Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Snapshot of the Church (Part 1): Mark 3:16-19

You may recall that last week I mentioned that William Tyndale was incensed at the fact that the majority of English speaking clergy in his day could not name the twelve apostles. Thanks to a professor of New Testament at Fruitland Bible Institute, Dr. Johnny Tiller, these names are forever etched in my mind. Dr. Tiller taught us a little mnemonic device to remember them, which may be helpful for you. Remember this address (it may help you to write this down: 52 Mab St. In that address, the 5 stands for those whose names start with J: James, John, James (son of Alphaeus, or James the Less), Judas (or Thaddaeus), and Judas Iscariot. The 2 stands for those whose names start with the letter P: Peter and Philip. M stands for Matthew. A is for Andrew. B is for Bartholomew (who is sometimes called Nathanael). S is for Simon the Zealot, and T is for Thomas. 52 Mab St. I throw that out to you for you own benefit, at no extra charge today.

In the New Testament we find four lists of the Twelve: The passage before us today (Mark 3:16-19); Matthew 10:2-4; Luke 6:13-16; and Acts 1:13 (where all are listed except Judas Iscariot, who at that point had deserted and hanged himself). None of the lists are identical in order. Names occur at different places in each list. However, certainly similarities catch our attention as we compare the lists side by side. Peter is always listed first, Philip is always fifth, James the son of Alphaeus (also called “James the Less”) is always listed ninth, perhaps indicating that these were leaders over groups of four. Judas Iscariot is always listed last, and always his name is associated with his betrayal of the Lord.

We will examine the first group of 4 today and the rest of on subsequent Sundays. This first grouping consists of Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew: two sets of brothers, all of whom were fishermen when the Lord called them into His service. In the New Testament lists of the Twelve, these four are always first, and though Peter always heads the list, the other three occur in different orders. As I look at these twelve men, who on the surface are rather ordinary and unimpressive, I begin to think about ways in which they are like others I know. But this is something we must avoid. Rather, the task is to see in them glimpses of ourselves realizing that if God can use the likes of these to upset the world for Christ, then certainly He can use us in our own day. That is why I have chosen to refer to this list of twelve as “a snapshot of the church,” for in them, we see unique and ordinary people who served an extraordinary God, just like generations of Christians have ever since.As we look at these four today, and the remaining eight in weeks ahead, let us look at these men as representatives of Christ’s church, and find in them strengths toward which to aspire, and pitfalls to avoid.

We begin where the list begins, with …

I. Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter): The Transformed Life

Aside from Jesus, Peter is mentioned more than anyone else in the New Testament. Matthew, in his listing of the twelve, refers to Peter as “the first”, protos in the Greek. It is the same word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 1:15 when he says that he is the “chief (protos) of sinners.” So Matthew intends perhaps to say that Peter is the chief, or leader of the group. But it was not always so. Remember that the Gospel writers are writing after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the early church, but they are writing of events that took place before that day. Peter was transformed as a result of the Holy Spirit’s invasion of his life.

Peter is the brother of Andrew, who introduced him first to Jesus. He is typically seen in the Gospels as an impulsive man of action, a doer rather than a thinker. He is always asking questions (often at inopportune times), slow to listen and quick to speak.

In John 1:42, we read, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter). Notice that Jesus was speaking of something future, as if to say, “One day, you will be called Peter,” a name that means “rock or stone.” But it was a lengthy transition. In fact, we find some embarrassing reminders of his old nature in the Gospels. On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, Jesus finds Peter asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, and says, not “Peter!” but, “Simon, are you asleep?” After his denial of the Lord, the risen Christ confronted Peter saying, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But there were glimpses along the way of what Jesus intended to make of Simon. When he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus says to Him, “I tell you that you are Peter.” The Risen Lord told Mary Magdalene to assemble the disciples and Peter.

Many times, after realizing what it is that our Lord has called us to be, our actions and attitudes are more consistent with the person we used to be, before He called us. Indeed, the Christian life is a struggle between our old and new natures, typified in Peter’s vacillation between his two names. Seventeen times in the Gospel of John, he is called “Simon Peter,” and sometimes it is hard to differentiate between the two – the Simon of old, or the Peter of new. After Pentecost, however, he is always called Peter. The lessons had been learned, many times the hard way, and the transformation had taken place. The one who denied the Christ three times before the Cross, proclaimed Him boldly following the coming of the Spirit, with the result of three thousand coming to Christ on the day of Pentecost.

So Peter is the transformed man. He has a changed name that is a picture of a changed nature. To what do we attribute this change? Peter himself says it best in the closing words of his second epistle: “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some in the church today are like Peter. At times, we find ourselves living and thinking consistently with our old nature, and at other blessed moments, fully living out the life to which we have been called. But as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are transformed by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are changed, and find ourselves fit for boldness in the service of Christ.

Now secondly, Mark tells us that there was …

II. James, the son of Zebedee: The One With Family Ties

There are three men named James in the New Testament. In addition to this one is another of the Twelve – James, son of Alphaeus, or James the Less; and James, the half-brother of Jesus, who writes the epistle of James. THIS James, the son of Zebedee, is never referred to in the New Testament apart from mention of his father, his mother, or his brother. Perhaps this is merely for convenience, lest we confuse him with one of the other “Jameses” of the NT. But perhaps there is something more, as we consider him as a representative of those who follow Christ today.

Jesus called this man James for who he was as an individual, but we never come to know him in that way. His identity is canonized for us in the pages of Scripture in terms of his family ties. His father was apparently a prosperous fisherman, in view of the fact that he employed hired servants. It also seems from another gospel account that he and John were perhaps distant relatives of the family of Jesus. He is welcomed into the “inner circle” of disciples with Peter and John, but we only find his name mentioned alone one time in the New Testament.

On one occasion, Salome, the mother of James and John came to Jesus requesting a position of honor for her sons. Another time, James and John offered to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who refused to make accommodation for Jesus. Perhaps this is the occasion that gave rise to the name “Boanerges”, “Sons of Thunder.”

Never do we learn anything about James as an individual. In fact, in the Gospel written by his very own brother, he is never mentioned by name at all. Were there hard feelings? Did John not see anything in his brother’s walk with Christ worth mentioning? That is hardly likely. Acts 12 is the only passage in which James is mentioned alone. In that passage, we find that Herod had James arrested and executed as the first martyr of the Christian Church. So apparently, he did have a deep and abiding personal faith in Christ, but it could very well be that he did not come into his own until his mother and father were removed from the picture and his brother was away planting churches in another land.

Like James, many in churches today are known only by their family ties – they will always be referred to as this one’s son, that one’s daughter, another one’s brother or sister, niece, nephew, or grandchild. When will that one begin to develop an identity for himself or herself in the family of God? Where will that one be when the time comes to stand alone? Zebedee and Salome passed from the scene. John traveled on to another field of service. And James came into his own, lived boldly for Christ, and died for his faith. But what about those in our day who are known to us only by their family ties? Jesus has called each of us to walk with Him individually. It is great to have a spiritual legacy in a Christian family, but we cannot ride the spiritual coattails of others. God is adopting sons and daughters, but He has no grandchildren. Our relationship with Christ must be our own, unmediated by the faith of our families.

We look now to the third name on the list …

III. John, the brother of James: The Faithful One

In contrast with James, John comes into his own standing early on. While there are moments when they are indicted together over some embarrassing episodes, we begin to see in John the beauty of a faithful follower of Christ. It was perhaps because of all that he witnessed as a member of Christ’s inner circle with Peter and James that his faithfulness came forth.

John is called, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Some people have a problem with that title, because the only writer to refer to him this way is himself! But this is not a case of a person who thinks more highly of himself than he ought. In fact, this may be the key to his faithfulness—John knew what it meant to be the object of the love of Christ. And once a person understands that reality in all its fullness, faithfulness to Christ ensues. It is evident in John’s life, for while Judas betrayed the Lord and Peter denied Him, John is found at the foot of the cross, and takes Mary into his care in obedience to Christ.

It is a tragic reality of the Twelve that ten of them died the deaths of martyrs. Only Judas and John did not. Judas, of course took his own life, but only John died of natural causes at an old age. Most of them never saw the second generation of Christianity. John saw the third. Jesus preserved his life as a faithful witness to stir up love for Christ into the second century of Christianity. Why John? Well, it is only because of grace, but perhaps it was his true awareness of the love of Jesus, which flowed forth into faithful love and service to Him.

I am thankful that the Lord has continued to give us some like John – those who have fallen completely in love with Jesus, and become contagious in their passion for Him, encouraging others to follow.

Next in the list we find …

IV. Andrew: The Soul-Winner

In Mark 1:16, we learned that Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. We know from John 1 that Andrew had at some time come under the teaching of John the Baptist. John had pointed out Jesus to him, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.” From that time on, Andrew followed Christ. It was Andrew who led Peter to Jesus, saying, “We have found the Messiah.” But from Andrew’s association with John the Baptist, it is apparent that he learned two important lessons.

First, he had learned the importance of making others more important than yourself. One time in the Gospels we find mention of Peter as the brother of Andrew. The rest of the time, Andrew is referred to as the brother of Peter. Now what if Andrew were the kind of person to say, “Hey, don’t put me second to him – I was here first, and if it weren’t for me, Peter wouldn’t even know Jesus!” But he wasn’t that kind of person. He had learned humility from John the Baptist, who pointed to Christ saying, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Some of us suffer from a spiritual envy that always seeks to show oneself greater than others. Not Andrew. He was glad for those he brought to Jesus to gain prominence in the Kingdom.

You may not know the name of Edward Kimball, but I bet you know the name of Billy Graham. Well, if Edward Kimball were not the kind of person who made others greater than himself, you may not know Billy Graham today. You see, Edward Kimball went out of his way to share Christ with a young shoe salesman named D. L. Moody. Moody became arguably the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century. F. B. Meyer was in attendance at one of Moody’s services in England when Moody told about the influence of Kimball on his life. After thinking about Kimball’s influence on Moody, Meyer broadened his own ministry, coming to the United States for several preaching campaigns. One of the young men who devoted themselves to the service of Christ because of Meyer’s influence was J. Wilbur Chapman. When Chapman began preaching revival meetings and crusades, it was suggested to him that he bring along a newly converted professional baseball player named Billy Sunday to help him in his work. In time Billy Sunday became the most popular evangelist of the early twentieth century. When he preached a crusade in Charlotte, God did such a great work that a group of Christian businessmen decided to bring another evangelist in the very next year. That evangelist was Mordecai Ham. And one night while Ham was preaching, God moved on the heart of a young man in the choir loft named Billy Graham. And that night, he came to faith in Christ, and the rest of his life is familiar history to us now. Has anyone been used more greatly of God in recent centuries than Billy Graham? But it started years before with a layperson, a Sunday School teacher named Edward Kimball going out of his way to share Christ with D. L. Moody. So if it weren’t for Kimball, you may not know Graham. And if it weren’t for Andrew, you may not know Peter. And who might God use in the coming generations, if only you and I will be willing to see them as greater than ourselves, and go out of our way to bring them to Jesus?

This was the other lesson Andrew had learned from John the Baptist. Always point people to Jesus! Every time we see John the Baptist in the New Testament, he is testifying about Jesus, pointing others to Him. And Andrew was a quick study. We find him in three narratives of the Gospel of John bringing people to Jesus. First it was Peter in John 1. The next time, in John 6, Jesus is surrounded by a multitude of 5,000 hungry men, plus their wives and children. While the rest of the Twelve were tabulating the cost of feeding this multitude, Andrew comes to Jesus, bringing a boy with him who had five barley loaves and two fish. In bringing that boy to Jesus, rather than focusing on the logistics and budgets, the dilemma was solved. How many of our dilemmas might be solved as well, if only we would just bring people to Jesus and let Him use them for Himself.

In the third narrative concerning Andrew in John’s Gospel, chapter 12, John tells us that a group of Gentiles came to Philip saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” And it is interesting that John says Philip came and told Andrew. It was as if Philip was thinking, “Hmmm. How can I get you to Jesus? Well, if I know Andrew, he will figure out a way to get you to Him.”

The New Testament doesn’t really tell us any more about Andrew. But we have an early tradition that says that he became a great missionary taking the Gospel to unreached areas. In 2000, I preached in the harbor of Cebastopol, Ukraine, where it was said that Andrew had preached in the first century. And tradition has it that he led the wife of a Greek governor to Christ, which led to his martyrdom – death on an X-shaped cross. And even as he died, the legend has it that he continued to proclaim Christ to the crowd who gathered to watch him die. It was in the very fabric of his being. He was a soul-winner, and even death couldn’t keep him from the task.

God has given His church in our day some Andrews as well. Some who are so burdened for the lost that everything they do is to make Christ known. They view every encounter with another person as a divine appointment ordained by God so that person can hear the gospel and be saved. Some of you may be that way. Let us pray that the rest of us might be more like that.

And so in closing, as you look at these four fishermen, do you see glimpses of yourself? Do you see qualities you wish you had, or even that you wish you didn’t? Do you see a passionate zeal that has been bridled and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, like Peter? Do you see yourself like James, lost in the shadows of family ties? Will you, like James, be bold enough to take your own stand for Christ? Have you come to full realization of what it means to be loved by Jesus, like John, and to have that love produce a faithful love for Christ in yourself? Like Andrew, do you aspire to pour your life into others, bringing them to Jesus and cheering them on as they begin to follow Him for themselves? These were just ordinary men, not too much different from you or me. But they walked in fellowship with an extraordinary Savior, just as you and I can. And He made them into vessels of honor for His Kingdom. May He do the same with us.

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