Chosen to Serve
When last we saw Jesus he was tussling with the scribes and Pharisees over his activities on the Sabbath. Just after he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, Luke says of the scribes and Pharisees that “they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (6:11). Against that backdrop Luke tells us of Jesus’ choosing of his twelve apostles. So the calling came against a backdrop of ministry and conflict. Jesus’ obedient carrying out of his ministry was going to lead to his death. When Jesus was physically no longer on the scene his ministry was going to have to be continued. Thus he called people to lead in that ministry.
Before making his choices Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God” (v. 12). On the next morning he called the apostles. Over and over Luke emphasizes the importance of prayer in the life of Jesus. When something important was going on in his life and ministry he would withdraw to pray and he would take his time about it.
Is there a lesson in this for us? We talk a lot about Paul’s admonition that we should pray without ceasing; I myself have talked about it a good deal. It’s a good admonition; we need to live a lifestyle wherein the very living of our lives is a prayer. That’s important because often when the crises and problems of life pounce they pounce suddenly and there’s no time to take time out and pray before you react.
Still, there will be those times when a big decision needs to be made and we have the grace of a little time before it has to be finalized. In such a case we need to take the time seriously and intentionally to seek God’s guidance. I need to do that sometimes in my individual life. Sometimes the entire church needs to take time out to pray, particularly when we are trying to make an important decision about the ministry of the church. For example, let’s say that we had a proposal before us about a new ministry approach to help us reach our community for Christ. It would be appropriate to have a concerted church-wide time of prayer about that, perhaps for a period of as long as forty days. The thing is that the lives we live belong to God; the ministry we are carrying out belongs to God; we need to ask for God’s guidance and for his equipping to live and to minister.
After praying all night, Jesus gathered his disciples together. Out of that larger group he chose the apostles. Is the differentiation between disciples and apostles an important one? It certainly was in the context of this text and of the larger NT narrative. All of Jesus’ followers were “disciples.” A disciple is literally a “learner.” The twelve apostles were clearly called to be Jesus’ inner circle; their significance is not lessened by the fact that the NT tells us almost nothing about most of them. The apostles will be the leaders of the church in Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts (the full title is “The Acts of the Apostles”). So they are important functionally. They will be the primary representatives of those who walked and talked with Jesus and can thus bear witness to his life, death, and resurrection; they will also be able to carry out some of the same kinds of healing works that Jesus did. They are important functionally as the primary bridge between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the church.
They are also important symbolically. There was apparently a connection between the facts that there were twelve apostles and twelve tribes of Israel. The implication would be that the apostles represented the fact that the followers of Jesus constituted the true Israel. The number twelve was so important that after the ascension of Jesus one of the apostles’ first orders of business was to choose, under God’s direction, a twelfth apostle. This they did as described in Acts 1:15ff and the description of those events includes the fact that the apostles prayed and sought God’s guidance.
So there was in the original sense of the words a differentiation made between all followers of Christ, the “disciples”, and those twelve who were called out to a specific leadership responsibility, the “apostles.” I don’t know if there are any genuine “apostles” now; I know that some ministers put that title in front of their names and I know that some traditions certainly take seriously their belief that their leaders are the direct spiritual descendants of the Twelve Apostles. Some of us are certainly called to leadership roles. On the other hand, we all have access to the apostolic teachings in our Bibles. Still, if you look at the meaning of the word you’ll find a truth about all of us. An apostle is literally “one who is sent.” We can flesh that out a little by saying that an apostle is “one who is sent with the authority of the one who does the sending.” We might think of an ambassador from our nation to another nation as a kind of example; she is sent to that country with the authority to represent and to speak for our government that sent her. Aren’t all Christians “sent ones”? Aren’t we all sent by God to do the work of Christ? Don’t we all have his authority to speak of him to others? I believe that in this sense we are all apostles.
Let me add one last thing. What are we sent to do? Israel was sent by God to be a light to the nations. The Twelve Apostles were sent by God to take the good news of Jesus to people through preaching and ministry. In both cases the basic calling was to serve. That is our basic calling, too. We are sent to serve. We are to serve by touching and helping and telling and loving in every way we can. And we have the power to do it because we have the authority of the one who sent us.