Jesus Chooses the Twelve Apostles
13 Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. 14 Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, 15 giving them authority to cast out demons. 16 These are the twelve he chose:
Simon (whom he named Peter),
17 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them "Sons of Thunder"),
James (son of Alphaeus),
Simon (the zealot),
19 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).
From among the many people following Jesus, twelve are chosen to be his official ambassadors. These men will live with Jesus day in and day out, and will share in his mission and message. They are a diverse group made up of different - and at times conflicting - personality types.
His apostles (Mark 3:14)
"Apostle" refers to "one who is sent, usually as a messenger, agent, deputy, or ambassador. It was understood that an apostle was commissioned by a higher authority and acted in behalf of this authority."205 The number twelve is representative of the twelve tribes of Israel (and the twelve patriarchs), and at first both Jesus and his apostles limit their ministry to Israel. The renewal of Israel, including "a new conquest of the promised land" through direct physical confrontation, was a common theme during this time, and a number of self-professed deliverers arose between the time Jesus departed and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.206
The twelve apostles lived with Jesus. They saw his miracles, heard his messages, and felt the sting of his rebukes. They joined with Jesus in proclaiming the Gospel and serving people in obvious need. Within this group of twelve specially chosen disciples, Peter, James and John comprised the inner circle.207 Whenever the apostles are listed in the NT, Peter is first, followed by Andrew, James, and John, with Judas Iscariot last (Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-4; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13).208
Jesus chose the twelve from among his followers and publicly commissioned them to be his special representatives, or "apostles" - thus bestowing upon them a status which would prove highly significant following the birth of the Christian Church and the worldwide spread of the Gospel.209
We Are All Sinners
In the midst of a sermon, a man jumped up. "Brethren!" he shouted. "I have been a miserable, contemptible sinner for years, and never knew it before tonight."
A man in the nearby pew announced, "Sit down, Brother. The rest of us knew it all the time."210
The apostles were sinners in, upon, and through whom Jesus did a mighty work.
From its very beginning, the Church has been comprised of sinners saved by grace. Provided we are first willing to admit what everyone else already knows, God can and will work to remake us from the inside out.
??? What first comes to mind when you think of the twelve apostles? What can the fact that they were flawed human beings teach us about our own relationship with Jesus?
Jesus and the Prince of Demons
20 One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn't even find time to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. "He's out of his mind," they said.
22 But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, "He's possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That's where he gets the power to cast out demons."
23 Jesus called them over and responded with an illustration. "How can Satan cast out Satan?" he asked. 24 "A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. 25 Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive. 27 Let me illustrate this further. Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger - someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.
28 "I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, 29 but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences." 30 He told them this because they were saying, "He's possessed by an evil spirit."
Jesus is so preoccupied with meeting the needs of others that he ignores his own. Out of concern for his personal well-being, his family tries to persuade him to stop what he's doing and return home. The religious leaders, meanwhile, say that Jesus' power derives from Satan. Jesus responds by showing that his power cannot be from Satan - and therefore must be from God.
His family ... out of his mind (Mark 3:21)
Jesus' family accused him of being "beside himself" (KJV), a term describing an "excess of zeal overpowering judgment."211 Lightfoot says it refers to a "vehement passion" causing one to lose all awareness of the present, and offers this expanded paraphrase: ""His knowledge is snatched away; he hath forgotten himself, and his own health; he is so vehement and hot in discharging his office, and in preaching, that he is transported beyond himself, and his understanding is disturbed, that he neither takes care of his necessary food nor of his sleep."212
This "was a crucial moment for Jesus. His family or friends came to take him home, to lay hold of him (kratesai), forcibly if need be."213 (The phrase rendered "his family" literally means "they who were from beside him"214 or "those from his side"215, indicating closeness. While some have taken this to mean nothing more than Jesus' close associates or followers,216 it is more common to understand it as referring to "the kinspeople or family of Jesus"217 - that is, "those who constituted the household of Jesus," although their exact relationship (brothers? cousins?) is not specified here218) Why was Jesus' family so concerned about him? The immediate context indicates it was due to Jesus' putting his ministry ahead of even his own physical needs.219 Behind this, however, stands a number of broader considerations:
Jesus had walked away from a secure, stable job as a carpenter to become a vagrant preacher. ("Accusations of madness were sometimes made against prophets, exorcists, and healers."220)
Jesus was directly confronting the most powerful and respected element of his society: the religious leaders.
Jesus was keeping close company with a group of men, the apostles, who by worldly standards did not amount to much.
And so it could be argued that Jesus had abandoned all concern for security, safety, and the opinions of others.221 And, of course, not to be overlooked is the bald fact of natural concern for the family name, in which case their actions would have been intended "to prevent any injury, or envy, or dishonor, from arising to the whole family."222
Possessed by Satan (Mark 3:22)
Matthew's parallel account shows the crowd wondering if, in fact, Jesus might not be the promised "Son of David" (Matthew 12:23) which, in turn, prompted a very strong reaction from the religious leaders. Unable to deny the reality of Jesus' miraculous power but nonetheless desperate to discredit any notion of his being the Messiah, the religious leaders attempt to play their he-is-of-the-Devil trump card. "They intend to say that Jesus is so far from being the Messiah that he is in league with Satan himself."223 The accusation that Jesus was "indwelt by and in league with"224 the Devil would remain in the air for quite some time, as seen in the writings of later critics of Christianity who put forward the notion that Jesus had learned the magical arts while working in Egypt, then returned to Palestine and there used his knowledge to claim for himself "the title of God."225
So serious is this blasphemous charge that Jesus takes the unusual step of calling - that is, summoning226 - the religious leaders to himself.227 Jesus used three illustrations to demonstrate the futility of his critics' thinking: A kingdom at war with itself cannot survive; a family "splintered by feuding will fall apart"; and a strong man's house can be robbed only after he has been tied up by someone stronger. Beyond the obvious application to the slanderous accusation being made against Jesus, it is possible to see in all three illustrations an allusion to Jesus' mission: Jesus has come to further God's kingdom; expand God's family; and defeat God's chief enemy.
Someone even stronger (Mark 3:27)
As noted earlier (in Mark 1), Jesus depicts himself as the one able to overpower the strong man in order to plunder - or "thoroughly ransack"228 - his house. Satan is the strong man, his house "is the realm of sin, sickness, demon possession, and death," and Jesus plunders Satan's house by "releasing the enslaved victims."229 This is a major point worthy of repetition: "Jesus' authority over the demons constitutes the inbreaking of God's reign, heralding and effecting the demise of Satan's dominion over humanity."230 It should not surprise us, then, to find this same theme reiterated throughout the NT:
"'The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.'" - John 12:31
"He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross." - Colossians 2:14-15
"Because God's children are human beings - made of flesh and blood - the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying." - Hebrews 2:14-15
"Dear children, don't let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil." - 1 John 3:7-8 (all NLT)
Blasphemes the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29)
There is much debate regarding the exact meaning of Jesus' solemn - that is, true and authoritative231 - warning regarding "blaspheming ['the work of'232] the Holy Spirit." First and foremost, it must be noted that to reject the Holy Spirit is to reject God, and that to reject God is to make him our enemy.233 In the immediate context, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit involves a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the true source of Christ's miracles - even to the point of attributing them to Satan. This is very serious indeed, as Jesus' miracles were intended to authenticate his status as God's final, authoritative messenger.234 Of course, "[t]he tragic and profound irony" in all this "is that when the bona fide Lord of the House casts out unclean spirits, they confess him to be the Holy One/Son of God, but those responsible for the purity of Israel and the house of God instead accuse him of having an unclean spirit."235
Because Jesus is no longer present in bodily form, some believe blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was limited to the immediate (= first-century) context, and thus is not applicable today. On the other hand, many believe the modern equivalent of this sin involves a life-long rejection of the Holy Spirit's witness concerning who Jesus is. The latter view is in keeping with the fact that although Jesus did not specifically mention repentance, his audience would have been fully aware of the link between repentance and forgiveness. What's more, it was the religious leaders' absolute refusal to repent of their sinful attitudes and actions - particularly regarding Jesus' true identity - that led them to go so far as to attribute Jesus' power to Satan.236
A New Nature
The story is told of a Hindu man who expressed to a native Christian missionary his conviction that his (the Hindu man's) efforts to live a morally upright life would be met with God's approval and acceptance into Heaven.
The missionary acknowledged that most people today reason along those same lines. Then he called the Hindu man's attention to the babul tree, a tree known for its especially long, sharp thorns.
"Suppose," said the missionary, "you break off a hundred of the thorns from the babul tree. Would it then cease to be a babul tree?"
"Of course not," replied the Hindu man.
"Well, it's the same with people. You can give up a hundred bad habits, but in the end you will still be a sinful human being. In order to please God you need a new nature - you need to be a new person. And only Jesus Christ can do that for us."237
The religious leaders who opposed Jesus thought they were earning their way to God by reforming their behavior through the keeping of religious rituals. They adamantly refused to accept Jesus and the new nature he offers.
??? We can learn something from everyone - even if it's only what not to do. What can the Pharisees' spiritual blindness teach us about why and how to sharpen our own spiritual focus?