Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon.Mark 3:7-8
We have difficulty grasping the size of this crowd. This was not just a few people, or even a few thousand. There were literally tens of thousands of people, undoubtedly, in this crowd. They came from all over this country and beyond. They flocked out from all the cities to hear this amazing prophet who has risen in Galilee and was saying such startling things.
You can see how Mark traces the emphasis upon the crowd throughout this division. In verse 20 he says,
and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. Then, in verse 32:
a crowd was sitting around him. And in chapter 4, verse 1:
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the Lake... And then, in verse 36, Mark says,
Leaving the crowd, they went across to the other side of the lake. In chapter 5, verse 21:
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. And in verse 24:
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. So this is the period when Jesus is pressed by the great masses of people, the period of His greatest popularity.
For many, this has been the measure of Jesus' success, as it would often be in evaluating a successful person today. Anybody who can achieve a great crowd-following is regarded as a success. Today we call these people
stars—there are star actors, star athletes, star singers, star politicians—various people who have attained what in our day is a mark of success. No wonder the title of one of today's most popular musicals is Jesus Christ, Superstar. He is the one who drew all these great multitudes out from the cities of His day.
But as you read this account through, you see that Mark's intention is to underscore the weakness of popularity; the empty, hollow worthlessness of being popular; and how much damage and danger popularity produced in our Lord's ministry. One of the worst things that can happen to us, as this account makes clear, is to become caught up in a popular movement. False forces arise out of it. That is the whole thrust of this section. Mis-emphases easily spring into being—and wrongful attitudes arise readily in a popular movement. Popularity, therefore, ought to be watched carefully. And when a movement is popular, as Christianity is popular in many places today, we must be careful that we are listening to the voice and the Spirit of God.
Father, thank You for the truth as it is in Jesus. Help me to beware of the perils of popularity.
Do we evaluate success by our audience's size and applause? What can we learn from our Lord's own life and death about the shallowness and peril of popularity?