Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:1b “. . .his twelve disciples,. . .”
Jesus had twelve disciples. The number was significant. Israel descended from twelve patriarchs, the offspring of Jacob. The twelve tribes represented the channel through which God’s blessing was meant to flow to the world. The full blessing, now present in Jesus, will henceforth flow through twelve disciples, who fulfill what the twelve patriarchs were set apart to accomplish in the first place.
Our text portrays a commissioning ceremony in which the twelve, who had previously been called to be Christ’s disciples, were set apart for a short-term mission trip. It is a scene reenacted in Acts 13:1-4, where the church at Antioch commissioned Paul and Barnabas for their first mission trip. This act of commissioning is oft repeated here at Second Baptist, on Sunday nights before mission trips.
The twelve began their journey by drawing close to Jesus. From a position of intimacy they will go on mission. There is no substitute for training we receive directly from Jesus while seated at His feet in prayer, meditation, and Bible study.
By examining the twelve, we can gain insight into the traits a person should possess in order to be qualified to work in God’s kingdom. With the harvest huge, and workers few, what kind of laborers would Jesus call into the enterprise?
What type of person does Christ deem most qualified to tackle this vast and vital task? What kinds of people are most suitable for kingdom work, most likely to succeed? If the first twelve Jesus chose are any indication, we may be surprised at the answer. If we look close enough, we can all see ourselves in the answer.
Pastors preach against several stock excuses people use to avoid involvement in ministry and missions. “If I take a job at church, it will require too much time. I don’t want to leave my small group. Are mission trips safe? If I go, what will my family say, how will my friends respond? What about money, how will I pay for this and also provide for my family? What about my age and health?”
These excuses are often voiced, but today we address what may in reality be the most common excuse used to justify not becoming involved. “I’m unworthy to serve. Who am I? What can I do? I’m a nobody, who has nothing to contribute.”
In this message I intend to use the twelve to defeat this defeatist attitude. I want to bless each hearer, to uplift those struggling with low spiritual self-esteem.
When Jesus chose His staff, His right hand men, He chose a motley crew, folks just like us. He did not think it necessary to pick people distinguished by any remarkable qualities. Had the twelve possessed extraordinary traits, we might be tempted to think God’s work is limited to that kind of people, and the rest of us would be free from obligation. To combat this mentality, Jesus seemed to go out of His way to make sure He selected no one with phenomenal characteristics.
Jesus picked ordinary people. Our whole judicial system is based on similar wisdom. We know the best jurors in a court of law are regular folks, plain people of good sense, fair, honest, able to weigh evidence and render a reasonable verdict.
Ordinary people, as opposed to paid professionals, are the kind of folks others most often tend to believe, especially when the witnesses are willing to sacrifice–yea, lay down their lives–to prove they believe what they’ve seen and heard.
The twelve were bulldog commoners who used earnest persuasion as their weapon in battle. Without illustrious ancestry, rank, or position, they could not compel others to believe. Having no wealth, they couldn’t bribe people to follow.
The twelve were not ordained clergy. They had no church authority because they lacked any religious schooling. The twelve were unlearned, not one scholar among them. I strongly support seminary training in most cases, but also admit my own denomination was built on people like my Grandpa Marshall, who never attended college, yet who lived in the Bible, devoured it from cover to cover, and preached it with conviction. My early years were deeply affected by my Sunday School teacher, Ollie Zimmerman, who could not read or write. His wife read the lesson to him often during the week. On Sunday morning he had us boys read a paragraph at a time out loud and then he would expound on it. A lack of education or a shortage of book-learning is no reason to miss the joy of kingdom work.
At first, none of the twelve was a spiritual giant. They had trouble absorbing spiritual truths, and were at times actually brazen in their demeanor toward Jesus. They were ambitious, jockeying for position, and prejudiced against Gentiles.
Some people think they have to be perfect to serve the Lord. Untrue! Often we volunteer while still far short of where we ought to be. Our motives may not be totally pure, and we may not love the lost as we should, but these shortcomings are most often remedied when active, not idle. If we wait till we are perfect to begin, we will never start. Don’t let weaknesses keep you from the thrill of service.
Initially, the twelve were not overly courageous. Jesus originally sent them out two by two so they could encourage and help each other. Jesus moved them slowly into international work. This first trip was limited to Israel, what they were familiar with. Do you fear traveling internationally? Begin with Nebraska, Chicago, or Kansas City. Do you fear teaching adults? Start with children. Do you fear teaching four-year-olds? Join the club. I do it with fear and trepidation weekly.
Don’t let fear rob you of sensing God’s smile. Go on a mission trip somewhere. Accept a job, serve in some position. Do something. Begin somewhere.
The twelve were not xerox copies of each other. They each had their own distinct nuances of personality. Their temperaments varied. Some were leaders, others followers. Peter was impulsive, craving the spotlight; several were retiring, and did nothing that’s specifically written down. Philip was inquisitive, Thomas reflective and somber, John was loving, capable of deep spirituality. Simon was a zealot, Matthew a tax collector; without Christ, they would have hated each other.
Since no particular distinctive earmarked the twelve, no one of us is left out or disqualified. If you see yourself as atypical, don’t let it keep you from service.
None of the twelve possessed outstanding talents. They obviously were not expected to spread the kingdom based on their inherent skill and ability. All their success had to emanate from a source totally apart from who and what they were.
Our Master chose the twelve solely to demonstrate what He could do with His own power through ordinary people. The same remains true today. God is not seeking super-saints, He is not enlisting workers at the Legion of Super Heroes.
The twelve recognized their own weakness, and willingly yielded to letting the Holy Spirit work in and through them. What was the result? They did their jobs well, and found their greatness solely in what they did for Christ. The astonishing future success of Christianity remains a tribute to their labors. Without the twelve, the Gospel would have long ago been forgotten. With Jesus the Chief Corner Stone, the twelve serve as the foundation of our faith. All of Christianity rises or falls on the witness of the twelve. As a tribute to the success of their work, their names are written on the foundation stones of Heaven (RV 21:4).
Someday they will sit on twelve thrones (MT 19:28), sharing the Judgment with Jesus. God still seeks laborers to use in time and to honor in eternity. Let no excuse keep us from someday hearing His “Well done, good and faithful servant.”