Pastor Scott L. Harris
May 16, 1993
The Twelve Disciples
What sort of person does it take to follow Jesus? What characteristics do you need to have in order to accomplish something significant for the cause of Christ? Do you need to be like one of the Apostles (Peter, James, John, Matthew, Thomas, etc.) in order to do something important for God? The answer is yes! But we shall see this morning as we examine the character of the apostles that anyone here who desires to follow Jesus is qualified to do something significant for the kingdom of God.
Turn with me to Matthew 10:1. This is the start of a new chapter, but it is not the start of a new thought. Several hundred years ago the Bible was divided into chapters and verses in order to make it easier to reference it as an aid to study. The chapter and verse divisions are helpful, but they are not sacred. Let’s review briefly to set the context of what chapter 10 is talking about.
Matthew 9:35 tells us that Jesus was going about in every city and village of Galilee teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. This is what Matthew had told us earlier in Matthew 4:23. Matthew 5, 6, and 7 detail the teachings of Jesus. He taught them what the Old Testament meant and how He was fulfilling its prophecies. There was good news for the kingdom of heaven was at hand, but they needed to repent and prepare for it. Matthew 8 and 9 detail that Jesus did heal every kind of disease and sickness, including the casting out of demons and raising people from the dead. The reaction of the people, reported toward the end of Matthew 9, shows that some people believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah and they followed Him. Others rejected Jesus and were antagonistic to His message. Most were amazed by what He said and taught, but that did not result in them making any significant changes in their lives. They remained indifferent to Him. (See: The Response to Jesus’ Ministry). At the end of the chapter, we see the compassion of Jesus upon the multitudes who were “distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.” In Matthew 9:37, Jesus calls on his disciples to also see the condition of the multitudes and their need. The “harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Jesus wanted them to respond to the need and “beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest.” Their first response was to pray. (See: Workers Needed). Now we come to the second response. The response that is inevitable when you pray – personal involvement.
Calling the Twelve
“And having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.”
The calling of these particular men by Jesus was not done haphazardly. Though Matthew does not record it, because it was not germane to his point, Luke 6:12 does record what Jesus did in preparation for this select group of disciples. These men who would be His apostles. “And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.”
Before we examine each of these men, let’s make sure we understand what Jesus was calling them to do.
First, note that Luke’s text says that Jesus called his disciples. This was a group far larger than just the twelve. Out of these many disciples, Jesus purposely selected twelve of them for a special relationship with Him and a special assignment. Matthew does not give this detail, but he does imply the idea by saying that Jesus “summoned” his twelve disciples. The Greek word for “summon” here means a call of an official nature. In addition, Matthew already marks out the selection of just twelve disciples officially called.
What is it that Jesus has called them to? They will no longer be just disciples, but they will now become apostles. Notice in Matthew 10:1 they are the twelve disciples, while in Matthew 10:2 they are apostles. What is the difference? A disciple is simply a “learner,” a “student” if you will. A disciple is someone who attaches himself to a teacher in order to learn from that teacher. An apostle, though, is someone who carries authority. They have both the power and the right to act on behalf of the one that sent them. Notice that authority is what Jesus gives to them in verse 1. He gives them authority over unclean spirits (i.e. demons) that they might cast them out. He also gives them authority to heal every kind of disease and sickness. Jesus had the authority, both the power and right, over these things and He gives it to His apostles.
The harvest is plentiful and Jesus needs more workers. He commissions these twelve men as His co-workers in the harvest, and He gives them His authority to carry out the work. In fact, the word “apostle” specifically refers to someone sent with the authority of the sender. You might get the idea when you think of an ambassador that represents one nation to another. The ambassador himself has no authority, but as the representative of his nation, he carries the authority of the nation that sent him. The apostles carried the authority of Jesus.
Who were these men that Jesus would entrust to represent Him with such authority? We would think they must have been extraordinary men of high standing, integrity, will, and courage. Jesus had spent all night praying about the decision. Certainly He picked only the best. Yet, we find that these men were ordinary. If anything, they were defective and inept for they often lacked faith, courage, commitment, power, spiritual understanding, and humility. They were weak, yet proud. Most churches would pass over men like these as potential leaders. They would not pass the psychological profile used by missions’ organizations to determine who can make it or not on the mission field.
But that is the point I want us to note as we examine each of these men. These men, of whom we are told in Acts 17:6 “upset (or turned upside down) the world,” were ordinary men. According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, we know that God’s choice is “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast in His presence.” It is not the ability of the man or the woman, but the ability of God that makes the difference. MacArthur said it well, “The greatness of God’s grace is seen in His choosing the undeserving to be His people and the unqualified to do His work. It should be a marvelous encouragement to every believer to know that, just as Elijah (James 5:17), the apostles had a nature like ours.”
The first apostle mentioned is Simon, also called Peter. Simon Peter is the foremost of the apostles. He is mentioned more often throughout the New Testament than any other Apostle. He is brash and bold. He asks and answers questions while the others shy away. This characteristic leads to both blessing and admonishment such as in Matthew 16 where he is praised for confessing that “Jesus is the Christ, the son of God,” and yet only a few verses later we find Jesus saying to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
Simon Peter is also a man of action. He wants to be in the middle of things and is bold and brave in what he says and does. It was Simon Peter that rose to the Lord’s defense in the garden when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Simon Peter took out his short sword and began swinging and managed to slice off Malchus’ ear. But Simon Peter also often boastfully spoke before thinking, such as when he brashly proclaimed that he would stay with Christ and was ready to be put in jail or die. Yet by the next morning, he had denied Jesus three times.
We find a bit of an impatient spirit in him too. After His resurrection the Lord told Simon Peter and the other Apostles to wait in Jerusalem, but after some time had passed, he decided to return to fishing (John 21:3). This is the character of the man the Lord chose as one of the Apostles – a bold, brash, boastful, and impatient fisherman named Simon. Yet the Lord turned such a man into Peter the Apostle, a fisher of men.
It is interesting to note the usage of which particular name is used for this man. We find that whenever he is acting out of his flesh he is called Simon or Simon Peter. But when he is acting in faith for the Lord, he is called Peter. In the Gospel accounts we find he is called Simon more than Peter, but throughout the Book of Acts he is consistently called Peter.
What changed Simon, the man that could not stand before a servant girl without denying Jesus, into Peter, the leading preacher at the beginning of the church who stood boldly before the Sanhedrin on several occasions and boldly proclaimed them to be guilty of the blood of Christ? The man who spread the gospel of Jesus throughout Jerusalem, then into Samaria, then to the Gentiles (Cornelius – Acts 10).
The difference was a life turned over to the Holy Spirit. That same difference is available to you. Are you like Simon? Acting before thinking, boastful, proud, impetuous? God can use you if you will put Him as your first priority and yield yourself to the Holy Spirit. God can change you also from a Simon into a Peter, a man who learned submission, restraint, humility, sacrifice, love, and courage. All of these qualities become evident in the Book of Acts and in the two epistles he wrote.
Tradition tells us about Peter’s death. After he was forced to witness the crucifixion of his wife he was also crucified, though it was upside-down at his request because he felt unworthy to die as Jesus died.
The next Apostle is Simon Peter’s brother, Andrew. Peter and Andrew were both originally fishermen from Bethsaida, but when we meet them in the Scriptures, they were fishing out of the town of Capernaum. Andrew was one of Jesus’ very first disciples. In John 1 we find that he had been a follower of John the Baptist and was prepared for the coming of the Messiah. When Andrew met Jesus, the first thing he did was go get his brother Simon. Maybe that was a fitting beginning, for we consistently find that Andrew lives in the shadow of Simon Peter. He is usually referred to as “Simon Peter’s brother.”
Andrew was more reserved. Andrew, like Peter, was inquisitive, which is why he found Jesus first, but he would ask his questions in private (Mark 13:3, 4). Andrew also demonstrated a simple faith. In John 5, when Jesus told the disciples to feed the people who had been following Jesus, and there were thousands, Andrew simply found what he could, which turned out to be a lad with five barley loaves and two fish, and he then brought them to Jesus. Andrew had seen Jesus turn the water into wine. He did not know what Jesus would do; he simply trusted He would do something to meet the need.
Andrew was characterized by humility, openness, and lack of prejudice. He saw not only the need to bring the gospel to his fellow Jews, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” but he apparently also understood the lesson given when Jesus revealed His was the Messiah to the Samaritan woman. The gospel was to go to all mankind. In John 12, we find him bringing some Gentiles to Jesus who were inquiring about the Lord.
Maybe you are like Andrew? You have questions and are a diligent seeker of truth, but you do not like the limelight. You do not like to be the center of attention. Andrew is the example of what the Lord can do through you. He is the model for all Christians who labor quietly in humble places and positions.
James and John
The next apostle is James, the son of Zebedee. We will talk about his brother John next, and most of what we say about James also applies to John, for throughout the gospels where James is mentioned, so is John. Whatever one did, the other was also involved. They were the sons of a prominent fisherman in Capernaum, which was the same town Simon and Andrew were fishing out of. They all knew each other well, and both sets of brothers are called by the Lord to be disciples on the same day (Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:16). They, like Simon Peter, and Andrew, became intimate friends with Jesus and part of His inner circle. They are the ones that were with Jesus when He was transfigured (Matthew 17) and in the Garden when Jesus was praying (Matthew 26).
James and John were characterized early on as being passionate, zealous, aggressive, and somewhat vengeful. In Mark 3:17, Jesus called them “Boanerges,” which means “Sons of Thunder,” to describe them. Luke 9:52-54 is an example of this aspect of their characters. It was getting near Passover and Jesus and the disciples were traveling to Jerusalem. As they were going through Samaria, they became victims of some of the religious and racial animosity that existed between Jews and Samaritans for they were refused lodging because Jesus “was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem.” James and John responded saying, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Their passion for Jesus is commendable, for we too should be incensed when someone dishonors the Lord, but their quick sentence of judgment and quest for vengeance is not.
We also find that they were self-seeking and not above asking their mother to help them gain what they wanted. In Matthew 20:21-22, we find they get their mother to request of Jesus the right and left-hand seats of power when Jesus would come into His kingdom. If you have that same sort of passion and ambition, then take heart, for Jesus chose not one, but two brothers that had those characteristics. God can use you, but beware. Those characteristics must be tempered and trained. Their zeal and ambition gained them positions of intimacy with Jesus and prominence among the disciples. It was probably that same sort of zealous response that eventually led to James being the very first martyr among the apostles (Acts 12). His boldness surpassed even Peter, because James was the first target in Herod’s effort to suppress the early church. Peter was arrested after James’ death. God needs men who will fearlessly lead and are willing to be martyrs for the kingdom as was James and men like Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Calvin, etc. However, undirected passion and selfish ambition are brash, loveless, insensitive, and lacking in wisdom, and that only damages the cause of Christ.
James’ brother John apparently was even more attentive to Jesus and learned and applied the lessons taught, for his very character changed. John was a “son of thunder.” He also was brash, zealous, ambitious, and vengeful, as was James. Yet we find in the epistles that he wrote toward the end of his life very different characteristics. He had become gentle, loving, and selfless. So much so that he is called both the Apostle of love and the beloved Apostle. Part of the reason for this change was how overwhelmed John was over the fact that Jesus loved him. A point seen several times in John’s gospel (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).
The closeness of John’s relationship with Jesus is seen also in that when Jesus was on the cross, He charged John to take care of His mother, Mary. Tradition holds that John did not leave Jerusalem until after Mary had died. Eventually he ended up in Ephesus, and then was banished to the small, barren Isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. There he received and recorded “Revelations”. He died about 98 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Trajan.
John is the example of what Jesus can do with a person who is willing to follow Him. John’s zeal and ambition kept him uncompromising in God’s truth and a staunch defender of it, but God trained him and tempered him to be loving and compassionate. The Holy Spirit can do the same in your life, but you have to yield your temperament to Him.
Philip is the next apostle mentioned. He was also from Bethsaida and was a friend of Simon, Peter, and Andrew. We find him first in John 1:43 when Jesus finds him and calls him to follow Him. It was not long before Philip found His friend Nathanael (Bartholomew) and tells him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip was a diligent student of the Old Testament for he quickly discerned that Jesus was the Messiah according to the Old Testament prophecies.
Philip also had a practical, analytical mind which is generally a virtue, but something that hindered him from spiritual discernment at times. In John 6 when Jesus feeds the 5,000, it is to Philip, who was probably the one in charge of getting food for Jesus and the disciples, that Jesus asks, “Where are we to buy bread that these may eat.” The text there tells us that Jesus said this to test Philip, and Philip failed. He immediately calculated it out in verse 7, “200 denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them . . .”. Philip is practical, but he failed to see it would have to be the Lord that would provide. Almost three years later, we still see this failure of spiritual insight. At the last supper, Philip asks Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus then rebuked Him saying in essence, “you’ve been with me three years and you still do not understand that if you have seen me, you have seen the Father?”
Philip was also somewhat intimidated. When certain Greeks came to Jerusalem and wanted to see Jesus, they went to Philip first, but Philip did not take them straight to Jesus, he went and got Andrew first, and then they went to Jesus. Even so, God used Philip and these Greek men were brought to Jesus.
Maybe you see yourself somewhat like Philip? Your tendency is to be thinking and practical, but lacking in spiritual insight. Maybe you are like him in that you are somewhat intimidated and want to help to bring someone to Christ. God can use you even as He used Philip if you will let Him. Tradition tells us that Philip’s faith increased and he also became a martyr. It is said he was stripped, hung upside down by his feet, had his legs pierced with sharp stakes, and he slowly bled to death. It is said he asked not to be covered with a linen shroud when he died, for he felt unworthy to be buried as was the Lord.
The next apostle is Philip’s friend Nathanael, who is also known as Bartholomew. He too, like Philip, was a student of the Old Testament and earnestly sought after God’s truth and the coming of the Messiah. However, Bartholomew was affected by prejudice, and instead of judging Jesus from Philip’s report, he judged Jesus according to where Jesus was raised saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” However, Bartholomew was more controlled by truth than prejudice and so ended up following Jesus. Jesus said of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). He responded to Jesus with a question challenging Jesus to prove His words were true and not flattery. Bartholomew was pessimistic. Jesus answered Him the way only the Messiah could, “I knew you beforehand,” i.e., I am omniscient. God can use a pessimist who is not deceitful, hypocritical, or phony, but a seeker after the truth.
The next apostle is also pessimistic. We often call him “doubting Thomas” because he said he would not believe the Lord was raised from the dead until he saw Him and touched Him. But Thomas’ pessimism had already been established. When Jesus took the disciples with Him when He went to raise Lazarus from the dead, it was Thomas, being aware of the danger of going that close to Jerusalem which was the stronghold of the Scribes and Pharisees, that said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” He fully expected the religious leaders to seize and kill Jesus. Yet within that pessimism is a commitment that is unequaled, for he was ready to die with Jesus if that was what was needed. Thomas totally believed in Jesus, and Thomas wanted to be with Him. That is seen in John 14 when Jesus says that He would be going away, and it was Thomas that immediately wanted to know where He was going and how to get there too.
Pessimism and having doubts is no hindrance when it is overcome by a commitment to seeking and finding the truth – and loyalty to Jesus Christ. “Doubting” Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and My God.” Tradition holds that he took the gospel to India where the Mar Thoma church in southwest India traces its origin to him. He also died a martyr from a spear.
Matthew, also called Levi, is next, but we have already covered him in detail when we examined the Lord’s call to him in Matthew 9:9. What a wonderful example of the change the Lord makes in a life. A man considered to be a traitor to his nation, and worse than thieves and prostitutes, is changed into the apostle whose primary ministry is to the Jewish nation. Your past is no hindrance to what God can do with you!
James, Thaddaeus, and Simon
The next three apostles we are going to take as a group because there is just not much known about them. First is James, the son of Alphaeus, who is also called James the lesser. Both names are to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee. He was called, “the lesser,” either as a reference to being younger in age, or possibly smaller in size. Nothing he said or did is recorded. It is claimed he preached the gospel in Persia and was crucified there as a martyr.
Thaddaeus, a name usually used as a reference to the youngest child in a family, is also called Judas, the son of James. The only words of his recorded in Scripture are in John 14:22 when he asks Jesus, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world.” He was looking, like the rest of them, for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, and he did not understand how Jesus could do that and keep it hidden from the world. Jesus then further explained the nature of the kingdom and who it would be manifested to. Nothing else is recorded about Thaddaeus. Tradition holds that he ministered the gospel in Syria and was eventually martyred by being beaten to death with a club.
Simon the Zealot, (called “Canaanite” in the KJV, which is an unfortunate transliteration for the Greek word does not mean a Canaanite, but a zealous person). Only this title gives us some insight into him as probably a member of radical political party of the Zealots. They wanted Rome overthrown and used guerilla tactics which included assassinations, ambushes, etc. in an effort to achieve their ends. But whatever originally motivated Simon to join Jesus, they soon departed, and his devotion to the savior increased.
James, Thaddaeus, and Simon join the many other Old Testament saints of whom little is known except they were faithful to the Lord and endured many things on His behalf (see Hebrews 11:36-39). You may feel you are obscure and unimportant, but God can and will use you if you will let Him. God will use those who seek Him regardless of personal characteristics or prominence.
The last apostle is Judas Iscariot which means “Judas, man of Kerioth” which was a small town in Judea. Here is a man controlled by self-desire. A covetous man of whom Scripture records that he stole from the groups’ purse for he was their treasurer. His greatest act of covetousness was his betrayal of the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. His greatest hypocrisy, using a kiss as the sign of betrayal to the Lord. There is much that could be said about this man, and all of it is negative. But that does not fit my purpose this morning. My point this morning is that regardless of who you are and what you are like, God can use you, and as we have seen, He can and will.
But what about the person that feigns love for God, walks alongside God’s people, but in truth is not concerned about God’s will, but only his or her own. God will use that person too. Judas was evil, but needed, for there had to be someone to betray Jesus in order to fulfill the Scriptures. God needed a man with a wicked heart; Jesus found him and chose him. Judas fulfilled the reason he was chosen.
Judas is the greatest tragedy of humanity ever, for he lived with Jesus for three years, yet still turned his back on Him. But there are others that are really no different. They have heard the gospel. They have read the Bible. They even come to church activities, but they still do not follow the savior. Their end will be like Judas. God will still use them, for He does use such people who are wicked in heart to both chastise his church and to call them to greater vigilance. But what a tragedy that person is, for their judgment will be great. We may even have a few people like Judas in our midst. They are not easy to distinguish. Remember even at the last supper, the other apostles did not understand that Judas would be the betrayer.
But happily there was only one Judas Iscariot, and in the church, they are only a very small minority. In the church there are the bold and brash like Simon who can be turned into Peters. There are sons of thunder like James and John who can become the bold spokesmen the church needs as well as those with great capacities to love. There are those whose past lives are like Matthew, but they can be made righteous.
The ability to serve God is not based on your abilities, but on God’s ability. He can change you, equip you, and empower you to serve Him. But you have to be willing to follow and yield yourself to the Holy Spirit just like the Apostles did. They were ordinary men who accomplished extraordinary things because they served the living God. What can God do through you? What will you let Him do?
(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
For comments, please e-mail Church office