Christianity 201

May 24, 2020

For the Twelve, Answering the Call Came with Risk

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed…

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.)

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have suggested that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.

 



October 23, 2019

Bible Numbers: Twelve Disciples

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach. Mark 3:13-14

When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James (also known as Thaddaeus, the name that is used in Matthew and Mark), and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” Luke 6:13–16. The accounts of the calling of the disciples are also found in Mark 1:16–20, Luke 5:2–11, and John 1:40–42.

I don’t believe we’ve covered this particular topic before. The answers to the question, “Why 12?” below should whet your appetite for further study on this and other significant numbers in scripture.

■ From the NIV Bible Website:

It was no accident that He chose twelve.

God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were divided into twelve tribes. And as Jesus calls out a new people for Himself, He starts with twelve men who will form the basis of a new Israel.

The power of God was clearly at work in calling these men, but it is doubtful whether they knew the full extent of what they were signing up for when they began as Jesus’ disciples. They knew that they had to leave their current jobs and the security that those gave. But it was only as Jesus neared the end of His earthly life that He explained to them the real cost of discipleship.

Ultimately, what Jesus required of His followers was the willingness to give up everything for Him. He put it in very stark terms when He said that anyone who wanted to follow Him must take up his cross (Luke 9:23) and follow Him. In other words, they were to be prepared to die for Him. For some, their allegiance to Christ resulted in their being killed. And yet what Jesus asked of His disciples wasn’t more than He was willing to do Himself as He demonstrated when He freely gave His own life on the cross as a once-for-all sacrifice for human sin.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He “graduated” His disciples, as was the custom of the rabbi. He instructed them to go and proclaim the good news of the kingdom and in addition, He told them that they would be able to do everything that He had taught them to do (Matthew 28:19–20). The book of Acts and the subsequent history of the Church reveal that Jesus’ disciples did precisely that…

■ From the website AllAboutJesusChrist.org:

The 12 Disciples – Why Twelve?
In the Bible, twelve, like seven, frequently suggested completeness and perfection. In the Old Testament, twelve represented “all Israel” (Genesis 49:28; Joshua 13-19). The Book of Revelation provides numerous references to twelve.

  • 12 tribes of Israel, which are sealed and protected (Revelation 7:5-8; Revelation 21:12)
  • 12 stars in the woman’s (Israel) crown, symbolizing the 12 sons of Jacob (Revelation 12:1; Genesis 37:9)
  • 12 gates of the great high wall of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 12:12)
  • 12 angels guarding the heavenly gates (Revelation 12:12)
  • 12 apostles of the Lamb, part of the church and body of Christ (Revelation 12:14)
  • 12 pearls or precious stones of different colors, adorning the 12 foundations (Revelation 21:14, Revelation 19-21)
  • 12 crops of fruit, continually producing wholesome and pleasant fruit (Revelation 22:2)

The mention of “twelve” appears in other areas of the New Testament as well.

  • Jesus first spoke in the Temple at 12 years of age (Luke 2:42, 49-52).
  • Jesus raised Jarius’ 12-year-old daughter from a death-like state (Mark 5:42).
  • The miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes, providing 12 baskets of leftovers (Matthew 14:19–20; John 6:13).

As Jesus’ immediate followers, the Twelve’s faithful obedience would be challenged repeatedly. A promise of eternal honor was extended to these chosen men. “Jesus said to them [disciples], ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Matthew 19:28). This promise shows the glory and status reserved for these saints who had suffered persecution on earth for the cause of Christ. “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).

The 12 Disciples – Why These Men?

…The selection of the Twelve demanded the utmost deliberation as well as sacrifice. Prior to Jesus choosing these men, He fervently sought to fulfill the will of God, the Father. “. . . Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). These men would not only be His followers, but individuals who would be closest to Him. In every way, the Son of God chose to be vulnerable to these individuals. They would witness His fury against the moneychangers, His grief at a dear friend’s death, and His misery as they abandoned Him in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 2:13-16; 11:35; Mark 14:32-42). Still these men were the sort of people God has always desired—the humble. Despite their faults, the Twelve were teachable. Jesus wanted men who could understand the struggles of the broken-hearted, the poor, and the afflicted…

■ Finally, Christianity.com quoting Doug Bookman:

Since the multitudes had turned away from their promised Messiah, Jesus began a six-month period of private instruction with the Twelve, those He would prepare for the time of this death, resurrection, and departure…

…Seeking seclusion to instruct the Twelve, Jesus retreated to what would then be known as “heathen lands.” The leaders in Israel harassed him because of their animosity to His teaching, and no place within the region would allow Him a time of true private instruction. The Twelve Apostles would serve as the core of the future church, and this time would prepare them for—from their vantage point—the catastrophe of His death. His instruction during this time culminated in the Transfiguration, witnessed by the three members of the “inner circle,” Peter, James, and John, an event that fortified their faith and left an indelible impression on their later ministry (see 2 Peter 1:16-21).

 

 

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.