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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:What can Jesus do?
Text:Mark 3:7-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 27:1-3
Hymn 7:9
Psalm 78:10-12
Hymn 41:1-4
Hymn 35:1-5

Reading: Numbers 11
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

God had already done so much for them. He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. At the Red Sea, God had saved the people of Israel from certain death at the hand of Pharaoh. He was bringing them to the promised land. He fed them with manna from heaven and provided them with water when they needed it. But all of that wasn’t enough. In Numbers 11 we read that they first complained in general about their hardships. Fire came down from heaven and people died. Then we read that they began to crave other food and they started wailing and mourning about how good they had it in Egypt. They thought that with their moaning and groaning they would be able to manipulate God into giving them what they really wanted: meat. Oh, Yahweh gave them meat, he gave them quail, but it came at the cost of a severe plague. The people of Israel, you see, wanted a God who would be at their beck and call – a God who would work for them on their terms.

In 4000 years it seems that nothing has much changed. The history of Christianity in North America is by and large the search for a God who works for people. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Great Awakening in the 18th century – a time in the eastern US in which many people were converted. Biblical, Reformed teachings formed the foundation and basis of the Great Awakening, especially with men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. But then came the Second Awakening in the 19th century – this was a conscious turn away from Reformed doctrine. It was a turn from truth to technique, from principles to pragmatism, looking for a God who works for us. One of the major figures of the Second Awakening was Charles Finney. Finney’s approach to evangelism was that you only have to find the right program, the right technique and then people will be inevitably converted.

Closer to our day, we have televangelists who tell us that faith “is the finger which flips the switch of cosmic power.” If you follow these steps or these laws, if you use these techniques or methods, this program, then you will get what you want. More subtly, we see this way of thinking when people speak about so-called worship styles. There is no right or wrong worship style, there are only worship styles that work for you, that fit your personality, your needs. Whatever works for you, whatever gives you a “worship experience”! Even prayer can become a technique for manipulating God. Through following these steps or praying this prayer, we can get God to do what we want for us. With all this, the Christian faith becomes another sort of self-help program that will bring you health, wealth, and happiness.

The problem is that this pragmatic way of thinking runs shipwreck on the rocks of real life. After all, Christians still have marriage problems. Believers get depressed. We get cancer, we sometimes have miscarriages. And so we could go on. Does God really work? Is he at our beck and call? Is that what the Christian faith is about? If it is, then we should quickly abandon it, because it doesn’t work, at least not in the way the world thinks about such things. Christian faith works as part of God’s program and his plan to bring glory for himself through the redemption of his people.

All these issues come to the fore as we look closely at Mark 3:7-12. The focus here in this passage is not what Jesus says – there are no direct words of Jesus quoted here. Rather, it’s on what Jesus does or rather can do. It’s the age-old pragmatic question: what can Jesus do?

The previous passage concludes with an ominous note: “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” There was a conspiracy to commit murder in the air and the Lord Jesus knew it. So he decided to back off and go to one of his favourite places: the Sea of Galilee. It appears that he was trying to get away from the center of controversy, away from the Scribes and Pharisees. The time for his arrest, suffering and death was not yet here.

But no matter where he went, it was difficult to find solitude. Mark tells us that a large crowd from Galilee followed the Saviour. That wouldn’t be hard to believe, since he was in that general area anyway. But what follows is surprising. We’re told that there were also many people from Judea and Jerusalem – those places were some distance to the south, especially when you remember that people would have to walk those distances. Then Mark mentions Idumea – Idumea is even further south than Judea. Then there were also people from across the Jordan, from Perea, and then Phoenicians from Tyre and Sidon. North, south, east and west – the people were coming from everywhere!

At the beginning of verse 8 we discover the reason why they were coming: “When they heard all he was doing…” Not what he was saying, or preaching or teaching, but what he was doing. They were interested in what Jesus could do for them. They were particularly interested in what he could do for their bodily health. They wanted him as the emergency room along the Sea of Galilee; they wanted Doctor Jesus. They had a very narrow view of who Jesus was and what he had come to do.

Could they be blamed for this? With some of the people in this crowd, we’d have to say that their ignorance on this point may have been excusable. After all, we have no evidence that the Lord Jesus preached and taught in Idumea. However, the Galileans could have known better for Christ did preach and teach among them. He did more, much more than simply heal. In 1:21 we read about how Christ went to the synagogue in Capernaum and taught. Elsewhere we read about how he went around Galilee preaching the good news of God, both in the synagogues and elsewhere. From his preaching they should have known what he was all about. So, for these people at least, their narrow view of the Lord Jesus was inexcusable.

Today we also cannot be excused for having a narrow view of who Christ is. We have the entire Bible to testify of him. Many of us have been brought up in Christian homes and have heard the preaching of Christ many times over. Yet because of our sinful nature, we still often have a distorted view. The problem is made worse in that we don’t often have the ability by ourselves to step back from our own views and critically evaluate them. This is why we need to continually and carefully listen to the Scriptures, both as we read them and as we hear them preached, and let the Word correct and shape our perception of who he is.

We learn more about who he is as we look at verse 9. This is a unique detail to Mark; we don’t read anything like this in either Matthew or Luke: “Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him.” This tells us in the first place how big the crowd really was. There was a real danger that the Lord Jesus could be physically crushed by the throng of people. Mark says three times in three verses that this was a huge crowd and he emphasizes it again with this detail. He doesn’t want us to miss it. We’re ready to say: okay, we get the point!

But this detail in verse 9 about the little boat also reveals something about Christ. As a man in his state of humiliation, Jesus was concerned about self-preservation. He made wise use of ordinary precautions and was not going to take any foolish risks. If the crowd got too wild, he could jump in the boat and be safe.

Doesn’t this teach us something as well? When we take foolish risks and do stupid things, are we living out of our union with Christ? His concern for self-preservation is reflected in what we confess about the sixth commandment in the Heidelberg Catechism. In Lord’s Day 40, we confess that we are not to harm or recklessly endanger ourselves. Christ did no such thing and since we are in Christ, since we have union with him, our life and our attitude should be the same.

With verse 10, we get brought back to the reason why the crowds were so big and so focused on being near Jesus. We’re told that it was because he healed many and because of that there were many people with afflictions and diseases who were pushing forward, literally falling on him, just to touch him. They believed that by simply touching him, they would be healed. They were interested in what Jesus could do for them, how he could work for them to get rid of their bodily pain and misery.

The interesting thing we need to think about is the fact that Jesus allowed this to happen. He could have chosen not to heal the people. He could have said, “Listen, I’ll heal you later, but first you have to listen to my message.” But we read no such thing. If the people are motivated by this pragmatic approach to Jesus, and if we agree from passages like Numbers 11 that this sort of approach to God is reprehensible, then why doesn’t Jesus put an end to it? It seems like he is allowing himself to be manipulated and exploited by the crowds.

The answer has two parts and they are connected. The first part has to do with his humiliation. At this stage in his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus was on his way to Golgotha, to suffer and die on the cross for us. Manipulation and exploitation are humiliating. Being used by other people was part of his suffering. Moreover, it was also part of the way to the cross in that the greater his popularity with the people became, the greater the animosity of the Jewish leaders became.

The second part of the answer has to do with his compassion. As part of his humiliation, he lived in a world broken by sin and its effects. There was enormous suffering in that time in which there was no advanced medical care like we know it today. Just take diabetes for example. Today, diabetes is a treatable condition, even if it can still be life-threatening. But in those days, nothing could be done for someone with diabetes, in fact they didn’t even know what diabetes was. That was the world the Lord Jesus lived in during his earthly ministry. Crowds of people with all kinds of horrible suffering – how could he not respond with love and compassion? How could he not allow them to touch him and be healed? How could he not allow himself to be manipulated in this way? Love compelled him. See your Saviour and his tender heart here! Love compelled him to heal or to allow healing power to go from his body and it also compelled him to go to the cross.

So, this pragmatic approach to Jesus existed and was even used by God for good, ultimately for our salvation! But does that justify pragmatic approaches to Christ or to God today for us? Are we allowed to go to Jesus to manipulate him, to see whether Jesus will work for us? Loved ones, we need to consider this carefully. Any notion of manipulating or exploiting God is idolatrous. When we think that we can somehow twist God’s arm, that if we just follow this formula, this prayer, or this program, then God will do this or that, then we are thinking of a different God than the one revealed in the Bible. The God revealed in the Bible, the Christ revealed in the Bible, will not be manipulated and exploited. He is the sovereign almighty God and you cannot control him.

And when we acknowledge God’s sovereignty, we take his Word seriously. His Word outlines our desperate condition and our need for a Saviour who will do something for us. Driven by the Word, we’re driven to look for someone who can bear the wrathful divine punishment our sin deserves. In faith we look to Christ as the one who can do something for us about our problem with a holy and righteous God. But when we do that, we are looking to a Saviour who can do something for us on God’s terms, not on ours. That’s the difference the Word of God makes in all this. The Word of God defines the terms on which Christ can and will do something for us. On that basis, we look to him as our Saviour.

Getting back to our text, we come to verse 11 and there we find that there were not only people afflicted with physical ailments coming to Jesus, we also find the demon-possessed again. Actually, verses 11 and 12 have a different time frame in mind. Verses 7 to 10 take place on one particular occasion. However, the last two verses of our text take place repeatedly on a number of occasions. This is captured in our translation with the word “Whenever…”

“Whenever the evil spirits saw him…” Literally, they were unclean spirits. In other words, they were non-physical powers that work upon and many times within a person. They’re unclean – that means that they defile the person whom they inhabit. All of this means that what we’re reading about here are not disembodied spirits floating around Galilee, but demons who were inhabiting people. So when we read that the evil spirits saw him, we should understand that to mean that they saw Jesus through the eyes of the people who were afflicted with these demons.

Mark tells us next that they fell down before him. Again, this was the people with their physical bodies falling at Jesus’ feet. Why did this happen? Why did the demons do this? We’re not directly told, but from what we know about the first century context, this would have been considered very ominous. Demons falling down before a man’s feet would seem to indicate something demonic about the man. Even more ominous would have been the fact that they cried out and called him the Son of God.

This is where there’s a connection to what happened in the preceding verses with the crowds. For you see, in the first century, a demon calling out somebody’s name would have been looked at as very menacing. The demons were doing this in an attempt to control and manipulate him. Does that sound familiar? However, it was different than with the crowds. The demons were attempting to manipulate his destiny. By announcing him as the Son of God, they were attempting to discredit him and have him destroyed. After all, who would listen to a man who gets advertised by Satan and his forces? Shouldn’t such a man be destroyed as quickly as possible? And with the demons falling at this feet, that would indicate that he is the prince of demons. You can easily see why the Jewish leaders reach that conclusion a little bit further into chapter 3.

The evil spirits try to manipulate him and his destiny, they want to use him so that God’s work would be destroyed. But the Lord Jesus will not be manipulated by Satan’s minions. Verse 12 tells us that he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was. Literally, it says that he greatly commanded or admonished them. The same word is used there as when Jesus rebukes the wind and waves in Mark 4. Just like he is the master of nature’s realm, so he is also the master of the demons. Should anyone doubt that the devil and his forces are under God’s sovereign hand, we only have to point them to the first chapter of Job. Though he is his mortal enemy, Satan had to answer God about what he’d been doing and his whereabouts. And Satan could do nothing to Job without God’s permission. So here too, the demonic spirits could do nothing when the Lord Jesus told them to keep silent about his identity.

As to the reason for this command, commentators and Bible interpreters have listed several reasons. One of them is connected to what we were just looking at a moment ago. The Lord allows them to say a little, but he quickly shuts them up. What they say is enough to carry the drama of his suffering forward, but not enough to have him killed at this precise moment. I think this is probably the best explanation. Really, when you think about it, it’s not surprising that Jesus doesn’t want this demonic publicity.

From this, we learn again that God is sovereign over everything, including the forces of evil. God can even take the malevolent intentions of Satan and turn them for the good of his people. In Romans 8:38-39 we read those well-known words where Paul says that nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He says that includes “neither angels nor demons.” He is the sovereign gracious God!

Next, notice the irony in our text. The crowds, among whom are many covenant people, see Jesus as their doctor and healer. The evil spirits see Jesus as the Son of God. Even though their announcement of him as such is driven by evil motivations, the demons get it right! It makes you think of James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” With our text in mind we could rephrase that and say, “You believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” In other words, you can get Jesus’ identity correct and still be lost. You can get Jesus’ identity right and still be seeking to use him and manipulate him on your own terms. Again, what does this teach us but that we should be a people besotted, infatuated, obsessed with the Word of God? The Bible is where God’s terms for a relationship are found. The Bible defines and shapes everything about our relationship with Christ and therefore, the Word has to be central in our lives.

Loved ones, the gospel revealed in the Word is that we have a God who has done something for us in Jesus Christ. We cannot manipulate him; we cannot exploit him. But we can and must turn to him in faith and rest in him and he will save us from our sins – he will save from the curse and power of sin; he will save from the guilt and slavery of sin. He is a God who acts and works for his people– but on his own terms. Though the people under his leadership often failed to recognize it, Moses knew it. In Exodus 15 we hear his beautiful song, “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretched out your right hand and earth swallowed them [the Egyptians]. In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.”

Let us pray:

Mighty God of heaven and earth,

You are our Sovereign Lord. There is none like you. No one can manipulate or exploit you. We praise you for being who you are. We also praise you for your love and compassion in Jesus Christ. Thank you for what you do for us in him: saving us from the curse and power of sin. We also thank you for revealing him to us again with this passage from Mark. Help us always to look to him in true faith as our Saviour and Lord, trusting him on the terms laid out in your Word and not on our own. Please give us more grace so that we would live out of our union with him and never recklessly endanger ourselves in any way. With your Holy Spirit, please drive us continually to your Word to see Christ more fully revealed. Also please deliver us, we pray, from all demonic forces that seek to destroy your work in the world. Deliver us from the evil one. We pray in Christ our compassionate and wonderful Saviour. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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