Do you want Jesus so that you can get other things—health, comfort, security, success, etc.—or is Jesus himself your greatest desire? Is Jesus the means to some other end, or is he himself the end? In this message from Mark 3:7–19, David Platt challenges us to consider whether we are part of the crowd or part of the called. The crowd liked what Jesus had to offer, but those who were called saw Jesus himself as their ultimate treasure and they lived to make him known.
Are You in the Crowd or the Called? Following Jesus – Part 9
If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open with me to Mark 3. Today I want to show you a clear contrast between two groups of people: the crowd and the called. I want to ask you, point blank which group are you in? We’re going to see in the next few minutes a large crowd of people who thought they were following Jesus, but the reality is they were not following Him. Then we’re going to see a small group of the called who experienced what it means to truly follow Jesus. I just want to ask are you in the crowd or called? I want to show you that your life today and your life for all of eternity hinges on the choice between the two.
We’ll see Mark 3, starting in verse seven. Watch specifically for these two groups:
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.
Then we see this other group, beginning in verse 13:
And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: 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.
Let’s just stop here and pray.
God, I pray that in the next few minutes You would open our eyes, every single one of us, to see if we are in the crowd or the called. I pray that in the next few minutes You would bring some, maybe many, from the crowd into the called. I pray that You would raise up groups like these in Mark 3 from all across this church—church groups that thrive on being with You and being sent out from You, around the city and around the world, to share Your love with others.
God, I know there’s nothing I can say to bring about any of these things. It’s only by Your Spirit that these things can happen. So I pray in the next few minutes that You would give us open hearts and minds to hear Your Spirit speaking to us and to respond. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
So how do you know if you’re in the crowd or in the called? What’s the difference between the two? I want to show you three characteristics of each group that I think will help you identify which group you’re in.
The crowd sees Jesus as a means to an end.
This first characteristic is something we see throughout Jesus’ life, as time and time again people who come to Jesus do so to get what they want. This crowd wants to be healed of their diseases. They want evil spirits cast out of them. So they press in around Him, trying to touch Him, in order to get what they want. It’s not that they want Jesus. They want these things—healing, deliverance, whatever it is—and Jesus is a means to those things. That’s clear because there are many points in the Gospels, specifically this Gospel of Mark, when Jesus doesn’t give the crowds all they want, so they leave.
This is so important, because we are all tempted in the same way to do the same thing: to see Jesus merely as a means to an end, or various ends, in our lives. We can even call ourselves Christians and create a whole picture of Christianity that merely uses Jesus as a means to get a variety of good things in our lives. Is that possible? It most definitely is.
Imagine you are stranded at sea, in danger of losing your life in the water. Then off in a distance you see a boat that’s coming to rescue you. Of course, you want that lifeboat to save you and you’ll gladly get in that boat in order to live. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you love the captain of that boat. It’s possible to love rescue, but not love the rescuer.
If we’re not careful, this is what our faith will consist of and what we’ll call Christianity: crowds of people who don’t want to go to hell and who will gladly take a supposed lifeboat to heaven, but when we look at our lives, it’s questionable whether or not we actually want the Captain of the boat. In other words, it’s possible for a whole lot of people to gratefully enjoy all kinds of good gifts from God, even thanking God for those good gifts, but when it comes down to it, our hearts are not actually for the Giver—our hearts are for the gifts.
Can I just raise my hand at this point and say that I have been guilty of this? I have been guilty of using Jesus as a means to an end in my life. I’ve shared with you before about a long season in my life, years ago as a pastor, when the church I was pastoring was growing a lot, many people were reading a book I had written, so I was getting invited to preach in all kinds of places around the country. I was loving it. But for a long stretch of time, when all those great things were happening on the outside, my time alone with God was essentially non-existent. Sure, I would pray in our worship gathering when I was preaching, but I would rarely be alone with God in prayer. I would study the Bible in order to preach a sermon, but I never studied it just to know God. It frightens me how successful I could be in the eyes of the church, and supposedly Christian culture around me, without any actual desire for Christ and how easily Jesus could become a means to an end for me.
Do you see how sick is this? I was using Jesus to build a growing church, a popular ministry and a good name for myself. I was using God to get what I wanted in my life and even in the church. I would have said I wanted God, but it was clear that I didn’t want God; I wanted His gifts.
The called realize Jesus is the end.
This is the difference with the called in this passage. In contrast to the crowds who saw Jesus as a means to an end, this small group of called realized Jesus was the end. Did you hear it in what we just read? Jesus called these disciples, not to get this or that from Him. He called them to do what? So they might be with Him. It wasn’t to get this or that from Jesus, but just to be with Him.
Is your desire to be with Jesus? This is true faith according to the Bible. Think of Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” In other words, “More than any other thing, I just want to dwell with God. That’s all I want. I just want to look at Him. I just want to talk to Him. He is all I want.:
In our family worship time two nights ago, Isaiah, our eight-year-old, told the parable of the pearl of great value. This man sold everything he had, Matthew 13 tells us, to buy one pearl, because it was worth more than everything else he had put together. We talked about how this represents Jesus, how He is worth more than everything else we have put together—even all the good things we have and enjoy. We discussed what are some things like that What are the good things that we’re prone to seek or look to more than God? Then we just started listing these good things: family, friends, football, a good reputation, money, possessions. Then we prayed, “God, help us enjoy these good gifts, but more than any of them, help us to want and treasure You.” This is where life is found—not in the gifts, but in the Giver.
Listen to James 1:12: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial”—in other words, walking through times when you lose good things—“for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who…” Those who go to church? No. Those who go through religious motions? No. Those who are good at family, friends, football, have a good reputation or a good job, have a good amount of money? “…[To] those love him.” This is where life is found: in love for God. That’s the whole point of what James says right after this: “You say you believe in God? Big deal. Even the demons believe in God. The question is do you know Him? Do you love Him?”
Remember Jesus’ warning about this in Matthew 7? He’s talking about the day of judgment that every single one of us will face as we stand before God one day. Jesus says, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Many will say, “I did all kinds of things in Your name,” but Jesus will tell many people on that day, “I never even knew you.” Just pause and ask do you know God? Your answer determines your life now and your life for all of eternity. Do you love God? Is looking upon and speaking to God the one thing you want? Or do you actually want a lot of other things in this world and Jesus is just a means to those things for you? Honestly look at the evidence of your life and ask if God is the end for you, or is God a means to the end for you?
Let me close this point by making it crystal clear. We have created—and many of you have been sold—an entire understanding of Christianity today that sees Jesus as a means to an end. “Come to Jesus and get ______.” Fill in the blank. In some settings, it’s, “Come to Jesus and get health. Come to Jesus and get wealth. Come to Jesus and get prosperity in this world.” Or maybe it’s just, “Come to Jesus and get peace. Come to Jesus and get joy. Come to Jesus and get abundance. Come to Jesus and get heaven.” None of those things are ultimately the message of the Bible.
The message of the Bible is, “Come to Jesus and get Jesus.” He’s the One we need. He’s the One we want. He’s the One from Whom all these things flow. They’re found in Him. He’s the Giver and we need Him. He’s better than all the best things of this world put together. The good news of the Bible is the One Who is better than all the best things of this world put together wants us.
The crowd follows because of all Jesus can do for them, but the called follow because they realize Jesus desires them.
The crowd came to Jesus because of all Jesus could do for them. That’s what Mark 3:8 said. They heard all that he was doing for so many people, so they came from everywhere looking for what He could do for them. But look at the called. They came because they realized Jesus desired them. Did you hear that language in this story? Verse 13 says Jesus goes up on a mountain and calls to Himself “those whom He desired, and they came to him.” They came—why? Because they realized this Man, Whom even the demons recognize was the Son of God—God in the flesh, the One with all authority over demons and diseases, the One with authority to give life—He desired them.
He was calling each of them to Himself by name. When we see the crowd, we see this whole list of places that goes on and on and on. We see “and” over and over again. This great crowd followed from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordon and from around Tyre and Sidon. All these were places where many people were coming from. That’s the picture we see with the crowd.
Then with the called we see the same language, however the emphasis is completely different. Jesus appointed, set apart, called 12 people, then we have their individual names: Simon, James and John, Andrew, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas and James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. Jesus desired each one of them—and they came to Him.
Do you feel the wonder here? Do you realize and feel the wonder of the reality that Jesus desires you? Not just the person beside you, in front of you, behind you. No, Jesus, the Creator and Lord of life, in Whom all joy and peace and love reside, the King over all the universe, He desires you. We know this because God has said so in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Jesus desires you, not to experience death, but to experience eternal life. This is the greatest news in all the world! I invite you to feel it, either for the first time, or maybe in a fresh way, personally, right where you are sitting.
You have been created by God, He’s formed you and made you who you are; you’ve been made for life with God. Yet you and I have sinned against God, turned aside from Him and His ways to ourselves and our own ways, to our own plans for our lives. But God loves you so much that He came to the world in the person of Jesus. He lived a sinless life, then died on the cross for sin. He rose from the grave so that you can be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God for all of eternity by trusting Him as your life.
God desires you so much that He gave His one and only Son so that you, by believing in Him, will not perish but have everlasting life with Him (John 3:16). Jesus desires you. God desires you. But you say, “You don’t know what I’ve done.” You’re right—I don’t know what you’ve done, but God does know all you have done and He still desires you.
This is the point: the crowd comes to Jesus because they hear all He can do, but the called come to Jesus because they’re shocked to hear that He desires them.
The crowd only focuses on what they can receive from Jesus, but the called ultimately realize they are representatives of Jesus.
Here’s the last distinction between the crowd and the called. The crowd only focuses on what they can receive from Jesus. I want to be careful in this description of the crowd, because obviously when we want Jesus and are with Jesus, there are so many good things Jesus gives—including peace, joy and life in heaven. There’s so much to receive from Jesus. But there’s a difference here between the crowd and the called, because the crowd only focuses on what they can receive from Jesus, but the called? They ultimately realize they are representatives of Jesus. Did you see it? The called come to be with Him. Now listen to the language here “So that they might be with Him and He might send them out to preach.” That word means to proclaim good news. Don’t think of just standing on a podium in front of a large group of people. Yes, I hope this is preaching, but this is also you sitting across the table from your family member, friend, coworker or neighbor, telling them the good news of how much God loves them. Jesus says, “I’ve called you to be with Me, then to go out and proclaim this good news—with My authority.” Right before this verse we read about Jesus’ authority over demons and unclean spirits, that He can tell them what to do and they do it. Jesus says, “I’m giving you my authority.”
As soon as we read this, we realize these “apostles” are obviously a special group here in Mark 3. The word literally means “sent ones.” They had a unique role to play in the founding of the church. But this call was obviously not just for them, which we know because of the words we say to one another every single week when we leave this gathering. Jesus said to all of His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
The clear implication is: “I’m sending you out with My authority.” That’s why it says, “Therefore, in light of that, with My authority, go and make disciples of all nations. Proclaim the gospel, lead other people to follow Me, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. Do this in all nations. I will be with you every step of the way.”
Do you see it? The crowd is only about what they can receive from Jesus. The called realize they have been sent out as representatives of Jesus. They’ve been called to be with Him and to go out proclaiming Him to the world around them. This is what we are called to do. So are you doing this? Are you going out into the city, or wherever God leads among the nations, proclaiming Jesus? That’s what this small group of the called in Mark 3 were becoming known for.
Look at this list of names. With the exception of Judas, who betrayed Jesus, all but one of these men would lose their lives proclaiming the good news of Jesus. It’s what the called do. In Jesus calling this group of disciples to be with Him and sending them out to share His love, Jesus was turning the world upside down. We realize this is where it all started.
There are thousands of us in just this church family alone, gathered together, singing the praises of Jesus, knowing the church started with 11 guys who went out proclaiming this good news. This was a world-changing force. Now, it didn’t look like a world-changing force. As we’ll come to find out, these guys were not the sharpest tools in the shed. But this is part of the genius that we see in Jesus. This is His strategy for reaching the world with the good news of His Kingdom and it is so counter-intuitive to the way we think.
If we want to take the gospel to the world, what do we think we need to do? We need to plan innovative strategies and plot elaborate schemes. We need to organize conventions, develop programs and create events. Draw the biggest crowds with the biggest names. Do mega-this and mega-that. But what does Jesus do? He strolls up on a mountain and calls a small group of ordinary people, whom He entrusts with His power to share life together, to become a family together, to spread good news together.
You know, this is a pretty challenging group. Look at this list of names. These guys didn’t naturally hang out with each other. There was a lot of immediate tension between them that certainly played out as they spent time together. I mention this because one of the dangers in showing a video to a church like I did earlier is that it shows the best sides of a church group. But what you didn’t see on that video, what didn’t make the cut in the film, were all the times when there was a screaming kid who wouldn’t be quiet. Or the parents refereeing their kids. Or when the group was meeting inside a home and they were scrubbing up catsup that had just spilled on the new carpet. Or the tension that the members of that group sometimes experienced with each other. Or those awkward moments in discussion when no one says anything; they’re just looking at each other. A video like that would probably be more in line with this group in Mark 3. All that to say, don’t be discouraged if your church group now—or the church group you join—is full of challenges.
We’re called to community and mission like this, not because it’s easy, but because it’s worth it, because we’re learning to care for each other like family—and who has the perfect, conflict-free family? We’re growing together to be more like Jesus, which always involves being stretched and learning to love people who are a little different from you, or maybe a lot different from you. We’re working together to lead more people to Jesus. That’s why the third goal of church groups—“Make disciples” —is so important. We’re not just receiving, we’re representatives of Jesus.
A few years ago we did a survey on a Sunday morning just like this and two-thirds of the people said, “I rarely, if ever, share the gospel with someone else.” The overwhelming majority of us were not doing it. Left to ourselves, that’s what happens. We just focus on what we can receive from Jesus, instead of realizing we’re representatives of Jesus. We need to be in groups where we’re encouraging one another to share the gospel and we’re doing that together.
Church family, this is happening. Let me tell you a few stories I heard this last week, then draw all of this to a close. One family in our city—parents in their 30s with three kids under 12—started watching MBC online during the pandemic. The mom and kids were interested, but the dad was not. The dad was not a follower of Jesus. They heard me mention opportunities to get involved in a church group, so the mom reached out and got connected with one. Their whole family, including the dad, went. By the fourth time they had gone to this church group, the dad came to faith in Jesus. The very next week, the same dad was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Fast forward ten months, hospice had been called in, then this dad was baptized in his house, with his church group around him. A week later, he was with Jesus. Do you know why he is with Jesus today and why he will be with Jesus ten trillion years from now? Because of God’s grace in a church group that cared for him like family and shared the gospel with him and brought him to Jesus.
Another story. Just this week I heard about a brother in a church group who works at Ace Hardware and who had been wanting to share the gospel at work, but he just lacked the courage to do it. He was talking with another church group member one morning, saying, “I need courage. Will you pray for me to have courage?” So the church group member prayed over him, that he would have courage that day. He went off to work and was having a conversation with a coworker. The way I understand it, they were talking about fruit for some reason, then somehow the conversation transitioned from fruit to the fruit of the Spirit. I’m not sure what the connection was, but somehow it went from bananas to love-joy-peace-patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness-gentleness-self-control. ell of a sudden, as they were talking about the fruit of the Spirit, his coworker starts asking questions about his faith. This man and someone in his church group had prayed together that morning, then that afternoon his coworker decided to put his faith in Jesus.
One more story. A church group heard about a Hindu family that was going through a rough time and needed to get into a new living situation. This church group helped a mom and her kids get into a new home, then as a house-warming gift, they gave them a Bible. This opened the door to a variety of conversations. Long story short, before long, the wife and her kids all decided to trust in Jesus and are now part of that church group.
Do you see it? This is what it means to be called. We get to be a part of introducing people to life in Jesus that will last forever. We should not sit here and think, “Now, do I have to do that?” You should think, “Let me run to that. I want to be a part of that. I want a life like that. I want to share life like that.” This is what it means to be called. This is what it means to be the church. This is why we call them church groups. It means we get to be with Jesus, alone and with family. We get to be with the Author of life Who has all authority in the universe, the One Who desires us so we can be better than this. Then we go out as His representatives with His authority, grace and love to lead other people to life.
So does what I just described describe your life? Don’t settle for being in the crowd. There are multitudes of people who are using Jesus as a means to an end, spending their lives focused on things they can receive from Jesus and missing out on the joy of being in the smaller group of those who are called to be with Jesus, who are invited to be sent out from Him. In other words, they’re missing out on what it means to actually be the church.
Let me close with some great news about how this is playing out in our church family. We’re gathered right now here in Tysons, Loudoun, Prince William and Montgomery Counties, but starting next Sunday at 9:00 a.m., for the very first time we will gather also in our own building right in the heart of Arlington. A group of called men and women will gather there to be with Jesus and to be sent out into that part of the city to proclaim Jesus. Watch this video with me.
Video: What’s going on, everyone? I’m Eric. Welcome to the new location of MBC Arlington. We are here in the courthouse neighborhood, right in the heart of Arlington. We’re looking forward to and planning on having our services here, starting on November 21 at 9:00 a.m. We are excited about all that God will do through His people in this location. We’ve spent a lot of time renovating this space and realize this building actually speaks to a deeper spiritual reality. Let me explain.
Our location is on the bottom floor of an eleven-story building, in which many different people from many different walks of life and many different organizations are working. When you go out and look around, you see many people spending their days at many different places, like high-rise apartment buildings, bars, gyms, movie theaters and restaurants. At the bottom of this eleven-story building, on the corner of Courthouse and 13th Street, God has placed a local church, McLean Bible Church Arlington. We feel like this speaks to even a deeper spiritual reality that beneath all of this activity, there’s the reality of God in this world. He’s beneath all our work, all our living, breathing, striving and longing. As Paul said to the people at Areopagus, “In Him we live and we breathe and have our being…” (Acts 17:22-34). So many people don’t realize that God is the reality beneath it all. Our role here in this city is to make God known. I want to invite you to pray along with us that God will use this church for His glory, that many people will come to know Him, that His glory will be made known from this small location here in Arlington and that we’ll branch out to the four corners of the globe. Will you pray with us? And if you live in the area, we want to invite you to join us in this work. We’ll be here November 21 at 9:00, worshiping King Jesus together. I look forward to seeing you guys soon.
David: If you are near Arlington or want to be a part of what God is specifically doing there, I invite you next Sunday at 9:00 a.m. regardless of where you are, who are you and which group are you in? I want to urge you today, based on the authority of God’s Word, do not stay in the crowd. Don’t live in the crowd. That’s not life. True life is found here among the called, trusting Jesus as your life, as the One Who desires you and Who is better than all the best things of this world put together. He is the end.
Please bow your heads and close your eyes, just to focus for a moment. Put out all the noise. It’s just you before God right now. Which group are you in? Maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, I’m definitely in the crowd. I’ve been in the crowd my whole life.” Or maybe you’ve drifted back into the crowd in ways like I described earlier in my life. I want to invite you, maybe for the first time or in a fresh way, to pray right now. Say to God, “I need You. I want You. I trust that You are better than all the best things of this world put together. I’ve sought stuff in this world, but I find myself coming up empty. God, I trust today that You are fullness, that You are life, joy and peace. It’s all found in You.”
Just say to God, “Please forgive me for turning to all these other things. I trust what Jesus has done on the cross to pay the price for all my sins and to make it possible for me to be in a relationship with You. I trust in Jesus as the Savior and Lord of my life. As my life, I trust You.”
As you pray that, know that You’re praying to the God Who desires you. He loves you and desires to satisfy you in ways that supersede everything else in this world.
God, we praise You for Your desire for us. We pray that You will forgive us for all the ways we have sought You as a means to an end, as if there’s something better, more satisfying or more fulfilling than You. We pray that You would forgive us for how we have exalted Your good gifts above You as the Giver of those gifts. We pray that we would live this called life. I pray this over every single person within the sound of my voice, even as I pray this over my own life.
God, help us live out of the overflow of Your desire for us and Your love for us, seeking You as the end. Change our hearts, that we can say, “One thing I seek. I just want You, God. To live is Christ. You’re my life.” May we come together, God, as You raise up groups all across this church family who enjoy being with You, who enjoy going out with Your Spirit and Your authority, spreading Your grace among so many people around us. We know they need Your grace and love.
As You did in this group of apostles in Mark 3, would You do the same in our church family? May You multiply the gospel in ways that are shaping lives for all eternity. God, we pray all these things with overwhelming gratitude for Your grace in our lives and Your glory as the Giver of every good gift. We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people said, “Amen.”