Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Mark 1:21-28

From the internet: “On July 8, 1954, Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played a new song on the radio for the first time. It hadn’t even been pressed into a record yet, but when Phillips heard the tape that had been recorded a few days earlier at Sun Records, he wanted to play it on the air as soon as possible. It was the first time that the music of Elvis Presley was heard on the radio.

The switchboard at WHBQ lit up immediately with listeners wanting to know who this new artist was.  Phillips played “That’s All Right” over and over and tried to reach Presley on the phone.

Now, for the rest of the story: “Phillips couldn’t reach Elvis because he was at the movies.  His parents tracked him down and brought him to the studio for his first radio interview.  One of the first questions that Phillips asked Presley was where he went to high school. The answer “Humes” was a cue to the audience in the segregated south that the singer was white.”

Elvis, unlike so many other musicians who had their moment in the sun, wasn’t a “one hit wonder.” Neither was Jesus.

We forget that, in the 1st century, in the decades preceding the birth of Jesus, “messiahs” were a dime a dozen. Charismatic figures drew followers seeking a better life, seeking to oust Rome from Israel, seeking to establish the New Jerusalem on earth. And all of them, charlatans as they were, fell. Always discredited, often killed, all they left in their wake were disappointed and disillusioned followers – and Pharisees clucking “I told you so!”

Then Jesus comes along. And in the breathless, breakneck style, in just one week he has already arrived on the scene, been baptized, suffered in the wilderness, preached his first sermon, chose his first followers, cast out his first demon, and excited like the crowds like an ancient Elvis. Whew!

As I shared on Monday, no one knows for sure where, when, or who wrote Mark. Tradition says it was the John Mark who followed Paul. Very unlikely. And if it was, he learned the faith from Paul. Why is it then that Paul would teach Mark all sorts of stories about Jesus and yet, in Paul’s own writings, never mentions any of them? Answer: Because Paul wrote long before the gospels were written. Paul might not even have known many of the stories that appeared in the gospels. The truth is, we will never know with absolute certainty who, what, or when Mark was written.

But we can make a pretty good guess as to why! The big question that lies behind Mark is this one: What are we to make of a messiah who dies? And then come the inevitable other questions: How are we to understand it? Is Jesus just another charlatan? Are there still good reasons to follow him?

Interesting, isn’t it, that we still ask those same questions?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we want to imagine that you exploded into the consciousness of the world. Mark makes your introduction seem so quick, so easy. But we know your life wasn’t easy. And we know of the fickleness of crowds. We’re still that way. Thank you for making yourself known, for whoever it was who wrote Mark and thereby introduce you to us. Bless us as we follow your story, and as we follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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