Happy Friday! Today we continue our journey through the Bible. Yesterday we looked at the temptation narrative as discovered in the Gospel of Matthew. Today, we move forward looking at the ministry of Jesus. His ministry, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all began at the River Jordan. But, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus did nothing in the form of ministry until after he overcame the tempter in the wilderness. Jesus then begins his ministry.
How did he begin his ministry? By calling disciples. Now, this topic, the calling of the disciples, is something that we will look at in each gospel. I will not cover much ground on the topic today. I will remind you that Jesus would call twelve disciples to follow him. The interesting thing is; Jesus never met the expectations of the coming messiah, so why should the disciples meet the qualifications of being disciples of the messiah? Who were the disciples? Well, they were an interesting bunch. At least five of them were fisherman. In Matthew, Jesus is walking beside the Sea of Galilee when: "he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew...'Come follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him." (Matthew 4:18-20) Jesus would then encounter James and John and make them the same offer.
I'd like to just quickly look at the twelve disciples in order to give you a glimpse at who and what they were.
Andrew: Fisherman, Brother to Peter and originally a follower of John the Baptist
Bartholomew: aka Nathanael
James: Son of Zebedee, fisherman, brother of John
James: Son of Alphaeus, brother of Jude (some believe he was Matthew's brother)
John: Son of Zebedee: fisherman, brother of James
Judas Iscariot: Believed to have been a member of the fanatical zealot movement who were prepared to resort to violence and terror in order to restore Israel's freedom.
Jude: a Jewish nationalist
Matthew (Levi): a tax collector, involved with Rome in the oppression of the Jewish people
Peter (Simon): fisherman, Andrew's brother, disciple of John the Baptist, a partner with James and John in fishing business.
Simon Zelotes: member of the zealot movement.
Thomas (Didymus): little is known about his background. He has unfortunately been referred to as "Doubting Thomas" (I'll tell you why this is not a fair treatment of him when we get to John's Gospel)
Well, what was there about any of them that qualified them to be a follower of the messiah? Nothing. Oh, I have heard the old cliché "God doesn't call the qualified; he qualifies the called." Well, the qualifying of this group, as we will see, takes a mighty long time. I don't think they were ever qualified. I think what happens is relational and never about qualification. Have you ever wondered, "Why didn't he call Pharisees, Scribes, teachers, etc?" We will talk about this more later. Well, the twelve disciples will also be responsible for continuing the ministry of Jesus once he is gone. (Judas will be dead too, but one is chosen to replace him.)
Why did Jesus choose twelve disciples? Was this an important number? Yes! When Judas died, it was so important that a new disciple be chosen that they drew lots. (In Acts, chapter one) The number of the disciples had to be twelve. But why? If you recall there were twelve tribes of Israel. How connected are the Old and New Testaments? They are very connected. In fact, I would argue that, even though we are not necessarily bound to the Old Testament today, we can not truly understand the New Testament without understanding the Old Testament. Jesus is the New Israel. If Jacob (Israel) had twelve tribes, then Jesus (the New Israel) would have twelve disciples. Also, the number twelve is the number representing divine government.
Jesus calls these disciples to follow him and they do. What was it that made these men (were there also women? We shall see) leave everything and follow him? Well, we find Jesus "preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people." (Matthew 4:23b) From this moment the people are bringing to Jesus "all who were ill...those suffering severe pain, the demon possessed, those having seizures and the paralyzed, and he healed them." (Matthew 4:24) Did these folks come to Jesus because he was charismatic? Was it because their medical provider was not getting the job done? Or was there another reason?
I will argue that there was something about the message Jesus was proclaiming that generated a hope within these people that they had never had. Jesus began his ministry by preaching: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17) Now, was he preaching: "Repent, so you can go to heaven when you die?" No, that was not what Jesus was saying. (That doesn't mean that we won't go to heaven if we repent) Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven is now here. He is presenting a new kingdom in opposition to the current worldly kingdom. Are they hearing Jesus as the Messiah? I believe so. Remember, during his temptation Jesus proved what kind of messiah he would be, but what kind of messiah do the people expect him to be? And, what do the disciples expect from Jesus?
Well, I invite you to join me on Monday as we continue to explore these questions. I hope you have a great weekend. Tomorrow we will be having our annual harvest fest here at Madison United Methodist Church. We will serve pulled pork sandwiches, fried apple pies, and so much more. There will be all kinds of goodies. We will also be having an indoor yard sale. Join us if you can. Then, on Sunday we will come together as a community of faith to worship the Lord. Blessings! -Pastor Rick