By Harris Franklin Rall
So far we have been considering Jesus by himself, but this would give a wrong picture of his life. Nothing is more significant of Jesus' life than that company of friends and followers which was constantly with him. Mark's first picture shows us Jesus calling the four to himself before he begins preaching or healing. Thereafter we never find him alone. They go with him to the table of the rich. On the lonely ways they are his company. They form the inner circle in the days of his popularity when the crowds press upon him. They go with him when he fares forth from Galilee, a fugitive and in danger. A few are present even in those moments of his most intimate experience, on the mountain top and in the Garden. And they remain with him. They protest when he goes to Jerusalem, but they follow nevertheless; and though they scatter and flee upon his arrest, yet the last solemn scene shows a little group of the faithful near the cross.
Those Who Followed
The Larger and Lesser Company. —When we think of the companions of Jesus we usually think of the twelve, but the circle was larger than this. We read of large numbers who went with him. John tells us of a crisis when many of these disciples Walked no more with him" (6. 66). The reference is plainly not to the believers who were simply occasional hearers, but to those who had for a while joined his company. There were women among these followers, some of whose names we know: '^'Mary that was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuzas Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others" (Luke 8. 1-3). A number of these, like Joanna, must have been well-to-do, as they helped to provide for Jesus and his company. Mark tells us that these courageous women followed him on the last journey to Jerusalem, and were present at the cross. Two of these he mentions by name (Mark 15. 40, 41). Of this larger group the twelve formed the inner and permanent center.
Conditions for Joining. —What did Jesus demand of men as a condition for joining his company? It is interesting first of all to see what he did not require. He did not use any outward form, not even the rite of baptism required by John. Whatever the reference in John 4. 1, 2 may mean, there is no suggestion anywhere that Jesus himself baptized or asked the twelve to baptize those who wished to follow him. He did not require any statement of belief, not even the confession of his Messiahship, for this he did not openly declare until late in his ministry. W^hat he asked was very simple, "'Come, follow me.'* And yet the demand was searching enough, far more than what we commonly ask of men to-day. First of all, while he set up no creed, yet he asked for faith, that men should receive his word as a word from God and trust in him. He asked for the eager heart and the open mind, anxious to accept the truth. It was a narrow gate of childlikeness, of humility and trust. Hence these were called disciples; that is, learners. They accompanied Jesus in order that they might better learn his teaching. In the second place, this simple "follow me" meant obedience. These men and women were not simply learners, but followers. Repent and believe, he said. Repentance meant "about-face." They were to hate the old evil and turn their face toward the Kingdom, that rule of God which he was bringing. To say, "Lord, Lord," meant nothing; it was those who did the will of his Father who were to him brother and sister and mother (Mark 3. 35).
Companions of the Road. —There was, indeed, one outward sign of this discipleship in that these followers "walked with him." The phrase suggests the special character of this group. They did not, of course, include all those who believed on him. Some of them, the twelve, he had called for a special purpose; others were with him that they might receive fuller instruction or might serve him. The Gospels suggest that Jesus gave such special instruction not simply to the twelve, but to the larger group, explaining to them more fully the truths of the Kingdom which he brought to the multitudes in brief parables. This larger group was changeable. Only a few, like the women who followed him to Jerusalem, could afford to stay a long time with him; and some of the time, as when he had to flee Galilee, it seems that only the twelve accompanied him. It was from this larger group that Judas' successor was later chosen (Acts 1. 21).
The Call. —There was a certain masterfulness in Jesus' way with men. "He calleth unto him whom he himself would; and, they went unto him" (Mark 3. 13). It was the voice of one who spoke for God and had the right to command. He bids the brothers leave their nets and boats, and Levi his place of business. He commands this man to leave the dead unburied, he tells another that he must not look back when his hand is on the plow, and summons the rich young ruler to sell all his property. The men of the inner circle of the twelve Jesus himself selected, and most of those of the larger circle seem also to have come at his request. Others asked permission, like the scribe of Matthew 8. 19 and the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5. 18, 19). Some, like the last-named, he did not accept; the Gadarene was to be his disciple, but to serve him in his home town. Some, on the other hand, refused his call, like the rich young man whose possibilities Jesus saw and whom he craved for this special relation (Mark 10. 21, 22).
The Purpose and the Method of Jesus
The Twelve. —It is when we come to the smaller circle of the twelve that we see most clearly the purpose and method of Jesus. The choice of the twelve was apparently made gradually, with at least a brief time for acquaintance and testing. Five were settled upon almost at the beginning : the two pairs of brothers, Andrew and Peter, James and John, and the tax gatherer Levi. Later the full number of the twelve was completed. Undoubtedly there were some outside the twelve who stood very close to Jesus as friends, but this was the definite and permanent center of his following.
The Purpose. —Mark states clearly and simply what Jesus' purpose was in thus choosing the twelve: ''that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth" (Mark 3. 14). It very soon became clear that Jesus could not do much with the multitudes that came to him. They were quite ready to gaze at wonders, to eat loaves and fishes, and even to acclaim him as Messianic King if he should give them occasion. But that was not what he sought. What he needed was to move men to repentance and by patient teaching to show them the meaning of the Kingdom. The crowds gave little opportunity for such teaching and made little response to it. It was clear that he must begin with a little company and through them reach others. Jesus himself seems to have seen that from the beginning.
The Threefold Task. —Three tasks awaited Jesus with this little company. He must instruct them. They had caught a vision and answered his call; he had stirred their souls and they trusted hem. But the Gospels tell us frankly how slow they were to see. They were still Jews, with minds filled with the thought of an earthly kingdom. Line upon line, precept upon precept, he must give them the new message, until the time should come when they would proclaim from the housetops what now they were learning in secret. The next task was to train their souls. Dreams of selfish ambition went with their thoughts of the Kingdom, and we see these cropping out almost to the very last. Judas, it would seem, fell a prey to the temptations that came from such ideas, betraying the Master who would not seize a crown. These men needed to learn the spirit of Christ; the kingdom of the Spirit could be established only by men whom that Spirit filled and controlled. And the final task was to make clear and sure their faith in himself. They had trusted him and followed him, but that trust must issue in a clear and definite faith. They must learn to know his place in the Kingdom and his meaning for men. Only thus would they be ready to bear witness, and it was for this end that he was training them (Acts 1. 23; John 15. 27). Such was the purpose of Jesus in that training of the twelve to which he gave so large a part of his ministry.
The Method: Teaching and Fellowship. —The method of Jesus is a lesson to his followers for all time, and especially to parents and all that train the young. It was first the method of the teacher. Patiently, persistently, over and over again, with changing explanation and illustration, he taught them the lessons of the Kingdom, what the spirit of the Father was, what should be the life of his sons. His speech was that of their daily life, his pictures were all from the world they knew; the farmer, the merchant, the housewife, the little incidents in their own circle, all yielded their lesson. But beyond the method of the teacher was that of the friend. Hand in hand with this teaching, enforcing it, illustrating it, transcending it, was personal fellowship. It was more than an example lived before them: it was a life that he gave them. He poured into their lives his own faith and courage and strength, his love and patience and pity. We say of Jesus that he gave his life on the cross; he had been giving it through all these days. The lesson stands out for all who would serve: it costs life to save life.
The Results. —The results of this work did not appear at once. These were not saints whom Jesus chose, they were just men in the making. But he who chose them knew what was in them. That was true even in Judas' case. Those qualities in Judas which had led the company to choose him to carry their common funds and arrange their practical affairs Jesus himself must have seen and valued. The eleven were slow in learning. Again and again he calls them "little-faith" men. But they met the test at last. Only one failed the Master. Men are not machines. The highest power of heaven will not avail unless the soul of the man makes answer. And the answer from Judas was wanting. But the method of Jesus did not fail. We can measure the success of the method by what these men became and by what they did. These men who had been so fearful stand up as fearless witnesses in the city that put their Lord to death. The men who had been selfish and ambitious seem to lose every aim and desire but that of service, and some of them seal that service in the martyr's death. The men who were so slow to understand became the world's teachers of a new spiritual faith. All that we know of Jesus' words is what these men stored up in their hearts. The matchless picture of his Spirit and life has come to us through them alone, a picture which no man could have handed on except as the Spirit of Christ was in his own soul. The Christian Church of nineteen centuries has rested upon the foundations laid by these Galilsean peasants, whose only training was in the school of the Master.
Their Life Together. —Of the actual daily life which the twelve lived with their Master we have little detailed knowledge. We know that they were friends and that they shared all things. Where Jesus went as guest, they went. There was a common purse for their needs. In Galilee, at least, they would not lack for hospitality. The disciples were not necessarily poor. Peter and Andrew and James and John came from homes where there were some means. There were contributions too that came from friends, like the women noted above, and in that simpler day and sunnier clime their needs would not be great. Sometimes they may have slept beneath the open sky. Their journeyings, of course, were all on foot. Their usual food was of the simplest kind. But they shared it, and what a rich life it must have been! What talks there were along the way! What vision of gracious deeds! But more than all was the simple presence of that Spirit, of that life, where they saw wrought out
Long centuries have passed, but our hearts still thrill at the thought of that great friendship, that matchless privilege.
The Meaning of Friendship to Jesus. —There is yet another aspect of this fellowship, and that is what it meant to Jesus. We are so wont to forget the simple human life of Jesus. Nothing speaks to us so convincingly and so appealingly of this, as Jesus' friendships. He wanted these companions for the work of the Kingdom, but he wanted them also for his own sake. He needed sympathy not less, but more than other men. He was no mere master and patron; he was a friend, the incomparable Friend of all the ages. But friendship expressed his own need as well as theirs. "With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer," he says on that last night when he was so loath to let them go. And then he adds a little later, thinking back over the days now nearly ended which he had spent with these loyal friends, "Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations" Luke 22. 15, 28). A few hours later, in the agony of his last conflict, he turns to these same friends for sympathy (Mark 14. 37). Thinking of him thus as a friend, we shall readily understand why he had his special friends within and without the circle of the twelve. Within are Peter and James and John, whom we find him calling to himself in the great crises of his life (Mark 5. 37; 9. 2; 14. 33). And then there are such homes as those of Peter in Capernaum and Mary and Martha at Bethany, to the latter of which Jesus seems to have gone more than once as to a haven of peace.
Directions for Study
We are trying in these first chapters to gain a picture of Jesus' life and work. Sum up the outstanding ideas that have come from the last three chapters, and let them form such a picture: the wandering preacher with his earnest, joyous, yet searching message; the crowds that gathered; the wonderful healings; the ministry to the sinners and Jesus' association with them. Now we are to add another and most important feature to the picture: the circle of followers about Jesus.
Read over carefully the Scripture passages: Mark 3. 13-19; Matthew 10. 1-16; Luke 10. 17-20; 8. 1-3. Note that these passages refer to the inner circle of the twelve and their sending forth, and to the women as representative of the larger circle.
In reading the narrative, try first of all to form a picture of the group of Jesus and his disciples and the life which they lived together. Picture them upon the road. Can you not see Peter in the lead, and John nearest to Jesus? Did Judas walk by himself?
Study next the question of Jesus' purpose in having this circle and the method he used. How far do we need that method to-day?
Consider what this fellowship meant to Jesus and what it meant for the disciples.
Finally, try to state what this company and Jesus' work with them meant for the church and the world.
What qualities does Jesus show here which make him the ideal friend?