The First Twelve Preachers
“And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.” (Mark 3:13-21)
Here the Holy Spirit describes the calling of the twelve Apostles by our Lord Jesus Christ. This is an event, which ought to always be remembered and studied with deep gratitude. No twelve men in history have been so important as these twelve. None have done so much good. None have been of such benefit to us. J.C. Ryle wrote…
“What a vast amount of benefit these few men have conferred upon the world! The names of a few Jewish fishermen are known and lived by millions all over the globe, while the names of many kings and rich men are lost and forgotten.”
These apostles were a special order of men. The apostolic office was in existence for only a very brief period of time, during which the canon of Holy Scripture was completed. They had distinct gifts of healing, tongues, and inspiration, which no one has possessed since the Apostolic Era. They were men specifically chosen, gifted, and ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ to preach the gospel during the earliest days of Christianity and to write the New Testament, explaining by divine inspiration the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. They had no successors. When they died, their office died. And when the Apostles died, all the gifts and signs accompanying apostleship died as well.
Here are twelve men called and commissioned by our Savior to be the first preachers of the gospel in this dispensation: (1.) Peter, (2.) Andrew, (3.) John, (4.) Philip, (5.) James, the son of Zebedee, (6.) Bartholomew, (7.) Thomas, (8.) Matthew, (9.) Simon the Canaanite, (10.) Jude, the brother of James, (11.) James, the son of Alphaeus, and (12.) Judas the Traitor.
The number of the apostles was twelve. That is significant. There were twelve tribes in the nation of Israel. The church is represented by twelve stars (Revelation 12:1). John saw twelve foundations in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12-14). And the Lord Jesus spoke of the twelve apostles sitting upon thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:30).
Judas’ betrayal of our Savior made a vacancy in the apostolic office, leaving only eleven. You will recall that in Acts 2 Peter mistakenly concluded from Psalm 69:25 that it was the responsibility of the church to fill the vacancy left by Judas’ apostasy, and to choose Matthias to take his place. It was true; the Lord’s intention was for his church to have twelve apostles, twelve and only twelve. David’s prophecy must be fulfilled. Another apostle was needed to take Judas’ place. But, like the others, he must be personally chosen and ordained to the office by Christ himself. The Lord had not chosen Matthias for this office. He had chosen Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8).
Just as the call of these twelve men was the evidence that Christ had chosen them to this high office, so it is the call of God that evidences every believer’s election by God in eternity and his redemption by Christ at Calvary. That faith which is given us in effectual calling is our God given evidence that we are his (Hebrews 11:1). Those who are called are justified (Romans 8:30). Those whom the Son of God has saved by his blood he will call by his Spirit (2 Timothy 1:9).
The same thing is true regarding those men the Lord God has chosen to be gospel preachers. Those who are sent by him are men chosen and called by him. And the evidence of their call is the fruit of their labor. Those preachers he has not sent forth as his messengers may preach truth; but they do so with no authority, because they have no authority from God. Those who are men chosen, called, and sent of God have, by the Word they proclaim, power over unclean spirits, and are used to heal the diseases and sicknesses of immortal souls in Christ’s name and power.
These twelve men are held before us as patterns and examples of what is required and what is to be expected of those men who are called of God to preach the gospel of his free and sovereign grace in Christ. It is my intention to use them in just that way in this study. It would be of no benefit to your soul for me to write about an office that no longer exists. But it will, if blessed of God, be of great benefit to your soul for me to tell you who these men were, what the Lord did for them, and what they, by the power and grace of God, did for others as the first twelve preachers of this gospel age. Here the Holy Spirit shows us by example how preachers are made, what they must do, and what may be reasonably expected from them.
The Lord’s Choice
It is a sad commentary upon our deluded society that I should have to call your attention to the fact that the apostles, these first twelve preachers, were all men. There is not a woman named among them. That is not an accident. A preaching woman is an abomination! God never called a woman to be a preacher or a missionary. Women are commanded of God to keep silence in the churches, never to teach or usurp authority over a man, and to learn in subjection. I cannot think of anything more obnoxious than effeminate men, except pushy, domineering women; and among them none are so abhorrent as female preachers!
Having said that, let me show you seven things about those men who are called and gifted of God to preach the gospel of his free and sovereign grace in Christ. What I have to say here applies to every man who is called of God. It matters not where he was educated, what his denominational affiliation is, or what his physical appearance is. If a man is called of God to the work of the gospel ministry, he must be like these first preachers in these seven areas.
1. Converted Men
Those who are called of God to preach the gospel are converted men. I know that Judas was not a converted man. And I know that our Lord Jesus knew Judas was unconverted. I will deal with those things later. But Judas professed to be a converted man, as well as Peter, James, and John. That is the important point here. A call to the ministry is always preceded by a call to discipleship. You cannot lead men to follow Christ unless you are a follower of Christ.
We must never attempt to raise men up for the ministry. We must never entice young men to dedicate themselves to the work of the ministry by glamorizing it. It is our responsibility to simply preach the gospel, pray for God to make it effectual, pray for him to send forth laborers into his vineyard, and wait for him to work. As soon as we start glamorizing the work and start trying to get men to go into the ministry, we will send men who are not called of God, (That would be disastrous!), and worse than that, we would send men who are not even converted!
An unconverted man is as unfit for the ministry as an elephant is for flying. How can he talk about grace who has never tasted that the Lord is gracious? How can he point sinners to the Savior who does not know the Savior? How can he urge sinners to flee to Christ who has not fled to Christ himself? No one does so much injury to the cause of Christ as lost, unconverted preachers. They promote infidelity. They are co-laborers with the evil. And they are an offense to God.
2. Chosen Men
Gospel preachers are divinely chosen men. The Lord called to him “whom he would!” He did not call the tallest, most handsome, smartest, most appealing, or most eloquent. The longer I live the more I think Bro. B. B. Caldwell was right when he told a bunch of Bible college boys, “God never called any of you pretty boys to be a preacher!”
Gospel preachers are not chosen by us, or even as we would choose them. The Lord Jesus calls to him whom he will.
3. Called Men
First, they are chosen. Then they are called. And all who are called by our God to preach the gospel are found preaching the gospel. No man has been called to preach the gospel who is not preaching the gospel. The call of our God is always effectual. Those whom he has chosen as his messengers he makes willing to be his messengers.
This is also a picture of our Lord’s effectual, irresistible grace in salvation. All the chosen are at God’s appointed time called. And all the called are made willing in the day of the power of his grace. God’s works are always effectual. God almighty never tried to do anything. God’s election is effectual election. Christ’s atonement is effectual atonement. The Spirit’s call is an effectual call.
4. Communing Men
Every man chosen, called, gifted, and sent of God to preach the gospel is a man in communion with Christ. Mark tells us in verse fourteen that these men were called to him “that they should be with him.” Like the apostles, faithful gospel preachers live with the Son of God, have fellowship with him, abide with him, and, like Mary, sit at his feet to hear his word. As these men went up into the mountain of prayer with Christ and went home with Christ, God’s servants must live at home with the Son of God in prayer, ever seeking his Spirit, walking in his steps, studying him, copying him, so that when he steps into the pulpit, he can honestly say what John said to the saints in his day.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)
5. Consecrated Men
Gospel preachers, those men sent of God to preach the gospel, are consecrated to Christ. These were men who literally left all and followed Christ. They were not self-serving merchandisers of men’s souls. These men were the servants of men. They served the souls of men. — “And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread” (v. 20). While there was work to be done and opportunity to do it, for the good of men and the glory of God, they did not even stop to eat. Matthew Henry was exactly right in his observation. — “They whose hearts are enlarged in the work of God can easily bear with inconveniences to themselves in the prosecution of it.”
6. Caring Men
God’s servants are caring men. They care for those trusted to their care. In verse fifteen we are told that these men were given “power to heal sicknesses and to cast out devils.” — And that which the Lord gave them the power to do, they did with all their might. You can mark this down. It applies to anything and everything. It is particularly applicable to the work of the ministry. Consecrated men are caring men; and caring men, truly caring men, are consecrated men.
7. Commissioned Men
And every man sent of God to preach the gospel goes forth with a divine commission. — “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach.” They have a divine mandate. They are sent forth to preach. All who are called of God into the work of the gospel ministry are first and foremost preachers, gospel preacher! They are not counselors, baby-sitters, social workers, or denominational promoters. God’s servants are preachers, faithful, gospel preachers (Romans 1:15-17; 1 Corinthians 9:16; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Nothing in all the world is more utterly useless than a pastor who wastes his time on other things. Such a man is as useless as a lighthouse without a light.
A Reasonable Expectation
What should we expect to find among gospel preachers? What should we expect from men who are the servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, from men who are God’s ambassadors to our souls? Let me be crystal clear. When I speak of gospel “preachers” and “God’s ambassadors,” I do not have in mind Arminians, free-willers, and work-mongers. Gospel preachers are gospel preachers!
Taking these first twelve men as the standard, it is reasonable that we should expect God’s servant to be a steady, steadfast, rock of strength, faithfulness and courage, like Peter, though a mere man, who will sometimes be very disappointing. The gospel preacher ought to be a bold, courageous son of thunder like James and John, though just a man, who will sometimes seek to promote their own interests above others. The man who speaks for God ought to be a Thomas who is willing to go with Christ to Jerusalem to die with him, though but a weak man, who will sometimes be weak and doubtful. He should be a Bartholomew (Nathaniel) in whom there is no guile, an honest man, yet a man who knows himself by nature to be full of guile. The faithful servant of God may be a faithful Matthew, Andrew, Philip, James, or Simon, about whom very little is known, but a man with God’s message, without whom much would be lost.
There is no greater burden and no more awesome responsibility in the world than the work of preaching the gospel. Those who faithfully labor to preach the gospel need your prayers constantly. No wonder Paul says so often, “Brethren, pray for us!”
Yet, among those who are doctrinally sound and orthodox, who preach the letter of the Word in truth, we find an occasional self-serving Judas, who gives the enemies of God occasion to blaspheme.
Have you ever wondered, “Why did the Lord pick Judas and put him among the Apostles?” I have. Let me tell you at least part of the reason why he did it. Without question, he chose Judas to fulfil the purpose of God and the prophecy of the Old Testament. Our Lord Jesus chose the betrayer that he might use him to bring on his death and accomplish the redemption of our souls. And I am confident that he chose the son of perdition that he might be a stumbling block to the unbelieving.
Judas did not pop on the scene as an unexpected surprise to God. He was as much a part of God’s purpose as Peter and Paul. And when Judas was gone, no harm had been done. His betrayal of the Master and his suicide were simply the means God used to accomplish his purpose of grace toward his elect and make room for the apostle to the Gentiles to step into place at precisely the time God had ordained.
Crowds Mean Nothing
In verse 20 Mark directs our attention to the constant crowds ever pressing around our Redeemer. — “And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.” Everywhere he went, our Lord Jesus drew huge crowds around him. What a great sight it must have been to see huge crowds gathered in the presence of the incarnate God! But we have something indescribably better. You and I have the privilege of gathering at his throne every day, with the ever swelling, innumerable crowd of his elect around the world and in heaven, for the constant healing of our souls in the boundless supply of his grace (Psalm 100:4-5; Hebrews 12:22-23).
But great crowds mean nothing. During his earthly ministry, the crowds that constantly pressed our Savior, for the most part, did not attend his ministry because they believed him and worshipped him. They pressed around him hoping to get something from him, to be fed by him, to see some miracle performed by him, or to have a miracle performed upon their bodies.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was a perfect preacher. He never had to pause and look for words. He never had to think of an illustration. He always preached with power. More than that, he healed multitudes, performed, miracles, and even raised the dead. Yet, very, very few were converted under his ministry. Multitudes heard his words and felt the power of his words as he preached; but few heard his message and believed him.
How sadly true that is to this day! What multitudes use religion for nothing more than the gratification of the flesh; and self-serving preachers, churches and religious leaders are all too happy to supply unregenerate men with religious entertainment as they run to hell. Sunday after Sunday, churches are packed with crowds to see and perform plays, engage in contests, debate issues, rally support for some politician or political cause, enjoy a concert, and play countless games. Those places in which needy souls gather to hear the gospel preached, sing hymns of praise to our God, read his Word, and seek him in prayer are few and far between. Rarely are they packed with crowds.
Great crowds mean nothing. They are no indication that Christ is present or honored. He is present and he is honored wherever two are three are gathered by his grace in his name to worship him in spirit and in truth. It is our responsibility to prayerfully and faithfully preach the gospel to eternity bound sinners, and leave the results entirely in his sovereign purpose of grace.
Family and Friends
The Spirit of God directs our attention in verse 21 to some of our Lords family and friends, who were utterly embarrassed by him. — “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.” These friends were his kinsmen (John 7:5). They were members of his family, relatives who were embarrassed by his gospel and his devotion, and were scared to death of what the Scribes and Pharisees might think of them because of him.
There is nothing here that should be of any surprise to anyone. The prophet who came to anoint Jehu was called a “mad fellow” (2 Kings 9:11). Festus told Paul that he was a madman. I can think of very little that more fully displays the corruption of the human nature than man’s utter inability to understand devotion and consecration to God.
If a person is a loyal fan for a ball team, he is honored for his fanaticism. If a man is zealous about money, science, business, sports, or even war, he is applauded as a man of discipline. If he injures his own health because of his consuming passion in any of these areas, he is admired for his sacrifice. But zeal for Christ, devotion to the glory of God, the consecration of a redeemed sinner saved by grace to his God and Savior is looked upon by the wiseacres of the world as a sign of a weak mind. The world has not changed. The things of the Spirit are now, as they always have been and always will be, foolishness to the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14).
When you have to drink the bitter cup of being misunderstood and misrepresented by family and friends who do not know God, do not allow their folly to shake your faith or cause you to turn on them in retaliation.
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