Monday 19 October 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (29/50) – His Calling of Disciples: Apostles and Apprentices

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the twenty-ninth of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Matthew 4:18-20

Luke tells us that Jesus spent a night praying on a mountainside before he named the twelve men who were to be his special disciples or apostles. He had called them to be with him for the three years or so of his public ministry. He called twelve, and the gospel writers carefully record their names (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:14; Luke 6:14). These twelve men, recalling the twelve tribes of Israel, would be the messengers of the kingdom to the world, the apostle planters of the church, the new Israel. In his vision of the new creation John sees their names on the twelve foundations of the wall of the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, just as the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are written on the gates (Revelation 21:12, 14).

Jesus taught them, involving them in his ministry and sending them out to preach the news of the Kingdom. But the powerful symbolism of the number twelve does not mean that these men were the only disciples. Jesus once sent out seventy to preach the Kingdom. Some of the twelve hardly figure at all in the narrative. Of the ones we do follow, we see them as they learn from him, sometimes doubting and misunderstanding him, sometimes questioning his decisions. But we also see them realising the amazing unimaginable truth about the Lord who had called them.

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’
John 6:66-68

‘You will be my witnesses’, Jesus told them, just before his ascension. Through the power of the Holy Spirit they were to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. As we read Acts, and their letters, we see them laying the foundations of the church by their teaching and preaching, and are ourselves grafted into the body of Christ, his church, through their teaching. Did Peter get to Rome and was he martyred there? Did Thomas get to India? One day we may know!

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. By calling twelve apostles Jesus was reminding the early Jewish Christians of their heritage as the people of Israel, the people of God. With the multiplicity of churches, new and old, today, how far is it important for Christians to know their heritage, honouring the Christian past and the history of the church?

2. There is much reassurance in the story of Jesus and his disciples. He chose the imperfect, the doubters and the muddle-headed. But he trusted them to do his work in his world, empowered by the Holy Spirit. How might we use this as a model for the way we encourage our employees, our children, our fellow believers?

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