me a lot of criticism. But I had met Jesus, the same Jesus I heard of when I was growing up but now I found that He loved me. And because of His love I was guaranteed a place in heaven in spite of my sinful nature, not because of how good I was, but because of how good He is, that is, perfect. I was convinced by faith in the assurance of salvation in Him alone. There was no way I could go back in spite of the pressure. I was and still am sure!
Jesus handled the criticism of His family with wisdom. He was convinced of His mission and purpose in life because He knew who He was and His relationship with the Father. Nothing any of His relatives or friends said or did would change that. While we should love and respect our parents and relatives, family authority or loyalty should never take precedence over obeying the will of God the Father.
We must obey God rather than man.