The Training of the Twelve

The Training of the Twelve

Peter and John came into the city of Jerusalem, weaving their way through the crowded streets, looking, and searching. The city was abuzz with everybody in preparation for the Passover. Not sure where they were going, they continued to be on the lookout for a man bearing a pitcher of water. Peter would exclaim, “Look, there’s a pitcher!” But as they got closer, they would realize it was a woman carrying the pitcher. No, Jesus had specially said it would be a man. That would certainly be something different as there were usually a lot of women carrying pitchers but not men. What next? Peter wanted to go one way and John the other. And as they stood there, the man, bearing the jar of water, came out of the crowd, nodded to them and continued walking. Peter gave a knowing look to John and said, “Let’s go. Follow him!”

It was just as Jesus had said. They followed this man into a house where the owner met them with an inquisitive look. Peter breaks the silence and relays the question that Jesus had given him, “The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples?” The owner nods, smiles, and then beckons with his hand, walking them up a flight of stairs that opens into a large room, already furnished and prepared. Peter and John must have looked at each other and shrugged. Looks like Jesus had already gone before and had everything ready. All that was left was to get the meal ready.

This is recorded for us in Mark 14:12-16 and Luke 22:7-13. It’s a little incident that is a parable, isn’t it? That man bearing the pitcher must have been a servant. Now what would the waterpot remind us about. Our minds would be taken back to when Jesus turned the water into wine. Is that what it would be for? Would this be the wine for the last supper? Maybe it had another purpose. When was water used at the last supper? Yes, for the washing of the disciple’s feet as an example of true servant leadership. A servant bearing a jar of water to the master of the house who would show them to the upper room where the true Master of the house would become a servant to cleanse his disciples.

The disciples before had asked Jesus, “Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?” (Mark 14:12). What they came to realize is that Jesus was the one who was preparing the Passover for them. He was going before them to prepare a place. Do you recognize those words?

“… I go to prepare a place for you.  (3)  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

That’s from John 14:2-3 the same night in which he was betrayed.

This morning, I want to talk to you about the relationship that Jesus had with his disciples. They had spent the greater part of three and half years together. It was not always easy. They had quarrels, jealousies, trials, and temptations. Jesus at times must have been quite exacerbated with them. But he had chosen them and for good reason. During his time on earth, they were his ecclesia. He was training and preparing them for greater things to come. Looking at this, I believe, will provide us with much needed exhortation for ourselves and our ecclesia.

Problems with the Disciples

Jesus really looked forward to the last supper. As it says in Luke 22:15, “with desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Yet he came to this meal with a heavy burden. He knew that soon he would suffer terribly and die. He knew that the man who would betray him was right there. And if that wasn’t enough, when a man relies on his friends to lift him up the disciples are rather quarrelling with themselves about who should be the greatest. Luke records this for us in 22:24,

“And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.”

Amazing, isn’t it? Right after the memorials Luke says they had an ego argument. When you work out the chronology of the last supper something even more surprising comes out about this. When did Jesus wash the feet of the disciples? The Gospel of John chapter 13 is unique in recorded that incident, yet John never mentions the institution of the bread and wine as memorials. Interesting, isn’t it? The only common thing they have among them is the sop given to Judas. In John, the washing of the feet happens before the giving of the sop and in Luke this strife happens after Judas is revealed as the betrayer. Put that together and this argument about who is the greatest is after Jesus washed their feet.

The word “strife” in Luke 22:24 is the Greek word “philoneikia” which literally means “a love of strife”, “fond of overcoming” or “an eagerness to contend”. Have you ever known somebody like that who just seemed to relish controversy? Maybe you’ve recognized it in yourself. It just seems impossible that with all Jesus showed them that they would resort to this at the last supper. This was a systemic problem though. It had a long history. Jesus would tell them about his crucifixion, and they would turn to this same old quarrel. Back in Luke 9:44-47 it says,

“Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.  (45)  But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying.  (46)  Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest.  (47)  And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him…”

They tried to hide these arguments from Jesus but that was useless. He could perceive the thought of their heart. How often could he do this? Did it bother him that their whole thinking was off? He just patiently took a child and gave an object lesson.

The same pattern happened at another time in Matt. 20:17-28. In verses 17-19 he takes them aside privately and explains to them that he will be killed. Right after that John and James, the sons of thunder, come and ask him to be the greatest in the kingdom sitting at his right and left hand. It’s interesting how Jesus handles this. He doesn’t discourage them. He questions their resolve but does not quash their aspirations. The reaction of the other disciples is recorded in verse 24,

“And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.”

Mark (10:41) says, “they began to be much displeased with James and John”. So, this might have been the incident that started the ongoing contention. Jesus follows with the same exact words (v. 25-28) that would be repeated at the last supper in Luke 22:25-27.

I suppose in some respects we can look back on the disciples with some pity for their attitude. Shaking our heads at such foolishness, but are we really any different? This is written for our instruction. As Jesus perceived their thoughts so he can perceive our thoughts. It’s so easy for us to fall into the same trap, the same way of thinking which if left to itself will fracture the foundation of the ecclesia.

Imagine what a trial and temptation it was for Jesus in dealing with this strife over the years. I think I would have flown off the handle and got angry at them. Yet he patiently and lovingly instructed them in meekness and humility. How did he do it? I suppose it’s all in how he viewed them. He didn’t expect them to be perfect. He saw his time with them as a training ground. A gift of an opportunity given to him by God.

The Choosing of the Apostles by Jesus

On that same night in which Jesus was betrayed he said a wonderful prayer in John 17 for the believers. There is a repeated phrase in there that I had missed before. It is said seven times. The best example is in verse 6,

“I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.”

That phrase “thou gavest me” or “hast given me” is used seven times. There’s a lot of giving in this prayer but six times it is Jesus’ thankfulness for God giving him the believers at that time and once for the future believers, us, in v. 24. This is truly how Jesus viewed the disciples and how he looks at us. Every one of us is a gift given to him by God. How does that change our perception if we think of each other that way? We are all here because God has called us. Jesus emphasizes this back in John 6:37 (also v. 39, 44-45, 65),

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

It is good to keep this firmly in our minds in our dealings with one another. We are all God’s servants. He has called each and every one of us based on our potentials. Based on special individual properties that he wants to develop in each one of us. That’s how Jesus looked on his disciples.

While Jesus recognized that they were all given by God, it is interesting that in John 6:70 he says, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Is that contradictory? How could they be God’s gift yet said to be of his choosing? (See also John 13:18; 15:19). When we read it again, carefully, it specifically says he choose the twelve. Therefore, everybody was given to him by God but out of those Jesus was the one to choose twelve that would be his closest. This decision as to who would be the twelve would be carefully thought out by Jesus, would it not? This is the very sense that is given in Luke 6:12-13,

“And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

When Jesus continued all night in prayer, what was he praying for? Verse 13 gives us the answer.

(13)  “And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples:1 and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;”

He was praying about who should be his chosen twelve. It was a decision that he spent much time on. What was the basis for his decision? Was he pouring over everybody’s resumes? Looking at their educational history. Considering the professional goals that they had achieved. It was nothing like a hiring process.

Jesus operated based on potential, not problems. We have a problem with somebody and that’s it. No more. Jesus had problems with his disciples yet saw a basis there for something better.

  • Here were James and John, who he called the sons of thunder, who thought to call fire down from heaven on the Samaritans.

  • Here was Peter who at one moment would attest to Jesus being the Son of the Living God and in the next moment be opposing Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to be crucified.

  • There was Thomas a perennial doubter.

  • There was Philip and Andrew who were such slow learners. Each with an ego vying against one another.

Problems? You bet. Yet there were greater qualities in these men that would turn out to be just what Jesus was looking for.

Jesus never wrote a book of the Bible. He never tried to amass a great number of followers. Instead, he invested great amounts of time in these men to eventually bear witness to him, to write down the words he gave them and to turn many to righteousness.

When their inabilities showed it became a teaching moment for Jesus. Consider how Jesus deals with Philip in John 6:5-6,

“When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?  (6)  And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.”

The word “prove” means to “test”. Sometimes Jesus would know their thoughts and at other times he would draw it out of them. Philip failed this test, but he would learn the lesson.

There was always this precarious position that while he tested and trained them, he might also lose them. The greater test in this chapter came in verse 66. Many were following him at this time for the wrong reasons. When he spoke the truth to them, many were offended and walked no more with him. But Jesus was never afraid to speak the truth. Jesus valued quality over quantity.

Jesus at this point seems almost not sure about the mind set of his apostles. Verse 67, “Jesus said to the twelve, will you also go away?” But Jesus knew whom he had chosen, and it comes shining through in the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Though hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” Yes, Peter spoke for all of them.

It wasn’t until after the resurrection that we see the qualities of these men come shining through. The personality, courage and conviction that Jesus had been grooming was now on full display. Maybe it was this that Jesus foresaw and why he chose these men and worked with them so patiently.

Lessons for Us

When we look back on this, I would think the exhortations would be abundant for all of us. Ecclesial life brings its difficulties. Different personalities can rub wrong against one another. We are not any different than the apostles.

  1. God has called us too. He sees in us a potential. Paul expresses this in 1 Cor. 1:26-27, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise”.

  2. We should think of one another as gifts from God. Every one of us being gifted to Christ by God. Of course, there are problems but think rather of the possibilities. Certainly, if we think this way it will change how we react to people when they disappoint us. Jesus thought this way and patiently worked with the apostles and so should we with one another.

  3. None of us are perfect and the things we go through together are putting us to the proof. They are proving us to see what is in our hearts (Deu. 8:2; 2 Chr. 32:31).

  4. God and Jesus are developing us for something greater to come, the kingdom of God. That’s where our true potential will be realized as it comes shining through to all. That is the place that Jesus is preparing for us.

Now we come to these memorials. When Jesus instituted it there was a love of strife among the disciples. That same word strife is only used in one other place, translated as contentious in 1 Cor. 11:16.

“But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”

With this, Paul fittingly goes into his discourse of the last supper and the strife that was among the Corinthian ecclesia. Nobody is immune to this problem even though we have the example of the Lord Jesus Christ right before us. Therefore, brothers and sisters, cleanse your minds and hearts of these things and partake of these emblems in unity of the love manifested to us by Jesus Christ.

1) Mark 3:13 indicates that he called his disciples up into the mountain and then chose the twelve out of them all.