Crowds Follow Jesus
Mark Exposition • Sermon • Submitted
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6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. 7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. 8 When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. 10 For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. 11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.
The hymn writer William Cowper wrote:
“Our God works in mysterious ways,
his wonders to perform,
He plans his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.”
Indeed, the ways of our God are far beyond our understanding and searching out. We as those created by God, and made in the image of God, have reasoning capabilities, far beyond any other created being. Unlike God, however, who knows all things by His very nature, we are those who need to grow much, and so we spend time in learning, and attempting to advance our understanding in all variety of fields. When breakthroughs occur in medical treatments, and cures are found for previously incurable diseases, we are thrilled, and we marvel at the advance of such medicine. When we consider the arena of technology, with advances being made at lightning speed, such that we cannot even learn to properly use the latest technologies before the next, more advanced and mind-blowing technology has emerged onto the market. Again, we marvel at the skill and the understanding of man, the knowledge of man and how far that knowledge has come.
And so it is that man delights in knowledge and wisdom - not a bad thing in fact!!!
But when we consider our God, and when we begin to consider the manner in which He works for the purposes of His glories, our minds struggle to fathom Him. The manner in which God has been at work through history is beyond our understanding. In fact, God Himself conveyed this, as he spoke the words through His prophet Isaiah:
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Romans, broke out into doxology, crying out the words:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Our God is beyond searching out, and His ways are far above our ways. The methods and the paths which He chooses in bringing His purposes to pass, are far beyond our understanding. But they are yet revealed to us in His word; such is His grace towards us!!
As we come to our text this morning, we see in a number of ways how this truth comes to the fore, that God’s ways are not our ways, and that the manner in which He works will be contrary to the wisdom of man.
I believe that as we consider this together, we should be greatly humbled, but we should also be greatly encouraged, that we may know that our God is at work, performing his very purposes for the glory of His name, and we need to simply trust Him in child-like faith, and not lean on our understanding, but with an absolute trust in Him, live in obedience to the ways that He was set out for us.
As we come to our text then, I will briefly go through the account that is recorded for us by Mark, and then once we’ve briefly considered it, I would like us to note 3 ways from our text which demonstrate that God’s ways are indeed far beyond our understanding and searching out!
0. Explanation of the Text
0. Explanation of the Text
Let us consider then briefly what it is that is conveyed to us through this text.
You will recall that last week we ended our study on the five conflicts that are recorded by Mark in 2:1 - 3:6. At the climax of those five conflicts, after Christ had performed a healing of the man with the withered hand, we find that the Jewish leaders (particularly the Pharisees) were so angered and disturbed that this man Jesus would dare to break the Sabbath laws that had been established, that they went and united together with the Herodians in order to devise a plan that they might put Christ to death.
This was a strange mix indeed - Pharisees and Herodians. Those who in any other context would have been opposed to each other!! But for the purpose of finding a way to kill this man Jesus, they are prepared to unite themselves together in order to plot the demise of this man that they detest.
Jesus has gone directly against their religious systems and requirements. The reason that he could do that was because these systems and requirements that they had in place were to a very large extent mere man-made regulations, and not even required by God. But He does not shrink bank, and instead performs a healing miracle in their presence, knowing that it would invite controversy.
But as the Pharisees go out and begin to hatch plans kill Jesus, we find that he removes himself from their presence.
7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.
Jesus doesn’t remain within the circles of those religious people, but rather He withdraws himself away from that situation. Certainly, it was not as if Christ was withdrawing from people - the crowds are those who followed Him in their numbers. So rather, we need to understand this as Christ’s withdrawal from the religious structures, and the religious leaders who sought His life.
Christ, in this context, didn’t see if fit to continue to argue with these religious leaders, or to try and convince them that they should listen to what He has to say, or that they should follow Him. He leaves them to their own conclusions concerning Him. The works He was performing for them were testimony sufficient in order for them to draw the right conclusions - to conclude that He was indeed the Messiah. But their hearts remained hardened, and they would not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.
And so it is that Christ withdraws, going to the sea of Galilee. Probably this was a more remote, northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, for He had in fact been based in Capernaum, which was on the sea. But Christ now moves away from this place, and goes to a place away from the religious leaders.
Notably, His disciples follow Him, as does a crowd from Galilee. While the religious leaders have brought condemnation on Jesus because of His words and actions, the common people are drawn to Christ. They see what He is doing, and they are eager to follow Him and see further works being performed.
But we then see further from verse 8, that it wasn’t even just those from Galilee that followed. The word concerning this man Jesus had gone out into the surrounding places, and people had become convinced that they needed to make the journey in order to see this man Jesus.
8 When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon.
Now “from Judea and Jerusalem” are words that we’ve heard before in Mark’s Gospel. These are the places from where the Jews were coming to John the Baptist in order to be baptised. According to Mark 1:5, it was the whole Judean countryside, and all those in Jerusalem that were going out to John.
But Christ’s fame is far greater, as we find those from Idumea, across the Jordan, and from around Tyre and Sidon coming to Him.
These places that are referenced portray for us a significant area, with people travelling over 100km on foot in order to reach Jesus. People from every direction.
Very notably, some of the places that are mentioned are even predominantly Gentile areas. All different people were coming out to Christ.
Not only had they heard about this man Jesus, but they had become convinced in their minds that He truly did have the ability to heal, and so they flocked to Him.
The crowds flocked to Him to such an extent, that we read in verse 10 that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch Him in order that they may be healed of their sickness and diseases.
Quite literally, they were pressing in to such an extent that there was a risk of crushing Christ.
This leads Christ to make a request of His disciples: that they should make a small boat available, so that Christ can get onto the boat and move a little away from the shore.
We’re not told in this text what Christ’s plan was as He climbed onto the boat, but seemingly (and in line with other accounts in Scripture) the key task would have been to preach the Gospel to the crowds.
And finally we notice from our text that as the crowds are pressing in on Christ, when there are those who are possessed by evil spirits, these evil spirits immediately recognise who this is: The Son of God.
This is significant. This term “The Son of God” is the term that the Pharisees despised when Christ used it of Himself. When Christ said to them that He was the Son of God, they cried out that He was blaspheming, because He was making Himself equal with God.
But the evil / unclean spirits who possessed many of those coming to Christ knew immediately that Jesus was indeed God’s Son, and as they came before Him, they threw themselves down on the ground in submission to Him!!!
Every spirit is submissive to Jesus Christ. They know that here is the ruler of all things. They know that they have no power, that they have no authority over Him. They know that they cannot, they dare not challenge Christ. Indeed, they cannot!! For He is supreme!!
Friends, when last did you truly consider the authority of Jesus?! This authority of Jesus is of great encouragement to us, because He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world!! And the One who is in us as believers in Jesus Christ has the power and authority over every power in this dark world!! We have no need for fear! But we do have a great need for humble submission under Him. Because it is not our own power with which we conquer evil, but by His power!
So having gone briefly through this text, and some of the key points, I’d like us to spend some time further this morning considering the way in which God’s ways are far removed from our own ways, and how we can apply that to our own lives as believers, and as a church.
1. Through the Religious Leaders
1. Through the Religious Leaders
The first way in which we find God’s ways to be far removed from man’s ways, is through the religious leaders, and God’s rejection of them. We have considered something of the significance of this in previous weeks, but let us consider some further dimensions of this.
It is pertinent to note that at this point, when there was a seemingly significant time of confrontation, Jesus withdrew himself from the religious leaders. He did not carry on with them in their presence, but rather withdrew.
Those with knowledge have rejected Jesus. On the other hand, those who are simple, have crowded around Him.
One commentator writes:
It is as if the Sabbath healing by Jesus in the synagogue was being vindicated by the common people, though official Judaism repudiated it. It is a marked biblical stress that in spiritual matters the plain judgment of the simple heart is a truer guide than the wrangling of the learned. 
So it was that when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he reminded them with these words:
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
The message that Paul preached was not one with human wisdom.
The Pharisees on the other hand were those who made much ado about their wisdom, understanding and insight. They paraded their works in front of the people with much pride, and a great view of themselves for what they had achieved!
But the message of the Gospel is one of humility and self-sacrifice. It is one of humility before God, recognising our frail stature before our Holy, sovereign God.
13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
Herein was the great divide between the message of Christ, and that of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were focused on the physical aspects of religious adherence. They found it important for people to live in a particular way in order to win God’s favour, or at least remain in God’s favour. They focused on the ability of the human will to be able to achieve this, rather than on the power of the Spirit within lives and hearts.
But Christ came even for that very reason, because the law was not able to save anyone!! The law was only good enough to be a guardian, and good enough in order to demonstrate to people their utter inability to abide by the law, because of the extent of the sinfulness bound up within their hearts.
Friends, let us never underestimate the sinfulness of the heart of man!!
So we see here that God’s ways were far removed from man’s ways, because man, in his own fallen “wisdom” would have continued along a path of attempted earning of Salvation. And so it is, that man even in our day continues down this path of trying to earn salvation.
In the context of Israel in that day, man’s way of knowing God was through a higher kind of religious observance. God’s way was through humble faith, utter dependence on a righteousness that would not come through observances, but rather by grace through faith in the Saviour, Jesus.
2. Through the Multitudes
2. Through the Multitudes
The second way in which we see God’s ways being strange to the ways of man, is through the multitudes that came to Him.
Crowds had been drawn to Jesus from all over. They knew that He could heal, and they were excited at the thought of coming and having themselves healed also, and at the thought of having their loved ones healed.
And who wouldn’t be.
Now there is a certain amount of good that took place in this account that we need to recognise.
The people had heard about Jesus doing these healings!
Those who had been healed by Christ, and perhaps also those who were witnesses to what Christ did, were compelled to take this wonderful news out to the world around them and share of the great wonder of a man who was able to heal completely!!
Indeed, it was only fitting that they take this news out and share it, because when such a great work takes place so that you are no longer bound by physical restraints and ailments, will you not automatically share the good news!
Good News demands to be shared!!
I have a friend from school days who stays in Knysna, and she lives with her husband on a farm. With the recent fires that ravaged through the area, it burnt up much of the place surrounding where they live, miraculously sparing their house. As the fire spread through however, they lost 5 ponies. In the past week, one of these ponies returned home to them, it’s face marred by the fire.
But there is great joy at a pony having returned, and this pony is well. The scars will heal. The pony is safe, and is eating well. Such is the joy that my friend has at this truth that the pony is well, that she posts regular updates on her feed, expressing that joy!!
If that is the joy at the healthy life of a pet, how much more should we not be overjoyed when wonderful things happen to us or our loved ones, when we’re cured of cancer; when we’re spared during a motor accident; when we experience the joys of life, whatever they may be??
And so the word goes out that this man Jesus, living in Galilee, has the power to heal people. And the people come flocking to Him.
And within this is an important lesson that we may learn concerning our Great Physician.
He is still the One who brings healing!!
But the healing that He brings in our day is not a healing of the physical kind, but of the spiritual kind. The healing that He brings is not of a lesser extent, and it is certainly not of lesser consequence than the healings that He performed alongside the sea!!!
If anything, the spiritual healing that Jesus performs within people today is of significantly greater consequence, because it deals with eternal health. It has to do with eternal life!!!
And He has brought such powerful healing to a number of us who sit here this morning.
As I considered this in the past week, it struck me that we need to be deeply concerned dear friends if we are not moved to action as a result of the Gospel work in us to go and proclaim this Gospel to others. Do we not desire to tell others of the healing that we have received? Do we not marvel at the work of Grace so miraculously wrought in our own hearts, that we cannot but go and tell others to come quickly to Jesus, so that they too may receive this healing?
We need renewed vigor in our days amongst believers to share this wonderful truth.
There is an old hymn written by Samuel Wesley (son of Charles Wesley) which says:
Facing a task unfinished,
that drives us to our knees
a need that undiminished
rebukes our slothful ease:
we who rejoice to know Thee
renew before They throne
the solemn pledge we owe Thee
to go and make Thee known.
Where other lords beside Thee
Hold their unhindered sway,
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today;
With none to heed their crying
For life, and love, and light,
Unnumbered souls are dying,
And pass into the night
As I listened to this hymn being sung by Keith and Kristyn Getty this week, that second verse, and particularly the last two lines, really struck me.
Unnumbered souls are dying, and pass into the night!!!
Dear Friends, what a sad situation that unnumbered souls are dying, passing into the night, heading into the depths of despair because they have not heard of the healing power of Jesus Christ, the one who forgives sins; the One who brings reconciliation!!!
And so let us be urged to head out into the world and to go and make the Gospel message known to all who are lost!! Because great is their number!
But we may ask ourselves, why is it that even when we do go out and share this gospel message, people fail to hear us? Why is it that they mock us and revile us, or sometimes simply brush us aside, or perhaps make some half-hearted response that they will try and come to church, but never really respond to the gospel?
Why is it that the crowds, the multitudes are not coming to Jesus today for Salvation.
One reason must certainly be that they do not realise their own need. The people who were coming to Christ in that day, knew that they had a physical ailment that needed curing! They knew full well that they needed to gain a healing touch in order to be cured of their ills.
It took not much persuasion for them to turn to Jesus Christ when they recognised their condition. But none of them would have come to Christ had they thought they were healthy and well!!
Today, the reason that so few people come to Christ is because they fail to recognise their desperate need!!
And the sad reality is that very often the church is not telling them of the desperate need!!! They are simply telling people how wonderful Jesus is, and how he can improve your life slightly. But they fail to tell people that they are desperately sick, and in desperate need of the healing hand of the Great Physician!!
When I consider a church like where all they do is pick a small bible verse, and then do a motivational talk, while in front of them sit multitudes who are deeply seated in sin, and living in known and unrepentant sin, but they fail to have the Gospel message proclaimed, it is saddening!
When we are moved to take that Gospel message out to the world, it must be with the understanding that we need to tell people that they are sinners!! We need to point out to them their fallen nature, the sin that dwells within them, and how that sinful state puts them in adversity with the holy God of the universe!!
Going hand in hand with that, another reason that people are slow to come to Christ is because the church has forgotten what it is to teach about hell!!
What a dreadful doctrine and thought - to teach on hell, the place of eternal torment, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth for eternity, with no further opportunity for repentance!
Possibly most have abandoned even the thought that there can be such a place! It would just seem too ghastly to think that people would suffer under such torment.
Again, this is due to a failure to understand the holiness of God, and the very sinfulness of sin!
But Jesus Christ taught very clearly that there will be a place of torment for those who reject God.
We can just consider the story that Jesus described of the rich man and Lazarus, who when they died, went to different eternal destinies. Christ clearly described the rich man as being in a place of torment...
23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
Similarly, it was said of Judas Iscariot after he betrayed Jesus, that he “went to his own place” (Acts 1:25). This was a precise place, not a mere fictitious place.
We need to understand that hell is indeed a real place, and it is a place where of real and true punishment for those who reject Christ and continue in rebellion, and it is a punishment that never ends.
This begs the question of why God would allow this? Is this a fitting punishment for sinners? Is it not too severe?
The first thing that we must say in response to that question is that we’re not in the place to criticise such a penalty, because we do not comprehend the holiness of God, and the comparative sinfulness of man. We simply cannot appreciate how awful a thing it is to disobey God.
Further than that however, those who continue in sin to the point of rejecting God, will in the end be given over entirely to their sinful desires by God. In other words He will rightly abandon them and give them over to the lusts of the flesh, as Paul writes concerning the Romans in Romans 2.
So it is that in eternity, those who have rejected God, will continue in their sin, and will thus continue into eternity sinning all the more, and thus amassing to themselves further just punishment.
Dear friends, I would be concerned with those who do nothing but preach fire and brimstone. Where all they do is focus intently on the wrath of God, and the sure judgement to come.
But we should be likewise concerned at the pastor, teacher (Christian) who does nothing but preach on God’s grace and love, without ever bringing in those attributes or justice and holiness, and the punishment that will come on those who reject Christ.
When we share the Gospel message, we certainly need both sides to be spoken clearly. The words should be those of truth, but clothed in a spirit of love, kindness and care!
One further point that I’d like us to consider regarding the multitudes here, and how God’s thinking is contrary to mans.
Any person of that day would have been greatly impressed at the large number of followers that Christ had. The crowds had followed Him, and were drawn to Him wherever He went.
But while the appearance may have been something to behold and to rejoice at, it is a sad situation that these people flocking to Him had no true understanding of why Christ was there, and of the fact that they needed far more than physical healing.
In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, the vast majority would ultimately go on to reject Christ, and fall away from Him.
While they flocked to Christ in their numbers, they were not of Christ. They were of their father the devil!!
Well how can we say that? Are those not harsh words to speak against these people who were in great need of healing?
Well we can say that because there really is not other option - either they would recognise Christ as their true Saviour, and they would bow the knee to Him as Lord, and so be saved, or they would not bow the knee, and so be lost!
What we need to realise from this is that the crowds following Christ were not a measure of the true health and well being of the those gathered.
This is important in our day, because very often those in churches are becoming despondent when they don’t see large numbers gathered at the church, and so they begin to think that they must be doing something wrong.
But friends, herein lies the great danger of many churches today that provide services targeted at meeting felt-needs rather than targeted at gospel proclamation and growing true disciples. How many people don’t we see flocking to huge church gatherings that evidence no fruits of true believers.
I say this to us this morning as an encouragement to persevere in the difficult task of maturing as a disciples of Jesus Christ, and to not look merely to that which will entertain you!!
In an article that I read this past week, the person writing the article explained the great importance of three things within a church plant - the same three things have great relevance and importance for small churches looking to grow, or dying churches in need of revitalisation. His three points were these:
In terms of perseverance, he explained that a church plant / small church needs to continue and be patient through the difficult season. Change does not happen over night. Growth and maturity does not happen over night. We need to persevere, looking to Christ, and trusting that He will build His church.
In terms of prayer, well quite simply the church needs to be humbling itself before God, preferably in the corporate sense. But they are to be a praying people, demonstrating that they recognise the sovereignty of God, and the fact that He is truly the one building the church.
And finally, there needs to be biblical preaching, wherein the church is taken through the word of God, and taught the word of God accurately, and fully.
And so friends, before I move on to the final point this morning (which point will be very brief) let us encourage one another as a congregation to be pursuing those three things - perseverance, prayer and preaching (by that, I would suggest you as the congregation seek to encourage and hold accountable the one preaching. The one preaching, whoever that may be, needs to carefully consider whether or not they are conveying the truth concerning the God that we serve.
3. Through the Demons
3. Through the Demons
Finally, we realise that God’s ways are not man’s ways through the interaction that takes place with the demons.
We have considered this factor in the past to some extent, and particularly the secrecy motif.
I would however like to add this...
The demons knew who Jesus was. They furthermore confessed Him.
But notice the restraint that Jesus showed, in not allowing himself to be identified at this stage as the Son of God. The time would come, but that time wasn’t now. Here was Christ, demonstrating restraint, understanding how things were to work out in God’s economy.
As man, we would have been sorely tempted to allow the declarations, even of the demons, stating that what they were saying was evidently true. But Christ, God, was willing to show restraint.
We also notice that the declaration by the demons was again not a declaration of faith, but one of fear!!
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
The demons declared Jesus to be the Son of God, but they did so out of fear, and not faith!!
Let us begin to close dear friends.
This passage that we’ve considered marks off a transitional phase in the Gospel of Mark. The conflicts are now dealt with, at least for the moment, and we are about to delve further into the works and teachings of Christ.
In certain respects, this passage has been a summary of much that Christ has done before, albeit that the extent / magnitude of the work is far greater.
But I do trust that we have been able to learn some valuable lessons from this text this morning.
I trust that we have been suitably challenged, but also suitably encouraged. We have much to be thankful for as those who are in Christ. We have much to rejoice in.
But there is an urgent task to which we have been called. Dear friends, we should not neglect this calling. And as we proclaim the riches of the mercy of our Saviour, let us be careful to always put that in the context of the sin of our own hearts, and what is required in order to fully deal with that sin.
Cole, R. A. (1989). Mark: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 135). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.