When crowds are drawn together, either by something sensational or by the offer of something free, they can be extremely difficult to handle! Then the inner drive of the individual to be first, to see all there is to see, or to get all there is to get, multiplied by a few thousand becomes a practically irresistible force. They can be very fickle, too. If they receive what they are seeking, they can be adulatory, while if they are denied or disappointed, they may become ugly in a flash.
The “huge crowd” (Mark 3:7) that followed Jesus as he headed for the lake was liable to get out of hand, and Jesus knew it. People were eager to touch him in a quest for healing, but there were also many deranged people and people driven by demonic forces. No doubt some of Jesus’ avowed enemies were in the crowd, too. In other words, the situation was potentially explosive. So Jesus quietly asked the disciples to ensure that a boat was made available “in case he was crowded off the beach” (3:9).
When the day’s ministry passed without incident, Jesus made his way into the hills and “called the ones he wanted to go with him” (3:13), so that they might become “his regular companions” (3:14). In all probability they had little idea what Jesus expected of them, but they soon found out. First and foremost, he was looking for “a few good men” who would put a personal relationship with him at the top of their agenda. So “they came to him” (3:13)—not to an institution, not to a movement, but to a person who would capture their hearts, change their lives, and become their reason for being. He became their Savior, their Lord, their friend, their leader—their very life. This was their calling, and to this they responded.
The center of the disciples’ call was to companionship with Jesus, but the circumference was a commission to serve the world. They would be given the task of spreading the message of Christ, fired by their personal experience of him, preaching his kingdom in ever widening circles to the ends of the earth (see Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). This commission was not without cost, however, since many of them died a martyr’s death.
Jesus had his crowds, but he worked primarily through a core group. There is fickleness in a crowd, but faithfulness in the core—with the sad exception of Judas Iscariot. There is momentum in a mob that can easily get out of control, while there is drive and direction in a dedicated nucleus that is not easily diverted from its purpose. Where there is no dedicated core, the crowd rules—how unruly! Where there is a committed core, the core controls the action. Jesus showed us that truth and the church dare not forget it! In a world where bigger is often automatically regarded as better, the church should not forget that it is not difficult to attract a crowd of spectators. The real challenge is to call out a core of committed believers.
For Further Study: Mark 3:7-19