“Called & Commissioned”
January 29, 2023
Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service
The Reading of the Word
This morning we continue in the Gospel of Mark as we come to Mark 3:13-21.
Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning:
13 And he [that is, Jesus,] went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray …
Prayer of Illumination
Lord, you are our hiding place and our shield,
we hope in your word.
Help us to turn from all false ways,
and keep instead the commandments of you, our God.
Uphold us according to your promise, that we may live,
and let us not be put to shame in our hope.
Hold us up, that we may be safe
and have regard for your statutes continually.
For we know we will one day stand before you and give an account,
and so, with that in mind, help us now to attend to your word.
Grant this in Jesus’s name. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:114-117, 120]
In our text this morning we have Jesus’s calling of the Twelve Apostles. In the immediate context, Jesus is calling these twelve men to fill the historically unique role of apostleship, at that particular time in this history of redemption. And that might make this story seem somewhat removed from us – like a piece of interesting Bible trivia that doesn’t have much to do with us today.
But in what Jesus is doing and in how Mark tells it, we have indications that there is much more to this text than that. Because despite all the ways that the apostles are historically unique, in their calling we see a picture of the general calling that Jesus places on all his disciples.
For one thing, Jesus makes it clear that he is not just calling twelve men, but he is calling a new people. He is reforming the Church itself, as a renewed Israel, calling Twelve Apostles just as he once called twelve patriarchs. [Horne, 79; Wright, 34; Edwards, 115] And in calling those twelve, Jesus sets the pattern for their spiritual descendants as well.
And this makes sense in the context of Mark’s Gospel, because discipleship is one of the most important themes in the Gospel of Mark. [Edwards, 110] And while apostleship may be a unique office, it still follows the pattern of all Christian discipleship.
As one commentator puts it: “The emphasis in Mark is not on designating a special category of super-followers who are distinct from other followers, that is, apostles versus disciples.” Rather, “the call and commission of the Twelve is representative of that of all of Jesus’ followers.” [Edwards, 113]
And so the call and commission of the Twelve doesn’t just teach us about the Twelve, but it teaches us about what it means to be the Body of Christ – the disciples of Jesus.
Our text, among other things, gives us a lesson in discipleship. And to see that lesson, we need to ask it four questions:
- Who does Jesus call?
- How does Jesus intend to use them?
- What impact does it have on their lives?
- And why would anyone want this?
So: The who, how, what, and why of discipleship.
Who Jesus Calls
First, let’s ask: Who?
Who does Jesus call?
And before we even answer that question, we need to take a step back and appreciate that it’s Jesus who does the calling. And the text makes that point pretty clearly.
As commentator James Edwards points out, the Greek of verse thirteen is more solemn and emphatic than it may appear in some of our translations. Where the ESV says that Jesus “called to those whom he desired,” Edwards argues that Greek has more of a sense that Jesus “summoned those whom he willed.” [Edwards, 111]
It is Jesus who calls us, not we who call him. And his call is not a mere informal invitation – it is a summons.
And that would have been striking even in Jesus’s day.
In first-century Palestine, rabbis had students who followed them as disciples. But rabbis did not call their disciples – the disciples chose their rabbis … a lot like how a student today chooses their college. That was the cultural expectation. And by calling the Twelve, Jesus upends and upsets that cultural expectation. [Edwards, 112]
And he upends and upsets our cultural expectations as well. In our culture we are all about freedom and choice – in everything, including in spirituality. We choose who we will worship. We choose what we will believe. We choose who we will listen to. No one summons us.
But Jesus ignores all that. Jesus does summon. He issues an authoritative call. He says: “Follow me.”
Jesus is not one product of many in a spiritual marketplace … he’s not a fawning deity hoping we will do him the favor of choosing him … Jesus is a King. And he summons his subjects to follow him. And we must respond. He chooses us.
So Jesus is the one who does the calling.
But whom does he call? What kind of people?
And the answer we see in this text is that he calls all kinds of people … and often not the kind of people you’d expect.
First, as one commentator puts it: “as far as we know, none of the [Twelve came] from the Jewish religious establishment and leadership.” They were instead from the “broad and diverse common folk” of the land. [Edwards, 116]
And so, the first thing we see is that those whom Jesus called hadn’t already proven themselves by their accomplishments in some special way.
But second, we also see that they hadn’t made themselves superior by their associations or their affiliations either.
The Twelve seem to come from a striking range of cultural and political backgrounds. Those like Peter, Andrew, James, and John seem to have probably come from the respectable middle of the culture. Then, at one extreme, you have Simon, identified as “the Zealot” in verse eighteen – which would seem to indicate that he either still was or at least once had been, “a member of a movement committed to holy war against Rome.” But then, also included in the Twelve, is Matthew, a tax collector who had collaborated with Rome to extract money from the Jewish people. [Edwards, 116-117]
That’s quite a range. And it’s a reminder that Jesus doesn’t call people from one end of the political spectrum or the other. He also doesn’t call just from the middle. But wherever people are, Christ calls them to be his disciples. There is no political or cultural conversion that is a prerequisite to their spiritual conversion.
As one commentator puts it, it would seem that the only thing those whom Jesus calls have in common … is that Jesus called them … and not much else. [Edwards, 111-112]
So who does Jesus call? He calls an unlikely group of people. He calls people from a range of backgrounds. He calls ordinary people who have not necessarily set themselves apart by their own accomplishments or by their earthly associations.
He calls people like you and me.
That’s the first thing we see here about Jesus’s call to discipleship. That’s the “Who?”
How Jesus Intends to Use Them
Our second question is: “How?”: How does Jesus intend to use his disciples?
And what we see is that as they follow him, Jesus intends to use them as his instruments – his representatives – in the world. And he does this by transforming them through his presence, and then calling them to his work.
And we see this right in the description of the call.
First, Jesus aims to transform those he calls, by his presence.
Being with Jesus is key to the call to discipleship. It’s the first thing listed in verse fourteen about what it means to be a disciple: He calls them, and appoints them, it says “so that they might be with him.”
Being with Jesus is the heart of discipleship. That’s what defines discipleship – at the center of it all is our relationship with Jesus.
And so, if you want to be Jesus’s disciple, you need to start there. You need to respond to his call, and come to him, and be with him: Read his word, speak to him in prayer, gather with his people, receive his sacraments. Discipleship is grounded in simply being with Jesus. That’s the heart of it. That’s where discipleship starts.
But that’s not where discipleship ends.
Because as we see here, discipleship then continues on, to being transformed by Jesus, and being sent out by Jesus.
And that concept of transformation is embedded in the multiple renamings that occur in this text. In the Bible, when God renames someone, he is changing their role in the world, and calling them to a new identity. And this passage is saturated with renaming.
Jesus renames Simon as Peter in verse sixteen. He renames James and John Boanerges in verse seventeen. Though there’s no comment on it, we can figure out that he renamed Levi as Matthew in verse eighteen. [Horne, 80] But even more important than all that, we learn in verse fourteen that all of the Twelve have been newly “named” as “apostles.” [Edwards, 113]
By being with Jesus, these men have been transformed. And then, having transformed them, he sends them out. We see that in verses fourteen and fifteen. Jesus calls the Twelve not only to be with him, and to be renamed and transformed by him, but he does all this so that “he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”
He sends them out to do exactly the kind of work that he has been doing.
Which makes sense for disciples.
After all, the term for “disciple” itself, in both its Greek and Hebrew roots, evokes not just the idea of a student but of an apprentice: one who learns by active engagement, to do the same work as his mentor does. [Edwards, 110, 111]
So Jesus calls them to be with him, to be transformed by him, and then having learned from him, to go out and do what he does.
And in it all, the power at work is not from the Twelve, but from Jesus. Jesus pours into the Twelve so that they can then pour into others. As one commentator puts it: “Discipleship does not consist in what disciples can do for Christ, but what Christ can make of disciples.” [Edwards, 112]
And what he is making of his disciples are those who can preach the good news, and cast out demons. [Edwards, 113]
And here again we see how the calling of the Apostles is both unique to their specific office, and also lays out the pattern of what all disciples of Christ are called to.
On the one hand the apostolic calling is unique. We are not apostles. We are not all called to formal preaching, and none of us are called to enshrining the gospel message in Scripture. Neither have we been given the gift to perform miraculous exorcisms. In such ways the calling of the Apostles is unique.
But it’s not unique in its overall pattern. The pattern we see here is common to all disciples. Because even though none of us are called to write Scripture, and only a minority of us are called to formal preaching, all of us are called to proclaim and bear witness to who God is. All of us are called, in word and in deed, to point others to the light of the gospel. In that way, the general calling given to the Apostles here applies to all of us.
In a similar way, we are not called to perform miraculous exorcisms, but we are all called to use God’s word and power to fight back against the spiritual forces of darkness that assault this world with sin, and death, and brokenness.
As one commentator puts it: “Disciples are not simply defined by what they stand for but also by what they stand against. They are commissioned to confront demonic and evil powers – however they manifest themselves – and to confront them not only in thought and word but in action.” [Edwards, 114]
We are to oppose the forces of darkness by repenting of our sin, helping others battle their sin, standing against injustice, battling brokenness, resisting the power of death, and combatting despair and fear with the hope of the gospel.
The calling to the disciple of Christ, is to point others to the light of Jesus, and to fight against darkness with the power of Jesus.
In this way, we serve as Christ’s instruments in the world – his ambassadors, his representatives, his Body. Because by his power, we continue to do the work that he began to do in his earthly ministry. [Edwards, 113-114]
How does Jesus intend to use his disciples? He intends to call us to be with him, to be transformed by him, and then to be sent out to do his work.
If you are to be a disciple of Christ, you need all three of those elements. It’s not enough to try to do the work – you need to first draw close to him in a real relationship. But it’s also not enough to just draw close. Christ seeks to change us – and we must let him. He sends us out to do his work, and we must go.
In all these ways, discipleship should have an effect on us. It should shape us.
But when it does, what exactly will that look like?
What Effects It Will Have on Their Lives
That brings us to our third question: What?
What effects should all this have on the lives of Jesus’s disciples?
Our text gives us more answers than one, but I’m just going to focus on one this morning. One thing we see in our text is that if we become Jesus’s disciples, then Jesus’s problems will become our problems.
And we see this in verse twenty. There we read: “Then he [that is, Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.”
And it’s the grammatical form of the words here that should strike us. The first verb is singular: “Then he went home.” It’s referring to Jesus. Next, we read “and the crowd gathered again.” The crowd, obviously, is there to see Jesus. That’s why such crowds have been gathering, as we read last Lord’s Day in Mark 3:8. They came to see Jesus. And so, really … it would seem that the crowd was Jesus’s problem. But that’s not the end of the story. If they were only Jesus’s problem, then the Twelve could stay in the house and enjoy a restful dinner while Jesus dealt with the crowd. But it doesn’t say that the effect of the crowd gathering was that “he” – that Jesus – “could not even eat.” It says the effect was “that they could not even eat” – meaning the Twelve. Their rest is disturbed, their lives are disrupted … because Jesus’s problems have become their problems. That is the effect we see in their lives, after the Twelve are commissioned here.
Under other circumstances, we might ask why this crowd’s problems would be the disciple’s problems to deal with. Why should the Twelve be bothered with the crowd’s needs? Why should they feel obligated to deal with other people’s problems?
Well, the crowd has come to Jesus. And Jesus … being Jesus … has taken their problems and their needs onto himself. But he doesn’t just take those problems onto himself. But he expects his disciples to take those problems on too. And so it’s not just Jesus who has to leave dinner that night to go address the problems of others. His disciples have to as well.
That is, after all, what Jesus equipped them for – to point others to the light and to fight back the darkness. If they ignore the problems of others, then what’s the point of all that?
If we are Jesus’s disciples … then his problems become our problems. And Jesus is a King who takes on the problems of others. And so if their problems become his problems, then their problems also become our problems.
Now some of you already know that. You live lives that are marked by this expectation. And I want to tell you – not to make you arrogant, but to encourage you – that that work you do to serve others … that work you do to point others to the light, and to press against the darkness in their lives … that work is not in vain. You may not always see the results you want to see. After all, the crowd in Mark’s gospel did not always respond as the disciples wanted them to respond. But that didn’t make the disciples’ labor useless. They were serving as Jesus’s hands and feet. They were doing his work. Jesus himself saw that. Others saw that as well – since we have it recorded here in Mark’s gospel. And when it was done right, it was not the Twelve who were glorified, but it was Jesus. And the Lord worked through that, even if the Twelve didn’t see it.
Mark 3:20 tells us about a particular day in the lives of the Twelve. It was a difficult day. It was an exhausting day. At the end of it, the Twelve might have wondered if anyone they had served would actually come to follow Jesus for the long haul. But I bet that none of them expected, that almost 2,000 years later we’d all still be talking about that day.
Now, that kind of impact is not ordinary. But it is a reminder that as we let the problems others bring to Jesus become our problems … as we try to point others to the light and push against the darkness, the Lord may use our faithful service in ways we may not imagine … as well as ways we may not see So be encouraged no matter what the immediate result of your labor looks like on the ground.
That is a take-away for those whose lives are already marked by this kind of service.
But there is also an important take-away for those whose lives are not marked by this kind of service. While many of you here serve those around them in this way … many of you also don’t. For many of you here today … you come … and you enjoy Sunday worship … maybe you are involved in other ways, and you’ve formed some relationships. But in each of those places, your main focus is on receiving. You expect others to help you … but the people sitting around you right now … if you’re honest … you don’t really think that their problems are your problems. Of course, you know that a lot of people in the church have needs … but surely that’s somebody else’s problem to deal with … right? Not yours.
Douglas Adams was an author who wrote science fiction comedy that was aimed as commentary on human nature and modern society. In one of his books he describes how advanced alien civilizations had tried to develop an invisibility shield for their ships, but it was just too difficult. But instead, alien scientists came up with something even better. It was called a “Somebody Else’s Problem field.” And it worked not by making an object invisible to people’s eyes, but by rendering it functionally invisible to their brains, by causing their brains to label the object within the field as “somebody else’s problem.” This field was simple, effective, and didn’t even require much energy because, Adams explains “it relies on people’s natural predisposition not to see anything they don’t want to.” [Adams, 339]
One character in the novel explains it like this: “‘An S.E.P.’ he said, ‘is something that we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what S.E.P. means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out; it’s like a blind spot. [Even] if you look at it directly you won’t see it.” [Adams, 334]
Now … that’s kind of silly … but Adams’s joke is rooted in a real human tendency. For at least 60 years social psychologists have been researching what they call “the bystander effect” which is kind of like a naturally-occurring S.E.P.
Some of the early formulations of this effect have been challenged in recent years. But still, in many studies, researchers have observed the human tendency to what they call “diffusion of responsibility.”: When a problem arises, and other people also witness it, an individual tends to take less responsibility themselves to do anything about the issue. In other words: they assume it’s somebody else’s problem.
Now, as I said, there are many of you here who do not live by that pattern. You see problems that Christ would be concerned for, and you act. But many others of us tend to walk through our lives, and even through the church community, with S.E.P filters in front of us: When confronted with the needs of others, we tend to filter them out as somebody else’s problem to deal with.
Where do you see that pattern in your life? Who in this room has a problem, or a need, that you are aware of … an area where they need to be encouraged and pointed to the light of God’s truth … or where they need help pressing against the darkness … and you know about this problem, you know that they need Jesus’s help with it, and probably the help of his people … but without even really thinking it, some part of your brain has simply assumed that it’s not really your problem … you filtered it out. Though you knew about the need outside the door, you stayed comfortably at the table, assuming that someone else would go out and address the need.
The Bible tells us that if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then the problems of others really are your problems. Because the Lord makes them his problems. And his problems are our problems. When others show up with needs, it’s true that what they most need is Jesus. But Jesus has commissioned us as his disciples. Which means that we too need to leave our dinner plates, and go out, and serve such people – pointing them to the light and helping them push back against the darkness in their lives.
Now, in a larger church like ours it can feel difficult to know where exactly to do that. Maybe you’re not so much filtering out known needs as you feel like you don’t know anyone well enough to know what their needs are. Or maybe you know of needs, but you don’t know where to start – who to prioritize. Or maybe you know abstractly of certain needs, but you feel like you don’t yet have that kind of relationship with others to really step in.
If you feel like you are struggling in one of those ways, let me say two things to you.
First, there are ways to connect with others and address their needs, that you could initiate organically. You may need to take the initiative with others. You may have to step out and offer help before someone asks you specifically for that help. They may even respond in a mixed way when you offer to help them. I imagine that some in the crowd in our passage, when they came to see Jesus that night, and instead they were met by Thaddaeus – I bet some of them openly expressed disappointment. People can be like that. But it was still right for Thaddeus to offer himself to those who were seeking Jesus. And in the same way, it is good for us to step out and try to serve others.
But second, this, again, is one more reason why, for the past year we have been talking about cultivating some sort of small group ministry within our congregation. It’s not because small groups are magical. It’s because, among other things, they provide a structure to encourage this kind of ministry to one another. It’s true that in a sanctuary with a hundred or more people, it’s hard to know what’s going on in people’s lives, or who you should seek to help. But in a small group of eight other people, it’s a lot more clear. If someone has a problem in a group like that, you are called to step in. If there’s a crisis in their personal life, or they end up in the hospital, or they have a serious moral failing, or something else is bringing darkness into their lives, you know that you are supposed to be involved – you are supposed to step in. One benefit of a small group ministry is it helps emphasize our responsibilities to one another in concrete ways. It helps us learn more about the needs and the struggles of others, and it also makes even more plain our obligation to them. As they bring their problems to Jesus, Jesus calls us to step in as his ambassadors: pointing them to the light of Christ, and helping them fight against the darkness.
Jesus is a King who receives the problems his people bring to him. And what it means for us to be his disciples is that those same problems – those problems that have become his – also become ours.
As one commentator notes: “The call to service is a call to sacrifice.” [Horne, 82] And so that we won’t miss the point, Mark reminds us in verse nineteen that Jesus is going to be betrayed. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we should not expect the path to be easy.
Discipleship is difficult. It means sacrifice. It means bearing others’ burdens. It means building others up. It means serving others at inconvenient times, in Christ’s power, and on Christ’s behalf.
That is one way that being a disciple affects our lives, if we follow Jesus.
Why Anyone Would Want This
And that leads us to our fourth and final question: Why would anyone want this kind of life? Why would we want to be disciples of Jesus, to be called by him to be his instruments, and to take on as our problems the problems of those who come to Jesus?
Sure, we could appeal to the rewards of heaven. But is there anything here and now in this life that would attract us to living this way?
The life of discipleship can be difficult. It can feel like a burden. But let me ask: If the Bible is true (and it is), then what better way could we spend our lives now, than as Christ’s instruments in the lives of others?
G.K. Chesterton wrote: “In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell.” [Orthodoxy]
What is Chesterton saying there?
He’s saying that in the heavenly realm, the forces of hell – of sin, death, and Satan – once rebelled against heaven – against the Kingdom of God. When they did, earth fell. In the rebellion of our first parents, this world, and all of humanity with it, fell under the power of sin, death, and Satan.
But Chesterton reminds us, that is not the end of the story. Because since then, here on earth, heaven has begun a rebellion against the powers of hell. The seeds of that rebellion go back even to the calling of Abraham, but the rebellion came in its strength with the coming of Christ. Then, God himself invaded enemy territory. God came here, to a world that was dominated by the dark forces of hell – where sin and death and brokenness were so common. God came to begin a rebellion – a rebellion against hell, with the goal of one day reuniting heaven and earth. God started that rebellion. God promised us that he would finish that rebellion. But in this middle time, he calls us to be his agents in the war. He calls us to proclaim his Kingship, and to fight against the powers of darkness that we find all around us.
And if all that is true … then what else could we want from this life than to follow Christ as his disciples – his instruments – bringing the light of his gospel, and battling the darkness that opposes his kingdom and oppresses the people around us? What could be more worthwhile than fighting that fight? What could be more beautiful, than being used by Christ to overcome the darkness in the lives of others?
The problem … for many of us … is that when we think of this battle, we think about realms far removed from us. We think of political conflicts and high-level cultural battles. We think of the sort of things we read about online or see in the news. And to be sure, the battle is being waged in those places. But it’s not only being waged there.
It’s being waged in the heart of the young woman or young man who’s struggling with despair and hopelessness. It’s being waged in the mind of the covenant child who’s deeply questioning the truth of the gospel, but afraid to let others know about their doubts. It’s being waged in the life of that acquaintance you have in the church who is struggling with sin, and falling back into addictive patterns, but doesn’t know who to talk to … who’s not sure if you or others would be willing to come alongside and help them. The battle is being waged in the home that’s filled with abuse and oppression. It’s being waged in the individual who keeps on harming others, but whom no one will lovingly but firmly confront. It’s being waged in the person who feels wounded and alone. It’s being waged in the person who is struggling with anxiety and fear. It’s being waged everywhere you look, in so many people all around you. The question for us, again and again, is whether we will have eyes to see it, and hearts to enter in as Christ’s hands and feet … or will we keep that filter over our eyes that tells us that all those things are really just somebody else’s problem? In either case, the battle is not far off. It is near – right here, in the lives of the ordinary people around us.
And we see that in our text. After all, where does Jesus send the Apostles? It’s not to Jerusalem or to Rome … yes, he’ll send them there one day, but not this day. This day, in Mark 3, he simply calls them to go out and minister to the ordinary people who are gathered outside the house. They are hurting. They are oppressed by the darkness. And Jesus calls the Twelve to show them light, and to stand by their side to fight against that darkness. That is where the battle is. It is heaven’s rebellion against the forces of hell. And the battle lines do not only cut through Jerusalem or Rome or Washington D.C. The battle lines cut through the heart of every single human being around you this morning. The battle lines cut through every single family you know. The battle lines are here in our congregation, and in our community. The forces of darkness are fighting to steal, to kill, and to destroy. They want to oppress. And our calling is to be Christ’s agents against those dark forces. We do that by pointing to the light of the gospel. We do that by proclaiming that Christ is our merciful king. We do that by calling others to repentance and new life. We do that by pushing back against the darkness of sin, brokenness, oppression, despair, fear, hopelessness, and death.
Why would anyone want this life of discipleship?
If Christ is King, and if Christ will defeat the darkness, then what other kind of life could we possibly want?
There is a war on in this world. Christ our King has called us by name. He’s called us to his side.
Let’s go to him, let’s be with him, and then let’s go out and shine his light on this broken world, driving out the demons of darkness as we do.
This sermon draws on material from:
Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide: Complete & Unabridged. New York, NY: Random House, 1979 (1997 Edition).*
Bayer, Hans. Introduction and notes to Mark in The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.
Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.
Horne, Mark. The Victory According to Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.
Keller, Timothy. Jesus the King. New York, NY: Penguin, 2011.
Leithart, Peter J. The Four: A Survey of the Gospels. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2010.
Wright, N.T. Mark for Everyone. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.
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