February 7, 2016
You’d have to be asleep to miss that we have entered a particularly raucous political season, eventually leading to the election of the next President of the United States this November. As you likely know, the leading candidates for each party seem to be, for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and for the Republicans, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. The Democrats are sparring over who’s most liberal, while the Republicans are sparring over who’s playing fair.
No, I’m not going to endorse a candidate. In fact, while I’m on the subject of politics, most you know that I actually try to steer clear of politics. Most times I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. Two weeks ago, I was unsuccessful – and want to be humble enough to admit that. If you weren’t here because of the big snow, we were in Mark 3:1-6. I pointed out Jesus was facing opposition as early as Mark 3 – and that opposition came from religious and political leaders. I suggested we, too, as promised by Jesus and NT writers, will also face opposition for our faith – most often, from false religions or ungodly governments. That has been the experience of believers through the centuries.
It was my pastoral intent to encourage us, in the face of rising opposition, to remain faithful to the gospel, and to not be affected by the animosity being spewed from Christians and pulpits. Meaning, even though Muslims are trying to kill Christians for our faith, our response should not be one of vehemence, vengeance, vitriol – but rather, the hope and compassion of the gospel. I still hold that to be true. But, I had been incensed by statements from Christian leaders about this issue and allowed their vehemence to negatively affect me. I suggested, for example, that we as believers should cling to the cross rather than Amendment 2 – that is, the right to bear arms. Let me be clear, I believe in the right of self defense, I was not promoting pacifism. The truth is, my point could have been made without even referring to Amendment 2 – that’s not really the issue. My concern is for our hearts – that we maintain gospel love for unbelievers, regardless of who they are, recognizing we will be opposed for our faith. Don’t get caught up in this hatred toward unbelievers.
So again, to be clear, I was not intending to make a political statement about gun control or Amendment 2 – so if you heard it that way, please forgive me. That was not my intent. But let me say this: if you choose to do so, in addition to arming yourselves with guns – a legal right – arm yourselves foremost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I hope that brings some clarity. Now here I am talking politics – trying hard to not make political statements. I want my statements to be apolitical and thoroughly biblical. Now, you do understand that some political issues are also moral issues. So if in our study of Scripture we come to those moral issues, we will deal with them regardless of their political affiliation. So back to our introduction: we find ourselves in the midst of a certainly entertaining season of politics. We’re watching a series of debates within respective parties – later this year, those debates will be between nominees of their respective parties. The intent of those debates is presumably to inform voters, and capture your vote. Here is why you should vote for me. Now, an interesting way that is accomplished was last Monday when they held the Iowa Caucus. That’s an unusual way to conduct a primary. Basically what happens within Iowa’s 1600+ caucus sites is this. Depending on whether you’re at a Republican Caucus or a Democratic Caucus, you listen to speeches and either hand in a ballot or go stand in an area marked for your candidate. If your candidate does not capture 15% of the vote in that precinct, your candidate loses, and you, the voter now have to go join someone else. While you’re deciding, voters from remaining candidates try to capture your attention. This, they say, is why you should cast your vote here – this is why you should join us.
Can you imagine trying to say something so compelling about your candidate it would cause others to vote for him or her? It got me thinking – if people had a few minutes to summarize my life, what would they say? That is sort of what Mark has been doing in his gospel. He has been trying to introduce us to Jesus – and suggest, this is why you should stand in His corner. He really is the Christ, the Son of God. This is why you should become His follower. Let me summarize His life for you. And Mark tells us several stories, and gives us a few summaries along the way, with the intent of convincing us that Jesus is the real deal. This is who Jesus is and this is why He’s worthy of your life. We read such a summary today in Mark 3:7-12 – read that with me.
I’ve said it over and over through our study in Mark thus far – Mark’s purpose is to convince his readers that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He’s calling out to you – repent and believe the gospel – cast your vote for Jesus and become a follower with us.
Now, the previous passage from two weeks ago at the beginning of this chapter was a story of Jesus going into the synagogue on the Sabbath – likely the synagogue in Capernaum. He had been there before and taught with authority and cast out a demon. News about Him spread – at least through Capernaum – and no doubt the synagogue was full of people who were eager to hear from this man – more, to see Him do something. What are you going to do or say to cause us to stand with you? To become a follower? Well, there were also those of the opposing party there – watching to see what Jesus would do on the Sabbath. Would He break our rules?
In fact, there was man there – some suggest brought there by the Pharisees as a trap – a man with a withered hand. Would Jesus heal this man? You see, the tradition of the elders – the teaching of the Pharisees – said it was okay to apply medical assistance on the Sabbath if was a life or death emergency. This was obviously not an emergency. This man had likely had this withered or paralyzed, dried up hand for a long time. He can be healed tomorrow, Jesus, but not today.
Jesus asked them two questions – is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do harm/evil? The clear implication is, to heal this man would be to do good, and to withhold healing would be to do evil. The Pharisees remained silent. His second question – is lawful, is it right, on the Sabbath to save a life, or to kill? That’s a bit confusing at first glance – obviously this man was not in a life or death emergency – what is this “save a life or kill”? Jesus wasn’t talking about the man. He’s talking about what these Pharisees would do after He healed the man. Namely, in verse 6, they would go out and conspire to kill Jesus. They were so concerned about healing a man on the Sabbath, breaking their rules – and yet, they would conspire on that same holy day to kill Jesus. Is that lawful, Jesus asks? Do you see the hypocrisy, the irony that Jesus is highlighting?
Well, Jesus did heal the man, and the Pharisees did go out and conspire with the Herodians – a political party – as to how they might destroy Jesus. They caucused together to do violence to Jesus – they gathered in a corner and conspired as to how they might destroy their opponent who was obviously not a member of their party. Because opposition most often comes from religious and political groups.
What we’re finding in this book is rising popularity – the polls are going up – and we’re also finding rising opposition. We’re finding those who flocked to Jesus, and those who didn’t – in fact, those who opposed Him. And even among those who flocked to Him – many were coming with their own selfish motives – to get what they could get – healing, exorcism. And true followers were few, not unlike today. Those who oppose Jesus are never hard to find. Those who follow the show – to get what they can get – never hard to find. And those who follow Jesus for who He is – the very Son of God and the Savior of the world – few. I also want to remind you those really following Jesus here were not the religious – not those we would expect. It was the broken, who came to Jesus as their only hope.
It will be the same today. True disciples of Jesus follow because they have listened to the Spirit-empowered call of the gospel found in Scripture. That’s what we’re doing in Mark – we’re listening to the call of Spirit-inspired Scripture – written by Mark – this is the Christ, the Son of God. Look at who He is – look at what He did. You’ll be convinced. Follow Him.
Mark gives us one of his many summaries of Jesus’ ministry – the longest of those summaries. In it, we find key themes we’ve already seen. There won’t actually be a lot new this morning – but Mark is piling up the evidence. The outline will look this:
- On the heels of rising opposition in verse 6, there is Rising Popularity in verses 7-8.
- Then we’ll see His Continued Healing Ministry in verses 9-10.
- Then we’ll see His Continuing Exorcism Ministry in verses 11-12 – but with a twist. There seems to also be this increasing confession of the Person of Christ in this ongoing cosmic battle.
Let’s begin with His rising popularity in verses 7-8. Jesus withdrew – likely to avoid premature death or continuing problems with these religious and political leaders. Which I find interesting – there are times it’s appropriate to avoid confrontation and persecution. But don’t get carried away with that – He continued His ministry – He didn’t hide. And when it came time to die, He took the battle straight to them.
So He withdrew to the sea – that is, the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. That includes at least Peter and Andrew, James and John, and Matthew by this time. There were also others who were following by now – in fact, in the next passage He names His Twelve Disciples. But that’s not all who followed – we read “a great multitude from Galilee followed.” That’s the area of northern Israel where He was raised – to include Nazareth. It includes Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. It was where He was primarily doing His ministry. So in this rising popularity, a great multitude followed Him from Galilee.
But we read they also came from southern Israel, from Judea, where Jerusalem is. In fact, they came from Jerusalem – news was spreading far. They also came from Idumea. This is the only place Idumea is mentioned in the NT – it’s another name for Edom – to the south of Judea. The people there were distantly related – they were descendents of Esau. In fact, Herod was from Idumea. They also came from beyond the Jordan, that is, east of the Jordan in the Decapolis and Perea – modern day Jordan. Likely some of them were Jews – but not all. You see, they even came from Tyre and Sidon – that’s significant – that’s north of Israel in modern day Lebanon. These were Gentile towns – and they were coming. Mark’s point is, in the midst of this rising opposition, there was also rising popularity – people were coming from every point of the compass. What a great picture of how the message of the good news of Jesus is to spread around the globe.
But, why were they coming from everywhere? Point two – Jesus was continuing His healing ministry. A great number of people heard all that He was doing and came. And so Jesus told His disciples to get a boat ready so He could get away if necessary. Remember, four of those disciples were fishermen, so they not only had access to boats, but knew how to use them. Get a boat ready – because He had healed so many with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed round Him in order to touch Him.
It was a virtual riot. They had come for healing. The prevailing thought of the day was they needed to touch Him in order to be healed. They pressed in around Him – the word actually speaks of falling upon or mobbing or crushing – there is potential violence. Now, it is true later He’ll heal a woman who had a bleeding issue who pressed in with the crowds, touched Him, and was healed. But we shouldn’t make this some voodoo thing – Jesus knew she would touch Him, and it was her act of faith that He acted upon. He healed many with a spoken word without touch. He healed others who weren’t even present – to be touched or to even exercise faith. Meaning, there’s not a magic formula for healing – it’s ultimately the work of the Sovereign Healer.
Which brings us to our last point – Jesus’ continued ministry of exorcism as He continued to do battle with the demonic and spiritual forces of evil. Now, I overstate it when I say He was doing battle. It wasn’t really much of a battle. We read whenever unclean spirits, that is, demons, saw Him, they would fall down before Him. Specifically, when a demon-possessed person came into the presence of Jesus, the demon in them would bow – so the person would fall down before Him. I love that – they were no match for the very God of the universe. It wasn’t like the Force – good side, dark side doing battle with light sabers while we watch with anxious anticipation. They fell on their faces – they must.
Now, back in chapter 1, when Jesus cast the demon out of the man in the Capernaum synagogue, the demon cried out, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God.” That’s a fairly clear declaration of deity. Later in that same chapter, we read that Jesus kept the demons from speaking, because they knew who He was.
But here, the demons themselves remove any ambiguity as they serve Mark’s purpose. They fell down and began to shout, “You are the Son of God!” Just as the Father at Jesus’ baptism declared Him to be the Son of God, so also do the forces of evil. Amazing – from those who would oppose Him, when they came into His presence, they could do nothing less than proclaim His praises – You are the Son of God. The proof is becoming overwhelming – even the demonic world recognized who Jesus is. Of course, this reminds of that great text in Philippians 2 which says there is coming a day when every knew will bow, and every tongue confess – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of our great God.
Finally, that takes us to verse 12 and back to the Messianic Secret we’ve seen in Mark’s gospel. Jesus earnestly warned them, commanded them not to tell who He was. By the way, please notice, He did not correct them – oh no, you have it wrong. No, their confession was correct, but He commanded them to be silent. Why – they were proclaiming His deity – whey wouldn’t He want that? We’ve talked about this before. There are at least a couple reasons at this point in His ministry that He commanded their silence.
First, this public declaration would be premature. He was indeed the Christ, the Son of God. But they were expecting the Messiah to be a military leader who would overthrow Rome. With this rising popularity, Jesus did not want to be pressed into being a military leader. In fact, later, the crowds tried to do just that. But that was not why He came. He came to give His life a ransom for many. He would die, but now was not the time.
Another reason often given is that He would not have His identity disclosed by the forces of evil – it would be declared by His words, His actions, and ultimately by His resurrection from the dead.
Mark has clearly been presenting Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. In this text, even the demons declared it. In the chapters ahead, the battle lines are drawn more sharply. The polarization continues. The questions are asked, and answered. They are questions for you today. Who is this Jesus? And, are you for Him, or against Him? You can’t be neutral – you must decide. I invite you, given the overwhelming evidence, to believe He is the very Son of God – to repent, and believe the Gospel.