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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.

Scripture: Mark 3:13-19

Dear congregation,

What does it mean to “know” something? What does it mean to be “wise”? In our society we spend a lot of time and effort to instill knowledge and wisdom in our children and young people. We call this “Education” and this is defined as the process by which we seek to impart knowledge. It’s to give training and develop knowledge and skills. If you think about it, it’s been around for as long as human beings have walked this earth. From the time when Adam and Eve were given instructions from the Lord to explore, develop, and take care of the creation, human beings have passed knowledge and skills down to each successive generation. In the beginning “Christian education” was a given. There was no sin and therefore there was no knowledge, no skills, no development that took place apart from intimate knowledge of the Creator and his ordering of the Creation. The Fall into sin changed all that. It led to a Great Divorce between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. In the midst of the antithesis (the struggle), which characterizes the relationship between these two domains, education has become a sort of battle ground. What is true knowledge? How will we know what is true? Why is it true? Can there be a separation between knowledge of God and knowledge of creation?

As citizens of the Kingdom of God and proclaimers of a New Creation that has come in Jesus Christ, we would say “no”. There is no separation between the knowledge of God and knowledge of creation. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight (understanding).” True knowledge about the creation is wrapped up in first knowing the Creator of the universe. One of the results of sin is this: As humanity ran away from God, knowledge - which is the ability to “know” things - became separated from wisdom which was knowing all things in relation to the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” The apostle Paul picks up on this in Romans 1:18 & 20 when he writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

In its truest form, education makes us more aware of God. God is revealed in this world and wisdom will open our eyes to his grace and his truth. Therefore the best Christian education will not measured by ACT scores, trophy cases, service work, or even the behaviour of students. It’s more than those things that secular education uses to define good education. As Christians we ought to think higher and further and differently than the world. Leave your statistics and data at the door and show me students who have caught the vision of the unfolding Kingdom of God. Show me students who are finding their place in God’s world and then you will see true knowledge and wisdom at work. To do that we ought to take a look at the work of Jesus in our text.

As Christians we are all called into Christ’s school of discipleship which begins to take shape in our text. This means we are all called to be in Christian education which is really a life long endeavour and not something only for children and young people. To understand what this means we have to read from Mark 3:13-19 where we are told that Jesus called twelve people to be part of his inner circle of disciples. Who are the chosen ones? Some of the names in our text are familiar because we read about them elsewhere in the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament. Others are not so well known. According to Mark 3:16-19 the names are the twelve disciples are: Simon (called Peter), James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, the other James, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot (or Cananaean as it says in the Greek text), and Judas Iscariot. The names of disciples change a little depending on which gospel account you are reading, but one thing all the gospel accounts agree on is that there were twelve of them. This is deliberate on the part of Jesus because there were originally 12 tribes that made up the Old Testament nation of Israel. That nation was a foothold in this world pointing towards the worldwide Kingdom of God that has now come in Christ. These twelve disciples are a sign of the “New Israel” that will go out in order to proclaim the New Creation which will embrace every nation of people on earth. The school of discipleship is not made up of perfect people. In fact, the list begins with Peter who will deny Christ and ends with Judas Iscariot who will betray Christ. However, Jesus will use these imperfect people to accomplish his perfect will. Let’s now take a closer look at what it means for them as well as for us to be in Christ’s school of discipleship.

First, we ought to notice that the school of discipleship is literally “Christ-centered.” In verse 13 it says that Jesus “called” those whom he wanted and that they “came to him”. You cannot get more Christ-centered than that! Jesus calls and people respond. Throughout the whole Bible it is always God who initiates the calling and people respond to his call. It’s never the other way around. The School of Discipleship is a Christ-centered place where Jesus calls the ones “he wanted” or “desired” to be his chosen people. In light of the full revelation of the Gospel of Christ, we should also hear Mark 3:13 in its fuller sense. It’s not just the original 12 disciples who are called, it’s all of us too who hear the call of Christ upon our lives. This certainly includes our children. Later in Mark 10 we read about people bringing their children to Jesus and he says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14). Your children belong to the Kingdom of God. The empires of this world - including the empire of secular education - will make the claim that you ought to hand your children over to them for their education. They want your children to shape and mold into the citizens they think they ought to be. However, to hand your children over to them would be in violation of the command of Christ who has the first claim and calling upon us and our families. Jesus calls and we respond - this is the start of the school of discipleship.

Next we read in verse 14 that “Jesus designated them apostles.” In the NIV translation you will notice a footnote that says some of the early manuscripts of this gospel omit these words from Mark 3:14. However, most biblical scholars would say that they were probably part of the original text because they are found in Luke’s gospel account and they are implied in Matthew’s. To be an “apostle” as Jesus speaks of it here is to be a person who is “sent out”, and this is what Jesus will do with the disciples. To be called by Jesus is not an end in and of itself. It is to be “sent out” as an apostle. The word used here means to be given authority to represent Christ and his mission in the world. New Testament theologian Douglas Hare writes in his commentary, “The twelve commissioned representatives receive delegated authority to participate in Jesus’ kingdom ministry.” The School of Discipleship is to be a place that sends people out to be proclaimers of the Kingdom of God.

To accomplish this, Jesus has three things in mind. If you look carefully at the rest of verse 14 and into verse 15 you will see that those who are called are to:

  1. “be with him (Jesus)”
  2. “to preach”
  3. “to have authority to drive out demons”.

Let’s consider these three matters that form the heart of Christ’s Christian education philosophy. The first two tasks are somewhat easy to understand, the third one not so much on first reading.

What is Christian education? First of all, it is about being with Jesus. To be educated in being a disciple of Jesus is to know that you and your children belong body and soul, in every moment of every day to your Lord and Saviour. More than that, it is by being with Jesus that we learn from him, not just as a student receiving “knowledge”, but also as an “apprentice”, that is putting your knowledge to work in wise living. Simply being with Jesus allows us to find the answer to the perennial question that so many Christians think is important: What would Jesus do? Well, you won’t know if you are not with him! Again Douglas Hare writes, “All Christians are called to be “with Jesus” in this sense - not simply to learn about him but to learn from him how to live as signs of God’s rule by acting compassionately and resisting evil.” The School of Discipleship at its most basic level is about being with Jesus.

Second, disciples are called to “preach”. Can we realistically expect that of all Christians, including our children and young adults? Not if we only understand the term in what seminary trained preachers are called to do. Jesus is calling the twelve disciples to be proclaimers - preachers - of the gospel message. However, preaching can be understood as more than speaking words. It is something all followers of Christ can do at some level, in their own way, according to their gifts and abilities. Simply put, we are called to be able to explain the Kingdom perspective on life in its simplest and most basic terms. The Kingdom perspective says, “Jesus is Lord”. If you can say that and know what it means, you can preach as a disciple of Jesus. To proclaim Christ as Lord means that he rules over your life and that you see this world and your life from that perspective. Jesus first sermon in the gospel of Mark is very brief and to the point. In Mark 1:15 he says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”  A Christ-centered education is about casting a vision of the world as it ought to be, not so much as it is. We and our children need a Kingdom perspective as we engage the world. Therefore our desires, our pursuits, our goals - everything we love and care for - ought to be rooted in what the gospel of the Kingdom proclaims.

Third, disciples are given authority to drive out demons. What does this mean? In Jesus’ ministry on earth this often meant sending demonic spirits out of possessed individuals. However, attacking demonic forces (which we are all still called to do) is more than just that. Donald English in his commentary on this passage writes, “Exorcism, in this context, is not just about individual spiritual liberation. It is about setting the world of institutions and structures free also, from injustice, cruelty and neglect; from extortion, corruption and greed, from lesser gods of profit at all cost, and beating down the rest whatever it takes.” Think about it: corporations, political parties, public education, and even churches as institutions - they can become avenues of demonic corruption when they seek to reduce humanity to mere labour and elevate their own status and profit at all costs. Demonic powers are pervasive in the world even today, but not in the way we most often think about them. Anything that is not in line with the grace and truth of God’s Kingdom is of a “different spirit” which is not the Holy Spirit. Disciples of Christ must learn to discern the work of the Holy Spirit and attack the work of the evil one while bringing the grace of the Holy One into the life of this world.

These are the three tasks given to the ones whom Christ calls: to be with him, to preach, and to drive out demons. In the light of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ we hear the call of Christ to proclaim the New Creation where he is the Ruler over everything. Jesus Christ claims your life and the life of your family. At its best, Christian education is about casting the vision of this Kingdom and instilling its values within those who are learning. It’s about love and grace and truth and bringing these into every area of life. This is impossible apart from being with and in Jesus Christ and learning about the world from God’s revelation in him. Under the rules and systems of the world, education has been reduced to the mere acquisition of knowledge for the sake of obtaining skills in order to make profit and fit into the world. Jesus never made “fitting in” a goal for his disciples. The sooner we recognize that we should not fit into the world and that our children don’t fit in, than we can be the counter cultural, salt and light community that God calls us to be. Christian education is more than putting a Bible verse on a T-shirt and then going out and participating in the same activities that the rest of the world thinks are so important. A Christ-centered education is about seeing the world as it is from a Kingdom perspective where Jesus Christ is Lord. It’s about seeing higher and further and differently than the secular powers of the world.

Jesus calls his own; we come to him; he makes us what we are to be. His love and grace and truth needs to characterize our Christian schools and the people who support them. We must love and respect those who are called to teach. It’s not an easy task. We must encourage the administrators and board members. We must gently correct the institutions when they waver and begin to be more concerned about being like the rest of the world rather than being countercultural schools of discipleship. We need to set aside the arrogance that can arise from test scores, winning teams, or even enrollment numbers. We need to show patience to those parents who send their children to Christian schools out of tradition but don’t really “get it”. We need to continue to love and support those who choose a different avenue for education. In the end Jesus calls and we respond. His grace will make us what we were meant to be. Amen.

Prayer of Response
Almighty God, you have raised Jesus from death to life and crowned him Lord of all. We confess that we have not always bowed before him or acknowledged his rule in our lives. We have often gone along with the ways of the world and failed to give him glory. By your Holy Spirit, makes us disciples of your Son. Open our eyes and ears to the unfolding Kingdom of love and grace and truth. Make us all wise to your truth so that we may glorify you in all our living. In Jesus name, Amen.

Order of Worship

Call to Worship
Leader: I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where does my help come from?
People: Our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Leader: May the grace and peace of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon us all. Amen.

Opening Hymn: PsH 253 “Praise to the Lord the Almighty”

Call to confession: Responsive Reading of the 10 Commandments, PsH pg. 1016
Hymn of Confession: PsH 557 “My Jesus I love thee”
Assurance of Pardon: I John 3:1-3
Hymn of Dedication: PsH 231 “How Great is the Love of the Father”

Prayer for Illumination: Lord God, give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that the eyes of our hearts might be enlightened. Help us to know the hope to which you have called us, the riches of the glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of your power at work in us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture reading: Mark 3:13-19
Hymn of Response: PsH 286 “Lord of Creation, to You be all Praise”

Congregational Prayer
Closing Hymn: 
PsH 410 “Crown Him with Many Crowns”
Prayer for God’s Blessing: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord make his face shine upon us and give us peace. Amen.”

Authors cited
English, Donald. The Message of Mark in “The Bible Speaks Today” series. General Editor, John Stott. Intervarsity Press: Leicester, England, Downs Grove, IL, 1992

Hare, Douglas. In his commentary on Mark from the “Interpretation Series.” John Knox Press: Louiville, 1993

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