Mark 3:7-19

Jesus’ renown is growing.   However the response to him varies quite a bit.   You have the Pharisees who do all they can to oppose him, the crowds which nearly crush him, the demons who fall down before him, and the disciples who follow him.   This week we will consider some of these responses to Jesus.

7Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 8and 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.    Mark 3:7-8

The last we saw Jesus he was in a synagogue surrounded, in part at least, by the Pharisees who were seeking to find some fault in him.  The passage concluded with their leaving to collude with the Herodians to plot Jesus’ death.  Here Jesus withdraws with his disciples to the sea.  Whether this was a move of self-defense or simply a move to find respite from the constant pressures of his ministry is not clear.  Either way Jesus is quickly surrounded yet again by the crowds.  Notice the diversity of the locations listed.  Over 100 miles separate Galilee from Idumea.  Jerusalem was almost entirely a Jewish city.  Tyre and Sidon were almost entirely Gentile cities (c.f. Matthew 11:20-24).

9And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.  Mark 3:9-10

This crowd of Jesus’ followers is operating in the same way our modern-day paparazzi do in their pursuit of celebrities.  Far from Jesus meek and mild meandering through the Palestinian country side, the image that Mark presents for us is one of intense pressure on Jesus wherever he goes.  We’ve already been told that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town (Mark 1:45) but here we see that the crowd hounds Jesus even as he goes out to desolate places.

It’s worth considering at this point some similarities between the Pharisees and the crowd.  The Pharisees blindly rejected Jesus.  They heard his teaching.  They saw the miracles.  But their hearts were hard and so they were unwilling to follow him.  In our day as well as in Jesus’ day cynicism can masquerade as wisdom.  But Jesus didn’t praise the Pharisees for their wisdom – no, he was angered at their hardness of heart.

On the other hand, the crowds here seem to be blindly pursuing Jesus.  Jesus did not ask his disciples to have a boat ready so that he could preach (though we see Jesus preaching from a boat in other gospel accounts) but to have a way of escape from the crowds that might very well crush him.  Mark does not tell us that Jesus is preaching at all, but rather that he is surrounded by an unruly crowd who are all trying to get close to him.  It would seem that his rebuke to the crowd in John 6 would be fitting here as well: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves (John 6:26).” The crowd isn’t pursuing Jesus for who he is but for what they can get from him.  They want to be healed.  They want to see a show.

11And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.  Mark 3:11-12

While the crowd is pressing in on him, the unclean spirits are falling down before him.  Here again we witness the testimony of the demons – “You are the Son of God.”  Jesus has no problem with the Father’s testimony about his Sonship (c.f. Mark 1:11) but he is unwilling to accept the testimony of demons.   Why is this?  A few thoughts.  For one, he is unwilling to associate with the demonic.  Secondly, the demons do not get to “name” Jesus as perhaps in the minds of some this would indicate authority over Jesus.    And finally, it is not the demons he wants to send out to testify about him (we’ll see whose job that is in just a moment!).

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.    Mark 3:13

Jesus manages to withdraw once again – this time to the relative seclusion of a mountain.  Luke tells us in his account that Jesus first spent the night in prayer before he calls these men to himself (c.f. Luke 6:12).  Whenever someone in the Bible climbs up a mountain, you should pay attention because something important is about to happen.  Abraham goes up a mountain to sacrifice his son and is met by an angel of God.  Moses goes up a mountain to receive the law of God.  Elijah goes up a mountain to hear the whisper of God.

Notice the verbs that describe Jesus’ action on the mountain.  Jesus desired to call certain men.  Jesus called them.  The men came.  Jesus does not come knocking on the door of their hearts as a homeless man looking for someone to take him in.  He comes as the master of the house expecting someone to answer the door.

14And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15and have authority to cast out demons.  Mark 3:14-15

The Greek word translated here as “appointed” is epoiesen and it means more literally “to create” or “to make.”  Interestingly this is the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) in Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Their apostleship will be defined not by what they will do for Jesus but by what Jesus will make of them.

It is interesting that Jesus creates not 8, not 10, not 20, but exactly 12 apostles.  This was certainly intentional.  There were 12 tribes that made up Israel.  These 12 men will constitute the New Israel Jesus is seeking to create.

He calls them apostles.  This term means “sent ones” and this is exactly the task that he gives them.  It is not the demons who will be sent out to testify to the identity of Jesus but these men.  They are sent out to preach and cast out demons.  Up until this point these men were listeners of Jesus’ preaching and witnesses to his authority over the demonic.  Now Jesus tells them that they will no longer be passive observers but active participants.  Notice that the first thing they are sent out to do is to preach.  This shouldn’t be surprising as Jesus has said that preaching is the reason he has come out (c.f. Mark 1:38).  But the apostles will not just be active in “word” ministry, he gives them “deed” ministry as well.  Go free people from the demonic oppression in which they are in bondage.  Go confront the demonic influences that have oppressed individuals and societies.

But notice the very first “task” that he gives the apostles.  It is not to be sent out at all, but rather to “be with him.”  The apostles were not to lose themselves in all of the things they did for Jesus.  They were first and foremost to be with Jesus.  This is the only way ministry is sustainable.  Otherwise we become like unconvinced travel agents seeking to persuade people of the beauty of places we are ourselves have never been.

16He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.     Mark 3:16-19

All of the synoptic gospel writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) list the names of the 12 apostles.  At some points there are differences in their lists which is attributed to the different names the same individual had.  Notice for instance that Mark specifically points out that Simon, James and John each got new names from Jesus.  To name someone is to demonstrate authority over that person. This is why the dominion that God gave Adam in the garden included naming the living creatures (c.f. Genesis 2:19) and why Jesus would not allow the demons to “name” him.

One thing that is common in all of the lists of the apostles: Peter is always named first and  Judas is always named last.  Peter is the one who denied Jesus and Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus.  Clearly what made these men special was not their ranking on a spiritual gifts assessment but that Jesus chose them.

This should give us encouragement.  While the apostles were called to a clear office that is not common to all believers there are many similarities between us and them.  Jesus sends us out as well.  Our ability and the authority we have to witness to the truth of who Jesus is, comes not from ourselves but from God.  Paul puts it this way – “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).”  We labor but look to the Lord for the results.  Like the apostles our primary task is to be with him – to be filled up by him – and then to go out.  Like the apostles we are careful not to confuse ministry done for Jesus with time spent with Jesus.  And like the apostles it is not about what we will do for Jesus but what Jesus will make of us.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the largest crowd you have been a part of?  What was the experience like?
  2. Why did the crowd (v.7-12) come to Jesus?  Why do large crowds of people “follow” Jesus today?
  3. Why does Jesus tell his disciples to get a boat ready?   What does this tell us about the crowd?
  4. How do the unclean spirits (demons) respond to Jesus?  Why won’t Jesus allow them to “make him known?”
  5. What do we learn about the authority of Jesus in vv. 13-15?
  6. These men who Jesus called had spent a lot time listening to him preach and watching him confront demonic oppression.  What do you think their experience was like being told that they were going to be sent out to preach and cast out demons?
  7. What is the first “task” that Jesus gives the apostles (v.14)?
  8. In what ways can we be tempted to confuse things we do for Jesus with time spent with Jesus?  How does time spent with Jesus fuel our ministry for Jesus?
  9. How can you determine how to best serve God with your particular gifts and abilities?
  10. How can you develop good rhythms of time spent with Jesus?
  11. Are there other ways you would apply this passage to your life?




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