This is post 1 of 4 in the series “EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE DISCIPLES ... AND THEN SOME"
Everything You Need to Know About The Disciples . . . And Then Some, Part 1: Christianity’s Founding Fathers
Providence Presbyterian Church
Almighty and most gracious Heavenly Father we come to this study together now. We are on a journey toward Good Friday and Easter and how important it is for us to understand the dynamic that was going on as Jesus made His way toward the cross and the empty tomb, particularly building Himself into the lives of 12 individuals. And those 12 ultimately, changed the world. Let us draw near to them, and as we draw near to them let us draw near to the Christ they proclaimed. In Jesus’s name, amen.
We are going to be looking, this four-week period of time, at the 12 disciples. They actually are 13, but we are going to look at Judas Iscariot and Matthias as one because that’s the way it actually worked out. Judas is the one who fell by the wayside, and Matthias was chosen to replace him. So we will look at them in the following manner. We will look today at a general study of the disciples and how they were called, how they were trained, how they were commissioned and what were the intricacies of their relationships with each other and with Jesus Himself.
Then we’re going to begin next week to take a look at each of them individually. And we will begin next week with what I choose to call the A team. We’re going to see that the disciples were broken into groups. I am arbitrarily shifting that group slightly because I think it is more advantageous for us today to examine them in the manner I have prescribed. That is to say the A team. Those who were the closest to Jesus, those who exercised the greatest influence at the point in time where they were with Jesus, and I suppose could be argued those who exercised the greatest impact beyond the life of Jesus. That would be Peter, James, and John. Then we move to what—I’m an old ball player, so you have to forgive me for that. Then we move to the B team. That is the next layer of the disciples who were close to Jesus—one of them, Andrew particularly, but they were not quite as close as the other three. Now we’re going to come to understand by the time we get to the end of the four weeks why Jesus chose to operate in this manner. But in any case, this next group of five consists of the B team.
And then any of you who know about football know that there is always a taxi squad. That is to say a group of unknowns. People who are not on the sports pages but who are there at practice every single day taking in everything that there is to take in. They actually imitate the opposing team so that the A team and the B team have an opportunity to prepare themselves for the game which is ahead. And so I have chosen to put in the taxi squad those who are the least known or the most tangential of the 12 disciples. Now Judas Iscariot, obviously, is much better known than the others in that category, but nevertheless, Judas always remained on the fringes of the 12. And so even though we know a lot about him he was nevertheless a fringe member of the 12. And then we’ll take a quick look at Matthias who was chosen to replace him. So that’s the format that we will use as we move through these four weeks. Now, here is the kind of underlying principle. Number one, we will be trying to understand how these 12 were a part of what Jesus was attempting to do in His earthly ministry and then how Jesus commissioned them for His worldwide ministry after His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.
In addition to that, because of the nature of these 12, I hope that somewhere along the way of these four weeks you will see in them or in one of them—yourself. You see that’s the genius of what Jesus did. These 12, every one, perfectly, ordinary people—possessed of the same qualities, characteristics, personalities that you and I possess. They are, in a sense, a mirror for us. And if we look into that mirror, we will see ourselves. And if we then see what Jesus did with these perfectly ordinary people then it gives us the hope and the possibility that He might do the same with us. So that’s the nature of what we will be doing over these weeks together. But I want us to begin today with some very general study of what I have chosen to call Christianity’s founding fathers. In the United States of America, we are very fond of referring to our founding fathers. They are the ones who set the tone, and they laid the foundations for everything that this nation has become in all the years since. I would argue that these 12 became the founding fathers of Christianity. They set the stage. They laid the foundations. They created the structures. They developed the beliefs, all of which now all of these hundreds and hundreds of years later are still as alive and vital and vibrant today as they were all of those years ago. It’s an amazing story, and I want us to begin by taking a hard look at the 12 as a group.
I came across an email. The email was written from Jordan Management Consultants located in Jerusalem, Israel 26544. The email was addressed to an individual named Jesus, Joseph’s son, at the wood crafter’s carpenter shop, Nazareth of Galilee, 35922. Email address, jesuscarpenter.com.
The email reads as follows: “Thank You for submitting the names of the 12 men You have picked for management positions in Your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests. And we have not only run the results through our computer but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. It is the staff’s 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 no discernible qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel it as our duty to tell You that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau.
James the son of Alphaeus and particularly Simon the Zealot have radical leanings. They both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale. Thaddeus is quite sensitive. However, he wants only to make everyone happy. One of the candidates, however, does show 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. Therefore we recommend Judas Iscariot as Your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory. We wish You every success in your new venture.
Do you know that if Jesus had read that email, He would have agreed with every word of it? Every single word. When you stop to think—and we are going to see over these next weeks how uniquely, completely, unqualified these 12 were for the task which they were given—when you stop to think how Jesus managed to select this group and then gave to them the most overwhelming task ever delivered to any group of people at any point in time in all of human history—it was their task to finish the work of Jesus and to take the ministry of Jesus to the whole world. 12 uneducated, unsophisticated, unqualified, hopelessly ordinary individuals. I would suggest to you today that second only to the resurrection, the greatest miracle in all of human history is the transformation of 12 ordinary people into the 12 apostles. Only Christ could do that. So those are the 12 we’re going to be dealing with.
Now, it is very important, I think, for us to have some idea of the chronology involved. In the title of this study, “Everything You Need to Know About The Disciples and Then Some”, you are occasionally, along the way to get the then some. And in this case, I think that’s appropriate. I want you to understand the chronology. We have a tendency in our own minds to think that Jesus suddenly began His ministry three years out from Good Friday and Easter, that He walked away from His family setting and surrounding in Nazareth, went to Capernaum, called the 12 disciples, and then launched onto this amazing, three-year journey. Not so. It was more than likely a full year before Jesus actually called the 12. Yes, He began His ministry three years out. Yes, He left His family setting and circumstance in Nazareth. He did not intend, I think, to leave that permanently, but the people of Nazareth made that necessary as we shall see in a moment.
But the first thing that Jesus did was to head south from Galilee all the way down to the region around the Jordan river on the other side from what is present-day Israel in today’s Jordan on the other side of the Jordan river in the Dead Sea. Why? Because there is where Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was preaching. You do recognize that we’ve named him the Baptist because we need to distinguish him from the other John who was one of the 12. So we call him John the Baptist. And John the Baptist saw himself as the forerunner of Jesus, the one who was preparing the way. You remember that Mary and Elizabeth had shared their knowledge of what God had revealed to them about the two sons that were to be born to them. The older of the two was John the Baptist. And John was at that point in time railing away in the wilderness against the debauchery and in essence the diminishment of the value of the religious leadership being provided, particularly in Jerusalem, but in other parts of the country as well. John was calling people to repent and change their ways.
Jesus went to John the Baptist first thing because He knew that He needed to, first of all, align Himself with His cousin, and furthermore He needed His cousin’s blessing—He understood that—Why? Because John had accumulated a number of followers. He already had a band or a group of people around him, interestingly enough, two of whom turned out ultimately to be two of Jesus’s 12. Andrew and John the son of Zebedee. So here is John the Baptist with his rather remarkable group of followers out in the wilderness and Jesus goes to him and God chooses to use the baptism of John, the physical baptism of John to be the vehicle for delivering the sign and seal of His approval upon the ministry of His Son. That was the first step. That was the inauguration ceremony, and Jesus went first of all to John the Baptist for that. Then we have the experience of Jesus having to do battle with the evil that exists in the world particularly the wiles of Satan, the temptation experience which we know lasted 40 days. And so you’re beginning to build up time into this first year.
After that Jesus returned to His hometown Nazareth. Now I’m going to tell you that I am convinced that He was convinced that that would become the base for His ministry. But what happened there? He stood up in the synagogue, declared Himself to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, and His friends and neighbors in Nazareth revolted against Him, threw Him out, almost killed Him. He only managed to miraculously escape their attempt to sabotage His ministry. Then there followed a rather remarkable sequence of events all designed to work out the nature of His relationship with His family. Remember please that up until this point He has been the oldest child in the family, the provider for the family, the rock of stability within that family. Joseph, apparently, His earthly father, had died some years before. And suddenly He turns His back on all of that and in essence leaves Mary and the other children in Nazareth. And that set up a sequence of events, like for example, the story of the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana. Cana, as we shall see, was not very far from Galilee.
Now, I’m going to put this map up here with a slight word of explanation. It is sideways oriented, but then I’m a little off-kilter anyway. I operate left-handedly, and so this thing makes perfect sense to me. Actually, north is in the direction of the arrow. Now if you look very closely on the map you will see the town of Nazareth. That is right where Jesus spent the early part of His life. Not very far to the north you see the little town of Cana. That’s only a handful of miles there, and it is quite obvious that people in Nazareth and Cana knew one another. My guess is that the wedding may even have been a part of Jesus’s extended family. But nevertheless, there He did in fact work a miracle, but there was a tension between Jesus and His mother at that wedding feast that was not resolved for quite some time. And in fact, it actually got worse before it got better. It was at that point that Jesus made the decision that Nazareth, obviously, was not the place for Him to be. And so He shifted His location to the town of Capernaum, which is right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee up on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.
There, He encountered two of the people He had met earlier with John the Baptist—Andrew and John—the son of Zebedee. Andrew introduced Jesus to his brother Peter—Simon Peter. And Jesus took up residence in Simon’s house in Capernaum. They became friends. Jesus, at this point, was doing nothing more than preaching and teaching and working some miracles. And as He did, He was developing a large following. Those people the Bible refers to as disciples. Very important for you to hear that. We’ll come back to that again in a moment. But He was accumulating a large following. They were all considered to be disciples. They were learners. That’s the meaning of the word disciple. It has a deeper meaning in the New Testament, but basically, that’s the meaning. They were learning from Jesus. He was moving about in the communities of what are called even to this day in Israel the evangelical triangle. The three communities of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin. You can see those three communities on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.
He was moving about in that area. People were being drawn to Him. He was beginning to deliver the significant teachings that would, later on, carry Him for the remainder of His ministry. All of this consumed roughly the first year. I’m going to give or take a couple of months on either side of that one-year date. But roughly the first year of His ministry. It was only at that point that out of this company of disciples, 12 began to emerge. And it was then at that point roughly one-third into His earthly ministry, that Jesus then very deliberately called the 12 to a higher calling. Now, it’s very interesting to see how He did that. If you have your Bibles, you might want to turn to Luke 6. I’m going to begin at verse 12. What I want you to see is the way Jesus approached the call of the 12—quite amazing!
And it runs against all of the qualities and characteristics of great leadership that we would adopt today. But for Jesus that didn’t matter. Here’s what happened. One of those days—mind you, He has been in Capernaum and that region for quite some time, at this point in time. Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the whole night praying to God. No human consultation; only consulting His Heavenly Father. He didn’t do Jordan Management Consultant work. He didn’t go seek advice from this wondrous number of followers He already possessed. He didn’t go around and take a poll. He didn’t conduct a vote. He didn’t analyze the distinctive qualities and characters and choose the best of the lot. He did none of the things that we would do in terms of lifting up those who are to be leaders. And when He made His decision after that all-night prayer, when morning came, He called His disciples to Him. Remember, that’s the whole bunch. Huge number at this point—and chose 12 of them, whom He also designated apostles. Very critical to hear that—He chose them. No discussion. No, “Would you like to do this? Let me share with you what I think is ahead and see if you’d like to sign on.” None of that. A finger in the chest, “Come. Follow me.” No discussion. And interestingly enough, no objection. No rejection. No, “Well, Lord I really need to pray about this.” No, “Well, I need to go home and discuss this with my wife.” No, “Well, there are some complicating things in my background that you probably ought to know before we get into this.” Nothing like that. “Come. Follow me.” And what does it say? “They left all and followed Him.” No “maybe”. Only “yes”. It’s an amazing thing.
Now, all of the disciples, save one, came from the area that you see on the map. We will begin to see that more clearly when we deal with them individually. All of them save one. The one, interestingly enough, Judas. He came from Judea down in the south near what we know today as the town of Hebron, which is south of Jerusalem. A very heavily contested city in recent years. But Kerioth is a little village out from Hebron and Ish Kerioth, Iscariot means Judas from Kerioth. In his name, he was designated as a Judean. The one outsider in the group. Wonder why? Well, more later.
In any case, they were all Galileans. That was by design. Galilee was a region which was heavily influenced by the Greeks and the Gentiles. In fact, the name Galilee—Galil Ha-Goyim is the Hebrew name for Galilee—means the land of the Gentiles. Galilee was the place where they spoke Greek, where they interacted with people in the Hellenized world, where they had struck a sort of working relationship with the Gentiles and Jesus knew that the folks to the south in Judea were exactly the opposite. They were very exclusive, very closed, very determined to maintain only their version of the purity of the Old Testament faith. And so Jesus deliberately chose individuals who were in their circumstances more open to a wider understanding of faith and the world. In addition to that, Galilee was nevertheless heavily engaged in training young people in the Old Testament faith. There were some great synagogues and great teachers in the region of Galilee. And so we can count on the fact that even though these folks were uneducated, unlettered they had been schooled from the earliest days in the principles and the practices of the Old Testament faith.
They knew the Old Testament. They didn’t know much else, but they knew that. Jesus needed that foundation at least to build upon. And so the call went by design to people primarily who were from Galil Ha-Goyim—the land of the Gentiles. Now, it is also important for us to understand that when you look at the disciples in the New Testament the 12 disciples/apostles—because remember Jesus designated these 12 apart from the bigger body of disciples—designated these 12 as apostles. These 12 are listed all together in four places in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts. Interestingly enough, in many respects, the lists are identical. I believe that is not by accident. They were listed in this manner because they reflected in their group the strategy of Jesus.
The first four, Simon, James, John, Andrew are always the first four listed in all four lists. The second group Phillip, Bartholomew—and by the way John refers to Bartholomew as Nathaniel. So his name was probably Nathaniel Bartholomew. Bartholomew means Bartolomei the son of Tolomei. So probably his name was Nathaniel Bartholomew but was called by either name. You see in the list there’s a slight divergence in the order in which the names appear in the bottom three. Phillip is always first. The third group, same thing. Some difference in the order but James who is called in some places the son of Alphaeus in other places is called James the Less or James the Younger—that is to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee. So in every case, James is listed first in the final group. I believe that Jesus structured the 12 in that way.
The top group were the ones who were closest to Him in terms of their exposure to Him and their relationship to Him. And Simon was always the leader of that group. The next layer were slightly removed from their constant exposure to Jesus—were there all the time but were not on the inner circle. And so that group is always structured like this and Phillip is the designated leader. The same thing is true in the final group, which are the marginal disciples—at least as far as we know because we have so little knowledge about them. James Alphaeus/Less/Younger whatever you want to call him—James is actually the head of that group. I believe that each group had a leader and that Jesus divided them this way so that they would get the preparation they needed individually for the tasks which would be theirs later on. And we’re going to see at the end of this time together how each of these had an amazing ministry to fulfill, but they fulfilled it in different ways. And the different ways they fulfilled that ministry reflected the nature of the group in which they served. Jesus didn’t do things by accident. Jesus was incredibly strategic in His thinking.
And so He chose the disciples, turned them into apostles, broke them down into these groups, each group with a leader, and that’s the way they functioned for the next almost two years. Ultimately then, they all came to find equal footing. When? I will argue shortly in the upper room. Why 12? In those days a teacher traditionally had 3 students. They believed that a teacher could only invest himself in 3 students at a time. 6 would have been certainly a little unusual. But maybe people might have said, “Well, this is kind of a special rabbi. Maybe he can handle 6.” 12 would have been eye-catching and attention-grabbing. I want you to get in your mind the picture of Jesus wandering through Galilee and then ultimately down into Judea with 12 people at His side. You think that didn’t create a stir? Let me tell you. In that part of the world, it did, and we frequently see the result of the stir it created.
But of course, there is a symbolic nature to the 12. 12 in the Old Testament mind is the number of governmental perfection. When you speak of the perfect nation of Israel there are how many tribes? 12. When you go to the book of Revelation and you look at the multiples of the perfect church, they are always multiples of the number 12. Jesus chose 12 to deliver a message. Number one, a new nation was being formed. Not a geographical or political nation, but a spiritual nation. And there would be 12 “tribal leaders.” This would become the ultimate, perfect unit in the world. So He chose 12 by design, symbolically and practically. Now, let’s go back just for a second to the question of how disciples and apostles relate. The initiation of the 12.
If you look at Matthew 10:1 it says, “Jesus called His 12 disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” You saw in Luke 6 He called them, and He set them apart as apostles. Disciples are learners, students and in the New Testament disciples are such faithful students that they completely accept the teachings of the teacher. That’s not always true of students these days, is it? In those days a disciple did do that and so identified himself with his teacher that he tried to emulate his teacher in his living. That’s the true meaning of the word disciple. Apostle has a completely different meaning. In its original Greek, the word literally means the king’s ambassador. The one who is sent on behalf of the king out into the world and that one when he speaks or acts, speaks or acts as if the king himself were there. And so the apostles are sent into the world and when they speak and when they act it is as if Jesus Himself were speaking and acting. That’s the meaning of the word apostle.
There are many disciples in the experience of Jesus—only 12 apostles. Now, one had to be a disciple in order to become an apostle. And if you doubt that, if you look at Acts 1 where we are told that they sought to replace Judas—this is after Jesus had ascended but before Pentecost. Judas has committed suicide. They are left now not 12 but 11. And so in Acts 1, we are told that they then proceeded to work to replace Judas. And I want you to listen carefully to how this was done. “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.” You see there were some disciples—some of the disciples fell by the wayside along the way. But there was a larger company of disciples who were there the whole time. Not just the 12. “Beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.” Remember I said John the Baptist had followers. Those followers gravitated to Jesus. John himself pointed to Jesus and said, “This is the lamb of God.”
They then became followers of Jesus. And these followers were there the whole time. And so they are going to choose one from among that number. Those disciples who’d been there all along. “One of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” Whoever was chosen had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ. And there were two names ultimately that were put forward—Justus Barsabbas and Matthias. When I get to heaven I want to know more about Justus Barsabbas because he appears in scripture and then disappears. Matthias was the one chosen. And so he then transitioned from disciple to apostle. Now, in order to deal with the nature of what Jesus was confronted with in these 12, I want you to look at the sheet I think you have called the training of the 12.
You don’t have that? All right. Then just look at it up there. Maybe I’ll get it done for you next week. There are three dimensions to what Jesus did over the next 18 months. Remember He’s a year into His ministry. Over the next 18 months, roughly give or take some time, He engaged in a three-step process: learning, interning and sending. Now, what I want you to see is that learning occupied the first portion of that time. Now, He knew He was dealing with unlettered, unsophisticated people. He knew classroom lectures were out. It wouldn’t have done any good. So what did He do? He developed a traveling seminar. He would teach as He walked. And He would teach by doing. He would stir their imaginations with questions. He would provoke discussion. He would get them into exchanges with Him. Yes, He would deliver content as He moved along.
Sometimes He would sit down and give them a lecture. And you’re going to see that in just a moment. He would do all of those things. But how did He do that? He used simple word pictures. He was dealing with uneducated people. He took them on field trips. It’s a good teaching method, isn’t it? He demonstrated what He was trying to teach in so many different ways. He was incredibly creative in terms of taking this bunch of virtually ignorant people and in a relatively short period of time transforming them into a world-changing company. F. F. Bruce refers to the content of Jesus’s teaching with the phrase “care not, fear not”. You can write this down. Matthew 10: 5-42—read that some time for yourself. That’s one of the times Jesus sat the disciples down and He said, “I’m going to give you a lecture. I want you to listen up.” And the whole message of that lecture is “care not, fear not”. Travel light. Don’t worry about how you’re going to survive. That’s not the issue here. I will provide. I will do it directly. I will do it through other people. I will even sometimes do it miraculously, but I will provide for you.
Don’t be burdened down with the stuff of life. And don’t spend late nights waking, worrying trying to fret about how you’re going to make it through the three meals you’re facing tomorrow. Care not and fear not. “I will take care of you,” He says. I will help you to deal with hostility. You’re going to get it. Anytime you dare to stand for me you’re going to be attacked. You’re going to be persecuted. You may even be killed. I will protect you. I will stand with you. I am your provider, care not. And I am your protector, fear not. That’s the content of the teaching He delivered to them. And then He built into them all of the beliefs that they needed in the other methods that I’ve just described—an amazing thing! And when you stop to think that it basically took place in an 18-month period of time, it’s truly amazing. And 6 months of that 18 months was consumed with what I’ve chosen to call “interning”. That is, Jesus said, “Okay.” At a certain point, He said, “Now, you’re ready to go out and do this on your own, but I’m going to be watching.”
“I’m going to supervise what you do. I’m going to tell you everything you need to know and everything you need to do, and then I’m going to be watching. And then you’ll report back to me the results. And we’ll review those. And we’ll see what we can learn from them.” There are a couple of times at least where we’re told that this occurred. I am of the opinion that it happened several times at the very least. Remember please if you take the gospel stories and put them all together, we only have a total of six months of Jesus’ three-year ministry. There’s a lot that’s not contained here. But in any case, twice at least we know He did this. And one of the times, He sent out 72. Remember what I said. There were a big band of disciples always around. He sent out 72 of them and He says, “Now, go do these things and report back.” And when they came back, they were so excited they were jumping around like kids at Christmas. You can read about it in Luke 10. It’s one of the most delightful passages in the gospel of Luke. They come back; they’re thrilled; they’re beside themselves. And Jesus, it says, was filled with incredible joy. And Jesus said, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about. I saw you knock Satan right out of heaven.” He was beginning to see the results of His teaching. He was beginning to see the transformation that He knew had to come. It’s an amazing moment.
And then, of course, there comes the sending. I believe that the last six months of the ministry were spent when Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, went there, retreated back into the region around the Jordan, came back to raise Lazarus from the dead, went back, and then ultimately hit out in Ephraim, and then finally made His way back into Jerusalem. That was an intense time for the disciples and for Jesus. Jesus knew what was ahead. His teachings and His miracles during that time take on a special edge, and they saw it all. And then He comes to the upper room. And I think that was graduation day. They had been through all of this process and now they were ready. And you see it so clearly in John 17. It is an incredibly emotional experience, I think, to read the prayer that Jesus prayed in the upper room. John 17. I want you to listen to just a couple of lines from that prayer. He prays, “I pray for these. I’m not praying for the world. I’m praying for these 12 you have given me for they are yours. As you sent me into the world, Lord, I now send them into the world. For them, I sanctify myself that they too may be truly sanctified.”
That’s where everything changed. They didn’t quite get it even then—but that’s where everything changed. That’s where Jesus declared, “Now, you are my apostles. I send you into the world.” It was 50 days later that the power to do what they needed to do came at Pentecost. But it was in the upper room that they became apostles. Now, they had all kinds of problems that Jesus had to deal with during that 18-month period.
They never could quite get the picture. He was forever having to reteach and rework and redefine. And every time you would think those blockheads eventually would get the picture, but they were still messing up even at the end. And so Jesus had to deal with that by constantly teaching. Mind you even as He’s making His way in His last journey to Jerusalem, knowing what’s ahead for Him, He’s still having to teach these guys. The last week of His life He’s out on the slopes of the Mount of Olives still trying to hammer the truth into them. It never stopped. The second thing is they spent a lot of time squabbling with each other. They were filled with jealousy. They were forever battling to see who got in that upper group and who—I mean, you can imagine these were ordinary people. Y’all know what that’s like. Don’t you? Wishing you were in the inner circle somewhere. And that was going on all the time. And Jesus was forever having to show them. That’s what He did. He’d demonstrate by example. He showed them the way they were to conduct themselves. The most vivid example is right at the end when He washes their feet—turns their whole understanding upside down.
And then they were deserters.
I think it’s fascinating. If you look in Luke it says, “They left all and followed him.” That’s at the beginning. If you read Mark 14:50 it says at the end, “They all left and fled.” And they deserted Him any number of times and any number of ways, not just physically but emotionally along the way. And that’s why He had to keep praying for them. And on the night before He dies, he’s still praying for them that they will stick with Him and somehow come through this and go on to do the job He’s called them to do. And then faithlessness. They just couldn’t get this big world-changing picture. That’s why Jesus worked miracles.
He didn’t work miracles just for fun or just to demonstrate a supernatural power. Every miracle had a purpose, and the purpose was to empower those disciples so that they could understand that they possessed the same power. He was giving it to them. And then the Spirit’s power becomes perfectly obvious at Pentecost. There, all of the lessons that they’ve learned suddenly begin to make sense. And it’s immediately after Pentecost that Peter who’s been a basket case turns into this bold, courageous preacher preaching to thousands on the steps of the temple in Jerusalem. And thousands are won to Christ because of the power of his words. And then Peter and John start to work miracles in Jerusalem one after another. They begin to live the Christian life. They are the first people in the world to truly live the principles that Jesus taught. You can begin to understand when you look at what transpired later on. And they experienced on Pentecost—it said so simply, “The power came. The power fell upon them.” They’d already been declared apostles, and now, they were Christians.
Do you know what Christians literally means? Little Christs. Now they were all little Christs saying what Jesus said, doing what Jesus did. And they created, by the Spirit’s power, the church. You remember at one point it says that—Jesus says to them, “You are going to do greater things than I have done.” One of the greater things was the church. Jesus never created the church. It was the 12 apostles who bonded a community together and began to grow that community so that it spread until now it encircles the globe. That’s the training of the 12.
And then we get to the impact of the 12. Make a note to look at Acts 4:13 for there Peter and John had to go before the Sanhedrin and they’re in trouble. And the Sanhedrin response to them is they noted that these were unlettered, uneducated men, common, ordinary guys. But they had some kind of power that couldn’t be explained except it says in Acts 4:13, “They”—that’s the Sanhedrin—”noted that they had been with Jesus.” There it is.
You want to know the secret to power in your life? There it is. To be with Jesus. And they went from there to write virtually the entire New Testament, to shape the beliefs, the theologies, the principles of the Christian church. They ultimately spread themselves out very strategically as we’ll see later on all over the then known world so that as a result all these years later today, Christianity is the only world religion. There are other religions of the world. There is only one world religion, Christianity. And it’s because of those 12. The identity of the 12—also fascinating. I want to make you aware of the fact that they were all so unusual. You had Peter who leaped before he looked. And you had Nathaniel who looked before he leaped. You had Andrew who was very quiet, totally believing. You had Thomas who was abrupt and somewhat skeptical. You had Matthew the tax collector, a friend of the Romans. He had gotten well off the Romans. He was hated by his fellow Jews. And you had Simon the Zealot who was a part of the party engaged in assassinating those who colluded with the Romans. Can you imagine Jesus would pick these two guys who are blood enemies and try to fold them into this world-changing group? But it’s also fascinating to realize that there were great relationships between the disciples that it’s worth knowing. Of course, you remember that Simon and Andrew were brothers. Their father was John who was a fisherman. They were residents first of all of Bethsaida and then later on Peter moved to Capernaum. James and John, of course, were brothers the sons of Zebedee. Zebedee was also a fisherman but a very prosperous one. In fact, he had a whole company. He had servants working for him and doing his fishing in addition to his two boys. James and John were the sons of Zebedee and Salome. And Salome, we know was a sister of the virgin Mary and therefore—Salome, by the way, was there at the crucifixion and in the resurrection experiences. Salome being the mother of James and John meant that James and John were Jesus’s cousins.
Matthew and James the Younger, James the son of Alphaeus both were called—Matthew at one point is called the son of Alphaeus. James the Younger—James and Matthew both called the son of Alphaeus. We don’t have actual proof in the New Testament but there’s no way to escape the implication that they were brothers. In addition to that, Mary the wife of Clopas is referred to as being at Calvary and then in the appearances after the resurrection. Clopas is a form of the proper name Alphaeus. I think we can logically assume that Mary the wife of Clopas was the mother of James and quite possibly Matthew. Mary the wife of Clopas, we know was a sister of Joseph. It actually says that she was a sister of Mary, but no two Marys would be in the same family. Sister was also used for sister-in-law. And so Mary the wife of Clopas was undoubtedly the sister-in-law—probably Joseph’s sister, sister-in-law of Mary. Therefore, making it quite probable that James the Younger and Matthew were cousins of Jesus as well. We’re beginning to look at a family affair here, aren’t we?
Isn’t it interesting that that’s the whole strategy of Jesus in building the Kingdom—to move from one family to another and from one family to the next generation in that family? Peter, Andrew, James and John spent their early lives in Bethsaida then moved to Capernaum. Matthew also came from Bethsaida as did Phillip. Bartholomew also called Nathaniel he was from Cana. Thomas, James the Younger, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddeus who has two other names as well—we’ll see that later on. He’s called Judas. They don’t use his name “Judas” in the Bible. Why? Because they were writing later on, and they didn’t want to tar him with Judas Iscariot. So they used his nicknames either Lebbaeus or Thaddeus. We’ll look at that later. They were all from Galilee. Judas Iscariot the only Judean. I want to end like this with the end of their stories. There are fascinating stories around how the disciples all died, and we will look carefully at those as we go. I want you to sit there and just for a minute read down the list and look at what happened to them. Only one died of old age—only one.
It’s a costly thing to follow Jesus. When I was a boy, one of my favorite hymns—we don’t sing it anymore, confound it!—because—in these days it’s too militaristic. Heaven help us. When I was a boy, I sang this hymn so frequently, and the words never failed to inspire me. And I live with the words to this day. “The Son of God goes forth to war”. But what I want you to look at is the last verse.
A noble band the chosen few on whom the Spirit came,
12 valiant saints their hope they knew and mocked the cross in flame.
They met the tyrants brandished steel the lion’s gory mane,
They bowed their heads the death to feel, who follows in their train?
Go in peace.