We serve a beautiful Saviour. We have seen much of his beauty in these opening chapters of Mark’s story, and we will see a whole lot more of it in the rest of the story. But, so far, what has impressed me the most is how Jesus responded to those who selfishly adored him, and to those who hated him: He just kept doing what he came to do (vv. 7–12). This is beautiful and instructive. We see this again in the verses before us.
We must not lose the plotline. The opening six verses cast an important interpretive shadow over all that happens in the chapter. R. Kent Hughes helps us to understand something of the emotional setting, when he writes, “The pressure upon Christ was immense. Our Lord’s every move, night and day, was observed by hostile interlopers. The worst interpretation was placed on everything seen and heard. Our Lord, being truly a man, felt the pain of hatred intensely with its emotional discomfort and pervasive alienation.” The question for us to consider is, how did Jesus respond to such immense pressure? What did he do? The answer is revealed in vv. 13–20. He responded by doing what he came to do: He made disciples.
When we are faced with the immense pressure of haters who want to destroy us and lovers who want to merely use us, what should we do? Well, what would Jesus do? He would (and did) make disciples. Disciple-making is what we are to do, regardless of our circumstances.
When the pressures of life crowd in upon us, don’t let those pressures crowd out your calling.
Disciple-making—every Christian is called to do this. Sadly, most do not. And for some, when they do make disciples, they make the wrong kind. As a good friend frequently emphasises, the Christian is not merely called to make disciples, but to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the passage before us, we see four truths in relation to disciple-making.
Disciple-Making and Nation Building
The text tells us that Jesus “went up on the mountain” (v. 13). As we have seen, the Lord Jesus was undergoing enormous pressure. His life was being crowded, so went to the sea (v. 7). Now, he went to the mountain.
Jesus frequently withdrew when people pressed upon him. In 1:32–35, he withdrew to the wilderness. In v. 7, he withdrew to the sea. Now, as pressure mounted, he withdrew to the mountain. And what did he do there? For one thing, he prayed (Luke 6:12–16).
When pressures mount,pray. Find a wilderness or a mountain where you can get alone with God and pray.
There is an interesting pattern developing in Mark’s story. When under immense pressure from people and ministry, Jesus prayed—and then he ministered some more. This is a pattern we should follow.
Mission on the Mountain
Here, the place where Jesus went is contextually significant. He went to a mountain. It is on this mountain that Jesus would select his disciples. It is on this mountain that Jesus would begin to build his kingdom. It is on this mountain that Jesus would begin to build a new nation (Matthew 21:43; 1 Peter 2:9).
Mountains are significant in the biblical record. They speak of majesty and authority—of kingdoms (Daniel 2:35; Exodus 20–23). And here it means precisely this.
The word “Eden” points to a mountain (see Genesis 2:8–14, where rivers flowed from the garden, and Ezekiel 28:13–14, which speaks of Eden as “the holy mountain of God”). And that mountain was crowned with a garden in which God gave a mandate to our first parents. That commission was to make disciples.
From the mountaintop, God created a kingdom. On that mountain, God gave a commandment to its initial subjects: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with God-followers.
Adam and Eve were created to be followers of Yahweh. They were created to be his disciples, to obey God in all that he commanded them. They were to multiply their obedient selves, literally. They were commissioned to bring God glory by producing others who would also obey God. They were to keep doing this until all the earth was filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
Keep in mind that, in their sinless, innocent condition, they would live forever. They were, in a very real sense—at least to the degree that they had access to the tree of life—immortal. This means that the assignment would have a limitless time frame in which to carry it out. Anyway, the point to be made is that here, Jesus is following in his Father’s footsteps.
As in Eden, on this mountain, after solitary prayer, he selected those who would be the initial members of the kingdom he was establishing on earth. A new creation is taking place before our very eyes in this text. But also, a new nation is being formed (see Matthew 21:43; 1 Peter 2:9).
Making disciples is about the making of a kingdom, but, according to Matthew, we can also say that disciple-making is also about “nation-building.” And that assignment has not changed for the Christian church of our day. Every Christian is to be actively, fruitfully, and devotedly focused on making disciples and contributing to the building of God’s nation.
Sadly, so many are not. And sadly, in our nation, Christians under pressure are losing sight of why they are here. Rather than being focused on building God’s nation (1 Peter 2:9), Christians all too often become obsessed with building their own nation. We become obsessed with building our kingdom rather than God’s kingdom. We need to repent.
For instance, this week The Citizen carried an article about “The Sovereign State of Good Hope.” I addressed this in an article on the church website. Without repeating everything here, let me simply point out that this movement has everything to do, in my opinion, with wrongly responding to the pressures that we are facing in our culture.
I can understand non-Christians responding as a bird fleeing to the mountains, but I can’t excuse this for Christians.
We are not called to flee, we are called to faith. We are not called to escape, we are called to engage. We are not called to desert, we are called to disciple. We are not called to establish a political nation, we are called to enlarge and equip a spiritual nation. And though the two are not necessarily unrelated, it is a matter of priority.
To the degree that the church takes seriously the Great Commission, the political nation will be blessed. I cannot help to wonder if one major factor in our country’s demise is the church’s failure to do what she is commanded to do. What if l professing Christians in South Africa had loved God and their neighbour rather than loving themselves and hating their neighbours? What if the church had made disciples rather than practising racism? I suppose that our nation would be a much better place today. For, while building the nation of God’s people, our light would be brighter and our salt saltier.
The proper response of Christians in South Africa is not secession; rather, the solution is salvation. Christians like my friends Mario and Quinton Maneville understand this. They live in the Western Cape, near an area known as Hell’s Kitchen, where they are preaching the gospel. They know that, amid the intense pressure of crime and drugs and gangs, they must keep doing what our Lord has called us all to do: making disciples.
There is a lot of talk about a purpose-driven life. There is much written about this. There are lots of definitions of our purpose. And depending on the context of the discussion, it seems to me that the scriptures are quite clear that the Christian’s purpose is to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Failure to do this is a failure of living. And failure to live in accordance with God’s purpose often results in the same kind of behaviour in this chapter. Conflict arises from those who have turned away from their God-given purpose.
The Pharisees (vv. 1–6) and the scribes (vv. 22–30) were derelict shepherds. And their sheep were consequently harassed. These men, who were supposed to be spiritually building the nation of Israel, refused to do so and rebelled from doing so. Instead, they actively opposed those who were committed to God’s purpose of nation building—beginning with Jesus Christ.
It is not always true, but often those who pose the greatest threat to the church are those who are not busy about the Master’s business. Beware. Take heed to yourself, and to others.
Disciple-Making and Gracious Calling
As I said, this passage reveals a “new creation.” Jesus was constituting a new Israel, and hence, twelve men were selected. Jesus “called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles)” (vv. 13–14).
This new “creation motif” must not be missed. As Alan Cole observes, in the context of vv. 1–7a, “Following this breach with the church of Israel, Jesus began to constitute his own church.” And he did so by graciously calling these twelve men to him—to be with him.
Jesus once said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16). We see this choosing here. But why did he choose them? And for what did he choose them?
We don’t know why, we do know from where he chose them. He chose these men—to “be with him”—from among the crowd.
The crowd was clamouring after Jesus and he went to the mountain to get away from them for a while. But he used this opportunity to select those who would be with him for the rest of his earthly sojourn. He would take them along with him as he ministered from village to village, culminating in Jerusalem. Jesus was intent on making disciples. He was intent on teaching them about himself and about his mission, to establish the kingdom of God. He chose these men to be the foundation of this new nation (Rev 21:14). After a night of prayer, he made his selection known. It was a sovereign selection. It was a gracious selection.
An Act of Grace
This was an act of grace. As we will see, these men were not spectacular. They were not among the “noble.” They were precisely how Paul described the church of Corinth: “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong … that no human being may boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26–27, 29). When you consider whom Jesus chose, we can appreciate the words of James Edwards: “Discipleship does not consist in what disciples can do for Christ, but in what Christ can make of disciples.” As Paul put it,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
The word “called” means to summon. It is used thirty times in the New Testament, and in each instance those “summoned” responded obediently to the invitation. Acts 16:9–10 is a case in point: “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Consider another example: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call’” (Acts 2:38–39).
The text tells us that those Jesus called “came to him.” The word means to go away or to depart, to go away in order to follow someone, to go after him, to follow him as a leader. As we have seen, when Jesus calls a person, they respond. The reason that you and I are disciples is not because we are cleverer than others, and it is certainly not because we are better than the crowd. And neither is it because are better than the Pharisees. No, it is because God is gracious. An appreciation of this grace will compel us; it will constrain us to make disciples of others (2 Corinthians 5:14–21).
A Gracious Cause
The word translated “appointed” means to assign or to cause. We might say that Jesus caused these men to join his cause. And what was the immediate cause they were to join? Mark tells us: “that they might be with him.” What a gracious privilege. What a gracious opportunity. What a gracious gift. What a need for this grace.
This is what making disciples is all about. We are to be with Jesus. And we are to then assist others to be with him as well.
We Are to Follow Jesus
Though the text does not use this term, following Jesus is what being a disciple is all about. It is about our hearts and lives following him. It is about our hearts and lives imitating him. It is about our attitudes and our actions and our value system—our worldview—lining up with what we learn from him. In other words, the making of a disciple, among other things, requires time. We must be with Jesus, and those we disciple must be with Jesus for, ultimately, we don’t make disciples—Jesus does!
We need time learning from him. We need time applying what we learn from him. We need time doing all this together. Again, Jesus called them to “be with him,” but the picture is that they were with him, together.
Church, we follow our Saviour, together. We grow in Christlikeness together (see Ephesians 4:1–16). This is why we are here. And if we are not doing this, then we are not fulfilling our purpose and, eventually, we will bite and devour one another.
How much time are you spending with Jesus? In pint of fact, if you are a Christian, you are constantly spending time with him (Colossian 1:27). The bigger question is, are you consciously doing so? You will never grow unless you are.
How much time are we spending with Jesus, together? This is where practical discipleship comes in. Are we seeking to cultivate a culture of discipleship in our churches? Are we getting together with others to read the word, to read and discuss Christian books, to get together to fellowship and pray? Are you taking opportunities to be with others to make disciples?
Disciple-Making and Authoritative Sending
Jesus called these disciples to himself to be with him—but not to stay with him. He was training them to send them. And, in their sending, their training would continue. He appointed these twelve so that
he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: 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, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot.
Jesus called these twelve disciples “apostles.” The word “apostle” means “one sent on a mission with authority,” or, simply, “a sent one.” It can be used in the generic sense of being sent on a task. It is used this way in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Philippians 2:25, where it is translated “messenger.” Romans 16:7 may refer to Andronicus and Junia as “apostles” in the sense of messengers. However, most of its occurrences refer to those who were official representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Mark means.
These men were sent out “to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.” In other words, when making disciples, Jesus intended to make them representative of him. That is why they are “apostles” of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Just like their Master, they were to maintain the right priority: “preach.” The word means to herald (as a public crier), especially divine truth (the gospel). We have seen it before (1:4, 7, 14, 38, 39, 45). We will encounter it another seven times in this Gospel.
Of course, what they were to preach can easily be surmised: They were to preach what their teacher preached—the gospel of the kingdom of God (1:14–15).
Next, the text tells us that they were given “authority to cast out demons.” This goes hand in hand with preaching the gospel of the kingdom. This becomes clear from v. 22. As people bowed their knee to the King, they give up their allegiance to another king. Having been transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13), those who now love the Son give up loyalty to the kingdom of darkness. As Jesus makes clear, you cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
Disciples today are not apostles—particularly not in the same sense as the Twelve. Yet everyone who has been graciously called by God to turn from sin, and to turn to the Saviour, is a disciple of Jesus Christ. There are no categories like “mere believers” and “mighty disciples.” If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then you will follow the Lord Jesus Christ. That means you are his disciple. And all of his disciples have been sent.
We who call Jesus Lord are called to herald him and to help those who hear him. That is, like Jesus, we are to be making disciples. There may be exceptions to this rule, but that would be very, very rare (invalid, isolated, incarcerated—although Paul seemed to be able to do so while incarcerated!). If you are a disciple, then be busy about the task of making disciples (Matthew 28:18–20).
Paul told the church in Ephesus, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Jesus is God and therefore we should do what he did; we should live as he lived. I do not mean “formally,” as in all becoming travelling teachers, but we should live as Christ did in the home, and in the church, and at work, and at school, and in the community: We should seek to make disciples. We should be encouraged that Jesus has given to us the authority necessary for this mission. We go in his name when we use his word. So, preach it. Proclaim it. Practice it. Propagate it. Prioritise it. Protect this assignment.
We must beware that the evil one desires to thwart disciple-making (1 Corinthians 16:9). There will be opposition. Kingdom extension invites kingdom opposition. We should not be unaware of Satan’s schemes. Just ask Andrew Brunson, at the time of writing sitting in a Turkish prison. Ask Charles Simeon, who endured hostile opposition for the first twelve years of his pastoral ministry, then again after thirty years. But then, another 24 years of faithful and fruitful ministry. We must not allow other things to push it off our agenda. Jesus did not allow the pressures of conflict or the fleeting pleasures of popularity to derail him from his purpose. Neither must we.
Identity of Disciples
The names of the apostles are given. Each of these men is important. Some are more visible in the biblical record than others. Peter, James and John stand out as prominent in the subsequent story, and in the later story of the early church. We know something of Bartholomew (Nathanael), Thomas and Philip, as well as Peter’s brother Andrew. We are somewhat familiar with the Zealot Simon, and what would have been a rather humorous pairing, with Levi (Matthew), the former tax collector. However, we know next to nothing about James the son of Alphaeus, except that he was also referred to as James the less (what a nickname!). Neither do we know much about Thaddaeus. But that does not matter. What does matter is that they mattered to Jesus. They mattered enough to him that he chose them to be with him. They mattered enough to him that he made them a part of the foundation of the New Jerusalem, the new nation that would bring forth fruit (Matthew 21:43).
Fellow disciple be encouraged. Your name, like theirs, is written in heaven. It is written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8). And that matters—a lot! You don’t need to be the Rock (Simon Peter), or the thunderous James and John to make a difference in this world. You simply need to be faithful. So, wherever you find yourself, make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t lose focus when you discover, along the way, that not everyone with the name “disciple” is one. This brings us to the final point.
Disciple-Making and Cross Bearing
The last-mentioned disciple (in every listing in the Gospels) is infamously well-known: “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” Listing this last disciple, Mark writes, “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mark 3:20–21).
Judas Iscariot is mentioned ten times in the Gospels (Matthew 10:4; 26:14; Mark 3:19; 14:10; Luke 6:16; 22:3; John 6:71; 12:4; 13:2; 13:26). In each case, there is a reference to him either as the one who betrayed the Lord, or he is mentioned in the record of this awful treacherous act. In one case, another disciple who shared the first name “Judas” is referred to as “Judas, not Iscariot” (John 14:22). What an appellation! What a stigma attached to this name! The name which is below all names betrayed the one whose name is above all names.
I can appreciate the insight of Ben Witherington:
There is a warning to the reader not to expect too much of these disciples. At the outset these men are enlisted in the war against the powers and principalities, yet there is enough dark undercurrent to already prompt a worry that they may become casualties in that apocalyptic war.
Judas was one such casualty. And yet his sinful behaviour would lead to our salvation. Jesus’ disciple-making led him to the cross. Consider if he hadn’t. Consider what would have happened if Jesus had abandoned his mission, had he not spent time teaching these men: He would have avoided conflict. But then, he would not have gone to the cross, and we’d be lost—forever.
Mark 1:14–15 records the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He is seen proclaiming good news. In 1:16–20, we read him calling four men to follow him (disciples). His popularity begins increasing in 1:21. In 2:1, conflict begins and he meets it with disciple-making. From now on, these men would witness the hardships of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Jesus’ training of the twelve put him front and centre. It was not merely times of retreat to teach but publicly training them. And this would provide opportunities for conflict—conflict ending up at the cross. But thank God!
Judas was a professing disciple, who answered the outward call of the gospel, but who rejected any inward loyalty to Jesus. Sadly, this has been a part of church history up to the present, and it will be into the future. We need to be aware of this, and we need to be armed with the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.
The presence of a Judas Iscariot reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood. And the only way that we will persevere fruitfully in making disciples is by keeping near the cross of Jesus. Stay near him. Draw nigh to him. Find your refuge in him.
Victory in Defeat
Judas would eventually betray the Lord Jesus into the hands of those who would crucify him. And it would seem to his haters that they had won, that they had succeeded in their plot to destroy him (3:6). But, in fact, that betrayal was all a part of a bigger plan. The betrayal was all under the sovereign sway of God. The betrayal was God’s designed means to defeat the devil, and to cancel sin’s debt for those who are true disciples. The worst thing in history led to the most wonderful thing in history; the darkest day in history made disciple-making possible.
Paul makes this point when he writes,
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
When Peter preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost—in the middle of very hostile territory—he saw the betrayal of the Saviour as man’s responsibility but also as the outworking of God’s sovereignty:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it….
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
It is because of this that Peter could appeal to his convicted hearers:
Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.
(Acts 2:22–24, 32–33, 38–39)
Friend, Jesus Christ bore his cross to bear the condemnation for the sins of those who would follow him. This was proven by his resurrection, and he lives today to rescue you and I from our sins. Repent and believe this gospel and become a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose that should drive your life.
Making disciples is not for the faint of heart. It can be discouraging; it can be dangerous. Therefore, making disciples requires your cross.
We should never romanticise the mission of Jesus, the mission of the church. Our assignment, as we must never forget, is to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in doing so, along the way, we will face several heartaches—including betrayal. Be prepared.
Don’t be surprised when disciples disappoint you. Don’t be surprised when disciples disappear. Don’t be surprised when disciples defame and seek to destroy you.
Misunderstood and Maligned
Jesus came down from the mountain and wen home. He had called and commissioned his disciples. The real work could now begin. But perhaps he was looking forward to some rest, some respite from the labours of recent days. After all, he had spent a night in prayer and so perhaps he was looking for some shut-eye.
But as he arrived, so did the crowds. “Jesus is back!” The crowds were apparently so demanding that neither Jesus nor his disciples could even get a bite to eat. I wonder what these newly called disciples were thinking. I wonder what was going through the mind of Judas? Perhaps he was thinking, “Wait a minute, I thought it would be cool to follow Jesus. But I don’t like this treatment.” The disciples were getting a taste of what it would be like to follow Jesus. Self-denial would be required.
Anyway, the family of Jesus was not happy with this. Apparently, something led them to conclude, “He is out of his mind” (v. 21). Nice.
This episode serves, among other things, to teach us that following Jesus in disciple-making may lead to alienation from others, even from those closest to us. We may be maligned. We will most certainly be misunderstood. But keep following, and keep ministering. Keep making disciples.
As we conclude, let us marvel at our beautiful Saviour. In your pressure, continue to follow Jesus and be a disciple-maker. God will be pleased, and you will fulfil your purpose to the glory of God, through the extension of his kingdom.
When I was in university, and God did a work in my life, an older student asked me if he could disciple me. At first, I was not a great disciple. I would often blow of meetings and church gatherings for little good reason. Eventually, this man told me that he did not want to waste his time, and I should call him when I was ready to be serious.
I needed to hear that. I called him about twelve hours later, and took things seriously. When I got back home after university, I started discipling people in my own church. Eventually, I moved to Australia as a missionary, and then to South Africa.
The eve of my move to Australia, I tracked down my friend’s home number. He was not home, but I spoke to his father. I told his father to thank him, and to tell him that I was going to Australia to teach others what he had taught me at university. I look forward to meeting this friend after the resurrection, and thanking him in person for making a disciple of me. I pray that God will use me to make many more disciples of Jesus Christ for his glory.