God has designed all of us to have multifaceted responsibilities—family, work, church ministries, and so on. In an unfallen world, these things would not be opposed to one another, and indeed in the resurrection they will not be. They need not be opposed to each other by necessity in this world, either, but sadly our flesh and our simple human frailty can make it difficult to place them in proper relationship to one another.
Certainly for God’s people the priority ought to be the furtherance of God’s program. This means that your family is not merely about your needs, much less your image, but is the first community the Lord has given you to evangelize and disciple. Your job is both an entry point into the needs and souls of others, as well as a way to create wealth to further God’s plan. And of course, your local church is ground zero for God’s work where you are both equipped and used to equip others to fulfill the plan of God.
Yet in a world with many pressures—many of them good, God-honoring responsibilities—how are we to navigate them and maintain focus on the ultimate realities? Our Lord is our Teacher here, as in all things. He shows us how to meet the earthly needs around us while keeping the main thing the main thing.
A. Pressures (vv. 32-34)
Our Lord has had a busy day. Recall this is the same day that began in verse 21 with His visit to the synagogue. There, he read and preached the Scripture, and cast out a demon; from there, he traveled to Peter’s home where He healed his mother-in-law. It is the end of the Sabbath and now, as word has spread of His miraculous power, many are coming from every part of the city with their sick and demonized. The verb tense has the idea of a continual bringing. The crowd just kept getting bigger. Imagine the first few people whom the Lord healed or set free—imagine their joy, their shouts and tears of delight, and the emotion that would have swept through the crowd as doubtless they pressed upon Jesus and the little house to be next.
The point is our Lord, like everyone else, had familiarity with the pressures of life. Recall that though He is eternal God, He is also truly human. He is a real, frail man, who needs food and sleep and time with His friends. He cannot heal everyone who is sick in Israel. Even those He does heal will get sick and eventually die. It would be easy to try to spend all of His time and energy healing people, creating food for the hungry, casting out demons, and trying to make everyone’s earthly lives much better.
But He doesn’t do that! This is especially interesting when you read how he handled the demons, Note the texts says He was not permitting them to speak. Yet He allowed the demon from that morning to say who He was (v. 24). And He will prohibit many other people from announcing who He is when He has done a miracle for them (e.g., Mark 1:44, 3:11-12, 8:27-30). He even told the apostles to not tell anyone of the Transfiguration until after His resurrection (9:9; cf. Matt. 17:9). Why is this? Well, look at the crowd pressing in on Him. He has only three-and-a-half years to preach and teach and then die for sinners. He has only so much energy. He does not want large crowds for wrong reasons. A close study of the aftermath of the feeding of the 5,000 is instructive here. They wanted the free breakfast and the power displays in their king. They did not want heart consecration, repentance, brokenness, and cross-bearing.
Please realize the Lord’s sovereign power touches all of life, in areas material and spiritual alike. (Indeed, it is wrong to even assume a dichotomy between “material” and “spiritual”!) He will one day untie the spiritual and material realms so there is complete oneness between heaven and earth. He cares about all of life and His power can be appealed to for everything. But what is His priority? That is where our prayers and work ought to focus, just as His did.
B. Prayer (v. 35)
How did our Lord maintain focus on the Father’s plan? For surely the Father did not send Jesus to merely heal people and cast out demons—as important as those things are to the extension of His rule and the reversal of the Curse. Far more important is to lay the foundation of those things and the reconciliation of humanity to God: He is to fulfill all righteousness, die for sinners, and rise from the dead! And the only way He knows His Father’s will for how to apply His power—realizing that the display of His power is to evidence and express His messianic, divine authority and rule—and how to maintain focus on the ultimate priority of His life is to seek His Father in prayer.
This is between 3 and 6 in the morning. Jesus leaves the house where everyone is still sleeping, He goes off to a quiet place by Himself and communes with the Father. Again, remember Jesus is as to His very essence eternal, sovereign God. We might ask what need He had of prayer. God does not, but the God-Man certainly does. Jesus is truly a man, and truly (as to His humanity) does not know things, and truly needs the guidance and assurance of His Father in the application of His will and program.
The Greek verb has the idea of prolonged, ongoing, persistent prayer. The God-Man pours out His pure, sinless heart to His Father and throws Himself on Him for direction and understanding. He is fully reliant on the Holy Spirit, who has anointed and filled Him without measure. He is doing this as a man, not as sovereign God. How humbling and intimate a picture this is!
If the sinless One, the holy Messiah, God in flesh, needed to pray, do we really think we don’t? Jesus had no sin of which to speak. He had no need of a Savior. He never had anything between His soul and His Father (except, of course, for when He bore the wrath against sin on the cross). He had no barriers to understanding or doing the will of God other than His finitude in His human nature. Yet we are anything but! We have deceitful flesh. We have a corrupted mind, a divided heart. We have competing loyalties and cravings within and without. We can overemphasize the tangible and underemphasize the intangible, and we can equally ignore and dismiss God’s gifts and His tangible work for us in favor of some faux spirituality. How we desperately need the fullness of God’s Spirit and the clarity of His purifying work in our minds! How shall we know what He wants us to do, and how, and in such a way that all of His work for us is accomplished in His way? Only as we commune with Him over His Word in Spirit-led prayer!
C. Priority (vv. 36-39)
Our Lord’s praying did not stop the demands of life. As soon as He is finished, He hears the calls of familiar, friendly voices. It is Peter and some of the other disciples. They have been frantically searching for Jesus and are doubtless equal parts exasperated and concerned. More people are waiting for Him, they say. And more people are looking for Him. Certainly there are people He did not get to the night before, and they want their miracle!
But with such wisdom and grace, Jesus explains He cannot be deterred from the Father’s plan for wonderful, important, but ultimately secondary things. He is not a healer only. He is not a warrior against the demonic, though that is closer to the truth. He is a proclaimer of God’s rule through Himself and the Substitute for sinners. Everything He does is centered around that.
He says they must go to another town. So He can preach?! Yes. Because that is why He came.
You say, “Jesus came to die for sinners, not to preach!” Why are those things contrary to each other? (Jesus didn’t think they were.) How would we know the meaning and significance of His death if He did not explain it to us, if He did not set it in the context of God’s great kingdom plan? For that is the point of the death—to create consecrated and surrendered worshippers of the true God and to redeem the creation to be the kingdom of the true God! Because that is His goal, He must proclaim the plan of God everywhere, for faith comes by hearing His Word (Rom. 10:17).
So He leaves Capernaum. He goes on a several-month preaching tour where He proclaims the gospel and the fulfillment of OT prophecy in Him and His work. And He continues to heal and cast out demons. Now, here is where the miracles come in. Jesus wanted to do miracles. He wanted to show compassion to people. Most of all, He wanted to show He was the Messiah and that His world, under His decisive and authoritative reign, would look very different than the dark suffering and bondage people had known. And so He was happy to do miracles for those reasons. And He is happy to demonstrate all His power in every area of our lives today. But He wants us to know why He is doing it, and to win our hearts to that reality as the priority of our lives.
We are to model ourselves after the Lord. He had a proper concern for the needs of people, but did not become a slave to those needs, nor did He use His power to overemphasize those needs or divorce them from their Christological context! Far better to not have a miracle and understand who God is and what He is doing then have one and go to Hell! Do we give ourselves entirely to the work of God as He understands and prioritizes it? Do we accept trial and loss if it means greater sanctification and the furtherance of God’s plan? Or do we demand the Lord use His sovereign ability to do everything we think is best? Oh that we would trust Him, and that we would align ourselves wholly with His purposes in the world, having His priorities, that we might know the joy of seeing Him at work and have a part in impacting eternity!