Sunday, October 16, 2016

Twelve Ordinary Men

(My message from today at church)

Let’s begin by reading our text today from Luke 6:12-15.

12In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Before we jump into this text I want to first tie it to a historical event that is recorded in the Old Testament.

One thing that is unique about the Bible is that even though it was written by over 40 authors in 3 different languages over a period of 1,500 years,

it has one consistent developing message that is more layered with connections and foreshadowing than the world’s most highly thought-out novels.

And amazingly its foundation is built firmly on fulfilled prophecy and actual events and people in history!

It becomes obvious to those who humbly seek to understand the Bible, that it could not have been authored by anyone but a sovereign God who has planned out history!

God wants us to see His goodness and reliability so that we can confidently trust Him with our lives and use our lives to help others know Him also.

Well, in the Old Testament book of Judges, chapter 6, God comes in the form of an angel to speak to a simple and ordinary man named Gideon.

Instead of calling him ordinary though, God calls him a mighty man of valor, since God Himself is with him. (show v.12)

Gideon doesn’t seem to realize that it is the LORD who is speaking, and so he replies,

“Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:13)

Gideon had not seen the wonderful things his ancestors did, and he doubts God’s plan.

Maybe you have also doubted God’s ability to work positive change and salvation in the lives of your neighbors, friends, or even in your own life.

The great deeds of the Lord that we read about in the Bible seem like fairy tales to many.

Gideon had heard of the LORD’s great works in Egypt to bring the Israelites out of slavery through the Red Sea, but now he sees only oppression from the Midianites.

So God calls this ordinary man to do the extraordinary, to free Israel from the Midianites.

Gideon replies, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” (v.15)

Maybe you have felt this way when God calls you to do the seemingly impossible - To tell your family, friends and neighbors of the gospel and lead them to Christ.

Maybe you have replied this way also, “But Lord, what can I do? I am weak, I can’t speak well, I don’t even know the Bible very well.”

Later Gideon, in his weakness twice tests the Lord by laying a fleece on the ground.

He wanted to be sure that it was really God who was speaking to him.

There is no indication here or anywhere in the Bible that says it is okay to test the Lord like this.

In fact Jesus quoted the Old Testament when he said that we should not put the Lord to the test.

But God has mercy and even chooses to use this weak and sinful man for His plan!

Before Gideon goes to battle, God cuts his army from 32,000 soldiers to only 300.

The LORD explains to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ (Judges 7:2)

God was purposefully making Gideon and His army realize their great weakness so that He alone would get all of the glory when Israel was victorious.

And today also He specifically chooses to use weak people like us, so that we can see Him do amazing things too

and so that all the glory will go to where it rightly belongs: to Him alone.

In our verses today Jesus chooses his twelve disciples.

Just like when He chose Gideon (or Moses or Abraham or David for that matter) he chooses ordinary men and gives them a calling and a mission to accomplish.

And because they are weak and ordinary, God alone gets all the glory when through them the mission succeeds.

These are the twelve who would become the twelve apostles and would be sent out with Christ’s authority to preach the gospel after Jesus went back to heaven.

We do not know how many people were following Jesus at this point trying to learn from Him,

but we do know that the crowds were becoming so large it was hard for him to even move around freely.

Jesus’ ministry would last for just 3 short years, and it was roughly half way through this time when Jesus called his disciples in order to train them to carry on His ministry.

Some might imagine that if Christ had wanted His message to have maximum impact, He could have played off his popularity more effectively.

Modern wisdom would suggest he ought to have done everything to exploit his fame, tone down the controversies, and then call for even greater rallies and events.

But at about the time when the crowds were largest, Jesus preaches a message so boldly confronting to the tastes of the crowds that only the most devoted stayed on.

Among those who stayed were the Twelve, whom He personally selected to train and whom He appointed to represent Him.

You see the kingdom of God advances, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

And so these disciples were perfect because they were ordinary in every way.

Not one of them was a great scholar or speaker.

In fact they were outsiders as far as the religious establishment of Jesus’ day was concerned.

They were not outstanding in any natural talents or intellectual abilities.

On the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, lapses of faith, and bitter failure- and no one more than the leader of the group, Peter.

At least four and possibly seven were fishermen and close friends from the unimportant town of Capernaum.

Galileans were deemed low-class, rural, and uneducated people.

Matthew, as we learned two weeks ago, had been a tax collector - a thief and virtually a traitor to the Jewish nation.

Yet with all of their faults and weaknesses, as remarkably ordinary as they all were, these men carried on Jesus’ ministry by His power after He went back to heaven.

God graciously empowered and used these few ordinary men to change the world, and their influence continues even on to this day.

As the apostles preached and healed, by God’s Spirit, God did amazing things through them.

And God’s Spirit also inspired them, as well as the former killer of Christians, Paul, to record for us the entire New Testament!

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Many Christians become discouraged and disheartened when their spiritual life and witness suffer because of sin and failure.

We sometimes think we are worthless in God’s kingdom and God could never use people like us.

And left to our own strength, that would be true!

But just like Gideon and the disciples, weak people are just the kind of people God loves to use - and really that includes all of us!

The sooner we realize our inability without Him, the sooner we can look to His strength and His Spirit to help us and be empowered to do greater things for His glory.

If you are a Christian, He wants to use your life to reveal His greatness too!

According to Isaiah 61:3, the prophesied result of Jesus’ ministry would be this:

“that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.”

And when God is most glorified, we are most satisfied in Him.

Our text for today started off with these words: “In these days(Luke 6:12)

It refers back to the accounts we have already looked at when there was escalating tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of Judaism.

The religious leaders opposed Jesus for forgiving the sins of the paralytic man.

They opposed Him for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners.

Last week we saw that they opposed Him again when He permitted His disciples to pluck and eat grain on the Sabbath, and then when he healed on another Sabbath.

The conflict had reached a high point in Luke 6:11.

But they (the scribes and Pharisees) were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:11)

They were already furiously hatching plans to put Jesus to death.

It is at this precise point that Luke interjects that Jesus chose His disciples.

With only 18 months or so left before he would die, Jesus’ plan was to choose His apostles who would receive His personal training and be sent out as His ambassadors.

Today also, judging from history and the Bible, we are not assured that peace will continue forever for Christians in this nation.

So let’s train ourselves by growing close to Christ and His Word so that if the church ever has to stop meeting publically

or if the missionaries have to leave the country, the church will not stop growing!

We are all called to become Jesus’ ambassadors, sent out with His power and message like the disciples were!

To make sure Jesus did what the Father wanted Him to do, He spent the night in prayer.

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” (v. 12)

We have seen before that Jesus often got away to spend time with His Father, even when He was so busy with ministering to the needs of those around Him.

He found it necessary to remain close to His Father, and perhaps especially now, as He needed to make such an important choice about the future.

But, I believe that part of the reason He did this was to be an example to us who are also in need of guidance from our Father God.

We need to have His heart and His mind also, and this can only be obtained by spending a good amount of time with God in prayer over His Word.

“And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (v. 13-16)

In chapter 5 we already saw the calling of Simon, whom Jesus called Peter, or Rock, as well as the brothers James and John, his co-workers and friends in the fishing business.

Two weeks ago we saw the calling of Levi, or Matthew, as he was called.

But from a great crowd of many of these called ones, Jesus now calls those who will now become closest to Him and be named the Twelve apostles.

Peter, James and John formed the circle that was closest to Jesus and would be asked to accompany Jesus more and become the leaders.

Peter had a leader-like temperament, but like all the others he had both strengths and weaknesses.

Though he was clearly the leader of the twelve, he was far from perfect.

Even after being anointed by the Holy Spirit and even after performing miracles in Jesus’ Name and preaching great sermons that led thousands to Christ,

even then, the apostle Paul had to rebuke Peter for his error.

Even the best Christians will many times need to repent for their mistakes and sins.

I believe Jesus called Simon - the Rock, because Peter needed encouragement that he could be a strong leader if he lived in and trusted Christ’s power and not his own.

Eleven of the apostles are great encouragements to us because they exemplify how common, weak people like us can be used by God to do uncommon, remarkable things.

But the last apostle listed here, Judas, serves as a warning to us about the danger of living for our own sinful desires rather than living for Jesus and His kingdom.

What is amazing about the Twelve is that the choosing of the traitor Judas was part of a divinely guided process - Jesus knew what he would become.

Judas began just like the others began, but he never truly laid hold of Christ by faith as his Lord, and so he was never transformed like the rest.

While the rest were increasing in faith as sons of God, he was becoming more and more focused on money, power, and the things of this world.

It is significant that when Jesus predicted one of them would betray Him, no one pointed the finger of suspicion at Judas (Matthew 26:22-23).

He was so expert in his hypocrisy that no one seemed to distrust him.

He was so trusted he even kept the money bag for the whole group, and no suspected that he was in fact stealing from it. (show John 12:6)

But Jesus had known his heart from the beginning and still chose him. (show John 6:64-65)

The paradox of how divine sovereignty and human choice work together can be seen in Judas’ calling, but it is actually the same with the other apostles too.

They had all chosen Jesus, and yet He had chosen them first (show John 15:16).

In John 13:18, Jesus cites Psalm 41:9 and says, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”

And in Matthew 26:24, Jesus says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Through many verses in the New Testament and by the linking prophecies of the O.T we can see that it was always God’s plan to use Judas the traitor,

and yet it was Judas himself who committed the sins that led him to betray his Master to the religious leaders for just thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus’ plan was to go to the cross, and Judas’ sin was used by God to put Him there.

God has a plan that cannot be thwarted, so let us take care that we do not serve the plan of God like Judas did.

Let us seek the Lord in our weaknesses and sins, and use the opportunities we have to humbly come before Him by faith and learn from Him.

As we humble ourselves under Him, we will be changed into bold witnesses of Him to others, not because we were so wise and good, but because our Lord is.

As we grow with God, I encourage each of us to take younger believers under our wings, just like Jesus did, and train them up in the faith.

We can all be in the process of learning from others and training others around us, but we need to pray for this, like Jesus did, and then make a plan!

So I want to encourage you this week to take time, like Jesus did, to pray and seek God about how you can invest more deeply into the lives of those around you too.

Who does God want you to learn from? Who does God want you to invest in?

For some of you, like the disciples, you need to take the next step of trusting God and forget about yourself and your weaknesses and step out for His glory.

Maybe that means receiving training so you can preach or give your testimony at church, or maybe it means preparing yourself to talk with your neighbors about Christ.

I want to close with a Bible verse that has encouraged me, as a weak, ordinary Christian, to step out also and come to a new country as a missionary.

To move to a new country and learn a new language and become a missionary was a big step for an ordinary man like me, but I am trusting a BIG God!

Preaching the gospel and sharing our faith with others is not about how great we are, it is about how great God is!

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Let’s pray.

We also want people to recognize your presence in our lives, and be changed, dear Jesus.

Transform us and give us your vision as we spend time with you, Lord.

Help us to humbly follow you and be equipped like the eleven were, to be your ambassadors.

Help us realize that the all-surpassing power we need to share the good news with those around us is not from ourselves but it is from you. (2 Cor. 4:7)

We are like clay pots, but the treasure is inside of us, the treasure is You.

Help us and equip us to be your disciples so that we can help others who need you also.

Help us to step out in faith for the sake of your glory in this world.

In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

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