We continue our study here in Mark, considering today chapter 3:13-19.
And he goeth up into a mountain and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: and Simon he surnamed Peter; and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.
The appointment of the twelve is very important. It marks, in terms of Jesus’ earthly ministry, a turning point with a new emphasis. This comes right about the half-way mark of Jesus’ three-year ministry. There have been really two emphases that were seen in the ministry of Jesus so far. First, there is His conflict with the Jewish leaders. And then, second, the emphasis that He has not come to do miracles but to preach the gospel. Now, in light of those two emphases, the conflict of the Jewish leaders to show their hypocrisy and the emphasis on preaching the gospel, Jesus appoints the twelve as, we could say, His own new set of leaders, and He prepares them to preach the gospel. The significance, the importance, of this is seen when we think of the impact that these twelve have on history, especially the history of the New Testament church. These twelve men would become the leaders and, we could say, the founders of the New Testament church. In the office of apostle, they would complete the canon of Scripture, and each of them, except Judas, would become heralds of the gospel in different parts of the earth. Dispersed from Jerusalem, the apostles carried the gospel to Syria, to Africa, to Asia Minor, to Greece, to Italy, and even as far away as India, so that Ephesians 2:20, speaking of the church as the temple, says it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” And we call the church today “apostolic” because it is built on the teaching of the apostles.
Now, here, as Jesus calls the twelve, He begins a new emphasis in His ministry. Here the One who says “I will build my church” has this in view, that these twelve will become foundational in the church, not so much as people, but in their task and in their teaching. So, Matthew 16: “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church”—the rock of the confession that Peter makes. A very significant event.
Looking more closely at the details of this event, we see two things that really stand out. First, what Jesus did as He called and appointed the twelve, and then second, why He did it.
What He did is described for us in verses 13 and 14: “He goeth up into a mountain.” Luke indicates that He did not do this in the morning, but He did it the previous evening and that He went alone into the mountain and prayed all night. The importance of it is noted in Luke, that He did this before He appointed the twelve. That is significant.
What did He do? The first thing that He did was, He prayed all night. Even though He is sinless, even though He knows the hearts and the character of His followers, even though He knew whom He would choose, before He calls them and appoints them, He prays. Perhaps this is a prayer for wisdom and discretion for Himself in appointing the twelve. But more likely, knowing whom He would choose (and we will get to their description in a little while), He is praying for them. And He is praying for Himself in regards to them, that He may have strength, because one of the twelve who will be appointed by Him is Judas, who will betray Him.
He prays for them. That is significant. It teaches us that the men whom God calls to serve in the church as officebearers need our prayers. As we will see, they are ordinary men, these twelve are. And so are the officebearers in the church. Those called to serve and lead in the church are but men. Pray for them. Pray that God gives them wisdom. Pray that God gives them faithfulness, not only in their work but also in their personal lives. Pray that God gives them perseverance and endurance in the work they are called to do in the church. Christ first prayed.
Second, He calls a large multitude to Himself. That is the idea in verse 13: “He called unto him whom he would: and they came unto him.” “Whom he would” refers here not just to the twelve, but to a large multitude. Luke says this: “He called unto him his disciples, and of them he chose twelve.” So, Jesus Himself is here, as it were, moving His ministry out of the theater of the synagogue. And He is calling His disciples to Himself. So, first He prayed. Second, He calls the multitude to Himself.
And, then, third, He appoints from the multitude the twelve. And He calls them apostles.
Now, if you look at these verses here, verses 13 and 14, what the emphasis falls on is the author of the call. There is a repetition seven times here in verses 13 and 14 of the pronoun “He” and “Him.” That is emphatic. He called unto Himself whom He would, and they came unto Him and He appointed. You see the emphasis falls on Jesus Christ. And Luke uses the words, “He chose.” Literally the word is the same word that is used for election: “Elected.” It points to the power, the sovereign power, of Jesus Christ, not just in election but even in the appointment of the twelve. That is very unusual. Jesus does not ask here for volunteers. This is not based on the willingness of them to follow Him, but He chooses them. He says, “Come to Me.” He says, “I’m going to prepare you and I’m going to send you out, I’m going to commission you.” And so, Ephesians 4 says, “He gave some apostles.” Christ did it. That is the emphasis here in these verses. He chose them, He made them willing, He prepared them, and He sent them.
Why did He do it? What was His purpose? That is the second part here in verses 14 and 15, which mention three things, three reasons, or three purposes in His appointing the twelve.
First, is it expressed in verse 14: “That they should be with him.” Now, in the first place, that shows us something of the humanity of Jesus Christ. He had a need for human companionship. Hebrews tells us that He was touched with the feelings of our infirmities. Just as He needed sleep and food, so He needed friends. He did not need the disciples in this sense, that He could not do His work without them. In fact, when it comes to the end of His work on the cross, then He suffered alone and they all forsook Him. But the Bible tells us that He was made in all points like as we are. And that included His need for companionship. In fact, we see among the disciples, as they are described, that there are three who are the inner circle and there is one who is described as the disciple whom Jesus loved, the closest companion, soulmate. He chose them to be with Him.
But it points to more than that, much more than that, because Jesus did not just do this because He wanted some close friends. What is in view in this phrase “to be with him” is a special relationship of discipleship and training. He appoints them now so that over a period of a couple of years they can be equipped for the role that they will take up in the church as apostles and leaders. What is important here is to see that this instruction that He is going to give to them is not so much a structured, classroom-like academic training. But it is through fellowship and intimate connection with Jesus Christ that they are spiritually prepared. Think about that for ourselves. We are spiritually prepared through intimacy with Christ and with the body of Jesus Christ. We should put a priority on that.
There is the first purpose, that they might be with Him. Second, “that he might send them forth to preach.” This, of course, is the primary reason that He calls the twelve. It is mentioned here second. And that is important because it tells us that the thing that qualifies one to be a herald of the gospel is not intelligence or ability to speak or charisma, but intimacy with Jesus—that he knows Jesus. That is necessary. That qualifies one, first of all. And we are prepared through that intimacy with Christ to herald the gospel.
But this is His main purpose: that He might send them forth to preach. And that, of course, reflects the main purpose of His coming, which has been the emphasis here in the first chapters of Mark (1:38: “Let us go into the next towns that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth,” to preach). That is why I came. And He appoints the twelve to be the first preachers and heralds. Their preaching will be, as Paul says, the “power of God unto salvation.” As heralds of Christ. That is going to be reflected not just in these twelve, but in the New Testament church. Christ’s purpose in coming.
Now, His purpose in sending out the twelve will be the purpose of the church. It will no longer be a national church. It will not be limited by geography or race. But it will be a church that proclaims and heralds the gospel to the ends of the earth. It will be a church that witnesses, and the witness of that church will be used by Christ to build and to gather His church from the four corners of the earth. That He might send them forth to preach.
Then, in verse 15, we see a third purpose: “And to have power to heal sickness, and to cast out devils.” Miracles. A miraculous power. Now, you see here that that comes third, because that is not His primary purpose, but it is His purpose with the apostles and in the apostolic age. At the very end of this Gospel, in Mark 16:20, it says of the apostles: “And they went forth, and preached every where [that was their primary work], the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” The signs, the miracles, followed to confirm. Paul speaks of these miracles as the gifts of the apostles. During the apostolic age, a special, a unique gift was given to the apostles. And its purpose was to identify the One whom they declared and proclaimed in the preaching as the One who had come from God, His divinity. And to identify His Word and to call attention to His Word in the gospel. So this is the call, the call, the important call.
Now, whom does He call? The disciples are described for us here in verses 16-19. And you find this same list in the other of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke, as well as in the book of Acts, chapter 1. We do not want to spend too much time on their names and descriptions, but just say a few things about them.
The first is that in each of the four listings, you find three groups of four, that is, the first, the fifth, and the ninth are always listed the same. The other is this: the first one listed is always Peter, and the last one listed in always Judas Iscariot. In the first group, we have Peter, James, and John, and then Peter’s brother Andrew. Peter, I said, is always listed first. He is the leader among the apostles. You see that in Acts 2 in his preaching on the day of Pentecost. James and John are mentioned with Peter—these are the inner circle who spend more time with Jesus.
The second group always begins with Philip. It is Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, and Thomas. We know a little more about each of these four than the ones who follow. Philip and Bartholomew were disciples of John whom Jesus called to follow Him. We read about that in the Gospel of John, chapter 1. Matthew is Levi, and we know him as a publican and a tax collector. We have already seen his call in the previous chapter. And then Thomas, the last of that second group of four. We know him as the “doubter,” which is a bit of a misnomer because all of the disciples were doubters. But what we see in Thomas in that interaction is that Thomas was willing to speak up, a little bit like Peter, but not so much with confidence, more with questions. Thomas, if he had a question, asked it. There was a certain honesty about Thomas.
Then the third group begins with James, this is the second James. You have James and John who are brothers, sons of Zebedee. This James is identified here as the son of Alphaeus. He is also called in the Gospels James the Less, or that could be James the Short, so perhaps that refers to his physical stature. We do not know much about him. Thaddaeus is also called Jude, or Judas. We do not know a lot about him either. And Simon the Canaanite, who is also known as Simon the Zealot. We will say a little about that in a minute. And then, the last one mentioned there is Judas Iscariot who betrayed him. He is always last on the list. Peter first, Judas last.
Twelve names, twelve men. What is the importance of this and this listing? There are three things here for us to see.
The first is that these were all very common, ordinary men. Four of them, we know, were fishermen. One of them was a publican or a tax collector. Another was a political zealot—Simon the Zealot. None of them were noted for education or learning. There is no scribe or Pharisee or lawyer or doctor among them. In fact, they were all considered by the scribes and the Pharisees ignorant and unlearned men. All of them but Judas Iscariot were from Galilee. They were not famous men, not at this point. In fact, only four of them are labeled or identified here with last names, surnames. And those are names that Jesus gives to them. He chooses average, ordinary men.
The second thing to notice about this list is that they were an extremely diverse group in their backgrounds, in their perspectives, in their temperament, in their personality. You see that when you put a couple of them next to each other: Simon the Zealot and Matthew the publican (the tax collector). These men, politically at least, were on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Different perspectives. Simon was a Zealot. Zealots were something like a terrorist organization. Their purpose and their existence was to overthrow the Romans’ authority, and they did this even through assassinations. Simon was a “nationalist,” a strong Jew. Matthew, on the other hand, was someone more like a traitor. He worked for the occupying enemy and he did this for his own personal wealth and gain. He was willing to give up loyalty to Israel for his own advantage. Despised he was by the Jews, as a traitor. So, these two men, and now they sit together as Jesus’ disciples.
Or, you can see this if you look at their personalities as well. Think of Peter, impetuous Peter, James and John labeled here “sons of thunder.” Later they want to call fire down from heaven on the Samaritans who will not give them food and rest. And then, on the other hand, you have Nathaniel, who just watches, contemplates under a tree. Or Andrew, apparently Peter’s older brother, and he is almost anonymous in the Gospels, so quiet. So, there is this diversity. These men were not clones of each other.
Then, a third thing for us to notice about this list is that this is a list of imperfect, sinful men. That becomes very obvious throughout Jesus’ ministry. You think of the pride of Peter. Or you think of James and John and their self-interests. Or you think of Matthew and Simon about whom we have talked already: Matthew the tax collector, Simon the Zealot. Sinful men. Or, how often all of them doubted, all of them were fearful. How often did not they squabble with each other, and yet Jesus chose these imperfect men to be His apostles. And He gave them power over demons. He appointed them to be heralds of the gospel.
That brings us to the final point of enduring significance. I want to close with three applications.
The first is this: What we see here in the founding of the church, as Jesus calls and appoints the apostles, is reflected in the character of the church that will follow. That is really summed up for us in I Corinthians 1, when Paul says to the church at Corinth: “Ye see [or you consider] your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.” What we see here is reflected in all of the church, in all those who are called to follow Him. That should be an encouragement to us. Our worth in the kingdom, and even our effectiveness in the kingdom, is not found in who we are or in our accomplishments. That has application within the body of believers in the church as well.
In I Corinthians 12, this is what Paul is talking about again when he speaks of the body and its diversity of members and the value of every member in the body and that those members who among us are overlooked are the critical members, the crucial members of the body. You see that even as you look at these disciples. Peter becomes prominent. Paul does too. A few of them write different parts of the New Testament Scriptures, but the rest of them remain relatively unknown. The point is this, that God has given each member, each of these apostles, gifts and a place in His body. The worst thing that can happen in the church, and you see this in the ministry of Jesus Christ, is that one becomes jealous of another for his gifts and place. You see that among the disciples. And Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another.” The place where God has put us, there we are to be faithful, there we have to put our gifts to use. And God will do with us and with our gifts as He pleases. One plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. And what is important for us to see is that we all need one another in the body and we are all needed in the body.
The second point of significance that we see here is the power of the grace of God. Not only God’s power to use weak means, not only God’s power to call sinners from darkness to light, but His power to change and to transform sinners. He calls us as unique individuals, but He calls us in order to change us. You see that here in the twelve. Just think of the apostle John, probably the youngest of the twelve. He is also the one whom we know as the disciple whom Jesus loved, closest to Jesus. And as we read his epistles, we know him as the apostle of love. Over and over, in I John: “Beloved, let us love one another.” But, you see what he is called here: “Boanerges, sons of thunder.” That refers to his zeal. He is a zealous individual. Not zealous like Simon, politically. But zealous religiously. He is zealous for the Lord. And in that zeal, there is a lack of love. We see that when he wants to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans. We could call him, as a young Christian, one who has misdirected zeal. But then, look at who he, by the power of God’s grace, becomes. You read his letters and they are effusive with love. And we say, if we knew him when he was young and then we read those letters: “Who would have thought?” So, that is the power of God’s grace to transform, to bring repentance and shame, to produce meekness and an emptying of self. And that is what it is to be a disciple, is it not? To forsake all and follow Him. They brought nothing, and He transformed them by the power of His grace.
There is one more thing in closing. It is the description of Jesus’ purpose in calling His disciples. He called them to be with Him. That describes His friendship, fellowship, communion. I said that Jesus needed that. But Jesus also creates that. Later He says to the disciples, “I call you no more servants but friends.” He speaks to them as friends. That is the good news of the gospel, is it not? That He brings us into covenant friendship with Himself. It is not just a friendship between us and Him, but it is a friendship that He creates in the church. It is described as a unity of believers in the body. Yes, there is a diversity, and yes, there is change that comes through the power of the gospel. But there is especially this, there is a unity, that we are brought together in one body. Not uniformity. We are not just like each other. Unity with diversity, in which we recognize differences. We respect those differences. We thank God for who the other members are. We are sharpened by those differences. And we learn with change through the communion with other believers.
That really shows us the beauty of the church. There is nothing like it in all the world. These do not come together because they have a common interest, but they come together in the spirit and in faith. That is what brings us together in the body of believers, too. And that is the power of the gospel of Jesus in His calling us. Amen.