So there you are, sitting in your little part of the world and you’re depressed. Things are just not happening for you and life looks like it’s going nowhere. You ask yourself, “What am I really doing with my life?” but the answer doesn’t come. Everyone else seems to be so involved at church or at school- except you. Each week you see people doing great things that you could never do! In fact, everyone seems to have more talent, more skill and more ability than you. You ask, “What could God do with a life like mine?”
Well, to answer that question, it might help to think about the kind of person that God is looking for. You know, it might surprise you to learn that God doesn’t always choose the most skillful or accomplished people to achieve His purposes. In fact, it is often just the opposite.
For example, have you ever given any thought to the type of people that Jesus chose to be His followers? You might think that Jesus would only choose the best and the brightest to be His disciples, right? Well, you might be surprised at the types of people He actually did choose. Take a look…
Whenever the twelve disciples are listed you’ll always find Peter listed first. Peter seems to be the one guy among the disciples who was always ready for action. For example, it was Peter who drew a sword to protect Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and ended up cutting off a guy’s ear (John 18:10). Peter was also the guy who walked on water with Jesus (Matthew 14:28). In fact, it was Jesus Himself who gave him the name “Peter” which means “rock” in Greek (Matthew 16:18).
For all his successes, Peter did hit some bumps in his relationship with Jesus. For example, Jesus once publicly reprimanded Peter in front of all the disciples when Peter tried to talk Him out of going to the cross (Matthew 16:23). And of course, it was Peter who denied Jesus three times just before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:34).
Despite this, Peter recovered to become a very important person in the early church through preaching, healing, and setting the example for the early Christians. He is thought to have written the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Peter from Rome where tradition says he was put to death for being a Christian around A.D. 67.
Andrew was Peter’s brother and worked as a fisherman. In fact, Andrew and Peter had a house together in the town of Capernaum (Mark 1:29). Andrew had earlier been a follower of John the Baptist and originally met Jesus through John (John 1:40). Andrew doesn’t get to see much action in the Bible- just a few lines scattered through the Gospels. Tradition holds that Andrew was put to death by crucifixion on an “X” shaped cross in Greece.
James must have been something of an explosive, reckless guy. On one occasion James wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy a village that had rejected Jesus (Luke 9:54). Maybe that’s why Jesus nicknamed James and his brother John, the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). James was put to death sometime between AD 42-44 by King Herod Agrippa I. Of all the apostles, James’ death is the only one that is mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 12:2).
Next up is James’ brother John who also happened to be a fisherman. John was probably James’ younger brother, for whenever the brothers are listed together, James is always listed first and John second. John (along with James) once had their mother ask Jesus if they could sit at His right and left when He entered into His kingdom (Matthew 20:21). This request apparently wasn’t appreciated very much by the other disciples (Matthew 20:24).
Late in his life, John was banished to Patmos, a 10 mile (20 km) long, 6 mile (10 km) wide island off the coast of modern Turkey. Tradition says that John was in exile for 18 months and is believed to have died sometime around A.D. 100.
Philip (whose name means “lover of horses”) was a native of the town of Bethsaida in Galilee (John 1:44). According to the Gospel of John, Philip first met Jesus in Galilee the day after Andrew and Peter were first introduced to Him (John 1:43). Philip is mentioned a few more times -mostly in Gospel of John- but not much else is known about him. Tradition tells us that Philip preached and later died in what is now known as the modern-day country of Turkey.
According to church tradition, Bartholomew was a missionary to various countries including India. He is also said to have teamed up with Philip and Thomas to preach the gospel. According to another tradition, Bartholomew was eventually put to death by being crucified upside down.
Thomas is also called “Didymus,” the Greek word for “twin” (John 11:16). Thomas is probably best remembered for his reluctance to believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead (John 20:25-25). Because of this he has earned the nickname “doubting Thomas.” Thomas appears three times in the Gospel of John and except for the listing of the disciples, he does not appear in the other three gospels.
According to church tradition, Thomas spread the gospel in Parthia and Persia (modern day Iran) where he later died. Another tradition places Thomas in India where he was killed for his faith.
Matthew (who was probably also known as Levi -see Luke 5:27-32) was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9-11) working in the Capernaum area under the authority of the Roman government. As a tax collector working for the government, Matthew would have regularly charged people at a higher tax rate than was actually required. He would then turn the correct amount over to the government and keep the rest for himself as his profit.
Because of this, the people really disliked the tax collectors and considered them to be on the same level as prostitutes and sinners (see Matthew 9:10 and 21:28-31). As such, Matthew was probably not the most popular choice to be a disciple. Outside the lists of disciples, Matthew is not heard from in the New Testament.
This would be James, the son of Alphaeus also known as James the Less. This James is always listed in the eight or ninth position among the lists of disciples. It is thought that this James was the writer of the New Testament book that bears his name. Very little personal information is known about him.
Thaddeus is also called Lebbaeus and Judas. According to a church tradition, this man is the same person as “Judas the son of James” (Luke 6:16). He is always clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot in the New Testament but virtually nothing else is known about this apostle.
Simon Zelotes (“Simon The Zealot”)
Now here is an interesting guy. Simon the Zealot was the name given to this man probably to distinguish him from Simon Peter. Simon was likely given this name because he had been a member of a Jewish political party known as The Zealots.
The Zealots were an extremist group that relentlessly opposed the Roman occupation of Israel during the first century A.D. Because this group called for the overthrow of the Roman government, Simon could hardly be considered as a politically “safe” choice to be a disciple. The Doctor also wonders how well Simon got along with Matthew, his fellow disciple who had previously worked for the same Roman government that the Zealots were trying to overthrow.
Rounding out the disciples is Judas Iscariot. Judas, of course, was the disciple who betrayed Jesus (Mark 14:10). Judas’ name always appears last in the lists of the twelve disciples. Although Judas was trusted enough to serve as the treasurer for the disciples, Judas was not a moral individual. He was actually a thief who used to dip into the group’s money for his own personal use (John 12:6). Overcome by his guilt in betraying Jesus, Judas committed suicide by hanging himself (Matthew 27:3-5).
So now that you’ve met the disciples and learned a little bit about them, what do you think? Would these really be the kind of men that you would choose as your followers if you were planning to change the world?
Think about it: among the disciples you have four fishermen, a tax collector, a skeptic, a political extremist, and four nobodies. Yet these were the men that Acts 17:6 says “turned the world upside down.” How did they do it? Well, the answer is found in Acts 4:13…
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (NIV).
You see, it was not what these men could do for Jesus- it was what Jesus could do through them! And the same holds true for you today. Jesus didn’t necessarily choose the smartest or the richest or the best looking or the most popular or the most talented people. He chose ordinary people and then did extraordinary things in their lives. And he’s willing to do the same for you today if you allow Him to!
Remember, the key to doing great things for God is not always ability but availability.