Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jesus, Pressured Jesus

The scriptures says in Mark 3:7-19:

But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea, And from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, 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. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the [son] of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the [son] of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.

According to the text, Jesus Christ is feeling some intense pressure. The pressure is coming from two sources: the Pharisees and the public. The former had declared war on Jesus. Their hatred if the Lord progressively intensified throughout chapter two and into the beginning of chapter three. Christ’s Sabbath healing of the withered hand man clinched their desire to see him discredited and destroyed. As Kent Hughes writes in his commentary, “Maddened with hatred, the pious, separatist Pharisees formed an unholy alliance with the impious, worldly Herodians as together they plotted Jesus’ extinction.” (p. 81)

All of their combined conniving and maneuvering would matter not a bit, because the time of the Lord’s sacrifice had not yet come. All aspects of Christ’s life were determined by a sovereign and eternal timetable. He was not subject to the schemes of men. No man could lay a finger on Him until the appointed time. Christ’s life was given not taken.
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. – John 10:17-18

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps”. The wicked hearts of the Pharisees and Herodians were taking counsel together on how they could put an end to Jesus, but all their plans would be ruled and overruled by a sovereign God who had planned from eternity past that Christ would purchase our pardon on Calvary’s tree (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20).

The public was the second group of people who were pressuring Jesus.

The Demand for Jesus – vv. 7-12

At this point in His ministry the popularity of Christ was immense. People were literally coming from all over to see Jesus and, hopefully, be seen or touched by Him. It would be foolish to speculate the actual number of people. The Bible doesn’t say. It is known that Galilee was a densely populated province during Christ’s time. The public turnout from there alone would be a large mass of people. Combine that crowd with folks traveling from Judea, Jerusalem, and Idumea (South), Tyre and Sidon (NW), and the Transjordan (East) and the picture becomes clear. This was an immense and massive horde of humanity.

The desire of all people was to see Jesus. Sounds great, but was it? Why did the people flock to Jesus? Was it because they wanted to hear what He had to say? Were they interested in the wonderful words of life from the very Word of life, or was the crowd hungry for something else? Sadly, the reason for Christ’s popularity was not His message but His miracles. His message was “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). Christ’s primary focus was on spiritual healing rather than physical healing, but the crowd’s primary desire was for physical rather than spiritual wellness. They wanted to see the miraculous, and experience it on a surface level, but they were not as interested in the gospel message. Writing about this popularity surge
Alexander MacLaren stated: “Christ’s gracious, searching, illuminating words had no attraction for the multitude. ‘The great things He did’ drew them with idle curiosity or desire for bodily healing.”

It most be noted that Christ’s primary motivation was the proclamation of the gospel. Mark has labored to make that fact clear:

Mark 1:14-15 – “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

Mark 1:21-22 – “they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.”

Mark 1:38-39 – “he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth. And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.”

Mark 2:1-12 – “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee… the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins”

Mark 2:13-17 – “Follow me… They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Mark 2:18-22 – The Gospel is unique and exclusive. Jesus Christ is the only way to God the Father. To attempt to mix the gospel with any other belief or system is to nullify it.

Mark 2:23 – 3:6 – Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, and Jesus Christ is our rest.

Spiritual healing, not physical healing was the principal purpose of the Lord. He did heal, however, because He is a gracious, merciful, compassionate God, and because the miraculous works clearly identified and authenticated Him as the Messiah.

By any modern reckoning Christ’s ministry was exceptionally successful, but most prognosticators would attribute the massive crowds instead of the message of Christ as the signature of success.

Most prognosticators would be wrong.

The Lord’s skyrocketing popularity never sidetracked His prime ministry task which was “to seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10). Christ knew the hearts of all men, (John 2:24-25) and He rightly diagnosed the crowd’s misguided desire after the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.
When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus. And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. – John 6:24-27

The people were not convinced by His miracles that Jesus was who He claimed to be; their Savior. Instead, they just liked the idea of someone who could feed 5,000 men plus women and children a fulfilling meal from five barley loaves and two small fishes! Christ exhorted the people to focus on the eternal not the temporal.
We would do well to follow His example. The church’s focus must be the primacy of the gospel. The church must clearly, consistently, and compassionately declare the gospel. Often times this will mean meeting people’s physical needs, just as Jesus did. When someone is starving and naked it does little to no good to say, “Repent and believe the gospel” and then continue on your way, leaving them destitute. At the same time, you can feed and clothe every starving and naked person in the world, but is you do not tell them “Repent and believe the gospel” you have failed to meet their needs.

We must never fall victim to the false yet prevalent notion that popularity equals ministerial success and blessing of God. We must also avoid the opposite pitfall which states that the more unpopular you are the more you are blessed of God. As a Christian and in the church neither popularity nor unpopularity equals success before God. Faithfulness equals success! Success depends upon faithfulness to the gospel and faithfully proclaiming the gospel.

Now think for a moment about the pressure that Jesus endured. I’m not talking about pressure to alter or soften the gospel message. I’m talking about the pressure that is associated with having your every move, night and day, observed by everyone; friends, the curious, and your enemies. The latter group always placed the worst possible spin on everything Christ said or did. Everyone else constantly and incessantly wanted something from Jesus. In the case of the crowd, they wanted Him to fix or heal all their ailments. His friends didn’t so much want something from Him, as they just plain wanted Him.

Here is the point; Jesus knows what it is like to feel intense personal discomfort from being attacked and having your motives and words misinterpreted. He knows what it’s like to have people incessantly want something from you. He knows what it’s like to constantly have friends and loved ones looking to you for guidance and support.

Kent Hughes phrased it like this:
The ill, the feverish, the crippled were pushing and grabbing at Jesus and falling over Him; the demonized were malevolently sizing Him up and were howling His name in furtive combat; the jaundiced Pharisees were watching his every move, waiting for their chance. It is easy for us in the evangelical tradition to miss the point here because we have been so ready (rightly so!) to emphasize that Jesus was much more than the ideal man, being 100% God. The truth is, He was (and is!) also 100% man, and really did feel immense, inescapable stress and strain.

This should help us more fully understand Hebrews 4:15, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin.” Simply put, Christ is able to empathize with your harried, frenetic life.

Jesus understands the pressured treadmill upon which most of us race day in and day out. He knows what it is like when the traffic light turns green and the car behind you immediately begins to honk. But more specifically, He understands the pressures which you feel when we try to reach out to others as He did. He knows that when you really care about others, you open yourself to troubles virtually incomprehensible to those who do not care. He understands that those who stand with him are assaulted by a demonized culture which tries to gain mastery. He understands the pressures of life and faith. (p. 84)

How did the Lord deal with the pressure?

Christ’s Management of that Demand – vv. 13-19

The text identifies three steps which Christ followed to manage the demands and pressure of His life/ministry.

He got Alone
“He goeth up into a mountain”, Mark 3:13a says, and in Luke 6:12a we read, “…that he went out into a mountain…” The Lord Jesus Christ took some time to be alone. Even though we’re only half way through the third chapter we have already witnessed this practice from the Lord. Mark 1:35, “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place.” In a moment we will talk about what He did in those solitary places, but for now the point must be made: He got alone. Thought he came to save man, at times he needed to be away from man.

I’m not sure that we understand the need to be alone in our culture today. We are so hardwired into the system: cell phone, email, web cams, YouTube, cable TV, high-speed Internet, etc. Listen to this quote from write Anne Morrow Lindbergh:
Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice! (As quoted in Hughes commentary, p. 85)

I’m not suggesting that you be a hermit, or that you seclude yourself from nearly all human contact. What I am saying is that time spent alone reading and reflecting on the word of God, praying to the God of the word is essential to wholeness and well-being. As Vance Havner said, “If we do not follow Christ’s example to ‘come apart’, we may, indeed, just [fall] apart.”

We need silence; not to empty our mind but to fill it with the glory of God. We need to silence all the noise of this world, so that we might listen to God speak to us through His word. The pressures of life and the example of Jesus demands that we do this.

He Prayed
Jesus didn’t go up on the mountain to hunt and fish. He went there to pray. Mark doesn’t describe all that Jesus did on the mountain, but Luke’s account tells us “he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” I’m sure that you are a busy person, but I’m just as sure that you are too busy not to pray. (I'm not a Hybels fan, but that is a fantastic thought!) Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other needs; prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer.

Prayer, of course, is not the pulling of God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God. Time spent regularly in prayer will make one rich in God’s riches, strong in His strength, pure in His purity, and able in His ability. Our pressured Jesus knew this and spent extended time exposing his human heart to that of his blessed.

He Shared
This is the Biblical balance to the alone time that I have been talking about. Jesus wasn’t a one man show; even though He could have been. Christ shared the responsibilities of the ministry with others. Jesus Christ needed and valued His time alone, and carved it out of His impossible schedule. He also craved companions to serve with Him.
Alexander MacLaren wrote:
The Apostles were chosen for two ends, of which the former was preparatory to the latter. The latter was the more important and permanent, and hence gave the office its name. They were to be ‘with Christ,’ and we may fairly suppose that He wished that companionship for His own sake as well as for theirs. The primary purpose was their training for their being sent forth to preach. But no doubt, also, the lonely Christ craved for companions, and was strengthened and soothed by even the imperfect sympathy and unintelligent love of these humble adherents.

The text is clear, these men were called to “be with him”. Christ poured Himself into these men. The best teaching and training is not done strictly by lecture, but is augmented by example. These men had front row seats for every synagogue sermon, every parable, and many personal discussions. They received the answers to the riddles; the explanation of the parables. But that wasn’t all. They also witnessed with their own eyes what righteousness and holiness looked like.

That is what we are called to do.

What was the purpose of this training? They were discipled so that “he might send them forth to preach.” Not every believer is called to pastor, but every believer is called to preach. Not that all preaching is done from a pulpit or accomplished with a loud cadence. The word translated preach in v. 14 is ‘kerusso’ which means “to herald, to proclaim, to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done.” That is the responsibility and privilege of every believer; not just the ones who have been ordained.

Our precious, pressured Jesus teaches us that the primary motivation of our lives and the primary function of our church is the clear, consistent, and compassionate proclamation of the gospel. Yes, we are to do what we can to help meet physical needs, but we are to never neglect the spiritual. The eternal outweighs the temporal.
We also learn that those who will follow Christ will be overwhelmed at times. That was Christ’s experience, and His example instructs us to…

Get Alone – We need times of silence, and for that you need a place.
Pray – The times of silence aren’t for naps but for prayer. Those who are exposed to the Father’s life find Him bringing grace to their pressured lives.
Share – We need to pour ourselves into others, to share the ministry’s work. We need each other.

May we learn well from our precious, pressured Jesus. After all, the learning is for living. (Yeah, I know. That is a Begg line, but I really like it too!)

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