During His three-and-a-half year earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus accomplished many things. Because I believe the promised eschatological kingdom was inaugurated in our Lord’s ministry and will be fully consummated with His pre-millennial Second Advent, I also believe many of these events in some way illustrated, founded, or otherwise taught about that wonderful kingdom, of which our Lord is the rightful king.
Passages like this week’s text function as narrative bridges or transitions between one larger section of the story to the next. As such, it can be difficult for preachers to know how best to exposit these kingdom themes and their implications and applications for us today. But since every word of Scripture is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and richly profitable for the child of God, we can come to a short passage like this and find just as much blessing and help as we would anywhere else.
Our Lord spent much of His ministry in Galilee. That is where He was from, and certainly His heart was wed to that land and had a special burden for its people. Approximately two million souls, both Jews and Gentiles, lived around the Sea of Galilee, which was used as a trade route from many different places. I like to think that many Gentile traders heard our Lord on their travels through Galilee, and took His gospel back to their own countries with fruitful results. We will find out in heaven.
Soon, the Lord’s focus will shift towards approaching Jerusalem for His impending death for sinners. The section we look at today comes near the end of the Galilean phase of His ministry and provides a helpful overview not only of it, but of grand themes coloring much of His earthly work. Moreover, these themes convict and guide us in our own mission, which is an extension and application of His, carried forward until His glorious return.
A. Jesus is always on the move (vv. 53-54)
Mark is perhaps unique in his emphasis on our Lord’s indefatigable service for His Father and kingdom. From the beginning of Mark’s record of the Lord’s ministry in 1:14 (where Jesus bursts onto the scene preaching!), to right now, we have seen our Lord demonstrate a virtually inexhaustible energy for ministry. “When they had crossed over” links back to the trip they had just taken across the sea following the feeding of the 5,000, the Bread of Life discourse, and our Lord’s walking on the sea. (It has been an eventful day or two to say the least!) After all that, there is yet more to do.
Prior references to our Lord ministering in various cities and regions of Galilee imply that He has been to this area before. Gennesaret, also called Kinnereth, was a lovely, lush, well-populated city on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. As soon as Jesus gets out of the boat, the people living there rush out to meet Him and recognize Him (again, because He has likely visited before).
In many respects, this is just another day for Jesus. Not that He did not personally care for and minister to many people, but in that this high pace of service and ministry, reaching many people, leaving an indelible imprint of the kingdom on Israel, is not unique for Him. He does this in Gennesaret because He does this wherever He is.
We ought not think that this type of passionate pace was limited to our Lord’s earthly ministry. After His bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven to rule as anointed king, if anything, the scope of His work and the power enabling it have only intensified. Now, Jesus is not limited to influencing only those whom He physically came into contact with. Now, by His Spirit He is active everywhere at all times (I do not presume to know precisely how our Lord’s omnipresence functioned during His incarnation). And He is working in ways and in people we cannot begin to fathom, let alone know about just on a factual level. In recent days, I have been encouraged by social media reports of pastors and evangelists leading people to Christ, baptizing them, or of answered prayer. Just this morning I saw a post about a 103-year-old woman trusting in Christ! Jesus is still on the move as He rules and reigns from heaven.
While we are neither sinless nor omnipotent, we are called to emulate our Lord’s passion for His kingdom, for redemption, and for souls. We do not need to convince Him to work in our lives, situations, and ministries; rather, our vision needs to be enlarged and our passion refined and intensified to catch up with His! We serve a big God with a comprehensive kingdom and limitless plan. Nothing is beyond His reach—no problem, no soul, no sin, no obstacle. No blessing is too big to ask of Him. The world is His playground. Eternity is His time frame. If you chase after Him, He will be faithful to let you catch Him, and He will do wondrous things through you.
B. Jesus is constantly among crowds (v. 55)
The Bible is very clear in both OT and NT that God’s heart is for the nations. While it is often true that only a remnant is faithful to Him, it is also true that He wishes for many to come to Him, and that no number is large enough for the God who loves the world. And while numbers are not necessarily an indicator of God’s work or blessing, neither should large numbers of conversions or maturing believers be denigrated or thought unnecessary. Ought we not want many millions of people saved, sanctified, and attempting great things for the Lord Jesus? Ought we not cry out with Spurgeon, “Lord, save all of Your elect, and then elect some more”? Some in our day act as though churches of five people are automatic indicators of that church’s doctrinal fidelity in a sea of ungodliness and that churches of such diminutive size ought to be a goal—almost as if church growth in any sense is a gateway to apostasy!
Our Lord minced no words about the cost of discipleship. He was eager to warn those who were half-hearted and uncommitted. But I do not think this was to essentially stymie the growth and influence of His kingdom, as though small is inherently more holy. (That would contradict His very clear words in Matthew 13:32-33.) If anything, our Lord loved the thousands of people who flocked around Him, and wanted nothing more than their whole redemption and fullness of His blessing upon them. He would not compromise the truth to get crowds, but neither would He beat people away with a stick.
“Began” implies an ongoing process—they kept bringing sick people to Him, to the places they lit. “kept hearing” He was. They followed Him to wherever He was next and kept bringing people to Him. Does our Lord push them away, as though large crowds are inherently unspiritual? No indeed! He welcomes them and uses their presence to invite them to conversion and the warmth of His kingdom.
The implications for us are many. First, note the zeal with which people brought the sick to Jesus. This was for physical healing—imagine how earnest we should be to bring people to church and to the hearing of the Word of God! Doubtless some of these people missed Jesus the first or second time they went after Him. But they kept going, kept following, kept searching. “Imploring” is in the imperfect tense too—individuals kept doing it and the crowds kept doing it. We give up if the prayer isn’t answered in five seconds, and worse, we blame God’s sovereignty for it. “Oh, entire people groups are going to hell without missionaries…the church in America is a borderline harlot…marriages are falling apart…entire industries in the world are dedicated to ungodliness and an apostate worldview—oh, well, it’s the providence of God! Who are we to resist His will?”
Never use theology as an excuse for your abdication of divinely mandated responsibility.
The Jesus who is always on the move desires worlds untold to come to Him. Dare we reject our role in satisfying the desire of His heart?
C. Miracles surrounded Him (v. 56)
I do not here intend to draw a systematic theological distinction between miracles and extraordinary providences (though there is one). I believe both take place today, though of course I believe the gift of miracles (like the gift of healing) has ceased. Rather, my point is simply to note that where Jesus is, divine sovereign power is as well for the effecting of glorious things.
Note that in large measure, these sick people did not come on their own. They couldn’t; they were too weak or paralyzed or comatose. While this isn’t an exact parallel to salvation or blessing, it is most instructive: Sometimes, God works in people’s lives because someone else persisted in presenting them to Him, and vice versa. This is most clearly demonstrated in the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2: When Jesus saw the faith of the four friends—not the personal faith of the man—only then did He heal him.
Regardless of who is believing Him, the Lord delights to demonstrate His power to save, redeem, and bless. Village after village, city after city, marketplace after marketplace, the sick and their loved ones found Him, and implored Him, and found Him most willing to intervene. How glorious! How tender is our Lord!
Moreover, He did not have for them empty platitudes or mere sympathy: He possessed inherent, effectual, authoritative power! He could do what they asked of Him, and more. They did not want to bother Him…they just wanted to touch even the fringe of His cloak (evidently the healing of the woman with the flow of blood has gone viral). Couldn’t they just do that, please?
And anyone—anyone!—who did, who expressed that simple faith in Him and His power, was healed. But the Greek word is heavy with meaning: they were “saved.” I see no reason to take this as anything other than denoting spiritual as well as physical salvation. The One who healed their bodies more importantly healed their souls of separation from Him. Thousands! Swept into the kingdom and loosed for glorious service to Him!
Dear Christian, Jesus is the same today! In the furtherance of His kingdom He can do anything. He can save any sinner, answer any prayer, overcome any problem, heal any hurt, grant any blessing for your delight and His glory. He is able. And His power is yours as you surrender to His will and purposes. O that you would know Him more fully, and align yourself with His will, and through you His glory would be displayed through your and many others’ total redemption!