Jesus Chooses His Followers
OT Reading: 1Sam.16:1-13
The transfer window closed earlier this week for the football clubs. Sometimes there is a lot of activity as managers try to strengthen their squad but this year there wasn't too much movement at all. As a rule managers will try to secure the best possible team they can for the money they have available. You don't find a manager going out of his way to sign someone who isn't up to the task.
When Jesus set about choosing the men who would form his "team" as it were it doesn't seem that he followed anything like the same logic!
This morning we're going to think about three things:
Firstly, how did Jesus go about appointing this special group of men?
Secondly, what were these men really like?
Thirdly, we'll ask whether it might be possible for us to be called to be numbered amongst his followers.
We'll begin however by briefly answering two other questions:
What is this "team" for anyway? Or, to put it another way, what does Jesus have in store for these men?
What are the prevailing circumstances as Jesus chooses his team?
Well that's a lot of questions so let's start getting to some of the answers.
Jesus had already excited considerable interest among the people and there were already many who "followed" him to a greater or lesser extent. Now, he was about to select a group of just 12 who would be granted special status: they were to be granted a privileged access to Jesus and they were to be specially equipped by Jesus. In due course this group of 12 would stand as leaders of the church with the responsibility of bearing witness to Jesus and for establishing all the teaching that was necessary for this new church.
The whole of Christianity centres on the person and work of Jesus Christ but most of what we know about him and his work – both what happened historically and what those historical events actually mean – has come to us and been explained to us through the subsequent ministry of these men. When we realise that then we should be able to understand just how important a role they were to fulfil.
Mark (Mk.3:14) in his account of the choosing of these 12 – the apostles – tells us that Jesus chose them so that:
They might be with him
He might send them out to preach
When Matthew gave us his list of these men he added that as Jesus sent them out he also gave them the authority to cast out unclean spirits and to heal those who were sick (Mt.10:1)
Being with Jesus they would be able to observe him close up; they would be able to assess his character; they would be able to hear his teaching and to benefit from private and more detailed explanations of that teaching. They would be able to bear witness concerning this exceptional man. Being empowered with his authority they would know the reality and effectiveness of that authority – later when he returned to heaven they would continue to demonstrate his power for the transforming of deformed human lives.
It was a great honour that Jesus was bestowing upon these men when he chose them; he was also putting a great deal of responsibility into their hands too.
It was also a dangerous thing for these men.
Why dangerous? Well just consider the circumstances:
v.12a "In these days…"
But what are these days that Luke has in mind? These were days in which the religious establishment was growing more hostile towards the Lord Jesus and when they had actually begun to talk of how they might be able to get rid of this man.
When Jesus chose these men the fact wouldn't remain hidden for very long. It would quickly become public knowledge that they were known associates of that trouble-maker Jesus.
And so it is still today. When Jesus chooses and calls a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, it will sooner or later come out into the open. When Jesus becomes the Number One priority in a person's life life simply can't continue as before change is inevitable and change is visible. For most of us here in the west responding to Jesus' call will most likely expose us to little more than ridicule of some sort or another but in some parts of the world in the 21 st century responding to his call exposes a person to very great risks indeed. It can be an expensive business responding to Jesus Christ.
Funny that so many persist in thinking that Christianity is for wimps! Christianity, the true Christianity of following Jesus Christ, is a risky business. Are you up for it?
In the immediate future the danger was not great for these apostles but how that would change as time went by.
Jesus Chooses his Men
Jesus was and is the boss – in his "team" the church it is he who decides how things are to be done and by whom.
Given that the responsibility that would be laid upon the shoulders of these men was so important and that their function was to be so significant we should not be at all surprised that the decisions were taken seriously.
Jesus spends the entire night in prayer. Luke wants us to understand that at least a sizeable chunk of time was taken in praying about the men who would be chosen.
v.17b "he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God."
We usually sleep at night but Jesus gave himself to serious prayer and in his prayer he talked to God – it wasn't some kind of meditative prayer or deep thinking and reflection, no, Jesus was engaging with his Heavenly Father. He had never got out of step with his Heavenly Father and had no intention in doing that now at this significant stage of his ministry so he prayed.
Did he really need to do that? Couldn't he have just looked at the various ones he already knew? Well, maybe he could because he knew what was in the hearts of men and according to the Bible it is the heart of a man or a woman that really counts with God. All we do know is that Jesus did pray and earnestly at that.
It is interesting to reflect on how we pray or don't pray as the case may be. Surely if the Incarnate Son of God prayed when faced with important decisions then surely we too should pray. But prayer is not the main subject of this sermon so we must move on.
Having prayed through the night we're told the day came. Nothing unusual about that you might say but what is important to note is that when day came Jesus acted. The day-time is the normal time for us to act and to do things and that is just what Jesus did. I don't know about you but I find it very easy to prevaricate. Why do it now when I can put it off until tomorrow? Why put it off till tomorrow when I can put it off till next week?
So the time is right, opposition is rising and future leaders must be appointed. Jesus prayed but then he gets on with it.
A wider group of his followers is assembled and from this group he appoints just 12. There is significance in this. The religious leaders of Israel have begun to turn menacingly against him and so Jesus chooses 12 not more not less. There were twelve tribes in Israel headed up by 12 patriarchs, the sons of Jacob. In appointing 12 men to be apostles Jesus was preparing for the future – a new people of God.
Jesus was going to expect a tremendous amount from these men that he was about to choose. 2.000 years on and the church Jesus established and ordered is still alive and well and there are millions and millions of men and women who love and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as the apostles learned their business well and carried out the plan and purpose of our Lord.
But Who were the Men Jesus Chose?
There are four lists of the men that Jesus chose to be his apostles. They are often simply referred to as "the Twelve".
Let's take a brief look at some of these men a little more closely.
The same name appears at the top of every list – it is the name Simon. When Jesus called him he was something of a natural leader but he was also headstrong and volatile capable of swinging from one extreme to another. Jesus renamed him Peter – Rocky – a name that did not correspond in any way to Simon's natural character but reflected rather what Jesus intended to make of him.
Referred to as Simon, Peter or Simon Peter, this man would form part of the inner triumvirate of all of Jesus' followers. He is the apostle who is most mentioned in the Bible where his name appears more than all the others added together.
James and John were brothers – like Peter these men too were fishermen and with Peter they completed the inner circle of Jesus' followers. They were men with a somewhat fiery temperament which earned them the nickname of "Boanerges" or "Sons of thunder" (Mk.3:17)! They were also ambitious and self-confident men who thought they were well enough equipped to occupy the two most important places on offer in Jesus' Kingdom (Mt.20:20-23). If being a mild-mannered and humble peacemaker was a prequisite for discipleship then these two would have failed at the first hurdle!! But, no, these two are chosen and made apostles. James would have the "honour" of being the first of this group of apostles to be put to death for his faith in Jesus while his brother John would probably be the last of the apostles alive on the earth.
Matthew had been a tax collector working as something of a traitor for the occupying power that was Rome.
While Simon the Zealot, on the other hand, had political sympathies that lay with terrorist groups that were bent on expulsing the Romans from his country.
Difficult to see how those two might be brought to work together but Jesus chose them both!
Thomas has gone down in history with the sobriquet of "Doubting Thomas" – not a very flattering description but not far off the mark as this man was a born pessisimist. If someone could look on the dark side of things Thomas was your man – but he did have a redeeming feature: my, how he loved the Lord Jesus! He was ready to follow his Master even if he thought to do so meant inevitable death. And how gladly he fell at Jesus' feet proclaiming him as "My Lord and my God" when he did at last meet the Risen Lord Jesus!
For some of the apsotles listed we know hardly anything at all apart from the fact that they were apostles! It would appear that fame and having a high public profile are not essentials either to be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.
But there is one other name that we must also mention and that is the infamous name of Judas Iscariot. In the lists supplied by Matthew, Mark and Luke this man is listed last and each timethere is added a reference to the fact he betrayed Jesus. Indeed most of the times his name appears in the Bible this sorry fact about him is also to be found. How awful to be known for that!
I wonder what you make of the fact that Jesus chose such a man to be an apostle. I wonder, do you think Jesus made a mistake, or that he was guilty of an error of judgment?
Luke's account tells us that Judas was not a traitor when Jesus called him.
That the Messiah would be betrayed by a close friend was clearly prophesied in the OT and Jesus was under no illusions about this. He knew one of his own would betray him and John's gospel makes it clear that Jesus knew from the outset just who this one would be:
Jn.6:64 "For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him."
Jn.6:70-71 "Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil." He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him."
At the particular time that Jesus was saying these things it is recorded that a number of those who had been following him stopped doing so – but Judas had not honesty enough to do that instead he continued with his hypocrisy.
Jesus chose a man that he knew would betray him but it was not Jesus' choice of him that caused Judas' downfall. Judas had been well-treated, he had even been made the purseholder of the group but he was also a thief and loved to help himself to whatever there was in it. He tried to cover his greed with a pretended concern for the poor and resisted all the efforts of the Saviour to repent of his sin.
No Judas did what he wanted to do and would bare the responsibility for his deeds. Satan placed an idea in his heart an Judas embraced it. He took himself off to sell his Master for thirty pieces of silver – the price of a common slave. With the money quite possibly in his pocket he reacted in feigned incredulity when Jesus spoke openly to them all that one of them would betray him:
Mt 26:25 "Judas, who would betray him, answered, "Is it I, Rabbi?"
What a hypocrite! And, John tells us, "Satan entered into him." (Jn.13:27)
A look at Judas in the gospels is sobering. He appears so very like the other apostles – none of them suspected him of being the betrayer, he certainly didn't stand out. That means that he wasn't treated poorly by Jesus – that would have stood out. He was able to function just as the others did – otherwise he would have stood out. He could talk the talk too.
Judas stands as a solemn warning to us that a man can make great pretence of belonging to Jesus without ever having a really appropriate relationship with him.
In other words it is not enough to associate with other followers of Jesus Christ you must follow him for yourself.
I mentioned that Judas could talk the the talk but there is no record of him ever having addressed Jesus as Lord. No, the highest to which he ever rose was to call Jesus "Rabbi, teacher." This indicates that Judas was never in possession of the spiritual life that is a mark of a true Christian (1Cor.12:3).
Could I be One of Jesus Disciples?
We're a funny bunch we humans!
Sometimes we have inflated opinions or ourselves and act as though we're doing Jesus a favour in thinking about becoming a Christian.
If that is what you think deep down (though we probably wouldn't want to say so openly) then it is pretty clear that you have not understood what the Christian gospel is all about. The gospel is not for those who are quite satisfied with their own attainments but for those who realise that these attainments are the problem. Or, as Jesus put it,
Mt.9:12-13 "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
But sometimes people go to the opposite extreme and think they have to hit a certain standard before they can ever become a disciple of Jesus Christ.
As we close just think again with me about those men that Jesus chose. There was one thing that characterised them all – it wasn't only Judas that failed they were all failures in one way or another!
The church is made up of people who who are weak and fragile – just like those original apostles. That didn't stop Jesus calling them, working with them and gradually transforming the 11 who did not betray him. He was able to take a Peter who lost his nerve and denied ever knowing Jesus and make him into a stalwart in the church. Similarly he could work with a doubting pessimist, he could turn a fiery-tempered John into the man who was later known as the apostle of love.
What I am trying to say to you is that you don't have to improve before you come to Jesus you come just as you are and you ask him to make him the person that you're not but should be.
Have you done that? If not then do so today and don't dilly- dally any longer.