Jesus continues to build his church & display his authority. Early ministry in Capernaum. Mark 1:29-34

We’re finishing up a section of Mark – chapter 1:16-34. We’re in the last part today.

This is a unit of material that all fits together. I have a handout for you that shows how this is so. The main thing I want to point out is that there’s a repetition of themes in this passage:

  • A1 echoes A – they both have to do with Jesus establishing his church.
  • And B1 echoes B – they both have to do with the display of Jesus’ great authority or power.

So vs 29-31 are not just about Jesus being in a home. These verses describe a forming house church. And vs. 32-34 are not a random set of healings and exorcisms. These verses are meant to extend the picture of Jesus’ amazing authority, already seen in section B.

Alright let’s begin with the first part of our passage for today –

Mark 1:29-31

29And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

So Jesus has just cast out a demon during the Sabbath synagogue service. And now he comes to Simon or Peter and Andrew’s home in Capernaum.

It wasn’t unusual for extended family to live together like this in one home,  Peter, and as we will see, his wife and mother-in-law and Andrew. We don’t know if Andrew was married. [Paul also tells us that Peter is married in 1 Corinthians 9:5.]

There’s a contrast in this passage between the synagogue and the newly forming church. The phrase, “he left the synagogue and entered the house” means more than you might think. We have to understand that the early church in Jesus’ day and in the book of Acts and beyond – met in homes. So, as we will see, this isn’t just a home, it becomes the first house church that Jesus establishes.

30Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

[This is the shortest recorded healing in the Gospels.]

In the ancient world a “fever” wasn’t seen as a symptom of another illness, but was viewed as its own ailment. And what they called a fever could be very serious. In John 4 (vs. 46-53) the person with a fever was at the point of death.

Notice, she was laying down, but Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her up. This is a beautiful picture of how Jesus works in our lives, isn’t it? He touches us and where we are low, broken and down – he raises us up by helping us, healing us and giving us new life.

The fact that she was healed is established in that she gets up and begins to work right away. She didn’t need recovery time. She was healed immediately.

This woman’s response, no doubt from gratitude to Jesus, is an example to us all. It says, “she began to serve them.” The word “serve” here is an important one. It’s a word that Jesus uses to talk about what it means to follow him (Mark 9:33-37; 10:42-54). She’s a model disciple here – serving others. (She is doing what the angels did for Jesus in Mark 1:13. It’s the same word.)

Specifically, she was likely serving food and giving hospitality to the guests in her home.

In the New Testament there are two basic kinds of service: 1) sharing the word – preaching or teaching, and 2) meeting the practical needs of others.

  • Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10-11 – “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies”
  • And in Acts 6:1-4 Peter speaks of “the service of the word” – the apostle’s preaching and “table service” – what the Deacons did in taking care of the practical needs of the church in Jerusalem.

Now, all Christians share the gospel and serve the needs of others, but we each have specialties based on our calling and gifting.

So we have here a forming house church. The disciples have been chosen to proclaim the word, and the woman represents the house church as a support network for each other and for those out proclaiming the word. The service of the word and table service.

Also notice the example of intercessory prayer in this passage. The disciples make known to Jesus the need of Peter’s mother-in-law. And Jesus heals her. The church is to be a place where we pray for the needs of others.

With regard to the contrast between the synagogue and this forming house church – the synagogue marveled at Jesus’ authority, but didn’t respond with faith and obedience. Peter’s mother in law, an example of the church, responds correctly. She served Jesus and his followers.

 One final point, notice that this healing took place on the Sabbath, right after the synagogue service. This will become an issue of great conflict with the Jewish authorities in chapter 3.

This story challenges us in several ways:

Where do you need Jesus to raise you up? What’s your need? What’s your burden this morning? Look to Jesus for he’s the Savior; the one with all power and authority to act for us.

Are we bringing the needs of others to Jesus for help? Intercession is a ministry of connecting people in need with the one who can help through prayer. Are we regularly praying for others?

When Jesus raises you up, do you serve him and his people? This is the right response, to use the gifts that he gives us to serve others.

Let’s continue on . . .

Mark 1:32-34

32That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33And the whole city was gathered together at the door.

At sundown is when the Jewish day ends. So the Sabbath is over at this point and Sunday has begun. This is noted because bringing the sick to Jesus, and even Jesus’ healing ministry could be seen as a violation of the Sabbath. So they waited.

When it says, “all” the sick and demon oppressed, and the “whole” city, we have some hyperbole going on. As we will see later, not all the sick in Capernaum are healed here (for instance, 2:3). But it does point to how broad Jesus’ ministry is. He’s having a very large impact on the city.

[Notice how Mark distinguishes between the sick and the demon oppressed. They are not the same.]

The “door” where people are gathering, refers to the door of Peter and Andrew’s house.

34And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

When it says he healed “many” and cast out “many” demons, this is just another way of saying “all.” This is how ancient Jews used this word (3:10; 10:45). (Matthew reverses the adjectives. See Luke 4 also).

Jesus’ great authority is displayed here in that he can heal any kind of disease, not just some. No disease, or demon for that matter,  is too difficult for Jesus. And he can heal and cast demons out of many people, not just a few.

 Now, we are told here that “the demons knew him.” They are from the spirit world and know who Jesus is – the Son of God become human. But Jesus uses his authority to silence them. He does this, as we saw, because he wants to reveal himself in his own way and own time.

As we see in this story and beyond, Peter and Andrew’s house church becomes the base of operations in Capernaum (2:1; 3:20; 7:17; 9:33),  not the Synagogue. And the description of this first house church presents a beautiful image of the church, which I would hold up for us today.

  • Jesus is in the church (the house), the Savior who has all authority and power to help and save.
  • And the church doesn’t try to keep him just for themselves. The door is open.
  • And everyone in need gathers around to be made whole by Jesus.

May we be just such a church, with Jesus powerfully present in our midst, with our door open to those in need.

May we be the place where the needs of the world are met by the love and power of Jesus.

And may those so blessed come to serve and honor him; to believe the good news and repent and thus enter the kingdom of God.

This is who God calls us to be.

Children, baptism and God’s blessing

Series on baptism

We’re coming to the end of our series on baptism this morning. And we come to a topic that has been quite controversial. How does baptism relate to children? And as you know, churches have different views on this.

One of the defining beliefs of the Mennonite church is that baptism is for people old enough to choose it for themselves. That is, baptism is for believers. We were originally called Anabaptists by those who opposed us, which means “re-baptizers.” That is, we gave believers’ baptism to those who had already been infant baptized, because infant baptism is not based on faith. And at the time of the Reformation in the 1500’s, both Catholics and Protestants branded us as heretics and killed Anabaptists for this practice.

Of course, now believers’ baptism is as common as can be. And thankfully no one is getting killed over this. But the question remains. Biblically speaking, how does baptism relate to infants and children? Or to put it another way, how should we minister God’s blessing to children?

Our text today is Mark 10:13-16

13And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

I’ll be referring back to this passage as we go along.

I want to begin by pointing out that –

Jesus had a very high regard for children

The word “child” (παιδιον) in our passage covers “infants” all the way up to someone who is nearing adolescence. We know this because of how the word is used in the New Testament.

  • In Luke’s account of this story in chapter 18 he mentions “even infants” being brought to Jesus, and these are called children. (Also in Luke 1:59 the word refers to an 8-day-old).
  • And in Mark 5:39-42 it refers to a 12-year-old.

As one Greek dictionary says, it refers to “a child, normally below the age of puberty” (BDAG). So even though some translations say “little children” it really does mean any preadolescent child. (The word was originally a diminutive of pais (παις) but in the New Testament it has lost its diminutive force, Louw and Nida).

Now, despite what we think today, the ancient world had a low view of children. They had little or no social status. They were seen as little better than slaves, at least until they became adults. In contrast to this, Jesus has a high regard for children indeed.

We see this first of all in that Jesus teaches that children belong to the kingdom. In our passage the disciples sought to keep children away from Jesus. Then v. 14 says, “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’”

The disciples, apparently, held a low view of children. But Jesus rebuked them. In fact, he gets mad. “What are you doing!” And then he corrects their wrong thinking, “Don’t hinder them from coming.” Why should they have access to Jesus? Because they’re a part of God’s kingdom already.

This is a status that God gives them, due to their age. A part of what it means to be a child in Scripture is that they are not fully able to discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves. For instance, Deuteronomy 1:39 talks about “. . . your little ones . . . and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil . . ..” This is why we talk about an age of accountability. Children are not able to be fully morally accountable before God, and so God acts in grace towards them.

Also, Jesus teaches that children can teach us how to enter the kingdom. In v. 15 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” In the parallel passage in Matthew 18:3-4 Jesus clarifies that this has to do with their humility. Now, I don’t think that he’s referring to humility as a personal virtue. Not all kids have this.  Rather, he’s talking about their social lowliness. While the disciples are focused on who is the greatest in this passage (Matthew 18:1) Jesus teaches them that they need to forget about this to enter the kingdom. And children model this.

Children represent God to usJesus said in Mark 9:37, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” This idea is based on what’s called the “shaliach principle,” which says that a person’s representative is as the person. So how you respond to the representative is how you respond to the sender. Jesus teaches here that, not only do his apostles represent him (Matthew 10:40), but children do as well. And so how you receive children reflects how you receive God.

And finally, Jesus received the worship of children. In Matthew 21:15-16, when he proceeded into Jerusalem, children cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The Pharisees criticized this, but Jesus accepted it.

As we know, children can come to have faith in God. That is, beyond their status of being a part of the kingdom, simply by virtue of being a child – they can have a real relationship with God. This is what I call childhood faith. And this should be encouraged and cultivated. Samuel is an example of this (1 Samuel 3).

So in all these ways, Jesus shows us his high regard for children. But  –

Does this mean we should baptize children?

I’m just gonna tell you briefly why we think this is not the best approach.

First of all, with regard to infants and small children, baptism is always connected to adults choosing faith and repentance. (I say faith and repentance understanding that they are two sides to the same coin. To believe in Jesus is to do what he says, repent. And to repent is to believe in the one who tells you to repent.)

This is what is taught in the New Testament. For instance, Peter taught on the day of Pentecost – “Repent and be baptized . . .” – Acts 2:38. The two go together.

And in the examples we have of baptisms in the New Testament there is always mention of faith or repentance. For instance, the crowd who listened to Philip preach were baptized, it says, “when they believed” – Acts 8:12.examples of baptismEven when whole households were baptized, the stories indicate that all those baptized expressed faith or repentance.

household baptisms

Clearly an infant or small child cannot hear the gospel, understand it and respond with faith and repentance. People need to be old enough to choose baptism for themselves.

Also, there’s no need to baptize infants or children. As we just saw in v. 14, “to such belongs the kingdom.” Whether they have childhood faith or not, preadolescent children are safe in God’s hands. They are below the age of accountability.

I would also say, that the symbolism of baptism doesn’t fit children. In other words, children are not just small adults. Their life and relationship with God is different.

Adults sin and are culpable before God. And they experience the results of sin – including death. And so they need to repent to enter the kingdom. And this is properly symbolized by the baptismal themes of leaving the world through repentance and being delivered from judgment and death.

But children are already a part of the kingdom. As Jesus said, “to such belongs the kingdom.” And they are below the age of accountability. When they become young adults and know the reality of sin and the consequences of this – yes, then the symbolism fits. Even with those who have experienced childhood faith.

Finally, baptism calls people to make far reaching adult kinds of decisions. Yet, as we saw, children are not able to fully discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves.

I say that baptism has to so with adult decisions because Jesus connects receiving baptism to “observing all that I have commanded you” in Matthew 28:19-20. And following Jesus’ teaching call us to make decisions about our entire life direction from now on. For instance, to love your enemies, to accept persecution, to be sexually pure, to sacrifice your life for the kingdom, and to be accountable to the church in these areas and more. But children lack the necessary frame of reference to understand what these choices would even mean.

We know and understand this in other areas of life. We don’t allow children to choose a marriage partner. We don’t allow children to lock into a career choice. Yet baptism is a much more significant decision than any of these, that affects their lives forever.

Baptism, along with the Lord’s supper is something that they can look forward to when they are ready, as a part of their transition to becoming an adult follower of Jesus.

This brings us back to the question –

How should we minister to children?

Jesus didn’t baptize the children that came to him, as we saw in our story. And there are no examples of children being baptized in the rest of the New Testament. But Jesus did minister to children, and we should follow his example.

We are to give them kindness and attention. This is what Jesus models for us when he allowed the children to come to him. He even affectionately hugged them (v. 16). (This fills in what it means to “receive” children in Mark 9).

We are to pray for them and bless them. This is what Jesus models for us. He laid his hands on them and prayed for God’s blessing in their life. And this is why I invite children to come forward when we serve the Lord’s supper. This is the way that Jesus can minister to them, as we receive the bread and cup.

Finally, when we look more broadly at Scripture we are to teach them the way of the LordThis comes from Paul, echoing several Old Testament exhortations. “Fathers . . . bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” – Ephesians 6:4.

And beyond just parents, all of us are to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” – Psalm 78:4. We are to cultivate faith in them as children – and then help them make the transition to an adult faith when the time comes. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)