Stories of the Saints :: Digging Deeper

The Twelve
Jesus’ mission was, and is, to set people free from the consequences of sin and give to them all the benefits that come with having a restored relationship with God. Those who believe that He is who He said He was, and who believe that His work was done for them, are called His disciples. Today we will focus on this concept of being disciples of Jesus, and take a specific look at the twelve men that He chose to be a part of His earthly ministry.

see, the list of Jesus’ disciples was a group of men that no one would have ever put together, let alone chosen to be the closest students and friends of the Messiah. The call of those first disciples is much the same call that Jesus gives to us today: “Follow me”. His call is more than an invitation; it is a summons. It carries weight and authority, and it is impossible for a person to ignore. By faith a person can respond positively, or with a hard heart a person can respond negatively. But either way, a response is required. And anyone who becomes a disciple of Jesus cannot help but see life in a new way.

So who were these twelve?
Jesus chose twelve men to be his close disciples. They are listed numerous times in Scripture4, and to say they are a varied lot is putting it mildly. Jesus likely chose twelve in number to mirror the twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament, giving yet another indication that the old covenant was being fulfilled in Him and through Him. You can read the list of names and learn a little about each disciple in the Gospel accounts and in the book of Acts, but there are a few things that we want to make special note of here:   In each list, Peter is listed first and Judas Iscariot last. Though all Twelve had equal standing before Jesus and none held any rank higher than another, Peter, James, and John became somewhat of an inner circle5.  Peter has been called the “first among equals”, trying to describe that he was equal with all the others in rank, yet still functioned as a leader and spokesman.  Judas is last, and is generally mentioned as the one who betrayed Jesus. Clearly, the Scriptural writers did not “save the best for last” in their writing.

Disciple is an odd word
Before we consider “the Twelve”, it would be helpful to consider this word disciple. It is not a common word in our culture. In fact, the only two realms where it seems to be used widely is in the Christian church and in the world of martial arts. On the whole in our culture, it is simply a foreign word and concept. At its root, the word disciple essentially means “learner”. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish teachers—rabbis—would have disciples, students who learned the ways of their rabbi. We might be tempted to simply relate it to our culture’s system of school. But it would helpful to resist that temptation, because the systems look very different. And therefore a disciple/learner is not simply a school student, such as we might envision. Looking at Jesus and the Twelve as an example, the rabbi-disciple relationship went far beyond receiving lectures, taking notes, and writing exams. It involved going through life together in a way that we just don’t experience in our educational systems (save perhaps for home-schooling). When Jesus said, “Follow me” to his twelve chosen disciples, He wasn’t simply saying, “learn my philosophy of life”. He literally meant for them to follow—to leave their homes and ways of life to take up a new way of life, traveling and ministering alongside of Him.1 And even further than that, to become His friends. As we shall

The group includes a wide variety of men—fishermen, tax collectors, even a member of the Zealot party. Imagine Simon the Zealot and Matthew together in one close group! As a Zealot, Simon would have been involved in working to overthrow Roman rule. Matthew was collecting taxes from his fellow Jews for the Romans. One could not have chosen a more potentially explosive relationship. The only way this group ever would have come together would have had to have been through some extraordinary influence. They are also a rather unimpressive group. There are no “professionals”, noblemen, or such. They were absolutely “average Joes”. In fact, Scripture makes a point of this multiple times, at one point being intentional about mentioning that the only worthy line on their résumés was that “they had been with Jesus”.

Stories of the Saints

So what does this mean for us?
Jesus chose twelve unlikely men to be the apostles who become those who are foundational8 to our faith as believers in the 21st century. Could it be that He is still doing the same today? Consider these questions on your own and with some others this week:   Have you ever felt unworthy to be called a disciple of Jesus? Does it help to know that even the 12 apostles were “nobody special”? What does it say about Jesus that He would choose people like those “ordinary, unschooled men” to be involved in the greatest kind of work there is?  What encouragement can you take from knowing you don’t have to be a “superman” in order for Jesus to call you to discipleship?  In your life, have you ever had an experience where following Jesus meant changing the way you see the world? The way you see your life, or the lives of others?  As you consider Jesus’ call to follow Him, what are your greatest struggles in that? What are the things that don’t feel that hard to do? What does it mean for you that Jesus calls His disciples not servants, but friends?

The Disciples
(To accompany the Sermon on June 3, 2012)