In Bible class one Sunday morning, the children were studying some of the kings and the queens in Bible times. After talking about a few of them, the teacher said, “The kings and the queens were powerful, but there is a higher power, though. Can anybody tell me what it is?”
One little boy raised his hand and said, “Aces!”
Somebody’s been playing too much poker! The correct answer, though, is one that we have a tendency to overlook. Our Lord God Almighty is a higher power. Higher than kings and queens. Higher than presidents and prime ministers. Higher than emperors and dictators. And one of the things that Jesus demonstrated while he was here on this earth is that he was God, he was that higher power.
Living two thousand years after Jesus was on this earth, I think it’s difficult for us to truly grasp the overwhelming nature of his personality. None of us here have ever had the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus, we’ve never witnessed his miracles, we’ve never had the chance to experience Jesus with our own eyes and our own ears.
But as Mark begins this story about Jesus of Nazareth, he wants to impress his readers, he wants to impress us, with who Jesus was. He wants to give us a sense of what this man was like and how he affected the people around him. Mark wants us to feel something of the aura that surrounded Jesus, something of the charisma that he exuded, something of the awe that he inspired in those who spent time with him.
So, since we can’t see Jesus for ourselves, the best that Mark can do for us is to tell us how the people who were there responded to Jesus. And so, in his gospel, Mark shows us their awe. He tells us about theirwonder. He shows us people shaking their heads in amazement. He shows us people flocking to be with this person that they just knew was somebody special. He shows us people leaving everything behind to follow Jesus.
And, as he tells us all of this, Mark wants us to come to the conclusion that Jesus was no ordinary man. This was a man of incredible power, a man who astounded people, a man whose personality and presence struck awe into everyone he came in contact with.
In fact, the one word that Mark uses over and over is the word “amazement”. People were amazed at Jesus. They were constantly amazed by what he said and amazed by what he did. In fact, Mark uses this word more than all of the other gospel writers put together. Let’s take a look at just a few of these passages.
In Mark chapter 1, beginning in verse 21: “Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:21-22). The people in Capernaum were astonished at his teaching. The Greek word for “astonished” here is “ekplesso” (ek-place’-so). It literal means “to be hit, to be struck”. We might say, “What Jesus said hit them like a ton of bricks.” They were absolutely astounded!
Now, every Sabbath, there would be a rabbi who would teach them. But this time was different. Jesus’ teaching was completely different than what the people had heard from the other rabbis. Mark tells us that Jesus spoke as one who had authority. And the people were just amazed at him.
And then, Jesus healed a man with an unclean spirit, casting the spirit out of him. In verse 27, “They were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.’” (Mark 1:27). They were all amazed. There’s a different Greek word used here. It’s the word “thambeo” (tham-beh’-o). It means to be dumb-founded. They saw what Jesus did and they just went, “Wow!”
In chapter 2, Jesus is back in Capernaum again. This time, word has gotten out and a large crowd crams into a little house to hear Jesus preach. While Jesus was speaking, a paralyzed man was let down by his friends through a hole in the roof for Jesus to heal. Jesus not only healed the man but forgave him of his sins.
In verse 12, “Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2:12). There’s a third Greek word that’s used here, “existemi” (ex-is’-tay-mee). It literally means, “to be beside yourself”, to be so excited you can’t stand still. These people were blown away by what Jesus did.
Then, in chapter 5, Jesus cast out a legion of demons from a man. Verse 20, “And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.” (Mark 5:20).
Then Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter. In verse 42, “Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement.” (Mark 5:42). The Greek text literally says, “They were amazed with a mega-amazement.”
In chapter 6, Jesus comes to Nazareth. Just as he had done in Capernaum, he went to the synagogue. In verse 2, “And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!” (Mark 6:2). Again, the multitude was amazed at what they heard and saw.
Later in this chapter Jesus walked on water. Verse 51, “And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded.” (Mark 6:51). Do you starting to pick up on a pattern in Marks’ gospel? The disciples were utterly astounded.
In chapter 7, Jesus traveled to Decapolis where he was confronted by a crowd who brought him a deaf man who had a speech impediment. Jesus took the man aside and healed him. But it is the reaction of the crowd to Jesus and the miracle he performed that I want you to notice, because it is sums up everything we see in the entire book of Mark. Verse 37, “And they were astonished beyond measure.” (Mark 7:37). I’ve got to tell you about this Greek word.
It’s the word “huperperissos” (hoop-er-per-is-soce’), and this is the only place in the Bible that this word appears. I knew that the prefix “huper” is the same as our English prefix “hyper”, it means a great abundance of something (if someone is hyperactive, that means they are overly active). But it surprised me to learn that the root word “perissos” means “exceedingly, or in great measure”. So what Mark is saying here is that the people were overly astonished in great abundance – or to put it another way, they were astonished a whole, whole whole bunch.
Do you begin to get the picture? There are so many examples of people in the gospel of Mark just being dumbfounded by Jesus, overwhelmed with amazement. And maybe the most significant occasion was when the Pharisees and the Herodians came to Jesus trying to trap him in his words in chapter 12.
They asked him whether or not they should pay taxes to Caesar, hoping to get him in trouble either with the Romans or with the Jews who hated paying taxes. But when Jesus answered with the words, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, Mark tells us “they were amazed at him.” (Mark 12:17). Even Jesus’ enemies were amazed at him.
The crowds were amazed by him. His disciples were amazed by him. His enemies were amazed by him. Mark will later tell us that Pontius Pilate, the man who condemned Jesus to death, was amazed by him.
Anybody see a pattern in this gospel? I could share more verses with you, because there are even more just like these, but I think you get the idea. Mark wants us to know that these people saw something in Jesus that was different — very different — from what they had ever seen before. Jesus made a powerful impact on the people around him.
And I think what Mark is trying to accomplish is obvious. As he shows us how all of these people responded to Jesus with wonder and amazement and awe, Mark is telling us that we need to respond to Jesus in the same way.
But first, let me ask this question: What was it that was so amazing about Jesus? Why were people amazed at him?
We know it didn’t have anything to do with the way he looked. As Isaiah put it, “When we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2). No, the attraction was in what Jesus did and in what he said, and in how he said what he said.
There’s a word that Mark uses throughout his gospel that I think tells us exactly what was so amazing about Jesus. In the Greek language, it’s the word “exousia”. It’s a word that can be translated in two different ways. It can either mean “authority”, or it can mean “power”. And Mark’s point is that Jesus exhibited both power and authority, and everyone who came in contact with him recognized that.
Look back over some of the verses we read earlier.
In Mark 1:22, people were astonished. Why? Because Jesus “taught them as one having authority.” Jesus’ teaching was so obviously different from that of their teachers and scribes, people were impressed by it and drawn to it.
In Mark 1:27, people were amazed at Jesus. Why? Because “with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Look at what he was able to do!
In Mark 2:12, people were amazed because Jesus had the power to heal a paralytic. As they put it, “We never saw anything like this!”
In Mark 5:42, people were amazed because Jesus has the power to raise a girl from the dead. And let’s be honest. It’s hard not to be amazed at that.
In Mark 6:2, the Jews in the synagogue were astonished both because of Jesus’ wisdom and because “such mighty works are performed by His hands!”
As we look over these passages, we see that Jesus’ power and authority came across in two different ways.
1. There was power in what Jesus said — his message.
Jesus taught with authority. There was something different about what he said. There was something different about the way he said it. Whenever the scribes taught, they would always begin by saying, “There is a teaching that…..says this or that.” And then they would quote all their authorities. But Jesus didn’t need to quote any other authorities. He was the authority. He spoke with the finality of the voice of God.
2. There was power in what Jesus did – his miracles.
The miracles recorded by Mark all show us the great power and authority Jesus had. He had power over the forces of Satan as he cast out demons. He had power over disease, power over nature, power over death itself.
In Mark 1, Simon’s mother-in-law is the first person healed in Mark’s gospel. Right after that, the whole town comes to Jesus and brings their sick and possessed. Why would they do that? Because they recognized that Jesus had power!
Later, in chapter 1, a leper comes to Jesus and he says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (vs 40). How did he know that? It was because he knew that Jesus had power.
Mark wants us to understand that there is something very different about Jesus. He was a man of authority. He was a man of power. He preached powerfully. He performed miracles powerfully.
And as a result, three things happened.
(1) Jesus attracted large crowds.
“….Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.” (Mark 1:45). That verse summarizes what it was like just about everywhere Jesus went.
(2) People talked about Jesus
“And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.” (Mark 1:28). Everywhere you went, you heard people talking, “Have you heard about Jesus? Did you hear what happened over in Capernaum?”
(3) Some people gave up everything they had to follow Jesus
“And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
“When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.” (Mark 1:16-20)
Jesus’ invitation to follow him was enough to cause Peter, Andrew, James and John to drop everything and take off. The only thing Jesus promised them was that they would become fishers of men. But there was something about Jesus that made them want to listen, that made them want to follow Jesus. So, they were willing to leave their families, their businesses, their houses to follow Jesus and be his disciples.
I think we would all agree that that response was the correct response to Jesus. But the thing that I want you to notice in this chapter is that everyone who saw Jesus had some kind of reaction! Some were happy, others were sad. Some were afraid, others were disgusted at some of the things Jesus did. Some got angry, and everyone was surprised. And, as result, some people became disciples. Others were drawn to his teaching. Some were amazed at his miracles. And, beginning in chapter 2, some people will even try to kill Jesus. But nobody just ignored him!
You see, Jesus wasn’t a man you could ignore. He sparked excitement and controversy wherever he went. He had the ability to amaze people. The sheer power of his personality drew people to him and caused them to marvel. Jesus could not be taken lightly in his own day, and he should not be taken lightly in ours.
Because if Mark’s gospel tells us anything at all about Jesus, it tells us that Jesus wasn’t someone who could just be ignored.
So, what lesson do we take away from all of this? I want to suggest to you that the most important thing we can learn from all of this is that we as Christians need to recapture a sense of awe about Jesus.
We sometimes say that “familiarity breeds contempt”. In other words, the more we’re around something, the less we appreciate it. It’s so easy for us to take things for granted. For example, we all tend to take for granted the fact that when we wake up in the morning, we can flip a light switch and a light will come on, and we can turn on a faucet and water will come out. People who lived 200 years would be astonished by that! But we’ve been around it for so long so we just take it for granted. We don’t even think about it.
And so, perhaps the reason why we don’t get excited about Jesus is because we’ve been around him for so long. We’ve heard the stories so much that we’re not amazed anymore. If someone is just learning about Jesus for the very first time, I think there’s this sense of amazement that we see throughout the gospel of Mark. But, for most of us, we’ve heard it all before. We’ve read about the calming of the storm hundreds of times. A leper is healed – again. Even the resurrection is something we take for granted.
Listen to these words from Ken Gire in his book “Incredible Moments” – He writes, “In the daily routine of private devotions and in the weekly ritual of worship, the incredible moments in our savior’s life often become shop-worn and lose most of their luster.
“When that happens, those moments cease to be sacred ground. Consequently, we no longer take off our shoes and fall on our faces before them. Why? Because wonder is prerequisite to worship, and when we lose our sense of wonder, we lose the dynamic that brings us to our knees.
“Our Lord’s life was replete with incredible moments. Everywhere he went people’s breaths were taken away by what he did. Their mouths fell open in amazement. Their faces paled in fear. And from village to village the comments were the same: ‘We have never seen anything like this before.’….
“These incredible moments filled the people who saw them with awe, and their lives were never the same again.”
I want to encourage you this morning to renew your sense of amazement. I want you to imagine what it must have been like to have been in those crowds and see what they saw, to hear what they heard. Imagine seeing a lame man, who has been crippled for years, suddenly able to run down the street. Imagine watching Jesus walk across the waves on a stormy sea. Imagine seeing a man dead for four days come to life at the words of Jesus. Imagine being there, and recapture a sense of wonder.
Because Ken Gire was right. If we’re not amazed at Jesus, at what he said and what he did, then we can’t really worship him. And as long as we see nothing special in Jesus, then we will never have the motivation to fully give our lives over to him.
Mark wants us to see that there is something fresh, something vital, something breathtaking in the story of Jesus. The people who came into Jesus’ presence didn’t go away the same. They understood that there was something different about this man. And it affected their lives. They left their boats to follow him. They stood in line at doors to listen to him. They chased him early in the morning and chased him out into the deserts. They dug holes in roofs to be with him. What kind of a man has that affect on people? A very amazing man.
In the 1940’s, there was a madman who, for a while, seemed to hold the world in his hands. He was a funny little man with a funny little mustache by the name of Adolph Hitler. He drove this whole planet to war with his dreams of world conquest, and his dream might have become a reality if it were not for a few small mistakes that he made. Hitler was evil and possibly insane, but he combined those qualities with a personal charisma.
In 1949, a diplomat who had served under Hitler said this about him: “There was an electric power that sparked out of him. If you have to deal with a man like that, there are only three choices before you – to give up politics and retire to your estates in the country, to sell yourself to him body and soul – or to bump him off.” In other words, Hitler wasn’t somebody you could ignore. You had to react in some way.
As I read that quote about Hitler, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus Christ. There was also a power and authority that sparked out of him. And Jesus wasn’t somebody you could ignore. You had to react in some way. What that diplomat said about Hitler was also true of Jesus. “If you have to deal with a man like that, there are only three choices before you – to give up religion and retire to your estates in the country, to sell yourself to him body and soul – or to kill him.”
As I said before, Jesus was so amazing that everyone who came in contact with Jesus had some kind of reaction! Some of them – like Peter, James and John — became his disciples. Others were drawn to His teaching. Some were amazed at His miracles. And some people even tried to kill Jesus. But nobody, nobody, just ignored him!
And so, this morning, I wonder, does Jesus still amaze you? And if he does, what will you do in the face of someone so amazing? You can choose to give your life over to him, you can turn and head the other direction, but you just can’t ignore him. He’s too amazing for that!