You and I are loaded with needs. Some of these needs weigh us down tremendously. They return time and time again chomping and chewing on our lives. Some of these needs are external and some are internal. More worrisome are our spiritual needs which may seem more remote than the physical ones. Unfortunately, spiritual needs are eternal and physical needs are temporary. We are usually more prompt to address the physical and put the eternal on hold. Jesus knowing this tendency would not ignore the eternal turning time and again to preach repentance and belief. People came for one thing, but people needed another. They were “baited” so to speak by his ability and he switched to their bigger illness: broken hearts. This is seen in how the people came and how Jesus responded.
7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 8 and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. 9 And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. (Mark 3:7-12–ESV)
They came because they heard all that he was doing
It is very easy to whitewash the life of Jesus. The Bible story books we grow up with as children paint pictures of Jesus walking from place to place with a peaceful group following behind him. Mark did not paint a picture that looked like that, and as adults we must paint more realistically.
A crowd will stampede the exits when a building is on fire crushing those who fall. Jesus was the most effective healer humanity has ever known. When that was coupled to his generosity, kindness and interest in others the needy were drawn with incredible force. There was a maddening bustle of desperate people.
The incredible draw of Jesus was like a magnet or a whirlpool drawing men to him, and Mark recorded them as coming from a wide geographical region. Look at verses 7 and 8 and those regions can be seen. Galilee and Judea represented the western side of the Jordan river. Jerusalem and Idumea also represented the region between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea, but reached a more southerly group. Tyre and Sidon as the major cities northwest of Galilee represented the region northwest of Galilee. “Beyond the Jordan” meant east of that great river in Israel.
Why did they come? They came because they heard all that he was doing.
The doings of Jesus were seriously unique
The illnesses and deformities of men and the evil spirits that possessed them held no court with Jesus. The sicknesses would fall off like melting snow. Damaged eyes and limbs would be restored to vigor. Devils would lose their hold on their humans and be forced away by the mere presence of the man Jesus. The main words that Mark recorded Jesus as saying were to squash the announcements of the devils. There was enough draw because of his actions. The time had not yet come to imbue the people’s psyche with Messianic labels. They were not ready for that. None of the people had any clue of what that really was to entail.
A boat for the clamor
Jesus would have need of an exit, but it was not to get away from the people. His exit was for both safety and a better platform to reach the people. The obvious needs of the men and women fell away more easily than the hidden ones. The most desperate problem was in the hearts of these people. They also needed to repent and believe. Most were physically well, but all were sinners. It would be easy to be blinded by the healing, but what a great tragedy that would be. All of those there would get another illness or another demon eventually dying. What about the next life? What about the gates of hell? Those gates, once closed, are never opened to the souls they catch.
The people were most worried about their immediate symptoms. They were most interested in what Jesus could be to them at that moment. Jesus addressed those needs by healing many and discard devils, but he knew there were far greater needs. Most of the populace was not plagued by deformity, physical paralysis or demon possession. All of the populace was under the curse of sin, though, and that is what needed to be addressed. That is the reason for the boat. With the boat Jesus could move off shore enough to convert the lakeside into a natural amphitheater. There he could speak to the greater issues of these masses. The great draw of humanity would be touched by the great teaching of God.
Thus, Jesus turned the circumstances to his own purposes.
This happens at the doctor too
I am an eye surgeon at Augusta University. In my department we are training graduates from medical school to be eye surgeons and while in my training they are called residents. I teach my residents to consider the needs of each patient in two main categories: what the patient thinks is their greatest problem, and second what you know is the greatest problem. Both need addressed.
How about an example? With mileage1 the surface of our eyes tends to dry out producing a myriad of symptoms and a myriad of concerns. That problem, though, rarely harms the eye. It mainly effects the experience.
Glaucoma, on the other hand, is a disease that blinds, but does so in a rather insidious manner. By the time a patient is having symptoms from glaucoma great and permanent damage has already been inflicted.
In the typical cases of dry eyes and glaucoma one is symptomatic and not blinding while the other is asymptomatic and blinding.
So, in the case of glaucoma and dry eyes, both need to be discussed and addressed, but the patient is often much more worried about the immediate symptoms. I tell the residents to make sure you address what the patient is worried about. Then address what you know they need to be worried about.
Sin is a lot like that too. A person can go far down the path of life with slowly accumulating damage from sin. The final outcome is terrible and permanent, but it can sneak up. After Jesus addressed the people’s immediate needs he transitioned to the more serious.
Key points from this passage:
- Christ did not teach until he treated; neither should we.
- Compassion must be more than a platform for bait and switch
- Care for needs physical AND needs spiritual
- In our own lives never neglect the permanent for the temporary