There are lots of pictures of the apostles. Probably the most famous picture with all the disciples is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, but many artists over time have tried to put together a rendering of what they looked like.
Over the next couple weeks, since I’m not much of an artist, I want to paint a mental portrait of the different disciples and their relationship to Jesus. I want us all to know these men who changed history a little better.
Saying a Lot With a Little List
We are still in the Gospel of Mark, so let’s take a look at the text behind these mini-biographies in Mark 3:13-19:
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
Mark is masterful at using very few words to say a lot. In this list he paints a picture of a simple group of people using their names, nicknames and a little information. This list isn’t just a list, it’s a statement. It gives us a peek at their personalities, their normality. He lets us in that Simon (which means “hearing with acceptance”) was given a nickname by Jesus. He called him “Peter” which means “Stone”. That certainly tells us something important, though we don’t exactly know what yet. He lets us in that Jesus called James and Jon the “Sons of Thunder”… a word to describe fiery and destructive zeal – like a lighting bolt — which is an awesome nickname! We learn about Simon who we don’t know much about, but the word Zealot either means he was from Canaan, or it means that he was passionate about keeping the Law of Moses. Either way it tells us something about him.
Choosing The Foolish
What this list reminds me of, since I’ve read the rest of the book, is that this is a group of people just like you and me. They were normal, sinful guys who were chosen by Jesus, walked with Him during their lifetime, were given a special mission and gifting to do something special. They had struggles. Some doubted more than others. At some point all of them faltered or failed. Some were impulsive and needed correction. Others were explosive and caused problems. And there were those who betrayed and denied Jesus during His worst hours. And yet, each one was hand chosen by Jesus, and used in an amazing way to build His church.
It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 which says:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
I’m reading more and more biographies these days and this is what I’m reminded about. God loves to show His glory, grace and power by using weak, insignificant, lowly, foolish people who can’t possibly take the credit for what God is doing through them. And the Apostles are no different. I think this is the wonderfully encouraging message hidden inside this list of names in these few verses.
But before we get into the mini-biographies, I want to point out a couple of important things first.
The first thing we have to remember about the disciples is that they did not volunteer. They didn’t ask to be Apostles, nor were they simply in the right place at the right time. Mark 3:13 says:
“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.”
Luke 6:12-13 speaks about the same story, but gives an important detail. It says:
“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.”
Hundreds of disciples were following Jesus at this time, but only 12 were chosen by Jesus to be the apostles. After a night of prayer, Jesus came to the group and chose 12 men that He would build into leaders of the church, and took them away for special training. These would be the people whom He would spend the most time with, give the most training to, and who would be His messengers – “apostles” means “messengers” – throughout the land, would carry His message, and lead his church after He left.
Jesus does the same thing today. It is not we who first choose Jesus. Even though we sometimes speak that way, we must realize that Jesus chooses us before we chose Him. This is called the Doctrine of Election. We are chosen. 1 Corinthians just said that – “God chose what is foolish…”. In the Old testament God chose a nation for Himself, Israel (Deut 7:6). In the New Testament we are called “chosen” all the time.
The quintessential verses on this come from Ephesians 1:3-5 which says:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…”
Just like the apostles, for every Christian Jesus makes the first call to salvation and then gives us the opportunity to obey that call. We’ve talked about this before. Jesus opens up our heart to see His light, and then gives us the choice to accept or reject Him. We call that grace. We would never choose to submit to Jesus if it wasn’t for Him showing us the depth of our sin problem, and inviting us to be a part of His kingdom.
Why The Doctrine of Election is Important
Why is this doctrine important? Because sometimes we think – even after meeting Jesus and getting saved – that we need to clean ourselves up before we can come to God. The thinking is that we are too broken, too sinful, too uncoordinated, too ordinary, too dirty to come before God, even to ask forgiveness. Some people say that they can’t come to God because of the things they’ve done. They think they have to tidy up their lives to make themselves worthy of His grace. But that’s the thing… you can’t be worthy of grace!
I’ve heard many people say that about being baptized. They say, “I’m not ready” as though they are not quite acceptable to God yet, and that there is a point in the future, after they clean up some part of their life, kick a habit, deal with an issue, that they will be able to feel like they are good enough to accept God’s free gift of grace and really start serving Him. That’s not how grace works.
One of the great things about getting to know the disciples is that to more we learn about them, the more we realize that God might have actually chosen us too because they were some messed up people! One of my commentaries says this:
“Grace does not make humanness a disqualifying characteristic. As disappointing as the disciples may have been, they leave room for us to hope. When we are aware of our unworthiness to merit God’s mercy and love, we are in the best position to experience what He can do for us.” (Life Application Bible Commentary, Mark– Pg 79)
I love that:
“When we are aware of our unworthiness to merit God’s mercy and love, we are in the best position to experience what He can do for us.”
It reminds me of one of my favourite verses, Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The lives of the disciples remind us that Jesus chooses people like us to be saved, and then uses people like us to change the world through Him. That’s all amazing grace.
Chosen for a Purpose
The second point I want to remind us of from this passage is that God chooses us for a purpose. Mark 3:14 says, “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach…” Again, Jesus works the same way today. Once we respond to Jesus and say, “Yes, Lord, I need you!”, He cleanses us of our sin, seals us with the Holy Spirit, and makes us into a new creation. From that point on we are His disciples. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says:
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”
That price was the precious blood of Jesus Christ, traded for yours, so you might be saved. The language here is that of the slave trade… bought from one master – sin, death and Satan – and sold to another – Jesus.
Hebrews 9:14 says it this way:
“…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
We were saved by grace so we can serve for God’s glory. No longer do we simply do “dead works”, but we are given natural and supernatural gifts so we might give honour to He who is our Saviour. Now, it doesn’t happen all at once. You will be training, practicing, and upgrading your skills for the rest of your life. That’s part of what Philippians 2:12 calls, “…working out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”.Your whole life will now be about working out your salvation under Christ. From the day you are saved, you have a divine purpose and something special to do.
Let’s go back to Ephesians and read the next verse… 2:8-10 says:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
There’s both concepts together. We are created, designed, chosen, elected, and prepared before hand… for works of righteousness that God has already picked for us. Jesus does look for volunteers, but hand picks each member of His kingdom to be saved and to serve Him.
He wanted these men. And if you are saved today, then He wanted you. And if you feel Him knocking on the door of your heart, inviting you to lay down your burden, be cleansed from your sin, and to accept Him as Lord, then He wants you too.
The Answer to Our Deepest Questions
That’s a wonderful thing and I hope that brings you great joy. Knowing that answers some of the deepest and most frequent questions people ask about their existence. What is my purpose? Who am I? Why am I so different? What am I supposed to do with my life?
The answer is that you are a special creation of God, beloved of the Father. You have been given grace because you are so loved. You are saved by the blood of Jesus, forgiven from all of your sins, and brought into an eternal, loving relationship with your Creator. He designed you, knit you together in your mother’s womb, and given you His Spirit within you, to do a special work, which He has prepared for you to do. That’s encouraging, isn’t it?
Jesus didn’t choose these twelve men because they had such great faith – because they often showed that they didn’t. He didn’t chose them because they had some kind of great talent or ability. The disciples have a wide range of backgrounds, life experiences, and temperaments, and none of them seemed to be any better than those who were not chosen. In fact, for most of His ministry, they didn’t have a clue what Jesus was doing and often got in His way taking up time with dumb questions and arguments! The one characteristic they all shared was their willingness to accept the call of Jesus on their lives. They simply said “yes” and Jesus took it from there.
What that tells me, and I hope it tells you, is that you are not disqualified from being saved, being baptized, or serving Jesus because you don’t feel like you have the credentials. All you need is a heart that is willing to say “yes” and simply go where Jesus points you.
Jesus doesn’t need superstars who he can send onto the court to do all the work. What he wants are people who will submit themselves to His Lordship, His school of discipleship, and let Him direct their life. People who are willing to subordinate their plans to his, their wills to his. People who will love what He loves, hate what He hates, walk where He walks, and say what He said.
It is amazing when Jesus, through the Bible He has written for you, by His Spirit speaking into your Spirit, through the people in church He has given you – gives you the divine instruction, coaching, equipment, practice, character, and time to mature that you need to be a fully-functioning, obedient, joyful, and replicating disciple who is fulfilling God’s plan for your life. It’s pretty amazing stuff and those who have gotten a taste of it are changed to their very core.