Jesus was famous. He attracted great crowds of people (see Matthew 4:23-24) which made his work preaching and healing difficult at times. On at least one occasion Jesus was at risk of being crushed by the crowds:
“When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.” Mark 3:8-10
On this occasion the effective way for Jesus to speak to the huge crowd was from a boat with the people standing on the beach! (Matthew 13:1-3)
We don’t know for certain why Jesus told some people he healed to be silent — but it could have partly been to keep crowd numbers under control. Masses of people flocking to see miracles may have hindered his free movement and preaching around the country.
Let’s take a look at three examples to help us further answer the question:
We know that there was a great crowd following Jesus (Mark 5:21, 24) when Jairus sought him to heal his daughter. As recorded earlier, the people pressed around Jesus (Luke 8:42). Jesus brings Jairus’ daughter to life and strictly charges her parents that no-one should know (Mark 5:43). Was Jesus trying to protect this family from persecution? Later, when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead the reaction of the religious leaders is very hostile:
“So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” John 12:10-11
In the region of the Decapolis Jesus healed a demon-possessed man called Legion. It is less frequently recorded that Jesus asked a healed person to proclaim their miraculous news. Jesus commanded Legion to:
“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (See Mark 5:19-20)
We can assume that this would have been beneficial for Legion and it certainly helped preach the Gospel message in this region. However, maybe Legion was asked to preach in the Decapolis because it was going to be difficult for Jesus to do so himself? Matthew’s record of this event reveals that Jesus wasn’t welcome:
“And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.” Matthew 8:34
The deaf man in the Decapolis
Intriguingly Jesus later returned to the Decapolis. Did Legion’s preaching give people a desire to meet and be healed by the Lord? When Jesus heals a deaf man in the Decapolis he took him away from the crowd (Mark 7:33). Jesus obviously wanted to heal this man in private and didn’t want an audience or to gain the attention of the locals. This makes perfect sense when we consider the reaction to Legion’s healing. Jesus charged those present to tell no one — which sadly they could not do (Mark 7:36).
We have seen that the request to be silent or to speak about a healing often had benefits for the people Jesus healed. He may have been giving them a life of normality; free from the attention of a miraculous healing. He may have been seeking their security from the scrutiny of the Pharisees. He may have been providing them with an opportunity to preach and reach out to friends and family.
Whatever the reason, Jesus was the most effective preacher — attracting thousands yet touching the hearts of individuals and we are still listening to him today.