[January 31, 2010] At this point in Peter’s narration of the story of Jesus (it helps to remember that that is what the Gospel according to Mark is), Peter had put down the scroll of Luke’s gospel and taken up the scroll of Matthew. Ever since the story of Jesus calling the fishermen (Matthew 4:18-22), Peter followed the order of Luke (Luke 4:31-44; 5:12—6:11). But in the last story, Mark 3:1-6, Peter began with Luke (see Luke 6:6-11) and ended with the strong wording of Matthew 12:14, “They took counsel against Him as to how they might destroy Him.” As Peter concluded this section of the story of Jesus, he wove together Matthew 12:15-16 (similar to Luke 6:17-19) with Matthew 4:23-25 and Matthew 9:35 (see also Luke 4:41) before relating the final story of the appointment of the Twelve where he conflates Luke 6:12-16 with Matthew 10:1-4 (with an echo from Matthew 5:1).
In the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark, the voice from heaven says to Jesus, “You are My Son, the Beloved, in You I have found My delight” (1:11). He is the faithful Human Being, the one Gem out of the entire human race of whom the Father says, “I have found My delight.” In the following section, from 1:16—3:19, Jesus demonstrates this by acts of service, the service of teaching, preaching, calling disciples, healing and casting out demons. As He does this, crowds of people are drawn to Him. But opposition also begins to mount. In the last four incidents recounted in 2:1—3:6 the opposition escalates from thinking He is blaspheming (2:7) to being bent on destroying Him (3:6). Yet in the face of this opposition, Jesus remains faithful and does not turn away from His service to others. Now He withdraws (3:7) and selects a closed group of Twelve to be with Him as witnesses that He might later send them out (3:14).
Peter tells the story of Jesus in this way to portray Jesus as the pattern for the church in a time of trial and fear, opposition and persecution, discouragement and confusion. The church is called to follow in His footsteps, to be as faithful as He in the way of the cross, for by His faithfulness we live, and He is faithful within us as our life.
Jesus Withdraws (Mark 3:7-12)
In verses 6-7, we read that “the Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against Him as to how they might destroy Him. And Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea.” We recall Matthew 11:2—12:50, the section of that gospel that relates the growing opposition to Jesus which was immediately followed by Jesus leaving “the house” and sitting “beside the sea” (Matthew 13:1). There too great crowds came to Him, and there too “He stepped into a boat and sat, and all the crowd stood on the shore” (13:2). The parables that follow in Matthew 13 all have to do with the scandal of the mixed reception of the “word of the kingdom.” Matthew 12 ended with Jesus pointing out His new family: “whoever does the will of My Father who is in the heavens.”
While the Gospel according to Mark does not engage in the intense symbolism that we found in the Gospel according to Matthew, there nevertheless are significant allusions. For while the present passage recalls to our mind this portion of Matthew, it also reminds us of the history related in the Acts of the Apostles. For while thousands of people in Jerusalem and the land of Israel turned to Jesus as the Messiah, when the Gospel began to go to Gentiles, the ire of the zealots began to rise, and the opposition to the Gospel which began with the chief priests and elders of the people (who were nervous about the Roman governor—Pilate—who had wanted Jesus crucified, and opposed the message of the resurrection) shifted to the nationalist Pharisees and Herod Agrippa I who supported them (and who had messianic ambitions himself). These two parties are named in 3:6. The nature of the growing opposition to Jesus in Mark 2:1—3:6 reflect the arguments between the Pharisees themselves, the school of Hillel and the school of Shimmai, the later being “purists” who opposed the church’s mingling with uncircumcised Gentiles and who shared the zeal of the Zealots who in 70 AD brought Jerusalem to ruin.
As the Acts of the Apostles progresses, this opposition to the Gospel reaches a pitch in chapter 12 and in chapter 13 Paul launches his mission to the Gentiles along the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The “sea” in Mark 3:7 refers to the Lake of Galilee, but it is a symbol of the Gentile world. As Jesus got into a little boat so that He could preach to the people on the shore, the proclamation of the Gospel in the Acts of the Apostles began to shift from the land (the land of Israel) to the Sea. This shift became so great by the time Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans in the winter of 56-57 from the city of Corinth on the Aegean, that Paul could say that the success of the Gentile mission was the sign to Israel that would lead to their repentance (chapters 9-11). Peter did not have to read Acts or Romans to know this for it was this reality of things that brought him to Rome in his final years.
Nevertheless, in spite of this opposition to Jesus by the dangerous and vociferous few, many people—as in our own day—flocked to Jesus, from the land of Israel and beyond. (Idumea and Tyre and Sidon were Gentile areas, though large number of Jews lived there.) They came because they heard “what things He did”—just like today. They came hoping that Jesus could do something for them. The afflicted pressed toward Him to touch Him, just as today the needy of every sort also press against Jesus in the hopes that He can deliver them from their miseries, and “He healed many.”
Not all who come to Jesus want to follow Him. They just want their needs met. Many of us first come to Jesus for this reason. We turn to Jesus because we are suffering or confused or depressed. We are at the end of our rope, and the Gospel offers us hope. We are thinking so much about ourselves that we do not even realize that the reason we have turned to Jesus is because He has called us. We often think it was our own idea. But it was His call that gave us the rope—the lifeline—that we needed. Then, we start to think we are doing Him some sort of favor by believing in Him, and we think we can use Him to help us live the kind of life that we want and that we can be in control of. We are still married to the agenda of the world and have no interest in the fact that Jesus wants us for Himself, for His own agenda. Still, He carries us along. But sometimes He allows us to run into disaster again in the hope that this time we might wake up. The problem is that most people never get beyond this “stage.” They want Jesus as a lifeline, but then they want Him as a genie, someone who can work for them, who can help them get through life on their own terms. They come to Jesus, they associate with Him and call themselves Christians, but they are not followers. These are not the ones “whom He Himself wanted.”
Sometimes it is only the demons within us who seem to know who Jesus is. They are the spirits of the world that get a hold of us. They get anxious because the light of the reality that Jesus brings exposes their own emptiness and the delusion of the world, the lies on which the world as a project is based. They are terrified, believing—correctly—that Jesus has come to destroy them. You see, there is something within us that is terrified by the light of reality, the light that Jesus brings. Fear of exposure keeps us in denial, and that fear keeps us from salvation. But when confronted by Jesus (by the true Gospel), these spirits are exposed, for they cannot escape what they innately know, that Jesus is the Son of God. The sheer authority of His Person drives them out. But it is not our terror that Jesus wants to bear witness to Him. What He wants is the person who yields, who gives up his or her demons and who becomes His follower. Of course, the person who is afflicted by a demon does not yield to Jesus willfully. They are the demon’s prisoner and however much they may hate their life, they cannot free themselves. It is the authority of the Person of Jesus (Mark 1:27) which is the power of God unto salvation and that comes to us now in the Gospel (Romans 1:16). We yield to Jesus because He frees us.
Jesus may have freed us from this or that demon, and He may have healed us, but are we still only those who flock to Him because of what we think He can do for us? Or are we willing to own Him as our Lord? Are we willing to follow and serve Him? Do we still demand that He serve our own interests? Or have we given up on those and are willing to surrender and consecrate our lives to His interests?
The crowds are a recurring theme in Mark’s gospel and they often get in the way of Jesus carrying out His work. His popularity hides the fact that the world is really at odds with His Person and His mission. This continues to be a problem throughout the history of the Gospel, even in our own day. Jesus does not discourage the crowds from coming to Him, for He wants them to come to Him, but He is not satisfied with the half-measure of their devotion. He wants those who will follow Him on the way of the cross, the only path of a true disciple. In spite of His longing desire for the crowds, because they do not love Him, they are not “those whom He Himself wanted” (Mark 3:13).
Jesus Calls the Twelve (3:13-19)
Jesus leaves the crowds—the crowds that want Him so much—and goes up to the mountain. The mountain is often where Jesus goes to pray (Luke 6:12; Matthew 14:23; Luke 9:28; Matthew 26:30; Luke 22:39), and where He teaches His disciples, feeds the crowd and reveals Himself (Matthew 5:1; 15:29; 17:1; Luke 9:28; Matthew 24:3; 28:16). It symbolizes, in other words, the metaphorical “place” where heaven and earth come together, whether in prayer or revelation, where a door or window opens between them. In the reality of who Jesus is, there is no wall that separates heaven and earth. He is divine and created at once, without separation or division yet without mixture or confusion. In Him heaven and earth freely mingle.
From this position He sees the crowds that come to Him and calls to Himself “those whom He Himself wanted,” and those whom He calls come to Him. This is where we want to be. We want to be those who hear His call and who come to Him not because of what we can get but because He wants us for Himself.
These are the ones who become His family when—as we will see in the next section—His own relatives of flesh and blood do not recognize Him. They think “He is beside Himself” (3:21). When they send His mother and brothers to bring Him “home” He essentially disowns them, recognizing as His mother and brothers and sisters only those who do the will of God (3:31-35). When He goes to His “home town,” they are stumbled by Him and cannot believe (6:1-6). His true family are those whom He Himself wants for Himself and calls.
That He gives three of them a new name shows His knowledge of them and insight into them. (Both “Cananaean” and “Iscariot” may connect these disciples to the underground anti-Roman nationalist movement that Jesus opposed.)
Among however many disciples it was who came to Him on the mountain, He appoints Twelve of them whom He will later send out as apostles (meaning, “sent ones”) to preach and to have the authority to cast out the demons. He does this in 6:7-11. For now He appoints them “that they might be with Him.” The Twelve are not the only apostles. Paul and Barnabas and others are also apostles. The Twelve, however, have a special role. First of all, they are chosen to be eyewitnesses of Jesus. They have been with Jesus “from the baptism of John” (see Acts 1:21-22). This is the reason they are specifically named. People could still go to them for their testimony. Before the writing of the four gospels, their eyewitness testimony of Jesus “from the baptism of John until the day on which He was taken up from us” served the churches so that by the indwelling Holy Spirit they could “remember” Him. It is this remembrance of Jesus that forms the foundation of the church, for by this remembrance—the remembrance of the appointed eyewitnesses (those whose testimony is from the perspective of revelation) enables us through the Holy Spirit to know Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (Mark 1:1; see Matthew 16:16-18).
When Judas fell from his “place,” the eleven who remained of the Twelve cast lots (a way to leave the choice up to God, sometimes used in the Old Testament) and appointed Matthias to take his place. Matthias was chosen from among those who fulfilled the qualification of being an eyewitness of Jesus’ entire ministry from the baptism of John to His ascension.
The second role of the Twelve has to do with the people of Israel in the last days (see Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30), hence the number Twelve, a purpose that is shrouded from our Gentile eyes. They themselves saw their role as being specific to Israel (see Galatians 2:7-9). Peter went beyond this, for Jesus gave him specifically the key that would open the door of the Gospel to the Gentiles, which he did in Acts 9.
That They Might Be with Him (3:14)
Jesus prepared the Twelve for their future role by having them “be with Him.” This is what being a disciple means: to come within the personal sphere of Jesus, to simply remain there and wait on Him as Elisha waited on Elijah. This is the “school of Christ.” 1 John 4:13-14 associates our beholding Jesus and being able to testify of Him (“that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world”) with God having given us of His Spirit. As we abide in Christ and He in us, we abide in God and God in us. Through the Holy Spirit—who is the presence of Christ within us and among us—we can abide with Christ (John 1:39; 1 John 3:24), but we can only do that if we abide with one another in love (1 John 3:10-18, 23; 4:7-12, 20—5:1; etc.) and abide in the Word of the Gospel. As we gather with one another—in the fellowship of love—to hear the witness of the Gospel in the reading of the four gospels, Christ is present among us. If we do not gather, it is because we do not love one another. If we gather and complain about the others, we are not showing love. To gather and love one another is difficult, but if we do not gather we are not showing love for one another at all. If we would rather “fellowship” with others with whom we do not share the Word, this is not the “one another” that Jesus speaks about in the Gospel or that John speaks about in his epistles. The church is so weak and has always been weak because we would rather love outsiders than those who are within the church, and because we would rather love those in the church with whom we have the most natural affinity. This is not the love that the Gospel requires.
To be “with Jesus” we need to do two things. We need to dwell in the Scriptures until, through the Holy Spirit, they begin to form us. They form us by association. Their influence slowly permeates us. It is like keeping company with someone. We become like our companions. We need to make the Scriptures our companion until they shape our mind, our soul, and our heart. We need to hear the Scriptures, be taught the Scriptures, study the Scriptures, and mediate, eat, chew and digest the Scriptures. And we need to always do this with an eye on Jesus. It is not just a text, but rather it is by means of the text we relate to a Person, the Person of Jesus. We dwell with and in the Scriptures and let them work themselves into us so that we can get beyond the Scriptures to the One of whom they bear witness. This is the whole point. If we “use” the Scriptures for something else, they are dead. It is His presence as the One of whom they testify that makes them come alive to us.
Second, we read and know the Scriptures in the context and in the fellowship of the church. This is what Jesus Himself teaches in all four gospels and it is what the apostles make abundantly clear. The habit of so many Christians to forsake the church disassociates them from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and from the work of the ascended Christ in the world. This, in any case, is what the evangelists and apostles of the New Testament teach us.