When I was a little girl, I had no interest in playing organized sports such as basketball, volleyball or baseball. Don’t get me wrong, I like playing with others and I am extremely competitive. But, I preferred the free style play of riding bicycles, climbing trees, exploring creeks for fresh water shrimp, and my favorite, catching lizards. The thing I did not like about organized sports is that some people were selected and others were left out. I was afraid of being the one nobody wanted on their team. I was afraid of being overlooked and taken out of the game. Which is why my anxiety rose a bit the first time I read this verse in the Bible:
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles…” Luke 6:12
Why did Jesus pray all night? Because he was choosing 12 apostles. The word apostolos in Greek means to be sent. He chooses 12 of his disciples to be sent. So who are these 12 men? “…Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”
What do we notice immediately about this list? Several of them were fishermen. There’s also Matthew, who used to be Levi the tax collector, and Judas Iscariot, who eventually betrayed Jesus. However, there are a bunch of these guys who we don’t know anything about. These 12 are not famous scholars or rich investors or pop stars. They’re just regular people, like you and me. There is one more thing I noticed: they are all men.
I used to wonder what my place was in God’s Kingdom, as a woman, because all of Jesus’ apostles were men.
There are some logical and cultural reasons for choosing men, but it felt emotional for me. I felt that this was unfair, and I admit that I felt overlooked and left out. But when I thought and prayed about it, I started to realize that in matters of their faith, these men were also overlooked by their society. In the first century, to be called a “Rabbi” was more than just an honor, it was the dream of every young boy. It is likely they were rabbis’ rejects. Rabbis selected the elect few, the highly promising young, for such an honor. Jesus’ apostles were ordinary fishermen and laborers. They were the C students. They understood what it was like to be undervalued and overlooked.
Jesus, in his grace, chooses these 12 ordinary men, and he gives them the title apostle, or “sent one”. An apostle was an ambassador or messenger on behalf of their leader. These apostles were to go out and do exactly as Jesus did, and teach the same things Jesus taught. They were especially chosen to accomplish a mission for Jesus.
When you have a little time, I encourage you to read one of the gospels all of the way through and watch how Jesus teaches and interacts with his followers. The same 12 apostles were also frequently called the “disciples.” Disciple comes from an educational context and is similar to our use of “student” or “follower.” Women were active in Jesus’ movement and were also considered disciples, such as Martha, Mary and Junia (whom interestingly Paul refers to as an apostle in Romans 16:7). This is the same Jesus who loves, teaches and sends us out as his disciples today – we don’t need to feel left out as I used to.
So let’s fast-forward to the end of the story. At the end of his ministry, after Jesus dies, is resurrected, and then calls his followers to meet him on a mountain, he sends them out into the world with these words:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Just as Jesus sent his 12 apostles, ordinary men whom God used in extraordinary ways, he is now sending all of his disciples to do this work.
Jesus is sending me. He is sending you. We have been called to do this work because there is so much still to do.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Mathew 9:35-38
I’m overwhelmed with that. That’s a big call, and I must admit that I’m the first to disqualify myself. The apostles made disciples that made disciples that made disciples and so on through countless generations and now with me. I am a disciple of Jesus and my calling is to make disciples. Because I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I am not left out, I am included in God’s promises and his master plan.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ,then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29
This makes me cry. I’m overwhelmed that I am selected, that you are selected – that we don’t have to feel left out or overlooked. In fact, as we see through the apostles’ stories, Jesus chooses the unlikely, ordinary people to do his work. Isn’t that encouraging?
The mission of my church, Mariners Church in Orange County, California, is to “transform ordinary people into passionate followers of Jesus, fearlessly changing the world.” It reminds me that we are the hope. You and I, the church following Jesus, is the hope of the world. Let’s live today as hopeful, loving disciples of Jesus, sent out by him to change our corner of the world by his power.
Spend some time this week reading the Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) accounts of Jesus’s interactions with his disciples. These stories are recorded for us to learn from as well, as we show Jesus to the world.
How can you live as Jesus’s apostle or “sent one” to your community today?