Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:14-15)

Jesus came “proclaiming,” Mark informs us. And, apparently, he was uncommonly good at the task. People began to flock to him, eager for his words, hungry to see one of his much-talked-about miracles. The buzz started. The crowds grew. His reputation spread.

Mark bears witness to this rising popularity in several ways.

He tells about four fishermen who leave everything to follow Jesus (1:16-20) simply because Jesus walked by and invited them to do so. There are those who suggest Simon and Andrew, James and John had never met Jesus before … that their abandoning boats and nets to follow Jesus was the first in a long string of miracles performed by Jesus during his ministry. But Jesus never used his miraculous powers to manufacture disciples. The decision to follow him had to be made freely and without coercion—miraculous or otherwise.

It seems more likely that these first disciples knew exactly who Jesus was. They’d been among his earliest listeners. They’d watched the crowds gather and the excitement mount. They’d heard his preaching and knew the reaction it prompted in others. They’d felt some of that ‘prompting’ themselves. So when Jesus stopped at their boats and invited them to follow, they did not hesitate. “They left their nets at once and went with him” (1:18).

That Jesus could have that kind of rock-my-world impact on people wasn’t surprising. Fishermen weren’t the only folks to be stunned by Jesus the Teacher. He had the same effect on almost everyone who heard him preach. Mark says Jesus spoke at the Capernaum synagogue every Sabbath Day. And the response of his audience?

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (1:22)

Also unlike the teachers of the law, Jesus backed up his amazing words with miraculous actions.

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? … He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” (1:23-26)

All this radiant charisma and deep teaching and miraculous action turned Jesus into a celebrity of the first rank. Everyone was talking about him. People were clamoring for him. The crowds couldn’t get enough of him. Mark tells us:

“News about him spread quickly over the whole region.” (1:28)

“The whole town gathered at the door.” (1:33)

“Everyone is looking for you!” (1:37)

“[A man who had been cured by Jesus] 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.” (1:45)

This ‘popular Jesus’ is not as familiar to many Christians as (for instance) the “suffering Jesus” … Jesus the “Man of Sorrows.” Isaiah’s description of a rejected Messiah, alone and scorned,  tends to dominate our understanding of who Jesus was. Certainly, the gospel writers stress the cross and the ultimate rejection of Jesus by his own people.

But that came later in the story, after the initial frenzy had fizzled out. Before rejection, however, was wild acclaim. Before the crowds turned away, there was a moment when the whole world flocked to Jesus.

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