We have all seen great crowds surround movie stars, professional athletes, teams who have won the championship in something, and the like… but crowds surrounding a religious leader of the day? This is the text that kicks off our time this morning, Jesus is surrounded with large crowds that are pressing in on him. Seems strange, but we will soon find out that it’s the same now as it was then with humanity and our desire to be close to glory. But before we dig in, I must say a quick note about the first part of today’s text.
In Mark’s gospel, 3:7-12 is the longest of his summaries regarding the impact and following of Jesus’ ministry. This is a relatively self-contained overview which could have been inserted at almost any point in Mark’s gospel. Here’s a few reasons, among others, as to why this summary was placed where it is:
– to provide a contrast to the growing sense of opposition and conflict from the religious leaders, and by reminding us that Jesus remains overwhelmingly popular with the common people;
– to provide the context for Jesus choosing the twelve disciples as Jesus’ special companions in distinction from the larger crowd of fans; and
– to be used as a bridge, closing out a narrative that began in Mark 1:16 when Jesus first began His ministry and called His first four disciples, and to connect you to the next major narrative in Mark starting in 3:13 when Jesus solidifies the 12 disciples (apostles) to follow Him and be His special group of revolutionaries.
With that said, turn with me to Mark 3:7-12:
Fans of Jesus
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.
What’s going on here that Jesus is literally being “pressed in” on to the point where He is preparing a way of safety for Himself? It seems as if the crowds were more concerned about their agenda to see something cool or to get something from Jesus, than thinking about Jesus Himself. Nothing’s changed over all these years. We’ve got reporters, paparazzi, nosy onlookers, who gather around stars and accidents just to get an autograph, see something cool, or glean from the glory and fame of a particular person.
A certain church, I won’t say which one it is, had Tim Tebow come visit them while he was in town, and the members of the church crowded around him so aggressively and unceasingly that his friend had to escort him out of the side door of the church and get in a get away car because his personal space and time wasn’t being respected by “fans”.
In our opening text this morning, it’s pretty clear to see that the focus of this crowd was exclusively on Jesus’ healing power and authority over the demonic realm, much like many of the church attendee’s minds were on Tebow’s glory and fame that Sunday morning, and much like all of us at different times in our lives.
Demons Know Better
At this point, Jesus is not being followed for His teaching, although His teaching was different than any other leaders as well. They have not come out of pure interest and concern for truth, to hear the message of the kingdom of God. Instead, they wanted to witness and benefit from Jesus’ power in healing (v. 10) and exorcism (vv. 11–12), and in their pursuit, they clearly could care-less about Jesus’ personal space or time. They are ego-centric, self-centered followers of Jesus, sadly, much like myself in many ways.
But notice what the demons say about Jesus. These spirits know when they are in the presence of a power greater than themselves. They see Jesus, not as a great healer, though He is, but as a spiritual power, a literal presence, with authority that is altogether different from everything else. When Jesus walks by, they fall down because of the lack of freedom to destroy and can only declare what they know to be true, “You are the Son of God!” But because it’s not time for the world to know this yet, Jesus shuts them up.
So as we move on to the next scene, it’s clear to see that the verses that follow are here to show us that Jesus had a bigger agenda than to be bullied, controlled, and to satisfy everyone’s desires. Jesus is going to go up into the mountains, away from the crowds, and there He will make a distinction between fans and followers, as well as clarify His purpose of why He came.
Followers of Jesus
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.
Mountains and Prayer
As Jesus retreated from the crowd, we learn that Jesus went up to the mountains. This imagery gives us a couple pictures. The first picture we get from Jesus retreating to the mountain is to pray and hear from the Father. We know this because Luke explicitly states the reason why Jesus was there:
12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: (Luke 6:12-13).
This was a big decision, and once again, we see the consistency of not only Jesus’ words, but His actions as well. God in the flesh, and He is praying, modeling to those who would come after Him. Pray! No more really needs to said as this speaks for itself…
Mountains and Revolutions
The second imagery that one could get from Jesus inviting His disciples up to the mountain, is a revolutionary image. Think “Red Dawn”. Not the 2012 version, but the real version from 1984. The story goes like this:
The US is invaded by the Soviet Union and its Cuban and Nicaraguan allies, and the onslaught of World War III seems eminent. While in school one day, a group of American high school students see foreign troops parachuting out of the sky and war breaks out right in front of their eyes. A small band of revolutionaries who resist the occupation, the main stars being Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, and Jennifer Gray. They gather all the food and drink they can, rob a firearms store, go off into the mountain, and start planning a revolution, calling themselves Wolverines, after their high school mascot. It’s really a great movie that incites a lot of passion, but may have been a little too much political and national propaganda for it’s own good.
Anyways, at least you got the picture. The mountains have been a gathering place for many revolutions, and now Jesus has His “Wolverines” (Petros, the “Rock”, Boanerges, the “Sons of Thunder”… I mean come on, those are some guerrilla warfare names, not to mention Jesus has a few “Zealots” in His group who went around with daggers hidden up their sleeves killing Roman authorities). Jesus is in the mountains with His “Wolverines” and a new revolution is beginning, but this time, a new way to fight is being employed.
Mountains and Wolverines
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.
Kerusso! To preach, especially to publicly announce truth of the good news that God’s kingdom is here in Jesus Christ. But not just preach, but display with God’s power and authority over the spiritual realm. This new revolution is one that is restoring shalom, restoring the way things were supposed to be, by the proclamation of the word of God, and the display of His power, not combatting flesh and blood, but “against the rulers and authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)
And this is war. Look at verse 19: And Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. Betrayal, homelessness, rejection from friends and family, being blamed, cursed, threatened, persecuted, even murdered. This is a dark and bloody pursuit, but the war is won through sacrifice, the sacrifice of God Himself. Destroying armies through dying for their sin and offering them a chance to be a “Wolverine”, on the side that wins.
Doesn’t that make you want to run out, paint your faces with war paint, and go live in the mountains? Okay, maybe not, but least we are getting a fresh look into what Jesus is up to. He’s forming people into warriors of His kingdom. People who will “be with Him” (v. 14), go out with Him, and gather more warriors who don’t even know they are royalty yet. This is a God movement that will not stop, even when the warriors get killed and it seems that the revolution is over. God’s plan to reach the world… you and I!
This is Jesus’ multiplication plan. He’s doing the work of ministry, there’s more than God in the flesh can handle, so He gathers leaders, trains them (that’s what the rest of the book of Mark will show us as we continue in this series), sends them out, and will empower them once and for all when His work on earth is finished (Acts 2).
The Revolutionary Plan
Now Jesus is definitely doing all that we just mentioned, but there’s also more that’s going on in this passage as well. Jesus chooses twelve disciples. Not only is it a manageable traveling group, able to fit into a small fishing boat, but it’s also the same number of the tribes of Israel which seems to suggest some kind of restoration of Israel is happening.
This image is not brought out explicitly in Mark, but it is in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30. Every Jew knew that there were twelve tribe of Israel, ten of which have been utterly lost when the Assyrians invaded Jerusalem and integrated them into Assyrian life (701 BC) and eventually lost for good among the Greek (Alexander the Great, mid 300’s BC).
But the prophets of Israel had spoken of a coming restoration, a revolution if you will, and the Jews were waiting and longing for that day. They believed that the day would eventually come when Yahweh turned things around. So when Jesus goes up to the mountain and chooses His twelve “Wolverines”, you couldn’t miss what was happening.
Jesus was making a statement that was larger than life: This isn’t just a big healing mission, nor is it some kind of spiritual awakening… this is a revolution that is coming to restore what the locusts have ruined and stolen, not just spiritually, but physically, emotionally, socially, politically, economically. A new thing is here, and a new mission is starting.
Go and Do Likewise
This is why Christ Jesus gave to the Church: 11…the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Eph. 4:11-13)
And this is why Paul writes to one of His Wolverines that He raised up:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus… (2 Tim. 2:1-3)
I pray this morning that we can be marked as people who are “with Jesus” (Mark 3:14). People who follow Him to the mountain to pray, to be filled up, and to march in to the valley with justice, mercy, humility, not being ashamed of our Lord, publicly proclaiming the truth in word and deed, not misrepresenting Him as a religious nut who cared more about the moral code than He did about the law of love.
I pray this morning that we can discern our call and role in this battle, this revolutionary journey, partnering with Jesus to redeem that which was robbed by Satan, sin and death. I pray that we would be a body that works together, using our gifts and roles to bless, to build up, to encourage, to strengthen, to love. To fight for truth, for beauty, for life, for justice and righteousness, for peace. Wolverines!