February 21, 2016
In his book Quiet Talks, S. D. Gordon gives an imaginary account of Jesus’ return to heaven after His ascension. As the angel Gabriel greeted Jesus, he asked, “Master, You died for the world, did you not?” To which Jesus replied, “Yes.” “You must have suffered much,” Gabriel said, and again, Jesus answered, simply, “Yes.” “Do they all know that you died for them?” Gabriel continued. “No. Only a few in Palestine know it so far,” Jesus said. “Well, then, what is Your plan for telling the rest of the world that You shed Your blood for them?” Jesus responded, “Well, I asked Peter and James and John and Andrew and a few others if they would make it the business of their lives to tell others. And the ones they tell could tell others, and they in turn could tell still others, and finally it would reach the farthest corner of the earth and all would know the truth and power of the gospel.” Gabriel, knowing what stuff the disciples were made of, was concerned, so he asked, “But suppose Peter fails, again? And suppose after a while John just doesn’t tell anyone? And what if James and Andrew are ashamed or afraid? Then what?” “I have no other plans,” Jesus said, “I’m counting entirely on them.”
Knowing what stuff they were made of, Gabriel asked, what if they fail? It’s easy for us, sitting in a church 2,000 years later, half a world away, to see the plan worked. But place yourself in Gabriel’s wings. Look at the disciples of the New Testament. Oh, but we have a problem with that. We look at those disciples, specifically the Twelve, through the eyes of those 2,000 years of history. And time has been very gracious to these men. As I pointed out when we talked about Matthew, we see these men in stained glass, with halos, folded hands, rich flowing robes, and saintly smiles. They are St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. James, St. John. But, a careful investigation of the gospels reveals an entirely different picture. We’re going to talk about that this morning as we meet the Twelve.
In our study, Mark has been proving conclusively, by both Jesus’ teaching and His works, that He is the Christ, the Son of God. People were following Him from all over. They had been astounded by Him. We’ve been spectators, right along with the crowds. But now, we come to a major transition. Jesus will continue to do His ministry. The crowds are still all around Him, pressing in on Him. But now, He goes up on a mountain, and calls His disciples to join Him in the work. In short, He says, it’s time – time to get involved. Time to go from being spectators, to becoming participants. You see, there’s a lot of work to do, and I’m counting entirely on you.
And that call still exists today. Jesus is still counting on us, His church, to do the work. Yes, Jesus did say, I will build My church, and the very gates of hell will not overcome it. But, in His sovereign and gracious purposes, He chooses to use the likes of Peter and James and John, and you and me to accomplish His plan. Is the plan still working?
The very thought of that plan may be a bit intimidating to you. You may sit there thinking, no way, not me. You’ve got the wrong person. I don’t have what it takes. I like being a spectator. I don’t have the smarts, I don’t have the skills, I don’t have the abilities, I don’t have the personality to participate. Besides, I’m a failure. I’ve let Him down way too many times. I’m a failure at home, at work, at school. I’m a failure in my relationships. God could never use me. No, I’d just as soon sit and learn. I’ll come on Sundays and listen. I might even attend a life group. But don’t expect me to do anything, to get involved, I’d probably just mess it up anyway.
In fact, you might be sitting there thinking, I did get involved before, and I did mess it up. I didn’t do it right, people got upset, I didn’t know what I was doing. And you got burned, and you made a vow – I will never do that again. And now, you think your place in the church is minimal, unimportant, insignificant. How I hope we have people like that here this morning – because this message is for you. The message is for all of us – because we’re all mess-ups – but God can use us anyway. The message today is this: God uses everybody, even the most unlikely characters of all – even the most unlikely people sitting in this room. How do I know that? Well, let’s meet the special men Jesus called. The text is found in Mark 3:13-19.
That’s the list – impressive, isn’t it? If I had asked you to name the Twelve before we read it, most of you couldn’t. You haven’t even heard of most of these guys. That’s the point. The outline today is really quite simple:
- The Call to Discipleship (13-15) – and I want us to see what discipleship involves.
- The Call of the Twelve (16-19)
It was time for His disciples – followers – to get involved, to join Him in the work. Some of them had been following for awhile now, perhaps several months. Maybe like some of you – you’ve been following for awhile. It was time for this group and some of you, to become involved. They had been spectators long enough. It was time to get to work.
Jesus went up to the mountain – that’s actually significant. In the gospel narratives, important things happen on mountain tops. It was on a mountain – perhaps this mountain – Jesus preached His first recorded sermon – the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5-7. It was on a mountain He often went alone to pray. It was on mountain He took His inner circle of Peter, James and John – and was transfigured before them – we call it the Mount of Transfiguration. And there, God’s voice came from heaven again – like at His baptism – this is My beloved Son.
Some suggest, probably rightly, that much like Moses received the Law, the Old Covenant, on a mountain – Mount Sinai – that Jesus, as the one greater than Moses – was beginning to unfold the New Covenant. So He goes to the mountain and summons those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He called Twelve – again, the number is probably significant – it was Israel’s history – Jesus is calling Twelve, calling out a remnant from Israel through the promise of the New Covenant would be fulfilled. Now, Mark doesn’t use the word disciple or apostle in this text – Matthew and Luke do. These were disciples, whom Jesus appointed to be apostles. So let’s look at those two words. What is a disciple? We typically think of a disciple as a follower – a learner.
Now, an apostle is a compound word that comes from two Greek words meaning, to send away. Apostles were sent ones. We see both aspects of these words in Mark’s account – look at verse 14 – He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out.
Notice the order. First, Jesus called them to be with Him. That’s where being a follower of Jesus starts – it starts with a relationship – being with Him. I need you to hear me – better, hear Him this morning as He calls you to be with Him. To be a disciple – a follower – to learn from Him. The call is first to Himself. Remember that passage in Matthew 11, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” That is His call to you – follow Him – learn from Him – be in relationship with Him – and find rest.
Jesus had called them to Himself to be disciples – that’s what they’ve been, that’s what we’ve been in the first couple of chapters. We’ve been watching Him. To hear His teaching, to see what He was doing. But now, the second part of true discipleship is this – being sent to do the work. You see, now, He was sending them away as apostles, sent ones, to share His teaching and do what He was doing. And I believe He still wants the church, His church, to do the same thing today. He wants us to be apostles, not in the official sense of the word, but He wants us to be sent ones. Those sent to do the work of the kingdom. Having been called to Him – to be in relationship with Him, it’s now time to do what He does. Here, He sends them to preach the good news – to share the gospel – and to drive out demons – that is, to demonstrate God’s kingdom is here – the cosmic battle of good versus evil was coming to climax – Satan and his minions – his kingdom – was coming to an end.
Think about this – lots of people want to be disciples of Jesus. And that’s a good thing. But it’s only half the job. We need to go from being disciples to being apostles – from those called to Jesus to those sent out from Him to do the work. We say it this way in our mission statement, “We are called, by the grace of God, for the glory of God, to become (that’s discipleship) and multiply (that’s apostleship – sent ones) fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”
Being a follower of Jesus Christ includes being a disciple. It includes being a learner. It is appropriate to take time to learn – to grow – to be discipled – to be equipped for ministry. But there comes a time to become a participant. Which means, we take on the responsibility of equipping others to do the work of ministry. Part of the process of being a disciple is making disciples. Joining Him in the work.
That’s what Paul meant when he told Timothy – the things you’ve heard from me, teach to faithful men, who will in turn be able to teach others also. It’s what Jesus meant in that make- believe story at the beginning – I’m counting on them, Gabriel, to tell others, who will in turn tell others. Whether it’s evangelism, or some other form of ministry – we are to train others – we reproduce ourselves. You say, but I’m not worth reproducing – yes you are.
You see, that brings us to our second point – let’s look at the men Jesus called. Before we get to the individual names, let me share some interesting things with you. In every place the Twelve are listed by name, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, there are some similarities:
First, Peter is always first, and Judas Iscariot is always last. Second, there seem to be three groups of four, and those groups are always listed in order. And we actually know most about the first group, a little less about the second group, and hardly anything about the third group. Peter, Andrew, James and John, two sets of brothers, go together and come in the first group. As I said, Peter is always listed first, and not only seems to be the leader of the whole band of disciples, but the leader of his subgroup.
Then comes Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, and Philip is always listed first, suggesting he is the group leader. Now, sometimes, the names within each group are mixed up, but the first name in the group is always first. Finally, the last group is composed of James, probably the leader of his group, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and last, and certainly least, Judas Iscariot.
As I said earlier, these men were not necessarily the patron saints we normally think of today – churchy kind of guys. Several of them were fisherman by trade. They probably smelled bad, they spit, they swore, they fought amongst themselves. I know you don’t like that – it offends you that I say they swore – it doesn’t match the picture you have in your minds – but I have proof. When Peter was in the courtyard after Jesus had been arrested, he was confronted with being a follower of Jesus, not once, but three times. It irritated him – he lied, said he wasn’t, swore by and oath, and then swore profanely – a vile kind of swearing.
These men were full of all kinds of shortcomings. One of their most obvious shortcomings was their lack of spiritual understanding. That’s a nice way of saying, they weren’t very bright. You may not like that either. But it wasn’t me who said that – it was Jesus. They almost appeared to be dense. They struggled with understanding Jesus’ parables as much as the crowds. Several times through His ministry, when He finished teaching, they’d be standing there with the “lights on but nobody’s home” look. Then somebody would ask a stupid question. At which point Jesus would say something like, “Are you guys so dull, are you so slow of thinking you don’t get it?”
The bottom line is, these men were not your church-going type. They weren’t the saints of the stain glass windows. They weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawers. They were men who needed a Savior, just like you, just like me, and they needed to be transformed, just like you, just like me. But they all had one thing in common – they had flaming hearts for Jesus. In all their shortcomings, in all their frailties, they turned themselves over to God, whose power is perfected in weakness. Some of you need to hear that today. You need to know that these unschooled, ignorant, fighting, fearful, inept, sometimes faithless men are the ones who turned the world upside down. They are an encouragement to every person who has ever had the thought, Jesus could never use me. Let’s look at them.
First, there was Simon Peter, the disciple with the foot-shaped mouth. Outside of Jesus, Peter is the central figure in the gospels. In the lists, he’s always first. Matthew even calls him the protos, the first, which speaks of position or rank. Peter was first, the chief, among the disciples. And the qualities that made him a leader also made him a stumbling block, mostly to himself.
Apart from Jesus, no one is mentioned more in the New Testament than Peter. No other person speaks as often, or is spoken to as often. No disciple is reproved as often as Peter, and no one but Peter is so presumptuous as to reprove the Lord. No other disciple so boldly confessed Christ, and no one so boldly denied Him. No one was so praised by Jesus, and no one else was called Satan by Jesus. Peter is a bundle of contradictions, inconsistencies, strengths and failures all rolled into one person. Are you feeling better now?
Peter’s biggest problem seemed to be his mouth. He was always opening it, always interrupting, continually asking questions, frequently giving advice and sometimes even commands. And most of the time, he didn’t even know what he was talking about.
You know the stories, but let me share some with you. There was the time that Jesus was teaching on forgiveness, and Peter interrupts and says, well, how many times should I forgive someone – seven times? Peter knew the tradition of the elders said you forgave someone three times, so he thought he was being real magnanimous. So Jesus says, seventy times seven. Why? Did He mean 490 times? No. We all know He meant our forgiveness is to be unlimited.
There’s the time Jesus is talking about His upcoming crucifixion, and Peter pulls Him aside and says, “God forbid it – I’ll never let that happen to you.” Open mouth, insert foot. What did Jesus say? “Get behind me, Satan.” Even later in the garden, Peter pulled a sword and tried to prevent Jesus from being taken. He lopped off the servant’s ear. I can see Jesus sighing, “thank you very much, Peter,” bending over, picking up the ear, and putting it back on. You still don’t get it, Peter. And this is the guy Jesus was soon to be leaving in charge?
At the Last Supper, Jesus is going to teach on servanthood. So He takes a towel and a bowel of water, He’s going to wash the disciples feet, and Peter says, no way, Lord – not me. Jesus says, if I don’t wash your feet, you have no part of me. Okay, Peter says, give me a bath. I can see Jesus popping Peter with a towel. Will you just be quiet.
Later that evening, he boasted, Lord, I will follow you – even if everyone deserts you, I will follow you, even to death. Oh Peter, I’ve prayed for you. Satan has desired to have you – to sift you like wheat. Of course, we know what happened by morning, don’t we? Peter denied three times that He even knew the Lord.
The contradictions, the failures, the problems never seemed to end for Peter. Even after the resurrection, it was Peter who led the disciples to return to their old occupation of fishing for fish. And Jesus had to gently call them back to shore and remind them – I called you to be fishers of men. No wonder Gabriel was concerned.
And Jesus took this guy – an inconsistent, self-centered man, and made him the first among the disciples. Peter is the encouragement to every person in this room who has ever tried, and messed up. Every person in this room who finds the mouth open before the brain engaged. The one who tries really hard, but often does it wrong. The one who has a flaming heart for Jesus. Is it any wonder later, Peter would later write, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
Can I tell you something? I much rather have someone who’s willing to step out of the boat, face the winds and the waves when walking with Jesus, than someone who is content to sit in the boat, where it’s nice and safe, and nothing is going on. Peter is a man who failed often, but he failed trying to be like Jesus, trying to be with Jesus.
Next comes Andrew. Andrew was Peter’s brother, and most feel he was his older brother. And they seem to be a study in opposites. While Peter was loud, brash, and arrogant, Andrew seemed to be quiet, unassuming, and reserved. He only appears three times in Mark, and that with a list of names. But we read a little more about him in John.
There we find Andrew was the one who found Jesus first, and brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. In fact, that seems to be the kind of guy Andrew was. He was a man of quiet faith, and every time we see him in Scripture, he just seems to be bringing people to Jesus. There was the time in John 6 when the crowds were hungry – they were too far from town to get lunch. While the disciples were wondering how they would feed such a large group – five thousand men alone, Andrew brought a boy with a lunch to the Lord – five loaves, two fish – and the rest is history.
Then there was the time in John 12 when a couple of Greeks came up to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” What did Philip do? He went and told Andrew. What did Andrew do? He went and told Jesus. Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus.
Do you think it was tough for Andrew, as the older brother, seeing his younger brother get all the notoriety? “I’m the one who told Peter about Jesus – why does he get all the attention?” In fact, he’s often just referred to as Peter’s brother. Yet, all we see is a quiet, former fisherman, telling people about Jesus. He didn’t seem to care about attention. He is the picture of all those who serve Jesus in quiet and unseen ways. He didn’t seem to care who noticed. He just had a heart that flamed for Jesus, and wanted others to know.
History records that later, Andrew told the wife of a governor about Jesus. She placed her faith in Christ, and the governor didn’t like it. So he hung Andrew on a cross, and it took him two days to die. Guess what he told people about while he hung there for days? Even in his death, he was bringing others to Jesus.
Next come James and John – a couple more fishermen, the sons of Zebedee. But here, we see Jesus names them the sons of thunder. Don’t you like that? I don’t know about you, but that sounds more like a motorcycle gang to me than a couple of stained glass saints. You can even see that stitched on the back of a leather jacket – sons of thunder. We probably wouldn’t let these guys in our church. Out of control, unbridled, harsh, tough guys.
Why were they called that? The title seems to speak of men with great zeal, passion, even aggression. We see a little of that character in the gospels. There was the time all the disciples were arguing about which one of them would be the greatest. I have no doubt James and John were right in the middle of that. Why do I say that? Because later, they had their mother approach Jesus and say, “Grant that my two sons be allowed to sit on your left and right hand in the kingdom.” Bold request. Jesus looked at these two sons of thunder and said, “Are you able to drink the cup I drink?” No problem, they said. You guys still don’t get it.
Then there was the time they were on their way to Jerusalem. They were having to stop along the way, so Jesus would send people up ahead to prepare for His arrival. One Samaritan city sent word back – you can’t stay here. What did the sons of thunder want to do? They asked Jesus, “You want us to call down fire from heaven and torch that town?” Jesus, seeing the multitudes, had compassion on them. And James, seeing the multitudes, said, “nuke ‘em.” And this was after three years, right before the crucifixion. You still don’t get it. It’s no wonder Gabriel was concerned.
But they made it. Because, God uses all kinds of people. James has the distinction of becoming the first of the disciples to give his life for the Master. John went on to write the gospel of John, three epistles, and the book of Revelation. These guys who didn’t get it, who were often out of line, who had personalities like sandpaper – they made it. They did the work of the kingdom. Don’t tell me you don’t have what it takes.
I’m not even going to spend time talking about the rest of the guys in this list. I could talk about Philip, who asked the Lord the night before His crucifixion, “Lord, show us the Father.” To which Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long and you don’t know me, Philip?” I could tell you about Thomas, Doubting Thomas, “I won’t believe unless I put my fingers in His nail prints and my hand in His side.” Most of them we don’t know much about. Most of them are never quoted as saying anything. Some of them don’t even appear outside the lists of the names of the Twelve. Are we to assume they were just a bunch of losers who never did anything for the kingdom? I don’t think so.
I believe we see here men who were willing to serve with no press – without their name in lights, without fanfare. What do I see in these men? People who just love Jesus, who are willing to serve without drawing attention to themselves. People who serve in ministries like children’s church, or the nursery, or cleaning the bathrooms, or setting up the chairs. Not a lot of notoriety there. In fact, about all you ever hear about it is when their names are on a list – in the bulletin, notifying them more than us – it’s time to serve.
Seven of the twelve disciples – we have no idea what their occupations were. We simply know they were called by Jesus to join Him in the work. And they went out, two by two, doing the work. And they turned the world upside down. Because one thing these men all had in common – they had flaming hearts for Jesus.
When I review these men – the twelve Jesus chose to carry on His work, I can’t help but think of someone named Thomas Mitchell. You’ve never heard of Thomas Mitchell. Thomas Mitchell was an obscure, 18th Century Methodist preacher. This is what his obituary read, “Thomas Mitchell, an old soldier of Jesus Christ, a man of slender abilities as a preacher, and who enjoyed only a very defective education.” Thomas Mitchell was just the kind of man to be one of the Master’s Men.
What a muddled, messed up group of men. But they were the men Jesus chose. Look around the room – we may not like to think this, but we’re not much better. And He’s still counting on us. Remember the story we began with – the conversation with Gabriel and Jesus? It left out a very important truth. Jesus would have said to Gabriel, “I’m not leaving them alone.” When Jesus ascended, He told the disciples, you’re not quite ready. You wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes to fill you. Then, you’ll have all that you need to do the work. The Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, filled His church, and has been doing it ever since.
We are so filled, gifted, enabled, empowered to do the work of Christ. Every one of us. It doesn’t matter who you are – it doesn’t matter what your personality or skills are or aren’t – you’ve been called and empowered to do the work. And if God can use people like Peter and Andrew, James and John, Scott and Tana, Pat and Lucy, Michael and Laura, He can use you.
I close with this. Why has God assembled this large group of people at this church called Alliance? Is it so we can all come together and enjoy moving, soul-inspiring worship? I believe so. Is it so we can enjoy wonderful fellowship? I believe so. Is it so we can come together to hear fantastic teaching? I believe so. But is it also so we can be workers, that we can go out and share the gospel of the kingdom with lost, helpless, harassed people, in the demonstration of the Spirit’s power? I believe so. Would you hear the call of the Master? Would you be willing to be one of the Master’s men, one of the Master’s women, today? He’s counting entirely on Spirit-filled, empowered believers.