Mark 3: Would Jesus have picked you?

Application

Once again, the amount of action recorded in Mark 3 is stunning. Mark wastes no time on frivolous details or extraneous transitions. His narrative continues as a shotgun-style account of what Jesus did during his earthly ministry, and once again, there are any number of things in the chapter that we could write about. Today, though, I want to focus on one incident in the chapter which the NIV subtitle calls simply, “Jesus Chooses His Twelve Apostles.”

On the surface of it, it would seem a normal, ordinary thing. So much so that I have often read through this and the parallel passages without giving much thought to the matter. Jesus picked out of the crowd the twelve people that would sit at his feet to learn and would eventually become the firestarters of a revolution which would sweep the world. And then we have the list of their names. In fact, even though I’m generally not a list person, I have often found myself focusing on the list and the people it represented, but that’s another discussion entirely. I want to focus today on the preliminaries of the choosing.

In vs 13, we’re told that “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came.” Now, I can only imagine the scene, but here’s how I’ve always seen it happening in my mind: Jesus goes up on a little hill and waves the twelve to come on up and have a seat. I always imagined that this was something of a quiet, intimate moment with Jesus and just a handful of others. But as I go through the passage again, something jumps out at me: Jesus was swarmed by people! In vs 7, we’re told that “a large crowd… followed.” In vs 8, “many people came.” In vs 9, Jesus requested a small boat “because of the crowd.” And again in vs 20, when Jesus and his disciples went into a home to have dinner, “a crowd gathered,” and there were so many people that they “were not even able to eat.” In fact, in vs 21 and again in vss 31-33, we see that Jesus was so busy with crowds that his family actually tried to get him to stop and come home for his own well being. So to be among the twelve that Jesus picked wasn’t just a “well, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time” sort of thing. Jesus wanted these twelve people. Specifically and by name. When he reached his perch on the mountainside and turned around, he started pointing at particular people, and I can see it now. Some guy sees the finger pointing in his direction and eagerly starts toward Jesus only to be told, “No, not you. Him. Yeah, you, Simon. You, Andrew. You, Judas.” Jesus knew exactly who he wanted, and he called exactly those people from out of the crowd.

Further, when Mark talks about Jesus going up on a mountainside, it occurs to me that he wasn’t talking about the mole hills my two young children call mountains. Unlike Iowa, there are real mountains in Israel! And the mountains in Israel are known for their sheer cliffs and other difficult terrain. I suspect, then, that rather than Jesus climbing a grassy knoll or small rise, as I have often imagined, this was more like him risking life and limb to ascend an absolutely vertical rock wall to twenty or thirty feet and then expecting those he called to do the same. Talk about a formidable obstacle to following Jesus! But this was the only way he could separate the twelve he knew were really following him from all the rest who were only following his miracles.

And a third thing which occurs to me today as I look at this scene is who is doing the action here. A couple of weeks ago, while preparing for a sermon, I came across the observation that, generally speaking, in Jesus’ time, students chose their teachers. If someone wanted to learn more about God or anything else, they would hang out at the temple or synagogue until someone piqued their interest, and that was who they would choose to follow. In this case, though, Jesus did the calling. And he didn’t just call a bunch of strangers that just happened to be there, waiting for the next miracle like someone at an aquarium does the next dolphin show. No, Jesus wasn’t asking for volunteers and then picking randomly from the raised hands; he “called to him those he wanted, and they came.”

And then, when they arrived, he did something totally unprecedented. When most teachers would have gathered their students and told them to have a seat on the ground before proceeding to teach, we learn in vs 14 that Jesus “appointed” these twelve. The term implies that, rather than being just students, these guys were going to have a job to do. And not only that, but Jesus designated them apostles. To the Greek speaking mind, the meaning was clear. These guys weren’t just to soak up what Jesus taught them. They were to proclaim it and then realize it. In other words, from the very beginning of their tutelage, Jesus made clear to these twelve that they, like the executive officer of a ship charged with communicating the captain’s orders and ensuring they got done, were going to be the people responsible for taking Jesus’ message to the world and then getting it done.

So here’s the thing. Jesus is looking for more than someone from the crowd. He won’t call us simply because we’re part of the hip new thing going on at XYZ Church. He has specific places for specific people. He has a specific place for me and you. More than that, he’s not interested in people who will only follow until the path gets a little steep, difficult, or even treacherous. He wants people who are willing to scale the mountainside, climbing the sheer and deadly cliffs of life if necessary, to see what he’s up to. And he’s not looking for people who will simply soak up his teachings, amass a treasure trove of knowledge, but never share it with anyone or actually put it to use. He wants an apostle who will tell everyone everything Jesus ever told him and work tirelessly to make sure it all gets done.

The question which must be asked, then, is this. If you had been in that crowd that day when Jesus called the Twelve, would he have called you? Would he have known that you were the one that he wanted, you were the one that would climb the mountainside, you were the one who would proclaim his gospel message and execute his will? Would Jesus have pointed to you in that crowd, waving off the other guy that was standing right beside you, and said, “You, Jeremy Geerdes of Des Moines. I want you”?

Because that’s what he did at that mountainside in Israel in Mark, chapter 3. And I wholly believe that’s what he wants to do at Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, West Union, St Louis, Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing and Timbuktu in the year 2010.

Notes

  • (4-5) Sadly, I fear that there are a good many in our churches that feel like the “some of them” (v2) in this synagogue. We would rather see our rules observed, our preferences maintained, than effectively minister to people in real and obvious need. Notice Jesus’ reaction to these people: anger and deep distress. I hope I am never the one who compels Jesus to these emotions!
  • (6) Fortunately, I doubt there are many believers in our churches today who would plot to kill us if we were committed to ministry despite their preference to stay the same, personal religion. But how many pastors have been removed? How many godly people have been driven out of churches? How many…?
  • (13-15) This is something of a reversal from what most teachers did. In most cases, students chose their teachers. In Jesus’ case, though, Jesus hand-picked the twelve. In most cases, students were allowed to sit at the master’s feet and learn. Jesus appointed his disciples apostles, or messengers with authority, to be sent out to preach and heal. Doesn’t that sound exciting?
  • (20-21) Surely, Jesus’ family was concerned about his welfare. But their concern also indicated a lack of understanding of who he was and what he was trying to do.
  • (23-26) Jesus’ point was clear. Satan is always out to get people. He will never not be out to get people, or he will cease to be Satan.
  • (27) It’s not exactly what Jesus is talking about, but it occurs to me that Jesus is a pretty tough guy. No one should be able to enter His house, the church, and carry off His possessions, believers, except that we have a tendency to tie him up of shove him in a box.
  • (28-29) I wonder what constitutes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It seems that it must be calling him an evil spirit even though His work is so obviously contrary to that of Satan.
  • (31-34) How awesome it is that Jesus considers his followers to be his family!
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