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Wearing the Dust of the Master

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

As Christians, we are all disciples of the Lord. As such, we should humbly recognize our need for the Lord’s ongoing work in our lives and be willing to learn and grow with a focus on what we can become by God’s grace.


Now in this Wisdom Journey, we need to pull over and spend a little time introducing the first disciples who began following the Lord. The Greek word for disciple (mathētēs) simply means a “learner” or “student.”

It was typical in Jesus’ time for disciples to follow their teacher around. In fact, the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish culture and commentary dating back to these days, described students so carefully following behind their teacher that they were “covered with … dust” from his sandals.[1]

At this point in His ministry, Jesus has hundreds of followers. Some are sincere, and many are not. Now the Lord decides that it is time for Him to gather to Himself a smaller, close-knit group of disciples.

So in Luke 6:12, we read, “He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Now Jesus is not praying to God the Father about whom He should choose—He is beginning to pray for those He will choose. He already knows who they are; He knows all their flaws and weaknesses; He knows what they are going to face; He knows all about their future.

As we take a closer look at these early disciples, I want to point out some key principles here. First of all, Jesus chose His disciples, not because He needed them, but because they needed Him.[2]

And that is true of us today. Jesus does not need you or me. We need Him. And, beloved, the glory of God’s grace is that He actually delights to include you and me in His global plans. Indeed, that is what He created us for. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “We are . . . created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand [before time began] that we should walk in them.”

The Lord is still choosing disciples who realize they need Him, who want to know Him and learn from Him—to get the dust from His sandals all over their lives.

Here’s another key principle to learn here: Jesus chose His disciples, not because of who they were, but because of who they would become.

Just start out by taking a closer look at Simon Peter, no doubt the most famous of the twelve. It has been noted that His name is mentioned in the Gospels more than any other disciple. No one speaks as often as Peter, and no one is spoken to by the Lord as often as Peter. No disciple is rebuked by the Lord as often as Peter, and no other disciple but Peter rebuked the Lord.[3]

Frankly, we know a lot about Peter’s failures—especially that time he climbed out of the boat during the storm and walked on the water toward Jesus, only to begin to sink when doubt and fear arose (Matthew 14). Don’t forget, though, that Peter was the only disciple willing to get out of the boat and try!  

The name “Peter” is really a nickname given to him by Jesus, after they first met. ”Peter” is Greek for “stone” or “rock.”[4] The Lord essentially gave Simon this nickname, not because he was strong and steadfast, but because he would become strong and steadfast.

History records that after decades of faithful ministry, Peter was forced to watch his own wife crucified. Then, when it came his turn to die, he asked to be crucified upside down, testifying that he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died on the cross.[5]

The next disciple mentioned by Luke here in chapter 6 is Simon Peter’s brother, Andrew. John’s Gospel account tells us that Andrew introduced Simon to Jesus (John 1:41-42). But Andrew soon took a back seat to his brother. It is interesting that throughout the New Testament, many of the verses that name Andrew add that little comment that he was Peter’s brother—as if that was what made him important. But keep in mind that throughout the New Testament, Andrew is consistently involved with bringing people to Jesus.

According to Eusebius, the third-century historian, Andrew had blazed a trail to the outer regions of modern-day Russia, before he was eventually martyred for his faith.

Historical sources record that Andrew led to Christ the wife of a powerful politician in the Roman Empire. This political leader was so enraged by his wife’s conversion to Christianity that he demanded she recant. She refused, and he retaliated by arresting Andrew and putting him to death.[6]

Here is a third key principle to keep in mind: Jesus chose the disciples, not because of what they knew, but because they were willing to be taught.

Among the Twelve, the Lord chooses another set of biological brothers—James and John. And do they ever have a lot to learn! James is the older of the two, but he never appears in a biblical scene without his younger brother John. In fact, since most of the time in Scripture James and John are seen together, let me introduce them together.

James and John are the sons of Zebedee, a man of some influence. More than likely, he was the owner of the family fishing business, which also included Peter and Andrew. There’s even some evidence from early church records that Zebedee was a Levite, related to the high priest’s family.[7]

And I say all of that to point out that when James and John leave their family business, they not only leave a fortune, but they also walk away from the good standing they had with the religious world. The high priest is going to hate Jesus and all those who follow Him.

These brothers end up rather close to Jesus. In fact, Peter, James, and John will be the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, and He will invite them to witness events the other disciples do not. The trouble is that this seems to go right to their heads and they eventually argue about which one is the greatest disciple among them.

These brothers were ambitious and somewhat ruthless (see Luke 9:54). Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus gives them the nickname, “Sons of Thunder” (3:17). And that was not necessarily a compliment.

But we can say this: they learned well from the Lord. Their fiery, passionate, disposition will be molded into patient endurance as they refuse to give up or back down. James, in fact, will become the first disciple to be martyred.

In contrast, his brother John will be the last of the twelve to die, living into old age. John will go on to write the Gospel of John, 1, 2, and 3 John, and the book of Revelation.

He is in his nineties when he is given a tour of heaven. He describes it in Revelation, recalling the glorious singing of the hosts of heaven, the Father’s house of transparent gold, and the majestic throne of God. And do you know what is missing? His old ambition to be first and his fiery impatience with unbelievers.

In fact, John will earn a nickname over the years: the Apostle of Love. And that’s because he will write more than any other New Testament author on the subject of love.

Love became the dominant theme of a man who earlier wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven and burn up a village of people who refused to believe the gospel. He is the one who records for us those precious words in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

The disciple who wanted to incinerate unbelievers, the one who wanted to be the greatest, becomes a gracious, caring, loving old man. James and John, along with Peter and Andrew, learned well; they wore well the dust of their master Teacher. Jesus chose them, not because of how much they knew, but because they were eager to learn.

[1] Mishnah, Avot 1:4.

[2] Darrel L. Bock, Luke 1:1–9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 1994), 447.

[3] John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men (W Publishing Group, 2002), 39.

[5] 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 MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men.

[6] Ibid., 74.

[7] Ibid., 78.

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