Note: Many of the ideas for this message were taken from John MacArthur’s book, Twelve Ordinary Men.
- Praying (Luke 6:12)
- Choosing (Luke 6:13)
- Ordinary Men
- The Apostles (Luke 6:14-16)
Decisions. Decisions. When was the last time you faced an incredibly important decision in life? I’m not talking about what kind of ice-cream to have at Baskin & Robbins, but important decisions. Maybe it was a career or financial decision that could potentially make or break your entire future. Maybe it was a family decision such as who to marry, or how to train your children. Maybe you are facing such a decision in your life right now. Maybe it is causing you stress and worry. You have thought about it, prayed about, talked with others about it. You have weighed the pros and cons. The deadline for the decision is looming, but you just cannot make up your mind. The night before you must make the decision, you decide that the best thing you can do is eat a good meal, and then get a good night of sleep. The next day, you make the best decision you can, and hope that you made the right one.
Imagine, however, if it wasn’t just an important decision for your life, or for your financial future, or for your children’s lives, but instead for the future of the whole world. Imagine if your decision would determine the future of every person on the face of the planet. Kings and presidents sometimes face these sorts of decisions. The decision to drop the Atom Bomb was that sort of decision. But what if the decision was not only for the future of all the people in the world, but also for their eternal future? The decision you made not only affected their lives here and now, but also their eternal lives after they leave this earth. No human ruler has ever had to make that kind of a decision.
In Luke 6, Jesus is face with this sort of decision. He has come to earth to show and teach people what God is like and have an everlasting relationship with God. He only has three years of ministry, and by Luke 6, almost half of that is gone. He knows and realizes that one of the things he must do is pass on the essential truths of why He came to a few people who then in turn pass it on to others after He is gone. For over a year, He has been gaining hundreds of followers, but He knows that most of them have not clue about who He really is, or why He truly came. So He must choose out a few to teach and train so that they might continue to minister to others when He goes back to heaven. The eternal weight of the world is on His shoulders, and He must choose a few good men to pass that heavy weight to their shoulders.
Imagine what it must have been like when this plan was explained to the angels in heaven. They have observed humans. They know what we are made of. They know how weak and faulty we are. Can’t you just imagine Gabriel saying, “What if they fail – as they all do? What if they don’t pass on the message like you want them to? What if they pass it on, but their descendants don’t? I hope of you have a plan B, because you’re going to need it.” But there is no plan B. Those whom Christ chooses are the only plan there is. So what an important decision it is for Jesus to choose wisely.
Which is why, when we come to Luke 6:12, we see that Jesus prepares Himself as well as He can for this incredibly important decision. And the amazing thing about it, is that unlike us, He doesn’t get a good night of sleep. When we face a difficult decision, or a rough day ahead, we think the most important thing is to get a good night of sleep. Jesus, on the other hand, realizes that the most important thing for Him is to be in touch and communion with God. The most important thing for Jesus is to spend the night praying.
I. Praying (Luke 6:12)
Luke 6:12. Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
Jesus is not only praying for the choice he must make the next day, but also for the healing (Luke 6:17-19) and teaching (Luke 6:20-49) He would do. Jesus always makes prayer his number one priority, because without prayer, His ministry would have no power. Did Jesus think carefully about His choice? Certainly. Did he watch his disciples interact with one another and base his decision on that? Of course. But prayer and communication with God was the primary step in making such a decision. John Bunyan once said that “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” Jesus knows this, which is why whenever we see Jesus facing a critical decision, or an important action, he spends extra time in prayer. Prayer becomes more important for Jesus than food or rest. Prayer was His spiritual lifeblood. It is His wide open secret to being connected with God.
Are you facing an important decision? Are you worried about a choice you must make? First, pray. Second, pray. Third, pray. Think about the decision, then pray some more. Get Biblical input, then pray some more. Get Godly advice from other Christians, then pray some more. “Prayer is not a substitute for work, thinking, watching, suffering, or giving; prayer is a support for all the others.” Do what Jesus does. He prays all night, and then when it is morning, He goes out and makes his choice.
II. Choosing (Luke 6:13)
Luke 6:13. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:
We often think of the twelve apostles as the only disciples Jesus had. But that is simply not true. He had hundreds, if not thousands of other disciples. Out of them, He chose twelve to pour most of His time, energy and attention into. The twelve are named apostles, which means “sent ones.” The question though, is why did He pick twelve, and why these twelve? At that time, when a teacher wanted to focus his time and energy on a few specially selected students, the teacher would pick only one or two, at the most three students to train. If you have ever done any serious discipling, you know that adequately teaching and training even one person is almost a full time task. But Jesus picks twelve! Why twelve?
The main reason is probably because Jesus was picking men to rule in His kingdom. He was, in a way, inaugurating a new Israel in Himself. Originally, the twelve tribes of Israel were to rule over the nations, and they will again one day, but with the twelve apostles ruling over the twelve tribes (Matt. 19:28). Before that happens, Jesus has something new to establish – the church. And the apostles will be the ones to help establish it. When Jesus picks twelve, he was indicating to them and everyone else, that these were the ones who would help Him rule when He came into His kingdom. They represented a whole new Israel.
This would be a great encouragement to them when they faced trials and tribulations later in life. It can be a great encouragement to you also. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, you also will rule. You cannot be an apostle, but you can be a disciple, and many passages in the Bible tell us that Jesus Christ is calling you to be His disciple. If you respond and follow Him, you will later be given the right to rule with him (Luke 19:11-27). Not to the same level as the apostles, but still in a very special and significant way. By picking twelve, Jesus was reminding the apostles that if they followed Him faithfully, they would rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. We need to be reminded that if we follow Him faithfully, we too will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. There is great motivation and incentive in that Biblical truth.
You say, “Yeah, but I’m not disciple quality. Jesus wouldn’t pick me.” Guess what? These twelve Jesus picked weren’t quality either. We sometimes elevate them and put them on pedestals, but they were human just like us.
B. Ordinary Men
They were perfectly ordinary in every way. Not one was known for being scholarly or well trained in the Bible. Not one was a great speaker, writer or theologian. None of them had outstanding talents or abilities. To the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, failures of faith, and bitter resentment toward others. Even the leader of the group, Peter, was forever sticking his foot in his mouth. In fact, at times, Jesus is amazed at how slow they are to learn and how spiritually dense they are (Luke 24:25).
Furthermore, we see from them that God loves variety. There is not one perfect mold that all Christians must fit into. Some of them were fishermen. Two of them, one a tax collector and the other a religious zealot, under any other circumstance, would have been trying to kill one another. Some of them were brothers to one another. Some of them were married, some single. Some were probably craftsmen and tradesmen, or maybe farmers. Don’t ever think that you don’t qualify to be a disciple of Christ. If these men qualify, you qualify. Though these men may not amount to much in the eyes of the world, they are exactly what God is looking for.
I found a humorous letter in my files which shows this. It is a fictional letter written to Jesus from the Jordan Management Consultants. Jesus apparently is looking for some coworkers, and has submitted some names to these management consultants who write back with their recommendations. It reads this way (I edited it down):
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man.
Sincerely, Jordan Management Consultants
You see? God’s way of doing things is not man’s way. According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, God chooses the humble, the lowly, the weak and the meek. He doesn’t choose the strong and the talented, the powerful and the rich. He chooses those who would never be chosen so that when He works powerfully through them, everybody knows that only God could do such things. The people we would pick are not the ones God picks. If you feel like you are not qualified to be a follower of Jesus, then you are just right. If you feel, however, that you are just what God needs, then you may have some things to learn before God can start using you.
So Christ picked these twelve to show that He was choosing some rulers for His kingdom, and He also picked these twelve to show us that we don’t have to have great training or popularity to be one of His disciples.
What is most curious about Christ’s choice is that at first, it seemed these apostles had nothing to do but follow Jesus around and listen to His teachings. They thought they were going to be put to some grand task, and given some great responsibility, but all they did was sit around, go to parties, watch Jesus interact with other people, and listen to Him teach.
Similarly, when you first become a follower of Jesus Christ, it may seem that God is giving you nothing significant to do. It may seem that Jesus has called you to be his disciple, but then He forgot about you, or doesn’t have any true purpose for you to fulfill. But this is because, frequently, God’s first will for your life is to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Before you can live like Jesus, you must learn from Jesus. Before you can do His will, you must know His will. If it seems like you are not being used by God, then you should take the opportunity to patiently learn from God. There is nothing wrong with sitting and learning, as long as you are willing and ready to go when Jesus says, “Go!” In fact, he will not send you, until you have learned what He wants you to know.
Even once they were trained, they were not perfect. After their training was complete, the first night on their own, they all deserted, betrayed and denied Jesus Christ. Afterwards, some of them even tried to go back to their original occupation of fishing, but they failed at that too…until Jesus showed up and got them back on course (John 21). To be a disciple means first and foremost to be a learner. A lot of people think that following Christ is all about doing what Christ would do. That is why we had that fad a few years back where everyone bracelets and T-shirts that said “What Would Jesus Do?”
The problem is that we cannot do what Jesus would do, unless we first become like Jesus, and we cannot become like Jesus until we know Jesus. Not “know” Jesus as in “I know about Jesus” but know Jesus as in “I know Him as if he were my best friend.” And the only way you can become the best friend of Jesus is by spending lots of time with Him. That’s what he wants from you. He doesn’t want you to do great things for Him. He wants to do great things for you and through you. But the only way that is going to happen is if you get to know Jesus. Listen to Him teach. Ask Him questions. Watch how He deals with people. Let Him encourage you, lovingly correct you, and patiently instruct you. As you go through this process, He will eventually give you an assignment. First a small one, then larger and larger until you will be amazed at the things God is doing through you. But it all begins with sitting at His feet and learning.
This is what these twelve apostles did. And that is why God used them in such great ways. Let’s look at them one at a time to learn a bit more about their lives and ministries.
III. The Twelve Apostles (Luke 6:14-16)
A. Simon Peter
The first name on the list of apostles is Simon Peter. He was a fishermen by trade, but left his work to follow Jesus and become a fisher of men. He was married (Luke 4:38; 1 Cor. 9:5), but we don’t know if he had any children. His original name was Simon, but Jesus gave him the nickname Peter, which means “rock” or “stone.” Maybe this is because he was built like a rock, although sometimes we are tempted to think it is because he was as dense as a rock.
However, what is so curious is that as a man, Simon was not at all like a rock. He was brash, vacillating, impulsive, unsubmissive and undependable. He would make bold promises that he couldn’t follow through on. He was one of those people who would jump wholeheartedly into something, and then bail out before finishing. He was often the first one in, and the first one out. Maybe this is why Jesus gave him a nickname. Jesus is in the business of taking who we are, and transforming it into who He wants us to be. Jesus takes this unstable man who always acts before he thinks, and steps into every pothole, and truly does transform him into a rock. The Peter of the Gospels is a completely different Peter in the book of Acts.
You can see these two personalities at war with each other as you read through the Gospels. As you read the gospels, notice that sometimes Jesus calls him Simon, other times it’s Peter, and a few times it’s Simon Peter. As far as I can tell, Jesus calls him Simon whenever Jesus is about to rebuke him, Peter whenever Jesus is proud of him and Simon Peter whenever he is living up to his potential. As a Christian, you have two names also which represent two natures at war with in you. You are a sinner and a saint. Sometimes the sinner in us pops out, and Jesus has to correct and rebuke us. Hopefully, as we progress in the Christian life, the saint becomes more and more dominant. This will happen naturally as we follow Jesus and allow Him to teach and mold us into what He wants.
Peter is also well-known for his denials of Jesus, but after Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus made sure to let Peter know that he was still loved, accepted, and forgiven.
The Bible doesn’t tell us how Peter died, but Jesus did predict that Peter would be martyred (John 21:18-19). Church history indicates that he was first forced to watch his wife be crucified. As she was led off, he called out her name and said, “Remember the Lord.” When it was his turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die in the same way Jesus had died. Peter is a wonderful man in Scripture and all of us can identify with him at times. He is an amazing picture of a transformed life – of what God can do through one person who is willing to be used.
Next on the list is Andrew. This was Simon Peter’s brother. In Scripture, he is often in the background, but whenever he does appear, he is leading people to Christ. In fact, Andrew became Christ’s first disciple, and the first thing he did as a disciple was lead his brother, Simon, to Christ. However, after this point, he lived in his brother’s shadow. His name is rarely mentioned in Scripture. But Andrew was content to not be the center of attention. We never see him getting resentful about the attention his brother or some of the other apostles receive. He was pleased to do what Jesus wanted him to do whether he received recognition or not.
Andrew appears to be almost exactly the opposite of Simon Peter. Whereas Peter was always speaking and acting before thinking, Andrew always thinks before speaking or acting. He was probably the most thoughtful of the group. He is one of those men who rarely speaks, but when he does, he speaks with clarity and deep wisdom. Andrew wasn’t a wimp, though. His name means “manly” and he was certainly just as strong as his brother since both were fishermen. Andrew was the strong, silent type. He originally was a disciple of John the Baptist, but when Jesus appeared on the scene, Andrew began to follow Him instead. Andrew was smart enough to recognize the Messiah when he appeared (John 1:29-42).
While Peter often steam rolled over people, Andrew was careful in dealing with people. He fully appreciated the value of a single soul. It was Andrew who brought the little boy with five loaves and two fish to Jesus when all the other disciples were telling Jesus to send the crowd away to buy food in the village. Andrew saw the possibility of a miracle when the others saw nothing but problems (John 6:8-9). Later, some Greeks come and want to see Jesus. They ask Philip if they can see Him, and Philip doesn’t know what to do, so he asks Andrew. And Andrew says, “Of course they can see Jesus,” and he takes these Greeks to meet the Savior (John 12:21-22).
As far as we know, Andrew never preached a sermon. Never founded any churches. Never wrote a book of the Bible. Outside of the Gospels, he is never mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Tradition says he took the Gospel north. First to Scotland, and then over into what is now Russia. He was ultimately crucified near Athens, Greece. He was crucified on a saltire, which is an X-shaped cross. The reason for his crucifixion is that he led the wife of a Provincial Roman governor to Christ, and when she refused to recant her devotion to Christ, her husband had Andrew crucified. By most accounts, he hung on the cross for two days. While he hung there, he constantly proclaimed the Gospel to those who passed by, pleading with them to believe in Jesus for eternal life. He was an evangelist, right to the end.
Peter may have received more fame and recognition than Andrew in Scripture, but Andrew was introducing people to Jesus before the thought ever crossed Peter’s mind. Every church should be blessed with several Andrews. People who thoughtfully, carefully, gently, quietly bring people to Jesus.
James is the next apostle on our list. He, along with his brother John, was a son of Zebedee. The way Zebedee and his family are portrayed in Scripture lead us to believe that their family was very prominent politically, religiously and economically. In other words, they were rich, powerful, well liked and well known. And James was the eldest son of Zebedee. What does that mean? He was the heir. When Zebedee died, James was in line to receive the entire inheritance. But by following Jesus, he gave all that up. Why? Because he was passionate and zealous about Jesus. He was passionate about Jesus almost to a fault. Did you know that you can be almost too passionate about Jesus? You say, “No, it’s not possible!” Yes, it is. James was so passionate about Jesus, that when a certain city did not receive him, James said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54).
James became so zealous about Jesus, he lost his passion for people, and became almost bloodthirsty. Being passionate about Jesus is good, but it must not cause us to hate those who reject Jesus. James became so intense and fervent in his love for Jesus that he sometimes got carried away by it. James was also ambitious and overconfident. It is James and his brother John who, at the prodding of their mother, tried to gain prominence over the other disciples. They went before Jesus and asked if they could have the thrones on either side of Him when He entered into His kingdom. Remember that their family was very influential, and so maybe their mother, whose name was Salome (cf. Mt. 27:56 and Mark 16:1), thought this was the way things were done.
Jesus tells them that there will be a lot of suffering for Him before He receives His throne, and if they want to share in His glory, they must also share in His suffering. And their answer in Matthew 20:22 reveals amazing overconfidence and ambition. They both say, “We are able.” The other disciple later heard about this request, and they got upset about it, and the debate carried on all the way until Christ’s last night with them at the Last Supper (Luke 22:24).
“James wanted a crown of glory; Jesus gave him a cup of suffering. He wanted power; Jesus gave him servanthood. He wanted a place of prominence; Jesus gave him a martyr’s grave.” He did suffer for Christ. He was the first apostle to be put to death. Acts 12 tells us that King Herod had James beheaded. History tells us that as he was led off, he witnessed to the one who held his chains, and that man also became a Christian. Both of them were then led off and beheaded at the same time. This shows us that the zeal and passion of James had been tempered. The old James would have wanted his captors to be struck dead on the spot. The new James witnessed to the who held his chains.
Are you passionate for Jesus? That’s wonderful. May we all be more on fire for Jesus. But make sure that your love for Jesus doesn’t cause you to lash out in anger at those who reject Jesus. And make sure that your zeal doesn’t make you think you are better than other Christians.
The younger brother of James was John. Together, Jesus nicknamed them “The Sons of Thunder.” That is a fitting nickname for James, and for John also. John was right there with James when James wanted to call down fire from heaven. John also went along with the request to become the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Like his brother, John was passionate and zealous for Jesus. One time, John rebuked a man for casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38). The reason? That man was not part of their group. If he wasn’t part of their inner circle, he shouldn’t be doing things that only they were privileged to do. That’s was John’s view of things anyway. He was a bit narrow-minded, unbending, and aggressive – just like his brother James. But also like James, as John sat under the teaching of Jesus, he changed. He radically changed. He never lost his passion, but it became balanced with the truth. Zeal is good, but zeal without knowledge of the truth is destructive.
So when we come to the writings of John in the Bible, we see that for him, everything is black and white. Light and darkness. Good and evil. There aren’t many gray areas with John. When you read the book of 1 John, he sets one extreme against another all the way through, and then tells us to pick sides. So he always kept his zeal for the truth, but Jesus taught him to balance it with love. This is why John is known as the beloved disciple, or the disciple of love. Prior to Christ, he was zealous for the truth. From Christ he learned to balance the truth with love. This is why John’s writings are some of most well loved in all of Scripture. He presents the truth in a loving manner. He teaches that God is love, that God loved the world so much that he sent his son to die for us, that God loves Christ, and Christ loved his disciples and wanted to show them the full extent of his love, that we should all love one another, that love fulfills the law. Love is a dominant theme in John’s writings.
John was the only apostle not martyred for his faith. He was exiled to Patmos where we received the Revelation of Jesus Christ. But late in life, he was allowed to go to Ephesus where he died in A. D. 98. It is said that he was so frail, he had to have men carry him to church. And during those last years of his life, one phrase was constantly on his lips: “My little children, love one another.”
Philip, the fifth apostle named, is the odd one out. Philip was different than Peter, Andrew, James or John. He is not talked about in Matthew, Mark or Luke, but John tells us some about him, and it appears that Philip was the proverbial bean counter. He was a facts and figures guy. He was practical and always wanted to do things by the book. He was narrow-minded and often obsessed with pointing out why things couldn’t be done rather than finding creative ways to do them. Philip was first called to be a disciple when Jesus found him listening to the teachings of John the Baptist. When Philip realized that Jesus was the Messiah, he went and told his best friend, Nathaniel, that they had found the Messiah. This is very similar to what happened with Andrew and Peter. This indicates, by the way, that friendships and family relations are the most fertile soil for evangelism.
But over in John 6, we find that Jesus has attracted a crowd of 5000 men, which means there was probably fifteen or twenty thousand people, and they are all getting hungry, so Jesus turns to Philip and asks him where they can get bread to feed the people (John 6:5-6). The text clearly says that Jesus asked Philip this to test him. It is very possible that Philip was the one in charge of arranging meals and making sure that Jesus and the disciples were fed. Judas, we know, was in charge of the money, but Philip was apparently in charge of acquiring and distributing food. John indicates that Philip had already been counting the heads and running the tallies in his mind. In John 6:7, Philip says that two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread to give everybody even a little bit of food. Philip had already seen Jesus heal people and turn water into wine, but when Jesus asks him how they could feed the people, Philip only says that it cannot be done. But he forgot that with God, all things are possible, as Jesus shows him that day by feeding everybody with only five loaves and two fish.
Later, as we saw with Andrew, some Greeks come to see Jesus, and Philip appears to be flustered by their request. He doesn’t know proper protocol. He doesn’t know what he should do. He digs through is stack of papers and doesn’t see a written policy on what to do when Greeks want to speak with Jesus. So he goes to Andrew and asks him instead, and we saw what Andrew did – he just led them to Jesus.
The final event revealing Philip’s character is in the upper room during the Last Supper. For his entire ministry, Jesus has been saying how He and the Father are one, and if you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. Jesus was constantly trying to get them to understand that He was God, and if you know Him, you know the Father. Jesus repeats all of this in His upper room discourse, at which point Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and it will be sufficient.” He can’t think outside the box. Basically, Philip is saying, “Jesus, stop talking about all this gibberish about you and the Father being one. If you want to show us the Father, just show us the Father.” Jesus chides Philip for such a statement and tells him again that He and the Father are one. But Philip could not quite grasp how this could be. He was too practical. Too down to earth. Philip, like the other apostles, was a man of limited ability. He was skeptical, analytical, reluctant and unsure. He wanted to go by the book all the time. He wanted a policy on everything. He wanted facts and figures and statistics.
And yet, these are the kind of people God uses. People like you and me. Imperfect. Slow to learn. Full of doubt. History tells us that Philip was stoned to death only eight years after James was beheaded (Philip the apostle is not the same as Philip the Deacon in Acts 7, though both were stoned). But before Philip was stoned, he led multitudes to Christ through his preaching. He probably always kept facts and figures and numbers within easy reach, but he learned that God is bigger than the numbers, and God does not go by statistics.
F. Bartholomew (Nathaniel)
Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, was Philip’s closest friend. Nothing is said about Nathaniel in the Bible except for one little bit in John 1 when Philip comes and says that they have found the Messiah. Nathaniel responds by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” This reveals some sort of prejudice in Nathaniel’s heart against the people of Nazareth. Nathaniel was from Cana, which was not too far from Nazareth, and so maybe there was some sort of rivalry between the two towns. We do know that Nazareth was a rough town, with mostly uneducated and unrefined people. Almost everybody in the region of the Galilee looked down on the town of Nazareth. Nathaniel was no different, and initially was appalled that a man from Nazareth could be the Messiah.
But Philip doesn’t try to convince him, he just says, “Come and see for yourself.” And Nathaniel does. Although he had some prejudice in his heart, he doesn’t let it get in the way of the truth. The remedy for prejudice is an honest look at reality. He allows Philip to lead him to Jesus to see the truth for himself. This is why Jesus, when he sees Nathaniel, says, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit” (John 1:47).Nathaniel says, “How can you know this about me?” and Jesus responds, “I saw you under the fig tree when Philip called you.” Jesus, though he was nowhere near Nathaniel physically, tells Nathaniel where he was when Philip showed up. This revealed to Nathaniel that Jesus was not an ignorant man from Nazareth, but was the all knowing Son of God. Nathaniel throws out his prejudices and believes in Jesus.
That’s all we know about Nathaniel from Scripture; just his calling. But what a calling it was. He recognizes something about Jesus that takes many of the other apostles years to learn. Tradition tells us he went to Persia and India to spread the gospel. Some accounts say he too was crucified. Others says that he was tied up in a sack and cast into the sea. Nathaniel was an upright citizen and good Israelite. His only flaw was that he had some prejudice against people from Nazareth. But one encounter with Jesus changed that.
G. Matthew (Levi)
Matthew, on the other hand, was far from being a good Israelite. As a tax collector, he was a seen as a traitor to Israel. We learned quite a bit about Matthew in Luke 5 when Jesus called him to be a disciple, so we don’t need to say much more about him, because after he accepted the call, we don’t know much more about him. We know that he had a heavy burden to share the Gospel with his fellow Israelites, because he wrote the Gospel of Matthew, which is specifically written to Jews to show them that Jesus is the promised Kingly Messiah. Tradition says he ministered among his Jewish brethren for many years before he was burned at the stake.
Thomas is often nicknamed Doubting Thomas, though this nickname is found nowhere in Scripture, and is probably not the best name for him. He was more of a brooder than a doubter. He had a tendency to see the negative side of things. He anticipated the worst in everything. We learn this from what is written about him in the Gospel of John. Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus had been sick. Jesus waits until Lazarus dies, and then gathers his disciples to go to Bethany. The last time they were in Bethany, Jesus had made some enemies in high places who were now plotting to kill him. The disciples all know this, but it is Thomas who speaks up. He says in John 11:16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” There is the pessimistic, the glass-is-half-empty Thomas. But at the same time, it is heroic pessimism. Thomas was sure they were all going to die, but he was going to stick with Jesus anyway. It’s easy to be pessimistic, but it’s not easy to be courageously pessimistic. Yet Thomas was.
We see something similar in John 14. Jesus tells them that he is going away so that they can come be with him. And Thomas speaks up again, and says, “Lord, we don’t even know where you are going. How can we know the way?” This reveals that Thomas’ worst fear was that he was going to be left behind by Jesus. He was ready to die with Jesus, but he doesn’t want Jesus to leave him behind. That’s a wonderful trait to have. But then his worst fears were realized when Jesus died and Thomas didn’t. His whole world came crashing down. He probably wanted to give up and throw in the towel. He probably went into depression. He felt abandoned, lied to. Jesus didn’t go away. He died. Maybe this is why Thomas wasn’t in the upper room with the rest of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them three days later. Maybe he was off wallowing in his own misery. Some people, when they are sad, they get together with others who are sad. Some just go off on their own.
So when the disciples come and start excitedly telling him that Jesus was alive and had risen from the dead, he is not convinced. He says that unless he sees the nail prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side, he will not believe (John 20:25). This is why he has been named Doubting Thomas. But the other disciples didn’t believe it either until they personally saw Jesus. Mary Magdalene, remember, was the first one to see Christ after His resurrection. When she went and told the disciples, they didn’t believe her (Mark 16:10-11). It is only after Jesus appeared, and showed them his hands, his feet and his side that they believed. They were all slow to believe. They all initially doubted.
Eight days later, Thomas was with them in the upper room, and Jesus appeared once more. He went straight to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here, look at my hands. Reach your hand here into my side” (John 20:27). Thomas was pessimistic, but his doubt was provoked by grief, uncertainty and the pain of loneliness. The Lord is so gentle with him. As he is with all of us when we doubt. Jesus, because He became human, understands our weakness. He sympathizes with our uncertainty. Thomas never doubted again after this. He took the Gospel to India. When I was there, back in 1996, there are churches scattered all over that claim to be founded by Thomas. There is even a grave in Madras where he is said to be buried. Like his fellow apostles, he died a martyr by having a spear thrust through his side. A fitting reminder of how he came to believe.
I. James, the son of Alphaeus
The only thing Scripture tells us about this ninth apostle is his name. Here, we learn that he is the son of Alphaeus, which incidentally, is also the name of Matthew’s father (Mark 2:14). So there is a possibility that Matthew and James were brothers, although it is just as possible that they both had different fathers with the same name. The only other thing we know about James is that in Mark 15:40, he is called James the Less, which could also be translated as “Little James.” This is probably because the other James, James the son of Zebedee, was rather large and strong. This James was probably smaller in stature.
Other than this, Scripture tells us nothing. History doesn’t tell us what he did, where he went, or how he died either. But like the other apostles, he too will be ruling on one of the twelve thrones in the New Kingdom. This shows that you can serve God for years, and nobody will see you, nobody will thank you, nobody will praise you or give you public recognition. But God sees, and will reward what is done in secret.
J. Simon the Zealot
Simon the Zealot is the tenth apostle. The Zealots were a fiery, religious-political organization whose primary goal was to overthrow the Roman occupation of Israel. They hated the Roman government and anybody remotely associated with it. Their primary method of contending with the Roman government was through terrorism and covert violence. I suppose it would be much like the Muslim organization of Al-Qaeda. They were militant, violent outlaws. They recruited and trained a group of secret assassins called sicarii – which means “dagger-men” because of the deadly, curved dagger they carried hidden in their cloaks – and killed Roman politicians and soldiers by slitting their throat, or stabbing through the back to pierce the heart.
It is men like Matthew the tax collector that Simon normally would have loved to kill. Matthew may have been quite nervous around Simon for quite some time. But both Simon and Matthew were transformed by being with Christ so that they could worship the Lord side by side. It would be like a U.S. Soldier and an Al-Qaeda operative worshipping Jesus together. Wouldn’t that be a testimony to the transforming power of God?
Though Simon may have originally joined Jesus for political reasons – he thought Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government – somewhere along the line, Simon’s hate filled heart was overthrown and he became a devoted follower of Christ. History says that he took the salvation message to the British Isles where he was killed for preaching the Gospel.
K. Judas the son of James
Eleventh on our list is Judas the son of James. This is not Judas Iscariot. This Judas is also known as Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus (Matt. 10:3). Both names are probably nicknames. Thaddaeus would be close to calling someone “Mamma’s Boy” and Labbaeus means “heart child” which probably indicates he had a tender, childlike heart. This heart is revealed in John 14, the only place where this Judas is mentioned. Jesus has just said that he will reveal himself to those who love him. And Judas Thaddaeus Labbaeus asks, “Lord, how is it that will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Judas has found something so wonderful in Jesus, it is hard for him to imagine that the world might miss out.
Isn’t that just like a child? Almost every time I tell my daughter Taylor that I love her, she says, “And love Selah?” You see, she knows how great it is to be loved, and she wants others to feel that love also. That is the heart of a child, and that is the heart of Judas, the son of James. He was tender and compassionate, and having experienced the love of Christ himself, he wanted to know why Jesus wasn’t going to reveal that love to the entire world.
Jesus tells Judas in John 14:23 that He would reveal himself to anyone who loves Him. Tradition says Judas carried the love of Christ to what is now the country of Turkey. There are numerous accounts of how he healed the king of Edessa, and had great impact among the people there before he was beaten to death for his faith. We have seen eleven faithful apostles. All of them completely different men. Different personalities. Different temperaments. Different skills and abilities. Different backgrounds. They reveal that God can use ordinary people in remarkable ways.
L. Judas Iscariot, the traitor
The last name on the list, however, is one that we don’t want to be like. Judas Iscariot is often portrayed to be the greatest villain of all time. He is universally scorned. He committed the worst crime in history, ever – the betrayal of the innocent and perfect Son of God for a handful of coins. While the other eleven apostles are examples of how God can use common people in uncommon ways, Judas is a warning about the dangers of sin. And not just sin, but spiritual carelessness in the life of the religious person. Here was a man who spent years with Christ, but never grasped who Christ was or what Christ came to do. We think that Judas is the worse person in history, but I fear there are many in churches across America, maybe even in this church, that are in the same boat with Judas. You read your Bible. You pray. You attend church. You study the life of Christ. You fellowship with other Christians. But, like Judas, you are only in it for what Christ can give to you.
I don’t think Judas intended to kill Christ. In many ways, Judas was just like the other apostles, including Peter. Judas wanted the Roman government overthrown. He wanted Christ to be set up as King. He wanted to gain a throne for himself also. He had originally signed on with Jesus because he thought Jesus was going to pass out glory and honor and riches. But it never happened. They just kept getting poorer and poorer. They made more and more enemies. Judas was not getting rich the way he thought he would. He began to steal a few coins from the money purse now and then. After all, it was only a little bit, and he deserved it for all of his hard work. And Jesus just wasn’t doing things right. Jesus wasn’t operating the way Judas thought he should. So Judas decided to give Jesus a little nudge in the right direction.
It was a perfect plan. Judas would hand Jesus over the religious authorities and the government. When they threatened to kill Jesus, Jesus would defend Himself, and the long awaited revolt would begin! The outcome would be that Jesus would defeat all his enemies, and Judas and the other apostles would receive their thrones. Of course, on the other hand, if Jesus ended up not defending himself, then nothing really was lost, for all Judas had done was unmask a false Messiah, and Judas would then be in good standing with the rich and powerful rulers of the day. It was a win-win situation for Judas. There was just one problem which Judas failed to see. What if Jesus truly was the Messiah, but He had not come to rule and reign, but to serve? Judas must have heard this a number of times from Jesus, but he never quite grasped it. So because Judas never grasped what Jesus had come for, Judas tried to grasp at wealth and power instead.
There are a lot of people who come to Jesus only to see what they can get out of him. But they don’t really want what he is offering – namely, eternal life. They want their problems fixed, their bills paid and a new car in the garage. That’s the attitude of Judas. Because of this attitude, he lost a great opportunity and the privilege he could have otherwise had.
The twelve apostles were human, just like us. They had their strengths and weaknesses. They made their share of mistakes. Each of them is different, showing us that there is no one kind of person God is looking to use. He is willing and able to use all of us, if we are willing. But willingness is the key. There are many disciples who didn’t get chosen to be apostles, and many people who after following Jesus for a while, turned back. Some of them had too many responsibilities at home. Some of them didn’t like what Jesus was teaching. Some of them wanted to wait until they were rich. Then they could follow Jesus without worrying about food and clothing. Some of them had fields to plow and seed to plant, and a harvest to bring in.
As a result of all these things they thought were more important than following Christ, they missed out on the most important event in the history of the universe – God, coming in the flesh, and walking among us. These twelve followed him as disciples and were chosen for the greater privilege of being apostles. Just like us, they were not perfect; they had their flaws. But that is why God was able to glorify Himself through them.
He wants to do the same through you. Are you willing to be His disciple? To answer when He calls? To follow where He leads? To go where He sends? To listen to Him teach? To learn at His feet? You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be willing. Jesus is calling you to be His disciple. Will you answer the call? Notice that Jesus called his apostles publicly. He made sure that everyone knew that these men were going to follow Him. He does the same thing with His disciples in other places. He wants everybody to know who His disciples are, and He wants His disciples to make a public stand for Him. How will you respond? Will you stand up for Jesus and let everybody know that you are going to follow Him? If you do, and if you are faithful, He will give you greater spiritual blessings down the road.