Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Boost in Your Self-Confidence: Profiles of the Twelve Disciples, Part One - Matthew 10:1-4

Who Are WE?

1 Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.

Seems an odd verse to devote singular attention to, but there's actually some important stuff to cover here. :-)

First off, if you've read this blog for a while, you know there are some points I tend to harp on over and over - one of which is that all Christians are (or are supposed to be!) disciples. Sometimes in church culture, we separate out these twelve men as the disciples, thinking that only people of high spiritual station can be called disciples. But if we do that, then we gloss over a lot of verses that refer to disciples, and therefore apply to us whether we realize it or not. The Greek word is mathetes, which basically means a follower, or (especially) a student. So when you're reading through the New Testament and see the word "disciple," don't automatically assume it refers to these twelve - it can refer to His 12 closest followers, His 70 closest followers (see Luke 10:1-17 for mention of this group's existence), or anyone among the collective group of all His followers (many examples, such as Acts 9:36 - this regular woman is referred to as a disciple for simply being an active believer). These twleve are, however, differentiated as twelve apostles (as in verse 2, which we'll get to in a minute), which is a spiritual gift (see Ephesians 4:11)...however, since this verse refers to them as disciples, we can infer that it applies to all disciples, not just apostles.

So what does that mean for us in the context of this verse? Well...that God has given all his believers spiritual power over demons - to cast them out when they are possessing someone or eliminate their handiwork when they have made someone sick. Now, a disclaimer is in order: (1) some have the spiritual gift of healing, so are obviously more equipped to handle sicknesses (see 1 Corinthians 12:9); and (2) this doesn't mean you're magic - these still seem to have to be performed when you are right with God, and His will is in the matter (see Matthew 17:14-21). But, that aside, the fact remains that this verse applies to us.

We're going to move on to profiles of the twelve disciples. Keep in mind while we do so the fact that we are all disciples. They were men of great faith and deserve great admiration for it, but they were still normal people like you and me. We're going to look at their diverse (and sometimes sketchy) pre-Jesus pasts, and what they became as they followed Him. My hope is that we'll all take away from this study the assurance that God loves us and can use us no matter what we have done, and a motivation to do awesome things for His kingdom.

Who are THEY? - Part One!

2 Now the names of the twleve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and james the son of Zebedee, and John his brother,

3 Philip and Bartholemew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;

4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

Simon Peter: If you've read through the Gospels even just once, you can understand why most people relate to Peter best of all the twelve apostles - he was a common man (just a poor fisherman), and he screwed up a lot! :-) An interesting pattern emerges: he often said the wrong thing, but he was also often the only one to say anything; and he was often passionate in the wrong ways (like going after people with a sword), but he was also the most passionate toward Christ. Yeah, he messed up (like when he denied Christ), but most of us still know him today as the greatest of the twelve. It seems Jesus honored him so because, faults and all, he was anything but lukewarm. It is far better to follow Christ adventurously, even knowing that you'll screw up sometimes, than to play it safe all the time and never accomplish anything. After Jesus's ascension, he took a leadership role over the twelve, ministered primarily to the Jews, and (according to extra-Biblical history) is said to have chosen to be crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy to be executed in the same manner Christ did. His saved writings are what we now know as 1 & 2 Peter, and probably the Gospel of Mark (Mark taking dictation).

Andrew: Andrew was Peter's brother, also a poor fisherman. He's mostly a background character, present but not saying  much (although he did sometimes join Jesus's closest three - Peter, James, and John). Interestingly, he was a disciple of John the Baptist first, and actually encouraged his older brother Peter to follow Jesus. Andrew is a wonderful example of God using people who operate most comfortably in the background for His kingdom, and also reminds us not to judge other believers' spirituality on how vocal they are - some are just men of few words by nature. Extra-Biblical history teaches us that Andrew's field of ministry after Jesus's ascension was along the Black Sea in what we now know as south-eastern Europe.

James and John: These brothers were also fisherman, but the description of their father's fishing business seems to indicate that they were a little better off than Peter and Andrew. They, along with Peter, were in Jesus's closest circle of disciples, and He nicknamed them "Sons of Thunder," presumably for their tempers. During their discipleship under Jesus, they showed great faith and courage, but misplaced applications of them at times. James is thought to be the first of the twelve disciples to have been martyred, given that his execution is the only one recorded in the New Testament. John, however, is thought to be the disciple who lived the longest of the twleve, and he became a cheif Christian leader in Jerusalem, and wrote the Gospel of John, 1,2&3 John, and Revelation. James and John demonstrate that our circumstances and personalities do not dictate our futures - God's plans will prevail. He can use anyone in any way He pleases. And yes, there's even a place for those with firey tempers in His kingdom. :-)

Philip: Philip followed the teachings of John the Baptist and took his word that Jesus was Messiah, immediately approaching Bartholemew to encourage him to follow Jesus as well. He kept a Greek name, Scripture recounts his strong connections with the Greek community during Christ's ministry, and extra-Biblical history tells us that after Christ's ascension, Philip spread the Gospel in Greece, Syria, and Phrygia. Philip is an example of how God can sometimes give you skills, interests, and connections to use for His kingdom even before you're a believer. What you're good at, you're good at for a reason, so use those skills for God's glory!

Bartholemew (also called Nathaniel): Bartholemew was also an early confessor of Jesus as Messiah, and many scholars believe that in John 1:48, Jesus used a common phrase to refer to Bartholemew studying the Torah, which would imply that he was a devoted pursuer of God. No one knews for sure what happened to him after Jesus's ascension, but all the theories agree that he was a missionary of some sort. James is an example of how if you truly seek God, He will come reveal Himself to you.

We'll look at the other six disciples in our next post on Thursday. :-)

Questions for You

Which disciple do you relate to best? What else do you think is cool, relatable, or inspiring about these guys? How do you think we can balance admiring these men as having great faith without separating them as super-humans and wandering into the realm of idolatry?

Giving Credit Where It's Due

Image One: Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles by Duccio di Buoninsegna. Wikimedia Commons. {{PD-1923}} Public Domain in the United States.{{PD-old-100}} Public domain in countries with a copyright term of artist's life plus 100 years or less.

Image Two: The Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot. Wikimedia Commons. {{PD-1923}} Public Domain in the United States.{{PD-old-100}} Public domain in countries with a copyright term of artist's life plus 100 years or less.

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