Friday, January 31, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- Jesus Makes His Choice

This is part 5 of a series covering the choosing and training of the 12 disciples. To start at the beginning, click here.

Out of hundreds of disciples, Jesus one day chose twelve to receive intensive training. Except for picking pairs based on family and friendship, we do not really know what criteria He used. All we know is that He prayed all night before announcing His decision:

Now it was during this time that he went out to the mountain to pray, and he spent all night in prayer to God. When morning came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), and his brother Andrew; and James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16, The Net Bible)

The brothers were Peter and Andrew, John and James, Matthew and James and maybe Thomas. The friends were Philip and Bartholomew. It is possible that Judas the son of James may have been the nephew of his uncles Matthew and Thomas. Given the pairings, we might conjecture that Simon the Zealot and Judas had some previous connection. Then again, Simon was designated the Zealot, which implies that he came as an individual. Perhaps Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor, did also.

And so the choice was the outcome of prayer. Much rested on this. Jesus and His Father needed men who, after their training, would stand the test of time and not falter. Among the hundreds, from which to choose, would have been better thinkers or speakers. But the twelve, or eleven of the twelve, had to have the stuff of change.

Judas Iscariot, of course, is an interesting study. None of the gospels ever mention his name without immediately identifying him as the one who betrayed Jesus. He bears the scorn of the ages. One might have expected betrayal from the likes of Matthew, whose former profession might suggest a disposition to betrayal for gain. For this reason, lets compare Matthew and Judas in the same way we compared Peter and Matthew:



Disreputable background

Reputable background

Stole money before meeting Jesus

Stole money after meeting Jesus

Knew he was lost and found salvation

Never found salvation

Of course, the choosing of Judas was not a mistake. John wrote

"But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) (John 6:64)
And Mark records these words from Jesus
For the Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born. (Mark 14:21)

This series is not the place to explore the issues these verses raise. Suffice to say that I believe that Judas had real choice in the matter and that Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas would betray Him. To those who have trouble with strange loops of the spiritual kind, I recommend a study of Quantum Mechanics which will equally baffle you with strange loops of the physical kind. Truth is truth whether we can understand it or not.

These twelve men had a privileged position in history. They have entered Kingdom Leadership Training with the Son of God as their teacher. What was the tuition? What was the syllabus? What grades did they get? That study begins on Monday.

Monday: Kingdom Leadership Training

Thursday, January 30, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- The Call of Matthew

This is part 4 of a series covering the choosing and training of the 12 disciples. To get to the beginning, click here.

Put together, the four gospels provide good details of the calling of Simon Peter along with Andrew, James, and John. Although He calls, and then choose, eight other men to be His disciples, the only other member of the twelve for which we have any details is Matthew, or Levi as he is also called. This is made more interesting by the fact that all three of the synoptic gospels record the event. This attests to its importance. Here is Luke’s account:

And after that He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi, sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. (Luke 5:27-29, The Net Bible)

Why is Matthew’s call recorded? I believe that it is because his background was a bit tainted. Each account tells us that he was a tax gatherer, which suggests a love of money over community. Each account tells of the dinner party and what kind of people attended. He hung around a crowd of “sinners.” It is well known that the religious community did not approve of Jesus’ attending Matthew’s dinner party, although there is no indication that Jesus was an unwelcome guest or that He did not enjoy the event.

So the key message behind Matthew’s call is who he was before. Let’s compare him with Peter:



Reputable business

Disreputable business

Reputable friends

Disreputable friends

Asked Jesus to leave because of sin

Invited his friends because of sin

Discovered that he was lost

Knew that he was lost

Matthew may have been the first to fully appreciate Jesus’ mission to “seek and save that which is lost.” On earth, Jesus never compromised the highest standard of righteousness. He did not compromise it with His life. He did not compromise it with His teaching. Peter, full of the traditional teaching of the day, heard Jesus words and condemned himself, even if Jesus did not. Matthew and his friends heard Jesus words and found hope for a new life. Jesus diagnosed the sickness and offered the cure. Matthew heard something new. He heard that the Father loved him. He invited his friends to hear the same message, and then followed Jesus to learn more.

Quick side note: the church today must emulate Jesus’ way on earth. It seems as if many churches preach the righteous standard, but are not hospitable to “unclean” new comers. Other churches seem to be more open, but often at the expense of lowered standards. In the first case, sinners are driven away. In the second case, they are not challenged to mature. We must find the way to call out sin while communicating acceptance and offering hope of change. If we succeed, our churches must meet the new challenges such success will bring. Imagine the Sunday school classes populated with children from Christian homes and other kinds of homes. How will the Christian parents react? How do you prepare them to face their fears about the influences that the church leadership has allowed into the church? This is a deep and complicated subject and I must postpone its development for another time. I will say, however, that the answer is to understand what Paul means by “power” when he says that the gospel is the “power of God for salvation.” Examine Paul’s use of this word power and see if you do not long for something more than you are used to seeing.

In any case, Matthew is singled out for special mention because Jesus called a "sinner" and made him into a disciple in the inner circle. Many of us have pasts. Don't ever think that you are disqualified for intimacy with God or disqualified from serving Him. Matthew's story tells us otherwise.

Friday: Jesus Chooses the Twelve

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- The Final Call of Peter

This is part 3 of a series covering the choosing and training of the 12 disciples. To get to the beginning, click here.

As mentioned yesterday, Jesus commanded Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. Matthew tells us that they left their nets and went with Him on a tour of Galilee.

However, at some point during this tour, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John left Jesus and returned to their fishing. This may seem surprising, but a close comparison of Matthew and Mark against Luke shows that two superficially identical stories are most definitely separate events. John recorded the first meeting between Jesus and these men, Matthew and Mark recorded a second, and Luke recorded a third, different, and final call. We must conclude that Peter and his friends left Jesus during the first Galilean tour.

Here is Luke’s account of the third meeting:

Now Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing around him to hear the word of God. He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For Peter and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11, The Net Bible)

The following table records the unique differences between Luke’s story and Matthew and Mark’s story.

Matthew and Mark


Peter’s activity.

Casting a net into the sea. (Matthew 4:18)

Washing his nets. (Luke 5:2)

The Galilean tour took place before or after.

After (Matthew 4:23)

Before (Luke 4:14, 15)

Peter’s mother-in-law healed before or after.

After (Mark 1:30)

Before (Luke 4:38)

The size of the crowd

No crowd

A large and pressing crowd. (Luke 5:1, 3)

What Peter, Andrew, James, and John left behind.

Their nets and boat (Matthew 4:20,22)

Everything (Luke 5:11)

So this is a third encounter, which means that Peter and the others had followed Jesus for a while and, at some point, returned again. Why they may have done this is a matter of speculation. Had Peter got word that his mother-in-law was sick? Did the fishing business need tending? Was Peter unsure about Jesus, the ministry, and the place he had in it? Peter’s response to the catch of fish contains a clue:

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees , saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Peter was undone. He had seen Jesus turn water into wine. He had heard Him teach and heal and cast out demons. He understood that the power and wisdom of God resided in Him. The power that Jesus demonstrated and the righteousness of His life threatened Peter. On the two previous excursions, Peter got relief by leaving. Here in the boat, Peter sought relief by asking Jesus to leave, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter felt unworthy before the Messiah. Being around Him was a constant reminder of sin and imperfection. On the one hand, Peter loved what he saw, but on the other it ate him up from the inside.

So Jesus addressed Peter’s heart, “Do not fear…” With these words Jesus communicated His love and mercy and lifted the specter of judgment that had perhaps fallen on Peter. Jesus said, "from now on you will be catching men." Peter, his bother, and his two friends then left everything for good and followed Jesus.

What this pieced together story tells us is that hiding behind every terse story of Jesus’ call was a string of encounters by which the person perceived the value of knowing and following Jesus. The gospels have a portrait of Jesus to convey. Details about His followers would get in the way and they are not offered. Only the 3-fold account that we have between John, Matthew/Mark, and Luke give us a richer story in Peter’s case. This also tells us that our call to follow Jesus is also a process of getting to know Him, perceiving His value, and coming to a place where we can leave everything and follow Him.

Tomorrow: The Call of Matthew

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- The Call of Peter

The Beginning

Of the four accounts of Jesus' life, John’s gospel takes us closest to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John’s beginning shows Jesus still in the presence of John the Baptist and we can assume that either Jesus had just been baptized or that He had returned from His wilderness temptation. Either way, we get a glimpse of the very beginning:

Again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples. Gazing at Jesus as he walked by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When his two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, “What do you want?” So they said to him, “Rabbi” (which is translated Teacher), “where are you staying?” Jesus answered, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus. He found first his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is translated Christ). Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:35-42, The NET Bible)

I conjecture that Peter and Andrew and John had gone on a retreat to see and hear John the Baptist. They were John’s disciples in the sense that they heard and followed his teaching, but they were not with him all the time. The three other gospels tell us plainly that they continued to fish for their livelihoods.

They had the good fortune to be with John at the very moment when Jesus returned from the wilderness. John, whose prophetic calling was to proclaim the coming Messiah, directed John and Andrew to the “Lamb of God.” So they left John and tailed Jesus. Shortly afterwards, Andrew introduced his brother, Simon, to Jesus. Then Jesus gave Simon a new name, Cephas = Peter = Rock. Apparently Jesus had already chosen Simon Peter for foundational work, but Peter, as will we see, had not yet chosen Jesus in return.

A Return to Fishing

It would seem that, sometime after the wedding at Cana, Simon, Andrew, and John returned home and resumed their fishing. This is not an unreasonable supposition. They had work to do and their vacation was over. Consequently, Mathew’s tells us about a second encounter:

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). He said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.” They left their nets immediately and followed him. Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. Then he called them. They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Can you see how knowing about the earlier encounter gives greater sensibility to this passage? We know, for example, why Simon was also “called Peter.” Jesus had already given him that name. We understand better why they immediately left their nets to follow Jesus. They had already spent time with Him, had heard Him teach, and seen Him turn water into wine to rescue a wedding party. They had good reason to follow Jesus.

It was still early in Jesus’ ministry. He does not seem to be among a crowd. With Peter and Andrew, James and John, Jesus began a tour of Galilee:

Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)

Now here is the interesting thing. A close examination of Luke's account of Peter's call shows yet a third call to Peter and his companions. The details of that story are for tomorrow.

Wednesday: The Final Call of Peter

Monday, January 27, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve

Twelve Men

Shortly after John Baptized Him and just before He announced the good news of the Kingdom of God, Jesus acquired six men as traveling companions. Simon and Andrew were brothers and partners in a fishing venture with brothers James and John. Philip and Nathanael son of Tolmai (i.e. Bartholemew) were good friends (which we infer from their always being mentioned together).

Some time later brothers Matthew and James (both sons of Alphaeus) joined the group. There is reasonable speculation that Thomas was a third brother, and perhaps Judas the son of James was the nephew of Matthew and Thomas.

Given the pairings of family and friends among these ten, perhaps we can speculate that Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot also knew each other before they joined the disciples following Jesus around Galilee.

These are the twelve men that Jesus chose to be His closest disciples and the ones to whom He gave intensive training. They had an extraordinary and enviable opportunity.

Discipleship is a process. Although the gospels depict scenes in which Jesus seemingly walked up and called strangers into His entourage, an examination of all the data shows otherwise. Regardless of such data, to conclude there must be more to the story flows out of common sense. Simon Peter once asked Jesus, “Look, we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27) It is not likely that these twelve men left homes, jobs, and families without thoughtful consideration. Later, Jesus, Himself, advised potential followers to count the cost:

Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to face the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions. “Salt is good, but if salt loses its flavor, how can its flavor be restored? It is of no value for the soil or for the manure pile; it is to be thrown out. The one who has ears to hear had better listen!” (Luke 14:25-35)

This series is about the choosing and the training of these twelve men. It will tell the whole story of the choosing of Peter and his friends. It will draw comparisons between some of the disciples to show the diversity of the group. And then it will turn to “Kingdom Leadership Training” whereby Jesus took this band of men and used them to change the world.

Tomorrow: Peter's First Call