The call of discipleship is not an easy one. But what calling in this world could be more rewarding? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of the gospel of Mark to explain what Jesus was doing when He called twelve men to be His disciples.
Our Scripture this morning again comes from the gospel according to Saint Mark, from Mark 3:7–19. I ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him. So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.
And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.
He who has ears to hear the Word of God, let him hear. Please be seated. Let us pray.
Our Father, we delight in the opportunity to hear Your Word in its pristine purity. We thank you for this record of the life and ministry of our Lord. This morning, as we contemplate the call of His disciples, we ask that You grant us an understanding of the implications for our own discipleship. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Body and Soul
We have seen a rising tide of opposition and hostility toward Jesus in the last few paragraphs of Mark’s gospel. He has been frustrated, in a sense, not only by the opposition brought by the religious leaders but by the clamoring multitudes, who come to Him not so much to hear Him teach and preach, but with their afflictions and illnesses seeking to be relieved of their pain and suffering by His miraculous touch.
Before we look at that, let me just take a moment and say, you may notice that in our prayer requests each week, the focus is on the bodily sufferings many of us have in the congregation. At the same time, as we list these concerns for prayer in the bulletin, we have a program of instructing our people in what we call kingdom-focused prayer. One of the main points of that program is to teach us to not only be concerned with our physical maladies that beset us but to put as our chief consideration in our prayers the outreach of the gospel, the ministry of the truth of God, the mission of the church, and the ministry of the people of God.
God made us body and soul, and we see throughout Scripture that God is abundantly concerned with the wellbeing of our bodies, and we are too. It is very hard to be a Christian when you are writhing in pain. When we have such afflictions and illnesses, sometimes life-threatening illnesses, the whole focus of our attention tends to be on our bodies.
We are not Manichaeans. We are not dualists who think that the body is something to be despised. As Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the body. It is a good thing for us to be concerned about the welfare of our bodies and other people’s bodies, but we are not merely bodies. We are not simply physical beings. Rather, God has made us body and soul.
The Value of Souls
The care of our souls is seen as a top priority of Jesus in His teaching in the New Testament. You might remember the value system He taught. He said: “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? And what would it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”
I have heard the expression many times, “Put your money where your mouth is.” Or, to put it another way, “Put your money where your heart is.” Jesus also taught on that topic—where our treasure is, that is where our heart is.
It always amazes me to see poll results showing that one of the lowest-paid professional groups of people in the United States of America is the clergy. The second lowest-paid professional group in America is teachers. One of the highest-paid professions in America is the medical profession. What does this tell you? It tells you where we put our value. We value our bodies, and that is good. We do not value our souls, and that is bad.
I have often wondered why it is that in the Old Testament, when God established the principle of the tithe, He did it to support the ministry of the church, preaching, teaching, priesthood—that is, the care of the mind and souls. That was the only concern paid for by divine taxation. God did not leave the care of ministry to the free market because He knew that in a fallen world, when people were left to establish their value system by the demands of the market, they would never put a premium on teaching, preaching, or the care of souls.
Jesus was confronting that problem. We have already seen that He withdrew once from the region of Capernaum because the people were more interested in their bodies than hearing the truth of the kingdom of God, which in the long term is far more valuable than any physical benefit that could be received by Jesus’ touch. What happens to our souls matters forever. What happens to our bodies is for a short time. We need to pay attention to this so that the priorities of our thinking and desires may be according to the mind of Christ.
Evil Is Silenced
We read, “Jesus withdrew His disciples to the sea.” Why? Because of a massive group of people coming to Him from all over the nation and outside the nation. Jesus said to His disciples that they should keep a small boat ready on the shore of the Sea of Galilee because people were pressing against Him, and He had no way of escape. He had no way to withdraw from them so that He could teach them.
Jesus healed many, so that those who had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” Why did they do that? They had the idea that if they could name Jesus and reveal His identity, somehow that would give them power over Jesus.
The concept of naming is significant in the Bible. One of the first tasks God gave to Adam in the garden was to name the animals, and by naming the animals the dominion of the human over the beast was manifested. So, the demons thought they could control Jesus by saying His name, but every time they did this, Jesus told them to be quiet. He silenced the devil. In this, we see a foretaste of the final result of the conflict between Christ and the forces of hell.
When hell collides with heaven, the inevitable result is silence. When evil appears before God, its mouth is made to shut. We are told the descriptive way in which all of us will stand at the last judgment is with our hands over our mouths. In the presence of God, no sinner has anything to say, but rather the whole earth is to be silent.
Called to Himself
The main crux of our reading today concerns not the description of what was happening on the Sea of Galilee, but rather of Jesus removing Himself from the crowds and going up to a mountain, where He called to Him those He wanted. Now, the list of disciples is broadened from the first five we have already seen, to the calling of the others, making the number of them twelve.
When we looked at the call of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Levi, I pointed out that there was a radical departure from custom. Normally among the Jewish people, when somebody wanted to study with a rabbi, they would make an application just like students do today to get into their favorite college, to study with their favorite person, to become an apprentice to a great master of a trade, or so on.
Jesus did not do it that way. He did not say, “Okay, anybody that wants to follow Me, sign up.” No, He went out and recruited those whom He wanted to be tutored by Himself. He called them not to a study of the law, biology, chemistry, or physics, but He called them to Himself.
Any time Jesus calls someone to discipleship, He is calling them to Himself, to belong to Him, to follow Him, and to learn not only from Him, but to learn of Him. He called to Him those that He Himself wanted. Membership in the disciple band of Jesus was by sovereign election.
Jesus called the ones He wanted, and that call was sovereign because everyone He called to that office came, and they came willingly to join a band of men that would take part in who He was. In a sense, we get a microcosmic look at what Jesus does for the whole kingdom of God, how He calls those whom He will.
Remember the definition of the church, the Greek word ekklēsia. We talk about ecclesiastical matters. The Greek word ekklēsia is the New Testament word for church. Let us look at it for a moment. Ekklēsia is made up of a prefix and a root. The prefix ek or ex is the same prefix that appears on the red sign at the back of the building. Ex means “out of” or “from.” If you want to find the way out of a building, you look for the “Exit” sign.
Ekklēsia has the prefix ex at the beginning, and the root word is the verb kaleō. It is an easy Greek word to remember because it is almost the same as our English word “call.” Kaleō means “to call.” So, put them together, the prefix and the root, ek-klēsia means the “called-out ones,” those who are called by God. Those are the ones who make up the church.
The church is not made up of those who make no profession of faith in Christ. Rather, the church—the invisible church, the ultimate church—is that body of people whom God has called not only outwardly but inwardly by the Holy Spirit and has brought to Himself.
A Corporate Kingdom
Let me say this also: in America, we are preoccupied with individualism, and it is true that the only faith by which you will ever be justified is your own faith—not your husband’s, father’s, mother’s, wife’s, or children’s faith. In terms of faith, you will stand at the judgment day by yourself, and it is your heart that will be examined by God, not somebody else’s heart.
So, there is an individual dimension of redemption. However, every single time that Christ saves an individual in the Bible, He places that person in a group. There is a corporate dimension to the church, a corporate dimension to the kingdom of God that we dare not lose sight of.
Not long ago, I spoke to a woman who told me that her pastor had recently left her church, and she was not happy with the new pastor, so she had not been going to church. I said, “Well, what do you do?” She said, “I watch church on television on Sunday morning.” How can you watch church on television? You cannot be in church on television. To be in church is to be with the people of God in corporate worship, in solemn assembly.
At the beginning of every worship service at Saint Andrew’s, we start off with a prelude to prepare our hearts for worship. After the prelude, we have a choral introit, which alerts us to the moment in which we enter our experience of worship. Then we have the call to solemn assembly. That idea is rooted centuries back in the Old Testament, where the shofar, the ram’s horn, was blown, and you could hear that sound echoing off the hills in Israel. Every time a Jew heard the blowing of the ram’s horn, he knew that signal meant it was time to come together in solemn assembly with the covenant people of God.
I remember going to a very small church as a boy, and one of the neat things about the church was that it had a tower with a bell and a big rope that came down from the ceiling. On Sunday morning, about twenty minutes before church started, the sexton would grab hold of the rope and pull on it. You could hear the church bell from over a mile away.
The church bell was a summons, saying, “Come now to the presence of God with the people of God, with the body of Christ.” Church is always a corporate thing. It is not just an individual thing.
The Twelve Are Created
Notice verse 14, after Jesus called those He wanted and they came to Him: “Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power . . .” I am going to quibble a little bit with the translation here. The translation I have just read from said, “He appointed twelve.”
The word used here can be and sometimes is translated by the English word appoint, but that is not the primary meaning of this verb. The primary meaning of this verb in the Bible is to make something or to create something. It is exactly the word used in the Septuagint version of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God did not appoint the heavens. He did not select the earth. He made it. He created it. This is what Jesus was doing in this text. He did not just select individuals, but He made these individuals something. He made them His intimate group. In a sense, He made them the church.
It is fascinating to me that He did not choose ten, eight, or five; He chose twelve, certainly calling to the minds of everyone there the Old Testament structure of the twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve is not a common number in Hebrew numerology. You have the twelve tribes, and you have the twelve disciples, or as they were later called, the twelve Apostles, showing the symmetry between the church of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament.
Jesus was building His church on the Twelve that He created as His special group. What did He want to do with them? What did He make them for? We get the answer: He created the Twelve that they might be with Him.
Mystical Union with Christ
One of the most important doctrines we find in the writings of the Apostle Paul is the doctrine of the mystical union of the believer in Christ. When you have faith for the first time, in New Testament terms, you do not just believe something about Jesus, but you believe into Jesus. The word eis is the word “in,” in the sense of moving into something.
You were once outside in the parking lot. You came into the church. That was “into.” That was eis. That is what faith does. It moves us from outside of Christ, being separated from Christ, to embracing Him so that you move into Christ. When you believe into Christ, then the mystery that the Apostle talks about—the hope of the Gentiles—is Christ in you. When speaking there, he uses a different word for “in,” the word en, which means “inside of.”
So, every Christian who is called by Jesus enters into Jesus, into this profound mystical union, so that you are in Christ and Christ is in you. I am in Christ. You are in Christ. That is what produces the communion of saints, because we are in this together. He is in me. He is in you. Together we have a spiritual bond that will last for eternity. So, when Jesus makes a group that He calls to Himself, an ekklēsia, the purpose is for them to be with Him.
Remember, before Jesus left this planet, according to John’s gospel, when He was in the upper room, He said: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions, and I’m going there to prepare a place for you.” Why? Why did He say that? “So that where I am, you can be also” (John 14:1–3). Is there any greater blessing than to be in the presence of Christ, to be with Him, to have Him with you? That is why we come to the Lord’s Table, because He promises to be with us in the point of meeting.
So, Jesus called the disciples. He created them as a group that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach. Any time Jesus says, “Come unto Me,” as soon as you come, the “come” becomes “go.” We like it when He says, “Come.” But when He says, “Go,” that is when the price tag comes, is it not?
Go into all the world, make disciples of all nations. As soon as you come to Him, He gives you a mission. It is a mission that you are with Him, and He is with you. He calls you to be part of that mission, to preach the gospel, and to manifest the power of the kingdom over the forces of evil.
Come to Christ
Next, Mark gives us the names of the twelve disciples. There is no great significance there. Just note that they are in groups of three. Andrew does not make the first group. He is in the second group, even though he was in the first group to be called. I guess that means followers of Saint Andrew will always be second-rate. That is our lot here with the name of our church. Maybe we should rename it Saint Peter’s so we can be in the upper echelon, but I do not think so.
Notice that the last disciple mentioned is Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him that night. Judas, the betrayer, put his hand in the dish with Christ while the first Holy Communion was being instituted.
As the Apostle tells us, “The night in which He was betrayed by that disciple, our Lord took bread, and when He had blessed it, He broke it, and He said, ‘This is My body given for you.’ And in like manner, He took the cup, and He said, ‘This cup now is the cup of the New Testament, the new covenant, which is in My blood, blood shed for the remission of your sins. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you’ll show forth My death until I come.’”
So, this morning, I ask you to come to Him, the One who has called you to be His disciple. Come in a spirit of humility. Come realizing that your only hope in life and death is in Him. Come to His table, meet with Him, have fellowship with Him, be strengthened by Him.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.