Comrades in Arms
From the earliest days of His ministry, Jesus didn’t work alone. He chose humans to take part in preaching, teaching, and ministering. And though the four Gospels focus primarily on His life, death, and resurrection, they often do so in the context of His disciples, those closest to Him.
Thus, as the great controversy raged around Him, we can see it rage around the disciples, as well. Until the bitter end, when Jesus cried, “It is finished,” Satan found it impossible to make Jesus stumble and fall. Christ’s followers, however, were much easier prey. Their character flaws gave him inroads into them that were readily exploited.
Pride, doubt, stubbornness, self-importance, pettiness—whatever the flaws, these opened the way for Satan. Half of their problem was that they, having their own views of what they thought would and should happen, didn’t listen to what Jesus said would happen.
They had a lot of hard lessons to learn. So, no doubt, do we.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, February 20.
When one considers the incredible issue at stake in the great controversy, it’s amazing that Jesus would use human beings to aid Him in ministry, especially those as flawed as the ones He chose. Of course, if we consider the state of fallen humanity, no one He chose would have been without moral defects anyway.
Walking along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, followed by a crowd of people, Jesus noticed two fishing boats whose owners were cleaning up after an unproductive night. These fishermen were already aware of Jesus. He had taught in their synagogue, where He astonished everyone with His words (Luke 4:31, 32). Jesus had even cast out a demon from a man in their synagogue, and everyone was amazed (Luke 4:33–36). They had seen Jesus at Peter’s house healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38, 39), and later that evening, healing many others (Luke 4:40, 41).
It is no wonder that a crowd was following Jesus along the beach. Jesus stepped into Peter’s boat, asked Peter to push it out a little from the shore so that all could see Him, and then spoke to the people (Luke 5:3). When finished, He told Peter to throw his freshly cleaned net into the deep water. Peter surely thought that wouldn’t achieve anything, but out of respect for Jesus he did as He said.
Peter’s reaction is remarkable. Maybe it is parallel to Jacob wrestling with the angel—the same realization of Divine Presence, and an overwhelming sense of unworthiness (Gen. 32:24–30). One thing is clear. Peter became aware of his sinfulness because he knew that the Lord was there. His open confession of his sinfulness stands in stark contrast, for instance, to the reaction of some of the religious leaders, who referred to Jesus Himself as a sinner (see John 9:24) instead of acknowledging, even when in His presence, their own sinfulness.
When Jesus called the first disciples on the shores of Galilee, they had already witnessed His power over evil. They had seen Him challenge demons (Luke 4:34–36), heal the sick (Luke 4:38–41), rule over nature (Luke 5:4–6), reveal sin, and then reassure Peter there was no need to fear (Luke 5:10).
Some time later, after praying all night (Luke 6:12), Jesus assembled His followers (disciples), and from that larger group chose 12, calling them apostles. (Luke 6:13; the Greek word apostolos means “to send out.”) Before Jesus sent them out, He spent some time with them giving them instructions (Luke 9:1–5) that were similar to the details He gave to a larger group of 70 some time later (Luke 10:1–16).
How many times are modern disciples more eager to race off and work for Jesus rather than spend time with Him? The simple reality is that when we go out to fulfill the gospel commission, racing off with our own to-do list, we bypass the Savior of the world and try to replace Him with ourselves. It is too easy to have a “Messiah complex,” thinking it is up to us to save the world, forgetting that Jesus alone is Savior.
One would not be too hard-pressed to say that so much of Christian history has been soiled by those who, professing the name of Jesus, had not spent time with Him, had not known Him, and had not been changed by Him. The last thing our world or the church needs are those running around in the name of Christ who have not been “with Him.” One of Satan’s greatest ploys in the great controversy has been his ability to co-opt those who claim the name of Christ and to use them to defile that name. Hence, before sending them off, Jesus wanted these men to be with Him in order, no doubt, to learn from Him.
Though we don’t fully understand the degree to which Satan impacts the natural world, Scripture does reveal that his influence is there, such as seen in the story of Job (see Job 1:18, 19). Ellen G. White also tells us that, “Satan is even now seeking by disasters upon sea and land to seal the fate of as many as possible.”—In Heavenly Places, p. 348, another indication of his power in this area. Surely, amid the seeming ceaseless natural disasters that strike the world, we are seeing the reality of the great controversy play out here on earth.
In this particular story, after a long day of teaching, when evening approached, Jesus suggested that He and the apostles go to the less inhabited opposite shore. Partway into their journey a fierce windstorm struck them suddenly, and waves crashed into the boat (Mark 4:37). Jesus was so exhausted He lay sleeping in the stern, seemingly oblivious. With the disciples so occupied in battling the storm, maybe it was some time before they realized that Jesus was asleep.
Jesus doesn’t say anything when they first cry out to Him. He does not give any sermon to explain the predicament that they are in or suggest ways that the disciples can act to be victorious in the situation. He just stands up, raises His hand, and tells the wind and waves to settle down and be quiet, as if they are merely rowdy children.
At this the disciples are just overwhelmed with awe. They “feared exceedingly, and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!’ “ (Mark 4:41, NKJV).
Though the lessons are many here, with this story we can see the extent of Jesus’ power and, thus, our need to trust Him, no matter what.
This debate among the disciples was no doubt related to their views of the future. They thought that Jesus was going to deliver Israel from the Romans, restore the kingdom of David, and reign as its new king in all the glory that the nation experienced under King Solomon. When that would happen, they no doubt assumed that, as part of Christ’s inner circle, they’d have prominent and important roles to play in the newly restored kingdom. But even that wasn’t enough: they wanted to know who among them would be the “greatest” in the kingdom. If that doesn’t sound like the promptings of Lucifer, what does? (See Isa. 14:14.)
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this pathetic incident is its context. They were on their way to Jerusalem, where Jesus was about to be crucified. He had just explained to them that He was going to be betrayed, condemned to death, mocked, scourged, and crucified, and then rise again the third day (Matt. 20:18, 19). As soon as He finished saying all this, the question of who was greatest came up again. They did not even hear what Jesus had said. It was obvious that they were not listening. Interested in their own small-minded ambitions, they missed the large issues at stake, focusing on false concepts of an earthly kingdom that would never come and missing out on what Jesus was telling them about the eternal one that He was offering them through His own upcoming death.
It was the third day after Jesus’ death. His followers were still numb with shock. They thought He would crush the Romans, but the Romans had, it seemed, crushed Him instead.
Many disciples met together with the apostles after the Crucifixion. A group of women from their midst visited the tomb early Sunday morning. Luke names three of them, but there were others who had come with Jesus from Galilee (Luke 23:55; 24:1, 10). They returned from the empty tomb to tell the “eleven and. . . all the rest” of two men in shining clothes they had seen there (Luke 24:9, NKJV).
Luke records that on that Sunday afternoon two of Jesus’ followers walked the two-to three-hour journey from Jerusalem back to their home in Emmaus (Luke 24:13). It is likely that they were so engrossed in their discussion of what had happened over the weekend that they did not notice a stranger walking nearby. Maybe they would never have noticed Him if He had not entered their conversation by asking why they were so sad (Luke 24:17).
This question really fired up the one called Cleopas. He wondered how the Stranger could be so ignorant of all the things that had happened. “ ‘What things?’ ” the Stranger asked (Luke 24:19).
Notice that Jesus’ whole emphasis was on the Scriptures. Just as He resorted to Scripture in His battle with Satan in the wilderness, He goes to the Scriptures here in order to push back the darkness that these two were in. Only after He grounded them in the biblical teachings about Himself and His mission did Jesus then give them some powerful experiences to help buttress those biblical teachings: first, He revealed Himself to them, showing that He indeed had been raised from the dead; second, “He vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31, NKJV). Between the no doubt perfectly clear Bible study on the atoning death of Jesus, followed by these powerful experiences, these two had plenty of reasons for faith.
Further Thought: When here in the flesh, Jesus cast out demons (Luke 6:18), gave hope to the hopeless (Luke 6:20–23), showed people how to live out God’s agape love (Luke 6:27–49), healed the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:2–10), raised a widow’s dead son (Luke 7:12–16), stilled a storm (Luke 8:22–25), freed the demoniac at Gadara of his demons (Luke 8:26–39), healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years (Luke 8:43–48), raised Jairus’s dead daughter (Luke 8:41, 42, 49–56), and even raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been dead for four days (John 11:39–44). All that He did, and so much more, and yet people still struggled to believe in Him. “Even Christ’s own disciples were slow to learn and to understand. Notwithstanding their love for Him and their reverence of His character, their faith in His being the Son of God wavered. Their frequent reference to the traditions of the fathers, and their continual misunderstanding of His discourses, show how difficult it was for them to free themselves from superstition.”—Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 18, p. 116. Faith is a gift from God, but it is a gift that people can resist. And that’s because, as we have been warned, Satan is real, the great controversy is real, and the enemy works hard to cause us to doubt and disbelieve. Salvation is found through faith in what Christ has done for us; Satan knows that and thus will do everything he can to turn us away from that faith. Fortunately—and we must always remember this—Jesus is infinitely more powerful than the devil, and if we cling to Jesus, Satan cannot defeat us.