The Making of an Apostle / Spiritual Meditations

The 2000-year triumph of the Apostolic endeavor is a testimony to the wisdom and power of the divine strategy.

They were 12 perfectly ordinary unexceptional men. The strategy Jesus chose in their selection typified the character of the Kingdom itself “not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit says the Lord of hosts.” A dozen men under the power of the Holy Spirit are a more potent force than the teeming masses whose initial enthusiasm for Jesus was apparently provoked by little more than sheer curiosity.

Christ personally chose the 12 and invested most of his energies in them. He chose them before they chose him (John 15: 16). The process of choosing and calling them happened in distinct stages. Careless readers of scriptures sometimes imagine that John 1: 35-51, Luke 5: 3-11, and the formal calling of the 12 in Luke 6: 12-16 are contradictory accounts of how Christ called his Apostles. But there is no contradiction. These passages are simply describing different stages of the Apostles calling.

The Conversion

In John 1: 35-51, for example, Andrew, John, Peter, Phillip, and Nathaniel encountered Jesus for the first time. This event occurs near the beginning of Jesus ministry in the wilderness near the Jordan river, where John the Baptist was ministering. Andrew, John, and the others were there because they were already disciples of John the Baptist. But when they heard their teacher single out Jesus and say, “behold the Lamb of God” they followed Jesus.

That was phase one of their calling. It was a calling to conversion. It illustrates how every disciple is called first to salvation. We must recognize Jesus as the true Lamb of God and Lord of all, and embrace him by faith. That stage of the disciples’ call did not involve full time discipleship. The gospel narratives suggest that although they follow Jesus in the sense that they gladly heard his teaching and submitted to him as their teacher, they remained at their full-time jobs, earning a living through regular employment. That is why from this point until Jesus called them to full-time ministry, we often see them fishing and mending their Nets.

The Ministry

Phase two of their calling was a call to ministry. Luke 5 describes the events in detail. This was the occasion when Jesus pushed out from shore to escape the press of the multitudes and taught from Peter’s boat. After he finished teaching, he instructed Peter to launch out to the deep water and put in his nets. Peter did so, even though the timing was wrong (fish were easier to catch at night when the water was cooler and the fish surfaced to feed), the place was wrong (fish normally fed in shallower waters and were easier to catch there), and Peter was exhausted (having fished all night without any success). He told Jesus, “master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless, at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5: 5). The resulting catch of fish overwhelmed their Nets and nearly sank two of their fishing boats.

It was on the heels of that miracle that Jesus said, “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4: 19). Scripture says it was at this point that “they forsook all and followed him” (Luke 5: 11). According to Matthew, Andrew and Peter “immediately left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4: 20). And James and John “immediately… left the boat and their father and followed him.”  From that point on, they were inseparable from the Lord.

The Apostleship

In Luke chapters 5 and 6 he describes the escalating conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of Judaism. The scribes and Pharisees “were filled with rage and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” They were already hatching plans to murder him.

Seeing the inevitability of his execution, it was time for Jesus to choose his Apostles, the 12 key messangers to carry on the proclamation of his gospel for the salvation of Israel and the establishment of the church. There weren’t many days left (about 18 months, by most estimates) before his earthly ministry would end. Their most intensive training would begin immediately and be complete within a matter of months.

Here is Luke’s account of the incident:

“Now it came to pass in those days that he went out to the mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples to himself and from them he chose 12 whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Phillip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot, Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.”

Not one of the men he chose came from the religious establishment. The choosing of the 12 Apostles was a judgment against institutionalized Judaism. It was a renunciation of those men and their organizations, which had become totally corrupt.

Their Apostleship began with a kind of internship. Mark 6:7 says Jesus sent out two by two. At this stage they were not quite ready to go out alone, so Christ teamed them in pairs, so that they would offer one another mutual support.

Throughout this phase of their training, the Lord himself stuck closely with them. He was like a mother eagle, watching the eaglets as they began to fly. They were always checking back with him, reporting on how things were going (Luke 9: 10, 10: 17). And after a couple of seasons of evangelistic labor they returned to the Lord and remained with him for an extended time of teaching ministry, fellowship, and rest (Mark 6: 30-34).

The Martyrdom

There was a fourth phase of their calling, which occurred after Jesus’s resurrection. Judas was now missing from the group, having hanged himself after his betrayal of Christ. Jesus appeared to the remaining 11 in his resurrection body and sent them into all the world, commanding them to disciple the nations. This was, in effect, a call to martyrdom. Each of them ultimately gave his life for the sake of the gospel. History records that all but one of them was killed for their testimony. Only John is said to have lived to old age, and he was severely persecuted for Christ’s sake, then exiled to the tiny island of Patmos.

Despite the obstacles they faced, they triumphed. In the midst of great persecution and even martyrdom, they fulfilled their task. Against all odds, they entered victorious into glory. And the continuing witness of the gospel — spanning 2000 years’ time and reaching into virtually every corner of the world — is a testimony to the wisdom of the divine strategy.

The 12

Jesus selected them not for any extraordinary abilities or spiritual superiority. He seemed to have deliberately chosen men who were notable only for their ordinariness. The 12 were like the rest of us, they were selected from the unworthy and the unqualified. they did not rise to the highest usefulness because they were somewhat different from us; their transformation into vessels of honor was solely the work of the Potter.

Let’s not, however, underestimate the importance of their office. Upon their selection, the 12 Apostles in effect became the true spiritual leaders of Israel. The religious elite of apostate Israel were symbolically set aside when Jesus chose them. The Apostles became the first preachers of the new covenant. They were the ones to whom the Christian gospel was first entrusted. They represented the true Israel of God — a genuinely repentant and believing Israel. They also became the foundation stones of the church, with Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2: 20). Those truths are heightened, not diminished, by the fact that these men were so ordinary.

They became great spiritual leaders and great preachers under the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not because of any innate oratorical skill, leadership abilities, or academic qualifications these men had. Their influence is owing to one thing and one thing only: the power of the message they preached.

The Teacher

How did Jesus choose them? He first went off to commune with his Father. “he went out to the mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6: 12). Don’t miss this point: the choice Christ would soon make was of such monumental importance that it required 11 hours of prayer in preparation.

When the night of prayer was over, he returned to where his disciples were and summoned them (“and when it was day, he called his disciples to himself” (Luke 6: 13). it was not only the 12 whom he summoned. The word disciple in this context speaks of his followers in a broad sense. The word itself means “student, learner.” There must have been numerous disciples, and from them, he would choose 12 to fill the office of Apostle.

This was a remarkable moment for those twelve. Up to this point, Peter, James, John, Andrew, Nathaniel, Matthew, and the others were just part of the crowd. They were learners like everyone else in the group. They had been following and listening and observing and absorbing his teaching. But they didn’t yet have any official role of leadership.

And when Jesus publicly appointed 12 men to be his Apostles, the significance of that number was loud and clear to all. The Apostles represented a whole new Israel, under the new covenant. And their appointment — bypassing the religious establishment of official Judaism—signified a message of judgment against national Israel. Clearly these 12 ordinary men were not destined for an ordinary role. They stood in the place of the heads of 12 tribes. They were living proof that the Kingdom that Jesus was about to establish was altogether different from the Kingdom most Israelites anticipated.

They would speak with his authority, deliver his message, and exercise his authority.

The Task

In Luke 9, several months later, Jesus gives them power to work miracles and cast out demons. Not until then did he “send them out to preach.” Not only would they found the church and play a pivotal leadership role as the early church grew and branched out, but they also became the channels through which most of the New Testament would be given. They received truth from God by divine revelation. Ephesians 3: 5 is very explicit: “ which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy Apostles and prophets.”

Before the New Testament was complete the Apostles teaching was the only source of truth about Christ and church doctrine. And their teaching was received with the same authority as the written Word. In fact, the written New Testament is nothing other than the Spirit inspired record of the Apostles teaching and is still the only rule by which sound doctrine can be tested, even today.

Why was the Learning Process so Difficult for the Apostles?

First of all, they lacked spiritual understanding. Scattered through the New Testament we are told that at times the Apostles were thick, dull stupid or blind.

The second problem that made the learning process difficult for the disciples is that they lacked humility. They could be self-centered, self-absorbed, self-promoting and proud.

Third, not only did they lack understanding and humility, but they also lacked faith. Four times in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “O you of little faith”.

Fourth, they lacked commitment. When the soldiers came into the garden to arrest Jesus, the Apostles all forsook him and fled (Mark 14: 50).

Fifth, they lacked power. When confronted with an enemy they were often weak and helpless. There were times when they tried but could not cast out demons.

What did Jesus do to remedy these weaknesses? He continued to teach them and on the day of Pentecost, he sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them.

Over the next few weeks, this blog will talk a little more about each individual Apostle.  But until then you may be interested in theories concerning where the Apostles traveled (or not) to spread the Gospel.

15 Elusive Apostles Unlocked

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Relevant Scripture

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,  so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

Jesus called his 12 disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. (Matthew 10: 1)

When the Apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, (Luke 9: 10)


Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur

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