Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

41. A Climax of Activity (Matthew 12:15-21; 4:23-25; Mark 3:7-12; Luke 6:17-19)*

The discussions between Pharisees and Herodians how best to be rid of Jesus, although secret, were known to him. Again there is no indication whether it was by intuitive insight that he was aware of this, or because some secret sympathizer was in the know and sent him a word of warning.

Whichever it was, Jesus promptly put into practice the principle which he was to lay upon his disciples in later days: “When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another” (Mt.10:23). When describing how Jesus “withdrew” from thence, both Matthew and Mark use a word which implies flight (cp. Mt. 2:12, 14, 22).

Yet the intention was not to go into hiding but simply to take the edge off the animosity of his adversaries by keeping well away from them. Indeed, no hiding was possible. Word concerning him--with more emphasis on his miracles than on his teaching-had spread like a prairie fire, so that crowds of curious and excited and hopeful people came from far and near.

“To thee and to thy Seed”

Mark throws together an immensely impressive list of localities which added their quota to the crowds eager to be with Jesus. Besides “a great multitude from Galilee” there was also “a great multitude” (note the repetition in the space of two verses) from Judaea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond Jordan, Tyre and Sidon. Matthew has a similar list, covered by the comprehensive phrase: “all Syria”. The entire greater Roman province was affected by the interest and excitement regarding Jesus of Nazareth. The catalogue of names is impressive for more reasons than mere geography. Between them they cover the Land of the Promises made to Abraham. Already, in delightfully indirect fashion, the Seed of Abraham was asserting his right to his inheritance!

Pity or Preaching?

The interest was primarily in the powers of Jesus to heal the sick and afflicted. It is all too easy for the modern mind, well-accustomed to the knowledge and skill behind scientific medicine and surgery, to overlook the vast amount of suffering which existed in that medically ignorant era. So they came in their scores, “all sick people, that were in the grip of divers diseases and torments-the mentally sick, epileptics, the paralysed-and he healed them”. The powerful compassion of Christ would not let him disappoint any of these pathetic wistful sufferers.

Nevertheless, with all this eagerness and all this desperate need crying out to be satisfied out of the beneficent resources of his divine power, there was serious danger of the ministry of Jesus getting off balance. What real good was done if he merely sent people back to their homes fit and well, whilst their more deep-seated disability and need went untouched?

Embarrassing Enthusiasm

So he arranged that one of the disciples should be on hand with a dinghy. This he used as a pulpit, thus making the needful separation of a few yards between teacher and taught. This simple device is to be thought of as a method frequently put into operation during the Lord’s ministry in Galilee. It enabled him to put the emphasis where it was most necessary-on the ministry of the Word. At the same time those who brought their physical woes to him knew that at the end of his discourse the Lord must come on shore again and that his tender loving-kindness and sheer pity would not allow him to go off heedless of their afflictions.

Mark has characteristically vivid expressions to describe the difficulties of the situation Jesus was often faced with. “A great multitude thronged him”-the words (repeated; v.7, 8) imply physical pressure and constraint. “They were continually pressing upon him to touch him.” Literally, “they fell on him”, like a human avalanche. Word had gone round that the mere touch of his healing hand meant instant restoration. Consequently so many were set on personal contact with him that time after time it meant serious physical discomfort for Jesus. Yet he could not say them nay. In four successive chapters (4:40; 5:15; 6:17; 7:21) Luke has a superb repetition in describing the Lord’s ministry of healing. In 6:19 especially the Greek verbs (all impf.) give a splendid picture of sustained activity.

Unclean Spirits

“And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known” (Mk). Here, once again, is the suggestion (supported by the Greek text) that Jesus saw God’s angels of evil (Study 30) as the ultimate cause of these sicknesses and mysterious acknowledgments of his power. But Matthew’s phrasing, equally appropriate, indicates repeated warnings to the people who found themselves completely healed, that they were not to make great public fuss, publishing the name of Jesus of Nazareth as their compassionate benefactor.

“Tell no man”

The urgent charge: “No publicity!” was a further expression of the Lord’s attempt at compromise between his strong compassionate urge to bring aid to those enduring pain and hardship and his yet higher responsibility to impart the healing of the gospel to their souls. As much as lay in him he would continue to restore those who brought their woes to him, but he nevertheless hoped that their co-operation by a quiet thankfulness would save him from being altogether swamped with multitudinous appeals for help and yet more help. The ministry of the Word was his greater work. A

Singular Prophecy

Matthew sums up the relation between these different sides of the Lord’s work in an impressive Messianic quotation from Isaiah 42. There are difficulties concerning several of the Old Testament Scriptures cited in this gospel, but none presents more problems than this: “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust” (Mt. 12:18-21).

The words are not quoted from the Septuagint version. Indeed there are marked divergences from it. And if regarded as a direct translation from the Hebrew text, then it is both free and interpretative in character. In this way, phrase after phrase is shown to be anticipatory of the work of Jesus in this phase of his ministry.

The word for “Servant” is more personal and intimate than the word usually employed, and “beloved, in whom I am well-pleased” echoes the encouragement of heaven expressed at the

Lord’s baptism (Mt. 3:17). More than this, the word “well-pleased” (Heb:rafzon) implies that his ministry was being received by God as an acceptable sacrifice. Christ’s dedicated offering of himself began long before Golgotha. His matchless miracles “showing judgment (that is, the principles of God’s dealing with men) to the Gentiles” were only possible because God had “put his Spirit upon him.”


The constant emphasis on “see that no man know it” is summed up in the phrase: “He shall not strive, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets.” Several incidents in John’s gospel illustrate this, even though that record nowhere specifically enunciates the principle involved, as Matthew does. The changing of water into wine and the healing of the man at Bethesda could have been big sensations. Instead they were done in secret (2:9; 5:13). When men would have taken him by force to make him king, he left them, and sought the presence of his Father in prayer (6:15). He travelled to the Feast of Tabernacles incognito (7:10, 11). And so unlike normal Messianic expectations was his way of life that only a few months before he died men could say to him: “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly” (10:24; cp. also Mk. 1:25, 34.43; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9, 25, 30).

There was nothing of the rabble-rouser about Jesus. Matthew evidently took the words literally: “neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.” People must go out to him by seashore or on mountain side where the peace of God’s unspoiled world could help them receive his message.

And the gospel he taught, the principles he sought to inculcate, were in harmony with the environment. The Sermon on the Mount, which was now to follow, had the same quiet undemonstrative character.

The Sanctuary Lampstand

The figures of speech about “bruised reed” and “smoking flax” are closely related-and they are Biblical, not domestic. The allusion is to a seven-branched candlestick in the sanctuary of the Lord with its tubes (which should feed the oil to the lamps) blocked or damaged. With wicks also in need of trimming, the flame is smoky and useless. Here is a figure of the low spiritual condition of Israel. The restoring power of Christ brought opportunity of better things. He would “bring forth judgment unto victory (Hebrew text: unto truth}. And in his name shall the Gentiles hope.” The word “truth” frequently denotes the covenanted Promises of God. “Victory” means the realisation of these Promises. And, in accordance with several Old Testament foreshadowings, the Gentiles also would come to be associated with this Hope of Israel. The massive crowds from all parts of the Land were seen as a token of the ultimate realisation of God’s Purpose with both Jew and Gentile. These multitudes were not Jews only, as both Matthew and Mark are careful to emphasize.

But the quotation from Isaiah has one singular omission: “he shall not fail nor be discouraged” (42:4a). This, applied to Christ, is either meaningless or decidedly difficult. But, since the verbs are the same as in the previous verse, it could read: “It (smoking flax) shall not be dimmed, nor shall it (the bruised reed) be crushed, until he have set judgment in the Land.” If the suggestion of the last paragraph is correct, this would appear to mean that Israel’s fading glory would not be snuffed out until the full proclamation of the principles of God’s judgment had been declared to the nation by Jesus.

So, whilst the gracious kindliness of Christ’s work is being displayed in the gospel, the record has grave overtones. The judgment of the Chosen people was not far off.

Notes: Matthew 12:15-21

Withdrew.Cp. Lk.4:30, 31; Jn. 10:40; 11:54.

Healed them all, meaning probably Gentiles from surrounding areas; v.18, 21; Mk. 3:8. In Mt. 4:24 torments is the same word as in 1 Sam. 6:3, 4, 8, 17-and also in Rev. 20:10, torments which even Christ cannot alleviate.
Chosen. Not “selected”, but “separated off” (s.w. 1 Chr.28:6;Mal.3:17LXX);cp. “withdrew himself” (v. 15).

/ will put my Spirit upon him. A difficult expression for those who believe in a co-equal Trinity.
Cry; s.w. Jn.11:43.

Mark 3:7-12

To the sea, and also to the hills; v.13
Wait on him. A word much used for assiduous religious service.
When they saw him. the use of Gk: theoreo here is somewhat unexpected.

Fell down before him. Before or after the healing?

Luke 6:17-19

Intheplain. Cp. Dt.l:l, followed here by Blessingsand Curses (v.20-26), as in Dt.

RV: A great multitude of his disciples, from now on a constant and important element in the narrative.

To hear him. Note the sequence: 1.They heard about him (Mk). 2. They heard him (Lk). 3. They were healed (Lk).

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