Disciples: An Odd Group
There are four lists of the twelve disciples in the New Testament. They are in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13. The lists are not identical as some disciples were known by more than one name and some are given an identifying description. This is an interesting collection of followers of Jesus. Let me review their names before making a couple of applications to us.
I am going to use Luke’s list as the standard only because of his introduction to it. “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:12-13). Then comes the following list:
1) Simon – whom he named Peter. He was a fisherman (Mk. 1:16-18) and was first
introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew (Jn. 1:40-42).
2) Andrew – Peter’s brother and also a fisherman (Mk. 1:16-18).
3) James – the son of Zebedee and brother of John, both of whom were also
fishermen (Mk. 1:19-20).
4) John – brother of James and together they were called “sons of thunder”
5) Philip – was from Bethsaida in Galilee as were the first four listed above
6) Bartholomew – which means “son of Talmai.” He was also known as Nathaniel.
He was from Cana in Galilee (Jn. 21:2) and was introduced to Jesus by Philip
7) Matthew – was a tax collector and was also known as Levi (Lk. 5:27-32,
8) Thomas – also known as Didymus (Jn. 21:2), both names mean “twin,” one in
Aramaic the other in Greek.
9) James the son of Alphaeus – he was also called “James the younger, or James the
less, or James the little” (Mk. 15:40), and may have been the brother of Levi
10) Simon – called the Zealot in all the lists.
11) Judas – son of James (Lk. 6:16, Ac. 1:13), also called Thaddaeus (Mt. 10:3, Mk. 3:18).
12) Judas Iscariot – who betrayed Jesus. He is always identified in this manner and
is always listed last except in Acts where he is being replaced. Iscariot means
“man of Kerioth” which was a town in Judea. He was the only one of the twelve
who was from Judea, the others all being from Galilee.
Here are a few observations based on these lists. There are two and perhaps three sets of brothers. I find that very interesting from a family perspective.
Peter is always listed first and Judas Iscariot always last. Peter is portrayed in the Gospels as being outspoken but it is not personality but faithfulness that is the crucial character trait desired.
James and John are called “sons of thunder,” which is not a particularly complimentary label. Note their ego in Luke 9:54 and Mark 10:35-45.
James the son of Alphaeus was identified as being in some way subordinate either in age, physical stature, or importance. This did not disqualify him.
Matthew was a tax collector working for the Roman government. Simon the Zealot was a member of the anti-government political party, the Zealots, who desired the overthrow of the Roman government and refused to pay taxes.
Imagine all of these folk sitting around a Thanksgiving table chatting, sharing stories, enjoying one another’s company. How could that be possible? Only because they were chosen and called by Jesus who had prayed all night over each one of them. So also, we, as members of the Christian family, as the people of the Amber Congregational Church, how can we sit and talk together from our varied backgrounds, our sometimes obnoxious personalities, our differing political views, and our family cliques and loyalties? We can only because we share a love and commitment to Jesus. Yes, he prayed and continues to pray for each of us (Heb. 7:25).
So in this time of tremendous division in our country over things big and small, we should not expect that we will all agree. But we can expect that as followers of Jesus who live by a higher standard and serve the true King of Kings, that we can then forebear each other’s failures, idiosyncrasies, and frustratingly blind prejudices. We can model Christ’s true community in a world of hatred and dissension. Since we have been united with Christ, we have comfort from his love and share a common Spirit who teaches us tenderness and compassion. We can therefore do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility value others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but each to the interests of others (Phil. 2:1-4). We can pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace out of a pure heart and have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments that only produce quarrels (2 Tim. 2:22-23). We can model the new society made possible by Jesus who is our peace and has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, and created in himself one new humanity out of the two, reconciling both of them to God through the cross (Eph. 2:14-16).
Let’s be the church we are called to be. Let’s love one another so the world will know that God sent the Son (John 13:34-35, 17:23). See you in Worship.