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Jesus' compassion knew no limits, but his physical body did.
Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. A great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea and beyond the Jordan, and from Tyre and Sidon.
So Jesus 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, "You are the Son of God." But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.
Mark 3:7-12 NKJV, condensed
In those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. When it was day, He called His disciples to Himself. From them He chose 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, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to them He gave the name Boanerges, that is, "Sons of Thunder"; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon called the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Mark 3: 13-19 & Luke 6:12-17 NKJV, condensed
(Matthew also records the names of the disciples in Matt. 10:2-4)
TIME TO STEP BACK AND RE-GROUP
Hide that welcome sign for awhile, Jesus needs to rest. It's time to withdraw to the rhythms of nature by the sea. Popularity has its drawbacks. We know from celebrity-watching that crowds can be crushing, relentless, demanding; a mixed bag that can fill you with energy as well as drain you to the last drop.
Crowds are also difficult to evade, just like the one about to break into Jesus' privacy. It was a sea of people with no end in sight. Countless hands stretched out for healing, minds asking for his wisdom, souls searching for a home. Jesus' congregation just kept growing, coming from everywhere and all directions.
Considering that travel was by foot, people came a long way to be with Jesus. This was a gathering specifically drawn together for healing. Rich and poor, young and old, those with all kinds of disabilities and diseases were helped along or carried by family and friends. People usually hidden from society were brought out into the open and it was not pretty.
Jesus faced a great challenge. The multitude was also experiencing a challenging ordeal. Exhaustion must have showed on all sides; exhaustion mixed with God's grace and individual hopes for the new life which healing could bring. Not only did these needful people from all walks of life inspire the teaching of Jesus called the Beatitudes,they also made the point that even Jesus needed help. One person can only do so much.
What do you do when the needs are greater than one person can handle? One alternative is to ask for help. That's what Jesus did. He headed for the mountains for an all-night prayer vigil. John Birkbeck has written that Jesus' life had secret springs, like a river, back in the hills where he withdrew frequently to pray. There on the mountain Jesus spread out his concerns before God. There he sought guidance, envisioned new possibilities, accepted new responsibilities.
In the morning Jesus' plan of action was clear: select twelve from among those who followed him. These "twelve disciples" were chosen first to be with Jesus, then to do the works of Jesus. Although they were very ordinary people, mostly fisherman by trade, the twelve disciples would now go in pairs to do what Jesus did--preach, heal and cast out demons! Jesus called ordinary people to do extraordinary things and entrusted them with the work of God's kingdom.
An impossible dream? "Jesus, you can't be serious. You can't expect these twelve people to exercise authority over diseases and demons. That's way out of their league! How are you going to get them to believe they can do such great things? How are you going to get them to accept your vision for their lives?"
The twelve whom Jesus designated included two sets of brothers, and maybe some cousins. Peter, the rock-man, is always listed first among the disciples, suggesting he was the leader. He was the most colorful and best known disciple because he was impulsive, quick to speak and always ready to give his opinion or assessment of any situation. Most of the other disciples seem on the quiet side and some are never quoted in Scripture. Two were known as "Sons of Thunder", which implies some surge or explosiveness.
The majority of the twelve were fishermen. One agitated for political justice and another was a former tax collector. They were all from Galilee except Judas Iscariot. Judas, the token outsider - everyone knew he would turn out bad!
Andrew seems to have played the hospitality role. Philip attracted people of other races and nationalities. When hard pressed, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus to the enemy for the price of a slave. Thomas doubted the resurrection until given proof.
Who were these Twelve and why did Jesus choose them? They would certainly need to become much more than they already were. What did Jesus see in these 12 which impressed him? What special talents were needed? Could Jesus have made a disciple out of anybody? We can ask all kinds of questions, but the bottom line is that they were, like us, ordinary people. Then Jesus called them by name, gave them a partner, and inspired them to believe. As they went, they were empowered to do the works of Jesus. The impossible became possible. These disciples were so effective that we in the 21st century still know the name of Jesus and continue to spread God's compassion around the world!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Ice Breaker: Tell about one experience you had at the ocean or in the mountains in which you found physical, emotional or spiritual renewal. The reward for hard work is more hard work! Jesus' reward for healing was this sea of people surging forward to touch him. When life gets the better of you, where do you go for help?
People were drawn to Jesus for many reasons, but mostly because they needed something. Jesus gave; the people received. What is it like to be on the receiving end of a relationship or situation? When you needed aid or a healing touch, who helped you? Is it true that our own wounds make us better able to minister to others?
When Jesus faced a big decision, he prayed all night before taking action. Share an example of a time when you received guidance through prayer.
Why did Jesus, when he lived here on earth, need disciples? Are these the same reasons Jesus needs disciples today? Describe a person you know who is a good disciple?
We could say the disciples went from being a spectator to playing in the game. Where are you in your Christian life, on the bleachers or on the playing field? If on the field, what position do you play? If in the bleachers, do you encourage or complain?
What does it mean to be "with Jesus"? What are some ways in which you spend time with Jesus? Why is it important to be with Jesus before trying to help other people? What is something you learned by spending time with Jesus?
Mark in his Gospel has a "demon" in almost every story. That word is not commonly used anymore. When you read the Gospels, do you think of demons in a literal or figurative sense? Are there ways in which we in our present day society need to be rid of demons?
Discuss the benefits of doing ministry 2x2 instead of going it alone. Give some examples of ways you serve God in partnership with others.