The Twelve (Mark 3:7-19)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me this morning back to the Gospel of Mark. Our passage for this morning will be Mark 3:7–19.

This morning I would like for us to have a little bit of a change of pace. In our previous three sermons, the first three in the Gospel of Mark, we have been digging pretty deep into the text and the context and working our brains pretty hard. This morning I would like to relax a bit, do some review of where we have been and what we have learned about Jesus so far. And then I would like for us to focus the majority of our time discussing the twelve men Jesus called and designated as his Apostles. I think we can do this in a way that will be both entertaining and educational at the same time. So this morning will probably be a little bit different from normal, but a change of pace every now and then is probably good for us.

So where have we been? What have we learned so far? Remember Mark is trying to help us answer that question: “Who is Jesus?” So what have we learned about Jesus in our first three sermons in Mark’s Gospel?

Summary of Mark 1:1–3:6

Well in the very first verse in Mark’s Gospel, Mark told us that Jesus is both the promised Jewish Messiah and the Son of God. He is the hope of Israel, the Anointed One who had come in the line of David to be their Messiah. But he is more than that. He is also the Son of God. Jesus is God’s unique Son who shares his very nature and is thus divine himself. He is God in the flesh. And he has come just as the prophets promised, to rescue God’s people from their sin. He has come just as God promised Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15 to crush the head of the serpent. He has come to inaugurate a new age and establish God’s kingdom on this earth.

And in our sermon two weeks ago we saw that he came to Earth with awe inducing authority. And to make clear the Kingdom of God has come near, Jesus demonstrates this authority to the amazement of those who are witnesses to his demonstrations. In chapter 1 verses 21 and 22 and verses 35–39 Jesus demonstrated his authority in teaching. The people who were present were shocked that Jesus taught them as one having authority and not as one of their scribes. In verses 23–28 and verses 32–34, Jesus demonstrated his authority over Satan and his demonic minions by casting them out of various individuals. And remember when he encountered these demons they were crying out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Jesus’ authority was clear to them and they were terrified. And Jesus also demonstrated his authority over illness and disease in chapter 1 verses 40–45 by cleansing a man with leprosy. And as the climax to all of these demonstrations, Jesus shows that he has the authority to forgive sin in the first 12 verses of chapter 2. And this, we know and the religious leaders know, is an authority that belongs to God alone. So Jesus has demonstrated to everyone who is paying attention that he is indeed God in the flesh. And because he is God, his authority is awe inducing.

But the religious leaders are not impressed. We saw this in our sermon last week. Instead of standing in awe at the authority of Jesus, his demonstrations of authority provoked them to anger and outrage. And they began to accuse him. They accused him of being a sinner because he ate with tax collectors and sinners. They accused him of not being religious enough because he refused to make his disciples fast like their disciples did. They accused him and his disciples of breaking the Sabbath laws. And in chapter 3 verse 6, their anger intensified to the point where they began their plans to kill him.

And so we see in verse 7, where we will pick up today, that Jesus and his disciples withdrew from the area for a time to leave the religious leaders behind. But that did not stop the great crowds who were hungry for more. They did not let Jesus get away from them. Follow along with me as I read from verses 7–12.

Summary of Mark 3:7–12

7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 8 and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. 9 And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. (Mark 3:7–12 ESV)

The main point I want to make from these verses is that though Jesus departed from Capernaum to get away from the religious leaders, he did not cease doing the things he had been doing. And actually his ministry begins to increase. We see in verses 7 and 8 that he has people now coming from all over to see him and hear him teach and be healed by him. There were so many people that he was in danger of being crushed and he wanted a boat ready in case he needed to escape. But he continued to teach, he continued to heal, he continued to cast out demons who themselves continued to proclaim: “You are the Son of God.” Everything we see in verses 7–12 are things we have seen Jesus doing before and so I won’t spend any more time in these five verses.

But do notice at the end of verse 12 there is a transition which takes place. Up until this point, Jesus has been the one doing all the work. He has been doing all the teaching, all the healing, all the demon exorcizing. But now, Jesus is ready for others to start participating in his kingdom work. And this will be the primary focus of our sermon this morning. In verses 13–19, Mark gives us an account of Jesus calling twelve men out from his larger group of followers to be his closest coworkers in his kingdom work. A work he is going to spend the rest of his earthly ministry preparing them for. He knows that a day is fast approaching where they are going to have to carry out this work on their own.

The Twelve (vv. 13–19)

We have already noted that in Mark 3:6, we reached a point in the Gospel where it becomes clear Jesus is going to be killed by the religious leaders. And in the second half of our passage for today from Mark 3:13–19, Jesus begins to set a plan in motion to see that his earthly work continues on after he has been killed, resurrected, and ascended to the Father. He begins the establishment of a new people, a new Israel, beginning with twelve of the most unlikely men who will lead Jesus’ new kingdom people and will ultimately sit on thrones of leadership and judgment over the twelve tribes of Israel.

The religious leaders in Israel had failed long enough at their jobs to point people to the Kingdom of God. And so Jesus appoints his own group of leaders, these 12 men, to be the leaders of his new kingdom. He calls and appoints them to participate in and carry on the work of preaching the gospel and casting out demons and healing the sick. Up to this point Jesus has been working alone, but now these twelve men will be his co-laborers in the spread of the Kingdom of God. And because Jesus’ date with the cross is approaching, his training efforts need to shift away from the crowd of followers to a small band of followers. The large group of Jesus’ disciples has increased to a number that is too large to follow him around physically any longer. They will not stop being his followers, but the clock is ticking and so Jesus selects twelve men from this larger group to be his traveling partners and his apprentices. He is training them for the mission they will be responsible for after his death. A mission we call the Great Commission.

And so now that we understand the situation, let’s put ourselves in Jesus’s shoes (or sandals I guess) for a minute. Jesus is looking for leadership in his new kingdom. He is looking for leaders for this new nation of people who will be united together by the blood of the new covenant. And he is looking for men who will go and proclaim the gospel message with authority and draw more people into this kingdom through their preaching. He is looking for men who will be suitable leaders for his church in its infancy after he is gone. Men who need to be able keep their cool and encourage others to do the same when times get rough. He needs men who will also be able to train others and teach others the things Jesus is going to teach them. The job they have is perhaps the most important job in the history of the world. And so if you are Jesus what would you do?

I don’t know about you, but I am going to go find the most qualified people I can. I would be thinking that I am going to need to do a nationwide search. Actually this is more important than that… I need to do a worldwide search. I have to find the twelve most qualified individuals in the world so that I can guarantee the success of my mission. This search is probably going to take years, most likely a decade or more. I need to start putting together a list of qualifications now and I probably need to make sure I have a diverse group. I need some doctors, some lawyers, some politicians, some professors, some business executives, you know all those types of people in the world who have risen to the top. Those who have proven themselves to be successful in a unique and peculiar way. I am looking for the cream of the crop.

Yet Jesus does not do a worldwide search, not even a nationwide search. He just finds twelve ordinary guys who are from one particular area. And he doesn’t take decades or even years, he only has a couple of years to get them prepared. And their qualifications were apparently that they didn’t have any qualifications. The guys Jesus chose were mostly farmers and fishermen. One who was a crooked government worker and another had made it his life’s goal to kill crooked government workers (I bet that was an interesting duo). There were no professors, there were no doctors or lawyers or religious scholars or powerful business executives who had proven their ability to manage and carry out difficult assignments in the past. No, those were not the type of people Jesus looked for. Honestly those types of people thought Jesus was crazy.

So Jesus went a different route. Jesus chose a rag-tag group of guys he would use as his instruments to turn the world upside down. And in doing so, when we look back today, it is very clear something special was going on. Something divine and supernatural was going on. I have said before that God likes to do the most amazing things with the most unlikely people. And that is exactly what Jesus does with these twelve men he calls in our passage today and appoints as his Apostles.

Follow along with me as I read from Mark 3:13–19.

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:13–19 ESV)

The well-known pastor and teacher, John MacArthur, has written a nice little book about the men Jesus called in this passage. The title of that book is Twelve Ordinary Men. I would enthusiastically recommend it to you. I led a group of guys through a study in that book several years ago and it really helped me to see just how amazing it is that the church survived at all. While the fact that the church survived and thrived should not be amazing to us who know that God is in control, from a human perspective there is no explanation to how this unremarkable and unexceptional group of men could have turned the world upside down the way they did. We are all sitting in this room today because of these twelve ordinary men who carried out an extra-ordinary mission. Twelve men who Jesus named Apostles.

The word “Apostle” is an appropriate name for the men in this group because the word Apostles or apostoloi in Greek means, “those who are sent out.” Jesus sent them out to do what he has been doing. We see in verse 14 that he called them to be with him and to be sent out. So after being with him, which would have been a time of training, Jesus would send them out to preach and with the authority to cast out demons. An authority that would have made it very obvious in their day that these men also had the authority to be heard when they preached. But they had no authority in and of themselves, they were just ordinary men. The authority they had was an authority given to them by Jesus. They were his Apostles. They were messengers “sent out” by him with the authority to proclaim the good news about the coming kingdom of God and to demonstrate, like Jesus, that the kingdom had arrived by casting out demons and healing the sick. Both things the Jews believed would accompany the arrival of God’s Kingdom on this Earth.

I pulled out that little book by John MacArthur this week as I was preparing for this sermon and a few things I highlighted in it years ago provided some help to me in my preparations. And there were a couple of things I underlined that I would like to share with you today.

Ordinary men—people like you and me—became the instruments by which Christ’s message was carried to the ends of the earth (xiii).

And:

From a human perspective, the future of the church and the long-term success of the gospel depended entirely on the faithfulness of that handful of disciples. There was no plan B if they failed (2).

And finally:

The propagation of the gospel and the founding of the church hinged entirely on twelve men whose most outstanding characteristic was their ordinariness (xiii).

Again, God loves to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27–29:

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27–29 ESV)

Again, when we see that these men were used as God’s instruments to change the world, it should be very clear to us that all the credit goes to God. The Apostles would certainly tell you that.

So the first point I have tried to make this morning is that God is the one who gets the credit for all the advances that are made in his Kingdom. We may work hard, we may be very talented, we may come up with clever ideas, but we must remember that it is always God who adds to our number. It is always God who is the one who gets the credit when someone’s heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh. If we are willing, we can be instruments in that process, but we never get the credit. There is nothing I can do to change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Nothing.

I have heard the story of a preaching professor who used to take his students out to a cemetery and make them shout to the people in the graves to come alive. His point was that as preachers we are given the impossible task to call spiritually dead people to live. And his point was obvious: we have an impossible task. At best we are instruments in God’s miraculous work of bringing the dead to life.

When we hear a musician who is a master of a particular instrument playing it in ways that makes our jaws drop, we don’t give credit to the instrument, we give credit to the talented musician who has devoted her life to playing it so well. When we read Shakespeare we don’t praise the pen he used to compose his masterpieces, we praise the man Shakespeare himself. And when we read that God used these Apostles to turn the world upside down with the Gospel, we don’t praise the Apostles, we praise God. The Apostles were merely the instruments God chose to use. And the fact that these men were simply everyday, ordinary guys, men without much education or training, clues us into the fact that what was accomplished through them was part of God’s redemptive orchestra. And that has been the first point I wanted to make.

But there is another point that is related to this. The fact that God is capable of using this rag-tag group of guys to change the world, really to change the universe, precludes you and me from ever believing that God can’t use us to do amazing things. Brothers and sisters, read your Bible. God is in the business of using the most unlikely people to accomplish amazing things for his kingdom. Moses was a stutterer and yet God used him to speak to the most powerful ruler in the world and to lead a whole nation of people, hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people, out of Egypt and to the promised land. We finished a sermon series a few months ago on the prophet Jonah. Jonah was a racist bigot who hated the nation of Nineveh and God used him, against his will even, to convert the entire nation. When God decided to bring Jesus Christ into the world, when he decided to wrap flesh around the divine, he decided to do it in the womb of a young virgin named Mary from a nowhere town living with a bunch of no name people.

So what is the implication for us? Well if you are like me, you kind of fit the bill of being an ordinary person. I had a seminary professor who used to say jokingly about those students who were really smart and really intellectually gifted, that “they were too smart and too talented, God will never be able to use them.” He was joking, but there was some truth in his statement. God likes to use ordinary people. And because he likes to use ordinary people, I can never say, “I am not qualified for this” or “I am not smart enough for that” or “I am too shy for this” or “I am too young for that” or “I am too old for this.” Mary wasn’t too young to bring the king of the universe into the world and raise him as her own. And Sarah wasn’t too old to give birth to Isaac who would become the first descendent of Abraham’s children who are still being numbered to this day. Moses wasn’t too impaired by his speech to go toe to toe with Pharaoh. And we aren’t too ordinary to do amazing things for God’s kingdom either.

Don’t decide for God what you can be used for in his kingdom. That is very arrogant—to tell God he is not able to use you to change the world. And even if God doesn’t decide to use you to change the world like the Apostles did, he might use you to change one person’s world. If one person comes to know Jesus Christ because you submit yourself to being an instrument in God’s hand, I want you to know brothers and sisters that you will have changed all of eternity. Don’t downplay the significance of that. You don’t have to think on a grand scale. Think on a God-sized scale. However and wherever he decides to use you, that is exactly the way you need to be used. But don’t ever think, he can’t use you. If he could use men who we still know today as Impulsive Peter (or as John MacArthur called him, The Apostle with the Foot-Shaped Mouth) and Doubting Thomas and Simon the Zealot and Levi the Tax Collector, guess what. He can use ordinary ole me and ordinary ole you.

Jesus appointed these men to do the impossible. And they did it. He can use you to do the impossible as well. Or maybe he can use you to simply teach and lead a handful of girls for 30 minutes on Wednesday nights. Girls who may grow up themselves one day to do the impossible. When Jesus called these men to follow him, the main requirements were faith and obedience. Those are still the requirements today. Jesus poured his life into twelve men, he discipled them, he taught them how to live, he taught them how to share the gospel, and he used them to change the world. And these men went on to pour their lives into other people who continued changing the world. What if you poured your life into a handful of people like that?

God uses the ordinary, God uses the weak, God uses those who mess up, God uses those who stick their foot in their mouth, God uses those who the world would never use. God uses people like me. God uses people like you. And he does it so that he gets the glory.

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, what is keeping you today from really following Jesus? What is keeping you from turning it all over to him and sitting back and seeing what happens? God is in the business of using people like us to do Jesus-like things. If you really want to follow Jesus, if you really want to be one of his disciples, you must be willing to be a part of his kingdom work. That may mean you pack up and move to Honduras. Or that may mean you share the gospel with the person who sits next to you at work. And if, like me, you are just average and ordinary, rejoice in knowing that you are in good company and that when God uses you to accomplish great things, impossible things even, he will be the one who gets all the glory. And that is exactly what he created you to do… to bring glory to him.