“Then He went up the mountain and summoned those He wanted, and they came to Him. He also appointed 12 — He also named them apostles — to be with Him, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons. He appointed the Twelve: To Simon, He gave the name Peter; and to James the son of Zebedee, and to his brother John, He gave the name “Boanerges” (that is, “Sons of Thunder” ); Andrew; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.” (Mark 3:13-19 HCSB)
Mother’s Day is upon us and children, young and old, are trying to make certain that mom knows she’s loved. Burnt toast and spilled juice are just the inherent dangers of young hands preparing and delivering breakfast in bed as they tell mom to relax and enjoy her day of honor. In America, this is also a day when restaurants are crowded and overflowing with families as dad’s try to avoid making a mess in the kitchen and burning dinner, again, even as mom insists that it might be better if she just cooked. It’s a wonderful day! Why don’t you take a minute, right now, and call your mom? If she’s already in heaven, thank God for her positive influence in your life. If your mother was never around or not a positive influence in your life, then stop and thank God for someone in your life who did impact you in a positive way.
One of the challenges of preaching through a book of the Bible is how to address passages like the one we considered last week and the one we will consider this week. They can be challenging because their purpose is often understated or not immediately clear or apparent. Sometimes they are passages that just provide facts and details with what we consider as limited spiritual insight. Initially, that seems to be the case with this passage – details with limited spiritual insight. At least, at first glance that’s how it feels. Mark tells us about Jesus appointing twelve “apostles” to be with Him, to send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. He then proceeds to list them by name. Of course, I think there might be a little more in here than we initially see. So, let’s take a look…
Mountains have significance in scripture and almost always seem to focus on an encounter with the living God. Of course, we know of multiple Old Testament examples like Abraham and Moses and their mountain encounters with God. This journey up and into the mountain is no exception and, like those classic OT examples, these men don’t go up onto the mountain seeking God but instead are called by Him to ascend the mountain to encounter and experience His presence. “He went up the mountain and summoned those He wanted, and they came to Him.”
It is important to note that while we may seek God we only find Him because He has revealed Himself to us. The creation cries out and tells us that there is a creator, a creator God who designed and made these things we see. As men walk the sandy shores and shoals of the local rivers, they often find small pieces of flint that have been carefully crafted into arrow heads. It doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to see and understand the crude craftsmanship and simple design of these items and to recognize their origin and purpose. As our knowledge and understanding of things grows, so does our pride. Unfortunately, as our pride and self-sufficiency grows our wisdom and understanding of God wanes and our belief and trust in Him steadily fades.
Everything we know of God is through the revelation of Himself to us and not through our own ability, goodness, knowledge or wisdom (see 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Even as Christians, it is easy to question this and to fall back on our own needs, desires and faith as the impetus for finding God, but consider what Jesus said: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44 HCSB)
Mark has already spent quite a bit of energy up to this point showing us how Jesus is the promised Son of Man and the very Son of God, God incarnate. Now he tells us that these men, those Jesus appoints as Apostles – the sent ones, are not just a random group of fishermen, zealots, tax collectors and enthusiasts but a hand picked group that are being tasked with a divine mission and endowed with divine authority and power. Notice, “He summoned those He wanted, and they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve of them as Apostles, to be with Him, to send out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”
So, out of those who follow Him and believe His teaching He identifies twelve who are “to be with Him” and to learn more deeply what it means to follow Him. I mentioned above, they are named apostles or “the sent ones” because He sends them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. They are to serve as emissaries or ambassadors of the King. When an emissary speaks or acts he does so with the authority given to him by the one who appointed him, generally a king. When the Apostles speak and act they do so with the authority of the King of kings. They have no power or authority in themselves, they only have power and authority in their role as His servant.
I really think those words, “to be with Him”, are central to understanding scripture. Central to understanding all of scripture – Old and New Testaments. We’ve already seen in Mark 1, how Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him and I suggested that it harkens back to God’s call to Adam and Eve to “walk with Him” in the garden in the cool of the evening. It harkens back to Enoch, who walked with God. It harkens back to Abram and his call to walk with God “to a land that I will show you.” I suspect these fishermen thought they knew the purpose for which God had made them – to fish – but Jesus comes along and clarifies that they should walk with Him and He will “make them fish for men.”
As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, I will stick my neck out and suggest that every godly, Christian mother wants nothing more and, certainly, nothing less than to have her child(ren) walk with God. She wants them to find their identity, their purpose and their life’s direction in Him. Now, some might begin to balk a bit when you start talking about “serving God” because that often involves sacrifice but I think most would still surrender them up to Him. For her children to find and fulfill their purpose in God is her highest aim.
“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30 HCSB)
But He didn’t just call them to “be with Him,” He also sends them out on His mission and for His purpose. Specifically, they are sent to preach the Good News of God’s Kingdom and He gives them spiritual authority to drive out demons. As mentioned above, the authority and power that exists in and through their preaching and ministry is not their own, it is HIS! They are sent for these purposes but He is their authority and the source of their power. The church must never lose sight of that fact. Our success, our power, our authority, our purpose and our mission must remain centered in our Savior. In fact, I would say that is probably the biggest issue that impacts our churches today. We know these things, but we are quickly and easily distracted from relying upon them. We think the latest trends will help us be relevant and to grow numerically and we forget that one plants while another waters but “it is God who gives the growth.” (See 1 Cor. 3:5-17)
Next, Mark begins to name the twelve Apostles. Is the number twelve symbolic? Yes, and we clearly see how Jesus uses this on several occasions to show that a “new Israel” is being established but along a different “blood” line. As He names them, He also gives a few of them new names. Simon is given the name Peter or “the rock” and clearly becomes a leader in the early church. James and John are given the name “boanerges” or “sons of thunder” likely because of their explosive personalities. Together, these three become a part of Jesus’ inner circle and, as such, are eyewitnesses to many of His more private and revealing moments – like His transfiguration on the mountain and His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deuteronomy 19:15b HCSB)
Mark continues by naming the remaining disciples: Andrew, Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. We have at least two and possibly three sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew; James and John; and possibly Levi/Matthew and James since they are both listed as sons of Alphaeus, a very uncommon name. They came from varied family backgrounds, had varying social skills, sometimes conflicting personalities and vastly different financial circumstances. They possessed a myriad of skills and quirks but they were each hand-picked by the King on purpose and for His plan.
Sounds a bit like Paul’s description of the church, doesn’t it? Not everyone can be an eye, an ear, a thumb, or a mouth. Some parts may look better and some seem more important, but each is a needed and important part of the body of Christ. You may have wondered how this could possibly fit into a celebration of Mother’s Day. I felt like Mark’s listing of these men, their nicknames, their family relations and their varied backgrounds was the perfect way to pose some questions on our hopes, dreams and expectations of following Jesus. Let me explain…
Mothers, do you want your children to just know about God or do you want them to pursue Him, live for Him and His mission? There’s a huge difference. I fear that too many of us only want things that mirror the world’s view of success in the lives of our children and grandchildren. We want them to succeed but to succeed based on the world’s definition of success and its standards. We want God to ensure that they have a good job that pays well, a big house on a quiet, safe cul-de-sac, a nice car and healthy children. In other words, we want our faith and our pursuit of Christ to look more like achieving the American dream than to reflect the reality we find of following Christ in the book of Acts.
Look back over that list of names. The one name that elicits the most emotional response among Christ followers is the name of the one man who was willing to sell out his faith and his King for what he hoped would be a better life, Judas. Fewer than 8 boys per year are named Judas in the United States but, oddly, the name has been rising in popularity the last few years when 23 boys were given the name in 2016 and again in 2017 and then 17 in 2018. If we knew someone who named their son Judas, we would likely ask: “What were you thinking?” Perhaps, we should stop and assess our own lives, our own goals, our own hopes and dreams and those we project onto our children.
More than anything else, I want my children to know God and to love Him above all else and to love their neighbors as He commanded. I want to be standing nearby and to hear my Lord tell them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful in a few things now come enjoy the blessings of your Lord.” I think many of you would likely echo my sentiments and feelings. If you do, then we need to evaluate how we teach them and what we model for them in our own efforts to follow Jesus. I would rather my children live in a small house and give themselves in service to God than to live in a big house, have everything they desire and completely ignore God. To put it bluntly, I would rather my children die in humble service to Christ like Peter did than to betray Him and be rewarded by unholy men, like Judas did.
Mothers, I want to challenge you this morning to evaluate how your child views your love for God, your service to Christ and your love of others. Do they see values that mirror Christ or the world? Do they see you pursuing godly goals and dreams or the American dream? Do they want to hear your praise regarding their bigger house and new raise or do they long to hear Him say, “well done.” Why challenge you? Because your children are watching you. They are looking to you for guidance in how to live life, they are seeking your approval and are they striving to follow your example. As you pursue Jesus they will, too.
So, stop and consider what your dreams are for your kids. Do those dreams honor God and point your children toward Him or more towards themselves? It is hard to hope your child turns out like Simon Peter dying for his faith and his Lord, but it is much, much harder to hope that your child turns out like Judas selling himself out for a few coins. Here’s one thing I do know, my mother would want me to be more and more like Peter and less and less like Judas. What’s your mother’s day dream?