A few key men.
Yes, a few key men.
That’s what Jesus needs –
a few key men.
Today is decision day… as we watch Jesus pick His team. The goal is for Jesus to select a group of key men out of all His followers who will be taught by Him personally – the best teacher in the history of the world – who just happens to be God.
His team will be His shadow until He dies on the cross. 12 men who will get most of Jesus’ time and energy during the rest of His life.
12 men who will have the responsibility of launching the church after Jesus is gone.
Selecting the right team is His most important decision while on planet earth, one of the most important decisions made in the last 2,000 years.
So no pressure, Jesus, no pressure. If these guys fail, the church would bomb, and millions would go to hell including you and me because there would be no one to teach us truth.
It is not possible to overstate the importance of Jesus selecting the right men for His team. If you are a Christian today you benefited from Jesus selecting the right team.
We’ve got a lot of great verses to look at, and to make sure we get the most out of our time together let’s start with prayer.
Father, Please quiet our hearts.
Focus our minds.
Apart from you this will be a waste of time.
May we yield to the teaching ministry of your Spirit at this time.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
When we come to Luke 6 Jesus has already been in public ministry about a year and a half- which is another way of saying, if you wanted to take a knife and slice Jesus’ ministry into halves, you would do it right here when Jesus picks the 12. Another year and a half and He’d be dead.
When you look at the two halves of Jesus’ ministry -before He selects the 12 versus after He selects the 12 – you would see substantial differences.
In the first half Jesus collected lots of followers, did most of the work by Himself, performed most of His miracles in a limited area, and taught mainly basic truths.
After picking the 12, they carried part of the load of the ministry, Jesus traveled in a much wider area, and He taught deeper truths of the faith.
12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.
It is decision day, the day in which Jesus picks His team. Jesus shows us right here how to make an important decision.
Jesus prayed 5 minutes? NO! Important decisions require deeply intense prayer. Based on this verse, a friend of mine has the policy of never making a decision in one day. Whenever possible, he will pray about it over night and then come to his decision.
Let’s be sure this is clear: why is Jesus putting a team together?
Answer: So that He could train them so they would spread the Good News of Jesus everywhere after He had gone back to heaven.
“Since you only have 24 hours in a day and since you only have one life to live, you cannot afford to waste time. This means that you must make sure that the people to whom you give your life are the right ones, those who are ready, eager, and able to assimilate what you have to share with them.”
You might want to read that again. Insightful guidance! Jesus did that.
For a life well lived, we, like Jesus, need to pray about whom we pour our hearts into.
But you might look at the team that Jesus picks here, and ask, “Why 12? Why not 11 or 10 or 13?” For reasons known only to God, 12 is a key number.
The Old Testament Jewish nation had how many tribes? In Revelation the new city of Jerusalem has 12 gates, 12 angels, 12 foundations, is 12 thousand furlongs high, wide, and deep. It also has 12 fruits.
To His 12 apostles Jesus says
you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
So it probably didn’t take much time for Jesus to decide His team would have 12 men.
To an astute Jew “choosing 12 for His team was a reminder of the glory days when King David ruled over a united 12 tribes”.
But this ordinary, insignificant bunch of guys is whom He picks after praying all night? THESE men are an answer to prayer?
Well, let’s take a good look at the men Jesus picked.
13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew;15 Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.
Whenever you see the 12 disciples listed, Peter is always listed first. Judas Iscariot is always listed last. Also, they are always divided into 3 groups of 4. The order inside each group of 4 might vary from list to list, but each disciple always stays in the same group.
For our own learning purposes, I choose to divide them just a bit differently – dividing them into 4 groups.
High profile – the flood light shines on them, and we know lots about them. Three prominent out of 12 is a good ratio. It is not good when all are leaders.
Then the low profile 4 – the flood light doesn’t shine on them. Consider them to be in the shadows; we know much less about them. This second group has their own gifts and can do some things better than the more celebrated ones.
Then the no profile 4 – they are hardly on the New Testament stage at all. We know just about nothing about them.
We end with the false profile – you know who.
Let’s look at these groups one at a time.
The high profile disciples: Peter, James and John.
Why do we call them that? Because they are closest to Jesus.
We know more about them – their accomplishments and their sins.
They get so much coverage in the first 4 books of the New Testament, you might be tempted to think they are the only disciples He had.
To get specific – what do we know about them?
- They were pushy.
Peter wanted to get as close to Jesus as possible.
He was the one who asked to walk on water. Matt 14:28
James and John wanted to sit next to Jesus in heaven. Mk 10:38
John was leaning on Jesus at the last supper. John 13:25
All through grade school there was a girl in my class every year who thought faster than any of us. Whenever the teacher asked a question, she would raise her hand frantically in the teacher’s face wanting to be called on – just like Peter, James, and John.
When we look at these guys, with their passion to stay close to Jesus, we should be forced to ask ourselves if we want to get as close to Jesus as possible? Is that OUR passion?
These guys were pushy.
- They were also privileged. We are looking at Jesus’ closest friends.
John is called the disciple whom Jesus loved.
These three saw the raising of Jairus’ daughter.
These three witnessed the transfiguration.
These three were closest to Jesus His last night on earth.
John gets custody of Mary after the cross.
No one knew more about Jesus Christ than them.
- They are productive.
After Jesus goes back to heaven,
Acts 1:15 Peter takes the leadership and steers the group to make a key decision.
Acts 2:14f Peter makes the first major speech of the church age, and it is a great one.
Acts 4 Peter and John face the first persecution.
Acts 12:2 James is the first of the 11 to be martyred.
Peter writes 2 New Testament books.
John writes 5 New Testament books, two of them lengthy
But there is a downside to their high visibility. We also know more of their sins, their shortcomings.
Peter was rebuked by Jesus, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
Peter denied Christ 3x.
James and John were called Sons of Thunder because of their
lovelessness or roughness.
At the transfiguration Peter should have kept his mouth shut.
In the Garden of Gethsemane he cut off someone’s ear.
Peter needed to be rebuked by Paul in Galatians.
What lessons do these high profile disciples have for us?
- Every Christian needs close friends, and Jesus sets the example for us. The Christian life was never meant to be lived in isolation. The word fellowship means “common life or shared life”. These guys shared their lives.
- If you seek after God, you’ll get to know Him in an intimate way. We sing the song “As the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for you”. Well, these guys did a lot of panting and had their souls overflowing as a result.
- The closer we get to God, the more we see how sinful we are. These guys never lost their sin nature; they had things to confess until they died. Are you struggling today with some sin? Look what company you’re in.
- If you want God to use you, He’ll change your life first. Simon became Peter the Rock. One of the Sons of Thunder became the apostle of love.
- Just because you’ve sinned, doesn’t mean you’re written off. These guys blew it but had genuine spiritual comebacks. So can you.
- If you are a high profile Christian in a place of leadership, prepare to live in a goldfish bowl. Forget about privacy.
Are you a high profile disciple today? Praise God. Just be on guard you don’t become proud.
On to the low profile disciples. Four men who lived their lives in the shadows, willing to take a back seat to others:
Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Nathaniel (also called Bartholomew)
What do we know about them?
Three times in the Gospel of John, Andrew is bringing people to Jesus. He seemed to think Jesus wanted to see everyone so he brought his brother, he brought a little boy, and he brought Greeks who weren’t even Jews! Get that?! What a cool reputation to earn for yourself!
It gets better: remember his brother Peter is mentioned more in the Gospels than anyone else except Jesus. But Andrew never whines about that. He willingly takes the back seat to his brother and lives in the shadows. Can you show such maturity?
Next is Philip. Put him in the s l o w learner category. Jesus asked him where they could get food to feed the 5,000; Philip was clueless. HE HAD ALREADY SEEN JESUS DO MANY MIRACLES, AND YET HE IS CLUELESS HERE.
The night before Jesus went to the cross Philips says in
John 14:8 Show us the Father, and it is enough.
After years of being with Jesus, he still didn’t understand who Jesus is. He’s like the kid held back in first grade year after year.
For those of us who put ourselves in the slow learner category, it is a comfort to know Jesus selected one of us for His 12.
On to Thomas whom we might be too hard on.
14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.
Thomas knows about the hostility of the authorities. Death for the 12 was a real possibility, but look at his words here. He did not want to be separated from Jesus. He could not endure life without Jesus. He’s willing to die with Him.
So when Jesus appears to His disciples after He has risen from the dead, and Thomas is not there, it is safe to say he was plunged into depression.
But when Thomas finally sees the risen Christ, he says – “My Lord and my God.” – maybe the greatest profession of faith in the Bible giving hope to all other melancholy people that they, too, can find a firm foundation.
Nathaniel (also called Bartholomew) – the only one in this group to be praised
46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”
48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
You see Nathaniel’s prejudice :46 Nazareth? That pit? Obviously some discrimination here that he needs to overcome.
You see praise for Nathaniel in John 1:47 for moral excellence.
:49 you see a powerful, early profession of faith.
Note the contrast. Nathaniel sees Jesus and almost instantly sees God in the flesh. On the other hand, Philip was with Jesus three years and the night before the cross still didn’t get Jesus’ identity.
What one thing do most of the guys in this group have in common? Weak faith.
Perhaps you’re a low profile disciple. You consider your faith to be weak? Only one solution:
Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God
The only remedy for your problem. Feed yourself daily from God’s Book.
Well, so much for the high profile and the low profile.
On to the no profile. They are called that because we hardly know anything about them. Their names: Matthew, Judas (also called Lebbeaus and Thaddeus), James the son of Alpheus and Simon the Zealot.
Matthew the tax collector: Do you have any idea how much tax collectors were despised in Jesus’ day? They collected taxes from their own people and gave them to the Roman conquerors thereby aiding the enemy of Israel.
Color tax collectors greedy, traitors, thieves, social outcasts, unpatriotic, disloyal, the scum of the earth, rejected. The Jewish establishment hated tax collectors so much it wouldn’t let them testify in court or enter the temple.
But do we get it – even Matthew the low-life is not outside the reach of the Holy Spirit or the love of Christ?
Do we get it that guy truly repents and Jesus actually goes over to his house to eat? And this guy writes the first biography of Jesus in the New Testament?
Could you truly accept a repentant “outcast” as a brother in the Lord?
Next we come to Judas (also called Lebbaeus or Thaddeus) who asks one question:
John 14:22 Lord, how is it that you show yourself to us, and not to the world?
The Messiah is to rule world, so why isn’t the world seeing You now? In other words, when are You going to set up Your kingdom over all the world? Aren’t You going to free us from the Romans and bring back the glory of our country?
That question was asked the night before Jesus went to the cross. Not only did Jesus not intend to set up His kingdom anytime soon, the next day He would be dead. This guy was in for one huge jolt.
But look at his question again. Do you see the humility? He’s asking why the 12 get the privilege of seeing Jesus but not everyone else? He’s willing to share Jesus. Are you?
And now the truly amazing James the son of Alpheus.
Many times in my teaching I’ve asked the Peter in the group, the one who talks the most and is most energetic and high strung, to do a report on this James. The result is always the same. The person is flustered and stunned speechless that this kind of guy is in the 12.
What questions did James the son of Alphaeus ask? None.
What books of the Bible did he write? None. (The book of James was written by the half-brother of Jesus)
What speeches did he make? None.
What one deed did he do that was a standout? Nothing that we know of.
The only thing we know about this guy is his name. That is all.
Mark calls him James the less. Mark 15:40. Does that mean less in height, less in age, or less in influence? Or all of them?
I don’t know. But that is hardly a flattering description of anyone.
THEN WHY DOES JESUS SELECT THIS GUY? Jesus, You pick a shy wallflower like this? If any church today were to pick the 12 for Jesus, this guy would never make it. We want superstar leaders. James the son of Alphaeus isn’t one.
Yet Jesus deliberately wanted this guy for His team, never criticizes him and does not fire him.
Time for you to treat quiet believers with a little more respect?
Simon the Zealot.
What? Zealots were terrorists! The Isis of the first century.
They were called daggermen. Can you guess why?
20 years before Jesus’ ministry began, they started a rebellion against Rome. That rebellion was brutally crushed.
Why was Jerusalem destroyed in 70 AD and many Jews kicked out of their homeland? Because the Zealots started another rebellion that resulted in a death struggle that the Jews would lose. The last battle of that struggle was fought on a mountain fortress named Masada where Zealots retreated and finally committed mass suicide rather than surrender to Rome. Zealots brought Israel crashing down.
“No two people could differ more than Jesus and Simon before repenting as to their spirit, ends, and means. One had resorted to war, sword and dagger. The other relied on the gentle but powerful weapon of faith.”
And Jesus picked a former Zealot to be part of His 12? And that Zealot would be in this no profile group? Jesus, You want your picture taken with this guy? People might think You agree with his extremist views. Why are You going out of Your way to have a link to the Zealot party? This is not politically correct. This is against conventional wisdom and common sense.
Do we get it that no one is unreachable for Christ? Do we get it that no one is unusable? So believers, don’t be surprised when killers like Paul and other wild men thoroughly repent from their sins, join God’s family and serve Him effectively.
The lunatic fringe is not beyond the love of God. Jesus didn’t write off kooks, neither should we. And talk about a changed life? Instead of being a loud mouth disciple getting the 12 into all sorts of trouble, he is in the least known group of disciples keeping his mouth shut, content to be in the background now that Christ was Lord of His life.
It puts a smile on your face to think of Simon the Zealot and Matthew working together. Remember Matthew used to be a tax collector working for Rome, and Zealots killed tax collectors. Did Matthew find Simon every morning and ask if he wanted breakfast in bed? Were there errands Matthew could run for him? Could Matthew clean Simon’s sandals?
The presence of those two men in the 12 has been called a prophecy of what the church would look like. A union of opposites.
But besides their pasts, what do we really know about these no profile 4 guys? Were they good preachers? Whom did they lead to the Lord? What good deeds did they do? We know nothing.
So – what lessons do they teach us? All disciples don’t get the same earthly recognition. If this is the group you fall in, don’t get weary in well doing. These guys are never condemned for being in the background. And we have no business looking down our noses at them either.
As we look at these 11, do we get it that making disciples is not the same as making cans of soup? Every can of soup is the same. But look at the diversity of the guys we have looked at. They are all disciples –but they are all over the map in personality and ability. The people you disciple will not turn out to be a clone of you.
So there you have the high profile, low profile, and no profile disciples.
What about the false profile disciple, Judas Iscariot? He was the only one of the 12 who was not a Galilean from the north but rather from Kerioth – at the southern border of the tribe of Judah.
John 12:6 tells us he was the treasurer of the 12 and a thief. (Sadly many church treasurers have followed in his footsteps.)
And the award for best male actor goes to………Judas. It should stun us beyond all belief that when Jesus says one of the 12 will betray Him, no one, no one, says, “It’s Judas”. No one even hints that there has always been something a bit weird about Judas.
Think about it – these guys had been together probably a long time before they were selected to join the 12. And after they had been picked to join Jesus’ team they were together 24/7 until the cross. They ate together, traveled together, slept in the same places together, and no one, no one – sees through this guy.
That should scare the daylights out of us.
Do we get it: If Jesus had His Judas, we might have ours, also.
Confession time: at some church services over the years when the pastor would give the plan of salvation, I was annoyed. Why bother? It’s clear there were no visitors, only church members. So why would the pastor be going through the plan of salvation?
And the answer is – there might be a Judas there.
Probably the scariest thing I’ve ever heard a pastor say is, “Prepare to be stunned when you get to heaven at some people who didn’t make it”. Some did a great job of acting, but they never trusted Christ.
Judas was an excellent actor, going through the motions, fooling everyone. His followers are alive and well today.
So, instead of whining that the pastor is giving the plan of salvation on a Sunday when there are no visitors, I now pray that the Holy Spirit would deeply convict any Judas who might be in the audience.
After looking at these various disciple profiles, two questions come to mind.
The first question: Why did Jesus pick Judas? I have asked that question, so have you.
But it dawned on me, there might be a much better question to ask, namely, how was Jesus so successful with 11 of them? Jesus had a 91.6% success rate with the guys He picked. 91.6% of the 12 truly gave their lives to Christ and went on to obedient service for the rest of their lives.
You never hear of school or church with a success rate anywhere near that. Jesus was the most successfully disciplemaker you’ll ever find. Be impressed with the success of the 11. You are saved because they succeeded.
The second question: why did Jesus select such ordinary guys? Fishermen? I think I can answer that.
When it came time for my friend to look for a new apartment we first visited one building we had driven by for years. What knocked the wind out of me was the sales representative who gave us a tour of the place. A middle aged woman who was cover girl material. Stunning, breathtakingly beautiful. It was very difficult for me not to stare at her.
But what she was promoting was the pits. The halls in that building were dimly lit, painted dark brown, and the model apartment we looked at was so small and crowded, I walked out fighting back tears.
So my friend and I visited another apartment building. The sales representative was also middle aged, but slow moving and so ordinary I don’t remember a thing about her. When she left us alone in her office for a minute, my friend poked me and said, “You aren’t listening to her at all. You are already arranging my furniture here.” The friend was right.
The apartment that this sales lady was promoting was bright, cheery, modern, spacious.
Guess which facility my friend chose?
I hope you get the point.
To be the best representative for Christ, it isn’t essential to be a knockout beauty or talented. And it is a liability to be calling attention to yourself. Jesus selected a team that will point the world to Him, that will tell the world salvation is found only through faith in Christ.
The eternal destiny of millions of people depended on Jesus’ team succeeding. So He turns to incredibly ordinary, common guys who will point people to Him and not themselves, who will risk anything for Him, and who will go the extra mile- that is what kind of person He selects for His team.
Are we listening?
God doesn’t select workers because they are rich or intelligent or talented or of high social status.
Eleven of these men have a message for us today, a loud message and the message is: God is on the lookout for ordinary people. Ordinary – just like me, just like you – who will follow Him.
Will you stop holding yourself back and let God use you on His team?
As you look at these 12 apostles, which one are you?
What lessons can you learn from him?
What changes do you need to make to be more effective?