Read Mark 3:7-19
Huge crowds followed Jesus. That is the emphasis in vv.7-12: large crowd, many people, needing to use a boat to avoid getting crowded; the sick pushing forward to touch Him. People coming from all of the region. (Look at a map.)
Twice we are told of the reason for this popularity. V.8 – “when they heard all He was doing”. V.10 – “for He had healed many”. Jesus’ reputation as a miracle-worker was spreading. People wanted to see the things that were happening. People wanted to experience them.
As the story unfolds we are seeing two things happening: opposition from the religious leaders and adulation from the crowds. In that context, Jesus did what is perhaps a surprising thing. He chose twelve men. Imagine being one of those chosen twelve! Why did Jesus do this? What was His plan for them?
Jesus had been challenged for mixing with tax-collectors and sinners, and about fasting, and Sabbath-keeping, but He didn’t escalate that tension. He withdrew to the lake. Jesus was willing to face His opponents and even willing to provoke them but this was a time to withdraw. Maybe He felt He could focus on ministry more if He avoided the controversies. So He withdrew to the shores of Lake of Galilee. But what was that ministry? What was Jesus’ focus?
It is possibly because of the rising tension that Jesus launched the next phase of His strategy. Because of the opposition He needed to train up some men to carry on the work of the Kingdom of God. One day He would be taken out by His opponents. He needed to have some people who could carry on.
And so we come to a third vital turning point in the relationship the Twelve would have with Jesus.
The first was Jesus’ invitation to “come and see”. You will remember that that was an invitation to simply have a look and see what they thought. There was no obligation and they continued to be fishermen.
Some time later that changed. They were invited to “follow me”. They had to make a decision. They had had a chance to look; what was their conclusion? Now Jesus was asking for commitment. They would no longer be fishermen. He was calling them to be fishers of men (and women.) Would they dedicate their lives to fishing or to Jesus? Big decision, but we know that they left everything. They walked away from their business and their families (to some degree) because they chose to follow Jesus.
But they were just part of a large crowd of disciples. Luke tells us that after spending a whole night in prayer, Jesus called His disciples to Him and chose twelve whom He called apostles. There was a larger group of disciples but, out of that group, Jesus chose twelve men.
Why? Wouldn’t He be better off with thousands rather than twelve? And why those twelve? Why not a different twelve people? Would you have chosen those twelve? Many times they seemed like a particularly bad choice!
We don’t know Jesus’ criteria for choosing. Possibly He had been watching them; identifying people with the right attitude and skills, but the implication of the passage is that it was primarily a matter of prayer. Employing people – choosing the right people – is a tricky business. I’ve made my share of mistakes in that area. Even Jesus with all His wisdom and knowledge, didn’t choose on the basis of His own assessment. Rather, He sought to hear the voice of God. It was about what God wanted. We might feel that we have the insight or the skills to make various decisions, but have we heard God speak? This selection was so significant for Jesus that He spent a whole night praying – presumably until He believed He had heard God’s voice; He knew the twelve whom God had chosen.
But why choose twelve out of the much larger crowd?
The passage tells us. Jesus was very clear about His purpose. Mark says “He called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve, designating them “apostles”. Actually only some manuscripts that those words about designating them apostles although Luke’s gospel says the same thing: “He chose twelve whom He also designated apostles”.
“Apostle” means “someone sent out” like an ambassador, a messenger, a representative. Why would he call them “sent ones” when they hadn’t been sent anywhere? They had been called in, not sent out.
The intention was to send them out. Mark 3:14: He appointed twelve that they might be with Him and that He might send them out. Jesus had a clear goal. But first He had to train them, and so He called them to be with Him. His goal was to send them out but His training method was that they should be with Him.
He had previously said, “Follow me. Give your allegiance to me.” But this next invitation is “Be with me.” Clearly this is a new phase and it was for only those twelve. They had chosen to follow Him. But how could they do that? Jesus had said He would make them fishers of people. But how were they to do that task? They needed intensive training. This was a transition from following to relationship. They were to walk with Jesus. They would be an inner circle. So far, we have been introduced to some of those who would become apostles but they have remained part of the crowd. We haven’t really seen Jesus interacting with them. That will change after this event. Although Jesus maintained his ministry to the crowds, we will see that He became far more focused on the Twelve.
For example, in Mark 4, Jesus was teaching the crowd but then, in v.10, we read, “When He was alone, the Twelve and the others around Him asked Him about the parables” and they got a lot more explanation. For the crowd, it was left somewhat enigmatic: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” but the inner circle got a lot more explanation and help. Or, if you look down to 4:35-36, Jesus went away with the disciple leaving the crowd behind. There will be much more focus on this small group.
The invitation to them was to be with Him; to just be in His presence; to spend time with Him, to watch Him; to listen to Him. Don’t you think that is a fascinating training method? Be with me. You will see in me everything you need to know.
Here is a quote that I really like (that I may have used before.) Gunter Krallmann says, “Through the disciples’ continual exposure to who he was, what he did and said, Jesus intended them to discern and absorb his vision, mindset and mode of operation. He desired them to become so saturated with the influences arising from his example and teaching, his attitudes, actions and anointing, that every single area of their lives would be impacted towards greater likeness to himself. The approach he decided on was simple and informal, practical and wholistic. The totality of shared life experiences made up the disciples’ classroom, and their teacher’s words merely needed to further elucidate the lessons already gained from his life.” (Mentoring For Mission, p.53)
The goal was to so completely transform them that He could then send them out. His goal was to train missionaries. Or, as He had said when He first called them, “I will make you fishers of people.
Why choose just 12? Because for them to be successful – especially given that they would also face hostility – they needed to be radically transformed. They needed to be utterly different people at the end of the process than they had been at the beginning. Jesus needed to have a profound, deep influence on them. Even Jesus couldn’t do that with hundreds or thousands. You can do a very shallow work with crowds but you can do a deep work only with a few in whom you invest heavily. Jesus’ strategy for changing the world was to start small but rely on multiplication – those people repeating the process with a few others and then those repeating it with a few more each, so that it grows exponentially. Quantity will follow quality
What is the significance of this for us?
Firstly, we might have agreed to follow Jesus but the next call is into an intimate relationship with Jesus for our growth and training because Jesus also wants to be able to send us out. Jesus calls us to walk with Him, to hear His voice, to be trained by Him; to do life together with Him; to learn from Him
Let us reflect a little? How well do you know Jesus? Is He a friend? Is He someone you share life with? Someone you talk to and listen to regularly? Are you leaning from Him
We spend time with Jesus in the Bible, in prayer, meditating and so on. But Jesus has also given us people from whom we can learn because they are Christ-like. Just as the disciples were learning and being trained for mission by being with Jesus, we can learn and grow by being with Christians in whom Christ dwells
Think about the apostle Paul. Did he use the same strategy as Jesus? Absolutely! He invited people to be with him. As he went about his missionary work, he always had apprentices alongside him and they learnt by watching him and listening to him and interacting with him. Obviously we still need time with Jesus but, as well as that, Jesus has given us Christian examples. People are not a substitute for Jesus but they are one of the means Jesus has provided whereby we can observe Christ-likeness
Paul several times wrote, “Imitate me. Watch me. Do what I do.” That was the same “be with me” principle being lived out in practical disciple-making. It was the same strategy. But Paul did say, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1) If Person A is following Christ and I follow Person A, then I am following Christ
On Thursday, I heard a story about Sam Chapman who has been a leader within Maori Christianity for many years. When he lived in Otara, he bought 17 adjacent houses (over time) so as to provide a Christian community that people could come into – especially needy people. He has since shifted to Turangi where he somehow inherited a 28-bed hospital, where again he has set up Christian community. He invites gang leaders to come and live in that community for 2 weeks. Gangs, of course, are strong on community but there they see Christianity being lived out. At the end of their visit, Sam asks them whether they would like to be part of that sort of community rather than the gang, and some are responding. Some are bringing the rest of their gang with them. The life-changing power of example
Sam is saying, “Come and be with us”. Just being there, observing someone’s life (or a community’s life) can be a profound learning experience that God can use
What was Jesus’ training method? “Be with me”. What was His objective? To send these men out as missionaries. To do that today is radical. Most churches have abandoned Jesus’ objective and His method. Most churches are not intentional about growing mature believers who can be part of God’s mission. And most church members are happy with that. Most churches doesn’t use this method of “doing life together” and of modelling and mentoring – of being with
But most churches also are ineffective. I hope we are saying, “We don’t want to be just conventional. We want to follow Jesus. We want to use the strategies He modelled for us. They worked for Him
In our Christian life there comes a point where we have chosen to follow Jesus but we want more than that. We want our lives to count. We want to be effective for Jesus. We want our lives to be distinctive and we want to be part of His mission. We don’t want to play games any longer. Jesus wants that too! He says, “This is my method: be with. Spend time with other Christians from whom you can learn. Jesus’ method centres on relationships and community. Not just any old relationships but those relationships that are intentional about growing each other to maturity so that we might be missionaries for Jesus
For any who say, “OK, I’m ready for that” we want to not just talk about this but do it. Let’s be a church that does it. If you are interested, please have a look at the “Walking With You: leaflet
Where are you? Are you just looking; still making up your mind (Come and see)? Have to committed to following Jesus (Follow Me)? Or are you ready to grow and you want others to help you do that?