|Volume 23 Number 10 October 2021
T. Pierce Brown
In Matthew 10, we find a record of Jesus choosing and giving a commission to His apostles. Although their qualifications and original commission are different than ours, their basic job was the same. It was to proclaim a living Christ to a dying world. In view of that, it is probable that a study of some similarities between their calling and ours would be profitable.
First, they were chosen of Christ, not in view of what they were, but in view of what they could become. It is hard to see in any of them except Paul any indication of any exceptional qualities or fitness for the remarkable task that confronted them. This should give great hope for all of us. Titus 3:5 probably puts this in as clear a fashion as the pen of inspiration can do. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (NKJV).
When He first called them, before He made them apostles, He said to them, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). I do not think this point can be over emphasized. He did not say, “Come after me, and if you work hard enough studying how to use film strips, or do an open Bible study, you may become a fisher of men.” He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). It seems apparent that a person can no more follow Christ and not be a fisher of men than he can follow Christ and not go to Heaven when he dies.
It is often said that Christ wrote no book. Yet, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.” If we have written on our natures the nature and message of Christ and if we represent Him properly in the world of sinful men, we are His epistles.
Several aspects of His choice of apostles are worthy of consideration. He did not call them in terms of brilliance, scholarship or outstanding ability. This is in no way meant to disparage any of those. God gave some men a brilliant mind and outstanding ability to use for His glory, and a brilliant man with ten talents who uses them for the glory of God will be worth more to the cause of Christ than the five-talent man. However, the ten-talent man who glories in his ten talents or only uses five of them will not be worth as much as the five-talent man who does what he can, where he is and with what he has for the glory of God.
Not only were they not chosen on the basis of culture, possessions or riches, they probably were as varied in ability and personality as it is possible to be. Suppose none of them had ever doubted Deity, flinched in the face of peril, or acted with ulterior or base motives. What a loss that would be to us, for we can have hope that if Christ can make something out of those weak and erring men, maybe He can eventually do something with us! Many denominational commentaries seem to emphasize that we need a variety of denominations because of the various temperaments, qualities and needs of the members. In that case, Jesus would have needed to establish at least twelve churches at the beginning!
They were called to be sent with a special commission, with special powers to carry out that commission, and thus, they were called “apostles.” We have the same basic commission, but we are not called apostles because we do not have the same qualifications and powers that an apostle of Christ had. However, when He said, “Teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), we should be impressed with the similarities between their calling and ours.
Their basic task was to make disciples. Contrary to popular concepts, a disciple is not merely a learner, but a learner who is following. Those who were to follow properly had to be baptized and taught to observe all that Christ had commanded for them to do. Our business also is to make disciplined followers of Christ – not merely impart information to people and make learners of them. There is no doubt that if we are properly committed to doing that, we will be given the necessary divine assistance to accomplish the task.
Examining the Apostles
The special group of men Jesus commissioned to carry the Gospel to the world after His ascension were known as the apostles. The word apostle means one sent out with a message. Every apostle was a disciple, but not every disciple was an apostle. The apostolic office was a special role fulfilled by those selected by Jesus Himself (Mark 3:13-14; Acts 1:24-25). Jesus prayed all night before He selected the men to serve in this capacity (Luke 6:12-13). Some of these men were trained and given power during Jesus’ earthly ministry as they saw Him teach, heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead (Matthew 10:1; 11:4-5). After Jesus’ return to Heaven, the apostles were guided into all the Truth, and they laid the foundation of God’s household (John 16:13; Ephesians 2:19-20)
There are some apostles that we do not know much about. We are only told their names. There are other apostles about whom we know a great deal because Scripture allows us to look into their lives before and after Jesus called them (e.g., Peter, John, Paul). It is thought-provoking to consider the various types of men Jesus called to be His apostles. Let us notice a few things about some of the lesser-known apostles based on what we find in Scripture. As His disciples today, be encouraged that He can use us just like He used them.
Matthew: The Tax Collector Turned Evangelist
Before Jesus called Matthew (also known as Levi; cf., Mark 2:14) to be His disciple, he was a tax collector. Tax collectors were detested in first-century Palestine as they were seen as corrupt traitors who worked for the Romans. Tax collectors sometimes took more than was necessary and were guilty of greed and dishonesty (Luke 3:12-13; 19:2; 19:8). The Pharisees frowned on tax collectors and did not think that any righteous person should keep company with them (Luke 15:1-2).
However, when Jesus saw Matthew, He did not see someone who was beyond hope. He saw a man full of potential who would be an apostle and a faithful evangelist. Jesus called Matthew to follow Him, and Matthew did just that (Matthew 9:9). He not only followed Jesus, but he eventually penned the first Gospel account in our New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew is a favorite of many, and probably the one with which people are most familiar because of its position in the New Testament. Matthew was a tax collector, despised by his countrymen but desired by his God. Matthew’s contribution to the New Testament should encourage us to never count anyone out. We should be reaching out to those on whom the world has given up and let them know that God wants to give them another opportunity (2 Peter 3:9).
Andrew: The Brother and Bringer
Andrew was a disciple of John before he was a follower of Jesus. Without a doubt, this prepared him to follow the Messiah (John 1:35-40). Once Andrew identified Jesus as the Messiah, he called his brother Peter and introduced him to Jesus (John 1:41-42). Jesus called both Andrew and Peter away from their fishing nets and charged them to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-20). Later, Andrew brought a young boy to Jesus who provided the bread and fish for Jesus to feed the 5,000 (John 6:8-10). On one occasion, Andrew introduced some Greeks to Jesus who desired to see Him (John 12:20-22).
We do not possess any writings from Andrew or any sermons that he preached, but we know that he was always bringing people to Jesus. If all someone could say about us is that we are bringing people to Jesus, that would be a great compliment (Mark 5:19). Andrew’s brother Peter became far more well-known than him, but had he never introduced Peter to Jesus, that may not have been possible. We may never write or preach like Peter, but we all can bring people to Jesus like Andrew. He was an apostle who no doubt did his share of preaching, teaching and healing, but he was, more than anything, someone who brought others to Jesus (Mark 6:7-13).
Thomas: From Doubter to Believer
Thomas was a man filled with courage and questions. When Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead, the disciples thought it might lead to His death. Thomas was willing to go and die with Him (John 11:11-16). He was not afraid to go into battle with Jesus, but he was someone who liked to be sure of what he was committing before he fully committed. Before Jesus went to the cross, Thomas wanted Jesus to plainly tell him the way that He was going and how the apostles could follow Him (John 14:5). Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6 NKJV).
Perhaps Thomas is most famous for his doubt concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas was a twin (Didymus means twin, John 20:24) and was probably accustomed to people getting him mixed up with his brother. When the disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus, he may have thought they mixed him up with someone else. He wanted definite proof (John 20:24-25). Jesus appeared, allowed Thomas to feel the wounds in His hands and in His side, and commanded Thomas to believe (John 20:26-27). Upon feeling the wounds and being assured of Jesus’ identity, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28). When Thomas learned the truth, he expressed it. Jesus said of those of us who have not seen but have the eyewitness testimonies of the apostles that we can be blessed in our belief (John 20:29). The Gospel records were written so we could have the same faith and assurance that Thomas enjoyed and know for certain Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:30-31). Thomas struggled with doubt but turned his doubt to conviction. As we find things in Scripture that challenge us and leave us doubting, we should not stop until we come to the Truth like Thomas. Then, we should share it and proclaim it as he did.
Judas: The Traitor
Judas was not always wicked. Jesus prayed for him and empowered him to do His work in the Limited Commission just as He did for the other apostles. However, at some point, Judas turned away from righteousness and is forever remembered for his treachery. Every time Judas is listed among the apostles, he is mentioned last. This epithet is attached to his name: The traitor (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16; John 6:71). Judas chose to betray Jesus for money, and after he was overwhelmed with guilt, he hanged himself (Matthew 26:14-16; 26:47-50; 27:3-5). He is a sad example of what could happen to any disciple of Jesus. He was an apostle who taught others, performed miracles and was close to Jesus, but he ended his life in apostasy. From Judas, we learn many things, but perhaps the most important lesson is that as we walk close to Jesus, we should be sure that we are true disciples and not traitors.
Not everyone can be an apostle of Jesus, but everyone can be His disciple. The apostles were selected in the first century for a special role, and no one living today occupies this office (Acts 1:21-22). Still, we should examine their lives and mimic the good they did and refrain from the bad. Jesus chose all types of men to follow Him, and He used them in unique ways. Jesus is still calling men and women to follow Him, but it is up to us to accept His invitation.