Truth Thru The Twelve
The Hidden Secret Behind Jesus’ Selection Of A Small Group
What would it be like in a small group if you spoke the truth in love? Understand that “speaking the truth” should be substantiated “in love” or it would be perceived as unwarranted words thrown from left field. Truth void of love would come across as unexpected, uncaring, and totally uncalled for. Blindsiding the receiver with the naked truth, in whatever shape or form, causes people to raise their guards while they brace themselves for the worst. Can you handle the truth if it was thrust upon you in this manner? Truth, however well meaning in its delivery, can distance, divide, or even destroy a group. When the defensive walls go up, and rest assured they will, the growth of any group will be severely hindered.
Indeed, truth carelessly dealt, can be detrimental to interpersonal relationships. The camaraderie at best will be relegated to a shallow, surface-to-surface interchange. Soon enough, people will superficially bounce off each other for fear of stepping on somebody’s toes. True depth or real change is sacrificed as the group settles for a safe, non-threatening venue of sweet niceties and sentimental feelings. Why? Because truth unveiled sans love, for all the good it’s worth, becomes an uninvited intrusive reality that hurts rather than heals. All the more reason why people would rather die than face the truth.
Therefore, there’s no point in rocking the same boat we share. Why not keep things steady as we sail? Better to bide the time and keep to ourselves while protecting “my space.” In fact, people would rather remain aloof in order to stay afloat. We can risk shaking someone’s hand and greeting those within our comfort zone. Let’s just pray that no one calls us to get with the group and be more truly involved. Truth be told, welcome to your typical Church!
The Time, The Place, And The People
There’s no evading the truth, only communicating it in the proper context. How can a person make significant inroads of truth in the life of a small group? What strategy can one employ in order to usher in and confront people with the truth? In spite of the fact that God had the corner on the truth, for he is truth personified, he did not bring it to bear nor shove it before humankind. A raw revelation of his presence would have dire consequences. It would scare the population to death or send them scouring for cover.[i] No one can see God, the eternal embodiment of truth, and live.[ii] So there’s the divine dilemma. In order for God to reveal himself, he had to step down from his throne and take the form of a slave.[iii] He emptied himself by pouring his very image into a humble human vessel.[iv] That is how he chose to serve the God-honest heavenly truth. So while it is true that God speaks the truth in love, his means by which this truth would be transmitted was through his Son. The ultimate expression of truth is found in the bible, in Jesus who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”[v]
When the time had arrived for the truth to come to pass, Jesus, the word of truth, became flesh and lived among human beings.[vi] The divine strategy to get the eternal truth out to all the earth was hidden in flesh and blood and set to real time. Long has humankind waited to be delivered from the slavery of falsehood. A new exodus broke into time and space with the good news in its wake. It was time to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
As important as this living revelation of truth would be, the place from where the Son of God would originate should be just as prominent. Rome would have been an obvious choice. After all, it happened to be the center of the civilized world. It was a city that propagated the leading teachers and philosophers—the seekers of the truth. Jerusalem would have been a rival candidate. It was the religious center of God’s chosen people—the custodians of the truth. The temple within its walls was the sacred place where heaven kissed earth—where God’s very presence resided. What on earth was God thinking when he chose the place to invest his truth? Why Galilee? How could the Father allow his Son to grow up and minister in the midst of Galileans?
The region’s population was made up mostly of farmers and fishermen. Galileans were not especially religious people. In fact, they were accused of spiritual laxity being a land inhabited by a mixed race of Jews and pagans.[vii] In former times, the northern kingdom’s Israelite population was conquered and carried away captive to Assyria.[viii] It was replaced by a colony of pagans and immigrants.[ix] The region was hence called “Galilee of the nations” or “Gentiles.”[x] The history of its captivity gave way to a predominant mixture of Gentile races that not only diluted the God-given truth, but also impoverished the worship of Judaism. This caused the southern Jews of purer bloodlines and orthodox traditions to despise them.[xi] And once joined to the Roman province of Syria, Galilee became the breeding ground for zealots and patriots. In their hatred of foreign rule and in the longing for a Messiah, the promised Deliverer, these fanatical and violent groups incited the populace to rebellion. Is it any wonder that Nathaniel was being contemptuous when he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”[xii]
The somber truth concerning Galilee’s condition was telling. She was a smoldering wick. She was a sheep that had gone astray. She was found far from the truth. The very darkness was God’s reason for granting the truthful light of his presence and ministry to emanate within her borders. The all-powerful Rome and all-pure Jerusalem were self-satisfied and self-righteous cities from all appearances. The Galilean region however, was ripe for human repentance meted out through divine revelation. Therefore God sent his Son as “a light for the Gentiles.”[xiii] He sent his Shepherd to find the “lost sheep of Israel.”[xiv] What has come into being in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of all people.[xv] The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[xvi]
The Thunder, The Rock, And The Zealot
So God’s strategy was for his Son to set up shop in Galilee. This base of operations was central to Jesus’ selection of the disciples. He was to handpick men from the rabble remnant in Galilee and not the spiritual surplus in Jerusalem. We read in Mark 1:16-17:
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
The four men Jesus called were fishermen. By Galilean standards, they were ordinary unschooled blue-collar workers. Whatever happened to the far more capable and educated white-collar workers? Notice Jesus selected two sets of brothers who shared the same profession. Why didn’t he call four different men altogether? It was probably because Galileans were brought up in an environment that was heavily group-oriented. Learning came by doing things together. In the succeeding chapter in Mark 2:14 it says:
As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
The Twelve. We need to be mindful that Jesus was in the process of selecting twelve men who would learn from him. They were to follow him and learn first hand the revealed truths of God and become, like himself, the very vessels of the good news. Bear in mind that the Galilean’s spiritual condition was found wanting. They were known as recipients of a dumbed-down religion of sorts. If you think that the selection of four fishermen was dangerous, the selection of a tax collector was disastrous! Further along the gospel of Mark, we learn the names of the other selected disciples in 3:13-19:
He went up to the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
The Task. These twelve men were chosen to replicate Jesus’ life and ministry. This was the apostolic task set before them. Twelve men plus one, Jesus, equals thirteen. Based on extensive research, thirteen is the optimum small group number. Jesus gives this small group of men a designation. The chosen name or title is “apostle.” The group’s identity is established by Jesus while the group’s goal, first and foremost, is to be with Jesus. This task flows out of community through teaching, healing, preaching, and casting out demons. Jesus was determined to spend a whole lot of quality time with this small group in order to gain their acceptance and trust. Truth spoken in love is received in the context of a relationship built on trust. As the twelve entered into life together with Jesus as their central character, two levels of functions and questions emerge: (1) Is there a failure of fellowship within the subjective relationships; and (2) Is there a failure of tasks within the objective assignments?
Like a shepherd leading and caring for his sheep, Jesus came to understand each disciple in an intimate way. He accomplished this by nurturing a personal relationship with each member of the group. Time invested wisely in the life of each disciple allowed Jesus to make a deliberate decision as to his apostolic choices. He didn’t just pick them out randomly, but prayerfully called them out by name. He would speak truth thru these twelve men.
In recent news, Shaun White, the Winter Games Olympic redheaded snowboarding hopeful, indicated that he needed a new nickname. According to the article, “After years of being called 'The Flying Tomato,' White has spoken out about the moniker saying, "Whoever was on the mic had some dead air to fill—and the name came out of his mouth."[xvii] Not a flattering or ringing endorsement. But everyone knows that you can’t pick your own nickname. Jesus knew the twelve well enough as to even give them nicknames. James and John he called the Sons of Thunder. Peter was called Rocky. Simon was called the Zealot. Thaddaeus’ name, the original non-entity (he did nothing among this highly charged apostolic band), remained unchanged. Judas, who was chosen every bit as the other eleven, was eventually called the Betrayer. If you think about it, this motley crew may not ever make it into the church boards of today.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
At face value, the good, the bad, and the ugly is all there in this small group. This group took on a heterogeneous nature. It consisted of individuals that were unrelated or unlike each other. Have you ever wondered why Jesus called a tax collector and a Galilean zealot into the same group? Zealots, by nature, downright despised tax collectors. They were mortal enemies. Especially when men, like Matthew, were under Rome’s employ to extract unjust taxation from an oppressed people. If Jesus weren’t between them, Simon the Zealot would not hesitate to carve his dagger into the bowels of Matthew the tax collector. We witness the miraculous conversion of two men who previously walked opposite roads now walking together as they followed Jesus.
It is through this small group that these apostles were to process Jesus’ truth together. Small groups allow us to move from teaching to learning. The men made many mistakes along the way. They wrongly perceived the truth Jesus tried to communicate. Remedial lessons were in order. Even still, they were corrected, rebuked, and trained by the one who spoke truth in love. We often read of this frustrating interchange between the Master and his disciples all through the gospel of Mark. By the time we arrive at chapter 8, Jesus discloses the truth to his disciples as to what the Messiah is all about—his ultimate purpose and mission. He breaks his silence by asking them in 8:27-30:
“Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him.
Peter couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Jesus was speaking plainly what was to become of him. He immediately pulls Jesus in private and tells him, “Lord, I think you got the Messiah’s job description all wrong!” Jesus, on the other hand, uses the conflict as a means of teaching. He speaks the truth in love through confrontation as he brings all the disciples in on the discussion. He explains to the disciples what it will cost them to follow him, the cross they will bear, the saving and losing of their lives, the profit and forfeit in this world, to know whose side they are on when it comes to the choice between this adulterous and sinful generation and the Son of Man, and his coming in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.[xviii] What might we ask was the outcome of this three-year small group experience with Jesus? You and me!
We often quote Deuteronomy 29:29 where it says “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law.” God’s secrets remain secret until he chooses to reveal the absolute truth once hidden from humankind to his people—truths that we will not only possess, but also pass on to the generations to come. Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Ephesus is telling:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.[xix]
The Western understanding of knowledge refers to the Greek word akademia. This is knowledge in relation to facts, information, theology, etc. In Ephesians 1:17, the bible’s understanding of knowledge refers to the Greek word epignosis. The word denotes “exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition,” expressing a fuller or a full “knowledge,” a greater participation by the “knower” in the object “known,” thus more powerfully influencing him.[xx] It is a relational word. The object to be known, namely God, invites the knower to participate more fully in grasping the truth of who he is. The God-given spirit of wisdom and revelation allows his children to “come to know him” in a greater and more intimate way.
Paul is praying that we are to know God as a person, rather than reducing him to principles. We need to build up our knowledge of God in relationship to him. Not chop him up in academic principles about him. The children of Israel saw the acts of God, but Moses understood the ways of God.[xxi] As eyewitnesses of God’s revelation in his Son from the beginning, the small group of apostles declared what they heard, seen, looked at and touched with their hands concerning the word of life. They not only saw the acts of Jesus Christ or understood his ways, but also testified to the truth that was revealed to them. They glorified God by making known the manifested truth of the Messiah.
Today, the greatest of all God’s secrets is out. Philip once asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”[xxii] In the context of an intimate relationship with God, we can know him more fully in the face of Jesus Christ.[xxiii] According to John, the one whom Jesus loved,[xxiv] “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”[xxv] Speak this truth in love to those who seek him!
[i] Revelation 6:16.
[ii] Exodus 33:20.
[iii] Philippians 2:7.
[v] John 14:6.
[vi] John 1:14.
[vii] Judges 1:33.
[viii] J. D. Douglas, Merrill C. Tenney, The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963), 368.
[ix] 2 Kings 15:29; 17:24.
[x] Isa 9:1; Mt 4:13, 15-16.
[xi] John 7:52.
[xii] John 1:46.
[xiii] Isaiah 42:6.
[xiv] Matthew 15:24.
[xv] John 1:3-4.
[xvi] John 1:9.
[xvii] Trey Kirby, Yahoo! Sports, “Shaun White needs a new nickname. Let’s help him!” Thu Jan 28, 2010 9:30 am EST.
[xviii] Mark 8:34-38.
[xix] Ephesians 1:17-19.
[xx] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 348.
[xxi] Psalm 103:7.
[xxii] John 14:8-9.
[xxiii] 2 Corinthians 4:6.
[xxiv] John 13:23.
[xxv] John 1:18.
© 2010, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.