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When Jesus began His public ministry, He was 30 years old. In the religious system of which He was a part this was the time when spiritual leaders were considered mature enough to BE spiritual leaders.
After Jesus was baptized by John, the Scriptures tell us He was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness and there He was tempted by Satan. Right from the beginning the battle between good and evil raged. Satan tried his best to run Jesus off the rails of the mission He had come to accomplish. These temptations, and the others that surely followed even though they aren’t recorded, remind us that Jesus, the man, understands every temptation we face. As the saying goes, He's "been there" though He's never "done that." And because He knows, and yet never sinned by yielding, He can help us resist the temptations that will dog our footsteps all through our lives. This is the truth written for us by the author to the Hebrews who said: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin” (4:14, 15)
After leaving the desert where He was tempted, Mark tells us this:
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Some years ago I taught a series of studies on the twelve disciples. It was based on a book by John MacArthur called The Master’s Men. If there were ever a group of people least likely to succeed as followers of Jesus, as His inner circle, as His primary trainees, this was it! Contrary to all the modern, popular teaching about how to choose your team, Jesus broke just about all the rules. He chose the undereducated, the rough, the rebellious, the despised, the timid, the doubters, and the downright evil. It was a motley crew. But what better material through which to demonstrate His grace, and His power to change lives.
Mark records, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
This was the same John who participated in Jesus' commissioning as He began His public ministry. John was also Jesus’ cousin. You will remember that after the announcement the angel made to Mary about becoming the mother of Jesus, Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was about six months along in the pregnancy that produced John the Baptist. John’s ministry as an adult lasted about six months and then the king, Herod by name, put John in prison. The king did not appreciate John's message—most people don't like to be confronted with their sin. When John was imprisoned, Jesus came into Galilee and basically carried on with the message that John had delivered: “Repent and believe.”
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus chose His inner circle, those he would walk and talk with for the next three years or so. In those days there were other Rabbis, or religious leaders, going around with their followers, so what Jesus was doing was not all that unusual. In the first chapter of Mark, we learn, “…he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for there were fishermen. ‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said…he saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John…he called them.” In Mark 2, we discover Jesus calling Levi, or Matthew, who was a tax collector. In Mark 3, Mark tells us that “Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee, and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, son of Alphas, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
From this we get the impression that Jesus called other followers besides these, but these were to become His inner circle, His leaders-in-training.
He was calling His disciples to do what He was doing and to say what He was saying. “Repent and believe the good news!” and He backed up the truth of what He was saying by doing miracles and by gifting His disciples with the ability to do miracles also.
There are several words in Mark’s record that are impressive when it comes to what happened when Jesus called these unlikely leaders-in-training to His side. Mark says that when Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, they went “at once,” leaving everything behind. The same happened when He called James and John. The same happened when He called Matthew from his tax collecting table.
There was no question, no weighing the pros and cons, no asking permission of anyone, no worrying about the consequences or about what others would think, no concerns about pensions, benefits, or working conditions, or where following Jesus might take them.
He commanded obedience and they responded immediately.
Luke (9:57-62) describes a time in Jesus’ ministry when several people came up to Jesus to volunteer as disciples, but none of them were prepared to pay the price of discipleship, a price basically summed up this way: “all in or not in at all.” Even when Jesus invited them to follow Him, they came up with excuses as to why they couldn’t do it right away.
But what is particularly significant to me is Jesus’ choice of followers.
Paul describes it this way in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2: “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; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’ When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1:26-2:5).
And that’s the point behind who Christ chose. He chose those who would know that it wasn’t them, but God, who was at work. They had little in themselves to recommend them, but they believed in a God Who had absolutely everything to recommend HIM!
They were Davids facing a giant with only a slingshot and a few stones. They were Gideons hiding with fear and trembling and then given only 300 men, a few jugs, a few torches and a few trumpets, to face far superior forces. They are Moses' facing the Red Sea in front and the Egyptians behind. They are Joshuas marching around a city in silence, trying to figure out how such a strategy could possibly be effective.
All they needed to do was respond immediately to God’s call and then let God do all the rest.
And that’s all God wants from us today. No excuses, no delays, no preening or patting on the back. Just simple obedience, humility, and faith.