By J.R. Miller
"Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed." Mark 3:6-7
We can hardly realize how wide the influence of Jesus was at this time. The multitude that followed Him, came not only from Galilee--but also from Judea, from beyond the Jordan, and even from the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, and the countries surrounding them. The throng was so great, that Jesus and His disciples withdrew to the sea. He wished to do His work without interruption. Thus we have our Lord's example for sometimes withdrawing from opposition. It was not lack of courage that led Him to do this. He knew that he conspiracy of His enemies would in the end be successful, yet He would not throw His life away. Nothing could be gained by His staying in their midst at this time. There was no testimony to be borne. Besides, His work was not yet finished. When, at last, His work was all done, the plots had all ripened, and He knew that the rulers were about to kill Him--He did not withdraw, nor did He show any fear or lack of bravery.
There are times when duty requires us to flee from danger and thus save our lives for further service. We are certainly never to court danger, nor to be reckless in our courage. On another occasion Jesus said to His disciples, "When they persecute you in this city--flee into the next." Christian prudence is an important element in Christian courage. It often requires a higher courage to avoid danger--than to rush into it; to flee away from angry enemies--than to answer back and incite them to further wrath.
The great report of our Lord's works of mercy and kindness, went out everywhere, and multitudes were drawn to Him. One who does good to others--will always have followers. The world is full of sorrow and suffering, and hearts hunger for sympathy. When one who has a gentle spirit and a hand whose touch gives blessing comes among men--people welcome him. Love always finds its mission. We are apt to criticize the motive in such following. "For the loaves and fish!" we say. But people know a friend when he comes among them; and when one suffers and has been helped--it is no wonder that other like sufferers come with their needs. Jesus loved the people--that was His secret! He loved them--and they knew it. People always know when a man truly and sincerely loves them.
The kindness of Jesus was not discouraged by the ingratitude and enmity of men. Though the evil plots of His enemies drove Him out of the city--they did not stop His doing good. Though some rejected His love--His heart was not closed. Capernaum lost much--when He went out of its gates; but on the throngs which followed Him--the gracious blessings fell. Persecution scatters the seed which it means to destroy. When the first Christians were driven from Jerusalem, it was only to carry the gospel into all the countries round about to which they fled. They "went about, preaching" (Matthew 4:23). Opposition must never silence the lips that carry the words of life. If one rejects and scorns you--take your gospel message to another. You will always find some ready to receive the blessing you have to give. Especially are the people, who have "plagues," who are in any misfortune or distress--ready to press upon him who comes to them with a heart of love and with desire to do them good.
The people pressed up close to Him, that they might touch Him. A touch was enough. All who touched Him--were made whole. Life flowed from Him--to them. Health went from His rich, wholesome life--and expelled their sickness. So a touch is always enough. Anyone who really touches Christ is healed. But we must be sure to touch Him. It is not enough to be in the crowd that gathers around Him. Only those are healed--who touch Him by faith. It is not enough to be in the congregation that worships. One sitting or bowing next to us may receive a great blessing, while we receive none at all. It is because he reaches out his hand of faith and touches Christ; while we, physically as close to Christ as he is--do not put out our hand to touch Him; and therefore, receive no blessing.
We ought, as Christ's disciples, to be so full of life and love--that anyone who touches us, shall get a blessing from us. Just to have their handshake is a blessing. Their mere presence in a sick room gives comfort. It is worth while to be such a person. Do you want to know the secret? It is LOVE. Love people really, truly, genuinely--and there will flow from you always, to every life that touches yours--an influence of healing.
Jesus stood in the throng and called certain men to come to Him. He singled out the people and called them individually. That is the way He is doing continually--standing and calling men to come to Him. He does not call a crowd--He calls people by name, calls them one by one. Everyone who hears His voice should answer--leave the world's company, step boldly out, cross over the line, and take his place by the side of Jesus!
There are several things to be said about the way these men responded to Christ's call to discipleship.
They responded freely. Although He had chosen them out of a whole nation, and called them, there was no compulsion laid upon them to go with Him. They could have refused if they had chosen; Christ never chooses His disciples by force.
Then, they responded promptly. There was no hesitation. They said nothing about considering the matter for awhile. They did not talk about being unfit or unworthy; they did not tell Him that they were afraid they could not keep their word if they promised to be Christians. They did not say, "Tomorrow we will go." The moment they heard their names called--they answered.
Then, they responded resolutely. Whenever they heard the call--they stepped out with firm tread, and, crossing over the space between the crowd and the Master, they joined themselves to Him. It was not done secretly. They did not wait until they were alone with Him, and then tell Him quietly and timidly that they had made up their minds to accept His invitation. They did not propose to be His disciples--and yet stay among their old friends and keep on at the old business. They immediately separated themselves from the people about them, and went over to Him, putting themselves absolutely into His hands, to be His and do His bidding--so long as they lived.
This is the way these men started in their apostleship--and the way everyone should start whom Jesus calls to be His disciple.
He chose the Twelve--that they might be with Him. That is the first thing always--before preaching or teaching or working for Christ. We must be disciples ourselves, before He will use us to make disciples of others, or to carry His messages and blessings to others. He employs none as His servants--who are not His followers. One reason why we must first be with Him--is that we may be taught by Him. The apostles learned from their Master--the things they themselves afterward taught to others. We cannot do any good work for Christ--until He teaches us how to do it.
He teaches us by His Word, by His Spirit, through the impact of His own life, through our experiences. This is one reason we should study the Bible so carefully, that we may be able to teach others by our example and by our words--only the things Jesus would have us teach them. Another reason why we need to be with Him before we go out to testify for Him--is that we may be actual witnesses for Him. We never can impress the world by giving second-hand information about Christ, by repeating things we have heard others say, or have read in books, about Him. We must be able to tell what we have seen and learned for ourselves, from personal fellowship with Him.
These men were chosen not merely to official office--but for service, "to preach, and to have authority to heal sicknesses." This authority to heal, was given to validate their commission. When Moses went to the people and to Pharaoh as God's messenger, and when they demanded evidence that God had sent him--then he was to work certain miraculous signs in their presence, to prove his claim. So the apostles had power given to them to perform works of wonder--as their credentials.
Besides, those works of mercy which they wrought were examples of what the gospel should do wherever it goes. We say there are no miracles now. Is this true? Are no sick people healed now? Are no evil spirits cast out? Are no blind eyes opened, no deaf ears unstopped, no lame made to walk, no dead raised? If miracles are not produced in the physical realm, they surely are in the spiritual. Eyes are opened to see God and heavenly things. Ears are opened to hear the voice of the Spirit. Fevers of passion are cured. Sicknesses of soul are healed. The evil spirits of greed, lust, and selfishness are cast out. These are the validations of all teaching and preaching. Power is given yet to Christ's ministers and to all His disciples--power to heal the sick and cast out demons!
One of the men chosen was known as Simon--but Jesus gave him a surname of Peter. These two names are suggestive. "Simon" shows the crude fisherman of Galilee, with all his rashness, his ignorance, his imperfection. "Peter" shows the apostle of the Acts and the Epistles; the rock firm and secure; the man of great power, before whose Spirit-filled eloquence, thousands of proud hearts bowed, swayed like the trees of the forest before the tempest; the gentle, tender soul whose words fall like a blessing; the noble martyr witnessing to the death for his Lord. Study the two names together--to see what grace can do for a man.
It is not hard to take roses, lilies, fuchsias, and all the rarest flowers, and with them make forms of exquisite beauty; but to take weeds, dead grasses, dried leaves trampled and torn, and faded flowers--and make lovely things out of such materials, is the most severe test of skill. It would not be hard to take an angel and train him into a glorious messenger; but to take such a man as Simon, or Saul, or as John Newton, or as John Bunyan--and make out of him a holy saint and a mighty apostle--that is the test of power. Yet that is what Christ did, and has been doing ever since. He takes the poorest stuff, despised and worthless, outcast of men oftentimes; and when He has finished His gracious work--we behold a saint whiter than snow.
The sculptor saw an angel in the rough, blackened stone which was rejected and thrown away; and when men beheld the stone again, behold--there was the angel, cut from the block! In one of the English cathedrals is a window, the admiration of all beholders, made by a workman, from the bits of glass thrown away by the master. So heaven is filling with glorified souls, gathered from the despised and rejected of earth. We should never be discouraged by our unworthiness, or our many faults. Christ can take us as we are, and in His hands--our life shall grow into purity and loveliness until He presents us at last before His eternal throne--faultless and perfect. There is only one thing that needs to concern us--we must make sure that we are in Christ's school, that we really put ourselves into His hands.