April 15, 2012 - Second Sunday of Easter
psychopath, an insubordinate, and a dimwit. That’s just part of the crew, all
of them military convicts, that Lee Marvin as Major Reisman must transform into
a successful attack force in the 60s film, “The Dirty Dozen.” The movie turns
on how each unlikely and flawed member of the team plays a crucial role in the
Something like Jesus’
own “dirty dozen” appears in our text today. The first part of the passage is a
description of the overwhelming crowds who respond to Jesus’ teaching and
healing. So many people surrounded Him, we’re told in verse 9, that He arranged
for the disciples get Him away in a boat so the crowd wouldn’t crush Him. And
in verses 11 and 12 we hear the demons only making the problem worse by
threatening to reveal His deeper identity as the Son of God.
Jesus responded to the
enormous demand and pressure of so many people who wanted His help by
commissioning a core group of companions and helpers. That’s the message of the
second half of our text today.
There were already
many, many followers, many disciples of Jesus. We’re so familiar with them that
we focus on the ones named here, but there were more. At the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus sent seventy others to do preach and heal. In I Corinthians 15 we learn that over five hundred followers were witnesses to the
resurrection of Jesus.
Yet there is clearly
something special about the twelve who are called and appointed here as
“apostles.” They are the inner ring, the core, as I said, of all those men and
women who gathered around Jesus.
Verse 13 shows that
those who are appointed are those whom Jesus wants. It all rests on His choice.
Earlier in Mark we saw how Jesus came and specifically called five of them,
Peter and Andrew, James and John, and a little later Levi. He selected them. That
makes Jesus different from other rabbis.
In those times
disciples chose their rabbis. A person who aspired to seek God, who wanted to
learn a life of holiness and faithfulness to God’s law, looked around to find a
teacher, a rabbi who he thought would guide him well. It’s like our own modern
practice. You seek out a church and a pastor where you feel you will grow in
your faith. You start attending and decide if you will stay. Likewise with
rabbis. The disciple took the initiative, chose the rabbi, started following to
see how it would go.
But Jesus’ disciples
did not find Him. He found them. He went up the mountain to seek God the
Father’s guidance and then He called and named the particular people that He
wanted to most closely follow Him.
There’s something more
about Jesus’ initiative just in the word here. Verse 14 in your text probably
begins, “And he appointed twelve,” but it literally says that “he made twelve…” They didn’t just become apostles. They weren’t just named apostles.
Jesus made them what they became. It was Jesus’ work and power in them
which gave them the position they had.
The number twelve is worth
noticing. There were twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus makes twelve apostles. It’s
symbolism. By choosing exactly twelve Jesus started Israel over again. Nine or
ten of the literal tribes of Israel were dispersed and lost in history. Jesus
chose twelve to say that here in their faith would be the beginning of a new
and spiritual Israel.
What did it mean to be
an apostle? The word means “one who is sent.” It’s a noun, but it’s primarily a
verb. After verse 14 says He named them apostles, apostolous, we read
that they were to be sent out, apostellei. To be an apostle meant having
a mission, a job to go and carry out for their master.
When we recite the
Nicene creed, we say that we believe in “one holy, catholic and apostolic
church.” To be apostolic is to be like the apostles in having a mission, a job
that Jesus gave us to do. Let’s look at that job.
The last part of verse
14 and the beginning of verse 15 gives the apostles three parts to what they
were supposed to do. They were, “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim
the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.” It’s crucial not to
skip over the first part. The first thing for the apostles was “to be with
him.” Before going anywhere, before preaching anything, before saying “boo” to
even a little demon, they were to be with Jesus.
That’s where all
Christian discipleship begins. We haven’t got any message, we haven’t even got
any real help to offer anyone unless we have first been with Jesus.
These twelve spent three years walking and talking with Him. Mark’s way of
telling the story is to show us how they slowly discovered who He is, how their
initial attraction and amazement is transformed into a lasting trust in Jesus
as Lord and Savior. That kind of process is to happen for every Christian.
Being with Jesus is
why we worship every Sunday. We get together to feel His presence with us, to
receive His presence at His Table, to learn more about Him in Sunday School and
in the preaching of the Word. It’s why we individually read our Bibles during
the week or get back together to keep studying. We want to be with Jesus. There
would be no apostles if they hadn’t been with Jesus. There’s no church if we
don’t first and foremost give ourselves to being with and knowing Jesus through
the Word and through worship.
When we’ve been with
Jesus, then He sends us out for the other parts, with good news to share with
those who don’t know Him yet, with divine power to help those trapped and hurt
by the demons of this world. It’s when we’ve been with Jesus that we can offer
a message of hope to people who feel hopeless. It’s when we’ve been with Jesus
that we can help deliver others from the demons of addiction and depression and
lust and all the other spiritual enemies that plague us.
Our four men who went
to Mexico last month, I am absolutely sure, went because they had first been
with Jesus and heard Him calling and sending them to share His love and His
help with the people they met there. But it’s true for us all. We engage the
mission when we first engage our hearts and minds in the person of Jesus.
The last four verses
of our text is just a list of names. It’s a familiar list, so it might be easy
to skip over it quickly. Yet I’d like to go back to where I began and see what
a “dirty dozen,” or as you might put it, a motley crew it is. The first four, as
I said, we’ve already met, four fishermen. The first three, Peter, James and
John, are what you might call the inner ring of the inner ring. They are Jesus’
closest companions. At all the crucial moments, like we saw on Transfiguration
Sunday in February, it’s these three who are with Him.
As much as I enjoy the
fact that those closest to Jesus were fishermen, I have to admit that they were
not at all the type of fishermen I like. For them it wasn’t a sport. It was a
living. They didn’t fish with graphite rods and barbless hooks. They didn’t
practice catch and release to conserve the environment. No, they got cold and
wet and dirty and caught and killed as many fish as they possibly could in
order to feed and support their families. They weren’t educated people who read
philosophical treatises on fishing. They were peasants who probably drank and
told stories whenever they weren’t on the water.
Yet Jesus included
these very ordinary, probably very smelly, folks in His core group. He gave
them nicknames, like calling Simon Peter, which just means “Rock,” and
calling the Zebedee brothers “sons of thunder,” which likely means they were
hot-headed. Jesus had room for people with bad tempers.
We know a bit about
Andrew, Philip, Thomas and Matthew, who is generally thought to be Levi, the
tax collector. They all get mentioned at other points in the Gospels. We know
next to nothing about Bartholomew, or James son of Alphaeus or Thaddaeus.
Jesus’ team included undistinguished people, who never did anything notable.
Simon the Cananaean is
interesting considering he’s in the group with Matthew. Luke 6:15 calls him Simon the Zealot. The Aramaic word for “zealot” sounds like “Cananaean,”
which explains how Mark puts it. A “zealot” was a member of the group working
to overthrow Rome’s rule of Israel. Simon belonged to a revolutionary political
Now think about how
much Simon must have hated Rome and then think about that as a tax collector
Matthew or Levi was working for Rome. In Simon’s eyes, Matthew was
collaborating with the enemy, a traitor. Yet here they are together on Jesus’
Last there is Judas Iscariot,
and the short ugly description, “who betrayed him.” Again, because most of us
know the story, we’re not surprised. We know who Judas was. But imagine reading
or hearing this for the first time. The traitor was in there from the
beginning. Every indication is that Jesus knew it from the beginning. Yet Judas
too is included in Jesus’ dirty dozen. It really is a strange and motley crew.
That’s us. The beginning
of the church is twelve motley, mismatched, dirty, hot-headed folks whose ways
of life and politics don’t fit together. All that brings them together is
Jesus. It all happens because they are with Jesus. That’s how it still happens.
Sometimes people tell me they come to church but feel like they don’t fit in. Exactly.
None of us fits in. None of us really belongs here. We’re here because Jesus
calls those He wants, as it says in verse 13. It’s all around Him. It all
because we are here with Him.
The original meaning
of “motley crew” was not a disheveled collection of misfits. In the eighteenth
century, it referred to multi-colored, motley uniforms. They were worn by a
disciplined team of the best oarsmen in the English Navy who rowed the captain’s
longboat. That’s the kind of motley crew Jesus made out of those first twelve. By
staying with Jesus they grew deep and strong and went out and changed the world
with His good news. That’s the kind of crew Jesus can make out of us if we let
Him be our captain. May it be.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2012 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj