A Serious Call

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 6:12-13

In these days he went out into the hills to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.

Luke 6:12-13 rsv

Have you ever wondered how Jesus went about choosing His disciples? As we read of several such encounters in the gospels, the process seems a bit haphazard. Jesus finds Simon and Andrew, for example, James and John at their fishing trade and invites them to come along with Him. He meets Matthew at his tax collector’s office and simply says, “Follow me.” He notices Nathanael under a fig tree. We get the sense that Jesus sees a likely candidate somewhere and right on the spot enlists him. We aren’t sure whether He knew these men before or whether they had learned anything previously about Him. On the surface, it looks as though Jesus wanders about from place to place gathering followers.

But that apparently is only part of the picture. Behind those encounters, related almost casually at times, is a background of depth. The twelve men who eventually became His disciples were apparently part of a larger circle that had shown interest in His ministry. These men had probably all heard Jesus preach and teach. They had sensed the authority in His words and had seen the power of His works. They were definitely impressed, though perhaps not yet personally committed to Him. Jesus had His eye on each of them and there came a time when He personally invited all to throw in their lot with Him.

Mark’s gospel stresses how the initiative was with Jesus. In Mark 3:13, we read, “He went up into the hills, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve.” Did you get that? He called the ones whom He had decided to invite, and He appointed them to their work. Luke helps us to see even more, to discern what lay behind this choice. Listen. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 6, beginning at verse 12: “In these days he [that is, Jesus] went out into the hills to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.” And then their various names follow.

HOW HE CHOSE THEM

How did Jesus go about choosing His disciples? The answer is plain. He began by prayer. We’re indebted to the gospel writer Luke for underlining this point. Matthew, Mark and John all tell us in their own distinctive ways how Jesus prayed. Mark shows how Jesus rose up a great while before day and went out into a solitary place and there prayed. Matthew and John record some of His prayers and what He taught His followers about how to pray. But Luke does all that they do and much more. In several of the events which each evangelist records, it’s only Luke who portrays for us in that situation Jesus at prayer. For example, all the gospel writers tell of Jesus’ baptism by John in the river Jordan. Only Luke relates that while that was happening, Jesus was praying. All tell of Simon Peter’s great confession of faith, but it’s Luke who lets us see that before that event, Jesus had been praying alone. Matthew also records the Lord’s Prayer, but it’s Luke who lets us know that Jesus had Himself been praying when His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Matthew and Luke tell of Jesus being transfigured on the Mount when the glory of God came shining through His countenance, but only Luke tells us that Jesus had gone up on that mountain to pray and that the moment of blinding revelation came while He was in the midst of prayer.

It’s not surprising then that Luke should also make known to us what was going on just before Jesus appointed the inner circle of His followers. He had been praying. More than that, He had gone out into the hills to pray, alone on a kind of retreat. On the eve of His call to the disciples, Jesus had prayed the whole night through!

We aren’t told what He prayed about, but the choice which lay before Him must have been at the heart of His concern. As the obedient Son, Jesus sought the wisdom of His Father in these vital decisions. He must have remembered a large number of potential disciples before the throne, seeking God’s direction for the composition of this new group. He must have thought about each man, pondering the potential of each, praying for the Spirit’s working in their hearts. Only when He had spread all of this before the Father was He ready to make His selection.

That practice seems to have made a powerful impression on His followers. When after Jesus’ death and resurrection they needed to find a successor for Judas, the betrayer, the believers also gave themselves to prayer. “Lord who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside” (Acts 1:25). Later in Antioch, when the young church stood on the verge of its greatest missionary expansion, the believers were worshiping the Lord and fasting when the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Then we read, “After fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (v. 3). In Asia Minor also, when elders were to be appointed in every church, it was done with prayer and fasting, waiting on God for His direction.

What choices are before you right now? Is it your vocational direction? Is it a contemplated marriage? A business venture? A decision about leadership? As the ancient proverb reminds us, we’re not to lean on our own understanding, not to depend on our savvy and expertise, or even on the opinions of celebrated experts. Those resources have their place, surely. But it’s a distinctly secondary role for believers. First comes a seeking after God, earnest prayer for His guidance. Remember Jesus on the night before He chose the twelve. He was the sinless Son of God, with a mind unclouded (not like ours) with the mists of error and prejudice. But as the Son, He would not make independent judgments. He sought in everything His Father’s will.

So when the consequences of a choice are momentous, don’t be in a hurry to make it. Give yourself time. Draw apart as much as you can from distractions. Jesus prized the Father’s direction more than meat and drink – more even at times than sleep.

THEIR MISSION

To what did Jesus call these men? What was to be their assignment? Mark puts it this way: “that they should be with him.” That was the heart of it. They were to be Jesus’ companions on the way. Their personal relationship to Him was fundamental. It was not primarily, “go and do this or that,” but “come along with me.”

He still calls people that way. Becoming a Christian is not in essence affirming a creed or adopting a lifestyle. It is both of those things, of course. But it begins as commitment to a living person, trust in, allegiance to, the now crucified and risen Jesus. He calls us first of all to belong to Him and to walk with Him throughout our lives.

They were to preach the good news of the kingdom, we learn. They were to heal the sick, to cast out demons. In the person of Jesus, God was drawing near to save and to reign. In their ministry they were to be pointers to the inbreaking of that heavenly kingdom.

All this, of course, would be accomplished not by their natural gifts or force of personality, but by the power of Jesus. His word to them would be, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). In other words, He would create their ministry. He would make of them what in themselves they could never be. He would work through them in sovereign power and grace.

All of that is being expressed in these words of Luke, “And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.” The Aramaic term which Jesus probably used here translated “apostles” describes those who are sent with a definite charge, those clothed with authority. As the apostles speak, preach, heal and exorcise, they will speak and act in the name and on the authority of the one who has sent them. They will be His representatives, His kingdom agents, His ambassadors.

Can we see now why this for Jesus was such a crucial choice? His all-night vigil underlines the solemnity, the urgency of it. And when we understand the mission to which He was calling them, we almost tremble at how much depended on it. These disciples would be the extension of Jesus’ ministry into the next generation and beyond. In a few short months, He would die for the sins of the world and rise again. He would ascend to the throne of the universe and send forth His Spirit upon these followers, and they would be His authoritatively commissioned messengers. What if they failed? What if they deserted Jesus and went back to their old haunts and their former ways. Or what if they took matters into their own hands, altering Jesus’ message, forsaking His kingdom for an empire of their own? How then would the good news of His salvation reach the world and the loving purpose of His heart be fulfilled? From our human point of view, at least, everything depended on the fidelity of this little band of men. Jesus, Jesus, how much is riding on Your choice?

One of the disciples chosen, remember, was Judas Iscariot, a promising young man from Kerioth, probably the only Judean in the company. He would become the treasurer of the group and later the betrayer of the One he called Master and Friend. In that all-night prayer vigil of his, I wonder how much Judas was in Jesus’ thoughts, how much struggle there was over this particular choice. Much about that is cloaked in mystery. But it surely added to the weightiness of what Jesus was about to do.

OUR CALLING TODAY

The Lord today is still choosing and sending. The issue is still fraught with tremendous significance. We have no apostles in the world today, in the strictest sense. But there is an apostolic succession, in every generation counterparts of the original apostles, those entrusted with a similar work, those anointed by the same Spirit. There’s a sense in which every believer in Jesus Christ is sent on a gospel mission.

That came home to me powerfully a few weeks ago when I was preaching in the Soviet Republic of Georgia. I spoke on Romans 1:5. Paul says there, “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations for the sake of his name.” I spoke of how the “we” represents a wider circle than that of the original disciples. I spoke of how we who have received grace in Jesus Christ have also received a sending and an apostleship.

The next evening at the same church, a young woman of Turkish background came to see me. She had a secret to share, she said, that she had never told anyone before. Her name was Zaida. She had come to Christ about two years before out of a Muslim background. A year later she had been in church one day when the pastor spoke about Moses and how he had met God and received a divine mission. Zaida told me that at that moment she had been given a vision. It seemed that God was saying to her that she too had a mission to her people. She had never told anyone about that. Perhaps it was because she was a woman in a male-dominated culture. Perhaps she feared that her vision would not be accepted as authentic and God-given. But when I had preached the night before about all Christians being given an apostolate, a mission, new hope had leaped up in her heart. “What did I think about that vision?” she asked me through a Russian interpreter friend. We talked about that. Her heart was encouraged. Imagine it – she and her brother want to go now as missionaries to their people, the Muslims.

The Lord is still calling and sending, and, oh, what a difference it makes. It’s because of people like Peter and Paul and yes, Zaida and others, that the gospel of the Lord is reaching out to the whole world.

I once read a book by William Law called A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. That’s what the call of Jesus is for you and me. It’s serious, all right. It is to a devout and holy life. And it’s also to make disciples among all the nations. God help us to answer that call, to say: Here I am, Lord. Send me!

Prayer: Lord, we remember Your momentous choice and how You prayed all the night through. Help us before the big decisions of our lives and the small ones to seek Your face. And when You call us, Lord, may we with all our hearts say yes. In the name of Jesus. Amen.