This sermon was delivered to the congregation at Trinity United Methodist Church in Youngstown, Ohio on October 10, 1976.
One of the greatest events in the history of the Christian church was the choosing of the twelve Disciples. Mark tells us what Jesus was looking for when he selected what seems to us an odd assortment of educated, uneducated, talented, and untalented men.
First – they all had a close personal association with Jesus. They would have a pure, unadulterated, undiluted training course in His teachings because they had not come under the influence of rabbinical training. They were expected to make missionary tours after they had finished their training under Jesus to spread the Christian Gospel on their own.
Now, in modern terms, I suppose we could call their goal more as a medical missionary calling. They were told to heal the sick and teach the Gospel. But, in Jesus’s day, healing the sick and teaching love of fellowman and the glory of God was an all out campaign against the devil and evil.
Some of the twelve did work of far-reaching significance. But, because some of the others are lesser known to us does not necessarily mean that they didn’t accomplish anything.
Let’s look at these twelve men Jesus picked to help him spread the gospel. I think you will agree that they could hardly compose a very promising theological college as we would view it today. But Jesus, in his infinite wisdom, had a deeper insight into the souls of these men. And, as we said before, they were going to be trained by The Master Himself.
First, there was Matthew a hated tax collector. Probably not one of the eleven other Disciples wanted him around at all. He had been openly corrupt in collecting Roman taxes. But, he left this comfortable, profitable position to follow Jesus because he valued the Kingdom of God which Jesus represented more than he did the money of the Roman Empire.
Simon, the Zealot, was eager to slay any Roman or Roman sympathizer on command. He was, what we might term in modern day language, a “hit man.” He was a rebel who looked upon tax collectors and the taxation they represented as slavery. You can imagine how well he and Matthew first got along.
Jesus called James and John “Brothers of Thunder.” These two men were so greatly prejudiced against Samaritans that they thought that God should send down fire and destroy them all. These two brothers were big men, strong, brave, used to hard living as fishermen. It would be John who would stay at the foot of the cross to comfort Jesus’s mother, Mary, during the Crucifixion. James was the wiser of the two. He developed great human compassion and would later be the first Disciple to die a martyr.
Then there was Simon (also named Peter). His temperament easily betrayed his best insights. Three times on the night of Jesus’s arrest he would deny ever knowing Jesus. He had heard Jesus teach of love, care, and concern for fellow men, but it would be hard for him to develop love of fellow man as a way of life. After Jesus’s death, Simon-Peter would become one of the great teachers of Jesus’s ways.
Peter’s brother, Andrew, introduced Peter to Jesus. And, even though Andrew was one of Jesus’s first real friends, he was not among the three Disciples – Peter, James and John – whom Jesus would call to be close to him in moments of crisis. Like his brother, he too was a fisherman.
Thomas has been generally known as “the doubter” yet he was a true and loyal friend. Toward the close of Jesus’s life at Bethany, when some of the Disciples protested Jesus’s plan to press on to Jerusalem, it was Thomas who said, “Let us all go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him.” Some scholars wonder if Thomas indeed was the most discerning of all twelve Disciples.
Philip’s dominant spiritual attribute was power. Because he knew the Greek language so well, he was often called “the Greek.” But he was from the city of Andrew and Peter. He lived in Galilee, as they did.
Jude, or Thaddeaus, was sometimes called Judas, but he is not to be confused with Judas Iscariot. Thaddeus was a brother of James the Less, and is believed to have been of the family of Jesus.
James the Less was called that because he was younger than James, the brother of John. It is believed that he could have been a cousin of Jesus. In later years he became the first Bishop of the church in Jerusalem.
Bartholomew – also called Nathaniel, had imagination. He was among the first six men chosen by Jesus to be a Disciple. Jesus recognized him as a man of great foresight and vision. However, when Philip found Nathaniel resting under a fig tree and told him that he had found the Messiah in Nazareth, his reply was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
And finally we come to Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. Judas always hoped that Jesus would bring a physical, materialistic, earthly kingdom that would overthrow Roman rule. It was Judas who usually carried away the money and paid the expenses as the Disciples traveled from place to place. Jesus trusted Judas to live up to his spiritual self. Confident that Jesus would save Himself upon the cross, Judas watched in horror as Jesus died, and then Judas went off and killed himself.
It’s quite possible that the Roman and Jewish authorities did not fully realize the consequences of attaching themselves to Jesus. But the impact these men attaching themselves to Jesus’s teachings and following this itinerant preacher and the potentiality of this nondescript band of “laymen” was revealed when Jesus decided upon an all-out religious campaign in the villages of Galilee.
This campaign revealed, for the first time, the true missionary activity and the form in which it progressed. It showed the organizational power of these twelve inspired men along with their beloved Teacher, Jesus. By the time the Gospels were written, the details of Jesus’s instructions to the Disciples would be carefully noted and remembered.
Luke gives us three illustrations of the way in which Jesus selected and dealt with the men to whom his message was making its appeal. Offering them an attractive, easy deal, or a more comfortable, smoother life style was never in his thoughts. He
laid it on the line and told it as it was. To the effervescing enthusiast he suggested that he had better count the cost of following a then nameless wanderer named Jesus.
The man who wanted to wait until his father died was told that the Heavenly Father’s business required haste right then. He was told that there would be enough men with dead souls to bury his father when he died.
Another man said that before joining Jesus and his group he wanted to go home and say goodbye to his family. Jesus remembered, all too well how his own relatives and home folks tried to divert him from his God-centered work and purpose.
Mark tells us of the rich man who came running up to Jesus, to ask how he might have eternal life. Jesus was attracted to this strong, earnest man. But, again, with his supreme ability to read people, he imposed on him the condition of parting with his wealth. In a flash the man realized what a tremendous sacrifice he would have to make.
The chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell of the deep, dismal valley and the high, exhilarating mountain-top experiences of Jesus and the twelve Disciples. Jesus teaching and healing. The Disciples watching and learning and strengthening their faith.
Then almost overnight, Jesus was taken from them. Stunned, they went into hiding. Then, after shock and mourning, the glorious realization that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead and would dwell among them forever in a different form. They reorganized. They filled in the twelfth place with Matthias, and in the book of Acts we see them rejoicing as they are filled with the Holy Spirit. We see them proclaiming that Jesus lives. They speak boldly – with authority – in every language so that all can understand.
So, they moved out, converting hundreds, then thousands to Christianity and proclaiming the Gospel of the Risen Lord. They were jailed and released – only to continue their teaching and healing mission. They became ill. Some died in far away, strange places, far from home, family and friends, still proclaiming the glorious gospel that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead, and that His Holy Spirit dwells in our souls forever.
And, that brings the message of Jesus’s teachings to us. What are we as Christian laymen doing to further proclaim Jesus’s glorious Gospel? True, we all can’t be ministers and preachers. Few of us have felt this strong call. But, we are Christian laymen with varying degrees of talent and education, as were the Disciples. As such, we are in a much more advantageous position to creatively further God’s Kingdom.
Today, as probably at no other time in the history of civilization, there is a need for the type of people Jesus sought. Few of us could measure up to their zeal, their fervor, or their faith. But those who know us are watching us. They know that we are churchmen. They know that we are Christians. They know that we are Methodists. They know that we hold positions of influence, authority, and responsibility in the church and in the community.
And you can be sure, my Christian brothers and sisters, they are watching us: our children, our relatives, our wives and husbands, our friends, our business associates, our acquaintances, and all those who come in contact with us are watching us. And by our words and by our deeds we are judged. And, our words and deeds have influence over those who watch and listen.
Now, in the silence of this Sanctuary, in the deep recesses of your soul, bow your head. Ponder your words, your actions and think on them in silence as we quietly meditate together.
Our Father, please help us to resolve that we will – by our actions and words – be true, living examples of Christ’s teachings, to have a loving concern for each other, and to influence others by our own Christian words and deeds to do likewise.
In Jesus name, AMEN.