The Pressures of Jesus’ Ministry
May 23, 2021 / No. 4090
We are going to look again at the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 3:7-13:
But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea [that’s the Greek word for Edom], and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him.
And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him. For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues. And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.
And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him.
In the verses that we consider here, we do not really have a distinct event or even story in the life of Jesus but more a description of the circumstances. What is recorded here is the culmination and the summary of the first phase of Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee. Sometimes we get the idea that Jesus and His disciples lived together in a kind of retreat in which they just hung out with each other and spent time talking about important doctrinal matters and Jesus answered their questions and gave them instruction. We imagine the disciples sitting with Jesus on a grassy hillside with the birds and the butterflies and the flowers around them, and Jesus talking—kind of a structured preparation, something like a seminary training.
But if we look at these verses in our text today, we see it quite the opposite. What they describe to us is the chaos of Jesus’ ministry. And we get a feel for what a day in the life of Jesus looked like. I think we can summarize the content of these verses this way: That despite the opposition and pressure of His ministry, and despite His fame and popularity, Jesus never lost the focus of why He had come: to call sinners and to come with compassion for those needy sinners.
So, let us consider these verses under the theme: The Pressures of Jesus’ Ministry. Notice with me:
The Mounting Pressures
There are in this passage three sources of the pressures that come at Jesus.
First, the opposition of the Jewish leaders. That is not mentioned directly in our verses, but if we look back to verse 6, we see the Pharisees consulting with the Herodians how they might destroy Jesus. And that is connected directly to our text with the conjunction at the beginning of verse 7, “But Jesus withdrew himself.” The opposition of the Jews in verse 6 is the reason that Jesus withdraws Himself. So you see here the mounting pressures. Jesus is well known, and He is hated and sought after by these religious leaders.
Then a second source of pressure comes against Jesus from the multitudes who have come to Him primarily, and exclusively in some cases, for His miracles. Notice, first, how Mark describes the number of the people. You see this in both verses 7 and 8. He describes a great multitude. Now a multitude is already a description of a great number of people. What Mark wants us to see is that this is a greater number than ever before in Jesus’ ministry. This is unprecedented. This has escalated. Now it is not just a multitude, but a great multitude. Mark tells us here, in verses 7 and 8, where they all had come from. There were people from Galilee—a great multitude. Those were the locals. Jesus has just finished preaching in all the synagogues of Galilee, and they have come. But also they came from Judea, and more specifically from Jerusalem. And after that he mentions Idumea, which is farther south than Judea. It is the area that is Edom, really. And then from beyond Jordan. So, think of a map here: Galilee in the north and then Samaria and then Judea and then Edom and then across the river, the east side of the river, they have come from there as well. And then he mentions Tyre and Sidon, which are in the far northwest. They have come from there as well. So, they have streamed in from every quarter to Jesus. In some cases, it is two weeks of travel in one direction. And they have left their farms and their jobs and their families to come, because Jesus has become a sensation.
Now, why did they come? Mark tells us in verse 8 that “when they heard what great things he did,” they came. He tells us in verse 10 that He had healed many, with this result, that “they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues.” So they came for the miracles. These are throngs of people falling over each other just to reach out and touch Him. This surging multitude, these growing crowds, are part of the mounting pressure on Jesus. There is a pressure in popularity. In John 6, after Jesus feeds the 5,000 you have something similar. And Jesus said, “Ye seek me because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.” This popularity becomes a pressure and a temptation for Jesus. It is a temptation to avoid the way of suffering and the cross because they want (in John 6) to make Him an earthly king. There would have been something attractive to that and easy about that for Jesus, similar to when Satan says to Him: “Bow down to me and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the earth. You don’t need to go the way of the cross.” So, there was pressure.
And then, in verses 11 and 12, Mark describes another source of pressure when he says that “unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God.” These were real people, governed in their spirits by an alien presence. These people’s minds were not free, but they were possessed by demons and directed by demons. These demons are fallen angels who joined forces with Satan and, in a sense, were sent specifically by Satan to possess these people so they can confront Jesus. It is as though Satan had arrayed a host of demons against Him hiding in the crowds. They are not just the false teachers and the false disciples, but Satan himself, and his forces, are there.
So it is obvious to Jesus that in all the pressures and temptations of His ministry, Satan himself is arrayed against Him with all the forces of darkness. And Satan himself is behind all the opposition that comes against Jesus. He is behind the Jewish leaders who now want to destroy Him. He is behind those who have come only for miracles and want to tempt Jesus away from the cross.
So, these are the mounting pressures that Jesus is experiencing. And what we have to see as we try to understand Jesus’ response is that Jesus is here on a mission of obedience to the Father and of saving souls, which will require the cross and the laying down of His life. The key verse in the Gospel of Mark is chapter 10:45: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister [to serve], and to give his life a ransom for [in the place of] many.” And in these pressures that Jesus experienced in His ministry, He must have been very conscious of the cross that was before Him, and He felt the pain of that cross in the opposition and the hatred that was towards Him. He felt the temptation to abandon the way of suffering in the popularity of the crowd.
The Savior’s Response
So, how does He respond?
We have the response of Jesus to the Jewish leaders in verse 7. “Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea.” When it says He went to the sea, it means He changed the venue of His preaching. He does not minister now in the Jewish synagogues, but He creates His own venue on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. And by doing so, He moved Himself away from the confrontive environment of the synagogues. The word “withdrew” here has the idea of protecting oneself, strategically withdrawing. In response to the rising opposition of the Jewish leaders, and especially their plotting to destroy Him, He retreats with His disciples to a more neutral setting.
Now, the question is, Why did He do that? He did not do it because He was afraid of the Jewish leaders. The explanation, though it is not specifically given here, is that it was not yet time for His death. They plotted to destroy Him. But it was not time for that yet. You see this in the other Gospels. In John 7:30, for example, they “sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.”
I think this shows us two important things. First, it shows us that Jesus is not yet finished with the preaching and teaching aspect of His earthly ministry. We know that He is conscious of that because, immediately following this, He calls the twelve. That will be the emphasis of His earthly ministry. He is going to prepare them for His death and for His departure. And He has to preach the good news yet in many other places.
But, second, this shows Jesus’ absolute control in all the confrontations with the Pharisees. We have seen His mastery before. We see it here again—His absolute control, not only over His enemies, but, we could say, over the calendar of His life and over the outcome of His ministry. The enemies, the events, the final arrest, and the death and crucifixion of Jesus are all, we could say, carefully choreographed by Jesus Himself. And though it might appear sometimes that the enemies had the upper hand, that is never the case. They are always serving the cause of Jesus and they are serving His own exaltation and kingdom. Even when they put Him to death, they are doing that.
As I was preparing this sermon, thinking about that, I thought of some of the chaos in our society, and the obvious opposition to Christianity and the church and to biblical morals. We certainly live in a tumultuous time. And it is very important for us as believers in all of this to keep our calm, to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness, to realize that these things must take place as a part of God’s purpose for history, for this world. And that all of these things, including the pandemic, the pestilence, are under the rule of Christ and are serving the church and her final redemption. They are bringing us closer to the day of that redemption and the return of Jesus Christ. And then we are not inclined to panic, or to be fearful, or to try to take matters into our own hands. Let us remember the disciples here. There is a lesson that Jesus had to teach them over and over again during His ministry. “Fear not,” He says, “I have overcome the world. Be not afraid. I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again and receive you to myself. All power is given to me in heaven and on earth. Behold, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.” We must remember the sovereign rule of Christ over all the powers of darkness so that they are serving His purpose.
That is summed up for us in Ephesians 1:22. And I think the last three words here are really important. Let us let them ring in our heads! “And [he] hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” To the advantage of the church, to the salvation of the church. He ordered all things for the sake of the church. So we have here, first, Jesus’ thoughts to the Pharisees that demonstrate His absolute rule and (and this is part of the next response) also demonstrates His mercy over against the Pharisees. We saw that in some of the previous sections. He will have mercy and not sacrifice.
Now we see His mercy towards the multitude because, even though He withdraws from the pressure of the Pharisees, He does not withdraw from the pressing multitudes. In verse 9, the great multitude is pressing on Him and He tells His disciples to have ready a small ship (that would be a fishing boat, for these men were fishermen) and they should do this, He says, “because of the multitude, lest they should throng him.” Meanwhile, in verse 10, He stays among the multitude. He does not get into the ship. And He heals many of them. Verse 10 tells us that part of His healing was simply that He allowed people to touch Him and be healed by that.
We should remember here a couple of things about the healing and the miracles of Jesus. First is this, that His healing and miracles were not limited to those who believed. They were used by Jesus sometimes simply to demonstrate His power also over sickness and disease, to demonstrate that He could heal and that He will someday heal us from every effect of sin. Think of Revelation 21: No more sorrow or crying or tears. All things are made new.
But the other thing for us to see is that the miracles were not the primary reason for His coming, but that they rather confirmed who He was. They, in a sense, highlighted who He was and confirmed that God was doing some great new thing in this One who had come. And that, with all these people coming from afar, Jesus does not disappoint them. This became a way for His fame to be carried back with these people to their homes. People were healed of every kind of plague and disease, and they would go back even to the Gentile lands (think of Edom, Tyre, and Sidon).
We see Jesus here with a mind not just for the spread of His fame, but for the gathering of His elect, even from other lands, from other nations, and the drawing of them to Himself. He is mindful of that. So, we have Jesus’ response to the multitude.
Then, third, we have Jesus’ response to the demon-possessed who bowed down and called Him the Son of God. Verse 12 says, “He straitly charged them that they should not make him known.” Different explanations have been given for why He said this. Was it because He did not want to be identified with the demons, did not want them identified with His cause? Later on He is going to be accused of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub. Or was it because the witness of these demons would be discredited by their evil reputation? Or was it because He did not want His fame as a miracle-worker to be spread abroad? It could be any one of those reasons. But more important than explaining why Jesus said this is looking at what He says and to whom He says it. To demons. He tells them (v. 21) “that they should not make him known.” Really, what it demonstrates again is His sovereign power even over the demons. They can speak only if He bids them, and when He tells them to be quiet they must be. They must obey His voice. Though they were here His most vicious enemies, representatives of and commissioned and sent by Satan himself, they are constrained at and by His command. What this really does is reaffirm His identity as the Son of God. They say, “You are the Son of God.” And it is as though He says, “Yes, I am, and I command you to be silent.” So, His response to the demons.
The Lasting Significance
We have touched on most of the significance already as we have gone through this, so I just want to recap and then, as it were, step back from the text and ask one final question.
As we recap, we ask the question, and this is the question we have been looking at as we go through the Gospel of Mark: What do we learn here about Jesus? We see here His sovereignty over the enemies and the events of His life. We see here His wisdom even in a very practical way. We see here His determination to go to the cross and not to be tempted and deterred from that. We see in that His love as He goes to lay down His life, for that is reflected here in His mercy to those who are afflicted with plagues and other diseases. He heals them. We see here His humility, that this was not about His personal fame. But we also see here His popularity—that Jesus could not be ignored, that He demanded a response.
And that brings us to the closing question that I want us to think on. What will you do with your knowledge of Christ? Or to put it another way, What is your response to the gospel of Jesus Christ? You see, all this fervor among the leaders and the multitude and even the demons demonstrates to us that Jesus demands a response and that you cannot just casually observe and turn away from Him. Jesus Himself says, “If you are not for me, you are against me.” Certainly that is obvious here. In the response of the Pharisees and the demons, they were pressed by the presence and the power of Jesus to express themselves, and express themselves they did in their hatred and their enmity against Him. “If you are not for us,” Jesus said, “you are against us.”
But now, what about you? What is your response to Jesus? Or I can put it this way: Why do you come to Jesus? The multitudes came for personal benefit here, for healing. And in doing that, they themselves were against Jesus and against the good news of the gospel. Certainly today there are many who go under the name “Christian” who similarly come to Him for miracles. Just think of the ministry of the false-gospel televangelists: Give us your money, send us your money, and you will be healed, or God will prosper you, so come to Christianity for health and wealth. But also many come with the idea that a little religion, some biblical guidelines and principles, will help them. They have trouble in their marriage, so some pastor might be able to help them. Or maybe they can get some structure here in their family, in the home, in the raising of their children. Maybe some of these biblical guidelines will help them with their finances.
So this passage begs the question: Why do you come to Jesus? There is only one reason to come. And there is only one way to come. That is to come as a broken, needy sinner. Not in the righteousness of your own good deeds. Those are filthy rags. But in humble repentance over your sin, come to Jesus as the One who lays down His life for sinners and acknowledge that there is no other way of salvation, there is no other way to God the Father, than through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
In verse 10 it says they came to Him when they heard what great things He did. And these great things that they came for were but little things compared to the great thing that Jesus has done and accomplished on the cross for all who come to Him by faith and rest in Him alone for salvation.
That is the good news that Jesus came to preach. He says, “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. I come to give my life a ransom, to lay down my life as a ransom in the place of many.”
How do you come to Jesus? Why do you come to Jesus? Come in faith, for pardon. Amen.