Matthew 10:2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot,…
They were an unlikely lot, similar to a bunch of mismatched socks. They appeared more different than alike. It seemed as if they were chosen arbitrarily, without thought or design, yet for a perfect purpose. Twelve men (two sets of brothers), following Jesus – eating, sleeping, walking , working, and learning together – each with very different personalities and life experiences. We tend to think that these men were like-minded and unified – and to some extent they were. But we forget that these were real men, with real short-comings. They didn’t live in perfect harmony. Just take a look at six of these apostles.
Matthew was a tax collector. Just the mention of his occupation sent most Jews into a snit (think IRS). He not only collected the required taxes, but a bit more to pad his personal pockets. Additionally, by virtue of his job, he consorted with the Romans. A popular tax collector was an oxymoron. Such a person simply did not exist. Yet, when Jesus said, “Follow me,” Matthew not only obeyed, but showed true repentance in giving back four-fold what he had stolen. However, I imagine that the title of “tax collector” was not easily forgotten by those less forgiving.
John referred to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Just imagine the emotions those words evoked in the other eleven! There were likely side conversations about this very subject, with intense feelings of jealousy and pride. With the exception of one, all of the disciples loved Jesus. Yet at the cross Jesus charged John with caring for His mother. So even though it seemed as if John might have had an elevated view of himself, he did demonstrate a steadfast kind of love that didn’t ebb and flow. It was a stable love that would endure.
James was John’s brother. James, John, and Peter seemed to be the inner circle of the apostles, and were with Jesus more than the other apostles. James was also a fisherman. He and John were in business with their father. As with any brothers, there was a degree of sibling rivalry. One such instance was recorded in the Gospel of Mark. As Jesus and the apostles were walking to Jerusalem, Jesus took the opportunity to warn them about what was to come. It was a solemn conversation, when suddenly James and John interrupted Him and asked for a favor. The favor – to sit on either side of Jesus in His Kingdom! Let it sink in – Jesus was warning them about His death, and James and John were arguing about positions of honor! Can you imagine the whispering and resentment that rippled among the other apostles?
Simon Peter was perhaps the most outspoken of the apostles. Impetuous and impulsive, he was the brother of Andrew (the first apostle called by Jesus). They were both fishermen, in business with James and John. Peter was the apostle who walked on the water – until he took his eyes off Jesus. He was the apostle who in his zeal to protect Jesus, cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. He was the apostle who swore he would never deny Jesus – until the night he denied Him not once, not twice, but three times. Today, we would probably describe Peter as one who spoke without thinking, one who acted based on emotions. But he was also the apostle to whom Jesus gave the name Peter, meaning rock.
Thomas was the thinker, the ponderer. I suspect that he was prone to quietness, and was an astute observer. He didn’t merely accept what others’ stated as truth. Thomas put facts together and arrived at his own conclusion. Thus, when the other apostles told Thomas that they had seen the resurrected Jesus, he doubted them. After all, the image of Jesus hanging on the cross was seared into his memory. But when Jesus appeared again, it was to Thomas He held out His hands. No longer did Thomas doubt, but cried, “My Lord and my God!” His doubts has been erased, and he believed with his entire being.
And then there was Judas. One of the apostles, yet not one of them. Judas may have been more educated than the others because he was entrusted with the money. He was critical, the classic “it will never work” person. There was no love for others, no love for the One he followed. I have to wonder if the other eleven had any idea about the depth of Judas’ evil. The Bible doesn’t say, so we can only surmise. Judas went through the motions of being an apostle, but his soul belonged to Satan.
All very different men. They argued, they resented each other, they jostled for position, they doubted. They got tired and discouraged. But they were unified in their love and devotion to Jesus (with the exception of Judas). Jesus was the glue that held them together, unified, with one purpose.
Individuals with the characteristics of the apostles are found in every church. It would behoove us to consider what we can offer to the fellowship of believers, by examining ourselves in comparison to those who walked closest with Jesus. With whom can you most closely identify?
So here we are. Imperfect people with tempers, jealousies, doubts, impulsiveness, dubious pasts. That’s the church. What makes us like-minded is our love and devotion to Jesus. He IS the glue that unifies us. Just like the apostles…