Luke6v12to16: THE TWELVE DISCIPLES
(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)
Jesus' choice of twelve disciples is also dealt with in Mat10v1to4 and Mk3v13to15. Each gospel provides a little extra information about Christ's selection.
Jesus had come to a critical point in his ministry. Opposition was mounting and he needed to choose twelve men for special grooming as against the day when he left earth. Jesus was not going to write a book but entrust his legacy to 12 eyewitnesses to his remarkable life.
This exposition is all about the choice Jesus made. It was a:
(B) A prayerful choice.
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them ..... . v12and13.
Why did Jesus who, in John's words, knew what was in a man, need to pray all night about the selection of twelve disciples? The reason must be because the choice:
(1) Wasn't easy.
Jesus was selecting men for a leadership role in the early church. He had to choose some and reject others from among a sizeable number. We can see how hard it was if we read about the way Judas was replaced in Acts1v21to26. The Apostles couldn't decide between Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias. Both had been disciples from the beginning of Jesus public ministry. In the end the matter was decided by casting lots. See exposition on Acts1v12to26.
It is frequently difficult in secular or church life to choose between candidates for a post of responsibility. It is so easy to make a mistake. The wise Christian will always pray over the names he has to choose from. He needs to do the right thing - not just for himself or his organisation but also by the candidates.
(2) Was important.
Jesus chose twelve disciples probably because Israel had descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. The disciples were to be the founding fathers of the new people of God - the church. So it was very important to select the right men for the task. Much would depend upon them.
(3) Was problematic.
Jesus was choosing for the future. Jesus, in his humanity, could not foresee the future unless God the father permitted it. So Jesus could not be certain how any of his disciples would turn out. His choice of twelve to be his special representatives on earth involved an element of risk.
Jesus' chosen men all had mistaken views on how Messiah would establish God's kingdom. This meant any one of them could become disillusioned with Jesus. Peter was a risky choice. It was touch and go whether he remained true to Jesus. Judas was another risky choice. Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas might turn against him.
It is no wonder, then, that Jesus prayed over the decision he had to make. He must have thought about all his disciples - weighing up their strengths and weaknesses. Doubtless he prayed about each disciple by name. Jesus would have prayed for Matthias who was rejected as one of the twelve and for Judas who was accepted.
Jesus is an example to every Christian who has to discriminate between people whether it be job applicants or candidates for a church office. Decisions like this are difficult to make and yet crucial to the success of any organisation. How we need to pray humbly before making them!
(C) A discriminating choice.
Whenever we have to discriminate between individuals for any reason we should have criteria by which we make our decision. If we act on a hunch, on a whim or at the toss of a coin our choice is not a moral one. Indeed, our choices will only be as good as the criteria we employ to make them. My neighbour - Griff - used to be the sales manager of a marine engineering firm in the North of England. He told me one day how he used to select a secretary. He would ask applicants to list the shops found in the high street of the local town. He reckoned it tested their powers of observation! I reckoned it tested their love of shopping! It is not a test I would have passed!
We need to examine the criteria that Jesus used to make his selection of the Twelve.
(1) The criteria Jesus didn't use.
Some believers I know long for high status spokesmen - in the media, journalism or politics - to speak out for Christian values. Others arrange special meetings where celebrities, star attractions, give their testimonies, speak or sing. Jesus, right at the beginning of the church, did not depend upon people of high position or celebrities to get across his message. In my opinion, the testimonies of ordinary folk on BBC TV's 'Songs of Praise' are a most powerful witness to the saving power of Jesus.
(b) Political views. Simon the Zealot was in all probability an extreme nationalist who supported almost any action taken to discomfit the Romans. Today he would be called a freedom fighter - or terrorist. Matthew, on the other hand, was a pragmatist - happy to co-operate with the Romans in the matter of collecting taxes. He may even have argued that it was right for the Jews to pay for the benefits the Romans brought - good roads and law and order.
It is never healthy when Christianity is the monopoly of one political party. It is best when Christians are found in all parties. Christianity is never seen at its best, and often at its worst, when political power is sought for its own ends. During the reign of Henry VIII different Christian factions vied for political influence. When the traditionalists were in the ascendancy evangelicals were burned and when the evangelicals got the upper hand the traditionalists were burned. The close association of evangelical conservatives with the Republican Party in the U.S.A. is a disturbing arrangement.
(c) Personalities. Jesus' twelve disciples had very different personalities. Peter was impulsive, passionate but innately conservative. James and John, called by Jesus, 'The Sons of Thunder,' were boisterous, fervent but thoughtful. Thomas had a gloomy, pessimistic, intense disposition. Matthew was probably gregarious and methodical; Philip rather hesitant and lacking confidence; Andrew positive and enterprising. Needless to say there is room for all sorts of personalities in the life of the church. No-man's personality debars him from the Kingdom of God.
(d) Characters. Jesus did not choose men of perfect character to be his disciples - because, sadly, none existed. Every one of the Twelve had flaws. Peter longed to be well thought of. James and John were intolerant and selfishly ambitious. Judas was devious, secretive, blinkered and materialistic. Thomas could be self-centred and resentful.
If no-one is perfect we shouldn't expect it in candidates for office in church. So when selecting a pastor, deacon, elder, treasurer, secretary, youth worker and the like we should not be preoccupied by obvious flaws. The ones likely to cause most harm are those kept hidden. If we are looking for perfection in everything then we shall never choose anyone for anything.
(e) Aptitude and abilities. The disciples were slow learners. They didn't understand Jesus' parables or his veiled sayings. Whenever the Master referred to his death and resurrection the disciples were completely nonplussed. It was not in their scheme of things.
Some of the disciples had more ability than others. The ability of Peter, John and Matthew is very obvious; but of the others we read little or nothing in the Gospels or Acts of the Apostles. We don't know what contribution James son of Alphaeus or Judas son of James made to the early church. They are anonymous.
For every Elijah there are 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Elijah's contribution to the religious life of Israel was very evident. He was a dramatic, charismatic, confrontational figure. However, God knew that the unsung 7000, like the still small voice, exerted an influence too.
In the church today there are millions of 'unknowns' who may appear to lack any real influence but who together act like the salt of the earth.
(f) Spiritual maturity. The Twelve were not spiritually mature. They lacked understanding, they lacked humility and they lacked faith. The disciples were always getting into trouble - missing the point of Jesus' teaching - lashing out at people who were different - saying and wanting the wrong things. Yet Jesus chose and used them. So there is hope for us! We will make mistakes and get into muddles but if we truly hunger and thirst to do good we shall be satisfied.
(a) Teachable. None of the disciples was highly educated - although they could all probably read and write. This gave them an advantage over most of the population of England 1500 years later in the time of the Tudors! None of the disciples belonged to a religious party like the Pharisees. So they didn't come to Jesus with too much intellectual and religious baggage. The Twelve were open to new ideas. It is significant that they didn't go in for ceremonial cleansing, fasting or strict Sabbath observance.
Several of the men Jesus chose to be with him all the time had been disciples of John the Baptist. John describes in his gospel their reaction when Jesus introduces himself to them. They come across as idealistic, enthusiastic and longing for the Messiah to bring spiritual renewal. See exposition on John1v35to51.
The hardest people to convert to Christianity are academics, adherents to other faiths and the apathetic. Intellectual and religious baggage closes minds to the gospel. Apathy and indifference fail to engage with the good news of salvation.
Once we become Christians it is vital to remain teachable if we are to mature spiritually. Closed minds will stunt spiritual development. There is also the danger of an acquired taste. See exposition on Luke5v33to39.
(b) Belief. All the disciples, including Judas, believed Jesus was the Messiah who would establish God's kingdom. Unfortunately they had closed minds about the nature of the kingdom and this in the end was the undoing of Judas. However, none of the Twelve doubted that Jesus was God's anointed one. After Jesus' discourse on the 'Bread of Life,' many disciples turned back and no longer followed him. This prompted Jesus to ask the Twelve: "You do not want to leave too, do you?" John6v67. Peter replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." John6v68and69. Peter made this declaration in spite of his, and his fellow disciples, intense disappointment at the turn of events. They had such high hopes after the feeding of the five thousand when the crowd wanted to take Jesus and make him king by force. It is significant that following Peter's show of support Jesus said, "Yet one of you is a devil!" v70. Judas was by this time having serious doubts about Christ's intention - but still he remained one of the Twelve - he didn't defect with many of the others. See exposition on John6v60to71.
The men Jesus chose to be his intimate companions were committed to him. They believed Jesus was the way, the truth and the life. They proved faithful and courageous almost to the end. Peter and the other ten disciples were prepared to die for Jesus. After Jesus predicted his denial Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same. Mk14v31. I think Judas would have backed Jesus if he had resisted arrest and used his power to establish an earthly kingdom. They all stayed the course except Judas.
(c) Personal love and devotion. I am sure that the Twelve Jesus chose admired and loved him. They enjoyed being with him. Their distress at his crucifixion and joy at his resurrection is a sure measure of their devotion.
In the end what distinguished eleven disciples from Judas was that their love for Jesus exceeded their devotion to the cause. Judas may have loved Jesus. He did after all betray him with a kiss! But in the final analysis his commitment to Jewish nationalism was greater than his personal attachment to Jesus.
It remains crucial to our spiritual well being to:
(b) Believe in Jesus as Saviour, Priest and King. Our commitment should be unconditional. We should be like Paul who said: What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him .... . Phil3v8and9.
(c) Love Jesus - to love him more than anything else - the Bible, a body of doctrine, our church or a religious cause. The measure of our love for Jesus is our obedience to him.
(D) A purposeful choice.
Jesus chose his disciples for a purpose:
(1) To be with him all the time.
Mark records: He appointed twelve .... that they might be with him. Mk3v14.
Jesus chose the twelve to be with him for two reasons:
If Jesus required human companionship to accomplish God's will - so do we. Christians are always more effective working and praying together. We are built up in our most holy faith - strengthened and sustained - by the fellowship of kindred minds. Lack of fellowship in very small churches is a tragedy because it further weakens the weak and ineffectual.
(b) Discipleship. The disciples were learners. They were not exactly students of Jesus. A disciple has a very close relationship with his teacher. A student has several teachers but a disciple has only one. Jesus was the sole teacher of the Twelve.
There are many ways to learn:
(b) A craft can be acquired by watching how it is done and then trying it for oneself.
(c) But people can only be really known by living with them. It was supremely important for the disciples to know Jesus - to discover that he was full of grace and truth. Knowing Jesus the Twelve knew God. Even Judas knew Jesus sufficiently well to feel remorse that he had, in his own words, betrayed innocent blood. Mt27v4. Jesus could have left a written record of his teaching. He didn't do so because Christianity is not primarily about a commitment to Jesus' teaching but to his person. To become a Christian we do not so much believe in Christ's teaching as believe in him.
Our first priority as Christians should be to know Jesus personally. To do this we must spend time with him in private study, meditation and prayer - and also spend time in fellowship with those that love him.
An apostle was a messenger or ambassador. The Twelve were chosen to be Christ's representatives on earth after his ascension. The knew all about Jesus and were witnesses to his teaching, power, personality, life style and conduct, his death, resurrection and ascension. They were the source, the prime source, of the material in the Gospels. The 11 apostles informed the early converts about Jesus before persecution scattered them throughout the Roman Empire.
Christians today are not special in the same way as the apostles. We lack their authority but we remain Christ's representatives on earth. It is through us that others come to know and love Jesus. Not long ago the labour MP for Harrogate was interviewed on BBC TV's, 'Songs of Praise'. He became a Christian through the life and witness of a godly headmaster.
(3) To be heralds. He appointed twelve ..... that he might send them out to preach. Mk3v14.
The Greek word kerussein translated, 'preach', is derived from a Greek word meaning, 'a herald.'
The angels were heralds at Christ's birth; 'Hark the herald angels sang' goes the well-known carol. Peter and John were Christ's heralds when they said to the crowd that collected to marvel at the crippled beggar walking and jumping and praising God: "By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see. Acts2v16.
Heralds announce the king's presence with a blast on the cornets. It is not a timid or uncertain sound - anything but. The loud, clear, pure notes grab everyone's attention. So our witness should be clear, positive, proactive, and confident. We need to get people's attention. In this respect many Christians in Britain, including the author of this exposition, are failing.
Jesus made a good choice! The Twelve he chose admirably fulfilled his purpose for them. May we!!