Sermon preached on Luke 6:12-16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 09/26/2021 in Novato, CA.
Today’s passage is a short and sweet passage the is nonetheless full of rich significance for the foundation and establishing the church under the new covenant. What Jesus does here has ramifications for what we find later in the book of Acts after Jesus ascended up into heaven in the formation of the early Christian church. Yet even before that, we see Jesus training and preparing these twelve for the gospel proclamation that he would be having them to do. And still today, their apostolic ministry has ongoing significance for us today, as we will discuss.
Let us begin in our first point for today by looking at Jesus’ all-night prayer. That’s how our passage begins. He goes up to a mountain, finds some solitude, and prays through the night. That’s verse 12, “an all night he continued in prayer to God.” This word for “all night” in verse 12, is just one word in the Greek. It is the only place this Greek word appears in the Bible. The word is extraordinary. Praying through the night is extraordinary – even for Jesus.
Of course, surely the context tells us why Jesus spent the night with his heavenly father in prayer. Surely it was in light of what he was going to do the next day. He was choosing his special twelve disciples, also known as, apostles. Probably closely related to this is the famous sermon that he will then go on to preach right after me makes that selection. Luke records what is sometimes called the Sermon of the Plain but is likely an abbreviated version of the same Sermon on the Mount that Matthew records in Matthew 5-7. As we’ll see more next time, Luke connects the choosing of the twelve with this special sermon. The point is that Jesus had a really big day ahead of him. But beyond the special and memorable sermon, today I want us to especially appreciate how his all-night prayer was in the context of selecting these disciples.
In other words, before he made the big decision of which twelve to pick, he prays. He prays a lot. I’d imagine he prayed about who to choose. That was probably a lot of what he prayed for. But when you have all night to pray, you can cover a lot of ground. So, I would imagine after a concentrated time of praying for whom to pick, he then probably made he decision on whom he was going to pick. And then he probably prayed for each of them. Surely, Jesus prayed over each person whom he would select to be among the twelve.
Let us take some application in this first point. Jesus shows us the grace of prayer. And he shows us that especially before a big decision, it is proper and good to spend some concentrated time in prayer. This was literally one of the most important decisions Jesus made during his earthly ministry. In a certain sense, it was one of the most far-reaching decisions. And so, he prayed long and fervently all through the night before making this decision. Let us take application here. Do we pray like this before big decisions or before big days that are ahead of us? How many of us might go a lifetime without ever praying like this – but Jesus shows us a beautiful picture of prayer. You know, it is in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches his disciples on the topic of how to pray. We see in Matthew 6:7 that the effectiveness of our prayers is not tied to the number of words we utter. He says that in critique of the pagans who would fill their praises with empty phrases or vain repetitions. Yet, while that is absolutely true, and Jesus even gives them a rather short prayer as a model of how to pray – I speak of the Lord’s Prayer, he nonetheless also models the commendableness of long, extended prayer. Especially before a big decision or a big day. Let us take application here, even as we see these apostles following Jesus’ example later in Acts 1. After Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, the remaining eleven apostles believe they need to replace Judas. And so, before they make a decision, we see there in Acts that they had been in a time of concentrated and devoted prayer, and it even mentions how they specifically prayed for God to show them whom they should choose to replace Judas. Let us also follow this commendable example of prayer.
Let us now turn in our second point for today to consider the actual choosing of the twelve by Jesus. Note first that language of choice. Jesus chose them; he elected them. Other Scriptures use the same language, like in John 6:70, when a bunch of other disciples abandon Jesus when they don’t agree with his teaching, he turns and asks the twelve if they are going to leave too. They commendably respond to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That might make it sound like they chose Jesus. But then Jesus in the very next verse points out that actually it was Jesus who chose them. As a side note, I love how Jesus’ choosing the twelve disciples is a beautiful picture of the bigger truth of divine election. We might sometimes think of ourselves choosing God, but really and ultimately we are saved because God chose us.
But notice that Jesus didn’t just choose these twelve, he chose them out of many other options. That’s what verse 13 shows us. He called his many disciples together. Out of this larger group of disciples, he specifically sets apart these twelve to be his inner circle and ultimately his special apostles. We might tend to forget that Jesus had a number of disciples that were following along with him and learning from him, not just these twelve. We are reminded of that fact in Acts 1 when they go to pick a replacement apostle for Judas Iscariot, that they mention there was a number of disciples beyond the twelve who gone around with Jesus the entire time from his baptism to his ascension. This is what we see in today’s passage. I imagine a situation like tryouts for a sports team where you get all the athletes together and then call out the names of the people selected for the team. But where that analogy fails is that is the best athletes that are given a spot on the team. Yet, here, we are not told that Jesus chose these twelve because they were somehow superior than the other disciples.
We should not miss that he chose twelve, and not some other number. This number was so important, that we already mentioned they felt the need to replace the fallen Judas Iscariot to get back to the number twelve. While we are never explicitly told why, we are surely right to make the connection with the twelve tribes of Israel. By picking the symbolic number of twelve, it surely implies God’s plan to redeem the remnant of Israel in the Messiah. God would be gathering up his scattered fallen people under his Messiah, King Jesus. God would be reconstituting Israel – the renewed Israel, the true Israel – under the new covenant which Jesus had come to inaugurate by his shed blood.
So then, Jesus names these twelve apostles. That’s what the end of verse 13 notes. This is another unique contribution by Luke among the synoptic gospels. It helps clarify a few related things. You see, while the twelve disciples are special disciples, Jesus did have many disciples. But he only had twelve apostles, at least in the special sense meant here. You see, a disciple is a student, a pupil, someone who learns from a teacher. And yes, these twelve will have an opportunity to learn in ways better than most of Jesus’ disciples. We’ll see that Jesus takes extra time to explain in private all the parables that he gives the crowds of disciples. But, these twelve are not just super-disciples. He names them apostles. And an apostle is one who is commissioned and sent as an authorized messenger of someone. For these to be apostles would mean that he would be committing to them his message that they were supposed to represent and deliver to others on his behalf. As such, an apostle is one with authority – not their own authority, but they carry with them the authority of the person they represent. It’s almost like when you give someone power of attorney, they have the authority to make legally binding decisions for you, as if you yourself had made that decision. That’s why you don’t give power of attorney to just anyone. So too, Jesus is bestowing on them quite a position to so name them his apostles.
It is at this point that I want you to understand that the office of apostle was special and extraordinary in the history of the church. This can be something that can be misunderstood because there are a few occasions where the New Testament uses the term apostle in a more generic sense, something more along the lines of as a missionary. But in this special and unique office of apostle, there is just the twelve, plus later Paul as one untimely born to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Again, we can think of the imagery there – twelve initial apostles who are sent to the tribes of Israel with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, an additional apostle sent with the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. This is why in the book of Acts they don’t replace any of the twelve after they start dying. At the real start of their apostolic service after Jesus ascends, they know they need to have twelve. But if the office of apostle was not extraordinary, but a regular ongoing office, then you would expect to see them replace them when one of them died. But yet, in Acts 12 we see the Apostle James die, but there is no replacement.
This is because these official apostles that Jesus named had a special foundational ministry. Ephesians 2:20 speaks of how the church of Jesus Christ is founded upon the prophets and the apostles with Jesus himself as the cornerstone. The prophets foretold until John the Baptist the coming of Jesus. Then the apostles bore witness to the fact that Jesus had come. They were eye-witnesses of his teaching ministry, of his death on the cross, of his resurrection, and of his ascension. They then were commissioned and sent into the world with the gospel of salvation in order to baptize converts to Christ in establishing the church under the new covenant. There work was foundational. It got things started and established. But then they passed on the ministry to the church, and with regard to leadership, they entrusted the regular, ordinary leadership to ministers, elders, and deacons.
Due to the extraordinary nature of the position of apostle, we see that God especially endowed them with supernatural giftings. While on the one hand, we see the early church had a lot of supernatural things going on to testify to the apostle’s message of Christ, these were most manifested through the apostles. Acts 2:43 is one of several passages that emphasizes that the wonders and signs were done especially through the apostles. We see accounts of them doing things like healings and resurrections much in the same fashion as we had seen Jesus do them. That makes sense that they would do these wonders that Jesus had done, because of their special commission as apostles coming in the authority of Jesus. Or another similar example, is that when the Samaritans first begin to believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them, so the apostles go to them and lay hands on them, and then the Spirit falls upon the Samaritans in power. That in itself was a demonstration of the foundational nature of the apostles – that the initial laying on of their hands on new people groups is seen to coincide with visible supernatural phenomenon. But such is not an ordinary accompaniment with the Holy Spirit coming into someone’s heart.
As I explain the foundational character of these twelve apostles, I hope you again see why it was an important decision by Jesus. I hope you again see why Jesus was right to pray so fervently ahead of it. But I hope you also can make the application that there aren’t any more apostles on earth today. There are some in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement that say otherwise. Some of these groups will have leaders that they name or title “Apostle”. Now, if they just meant it in the more generic sense like a missionary, then that would be one thing. But typically they use it to mean apostle like the office that the twelve held. But that is not a biblical thing to do. The role of these twelve were special and wonderful but they’ve done their ministry and that office has ceased to exist in the church.
In our last point for today, for instruction purposes, I wanted to make some miscellaneous observations about the actual list of twelve people here in verses 14-16. This list is one of four that we have in the New Testament where their names are spelled out. In all the lists, Peter is always mentioned first, showing his evident leadership quality among the twelve. In all the lists, Judas Iscariot is always listed lasted, showing his infamy among the twelve as a traitor. Also in all the lists, Peter, Andrew, James, and John are always in the top four, in one order or another, showing how they were sort of the inner circle among the twelve. In fact, we see Jesus sometimes getting away with just them.
I’ll mention some other observations. He renames Simon to Peter which means rock, and that speaks to how Christ would build his church upon the apostolic witness of Peter and the rest of the apostles. It is also not uncommon for God to give someone a new name to somehow reflect God’s special calling and plans for their life.
If you are comparing this list of the twelve with the other gospel accounts, you will note that some of these disciples go by other names too. Bartholomew here is presumably the Nathaniel mentioned in John’s gospel. Matthew, we know is also known as Levi. James son of Alphaeus is also known as James the Younger. Judas son of James is also known as Thaddaeus. I mention this primarily for informational purposes.
We also note that there was another Simon who was called the Zealot, verse 15. The Zealots were another group among the Jews, such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but they were less religious in emphasis, but rather were radical revolutionaries who desired to overthrow by force the Roman control of the Jews. Yet, while the Zealots and Jesus were both interested in a glorious kingdom for God’s people, they had very different ideas of what that kingdom was and how it would be brought about. Jesus made it very clear that his kingdom was not of this world and that is why his disciples don’t take up physical weapons to try to usher it in. So then for this Simon the Zealot to be one of Jesus’ twelve apostles surely implies that Simon left that life as a Zealot behind him. Like how Peter, James, John, and Andrew left behind their fishing, and Matthew left behind his tax collecting, so too with Simon he was leaving behind his former ways of being a Zealot. Jesus will instead be teaching him a better way. And Simon the Zealot would in that way be about ushering in the genuine kingdom of God on behalf of Christ Jesus.
Lastly, I’ll note from this list the final name of Judas Iscariot. I would mention that people didn’t tend to have last names then and there, though they did sometimes have descriptors added to help identify like, like Jesus of Nazareth. A common assumption then is that the reference of Iscariot is to say that this Judas was from a town in Judea called Carioth. Though, another possibility is that the word Iscariot derives itself from an Aramaic word that means falsehood or liar. If that were the case, it would mean it was a title given to him after his betrayal. But while the meaning of Iscariot is uncertain, the rest of verse 16 is not. It says of Judas Iscariot, that he was the one who became a traitor. Jesus knew that it had been prophesied that one close to the Christ would betray him. Surely, that knowledge was also brought into of Jesus’ long night of prayer. It is a shame from Judas’ standpoint to think of how he could have been so wonderfully used as an apostle in Christ’s church. It does give us the warning to be careful if you think you stand, lest you fall – for someone like this to fall, someone so close to Jesus for such a concentrated period of time and having seen all his miracles and so much more.
But this reference at the end of today’s passage to Judas’ betrayal also is a fitting ending to our message, because it reminds us of cross of Jesus Christ. Picking one who would ultimately betray him, would be all part of God’s plan to bring Jesus to the sacrifice and atonement on the cross. There Jesus paid for the sins of God’s elect, so that he could send the rest of the apostles to declare the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ, that whoever would believe on him, would not perish in hell, but have eternal life.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, we’ve seen today the important calling of the twelve apostles which served in such a wonderful foundational role for the church of Jesus Christ. We’ve said their office was special and extraordinary and doesn’t continue anymore. The office of the apostle served its purpose and has expired. Yet, you might remember that in the Nicene Creed part of what we confess is that the church is apostolic. This not only speaks to how the church is founded upon the apostles’ witness and testimony. It also says that the church continues on their mission. No, not in the extraordinary ways that they did with such signs and wonders. But we indeed carry on that apostolic witness to Christ Jesus. We today proclaim the gospel of our risen Lord Jesus. We baptize converts into his name and disciple them with the Word of God. The apostles have died and gone to be with the Lord, but they have endowed the church with the Great Commission that Jesus gave them. The church then is apostolic today in that sense of we the church have become authorized and commissioned and sent by Jesus into the world to bring his gospel message to the ends of the earth. Let us be about that sacred trust!
So then, as sure as Jesus equipped the original twelve, he continues to equip us today. Jesus prayed for the twelve, and he prays for us. Jesus taught the twelve, and he teaches us. Jesus gave his Spirit to the twelve, and he has given his Spirit to us. Let us go out with a boldness in Christ Jesus knowing that he is with us always, even until the end of the age.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.