III. Ministry around the Sea of Galilee (Mark 3:7–6:6)
III. Ministry around the Sea of Galilee (3:7–6:6)
3:7-12 Jesus’s ministry continued to grow. A large crowd followed him from Galilee (3:7). People from Judea and Jerusalem followed him, but they also traveled from the outskirts: Idumea to the south, beyond the Jordan to the east, and around Tyre and Sidon in the northwest (2:7-8). His healing ministry had become so well known that people with diseases were pressing toward him to touch him (2:10). The demons had become familiar with him too, and they often shouted, You are the Son of God! (3:11). But Jesus warned them to keep quiet (3:12; see 1:25-26).
3:13-19 Jesus took twelve of those who’d been following him and named them apostles (3:13-14). Their role was to be with him (to have a relationship to Jesus), to preach (to proclaim the message of Jesus), and to drive out demons (to exercise the authority of Jesus) (3:14-15). In the Gospels these men are known as the Twelve. Mark names them all (3:16-19), beginning with Peter, who functioned as something of a leader among them (3:16). Next come James and John, called the Sons of Thunder because of their intense personalities (3:17; see 10:35-45; Luke 9:51-56). These three—Peter, James, and John—made up Jesus’s inner circle and were often with him apart from the other apostles (see 5:37; 9:2; 14:33). Mark identifies Judas Iscariot as the apostle who betrayed him (3:19); it’s a hint to the reader that the opposition to Jesus arose even among his companions. Judas was the only non-Galilean among the Twelve.
3:20-21 Opposition to Jesus came from the Jewish religious leaders (2:6-7, 16, 24; 3:6), one of his apostles (3:19), and even from his own family members. When his family heard that he was drawing huge crowds, were they proud? Excited? No. They told others, He’s out of his mind (3:21). In light of everything he was doing, they thought he’d gone crazy. His brothers didn’t believe in him during his ministry (see John 7:3-4), and even from an early age his parents misunderstood him (see Luke 2:41-50).
All of this would change, however, after Jesus’s resurrection. His mother and brothers would be counted among the first Christians in the early church (see Acts 1:14). His brothers James and Jude, in fact, would even write the Holy-Spirit-inspired New Testament books now bearing their names, and James would be a leader in the Jerusalem church (see Acts 12:17; 15:13; see 1 Cor 15:7).
3:22 Though during his ministry his family thought Jesus was insane, the scribes went a step further—a step too far. They couldn’t refute the fact that he was driving out demons. So they accused Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul—another name for Satan, the ruler of the demons. They claimed the devil was the source of his power.
3:23-26 Jesus demonstrated how ridiculous this claim was with a parable: How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand (3:23-24). Satan is the enemy of God, but he’s not stupid. He’s cunning like a serpent (see Gen 3:1) and prowls “like a roaring lion” (1 Pet 5:8). Why would he attack his own kingdom? Indeed, if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he . . . is finished (Mark 3:26). Why undermine his own authority? His kingdom would topple without God’s interference.
3:27 Satan’s kingdom hadn’t been assaulted from the inside, but it had been assaulted from outside. Jesus had entered the strong man’s house, tied him up, and plundered his possessions. And no one could render a strong man helpless unless he was stronger—in this case, unless his power was divine.
3:28-30 Jesus then explained to the scribes where they were headed by accusing him of being in league with the devil (3:30). All sins and blasphemies can be forgiven by God (3:28). But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness (3:29).
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus had overpowered Satan. Yet, in spite of irrefutable evidence of that fact, the scribes had attributed the deeds of the Holy Spirit to the ruler of demons. The work of Christ on the cross can atone for terrible sins, but one must believe in Christ to receive forgiveness. To claim that the authority and power behind Jesus is actually the authority and power of the devil is to reject God’s salvation in light of clear revelation. The one who rejects what the Holy Spirit makes clear, then, is guilty of an eternal sin (3:29).
If you come to King Jesus and receive him as your Savior, he promises to forgive all. But if you spurn the King, call him the devil, and reject the Holy Spirit’s testimony, you have no other option for salvation. As Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
3:31-35 As Jesus was inside the house teaching, his mother and his brothers arrived outside, wanting to talk to him (3:31). Mark has already told us that his family didn’t believe in him (see 3:20-21). Apparently, they wanted him to stop making a fool of himself. But Jesus pointed to those around him who had devoted themselves to his teaching and said, Here are my mother and my brothers—that is to say, whoever does the will of God is my family (3:34-35).
Jesus prioritized his relationship with those who submit themselves to God’s will. If you want to experience more of Jesus and have a deeper relationship with him, respond to God’s agenda for your life.
4:1-2 Once, the crowd was so large that Jesus climbed into a boat on the sea and began to teach as people listened from shore (4:1). He frequently taught using parables (4:2), stories used to convey spiritual truths. Mark provides several of these (4:3-32), beginning with the parable of the sower.
4:3-9 In an agrarian society, listeners would immediately relate to a parable about a man planting seed. As the sower walked, he dropped seed on various kinds of soil. Seed that fell on the hardened path was devoured by birds (4:3-4). On rocky ground where the soil was shallow, the seeds sprouted quickly. But without deep roots, they withered in the sun (4:5-6). Other seed fell among thorns, which choked the plant (4:7). But some seed fell on good ground and produced a bounty of fruit (4:8). As he concluded, Jesus explained to the crowd that understanding his story required spiritual insight: Let anyone who has ears to hear listen (4:9).
4:10-12 Later, in private, his disciples asked him to explain his parables to them (4:10). Jesus said that the secret or “mystery” of the kingdom of God had been given to them. Those things that had been hidden in the Old Testament about God’s kingdom were being revealed to them through Christ. But for those outside who rejected Jesus’s authority, the parables actually concealed truths (4:11). He then quoted Isaiah 6:9-10, in which the prophet pronounced God’s judgment on Israel because of their failure to repent. The same was true for those who heard Jesus. Unless they responded to the truth they had been given, they would not be given further insight to lead them to repentance (see also Matt 13:10-12).
4:13-14 If they were to understand all of the parables about the kingdom, the disciples needed to understand this parable (4:13). The seed in the parable represents the word (4:14). The way one responds to God’s Word has significant effects on one’s life. To receive the Word is to live under the rule of the King. The parable of the sower shows what it looks like when different kinds of hearts encounter God’s Word.
4:15-20 The hardened path represents a hardened heart. People with such hearts refuse to believe; therefore, Satan easily removes the Word from them (4:15). The seed that grows in rocky ground and among thorns represents believers who, either through spiritual immaturity or attachments to worldliness (such as wealth), fail to yield fruit (4:16-19). Spiritual growth cannot happen when God’s kingdom is marginalized in a life. But the good ground represents hearts that are receptive to God’s Word. They welcome it—that is, they believe and obey it. As a result, they produce abundant spiritual fruit because of the kingdom impact their lives have on others (4:20).
4:21-22 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is put on a lampstand to light up a room and reveal its contents (4:21). In the same way, the lamp of God’s Word is to shine into people’s hearts in order to bring to light that which is hidden (4:22).
4:23-25 Disciples must heed the Word of God (4:23). To the degree that you welcome the Word in your life, you will bear fruit. The more believers accept God’s kingdom agenda, the more fruitfulness God will entrust to them. But disobedience brings spiritual barrenness (4:24-25).
4:26-29 Jesus compared the kingdom of God to seed that a man planted (4:26). As he went about his life, the seed sprouted and grew, though he didn’t understand how (4:27). Over time, a crop was produced that was ready for the harvesters (4:28-29). Similarly, the disciple of Jesus Christ who faithfully proclaims God’s Word can have confidence that it will accomplish its work (see Isa 55:10-11). The Word has life within itself, so God will ensure growth and harvest as people respond to his Word when it is rightly explained.
4:30-32 Jesus also compared God’s kingdom to a mustard seed (4:31). Although it was the smallest of all the seeds that farmers planted, it would grow into a large shrub, in which birds could nest (4:31-32). In the same way, God’s kingdom was starting small, with just a few disciples. But it would grow tremendously in spite of its inauspicious beginning so that the operation of the kingdom in history would spread blessings everywhere.
4:33-34 Thus, Jesus spoke in parables to communicate the truth of the kingdom (4:33). But to his disciples, he explained everything (see 4:10-12).
4:35-37 At the end of the day, Jesus said to his disciples, Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea (4:35). Climbing into their boat, they left the crowd and their stressful day behind (4:36). Or so they thought.
Lying nearly seven hundred feet below sea level, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by mountains and highlands. As a result of this geography, it is predisposed to violent windstorms, which is exactly what the disciples encountered. Not only were they being tossed about, but waves were breaking over the boat and filling it with water (4:37). Several of the disciples were hardened, lifelong fishermen. They had experienced storms on the Sea of Galilee before. But this one was different.
Notice that the disciples hadn’t done anything wrong. Jesus had commanded them to get into the boat, and they were in the perfect center of God’s will. Yet they were also in the center of a situation that was threatening their lives. Life is like that sometimes. It’s true that our sinful choices often bring difficulties our way. Frequently, though, heartbreaking trials come when you’re following God and experiencing intimate fellowship with him. So, remember to “consider it a great joy . . . whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (Jas 1:2-3).
4:38 Where was Jesus while the storm raged and the disciples panicked? He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. He hadn’t just inadvertently fallen asleep wherever he happened to be sitting. He’d curled up on a cushion, so this was planned snoozing! This was intentional. And the disciples didn’t like it: Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die? They were rocked by the storm outside, the storm of inner terror, and the theological storm of wrongly assuming Jesus didn’t care. The last storm was the worst.
When God lets us go through ordeals, it often feels like he doesn’t care. The fear and pain lead to confusion (“Why would God let this happen?”). But in such moments, you must know your Bible and trust in the King of creation. There are no storms that come into your life that do not first pass through his sovereign and loving fingers. If you know his character, you’ll know that he does nothing that is not for your good and for his glory (see Rom 8:28).
4:39-40 When Jesus woke, he didn’t speak to the disciples but to their surroundings. He rebuked the wind and told the sea to be still (4:39). Immediately, the creation obeyed its Creator. The wind stopped blowing, and the sea stopped churning. Then Jesus asked his disciples a startling question: Why are you afraid? His query implied that they shouldn’t have been fearful. Then he rebuked them for having no faith (4:40).
Fear and faith: these two correspond to one another. An increase in one leads to a decrease in the other. The disciples had every reason to trust Jesus. They had seen his miraculous deeds; they knew God was with him. But it’s easy to forget what Jesus did yesterday when we’re going through a storm today. Furthermore, before the storm arose, Jesus had told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side” (4:35). He had let them know in advance that they would make it to their destination. Our faith fails only when we allow our circumstances to override God’s Word.
4:41 Moments before, the disciples had been afraid of their situation. Yet when they witnessed the power of Jesus, they became terrified of him. They feared the one whom they should have feared all along. Why does God put you in frightful circumstances? So that you’ll learn to fear him more than your own circumstances. If you fear him above all else, you’ll trust his Word above all else.
5:1-5 Once they arrived on the other side of the sea, another man with an unclean spirit approached Jesus (5:1-2). Mark has already told us about Jesus’s encounters with demon-possessed people (1:23-26; 1:32-34; 3:11), but this account gets personal. Mark tells us what life was like for this particular man. First, he lived in the tombs (5:3). He was an utter social outcast. It’s not that he had no human companions, but all of his human companions were dead! Second, he was out of control. Though people attempted to tie him up with shackles and chains, he would simply break them. Because of his demonically inspired strength, no one could subdue him (5:4). Third, he endured self-inflicted agony. He was awake at all hours, crying out and cutting himself with stones (5:5).
5:6-8 All of the man’s external torture was due to internal turmoil. He wasn’t merely crazy; he was under demonic influence (5:2). Like previous demons Jesus dealt with (1:23-24), the demon inhabiting this man recognized Jesus for who he truly is: Son of the Most High God (5:7). Moreover, he recognized Jesus’s power and authority. Though the Son of God wanted the demon out (5:8), the demon begged, Don’t torment me! (5:7).
5:9-13 Since Jesus demanded to know the demon’s name, we learn that the demon who had been talking was only a spokesman. He wasn’t alone. My name is Legion . . . because we are many (5:9). In other words, his demonic aunts, uncles, cousins, and more had moved in with him. They begged Jesus to give them permission to relocate to a new home: a herd of pigs (5:11-12). So Jesus let the unclean spirits enter the unclean animals, which promptly rushed . . . into the sea and drowned (5:13).
5:14-17 When the people from the nearby town and surrounding countryside heard about it, they came and saw the former demon-possessed man in his right mind (5:14-15). No more living among the tombs; no more hands and feet shackled; no more bleeding at his own hands. Yet how did these people respond to such a glorious healing? They begged Jesus to leave their region (5:17). Why? Mark says they responded this way after learning about the man and about the pigs (5:16). Two thousand pigs to be exact (5:13). All that pork represented a lot of money. Were Jesus to continue doing similar things, he’d ruin the local economy. Notice that their livelihood was more important to them than a human being delivered from demonic oppression. They valued the material over the spiritual.
5:18 There has been a lot of begging in this chapter. The demons begged Jesus not to torment them or send them out of the region (5:7, 10). Then they begged to enter a herd of pigs (5:12). The locals begged Jesus to go away (5:17). But here we see some begging that’s God-honoring. The man who had been demon possessed begged Jesus that he might remain with him (5:18). He knew that Jesus had delivered him, and he didn’t want to leave his side.
5:19-20 Jesus had other plans for the man. Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you (5:19). In other words, “Go home to the people who knew what you were like and give God the glory for what you are now.” And so the man did, all throughout the ten-city region of Decapolis. He told everyone how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed (5:20). Given his past, he was probably a fairly well-known person. Those who knew him needed to hear his testimony to know what happens when the kingdom of God invades a person’s life. If you’re a Christian, the people in your life need to hear what Jesus has done for you.
5:21-24 Again, Jesus and his disciples crossed the sea, and a crowd gathered around him (5:21). A synagogue leader named Jairus pleaded with him to heal his little daughter who was dying (5:22-23). There’s probably not a dad of young children who can’t sympathize with how desperate this man was. He was surely relieved when Jesus agreed to go with him (5:24). But he was about to experience a delay in getting Jesus to his little girl.
5:25-26 As they made their way through the jam-packed crowd, there was a woman with a severe medical problem. She had suffered from bleeding for twelve years (5:25). But she also had a severe financial problem. She had spent everything she had on doctors who were unable to help (5:26). Though Mark doesn’t mention it, she also had a severe religious problem. Leviticus 15:25-27 indicates that the woman would have been ceremonially unclean during the course of her illness. Therefore, she was defiled, destitute, and desperate.
5:27-29 She had heard about Jesus (5:27), had been told stories of this miracle-working teacher. The lame were made to walk; the blind were made to see; the leprous were made clean; the demon-possessed were made free. Jesus could heal her; he was her last hope. But there was a thick crowd, and Jesus was on a mission to heal someone else. She didn’t want to stop him or call his name. She wanted to go unseen. If I just touch his clothes, she told herself, I’ll be made well (5:28). So that’s what she did. Instantly her flow of blood ceased, and she knew she was healed (5:29). It had worked! But her actions didn’t go unnoticed.
5:30-31 Jesus knew power had gone out from him. Someone had accessed his kingdom power by desperate faith, and he wasn’t going to ignore it. So he asked, Who touched my clothes? (5:30). The disciples were stunned by the question. The crowd was pressing on him from all directions, and he wanted to know who touched him (5:31)? But Jesus can distinguish between people bumping against him and those touching him in faith.
5:32-34 Why did Jesus want to single this woman out in front of the crowd? In Psalm 50:15, God says, “Call on me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor me.” It would seem, then, that Jesus was determined to see that God was glorified publicly in this healing.
How did the woman respond to being called out? With worship: With fear and trembling she came and fell down before him (3:33). When the Lord comes through in your life and no one knows about it but you, you need to declare his deeds and give him glory. “Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim that he has redeemed them from the power of the foe” (Ps 107:2). When the woman honored God publicly, Jesus told her, Your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be healed from your affliction (5:34).
5:35 Jairus, the synagogue leader, had come to Jesus begging that he heal his daughter (5:21-24). But after the delay with the crowd and the woman, people came from Jairus’s house to deliver heartbreaking news: Your daughter is dead (5:35). For a moment he probably thought, “If only the crowd had let Jesus through; if only that woman hadn’t stopped him.” But though we often think that God has mismanaged our circumstances, his plan is perfect and brings him more glory than our plans would.
5:36-37 The people had seen Jesus accomplish miraculous healing. But it would seem that some among them thought death was beyond his power. Jesus didn’t respond to the crowd, but to the father: Don’t be afraid. Only believe (5:36). Then he took only his inner circle of disciples (see commentary on 3:13-19) with him to see to the little girl (5:37).
5:38-40 The people weeping and wailing loudly (5:38) probably included professional mourners, who were paid to attend funerals and express grief over the loss of a loved one. Jesus questioned their weeping (5:39)—not because mourning isn’t appropriate in such cases, but because it signaled unbelief. The King, after all, had come to heal; Jesus’s arrival was cause for hope. Though the girl was dead from a human perspective, that was only a temporary condition. She was only asleep (5:39). Nevertheless, they continued to demonstrate their unbelief by laughing at him (5:40).
5:41-43 When Jesus, his three disciples, and the parents were alone with the child, he took her by the hand and told her to get up (5:41). There are parents who have more difficulty waking their children in the morning for school than the Son of God had raising this little girl from the dead. She was twelve years old (5:42), which is particularly interesting given that the woman Jesus had just healed had been “bleeding for twelve years” (5:25). This miracle was for the family of the little girl, so Jesus commanded them to keep silent about it (5:43). The people outside had already been given enough evidence to generate faith.
6:1-3 Sometime later, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and taught in the synagogue (6:1-2). Given his reputation, one would expect a hero’s welcome for him. But, even though the townspeople were astonished, they were also offended by him (6:2-3). Likely they said, “Who does Jesus think he is? We know his brothers and sisters. He grew up here. How could he be performing miracles? He’s nothing special.” Since Jesus’s own family thought he was “out of his mind” (3:21), it’s not surprising his former neighbors thought the same.
6:4-5 Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus received no honor . . . in his hometown and among his relatives (6:4). They focused on his humanity and failed to recognize the supernatural nature of his words and works. As a result, they limited what God would do through Jesus (6:5). Understand, Christ did not lack power; rather, the absence of faith caused God to withhold supernatural work. The Messiah was in their midst, but they missed his work in their lives because they refused to believe. Don’t hinder the work of God. His power is unlimited. But if you refuse to trust him, don’t be surprised when eternity doesn’t show up in your history.
6:6 Even Jesus was shocked at their unbelief. They’d seen what everyone else had seen, yet still they didn’t believe. So he left and continued to proclaim his kingdom message in the surrounding villages.