A consistent theme in the Gospel of Mark is the repeated accounts of Jesus ordering certain ones to keep quiet about his identity or what they have witnessed him doing (1:25, 34, 43-44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26, 30; 9:9, 30): the so-called "messianic secret." While the reasons are not explicitly given, there are at least four possibilities along with practical applications for our lives today.
First of all, Jesus was no doubt concerned about the source of the prospective testimonials (cf. Mark 1:25, 34; 3:12). Certain ones (e.g. demons or unclean spirits), even though they may have spoken the truth about the Lord, would not have been reputable advocates. The lesson is simple. If we are not living for Christ or behaving in a Christlike manner, we have no legitimate right to wear his name or speak on his behalf. Paul issues a scathing rebuke against a number of Jews who claimed to be God’s children while living like sons of the devil. He observes: "You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written" (Romans 2:23-24 NKJV). May we never bring shame and reproach upon the precious name of our Lord or of his church by claiming allegiance to him without the requisite lifestyle. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
A second factor that may have prompted the Lord’s calls for silence is the likelihood that his ministry would have been impeded (cf. Mark 1:43-45; 5:43; 9:30). Whenever the word spread about his mighty deeds, he was thronged by multitudes who wanted to see him, touch him, receive healing, and/or observe a miracle. The more crowds demanded his time and attention, the more he was hindered from moving on to other areas where people needed him. Do our lives ever get so busy that we don’t have enough time or energy to accomplish all that needs to be done? Are our priorities sometimes misplaced and our schedules filled with time-wasting activities, while our service to God, to our family, to the church and to our community gets neglected? "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:15-17). The word "redeem" means to exchange one thing for another. What are the things we regard as so important that we are willing to exchange for them the limited time that has been entrusted to us?
There is a third possibility for the Lord’s pleas for silence. Publicizing his identity and works too quickly could have led to his premature death and thus kept him from accomplishing all that needed to be done in his earthly ministry (cf. Mark 8:30; 9:9). When we get in too much of a hurry and end up rushing through important tasks (e.g. worship, Bible study, prayer, family time, etc.), we seldom get the desired result. If God and his kingdom truly have first place in our lives (Matthew 6:33), we will make the time and expend the effort to fulfill his expectations to the very best of our abilities. He deserves no less!
A final reason that Jesus may have ordered certain ones to keep quiet was the potential of his message being distorted (cf. Mark 7:36; 8:26). A number of popular misconceptions about the Christ were circulating, and most who encountered Jesus for the first time were not sufficiently taught. There was a real danger of inadvertently spreading falsehoods about him and his teachings. The same can happen today. There is a reason the Lord’s brother penned the words of James 3:1. "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment." Now this is certainly no excuse for refusing to teach others about Christ (cf. Hebrews 5:12), but it reminds us of how important it is to know the message we are propagating. This should be a strong incentive for diligently studying the scriptures in preparation for our God-given ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
When Jesus wanted silence, the lessons seem to be clear. (1) To genuinely represent Christ, we must ensure that we are walking the walk and talking the talk. "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:16). (2) Let’s not get so busy with trivial matters that we neglect what is really important in this life in view of eternity. "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:2). (3) If something is worth doing (especially for the Lord), it is worth doing right. "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men" (Colossians 3:23). (4) Before we speak for Jesus, we need to make sure that we are adequately prepared and know what we are talking about. "But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts" (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
--Kevin L. Moore
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