Shhh...Don't Tell Anyone!
What's with not telling anyone about Jesus healing a deaf man who could hardly talk? I thought the Good News of what Jesus does is to go out into all the world. And don't say, "O that was just the part about Him being our Savior." Try telling that to Isaiah who describes God coming to save in these words: "Then will they eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy." Why then after Jesus does these things does He say in effect, "Shhh - Don't tell anyone?"
This isn't an exception in Mark's Gospel either. Mark is the Gospel of not telling. In 1:34 Mark reports Jesus healing and casting out demons then says, "He was not permitting the demons to speak because they knew who He was." In 1:44 Jesus tells a healed leper, "See that you say nothing to anyone." When unclean spirits fall down before Jesus saying He's the Son of God, 3:12 says, "He earnestly warned them not to make Him known." In 5:43, after raising Jairus' daughter, "He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this." In 8:30, Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ, but Jesus "warned them to tell no one about Him." After the Transfiguration, Mark 9:9 says Jesus told 3 disciples who witnessed it "not to relate to anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man should be raised..."
You know how some regard Jesus' repeated admonitions to not tell anyone? As reverse psychology. Yup, Jesus really wanted them to tell everyone, so knowing that sinners always do the opposite of what they are commanded, Jesus told them not to tell anyone. But then what are we to make of the end of the Gospel where Jesus says, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation?" Does Jesus really mean He wants us to keep quiet?
It will just not do to regard Jesus as using reverse psychology; He really didn't want them saying anything. But Jesus' admonitions to keep quiet about who He is say more about Mark's Gospel then they do about Jesus. While Jesus on all of the occasions I listed really did tell people and demons to be quiet about Him, of all the Gospel writers only Mark tells you this. There is a purpose behind Mark, being led by the Holy Spirit, to note all the times Jesus said, "Shh - Don't tell anyone!"
Mark is the only evangelist to call his writing a Gospel. He says in 1:1, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mark organizes the life of Christ, the facts of His ministry, the Good News about Him around the theme, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As you read his Gospel, you keep running across the word "immediately" or "straightway" if you read a King James Bible. Immediately Jesus comes out of the Jordan after His baptism. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus enters the synagogue. Immediately Jesus makes His disciples get into a boat. Immediately this, immediately that, the Gospel of Mark moves at a breathtaking pace. It is like Mark cannot wait to get Jesus to the cross. To the cross, to the cross, to the cross is like an underlying chant throughout the Gospel.
But then what happens? As the cross gets closer, Jesus looks less and less like a miracle worker. In the garden of Gethsemane, Mark alone tells you that Jesus prayed, "Abba, Father," which is like saying, "Daddy, Daddy." When Judas kisses Jesus, Mark doesn't show Jesus with a measure of confidence in the situation. He doesn't report that Jesus called Judas "friend," as Matthew does, or that Jesus asked Judas, "Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" as Luke does. There is no pomp or majesty at all for Mark from Gethsemane on. Mark doesn't tell you that when Jesus admitted to being whom they were looking for that they were knocked to the ground backwards as John does. While Mark reports that Peter cut off Malchus' ear, he doesn't report that Jesus healed it. Matthew doesn't either, but Matthew records the powerful words of Jesus that He could ask and get from the Father 12 legions of angels. Mark says nothing about this.
Mark shows you a very weak, very helpless Jesus from Gethsemane on. No wonders, no miracles, no angel coming from heaven to strengthen Him just a pathetic prayer to His Daddy for help. And as soon as the soldiers come Mark records, not only that the disciples all fled but that he himself did. Now, he doesn't give his name, but says, "And a young man followed [Jesus] with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and the soldiers seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away." You can believe this is Mark or not, but only Mark tells you about this incident.
The other Gospel writers also leave "secret" clues to their identity in their Gospels. Matthew when naming the disciples puts himself last in the group of four that he is in and adds the unflattering appellation, tax-collector to his name. John calls himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved." And it is only by comparing passages in Acts where Luke includes himself and doesn't include himself, that we know Luke wrote Luke and Acts. You can believe it's Mark who fled naked or not; that doesn't really matter. What matters is that you realize one young man would rather run naked in the night then be caught with the weak, helpless Jesus.
Mark spends his Gospel showing Jesus doesn't want to be known as a miracle worker. Miracles don't create faith in people. Mark emphasizes this fact by the incident of the centurion at the cross. Remember Mark's purpose from the beginning was to show that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but Mark shows Jesus wanted people to be quiet about many of the Godly miracles He did. The centurion at the cross, however, says, "Truly this man was the Son of God." Now Matthew and Luke also report him saying something like this, but only Mark tells you that the centurion reached this conclusion based on how Jesus had died.
Mark focuses on the death of Jesus for sinners, not His life of healing them. He focuses on His death so much that Mark's Gospel originally did not have the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, Mark knew that Jesus had risen, but he originally ended his gospel with this statement, "And [the women] went and fled from the [empty] tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid." All the focus is on the fact that Jesus died for sinners.
Mark's purpose is that our faith be in Jesus the Son of God crucified for our sins. He emphasizes a Jesus under the cross, and plays down a Jesus who heals and casts out demons. Mark shows the real miracle is that any one should believe such a weak Jesus is the Son of God. None of the disciples did, not even he did, but such a faith was worked in a pagan centurion by the horrible death of Jesus.
You know what Mark is doing? Mark is calling us to repent of our desire for a popular, successful Jesus. He is telling us that we have missed the mark if we present Jesus as a way to health, wealth, or successful living. The power of Jesus is not in that He can tell us how to raise our children, how to have a happy marriage, or how to be successful in the business world. Worldly experts can tell you these things. Nor is Jesus' power shown in His ability to cast out demons or heal the sick; prophets, apostles and even pagans can do this. Jesus' power is shown in His ability to save sinners. But He doesn't do this powerfully but weakly; not majestically but humbly, not so much by actively doing away with the effects of sins by miracles, but by passively suffering the judgment of God's Law that you and I deserve.
But what do we want to do? We want to proclaim Jesus as Power for Living. We want to tell people how Jesus blessed us by delivering us from this or that, and surely He does heal our diseases and bless us our lives. But don't think that His cross or our crosses get in the way of Jesus' working. Jesus didn't triumph in spite of the cross, but because of the cross. Likewise, we don't triumph despite our crosses but through them.
Jesus is not necessarily at work in our lives through our successes and blessings since He makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the just and unjust, but He is always at work through our afflictions and crosses. That's why St. Paul says he would rather boast about his weaknesses and that he is well content with insults, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ's sake. When he is weak in self, then he is strong in Christ. And so with Jesus, it was a dead Jesus who had the power to convert the centurion, not a miracle working one. It is a Jesus lifted high and horribly on the cross that Jesus says has the power to drag all men to Himself.
Dear friends, gather around this Jesus because this is the only Jesus who can save you from the sins that so beset you. Jesus doesn't overcome your sins by powerfully teaching you how not to sin. He doesn't overcome your sin by boldly disciplining them out of you. No, He overcomes your sins by taking them into Himself, by bearing them in His own body.
Then what happens? "By His stripes we are healed," Isaiah simply says. He overcame our sins by suffering their punishment in His body. Every whip lash that cut His back cut one more sin from our souls. Every drop of blood that dripped from His body covered one more sin of ours. Every tear that fell from His cheek washed one more sin from our account. The world believes that if Jesus had just come down from that cross, then He would be a powerful Savior, but we know it is only by staying on that cross to the bitter end that our sins are forgiven. The world believes that a Jesus who casts out demons is worthy of talking about, but casting demons out only relocated them it didn't overcome them. Cast out demons still had the Law to accuse us with and our sins to convict us with. By keeping the Law and dying for our not keeping it, Jesus took the Law and our sins out of their hands truly taking their power over us away.
The world wants to hear of a Jesus who works with power and might. It can't wait to spread the news of how Jesus delivered a man from his deafness and from his difficulty in speaking. But even there, the powerful Jesus hid His power in such painfully ordinary things. He didn't use divine lightening bolts but His human fingers. He didn't use angelic salve but human spit. He didn't heal using powerful words in an ostentatious voice as do the miracle workers on TV. No, He used one word in Greek. One simple Word: "Be open."
And He wants to work in your lives using ordinary, weak looking things today. He wants to wash away your sins, not by fragrant, gold laced ointment, but by the Waters of Baptism. He wants to forgive your sins not by calling down the almighty power of God, but with the simple words, "I forgive you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." He wants to give you His Body and Blood to eat and drink for the salvation of your body and soul not in a marvelous display of His power but in, with, and under plain looking Bread and Wine.
Shh--Don't tell anyone of a powerful, miracle working Jesus. Let Jesus, the Son of God, speak through His Cross, and let Him speak to you through Water, Words, Bread and Wine. For then your faith will not be based on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XVI (10-1-00) Mark 7: 31-37