Mark 4:1-2

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:
(Mark 4:1-2 NIV)

At the end of chapter 3, we saw Jesus teaching in a house, with the crowds packed inside and spilling out into the street.  As we begin chapter 4, Mark informs us that Jesus heads outside to teach at Lake Genesserat.

Why did Jesus move His teaching outside?  There were likely a variety of reasons:  Simple logistics were probably a huge factor – too many people in too small an area like a house.  Also, Jesus was probably not welcome in the synagogue any longer, since the religious officials had ridiculed Jesus’ teaching, His healing on the Sabbath, and His disciples’ actions, not to mention accusing Jesus of being demon-possessed.

Earlier in chapter 3, we heard Jesus requesting His disciples to arrange for a boat to be available, in case the masses became overwhelming and crowded around Him, creating a near-mob scenario (see 3:9).  Jesus’ preparation was now pressed into service (v. 2).

Chapter 4 contains one of two large blocks of Jesus’ teaching; chapter 13 is the other block.  Verse 2 says that Jesus “taught them many things”.  Chapter 4 is to introduce us to Jesus’ teaching and provide an example.  Mark’s purpose is not to provide every word of every time Jesus taught.

Verse 2 says that Jesus taught by parables.  In its simplest Sunday School definition, a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”  Further defined, a parable uses the concrete and natural to describe or parallel the spiritual and supernatural.  In a parable, both the concrete and natural as well as the spiritual and supernatural reflect the character and kingdom of God.

A parable is a story, but it is also so much more.  A parable is not just to educate or enlighten – a parable asks something from its hearers:

  • it requires engagement with the story and the speaker (do I understand its meaning?)
  • it demands a critique (do I agree or disagree with the story and its meaning?)
  • it initiates action (what is my response to this truth – to be or to do?)

A parable will be lost on many but will be overwhelmingly fruitful for some, as we shall see in Jesus’ first parable of the farmer and the seed.

May we prepare ourselves before we spend time in God’s Word – to have eyes to see God’s truths, ears to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisperings, and hearts tender and open to receive His love and truth.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 3:31-35 (detail)

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
(Mark 3:31-35 NIV)

In yesterday’s passage, Jesus dealt with the Sanhedrin delegation’s hardness of heart and refusal to see what God was doing directly in front of them.  In today’s text, we see the rest of the story begun in verse 21 – Jesus’ family arrives on the scene from Nazareth.

Going back to verse 21 for a moment, we remember that Jesus’ family was worried about Jesus, and thought He had lost touch with reality.  He was not eating, probably not sleeping, and was defiant and in trouble with the religious authorities.  Besides being an embarrassment to the family, Jesus was on a collision course with serious trouble.

When Jesus’ family arrived, the house was still packed with people there to hear Him and be healed by Him.  Jesus’ family were not able to get near Him because of the crowds.  Jesus’ family likely caused a commotion, calling out Jesus’ name.  When they could not get Jesus’ attention, His family members sent word via the crowd that they were waiting for Him outside the house (v. 31).  The message from Jesus’ family traveled through the crowd, and those sitting at Jesus’ feet likely interrupted Jesus and let Him know His family was waiting outside (v. 32).

Let’s stop and consider what the cultural norm would be at this point.  Jesus’ family (specifically, His mother and brothers) had just walked eight hours from Nazareth to Capernaum.  They were likely tired, hungry, thirsty, and dusty from the trek.  The normal Jewish response would be to honor the guests – invite them in, give them a place to sit down and rest, have someone wash their feet to refresh them, and give them something to eat and drink.  In a nutshell, the cultural norm would be to show them hospitality.

So what does Jesus do?  In true rabbinic fashion, Jesus uses the opportunity as a teachable moment and asks a question:  “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (v. 33).   Jesus was not having a psychotic break; He knew exactly who the people were outside the house.

Jesus then answers His own question.  Mark records that Jesus looked around the room, most likely at His disciples and others seated in front of Him, as He pointed to them and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (v. 34).  Jesus is re-defining His “family”.

Jesus goes on to explain His statement:  “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  Jesus’ family was no longer His family of origin, but those who humbled themselves before God and obeyed the Lord.

While Mark does not record the reaction of the crowd in the house or Jesus’ family of origin still standing outside, this likely sent a shock wave throughout everyone.  God’s Law (the fifth commandment) said that children were to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12).  The only reason that God’s Law allowed for not honoring parents were cases where the parents or family members were not obedient to God, and to honor the parents would be to dishonor God (Exodus 32:25-29, Deuteronomy 33:8-9).  John records another incident where Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:3-10).  This incident in Capernaum was not the only time that Jesus’ family didn’t understand His ministry and calling.

Was Jesus disobedient to God’s Law?  Was His rejection of His family of origin’s attempted intervention and His lack of hospitality toward them sin?  No.  In fact, Mark does not tell us how this story ends.  We cannot read too much into this story’s ending either way.  In fact, later on, Jesus quotes the fifth commandment to honor parents (Mark 7:10), citing both Exodus 20:12 and Exodus 21:17.

What looks on the surface to be Jesus’ rejection of His family of origin is actually Jesus’ invitation for them to join God’s eternal family, the family that Jesus is forming.  And what is the entrance criteria?  Obedience to God’s will.  And what is God’s will that Jesus was preaching?  Repentance and faith.

Notice Jesus’ inclusive statement in verse 35.  Not only did Jesus include HIs mother and brothers, but He also specifically called out his sisters as well.  In a time where women were treated more like property than equals before God, Jesus once again sent shock waves throughout the crowd by His acknowledgment and full inclusion of women in His offer.

As we wrap up this section, we see two groups of people that should have fully embraced Jesus, His teachings and His miracles both reject Him outright.  The Sanhedrin delegation accused Jesus of being demon-possessed, and Jesus’ family of origin thinks that Jesus has lost his mind and needs rescuing.  Neither of the two groups’ assumptions are true.

And yet, Jesus graciously offers the way of true life to all, to be part of God’s larger eternal family that transcends genetics and gender, time and space.

And His offer of eternity to those in the Capernaum house so long ago is still His offer to us today.

If you have not accepted Jesus’ offer to be part of His family, what is stopping you?

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 3:28-30 (detail)

28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
(Mark 3:28-30 NIV)

Today we tackle the verses often labeled as “the unpardonable sin”.  The context of Jesus’ remarks are the key to understanding and applying this passage.

As we have discussed previously, verses 20 – 35 provide the context.  A delegation from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem made the four-day trek to Capernaum to observe and give their opinion about Jesus’ ministry.  Their decision?  They think Jesus is demon-possessed and performing all His miracles, even casting out demons, by the power of Satan.

Jesus hears their conclusions, calls the delegation to Himself, and addresses their statements to their face.  Jesus refuted their arguments, and now addresses their hardness of heart that would lead them to this conclusion.  Jesus does not go after the delegation to destroy them, but rather, to lead them to repentance for their wrong views and hardness of heart.

I remember listening to Christian radio “ask the pastor” call-in programs many years ago and hearing people (often in tears) call in to ask if they had committed “the unpardonable sin”.  These callers felt they had committed a sin so grievous that God could not forgive them, and they were headed straight to hell.  The radio pastor would assure them that if they were asking the question, they had not done so.  The radio pastor would then reassure them that God loved them and if they had made Jesus their Savior and Lord, then they need not worry about “the unpardonable sin” any longer.

If the caller asked for an explanation on why they had not committed the unpardonable sin, the radio pastor would typically launch into a detailed discussion of Greek language or theological terms that were obviously important, but were lost on me.  I had no background to track with the discussion at that point in my life.

So what was Jesus saying in this passage?

In verse 28, Jesus says that God will forgive all sins (including blasphemy) and slander – things that people say.

Jesus prefaces His message with “Truly I tell you…”.  The word “truly” is the Greek word “amen”.  We normally end our prayers or sentences with “amen”; Jesus started His thought with “amen”.  By starting with “amen”, Jesus allows His deity to show for just an instant.  As God, Jesus is affirming what He is about to say as a human as being absolute truth.  Remember that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human, and as such, can mix His deity and humanity and demonstrate both that the same time.

In verse 29, Jesus offers one exception to God’s forgiveness – blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

The Jewish (Old Testament) understanding of the Holy Spirit is the key to unlocking this passage.  Remember that Jesus had not yet sent the Holy Spirit to indwell in people; that came on the day of Pentecost, after Jesus had ascended to heaven.

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit revealed God’s truth to people and helped people recognize what He had revealed.  In chapter 1, Mark told us that the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Jesus.  The Holy Spirit was revealing Jesus as the embodiment of truth, Truth in flesh and blood to everyone around through His miracles and demon expulsions.  Even the demons that Jesus was casting out recognized Him as Messiah.  But the Sanhedrin delegation would not recognize Jesus (or even His miracles) as from God.  In fact, they said just the opposite – they attributed all Jesus’ miracles to the power and presence of Satan (v. 30).

When Jesus told these Sanhedrin delegates that they were in grave danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, Jesus was saying that the Holy Spirit had revealed Him as from God and had given them recognition of who Jesus is.  But the Sanhedrin delegates denied the truth and said Jesus was demon-possessed and performed all His miracles by the power of Satan.  In other words, they denied God’s truth and God Himself as He was standing right in front of them.  As Matthew Henry and others have said, “there are none so deaf as those that will not hear, and none so blind as those that will not see.”

The Sanhedrin were the very ones who were charged with understanding God and His law and were to encourage the Jewish people in their obedience to God.  For these religious leaders to deny God and attribute all His works to Satan was the sin which Jesus said has no pardon.

As we read and apply this passage, we need to remember that Jesus was specifically addressing the Sanhedrin delegates, not all those in attendance.  These men had a higher authority and responsibility before God, and as such, were under a stricter judgment.  Their unwillingness to repent and their continual denial of Jesus as from God, especially with all the evidence the Holy Spirit was demonstrating through Jesus, was unforgivable.

Bible teacher and author William Barclay sums up and helps us apply this passage:

“There is only one condition of forgiveness, and that is penitence.  So long as a man sees loveliness in Christ, so long as he hates his sin even if he cannot leave it, even if he is in the mud and the mire, he can still be forgiven.  But if a man, by repeated refusals of God’s guidance, has lost the ability to recognize goodness when he sees it, if he has got his moral values inverted until evil to him is good and good to him is evil, then, even when he is confronted by Jesus, he is conscious of no sin; he cannot repent and therefore he can never be forgiven.  That is the sin against the Holy Spirit.”
(From William Barclay, “The Gospel of Mark, Revised Edition”, Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p. 81.)

The radio pastors were right – if we’re asking if we’ve committed the “unpardonable sin”, we haven’t.  For those that have, this question does not even register in their minds.

May we walk humbly with our God today (Micah 6:8).

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 3:22-27 (detail)

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
(Mark 3:22-27 NIV)

Yesterday we began looking at the details of this larger story.  Jesus’ family, thinking that  Jesus had lost his mind, set out from Nazareth, a day’s walk, to intervene in Jesus’ life and take Him home where He could rest and recover.

While Jesus’ family is en route to Capernaum, Jesus is dealing with another group of travelers, a bunch of religious experts who have made a special trek from Jerusalem to Capernaum (about one hundred miles, 3 – 4 days’ walk) to check out what Jesus is saying and doing.

This group of “experts” are from the Sanhedrin, the equivalent of the Supreme Court for all religious affairs in Israel.  The concern about Jesus’ ministry had far surpassed the local and regional levels of religious authorities.  Jesus had now drawn the attention (and ire) of the national authorities, who were here to see first-hand what was going on.

And what was the conclusion of these representatives from the Sanhedrin?  In their minds, Jesus was obviously demon-possessed, aligned with Beelzebul (the Old Testament name for Baal, the prince of demons).  They surmised that Jesus was practicing so-called black magic, and He was the greater, more powerful demon, casting out smaller, less-powerful demons.

Jesus hears the religious experts’ conclusions about Jesus’ ability to cast out demons because they think He is demon-possessed.  Jesus calls the experts to gather around and addresses the issue publicly and first-hand.

Jesus refutes their argument with simple logic:

  • A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand – civil war will divide the nation (example – God’s Promised Land – in history – divided into Israel and Judah)
  • A home divided cannot stand – its inhabitants will break up (divorce)
  • Satan against himself will not last – he and his power will self-destruct

Jesus then follows up these three counter-arguments with an analogy.  Jesus says that in order to rob a strong man’s house, you must tie up the strong man first.  The strong man is not going to sit and watch you carry off his stuff – he is going to fight you.

In this analogy, the strong man is Satan.  Jesus abolishes the idea of Satan self-destructing or being weak and powerless.  Jesus is saying that Satan is a formidable enemy – strong in his own domain.

Jesus is saying that He is stronger than this powerful enemy (Satan).  Jesus is the robber of Satan’s domain – He (Jesus) has overcome Satan and tied him up.  Jesus is now looting Satan’s house, redeeming and taking back what is rightfully His (the people Jesus is healing and casting out demons).

In Jesus’ veiled but masterful way, He is telling the legal experts that this is much more than an analogy – this is the reality of His ministry.  Jesus has bound the enemy (Satan) and is casting out Satan’s minions (the demons) and healing sickness of every kind.

Let’s imagine being in Jesus’ shoes for just a moment.  The delegation from the Sanhedrin is here to check out His ministry.  They are accusing Jesus of being demon-possessed, and of practicing black magic. The Sanhedrin, the elite of all Israel who should recognize the Messiah standing in front of them, instead accuse Jesus of being in league with the devil, Satan himself.

Jesus is not intimidated or discouraged – He does not give up.  Instead, Jesus goes on the offensive and tells the Sanhedrin in a veiled way that He is more powerful than Satan, and is casting out demons and healing the sick by the power of God.

So what can we learn from today’s text?

First, we must confront the reality that Satan is powerful.  As followers of Jesus, we sometimes avoid thinking about the reality of Satan and his forces, or that life is always nice and good.  As followers of Christ, Satan is at war with God and seeks to diminish and destroy us and our witness for Christ.

Second, we must always remember that God is more powerful than Satan, and has in fact defeated Satan’s eternal hold on humanity through Jesus’ death, burial, and bodily resurrection from the dead.

Third, we must remember that we are in a spiritual battle.  The Apostle Paul reminds us: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

May we walk in the reality that we live in a spiritual war zone, and that the enemy seeks to destroy us and everything that God stands for.  May we equip ourselves for the fight, and bravely follow Jesus our leader into battle as we love our enemies and point them to the source of truth, justice, mercy, and love – Jesus.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 3:20-21 (Detail)

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
(Mark 3:20-21 NIV)

Yesterday we looked at the entire story of Mark 3:20-25.  Mark masterfully weaves these simultaneous events into one story, with Jesus’s family providing the “bookends” of the story, and the confrontation with the legal experts from Jerusalem in the middle.

As we observed yesterday, Mark has fast-forwarded us from the peace and quiet of the small group gathered on the mountain to the crushing, demanding crowds back in Capernaum.  The NIV says that Jesus “entered a house”, while other translations say that Jesus “returned home”, presumably to Capernaum, and most likely to Peter’s home.

Today we begin looking at the individual parts of the story, the details that comprise the whole.

As Mark opens the story, Jesus and His disciples are back in Capernaum.  The crowds have gathered to have their needs met – physical healing, spiritual healing (demons cast out), emotional healing (Jesus’ message of repentance and hope).

The crowd is so great and pressing in on Jesus and His disciples that they don’t even have time to eat.  Word travels to Jesus’ family of origin back in Nazareth (25 miles away) about Jesus’ preaching, His clash with the religious authorities, and the crushing crowds that won’t give Jesus a chance to eat or sleep.

Jesus’ family is concerned about His welfare and safety.  They fear that Jesus has lost touch with “normal” life and is on the path to self-destruction, maybe even a psychotic break with reality.  So they decide to walk from Nazareth to Capernaum (about eight hours’ walking distance), stage an intervention, and take Jesus home to rest and recover.

Let’s step into Jesus’ family’s dilemma for a bit.

Their first-born son, the one that could do no wrong, has suddenly left the family business to become a poor, vagrant, itinerant preacher, with no place to call His own.  Jesus, as the first-born son, according to Jewish custom and God’s Law, was supposed to become the family patriarch and provide for the family when the father (Joseph) was gone.  Instead, Jesus takes off and is not even able to care for Himself (or so it seems).

Granted, Jesus is clearly gifted – no one has seen the miracles that He is able to do.  His family had observed that Jesus had special talents growing up – He was both smart and wise, and everyone liked Him (Luke 2:52).

And now, in the family’s eyes, something had gone terribly wrong.  Stories were coming back of Jesus taking on the religious authorities, challenging the status quo, and breaking the Jewish traditions regarding the Sabbath.  This was serious stuff.

On top of that, Jesus is hanging out with the “wrong crowd” – tax collectors, uneducated fishermen, hot-tempered guys that are ready to fight at the drop of a hat.  In fact, Jesus’ family has heard that Jesus has taken these men on as “students”, teaching them His radical ways (we would call them a “cult” today).

From Jesus’ family’s standpoint, there is no way that this will end on a positive note.  This is way beyond an embarrassment to the family’s name and reputation – they are concerned for Jesus’ life.

So what can we learn from these two verses, from walking in Jesus’ family’s shoes for a bit?

First, Jesus’ own family did not understand His calling and purpose.  The fact that they made the trek from Nazareth to Capernaum to stage an intervention was evidence of their misunderstanding, lack of faith, and unbelief in who Jesus was and is.

Simeon’s prophetic words to Mary at Jesus’ baby dedication must have been burning in her heart and mind as all this was taking place (Luke 2:34-35).

Jesus was, in fact, fulfilling all of God’s Law required of a first-born son, not only for their family, but on a scale they could not wrap their mind around – for the whole world.

Second, Jesus’ value system was antithetical (the opposite) to what the value system of their day established as the “norm”.

Jesus gave up His security – He risked everything to proclaim the message His Father had given Him.  He gave up His financial and material security, His social standing in Jewish society, and even His health.

Jesus also gave up His safety, risking everything to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences.  Jesus knew that the oral traditions of the Pharisees had taken God’s people far, far away from the original intent of God’s Law.  Jesus was willing to stand up and call them out and offer a new way that led the people back to the heart of God.

Jesus also gave up His reputation – what others thought of Him.  This included the religious leaders, Jewish society in general, and even His own family.  Jesus never considered the question, “what will the neighbors or my family think?”.

If you and I were Jesus’ family, what would we do?

As Jesus’ followers, are we willing to risk everything – our security, our safety, and our reputation – for His sake, to follow Him?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
 – Jim Eliot – follower of Jesus, missionary, martyr

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 3:20-35 (overview)

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
(Mark 3:20-35 NIV)

In yesterday’s passage, we were up on the secluded mountainside with Jesus as He called His twelve apostles, taught them, and empowered them to carry forth His message.

In today’s passage, Mark fast-forwards us from the peace and quiet of the small group gathered on the mountain to the crushing, demanding crowds back in Capernaum.  The NIV says that Jesus “entered a house”, while other translations say that Jesus “returned home”, presumably to Capernaum, and most likely to Peter’s home.

Today’s text is often picked apart and examined for its various details.  But it is important to step back and look at the macro view of the scene as well as the micro view of what Jesus is saying and doing.  Today, we will look at the overall picture of the passage.  In subsequent days, we will look at the smaller parts and see how they blend into the whole.

As Mark opens the story, Jesus and His disciples are back in Capernaum, and the crowds have gathered to have their needs met – physical healing, spiritual healing (demons cast out), emotional healing (Jesus’ message of repentance and hope).

The crowd is so great and pressing in on Jesus and His disciples that they don’t even have time to eat.  Word travels to Jesus’ family of origin back in Nazareth (25 miles away) about Jesus’ preaching, His clash with the religious authorities, and the crushing crowds that won’t give Jesus a chance to eat or sleep.

Jesus’ family is concerned about His welfare and safety.  They fear that Jesus has lost touch with “normal” life and is on the path to self-destruction, maybe even a psychotic break with reality.  So they decide to walk from Nazareth to Capernaum (about eight hours’ walking distance), stage an intervention, and take Jesus home to rest and recover.

While Jesus’ family is en route to Capernaum, Jesus is dealing with another group of travelers, a bunch of religious experts who have made a special trek from Jerusalem to Capernaum (about one hundred miles, 3 – 4 days’ walk) to check out what Jesus is saying and doing.

Jesus hears the religious experts’ conclusions about Jesus’ ability to cast out demons because they think He is demon-possessed.  Jesus calls the experts to gather around and addresses the issue publicly and first-hand.

Jus as Jesus is finishing up with the religious experts, Jesus’ family of origin shows up and wants to carry out the intervention and take Jesus home.  Jesus appreciates their gesture of kindness and compassion, but respectfully declines and continues on with His ministry.

Let’s step into Jesus’ shoes for a moment.  This was a low point in Jesus’ ministry.  The crowds and their endless demands were overwhelming, the religious leaders were falsely accusing the Son of God of being demon-possessed.  Even Jesus’ own family did not believe in His calling and ministry.  And on top of all these obstacles, Jesus and His disciples were hungry and half-starved.

May we persevere through hard times, when plans go awry, and when those we had hoped we could count on for support and encouragement fail us.

May we not put our focus on the what, nor the how, but the WHO – the author and finisher of our faith and our everlasting hope – Jesus.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 3:13-19

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
(Mark 3:13-19 NIV)

In today’s text, we see Jesus getting away from the crowds again, this time to the mountains.  Jesus invites twelve men to follow Him so He could train them and send them out as apostles (“the sent ones”).  Jesus called them to preach and gave them the authority to drive out demons.  From this point forward, Mark refers to this group of men as “The Twelve”.

Mark lists the apostles in verses 16 – 19.  Mark begins with Peter, his source of information.  Mark points out Peter’s given name (Simon), and the name Jesus gave him (Peter).

Next in the list were James and John, two brothers that Jesus nicknamed “sons of thunder”.  This was likely due to the brothers’ fiery tempers (see Luke 9:54).  These three men (Peter, James, and John) would be in Jesus’ “inner circle” of closest friends and students.

Next came Peters’ brother Andrew, who had originally introduced Peter to Jesus.   Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist; he began following Jesus when their paths first crossed.

Next came Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew (Levi), Thomas, James (Matthew’s brother), Thaddeus, and Simon the zealous one.

I had been taught that “Simon the Zealot” was made in reference to his association with the splinter Jewish group (the Zealots) that fought to gain independence from Roman authority and rule.  However, upon deeper investigation, historians tell us that the Zealots did not form until after Jesus’ ministry and ascension into heaven.  The Zealots were formed and revolted against Rome; the Romans responded by putting down the insurrection and burning the Temple to the ground in 70 AD.  Therefore, Simon’s title as the Zealot must have been more of a nickname than an identification with the radical Jewish group.

Mark concludes the list of the twelve with Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus in the end.

The number twelve has importance, as it represents the twelve tribes of Israel.  Just as some tribes of Israel had more historical significance than others, so some of the apostles had more significance than others.  However, all were called by Jesus to be His witnesses, His “sent ones”.

In Mark’s account of Jesus’ calling of the Twelve, we see Jesus’ emotions come out in the form of alternate names for His disciples.  Just as Jesus gave many of these men new names, so He gives us a new name as His followers.  Jesus calls us His friends, even His family members that will be given an inheritance.

It’s also important to recognize that Jesus formed a group to train and carry on His ministry.  This was the opposite of the Pharisees – even the name “Pharisee” means “the separated one”.  Jesus knew that they would need to live in community to flourish.  Jesus knew they would need to learn to live with one another, as well as for each other.

With such a wide diversity of backgrounds and life choices that each man brought to the group, it’s likely that there were some animated discussions about life and living.  And yet, Jesus called them together because of their passion of being with Him and their desire to take His message forward, regardless of the personal consequences.

May we have that same desire to make Jesus known wherever God calls us to be and whatever He calls us to do.  As Peter reminds us:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
(2 Peter 1:2-4 NIV)

May we live out our calling as His followers.

Blessings,
~kevin