Monday, March 24, 2014

Insights from Some of the Lesser Known Apostles (Training of the 12, chapter 4, Part 2)

What kind of people made up the newly chosen apostolic band? What we know about these men varies greatly, but it can be helpful to place them in three groups based on the amount of data we have.

The first group is most familiar to us and has the greatest prominence in the biblical narrative:
Simon Peter: The man of rock.
Andrew: Peter's brother.
James and John: Sons of Zebedee, and sons of thunder.

The second group:
Philip The earnest inquirer. 
Bartholomew or Nathanael: The Israelite of integrity.
Thomas: The Twin.
Matthew: The Tax Collector

The third group:
James (the son) of Alphaeus
Judas son of James (also called Thaddaeus)
Simon The Zealot.
Judas, the man of Kerioth: The Traitor.

We will become very well acquainted with the first group of these men as we read through the gospels. And there are a few disciples that we know almost nothing about, but here are few observations about some of the lesser known disciples:

Thomas, called “The Twin” is a warm hearted person with a melancholy temperament. He is ready to die with his Lord, but slow to believe in His resurrection. 

Judas Iscariot is the man who betrayed Jesus.  The presence of a man capable of treachery among the elect disciples is a mystery that we will not go into now. We just point out that he seems to have been the only one among the twelve who was not a Galilean.

Simon the Zealot was part the group that rose in rebellion under Judas some twenty years before Christ's ministry began, when Judea and Samaria were brought under the direct government of Rome, and the census of the population was taken with a view to subsequent taxation. What an amazing phenomenon to see this ex-zealot among the disciples of Jesus!  No two men could differ more widely in their spirit, ends, and means, than Judas of Galilee and Jesus of Nazareth. The one was a political malcontent; the other would have the conquered submit to the yoke of oppression, and give to Caesar what belonged to Caesar. Simon aimed at restoring the kingdom to Israel, adopting for his watchword, "We have no Lord or Master but God." Jesus aimed at founding a kingdom not national, but universal, not "of this world," but spiritual. The means employed by them were as diverse as their results. The Zealots had used the carnal weapons of war, the sword and the dagger; while Jesus relied solely on the gentle but omnipotent force of truth.  An ex-zealot was not a safe man to make an apostle because he might bring Jesus and His followers under political suspicion. But the Author of our faith was willing to take that risk. He expected to gain many disciples from the dangerous classes as well as from the despised. So He wanted have them to represented among the twelve.

Matthew was a tax collector, working for the Roman oppressors. Such people were considered traitors to the nation of Israel. It gives one a pleasant surprise to think of Simon the zealot and Matthew the tax collector, men coming from so opposite ends of the political spectrum, meeting together in close fellowship in the little band of twelve. The extremes meet in these two disciples  -- the tax-gatherer and the tax-hater: the unpatriotic Jew, who degraded himself by becoming a   servant of the alien ruler; and the Jewish patriot, who chafed under the foreign yoke, and longed   for emancipation. This union of opposites was not accidental, but was designed by Jesus as a prophecy of the future. He wanted the twelve to be the church in miniature form; and therefore He chose them so as to intimate that, as among them distinctions of tax collector and zealot were unknown, so in the church of the future there should be neither Greek nor Jew, bond nor free, but only Christ.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Some Thoughts on Jesus' Selection of the Twelve - Training of the Twelve Chapter 4 (part 1)

My ongoing paraphrase of the AB Bruce classic: The Training of the Twelve

The selection of the twelve from the broader band of disciples is an important turning point in the Gospels. It divides the ministry of Jesus into two parts that are equal in duration, but unequal in terms of importance. In the earlier period, Jesus was the laborer. For the most part, He labored single-handedly and his miracles were confined to a limited area. His teaching was elementary and consisted of foundational truth about the coming Kingdom.

By the time the twelve were chosen, the work of the Kingdom had grown to such a point that it required a greater division of labor. Jesus’ teaching was also beginning to be deeper and more challenging. His ministry was taking on a broader scope. The selection of this small number of people to be His close and constant companions had become a necessity to Christ because of the fruitfulness of the ministry. His followers had become so numerous that they impeded his movements.

It was starting to become impossible for everyone who believed in Him to follow Him everywhere, so Jesus decided that He would select certain men who would be with Him at all times and in all places. They would be His travelling companions, witnessing all His work and serving alongside Him. And so as Mark puts it, Jesus called The Twelve that they would be with Him.

Of course, these twelve were to be more than travelling companions. They became His students and fellow laborers. Eventually they would be His chosen agents for the advance of the Gospel throughout the whole earth. Indeed, from this time forward, the twelve entered into a regular apprenticeship. Here they would learn what they should be, do, believe, and teach, as His witnesses and ambassadors to the world. From this point forward, the training of these men was to be a constant and prominent part of Christ's personal work.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Warning from Current Ministry Scandals (and, more importantly from Jesus)

“Don’t ever let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Master,’ for there is only one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:7–12 NLT)

““But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their family, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will already know me,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins.””(Jeremiah 31:33–34 NLT)

The abolition of ranks among God’s people (Matt. 23:8–11) echoes one of the promises concerning Jeremiah’s new covenant (Jer. 31:33–34).  - Craig Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Usually when the religious leaders addressed Jesus, they called Him Rabbi and they spoke of His followers as “Your disciples”. The Rabbi with his disciples was a cultural form easily recognized in the time of Jesus. Jesus walked and taught as many of the Rabbis did during His time. This was a normal course of things and the inner circle would expect to become rabbis themselves with their own followers. They were following, learning from Jesus and becoming like Him. Jesus had often spoken of the coming Kingdom and the disciples often thought about their place in it. Then Jesus gave this teaching. The disciples were not to become Rabbis or Masters or take any title. They would be part of a brotherhood in which all were equal. To the extent that they or anyone else exercised leadership it would be as a servant. The greatest leader, Jesus said, must be a servant of all.

Today two of my favorite bloggers - Dave Kraft and TJ Addington  wrote about two different situations (is scandal too strong a word?) regarding two different Christian leaders from two different eras. One of them, Bill Gothard has resigned from his leadership position. The other, Mark Driscoll has not, but there have been changes made in the leadership structure of Mars Hill Church.

I am not going to write about those situations here other than to make this one point: Ministries built around the personality of a strong leader are unbiblical and precarious. As Addington says, “We should be disciples of no man, but Jesus alone”.

When Paul saw this beginning to happen in the Corinthian Church, he corrected it immediately, “Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Can Christ be divided into pieces? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12–13 NLT)

In Matthew 28:18-20 we are called to engage in the wonderful process of discipling all nations, and Jesus is our model, but there is a subtle, and important difference: we are to make disciples, not of ourselves, but of Jesus. We are no longer to be called rabbi. If you find yourself in a ministry centered on a strong leader’s personality, I urge you to run, unless the leader’s Name is Jesus.