Eric Meyer - Teaching of the 12
BBL 8033B: Christian Foundations
John Brown University
Professor: Dr. Bill Burnett
August 21, 2008
The Training Of The Twelve
A. B. Bruce
Though 2,000 years have passed since Jesus graduated His first class of disciples, the course syllabus remains the same. A. B. Bruce takes his readers through a detailed description of the lessons and methods that Jesus used to teach disciples who would then have the responsibility of teaching the rest of the world the art of training those called to follow Jesus. Not only does Bruce describe the outline of the training, but he gives detailed insight into the motives Jesus had for the specific lessons He taught.
The process that Jesus developed for mentoring and training His disciples can be used in all aspects of life, making the text written by Bruce applicable to anyone who finds themselves in a leadership position. The foundation of the plan involves four steps; gather potential disciples, lead while the disciples watch, disciples then help do the work with the teacher, and finally, the disciples do the work on their own while the teacher observes from a distance. The ultimate goal is to release the disciples to confidently teach the process to the next generation of students.
I. GATHERING THE DISCIPLES
Jesus had a pool of people already intrigued in His message before He even started to gather His disciples. John the Baptist was in the wilderness preaching the coming of the Christ to all who would listen. Bruce says, “Previous converse with the Baptist had awakened in these disciples a desire to see Jesus, and prepared them for believing in Him…He spoke of this coming One in language fitted to awaken great expectations.”(pg. 3) Listen to Bruce’s description of the longing for a change in the current state of the religious environment, it’s almost poetry, “(the disciples) were men who hungered and thirsted after real righteousness, being sick of the righteousness then in vogue; they said amen in their hearts to the preacher’s withering exposure of the hollowness of fashionable good works, and sighed for a sanctity other than that of pharisaic superstition and ostentation…and they prayed fervently for the reviving of true religion.”(pg. 5)
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus emphasizes that He wants His followers to do more than simply believe what He is saying. He wants them to know Him, to know what is in his heart, and what fuels His ambition. This is in evidence early in the selection process when Jesus meets Nathaniel, “Nathaniel appears to have understood (Jesus’) words of greeting as meaning, ‘I saw into thy heart and knew how thou wast occupied, and therefore pronounce thee an Israelite indeed.”(pg. 7) The same method of selection is in evidence when Matthew is called.
The call of Matthew is important because it emphasizes that Jesus’ disciples then and now do not follow with blind faith. Bruce says, “Of course, neither the publican nor any other disciple blindly followed one of whom he knew nothing merely because asked or commanded to follow.”(pg.22) No, amazing events had been transpiring, “Heaven had been opened right above Capernaum, in view of all, and the angels had been thronging down upon the Son of man. Lepers had been cleansed, and demoniacs dispossessed; blind men received their sight, and palsied men the use of limbs…Jairus, ruler of the synagogue was brought back to life from the dead. These things were done publicly, made a great noise, and were much remarked on.”(pg. 22) Bruce goes on to say, “Think then what a powerful effect that marvelous deed would have in preparing the tax gatherer for recognizing, in the solemnly uttered word, “Follow me,” the command of One who was Lord both of the dead and the living, and for yielding to His bidding, prompt, unhesitating obedience!”(pg.23)
II. YOU WATCH, I’LL TEACH
Once Jesus had assembled His core group of disciples, it was time for the second phase of training. Jesus wanted the disciples to be able to speak with authority when they preached the Gospel. He wanted them not just to describe the Kingdom, but to be able to say they were eyewitnesses to the work done by Jesus. “In the early period of their discipleship,” says Bruce, “Hearing and seeing seem to have been the main occupation of the twelve.”(pg. 41) Just watching was an amazing privilege, “Blessed,” said He to them on one occasion, “Are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings desire to see the things that ye saw, and them not; and to hear the things that ye hear, and them not”(pg. 42) If just seeing was such an awesome privilege, imagine what honor the disciples felt when Jesus told them to go and perform miracles themselves!
While the disciples were eyewitnesses, they really had little idea of what role they were actually going to play in the Kingdom. They had little understanding of what Jesus was teaching. They themselves thought Jesus was going to establish a physical kingdom on earth. “They were still only children; the parables were pretty pictures to them, but of what, they could not tell.”(pg. 46)
Bruce gives a wonderful insight to the use of the above mentioned parables saying, “Even the use of the parable as a vehicle of instruction was all but new, and the truths expressed in the parables were all together new…Earthly things had always been fit to emblem forth heavenly things; but till the great Teacher appeared, no one had ever thought of linking them together, so that one should mirror on the other, revealing the deep things of God to the common eye: even as no one before Isaac Newton had thought of connecting the fall of an apple with the revolution of the heavenly bodies, though apples had fallen to the ground from the creation of the world.”(pg. 47)
Jesus performed miracles for many reasons, but steadfastly refused to perform a miracle for His or His disciple’s personal benefit. Bruce does a beautiful job defining Jesus’ use of miracles, and the temptation that Satan was continually presenting to Him to use the miracles to prove His divinity. Jesus came to teach His disciples how to transform the hearts of men, not to wow people with His supernatural abilities. Key to understanding the miracles is to understand the Jesus performed so many out of compassion for His hurting children. Bruce says, “What (the disciples) wondered at was not the supernaturalness of Christ’s healing operations, but the unfathomable depth of divine compassion which they revealed.”(pg. 50) Jesus must have performed miracles by the thousands. Bruce wonders at the way the healings are depicted in the Gospels, “The explanation is that the apostles had seen too many miracles while with Jesus to be excited about them. Their sense of wonder had been deadened by being sated. But though they ceased to marvel at the power of their Lord, they never ceased to wonder at His grace.”
III. DISCIPLES PRATICE UNDER THE WATCHFUL EYE OF THEIR MASTER
At the appropriate time, Jesus moved into the next phase of His training plan. It was time for the disciples to practice what they had been observing. Jesus had two motives for moving into this phase of the training. First, there were too many people desperate for the help He could provide for Jesus to reach by Himself. Second, the disciples needed to practice their trade while He was close at hand to correct their mistakes. And practice this was, “The twelve at the period of their first trial mission, were not fit to preach the Gospel, or to do good works, either among Samaritans or Gentiles. Their hearts were too narrow, their prejudices too strong: there was too much of the Jew, too little of the Christian, in their character.”(pg. 101) The disciples were given amazing powers to heal, but in preaching, were only allowed to announce that the listeners should repent because the Kingdom of heaven had come. Bruce gives this humorous, but probably realistic insight into the state of the minds of the disciples at this time, “Suppose these raw evangelists had gone into a Samaritan village, what would have happened? In all probability they would have been drawn into disputes on the religious differences between the Samaritans and the Jews, in which course they would have lost temper; so that instead of seeking the salvation of the people among whom they had come, they would rather be in a mood to call down fire from heaven to consume them, as they actually did in a subsequent period.”(pg. 101)
Key to this phase of training was regrouping after trial evangelism runs for correction and reinforcement. One of those training sessions is recorded in Luke, chapter 10. In verse 21, Jesus offers a prayer of thanksgiving saying, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” Bruce again displays his deep understand of the words of Jesus, and implies how they hold true today, “The reference in the thanksgiving prayer of Jesus to the “wise and prudent” suggests the thought that these evangelistic efforts were regarded with disfavor by the refined, fastidious classes of Jewish religious society. This is in itself probable. There are always men in the church, intelligent, wise, and even good, to whom popular religious movements are distasteful.”(pg.105) Jesus also used these conversations to make sure His disciples were preaching for the right reasons. Preaching for personal gain, preaching Jesus’ Gospel without knowing Jesus would result in this final judgment, “I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”(pg. 109)
During the third phase of the training, Jesus had built up a huge following. Too many people were vying for His attention for Jesus to be able to dedicate Himself to the core group that would need intense training. They needed a deeper level of training now that significant political pressure and hatred were being generated amongst the ruling religious classes by the work of the Christians. Bruce defines the first feeding of the 5,000 as a miracle designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. Jesus needed to sift the disciples, “It was a symbolic, didactic, critical miracle. It was meant to teach, and also to test; to supply a text for the subsequent sermon, and a touchstone to try the character of those who had followed Jesus with such enthusiasm. The miraculous feast in the wilderness was meant to say to the multitude just what our sacramental feast says to us: “I, Jesus the Son of God Incarnate, am the bread of life. What this bread is to your bodies, I myself am to your souls.”(pg. 124)
The first miracle is quickly followed up with a miracle just for the disciples. The feeding of the 5,000 had driven the crows wild with enthusiasm for Jesus, who they perceived as their earthly king. The disciples were also thinking these thoughts. Jesus sent them across the lake so they would not be drawn into the plans of the crowds; a trip during which Jesus calms a storm, and walks to them on the water, and shows them how quickly they lose their faith in Him. Bruce describes these activities as follows, “The Kingdom had been proclaimed, and the good news has been extensively welcomed. Jesus, the Messianic King, is to become the object of most ardent devotion to an enthusiastic population. But, alas! Their ideas of the Kingdom are radically mistaken…How certainly do Satan’s tares get sown among God’s wheat! How easily does enthusiasm run into folly and mischief!”(Pg. 127)
Jesus knew that the people did not love Him for His own sake, but for what He could do for them. Bruce asks this question to Christians throughout all ages, “Why do I profess Christianity? Is it from sincere faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour of the world, or from thoughtless compliance with custom, from regard to reputation, or from considerations of worldly advantage?”(Pg. 128) The crowds who were so eager to follow Jesus after His miracle of the day before, proved that their hearts were aligned with the later option. When they heard Jesus compare His body to bread, they were shaken and angered. They could not understand Him. Bruce interprets Jesus’ meaning, “It is not merely as incarnate that the Son of God is the bread of life. Bread must be broken in order for it to be eaten. The incarnate One must die as a sacrificial victim that men may truly feed upon Him. The Word become flesh, and crucified in the flesh, is the life of the world.” This was strong sifting, so strong, that by the end of the sermon, only twelve disciples remained.
IV. FINAL PREPARATIONS
The most intense training period began when the core twelve disciples finally announced that they believed Him to be the Christ, even when all of the others abandoned Jesus. This training period takes up the vast majority of this book, it is a section filled with beautiful prose, and amazing insight into the parables that Jesus taught. Key to the understanding of the training though is Phillip’s question to Jesus during their last supper together. He asked Jesus to show them the Father. Even after three years of near constant training, the disciples, in their hearts did not know Jesus. Jesus replies, “Have I’, He asked, ‘been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Phillip?”(pg. 399) Bruce states, “They had no clear, full consistent spiritual conception of the mind, the heart, and the character of the man Christ Jesus, in whom dwelt all the fullness of Godhead bodily.”(pg. 400). To know Jesus deeply would require another sifting.
This sifting though was not meant to dissuade any of the disciples, it was meant to refine their abilities, and this time Jesus Himself would be praying for their victory. Jesus knew that the crucifixion would be nearly impossible for the disciples to understand, because they still expected a worldly kingdom in their hearts. It was therefore, a necessary next step. In this step, “The master prayed that His disciple’s faith might not fail. He had not prayed that they might be exempt from Satan’s sifting process, or even kept from failing; for He knew that a fall was necessary, to show the self confident disciple his own weakness….And in Peter’s repentance, immediately after his denials, we see the fulfillment of his Master’s prayer.”(pg. 476) The Master prayed for these men because they were now His friends. They were His partners in spreading the Good News, and they had learned the hard lessons that knowing Jesus is a life long process. Initial enthusiasm needs to be transformed into lifelong passion.
Bruce summarizes the need for such an in-depth process of training the disciples this way, “The disciples were not clever, quick-witted, sentimental men... They were stupid, slow-minded persons; very honest, but very unapt to take in new ideas. They were like horses with blinders on, and could see only in one direction—that, namely, of their prejudices. It required the surgery of events to insert a new truth into their minds. Nothing would change the current of their thoughts but a damwork of undeniable fact. They could be convinced that Christ must die only by His dying, that He would rise only by His rising, that His kingdom was not to be of this world, only by the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and the vocation of the Gentiles. Let us be thankful for the honest stupidity of these men. It gives great value to their testimony. We know that nothing but facts could make such men believe that which nowadays they get credit for inventing.(pg. 495)