As I’ve already stated, Jesus was not famous merely for being famous. There were good reasons for his fame and popularity that went far beyond the whiteness of his teeth or the sweep of his perfectly-barbered hair.

As Mark points out, Jesus was popular because he possessed a remarkable power.

The Greek word exousia is used twice by the crowds to describe Jesus in Mark’s first chapter (see 1:22 and 1:27). It’s a word that is usually translated “power” or “ability.” In these two particular instances (where Mark quotes the crowds commenting on Jesus’ teaching), the word is translated “authority.” Jesus taught “with authority,” not like the teachers the crowds were accustomed to hearing. Jesus exuded exousia and everyone who came into contact with him recognized it.

Part of this “authority” stemmed from the message Jesus preached. According to Mark, Jesus focused on matters that mattered. He talked about “good news” and the “kingdom of God.” Unlike his contemporaries, Jesus wouldn’t be sidetracked by secondary concerns. He wouldn’t wander down arcane by-ways in pursuit of quibbles or the picking of nits. There was an urgency to his preaching: “the time has come!” And there was a constant expectation that people would respond: “Repent and believe!”

Mark makes it clear, however, that Jesus wasn’t merely a good speaker with a compelling message. Rather, he is careful to point out that the power of Jesus’ preaching was reinforced by his power over evil spirits and disease.

Jesus often bumped into demons in the gospel of Mark. The idea of demonic forces roaming around freely (and frequently) may seem strange to modern, Western ears. But in the first century world, evil wasn’t a theory … an abstraction. Evil was very real and present and tangible. Evil was the cause of suffering in all its many forms. And Jesus was at constant war with evil and the suffering it inflicted.

The first miracle story recorded by Mark portrays Jesus in conflict with impure spirits (1:21-26). One Sabbath, his teaching was interrupted by a man possessed. Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave the man alone. The spirit departed with a final wrench and shriek. It was not even a contest. There was no hint of “wrestling” or “straining” or extraordinary spiritual exertion. Jesus didn’t break a sweat, so complete was his power and authority over the forces of evil.

The people, witnessing his mastery, were astonished. It was this combination of amazing message and authority over demons that first sent news about Jesus rippling throughout Galilee (1:28).

But Mark is not content to leave the matter there. Jesus had a message. He exorcised demons. But Mark wants us to know that Jesus also healed the sick.

The rest of Mark’s introductory chapter is taken up with stories of Jesus’ authority over disease. He heals Simon’s mother-in-law who has been laid low by fever (1:30-31). He heals the people who line up at Simon’s door through the evening, whatever their problem. (Jesus was a multi-talented healer!) He leaves Capernaum to pursue a wider preaching ministry and heals wherever he goes.

The last story of this first chapter tells of a leper who came to Jesus for cleansing. Jesus touched him and healed him with a word. Again, it was no contest. One of the most feared diseases of the first century world (leprosy) was banished at Jesus’ command.

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