Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Spiritual House

(This message was preached at Covenant Reformed Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 8/2/2017:

THESIS: Jesus deliberately chose very ordinary, even petty men – to do very extraordinary things and he continues to use plain men and women for His glory!

This evening we’ll be considering Mark 3:13-19

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. 14 Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: 16 Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.[1]

This is one of 4 lists of the 12, later called apostles. Matthew has a list, Luke and Acts each have a list. John alone is the only gospel account with no list. In addition, depending on your translation, you may also see a phrase ‘whom he also called Apostles’ in the text. This phrase is not represented in the KJV, or the NKJV, or even the NASB, but it is in the ESV and the HCSB. Since it is not a disputed matter – the 12 certainly were apostles, and Luke’s account invariably includes the phrase – so I will not even be considering this minor textual variant. I just wanted to address it, so that you are aware of it. And I know this is an elementary question, but we have to ask – Why do we even have the lists in the first place? What benefit is it to us to know who those men were? Why does Mark include an apostolic roll? How does it further his goal to show Christ as a suffering servant?

As we consider these verses, let me point out that no matter which list you look at Peter is listed first, Philip is listed fifth, James son of Alphaeus (aka James the less) is listed ninth, and Judas Iscariot is listed last. This is likely due to the Lords grouping them in 3 groups of 4 men. This would probably indicate Peter, Philip, and James son of Alphaeus were each one chief among their respective group. Each list is slightly different in order, showing that one writer did not copy from the other. Even the two lists by Luke are different in order, but they all agree in Peter, Philip, James, and Judas.

I’d like for us to consider each of these men individually.  Let’s see what kind of people these disciples, now called to be Apostles were.

1.      Simon, to whom He called Peter: We know that Peter means rock – or we might say, a stone or even a pebble. Think of these men as foundation stones. Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Simon being the first called became the first among equals. And think how rocks need to be smoothed out at the quarry before they are of any use. Peter certainly needed Christ to chisel off his rough edges. We might ask ourselves, what kind of rough edges is the Lord working to smooth off us?

2.      James and John: We will consider these men together, since they are brothers and have the distinction of being known as ‘Sons of Thunder’. Probably the term Boanerges is better understood as a loud vociferous preacher.[2] (the verb βοα (boa), meaning to shout or cry, the word ενεργεια (energeia), meaning activity or operation). John was a follower of John the Baptizer.  We are quite familiar with John – The author of the beloved 4th Gospel, 3 epistles and the enigmatic Book of Revelation. Today we think of John as the Apostle of love addressing in his epistles his ‘beloved’ brethren…But he was not always considered loveable. He and his brother had asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans of a certain village because they would not receive them (Luke 9:51-56). And what do we know of James?

Less than we sometimes think. There are 3 James’ in the New Testament. In verse 17, the brother of John, was one of the Sons of Zebedee. James the less, son of Alphaeus who we read of in verse 18 – another of the 12, and James the half-brother of Christ, who wrote the epistle of James. As for John’s brother James, he had a short ministry. In Acts 12 we read that Herod the king had him put to death by the sword. He was not the 1st martyr, but was the 1st of the Apostles to be martyred. John, on the other hand outlived the rest of them all and for a time was exiled to the island of Patmos working in the mines.[3] He was the only one of the Apostles not to die a martyr’s death. Yet they did try to kill him, they boiled him in oil & poisoned him, both ineffectively; he died a very old man in Ephesus. There is a church tradition, which says, that when John was evidently an old man in Ephesus, he had to be carried to the church in the arms of his disciples.  At these meetings, he was accustomed to say no more than, “Little children, love one another!”  After a time, the disciples wearied at always hearing the same words, asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord's command,” was his reply. “And if this alone be done, it is enough!” Just to add to the possible confusion, James, the brother of Jesus was also called an apostle in Gal. 1:19, but he was not one of the 12.

4.      Andrew was the brother of Peter and also originally a follower of John the Baptizer. He evangelized his brother Peter as we read in John chapter 1. Andrew is also the one who brought the boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish to Christ.

5.      Philip is one of those easiest to be confused. If you recall, in Acts there was also a Philip who was one of the 7 deacons chosen. This deacon was known as the evangelist, and seems to me to have a greater ministry than the Apostle! Philip the Apostle is the one who asked Jesus to ‘show us the Father’ in John 14. But he is an Apostle and in the list in the fifth position – which is has some significance.

6.      Bartholomew is not listed anywhere outside the gospels. Some think he is also known as Nathaniel especially since Bartholomew means ‘son of Talmai’. John Henry Burn states, “St. John always couples Nathanael, as the other Evangelists do Bartholomew, with Philip; and while they never mention Nathanael, he never mentions Bartholomew, but speaks of Nathanael instead.”[4]

7.      Matthew we also know as Levi the tax collector. It is likely he is brother to James the Less – but this is not certain.[5]

8.      Thomas has the distinction of being one of whom we immediately think of as ‘doubting Thomas’ since he did not at the first believe the Lord had risen. He is also called the twin (didymus).

9.      James (son of Alphaeus) aka the Less. May be the brother of Matthew, or not. He seems to be the leader of the 3rd group of four apostles.

10.                              Thaddaeus is also known as Judas (son of James). Edersheim says, “James is designated by St. Matthew as Lebbæus, from Lebh, a heart, and is also named Thaddæus, a term which we would derive from Thodah, praise. In that case both Lebbæus and Thaddæus would point to the heartiness and the thanksgiving of the apostle, and hence to his character. St. Luke simply designates him Judas of James, i.e. the brother (less probably, son) of James. Thus his real name would have been Judas Lebbæus, and his surname Thaddæus.”[6]

11.                              Simon the Cananaean is not from Canaan as you might think, but more likely Cana where water was made wine.  He is also known as the Zealot, and the reference to Cana may actually be a reference to his affiliation as a Zealot. The Zealots were religious extremists who desired the overthrow of Rome.

12.                              Judas Iscariot is possibly the Apostle of greatest notoriety. Judas Iscariot was the only apostle NOT from Galilee. His surname is given as Iscariot (Mk 3:19), which probably means “the man from the place called Karioth.”[7] He was apparently the only one of the 12 from Judea.

Thus ends our brief evaluation of the men who became the 12 Apostles. Walter Wessel in the Expositors Bible Commentary states, “Four were fishermen. One a hated tax collector, another a member of a radical and violent political party. Of six of them we know practically nothing. All were laymen. There was not a preacher or an expert in the Scriptures in the lot. Yet it was with these men that Jesus established his church and disseminated his Good News to the end of the earth.”[8] All but one died a martyr’s death.

Another commentator writes, “It was amazing that Simon the Zealot and Levi the tax collector were part of the same family of followers of Jesus. They were miles apart in their political convictions (Barbieri, Mark, p. 85). As a tax collector, Levi was accustomed to Roman rule and in fact profited from it while the Zealots wanted nothing to do with the Romans.”[9]

A word about Disciples vs. Apostles. Disciples are not all Apostles.  A disciple could be a woman, such as Mary who sat at the feet of Christ while Martha served.  All the Apostles were disciples.  Luke 6:13 puts it this way, “And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.”

So now, having examined the men let me remind you of the earlier questions. Why do we even have the lists in the first place? What benefit is it to us to know who those men were? Did you notice how confusing the information was? I suspect that some of you are still a bit confused, but I won’t reiterate the list. I even put together a spreadsheet to try and keep track of the names, the order, and other information. Even after a number of weeks of reviewing many commentaries, it is very apparent that these men are NOT well known and I will not claim to have more than the smallest bit of knowledge about them.

One thing which was pointed out in more than one commentary, the fact of the 4 lists having such variety in order and what name was chosen to be put in the list points to the veracity of the accounts. If this was a scripted or polished list – wouldn’t they all have had the exact same order and specificity? Only if this was a list comprised late. Instead, the variation points out the very truth of the accounts!

Instead what we have are 3 individual writers, seeking to present to us the names of the men who were chief among Christ’s followers, and who became apostles. Why? Because they were largely unknown! Though we may get them confused, one with another, we know them, at least in name. And that is the very point. We know something about Peter, James, and John. We know Andrew was Peters’ brother. But tell me – what was Andrews’ ministry? Do we have a book of Andrew? What kind of man was he?

Or Philip? We far too often confuse him with the Evangelist of Acts – but that Philip was a deacon. You see how plain and ordinary these men were? These lists of unknown men who were foundation stones of the Church! Listen to how Paul puts it:

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.[10]


We know so little about these men, because they were magnifying God first. Look at the first portion of the text we are expositing. And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. 14 Then He appointed 12, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons. The reason Christ chose these men had nothing to do with their credentials. He called to himself those He Himself wanted. This is a very emphatic statement. In Christ’s High priestly prayer we read, I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me.[11] This is how Christ leads out in this great prayer for the Apostles, and towards the end, for us who believe in their witness. They were men of no value humanly speaking. This is why we read of the authority given them to heal and cast out demons. These men were nobodies so that God would get the glory.

In verse 15 we read that they were to have power to heal and cast out demons.  Some of you may have the word authority here instead of power. That is a much better translation choice for today. Power is a word often associated with the ability to do something of my own strength. We live in a very paganized world today – video games and Dungeons & Dragons have so warped the minds of our youth that many of them cannot even think outside of that world. Several years ago at a friends’ home I ran across this in a vivid way. A young man who was trying to talk to us of Spiritual matters. He was spiritually minded, but just not at all Biblically minded. 

 I heard him say certain things that were to me, red flags. “So when I see these unholy spirits” he said, “I ask God for power to overcome them?”  My response was to tell him that is exactly the wrong thing to do.  No! We do not treat God like our genie in the bottle, or a good luck charm that we hold up to ward off the devil.  He is not to be conjured up, to be used by someone claiming against Him with magic words. Another time, because we were extremely focused on the words of a certain passage he began to say, “So I pray the words of God against them and...” I cried out , “NO!  You call on God's Word, not ‘words of God’ as though these were the words of power or magic.  We do not in our own strength stand.

The authority to heal and cast out demons is not a power which they held – but rather a fact that points to God. He gives authority and takes it away. An example of this is Acts 5:12 where we read that ‘through the hands of the Apostles many signs and wonders were done.’

But let me remind you that before it is written of the authority to heal and cast out demons, Christ chose these men that they might be with him and that He might send them out to preach. The authority to heal was only to support or validate the ministry of preaching and teaching to which they would be sent. (Heb. 2:4)

The power of the message was tied to the relationship he had with Christ. And folks – that is still the truth today. If I, or any other man step into this pulpit without an active vital communion with the living Lord – whatever is spoken will be at best empty words. If my message has no unction it may be because I have not the closeness to the Lord I ought to have. And the same goes for each of us.

Recall for a moment how disciples and Apostles were different. All Apostles are disciples – learners or students of the Rabbi. Yet the Apostles did not take in only – they were also to give. That is the difference. And while Apostles are a special class – the 12 being the foundation stones, there is a very real sense that we as believers are also sent ones – ambassadors if you will (2 Cor. 5:20) And though our message is not authenticated by signs and wonders – It has the veracity of the very Word of God behind it – as long as we ourselves hold fast the word of truth (1 Cor. 15:2, Heb. 10:23)

And listen to the richness of the analogy. Christ is the cornerstone. The Apostles are the foundations stones. We are the living stones Peter tells us in 1 Pet. 2:5. We are building a spiritual house.

Of all the Apostles, the one we know the most about, Paul – is not even named in the 4 different lists. These days the Apostle Paul has fallen out of favor, primarily due to the dislike of Pauline theology and the new perspective on Paul. Dr. Lloyd-Jones says of Paul that he was perhaps the greatest mind that lived in New Testament times. Indeed, some call him one of the 100 most influential men of the whole world.

For all this, note how Paul puts himself down – he only boasts in his learning, in order to give a defense of his apostleship. Yet he places a greater stock in his children. Listen to how he puts it writing to the Corinthians:

Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.[12] In Philippian’s we read, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death[13]

Even the great apostle himself makes his relationship to Christ his only hope! His great learning with Gamaliel – nothing but garbage. Whatever he might have once thought to boast in – worthless. Because it is not the man – but the relationship the man has to the Lord which marks him and makes him a living stone in the spiritual house.

One last thing – why didn’t John include a list? It was clearly important to the early church, and yet John completely omits this significant grouping of men. I can’t be authoritative in this, but consider when he wrote his gospel account. In the mid 90’s of the 1st century – long after the other gospels and Acts were written – and long after the majority of the apostles, including Peter & Paul were martyred. I think John knew that their blood became to some extent a seal of their testimony so they no longer needed to be listed. We read in the Revelation of a great war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the devil and his demons. In this context John writes, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.[14]” Even in the angelic world – it is the blood of our dear Savior and the Word of God which prevails.

The thesis of this message is that Jesus deliberately chose very ordinary, even petty men – to do very extraordinary things and he continues to use plain men and women for His glory. That includes you and I. We have a calling each and every one of us. The so-called great commission isn’t a missionary call – it’s the call of everyone who is a blood bought believer.  Go – Make disciples – teaching them whatever he commanded us.  

These men gave of their lives by the strength of the Lord. Their relationship to Him gave them the strength to press on toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ. We have their foundation – that is to say the very New Testament itself to stand upon as He uses us to build his Church. In Him we become part of the Church standing against Satan himself! The gates of hell will not prevail!

Church tradition gives us a little to read on how these men died. Listen to how they each loved not their life to the death: [Read the martyrdoms]

He is coming again folks – who have you taught?


[1] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mk 3:13–19.
[3] Patmos was used by the Romans as a place to banish criminals, who were forced to work at hard labor in the mines and quarries of the island. (Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995).)
[4] John Henry Burn, Mark, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York; London; Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892), 106.
[6] John Henry Burn, Mark, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York; London; Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892), 104.
[7] Karioth (Kerioth) is identified either with Kerioth Hezron (Josh 15:25), twelve miles south of Hebron, or with Kerioth in Moab (Jer 48:24) Walter W. Wessel, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 643.
[8] Walter W. Wessel, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 643.
[9] Rodney L. Cooper, Mark, vol. 2, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 52.
[10] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Co 1:26–29.
[11] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 17:6.
[12] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Co 9:1–2.
[13] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Php 3:7–10.
[14] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Re 12:11.

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