Anybody who is a sports fan knows the importance of assembling a good team. Whether it is baseball, bowling, golf, basketball or football, the players who make up the team will determine the success of the team. Businesses also know their success is tied to the team that they assemble. There must be the right people in every position: from those who make management decisions to those who are on the front line meeting with customers.
Assembling the right team is not as easy as it sounds. There are personalities that need to mesh together, there are a variety of skills that need to be represented, and egos must give way to the bigger picture. You need the right people in the right places. If you don’t have the right people in the right place you can have a bunch of talented players who can’t win. In other words, you have the Cubs.
This morning we read about the team that Jesus assembled. These are the men who would carry His message to the rest of the world. It was a huge job and just the right people were needed. We can learn some helpful lessons for our own lives from this straight-forward account.
It was a Prayer-Filled Choice
12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:
Some have suggested that Jesus may have been halfway through his ministry before the twelve were selected. Jesus had a chance to get to know all of these people. The size of His ministry had reached the point where help was needed. The cross was looming in the distance. The men he chose needed to be able to take His message into the rest of the world. There was no second string, no plan “B”. Such a monumental decision required devoted prayer.
Luke has already established that Jesus had a life of prayer. Jesus spent the entire night praying to the Father. I wonder how much of the night was spent on this issue. Was Jesus asking God to show Him who should be selected as His disciples? If so, wouldn’t it have been nice to know how He reached his conclusions? Was it a voice from Heaven giving Him the names? Did He present the pros and cons of the candidates and then narrow down the list? Did He spend part of the night praying for the men and the challenges they would face externally and internally?
If you are like me the idea of spending the night in prayer sounds good but I’m pretty sure I would be asleep within the first half hour just like the disciples who were in the Garden with Jesus. The only way we seem to be able to pray for an extended period of time is if we have a list or some kind of formula. What do you talk to God about for a whole night?
Contrast this with what happens when you get together with an old friend or family member. In this case you can sit up all night talking! Time flies by. Why? It is because of the intimacy in the relationship.
Jesus knew what it was like to have intimacy with the Father. He shared all of life with Him. To Jesus, prayer was not a formal interview with a distant being; it was a conversation with someone He loved and trusted. Jesus didn’t just decide one day to spend a night in prayer over a big decision. This relationship had been nurtured during the course of His life. Prayer for Jesus was the most natural and reasonable thing in the world.
We are awkward at prayer because we have never developed our relationship with God. We have a tendency to make decisions and then come to the Lord and ask Him to bless the decisions we have made. Jesus sought the Lord FIRST.
Some might argue that Jesus failed because He picked Judas who betrayed Him. Jesus was praying for those men who would achieve the Father’s will. I suspect that when Jesus picked these twelve men he had no idea that there would be one who would betray him. Over the course of time he came to fully understand God’s plan and soon figured out which of the disciples was the “weak link”.
There was a crowd of people that followed Jesus. At one time Jesus actually sent out 70 of his followers. It was from this group that Jesus chose 12. There were 12 tribes of Israel and Jesus was in essence creating a new Israel. A good leader understands that though they can minister to many, they can only truly mentor a few.
Let’s look at the starting lineup of team Jesus:
Simon/Peter When Jesus called Simon he told him that he was giving him a new name: “The Rock”. This is odd because as we will see, Peter was an impulsive man, prone to extremes. He declared his undying allegiance one moment and denied the Lord the next. Peter became a leader in the early church, wrote two New Testament books and most likely was the source behind the gospel of Mark. Peter was also the first to bring the gospel to the Gentiles in the home of Cornelius. Records state Peter was crucified. One of the early church fathers, Clement, said that before Peter was crucified he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Peter called to her by name, saying, “Remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And thus he was nailed to a cross head-downward.
Andrew was Peter’s brother. He began as a disciple of John the Baptist. John encouraged Andrew to follow Jesus, because He was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The first thing Andrew did was introduce his brother to Jesus.
Tradition says Andrew took the gospel north. (That’s why Andrew is the patron saint of Russia and Scotland.) One account says he led the wife of a Roman governor to Christ, and this infuriated her husband. So the governor had Andrew crucified. By the governor’s orders, those who crucified him lashed him to his cross instead of nailing him, in order to prolong his sufferings. By most accounts, he hung on the cross for two days, exhorting passersby to turn to Christ for salvation.
James along with his brother John was a fisherman. They were called the “Sons of Thunder” probably because of their nature. Later we will read about a time when they asked Jesus if they should call down fire from Heaven to destroy the people of Samaria. In the book of Acts we are told James was the early spokesman in the church and became the first of the apostles to be martyred and the first to join Jesus in Heaven. His brother John was most likely the last of the apostles to arrive in Heaven.
John may have started fiery but he became known as the Apostle of love. He lived his life conscious of God’s grace. He referred to himself in his gospel as the “one whom Jesus loved”. This was not arrogance, it was humility. He wrote the Gospel of John, the letters of 1,2, 3 John and also the book of Revelation which he wrote on the island of Patmos where he had most likely been banished because of his faith.
Philip met Jesus and immediately went to tell Nathaniel. Tradition tells us that Philip was greatly used in the spread of the early church. By most accounts he was put to death by stoning.
Bartholomew or Nathaniel were the same people. Nathaniel is known for his statement, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” when he was told about Jesus. Jesus had positive things to say about Nathaniel. When he first met him he said, “here is a man in whom there is nothing false.” (Jn.1:47) Early church records suggest that he ministered in Persia and India and took the gospel as far as Armenia. One tradition says he was tied up in a sack and cast into the sea. Another says he was crucified.
Matthew or Levi was a tax-collector and we talked a great deal about him last week. There is no reliable record of how he was put to death, but the earliest traditions indicate he was burned at the stake.” 
Thomas is known for his doubt. He seemed to be the kind of person who could see clouds on a clear day. Tradition says Thomas took the gospel as far as India and was executed by being run through with a spear.
James the son of Alphaeus was also called James the less possibly because he was younger or shorter than James the son of Zebedee (it was like calling him “little James”). There is some evidence that he took the gospel to Syria and Persia. Some say he was stoned; others say he was beaten to death; still others say he was crucified like his Lord.”
Simon who is called the Zealot was most likely a political antagonist. He worked against Roman occupation and hated anything that was associated with Rome. “Several early sources say that after the destruction of Jerusalem, Simon took the gospel north and preached in the British Isles. There is no reliable record of what happened to him, but all accounts say he was killed for preaching the gospel
Judas the son of James is sometimes referred to as Thaddeus. He appears to have been a disciple with a tender heart. Most traditions suggest that a few years after Pentecost, he took the gospel north, in the region of Turkey. The traditional apostolic symbol of Judas is a club, because tradition says he was clubbed to death for his faith.”
Judas Iscariot was the Traitor. He was made group Treasurer. We are told that he also used to help himself to the funds. Judas is an enigma. We can’t help but wonder how someone could spend three years hearing, witnessing and doing the things that Jesus did and still betray the Master. Judas committed suicide. Judas serves as a reminder that we can walk close to Christ; seem to be involved in the ministry; yet still be lost.
The gospel of Mark adds these words, “He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” [Mark 3:14-15]
Notice the job description: their first task was to be with Jesus. For the next 18-24 months these guys were to learn by listening, watching, and asking questions. They had much to overcome. They lacked spiritual insight, they sometimes battled the sense of competition and pride, they often lacked faith. The process was not easy but over the course of time Jesus they learned from Jesus and became a team.
After the Chicago Bears signed Quarterback Jay Cutler, their tight end, Greg Olson started “hanging out” with the new Quarterback. They did all kinds of things together. Why? Because Olson knew that the better acquainted he was with the Quarterback, the better he would be as a receiver.
It is the same in following the Lord: the more time we spend with Him; the better we get to know Him; the better followers we will be. As we spend time with Jesus (like we are trying to do in our study of Luke) we will learn to think like Him and we will start to see life as He does.
When Jesus sent these men out to preach and to cast out demons they were doing so after a significant time of apprenticeship.
I see at least four lessons we can draw from this passage. First, we see that those who followed Christ gave Him their full allegiance. Each of the disciples, except John, gave their lives in service to the Lord. They served Jesus in the same way soldiers serve their country. They understand that they might have to pay the ultimate price but they believe it is worth it to serve the cause of freedom. We should follow Christ with that same spirit of devotion.
Jesus told us that “anyone who wishes to come after me should deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). These men knew nothing of the half-heartedness that too often characterizes our lives. It’s a sobering question: How far are you willing to go in following Jesus? Will we follow even when it is unpopular, inconvenient, and costly? If not, we need to take a hard look at the genuineness of our discipleship.
Second, we learn that Jesus can use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. One of the things you notice about these disciples is how un-remarkable they are. I say this not to diminish the significance of these faithful men; I say it to encourage us! It is easy to become discouraged because we don’t have certain gifts or because our efforts are receiving little apparent notice.
Satan is an expert in getting us to focus on our failures, weaknesses, and fears. He (and sometimes others) will tell us all the things we can’t do. He will spotlight the talent we lack or the baggage we carry. Even as a small town church we tend to focus on what we can’t do as well as the big churches.
If we learn anything from the disciples it is this: When God is working in the life of a man or woman the unexpected can happen. He can use an unknown person with apparently no talent to make a huge impact (even if the person doesn’t see it happening). He can use tongue-tied individuals to proclaim the gospel of Christ in a way that is more powerful than that of the most eloquent speaker. He can use you significantly in the life of your family, your friends, your neighborhood, and even the world.
Some sports managers love to have “nobodies” on their team. Former football coach Mike Ditka used to say he wanted a bunch of “Grabowski’s”. He wanted common players. He sought people who would work hard and aren’t hampered by enormous egos. He wanted men who had a fire and a passion in them that could not easily be extinguished. God loves the same kind of people. He loves to use people like us.
Jesus brings diverse people together as one. Look at this list of apostles. You have Peter the optimist, and Thomas the pessimist. You have Simon the Zealot who hated anything associated with Rome, and Matthew who was on the Roman payroll as a tax-collector. There were blue-collar guys and white collar guys. Jesus brings people together.
Jesus continues to do this. He brings together liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. He unites environmentalists and industrialists; men and women; people from developed countries and third world countries; the educated and the uneducated; the rich and the poor, those with light skin and those with darker skin. His Kingdom is one where Kings and peasants kneel together.
We must never forget that the Kingdom of God is not advanced through politics but through the transforming power of the Spirit of God. No matter where we come from we are made one by the blood of Jesus Christ. We may not agree on politics, economics, social issues or our sports allegiances, but in Christ we are made one body, one family, one army, serving something greater than the sum of our differences.
Jesus made people more important than structures. Jesus did not establish an organization. He didn’t set up by-laws or elect officers. Jesus took just 12 guys, poured his life into them, and then sent them out to do the work.
It gives a whole new perspective to the work of a Sunday School teacher, youth leader, Awana listener, mentor, parent, co-worker, or a friend. The time we spend pouring our life into another may pay dividends that we cannot now imagine. Who would have believed that these ordinary men would be used in such an extraordinary way?
A certain level of organization is necessary for us to function. However, let’s never forget that our job is not to build an organization, it is to reach people. It is not our job to promote our church; it is to declare the good news of the Gospel. Our job is not to teach material it is to teach people. The lesson is clear: People are more important than structures.
A great team is made up of individuals who have learned to work together to accomplish something greater than any of them could accomplish individually. Jesus formed a team that did not focus on individual achievement. They did not form a corporation. Their focus was on the one who lived, died, and rose again for them. They were committed to Him. This team of men was used by God to change the world forever. And if we will allow Him, He would like to do the same through us.