READ : Mark 1:35-39
And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him followed him, and they found him and said to him, “Every one is searching for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.”
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 1:35-38; 2:17 rsv
What did Jesus have to say about His mission, about the mandate He had received from His Father, about what He was in the world to do? A number of things, but I want today especially to focus on two. They’re found in the opening chapters of Mark’s gospel, chapter 1, verse 35 and following, and chapter 2, verse 17. Let’s listen in and hear from the lips of Jesus just why He came:
And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him followed him, and they found him and said to him, “Every one is searching for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
HIS SENSE OF PURPOSE
Now notice first the strong consciousness of personal destiny behind these words. This overpowering awareness lay behind everything Jesus said and did. He had been sent by God on a mission. He was not in the world by chance nor was He moved, as many are, by merely personal ambitions. He had a race to run, a work to do, a calling to fulfill.
Did you notice how He said in each of these passages that such and such was “why He came”? Jesus was born of a human mother. He entered the world as we do, along a birth canal. But the language He almost always uses to describe His life here is that of a coming. Think of what that means. When a person says, “I came,” the clear implication is, “I was somewhere else before. I was there and now I’m here. To get from there to here, I came.”
Jesus was the only human being, think about it, who ever lived before He was born. He was the everlasting Son of the Father. He was the eternal Word of God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him. Then at a certain moment in our history, He entered into time and space. He ventured down, we might say, to share our humanity and live among us. From the glory of the Father’s presence, from the throne room of the universe, He came to Planet Earth.
This awareness of being sent into the world appears also in the way that Jesus prayed. He prepared for the choosing of His disciples by spending a whole night in prayer. At the threshold of every new experience and after each season of ministry, He went apart to commune with His Father. In our passage today, we see Him rising up a great while before day going out to a solitary place and there praying. It was the Father who had sent Him and Jesus was determined that He should live His whole life in fellowship with the Father, seeking His direction, invoking His aid. For Him God’s work was to be done in God’s way by God’s power and for God’s glory. So everything was begun, continued and ended in prayer.
SENT TO PREACH
Why did He come? Why had the Father sent Him into the world? Jesus affirms here that it was to preach.
Let’s review what led up to this early morning prayer vigil. Jesus had been in the house of Simon and Andrew. On the day before, He had healed Simon’s mother-in-law who had been sick with a fever. Then at sundown, people had come from everywhere bringing their diseased, afflicted, demon-possessed loved ones. A great crowd had gathered around the house and Jesus had healed many people and delivered many from demonic power. He must have been exhausted from the labors of that day. But long before daybreak the next morning, He had risen from sleep and gone out to pray.
When Simon Peter and the others woke up, they saw that He was gone and went looking for Him. When they finally found Him, they said, “Everyone is looking for You.” In other words, “there are many who still need Your healing and help, Jesus. Crowds of people want to see these wonderful works that You do.” They’re almost asking a question, aren’t they, “What are You doing out here?” There may be even a hint of chiding, as though to say, “The recognition You deserve, Master, is already coming Your way. Everyone is talking about You. Everyone wants to see You. This is Your big moment, Jesus. Why do You leave? Why do You pull away at a time like this?”
They must have been stunned at the Lord’s reply. “Let’s go on to the neighboring towns,” He said, “so that I may proclaim the message there also. For that is what I came out to do.” For some, miracles were the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry. That’s what really got the world’s attention. People were amazed and overjoyed at the marvelous things Jesus did. They praised God. They said, “We have seen wonderful things today.” The disciples wanted Jesus to keep at this ministry until the whole world would marvel.
But that, apparently, was not the Lord’s way. The miracles, the healings, the deliverances were never ends in themselves. They testified to His divine power, yes. They were expressions of His compassionate heart, certainly. But most of all, they were signs of God’s coming kingdom. They were confirmations of Jesus’ message.
It’s good to remind ourselves of that. Sometimes we get the idea that people can be dazzled into repentance, amazed into faith. Jesus, however, had little confidence in signs and wonders as a way of converting people. It’s sobering to recall that many who saw His mighty works never trusted in Him. Some of them even arranged for Him to be crucified. Creating a sensation among the masses is not the same thing as turning peoples’ hearts to the living God.
For Jesus, the message was always primary. The wonders, the mighty works, were confirmations of the Word He brought. If people didn’t hear God speaking, if they didn’t welcome the Good News of the Kingdom of God, the miracles would have little lasting meaning for them.
“Let’s go on to the neighboring towns,” He said. Jesus had the burden of a missionary, the heart of an evangelist. He wanted more and more people to hear the gospel of God’s love, to know what He was doing for them and for their salvation. He wasn’t content to settle down in one place permanently. He wanted to press on, sowing the seed, spreading the message as widely as possible. Only as people heard God’s Word of judgment and grace, of warning and invitation, could genuine faith be awakened in their hearts. For this the Father had sent Jesus into the world that He should proclaim the message of the Kingdom.
That’s the word He spoke, remember, in the synagogue at Nazareth one day, relating His own ministry to Isaiah’s prophecy. Listen: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Did you hear that? “To bring good news,” “to proclaim,” “to proclaim,” that was the heart of His mission. Out of that proclamation, every other gift and grace would flow. The creative word would save and transform, calling God’s people to Himself.
Friends, let’s never minimize the preaching and teaching of the gospel. Let’s never imagine that special programs and innovative church services can take the place of that, that demonstrations and even signs and wonders are where the real action is. Jesus was on a mission to preach. He didn’t let anything distract Him from that. He’s commanded His followers to see that everyone on earth gets to hear His message. Let’s not let any competing cause, however worthwhile, distract us from doing that.
HERE FOR SINNERS
Jesus has another word about why He came, this one having to do with the people He sought to reach. There came a day when Jesus went to the home of a despised tax collector for dinner. He had actually chosen this man Levi to be one of the inner circle of His followers. Imagine it! The man had a party to celebrate and he invited many tax collectors along with others of doubtful reputation. It was a gathering of outcasts and rejects, of moral lepers. And there Jesus was, laughing, talking, eating with these people.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were scandalized. They asked His disciples indignantly, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners? Why does He seek out the company of these abandoned people?”
When Jesus heard of their objection, He said this: “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners.”
Jesus has come to preach, we’ve already seen that, and especially, He says here, He has come to preach to sinners. He has come to call them to repentance, to restore them to fellowship with God.
As He often did, Jesus reasons with His objectors. He lets them see their arguments in a different light. With some homely analogy from life, He beams the light of truth on the cavils they raise.
Think about the work of a doctor, He says to them. His mission is to heal people, right? With what group then would you expect him to spend most of his time? With those in sound health or with those suffering from some malady? The answer, of course, is too plain even to be spoken. How ridiculous it would be for anyone to criticize a doctor because he was spending most of his time in hospitals and sick rooms!
Jesus presents Himself here as a kind of doctor, His ministry as a work of healing. He comes to bring God’s forgiveness, to cleanse the impure, to lift the fallen, to restore lives that have been broken and marred by sin. To what element in society, then, should He direct His ministry? Should He go to the righteous and the law abiding, to those who are sound in faith and love, or should He rather seek out the lost ones, the transgressors, estranged people, the ones without hope? With that Jesus rests His case. “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Some suggest that there is an irony in Jesus’ use of the word righteous here. He is said to be chiding the Pharisees and others like them who only imagine themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves on their own performance. That element may well be present here. Jesus may be saying to them that if they’re willing to recognize their sin, then they can know the joy of His calling.
But certainly His main concern is to emphasize the positive here. Since He’s a Savior for sinners, no one should be surprised or shocked when He seeks them out.
The Pharisees may have thought that Jesus went among such people because He enjoyed their company or endorsed their lifestyle. They didn’t understand. Jesus went among tax collectors and sinners as the Messiah. The basis of His table fellowship with them was the Messianic forgiveness He came to bring. The meal was an anticipation of God’s great feast in the life to come. Here was Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, breaking bread with the outcasts, bringing to them genuine fellowship with God on the basis of forgiveness.
That’s why Jesus came. He came to preach and to preach to sinners, to the guilty, the defiled, the bound and the driven. He came to call them out of judgment and bondage, out of misery into the joy of eternal life and restored fellowship with God.
And, if that’s why He came, then something of that concern should inform our sense of mission. We should be asking ourselves, “Who of all people are the most morally bankrupt, the most tragically lost? Who are those who seem farthest from God, who are most pathetically trapped in prisons of evil? Let’s seek them out first. Let’s be bearers of good news to them.
The most heralded theologian of this century has been Karl Barth. Christians disagree widely about the abiding value of his theological work, but many do not realize one of the most significant things about this church leader. Barth was a preacher to prisoners. He went again and again into jails and prisons, bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to people behind bars. Some may question his orthodoxy on other points, but here the learned doctor surely had the mind of Christ. He came to call sinners.
One more word and I’m through. My prayer is that you will recognize yourself today as one of those needy, sinful ones for whose sake Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again, and that with a grateful heart you will accept the forgiveness He offers and live as His devoted follower. Let it be so, for Jesus’ sake!