THE MESSENGERS OF THE KING
And when he had summoned his twelve disciples, he gave them power over unclean spirits, so that they were able to cast them out, and so that they were able to heal every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first and foremost Simon, who is called Peter. and Andrew, his brother; James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew, the tax-collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean and Judas Iscariot, who was also his betrayer.
Methodically, and yet with a certain drama, Matthew unfolds his story of Jesus. In the story of the Baptism Matthew shows us Jesus accepting his task. In the story of the Temptations Matthew shows us Jesus deciding on the method which he will use to embark upon his task. In the Sermon on the Mount we listen to Jesus’ words of wisdom. In Matt. 8 we look on Jesus’ deeds of power. In Matt. 9 we see the growing opposition gathering itself against Jesus. And now we see Jesus choosing his men.
If a leader is about to embark upon any great undertaking, the first thing that he must do is to choose his staff. On them the present effect and the future success of his work both depend. Here Jesus is choosing his staff, his right-hand men, his helpers in the days of his flesh, and those who would carry on his work when he left this earth and returned to his glory.
There are two facts about men which are bound to strike us at once.
(i) They were very ordinary men. They had no wealth; they had no academic background; they had no social position. They were chosen from the common people, men who did the ordinary things, men who had no special education, men who had no social advantages.
It has been said that Jesus is looking, not so much for extraordinary men, as for ordinary men who can do ordinary things extraordinarily well. Jesus sees in every man, not only what that man is, but also what he can make him. Jesus chose these men, not only for what they were, but also for what they were capable of becoming under his influence and in his power.
No man need ever think that he has nothing to offer Jesus, for Jesus can take what the most ordinary man can offer and use it for greatness.
(ii) They were the most extraordinary mixture. There was, for instance, Matthew, the tax-gatherer. All men would regard Matthew as a quisling, as one who had sold himself into the hands of his country’s masters for gain, the very reverse of a patriot and a lover of his country. And with Matthew there was Simon the Cananaean. Luke (Lk.6:16) calls him Simon Zelotes, which means Simon the Zealot.
Josephus (Antiquities, 8. 1. 6.) describes these Zealots; he calls them the fourth party of the Jews; the other three parties were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. He says that they had “an inviolable attachment to liberty,” and that they said that “God is to be their ruler and Lord.” They were prepared to face any kind of death for their country, and did not shrink to see their loved ones die in the struggle for freedom. They refused to give to any earthly man the name and the title of king. They had an immovable resolution which would undergo any pain. They were prepared to go the length of secret murder and stealthy assassination to seek to rid their country of foreign rule. They were the patriots par excellence among the Jews, the most nationalist of all the nationalists.
The plain fact is that if Simon the Zealot had met Matthew the tax-gatherer anywhere else than in the company of Jesus, he would have stuck a dagger in him. Here is the tremendous truth that men who hate each other can learn to love each other when they both love Jesus Christ. Too often religion has been a means of dividing men. It was meant to be–and in the presence of the living Jesus it was–a means of bringing together men who without Christ were sundered from each other.
We may ask why Jesus chose twelve special apostles. The reason is very likely because there were twelve tribes; just as in the old dispensation there had been twelve tribes of Israel, so in the new dispensation there are twelve apostles of the new Israel. The New Testament itself does not tell us very much about these men. As Plummer has it: “In the New Testament it is the work, and not the workers, that is glorified.” But, although we do not know much about them, the New Testament is very conscious of their greatness in the Church, for the Revelation tells us that the twelve foundation stones of the Holy City are inscribed with their names (Rev.21:14). These men, simple men with no great background, men from many differing spheres of belief, were the very foundation stones on which the Church was built. It is on the stuff of common men and women that the Church of Christ is founded.
THE MAKING OF THE MESSENGERS
Matt. 10:1-4 (continued)
When we put together the three accounts of the calling of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-4; Mk.3:13-19; Lk.6:13-16) certain illuminating facts emerge.
(i) He chose them. Lk.6:13 says that Jesus called his disciples, and chose from them twelve. It is as if Jesus’ eyes moved over the crowds who followed him, and the smaller band who stayed with him when the crowds had departed, and as if all the time he was searching for the men to whom he could commit his work. As it has been said, “God is always looking for hands to use.” God is always saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isa.6:8).
There are many tasks in the Kingdom, the task of him who must go out and the task of him who must stay at home, the task of him who must use his hands and the task of him who must use his mind, the task which will fasten the eyes of all upon the doer and the task which no one will ewer see. And always Jesus’ eyes are searching the crowds for those who will do his work.
(ii) He called them. Jesus does not compel a man to do his work; he offers him work to do. Jesus does not coerce; he invites. Jesus does not make conscripts; he seeks volunteers. As it has been put, a man is free to be faithful and free to be faithless. But to every man there comes the summons which he can accept or refuse.
(iii) He appointed them. The King James Version has it that he ordained them (Mk.3:14). The word which is translated ordain is the simple Greek word poiein (GSN4160), which means to make or to do; but which is often technically used for appointing a man to some office. Jesus was like a king appointing his men to be his ministers; he was like a general allocating their tasks to his commanders. It was not a case of drifting unconsciously into the service of Jesus Christ; it was a case of definitely being appointed to it. A man might well be proud, if he is appointed to some earthly office by some earthly king; how much more shall he be proud when he is appointed by the King of kings?
(iv) These men were appointed from amongst the disciples. The word disciple means a learner. The men whom Christ needs and desires are the men who are willing to learn. The shut mind cannot serve him. The servant of Christ must be willing to learn more every day. Each day he must be a step nearer Jesus and a little nearer God.
(v) The reasons why these men were chosen are equally significant. They were chosen to be with him (Mk.3:14). If they were to do his work in the world, they must live in his presence, before they went out to the world; they must go from the presence of Jesus into the presence of men.
It is told that on one occasion Alexander Whyte preached a most powerful and a most moving sermon. After the service a friend said to him: “You preached today as if you had come straight from the presence of Jesus Christ.” Whyte answered: “Perhaps I did.”
No work of Christ can ever be done except by him who comes from the presence of Christ. Sometimes in the complexity of the activities of the modern Church we are so busy with committees and courts and administration and making the wheels go round that we are in danger of forgetting that none of these things matters, if it is carried on by men who have not been with Christ before they have been with men.
(vi) They were called to be apostles (Mk.3:14; Lk.6:13). The word apostle literally means one who is sent out; it is the word for an envoy or an ambassador. The Christian is Jesus Christ’s ambassador to men. He goes forth from the presence of Christ, bearing with him the word and the beauty of his Master.
(vii) They were called to be the heralds of Christ. In Matt. 10:7 they are bidden to preach. The word is kerussein (GSN2784), which comes from the noun kerux (GSN2783), which means a herald. The Christian is the herald Christ. That is why he must begin in the presence of Christ. The Christian is not meant to bring to men his own opinions; he brings a message of divine certainties from Jesus Christ–and he cannot bring that message unless first in the presence he has received it.
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