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Choosing Ordinary Disciples

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Mark 3:13–19; Luke 6:12–16

Jesus’ disciples illustrate that while we all have the same message, we also have unique ministries. Some ministries are prominent, and others largely unrecognized. The Lord, however, is more concerned with our faithfulness in ministry than with the kind of ministry we have.


Now in our Wisdom Journey, we come to the final four names in Luke’s list of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Here in Luke 6:15, we find a disciple named “James the son of Alphaeus.”

There are other men in the Gospels named James. There is James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John; and there is James, the half brother of Jesus, who is going to become the leading elder of the church in Jerusalem—we will see him again later on.

But this man is James, the son of Alphaeus; and all we know about him is that he is the son of Alphaeus. He might have been the one referred to over in Mark 15:40 as “James the younger,” but we cannot be sure.

But that’s it. He is never featured in any biblical scene during the ministry of Jesus.

So, here is a man who was called by Jesus, just as Peter and John were called. Yet he never made any headlines, he never wrote a book of the Bible, and none of his sermons are recorded; he just followed Jesus.

That is encouraging, isn’t it? And it leads us to another key principle to consider: Jesus did not choose His disciples to have the same ministry; He chose them to deliver the same message.

Church tradition informs us that James was stoned to death in Jerusalem after twenty years of faithful ministry for Christ.[1]

The next man on the list in Luke’s Gospel is Simon the Zealot—not Simon Peter, by the way. And I must say, Simon the Zealot was as unknown as Simon Peter was famous.[2]

Simon the Zealot is never mentioned outside these lists of original disciples. But whenever he is listed, this little tagline, “the “Zealot,” is always appended to his name. And that actually speaks volumes. Simon had been involved with a group of red-hot, patriotic Jewish men who had one desire in life—to overthrow Rome. And to accomplish this, they were willing to shed blood if necessary.[3]

You could write in the margin of your Bible next to Simon the Zealot’s name, “Simon the Outlaw.” He was a redeemed criminal who hated Rome. By the way, how do you put Simon the Jewish Zealot and Matthew the Jewish Traitor in the same group? How are they going to get along?

You would think that if you put Simon and Matthew in the same tent as they camped out overnight, in the morning, one of them would be dead.

One author put it well when he wrote that these twelve, very different men would paint a picture of the future church.[4] Listen, the differences between the disciples were not divisions but declarations of unity in the body of Christ.

We know from church history that this rugged disciple took the gospel into the rugged landscape of modern-day Great Britain. He was eventually martyred and buried in an unmarked grave somewhere on the British Isles.

The next disciple listed here is Judas, the son of James—as if to make it clear that he was not Judas Iscariot. Judas was a common name, being the New Testament form of Judah. This particular Judas is called Thaddaeus in Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18.

We hear Thaddaeus speak only one time in the Gospels. When Jesus tells His disciples that He will manifest His glory to them, Judas, or Thaddaeus, is rather tender-hearted; he wants to know why Jesus will manifest Himself to them and not to the whole world. Jesus answers him in John 14:23:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

With that conversation, Judas Thaddaeus disappears from Scripture. All we have are some early church traditions that he went on to evangelize the Armenians and was martyred for his faith.

That leads me to another key principle, which is this: Your service for Christ does not have to be recognized on earth to be rewarded in heaven. Your Savior sees every act of service in His name.

Here at the end of Luke 6:16, we find the last disciple to make an appearance in Luke’s list. And he is also always the disciple who is listed last: “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” Now you might picture Judas Iscariot as this creepy, little, strange disciple. Or as one little boy referred to him, “Judas the Scariest.”

However, the record of Scripture does not show us that. In fact, Judas was so trusted that he was put in charge of the disciples’ bank account, according to John 12:6. He appeared to be a leader, a man of integrity. And don’t forget that Judas was not seated in some dark corner at the Last Supper; he was sitting next to Jesus—they were dipping their food in the same bowl. Judas was in the seat of honor.

Let me pause and give you another key principle that we can draw from this: It is possible to identify with Jesus and not believe in Jesus.

Judas heard the greatest preacher preach and the greatest teacher teach. He watched God the Son perform miracle after miracle—from walking on water to raising the dead to commanding the demonic world. How did Judas miss it? Why did he not believe? From what we are told in the Bible, the answer is simple: it is possible to be exposed to the light and still want the darkness.

Judas will betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, which was the price for a first-century disabled slave. That is how much Jesus really meant to Judas.

And with Judas, Luke’s list of Jesus’ disciples ends.

The disciple Matthias will be added later to take the place of Judas, as the early church selected his replacement. The two qualifications from Acts chapter 1 were that the disciple must have physically followed Jesus and, secondly, seen the resurrected Jesus in person (Acts 1:21-22).

By the way, that is why we know there are no apostles today. Anybody who calls himself today an apostle is making it up, in order to exercise power over other people.

So, what do we know about Matthias? Again, he was so ordinary and obscure that the Bible tells us absolutely nothing of his ministry. He was not famous, but he was faithful to Christ.

I read of an event from many years ago where an accomplished violinist decided to experiment with his audience. It was advertised that he would perform on a rare Stradivarius violin worth millions of dollars.

The concert hall was packed. The violinist played beautifully. But halfway through his concert, he stopped, and—to the shock of his audience—he dropped the violin on the floor with a thud and walked off stage.

A moment later, the conductor stood and said, “The Maestro was not playing on an expensive violin; he purchased it from a pawn shop for $20. He will now return and finish his concert on that rare and expensive Stradivarius.” And when he returned and played, very few people could even begin to tell the difference.

That story reminded me that you and I are like $20 violins that our Master has purchased from the pawn shop of a sinful world. As we yield our lives in His hands, the beauty of His message will be heard—and to Him alone will belong all glory and praise.

[1] The traditions concerning the disciples in the years following Jesus’ earthly ministry are summarized in William Steuart McBirnie, The search for the Twelve Apostles (Living Books, 1973) and John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men (W Publishing Group, 2002).

[2] A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve (reprint, Zondervan, 1963), 34.

[4] Bruce, 35-36.

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