Who are you? That is a most important question—a most important existential question (i.e. a question that has everything to do with our existence). It is not unrelated to the question, why are you here? These two questions go hand in hand. If we answer the first question correctly, then we will answer the second one correctly. Identity and purpose go hand in hand.
For example, we might put the second—purpose—question, as does the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” Or, more personally, and more contemporarily, “What is your primary purpose?” The answer depends on how you answer, who am I? If your answer is, “I am the product of a mindless, purposeless evolutionary process,” then your chief end is merely to survive, merely to live for yourself. Your primary purpose will be determined by your desires and aspirations. Your chief end will be you.
However, if your answer to “Who am I?” is, “I am a rescued sinner, a child of God who is being re-created into an image of God,” then your primary purpose will be to live to the glory of God. In both cases, your identity will determine your activity—just as it did for the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. We see this in the passage before us.
From this text, I want to help us to see the beauty of Jesus Christ, who understood precisely who he was and what he came to do. As we gaze upon the Son of God, may we learn who we are, what we are to do, and how we are to keep doing it. These are all related to the identity of Jesus.
The Identity of Jesus
So, who is Jesus? This question is of eternal importance. The passage before us reveals his identity. Jesus is the Son of God (v. 12).
Sadly, as we read through the book of Mark, most did not get it. Those who did, we might call “insiders.” Those who did not get it, we might call “outsiders.” On which side are you?
A section has just finished (3:6); a section introduced by a summary statement of Jesus’ ministry—that is, a statement answering our question: the why of existence. Jesus came to preach and to establish the kingdom of God (1:14–15). One means towards this end was to select a group of men whom he would use for this purpose (1:16–20). These men would be identified by him, thus establishing their identities as followers of Jesus. This identity would define their primary purpose, their chief end.
The second section likewise begins with a summary statement (3:7–12). Here we see Jesus extending his kingdom geographically, beyond Galilee (vv. 7–8). He continues to miraculously heal and deliver as evidence of his identity as King. But, most importantly, as we will see, Jesus continued to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom; he prioritised preaching.
But, as in the first section, in this second major section (3:7–6:13), Jesus selects and sends out a group of men who will extend the kingdom of the King. They are identified, not only as disciples, but also as apostles (3:13–19; 6:7–13).
Their identity was inseparable from the identity of Jesus. And to the degree that they understood who they were, they would faithfully do what they were called to do. Again, identity is a major theme here. Our present text—3:7–12—highlights this.
Insiders and Outsiders
From the record of 3:1–6, clearly, the Pharisees rejected who Jesus was, and therefore they opposed what he did. When it came to the kingdom of God, these men were far from it. They were outsiders. They, in fact, were vicious outsiders. They were not merely indifferent toward Jesus but were violently opposed to him. It is in response to their plotting, that the words before us arose.
As we saw previously, the synagogue, on God’s appointed day for man’s welfare, became a place of sinister, satanic scheming. The plot began for the destruction of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who professed to be zealous for the law of God were planning Deicide. What would Jesus do? The next section in Mark tells us. He would withdraw to the sea, and then to the mountain, then back home to Capernaum. He would then move to the seaside again and eventually would travel to his early boyhood home in Nazareth (3:7–6:6). But why? What was he doing? He was drawing a clear line between insiders and outsiders. He was making it increasingly clear that there were two types of Jews: those of old and faithless Israel, and those of new and faithful Israel; those who were his disciples, and those who were not his disciples; those who were in the family of God, and those who were not in the family of God. Jesus was making it clear that those who identify with him are insiders; those who don’t, are outsiders.
It was with his withdrawal that these lines were being clearly drawn.
The primary theme of this new section is insiders versus outsiders. That sounds exclusive—and it is. Not everyone is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not even everyone who attends church is a follower of Jesus Christ. One can be inside the four walls of a church building while at the same time be outside of the family of God. We see this truth over and again in this section, beginning with a crowd of largely outsiders.
Let’s briefly look at those who didn’t grasp the identity of Jesus—that is, the outsiders.
Without Honour at Home
In vv. 20–21 (and 6:1–6), we see that Jesus was without honour at home: “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
Those whom we would naturally assume to be insiders proved themselves, at least at this point, to be outsiders. Rather than being amazed at the person, ministry and message of Jesus, they concluded that he was mad. The word can refer to insanity. Those whom we might assume will embrace Jesus will sometimes disappoint us. Proximity to the Lord is not the same as trusting in the Lord.
Be careful not to presume that everyone whom you would expect to be an insider is an insider. As we will see, being an insider is not a natural phenomenon; it is supernatural (John 1:12–13).
Verses 22–30 point us to the blasphemous scribes.
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
I can never read this passage without a sense of shock and sadness. These who, in the tradition of Ezra, had given themselves to study the law of the Lord—the very law that reveals God’s Messiah—use the convincing evidence against Jesus. Clearly, he was the King. And his casting out demons was evidence (the whole point of this pericope) that his kingdom had arrived. But rather than bowing to their sovereign Lord, they blasphemed him, making the most awful assertions against his character. They claimed that he was of the devil. Despite their biblical knowledge, they were outsiders. Despite their religious stature in the community, they were outsiders. Despite their long prayers and regular fasting, their tithing and their reputation for being morally squeaky clean, they were outsiders. They were way outside.
Verses 13–19 show us some surprising insiders.
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 (to whom he gave the name 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 James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
For many years the United States Marines Corps used the recruiting slogan, “We’re looking for a few good men.” Well, when it came to Jesus selecting his followers, and particularly those who would be his designated apostles, Jesus chose a few perhaps unlikely men. He still does.
But these apostles would turn the world upside down. So can we—if we follow Jesus.
As more than one commentator has observed, with the events in the synagogue (vv. 1–6), “following this breach with the church of Israel, Jesus began to constitute his own church”(Cole). In vv. 13–19, we have the record of its first dozen members. At least, eleven of them would persevere, proving they truly belonged. These eleven would prove they were truly insiders.
This is an interesting group of men—in some ways, a very unlikely group of insiders. Without trying to exhaust this passage, it is clear from what follows in the story that these men were often rather clueless (4:10–13; 4:36ff; etc.). Yet, by the grace of God, they would, minus Judas Iscariot, share in the identity of Christ.
The True Family of God
In vv. 31–35, we are introduced to the true family of God.
And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
This final passage makes a clearly-defined distinction between those who are on the outside and those who are on the inside. The distinguishing mark differentiating outsiders from insiders is obedience to God. Those who do the will of God, Jesus said, are alone his brother and sister and mother. The identity of insiders has everything to do with their identifying with Jesus.
Jesus was not saying that, in doing God’s will, we become a part of his family, but that this is the distinguishing characteristic of those who belong. Insiders dwell within the circle of God’s revealed will. They obey.
Now, let’s dig into the passage immediately before us and learn from Jesus and his identity.
Solitude by the Sea
In v. 7, se see Jesus alone by the sea: “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea.”
When Insiders Are Treated Like Outsiders
As the tension began to grow and the plot thickened with hatred, Jesus withdrew to the sea. Since Capernaum was situated on the sea, this probably refers to the region surrounding the sea, implying the wilderness. If so, this is significant due to the wilderness motif, which we have seen in the early stages of Mark.
The wilderness was a place of both affirmation and testing. As Jesus retreated to the wilderness, his Sonship was both affirmed and tested (v. 12). The true Israel was indeed the true Israel, the true Son of God (see Exodus 4:22–23).
But note that Jesus did not retreat alone. Rather, he went “with his disciples.” The true Israel was accompanied by the new Israel of God. The door was closing on old covenant Israel.
The word translated “withdrew” is used fourteen times in the New Testament and, in almost each case, it is in a context of conflict (see Matthew 2:12–14, 22; 4:12, 12:15; 14:13). It speaks of a voluntary retirement. Jesus, when the public pressure began to encroach upon his life’s purpose and ministry, often withdrew to the seaside or to the wilderness or to a mountain. This was one such time.
The pressure upon Christ was immense. Our Lord’s every move, night and day, was observed by hostile interlopers. The worst interpretation was placed on everything seen and heard. Our Lord, being truly a man, felt the pain of hatred intensely with its emotional discomfort and pervasive alienation.
The question we then need to examine is, why did he not succumb to this pressure? Why did he not cave in and quit? Why did he not compromise his mission? Why did he persevere? Better, how did he persevere? He kept withdrawing and kept praying (see v. 13).
This section (3:7–12) is parallel to 1:29–38. There was a pattern—a rhythm—to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He kept perspective amid pressures; he maintained his God-assigned identity amid the pressures of hostility and popularity by withdrawal. He sought times of solace with the Father. This was key to living out his identity. The same is true for us.
Are you seeking him early? You need a regular reminder of his identity and yours in him. You and I need to be reminded who we are and what we are to do.
When opposition arises, retreat is often a wise course of action. Avoid unnecessary conflict. Avoid letting the conflict set the agenda. Take an opportunity to reset. Retreat so you can renew. No doubt, this withdrawal became a means for reviving his soul (cf. 1:32ff).
Crushed by the Crowd
The text tells us that a great crowd followed Jesus
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.
“Crowd” is a key word in the rest of this chapter. Two different terms are used and, between them, the mention of a “crowd” occurs five times (vv. 7, 8, 9, 20, 32). In this new section (3:7–6:13), the presence of a crowd appears an additional seven times (4:1, 36; 5:21, 24, 27, 30, 31). Clearly, Mark is drawing his readers attention to this historical fact. Why?
There could be several reasons, but the context indicates that Mark is highlighting that there is more to the Christian life than being a part of the crowd. Being a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important defining characteristic of our life—even if it means that we are not a part of the crowd. Or, even if it does make us a part of the crowd. That is, a perverse quest for individuality can be one of the most damning pursuits. Having Jesus, with or without the crowd, is what matters. Belonging to Jesus Christ is the most important matter of our existence.
“A great crowd followed.” The wide geographic designations cover the northwest, the east and the south. “Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem represent Israel proper, while Idumean, Transjordan and the region of the coastal cities Tyre and Sidon constitute the southern, eastern and northwestern borders of the land” (Lane).
The “world” was going after Jesus. Though the religious leaders of Israel were rejecting him, the common people were flocking to him. They may not have understood who he was, but neither were they deluded to think that he was evil.
The latter phrase of v. 8—“when the great crowd heard all the he was doing, they came to him”—may be an explanatory clause referencing the reason for this widespread popularity. Regardless, the picture Mark paints is a pressing crowd desiring something from Jesus—not so much him, but what they wanted from him.
The word “crush” speaks of being troubled or afflicted. The word picture is that of Jesus being put into a very difficult position physically due to the enormous and rambunctious crowd. His popularity was creating physical discomfort, if not a physical threat.
In 1979, a group of friends obtained tickets to a concert of The Who. I was not able to make it that day, but later I heard reports of crowds pressing to get into the venue so that eleven people were killed and 26 more injured. Pressing crowds can be dangerous.
The words “pressed around him” could be translated “falling upon.” It is so translated in Luke 15:20; Acts 20:10, 37. This is an intense scene. The people had heard of Jesus’ power to heal and so they were almost falling on him as they tried to get close to him. Though we can appreciate their predicament (suffering is difficult), nevertheless the mob behaviour was rather disconcerting.“They are chasing after and tracking down Jesus. They seem to have a magical view of Jesus, believing if they just touch him they will be well. But Jesus does not wish to be treated as some sort of reservoir of magical powers” (Witherington).
It has been helpfully noted that in this context, “there is tragic irony here, for the demons knew Jesus was the Son of God, but the multitudes though of him only as a miracle-worker whom they could use for their selfish ends” (Lane).And it is because of this that Jesus had ordered the disciples to get a boat, for him to be able to get in to be put out from the shore. I find this notable on two counts.
Before proceeding, let’s pause for a couple of important observations about the identity and therefore the purpose of Jesus.
First, Jesus, as we have seen, was not interested in being a sideshow. Jesus did not come primarily to heal and to perform other kinds of miracles. He did these, and Mark will record many more of them, but this was not his main concern. His main concern—his mission—was to provide forgiveness for sinners as the foundation of establishing his kingdom. These miracles of healing were not only deeds of compassion, they were primarily demonstrations of authority. They were demonstrations of his kingship. We will see this more clearly in vv. 22–30.
A question at this point: What are you after? The crowds desired him in some way, but they were not devoted to him. Families were concerned, but not contrite. The scribes were observant, but not obedient.
Notice that, on the surface, in many ways, the difference between the insiders and the outsiders is superficial. The deeper difference will be seen when it comes to devotion, faith, contrition, obedience and how they respond to their own failings.
Second, don’t miss a very relevant point. Mark is making the point that popularity and the gospel of the kingdom don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Being a part of the crowd may not be the same as belonging to Christ. One can be a part of the crowd and yet still be an outsider. This is a very relevant point, particularly in a nation like ours. Though I understand we are becoming more secular, it remains true that most of our population self-identify as Christian. It is a large crowd. Yet I suspect that many among this crowd are outside. And, like the passage before us, we might be surprised by who these are.
A fair and honest question is, who’s to blame? Who’s responsible? The answer is, the church.
Identity and Priority
When the storms of opposition and popularity arose, Jesus remained in the boat. This section often finds Jesus in connection with a boat (3:9; 4:1, 36–37; 5:2, 18, 21). In fact, of the 41 occurrences of a boat in the New Testament, Mark records seventeen. What is the significance?
Of course, transportation is one reason. Jesus used boats to go from Galilee to Decapolis and back again. He did this for ministry purpose. But the major thing we need to see in this context is that Jesus used a boat as a pulpit (4:1).
Jesus chose to get into a boat, remaining near the people, not because he didn’t desire to minister to them but because it was from there where he could do the most good. It was from there where he could teach them. It was from there that he could, without hindrance, proclaim the gospel of the kingdom.
We mustn’t miss this. Jesus did not retreat from the crowd. No, he stayed near them, but on his own terms. He stayed near and sought to draw them near by what he proclaimed.
We have seen this before. The crowds clamoured to him after the healings Peter’s home. But Jesus left for other villages where he focused on preaching (1:38).
To avoid being crushed by the crowds, Jesus asked the disciples to find him a boat (perhaps one reason that he chose fisherman as initial disciples?). From a boat, he would have better crowd control. But, most significantly, it was from the boat that he could do what he primarily came to do: teach the Word of God.
In the boat, healing would take a secondary place to his primary ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God. Jesus did not allow his mission to be controlled by the crowd. He knew what he came to do, and he remained committed to this. He was fully aware that his teaching would, in fact, land him in trouble with the powers that be. Yet he remained focused.
Churches need to learn from Jesus to keep the main thing the main thing. We dare not allow our lovers, our haters, or those who are indifferent, to set the agenda. We must keep prioritising the gospel of the kingdom. We must keep prioritising the preaching of God’s word.
There is so much concern on social media about the church and social justice—so much fear that the church is moving away from preaching the gospel. It is a wrong-headed concern, in many ways, but at least there is concern about preaching the word.
However, it is interesting that once we take seriously the preaching of the word, we will be confronted with our responsibilities for justice issues! This has been the case at BBC.
Note that healing remained a ministry of Jesus, “for he had healed many” (v. 10). But preaching was, and remained, the priority. We must note take this for granted. We need to examine our ministries: Is teaching God’s word our priority?
Declaration by the Demons
In the closing verses of this pericope, we see the demons once again declaring their knowledge of who he is. “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” (vv. 11–12).
Falling Before Him
There may be a deliberate play on words here. The crowds were falling on Jesus, the demons were falling before him. They believed and they trembled (James 2:19).
Witherington observes, “The supernatural world knows well who Jesus is but does not wish to acknowledge him unless forced to, while mere mortals still do not really know who Jesus is even though he has performed great miracles and even though they are impressed by his mighty works and follow him around.”
What we should learn from this scene is that there is more to being an insider than merely a profession of correct theology. The demons were correct, but they were not converted. In fact, their theology produced trembling. And yet they were forever lost. Right theology, correct doctrine matters, but it is not sufficient. Repentance and faith are the marks of a saving experience with the Lord Jesus Christ. Just ask Simon the magician (see Acts 8).
We should also “not ignore the real significance of this exorcism. It marked the permanent hostility between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of darkness” (Ferguson).Identifying with Jesus ushers us into war.
Note Jesus’ response. As we have become accustomed, he commanded the demons to silence. This was perhaps because of the secrecy of his identity, though, at this point, word was spreading. Perhaps it was because Jesus did not desire the attention of the demons. Perhaps it was because this was not the ultimate way in which he came to be revealed. He desired, and the Father desired, that Jesus be revealed to the hearts of true worshippers. The demons may tremble, but Jesus was looking for trust. Perhaps, related to the previous point—and the context may deliberately suggest this—the proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God, who has all authority, was reserved for disciples, not demons (vv. 13–19).
Regardless, Jesus revealed his authority. He confirmed his identity. He is the Son of God, and that makes all the difference for all eternity.
Persevering in the Purpose
With reference to the immediate context, how is it possible for a person to be hated by one group of people (vv. 1–6, 22–28), while at the same time being greatly popular with another (vv. 7–12)? How is it possible for different groups of people to have such diverse conclusions about someone (vv. 13–20)? Such is the case before us in this passage. While some were plotting the destruction of Jesus, others were flocking to him. While some were willing to leave all and to follow Jesus, still others—his own family!—thought that he was insane. While some loved him, others hated him. While some were willing to give up everything because of his amazing power in their life, others only wanted to see him leave. They saw Jesus, not as a Redeemer, but as a threat (5:1-20).
Though this is not the time to answer these questions, there is a very important matter here of the identity of insiders. We must guard it. We must persevere. And Jesus shows us how. In fact, he strengthens us to do so.
Have you ever struggled with wondering who you really are? Do you know what it is to have an identity crisis? I do. There are times when I am not sure if I am the horrific person that my enemies paint me to be, the wonderful person that my friends think me to be, or the insignificant, if not irrelevant, person that those indifferent to me assume of me. With a crisis of identity can come a whole lot of other things—like insecurity and therefore unproductivity; Like insecurity and intimidation to compromise; like insecurity and bravado to prove who we are.
As we have seen in the passage before us, we have a wonderful example of the Lord Jesus Christ living out his identity. He knew who he was and what he came to do. And despite haters, lovers and the indifferent, he lived out his true identity. And this was essential for our salvation—and it is essential for our sanctification towards our eventual glorification.
When it comes to the Christian’s identity, we need to be well-grounded in who we are in Christ, which means we need to be well-grounded in the identity of Jesus Christ. We need to know who he is.
Identity and Perseverance
If we identify with Jesus—if his identity is ours—then we should be prepared for some very real struggles. As we follow the Lord Jesus Christ, we will experience tensions and temptations arising from the outside—arising from those who are on the outside.
Insider or Outsider?
The most important question we face is, are you with Jesus, really? Church membership, church leadership, family connections, proximity to Jesus, head knowledge, religious tradition and experiencing a miracle do not determine whether you are on the inside.
We become insiders by the soul-transforming, gracious call of Jesus. And the evidence is turning away from sin as we turn to love and to follow and to serve him. Insiders are not merely nice, but new; not merely sincere, but saved; not merely decided, but disciples; not merely healed, but holy.
The Beautiful Security of Jesus
The Lord Jesus Christ was perfectly secure concerning his identity. And because of this, neither the lovers nor the indifferent nor the haters determined his mission. Neither the lovers nor the indifferent nor the haters determined what he would do. He would keep preaching and teaching and helping and healing and obeying regardless of the response of others.
Jesus persevered to the end—to the cross. He died there for all who will be insiders. He rose from the dead for all who will be insiders. He intercedes now for all who are insiders, and he is ready to intercede for all who will be insiders. Come to him today. Confess him, turning from sin and be converted—for now and forever.
Who is Jesus? This is the most important question we will ever answer. We must get the answer right. How you answer this question reveals whether you are an insider or an outsider. And that has eternal consequences.