By Pastor Glenn Pease
Some of history's greatest battles have been won by means of retreat. The 13 colonies won the first day of battle with England in the Revolutionary War because of a wise retreat. When Captain John Parker saw several hundred British Redcoats marching on the double toward his 70 or so minute men, forming a line on the Lexington Green, he knew at once he was facing a disaster. They had vowed earlier never to run from the British, but Parker realized there is a time for everything, and now was the time to run. He shouted, "Disperse, you men! Do not fire. Disperse!" They made a hasty retreat into the countryside. Paul Revere and others took off warning the people that the British were coming.
The result of this strategic retreat was that only a few Americans were killed in that first encounter. By the time the British were marching toward Concord the Americans were prepared. The British were shocked that these untrained farmers could shoot. The British suffered 250 casualties, and the Americans suffered less than 100. It was a day of victory because of a Captain who knew the wisdom of withdrawal. The Captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus, demonstrated this same wisdom in His conflict with His foes.
Take note of the context of our text. In Mark 3:6 its says, "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus." The kid gloves were coming off. No more games. They were in a conspiracy to murder this miracle worker. Homicide was their only solution for the solving of the mystery of a man like Jesus.
It is in the light of this context that we read verse 7: "Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the lake." The Greek word for withdrew is anachoreo, and it caught my attention because Matthew uses the same word in telling this account of the reaction of Jesus to the plot to kill Him. The word is most often used to refer to a retreat, and a getting away from a dangerous situation. Jesus is not ready for a showdown, nor does He have any macho need to prove His courage by courting death. Instead He retreats from the city, and escapes the clutches of those who seek to kill Him.
By so doing Jesus makes it clear that there is a time to take your stand, and there is also a time to retreat from your enemy so that you can be in control, and not at the mercy of the enemies choices. This same word is used to describe the withdrawal of the wise men in Matt. 2:12. They took a new route home to their country to escape Herod. Were they cowards by this retreat and refusal to face up to the wrath of Herod? Not at all. They would have been fools to die for no cause, and they would have done just that had they not taken the way of escape.
It is not only right to flee from evil men to avoid their anger and evil schemes, it is a Christian obligation. To cooperate with evil by letting evil men kill you when you can escape is folly. The wise men are heroes because they escaped and outwitted Herod. The same word is used also in Matt. 2:14 where Joseph took the Christ child and Mary, and departed to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. Joseph did not stay and fight for his right to have a son who would grow up to be a king. He ran away. There is such a thing as positive escapism. We almost always think of escapism as negative. It is a refusal to face reality, and a fleeing from reality. But the fact is, there is some reality that it is wise and right to escape from. There is the deadly reality that evil men will do you harm and even kill you, and it is not usually God's will that you die at the hands of evil men.
The theme of positive escapism runs all through the Bible.
Noah escaped the evil world and the flood.
Lot escaped from Sodom.
Israel escaped from Egypt.
Jonah escaped from the whale.
Daniel escaped from the lion's den.
His friends escaped from the fiery furnace.
David escaped from Saul.
Job escaped by the skin of his teeth and lived.
Peter escaped from prison and Herod's wrath.
Paul escaped from the Jews in the night.
All believers have escaped the judgment of God in Christ.
The greatest escape artist of all is Jesus. In John 10:39 we read that in a context where the Jews were trying to stone Him, "They tried to seize Him, but He escaped their grasp." On another occasion Dr. Luke tells of the mob spirit that arose so that the Jews dragged Jesus to the hill on which Nazareth was built, and were about to throw Him over the cliff to snuff out His life, but Luke 4:30 records, "But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way." The crowning event was when Jesus did finally decide to lay down His life and be taken captive by the power of death. Then came the grand finale; an event that Houdini could only dream of: Jesus escaped from the clutches of death, and rose again in triumph. He became the way of escape from sin, death, and hell, for all who will trust Him as Savior.
Positive escapism is the very essence of salvation. It is the goal of God for all His people. The ideal life is the life where there is perpetual escape from reality. It is folly to think that all reality is somehow good. This has lead to the corruption of the media. People curse God and profane all that is noble and precious. Therefore, because this is part of reality it must be made a part of all our entertainment. The same logic is used to justify all manner of evil being displayed because it is part of reality. The Bible says this is the very part of reality the Christian is to escape.
The Bible fully agrees with the thesis that sexual temptation and the temptation to break every commandment of God is a basic part of reality. But it has a different answer as to how we are to deal with it. The world says exploit it and experience it, but the Bible says to escape it. Paul in his well known words of I Cor. 10:13 says, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." Here is the recognition of the reality of our being subject to all the temptations of a fallen world, but here is also the recommendation that you take the way of escape that God provides.
The Christian who is not into escapism is a Christian who is a victim rather than a victor. There is no way for the Christian to conquer all evil. He has to retreat from it and gain his victory by escape. Like Jesus, we must withdraw from the battlefield when it will only give evil the advantage. The Christian who thinks he can stand up to evil and win the battle is often the Christian who falls. It is he who stands who is to beware lest he fall. Why? Because his very stand may be his biggest mistake. It is more often the wiser strategy not to stand, but to flee. Paul gives this advice over and over.
In I Cor. 6:18 he told them to flee fornication.
In I Cor. 10:14 he told them to flee idolatry.
In I Tim. 6:10 he told Timothy to flee from love of money.
In II Tim 2:22 he told Timothy to flee youthful lusts.
There is just no escape from the reality of positive escapism in the Bible. Those who refuse to practice this Biblical escapism end up as victims of reality rather than victors over reality. You can't escape the need for positive escapism. It is wise; it is good, and it is right. It is also Christ like. He practiced positive escapism, and He expects His disciples to do the same. Peter makes this clear in II Peter l:4, "...He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."
Escapism is a vital part of the Christian life. Like Jesus, we need to practice the wisdom of withdrawal. Instead of charging the enemy, or trying to make a stand against the onslaught, we need to retreat. We have stressed the point that greater is He that is within you than he that is in the world to the point where Christians are often presumptuous. They think they can face any foe and not be injured. This leads them to fight according to the enemies game plan, and they often fall. Jesus, by His example, teaches us to develop our own strategy, and if retreat is to our advantage, then we are to do it. He was not ready to confront the wrath of man, and so he escaped. The Christian has no obligation to suffer at the hands of those who plot evil. Preventing evil from succeeding is more noble and heroic than submitting to it.
If we explore just this one chapter of Mark, we see Jesus practicing the excellence of escapism over and over. In verse 9 we see Jesus preparing His disciples to have a boat ready so He could escape the pressure of the crushing crowd. Here is an example of very practical positive escapism. Jesus could see that the circumstances were shaping up to produce a problem. The mob could be dangerous, and He could be crushed by their enthusiasm, or be so surrounded that He could not have an effective ministry to them. He had to plan for a way to escape this negative circumstance, and keep open the door of opportunity.
Many times we assume that the sovereignty of God means that we must accept everything that is as His will. Not so! The reality of a fallen world is, that even those who mean well can spoil things, and we need to be aware of what can go wrong, and make a plan for a way of escape from negative circumstances. Jesus had foresight, and could see what might develop that could be a problem, and He had a plan to escape that problem if it arose. He did not just expect God to solve all his problems without any thought or planning on his part.
History shows us that when the good guys do not have a good plan the enemy can win. Peter Marshall in his book The Light And The Glory has a fascinating account of the American invasion of Canada during the Revolutionary War. We do not have the time to detail this great historical folly, but everything went wrong. There was no plan to escape all the things that could go wrong, and the result was a nightmare for the American soldiers. Many died from sheer exhaustion and lack of supplies.
They ate their dogs, leather boots, and even their cartridge boxes. By the time they arrived to attack Quebec they were a pitiful lot. All the officers were killed in seconds, and they were without leadership and had to surrender. The whole fiasco was over in a few moments, and the entire American force of 400 men was taken prisoner. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail, and this goes for the good guys as well as the bad. If Christians expect to escape negative circumstances, they have to follow their Lord and plan for a way of escape.
In verse 12 we see Jesus giving orders to the evil spirits not to tell who He was. Jesus had to escape being accepted by everyone as the Messiah, or He never would have been crucified. So in order to assure He would go to the cross for us, He had to hold back the storm of popularity that could have spoiled that plan. The worst thing the evil forces could have done was get Jesus so popular with all men that He no longer had enemies who would kill Him. Jesus had to escape from their plot to destroy His own plan of dying for the sin of the world.
In verses 13-19 He escapes the loneliness of being the Messiah by choosing 12 to be with Him. He also by this method escapes the dying of His movement with His own death by having disciples to carry on His plan.
In verse 20 we are reminded again of why Jesus had to escape the crowds. They could not even eat because the place was so packed.
In verses 22-30 Jesus is engaged in argument with the teachers of the law over the source of His power to cast out demons. They say it is by the power of Beelzebub the prince of demons. Jesus escapes this accusation by the logic of pointing out that a house divided against itself cannot stand. He also warns them to beware of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is man's ultimate escape from all sin and evil, but there is no escape for this sin. Escaping is the goal Jesus has for all men, and He wants even His worse enemies to escape the consequences of their sin and folly, and so He warns them to avoid this path of no escape.
If Jesus would have had a spirit of revenge, He could have let them walk this path to their own destruction, but He warns them, for He wants all to escape. Escapism is the very essence of His ministry. He taught, that men might escape the darkness of ignorance. He healed, that men might escape the bondage to sickness. He died, that men might escape the slavery to sin. Everything Jesus did He did to provide a way of escape. Christianity is a way of escape from the reality of a fallen world, and fallen nature that is out of God's will. To escape the world, the flesh, and the devil is what Christian living is all about.
In about 250 A.D. Cyprain of Carthage wrote a letter to his friend Donatus. Listen to a portion of that letter that has survived the centuries.
"This seems to be a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view
it from this fair garden under the shadow of these vines.
But if I climbed some great mountain and looked out over
the wide lands you know very well what I would see. Brigands
on the high roads, pirates on the seas, in the amphitheaters men
murdered to please applauding crowds, under all roofs misery
and selfishness. It is really a bad world, Donatus, and incredibly
bad world. Yet in the midst of it I have found a quiet and holy
people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times
better than any pleasures of this sinful life. They are despised and
persecuted, but they care not. They have overcome the world.
These people, Donatus, are the Christians-and I am one of them."
To be in the world but not of it is Christian escapism. By thinking ahead and planning; by avoiding and by retreating, the Christian is to rob the forces of evil of their victories. The time came when Jesus no longer withdrew, but put Himself in the hands of His enemies. Even then the goal was that He might die for us and make a way of escape that is permanent, and gain a victory over all the forces of evil forever. The goal of all Jesus did was positive escapism. Let us be thankful, and follow our Lord in practicing in our own life the value of positive escapism.