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The Disciples Group Identity

We have discussed that the view of the world Jesus had was that of a large harvest field of lost sheep without a shepherd. Jesus came into the world out of His great love and compassion for mankind and knew that the harvest was plentiful and more than one man could do. Our Lord had come to “seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) As He walked through Palestine there were many who walked along with Him but few who actually followed. After a night of Prayer to the Father, He chose the men that the Father had given Him. (Luke 6:40) In Matthew 10:1 He called His chosen disciples together and gave them “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” Then in Matthew 10:2 we read the names of the Apostles. There is a notable transition here that in verse 1 they were disciples, learners and now in verse 2 they are Apostles, ones who are sent. In Matthew 10:6-7 Jesus gave them instruction that they were to Go to the lost sheep and to preach that the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

There is a fictional story of Gabriel and Jesus walking down the golden streets of heaven after the ascension. Gabriel was questioning Jesus about His life in the world as a man. Gabriel asked, “Did they see how you suffered on the tree?” And Jesus replied, “Yes.” Gabriel asked again, “Do they know why you had to die for them?” Jesus answered, “Few of them do.” Gabriel looked puzzled and pressed another question, “Does not everyone know why you died on the tree for them?” “No, only eleven men from Palestine fully know the gospel message of my sacrifice.” Gabriel pressed on in alarm, “Master what if they fall away? What if they become tired and return to their homes? What if they allow the world to distract them?” What will be your plan then?” Jesus then looked at Gabriel in the eye and answered. “I have no other plan.”

Jesus did not gamble the salvation of the world just on twelve men. We must remember that he spent a night in fervent prayer to the Father. Jesus was God but came to the world as a man. He gave up His divinity and was completely dependent and obedient to the Father’s will. (Philippians 2:6) The Father, the All mighty, All knowing, Ever present “I AM”, knew the right men to choose and prepared their hearts to accept the call of Jesus. As we have spoken they were not the kings and nobles of the land, they were not the highly educated or given to supreme wisdom, they were just plain folk like you and me. Yet, they had the greatest task ever given to men. To become the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ and carry the gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world. “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:20)You and I are proof that through the power of the Holy Spirit they accomplished their task. If they had failed, then we would not be having this conversation this morning. After the Day of Pentecost they were empowered with the Spirit of Truth and carried forth the building of Christ body the Church.

This is the plan of Jesus, as He spent three years teaching His Disciples and then sent them out as Apostles to make disciples of men. These new disciples would repeat the process and make new disciples of their own. The gospel message of Jesus Christ would pass down from one generation to the next. This is the plan of Jesus and has been going on now for over two thousand years and will until He returns to judge the world. We can clearly see the plan in Hebrew 2:3-4 “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

The harvest field of the world today is still overwhelming and the workers are few. As members of His church, as followers of Jesus, we should all, in one capacity or another, be involved in getting the gospel message out to every ear that will hear. How do we find those who are willing? How do we find those who will invest their time in the lives of the lost sheep of the world? To accomplish this we must follow the example of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Prayer to the Father who knows the hearts of men and women and will place within them the burden of the task that lays before us. Jesus spent a night in prayer for workers, should we not do the same. This is His command to the Church. “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)

We also looked at the five flaws in the disciple’s character. They had a lack of spiritual maturity which Jesus overcame by constant teaching, they lacked humility which Jesus overcame by setting the example of being the servant, they also had a lack of faith which Jesus cured by miracles and deeds, they were uncommitted which Jesus spent much time in prayer for them. Lastly they had a lack of power which came to them on the Day of Pentecost by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Who were these men given the great task of becoming the foundation of the Church? We are going to look at them but first we want to look at some interesting facts about them.

The names of the apostles are mentioned four times in the bible. In Matthew 10:2-5, Mark 3:14-19, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13. Their names are: Simon Peter (Brother of Andrew), Andrew, James the greater, the son of Zebedee, John, the brother of James, Phillip, Nathanael, Matthew, Thomas, James the less, Simon the Zealot, Thaddeus, Judas Iscariot.

In all the list in the bible Peter is listed first and Judas is listed last. Peter is always first because he was the leader and Judas is last because he is the traitor. They were called in three groups of four. Although they are not listed in the same order in each group, the group leader is always listed first. Peter, Phillip, James the Less. These three groups are arranged by their echelon.

Group one was the group that was most intimate with Jesus. This is the group in which He invested most of His teaching. Three of them in this group were in the inner circle, Peter, James and John. These three were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, (Matthew 17:1-6) and they were with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:36-46) Because of their closeness to Jesus these four disciples are the ones we know the most about. They are Simon Peter, James the Greater, John, and Andrew. The leader of the group is Peter.

Group two we know some about but not as much as group one. We know Matthew the tax collector who also wrote a gospel book. We also know Thomas who is best known as doubting Thomas. The members of this group are, Phillip, Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas. The leader of the group is Phillip.

Group three we know little about the members except Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. The group members are James the less, Simon the Zealot, Thaddeus, and Judas Iscariot. The leader of the group is James the less.

The twelve were an interesting group to be put together as a working organization. It proves the truth that a bunch of guys with opposing views can, with the like-mindedness of Jesus come together and accomplish an extremely monumental task. They did turn the world upside down.

Some interesting things to note about the disciples. Andrew and Peter were brothers. James and John were brothers, and Thaddaeus and James the less were brothers. Andrew, Peter, James, and John were fishermen and knew each other before becoming Disciples of Christ. It seems natural then they were the members of group one. Peter and John were always together and I think Jesus coupled them that way. Peter was an impulsive charger and I think, considering his mouth engaging before his brain that his mouth could have had the shape of a foot. John was more quiet and meditative. John also had a loving spirit about him. I believe their different personalities tempered each other.

Matthew was a tax collector, known as a publican. Mathew had sold out to the Roman authorities and was under their employ. Tax collectors in those days collected what was due to the Roman government and also lined their own pockets in the process. In other words Matthew was a legalized extortionist.

Simon the Zealot is another strange character in the bunch. A Jewish Zealot in the New Testament times favored an armed rebellion against the Roman Empire. The Zealots believed that God would favor delivering the Jewish Nation by the sword. This stemmed from earlier times when King David had problems with the gentiles. To deal with this King David took up the sword and God was on his side. They believed the Messiah would be a son of David who would accomplish the same result.

It may seem interesting that Jesus would choose as one of His disciples a Zealot, Simon. (Luke 6:15 Acts 1:13) Jesus opposed violent rebellion against Rome and this may cause many to wonder why He would choose Simon the Zealot. It is even more of a question by the choosing of Matthew the tax collector. Each, Simon and Matthew, representing two of the most opposing groups of the Jews in Palestine. These two groups were in a bitter hated against each other. Yet Jesus choose one from each group. Many would have thought that these two would have ended up killing each other. Jesus knew that the power of the Kingdom of Heaven was greater than the hatred of men. The fact that Jesus choose these tow demonstrates that power.

Another odd couple was Nathanael and Thomas. Nathanael was a willing believer. He had a simple belief in everything Jesus said while Thomas is best known as Doubting Thomas.

They were a diverse group of men who came together with a common purpose filled with a passion to spread the gospel message of Jesus, the Savior of the world, and in spite of tremendous opposition from their own Jewish brothers and government authorities they persevered to the point of death for their Lord and Savior. They were not especially talented, educated, or gifted orators. They were willing witnesses with a love for mankind who went out into the world carrying their cross and following Jesus.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, April 13, 2014

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