7 Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; 8hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. 9He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. 11Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ 12But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
Mark provides transition from one topic to another by telling us of Jesus’ movements from place to place. He leaves Capernaum and goes down to the lake, the Sea of Galilee; much of Jesus’ ministry occurs in the region of the Galilee, and along the shores of the Sea. A great crowd follows him – in Mark the crowd becomes a character, active in the story. Here he tells us that the crowd came from all around, as far away as Judea and Jerusalem (a 10-day to 2-week walk), the Mediterranean coast around Tyre and Sidon, from which they would have come through the Jezreel Valley, and the land beyond Jordan, which today is Jordan. All of this is a short distance in modern terms – in less time than it takes to travel from Big Pine to Miami and back you can travel through much of ancient Israel. But in ancient times, when travel was mostly by foot, it was a great distance. Mark is telling us that people went to a lot of trouble to join the crowd and to listen to what Jesus had to say.
Because the crowd was so great, Jesus would sometimes stand or sit in a boat to speak to the crowd sitting on the shore. The water provided better acoustics and the boat provided separation so that everyone could hear, not just those in front. But Jesus not only spoke to the people, he healed the sick and cast out the demons. Wherever he went those with illnesses pressed in, seeking just to touch him. I think the press of the crowd would have been difficult – especially for the disciples still trying to follow faithfully while they figured the whole thing out! And the demons, when Jesus would cast them out, knew who Jesus was, while even the disciples had not yet understood. But Jesus ordered them not to make him known. Much later, James would say, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder.” (James 2:19) James is saying that we must live our faith, not just claim it. But why did Jesus not want the demons to tell who he was? I think, perhaps, he wanted the disciples to come to this understanding on their own, not because they heard it from the demons! It also had to do with the crowd, already so large that it was making ministry difficult. How large would it be if they heard the demons proclaim Jesus as the Son of God?
We need to be more than part of the crowd. We need to be more than those who seek something from Jesus – a healing or a demon cast out. We need to do more than believe. We need to be disciples – true followers who seek to live and love as Jesus did.
pic is the Jezreel valley as seen from Megiddo