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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Jesus Appoints the Twelve audio (4MB)


Mark 3:7-19

Imagine Jesus appeared in Melbourne today and was looking to form a band of disciples. What sorts of people do you think  he might look for?  People with influence? Media savvy types? University trained professionals? People who are good with words, good at presenting the right image? It’s interesting isn’t it, that that’s the type we often think about when we think about how to present the gospel to the world? What sort of people are invited to join the Archbishop in his BMW Edge breakfast conversations?  Who do they invite to speak at the Melbourne prayer breakfast? What sort of people are asked to lead the big churches?


It’s interesting, isn’t it, how different those people are to those that Jesus chose to be his disciples?
But let me ask you a question that’s a bit closer to home. If Jesus were in Melbourne looking for disciples, would he choose you? Are you the sort of person he might want in his band of followers?
Well, today we’re going to look at this passage from Mark’s gospel and see what sort of people he chooses.
First though we need to understand the context in which we find this passage. We’ve skipped over half a chapter, so let’s catch up. You’ll remember that over the previous two weeks we’ve seen how Jesus comes into Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. He calls his first disciples then proceeds to teach with authority, to drive out evil spirits and to heal many people. It doesn’t take long before people start to wonder who this man could be, who teaches with authority and even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him!
Then last week we saw him not just healing but even presuming to forgive someone’s sins. And when the religious experts complained he showed them up completely by healing the man of his paralysis.
In the bits we’ve skipped over we see the opposition from the Pharisees increasing as Jesus eats with Levi, a tax-collector, allows his disciples to pick heads of grain on the Sabbath and even heals a man on the Sabbath. Each time their accusations are rebuffed and they’re made to look foolish. And so right here at the start of Mark’s gospel we find the Pharisees beginning to plot how to kill Jesus.
And so we come to today’s reading. Mark tells us that Jesus withdrew, (v7) but from where? Well it seems he’s withdrawn from the towns and particularly from the synagogue where the Pharisees and Scribes are found. The religious authorities have rejected him and so he goes to where the ordinary people are, out into the countryside.
The opposition of the Pharisees hasn’t put off the crowd. They flock to hear him and to be healed by him. In fact this withdrawal has a strategic impact. Now people come from all over the countryside, from as far away as Jerusalem and Judea, from the other side of the Jordan and from the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus has moved to an arena where he’s accessible to everyone. And notice the implied criticism that Mark has of the Pharisees. They're completely blind to who Jesus is while the evil spirits Jesus encounters recognise exactly who he is. They fall down before him and cry out “You are the Son of God.” But Jesus doesn’t want evil spirits as his followers so he commands them to be silent.
Notice though, that neither does Jesus want a popularist following. He has people flocking to hear him, but he doesn’t want them to follow him just because he can heal them or feed them or even free them from the Roman occupation. So after a while he goes withdraws from them. He goes up a mountainside, away from the crowds taking with him just those who are his closest followers. Luke suggests that there are more than just the twelve, but still it’s a select group who are collectively seen as disciples, or followers of Jesus.
He takes them up the mountain and there he calls out the small group that he’s selected; twelve men who will be his apostles, those sent out to proclaim the good news.
And look at who he appoints.
There’s Simon, to whom he later gave the name Peter. His nickname is “Rock” but his behaviour as we go through the gospels is anything but. There’s James and John, nicknamed Boanerges, the sons of thunder. You can imagine what sort of behaviour gave them a nickname like that. They were hotheads, prone to go off the deep end. Then there’s Matthew, or Levi, the tax collector. Not a popular choice among the others you'd think. I mean who wants an enemy collaborator as a follower of someone who claims to be King of the Jews? Then there’s Simon the Galilean. Matthew describes him as a Zealot. That is, a nationalist, dedicated to ridding the country of the Romans. Imagine what he thought of Matthew! And last but not least, there’s Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. You can’t help but think that Mark wants to make it very clear from the start that these are just ordinary human beings with all the failings you’d expect in any group of twelve people.
I mean, it’s not a particularly inspiring group of people is it? Not the sorts of people you or I would have chosen. But I guess that’s the difference between me choosing, say 3 or 4 people to be on vestry or to be churchwardens and Jesus choosing those who’d become his apostles. In fact there are several differences, even apart from the difference between Jesus and me. Let me suggest a few.
First there’s the issue of whose choice this is. Here the choice is clearly Jesus’. He doesn’t ask these men whether they feel up to the task. He just chooses them. All they have to do is to obey.
Then there’s the task to which they’re called. They’re called to be apostles. That is they’re to be sent out to tell others about Jesus and his kingdom. This isn’t a position of influence or glory, sitting at Jesus’ right hand as some of them later hoped. No this is a task oriented calling; a calling to go out into the world as Jesus’ ambassadors, with all the risks that that will entail.
Then there’s the element of separation signified by his removing himself from the crowd and taking them up the mountain to make his choice. The disciple is called to come out from the crowd and follow Jesus. Elsewhere he talks about us taking up our cross to follow him. I’m not sure you could have a clearer picture of separation from the crowd than that of carrying your cross. Can you see the twofold focus that being a disciple entails? There’s being with Jesus and there’s leaving him to go out and proclaim him to the world. Too often we western Christians concentrate on the first but forget the second.
Notice too that the going out isn’t just to proclaim the message, it’s also to cast out demons.
The coming of the gospel results in spiritual opposition and so the apostle needs the authority to resist that spiritual opposition. But it may also be that the preaching of the gospel will mean opposing those forces of systemic evil in our world: corruption, religious intolerance, slavery, abuse of power, both in governments and social institutions; and that’s what the church at it’s best has so often done. In other words the preaching of the gospel entails setting people free; free from the bondage to sin most of all, but also free from the things that humanity creates to bind people.
So part of our task in Australia might be to free people, for example, from the oppression of the fashionistas who prescribe what you need to wear to be happy, or at least popular; to free people from the oppression of media giants who determine what we should know about, what we should be interested in, maybe even what we should think. To free people from the need to chase after every latest fad that comes along.
But of course we’re talking here about Jesus disciples, Peter and James and John and the rest. This doesn’t mean us does it? You may be thinking that you’re not good enough to be one of Jesus’ disciples anyway. But as I just said his disciples were a pretty mixed bunch. Mostly just ordinary people, distinguished only by the fact that Jesus had chosen them. But that’s the point isn’t it? We too are people that God has chosen to follow him. We too are those that Jesus was talking about when he instructed his disciples to go into all the world and make more disciples, teaching them to do all that he’d commanded them.
So here’s where  the rubber hits the road. Are you one of Jesus disciples? Have you withdrawn to be with Jesus rather than with the vast majority of those who want to have nothing to do with him? Are you learning from him rather than from the far louder voices of our world? And having withdrawn to learn from him, are you now ready to go back out into the world to tell them about him? Or does that sound too scary?
Well, it doesn’t need to be scary. Nor does it need to be complicated. As Paul Arnott told us a few weeks ago, it might be as simple as explaining to someone who’s heard about Jesus but doesn’t understand, what he was all about, just as Philip did to that Ethiopian Eunuch. It might just be talking about the Christian community you’re part of or inviting a friend to one of our low key outreach activities.
One of the dangers for people like us who belong to a Church that has lots going on is that we can become so focussed on the Church’s activities that we forget those outside. So the question today is this: is your faith totally inward focused or does it have a gospel shaped outward focus as well? Are you one of Jesus disciples so you can serve him or just yourself? Are you not just a disciple but an apostle as well?
Jesus last words to the disciples were these: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NRSV) Well, here we are in Australia - some people describe this as the end of the earth, certainly from the perspective of Jerusalem I guess it’s pretty close, so I guess we have a task before us- to be Jesus’ apostles here in Melbourne, Australia and beyond.

 

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