A Task Unfinished

Mark 3:7-12

Tom Pennington  •  October 8, 2017
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Well, it's already been a wonderful evening and I don't want to take long tonight, but I do want us to look briefly at the Scripture in the time that we have remaining.

I invite you to turn with me to Mark's Gospel.

It was in the year 1773 that Captain James Cook explored some islands in the South Pacific, islands that he named the New Hebrides because of some similarities to the Hebrides Islands off of the Scottish coast which he was familiar with. It was almost 60 years later in 1839 that John Williams and James Harris from the London Missionary Society landed in New Hebrides. They landed there to bring the gospel. Within a very short time, both of these missionaries were killed and then eaten by cannibals on November 20th of that year. Later it was written of them, "Thus were the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of martyrs. And Christ thereby told the whole Christian world that He claimed these islands as His own."

19 years after those two missionaries were killed and eaten by the cannibals there in the New Hebrides, a man named John Paton announced that he intended to go to the same island, and when he did, one of the elders of his church said this: "Cannibals–you will be eaten by cannibals!"

I love John Paton's response; this is what he said: "Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms. And in the great day my resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer."

He did go to the New Hebrides, and in God's grace through much hardship, much risk of his own life, the loss of his wife and child–Christ captured those islands for Himself. And the true Christian faith was brought, and many of those people came to faith in Christ.

Where did John Paton get such a passion to make Christ known at such a great cost to himself? It was from the commands of the New Testament.

This is fresh in my mind; the reason I want to take a few minutes and share these thoughts with you is–as you know, I just returned from a mission trip myself to the Middle East. I met there and had wonderful fellowship with pastors who serve in really hard places, where the darkness of false religion, the darkness of Islam, chokes out the faith. I met with one dear man who pastors a small, faithful flock in the middle of the worst part of war-torn Syria: 60, 70 believers gathering on the Lord's day to worship and trying to reach their Muslim community with the gospel. Every time I make a trip like that–and it's my joy to do it quite often–I am reminded of how important it is for us, for every one of us, to lift our eyes from our own lives, from our own families, from our own world, from the bubble that is North Texas, and to remember the task that the Lord gave us.

You know it, it's the great commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, [and] teaching them to observe all that I [have] commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." That's still the great commission, the great command. And it is a task, folks, that is still unfinished, and it will be unfinished until the day our Lord returns for us. But Jesus didn't just command this of us. The passage I want us to look at briefly shows us that this was a reflection of Jesus' own heart. It was a reflection of His own ministry. Look in Mark chapter 3, and let me just briefly read this passage. Mark 3, in verse 7.

Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, "You are the Son of God!" And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was.

In this summary of Jesus' ministry, Mark shows us the wide geographical impact of His earthly ministry. He reached not only Israel, but the nations!–by God's design. In fact, let me put it to you this way: I think the main point of this passage along with another one that comes later in Mark's Gospel is this: Jesus' ministry beyond Israel anticipates, authenticates, and even commands the church's mission to the world. Let's just briefly consider these verses. I want you to think it through with me and then I want to think through some implications. First of all, look at the international reach of Christ's ministry in verses 7 and 8. After healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, which has come before, probably there in the synagogue in Capernaum, the tension ratcheted up significantly. Verse 6, notice, says, "The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him." Matthew tells us in Matthew 12:15 Jesus was aware of this and He withdrew from there and many followed Him.

Notice here, verse 7 says, "Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples." The word withdrew is used of wisely dodging danger, tactical withdrawal. Capernaum was right on the sea, so He apparently left the city of Capernaum for one of the less-inhabited parts of the shoreline. Capernaum, you can see on my map here, on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. He probably headed east toward where the Jordan River emptied in in the north part, emptied into the sea of Galilee; He often went over to that area; that's where one of the massive miracles of the feeding of the crowd occurred. So it's likely that He went over to this area, the place where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee. His retreat was not prompted by fear but by wisdom. He had a plan, and He was working that plan based on His Father's purpose and the ministry that He had to have.

Verse 7 goes on to say, "And a great multitude from Galilee followed, and also from Judea, and from Jerusalem, from Idumea beyond the Jordan, from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to see Him."

Now we can see from Mark's language here that there were clearly two separate crowds, or multitudes that were present at this time. Literally, verse 7 says a great multitude from Galilee followed. In other words, there were people who were there in the vicinity of Capernaum where Jesus had His ministry headquarters where they'd seen the miracles; they followed Jesus, but then there's a second crowd. Mark says there were other people from various other places he names, a great multitude hearing what He was doing came to Him. They came from all over; in fact, if you'll notice the map here, they came obviously from Judea; that's the lower pink portion; Jerusalem and its environs; Idumea, that's south of Jerusalem, down just west of the dead sea, again that pink area at the lowest part of the map. This was about six days' journey from Capernaum, so it had taken these people a week to get to where Jesus was. Beyond the Jordan, that's the area that is often called Perea, and you can see it on the east side of the Dead Sea there in the dark yellow, and the light yellow on the east side of the Jordan: Decapolis, Matthew adds Decapolis.

What I want you to see is these people came from all of the nations in the regions bordering Israel. And not only did they come to see Jesus from all of those places–except for Idumea in the south, Jesus would actually go to all of these places! If I had time, I would take you to these references where Jesus ends up going to each of these places including Transjordan, across the Jordan, where there were both Gentiles and Jews, and even up to Tyre and Sidon, where I was just recently. This is where Jesus ministered. It's an assortment of compass directions, from the north, south, east, and of course on the west was the Mediterranean. It was an assortment of people. Think about this: those from Judea and Jerusalem were obviously primarily Jewish; Idumea and beyond the Jordan was mixed, both Jews and Gentiles; Galilee was also mixed, it's called the Galilee of the Gentiles because a lot of Gentiles lived in Galilee. And Decapolis, Tyre, and Sidon were almost exclusively Gentile. And Jesus not only had these people come to Him, but He went to them during His earthly ministry. Jesus' ministry reached beyond Israel to the nations.

I want you to notice very briefly, secondly, the consistent character of Christ's ministry in verses 9 through 12. The character of Jesus' ministry was exactly the same wherever He was. There's no indication that He ever varied; it was always the same; there were always three basic components, and number one and the most important on His list was teaching and preaching the Word of God. Notice verse 9. "And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him." You remember of course that this is Galilee, that His disciples, many of them were raised there, owned fishing businesses in this very area, and while they had abandoned their businesses to follow Christ, they had obviously kept some of their resources for ministry. In fact, in Mark's Gospel alone, there are six separate trips across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Here Jesus asked that a small boat stand ready for Him. And notice there are two reasons, one of them is mentioned in verse 9: "so that they would not crowd Him."

The Greek word for crowd is to press, to squeeze, to crush. Understand, flannel graph doesn't capture the scene. This is more like a mob than anything else. These sort of folksy stereotypes of Jesus surrounded by lambs and children are caricatures of the reality. Jesus was a popular teacher. More than that, He was a healer; and these people had traveled more than a week to bring their sick relatives to touch Jesus. And they were crushing in on Him–I think this verse is fascinating: Jesus is making provision to escape from danger. One of the disciples is to keep a small boat near the shore so that if He needs to escape, He can.

William Hendrickson argues that there is a lot of insight, a lot of wisdom, into this simple move by Jesus. He made wise use of precautions, measures taken beforehand against possible danger. And so should we. Faith doesn't mean you aren't wise. Faith doesn't mean you don't think about the possible danger and take reasonable steps.

But there is another reason for the boat, beyond escape from danger; look at chapter 4 verse 1. "He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching," and it goes on with the parable of the sower. In other words, the boat wasn't just to escape danger; the boat was so that He could more easily carry out His primary task, which was teaching. And this was His primary task; go back to Mark chapter 1. Verse 14 says, "After John [the Baptist] had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God"! Look down in verse 38; after the crowd had wanted Jesus to stay, He says to His disciples in verse 38, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for."

Jesus didn't come to work miracles, although He did. Jesus didn't come to cast out demons, although He did. Those were to validate His teaching and preaching ministry. That's what His ministry was about; He taught in the synagogues on the Sabbath and He taught in the countryside during the week. He was a teacher; this was His chief priority. But in conjunction with that, of course, He also healed; verse 10: "for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him."

The word afflictions is a Greek word that literally means to whip or to scourge. It originally referred to sicknesses thought to be God's scourge, God's judgment on someone. But eventually this word just came to refer to afflictions, to illnesses. They wanted to touch Jesus because many had been healed in this way. Jesus healed, physically, in order to validate His preaching and teaching ministry and to illustrate, externally on a body, what He could do internally in the soul. By the way, Jesus is still the only healer, both physically and spiritually.

The third part of His ministry was casting out demons: verses 11 and 12. "Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, 'You are the Son of God!'" Unclean refers to that which is morally and inherently unclean. Understand this: fallen angels, demons we call them, the followers of Satan, are malevolent and obscene. They render everything they touch unclean. But notice–they fell before Jesus, they fell down before Him–this word describes an inferior prostrating himself before a person who is clearly his superior. The demon would take complete control of the person and as is true here, used the person's body and voice, and they would shout out, "You are the Son of God!"

Huh. Ironically, at this point, very few understood Jesus' real identity. The demons got it. Of course, the Father spoke back in chapter one, verse 11 and said, "This is My Son." Later, the disciples at the mount of transfiguration would get it. And at Jesus' trial, Israel's leaders would hear His claim, and reject it. And of course the centurion later in Mark's Gospel would get it as well. But at this point, the crowds just saw Jesus as a teacher and as a miracle worker who could fulfill their needs. But the demons–they understood Who He really was, and they were afraid in His presence. They would shout out "You are the Son of God!"

Notice verse 12: "He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was." Literally, He greatly was warning them not to tell who He was. Why? Well, because they were undesirable witnesses, because of their evil. They were undesirable witnesses because remember, the leaders of the nation had accused Jesus of being in league with whom? Satan! He didn't need their testimony. And Jesus wasn't ready for this message to be fully revealed and known. So with sovereign authority Jesus commands the demons and they have to obey. They hated Jesus, they still do, they are His enemies, but they cannot help but fall before Him and do what He says, because He is Lord. Authority confronted authority and the unclean spirits were silenced. Before the sovereign word of Jesus Christ, those powerful created beings, once angels, now demons, could do nothing but say, "Yes, Sir."

That brings us in the end to the international design of Christ's ministry. Matthew says this, that can be a bit confusing. Matthew 10 verses 5 and 6 said, "The twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: 'Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In isolation, that could give you the idea that Jesus intentionally limited His ministry to Jews. But Matthew argues that the international flavor of Jesus' earthly ministry that we've already seen and that appears in a number of places–that was not some unintentional consequence of Jesus' great popularity.

Rather, it was a reflection of the divine will, the divine intention that Jesus' ministry would reach beyond the Jews. Look at Matthew chapter 12, and notice verse 17. Jesus withdrew, and the breadth of His ministry began to spread, and verse 17 says,

This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:

"BEHOLD, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN;

MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL IS WELL-PLEASED;

I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM,

AND HE SHALL PROCLAIM JUSTICE

[Notice this!] TO THE GENTILES.

[To the nations! And,]

HE WILL NOT QUARREL, NOR CRY OUT;

NOR WILL ANYONE HEAR HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS.

A BATTERED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF,

AND A SMOLDERING WICK HE WILL NOT PUT OUT,

UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY.

[And notice verse 21:]

AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE."

This was God's plan in the ministry of Christ; this quotation is from one of Isaiah's Servant of Yahweh passages. This was the plan! Seven hundred years before Christ! This was the plan! And it is consistent with what the rest of Scripture teaches. The Abrahamic covenant says what? "In you, Abraham, all the nations of the earth will be blessed." How? "Through your seed." Singular. The Messiah. In Exodus 19:6, He says to Israel that they are to be a kingdom of priests–what does that mean? They are to be like priests representing God to the nations. That was their calling; and of course, 1 Peter 2:9 says that that has been transferred to us. We are now a holy priesthood: "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession," so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Isaiah 42:6: "I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand, and watch over You." And this is to Messiah, this is to Jesus: "And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations."

It's true with Jonah. God showed–He wanted to have mercy on repentant Gentiles and He showed that in Nineveh. Remember in Simeon's words in Luke 2, he says of Jesus, having seen the baby Jesus: "My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Your people Israel."

You see it in the outreach of the early church beyond the Jews, you see it in the focus of Paul's mission, who was called to the Gentiles. You see it in Romans 15, again, a quote from the Old Testament. And you see it in Galatians 3:8 and 28 and 29, where we're told that this was God's plan. As an immediate result of this passage, Jesus chooses the Twelve. Right after this He chooses the Twelve, and He would eventually commission the Twelve to do what? To be His representatives, to take His message to the nations.

So what does this mean for us? That's a very brief survey of this passage but I want to get to the implications for us, there are two of them. First of all, God intended that all the world benefit from the ministry of Christ. This is encouraging; that includes us, who sit here half a world away from where He lived and ministered, 2000 years removed from His life. What has happened to us; what happened to the three who gave their testimonies tonight in baptism; what has happened to you, Christian, is not an afterthought. It was the design of God. You were part of God's eternal plan.

Secondly, Jesus' international ministry anticipates, authenticates, and demands the church's mission to the world. I want you to turn with me to Luke chapter 24. This is after the Resurrection. Verse 44. Our Lord said to them,

"These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms might be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, [notice this] "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem."

You say, "Well, what does that mean for me?" It means, Christian, you must develop a passion for the world. You must raise your eyes beyond your own spiritual navel, beyond contemplating your own struggles and weaknesses, beyond your own family, beyond your own community; you must lift up your eyes and realize God has a plan for the world!

So how do we pursue a passion for the world? Let me just give you a few practical ideas. Then I'll be done. Here's how you can do it. If you want to share the heart of Christ, then you need to have a heart and a passion for the world. And here is how you can develop it. Number one: Start by praying for our existing missionaries. There there's a map out on the wall, right out in this hallway. All of our missionaries are there. Pick one a week, and remember them in prayer! Lift them up! In fact, let me encourage you to also intentionally give to the church to support them! What I mean by intentionally is don't just give your gift to the Lord, don't just give your offering; you need to do that, we're commanded to do that, but when you give it, give it in your mind with the intention of supporting the cause of Christ around the world. Ask God to use that gift through those who have gone. In fact, let me encourage you to think this way–see our missionaries as your representative. See our missionaries as going on your behalf, as representing you. "Go therefore and make disciples." God hasn't called every one of us to leave our lives here and go, but He has called us to have a passion for the world, and it starts by realizing that those He does call to go are your representatives; they serve there on your behalf. How dare we not support them with our prayers and our love and care?

Number three: pray that God would raise up more missionaries in this church. Have you ever prayed that? Have you ever said, "God, let our church have a passion for the world, work in the heart of our kids"–in fact, let's make it really specific. Let me ask you this question: have you ever prayed, "God, if it pleases You, send one of my kids"? "Send one of my grandkids to the nations on behalf of Christ because He deserves to be known. He deserves to have the prize for which He died." Have you ever prayed that? Are you willing to pray that? Pray about your getting equipped and going. There may be some here that God has gifted and you need to get equipped and you need to go–talk to the elders and let's work it through together. But it might be you.

Number four: consider going on short-term missions trips. Why? Well, because you'll be a blessing to our missionaries, but beyond that, you'll catch a vision for the world. I promise you this: you will be more affected by your mission trip than the missionaries will be affected by your mission trip. You'll come back understanding what they face, you'll come back knowing better how to pray, knowing better how to care for them, how to love them.

Number five: Let's not just think about the world as the other side of the globe. Having a heart for the world, a passion for the world, means your world as well. Identify people in your life that you can pray for and build relationships with in order intentionally to share the gospel. Let me ask you, have you ever consistently tried to love someone, to reach out to someone, to care for them, to show interest in them, because you wanted to be an expression of the love of Christ in their lives, and eventually to bring the gospel to their life?

And number six: get involved in the many evangelistic opportunities in this church. Specific ministries like International Friends ministry on Thursday, or we just heard this morning there's a need for volunteers in one of the local schools to do Beach Club on Monday afternoons after school, we've got more kids than we can minister to. Here's a way to bring the gospel to bear into the lives of kids in our area. Pursue church-wide opportunities; when's the last time you invited somebody you know who isn't a believer to come, for example, to the Christmas concerts? You know that's what we do it for, right? It's not just for so we can enjoy pretty Christmas music. It's evangelism, it's bring somebody, expose them to the Christian music, expose them to the gospel message I bring; take them out for dessert, and begin a conversation. Individuals and groups throughout our church are often going out to share the gospel in various venues, just sitting down with people in local areas and striking up a conversation. Join them! It comes down to this: as I thought about it and I was impacted in my own soul because we all become complacent and that's why I love trips like this because it reminds me of these things. But it comes down to this: God so loved the world. Do you?

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for these reflections on this wonderful passage. Thank You for our Lord, for His heart for the truth. Lord, give us a passion for the world. Help us to partner with those You call and send. Help us to pray that You would raise up more. Help us to be faithful in our mission field. Father, help us to reflect the heart of Christ. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.