I’ve been thinking a lot lately on who Jesus chose to be His twelve apostles and how He approached developing these inner circle leaders. Here are a few observations that standout:
- There was nothing obvious from a human perspective qualifying them to be chosen. Look at the background of just a few of the twelve. Matthew was a tax collector and a sell-out to the Roman Empire. He took advantage of his fellow Israelites by skimming off the taxes he was collecting. His countrymen considered him one of their oppressors. Simon was a Zealot who were by definition militants set on overthrowing the Roman government by violent force. In a zealot’s mind the only good Roman was a dead Roman. He was a nationalistic revolutionary.Peter, Andrew, James, and John were blue-collar fishermen with no expectation of becoming spiritually influential. When I read through the gospels, I see two other guys I would have instantly picked. John the Baptist- He knows how to lead people, gather a crowd, and is willing to make big sacrifices. Nicodemus- He’s a respected religious leader, knows the scriptures, and seems to be a legit seeker. Those two are obvious A-list leaders.
- They were viewed as second-rate and/or sinners by the religious leaders. It’s not just that the Pharisees would have chosen other people- they found it repulsive that Jesus would even hang out with some of these people. When Jesus had dinner with Matthew and his gang of friends, the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? Later on in the book of Acts the religious leaders observe this about Peter and John after witnessing them preaching and healing in the temple: 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. If you’re looking for a common denominator with the apostles or anyone God uses in scripture, it’s fairly simple: God chose to use them. What sets the twelve apart is simply Jesus choosing to invest in them.
- They went all-in with following Jesus while knowing relatively little about Him. We know the apostles began following Jesus because they believed He was the Messiah, but we also see they had a lot of mistaken ideas about Jesus and His mission. It took a while for them to grasp that He was the divine Son of God. They also had trouble comprehending that Jesus was really going to die on a cross for the sins of the world and then be raised from the dead (despite Jesus explicitly telling them this in Luke 9:21-22, Luke 9:44, Luke 18:31-34, Luke 22). Despite what they did not know, they still willingly left their homes, families, and occupations. Most of us would consider that reckless behavior, but these guys were willing to say “yes” when Jesus gave the simple invitation of “follow me.”
- Jesus quickly threw them into the deep-end of ministry entrusting them with His message. Luke 9:1-2 (see also Matthew 10:1-15) tells us that Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Although we don’t know the precise timeline we can still guess from Matthew and Luke’s narratives that this “sending out” happened early on, probably in the first year of Jesus’ public ministry. Over the next two-three years Jesus molded them into being the leaders of His movement, but this did not happen in the safe environment of a classroom but in the messiness of real life ministry.
- Jesus invested in, equipped, and debriefed them in the midst of being on mission together. Notice what Jesus does in Luke 9:10 after sending out the twelve: On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. He does something similar after sending out the the seventy-two in Luke 10. He also pulls them aside to explain who He is (Luke 9:18-21), unpack the implications of feeding the 5000 (Matthew 16:5-12), teach them how to pray (Luke 11), share the passover meal (a.k.a. the last supper), and to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Often the debriefs involved Jesus asking questions, the disciples asking questions, and Jesus refereeing discussions among the twelve.
- Jesus chose them knowing they’d stumble, Peter would deny, and Judas would betray. It’s not long after Jesus sends out the twelve giving them “power and authority over all demons and to cure all diseases” that they find themselves unable to handle a demon possessed kid (Luke 9:37-43). We also read how they argued over who’d be greatest in the coming kingdom. Many of us are so familiar with Peter denying Jesus three times that we’ve just learned to passively accept this major event as a spiritual marker in Peter’s growth as a leader. I still struggle with Jesus inviting Judas into His inner circle knowing that Judas would betray Him- doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe part of the takeaway lesson for us is realizing that the leaders we’re developing are works in progress (just like us) and that some of them will even fail.
- Their long haul success was completely dependent on the Spirit empowering them. This may be the easiest observation to miss. After His resurrection Jesus told His disciples, As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Then He breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22). He also made it clear to them that the key to being His witnesses was receiving power from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This seems incredibly obvious: learning to listen, respond, and depend on the Holy Spirit is crucial. Jesus likes to remind us that this is not about us, but about what He can do in and through us.