by Walter A. Boyd, N. Ireland
It cannot be denied that there was a special glory associated with the call by God to a disciple to serve as an apostle. The glory attached to their call lay in the One Who called them. The apostle John used these words to describe the Saviour Who called him to serve: “we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” Jn.1.14, and Peter said of the same occasion that he, with other apostles, were “eyewitnesses of His majesty” 2Pet.1.16. The apostles were called to serve with the Son of God, Who is Divinely glorious. That call by the Lord Jesus gave them unique opportunities as they accompanied Him in His public ministry, which were not experienced by any others.
The word “apostle” means one sent forth, and the twelve apostles were men sent forth by the Saviour as His representatives. Those twelve were selected from among the wider group of disciples who followed the Lord, and it appears that eventually they became known formally as “the twelve” (see 1Cor.15.5). Mark, with his usual succinctness, sums up the initial responsibilities of the twelve when he records the details of how the Saviour called them from out of the larger group of general disciples that followed him. He tells us they had three special responsibilities: firstly, of being the Saviour’s closest companions: “that they should be with Him” 3.14; secondly, of being His trusted spokesmen: “that He might send them forth to preach” 3.14; and, thirdly, of being His empowered delegates: “to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” 3.15. Later, when choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot, Peter, as a leader among the twelve, stipulated a fourth requirement when he said that “of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection” Acts 1.21,22. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that before his call to service Matthias had been a constant companion of the Saviour and consistently with His followers. Similarly, today, being a companion of the Saviour and His followers is both a requirement and an expectation for one called to the service of God.
The Lord’s public ministry began when He was identified as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist at the River Jordan, Jn.1.35,36. It was on the next day that He started to call some men as disciples, v.43. John chapter 1 records the first meeting with the Saviour of “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” and another who is unnamed, v.40. Shortly after that there followed Simon Peter, Andrew’s brother, vv.41,42, and the next day Philip and Nathanael were enlisted, vv.43-51. Matthew chapter 4 records the call to discipleship of “Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother” v.18, while they were fishing, and “James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother” v.21, while they were mending their fishing nets.
Eventually the band of followers and helpers who travelled with the Saviour increased until the time when He called “unto Him whom He would: and they came unto Him. And He ordained twelve” Mk.3.13,14. This second selection was the twelve’s call to service as apostles. That call was given by the Lord after “He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” Lk.6.12. It was on this occasion they were “named apostles” v.13. A serious decision had to be made, and humanly speaking the furtherance of God’s programme of the spread of the gospel depended upon a proper choice. It is Luke in his Gospel which details the movements of the perfect Man, Jesus Christ, who records His dependence upon the Father as He prays before the choice of these servants. If the call to God’s service of these men meant so much to the Son of God, how much more serious a matter it ought to be for one contemplating his response to that call today. Apart from responding to the Saviour’s call to salvation, this is the most important decision any person can make. These men were apostles because the Son of God chose them to be such, not because they decided it. That initiating choice and identification as apostles gave their call a unique sense of glory that no other servant, except the apostle Paul, enjoyed.
The Scriptures record a list of the twelve apostles in four places: Matt.10.2-4; Mk.3.16-19; Lk.6.12-16; Acts 1.13. The twelve chosen by the Saviour are: “Simon He surnamed Peter; and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and He surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed Him” Mk.3.16-19. It is noteworthy that Peter appears first in each of those lists, and Judas always appears last (apart from the list in Acts chapter 1, in which Judas does not appear, since, obviously, he was not present). Peter’s name appearing first indicates that he had some sort of informal leadership role or seniority within the twelve. This helps us understand why Peter was the special target of attack by Satan; the enemy’s ploy was to destabilise the group by causing the fall of a senior, to whom they all looked, Lk.22.31,32. It is also significant that Peter’s call to service was different from the others, in that he had his commission renewed after restoration, Jn.21.15-17. Judas’ name appearing last gives a sense of the contempt in which he was held by the others for his betrayal of their Master. Satan targeted in a special way the first and last apostles named in the lists, and sadly, where he did not fully succeed with one, he succeeded with the other. There was restoration and renewal for the apostle who “went out, and wept bitterly” Lk.22.62, but there was none for the deceiver who “went immediately out: and it was night” Jn.13.30.
To be eye and ear witnesses to the works and words of the Lord Jesus Christ was a unique privilege. Yet, the remarkable thing is that not one of the twelve men called by the Saviour to that glorious position had any rabbinical or formal religious training. For the most part they were men such as fishermen, who had a very rudimentary education. The closest to an educated man among the twelve was Matthew (also named Levi), who was a receiver of taxes and would have had training in bookkeeping. The selection of men who were untrained in religious affairs was not only the Saviour showing His distaste for the barrenness of Judaism and its leaders; it was also a signal that heart affection and loyalty in those He called were more important than any particular personal, intellectual, or religious ability. While the men called by the Lord were just ordinary individuals, some had extraordinary responsibilities. For example, when it came to needing a penman who would counteract the philosophical error of Gnosticism that would emerge some centuries after him, the apostle John proved more than capable of analytical thinking and expression of truth in his First Epistle. The primary and essential quality in those called to serve the Lord is a loyal and true heart. Such men can be equipped by the Holy Spirit for whatever task He requires of them.
When Luke lists the twelve, he seems to place them in pairs, 6.12-16, and when Matthew lists the twelve being sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” 10.1-6, he confirms Luke’s listing of pairs. It appears from Mk.6.7 that after their call to serve, working in pairs was a frequent, or even permanent arrangement. There are some of the twelve for whom we have very few, if any, personal details of their call to, or the character of, their service and we cannot, therefore, speculate about those details. We can find information on the early days and call to service of seven of the twelve: Simon Peter, James the son of Zebedee, John the son of Zebedee, Andrew, Philip, Matthew, and Bartholomew (who most likely was the man also known as Nathanael). There is no information given in Scripture, beyond a statement of its fact, about the call of Thomas, Simon the Canaanite, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Judas Iscariot. For this chapter we will consider the call to service of the better-known apostles in the order they appear in Mark’s list of the twelve, with a brief consideration of the lessons from the call of Judas Iscariot.
On the day Peter was called by the Saviour, he and his brother Andrew were engaged in their occupation as fishermen. However, before being called, they had had a conversation with the Saviour, when Andrew brought Peter to meet the Messiah he had found. On that occasion “when Jesus beheld him, He said, ‘Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas,’ which is by interpretation, A stone” Jn.1.42. As the Lord beheld Peter and changed his name to Cephas, He was not describing the man Peter was at that time, but the stable, rock-like character he would become as the result of Divine discipline and care. Peter had qualities that the Saviour needed in His band of servants, and over time the Divine Master would develop those qualities until He had a servant capable of leading the work of God in its infancy in Jerusalem.
Then, some months after the prediction of Peter’s name change, Jesus was “walking by the sea of Galilee” and “saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And He saith unto them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him” Matt.4.18-20. Just as the prediction that Simon, son of Jona, would, in the future, be called “Cephas”, so too the Saviour’s promise to make Peter a fisher of men was in respect of his future. As Peter’s character was going to be developed and moulded by the Master, so also his career; the fisherman would learn to catch men. Peter’s call to service meant that his innate ability in the natural world would be turned to the service of the Lord in the spiritual world. His call to service meant the beginning of a training time for Peter; he would develop and grow both personally and spiritually as he companied with the Master. Constant companionship with the Saviour meant increasing Christ-likeness for Peter. That is why it is important to recognise the order in the Saviour’s purpose for the twelve in Mk.3.14: to be “with him” was a pre-requisite to being sent “forth to preach”. Being like Christ develops from being with Christ, and is required in every servant of the Lord.
Lk.5.1-11 gives us another lesson learned by Peter, along with James and John, at the time of their call to service. The Saviour was preaching on the shore of the sea of Galilee and the crowd pressed so close to Him that He got into one of the two fishing boats that were pulled up on the shore while their owners, Peter, James and John were washing their fishing nets. Until then Peter, James and John had been private followers of the Lord, but the Saviour is now going to challenge their priorities as He calls them to serve Him. That challenge begins for Peter in an ordinary work day situation when he is thinking on the level of a fisherman.
There are a number of things in Peter’s call that are worth consideration:
Firstly, Peter’s casual attendance upon the things of God. While the Saviour was preaching and the crowd were eager to hear what He said, Peter was busily engaged in his occupation as a fisherman and concentrating to that end. There is nothing untoward about a fisherman maintaining the equipment that was essential for his livelihood, but Jesus was keen to catch his attention. To do that, He arranged things so that Peter heard His teaching and saw His power. The Saviour stepped unannounced into Peter’s fishing boat and asked him to push out from the shore. Sometimes the call of God to service commences with the Saviour stepping unexpectedly into the ordinary affairs of life. It is good to be able to identify the extraordinary amidst the ordinary.
Secondly, the Saviour’s request would test Peter’s ability as a boatman, who would have to continually manoeuvre the boat with its oars so that it would not drift in the current and take the Saviour away from His audience. With nothing else on his mind but to maintain the boat static while the Saviour was speaking, Peter had ample opportunity to hear His teaching. A man who hears God’s call to service is one who has been listening to the Master’s voice in His Word.
Thirdly, when the teaching was over, rather than asking Peter to take Him ashore, the Saviour told Peter to “launch out into the deep” for a catch of fish. The Saviour, Whose skill had been in carpentry, had firstly interrupted Peter and his companions as they washed their nets; now He was telling them where to catch fish. Peter, who had spent the whole night fishing without success, might well have thought it preposterous that the Carpenter from Nazareth should give him directions about how to catch fish. Indeed, his reply to the Saviour’s instruction shows that he was, at least, sceptical of the whole idea.
Fourthly, Peter’s reply was full of self-confidence: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing”. Peter could not engage in a theological debate with a rabbi, but he did know about fishing! However, he is respectful and calls the Saviour “Master”. But he did not miss pointing out the reality of the situation to the Saviour; the professional fishermen had worked hard all night and caught nothing. However, Peter’s regard for the Master was such that he responded by saying, “Nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net”. The others who were with Peter said nothing, and it might well have been that their reluctance was what prompted Peter to say, “I [rather than ‘we’] will let down the net”. Peter was about to learn the truth of the hymn that says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way”. He was prepared to let down the net in the public gaze of those who had listened to the Saviour. He was willing to face the scorn of the local fishermen who knew well that the sea of Galilee was only ever fished at night. Even though his expertise made the Saviour’s instruction look silly, Peter learned a lesson that day which meant he could later write about being “reproached for the name of Christ” 1Pet.4.14. If the Master says to do it, comply without questioning, no matter how it looks to others.
Fifthly, the resultant “great multitude of fishes” taught Peter that there are Divine compensations for obedience. If Peter’s expertise made the Saviour’s instruction look silly, his equipment meant he could not contain the blessing for obedience. The nets were breaking and their boats were sinking. Peter learned that the Lord knew a lot more about fishing than he did! God’s call to service requires sufficient humility to obey and to learn; God has no place for those who know everything and can be taught nothing.
Sixthly, at the end of the incident Peter was a changed man. He addressed the Saviour as “Master” at the start and as “Lord” at the end. He was prepared to learn from Him as Master, and that meant obeying Him as Lord. Peter discovered, not just that the Lord knew what He was talking about when He instructed Peter to launch out into the deep, but that he himself did not really know what he was talking about when he protested about fishing all night and catching nothing. Peter learned that what pertained in the past does not control what happens in the present, especially when the Lord gives a command. As a result of those lessons quickly learned, Peter fell before the Saviour in worship. This was part of Peter’s spiritual education and growth in maturity, which meant in later life he could exhort others to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” 2Pet.3.18.
Seventhly, those lessons learned by Peter were given in the context of the Saviour’s words, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” The Saviour expected Peter and his companions to put those lessons to good use in their future service for Him.
The next stage in Peter’s development was some months later, at his confession in Caesarea Philippi, Matt.16.13-20; Mk.8.27-30; Lk.9.18-21; Jn.6.68,69. The circumstances were that the Lord and His disciples had been busy for an extended period and the opposition from the Jewish authorities was increasing. In those circumstances, the Lord took the disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi, where there had been no hostility. In the peace and quietness that they enjoyed there, a number of significant events which would shape the life and service of Peter took place. Of these, his confession, Matt.16.13-20, and the transfiguration, Matt.17.1-9, had the greatest significance for Peter.
The Lord “asked His disciples, saying, ‘Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?’ And they said, ‘Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.’ He saith unto them, ‘But whom say ye that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’” Matt.16.13-19.
The Saviour’s questions would investigate the disciples’ appreciation of Himself. The way the questions were framed shows the ability of the Saviour to identify a person’s motives and understanding. Firstly, He asked whom the general population thought He was, and the disciples replied that some thought He was John the Baptist, some thought Elijah, and some Jeremiah or another of the prophets. The Saviour’s next question was to find out if the disciples had been swayed by popular opinion, and He asked, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter, as was often the case, acted as spokesman for the disciples by replying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” Matt.16.16. Whatever others might have thought, there was no doubt in Peter’s mind (“Thou art”) of His Master’s Messiahship (“The Christ”) and Deity (“The Son of the living God”). Peter had been with the Saviour long enough and had seen and heard sufficient to be utterly convinced that He was greater than John the Baptist or any of the notable prophets in the history of his nation. This was an example of Peter’s rock-like character; his conviction was unshakeable and his confession irrefutable. This is another manifestation of Peter’s increasing spiritual apprehension of Christ, for spiritual things are not discerned by natural ability, 1Cor.2.14. As a result, Peter received a third prediction regarding his service for the Master: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church”. The scope of this chapter and the words of this author could never settle the centuries of debate about the precise meaning of the Saviour’s words “upon this rock”. But, whatever they meant, they conveyed to Peter that the rock-like disciple who would become a fisher of men would also be part of the firm foundation of the New Testament Church. There can be little doubt that this incident was upon Peter’s mind when he later wrote in chapter 2 of his First Epistle concerning the Lord as the “living stone” v.4, and the Church as “lively [‘living’] stones built up a spiritual house” v.5. One of the principles in life’s training by the Master is that truths revealed and lessons learned during the early days before and after God’s call to service are designed for use during later service. Peter learned the importance of continually recalling things said by the Master in the early days he had accompanied Him. A second principle that Peter identified was that those truths revealed and lessons learned with the Master were not for his own use only; he passed them on to others to help them on their spiritual journey.
This is the better-known disciple of the two men among the twelve who had the name James. While we cannot be sure, it likely is that his younger brother John was one of the two disciples of John the Baptist who heard Jesus speak and followed Him in Jn.1.37. It is also suggested that in the same way that Andrew found his brother Peter and introduced him to the Saviour, so John would have done likewise for his brother James. This means that when the Saviour came across James and John in the fishing boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets, it was not the first time James had met the Lord. Matthew’s record of his call is simple and succinct: “He saw two other brethren, James … and John … and He called them” Matt.4.21. We have no further details of what exactly was said by the Saviour, whether any explanation of what his call entailed was given, or what the reaction of Zebedee, their father, was. The response by James and John was also beautifully simple and straightforward: “And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him” Matt.4.22. Mark tells us in his Gospel that they also “left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants” Mk.1.20.
Those few sentences by Matthew and Mark paint a very commendable picture of both James and John:
Firstly, the response by James was to a definite call by the Saviour. James did not work for a while at both fishing and serving the Master. He had a definite call, to which he gave a definite response when it came. He did not leave his occupation as a fisherman just because he was too busy with the Saviour’s work to both fish and follow the Master.
Secondly, the fishing business that James was leaving behind apparently was lucrative enough to have employees, yet he was prepared to leave the financial security of the family business and answer the Saviour’s call. James did not start to follow the Lord because his business prospects were beginning to decline; there was a cost involved!
Thirdly, James, when called, was busily engaged in the mundane task of mending nets. He was a man who was diligent in his business. No doubt, that diligence in secular affairs would have been transferred to the spiritual affairs in which James engaged.
Fourthly, the response to the Saviour’s call was immediate; there was no coercion or persuasion by the Saviour, by his father Zebedee, or by his brother John. While the service of God is not open to volunteers, the response to God’s call is voluntary.
Fifthly, when James followed the Saviour “immediately” he was not placing the family business in jeopardy by walking away from responsibilities; his father had hired servants upon whom he could call for support and help. To have left his father and the business in the lurch would have been a poor testimony to the family and caused them to question his integrity.
The Saviour named James and John “Boanerges”, which means ‘the sons of thunder’, Mk.3.17. It is not exactly clear why they were so named, but obviously the Saviour had some reason for it. It is suggested it was because they were typically impulsive Galileans, which might be the case. A more attractive suggestion is that they expected everyone to respond to the Saviour with the same alacrity as they had and, on an occasion when that did not happen, they suggested the Lord should call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan village that would not receive Him, Lk.9.54. The Saviour was an expert at reading human personalities, Jn.2.24, and would have been able to accurately identify their personal traits and name James and John appropriately.
It is not surprising that a man with the qualities of James would become one of the three disciples (Peter, James, and John) to occupy a leading place among the twelve. With Peter and John, he was with the Saviour in some of His most sacred and special moments. James was present when Jairus’ daughter was raised, Mk.5.37; on the mount of transfiguration, Matt.17.1, and when the Saviour took the three disciples apart from the others in the garden of Gethsemane, Matt.26.37. To this day, diligence and a sense of duty in the service of God provide opportunities for spiritual intimacy with the Master that might otherwise be missed.
The only other thing we know about James is that he was martyred by Herod, Acts 12.1,2. It is significant that by the time of his death the order of the names of the two brothers had changed. When the Saviour called them at the sea of Galilee, the order was “James … and John his brother” Matt.4.21, but in Acts 12.2 Herod “killed James the brother of John”. It seems that, with nothing recorded of James’ service after the Lord’s ascension, he faded into the shadow of his brother John, who would go on to live longer than any other of the twelve. James, with his sense of duty and diligence, was the first to be martyred and little is known of his service for Christ, yet he was essential to the Saviour’s mission. It appears that James learned how to ‘play second fiddle’ well. The call of God to service does not always thrust a man into the glare of publicity or into the limelight among the Christians. The glory in James’ call to service lay with the One Who called him, and not with the duty he was called to perform. Perhaps only a man with a sense of duty and the dogged nature of James could cope with that situation!
If, as seems to be almost certain, John was the other disciple with Andrew when they first met the Saviour as two of John the Baptist’s disciples, Jn.1.35, he had a significant introduction to Christ as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” Jn.1.29,36. Andrew and John began to follow the Lord Jesus along the road as He walked. The Saviour saw them following Him and asked, “What seek ye?” to which they replied, “Rabbi, where dwellest Thou?” Jn.1.38. In effect, they were being drawn away from the last and greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist, to search for the dwelling place of the Saviour. A man who will hear God’s call to service will be one who is interested in the Master’s dwelling place. It will not be surprising that a man with a deep interest in the Saviour’s dwelling place, the local assembly, will be called to serve Christ. John never lost that quest for the Saviour’s company; Judas Iscariot would betray the Saviour; Peter would deny Him; and, while all the disciples forsook the Lord after His arrest and trial, John accompanied by Peter returned to the high priest’s palace in support of their beleaguered Master, even though it was at a distance, Jn.18.15. John is the only one of the twelve said to be at the cross with a group of faithful women, Jn.19.25-27. He was one of the first to respond to the preaching of John the Baptist that Jesus was “the Lamb of God” and one of the last to leave the cross. As one of the first disciples called by Jesus he seemed to have a deeper love for his Master than the others and is five times mentioned as the object of the Saviour’s special love, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” Jn.13.23; 19.26; 20.2; 21.7; 21.20. Along with his brother James and Peter, he formed the privileged inner circle of three confidants of the Saviour. He was also the
writer selected by the Holy Spirit to pen the Gospel that emphasises Jesus as the Son of God. Like Peter, we can find many of the lessons John learned being put to use in teaching others. Those learned by John are scattered throughout his Gospel, his Epistles, and the Book of Revelation, and are far beyond the scope of this chapter to list, but a few examples are:
Firstly, the man who learned about “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” is the writer who says that “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” 1Jn.2.2.
Secondly, the man who had accompanied the Lamb of God and was convinced of His unblemished, sinless life would later write that
“He appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin” 1Jn.3.5,
Thirdly, John, who had listened to the Saviour preach about Himself as light and life, would later write, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” Jn.1.4.
There are several of the twelve about whom we know very little, or nothing, but there are certain features that characterised them all. To expand those details about each of the twelve would be repetitious, and so we can take Andrew as a typical representative of the others. Along with Peter, his brother, and James and John, Andrew was a Galilean fisherman. He was one of the two disciples of John the Baptist (John being the other) who followed Jesus in search of where the Saviour dwelt. Having spent a day in the company of the Saviour, Andrew left for home convinced that he had met the Messiah. He “first” found his own brother Simon and made known to him the discovery. For Andrew it was a priority to tell his family about the Saviour, and that is the type of man the Saviour will call to serve Him. When Scripture says, “He first findeth his own brother” Jn.1.41, it does not mean that it was first in a list of tasks; it means that he did it as an immediate priority over anything else. The Lord will call a man to service who makes the things of the Lord his priority. To tell others about the Saviour was not a hobby or pastime for Andrew; it required urgency. Throughout his service Andrew was always occupied in bringing others to Christ. He became a disciple and was ordained to be an apostle, Mk.3.18, like the other eleven, but he did not require the same instruction in how to be a fisher of men as did the others (as can be seen from the absence of his name in Lk.5.1-11); it seemed he had that innate ability, no doubt recognised by the Saviour.
Andrew was a true missionary; he had a definite mission in life to win souls for the Master. The first day Andrew met the Saviour he showed his skill in soul winning without being prompted. It was good that he wanted to tell others about the Saviour he had found. It was a mark of Andrew’s spiritual interest that he knew the Old Testament Scriptures and was able to identify the Saviour as fitting the prophecies about Israel’s coming Messiah. It was commendable that he thought of others and did not keep his discovery to himself. It would be expected that he wanted to tell his own brother, but Andrew did more than tell Peter: “he brought him to Jesus” Jn.1.42. While it is speculative and hypothetical, yet it is interesting from a human standpoint to ask: What would have happened if Andrew had not brought Peter to the Saviour? You can imagine how Andrew felt on the day of Pentecost when he listened to Peter preach and saw the mighty hand of God attend his brother’s preaching. Whatever else Andrew felt, he would have been glad that he made it a priority to find Peter and bring him to Jesus.
It was likely Andrew’s selfless interest in others that made him easy to approach for help. Philip, who was from the same town as Andrew, Bethsaida, Jn.1.44, came to Andrew on at least two occasions to seek his help or advice about a problem. One of those occasions was when Greeks came to Philip in search of the Saviour. Philip took the matter to Andrew, who, rather than take the matter out of Philip’s hands, took Philip to the Saviour to have it dealt with, Jn.12.20-22. A man called to serve God will always be approachable with a problem; he will also help others find the Saviour. The selfless man who does that will not take over the problem and organise the solution himself, but will help the person with the problem find a solution. A selfless interest in helping others is not only admirable, it is also essential in God’s service.
When Philip was faced with the question from the Saviour about where they might obtain bread for a multitude of more than five thousand, it was Andrew who provided the answer. The Saviour asked Philip about buying the bread in order “to prove [test] him” Jn.6.6. Philip had no difficulty in quickly calculating the practical and financial impossibilities, but could not come up with a solution. It was Andrew who was aware of the presence of a lad with five loaves and two fishes, and while, like Philip, he could not see an answer to the problem, he brought the lad to Jesus and the miracle was performed. What would have happened when the Saviour presented the problem of providing food for the multitude to Philip if Andrew had stood back thinking to himself, ‘That is Philip’s problem’? Or what if Andrew had looked at a lad’s meagre lunch of five small barley loaves and two small fishes and thought to himself that they would be of no use and there would be no point in bringing them to the Saviour? But we need not wonder or speculate, for that was not the character of Andrew; he was always eager to help find a solution to a problem and help those who were seeking the Saviour.
If it was not for the Gospel by John, we would know little or nothing about Philip apart from his name as one of the twelve. Philip the apostle is not to be confused with Philip the evangelist of Acts chapters 6,8 and 21. Philip the apostle was from the town of Bethsaida, from which Andrew and Peter also came, Jn.1.44. Andrew, Peter, James, and John had all been introduced to the Saviour by the time Philip came into the story. Even though four others had met the Saviour, Philip is distinguished from the others as the first to hear the Saviour’s call in the words, “Follow Me” Jn.1.43. As soon as he began to follow the Saviour, he went in search of Nathanael to tell him of his discovery. When Andrew went to Peter, he told him about “the Messias” Jn.1.41, but Philip’s message to Nathanael was, “We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” Jn.1.45.
It is implicit in Andrew’s words to Peter that he knew the Old Testament Scriptures, from which he identified Jesus as the Messiah. But Philip is more explicit in his message to Nathanael; he tells him that the One he has found accords with what is written in the Law and the Prophets. Philip was obviously deeply conversant with the Scriptures; it is such a man that God calls. Philip not only knew the Scriptures; he was able to apply them and, in that application, he could identify Jesus as the Messiah. It is essential that a man called to God’s service is able to identify where the Scriptures point to the Saviour.
The words of the Saviour to Nathanael about being “under the fig tree” Jn.1.48, point to a man who had separated himself to a quiet place that he might meditate, most likely on the Old Testament Scriptures. Nathanael may have been interested in the safety of the fig tree in 1Kgs.4.25 and Mic.4.4, the provision of the fig tree in Isa.36.16, or the cleaning of the fig tree in Zech.3.10, but he found all three in the One to Whom he was introduced by Philip. Philip, like a good soul winner, would have been aware of Nathanael’s interest and as soon as he had something of interest to tell him, he went to Nathanael. The man called to God’s service was able to identify potential interest in others and knew when and with what information to approach an interested person. Nathanael’s reply, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”, showed a level of scepticism that may have caused many another person to retreat, but not Philip. He did not press on in evangelistic zeal telling Nathanael of the danger of rejecting the message about Christ, but just deftly said, “Come and see”. Philip was not going to engage in persuasion or apologetics; he was confident that if Nathanael could see and hear the One he had witnessed, he too would be convinced. It is more important to show Christ to an interested person than to convince him about
Like the rest of the twelve, Philip had a personal weakness, which is manifested in his last appearance in the Gospel by John. In the ‘Upper Room’ discourse, the Saviour had told the disciples, “If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also: and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip was puzzled by that statement and said, “Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us” Jn.14.7,8. Philip, like Thomas, found it easier to believe when he could see. We should not be too critical of Philip, for how often have we lacked faith because we could not fully see or understand what the Lord was doing or saying to us? Just as Philip had helped others in the past by bringing them with their problem to the Saviour, so now he does the same. The openness of Philip’s relationship with the Lord is admirable; he feels comfortable expressing his difficulty to the Saviour, and that in front of the other disciples. Could we learn that same lesson, perhaps best summed up in the well-known words of Joseph Scriven’s hymn:
- O what peace we often forfeit,
- O what needless pain we bear!
- All because we do not carry
- Everything to God in prayer.
The apostle Matthew is well known as the man before conversion whom everyone loved to hate; he was a collector of taxes. Mark calls him “Levi the son of Alphaeus” Mk.2.14, which suggests he was another apostle who had a brother in the same band of twelve: there was also James the son of Alphaeus. Luke also introduces him in his Gospel by the name of Levi, Lk.5.27. It is in his own Gospel that he calls himself Matthew, Matt.9.9, likely because, with others who were surnamed by the Saviour, Levi received the second name Matthew, meaning ‘gift from God’, at the time of his call by the Saviour.
The Jews reserved a special hatred for despised tax collectors and barred them from worship, or even entry to the Temple precincts, which is seen when the publican in Luke chapter 18 was “standing afar off”. While Matthew sat at his customs desk in Capernaum, he would have heard the Saviour preach and on the day the Saviour stopped and said, “Follow me”, Matthew was ready to leave his desk behind. He was not leaving a popular position, but, for the same reasons that it was not popular, it was lucrative. The restitution made by Zacchaeus to those he had swindled in his tax collections bears that out. As soon as Matthew left his post to follow the Saviour, he made a “great feast in his own house” to which he invited “a great company of publicans and … others” Lk.5.29. Matthew had the courage to be seen as a follower of the Lord Jesus, even by his former colleagues. The scribes and Pharisees were quick to latch on to a possible instance of hypocrisy by the Saviour eating and drinking with publicans and sinners, v.30, and began to complain. The Saviour used the opportunity provided by Matthew’s courageous testimony to tell the religious leaders that He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” v.32. There was no more unlikely man in the city of Capernaum to become a follower of the Lord Jesus, but he was more than a general follower; he was one of twelve later selected out of the group of followers to be an apostle. Only the Lord could foresee what grace could do in the life of a man like Matthew: the man who had used his pen before conversion to record details for a despotic king, Herod, was chosen to record historical, personal, and prophetic details of God’s King and His programme. When he left his customs desk Matthew took his pen with him, and was one of only two apostles to leave behind a written record of his time with the Saviour.
Matthew’s customs post was in Galilee, which was under the jurisdiction of King Herod. Even though Herod was just a vassal of the Roman governor, it means Matthew was part of the apparatus of Herod’s kingdom. When he left his service to Herod, he entered the service of a far greater King, and it is of that King and His magnificent kingdom that Matthew writes in his Gospel. Being from Galilee, Matthew had an ear and an eye for things relating to the Gentiles and would relate more in his Gospel about the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church than any other of the Gospel writers. He commences his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” 1.1. Matthew could see how his Master related to the Jewish nation and throne. It is Matthew who tells of the visit by Gentile wise men from the east enquiring, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” 2.2. It is Matthew who detected the announcement of the kingdom by the forerunner of the King in the preaching of John the Baptist, who said, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” 3.2. Again, it is Matthew who provided a detailed record of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ as teaching the principles of life for those who are heirs of “the kingdom of heaven” (chapters 5-7). The Lord called a man who had an eye for minute and relevant detail and saw how that could be employed in His service. The searching question for us is: have we employed our abilities as well as we can in the service of the Master Who has called us?
We will pass over Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite without comment due to the lack of Scriptural data about their calls, and turn briefly to the sad case of Judas Iscariot. For the wrong reasons, Judas Iscariot is well known and often referred to as ‘the betrayer’, even by the world. Each of the Gospel writers mentions him as the betrayer, Matt.10.4; Mk.3.19; Lk.22.21; Jn.6.64; Luke calls him a “traitor” Lk.6.16, while it is John who adds the Saviour’s words that intensify his evil, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Jn.6.70.
With those descriptions it is hardly surprising that Judas never appears in a good light in the Gospels. John tells us that Judas complained when Mary anointed the Saviour’s feet with her expensive ointment, adding the reason why he said it: “not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” Jn.12.4-6. Judas was obviously a callous man with a hard heart who had no compassion for the poor. It is incongruous that a man called to serve God would have no love for the poor whom the Saviour had come to seek and to save. Judas was out of touch with the Saviour and the other apostles in his lack of concern for others.
If his lack of concern for the poor was bad, how much worse that one engaged in the service of the Lord would steal the money that had been given to the Lord. Judas was not only stealing from the other apostles; he was stealing from the Lord! Yet, the salutary lesson is that he was able to hide his thieving activities and darkest intentions from eleven other good men for the three and a half years he was with them. When the Lord told them in the upper room that one of them would betray Him, they did not know whom the Lord was speaking about. John, the disciple of deep contemplation, was able to identify Judas as a thief when writing his Gospel, but that was seventy years after the fact. Men like Judas have the uncanny knack of hiding their real intentions and motives from the best of men until they are exposed by God.
The case of Judas raises many imponderable questions that will have to await eternity for an answer. Judas enjoyed the personal and temporal benefits of accompanying the Saviour and the other eleven apostles, at the same time as defrauding them. Apparently, he engaged in all the activities of the apostolic band, preaching and helping the Saviour Who knew all along about his nefarious activities. The solemn fact is that companionship with good men does not make a deceiver genuine, and that a fraudster like Judas had the ability to preach with the best of men and fool them into thinking he was genuine. He also enjoyed the corporate benefits of the Saviour’s power and blessing that the eleven enjoyed. When the storm was calmed and their little boat brought safely to shore, the miraculous rescue and ensuing calm were his experience every bit as much as the other eleven. When devout women gave of their material goods to support the apostolic band, Judas enjoyed the benefits of their kindness in the same way as the eleven, and then some more! Perhaps the Lord permitted him to experience those blessings as a grace towards him, for it was only after he made it clear by his actions that he would not desist that the Lord bid him depart from the upper room and proceed with his evil plan, Jn.13.27.
Even after the Lord made it clear to Judas that He was aware of his treachery, Judas still persisted on his course and left the upper room with a cold heart to make his way to the Jewish leaders and implement his plan to betray the Saviour. That persistence and defiance when he was exposed manifests a man beyond recovery, and his only end is the one he chose for himself, which was a very unpleasant one.
It is clear that at least one motivating factor for Judas’ dreadful deeds was the love of money, of which Paul said, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” 1Tim.6.9,10. Judas certainly fell into a snare when acting as the treasurer for the apostolic band, and the one who was called by the Saviour “the son of perdition” Jn.17.12, drowned himself in “destruction and perdition”.
While the experience of Judas raises many questions, none of which we will be able to answer this side of heaven, it also raises many warnings, to which we should take careful heed.
The apostles originally chosen by the Lord had a threefold mandate in Mk.3.14,15 for the three and a half years of His public ministry. At the end of His ministry, and just before He ascended to the Father, the Saviour restated the responsibilities of service to the eleven. They were given a new field of service: “all the world” Mk.16.15; it was no longer the provinces of Galilee and Judaea. They were to seek out a new audience: “all nations” Matt.28.19, and “every creature” Mk.16.15. They would receive a new power: “endued with power from on high” Lk.24.49. What a glorious calling they had! In our day, the mandate and message of gospel service remain the same even though the world situation is very different. Who can look at the developments in the global affairs of our day and not see that the time is short and opportunities for gospel service are receding? However, those who watch the signs of the times will see God in history and will have no doubt that He is still summoning and leading willing followers to a concerted witness to His grace and mercy for fallen man. Do not let the prevailing darkness of our day becloud our vision so much that the glory of the Master’s call to service becomes dull and dim.
Let us pray that we might be “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” Col.1.11, as we redouble our efforts to spread “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” 1Tim.1.11, while we look for “that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” Titus 2.13.