The desolate place, v.35
Consider your longest and toughest day in recent weeks. When it was all said and done and you laid your head on the pillow that night, did you expect to sleep the next morning, or did you expect to “get up very early in the morning, while it was still dark in order to “go out to a desolate place to pray”?
Remember Jesus’ long day in Mark 1:21-34. The busiest Sabbath ever! And the next morning, before the sun even rose, He was there alone and praying – something we will see him do throughout his ministry.
Does this sound like you? In these difficult times, I’m sure we all experience bursts of activity and bouts of laziness. One week, in fact, I wrote thousands of words and read four books to boot, but the next week I got caught up in board games and didn’t write or read more than a few pages. Your habits may differ from mine, but whatever your habits are during this pandemic, consider this with me: How many times have I walked away to pray? This is precisely what Jesus would have done.
You know, the Bible is full of “wilderness experiences,” those moments of forced or intentional desolation, like what we see in v.35. Early in this pandemic, a friend of mine wrote to me about such examples from both the Old and New Testaments, noting that these desert experiences had been examples of learning for Jews and opportunities for growth or recovery for Jesus. Then he concluded, “How we respond to this time of social distancing and sheltering in place will say a lot about us.”
I don’t know about you, but what it says about me is that I haven’t followed Jesus’ example of prayer very well. And I wonder why? I feel like I do so many things! I’ve created lists of activities people can do when they’re stuck at home, and I do them myself. But I haven’t prayed more often or more deeply, despite the fact that I know I have to. So when I see Jesus here never looking for an excuse to pray less, I’m doomed.
The Purpose of Jesus, v.36-39
The passage then tells us that Simon and the rest of his disciples came to seek Jesus, as if praying alone, He was unaware of his true ministry: “Everyone is looking for you”, they say in verse 37, with the implication “They want you back there to teach and heal!” But don’t you think Jesus knew better? If Jesus weighed the options of prayer versus ministry and chose prayer, Doesn’t that say a lot about the importance of prayer versus active ministry?Again, I’m doomed.
These disciples of Jesus were not the Twelve, since they had not all been called yet (see ch. 2), but Jesus takes those who want to “to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (v.38). This highlighting of Jesus’ purpose is one of many in the Gospels. With our 20/20 hindsight, we know why Jesus came, but to these disciples at this early stage, it was all still a great mystery.
When you think of Jesus’ purpose in life, you may think of his redemptive work, and obviously that’s the cornerstone of it all. But here He tells us that He came to preach (v.38). We have already considered His message of “repentance and the Kingdom,” and for that I have to give The Bible Project (videos and podcast) a shot for their development of what this Kingdom of Heaven is. This insight will help you better understand Jesus’ preaching and parables, especially realizing that “it’s not about me: it’s all about Christ.”
But let’s focus on ourselves for a moment. Jesus had a calling and a purpose in life, and whether we want to believe it or not, we do too. People often ask, “Why am I here? as they search for their purpose in life, but I’ve always gained more by asking, “Why am I still here?” With so many dead as there are in this world, why did I survive so long? If God‘s desire in saving me is to be with me forever, then why didn’t I He didn’t take me Home immediately after bringing me to His family? Why am I still here?
Why are you still where you are? Why didn’t you catch COVID-19? And if so, why did you recover? Why have you come and gone safe from work all these years? Why haven’t any of the other billions of viruses and brain-eating amoebas killed you yet? God has a plan and a purpose for your life, and it’s not to binge on Netflix or sleep in the afternoon. What is your purpose in life? Why does God still have you here?
The Leper, c.40-45
Weeks and months have passed now for Jesus and his disciples. After seventeen verses that took up a single 24-hour period, Mark goes into a verse of Jesus’ preaching ministry “throughout all Galilee” (v.39), and during this time he encounters this leper. We have learned a lot about this nerve disease over the centuries, but back then it was a serious and fatal condition.
This man implores Jesus: “If you want to, you can make me clean! (v.41) and I love this plea. This echoes Jesus’ prayer in the garden: “Father, if it be possible for this cup to pass away from me. However, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). It is a plea that should season all our prayers, trusting during our prayers and supplications (with thanksgiving) as we make our petitions known to God, whom He knows better than we do (Philippians 4:6). “If you want…” There is a world of trust and submission in those words.
And Jesus answers: He wills and He heals. “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him and said: ‘I want; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed” (v.41-42). What a miracle!
We all wish the same for COVID-19 patients and others, but sometimes healing just isn’t God’s will. Faith healers will try to convince you otherwise, but make no mistake! If physical health was God’s priority, then why has the death toll in the United States exceeded 60,000? Why is there a pandemic?
If spiritual healing was a matter of faith and physical contact, then why aren’t Benny Hinn and others fixing this pandemic? And why weren’t they visiting intensive care before all this started, instead of charging people to come and see them? Why did Paul leave Trophimus sick in Miletus instead of just healing him (2Tim 4:20)? Why did he tell Timothy to have a little wine for his stomach’s sake, instead of saying, “Just have faith!” And smack yourself on the forehead too while you’re at it! (1 Tim 5:23)?
Jesus’ compassion for this leper and his healing of the disease does not amount to a lack of compassion for those he did not heal. Remember Jesus’ purpose: to preach repentance and usher in the Kingdom of God. Think of how many thousands of people across the region and around the world Jesus did not heal in those three years. For more on this, Google Joni Eareckson Tada. If you need a better perspective on God’s purpose in suffering, there is no better teacher.
After having healed this leper, Jesus said: “Take care not to tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your purification what Moses commanded, as a proof for them” (v.44). People often wonder why Jesus would charge people do not tell anyone about him (or why he would silence the demons who claimed his identity), but verse 45 offers some insight into why. When the former leper spread the news of Jesus and his healing, “Jesus could no longer enter a city openly, but he was outside in desolate places”, and even still “people came to him from all parts”.
We could say the man disobeyed, but as he always does, Jesus even turned that offense into his own good and glory. If He hadn’t been driven out of the cities, He wouldn’t have met the people He met. He would not have caught the attention of religious leaders so quickly. He wouldn’t have bought our redemption as quickly as He did. Jesus took even man’s failures and turned them into his glory. He is a God worth serving.
1) Are you responding to this pandemic with more focused and intentional prayer?
- Jesus found a desolate place and time to pray, and He made prayer a priority even over ministry.
- This week, follow Jesus’ example of waking up earlier than usual, finding a place to be alone, and making your requests known to God.
2) What is your purpose in life?
- Why are you here? Write down two ideas for each of the reasons God gave you the parents he made, the spouse he made, and the children he made.
- Why are you still here? Write down five reasons why God has kept you on this planet since he saved your soul.
3) Do you season your prayers with “If you want”?
- This week, make a point of considering your requests in the grand scheme of God’s will.
- If this helps you develop the habit of trusting God’s wisdom rather than your own, memorize and repeat this after each request: “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”
4) Are you worried about your health or the health of others?
- Each day this week, pray for the healing of the nation.
- Place your health and that of your loved ones in the hands of the Great Physician.
- Tell him your needs, but submit to the possibility that physical healing and comfort are not his will.
- Also add to your prayer list that through this pandemic, God would destroy the lies of health and wealth that have poisoned his Church.
Mark 1:1-8 – “The Beginning”
Mark 1:9-15 – “How to Fight Temptation”
Mark 1:16-20—”Follow Me”
Mark 1:21-34 – “A Day in the Life of Jesus”