We are sharing a series of posts that will coincide through our Community Group study in the book of Mark. We created a free reading guide that outlines a plan for studying the book in its entirety. Find this free guide here, and join the conversation in the Community Group here. Today we'll see how Jesus rescued his disciples from themselves and their sin, and how he rescues us, his children.
Following the True Rescuer
Before Jesus returned to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God, he left his followers with clear instructions. “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). These are the last recorded words we have from Jesus. We have the final sentiments from the only man to live a perfect life, die an undeserved death, and fulfill the will of the Father to redeem his broken people.
Prior to this, Mark’s account describes the time between Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane on Thursday night to the moment he was taken up into heaven some days after his resurrection. We see that before hearing Jesus’ final instructions to share the gospel, the disciples had to truly understand the restoration and rescue Jesus offers. But how would they know this? By seeing—and living—their need for that restoration and rescue. They had to experience firsthand their complete inability to carry out the instructions to go into all the world and share the gospel on their own accord.
The Disciples’ Fear and Failure
The night before Jesus was arrested by the religious elite of Jerusalem, he drew away to the cool, quiet of the evening in the garden of Gethsemane to pray. This was nothing new for Jesus, nothing he had not practiced his entire life, and throughout his public ministry. An intimate, active relationship with his Father had always sustained Jesus’ work. On the night before the final assignment of his life, he kept the same pattern.
He asked only one thing of his disciples: “Sit here while I pray” (Mark 14:32). But they could not keep their eyes open. Their desire to sleep was stronger than their will to watch and pray. Three times Jesus asked them to stay awake. Three times he found them sleeping, ignorant of the urgency behind Jesus’ request.
Within the hour, every one of these disciples left. They ran from Gethsemane in fear for their own lives. Meanwhile, Jesus was marched to the place He would give up His.
Coming Up Short
Before the morning came, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus—three times.
James and John are notably absent from the scene in Mark’s account. This leaves us to wonder where they were and what they were doing with the guilt that they “could not watch one hour.”
A stranger, Simon of Cyrene, had to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha. None of his disciples were there to help, even though they had sat under their Rabbi’s very own words about doing that exact thing. Jesus challenged them to pick up their crosses and follow him (Mark 8:34).
Jesus took his last breath and the centurion looked on in awe as he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). At the same time, the disciples were experiencing what far too many of us experience in times of difficulty. They were gripped by a fear of man, idolatry of self-preservation, and sin nature that, without help, would keep them running from Jesus forever.
But then, after three days in the grave, Jesus returned to them. The disciples touched the holes in his hands. They heard his beloved voice again. At that moment, we can only imagine that every teaching they had heard and each miracle they had witnessed was beginning to make sense. It was all about Him and the miracle of redemption. They received the gift of a new heart that only Jesus could give—promises made and kept by God.
As believers, we would do well to recognize the pattern of discipleship left for us in Scripture. The disciples knew what they had been taught over the three years they spent with Jesus. They even saw firsthand the miracles, the wonders, the awe-inspiring events. And yet they still fled; they still denied. Because what they may not have fully grasped until they lived it was the truth that they were the rescued ones, too. The message they would be charged to go and preach is the message that had to save them first.
We do not know every detail of the conversations between Jesus and his disciples when he first returned to them after the resurrection. However, we can only imagine the tears Peter must have cried as his eyes met Jesus’. They both knew about the denials, the rooster crows, and the fear.
We can only imagine that James and John were finally able to tell him, “Rabbi, now we see, now we understand why you asked us to watch and pray for you!” Imagine what the disciples truly felt when they finally grasped that Jesus had to die. They realized their own sin and depravity cost him everything. It finally made sense how Jesus paid it all and all to Him they owed. We can only imagine their new determination to pick up their own crosses and carry them.
The weight of their rescue was finally real to them.
A Life Redeemed
These disciples lived redemption as they saw Jesus do what He said he would do, even though they had deserted him. They would preach redemption all the more because of it.
The Lord still had work to do in the disciples’ lives to strengthen and embolden them to go and make more disciples. This work included giving them the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But the lessons from the four days covered in the last chapters of Mark are as important to us today as they were two thousand years ago. When we see all of what happened from Jesus’ arrest and death to his resurrection and ascension, it helps us understand the Great Commission. This call to go and make disciples begins not with our own work, but with what Jesus did for us. It begins with profound gratitude that we have been rescued.
Kept by Grace
As you “go and make,” consider how you would answer these questions:
- Do I believe in my own ability? Or do I believe Jesus will work through my obedience, not my aptitude?
- What will sustain me when it gets hard, when I fail, or when I am exhausted?
- Will I remember all the head knowledge I have? Or will the weight and gift of my rescue keep me going?
The thing that will preserve Jesus’ saints to the end has nothing to do with us and everything to do with the keeping grace of God. This grace mercifully reminds us that we are only stewards and not the producer. That’s a good thing to stand on, because the smaller we are, the bigger He is. And when we go and make disciples, we want to show the world a big God who is mighty to rescue those who call on Him.
Meet the Author:
Katie Blackburn is a wife, mother of five, writer, teacher and learner. She is saved by grace, and sustained by cold brew coffee and early mornings at her kitchen table. You can find more of her writing on faith, special needs, foster care and anything else God is teaching her about at katiemblackburn.com or on Instagram at @katiemblackburn.