Twelve Unlikely Men - Part 2

Mark 3:13-19

Tom Pennington  •  March 29, 2009
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I invite you to turn with me to Mark's gospel. We're looking together at Mark and studying our way through this great account of the life of our Lord. And in Mark 3, this is how he describes it. Mark 3:13,

And He went up to the mountain and summoned those who He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder"); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.

Jesus here in this passage sovereignly chose twelve men to be His official representatives, to speak for Him, to be eye witnesses of all that transpired in His life. But without exception when you look at these twelve men, and we'll do that tonight, they were the most unlikely choices to be the official representatives of the Son of God after His ascension.

Now, just to remind you of where we've been. Last week we looked at the moment itself. He went up on the mountain. Luke adds this, "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 all of His disciples to Him and He chose twelve out of them, twelve of the larger group whom He also named as apostles." That was the occasion. The Master, it's very clear that Jesus hand-picked these men. Mark writes, "and He summoned those whom He Himself wanted and they came to Him." Jesus, for His own purposes after a full night in prayer on the mountain, brings all of His disciples to Him, all of those who had come to believe in Him as the Messiah and out of that group now who had, some of whom who had been with Him for a year and a half, He chooses twelve that will be His sent ones; His official representatives, His proxies.

And He gave them a particular mission we saw last time. It says, "He appointed twelve so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach and to have authority to cast out the demons." Literally it says, He made twelve, or He constituted a new group of twelve, and He did that so that they might be with Him, the idea being education, He was going to pour Himself into them day and night. He only has about a year and a half at this point in His ministry to teach them everything they need to know before His death and ultimate ascension, resurrection, and ascension. And so, He wants them to be with Him day and night so that He can teach them, educate them, train them in all that they need to know. They also will be with Him so that they can be eye-witnesses of all that transpires. They will be witnesses. As we saw last week from Acts, over and over again the apostles in the book of Acts make that point. We are eye-witnesses of what happened.

The second purpose that He had the second part of the mission, not only that they might be with Him, but that He might send them out. The Greek verb translated send them out is "apostello". Of course, the noun form is "apostelos" which of course in English becomes apostle. An apostle is "one officially sent out as a designated representative of the one who sends him", and he can act in that person's place in a way that is authoritative and legally binding; an authorized representative. Mark adds in verse 14 that Jesus intended to send them out on a very specific mission; to preach, to act as a herald, to have authority to cast out demons. You remember both of these, this is what Jesus did in His ministry, and Mark 6 adds that when they actually are sent out they also are given the power to heal. So, they essentially are mimicking, copying the ministry of Jesus. We've already seen, in the gospel of Mark, Jesus do all three of these things. He's now designating these men, He's going to send them out, and they are going to act in His place doing exactly the same thing that He Himself does. That's the mission.

Tonight, we come to territory we haven't yet covered and that is to the men themselves. Mark now lists the twelve men whom Jesus chose. Two of the gospel records record the official appointment of the twelve, these twelve men who are going to be Christ's representatives. Here in Mark 3 and Luke also records this official appointment of the twelve. In addition to that there are two other lists of the apostles, lists that are included at different times for different reasons in the flow of the New Testament. One of them comes in Matthew 10 when Jesus sends out the twelve on a ministry tour of the cities of Galilee. Their names are listed there. And then again in Acts 1 when the eleven, Judas is now dead (he's killed himself), when the eleven are about to decide a successor for Judas Iscariot. So, you have four lists then to look at. Here are the four lists from each of those passages.

Now, when you look at those lists, and you won't be able to see all of this, but I'll leave them up, so, you can glance at it as I work my way through this. Basically, you will see several things preliminarily. Notice that, first of all, there are three groups of names that I have highlighted in each of those passages, marked by the bullet point; three groups of four names. You will see that those groups are the same groups in every case. If you had time to go across the board, you would see that that is true, and there are a couple of other qualities that stand out in this list. And what I'm going to do is (because you can't read your way through that quickly), I'm just going to summarize some observations and conclusions from those four lists that we're given.

First of all, the first six names in Matthew, Mark, and Luke include the five earliest known converts plus James the brother of John. So, you have those people that have were the first to come to recognize Jesus as Messiah and have been with Him the longest. Those are the first within the first six names you have those five plus James who is John's brother, and that's why he's included. So, that first group are really those that have been committed to Him the longest, He's known the longest in an intimate way.

A second observation is there was within the twelve apostles a kind of discernible hierarchy or structure. If you were to look at those four lists, you would see that Peter is always first and intentionally so; in fact, Matthew says, the first was Peter. But Peter wasn't the first called, he's obviously the first in terms of his leadership. Clearly, Peter was the undisputed leader and the spokesman for the entire group. Judas, on the other hand is always last, Judas Iscariot. Matthew and Luke present the disciples in pairs, and that makes sense because we're told that they went out two by two according to Mark 6:7. Jesus sent them out that way, and so, that leads naturally to a grouping by fours.

So then, when you look at those lists I showed you, there are three groups of four men in all four lists except of course in Acts where Judas is not on the list. But if Judas were still alive, were still a faithful apostle, you would have three groups each of those groups composed of four men. And it's interesting because the men don't leave their group. In other words, you never find a name from the third group up in the first group or mixed up in any way like that. In addition, the same name is always at the head of each group of four. So, the first group, Peter's name is always first. The second group, Philip's name: always first in all four lists. The third group, James of Alphaeus is always at the head of that third group of four. So, in other words, there were within the apostles there were ranking orders. Peter was the spokesman for the entire group and was also over that group of four that was most intimate to Christ, Philip over the next group of four and then James of Alphaeus, the son of Alphaeus over the third group of four. So, there was this sort of hierarchy, this sort of leadership structure within the disciples.

A third observation we can make from these lists is that the list reflects a decreasing degree of intimacy to Christ. It's very clear that those first three names in most of those lists Peter, James and John; they are the ones that had the most intimate relationship with Christ. In fact, they are the three that you find that He calls out and takes with Him to the mount of transfiguration when He reveals His glory. They're the three that He calls out especially and takes with Him deeper into the garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal. They're the ones that had the most intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, and they come first, and as you go down the list farther and farther away do the disciples become from that same degree of intimacy with Christ. It's interesting, by the way, that even the Son of God, the perfect Son of God couldn't maintain the same level of relationship with twelve people. There was a differing level, He loved them all, but there was a differing level of depth of relationship with those twelve men.

A fourth conclusion we can make is that, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, the lists reflect a decreasing amount of information that's available about the men. You start out, we know the most about Peter. Peter is, next to our Lord, mentioned most frequently in the gospel accounts. And you go down through the list until you get to Judas. You have a decreasing amount of information as you go down the list. We know almost nothing about those in the last group of four. And the only reason we know more about Judas Iscariot is because of the terrible deed that he ends up executing the end of the ministry of Christ. And most of that is right of the end of Jesus' life and ministry.

Another observation we can make is there are within those lists a number of family connections. Among the disciples there were three pairs of brothers. So, six of the disciples had family members who were also disciples; Peter and Andrew, James and John, James the son of Alphaeus and Judas the brother of James. We'll see that more as we work our way through. But also, there were family connections with Jesus Himself. Maybe you weren't aware of this, but there were within the apostles some relatives of Jesus. John 19:25 says that at the crucifixion standing by the cross of Jesus there were His mother, His mother's sister, who is unnamed in John 19, and two other women. When you compare that with Mark 15, you have the same list, but instead of Mary's sister, you have a woman called Salome. Salome is the mother of James and John and the wife of Zebedee.

Now, when you compare the lists, and I'm not going to take time to show you name for name, but if you compare those two lists, what you discover is that Salome is probably the sister of Mary Jesus' mother. That means that if Mary and Salome are sisters, that Jesus is the cousin of James and John. That's very likely that Jesus was the cousin of James and John. So, you have these interlocking family relationships among the apostles. That makes some of the bickering make sense, doesn't it? Some of you have kids. I grew up in a family of ten kids and umm having twelve with six of them related and then of course James and John being related to Christ all of that seems to make more sense. Also, doesn't it make more sense when you think about James and John pushing for the main roles. They had a connection, their mother, who comes asking for that role, is in fact the sister of Jesus' mother; His aunt. So, it just makes a lot of things make sense.

One other conclusion, they or two others, actually. They all shared common points. They were all men. They were all Jewish. They were all from Galilee except for one. Can you guess who the one was that wasn't from Galilee? We'll discover it next week, but I'll tell you now, it's Judas Iscariot. The rest of them were all from Galilee, and they were all eye witnesses from the time of Jesus' baptism a year and a half before. In Acts 1 you remember that was one of the qualifications for an apostle. So, they all shared that in common. One other thing that we can observe from those lists of the twelve, three were to write books in our New Testament. Peter wrote two epistles and was really inspiration behind Mark's gospel as we've learned. Matthew wrote the gospel of Matthew and John wrote the gospel of John, three epistles and the book of Revelation. So, members of the twelve then wrote nine of the twenty-seven New Testament books. Of course, Paul sort of filled that out with the bulk of the rest of them.

So, with those preliminary observations what I want us to do tonight is look at the men Jesus chose. Now put on your seat belts, because we're going to, we're going to race through eleven of them. We'll look at Lord willing, Judas Iscariot next week. I'm not going to go into the detail that we could go into, in fact, I would highly recommend to you a study if you've never read it by John MacArthur called Twelve Ordinary Men, that is probably the best study of the twelve disciples that exists on the planet. I've looked at a lot of things. I think it really is the best that you would enjoy and benefit from. And he took a message at least, and in some cases with Peter maybe a couple of messages, to go through all of these men. I'm not going to do that. We're sort of going to race through all of them at this point in our study of the gospel of Mark. But I admonish you to take the time to go through that if you haven't already; Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur.

But I want to look at these men He chose in sort of a cursory way starting of course with Simon who's first on the list. Simon's name is Greek, but it probably comes from the Old Testament, it's a contraction of Simeon which simply means "God has heard". In addition to that you remember Jesus gave him the name, "Rock". That's in Greek "Petros", in Aramaic "Cephus", and what's really interesting is that neither in Greek or in Aramaic were those names used at the time. So, Jesus actually coined this nickname. Why? Well there are two passages that make that clear. We've studied them recently, so, I won't take you there. But Matthew 16 where Jesus says, "upon this rock I will build my church". And in Ephesians 2 where it says the apostles are the foundation of the church. Peter, as well as the rest of the apostles, would serve as the bedrock. Their revelation would serve as the bedrock for the church of Jesus Christ.

It may also be a description of the character Jesus wanted Peter to have. If you read the gospel accounts, Peter is unstable. He's like those waves we've been studying about in Ephesians. He's tossed here and there, and he's impulsive, and he's doing this one moment and doing this the next. John in his book calls him the disciple with the foot-shaped mouth. He always doing something that he shouldn't be doing. And maybe Christ gave him the name Rock to remind him from time to time that that's the character he should have, instead of that impulsive driven character, he should be Rock in his character, stable, secure.

Now he had a brother named Andrew who we'll meet in just a few minutes. He came from a little town called Bethesda on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. His father was John, he's called Simon Barjona. That's Simon, son of Jonah or Simon son of John. So, his father was named John or as it's sometimes called Jonah or Jonas. They had, while he'd come from Bethesda, they had moved to Capernaum still on the north side of the Sea of Galilee not very far apart. And there Peter has built a nice home near the large synagogue. You can still see the remains of Peter's home there today near the synagogue in Capernaum.

Now, Simon and his brother Andrew were clearly Jewish, but Simon and Andrew were Greek names; so apparently the family, while not fully imbibing all the Greek culture, was at least open to limited influences from the Greek culture. At some point Peter had married apparently. In fact, we met his mother-in-law back in Mark 1. And they had moved to Capernaum, and together, Andrew and Peter built a very successful fishing business according to Luke 5. Peter owned his own boat. These were successful commercial fishermen. He had a nice home there in Capernaum where he lived with his wife and at least his mother-in-law. As far as Peter's spiritual background and upbringing we don't know much. But according to John 1, Peter had apparently been influenced by his brother Andrew who was a disciple, who was called a disciple of John the Baptist. It's possible that Peter was as well. That he had been baptized by John the Baptist repenting of his sins, now looking for the Messiah, and then his brother comes and says we have found the Messiah, and Peter embraces Him. We can't know much more than that about what was going on in Peter's heart, but he responds to Christ, and he becomes the foremost apostle.

One writer says, "Peter was an ardent and impulsive man of great force of character and extremely self-confident. There are Peter's in every group of Christians. In every group of Jesus' disciples they are brash, impulsive, self-confident, always, always speaking rather before they think but properly channeled and properly humbled, Peter's can become great leaders." You remember Peter spoke at Pentecost to a huge gathering there at the temple mound and three thousand people came to faith in Christ. Peter stood before the Sanhedrin and in the face of their threats said we must obey God rather than men. But people with his personality and temperament can also care too much about what people think. Peter struggled with that.

The two most obvious examples of that you're aware of; one was of course his denial of Christ as he was there at the trial, and the other was his compromise with the Judaizers, you remember in Galatians 2 where he was quick to give in to those who were forcing Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul says he compromised the gospel, and I confronted him to his face. He was self-condemned, and I confronted him publicly. So, those with the personality of Peter can be swayed by what people think, but they are invaluable to the kingdom of God as you see even in the life of Peter.

Let's move on to the second two, James and John. We'll begin by looking at them together, what they share in common, and then we'll look at them separately. Their father was Zebedee. He was a very successful commercial fisherman. He had hired servants; he was in good social standing. In fact, this Galilee fishing family was known and respected all the way down in Jerusalem. John was even known to the high priest according to John 18. The family of Zebedee had formed a partnership with Andrew and Simon. So, these four men were in business together when Jesus called them. Luke 5 says, "James, John sons of Zebedee were partners with Simon." So, they were all in business together, they knew each other they worked together and that's when Jesus showed up you remember and said, "Follow Me." They had already embraced Him as Messiah, and now they travel with Him, and then here in Mark 3 they become His official representatives; part of the twelve.

James and John, their mother as we've already noted was Salome; one of the women who contributed to the support of Jesus and the apostles. Zebedee was very well off and apparently Salome was generous with her support, her funds in giving to support Jesus and His ministry. She was a woman of ambition and intensity as you can see from the glimpses we get of her in the gospels. Her sons were like her in that way because Mark 3:17 says that, "to James and John, Jesus gave the Aramaic name, Boanerges." Boanerges which means "sons of thunder". Why did He name them sons of thunder, because of their temperament? Let me just show you one passage, turn to Luke 9. You get a little picture of these guys, Luke 9:52. He's headed to Jerusalem,

and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. [Now remember Jesus has already ministered to the Samaritans. He's been there, they know Him, He's served them.] But they did not receive Him; because He was traveling toward Jerusalem.

You remember the Samaritan's worshiped at a different place, they were antagonistic to the to those who were fully Jewish and so because He's going down to Jerusalem to worship and not at their temple, okay fine we're not going to play. Verse 54.

When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."] And they went on to another village.

Here you see a little bit of that son of thunder temperament. Let's just wipe them all out. How dare they treat You like that. Sons of thunder, but together these two brothers became two of Jesus' most trusted and intimate disciples. They join with Peter, their fishing partner, and the three of them became really those three that were the closest to Jesus Christ.

Now let's look at James specifically. James is always mentioned first in the New Testament with just a couple of exceptions. He was probably the oldest of the brothers. The name "James" is an Old English word, actually, it's the Old Testament name "Jacob". As I've already mentioned, he was one of those three most intimate ones. After Matthew 20, in fact, let's look at Matthew 20 because here's another glimpse of the sort of family inter-workings here in the disciples. Matthew 20:17 Jesus explains to His disciples that He's going to Jerusalem, He just plainly tells them, [I'm]

"… going [to go] … to Jerusalem; … Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee [So here comes Salome, Jesus' aunt] to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. [Now remember this is complicated, she's a relative, she's also one of the major supporters to Jesus and His ministry and apparently as human beings are want to do she plans to use that leverage a little bit.] And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left."

She's putting it all together, I mean after all Jesus had said in the kingdom you're going to occupy twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, and so she's looking for the place of preeminence for her boys.

… Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" [And they think they are able and say they are able. And] He [says,] "My cup you shall drink;" [You are going to face terrible, terrible martyrdom.] "but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give," [Or suffering, I should say, in James' case martyrdom, in John's case, not.] "but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."

And hearing this," [You can imagine,] "the ten became indignant with the two brothers."

There's a shock, and so you get just a little glimpse of what's going on. After this mention, James is not mentioned again except as being present in Gethsemane and then in the list of Acts 1:13, just in the list of the apostles. The next time we meet James, he's dead. In Acts 12:2, James becomes the first apostle to die as a martyr, beheaded by Herod Agrippa the first. It's hard not to imagine that it wasn't attached to his being a son of thunder. He said what he thought, and it got him in trouble.

His brother John; "John" comes from the Hebrew "Johanan" which means "Yahweh graciously gave". He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and he became very close to Peter. Peter was a dear friend of his. He's with Peter when they go to prepare for the last supper. He's with Peter and James his brother in the garden of Gethsemane. He's with Peter following the trial, and he's with Peter in a number of other occasions both during the life of Christ, after the resurrection, and into the book of Acts. Of course, he's known as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and along with James he became a part of that inner circle. He's the only disciple who was at the cross. All the others had fled. There were the women who supported Jesus, who loved Him. Mary Magdalene, who was forgiven so much, and there was John. And he was the one you remember that was charged with caring for Mary.

John ends up writing five of the books in our New Testament; the gospel that bears his name, three letters and the book of Revelation. He was the very last apostle to die at the end of the first century on the island of Patmos. John spent many years in Asia Minor, modern Turkey near the city of Ephesus. There are a lot of early traditions about John. They're probably true; one of them is my favorite. It's probably true that at some point in John's ministry in Ephesus, he was in the bath house there, and one of the heretics of the time came in, one of the false teachers came into the bath house, and the story has it that John grabbed his clothes and ran out because he said, I don't want to be there in case God decides at that moment to send down that fire (chuckle) that he himself was calling for earlier in his life and ministry.

John was loving, and yet he was strong, he was contemplative yet practical; he was the apostle of love and the son of thunder. James was the first disciple martyred, and John the only disciple to die a natural death. James was the first disciple in heaven, and John his brother was the last. But to the end they both channeled their passion as sons of thunder toward the kingdom of Christ. John spoke the truth in love.

Let's move on to Andrew. Andrew, of course, his parents and residence and occupation and background, all of those things were the same as that of his brother Peter. There're only a couple accounts about Andrew that give us insight into who he was. In John 6, he's the one who brought the boy with the five loaves and two fish to Jesus. You remember, they're supposed to feed this huge crowd, and Andrew recognizes that I don't know how He can do it, but he's told us to find ways to feed this crowd, and this is all I've found, and so, I'll bring this to Jesus. I'm sure others of the disciples if they'd come across this boy with his meager belongings would have passed over him and said that's not going to help. But somehow Andrew had enough confidence, enough faith to think I'm going to bring it to Jesus and see what He does, and of course, we know the miracle that resulted.

In John 12 Philip is approached by some Greeks who want to see Jesus. Rather than taking them to Jesus, Philip brings them to Andrew, trusting that Andrew will bring them to Jesus. You just see Andrew's simple faith expressing itself. Andrew's most notable accomplishment in life was being Peter's brother. In fact, he lived in the shadow all of his life as Peter's brother. Did you notice that Peter, James, and John were the inner circle and not Andrew, Peter's brother? In fact, you could say this: the most notable accomplishment that Andrew ever had in life was that he brought Peter to Christ. John Broadus writes, "So many a one in every age, little known himself and of no marked influence otherwise has been among the great benefactors of mankind by bringing to Jesus some other person who proved widely useful."

There was a man, of no name really, a timid shy little man who brought his courage to bear and entered a store where one of his students was working to share the gospel with him and to see him come to faith in Christ. You don't know the name of that shy little man who shared the gospel, but you know the name of the man with whom he shared the gospel; his name was D L Moody. The same thing was true with Andrew. There were plenty of disciples of Jesus who will never have the limelight, never have the stage, but God uses them in ways that only eternity will show.

We move on to Philip. Philip is a Greek name that means "lover of horses". He was also a native of a little village called Bethsaida on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, in other words he had acknowledged his sin, he had repented, been baptized with the baptism of John and was waiting for the Messiah to come when John said there He is. When Philip was brought to Christ, he also brought his friend. A man named Nathaniel to Jesus as we learn in John 1.

Philip was the leader of this second group; this second group of four. There are only a couple of recorded incidents about him. Turn over to John 6, and get a glimpse of Philip. John 6:5, you remember the crowd had gathered, verse 2 says, "A large crowd had followed Him, because they saw…." [What He was doing, Jesus went up the mountain, sat down,] verse 5

Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, [away from the city,] said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that … [we] may eat? [Many think, and I think it's probably true, that Philip was sort of the administrative mind behind the apostles. He was the one responsible for organizing things, and so Jesus addresses this question to Philip.] "Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?" This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. Philip answered Him, [Verse 7, and these words are immortal words,] "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little."

In other words, I have no idea. I don't have a clue. There is no way to do this. Philip was typical of so many, the analytical administrative type who can't understand when the Lord of all of nature is among them that He can handle the problem. There are lots of Philips in the work of Christ.

Moving on to Bartholomew, Bartholomew means Bartolmi or son of Tolmi. It's an Old Testament name. He's also known though as Nathaniel. You remember Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus. We're told in John 21 that Nathaniel was one of the twelve, but his name never appears in the list of the twelve. And Bartholomew's name is always attached to Philip's name in the lists of the gospels. There's no Nathaniel, so scholars have concluded that Bartholomew and Nathaniel are the same person. He came from a little village in Galilee called Cana. And we meet him in John 1. And in John 1 we discover two very important things about Nathaniel, two wonderful things. Two things to emulate in our own lives; Nathaniel was a student of Scripture. Look at John 1:45. Here comes Philip having met Jesus, having been directed to Jesus by John the Baptist, and verse 45 says, "Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

Now by saying that to Nathaniel, Philip was implying that that would be important to Nathaniel, that Nathaniel was familiar with those Old Testament passages in Moses, in the Law, in the Prophets where the Messiah was described, and that would be important to him. And so, it's implied in that text that he was, in fact, a student of Scripture.

But, the other thing that's clear in this passage by Jesus' own estimation is that he is without guile. Look at verse 47. By the way he was given to prejudice, verse 46,

Nathaniel said to him, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" [He can't be from Nazareth, but verse 47] Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed," [A true believer in the true God] "in whom there is no deceit!"

Wow, wouldn't you have loved for Jesus to say that about you? No deceit. He was genuine. He was authentic. He had a heart that was untainted by hypocrisy in any way. He was the real deal. What you saw is what you got. And what you got is what he really was. Bartholomew.

Hurrying on, Matthew. We've studied Matthew in great detail over the last few weeks, so I won't spend a lot of time here, but you remember that he was called Levi. Jesus gave him the name Matthew, apparently. Levi the man who took so much from so many becomes Matthew which means "gift of God". He was Jewish because both of his names clearly are Jewish. He lived in Capernaum, may of actually been from there. It's likely that he knew Peter and Andrew and James and John, maybe even collected taxes from them. Remember they fished on the lake, his tax station was right there on the lake.

We also know that his father was Alphaeus. A different Alphaeus from the one we'll find in just a moment. We know that he was a well-educated man because from his gospel we learned that he was able to write in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. He also was a customs house tax collector. And in a very strategic location; in the large city of Capernaum at a dock on the north side of the Sea of Galilee and right on an international highway running from Egypt to Damascus. So, Matthew was a very wealthy man in a very lucrative location, he collected taxes.

He would have been very irreligious because when you became a tax collector you were excommunicated from the synagogue. He was thought to be a traitor by his own people; complicit with the foreign oppressors from Rome. He was a pariah to his family and neighbors; all because he wanted money. He'd gotten rich by extorting money, by bribery and by pilfering from Rome his employer. He was an extortionist. If somebody couldn't pay the customs, then men like Matthew would loan them the money at high interest rates and then, like the Mafia hire enforcers to collect it when they didn't keep up with the payments. As we saw in chapter 2 after Matthew had been exposed to Jesus' ministry in Capernaum one day Jesus stops by the tax office and calls him to repentance and faith, and Matthew responds. He gives it all up to embrace Jesus Christ as his Messiah, his Lord, his Savior.

Matthew was by far the disciple from the worst background, from an Israelites standpoint. He was the worst of sinners. And yet he reminds us, and his presence as an apostle reminds us, that God can rescue and redeem the absolute worst life. One of the apostles was the worst of men; having led before his repentance a wild, profligate, sinful life. The grace of God is able to overcome even that.

Thomas. Thomas, my name sake. It means twin. In Greek it's "Didymus" which means the same thing. There's several accounts where we read about Thomas, but I think we can summarize Thomas like this. He was ready to believe the worst. You remember in John 11, Jesus says let's go raise Lazarus. Let's go now that Lazarus has died, I'm going to go and raise him from the dead. And the disciples are worried about it because the Jews are seeking Jesus' life, and Thomas' response is this. He said to his fellow disciples, okay, oh well, let us go along also so that we may die with Him. He's going to die. He's got a death wish. Oh well, I guess we ought to go along, die too. He was ready to believe the worst, and he was slow to believe the best.

You remember after Jesus' resurrection, he wasn't there the first time that Jesus appeared to the other disciples. And they were telling Thomas, we've seen the Lord, but he said to them unless I see it in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger in the place of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. So, he was ready to believe the worst, slow to believe the best. But the good thing about Thomas was once he was convinced; no one was more confident and more sure. He makes the most profound confession of any in the New Testament when he finally encounters the risen Christ. When he finally sees Him, he responds, "My Lord and my God." There're always Thomas's in every crowd, slow to believe the best, eager and quick to believe the worst. But when they come along, when they finally get to the truth, they embrace it like a bulldog and never let it go. That's Thomas.

As I told you each time we go through the list we know less and less about these men. We come to James the son of Alphaeus. He's also called James the Less. The Greek word is "micros". That either means he was a small guy in stature, or it means he was the younger between him and his brother. We don't really know. It literally means he was James the Little. He was the leader of the third group of four. His name always appears at the top of that third final group. His father, we know, Alphaeus or possibly Clopus is another name for Alphaeus. His mother was probably Mary, stood near the cross with the other three women. In Mark 15:40 we looked at earlier; Mary, the mother of James the Less, and Joses. So, we know that both he and his mother were devoted followers of Christ as well as his brother Thaddeus. Matthew and Mark list the man by this name, Thaddeus, but his name doesn't appear in the Luke and Acts list. Luke instead list a guy named Judas the brother of James. So, by comparing the list if you look at them side by side as I showed you earlier it's clear that Thaddeus is simply another name for Judas, the brother of James. So, here you have another set of brothers. James the Less, James the Little and Thaddeus, also called Judas.

Now look at Mark 15:40 again. It says there was Mary the mother of James the Little and Joses which is another form of Judas, not Iscariot. There's only one New Testament reference outside of the lists where this man occurs; only in John 14:22. "[There in the upper room,] Judas, not Iscariot, said to … [Jesus], "Lord what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world."

It appears that what you have here is just a humble, tender-hearted disciple saying, I don't get it, Lord, why would You disclose Yourself and who You are to us and not make it clear to the world? And Jesus goes on to explain that this is part of the plan. So, you just have this simple, humble, tender-hearted disciple.

The last one we'll look at tonight is not. His name is Simon the Zealot. Simon is a Greek name, but undoubtedly as with Peter, it's a contraction of Simeon. All we know about this man comes from the label the New Testament writers give him. In Mark and in Matthew in Aramaic he's called the Canonias. In Luke and Acts in Greek he's called the Zelotes or the Zealot. In both cases it means the same thing. He was Simon the Zealot.

Who were the zealots? Well the zealots began under Judas the Galilean. In about 6 AD he refused to submit to the Roman census and started fighting Rome. He was put down by the Romans, but the resistance continued under the surface, a kind of underground in Israel, if you will. Which they would kill Roman soldiers by stealth; they would assassinate leaders, a kind of constant resistance.

Josephus writes thirty years after Jesus about a group that called themselves the zealots. Zealous for the nation, for the national religion they insisted that if you submitted yourself to Rome, you were denying your God, the Lord of Israel. Their motto was, "No king but God." And their patron saint was a man from the Old Testament named Phinehas. You remember Phinehas in Numbers 25, who took it, a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced him and the pagan woman with him. They took that to mean that any act was justifiable if it was done for God and particularly if it recovered their national freedom. So, without a trial they would execute any Jew they believed to be a traitor or a violator of the law of God. Of course, you can imagine how that was abused, the gross injustices that were done; the cruelty. And ultimately, they were responsible for the Roman destruction of the Jewish nation because in 66 AD they openly revolted against Rome and Rome came ultimately and crushed them and destroyed four years later, destroyed Jerusalem.

Simon apparently belonged to this radical political group. The only thing then we can know about Simon is the general knowledge of the kind of people who attach themselves to groups like this. In our context think malicious paramilitary groups. Simon belonged to such a group before he came to Christ.

The last one we'll look at next Sunday night, Judas Iscariot. But when you think of these men, understand what happened with them. This is what tradition says, Peter was crucified upside down in Rome in 66 AD. James was beheaded. John was banished to Patmos and eventually died a natural death at Ephesus. Andrew preached in Greece and Asia Minor, was crucified on a X shaped cross, a Saint Andrews cross. Philip died a martyr in Hierapolis. Bartholomew was a missionary in Armenia and ended up being flayed to death. Thomas, perhaps speared to death, ended up ministering in India almost certainly ministered in India and down near Madras, was eventually martyred, and there are still churches there in India that trace their descent all the way back to Thomas. Matthew went to Ethiopia and was martyred there. James the son of Alphaeus preached in Palestine and in Egypt where he was eventually crucified. Thaddeus, in Assyrian Persia where he was eventually martyred, and Simon the Zealot was crucified.

Look at that list. The death of the apostles, one suicide Judas, one be-headed, one flayed but only one natural death. Ten martyrs, only one died naturally. Now as we close our time together just think with me about some lessons we can learn from these twelve unlikely men.

Number one: looking at these men reminds us that God uses ordinary, even unlikely people to accomplish His work. He isn't looking for great people because He wants to do what He does in such a way that He gets the glory.

A second lesson we can learn from these men is: there's no particular background or character type that unites the type of people Jesus uses. They were all different in so many ways. You had Matthew the tax collector and Roman collaborator, and you had Simon the Zealot, the nationalistic zealot on the other end. Eager to kill and overthrow anybody connected to Rome.

Number three: God uses us in spite of who we are. All of these men without exception continued to demonstrate significant sins and failings even after they were called and appointed to be apostles. And yet, He used them all in remarkable ways. He can use us as well in spite of who we are, in spite of our foibles and weaknesses and struggles.

Number four: Jesus' love for His own is not based on their worthiness of it. He loved them perfectly John 13:1 says. It wasn't because they were worthy of it. And it reminds us that Jesus loves us not because of who we are but because of who He is.

Number five: as you look at these twelve, you're reminded that they aren't the main point of the story. We know so little about them. Why? Because they aren't the main point of the story. One writer puts it, "The gospels were not afflicted with the biographic mania. The apostles were not their theme. Christ was their hero, and their sole desire was to tell what they knew of Him. They gazed at the Son of Righteousness and in His brightness, they lost all sight of the attendant stars. Whether they were stars of the first magnitude or the second or the third made little difference." Doesn't matter what the stars look like when you are looking at the Son.

Number six: there is reward for faithful service regardless of how well known you might be or how far reaching your service might stretch. They're often spoken of as a group. All twelve of them, Jesus said, would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Peter right along side James the Little.

But perhaps the greatest lesson of these eleven, not counting Judas Iscariot, is the lesson of amazing grace. In every case Christ snatched them out of a life of sin. It was either a life of open rebellious terrible living, or perhaps a life of self-righteousness. But in every case Jesus drew them to Himself. They recognized their need of Him, they repented of their sins and embraced Him as Lord and Savior. So, this list is really a story of grace. If you're here tonight as a Christian, you understand that. Really, these men's biographies don't matter, because your biography, and mine, is exactly the same. It's a story of grace.

If you're here tonight, and you've never come to the place where you have confessed your sins to God and sought His forgiveness. If you have never come to the place where you have turned from your sin and embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then these disciples, if they were here tonight would without exception say, "Repent and believe and receive the amazing grace of Jesus Christ."

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this list of men, men that You chose. Ordinary men, unlikely men that You chose to be the eye witnesses of the glory of Jesus Christ. Lord, thank You that they weren't extraordinary men. Thank You that they weren't the intelligencia, the noble people, the aristocracy. Father, thank You that they were everyday salt of the earth kind of people; and in some cases, the worst of people that serve as wonderful examples that there is no life beyond the reach of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray for all of us, that You would encourage us to serve You even as we look at these flawed lives, our lives are flawed. Father, thank You that You can use us even as we strive and pursue holiness. You can use us in spite of who we are even as You used them.

And Father, I pray for the person here tonight who feels the weight of their sin, who understands that they stand guilty before You, and that someday they will die and face You with no hope. Father, may this be the night when they see even in the apostles the story of amazing grace.

We pray in Jesus name, Amen.