Luke XXIII: Luke 6:12-19
Here, Jesus chooses twelve ordinary men to become the foundation of the new Israel, the Christian Church, in order to work His powerful grace through them.
When Jesus chose the twelve disciples, He prayed all night (Lk. 6:12). Like Moses, Jesus goes up a mountain to choose twelve new patriarchs, twelve pillars to represent a new house of Israel (cf. Ex. 24, Gal. 2:9). The Greek grammar in this section suggests that the summoning and choosing of the twelve actually happened while Jesus was up on the mountain in prayer (Lk. 6:13, 17). You might even say that the choosing of the twelve was a prayer event. The twelve were chosen through the all night prayer vigil. After the ascension of Jesus, when the apostles chose a replacement for Judas, they do so again through prayer (Acts 1:24-25). How much more should seek our Father for all our cares?
Discipleship & the Image of God
The fact that Jesus intentionally chose twelve men from a large crowd of disciples may seem offensive to our sensibilities on several counts. First, it may be offensive that Jesus chose men. We know that many women followed Jesus as faithful disciples, and Luke in particular will point them out rather frequently (Lk. 8:2-3, 23:27, 49, 55). But while women have played unique and crucial roles in the gospel (e.g. Lk. 1:26-56, 2:36-38, etc.), the role of apostle and the teaching/ruling offices of the church are given uniquely to men (Acts 1:21, 1 Tim. 3:1, Tit. 1:5). This is part of the glory of being created male and female and is no slight to either sex. Secondly, it may be offensive that Jesus only chose twelve and that He did so rather publicly. Wouldn’t some feel slighted? Wouldn’t some feel like Jesus was creating an “inner circle”? Yes, surely some would, but Jesus does it anyway and leaves this example for us to follow (e.g. Acts 1:21-22, Tit. 1:5). But a key component of true discipleship makes this a blessing. The two extremes are either to refuse to follow this example and pretend away all loyalties and leadership, or to imagine discipleship as a cloning program. Both extremes fail to honor the image of God. Because we are made in God’s image, we were made to learn from one another, to mimic one another, to be examples and to follow examples. But precisely because we are made in the image of God, we are unique individuals with unique gifts and loves and opportunities. Another way to say it is that the only way to find your life is to lose it for the sake of Christ (Mt. 10:39). But many seek to save their lives by defending their identities.
The Apostolic Church
The Nicene Creed says we believe “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” This is a good moment to ask what it means to believe in and be part of the “Apostolic Church.” First off, it’s important to note that an “apostle” is a unique office. Paul says that the Church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20, Rev. 21:14). Jesus gave specific instructions to the apostles after His resurrection and sent them into the world to be His special witness (Acts 1:1-8). This is apparently why the eleven made a point to replace Judas (Acts 1:21-22). While all Christians bear witness, the early church met together to fellowship, break bread, pray, and hear the “teaching of the apostles” (Acts 2:42). In fact, this is precisely where the New Testament came from. The New Testament was not collected haphazardly a few hundred years after the apostles died. On the contrary, the apostles knew that their office was responsible for preserving and passing down the authoritative testimony of the gospel of Jesus. This is why every New Testament book was written or sponsored by an apostle. This unique office of apostle is underlined by Paul’s unusual apostleship, which he himself noted (1 Cor. 15:8-9). But Paul insisted that he was sent to bear witness directly by Jesus Himself (Gal. 1:11-12). So Paul says that what he received from the Lord, he delivered (1 Cor. 11:23), and he was sent specifically to the Gentiles to deliver that “tradition” by spoken and written word (2 Thess. 2:15, Gal. 2:7). Anything anybody heard about the “teaching of the apostles” could and should be verified by what they wrote (e.g. 2 Thess. 2:2, 3:14, 3:17). In other words, there’s good reason to believe that the New Testament canon was largely settled by the death of the apostles (cf. 2 Tim. 4:13, 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Marcion’s heretical canon around 110 A.D. indicates a high degree of certainty about the true canon, and we have an extant list of a nearly complete canon by 170 A.D. Putting all of this together, by “apostolic” we mean the essential gospel message and way of life witnessed by “the twelve” in the New Testament that Jesus sent into all the world.
Friendship and Betrayal
It’s hard not to miss the fact that Jesus chose a man to be His close friend and apostle who later betrayed Him (Lk. 6:16). It’s important to note that Jesus knew Judas would betray him (Jn. 17:12). Augustine says: “Judas the traitor is chosen, not unwittingly, but knowingly, for Christ has indeed taken to himself the weakness of man, and therefore refused not even this share of human infirmity. He was willing to be betrayed by his own apostle, that you, when betrayed by your own friend, may more calmly bear your mistaken judgment, your kindness thrown away.” But this ominous note at the end of the list of the twelve also reminds us that all of them will forsake Jesus when He is arrested and Peter, the chief of the apostles, will deny Him three times (Mk. 14:50, Lk. 22:54ff). We have to hold this together with the fact that Jesus spent all night in prayer as He chose the twelve. Jesus did not choose perfect men. He chose men with weaknesses, men who were sinners, men who would fail, but nevertheless, He chose the right men. Paul witnesses the same: Jesus came to save sinners of whom he was the foremost in order that Jesus might display His perfect patience in him as an example for all who would believe (1 Tim. 1:12-16).
Conclusions & Applications
As Jesus comes down the mountain to give the twelve their commissioning sermon, He comes with His healing grace that He will send them with (Lk. 6:17). That healing grace is still the life of the apostolic Church because it is still the power that comes our from Jesus and heals us all (Lk. 6:18-19).