A Strategic Withdrawal...But Not in Defeat
Our scripture for this evening is Mark 3:7-12 – “But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him. And He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God.'' But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.” [NKJ]
The verses I have read tonight apparently cover some considerable period of time. The chapter starts with the event of the man with the withered hand and after verse 12 goes on into the appointing of the twelve apostles. Luke’s gospel refers to this period of time with two words, ‘those days’. Mathew’s gospel takes a little more time to record details during this specific period then either Luke or Mark. Remember, though, that the gospel of Mark is very different from the other two synoptic gospels. It is for one thing quite brief. In this brevity what we find from time to time Mark just skims over some periods with just a glance. This is one of those places in which Mark seems to be hurrying on to the next major event in Jesus’ ministry ... the appointment of the twelve apostles. Still, there may be something of value to be learned even with this hurried overview of time. Not a great deal of detail, yet in this period of time some interesting things.
I. THIS SECTION BEGINS AS JESUS WITHDRAWS FROM THE SYNAGOGUE
A. The first thing I wonder in looking at this section of scripture is -- Why did Jesus withdraw from the Synagogue and Capernaum?
1. In thinking about my question, I realize it was hardly from fear of confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus had those confrontations before and would have them again. So confrontation is not the issue.
2. At this time opposition was becoming very serious, more focused that is true.
3. We read in Mark 3:6 – “Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” This alliance with the Herodians shows just how serious opposition was becoming. According to many scholars the Herodians were a secular group of people, a political party. They had little interest in spiritual things. There was no common interest with the Pharisees.
4. Not unlike today, when people want to accomplish something all of a sudden who they align themselves with is not important if it will help them reach their goal. So the Pharisees allied themselves with the Herodians.
B. Jesus did not want to have a confrontation with them that would lead immediately to His death. We are told that He withdrew Himself, from the synagogue and from the city where there were so many enemies, to the seaside.
1. I would like us to note these verses: John 2:4 “Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” – John 7:6 “Then Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.” – John 7:30 “Then they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.” – John 8:20 “These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.” – In all these it says something like “mine hour is not yet come”, or “His hour had not yet come”.
2. Let’s go to the twelfth chapter of John, and read there; John 12:23 – “But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” and 13:1 – “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” - “Mine hour is not yet come” - “the hour is come”. See the difference?
3. Between the statement “My time has not yet come” and - “the hour is come” is His earthly ministry. Jesus is finding it necessary to withdrawal rather then to engage in this intense confrontation which could lead to His death in order for Him to accomplish His purpose prior to His atoning death
C. There are times when “withdrawal” is the wise course. There certainly are times in human relationships where withdrawal may be a safe and sound course of action
1. You know folks; bullheaded, stubborn confrontation seldom accomplishes much.
2. If we withdraw from the height of the confrontation or from the heat of the moment, you might say, we may leave open opportunities which direct confrontation would otherwise close.
3. I might take it here that this is a lesson in human relationships. It is a good lesson, a useful and practical lesson. Jesus withdraws. The opposition to Him has intensified.
II. DURING THIS PERIOD, GREAT MULTITUDES FOLLOWED HIM
A. During this time Mark tells us that great throngs of people followed Jesus. As He leaves the synagogue and the city He apparently went almost directly to the familiar seaside.
1. Yes it is true, Jesus could teach in a synagogue, He could teach in the temple.
2. But more often than not his “classroom” was in a non-institutional place! Like the seaside.
3. As we listen to the teachings of Jesus we discover that many, many of His illustrations came from these kinds of settings. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin”. In my mind I think, here is Jesus sitting on the side of a mountain and around Him are flowers growing. He is able to look out in this unconventional classroom to say “Consider the lilies...” He goes on “even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” What beautiful lessons came from these unconventional classrooms of Jesus.
B. Mark tells us the crowd was - “a great multitude”. People surrounding Him, pressing to get close to Him.
1. So great was this press that Mark notes Jesus was concerned that “they should crush him” according the NKJ.
2. Jesus made an arrangement with His disciples to provide for a small boat which according to the text was provided for safety reasons. If they should “throng Him” as the KJV says, if things should get out of hand, unruly, He could step aside in the sea by means of this small boat.
3. In the fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel at verse 1 there was the time when the small boat became his “pulpit” Let’s read it; Mark 4:1 – “... He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea.” We can in our minds picture Jesus in this small boat put out from the land just a bit, but the multitude would be standing or sitting along the sea shore. Jesus is able because of this arrangement to be heard by the multitude, this large crowd. On the occasion described in the third chapter of Mark’s gospel it did not seem to be a “pulpit” He was seeking. It seemed to be a method of escaping the press -- if escape was necessary.
C. The people in the multitude came from many different places.
1. When reading the names of the places listed earlier, we realize that the reputation of Jesus had gone beyond the boarders of Galilee. People as far away as Tyre and Sidon had heard of Him and come to see.
2. Idumea, the area far to the south had heard of Him. People came from those places, from every quarter of the compass - from great distances. They came to hear Jesus teach.
3. When I read this earlier in working on this particular lesson it occurred to me that we have probably become very satisfied with the convenience and the comfort of our religion. I think about how at that time in history there was no fast means of transportation. No convenient means. When Nina and I travel we often stay in comfortable motels with heating and air-conditioning, and comfortable clean beds. They may have had some small inns but those certainly were not like what we would enjoy today. Yet, they came from great distances to hear the Lord, they came, they stood, and they listened. ...how interested are we in the Savior really? How interested are we in hearing about Him... really?
4. There is an old hymn which says “I love to tell the story, to those who know it best”. How interested are we? Would we stand in the heat for the length of a sermon? Would we gather around in the open air with no place to sit but the ground for a Bible class? Would we be there standing and listening? Well perhaps if it was Jesus who was here we would do that, but not just to listen to someone else talk that is certain. Yet, it was not that many years ago people did. Not that many years ago people would gather in the open or in tents standing and listening to hear the story.
5. What about the story? Isn’t it a story worth the telling and the hearing? How convenient our faith has become, how comfortable we have become. I wonder; have we become so comfortable that we no longer concentrate and strive to learn?
III. THE NECESSITY OF HIS MIRACLES?
A. In this section of scripture we read Mark also makes reference to the miracles of Jesus. In that “he had healed many”. In the absence of a particular illustration in this section of scripture it gives us the opportunity to take the time and to ask; “why were the miracles necessary?”
1. No specific illustration is given here. Nothing like that of the man with the withered hand in the previous event in the third chapter of Mark. Yet, Mark tells us that “he had healed many”. What you notice here is that people are not waiting for some interaction or encounter, as we might call it, with Jesus.
2. They simply sought to touch Him - although there is no mention of faith here, I cannot help but think that it was the faith that made whole those who wanted to touch Him, people who Mark tells us had various afflictions.
3. We do remember another occasion over in Matthew 9:20-22 – Here is an occasion when a particular woman just sought to touch Jesus. When she did so she was made whole, she was healed of the malady which had plagued her for many years. “... a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment; for she said to herself, "If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.''
4. Is this the sort of thing that I think the people to whom Mark is referring in chapter three thought as well? Yes, that is exactly what I think. Look as we continue to read at verse 22. But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.'' And the woman was made well from that hour.” Here in this narrative we are told that it is her faith which made her whole. Here are these people pressing in on Jesus. Perhaps many of them were desperate to be healed just as she was. All they want to do is to touch Him, in the belief that if they could just touch Him they would be made whole.
B. That still leaves us with our question; why were His miracles necessary?
1. I invite you to turn to a passage we have doubtless read many times, but we need to read again. John 20:30,31 - “truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written and here is the purpose that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” With that turn with me to Acts 2:22 – here in part of the sermon that was preached on the day of Pentecost are these words; “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know ”. This same Jesus who you saw performing miracles and wonders and signs, this same Jesus “"Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;” Why the miracles? Simply to confirm the claims of Jesus. The claim that He was indeed, that He is indeed the Son of God.
2. Incredible as it might seem to us, the miracles did not change the hard hearts of some people. Yet there were others who should have been listed among His enemies, who could not help but come to the conclusion that there was something very special about Jesus because of the miracles that He does.
3. Listen to John 3:2 – Where we find a man named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Now this man should have been part of the opposition. Apparently though Nicodemus had an open heart, and an open mind. He could add up what he had seen and what he knew and got the correct answer. When I was young we used to say he could add 2 and 2 and get 4. “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; How did he know it? He goes on to explain. for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
4. Here was a man whose heart was impressed by the miracles of Jesus. He recognized, though perhaps not at this point, that Jesus is the messiah. He knew that there was something very, very different about Jesus.
5. Oh, there were others that were impressed, but came to a different conclusion. They accused Jesus of doing these things by the power of the Devil. Nicodemus was not one of those. Let us also consider Luke 7:19-22 – We don’t read of this very often, but in this event John the Baptist, now in prison, seeks an answer. “And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?'' When the men had come to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?' ” Going on look at this. “And that very hour He cured many people of their infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many who were blind He gave sight.” Why the miracles? Listen; “Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Why the miracles? As a confirmation.
IV. THE UNCLEAN SPIRITS AGAIN
A. The passage of our text we read awhile ago concludes with the encountering of the unclean spirits. I assume that the unclean spirits occupied the physical bodies of people. That is the indication of scripture, but beyond what scripture says I have no knowledge.
1. I don’t presume to understand this unique period of time and I do not pretend to understand all that is going on here.
2. I will not insult your intelligence by telling you that I do. For myself I do believe that the eternal purpose of God has met the awful purposes of Satan and in that the struggle a zenith is being reached, with the incarnation of Jesus.
3. Interestingly, I may have mentioned this before; we do not read much about these kinds of beings prior to the coming of Christ. We do not read much of them following His ascension into heaven. It seems to be that just in this very unique, short period of time, that this incredible activity of the spirits of the demon world occurs.
4. While I do not understand all of this I do recall God’s words in Genesis 3:15 – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
5. Many far wiser then me who have read that verse believe, and I think accurately so, that this is the first messianic promise. It is also, a fact that is going to be on-going, a struggle between good and evil. When Jesus comes, keeping with John chapter 1 verse 14, “the word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. When Jesus comes, this struggle is going to come to it’s height.
6. Satan is beaten before he begins, but he does not realize it. Satan mounts an incredible offensive using the demons of the underworld for his purposes. In this passage we find “the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God.''
B. Jesus consistently forbade those unclean spirits from confessing and acknowledging to the world that He is “the Son of God”.
1. Jesus certainly did not want nor need the testimony of Satan or his minions. Certainly their acknowledgement could well cause some to believe that He was in league with them. Jesus consistently refused to let them broadcast who He was.
2. Indeed, that was one claim the scribes would make!
3. He neither needed nor wanted testimony of Satan’s world!
The fact is, however, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Yes, He would often refer to Himself as the Son of Man. But everything He said and did was confirmation that He is exactly Who that voice from heaven had said He is ... “my beloved son”!
The question for us is, what are we going to do with Jesus? What will we do with this fact? What will our decision be?
Because Jesus is the Son of God some of us have a decision to make about what our initial relationship is going to be with Him, whether or not we are going to be baptized into His death becoming His disciple. Others of us have a decision to make about the extent we want our discipleship to be manifest in our lives. Do we want to be fully committed disciples? These are all decisions that need to be made by us, based on the simple fact that Jesus is the Son of God.
He would not permit the demons to acknowledge that publically. It is a joy that He entrusted the acknowledgement of that fact to people like us. Earthen vessels in which the greatest message ever heard has been placed so we might proclaim it. Jesus is the Son of God.
We have to make a decision. Perhaps you will make that decision now.
We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins... If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
Cecil A. Hutson
01 October 2006
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