Chosen to Serve (1): Turning Ordinary Into Greatness
Intro -- The first day of school in my 5th grade year a pretty new blond girl showed up in our class. I was smitten, but at that age it wasn’t cool to admit you liked a girl, and I had no confidence to talk to her anyway. So it took half the year before, after checking with multiple 3rd parties, I sent a note. She sent a note back, and I was chosen. It was great. We didn’t say 100 words to each other all year. But everyone knew. Our desks were magically moved next to each other. Never occurred to me it was anything but luck! It’s great to be chosen. Married people, remember the joy of being chosen by that special someone. I sure do! I hope that feeling persists. But chosen by God is best of all. Eph 1:4, “he [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” We are chosen to be family and we are chosen to serve.
Lu 12:13 records a special choosing. Jesus “called his disciples and chose from them 12, whom he named apostles.” Realizing that time is growing short, Jesus chose 12 men for the special task of carrying forward His work after His death, resurrection and ascension. This is one of 4 places in the NT where these men are named (the others being Matt. 10:2–4, Mark 3:16–19, and Acts 1:13). The number 12 immediately links them to the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus later tells them they will “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). But there is a lot to be endured before that time.
Now, we’re not apostles, but we are chosen. Paul says in I Thess 1:4, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” Chosen to serve. It should warm our hearts and fire our spirits to examine Jesus’s choice. Today the Prerequisites for choosing – next week the Purpose and the Power.
I. The Prerequisites*
God’s pattern for choosing is unique. God chooses ordinary and makes it great for His glory. God chose Abraham, a Gentile idolater (Josh 24:2) to found the nation of Israel and believers everywhere. He chose an 80-year-old murder named Moses to lead Israel out of Egyptian captivity. He chose a prostitute, Rahab, to save the Israeli spies and become an ancestor of Jesus. David went from lowly shepherd, youngest in his family, to Israel’s greatest king. Are you seeing a pattern here? Eph 1:11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined (chosen) according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” God’s purpose, not our merit, is the basis for His choosing. That same pattern surfaces in Jesus’ choosing of these 12 ordinary men to produce greatness.
A. What They Were Not
Rich and Famous – Can you name the 12? You might get Peter, James, John, maybe Andrew and Judas. Gets tough after that, doesn’t it? They are not rich and famous. A couple got pretty famous, but they start ordinary!
Look at the list starting v.14 “Simon, whom he named Peter, (the boisterous, inconsistent “Everyman” who despite his shortcomings is the natural leader of the group. His rough edges take a lot of work!) And Andrew his brother (a humble servant who is always seen bringing someone to Christ). James and John (another set of brothers from Bethsaida who were partners with Peter and Andrew in the fishing business. Nicknamed the “sons of thunder” for their fiery nature. They once wanted to call down fire from heaven on a village that refused entry to Jesus. James was the first martyr – John the last to die and closest to Jesus no earth). Philip (also from Bethsaida -- Couldn’t figure how to feed 5,000 men, and amazed Jesus by asking in John 14 how they might see the Father after 3 years with Jesus. But he brought Nathaniel and some Greeks to Jesus). Bartholomew (we wouldn’t know his name [Bartholomew means “son of Tolmai”] except John calls him Nathaniel. He initially questioned whether anything good could come out of Nazareth, but then almost immediately recognized Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel).
15 “and Matthew (the collaborator with Rome and tax collector – also called Levi. Gave a great party for Jesus. Shows humility by calling himself “Matthew, the tax-gatherer.” Amazed by grace). Thomas (also called Didymus, meaning twin. He was pessimistic, but also courageous and loved Jesus. When Jesus determined to go to dangerous territory to raise Lazarus in John 11, the disciples warned against it, but Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” He wanted no life without Jesus. He was concerned about where Jesus was going in John 14:5. His refused to believe the resurrection until he saw the nail prints – thus “Doubting Thomas”. But when he saw, he gave the great confession, “My Lord and My God.” Strong tradition that he went to India and was speared to death). James the son of Alphaeus (probably James the less of Mark 15:40, meaning younger,smaller or less important. Son of the other Mary who was at the cross). Simon who was called the Zealot (meaning he was part of a party of activists against Rome – particularly strong in Galilee. Hated foreign domination.)
16) Judas the son of James (also called Thadeus. In John 14:22 wanted Jesus to put Himself more into the limelight. Wanted political action). Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. Was elected treasurer, though he was robbing all along, and Jesus knew it. The only one not from Galilee). That’s the group. Not a star among them. Ordinary. Not how we would select, is it? If I’m starting a group of apostles, give me a Tebow, a Tulo, a Billy Graham, a Condoleza Rice – star power! Not obscure, back country Galilean hillbillies. But that is who God chose to upset the Roman world.
Overly Intelligent – They were activists and businessmen, not highly educated. After 3 years with Jesus, they struggled with the basics. The night before He died, He told them that He was going away, but that at some point they would be with Him again. We pick up in John 14:5, “5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” They’re not phi beta kapa!
You see this in Mark 9:9, “9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them (Peter, James and John) to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Perfectly clear in English, and Greek and Aramaic too, assuming that’s what they were speaking. But look!) 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.” Jesus told them exactly what was going to happen, but it did not compute. They refused to accept what they didn’t want.
They frustrated Jesus in a boat in Mark 8: “16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” They’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Okay?
To cap it off, after Jesus’ ascension, Peter and John were arrested for healing a man and preaching in Acts 4. The boldly defend preaching Jesus. Acts 4:13, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” That’s a wonderful verse, isn’t it? Uneducated, common, ordinary men who could astonish the elite. Why? Because they had been with Jesus. There’s a message there, Beloved.
Not Compatible –Surely these guys were at least compatible, right? You must have unity to make progress – and unity came. But it was not built-in. Levi the tax-collector, and Simon the Zealot would have hated each other. Political opposites. I saw a movie one time depicting conditions in Paris when it was liberated near the end of WWII. It showed a group of women physically pulling another woman from her home, tearing off her clothing, cutting away her hair and beating her within an inch of her life. Why? Because she played ball with the Nazis. Zealots hate collaborators. One writer speculates there was more than one night when Jesus had to sleep between Simon and Levi to keep Simon’s knife out of Levi’s ribs.
But, see, these men were intended to demonstrate the truth of Eph 2 – that the gospel is inclusive; it wraps it arms around everyone and joins them in a way the world can’t. Paul says in Eph 2:14, “For he himself is our peace.” Jesus brings peace with God and as a result of that, peace among men. No greater illustration of that existed than among His chosen apostles.
Not Spiritual Giants – These were not pious men. Peter knew how to swear pretty well, and reverted to it temporarily on the night Jesus was crucified. When Mary honored the Lord by anointing Him with expensive ointment, all Judas could think of was the money being wasted. Missed the worship altogether. When Jesus predicted His coming death in fulfillment of His life purpose, Peter said, “Not on my watch,” and Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan.” These guys were always arguing who was the greatest. And they fell asleep when Jesus needed them most to pray with Him. Spiritual giants?! They were spiritual pigmies. One of them, Judas, wasn’t even saved.
So what’s the point? Paul states it with crystal clarity in I Cor 1:26, “26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” When you understand that God wants to get glory by using weak things of the world, it explains the apostles, doesn’t it? And it explains us, too!
B. What They Were (Three things Jesus saw in them)
Extractable – What is that? It is the ability to live this life in light of the next. Yes, they were in this world, but they were not of it. When Jesus called, they removed from their jobs, homes and former lives. They were extractable. God chooses extractable people. If our whole life revolves around our career, hobby, pleasure – if those are more important to us than Jesus, He will not choose us. Extractability doesn’t mean that He will remove us from our surroundings, but it means He may if He wishes. When we come to Christ, we take on a new citizenship. “But our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). To call earth home or to get too comfortable is like moving permanently into Motel 6. They may leave the light on to entice you, but that’s not home. And neither is this world. These apostles were extractable.
Expandable -- I love this. Expandability. What does it mean? It means they could grow! Listen carefully now. Jesus chose them, not for what they were, but for what they would become [repeat]. Look at v. 14: “Simon, whom he named Peter. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter – Rock! Because he was one?! Not hardly. Peter was no rock at the start. Constantly in trouble, constantly sticking his foot in it, constantly failing, but – he never quit trying, did he? He never gave up and Jesus never gave up on him. Jesus doesn’t choose people for what they ARE but for what they will BECOME. Remember when Jesus called Gideon in Judges 6:12? You say, Jesus wasn’t calling anyone in the OT! Really?! Look at Judges 6:12, “And the angel of the LORD (a title for Jesus prior to His birth) appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” Now, was Gideon a mighty man of valor right then?! Are you kidding me? He was scared spitless – did everything he could to talk his way out of this. See, but God didn’t call him for what he was – he called him for what he would become. If you really want to be amazed – give your life to Christ and see what you become.
Expendable – The other positive quality I see in this list of men is that they were expendable. Expendable in a great way. Every one of them, save John and Judas, gave his life as a martyr for his Savior. Peter watched his wife be crucified and then was hanged upside down himself at his own request – not worthy to die like Christ. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross after brining another to Christ – the wife of an angry governor. They died as martyrs for Him. They agreed with John the Baptist when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). God loves to see us enjoy ourselves, to be blessed, to have a good time. But that’s not what we’re here for -- not what life is about. To be chosen by God is to be expendable –willing to give up anything, including life itself for the His sake. To be expendable for Him is the greatest honor that life offers. Most of you remember the words of Jim Elliot who was martyred in Ecuador in 1956 as a 29-year-old father and husband bringing the gospel to the unreached Aucas. He once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” That’s the expendability all God’s chosen have.
C. What They Became
What did they become? First, the foundation of the church. Eph 2:20 says the church of Jesus Christ was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” When Jesus was gone from the scene, this rag-tag group carried on the work until the church they established overcame the Roman Empire. Ordinary turned into greatness.
Second, they are the source of NT teaching. Acts 2:24 says the first converts, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” According to Eph 3:5 the apostles received revelation “which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” These 12, or close associates like Luke and Mark, wrote the entire NT – truth given them by the HS that is the only authoritative source of doctrine for faith and practice. Ordinary turned into greatness.
Their message was authenticated by miraculous powers. Paul says of his own untimely apostleship in II Cor 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” This power diminished as NT was written and distributed, but it was there in the beginning when it was needed to authenticate the gospel through these ordinary men. Ordinary turned into greatness.
Let’s just wrap it up by saying these men were personally blessed beyond measure. Imagine those 12 on that hillside that day as Jesus introduced them to the crowd. They could not have imagined the daring adventures, wonderful victories, or excruciating suffering and death that awaited them. Not that day. Nor could they have imagined the unbelievable blessing that awaits still. For in John’s description of heaven, he tells us in Rev 21:14, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” The ultimate ordinary turned into greatness. Imagine your name inscribed in stone in heaven!
Conc – Now, Beloved, like the apostles, we are chosen for service and suffering. God doesn’t choose anyone that He doesn’t want to accomplish eternal greatness through. It may be through rearing a child, or reaching out to the underprivileged, or some other humanly unrecognized task. But true greatness awaits ordinary people who commit to Jesus in faith.
Curtis Mitchell, in his book, Let’s Live tells of a young accountant who became burdened for a high school he passed on his way to and from work. A man of slight build, introverted, with none of the qualities of a normal youth leader. He had no dynamic personality. But he had a passion and he began to pray. God led him to invite some of the kids he saw to his home for a Bible study. The only ones who would accept were the misfits – the basket cases. But as they studied and prayed, amazing happened. The study caught on, the home filled and they had to move the study. Soon campus leaders began to come, to get saved and revival swept the school. A councilman, who saw the changed life of his own son, came to know Christ. All because one man caught a burden, prayed and then did what he could. Ordinary turned into greatness. Beloved, are you a believer? Then you’ve been chosen by someone very special. And God wants to turn your ordinary into greatness. Are you willing? Will you pay the price? Let’s pray.