The Teaching and Training of the Twelve
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 James348 and John. Philip and Nathanael son of Tolmai (i.e., Bartholemew) were good friends. 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 who followed 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, such a conclusion 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).349
This paper 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. The paper will then turn to “Kingdom Leadership Training” whereby Jesus took this band of men and used them to change the world.
John’s Gospel takes us closer to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry than the other Gospels. 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).
I conjecture that Peter, 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. However, the Synoptic Gospels show that they continued to fish for their livelihoods. Consequently, they were not with John all the time.
They had the good fortune to be there when Jesus returned from the wilderness. John the Baptist, 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. Jesus gave Simon a new name, Cephas = Peter = Rock. Apparently Jesus had already chosen Simon Peter for foundational work, but Peter, as we will 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, we read in Mathew’s Gospel 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).
Knowing about the earlier encounter that John recorded gives greater sensibility to this passage. We know, for example, why Simon was also “called Peter.” We also can better surmise why they immediately left their nets to follow Jesus, since they had already spent time with Him and had heard Him teach. They had seen Him turn water into wine to rescue a wedding party. The timing of this meeting was still pretty early in Jesus’ ministry, because He does not seem to be among a crowd. In this encounter, Jesus told them that He had a career change in mind for them. They left their nets and followed Him on 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).
However, at some point during this tour, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John again 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 following table records the unique differences between Luke’s story and Matthew and Mark’s story:
Matthew and Mark
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 gotten 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’ knees350, 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 once more advised Peter of a career change. Peter, his brother, 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 probably 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 three-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.
Actually 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. 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).
So 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
· Reputable friends
· Asked Jesus to leave because of sin
· Discovered that he was lost
· Disreputable business
· Disreputable friends
· Invited his friends because of sin
· 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” newcomers. 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 with children from Christian homes and “other” homes. How will the Christian parents react? How do you prepare them to face their fears about the influences 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.
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 know what criteria He used. All we know is that He prayed all night before announcing His decision:
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: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor (Luke 6:12-16).
The brothers were Peter and Andrew, John and James, Matthew and James and maybe Thomas. The friends were Philip and Bartholomew. Add to this that Judas the son of James may have been the nephew of his uncles Matthew and Thomas. 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 as then did Judas, who became a traitor.
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, let us compare Matthew and Judas in the same way we compared Peter and Matthew:
· Disreputable background
· Stole money before meeting Jesus
· Knew he was lost and found salvation
· Reputable background351
· Stole money after meeting Jesus
· Never found salvation
After praying all night, Jesus chose twelve men to receive more intensive training. Among these was Judas Iscariot, who would betray Jesus. With Judas, we have another ironic twist. The entourage trusted him with the moneybox, whereas they may not have trusted Matthew. In the end, it was Judas who betrayed Jesus.
It may be the same for many of us. We will finally leave everything to follow Jesus after we have known Him long enough to recognize His great worth. For many of us, Jesus will choose us from shady pasts. All of us must choose Him as our highest good, lest we become as Judas and later betray Him. Salvation is open to all, but discipleship is a demanding road. For this reason, the next section will cover the training the twelve receive. I will be using a college metaphor. As such, I will discuss the tuition, the core curriculum, and the “Master’s” program.
Salvation is free. Along with salvation comes a plethora of continuing education courses that help us lead quiet and peaceful lives. These courses are also free. The Master’s Discipleship program is different. The tuition, which requires payment on the installment plan, is quite steep as these passages show:
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 (Luke 14:25-33).
Then Peter said to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: in the age when all things are renewed, 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. And whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:27-29).
The tuition for the Master’s Discipleship program is your life. We are to take up our cross, and we are to renounce our possessions. This does not necessarily mean that we must sell all and give to the poor, because the Old and New Testaments show godly and devoted men and women who retained great wealth. It does mean that such possessions as we have must not have our heart. This is best achieved by focusing on the Person and ministry of Jesus.
Such a focus is important. I became aware of this 23 years ago when I attended an advanced motorcycle riding school. I have never been all that coordinated, being the subject of many team picking arguments (“You take him.” – “No, you.”). But after two weeks, I was doing tight figure eights while riding a large bike. The key was to focus my eyes ahead of the bike to where I wanted it to go. The brain, I was told, knows how to take eye focus and translate it into what the bike needs to do now to get there then. Ten years after that, I bought my first softball glove ever and joined our church’s softball team. I asked myself, what happens if I just watch the ball? A marvelous thing happened over and over again. I would watch the ball, and my glove would be in the right place to catch it. This demonstrated again that the brain knows how to take eye focus and translate it into what the gloved hand needs to do now to get there then.
If we look at our sin, or the sins of others, we will tend to move in the direction of sin. At best, we will only be able to put on the brakes and say, “I am not going there.” Looking in that direction will never lead us on the paths of righteousness. Let me illustrate this: “When is a thief not a thief?” I love asking this question. Every time I have asked this, I have heard this answer, “When he is not stealing.” Sometimes I get the same answer with different punctuation, “When he is not stealing?” The question mark comes from those who see a trap on the path. Here is my answer, “A thief who is not stealing is a thief out of work.” Now consider these words from Paul, “The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may share with the one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). A thief is not a thief when he labors in order to have something to give. Spiritual eye focus on sin keeps you in the “not stealing” frame of mind, and you fail to see the movement of soul needed to become generous.
If, however, we read the Gospels and the Scriptures and focus on Jesus’ life and character, we will move toward Him. We will find Him to be of great worth. There is pain in even this simple step because we will never be where He is in terms of character, Spirit, and power. But that is just the point. Our spirit, with our eyes on Him, powered and directed by His Spirit within, knows what we need to do now to get us closer then. As we find Him to be of increasing value, the value of our earthly things and endeavors shrinks. We learn to take up our cross and lay down our lives.
In this way, we pay our tuition each day for the rest of our lives. Of course, let us also remember the endowment that made opening this school possible. It cost Jesus everything He had, too.
The core curriculum of the twelve disciples was that which was open to all the disciples. What an extraordinary opportunity the men and women who followed Jesus had! The one thing they had which we will never have is His physical presence. We have His words, but they had His body language. They had His tone of voice. They saw the full context of His words. We have the writings, but they had the speaker. What a great gift!
They had His teaching and marveled at the authority that He had. Jesus did not quote the Rabbis. He was bold, “You have heard that it was said. . ., but I say to you.” You had to trust that Jesus was for real, and let us not think that was easy. To trust Him then was to hear His wisdom and watch Him live it out. By word and model, He taught the people who would hear.
When the Jewish leadership rejected Him, Jesus began to speak in parables to hide His message. To be one of His disciples meant having the inside scoop. The Gospel of Mark describes both of these notions:
When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. He said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables, so that although they look they may look but not see, and although they hear they may hear but not understand, so they may not repent and be forgiven” (Mark 4:10-12).
The disciples had the secrets of the Kingdom given to them by trusting Jesus enough to be with Him. They got to hear the parables explained.
The disciples also had ministry internships. First the twelve were sent out two-by-two. At a later time, seventy-two were sent out. They heard Jesus teach, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Jesus taught the teachers, and now they went forth on their practice runs.
For all this, and it must have been extraordinary, the twelve had more. They had Master’s courses in Servant Leadership, Advanced Faith, and great intimacy with the Teacher.
Luke records this event during the Passover before Jesus’ arrest:
A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24).
By this we know that the twelve discussed and disputed rank among themselves up to the very day of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Being in the inner circle can go to one’s head. Those years that they spent alongside Jesus were full of the expectation of an emerging Kingdom. Jesus would sit on His throne in glory, and they would be the upper crust of His administration. But only one of them could sit at His right; one more could sit at His left; and the remaining ten would have lesser positions. They argued, seemingly often, about who would claim the most honorable positions. Even proud parents entered the fray:
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked him for a favor. He said to her, “What do you want?” She replied, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” Now when the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers (Matthew 20:20-24).
You can bet they were angry about this underhanded move. It is remarkable that this band of twelve men does not come apart at the seams. But who was going to leave with such opportunity looming?
In the meantime, Jesus taught and modeled a better way. Even though it did not connect before His death, it certainly became evident after His resurrection. To see this, let’s continue the story of John, James, the meddling mother, and the disgruntled ten:
But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
This is the course on “Servant Leadership.” This is leadership that oversees the welfare of those entrusted to you. John Haggai defines leadership this way:
Leadership is the discipline of deliberately exerting special influence within a group to move it toward goals of beneficial permanence that fulfill the group’s real needs.352
Contrast John Haggai’s definition of leadership with Jesus’ words, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them.” Compare Haggai’s words with “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” Servant Leadership is not the way the world sees things. Servant Leadership lays down its own life for the sake of the followers.
Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down. A leader is responsible for the welfare of a group. Authority is given as a tool to bring about that welfare. Any other use of authority is corrupting. Note John Haggai’s notion that a leader “exerts special influence within a group to move it.” He uses the words “influence” and “within” to describe the kind of leadership the world desperately needs.
In spite of Jesus’ teaching, the disciples argued over who was the greatest up to the Last Supper. At that time, Jesus demonstrated Servant Leadership principles in an extraordinary way:
Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” (For Jesus knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”) So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:3-17).
I love how this section begins, “Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him.” Astounding! Because Jesus had all authority, He stripped to His undergarments to wash the feet of those entrusted to His care. He did what those clamoring for position expected someone else to do. This is the example Christian leaders must follow. This is the example that fathers must have in their homes. This is the example that pastors and elders must follow in their churches. We are to lay down our lives as Christ laid down His life for the Church. Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down.
Jesus taught and modeled Servant Leadership, but at the Last Supper it looked like every student in the class was going to fail. They still argued about who was greatest. Did it ever change and, if so, what brought it about? Change it did for several reasons. First of all, none of the twelve made a good showing the night of the arrest. Judas Iscariot betrayed Him. Peter denied knowing Him, and all but John ran away and hid. Who was going to claim a right hand seat after that? Second, Jesus appeared to several people the day of His resurrection. The women saw Him first, and two disciples walking to Emmaus spent an afternoon in conversation. Ten of the eleven remaining disciples did not see Him until the evening. On the day that would change the world, Jesus refused to give the inner circle inner privilege. Third, Jesus’ death and resurrection showed them in stark terms their destiny as leaders. Jesus had asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup that I will drink?” Now they knew of what they must drink. Fourth, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost gave them power and enabled them to walk the Servant Leader path.
Jesus taught and modeled the kind of leadership needed in life. As he surrendered His life, the flimsy foundation on which His disciples based their claims to greatness crashed and lay in shambles. When He rose from the dead, He only sent news to them of this great event and, thus, left them to wonder about their place and position. These two actions made them teachable and, by the Holy Spirit, able to lead as those who lay down their lives for those in their care.
Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down. To those with a mind and heart to do so, lay down your life, and lead on.
Perhaps you have heard, as I have, teachings that poke fun at the twelve disciples of Jesus. They are always bickering among themselves, and Peter is always sticking his foot in his mouth. What such teachings really say is that these twelve men came from simple and common backgrounds. The time has come, however, to set the record straight that these were great men of faith before Jesus took them to a new level. Consider these facts:
- They all left everything to follow Jesus. How many people have you known who have done this?
- They all received, by faith, the authority to heal the sick and to cast out demons.
- They stuck with Jesus even after many left. They were there until the arrest, which many anticipated.
As you can see, these twelve men demonstrated a remarkable faith, a faith beyond what we commonly see. Jesus was not satisfied with this level. Here is the level He wanted from them:
When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, because he is epileptic and suffers terribly, for he often falls into the fire and into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they were not able to heal him.” Jesus answered, “You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him here to me.” Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” He told them, “It was because of your little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:14-20).
Note Jesus’ words, “the littleness of your faith.” He was saying this to men who left everything to be there and who had already seen and done powerful things. Jesus was holding them to a higher standard. Look at this story:
On that day, when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So after leaving the crowd, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat, and other boats were with him. Now a great windstorm developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped. But he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” So he got up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Calm down!” Then the wind stopped, and it was dead calm. And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41, emphasis mine).
Again note Jesus’ words, “Do you still not have faith?” Jesus was never satisfied with the faith the disciples showed. This was not because He was being overly critical, but that He wanted them to do great things. This was Jesus’ goal:
Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (John 14:11-14).
The disciples demonstrated great faith in leaving everything and sticking beside Jesus in good times and bad. If Jesus had praised that, it would have ended there. Instead, He counted it almost as nothing, and merely the starting point. Instead, He challenged them to believe truly great things.
The message for us is obvious. Let us consider the faith we have today as nothing, and ask Him to create in our inner selves, a faith that can do anything in His name.
Intimacy and Friendship
Before His arrest, Jesus spoke these words to the remaining eleven:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. My commandment is this—to love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. This I command you—to love one another” (John 15:5-17).
Jesus made it clear that these words were for all who believe all through the centuries, but His closest associates heard it first. Certainly there are aspects of Jesus’ words here that apply most to the eleven, “I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father.” This is their diploma for leaving everything and pressing on for more faith: an intimate friendship with Jesus, and through Jesus, with the Father.
Obviously, my goal for this paper is to nudge contemporary Christians to lay down more of their lives and press towards greater faith. You may be someone like Peter, brought up in a believing home, living a good life, but fearful of His holiness. You may be someone like Matthew with a lot in life for which you are ashamed. He calls you both. It is only those who claim worth before Him that have cause to fear. Get to know Him, and get to know His worth. Lay aside everything He asks you, and follow His leading. Let Him challenge you to greater faith. Seek His voice and listen.
The disciples in Jesus’ day had an enviable opportunity. They could hear the tone in His voice, watch His hand gestures, and react to His posture and other body language cues. We do not have that today, and that actually is a better thing. On earth, Jesus was limited by geography. After His ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to fill and empower us to serve His Kingdom on earth. As Luke writes in the opening words of Acts, “I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues “to do and teach,” and that means through us.
347 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Donald E. Curtis at Community Bible Chapel, on January 20, 2002. Don is an elder at Cobb Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Kennesaw, Georgia. You can e-mail comments and questions to his weblog at http://nbchesed.blogspot.com
348 The Greek word is “jacobo” and would normally be translated as the name Jacob. Indeed, whenever this name refers to an Old Testament figure, it is translated as Jacob. Only for the New Testament is the name changed to read “James.” In all other language translations, the name is translated as Jacob or its equivalent. I have been unable to find the genesis of this convention in the English Bible.
349 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
350 The Greek word here means “knees,” but some translations read “feet.” Peter would have been at Jesus’ feet were the boat not full of fish. Peter was face-on-fish as low as he could get to express his dismay over the miracle and Jesus’ presence.
351 Predicated on the fact that he was trusted to keep the money for the band.
352 John Haggai, Lead On (Waco: Word Books, 1986), p. 4.
Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)