“In these days, he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom He also called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”
– Luke 6:12-16.
Jesus could’ve chosen anybody, and yet He chose these guys.
That’s my gut reaction whenever I revisit the choosing of the twelve apostles. If I were Jesus, I would’ve walked into the best rabbi school in Jerusalem (Gamaliel’s, perhaps, who Paul studied under?), and asked him for his 12 best students. With the most talented Bible scholars available, who knew the law better than anyone else, and who likely could speak publicly better than anyone else, we’d change the world for sure. Give me the best of the best.
But that’s not what Jesus did. He took men who were far from the best scholars or speakers. In fact, they had no ministry experience at all. Their best qualifications were that at least some of them had been followers of John the Baptist (John chapter 1), and that they were…well…available to go. They would follow Him, not just some of the time, but 24 hours a day. And if they weren’t with Him, it would be because He sent them to preach somewhere (as nerve-racking as that must have been for men who had never preached before!). Not exactly who we would’ve chosen.
If you were reading the gospels for the first time to this point, all you would know is that Jesus chose at least 4 fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James, and John), and a former tax collector (Matthew). You might recognize that the other Simon is a “Zealot,” part of a political faction that was basically a first century version of political terrorists against Rome. Not exactly a group that suggests ‘set-the-world-on-fire evangelists.’ Jesus, what are you doing?!
In fact, knowing the whole story after their selection, we easily find even more ammunition to criticize the selection of these particular 12. Peter is far too impulsive and too loud-mouthed, and on top of that denies Jesus in a very public way. Judas betrays Jesus for money, and in fact was stealing money from the poor-bag while traveling with Jesus (John 12:6). Thomas is known best of all for being a doubter in his faith. These 12 will fight over who will be first in the kingdom. They will tell children that Jesus has no time for them. They will fail multiple tests of faith. They will misunderstand Jesus’ plan over and over until it finally hits them in the face. They will sleep and then run away on the night Jesus needs them the most.
Yet these were the men that history would come to know as the 12 apostles. Plenty of reason to criticize the selection.
But as we might expect, Jesus knew what He was doing after all. These men would, in fact, change the world. Not because they had no flaws, but because they followed Jesus in spite of their flaws. And because they were willing to follow, and were willing to sacrifice their own comfort and even their own lives, we see their lives transformed, beginning a domino effect of transformed lives that continues down to our day. Years later, when Peter and John showed unusual courage in standing up to the Jewish Council, the Bible says in one of my favorite verses: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized them as having been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) Having been with Jesus made all the difference.
Isn’t that just like God? To choose not the best of the best, but to choose the Gideon’s, the Moses’, and the David’s of the world? People who had no business doing world-changing types of things. And yet God chose them, to show that the power was coming from God, not from earthly talent or ability. As Paul would write years later, “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;” (1 Cor. 1:27). God chose the foolish and the weak. Strange choices, indeed. But the point would be made: who they started as wasn’t the issue. God was the one working through them. They would be with Jesus, and that would make all the difference.
And that’s the most encouraging lesson to us, I think. Because whenever I start pointing fingers at the flaws of the apostles, I realize I’m pointing a finger at myself as well. Look, they denied and betrayed Jesus! Look, they have a past! Look, they’re not the most talented! Look, they seem to fail as much as they succeed! I could very well be pointing at the mirror. But just like the apostles, the blessing is that our usefulness in God’s kingdom is not determined by our talents or our pasts. The question is whether we are willing to follow Jesus – really follow Jesus – going forward. Because if we will truly accept the call to follow Jesus, being with Him will make all the difference.
You have to love the 12 apostles, because we fit right in with them. Yet they did so much for God! So let’s throw our excuses for why we can’t be strong, life-changing Christians out the window. If God can use these 12 men with all their flaws, He can use us as well. Let’s start following a little closer to Jesus…and watch Him work in us.