May God’s love for you rest on your hearts. And may the undeserved mercy of Christ fill you with peace. Amen.
It’s probably been a while since you last played dodge-ball. But I’m sure you remember how teams are picked on the playground. First you pick two team captains. Then you line everybody up and take turns picking who you want.
The older, bigger and faster kids usually get picked first because captains like to win. Captains generally pick players because of what they can do.
But in our reading for today, Jesus picks His team with a different guiding principle. He doesn’t pick people because of who they are, but because of who He is. It’s not about them. It’s about Him.
Mark 3:13-19 (NIV)
13Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15and to have authority to drive out demons. 16These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
We are currently in the part of the church called “Epiphany”. The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearance”. During Epiphany we see how Jesus was revealed to be the Son of God during His ministry.
This year we’re reading from the Gospel of Mark. With each reading Mark is showing us a “snapshot” of Jesus. Once we can Jesus, then we want to look for ourselves in the picture. This is Jesus. This is me.
The “snapshot of Jesus” that I see in today’s reading is “Jesus the Chooser”, the “Selector”, “Jesus the Team Captain”.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had been on the mountain all night long, praying. While we aren’t told exactly what He was praying about, it’s safe to assume some of His prayers concerned the men He was about to select as His twelve apostles.
Jesus wanted these men to remember that HE CHOSE THEM, not the other way around. Not only did He make a big deal of selecting the twelve and designating them apostles. Years later He specifically reminded them of this fact.
Turn to John 14, verse 16. This is Jesus speaking to His apostles the night before His death. He says…
“16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…” (John 15:16 NIV).
Jesus wants Christians today to remember that same truth. We did not choose Jesus, He chose us.
Many churches make a big deal out of making a “choice for Christ”. They present the message of sins forgiven through Christ, but then suggest that faith is a choice. As if faith were a switch that we could turn on and off at will.
Faith is NOT a choice that you make. Faith is not created through saying “I believe”. You cannot create faith or jump start it with a prayer. Faith is created by God through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.
God called out to our hearts through the history of His life and death. The Holy Spirit worked through this recorded history and convinced us of its truth. This is how we came to faith.
First Peter 1, verse 23 says…
“…you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 NIV).
Coming to faith is like being born. Last time I checked babies don’t choose to be born.
Ephesians 2, verse 4 says…
“…God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV).
When Lazarus lay dead in His tomb he didn’t hear Jesus outside and think, “Hmmm, I choose life!”
The fact that Jesus chooses us, and not the other way around leads to two important realizations. First, our salvation is completely God’s Work. Not even on little bit is because of our doing. Secondly, if Jesus is the one who chose us, He’s team captain. He calls the shots. He is both our Savior and our Master.
Okay. Back to the twelve apostles. One question that arises when we see a list of all these guys is, “Why them?” Why did Jesus choose THESE twelve men?
Well, I can assure you it wasn’t because they were a specially pure group of fellas.
Simon Peter was impulsive, but also violent. Remember how he struck out and cut off another man’s ear when Jesus was arrested? Well did you ever think of what he was TRYING to do? He wasn’t aiming at his ear! He was trying to KILL THE MAN by sword-ing him in the head!
Or how about James and John. Jesus knick-named these two brothers the “Sons of Thunder”. They probably liked the knick-name, but I’m guessing it was a sarcastic rebuke from Jesus. These were bold men who once asked Jesus whether they should call down FIRE on a village that didn’t welcome Jesus. He told them “No.”
Or how about Matthew the tax-collector? The Jews considered him to be both a traitor to Israel (since he was collecting taxes for the Roman government) and a thief (since tax-collectors were known for becoming rich by overcharging people).
And then on the other end of the spectrum was Simon the Zealot. All we know about the guy was that he was once a “Zealot”. That was a sect of Jews who refused to pay taxes to Rome for religious reasons. Eventually their sect degraded into a band of outlaws named for the type of dagger that they used.
Then there’s good old doubting Thomas. Known for stubbornly refusing to believe Jesus had come back from the dead until Jesus appeared right in front of Him.
And who can forget Judas the betrayer. Before he sold Jesus out for 30 silver pieces, he acted as treasurer for the twelve. The Bible says he was a thief, freely helping himself to the money he was entrusted with.
Clearly these men were not chosen for their purity. Throughout Jesus’ ministry it became painfully clear that they hadn’t been chosen for their spiritual insight either. Repeatedly we hear them asking Jesus, “So, what did that parable mean again?”
They had no particular talents that were indispensible. They weren’t even educated men? I like how the King James puts it in Acts 4:13…
“13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were UNLEARNED and IGNORANT men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 KJV).
They were uneducated idiots, but they had been with Jesus.
Jesus first chose the twelve to save them, and so that He might save others through them. For the apostles it was, “Ask not what you can do for Jesus, but what He can do for you.”
And it’s the same for Christians today. He chose us, to save us. He saved us, to save others through us. It’s as simple as that.
Let me draw your attention back to verse 14-15. Here we are told exactly what Jesus wanted these twelve apostles to do.
“14He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mark 3:14-15 NIV).
They were unlearned and ignorant men, but they were being selected to be with Jesus. To learn from Him. To go out with His authority. These men couldn’t preach Jesus’ message correctly without first being connected to Jesus in order to learn that message. Really, they had to believe it in order to preach it with power.
These men had no magical abilities. They couldn’t cast out demons or heal sicknesses without Jesus GIVING THEM the power to do those things. They had to be connected to Jesus.
I’ve got a book that lists Bible readings for every Sunday of the Church year. It also describes what each season is about. Let me read what it says about Epiphany…
“[Epiphany] and its season…show forth the glory of Him who has come, born a babe in Bethlehem, and how this glory must shine also through the members of His kingdom so that men may see their good works and glorify their Father in heaven” (Biblical Texts, by Nesper).
Through their connection to Jesus, Jesus would shine through the apostles to the world. They were “selected to be connected”. And they were connected to shine out His glory. His glory and Creator, as Savior, as caring Friend.
Christians, we to have been selected to be connected – to Jesus. Through that faith connection we receive forgiveness for every sin we commit. Through that connection to Jesus we are continually protected from evil. Through that connection to the Son of God we receive power. We can speak His message in a world that wants us to shut up. We can shake off our guilt in the shadow of His cross and the light of His empty tomb.
It’s not about us, it’s about Him. He is the Chooser, we the Chosen.
Most team captains choose players in order to win. Our Captain picked us in order to share His victory with us. And now, even though we are not designated “apostles”, we have also been sent out. That’s what apostle means by the way. One sent out. One sent out with a message to carry and share.
Let’s get sharing. May the light of Christ shine, through our connection to Him.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.