“Jesus withdrew his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 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. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.
And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” Mark 3:7-19
The most uncomfortable I’ve felt while being among many people was when I visited Ukraine and rode the trolleys. Ukraine is filled with wonderful people and most would do whatever they could to help a fellow Ukrainian or even a foreigner. Yet, in the larger cities like Kiev and Donetsk, it’s not surprising that one could encounter someone trying to take advantage of another while in such large crowds. My uncomfortable experience in Donetsk was while taking a trolley through the city. The trolleys try to keep a good pace loading and unloading passengers so one has to be ready once they come to a stop or you may not catch it and end up waiting for quite a while until you see another one. I got on one in the middle of a summer afternoon. I was relieved to have been one of many successfully finding a spot to stand. All the seats were taken and it was standing room only for the rest of the passengers. The uncomfortable aspect was that there were so many on the trolley that I was forced to hold on to one of the above head handles just so that others could pack in around me. For many Americans, this would be very unique, to have strangers literally surrounding them on every side in public transit. There was no place to move. The ride often caused people to lean on one another. This time I even caught a man trying to reach into my rear jean pockets. He was obviously tempted to see if a young American was careless enough to leave cash or coins unguarded.
My experience was likely mild compared to Jesus’ experiencing the great crowd coming to find him in order that they might press near to him and touch him, so much so that he told the disciples to get a boat lest they crush him. Mark reminds us that Jesus healed so many people and word got around quickly. Mark also doesn’t forget to note that unclean spirits were being censored by Jesus. They kept announcing that he was the Son of God, a term very familiar to Jews which meant King. Jesus wanted to keep that recognition quiet though. The great crowd contained some that could threaten the early stages of Jesus’ Messianic campaign. Five or six regions are mentioned by Mark. People came from all over on foot. It also shouldn’t surprise us that people from all over the world have made it their life’s goal to live in America. Medicine here and quality of life is far better than most regions of the world. And, we shouldn’t be surprised that people wanted to touch Jesus then. Today’s celebrities are always being approached by adoring fans, just to be found in the presence of those whom they idolize. Fans often feel that if they just meet their favorite TV, movie, or pop star, that their adoration will somehow be reciprocated, thereby elevating a sense of significance. It was no different with Jesus. Jesus was the equivalent of an Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, both pioneers in culture. Imagine the crowds those two men encountered regularly.
There’s something else worth reemphasizing here in the passage. The unclean spirits. Jesus wasn’t merely on a medical mission. There was another dimension behind all of the healings. The greatest enemy to be dealt with was the power behind the curtain of the public eye. Satan. Mark keeps our attention on the real topic. Jesus has come to deal with a global epidemic. If he hasn’t he might as well just be a popular magician.
We find Jesus doing something very covertly in the next passage. Jesus calls the twelve unto himself. While this number is familiar to any serious reader of Scripture it may escape us that Jesus is selecting twelve and appointing them as ones who’ll be sent out to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. These men seem to be selected almost as if they were generals who’d be preparing for a revolution. Jesus calls the twelve up on a mountain, away from the great crowd, privately, away from threats. This is a deliberate symbolic act of calling twelve new tribes into existence. Jesus is sending a signal to those with insight that his popularity isn’t a means to an end. Jesus isn’t interested in the accolades of a zealous nation who prefers he prepares for a typical revolution. Jesus is signaling that God has come to rule and creating a new Israel is a primary objective. Jews expected that God would restore Israel to its former glory by setting Israel high above all the nations of the earth. They expected to be a nation whose god would lead them to victory over the bestial kingdoms once again. An ultimate exodus would be accomplished through the Messianic mission. Preparing generals was key to the success of such a mission. Yet, we already know there’ll be a twist. Upon the mountain, which was supposed to serve as a safe haven, we’re introduced to a mole. Mark leaves the scene lingering for us with the last of the twelve, a general who will betray his Commander in Chief. Unfortunately, Judas Iscariot, influenced by the forces of the human enemy, those of the devil, will eventually commit the ultimate treason, and even that act won’t precipitate the eradication of Jesus or his heavenly mission.
What is the mission today? Our mission? Are great crowds pressing in on us, enough to crush us because they’re so intrigued by our kingdom movement? Are we training ourselves and others and recognizing the commission? Do we see Jesus as a superficial ruler, a magician even? Or, do we see Jesus as a Commander in Chief revolutionizing the earth, fighting the real human enemy?