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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:The Divine King of Israel Chooses His War Council
Text:Mark 3:13-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Kingship
 
Preached:2007
Added:2008-04-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 99:1-2
Hymn 62:3
Psalm 108:1-4
Psalm 45:1-3, 6
Hymn 59:1 & 3 (after the offertory)
Hymn 64

Reading: Numbers 1:1-21, 44-45
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

Verses 7 to 12 of chapter 3 concludes with a strict command from Jesus to the unclean spirits. These spiritual enemies of Jesus were put under his feet – they had to submit to him and he came away victorious. In fact, the language of the original in verse 12 portrays Jesus as the commander of God’s armies. The word for “giving strict orders” appeared frequently in the Old Testament with God as the subject and his enemies as the object. It’s an expression that comes out of divine warfare. With these words, Mark is portraying the Lord Jesus as the Divine King of Israel. As King, he also leads the armies of Israel and this is the picture of Christ that emerges in our text. We see the Divine King of Israel choosing his war council. We’ll see that his choices are sovereign, surprising, and subversive.

As we go through this passage, there’s one thing that I want you to come away with. I want you to be impressed with your Saviour. I want you to never be able to read these words in the same way ever again. From now on, every time you open to the gospel of Mark and read these verses, your heart should leap and sing at the sight of such an awesome Redeemer. Filled with praise and adoration, a heart prepared for thankful service.

In verse 13, the Holy Spirit tells us that Jesus went up on a mountainside. That’s the first time that’s happened, at least in Mark. From the other gospels, we know that Jesus did this in order to pray. As it became dark, the crowds finally dispersed and he could have some time alone.

At some point -- in the morning according to Luke -- we’re told that he “called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” The emphasis here is on Christ’s sovereign choice of a small group of specially selected men. As happened when he called Simon, Andrew, James and John, he calls and the men come.

There is no doubt that Jesus is the divine King through whom things that do not exist come into being. “Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made.” says John 1:3. In this passage, it is the special band of core disciples that are called into being. God decreed that these men would follow him in a special way, and through Christ’s call, they come.

Christ himself later on reminded his disciples of how this all happened. On the last night before his death, Christ said (John 15:16), “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Of course, the immediate reference there is to service as apostles, just like it is in our text. Yet this general principle extends to all believers, doesn’t it? The first initiative towards salvation and service always belongs to God and to Christ. He is the sovereign God who sets out after those he wants and those whom he calls will inevitably come. When we were blinded by our sin, he opened our eyes. When we were dead in sin, it was he that breathed life into us. As Colossians 1:16 reminds us, “All things were created through him and for him” – and that includes all spiritual life! The good news of sovereign grace is laid before us in our text. It humbles us. And then all of us who believe can be so thankful that Christ wanted us, called us, and worked with his Spirit in us so that we would come to him. It’s all his doing and one lifetime won’t be enough to express our thankfulness and praise for this Saviour! In fact, it will take eternity!

Verse 14 tells us their number: twelve. We also find their position stated: they were to be apostles. We need to spend a few minutes on those two important details.

The number twelve was deliberately chosen by Christ because of its association with the twelve patriarchs and twelve tribes in the Old Testament. As becomes progressively clear, the Lord Jesus was reconstituting the people of Israel. It was not a case of replacing Israel, but reconstituting it. The apostles formed the core of the continuation of the true Israel of God, the true covenant people. They were to be the foundation of the people of God in a new era.

But there’s more to it than that. When we read from Numbers 1, did you notice how the census was recorded? The focus there was on the number of fighting men in the tribes. The tribes of Israel were regarded as military divisions. These twelve divisions were prepared for battle under the ultimate leadership of Yahweh, the divine warrior. So, when we come to Mark 3 and we’ve just read about Christ and his warfare against the unclean spirits, we can see that here too, he is creating a council of warriors under his leadership. Just like the twelve tribes were to be God’s instrument, so also the twelve disciples were going to be Christ’s instrument in his warfare.

This idea of being his instrument is captured in the fact that they were designated as apostles. What exactly is an apostle? The English word ‘apostle’ comes from the Greek. It comes from the Greek word apostolos, which in turn is derived from the verb apostello, which means to send out. Literally, an apostle is someone who is sent out. In day to day usage, an apostle was someone sent out as an official emissary or representative, often of a king. An apostle would speak officially on behalf of someone.

In designating the twelve as apostles, Christ was setting himself apart from the rabbis of his day. At the beginning of his ministry, he was regarded as being another rabbi. But as time goes on, he starts doing things and saying things that no ordinary Jewish rabbi would do. One of those is having apostles. Rabbis would never dream of gathering twelve men and sending them out on their behalf.

The mention of apostles here should also signal a bit of a warning as we read these words. These twelve were appointed as apostles. We are not apostles. There are no more apostles today. So when we read these words, we need to keep that detail in mind. As with the sovereign choosing of the twelve, there are often general principles that apply to all believers, but we need to be careful with making one-to-one applications as if anything said about or to the apostles applies directly to all believers.

So, there were twelve and they were designated apostles. Now why did he choose them? For what purpose? Mark begins by saying that he chose them to be with him. Now that’s an interesting way of saying things: Christ chose twelve men to be with him. We might think that’s a bit odd given what we heard last time about the crowds. The crowds were choosing to be with him too, but for many of them it was for the wrong reason. Here the tables are turned, Christ chooses twelve because he wants them to be with him and it’s for all the right reasons.

Being with Jesus meant a number of things: they were going to be his closest disciples. A disciple is literally a learner, a pupil, a student. They were going to be with him more than anybody else and they would hear his parables, his sermons, his prayers and his conversations. I don’t know if you’ve ever compared the gospels, but it appears that Christ repeated himself on several occasions. As one of the most well known examples, take the similarities that exist between the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. Two different occasions, but a lot of the same content. As a teacher, the Lord Jesus knew that repetition is the mother of learning and having his disciples with him meant they were going to hear him say the important things more than once.

That was going to be important because being with him meant that they were going to be the star witnesses to his ministry. They would be the ones qualified to pass on what he had said and taught and done. Being with him meant that we would receive the four gospels which testify to his life and ministry on earth. Being with him, the Divine Warrior, meant that they would have their role in forging the “sword of the Spirit,” the Word of God.

The twelve were apostles and being with Jesus meant something with respect to their particular office and calling. As we noted a moment ago, we are not apostles. Yet we have the promise of Christ to his church in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” In John 14, the Lord Jesus promised that he would be with us in the person of the Holy Spirit. So, while we may not be with Jesus the way the apostles were in the time of our text, we are still with him with his Spirit and Word. Through our faith worked by the Holy Spirit, we have union with Christ. He has chosen us to be with him. Today, this being with him, while it is glorious and beautiful and brings joy and peace with God, we have to admit that it is only experienced in a limited way. But the Word of Christ promises us that we will some day be with him in the fullest possible way. That’s why Paul said in Philippians 1 that his desire was “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” This right now is not as good as it gets – the promise is for something far grander than we can imagine!

But for now, our being with him parallels the apostles’ being with him in that we are also going to share in his sufferings. We don’t like to hear that, but this is the cost of discipleship: sharing in his sufferings. Paul spoke in 2 Corinthians 4 about “always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus…” In Philippians 3:10, he wrote about having fellowship with the sufferings of Christ and being conformed to his death. Someone once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When the twelve were called by Christ, little did they know what they were getting into. They would be beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and martyred. Being with Jesus was a potential death sentence. But for us? It hardly seems that way. Or does it? Try being serious and intentional about your faith. Watch what happens, not only when people outside the church mock and make life difficult, but when also people inside the church, people who are supposed to be your brothers and sisters think that Christian faith and life is a joke. Sadly, it happens. When Christ calls someone to be with him, he bids him come and die! We are at peace with God, but it is a peace that creates a war, not only within with our old nature, but also often with outside forces. When we are with Jesus, we will share in his sufferings. Through his Spirit and Word, he will support us and help us and carry us through those sufferings, and through them he will more and more conform our lives to his image.

So, being with him was part of why he chose the twelve. Then Mark goes on to say that they were sent out to preach. I’m going to come back to that in a moment. Right now, I just want to spring ahead to verse 15 where we have a connection with the preceding passage, “and to have authority to drive out demons.” Did you know that we never find the word exorcise or exorcism in the New Testament? We have exorcists mentioned in Acts 19:13, but other than that, there’s nothing. When we speak about what Christ and his apostles are doing with the demons, we often refer to it ourselves as exorcism, but the Bible itself never uses those words. Instead, it uses the word “cast out” or “drive out.” It’s the same word that’s used in the Old Testament to describe the casting out of the Canaanites and other nations from the land of promise. It’s a word that carries with it the connotation of divine warfare. The apostles were appointed by Christ to be his soldiers and later his generals in the battle against Satan and his minions. They were to have authority and power over these evil forces, they were going to drive them out – they were going to be victorious!

That brings us to the preaching – he appointed twelve so that “he might send them out to preach.” Preaching is also a form of spiritual warfare. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul writes to the young minister Timothy and encourages him to be a good soldier of Christ Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 10, he writes about the divine warfare and there he indicates that the weapon in this warfare is the Word, and especially the preaching of the Word. Here in Mark 3, this preaching is described as proclamation. It’s not a dialogue, a drama, or anything else. It is authoritative proclamation. Of what, you ask? Well, here it can be nothing less than the good news of God that the Lord Jesus himself has been proclaiming. A Saviour has come who will redeem his people from sin! Believe in him and you will be saved from the wrath of a holy and righteous God. This is the same message that the church must proclaim today.

This task of preaching leads us to consider the fact that his choice of these twelve was surprising. Today our ministers are well trained. Four years at university, four years of seminary. But with these twelve men we find something completely different. If Jewish rabbis were looking for students, they wouldn’t have picked these men.

The list starts off with Simon, also known as Peter. A fisherman by trade, impetuous and optimistic, Simon was a stick of dynamite waiting to explode. Yet Christ gave him the name Peter and made him a sort of cornerstone among the apostles. James and John were fishermen too, and they were nicknamed Boanerges, an Aramaic term meaning “Sons of Thunder.” That seems to be a reference to their temperament and when they later ask Jesus whether fire should be called down from heaven on an unwelcoming Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-56), they seemed to live up to their name. Probably not the sort of fellows you’d want on your missions trip! Yet Jesus chose them. Andrew, also a fisherman. Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew the tax collector – a man who would have been reviled by the Jewish people, scum of the earth extraordinaire. Thomas the pessimistic doubter. James and Thaddaeus. Simon the Zealot – probably a revolutionary who worked against the Romans. And then Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Christ.

None of these men were from high positions in society. None of them had a background in wealth and prosperity. Some of them had major character flaws. In this motley band there were men who were complete opposites. We might never dream of putting an impulsive optimist like Peter together with a reluctant pessimist like Thomas. Or putting a former tax collector like Matthew together with a revolutionary like Simon. One was working for the Romans, the other working against! They were complete opposites! Yet Christ chose them and put them together as the twelve apostles.

And then to make matters even more complicated, what about Judas Iscariot? As all-knowing God, Jesus knew what Judas would do. He knew that Judas would be the catalyst for his trial and death on the cross. He knew that this would literally mean suicide for Judas personally. But yet, surprisingly, he chooses him. In that particular choice, we see Christ’s consciousness of what he had come to do. He had not come to destroy the Romans, but to destroy Satan and to wage war on him and on sin and death. He knew very well that the path to the cross led through the betrayal of Judas Iscariot.

All these men with all their flaws and weaknesses were chosen by Christ to be his War Council, the twelve who would wage war on his behalf. They were appointed to represent the true King of Israel, to witness to him, to proclaim him, and wage war against the powers and principalities on his behalf. This was a position of enormous responsibility and yet it was given to men who might be regarded as losers by some in their day.

What we see here again is a general principle of the way God works in the world. He doesn’t work according to human wisdom. He turns man’s wisdom upside down and does things his way. This is seen most powerfully, of course, in the cross. A naked, beaten man bleeding and suffering to death – how low can you sink? But yet the cross is our salvation! In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul works this out when he speaks about the message of the cross as foolishness to those who are perishing. But this gets further developed among the people of God, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” It’s so true, not only for the apostles and their ministry, but for all of us.

One of the most powerful witnesses I have ever seen was from a man who was mentally challenged. When he was a child, he’d been kicked in the head until unconscious and suffered permanent brain damage. He’d had a rough life, but God eventually brought him to faith in Christ. How this all happened -- it was an amazing answer to prayer, it was a miracle (as it is when any one is brought to Christ!). And this man was used by God to bring the gospel to many. I don’t know how many or even if any believed through his witness, but he put many of us to shame with his simple eagerness and passion for the gospel and the Word of God. He was weak and sinful, but yet God used him.

This is God’s way of working in the world. This is the way that God will work through us too – he may work through the high and mighty – after all, he is the sovereign God and he can work through whomever he wants. But more often he surprises us and does the unexpected! The world sees a church filled with all kinds of different people and wonders how they can all get along and live together. God sees the church and he sees his own creation, designed for the good of his people, the progress of his work (warfare!), and ultimately for his glory.

As we look back now and survey this passage as a whole, we see that Christ’s choice was subversive. In other words, it undermined those who thought they were the authorities in Israel. Christ was not rebelling against them – one who is himself in authority cannot rebel against those who are under him. But his actions would have been regarded as provocative by the Jewish leaders.

Nobody who made the claims that Jesus did could go and appoint twelve apostles and not be sending a message to Jerusalem. He was saying that the true people of Israel are no longer gathered around the twelve tribes, but now around these twelve men. A time was soon coming when the people of Israel would no longer be oriented towards Mount Zion and the priestly sacrifices. What was happening on this mountain near Capernaum was a regrouping and a reconstitution of Israel.

As we’ve seen before in other passages, there had already been conflict between Christ and the Jewish leaders. Now with this action, the conflict or warfare escalates. The Lord Jesus himself was upping the ante in his clash with the powers that be. They were being formally renounced by this appointment, knocked down a few notches. All their hard feelings and animosity would continue to gel into a formal plan to kill him.

So what we have portrayed here is another step towards the cross. The cross which is God’s devastating attack on human sin. The cross where Christ himself was oppressed and attacked so that we would have peace with God. The cross which would be his and our victory over sin, death and Satan. While he was appointing the twelve and subverting the Jewish leaders, his eyes were set on Golgotha and his loving heart was fixed on your salvation. Doesn’t that amaze you?

With everything that happens in our text, the Divine Warrior makes it clear that it was war. From the rest of the New Testament, we know that this war continues today. In this war, there is no middle ground. For all those who are with the Divine Warrior, victory is assured and what a victory it will be!

Let us pray:

Almighty Father of our Lord Jesus,

We are deeply grateful for the peace which comes through the cross of Christ. What a Saviour we have! We thank you for your sovereign choice of us. Thank you for choosing us before the foundation of the world to be your children and heirs with Jesus. We thank you for his presence in our lives and we look forward to fully having his presence in the age to come. We praise you for your wisdom and we admire the way you often surprise us and do things in an unexpected way. Truly, we have to say that there is absolutely no one like you. Thank you for turning the world upside down through our Saviour in the time of our text. We pray that you would use us as your humble servants to advance the cause of your kingdom in this world. Please use your church here to fight the good fight and so make your name glorious! Please hear us as we pray in Christ our King, AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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