Grace For The Journey
We reach a point in Luke’s Gospel where the ministry of Jesus Christ becomes more up-close and personal. While He will continue to speak to crowds and minister to large numbers of people, Jesus selects 12 men for a 3-year course of intimate instruction that in quality surpasses the highest educational degrees offered by today’s finest seminaries. Jesus selects 12 men to serve as apostles, men specifically called by Jesus to be sent on a mission as messengers of the Gospel. One might ask, “Why study this list of disciples? Why not just read the names and then “get on with the action?!”
There are at least a couple of reasons why we should slow down here and consider what this text teaches . . .
- First, the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is profitable in instructing us and equipping us as children of God, so we know it is wise to pause when reading any text and consider what it might be teaching us, even a seemingly “random” list of information.
- Secondly, Luke tells us that Jesus’ calling and selecting these 12 men to follow Him was no small decision, but that it is a decision that comes after much prayer. Luke writes in verse 12 that Jesus went out to a mountain to pray “and continued all night in prayer to God.”
We have read previously of our Lord’s prayer life, Luke having told us in the previous chapter – Luke 5:16 – that, “He himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” It should not surprise us that Jesus is praying here in verse 12, but the text says that He “continued all night in prayer to God,” which really heightens the importance of the decision to call these 12 men.
When was the last time you spent “all night in prayer to God” about some decision? I am not sure I can recall a time I ever spent “all night in prayer to God.” Certainly, a long time in prayer, but all night? This prayer of perhaps 10-12 hours in length is extremely important to our Lord. So, before we even get into the list of the apostles, a number of us are convicted by the prayer life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One we claim to follow as our example. So often, it seems we find ourselves engaged in obligatory prayer. We know it is right to pray and we endeavor to begin our day in prayer.
Jesus engages not
In obligatory prayer,
But dependent prayer.
Preacher and writer Kent Hughes explains why this matters, “Too often we engage not in dependent prayer but in obligatory or routine prayer. (In John 15), Jesus didn’t say, ‘Apart from Me you can do something.’ Rather, He says, ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing.’” The next time we engage in our prayer time with God, let us remember the difference between obligatory prayer and dependent prayer. Let’s slow down and really think about what we are saying to our Lord when we pray and let’s acknowledge our dependence upon Him.
Jesus spent several hours in prayer with God. That is a remarkable thing to think about, the three members of the Trinity communing with one another, Father, Son, and Spirit all conversing as One! It really boggles the mind, but the point is that . . .
It is through these hours of prayer
That the decision to call these 12
Men is clarified and crystallized.
Verse 13 tells us the next day that Jesus calls the larger number of disciples to Himself and then from this larger number, He chose 12 whom He also named apostles, another name for the 12, a technical term that mean “one who is sent” or a “messenger.” What I want to do in our study today is consider these men Jesus called and to consider the parallels between these men and us. We are not apostles, but we are followers of Jesus Christ. Those of us who have been saved from our sin, have entered into a life of following the One who has called us. These verses we are going to study today serve as an encouragement, a warning, and a challenge to us.
Here is the first truth . . .
I. Be Encouraged: God Uses Ordinary People.
One of the first things that strikes us as we study the list of these 12 names is that there is nothing really special about any of them. None of them is a scholar. None of them is particularly well-known or popular. In fact, it’s very interesting to consider who Jesus did not call. Jesus did not call religious people, rabbis, priests, Pharisees, scribes, or well-trained scholars. Jesus did not call people “everybody knew and loved,” popular, winsome, engaging and personable people.
We might expect Jesus to choose people like that, people whom high society and popular culture hold up as models of success, the trim and tanned “life coach” with the big smile and brilliant white teeth. But, His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Rather, Jesus chooses weak, ordinary, people. He chooses a brash guy named Peter, a man John MacArthur describes as an “apostle with the ‘foot-shaped mouth!’” Peter, who often speaks before thinking. Peter, who is rebuked by our Lord more than any other disciple. Peter who said things like, “I’ll never deny you, Lord,” but then denies the Lord not once, but three times.
Jesus chooses weak, ordinary people. He chose Andrew, a guy who constantly lived in the shadow of his brother, Peter. He chose James and John, two guys who wanted to call down fire upon a bunch of Samaritans to kill them, and two guys who make the self-centered request of sitting on thrones at the right and left hand of Jesus in the eternal kingdom. Jesus chose ordinary people. He chose Philip, a numbers guy who cannot figure out how in the world Jesus is going to feed 5,000 with just one boy’s sack lunch. He chose Bartholomew, who many believe is also named Nathaniel, a guy who struggled with prejudicial thoughts. When Philip told him, they had found the Messiah, who was from Nazareth, Nathaniel smirked and said, “Nazareth! Can any good come from Nazareth?!” Jesus chose ordinary people.
He chose Matthew, a tax-collector, a guy who had a shady past and was not exactly someone you would call a “pillar of society.” He was a thief and a crook. But Jesus chose Him to follow. He chose Thomas, a guy who comes across as really negative and pessimistic. When Jesus decides to go to Judea, the disciples warn Him that the Jews will kill Him, but Jesus wants to go in order to heal Lazarus. So, Thomas bleakly says, “Let us go that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16). Thomas would not believe in the resurrected Christ until He personally saw the nail prints. Thomas, an ordinary man, a bit doubtful, and a bit depressed.
Jesus chose ordinary men like “James the son of Alphaeus.” The only thing we know about him is that (verse 15). The only thing the entire Bible tells us about this guy is his name! An ordinary guy. Jesus chose ordinary people like Simon the Zealot, a guy whose zeal for spiritual things was frequently misplaced and misdirected, and ordinary people like Judas the son of James, a guy John takes care to distinguish from another Judas, the one who occurs last in every list of apostles, Judas Iscariot, the traitor.
You go through this list, and you find how remarkably ordinary are these 12 men. There is practically one of every kind of imaginable personality. We can identify with at least one or two of these characters. I hope that this is an encouragement to us because so often we are tempted to think that God can only use “superstars” and “champions” in ministry. This is one reason I am always a bit reluctant to make a big deal of some so-called great Christian athlete or Christian singer or Christian Hollywood personality. I am afraid promoting those kinds of things may serve to discourage the “normal” and “ordinary” Christians, the overwhelmingly vast majority of those who follow Christ.
These are ordinary men. They are sinners. They have arguments among themselves about which of them is the greatest (Luke 22:24) and they run away from Jesus when the going gets tough. There is nothing really special in them, or about them, to commend them. They are weak, ordinary people. They are people just like you and me.
It is like what Paul writes about in first chapter of 1 Corinthians. He is writing to the church in Corinth, and he writes in 1 Corinthians 1:26, “You look at yourselves. Look at you guys, the ones our Lord has called to follow Him in the Christian life. Look at the kind of people our Lord calls. Not many of you are wise, not many of you are mighty, and not many of you are noble.” I would assume the same thing of most of you reading this blog – Not many of us are wise, mighty, or noble in the world’s eyes or estimation. Why is that? Paul continues in verse 27 through 29, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” God chooses weak, ordinary people like you and I to follow Him so that . . .
When people look at us later
And see us as growing,
They will not conclude
That it is on account
Of any special quality
Within us, but rather
That God must truly be
At work in our lives.
God chooses ordinary people to follow Him so that . . .
When He does a mighty work
In us and through us it will be
Very clear that it is God who is
Doing the work so that God
Alone will receive the glory from it,
“That no flesh should glory in His presence.”
Be encouraged today: God delights in using ordinary people like you and me.
He delights in glorifying Himself
Through you in the ordinariness of
Your everyday workaday world.
He is drawing your neighbors to Himself through your ordinary witness and your ordinary ways. He loves you as a weak, ordinary person and He sees who you can become in the strength of His power and the might of His Holy Spirit. Be encouraged: God uses ordinary people.
Here is a second truth . . .
II. Be Warned: Nearness Does Not Always Mean Salvation.
The most sobering truth about Christ’s calling Judas Iscariot to follow Him is the truth that nearness does not always mean salvation. Judas was one of the 12. Judas walked with Jesus Christ. He was near Christ and was a part of Christ’s supernatural ministry. Yet, he never trusted Christ with his heart and he betrayed Christ in the end. Judas Iscariot turned Christ over to the Jews who had sought to kill Him. He betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver and afterward, in remorse but not repentance, He killed himself and entered into a hopeless eternity of separation from our Lord. He died lost, referred to by the Apostle John as the “son of perdition” or “one who will perish,” a lost, unsaved man.
Judas Iscariot is a tragic reminder and stern warning to us that one can be close to Christ and yet be unconverted. Judas was as close to Jesus as we could imagine, but he was never a true follower of Christ.
He had given Christ his service, but
He had not given Christ his heart.
He followed him, but he remained
In the world with a tight grip
On the things of the world.
When Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with costly oil, Judas acted like he was concerned for the poor when he said, “What a waste! This oil could have been sold and given to the poor!” It sounded really spiritual, but he did not mean it. John wrote that Judas said this “not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief.” Judas was in charge of the money box and John wrote that Judas “used to take what was put in it” (John 12:6).
Judas Iscariot was the classic hypocrite. He acted one way on the outside, but he was an entirely different person on the inside. Maybe this is precisely why Jesus chose him as one of the 12. I mean, haven’t you ever wondered why Jesus chose Judas Iscariot, knowing full well in advance that Judas would eventually betray Him? Maybe this is why: Jesus chooses Judas Iscariot to remind us of the danger of being so close to Christ and yet so lost. We can be close to Jesus and the things of God. We can go to church, we can read our Bibles, we can teach Sunday school, we can sing great hymns and yet be as tares among the wheat, chaff among the grain, and lost among the saved. It really matters little what people think of you on the outside if you are not that person on the inside.
Have you been saved? Have you truly given your heart to Jesus Christ, giving Him not just your service, your deeds, your works, or your “random acts of kindness?” Have you given Him your heart and your life? That’s what saves us. Be warned: nearness does not always mean salvation.
There is a third truth . . .
III. Be Challenged: True Followers Grow.
These 12 men changed. While they were clearly weak people when Christ called them to follow Him, they did not remain weak. They did not remain crooks, and they did not remain prejudiced or pessimistic. They grew in the power of the Lord. True followers grow. The change comes when we receive the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came in unusual power at Pentecost in the Book of Acts, and we read how these men changed and grew in faith.
This same power of the Holy Spirit comes to us today at the moment of salvation and we are encouraged to yield to the power of the Spirit every moment of our lives so that we live, as the Lord says through the prophet in Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.” That is what makes the difference in these apostles. In Acts 4, for example, after God heals the man at the temple through the ministry of Peter and John, Peter is speaking to the Sanhedrin and the Bible tells us he is “full of the Holy Spirit” and after he finishes speaking, the Bible says in Acts 4:13, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.”
They were men about whom it would be said, in exasperation by their unbelieving enemies, that “they had turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
- They were changed now.
- They were bold now.
- They were powerful now.
And the secret to their strength was the power of the Holy Spirit and a life sold-out to living for the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of the world. True followers understand the challenge of our Lord Jesus who asked in Mark 8:36, “What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?” These apostles lived for the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of the world, so much so that the Book of Revelation says their names will adorn the 12 gates of the eternal city, the New Jerusalem. True followers grow.
Are you growing in Christ? Do people look at you and your witness and marvel that you have been with Jesus? Do they know you are a follower of Christ? Are you sold-out to living for the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of this world? If so, that truth will be reflected in our Gospel witness, our finances, our giving, our goals, and our openness to being missional in our community and to the continents. These apostles lived such a life dedicated to our Lord that, according to church tradition, all but one of them died the death of a martyr, died unwilling to turn their backs upon the Lord Jesus Christ, dying simply for being a Christian.
Many of us know of Peter’s martyrdom. In his third book, early Christian historian Eusebius writes of Peter’s martyrdom under the Roman Emperor Nero, but he also writes of the martyrdom of Peter’s wife. Together, Peter and his wife were a loving team who followed the Lord Jesus Christ. Eusebius writes that when Peter’s wife was being led away to die, Peter comforted her by calling out to her lovingly, “Remember the Lord.” Then, when it was Peter’s turn to die by crucifixion, Eusebius writes that Peter requested to be crucified head-downwards, as he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same way as his Lord Jesus was crucified. This the man who earlier in his life had denied the Lord three times.
Be encouraged: God uses ordinary people.
Be warned: Nearness does not always mean salvation.
Be challenged: True followers grow.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”