Ordinary People; Extraordinary God

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Mark 3:7-19 (Jesus Calls the Twelve Apostles)

INTRODUCTION: “Who am I? I’m not anyone special. In fact, I’m pretty ordinary. How could God use anyone like me?” Have you ever felt that way? If so, this passage from Mark is especially for you. Because this passage illustrates a great truth that we find throughout the Bible and throughout the history of the church: our God is an extraordinary God who uses ordinary people to accomplish his work in this world. Let me say that again. Our God is an extraordinary God who uses ordinary people to accomplish his work in this world.

That should be an amazing encouragement to us this morning, because let’s face it, most of us are ordinary people. And if God only called or used extra-ordinary people for his kingdom, we would be left out of the action. But praise God, he uses ordinary people to do his work. In fact, I would say that is one of the extraordinary things about God, is that he uses ordinary people like you and me.

I. Jesus draws great crowds (verses 7-12)

We begin this morning by looking at the extraordinary person of Jesus, the Son of God, and his ministry in Galilee. And the main point Mark wants to get across here is that Jesus at this stage of his ministry is drawing extraordinary crowds.

    A. The people came from everywhere. (7-8)

And these people came from everywhere. Look at verses 7-8

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. (Mark 3:7-8)

So Jesus withdraws with his disciples to the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowd from Galilee follows him there. That’s just the local crowd. But word about Jesus is spreading, and so people are also coming from all the surrounding areas. Just to get our geographical bearings here, Judea, Jerusalem and Idumea were to the south; the regions across the Jordan were to the east; and Tyre and Sidon were to the north. And so Mark is basically saying that people were coming to Jesus from every direction on the map. Jesus may have faced opposition from the Jewish leadership, but it is clear that the common people loved him, and they followed him in droves.

    B. There were so many they were pushing forward to touch him. (9-10)

Mark goes on to say there were so many people in the crowd that they were all pushing forward to touch him. Look at verses 9-10:

Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. (Mark 3:9-10)

Jesus had attained what we would call rock star status today. He had healed so many, that everyone was crowding around him, hoping just to touch him in order to be healed. Jesus even had to tell his disciples to have a small boat ready for him to keep the people from crowding him. Then Jesus could stand in the boat a little from shore and teach the people without the distraction of everyone pushing forward around him.

    C. Jesus ordered the demons not to tell who he was. (11-12)

No ordinary man was going to draw crowds like this, and clearly this Jesus was no ordinary man. Mark confirms that further with the report about the demons in the crowd. Look at verses 11-12:

Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was. (Mark 3:11-12)

We have seen this before where the demons try to speak Jesus’ identity out loud but Jesus stops them. Why does he tell the demons to be quiet? It’s not that he is correcting a misunderstanding. The demons are absolutely right. He is the Son of God, and he shows that by silencing them. We do not know exactly why Jesus told them to be quiet, but we do know that Jesus revealed his identity slowly over time, even to his disciples. Most likely he was seeking to avoid a final confrontation with the Jews and with Rome before the proper time.

But whatever his motivations, this passage shows the greatness of Jesus in that the demons fell down before him, they confessed that he is indeed the Son of God, and they were silenced by the power of his command. We may assume here that Jesus not only silenced the demons but cast them out at the same time.

It is important to see the greatness of Jesus here because of what follows. Jesus is about to call the twelve apostles. Their stature as apostles is measured not by who they are but by who Jesus is. The apostles are only great because Jesus is great. One again, our God is an extraordinary God who uses ordinary people to accomplish his work in this world.

II. Jesus calls the twelve apostles (verses 13-19)

We now move from this scene with all these people crowding around Jesus to the scene where Jesus calls the twelve apostles. Now it is important to understand that this call to apostleship was different from their initial call to discipleship. We have already looked at several passages where Jesus called people to be his disciples. A disciple is simply a follower of Christ. Now Jesus will take twelve of those disciples and set them apart as his apostles.

    A. He called those he wanted. (13)

The first thing we should notice about this is that Jesus called those he wanted. Look at verse 13:

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. (Mark 3:13)

This is a fairly simple principle here. God gets to choose. God calls those he wants for service. Later on Jesus would say to the disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.” (John 15:16) God not only chooses who will serve him; he chooses how we will serve him. He gives us spiritual gifts for service as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:11), and he puts us within places of ministry where we can best serve him and the body of Christ.

It is important to note here that Jesus even chose Judas knowing that Judas would betray him. This was not a mistake or some type of oversight on Christ’s part, but this was part of God’s plan for our salvation. Jesus called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.

    B. He appointed twelve as apostles. (14-15)

Next, after Jesus called those he wanted, he appointed twelve as apostles. Look at verses 14-15:

He appointed twelve — designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)

The word “apostle” literally means “one who is sent.” In the New Testament we find this word used in two different senses. In the first sense, it refers only to the twelve disciples that Jesus specifically designated as apostles in this passage. These twelve had a unique place in history, they had a unique relationship with Jesus, and they had a unique authority in the early church. They also have a unique place in the New Jerusalem as described in the book of Revelation. We read in Revelation 21: “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:14)

You might be wondering, “What? Judas’ name will be inscribed on the foundations of the New Jerusalem?” No, we read in the book of Acts that Judas was replaced with another disciple named Matthias. Matthias had been among the twelve from the beginning and was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection, both of which were requirements to be one of the twelve. (Acts 1:21-26)

So that is the first sense of the word “apostle” – the original twelve who were appointed by Jesus (eventually removing Judas from the list and adding in Matthias instead). But the Bible uses the word in a broader sense, too. Paul was an apostle, as were Barnabas, Timothy and others. Paul had a unique authority similar to the twelve apostles in that he was “an apostle sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Galatians 1:1), whereas other apostles were sent out by the church (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) to share the gospel.

So Jesus called those he wanted, and he appointed twelve of them as apostles. Why did he designate them as apostles? What was their function? Mark gives us two reasons: 1) that they might be with him, and 2) that he might send them out.

        1) He called then that they might be with him.

He designated them as apostles first of all that they might be with him. That is the first qualification for any position of spiritual leadership. You must be with Jesus before you can go out and serve Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) And so if you would serve Christ and be productive in your life for him, you must remain in him. You must rely on him. You must depend on him. You must spend time with God in prayer and in his word. Spiritual power comes from closeness to Christ. There is no other way.

Jesus called the apostles first of all to be with him. And although Jesus had many disciples or followers, the twelve apostles had a special access to Jesus’ person and teachings that the others did not. Jesus spent special time with them. He explained his parables to them. He told them about his upcoming suffering, death and resurrection. He trained them for ministry as they watched him preach and minister to others. And when Jesus eventually sent them out, the apostles were equipped for their task because they had been with him.

It’s interesting, after Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven, and the apostles began proclaiming the gospel, we read in Acts 4 that Peter and John were arrested and brought before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law in Jerusalem. Talk about intimidating! But Peter spoke out boldly proclaiming salvation in Jesus’ name. And we read that when the leaders saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note of what? – “that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) So that was the first reason Jesus called the twelve as apostles: that they might be with him.

        2) He called them that he might send them out.

The second reason was this: that he might send them out. Remember, that is what the word apostle means, “one who is sent.” And Mark tells us that he sent them out to do two things in particular: to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons.

So what did they preach? Jesus did not actually send them out until Mark 6. But when he did, we know from the other gospels that they preached the same message Jesus preached: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

He sent them out to preach and to drive out demons. They were given authority to drive out demons as a demonstration that their words were true. The kingdom of God was indeed near; it was so near that the kingdom of Satan was being driven out in their midst. We know from other portions of the gospels that they were also given authority to heal people’s diseases. (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:312-13; Luke 10:9) And so the apostles were sent out to preach the good news, and they were given authority from Christ to back it up. They were ordinary men sent by an extraordinary God.

    C. “These are the twelve he appointed” (16-17)

So who exactly were these twelve apostles? We find their names listed in verses 16-17:

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

There are several lists of the twelve disciples in the New Testament, and they always come in these three groups of four. Peter, Andrew, James and John are always in the first group. Peter’s name always comes first in the list. His brother Andrew is usually grouped with him, but here Mark puts Andrew’s name after James and John, who are also brothers.

Philip’s name always heads up the second group of four which includes Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas. Bartholomew is probably the same person called Nathanael in the gospel of John. Matthew is also called Levi.

Finally, James always heads up the last group of four which includes James, Thaddeus, Simon and Judas Iscariot. James and Matthew are both described as sons of Alphaeus and may be brothers (Mark 2:14, 3:18). Thaddeus was also known as Judas, but Mark probably uses his second name here to distinguish him from the Judas who betrayed Jesus. Simon is called Simon the Zealot probably to distinguish him from Simon Peter.

        1) They were twelve ordinary men.

So what can we say about the apostles? First of all, they were twelve ordinary men. All three words in that description are important: twelve … ordinary … men. The fact that Jesus chose twelve apostles is significant. Twelve was the number of tribes in Israel; now Jesus chooses twelve apostles, all Jewish by the way, who will be the foundation for the church. In the Old Testament the people of Israel were the people of God. In the New Testament the church is the people of God, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son. This is reflected in Jesus’ choice of twelve apostles.

The fact that they are ordinary is significant. Jesus did not choose those with great power or influence to be his apostles. He didn’t choose any of the rulers, elders or teachers of the law. He didn’t choose any of the scribes, Pharisees or Sadducees. Instead he chose ordinary people like you and me. These were ordinary men empowered for an extraordinary task by an extraordinary God. Once again, our God is an extraordinary God who uses ordinary people to accomplish his work in this world.

And then it is significant that Jesus chose twelve men to be his apostles. It was surely not a coincidence that no women were chosen to be part of the Twelve. So what is the significance in Jesus choosing only men? Was it that Jesus did not like women? No, throughout the gospels we see Jesus treating women with dignity and respect, much differently than the rest of the culture at that time. Was it that Jesus did not want to be seen traveling with women, perhaps to prevent rumors or a scandal? No, the gospel of Luke tells us that women did travel with Jesus and the twelve, including Mary Magdalene and others. (Luke 8:1-3)

Some people say that Jesus was accommodating himself to the culture of that time and that he did not choose any women apostles because the culture would not have accepted them as spiritual leaders. But women were already recognized as prophetesses in that time, and Jesus certainly had no trouble offending the culture in other ways.

I think we have to come back to the Scriptural principle of male leadership here which we find throughout the Bible. Men and women have equal value before God but different functions, and God has assigned to men the role of leadership in the church and in the home. And we see that illustrated here in Jesus’ choice of these twelve ordinary men as his apostles.

        2) They came from a variety of backgrounds.

So that’s the first thing I want you to note about the apostles. They were twelve ordinary men. The second is this: they came from a variety of backgrounds. Peter, Andrew, James and John were all fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector. Simon was a Zealot, which means he belonged to a radical, violent political party that hated Rome and hated tax collectors (like Matthew!). The other six we don’t know much about except that they were all laymen. None of them were trained as teachers in the law. None of them came from the religious leadership of that day. They were twelve ordinary men from a variety of backgrounds who were brought together by Christ to be his apostles.

    3) They would change the world forever.

And they would change the world forever. After Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven, the apostles led the way in sharing the gospel and planting churches that would eventually spread the good news of Jesus around the whole world. Our God is an extraordinary God who uses ordinary people to accomplish his work in this world.

CONCLUSION: Once again, I hope that this is an encouraging message to you this morning. You may feel like you do not have a whole lot to contribute to God’s kingdom. You may feel like you are just one person. What could you possibly do for God? The truth is God delights to use ordinary people like you and me to do his work here on earth.

Zechariah 4:6 says, “‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Don’t look so much at what you can do for God, but at what God can do through you. As pioneer missionary William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God.”

The disciples were just a rag-tag group of ordinary people who responded to Christ’s call. But our God is an extraordinary God who uses ordinary people to accomplish his work in this world. What will you allow God to do through your life?

© Ray Fowler

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