This week brings us to Mark 3:16 (shown below through verse 19).
16He appointed the Twelve:
To Simon, He gave the name Peter;
17and to James the son of Zebedee,
and to his brother John,
He gave the name “Boanerges”
(that is, “Sons of Thunder”);
Philip and Bartholomew;
Matthew and Thomas;
James the son of Alphaeus,
Simon the Zealot,
19and Judas Iscariot,— Mark 3:16-19 (HCSB)
who also betrayed Him.
Here, Mark lists those that Jesus called out to be His disciples while He was performing His earthly ministry. Looking at who He chose will give us a good idea of the type of person He used, and help us see the type of person He will continue to use. The first part of this may seem like a history lesson, but it is all background to illustrate the point that comes near the end.
First in the list is Simon Peter - he is one of the main characters in all four gospels. He was a fisherman, and he gave 100% to everything he did, even if he hadn’t stopped to think about it first. Much is made of his sinking while he was walking on the water towards Jesus, as an illustration of a lack of faith; while this may be true, it is also true that he is the only one who got out of the boat, and to this day the only person other than Jesus to accomplish this miracle. He famously declared that he would never deny Jesus, then denied Him three times, just as Jesus said he would. Peter, though, became a central figure in the early church; nearly all of the book of Acts that doesn’t concern Paul deals with Peter and his ministry. He was even used of God to write two books that are in our New Testament today!
James and John are next in Mark’s list. James is described as the son of Zebedee, which distinguishes him from James, Jesus’ half-brother who wrote the book of James. Together with Peter, these two brothers were the only disciples with Jesus when Jairus’s daughter was raised, the only disciples to view the transfiguration, and the disciples that Jesus took with Him further when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His betrayal. They were called while they were with their father by the seashore; the implication is that they were also fisherman.
Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother. He was a fisherman as well, and was the one to whom Jesus used the term “fishers of men.” Philip and Bartholomew are always mentioned together; they were from the same town, but the Bible doesn’t reveal their line of work, and extra-biblical writings don’t shed any more light on their history. Matthew was a tax collector before being called by Jesus, and was used by God to write the gospel of Matthew. Like Philip and Bartholomew, we don’t know what Thomas did for a living; however, Thomas is much more famous for his unbelief rather than his belief. When Jesus appeared to some of His disciples, Thomas wasn’t there; he did not believe until he actually saw Jesus for himself. James the son of Alphaeus does not appear much in the gospels past his being named in lists of disciples like the one above. Thaddaeus is an interesting study; in some places he is called Jude, some Thaddaeus, and in one place even called “Judas not Iscariot,” to distinguish him from the last disciple in the list. Simon the Zealot was from Canaan, but we don’t know his profession before becoming Jesus’ disciple either.
Last on the list is Judas Iscariot. We don’t know what he did before becoming a disciple, but we do know that as a disciple, he filled the role that we would today call the treasurer. His attention to money served the disciples well; there is no record in any of the gospels of Jesus and the disciples being out of money. However, he seemed to have his mind more on the money than on the ministry. Some have speculated that his objection to the expensive oil being used to anoint Jesus’ feet had less to do with his concern for the poor than it did his concern for holding even more money. Sadly, his desire for money was his ultimate downfall, as he betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
Well, there’s the list. What do each of these men have in common? Let’s look at couple of examples.
17"Follow Me," Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!” 18Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.— Mark 1:17-18 (HCSB)
14Then, moving on, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So he got up and followed Him.— Mark 2:14 (HCSB)
Just as in these two examples, in every calling of the disciples recorded in Scripture, Jesus said “Follow Me” and they did. They were willing to leave their current profession, their current livelihood, and follow Jesus. (Yes, even Judas Iscariot did this - at one point, he was a disciple in good standing.) This is the key! I believe this is one reason why, as we tried to look at what some of the disciples did before following Jesus, we could not figure out what everyone’s existing profession was. If this information had been recorded, we as checklist-oriented people would have written them down. We’d have 12-member churches where each of the 12 members was from the profession that the disciples had followed. By leaving it a mystery, the Bible is telling us that it is not an important piece of information for us to have; if we were doing a scientific study, we’d leave that variable out of the equation.
What kind of person are you? Are you an act-first, think-later hard-charger like Peter? Are you a nit-picky ledger-balancer like Matthew? Are you as unsure of yourself and everything in the world as Thomas was of Jesus’ resurrection? Are you a behind-the-scenes sort of person, like James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, or Thaddaeus? Do you identify with James and John more than with any of these? This is one of the wonderful realizations from looking at the disciples; Jesus called people with lots of different personalities, backgrounds, and education levels. And, whether they were used to write books, or you just know them from their names in a list of disciples, every single one of them (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) went out and spread God’s Word after Jesus ascended back into heaven. Once again, in our study, personality gets left out of the equation.
I could go on, but you probably see the pattern here. Every other factor we could come up with would, upon examination, be discarded. There’s no formula - there’s just one step. Look at the last three words of both passages above - “…and followed Him.” That is the single item on the checklist of someone God can use; they must be willing to be used by God.
How is your willingness today? Are you holding back because you don’t think God can use you? Are you holding on because you want to do something for God, instead of letting Him do something through you? Those are two sides of the same issue, which is a lack of willingness to follow Christ. If you’re still, you’re not following; if you’re out ahead of Him, you’re not following. I pray that, today, each of us will learn from the one common factor among all the disciples, and be willing to follow where Christ leads us.