Summary: As much excitement healing stirs up, Jesus says what really characterizes his ministry - preaching.
Jesus’ ministry has gotten off to a great start. Really, what more could you want if you are trying to make a name for yourself? In one day he has become a phenomenon through his preaching and especially through his miracle healings and exorcisms. He has a nice centralized set-up in Capernaum, which is a fair-size town on the Sea of Galilee. It is easy to get to by both foot and water. He is clearly popular there. With proper time and marketing management, he should be able to set up an impressive ministry operation. I am sure Jesus and his first disciples were exhausted at the end of the evening, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the disciples had trouble sleeping after such an exciting day. They knew they had picked the right guy to follow. Let’s see what the next day brought.
A Time to Pray
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Consider what has happened. The morning Jesus got up was the day after the Sabbath, what would be for us Monday morning. He had spent the day preaching, casting out demons and healing many people, and most of that work had been done in the evening. After that kind of day and night, he rises while it was still dark to pray. He doesn’t get up, fix himself a cup of coffee, and sit in a cushioned chair to have his quiet time. He leaves the house and walks out of town to a solitary place in order to pray.
Only three times does Mark record Jesus praying. The second time is after he feeds the five thousand. He dismisses the crowd, sends the disciples off in a boat, and heads to a mountainside to pray. The third time is in the Garden of Gethsemane. In each case, prayer follows or precedes a momentous event. In each case there seems to be before Jesus a momentous decision. We know from John’s gospel that the five thousand wanted to make Jesus king. He probably wasn’t tempted to accede to being crowned by them, but surely the pressures of the crowd for him to take on that role forced him to reckon with the next steps he needed to take. We know the issue at hand in Gethsemane – going to the cross. What did he have to wrestle with at Capernaum? What was weighing on his mind?
Apparently, the next step to take. The subsequent verses bring this out. The disciples come to fetch Jesus to return to town where everybody is eagerly looking for him. He then surprises them with plans to move on. Let’s examine what takes place.
36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Clearly the disciples are excited about what is going on. The verb phrase, went to look, is a single word meaning “pursue.” Simon and his buddies do not casually look for Jesus. Simon is not merely curious. “I wonder where the Rabbi has wandered off to so early? I think I’ll take a look around. It looks like a nice morning. Anybody want to join me?” The conversation is more like, “Andrew, James, John, Jesus is missing! A crowd is already gathering again. Where could he have gone at a time like this? Come on! We’ve got to find him!”
So they find him and exclaim that just as the night before, a crowd has gathered again looking for him. Undoubtedly the people were eager for him to heal and cast out demons, though I would think they were also interested in what he had to say. Surely, they regarded him as some kind of man of God. Nevertheless, the miracle work, curing diseases and casting out demons, was clearly the big draw.
Now, observe Jesus’ response. Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages. Mark doesn’t record the disciples’ response, but you know what it must have been even if they didn’t say anything out loud. “Excuse me? Did we hear you right? You are the biggest hit ever in Capernaum, and you want to leave after one day? Didn’t you hear us? Everyone is looking for you. A crowd has already gathered at the house. You are the man!”
Where does Jesus want to go? Jerusalem? Other major towns? No, just the villages around Galilee, the lesser towns in the outpost region of Israel. And what does he plan to do? Establish a healing and exorcism show? That would be spectacular. No, preach. As he explains, so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.