Have you ever heard someone say, “I love Jesus, but I hate religion?” The statement has merit. Jesus reacted against religion that “bound” people in formalism devoid of truth and grace. Jesus is truth, and in Him, freedom is discovered—not just from darkness, but from empty religion that offers practice without God’s presence.
In Mark chapters two and three Jesus is confronted by religious authorities who are “unsettled,” to say the least, about his ministry. Mark describes five different conflict stories wherein Jesus authority is questioned and Jesus in turns challenges common held Jewish beliefs and religious practice. By Mark 3:6, they are “plotting to destroy Jesus.”
Jesus has crossed a “religious line in the sand” by disputing the purpose of the Sabbath with Jewish authorities of the law. Jesus teaches them that the purpose of the Sabbath is to bring humanity into communion with God. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
Jesus has become for us our “sabbath” rest. True peace and rest is only found in Christ—everything else is a “cheap imitation” of the abundant life God intends for us.
A Lakeside Retreat
Jesus responds to the opposition of the Jewish religious authorities by retreating to the Sea of Galilee and its surrounding countryside. I’ve had the opportunity to visit there a couple of times—it is beautiful and serene. I can understand why Jesus retreated to this area.
Jesus becomes more elusive, avoiding the synagogues and traveling primarily at night back and forth across the sea of Galilee. He continues His ministry of teaching, healing the sick, and delivering the oppressed in the region of Galilee.
In contrast to the opposition by Jewish religious authorities, Jesus is hugely popular with the people (see Mark 3:7-12). They come from all over Israel and the surrounding regions, which would be modern-day Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. At that time, it would have seemed that the “entire world” was flocking to Jesus. Jesus was drawing crowds of unparalleled size.
Jesus or Bread?
In fact, there are so many people trying to touch Jesus for healing, a boat is made ready for him to avoid being crushed by the crowd. But, the crowds want what Jesus can give, not necessarily Jesus himself. This reminds me of John 6, where Jesus has just multiplied the loaves and the fish for the five thousand. The next day, the people flock to Jesus, wanting him to “make us bread!”
This causes reflection on why we “seek Jesus.” Is it just to have our needs met, or do we desire Him, as friend and Lord? Then as now, many just want the benefits God can provide, rather than a committed relationship to Jesus. To truly follow Him, surrender is required.
Notice also in this passage of Mark that when the demonized see Jesus, the demons begin to cause the people to bow down and appear to worship Jesus. It is not, however, genuine worship, but rather the spirits trying to usurp authority over Jesus.
Their fake “profession of faith” is actually a futile attempt to render Jesus powerless. A common view at that time was that if you used someone’s proper name you could acquire “mastery” over that individual. But, Jesus’ conquest over Satan and demons, which began in Mark 1:13, 25-26, 34 is unstoppable. He commands them not to use their superhuman knowledge.
A New Israel—The Appointment of the Twelve
Jesus has reached a defining moment in his ministry (Mark 3:13-19). To continue his ministry and mission, he begins to develop a chosen company of disciples who share his teaching, vision, and ministry to continue after he is “taken away” (see Mark 2:20). Previously, Mark establishes the identity of Jesus. Now, the identity of this new community, a new Israel, begins to unfold.
Like Moses who went up Mt. Sinai (see Ex. 19:3), where God gave him the law and fashioned the twelve tribes of Israel into his chosen people. Now Jesus, on the mountain, “summons those he wanted.”
Not by human initiative, but by divine initiative, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16 NKJV)
The New Covenant, superior to the other covenants established with Israel, would make “one new man” of both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:15). A new family, a new community of believers indwelt by the Spirit of God, enjoying eternal Sabbath through what Jesus did.
Apostles and an Apostolic Mandate
These twelve are called to be Apostles, big “A” apostles. Apostle, from the Greek apostolos, means primarily “one sent out as authorized representatives.”
Further, it was derived from Roman understanding of apostolos. Not only to be sent out as authorized envoys, but the Roman Apostolos, leader, would help cultivate newly occupied territory with the nature of the Roman kingdom. It would look like and feel like Rome.
Jesus uses the term then to signify what role these Apostles would also have—to help bring the realm of God’s kingdom to earth.
By the way, in the NT there are about 22 named apostles, including the original 12 big “A” apostles. Matthias (Acts 1:26), Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Andronicus and Junius (Rom. 16:7), James, the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:19), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25 *messenger, lit. apostle), Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6-9), and Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thess. 1:1-2:6). There were other unnamed little “a” apostles as well. Heres the point, the office gift of apostle has not ceased. While there are no longer big “A” apostles, there have been through two thousand years of church history little “a” apostles at work—just as we read in the NT. The Church is called to be apostolic—look closely at the great commission! We are called to make disciples of all nations, that is “apostolic” in nature.
From Intimacy, Apostolic Ministry Flows
But notice two primary things in Mark’s passage about the twelve apostles Jesus appointed, first, they were to be with Jesus and then secondly, they would be sent forth by Jesus. Mark echoes the teaching of Jesus and the importance foremost for intimacy with Jesus (see John 15:4-7).
Without ongoing relationship with Jesus there will be no effectiveness in ministry or mission. All fruitfulness in life and ministry flows from intimacy with Jesus—there is no substitute for time spent with the King.
Luke later records in Acts 4:13 the impact of the apostles being intimately acquainted with Jesus, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (NKJV)
From a place of intimacy with Jesus, they are sent out by Him to continue his mission of teaching, preaching, and healing the sick and delivering the oppressed.
They are to “preach and to drive out demons” (Mark 1:39) just like Jesus. Paul characterizes preaching the gospel as a primary function of an apostle (1 Cor. 1:17). As in Jesus own ministry, preaching the gospel is inseparable from casting out demons (see Mark 1:27).
A Motley Crew!
Mark now lists the names of the twelve Apostles. What a motley crew! Jesus truly qualifies the unqualified—there is hope for us! In the Old Testament, a name change was significant, indicating one’s destiny. Simon, becomes Peter—a rock and a foremost Apostle.
Until the betrayal of Jesus, one could argue that they were committed followers of Jesus and were united in community to learn his mission and continue it.
21st Century Implications
From the calling of the twelve and the initial formation of the New Israel of God, I’ve drawn some important principles that are vital for the twenty-first century church and follower of Christ.
1) The importance of discipleship. To follow Jesus for who Jesus is, not just what Jesus can do for you, but to allow him to make you “like him.” Mark 8:34-35, “if anyone desires to follow Me, must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.”
2) The importance of mission and ministry. The great commission authorizes the Church to function in the apostolic authority that Jesus demonstrated and imparted to those original Apostles. The world lies in darkness without the church functioning in her apostolic mandate and mission.
3) The importance of community. Through Christ, we are now part of God’s family, kingdom, and his community of believers. Community, shared vision and mission, cannot be overstated today. Remember the oft used acronym TEAM, “Together Everyone Accomplishes More.” The Church is only as strong as our commitment to Jesus and our commitment to one another to build genuine New Covenant community.
“Let someone else do it,” was never in the heart of Jesus, his original followers, or the early Church. History records apostolic authority, complete with signs and wonders, when the church both BELIEVES in the continuance of this ministry and mission AND the church unites in common vision and purpose.
William Carey, 18-19th century minister and missionary, is recognized by many as the “Father of the Modern Missions Movement.” At a time when others ignored the “Go” in the great commission (Matt. 28:18-20), Carey recognized it was the responsibility of the church to try and win unbelievers to Jesus—it wasn’t just a “sovereign act of grace of God,” the gospel had to be presented. Carey died in India, and accomplished much for the Kingdom of God. Perhaps his most famous quote should motivate us, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”