Mark Lesson 4 (2022)
JESUS PRAYS IN A SOLITARY PLACE
(The Importance of Spiritual Self-Care)
Key Verse: 1:35
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
In the previous passage, 1:21-34, a snapshot of Jesus’ daily ministry in Galilee was presented, preaching, teaching, driving out demons, and healing many sick people. It’s a whole lot of things to do in one day. People were amazed at his powerful teaching and said, “What is this? A new teaching and with authority!” (27). Jesus’ popularity increased rapidly in the whole region of Galilee.
Today’s passage contains another snapshot of Jesus’ daily schedule, traveling throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues, and driving out demons (39). It also includes the story of how Jesus cleansed the man with leprosy, who later disobeyed his instruction and thus hindered his ministry. Undoubtedly, Jesus healing the man from leprosy reveals God’s great compassion. Yet we should not overlook the importance of obedience to Jesus’ words. Overall, I would like to think about why Jesus prayed early morning in a solitary place amid his busy schedule, how it affected his ministry, and why we should also be engaged in our spiritual battle through prayers.
Look at verse 35. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” As I mentioned earlier, Jesus’ daily schedule in Galilee was jampacked. Verses 32-34 describe that the people, hearing that Jesus healed a demon-possessed man on the Sabbath day, waited until the sunset and brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed in the town. It seems that the whole city gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases and drove out many demons. Jesus could have been completely exhausted. He needed an undisturbed and good night's sleep.
We don’t know when Jesus went to bed that evening. However, Mark records that Jesus got up very early in the morning, while it was still dark, perhaps around 5 or 6 am. Then he left the house, went off to a solitary place, and prayed (Pic#1).
It's interesting to see that Jesus didn’t wake his disciples up and say, “Guys, get up. Let’s have an early morning prayer meeting!” Instead, he let them sleep. But he went off to a solitary place, where he had personal time with God the Father. Jesus had to make a significant decision for his ministry through prayer. His ministry in Capernaum seemed to be a remarkable success because the whole town gathered around him. Most preachers would be delighted to see many people coming to their ministry as a sign of God’s great blessing. Surprisingly, however, Jesus didn’t consider his popularity as a sign of success.
Why not? He knew that most people came to him not for repentance in response to his message, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” (1:15). Instead, they came because they were attracted to him as a miracle worker. Jesus knew it was temporary popularity. Jesus, fully human, could have been tempted to remain in his growing popularity in Capernaum. Yet, he didn’t give in to the temptation. When he prayed it, he realized that he should refocus himself to follow God’s original purpose, preaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven instead of just healing many sick people.
Look at verses 36-37. “Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” While Jesus was praying alone to make a significant decision, his first disciples had no idea where Jesus was. So, they went to look for him. Their remarks, “Everyone is looking for you,” include an impression of criticism and advice, “Teacher, what are you doing here when you should be with the crowd who adores you? You shouldn’t miss this chance.”
How did Jesus answer them? Look at verse 38. “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’” Of course, Jesus didn’t come only to preach the gospel. He came to become the ultimate sacrifice for the salvation of the world. He was saying that he didn’t come only to perform miracles to entertain people’s needs but to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven so that people may repent and believe the good news.
Look at verse 39. “So Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” This verse sums up Jesus’ preaching tour throughout the Galilean region. We don’t know how long his preaching tour lasted, perhaps several weeks and even months (Mt. 4:23-25). According to Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, Galilee was fertile agricultural land full of towns and villages. Jesus didn’t just preach to people on the streets. Instead, he used the synagogues as a contact point with the people.
Through his preaching tour in Galilee, Jesus boldly proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of heaven. And he validated his preaching by driving out demons and healing the sick. I am sure Jesus’ preaching tour stirred a sensation among people in Galilee. Even though Jesus didn’t directly say that he was the promised Messiah who was to come, many of them had wondered who Jesus was and what kind of kingdom Jesus was talking about. In other words, Jesus intentionally kept his identity a messianic secret.
Why? There may be a few reasons. But one thing seems obvious: Even though God’s blessing of salvation is free, it’s not automatically given to us. When we carefully think of the gospel truth, God’s gift of salvation is fully realized only by those earnestly seeking and searching for it. That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (4:9). Hebrews 11:6 also states, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” What does it teach us about faith? Faith is seeking God constantly and earnestly. It’s challenging for us, especially protestant Christians, who believe that “once saved, forever saved.” In other words, we shouldn’t celebrate our victory too quickly, thinking that we had already achieved it when it, in fact, only started.
Let’s also think about what Jesus had preached. He proclaimed, “The time has come. The kingdom of heaven has come near you. Repent and believe the good news!” We must not forget that repentance is not a single event but a life-long process of transformation through which we experience God’s kingdom and his living presence in us now and forever. Without a process of repentance and faith in the gospel, we don’t have full access to God’s kingdom and eternal life. It’s no wonder that Jesus was not impressed or misled by the popularity of his ministry because most people came to him because of attraction and benefit and not for repentance.
One sad example may be the man in the following event in verses 40-45. Look at verse 40. “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’” In the ancient world, a man with leprosy was worse than a dead man because he suffered from physical pains, dysfunctions, emotional trauma, social stigma, etc. This man must have heard Jesus’ powerful healing ministry in Galilean towns and villages. He was sure that Jesus was able to heal him from leprosy, which was considered incurable in those days. Yet, he wasn’t sure if Jesus was willing to heal him.
But he came to Jesus, thinking, “Well, what do I have to lose even if he doesn’t want to heal me? I am like a dead man already anyway.” So, despite many obstacles, he made himself to the place where Jesus was. Humbly kneeling before Jesus, this man asked for his mercy by saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” It’s a very heart-moving scene. I believe that his coming to Jesus and asking for his mercy was a great sign of faith.
We often compare the symptoms of sin to the symptoms of leprosy because they are similar in many ways. Like leprosy, sin makes us ugly and numb. It’s contagious, incurable, fatal, and gradually corrupts men’s souls. In ancient times, the disease was known to be incurable. God miraculously healed only two persons in the Scripture, Miriam (Nu. 12:9-16) and General Naman (2 Kings 5:1-19).
We don’t know many things about this man, except that he was sick with this incurable illness, eventually leading to physical death. We have no idea how this man became ill with this illness in the first place. He was like a man born blind in John’s Gospel (Jn. Ch.9). When Jesus’ disciples saw the man who was blind from birth, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ disciples, like their Jewish contemporaries, thought that the cause of this man’s blindness was a sin: Something went wrong with this guy or with his ancestors, and he became blind from birth. Yet, Jesus disagreed with them by saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” he said, “But this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (Jn. 9:3). That is a positive answer. But I should admit that we still have many questions unanswered. At least we know that this man didn’t get sick with leprosy because of sin. Now, this man asked Jesus to heal him from leprosy.
How did Jesus respond to his request? Look at verse 41. “Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’” It’s a bit confusing to read the phrase - “Jesus was indignant,” meaning that he was angry. Why would Jesus be angry? Other English versions translate it as “Being moved with compassion” or “Jesus felt sorry for him.” The footnote of verse 41 records, “Jesus was filled with compassion.”
Then why do some English versions, including the NIV, state that Jesus was indignant? Many Bible scholars try to make sense of it by explaining that Jesus was indignant about the terrible symptoms of the illness and not about the person. Jesus wouldn’t be upset with the sick man himself while feeling upset with the awful condition.
In his compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. To heal this man from leprosy, Jesus didn’t have to touch the man, which would be breaking the ceremonial law based on Leviticus 13:45-46. Anyone who touched the lepers, even by accident, was considered ceremonially unclean, and they had to be quarantined for at least seven days. Yet, Jesus intentionally touched the man, demonstrating that the law of love supersedes the ceremonial law when the two comes into collision.
Then what happened? Look at verse 42. “Immediately, the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.” Jesus didn’t get sick with leprosy by touching the man with leprosy. Instead, leprosy left him immediately. The immediate healing of the disease proved the power of God acting through Jesus. It indeed was a miracle.
However, the story does not end here. Probably, Jesus was indignant because he foresaw what would happen to this man. Look at verses 43-44. “Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” We understand why Jesus instructed the former leper to show himself to the priests. It was to restore him not just physically but also socially. In the first century, anyone who was cured of skin diseases, including leprosy, should show themselves first to a priest in their place of residence. After that, they should go to Jerusalem to be pronounced clean and to make the prescribed sacrifices. And Jesus commanded the man to be completely silent about his healing only until the priests in Jerusalem officially pronounced him clean. So the former leper needed to be patient. He needed to follow Jesus’ instructions one step at a time. But did he obey Jesus’ command and follow his instructions?
Unfortunately, not. Look at verse 45. “Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” We can understand this man’s strong feelings and desire to share his miraculous healing with others, which changed his life dramatically. We are not even sure if this man followed Jesus’ instruction to show himself to the priest in Jerusalem. Maybe not. This man was miraculously cured of leprosy, yet he was a man of disobedience. He thought that he could do whatever he felt was right. So, instead of following Jesus’ commands and instructions, he followed his feelings and desires.
As a result, Jesus could no longer enter any town in Galilee openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Even though this man didn’t mean it, his disobedience hindered Jesus and his ministry so much. We believe that we are saved by faith alone, not by works. Yes, it’s true. Yet, it does not mean we can have faith and still disobey Jesus’ words of command and ignore his instructions. There is a severe consequence of our disobedience. When disobedient, we grieve the Spirit and cannot experience God’s living presence in us. We need to trust and obey Jesus and his words, and we will experience God’s kingdom and his living presence in our day-to-day life.
At the beginning of our study this morning, we learned that through his early morning prayer, Jesus overcame the temptation of popularity and distraction from high demands from crowds of people. Jesus could make a major decision for his ministry to focus on preaching the kingdom of God rather than being a famous miracle worker among the people. If Jesus, who is the Son of God, prayed as a habit of healthy spiritual self-care, how much more do we need to pray and give our attention to spiritual self-care?
But it’s not easy. Most of us, who live in the Greater New York area, already have a high-stress level, with heavy responsibilities at work, home, church, and other places. It seems that we are too busy. Commuting during heavy traffic in the city is a nightmare. However, we should learn a lesson from Jesus, who prayed in a solitary place early in the morning.
It does not mean that from now, all of us should get up very early in the morning and go to a solitary place to pray. Some of us want to follow Jesus’ example literally. However, it’s hard to find an isolated place in New York. If we work until late at night or a night shift, it’s even harder to get up in the morning. Our body has a limitation, no matter how healthy we might be. The main point is not when or where we pray, or not even the act of prayer itself. The central point of Jesus’ prayer is hearing God’s voice fresh or communicating with Him as often as possible. It’s about spiritual self-care before doing anything.
Suppose we neglect our spiritual self-care through prayer, meditation, Bible reading, and any form of self-discipline, like physical exercise and a healthy diet and lifestyle. In that case, we will burn out in the end and cannot serve God’s purpose and his people in a way that is pleasing to God. Self-care is different from being selfish or self-indulgent. It’s self-discipline for Jesus’ disciples. No matter how busy we may be, self-care is not a luxury. It’s a “MUST.” It’s a mandate for God’s chosen people. We should make time to pray and do spiritual self-care. That’s what Jesus did while on earth through prayer. Let us take time to be holy, healthy, and wholesome.