Mark 3:13-15

Meditations in Mark by Kevin Youngblood

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. Mark 3:13-15

The gospel reading for yesterday’s evening office caught my attention and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. The words “and he went up on the mountain” stood out to me as never before as I read about Jesus’ selection of the twelve apostles. This is such an important moment in Jesus’ ministry that I doubt anything about is accidental or insignificant, including his choice of venue. Why did Jesus ascend a mountain before summoning the twelve he had chosen as apostles?

I think the reason may be that Jesus is recreating the scene from Exodus 19 – 20 where the twelve tribes of Israel first arrive at Sinai and enter into covenant with YHWH. YHWH was very insistent that no one even touch, much less climb, the mountain he had chosen for his first formal address to Israel as his new holy people. Indeed, the prohibition was reinforced with the threat of death by stoning whether human or beast. YHWH’s point in making this strict prohibition, I think, was to emphasize that he must take the initiative in establishing a relationship with Israel. He does not want a repeat of Babel where human beings took it upon themselves to construct their own sacred mountain and to climb their way up it to reach God on their own terms. Rather, YHWH will descend the mountain and dwell among the people in a tent non unlike the ones in which they live during their desert sojourn. Furthermore, Sinai was a prototype of sacred space and was therefore divided into three zones (corresponding to the tabernacle’s three sections: the court, the holy place, and the most holy place). Thus Israel who was clean but not holy as were the priests had to remain at the foot of the mountain. Moses (and only Moses), however, as prototypical high priest, could ascend to the peak of Sinai which corresponds to the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies.

However, now that God has descended to us even more decisively and intimately in the flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth, a dramatic change occurs. The new Israel here represented by the twelve apostles are invited to climb the mountain and join Jesus, the new Moses, at the peak of the mountain. Jesus has now granted access to the very presence of the Father through the veil of his flesh. Thus, the apostles may ascend the mountain as a new priesthood through the perfected high priesthood of Jesus. Unprecedented intimacy with God is now available in Christ for the people of God beginning with the apostles but extending to all those who are filled with the Spirit and therefore sanctified to stand in God’s holy presence. Is it not amazing how much theology is packed into one little, seemingly innocuous verse? It is not just the devil that is in the details, but the divine as well.


We praise you for descending Sinai to dwell with your people Israel. Thank you for taking the initiative in reestablishing covenant with us after we had rebelled so defiantly. But, oh what grace we see in Jesus’ summoning of the twelve to join him on the mountain top! What access to yourself you have granted us in Christ! Even before the veil was torn from top to bottom, your Son was already hinting at what was to come. Thank you Lord Jesus for the perfection of your high priestly work that has removed every barrier and broken down every wall both between humanity and God and between the various races, sexes, and classes of human beings.  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for coming upon all flesh and uniting us in one body in the Lord Jesus that we might all share in this new intimacy with the Triune God by the grace and foreknowledge of the Father, by the atoning death of the Son, and your sanctifying and uniting work, Holy Spirit.