The Lunatic Fringe

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” 

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”  Mark 3:13-22 ESV

Jesus had a lot of followers. You might even call them fans. Mark stresses that they came from “Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 3:7-8 ESV). In other words, they came from all over the place and they followed Jesus wherever He went. To the point where Jesus had to institute His own form of crowd control.

he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him. – Mark 3:9 ESV

But it would be wrong to assume that all these people were dedicated followers of Jesus. The crowds would have contained a mix of the curious and the semi-committed. There were always those in search of healing. There were likely some who were simply bored and in search of entertainment. And there is little doubt that some were legitimately intrigued by this Rabbi from Nazareth.

But Mark indicates that a time came when Jesus decided to narrow the field of His followers. Mark doesn’t provide any insight into how Jesus carried out this winnowing process but simply says that Jesus “called for those he wanted, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13 NET). Did He walk through the crowd pointing out those He wanted to accompany Him? Did He call them by name? We don’t know. How many did He call – 50, 100, or more? The text doesn’t tell us. All we know is that Jesus made a conscious decision to choose some and not others. We have no idea what criteria He had for making His selection. But we do know that from among all those He called, He set apart 12, and Mark provides us with their names.

Luke provides another important detail to the story. It seems that this entire selection process had been proceeded by a night-long prayer vigil.

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles… – Luke 6:12-13 ESV

Before Jesus began this recruiting process, He had sought the will of His Father. And this essential detail sheds light on another prayer Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father more than three years later.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. – John 17:9-10 NLT

Jesus had sought to know the will of His Father and, in response, He had been given the identities of those He was to choose, including the 12. And Mark provides us with their names.

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, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. – Mark 3:16-19 ESV

Mark states that Jesus “appointed” (poieō) these men. The Greek word means “to make a thing out of something.” Jesus took these 12 men and ordained or set them apart for a special assignment.

…that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. – Mark 3:14-15 ESV

These ordinary men had been handpicked by Jesus and given an incredible opportunity to serve as His apostellōs or “sent ones.” They had been divinely chosen by God, called by Jesus, and set apart for a special two-part assignment. First, they were called to “be with him.” Jesus was inviting them to experience a personal and intimate relationship with Him. For the next three years, they would be given the unique opportunity to spend all their time with Jesus, and this intensive, full-time exposure to the Son of God would prove to be life-transformative.

But as the term “apostle” implies, there would be more to their relationship with Jesus than companionship. They would be expected to preach and be given the authority and power to cast out demons. These blue-collar nobodies from the backwoods of Galilee were going to become the hand-picked spokesmen for the Son of God. And to validate the message Jesus would give them, they would be equipped with divine power to perform miracles. But this would not be a permanent or full-time capability. Luke lets us know that Jesus would be the one to dictate the time and the place for their God-ordained powers to be exposed.

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases,  and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. – Luke 9:12 ESV

Matthew adds another level of detail, outlining the instructions Jesus gave to the 12 before sending them out on their own.

“Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!

“Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed.” – Matthew 10:5-10 NLT

The thought of possessing the power to heal or to cast out demons would have been heady stuff to these men. But Jesus wanted them to know that there would be more to their work than performing miracles. Their ministry would be restricted to their own people – the Jews. And they would be required to use the supernatural powers placed at their disposal to validate the message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. And their efforts were marked by humility and complete dependency upon God. They were to go empty-handed and wholly reliant upon the provision of God.

Over the next three years, these 12 men were going to learn some invaluable lessons. They would be tested. There would be plenty of times when they found themselves confused and conflicted by their relationship with Jesus. They would experience moments filled with awe and wonder as they took in all that Jesus said and did. But there would be just as many times when they would be left shaking their heads in disbelief as they tried to comprehend Jesus’ puzzling parables and His perplexing behavior.

In spite of their close relationship with Jesus, even the 12 disciples would find Him to be an enigma at times. And Mark indicates that this confusion over Jesus was commonplace. Even the family of Jesus found His behavior difficult to defend.

When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. – Mark 3:21 NLT

We know that Jesus had brothers and sisters. Technically, they would have been his half-brothers and half-sisters because Joseph was not the father of Jesus. But these siblings were confused by their brother’s actions. So much so, that they assumed He must be crazy. Keep in mind, they had witnessed an extreme change in the pattern of Jesus’ behavior. At some point, He had walked away from their home in Nazareth and made His way to the Judean wilderness, where He was baptized by John. Then He had disappeared for more than 40 days and nights, only to reappear again, preaching a message of repentance and declaring that the kingdom of heaven was near. This was not the Jesus they had grown up with. His sudden and strange change in behavior left them perplexed and concerned that He might be mentally unstable.

And Mark adds that there were others who found Jesus’ actions less-than-normal.

But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” – Mark 3:22 NLT

His family thought He was crazy. The religious leaders thought He was demon-possessed. And everyone else would wrestle with their own opinions as to who He was and how to explain the amazing things He said and did. And the 12 men He had just chosen would find themselves at the center of all the controversy, wrestling with their own expectations and apprehensions regarding His identity and the nature of their relationship to Him. There’s little doubt that they had moments when they questioned their own sanity. Had they lost their minds? Were they crazy for following this strange Rabbi from Nazareth? Having left everything else behind, had they sacrificed it all just to become part of the lunatic fringe? Time would tell.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson