Christianity 201

January 26, 2018

Getting to Know the Seventy Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. (Acts 1:21-23 NIV)

New Christians often face roadblocks to understanding because the terminology used is often clear to insiders, but the nuances require explanation to those unfamiliar.

Take for example the word disciple. A disciple is one who follows a master. We are told to “Go and make disciples.” (Matt. 28:19) So far, so good.

But we often speak of “the twelve disciples” and to outsiders this might be unclear. It obviously refers to a very specific group of people to whom Jesus, the itinerant Rabbi, said, “Follow me.” But we know that Jesus had many other followers.

So we sometimes speak of “the twelve apostles” but in the giving of spiritual gifts we’re told, “he gave some apostles.” This phrase in Ephesians 4:11 is translated by Eugene Peterson in this beautiful passage:

He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Peterson retains the term “apostle” while others use “messengers” and “emissaries.” A good definition might be “sent ones.”

This can also confuse, since we sometimes speak of “the apostolic age” and cessationists would argue that when that period ended — when those who were witnesses to the resurrection all died — then the supernatural gifts (healing, tongues, prophecy) also died.

Being a “disciple” is not a specific gift. The mandate to follow Christ applies to all Christians. To say that Jesus only had twelve followers in his ministry is to ignore the passage where he sends out 72 in Luke 10:

The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.

This “advance team” is interesting because we’re told that Jesus chose them, which would imply he had more than 72 to choose from. In my mind, certainly some of them were women, but that’s another discussion; I know some would disagree. We do know from other texts there were women followers; whether or not they were part of these short-term mission trips is up to interpretation.

We also know that not every disciple continued with Jesus. In John 6, Jesus teaches and interacts with the crowd. He talks about being the bread of life, and introduces the idea of “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” Then we read,

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”(60)
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. (66 NLT)

Perhaps this sounds familiar. Maybe you know people who started attending your church and then found the cost of discipleship to high a price to pay, or found the teaching, like those early hearers, hard to accept.

But perhaps you know people who have been faithful throughout their entire lives, who haven’t really been “prone to wander.”

Among the 72 were some of those. In Acts 1:21-23, it’s time to choose a replacement for Judas to be among the inner circle of twelve, and the text states,

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

The InterVarsity Commentary tells us,

By detailing the apostolic requirement of being an eyewitness to the whole course of Jesus’ ministry, including the resurrection and ascension, Luke emphasizes the continuity of eyewitness testimony which would be the church’s foundation. And through it all he presents a prepared church with a restored integrity in its leadership.

There’s no mention of the two nominees before or after this point in Acts 1, but the mere mention of their names gives us insight into a broader community of followers. It’s almost certain, if these two were part of the story beginning from when John baptized Jesus, we can safely assume they were among the 72. Some day we’ll get to meet the other 70.

 

 

 

May 21, 2015

Remember Who?

Forgotten Apostles

by Clarke Dixon

I grew up watching wrestling, specifically the show “Maple Leaf Wrestling.” Part of what I remember is how predictable most of the matches were. The first contender would be be announced, usually a man no heavier than myself, nor taller, nor more muscular. Then they would announce the “big name,” someone like Big John Stud or Andre the Giant who would go on to decimate them. The outcome was always predictable. I’m not sure why the small guys even bothered to get into the ring, except of course that they were being paid to lose. And don’t ask me their names for they were forgettable as wrestlers next to the giants.

Perhaps we may feel that our performance as Christians is meagre, even forgettable. We may feel that it makes no sense to step into the ring for there are spiritual giants who do the Christian thing so much better than we do. We can think of the call to witness to a seeker, the call to righteousness, the call to investing our lives in the lives of others, the call to getting over ourselves, the call to love, the call to forgiveness, and the call to prayer. We can think of people who do these Christian things so much better than we can, they are spiritual giants. Let them enter the ring since they have so much more to offer. We may choose therefore to make Christianity a spectator sport and never get into the ring ourselves.

If you feel your Christian service is forgettable, you are in good company. Consider Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas in the earliest days of the Christian Church. Matthias was chosen for an extremely important role and he had the right qualifications:

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us– one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” Acts 1:21-22 NRSV

Since Matthias fits this description we know he was well versed in the teaching and life of Jesus. He could attest personally to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He also had the Lord’s blessing on his choice as Judas’ successor:

Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:24-26 24 NRSV

The interesting thing about Matthias is that he just disappears from the pages of the Bible. Despite amazing credentials and the Lord’s blessing we never hear about him again. His work for the Lord, his response to God’s every call has, apart from a few mentions outside the Bible, been forgotten by history. He was not a “spiritual giant” like Paul, or Peter, or John. In fact, the service to the Lord of most of the disciples in New Testament times has been forgotten. And down through the centuries, though there has been a rich tradition of spiritual giants like Spurgeon, Carey, C.S. Lewis, and others, the vast majority of the Lord’s servants have been forgotten.

If you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, consider the men and women God has used to reach you. You have heard the Gospel from someone who has heard it from someone who has heard it from someone, and so on down through a long line of mostly forgotten servants of Christ. For the most part, the Lord has not used spiritual giants to reach you with the Gospel, but forgotten servants. Or perhaps you did come to faith in Jesus through the ministry of a spiritual giant, through a Billy Graham crusade for example. Yet even in the “spiritual ancestry” of Billy Graham are a lot of unknown and forgotten Christians. Or maybe you came to faith through reading the Bible, with no one to help you at all. Yet how many forgotten and unknown scribes can we thank for preserving the Word of God for us. God has used hundreds, if not thousands, of unknown servants to make the Gospel known to you. We can be grateful to God that they did not stay out of the ring just because they were not spiritual giants.

We may be less like Paul and more like Matthias, likely to head into obscurity in just a few generations. But there are two things to note:

  1. God’s impact through you may grow long after you are forgotten. Because you have responded to God’s call on your life, people may be influenced by people who have been influenced by people who have been influenced by someone you have influenced. God may reach people for many generations to come because you got into the ring.
  2. You may be forgotten by history, but you will not be forgotten by God. You may not make it into the history books, but as a follower of Christ you will have your name in the God’s “Book of Life.

Most of God’s servants throughout history have been forgotten. But God has accomplished amazing things through forgotten people. You may feel that your contribution and participation in God’s Kingdom work is meager, even forgettable, but don’t stay out of the ring just because you are not a spiritual giant. Get into the ring with your words. Get into the ring with your actions. Get into the ring with your presence. Get into the ring with your time, talents, and treasures. Get into the ring with your prayers. The Lord is already there waiting for you.