Scriptures

The Calling Of The Disciples

Introduction

‘As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.’ Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, it was here He calls His first disciples, Mark 1:16-20 / Luke 5:1-11 / John 1:35-42.

I read the following article from ‘Preserving Bible Times’ which I think is really insightful to what’s actually happening here when Jesus calls His disciples.

A Contextual Reflection On Jesus’ Call

The quest is a familiar one. A determined high school student sets his or her aim high on a very prestigious, hard to get into university for a college experience. As part of the plan, many high school Advanced Placement courses are taken, the best grades are obtained, and impressive, hopefully, extracurricular activities are intentionally added to the mix. Then great care is taken in composing the essay questions on the college application form.

When the requisite campus visits and interviews are complete, a prolonged waiting period commences. Will the long-awaited letter announce an acceptance or a rejection? Only time will tell. From a first-century Middle Eastern context, there were those engaged in a similar quest, that of gaining acceptance to be a disciple of a rabbi and joining his yeshiva, ‘learning community’.

Educating Jewish Boys

Childhood education started early in the first-century, observant Judaism. At age five, young boys went to the local synagogue school to learn Hebrew and memorize the Torah. By the time of his bar mitzvah at age 13, a typical Jewish young man was very conversant with God’s Word having memorized the Torah, that is, the Pentateuch, the Neviim, that is, the Prophets and the Kituvin, that is the Writings, which comprised all of the Hebrew Scripture, that is, Tanach, of that day.

Those young men who showed great promise in this initial phase of learning were encouraged to continue their education following their bar mitzvahs. This would entail studying the wisdom and authoritative interpretation of the Torah by the sages known as ‘The Yoke of Torah’.

After that next multi-year phase, the young men who continued to show great promise were further encouraged to extend their training by spending time, typically from ages 17 to 20, with a rabbi in a multi-year yeshiva experience. There they would hone their ability to interpret God’s Word as it relates to all the practical issues of daily life.

Choosing Your Rabbi Carefully

Because of the great interpretive diversity and emphasis amongst the rabbis, the decision to ask to be a rabbi’s disciple and receive religious training from him was not made lightly. Some rabbis, like Shammai, interpreted the Scriptures from a literal approach.

Others such as Hillel embraced an interpretive view that emphasized the spirit of the Torah, while still, other rabbis taught interpretative approaches that focused on different areas of emphasis, e.g. ritual purity laws.

Obviously, these diverse approaches often led to very different interpretive outcomes pertaining to issues of daily life. Since a rabbi’s interpretation of God’s Word was forever binding on his disciples, great care had to be taken by the disciple accepting ‘the yoke of the rabbi’ to make sure it was an interpretive approach that he could identify with and live out.

Being Very Particular

A rabbi in the First Century would only choose a very elect few, highly promising young men from all the wannabes who asked to be his disciples. He selected only those who he thought could fully measure up to his standard and eventually become just like him.

A rabbi did not want to invest in anyone who did not have this emulation potential. Jesus underscores this objective when He observed that a student is not above his teacher, that is, rabbi, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher, rabbi, Luke 6:40.

As part of the selection process, a rabbi would intensively test, examine, grill, and interrogate any may I become your disciple applicant in his understanding of the Tanach.

What the rabbi was looking for was not just a detailed knowledge of the Tanach and the oral tradition, but the ability of this candidate to ask good questions in order to better understand the interpretive issues resident in that body of knowledge.

Remember, the issue to an observant Jew in the First Century was never what God’s Word says. They all knew what it said. They had memorized it. Rather, the issue was, what does it mean, an interpretation question? Thus, the rabbi was most interested in choosing disciples who exhibited the mettle, intelligence, commitment, and persistence to become an interpreter of God’s Word just like him.

With this rabbinic ‘testing’ as a contextual backdrop, revisit Jesus in the Temple when He was twelve years old where He astonished the scribes and esteemed teachers of His day with his understanding and his answers. During this three day interaction with some of the best religious minds of His day, Jesus dramatically established Himself at an early age as having rabbinic DNA!

Inviting A Candidate To ‘Follow Me’

If a rabbi judged a potential disciple to have the capability to become just like him, i.e., to emulate him, then the rabbi would utter those cherished words of acceptance every potential disciple longed to hear, ‘Follow me’. With that inviting phrase, the disciple-to-be knew he had survived the rabbi’s demanding ‘pass-fail’ admission process!

Throughout the Gospels, the phrase ‘follow me’ is a Jewish idiom used by the rabbis to mean, ‘Come and be with me as my disciple and submit to my authoritative teaching. Hearing that meant you had made the last ‘cut’.’ You are now on the varsity. You are good enough to be my disciple!’

We in the West tend to focus mostly on the appealing ‘come and be with Me’ front-end part of that invitation. But contextually, you can’t have one without the other. Absolute submission to Rabbi Yeshua’s authoritative teaching is a Siamese twin with the ‘come and be with me’ portion of that invitation.

Willing Submission To Authority

By becoming a rabbi’s disciple, the young Jewish lad readily agreed, no coercion needed, to totally surrender to the rabbi’s authority in all areas of interpreting the Scriptures for his life. In fact, that submission was something the new disciple truly wanted to do.

Using a computer analogy as regards his understanding of God’s Word, the new disciple willingly deleted everything in his own ‘hard drive’ of what he previously thought was ‘right’ and ‘true’, and started uploading whatever his rabbi held to be right and true, i.e. the yoke of his rabbi.

Parenthetically, we might ask, ‘Is this the way that disciples of Jesus today have embraced His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount?’ In this discipling posture, the rabbi was given special honour and esteem above the disciple’s biological father (who gave him physical life) because his rabbi would be the one to give the disciple spiritual life and the wisdom of God’s Word.

Inverting Rabbinic Protocol

Without understanding the contextual backdrop of this rabbinic selection process, we miss understanding just how much Rabbi Jesus, Yeshua, was a rabbi unlike any other. In that first-century Semitic culture, rabbis did not take the initiative to approach young men with the invitation to ‘follow me’. But Jesus did. That must have added to the shocking impact on those Jesus called in that paradigm-breaking way.

Think back to Simon in Luke 5 after the great catch of fish or Levi, that is, Matthew, in Luke 6, the despised port tax Collector, port tax collectors were deemed by the rabbis to be the worst of the worst. One day Jesus looked at each of them and said implicitly to one and explicitly to the other, ‘Follow me’. It is an understatement to say that Simon and Levi were not expecting to be called Rabbi Yeshua’s disciples.

They would never have envisioned themselves as being worthy to be His disciple. Since Simon was a fisherman, he obviously had washed out of the disciple-making rabbinic process somewhere along the way and as a result, had devoted himself to a profession. Levi was the ultimate outcast. He was a person that the religious system not only rejected but scorned as never able to be forgiven.

Both Simon and Levi knew they had absolutely no ability to emulate Rabbi Yeshua, neither His interpretive authority nor the miracles He performed.

Both were convinced they were not ‘good enough’ to be considered disciple material for his yeshiva. They knew they could never measure up to His emulating standard and become little Rabbi Yeshuas. And from both of their perspectives, that was a sound and sober assessment.

So when Jesus called them to ‘follow me’, both of them had to be completely incredulous, now there’s an understatement!. ‘You mean this Rabbi Yeshua sees in me the potential to become like Him? He thinks I am good enough to be His disciple! Not only can I not believe that I cannot even fathom that ever being possible!’

We tend to lose sight of the reality that Jesus has a much higher view of us as His disciples and of what we can become in Him than we could ever dream about ourselves in our wildest expectations. Why? Because Jesus always starts with the eternal end in view.

As part of that, He gave Simon a vision of what his future would be like as a disciple of Jesus when He told Simon there would come a day when he would be a ‘fisher of men’. That had to be more of a shock to Simon than the great catch of fish!

Calling His Disciples

Now we have some context to understand why Jesus deliberately broke rabbinic protocol by calling His own disciples. It would seem He had no choice but to do it that way. Remember, no observant Jewish young man would ever have had the audacity to ask Jesus if he could become His disciple.

We also need to remember that Jesus knew what no one else yet knew. Shortly after His crucifixion and ascension, He was going to send His Spirit, at Pentecost, to indwell each one of His disciples so they would be empowered to do similar things and manifest similar traits, attitudes and values as He, e.g., anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.

This empowerment was going to include external imitation as well as internal transformation. It would empower not only their behaviour but their hearts and minds as well.

Since only He knew that planned outcome at the beginning of His ministry, He therefore also knew that He would have to take the initiative in calling disciples into His yeshiva band. And He is still doing that today! Have you responded to both parts of His call to ‘follow me?’

Simon Peter

Peter was a Galilean fisherman who lived on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with his wife, his brother Andrew and his mother-in-law. People at the time worked as a family unit, so the men and women of Peter’s family worked together to catch and preserve, dry fish for export to the surrounding towns. This particular family was probably in partnership with Zebedee and his sons, James and John. Matthew 4:21.

Like his father and brother Andrew, Simon Peter was a fisherman by trade, working on the Lake of Galilee. His family seems to have been caught up in the revival movement led by John the Baptist.

Peter met Jesus at Bethany through his brother Andrew and was immediately impressed. Jesus called him ‘Peter’, the rock, an odd choice of name since Peter seems to have been passionate and impulsive rather than rock-like. Jesus actually called Peter ‘Cephas’, which is the Aramaic equivalent of ‘Petros’, a rock. John 1:40-42.

Andrew

The name Andrew is a Greek name which means ‘manly’ or ‘of valour.’ Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter and son of Jonah.  He was born in Bethsaida in the province of Galilee and was a fisherman like his brother Peter.

Before he met Jesus, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. However, when John pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God he realized that Jesus was greater and immediately left John, found his brother Peter and became a disciple of Jesus John 1:25-42.

After this Andrew and Peter continued to be fishermen and lived at home until being called permanently by Jesus to be ‘fishers of men.’ Matthew 4:18-20.

Later Jesus is teaching the multitudes on the mountainside and he asks Philip where they could find food to feed the crowd and Philip says, ‘eight months’ wages could not buy enough bread to feed them. It was Andrew who brought the boy with five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus which Jesus miraculously multiplies into enough food to feed everyone. John 6:8-9.

And it was Andrew who during the Passover Feast brought a group of Greeks, and Gentiles, to meet Jesus which prompts Jesus to remark ‘when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself.’ John 12:20-32. Andrew knew that Jesus came not only to save Israel but everyone on the earth.

The last time Andrew is mentioned in the Bible is in Acts chapter one where he is listed as one of the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension into Heaven. Acts 1:13.

Because they were fishermen, who were used to fishing for fish, Jesus tells them He will make them fishers of men, they will preach the Good News and share it with others, in order that those they teach will become followers of Christ, Matthew 28:19-20 / Mark 16:15-16.

James, Son Of Zebedee

The apostle James was honoured with a favoured position by Jesus Christ, as one of three men in his inner circle. The others were James’ brother John and Simon Peter.

When Jesus called the brothers, James and John were fishermen with their father Zebedee on the Sea of Galilee. They immediately left their father and their business to follow the young rabbi. James was probably the older of the two brothers because he is always mentioned first.

Three times James, John, and Peter were invited by Jesus to witness events no one else saw, the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Mark 5:37-47, the transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-3, and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26:36-37.

But James wasn’t above making mistakes, when a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the place, this earned them the nickname ‘Boanerges,’ or ‘sons of thunder.’ Mark 3:17.

The mother of James and John also overstepped her bounds, asking Jesus to grant her sons special positions in his kingdom. Matthew 20:20.

James’ zeal for Jesus resulted in his being the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. He was killed with the sword on the order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D., in a general persecution of the early church. Acts 12:1-2.

John, Son Of Zebedee

John was the brother of the apostle James, he was also the son of Zebedee, a fisherman of Galilee.  His mother’s name was Salome who is believed to be the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary. John, his brother James and the apostles Peter and Andrew were all partners in a fishing business prior to their calls by Jesus to follow Him, Zebedee was also a partner.

It is said that John owned a home in Jerusalem and that it’s possible that the interview Nicodemus had with Jesus was held there. John with his brother James wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the place, this earned them the nickname ‘Boanerges,’ or ‘sons of thunder.’ Mark 3:17.

The apostle John rose to a position of influence within worldwide Christianity and shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., he moved to Ephesus.  He became the elder of the church in Ephesus and had a special relationship with other churches in the area, as we know from the letters to the Seven Churches in Asia, in the Book of Revelation.

John’s brother, James, was the first of the apostles to die, on the other hand, John was the last. All of the apostles met a violent death, however, John died peacefully in Ephesus, at an advanced age, around the year 100 AD.

There is a church tradition, which says, that while John was living in Ephesus, John had with him Mary, the mother of Jesus, for a few years. While in Ephesus, by order of the Roman emperor Domitian, John was exiled to an island called Patmos.

In what is known as the cave of the Apocalypse, located on this island, the sacred text of the book of Revelation was given to the apostle John by Jesus, it’s here that John recorded what is written in the New Testament Book of Revelation.

Other New Testament books accredited to John are the Gospel of John, along with 1st, 2nd and 3rd John. When he was released from exile, he returned to Ephesus and lived till the time of the Roman emperor Trajan.

It’s said that John, who founded and built churches throughout all of Asia and was worn out by old age, died in the sixty-eight year after our Lord’s passion and was buried near the same city, Ephesus.

Peter and Andrew drops their nets and followed Jesus, James and John left their nets and their father and followed Jesus too. Think about this, they left their jobs, their family, and their comforts immediately to follow Jesus, Matthew 10:37-39 / Mark 10:28 / Luke 9:23.

What does Jesus’ choosing of Peter, Andrew, James and John tell us about the character of a person who can take Jesus to the world? They all had their strengths and weakness, they were ordinary people who weren’t highly educated people.

Philip And Nathanael

‘The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” John 1:43-51

It is interesting to note that in this case, Jesus takes the initiative and found Philip. He is quite happy to follow and even left for another town with him. Yet Philip seems to have been the most ‘ordinary’ of disciples, John 6:7 / John 12:20-22. Was he lacking in initiative? John 14:8. Jesus sees limitless potential in ‘ordinary people’. 1 Corinthians l:26-29 / 1 Peter 4:10.

All the disciples we have now named have come from Bethsaida. Before leaving with Jesus, Philip goes and finds Nathanael who was to become a disciple and is called in the Gospels Bartholomew. Philip tells Nathanael that Jesus is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets.

He expresses surprise to hear of the Christ coming from Nazareth. The declaration from Philip ‘the one Moses wrote about in the Law’ was a commonly held view, which is still held today that the Christ was prophesied about by prophets in days long passed.

I don’t think this man was under any doubts about who Jesus was. Nathanael is not convinced, about the Christ coming from Nazareth, but he agrees to accompany Philip anyhow, to test the supposed Christ rather than accept his brother at face value. Maybe he forgot that Jonah was from Nazareth.

As Nathanael approached Jesus makes his statement about him.  He calls Nathanael an Israelite, not a Jew. The different terms came to mean different things. The Jews were always trying to persecute the Christ.

These could be referred to as untrue Israelites, in who some falsehood may have dwelled. Nathanael seems surprised to hear this and indeed proves Jesus’ omnipresence when he tells of seeing Nathanael sitting under a fig tree.

The shade of the fig tree was the traditional place for prayer and study. In Old Testament, the fig tree was also a symbol of a man’s own home, Isaiah 36:16 / Micah 4:4.

Nathanael had a remarkable spiritual experience known only to him (so he thought) but Jesus knew, John 2:23. Nathanael’s confession was spontaneous and all-embracing.  His early declaration of Kingship and Sonship proves his insight and knowledge of the essence of the coming Messiah.

Son of God, King of Israel. The true Israelite acknowledges the true King. Nathanael’s confession of faith, John 1:49. Remarkable because most Jews had no conception of the Messiah being also ‘the Son of God’, Matthew 16:13-17.

In Jewish thinking, the son is the same as (an extension of) the father. This term is used in acknowledgement at the beginning of his ministry, but later in mockery, Matthew 27:40.

The greater thing to be seen mentioned in verse 50 was better explained in verse 51. This probably refers to the story of Jacob. Genesis 28:12. Perhaps what Nathanael is reading under the fig tree. Both involve the idea of communication between heaven and earth. Here, Jesus takes the place of the ladder.

Nathanael sees that HE is the link between heaven and earth, the One through whom God’s will is fully revealed to man, the One alone through whom we have access to God. John 14:6 / 1 Timothy 2:5 / Romans 5:2.

However, this would have been a method of drawing attention to the role of Christ as a mediator between God and man, the idea of heaven being open to all men and communication allowed between God and man via the Son, not an earthly entity.

Jesus, Himself is the ladder. giving access to God. For a Jew, such as Nathanael to declare anyone King in this manner was the greatest statement of faith he could ever make. The idea is portrayed as one of total and immediate spiritual dependence on the one accepted as King, that is Christ.

Nathanael, on being called by his brother Philip, declares ‘Nazareth, can anything good comes from there?’ The town seemed to have an almost despised ring or element to it.

Similar to that accompanying a modern town of ill-repute. What do we know about this town, Nazareth? Little is known of Nazareth’s early history. It’s not mentioned in the Old Testament at all.

However, as it does have a good strong water source, it was most likely around when much of Old Testament history was going on in the nearby vicinity. Some claim that Jonah was from this area.

The town’s great claim to fame is of, course, it’s settled in Nazareth. Jesus grew up in this town, schooled there and learnt his trade, and carpentry under his father in the town. Jesus started much of his early work here but was soon reflected by the locals who saw him as the son of Joseph, rather than the son of God.

As a result, Jesus left the town and settled instead in Capernaum. The people of the town thus showed their Spiritual short-sightedness, which may have been known, explaining the comment from Nathanael, ‘Nazareth, can any good come from there?’

Nazareth has fallen in and out of favour since Christ, depending on the belief of the current conqueror. It was obscure under the Romans, brought to some significance under later Christian influence, desecrated by the Muslims, glorified by the Crusaders, deteriorated under new Muslim control, was returned to its best under British control, suffered under early Israeli control, refinanced under commercial interest.

The ancient town is now almost a ruin but attracts much tourist interest. The town that has sprung up in the vicinity is called En-Nasirah, a small town of mainly Christian inhabitants.

Philip

Philip, the apostle, is not to be confused with the evangelist Philip in Acts. Like Peter and Andrew, Philip was from Bethsaida John 1:44. Philip whose name means ‘lover of horses’ is named in all three lists of apostles, Matthew 10:4 / Mark 3:16 / Luke. 6:14-16, and in each he is the 5th apostle listed. He isn’t mentioned again in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Everything else we know of him comes from the Gospel of John.

In John, Philip told Nathanael that they had found the Messiah and that he was from Nazareth. When Nathanael replied, ‘can anything good come from Nazareth?’ Philip simply said, ‘Come and see.’ John 1:43-46.

Shortly after Nathanael became one of Jesus’ disciples. Later, before the miraculous feeding of the multitude, Jesus tested Philip by asking, ‘Where will we buy bread for these people to eat?’ Philip failed the test by replying, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’ John. 6:5-7.

Later shortly before Jesus is arrested and He tells His disciples that ‘If you really knew me you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ John. 14:7.

But Philip’s response again shows a lack of faith when he asks, ‘Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus sternly rebukes him and says, ‘Philip, don’t you know me, even after I have been with you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’ John 14:8-9.

Philip isn’t mentioned again in the New Testament except in the list of apostles waiting in the upper room shortly after Christ’s ascension. Acts 1:13.

What lesson can we learn from Philip when it comes to sharing the good news with others? Philip was convicted about who Jesus was as we must be. He was convicted enough to tell someone else about Jesus.

Nathanael, Also Named Bartholomew

His name means ‘given’ or ‘gift of God’, he was one of our Lord’s disciples, ‘of Cana in Galilee’. John 21:2. Jesus says he was ‘truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ John 1:47-48.

His name occurs only in the Gospel of John, who in his list of the disciples never mentions Bartholomew, with whom he has consequently been identified. He was one of those to whom the Lord showed himself alive after His resurrection, at the Sea of Tiberias. John 21:1-2.

Bartholomew’s name appears with every list of the disciples, Matthew 10:3 / Mark 3:18 / Luke 6:14 / Acts 1:13. This wasn’t the first name, however. it was his second name. His first name probably was Nathanael, whom Jesus called ‘an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ John 1:47.

The New Testament gives us very little information about him, tradition indicates he was a great searcher of the Scripture and a scholar in the law and the prophets.

He developed into a man of complete surrender to the Carpenter of Nazareth, and one of the church’s most adventurous missionaries. He is said to have preached with Philip in Phrygia and Hierapolis, also in Armenia. The Armenian Church claims him as its founder and martyr.

However, tradition says that he preached in India, and his death seems to have taken place there, he died as a martyr for his Lord. He was lashed alive with knives.

If we’re taking the good news to people, how important is it to be truthful with them? No deceit means don’t do what Jacob did with his brother Esau. No alternative motives. Genesis 27:1-46.

Matthew

‘Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Mark 2:13-17

Because Capernaum was the location of the tax office, where taxes, tolls and land duties were collected for both the Romans, who occupied Palestine and the Herodians, who ruled Galilee.

It hardly needs to be said, that those who were involved in the work of collecting money for either Romans or Herodians, were despised and hated by the general public so they had to find their friends among other ‘social outcasts’, who included prostitutes.

One of Jesus’ more surprising actions was calling Levi to be a disciple. Levi had been a tax collector. In that era, tax collectors were viewed as both thieves and traitors because they used dishonest tactics to raise funds for the hated Roman invaders. Adding a tax collector to His inner circle was hardly a move that could be expected to increase Jesus’ popularity!

The expression ‘many tax-collectors, in verse 15, is also significant, because it reveals how lucrative the business of tax-collection was for both the Authorities and the Officials who served them!

We have evidence of this in this chapter, when Mark records the call of Levi, later named Matthew, verses 13-17. After deserting his Tax Office at the call of Jesus, he called together ‘many tax collectors and sinners’ to a feast.

Notice, also, that, in verse 14, when Mark records that Levi left his Tax-office and ‘followed’ Jesus, the word ‘followed’ is in the imperfect tense, and means that he ‘kept following’ Jesus. It was a defining moment in his life, Matthew 9:9-13 / Luke 5:27-32.

Levi was not moved by a passing curiosity in this remarkable teacher. He made a commitment that day! I think that this ‘great feast’ was his way of marking his break from his past life, and used as an opportunity of introducing his friends to Jesus.

This calls to mind another incident that occurred about that time and in that region when Andrew broke the news to his brother Simon (Peter) that he had found the Messiah. His response to Peter’s scepticism was ‘Come and see!’ At that stage, neither Matthew nor Andrew knew enough to say very much about Jesus, but they could bring people to personally meet Jesus!

It is interesting also to compare Mark’s account with that of Luke in Luke 5. Luke describes the meal to which these guests were invited, as a ‘Great feast’, but his language used in describing them is different from that of Mark.

He describes them as ‘a great company of tax-collectors. As a Greek, himself, i.e., a Gentile, Luke does not use the religious designation used by Mark, who was a Jew, who describes them as ‘sinners’.

I wonder if Luke realised that he, also, as a Gentile, would have been included among the ‘sinners’? By the way, the difference in the use of the language used by Mark and Luke is an example of how divine inspiration worked. The Holy Spirit did not inspire Luke to use language that would have been foreign to his thinking.

Luke would never have described non-Jews as ‘sinners’ or ‘Gentile’, which was an even more offensive expression. Greeks would not use such a discriminative term.

It is true that he does use the word ‘sinners’ in Luke 5:30 but he does so because he is recording accurately, something that had been said by the Scribes and Pharisees.

Furthermore, the use of Luke’s expression ‘a great feast’ and the number of guests who were invited, reveals that Matthew the tax-collector and the ‘fourfold’ restoration he declared he would make if he had ‘defrauded’ anyone!

Later, Levi held a banquet in Christ’s honour. He invited his friends: other tax collectors and sinners. The scribes and Pharisees were outraged because they thought it improper for a teacher of religion to eat with immoral people. When Jesus overheard their criticism, He asked, ‘Who needs a doctor, the sick or the well?’

His purpose, He said, was not to call righteous, but sinners. The Lord never hesitated to break society’s norms and customs. Jesus is basically saying to the teachers of the Law, ‘I have no message for you! You guys think you are not sick and think you are already righteous’. I wonder what they must have thought when Jesus said those words!

Matthew, Also Named Levi

Matthew was named Levi before his call by Jesus. We don’t know whether Jesus gave him the name Matthew or whether he changed it himself, but it is a shortening of the name Mattathias, which means ‘gift of Yahweh,’ or simply ‘the gift of God.’

On the same day, Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Matthew threw a great farewell feast in his home in Capernaum, inviting his friends so they could meet Jesus too, Matthew 9:10-13. From that time on, instead of collecting tax money, Matthew collected souls for Christ.

Despite his sinful past, Matthew was uniquely qualified to be a disciple, he was an accurate record keeper and keen observer of people, and he captured the smallest details. Those traits served him well when he wrote the Gospel of Matthew some 20 years later.

By surface appearances, it was scandalous and offensive for Jesus to pick a tax collector as one of his closest followers since they were widely hated by the Jews. Yet of the four Gospel writers, Matthew presented Jesus to the Jews as their hoped-for Messiah, tailoring his account to answer their questions.

Matthew displayed one of the most radically changed lives in the Bible in response to an invitation from Jesus. He didn’t hesitate, he didn’t look back. He left behind a life of wealth and security for poverty and uncertainty. He abandoned the pleasures of this world for the promise of eternal life.

The remainder of Matthew’s life is uncertain. Tradition says he preached for 15 years in Jerusalem following the death and resurrection of Jesus, then went out on the mission field to other countries.

Why would Matthew be a good example of evangelism today? He’s been there and done that, he knows people and how they think. He never forgot where he came from, he was a sinner and since following Jesus he knew where he was going. We need people who can relate and sympathise with other people.

He basically threw a party and invited his old friends and his new Christ-following friends and let them mix.

Appointing Of The Twelve Apostles

‘Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.’ Mark 3:16-19

Jesus needed to train apprentices to represent Him and preach the Gospel after His departure. He chose twelve of His followers for that job Luke 6:13-16.

The twelve He chose were an unlikely bunch, included were four fishermen, a tax collector, a revolutionary, Simon the ‘Zealot’, a sceptic, Thomas, and a traitor, Judas Iscariot. Jesus proved that He could work with and make something out of even the most unpromising material.

Thomas

Thomas Didymus lived in Galilee. Tradition says he laboured in Parthia, Persia, and India, suffering martyrdom in India. Thomas was his Hebrew name and Didymus was his Greek name. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us nothing about Thomas except his name. However, John defines him more clearly in his Gospel.

Thomas appeared in the raising of Lazarus, John 11:2-16, in the Upper Room, John 14:1-6 where he wanted to know how to know the way where Jesus was going. In John 20:25, we see him saying unless he sees the nail prints in Jesus’ hand and the gash of the spear on His side he will not believe. That’s why Thomas became known as Doubting Thomas.

By nature, Thomas was a pessimist, he was a bewildered man. Yet, he was a man of courage, he was a man who couldn’t believe until he had seen. He was a man of devotion and faith.

When Jesus rose, he came back and invited Thomas to put his finger in the nail prints on his hands and his side. Here, we see Thomas making the greatest confession of faith, ‘My Lord and my God.’ John 20:28.

Thomas’ doubts were transformed into faith. By this very fact, Thomas’ faith became great, intense and convincing.

Remember Thomas although he may not have fully understood, was the only one who wanted to go with Jesus to Bethany in order for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead. ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ John 11:16.

Do we ever have doubts about our ability to share God’s Word with others? We have to remember that the power is in the Word, not the speaker, Romans 1:16.

James, Son Of Alphaeus

The title ‘James the Lesser’ or ‘the Little,’ helps to distinguish him from the apostle James, son of Zebedee, who was part of Jesus’ inner circle of three and the first disciple to be martyred. James the Lesser may have been younger or smaller in stature than Zebedee’s son, as the Greek word for ‘the less’, ‘mikros’, conveys both meanings.

Although it’s argued by scholars, some believe James the Lesser was the disciple who first witnessed the risen Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:7 ‘Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.’ Beyond this, Scripture reveals nothing more about James the Lesser.

Thaddaeus Or Possibly Named Jude

Little is known about Thaddeus, but Bible scholars generally agree, however, that the four names used for him all refer to the same person. In lists of the twelve, he is called ‘Thaddeus’ or ‘Thaddaeus’, a surname for the name ‘Lebbaeus’ Matthew 10:3, which means ‘heart’ or ‘courageous.’ The picture is confused further when he is called ‘Judas’ but is distinguished from Judas Iscariot.

Church tradition holds that Thaddeus founded a church at Edessa and was crucified there as a martyr. Thaddeus preached the Gospel as a missionary following Jesus’ resurrection. Thaddeus learned the Gospel directly from Jesus and loyally served Christ despite hardship and persecution. Like most of the other apostles, Thaddeus abandoned Jesus during His trial and crucifixion. Mark 14:43-52.

How can we encourage someone to study the Bible if they already claim they are Christians? Acts 18:24-26.

Simon The Zealot

Simon, the Zealot, one of the little-known followers called the Canaanites or Zelotes, lived in Galilee. Tradition says he was crucified. In two places in the King James Version, he is called a Canaanite, Matthew 10:4 / Mark 3:18. However, in the other two places, he is called Simon Zelotes, Luke 6:15 / Acts 1:13.

The New Testament gives us practically nothing on him personally except that it says he was a Zealot. The Zealots were fanatical Jewish Nationalists who had heroic disregard for the suffering involved and the struggle for what they regarded as the purity of their faith.

The Zealots were crazed with hatred for the Romans. It was this hate for Rome that destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Josephus says the Zealots were reckless persons, zealous in good practices and extravagant and reckless in the worst kind of actions.

From this background, we see that Simon was a fanatical Nationalist, a man devoted to the Law, a man with bitter hatred for anyone who dared to compromise with Rome. Yet, Simon clearly emerged as a man of faith.

He abandoned all his hatred for the faith that he showed toward his Master and the love that he was willing to share with the rest of the disciples and especially Matthew, the Roman tax collector.

Simon, the Zealot, the man who once would have killed in loyalty to Israel, became the man who saw that God will have no forced service. Tradition says he died as a martyr.

His apostolic symbol is a fish lying on a Bible, which indicates he was a former fisherman who became a fisher of men through preaching. Simon left everything in his previous life to follow Jesus.

Are we zealous to take Jesus to the world? Galatians 6:9. If some one desires to become a Christian, how do teach them that there is a cost involved? Luke 14:25-33.

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot is remembered for, one thing, his betrayal of Jesus Christ. Matthew 26:13-15. Even though Judas showed remorse later, his name became a symbol for traitors and turncoats throughout history. Matthew 27:3-5. His motive seemed to be greed, but some scholars speculate political desires lurked beneath his treachery.

Judas Iscariot travelled with Jesus and studied under him for three years. He apparently went with the other 11 when Jesus sent them to preach the Gospel, cast out demons, and heal the sick. Judas was a thief, he was in charge of the group’s money bag and sometimes stole from it. John 12:4-6.

He was disloyal. Even though the other apostles deserted Jesus and Peter denied him, Judas went so far as to lead the temple guard to Jesus at Gethsemane, and then identified Jesus by kissing him. Luke: 22:47-48. Some would say Judas Iscariot made the greatest error in history. Matthew 27:5 / Acts 1:18.

If Jesus chose Judas despite Him knowing what Judas would eventually do, what can we learn about anyone who comes to Christ? John 13:34-35. When we reflect upon the apostles, what kind of people do we need to remember that Jesus can use?

For a fuller account of the event recorded in this section of the chapter, we need to turn to Luke 6:12ff, where we find the addition of very important facts.

The major event recorded by Mark is ‘the choosing of the twelve’ and the listing of their names, and we may be excused for thinking that the brevity of Mark’s account is rather surprising, considering the importance of the occasion.

Mark 3:13 says that Jesus ‘went up to a mountain’, but doesn’t mention His purpose, which Luke reveals. was ‘to pray’. He tells us, in Mark 6:12 that, before Jesus chose these twelve men, He spent the night alone on the mountain in prayer to God. Please note He wasn’t talking all night long! Effective prayer is a two-way street, it involves both speaking and listening.

The next day He called His disciples to Him and He revealed the names of the twelve men who were later to be called ‘Apostles’, and we cannot avoid thinking that the night spent in prayer had something to do with His choice. Another thought-provoking thought is that to some of them He gave new names.

Simon, He named Peter in Greek ‘Petros’ which is masculine. It’s important to notice this, because Jesus later said, ‘Upon this ‘petra’, feminine, I will build My church’. James and John were named ‘Boanerges’, ‘sons of thunder’, which may be a reference to some early stage in their lives when they were known to have had a reputation which they had already outgrown, or, which the Lord knew they would outgrow!

There was an occasion, as they travelled with Jesus, when the temper suggested by this name, flashed out. Travelling in Samaria, the anger of the two brothers showed when a Samaritan village wouldn’t give Jesus hospitality for the night because he was a Jew, they reacted angrily, Luke 9:54.

The re-naming of these men reveals the fact that the Lord knows what we are and what we can become. I wonder if He has another name for each one of us and what that name might be?

These three men, Peter James and John, were the three who were closest to Jesus, whom Jesus took with Him on very special occasions.

1. The house of Jairus, whose daughter He brought back to life.

2. His transfiguration,

3. The garden of Gethsemane.

The very fact that Jesus chose them, suggests that, although He was the Son of God, in His humanity, He felt the need for companionship and support. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that there were several reasons why in Mark 3:14-15.

He chose these twelve,

1. To be with Him.

2. That He might send them out to preach.

3. To have the power to perform miracles of healing.

He ‘ordained’ them and gave them power and authority. There are several Greek words for ‘ordain’, so that it has several shades of meaning, ‘to appoint; to set in place, to point out, to indicate by pointing the finger.’

Note the difference between power and authority. It’s possible for a person to have ‘power’, but lack the ‘authority’ to use it. Jesus gave the men whom He chose power and the authority to exercise it.

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

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