The Crowd vs The Disciple
Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church on this snowy weekend. It is always a privilege to be with you and to open the Word of God with you but on weekends like this when weather could have prevented it, it is that much sweeter to be together in the house of the Lord. Please take your Bibles and open them with me to Mark 3, Mark 3.
I’m a big fan of epic movie series. I’ve seen all of the Star Wars films with the exception of the last one - so please don’t anyone pull me aside after this to talk about my opinions. I’ve seen a lot of the Marvel movies - but I haven’t seen all of them. I love the intermingled plot lines, the constant action, the growth of the characters. One epic film series that I love above all others though has to be the Lord of the Rings series. Such a captivating story full of action, mystery, etc. The fifth highest grossing film series of all time definitely has one thing that the others do not. It has sweeping vistas and scenes of characters traveling from place to place. It’s not simply action but moments of catching one’s breath before the next round of action take place.
Why do I mention all of that? Because this is what we’ve come to in Mark. It seems to be an odd portion of the book as it doesn’t really seem to fit Mark’s dedication to constant action. He’s come to a transition and so he provides us a moment to catch our breaths as he summarizes the early ministry of Jesus and introduces us to the disciples that Jesus would choose. But if that is all that we take from this passage this morning we are going to miss out. Mark is setting us up for something. Let’s read the passage and then I’ll explain what I mean.
With your Bibles open to Mark 3, look with me at verses 7-19.
Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a large crowd followed from Galilee, and a large crowd followed from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and around Tyre and Sidon. The large crowd came to him because they heard about everything he was doing. Then he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, so that the crowd wouldn’t crush him. Since he had healed many, all who had diseases were pressing toward him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God!” And he would strongly warn them not to make him known. Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons. He appointed the Twelve: To Simon, he gave the name Peter; and to James the son of Zebedee, and to his brother John, he gave the name “Boanerges” (that is, “Sons of Thunder”); Andrew; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
The importance of this passage is not found so much in what is said - although there are very significant things being introduced in this passage, but in what is about to be said. With the exception of the next couple of weeks where there will be a slight return to the conflict narrative that we have been looking at, what Mark is about to introduce us to is the difference between being a part of the crowd following Jesus and being one of His disciples. Even the narratives that we will encounter in chapter 5 regarding a demon possessed man, a woman with a bleeding issue and a little girl who has passed away all revolve around the distinguishing characteristic of faith. But I’m getting ahead of myself so lets look at the passage we have in front of us today. We’re going to see two distinct comparisons set out before us - that of the crowd and the disciples.
Interestingly, Luke reverses the order of these two events. In Luke 6, Christ chooses the 12 disciples or apostles and then coming down from the mountain He is confronted by the crowds. Mark chooses to place the events in his Gospel differently. So we must ask ourselves why does Mark choose to order these in this way? What is the point he is attempting to make? In light of all that is about to come in this next section the point is that there is a significant difference between being a disciple and being a part of the crowd. There are some defining characteristics of each that Mark chooses to reveal. As we look at the crowd we’re going to see the characteristic of false popularity, preeminent power (not of the crowd but of Christ) and then false proclamations. When we look at the disciples we’re going to see the true devotion and true development that should be defining characteristics of every disciple.
And at the end we’re going to have to evaluate ourselves to determine whether we really are a disciple or we’re just one of the crowd.
Mark starts off with a comment that brings to a close all that has just transpired in Capernaum. He says that Christ departs with His disciples to the sea. Just prior to this Mark revealed the murderous intent of the Pharisees and the Herodians as a result of Christ’s teachings and impunity in His ministry. To the naked eye it may look as if Christ is running away because He knows there is a plot in the works to take His life. But unlike fairy tales or novel heroes such as C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, where the main character runs away to preserve his own life, Christ did not fear death. In fact death was the purpose for which He had come. He departs not out of some desire for self-preservation or to avoid further provocation of His adversaries but instead, just as with His previous departure from Capernaum, there was important work yet to be done that necessitates this action on His part. And so He departs to the sea - but if He hoped for an opportunity to be alone no such opportunity would be afforded to Him.
In the year 2008 a little known preacher/evangelist by the name of Todd Bentley came south from Canada and preached at Ignited Church in Lakeland, Florida. It was his second visit to the church and he was scheduled to be there for five nights of evangelistic revival meetings. As a result of his charisma and some exaggerated stories of miraculous healings what results has been dubbed as the Florida Outpouring. It was a “revival” that lasted from April until August of 2008. By the end of June the crusade reported some 400,000 visitors from over 100 nations. The whole event devolved into a farcical/tragic comedy as Bentley left in August because of an alcohol addiction and marital unfaithfulness. He revealed that he had often been under the influence of alcohol on stage during the events. But the event was a great curiosity for as long as it lasted.
Now we know that Christ was not an inebriated manchild that traipsed around on stage wearing oversized t-shirts and kicking old ladies in the stomach or other people in the face. The point is that it only takes a certain amount of curiosity to draw an enormous crowd. That is what we see on display here.
Mark tells us that people came from everywhere. There was a large crowd from Galilee which of course there would be since His ministry had focused predominantly on the region of Galilee. But there was also a large crowd that came to Him from Judea and Jerusalem. The word regarding Jesus had gotten out of Galilee and traveled south to Judea and the holy city of Jerusalem. But it hadn’t stopped there - Idumea was a province southeast of Judea and it was predominantly Gentile in makeup. “Beyond the Jordan” are regions to the east of Jerusalem. Tyre and Sidon were northwest of Galilee toward the Mediterranean Sea.
The fame of Jesus was comprehensive, it was global - and of course it should have been because unlike the charlatan we just referred to, Christ was the real thing. He was God in flesh, the Messiah. And so certainly the next words that Mark is going to use describing this crowd is the mass baptisms and the repentances that took place. But instead he says that they came to Him because of all that they had heard He was doing. They didn’t seek Christ for who He was, they sought Him for what they could personally get from Him.
So here we see an important principle of being a member of the crowd - they seek Jesus only for what they perceive they can gain or get from Him. Despite the conflicts with the religious leaders, on this day these people were all too willing to seek Christ - and His appeal was universal. Even Gentiles were drawn in by His magnetic pull. Yet there would be a day, when His usefulness to them individually had been used up (or so they thought as they overlooked their deepest, truest need) when they would return again to the religious leader’s side as they joined with them in calling for His crucifixion.
We need to understand that these were massive crowds. Mark is making the point here that Christ’s ministry draw was larger than even that of John the Baptist. Mark says a large crowd from Galilee, and a large crowd from the other regions. This was a crowd numbering in the thousands, tens of thousands and possibly up to one hundred thousand. There have been estimates that the number of people at the feeding of the 5,000 was in the range of 20-25,000 people based on the reporting only being for the 5,000 men. This crowd would have been equally as large if not larger. They had come to see the spectacle. They’d come to see the miracle healer. And Jesus didn’t disappoint.
Jesus requests that His disciples make a boat ready so that the crowd would not crush Him. This is not like the modern day iterations of celebrity. It is always interesting to watch the beginnings of pseudo-events like the recent Golden Globe awards. The lights, the cameras, the beautiful people all walking up and down the red carpet. What is most interesting is the standoff distance at which the “crowds” are kept. As if the beautiful people are too special to intermingle with the commoners.
Jesus was never that way and so we must be careful not to read our modern idea into this request. The boat would serve the purpose of self-protection as there was danger that the crowd could overwhelm and crush Him. The other purpose for the boat is that over the next few chapters Jesus and His disciples would traverse the Sea of Galilee to several different locations and having a boat prepared for travel would assist in those journeys.
Jesus always responded to the needs of the crowd with compassion. Whether it was Peter’s mother-in-law, the leper, or a paralytic on a mat who literally dropped in on His head, He always took the time to care for people’s needs. And His power was undeniable. He demonstrated what Paul wrote in Colossians 1:17
He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.
Christ demonstrates His power over the natural world as He heals things that even today in our modern medical environment cannot be healed. We may be able to fit someone with a prosthetic limb to replace a hand that has lost neurological function but we cannot in a moment regrow a hand that has died. We may, with hours of surgery and physical therapy, be able to restore the ability to walk to a man who has been paralyzed but we cannot in an instant tell him to get out of bed and walk home. We may be able to give someone Tylenol and a cool bath and watch a fever break over the course of a few hours but we cannot simply take a person by the hand and lift her out of bed completely, instantly restored.
These were not simply some parlor tricks or mind manipulations to make people think they are cured - these were real, legitimate, verifiable healings. They were so real in fact that His adversaries never once questioned the validity of His healing power - they only question (as we will see next week) the legitimacy of the power that He claimed to be behind the healing.
His healing ministry was so effective that one commentator claims that “Jesus banished disease and its effects from the land of Israel for the duration of His ministry.” And it wasn’t just physical ailments that Christ healed people from but spiritual as well. The NASB translates the word disease here as affliction. The Greek word is μαστιξ (mastix) and it was used to characterize the scourge or whip used to drive horses. When used with respect to disease it speaks of a disease that results as a result of divine punishment. Those who fell ill were viewed to be under God’s judgement so sickness was seen to have a spiritual component to it as well. And sometimes the afflictions were the direct result of spiritual influence.
Darkness never has a problem partnering with darkness when it comes to opposing the light. But the question is what should light do when faced with the prospect of partnering with darkness - especially when darkness is affirming the message of the light? If we were to open a food kitchen here would it be okay to partner with a wicked organization like Planned Parenthood for the positive result of feeding the homeless?
Jesus gives us a clear example of how that situation should be handled here. He tells the darkness to be quiet. He would not allow the demons to speak His name or to publicize who He really was. The demons were the first example of what all of us will one day do
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth— and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Whether this was willing confession or out of fear - in other places the demons will shriek “what do you want with us” not in any way speaking the name of Jesus to glorify Him but instead to beg Him to leave them alone. But they could not help but be compelled to confess to the world who He really was. And yet He tells them to be silent because Christ didn’t need or want the affirmation of His identity to come from darkness.
His power over them and His ability to cast them out at a word demonstrates His power and authority over the spiritual realm. This was another area His detractors could not refute or accuse Him in. Earlier in Mark the astonished listeners in the synagogue had said
They were all amazed, and so they began to ask each other: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
His power over the spiritual and the physical realm could not be denied. These, more than any other evidences, should have pointed the crowd to who He was and yet they still only sought Him for what He could do for them - for what they could get from or through Him. Oh how greatly they missed out on the opportunity to become something more, to become a real follower, to become a disciple.
In his rendition of this story Luke provides us an important piece of information
During those days he went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God.
Before calling His disciples - really before any major event, or minor event, in His ministry Christ took the time to pray, to seek the Father and to align His will with the Father’s. Now I have to be careful with that last statement because in truth there was never a time when Christ’s will was not in perfect alignment with the Father - as far as His divine will was concerned. But in His humanity, Christ sought the Father’s will in choosing the twelve. Before an incredibly important moment in salvific history as Christ would choose the men who would be tasked with carrying on the mission of preaching the Gospel after His death Christ spends and entire night in prayer with His Father.
Now this might seem strange to you as we’ve already studied Jesus selecting disciples when He called Peter and Andrew, James and John on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and plucked Matthew out from behind his tax collectors booth telling them to follow Him. These men had been a part of a larger group of disciples that had followed Jesus and were now being designated as His specific team to cary on the work. In some ways it is like the military delayed entry program - you’re going to be a member of the military and so there are regulations and actions that apply to you but until you actually take the oath you are not a member of the armed forces. Jesus had selected these men and now He was prepared and ready to commission them.
The fact that there were twelve was critically important as this represents the twelve tribes of Israel. It also represents the total and utter failure of the Jewish religious establishment to fulfill the mission or even to be Christ’s selected representatives. The religious leaders of the day were so corrupt that instead of following the Messiah they were conspiring with secular society to kill Him.
And if you were looking to start a worldwide movement there could hardly be twelve men less qualified or prepared to carry it out. Yet Christ sovereignly chooses them. Catch that part - He sovereignly chooses them. Contrary to typical first century practice where the student would implore the rabbi to train him, our text tells us that Christ summoned those He wanted. He called them. Peter an impetuous and hard headed man who, the first time he met Christ asked him to depart from him because he knew his own sinful heart. (Luke 5:8) James and John were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder because of their temper before Christ met them. James was martyred by King Herod in the mid 40’s but John went on to outlive all the other apostles, penning 5 New Testament books and the hot headed Son of Thunder went on to be known as the Apostle of Love. Matthew is reported to have taken the Gospel as far as India. Tradition tells us that Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross and that he hung there for two days preaching the Gospel to anyone who came near.
These were among the men that continued a remarkable movement. They started off with 100 people in an upper room after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. At best there were 120 as Acts tells us. By the end of the first century that number was reported to have grown to 10,000. By the year 300 there were reportedly 6 million Christians in the world. And estimates in 2019 place the number at 2.4 billion Christians.
What was it about these men that caused this to happen? We’ve already said there was nothing special in their makeup - in fact they were called uneducated and untrained men by the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:13. So what is it that caused them to be so used of Christ in the furthering of His Gospel? And I acknowledge that one of these who was listed was a traitor and of course he is not included in these characteristics.
The first remarkable characteristic that sets these men apart was their devotion to Christ. When Jesus told the crowd that they would have to partake of His flesh and drink His blood many disciples left. It’s at the end of John 6. In apparent despondency Christ looks at these twelve and says are you going to leave me too?
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.
These men were completely devoted to Christ. So much so that they would immediately drop their nets or leave their lucrative business to follow Him. And despite the number of times where it seemed questionable as to whether or not they really got it - they were completely devoted to the mission that Christ called them to. As the text that we’re looking at today says He “summoned those He wanted, and they came to Him.” They followed Him up that mountain and came down commissioned apostles.
That is the second distinguishing characteristic of a disciple as compared to someone in the crowd. They don’t seek Christ for what He can do for them, they are sought by Christ, partly, because of what He wants them to do. Christ did not just call them to Himself to designate them as learners but as workers. He called them to be with Him to learn but then to be able to send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. They were to accomplish works that He had planned for them to do as Paul would later write in Ephesians
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
A disciple is a learner for a purpose and that purpose for these men was to be equipped to carry on the mission of preaching the Gospel to the nations following Christ’s death. It is also, as Mark will reveal to us over the next chapters, to be equipped to understand the mysteries of the Gospel.
Are you a disciple? Or just part of the crowd? There are four characteristics of a mature disciple, that someone who is truly devoted to Christ and truly developing in their gifts for Him demonstrates
Do you draw others to Christ? Are you leveraging your friendships, your family relationships and your relationships with your neighbors with a focus on sharing the Gospel? Do you have a list of people - or just one - that you are being intentional about sharing the Gospel with?
Are you participating in community with the body of Christ? Do you regularly attend church - that’s a poor question. Recent statistics show that regular attendance for a Christian in America is one week out of four in a month. A better question is do you prioritize church attendance? With the exception of health issues and work do you choose to be in church first on Sundays or is it something that you are willing to miss on occasion for leisure activities? Are you participating in small groups? Whether that is our Sunday morning groups, a home group that you’ve organized outside of church or something like BSF - are you seeking opportunities beyond Sunday morning to commune with other believers and to grow in your knowledge of the grace and truth of the Gospel?
Are you serving anywhere? Are you serving the church in ministry or are you, like the crowd, seeking only what your church can do for you? Are you serving the people in your community? Did you take the time to shovel a neighbor’s driveway or to check on them during the weather we had this last weekend?
How well do you know the Scriptures? Did you embark on a reading plan that would deepen your knowledge and love for the Bible this new year? Do you make study of the Bible a disciplined part of your life? Do you spend more time in the gym than you do in prayer and study of the Word? How are you growing as you study? Have you noticed any changes in your thought process, your attitudes - more reflecting the fruit of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh - or your behaviors as a result of your study of the Word?
The ultimate question is how has becoming a Christian impacted your life? How has Christ impacted your life? Did you simply come to Him seeking something or did you come to find the Savior of the world who would save His people (including you) from their sins and require service from them as disciples of His own choosing and making.