THE MASTER’S MEN
Mark 1: 14-20
Beloved scholar William Barclay called his book about them THE MASTER’S MEN. Modern author John MacArthur calls his book about them TWELVE ORDINARY MEN. Any way we look at it we are talking about the group generally referred to as “The Twelve,” “The Apostles,” or “The Disciples of Jesus.” It was after Jesus’ childhood and baptism that he was ready to fulfill the will of his Father in Heaven: he was ready to call followers, apostles (from the Greek apostolos meaning “messengers,”), and disciples (which means “learners”). The Twelve were each of those: Jesus told them to follow him and they followed; Jesus told them at a different time, “take my yoke upon you and learn of me” so they were also learners; and finally he commissioned them to heal, cast out demons, and to spread the Gospel in his name and for his sake. Today I want to suggest that Jesus is still casting a wide net. We know that in Jesus’ day he was finding twelve men to surround him as a powerful symbol. Eleven would not do, nor thirteen, and in his day women were not recorded or counted. Nevertheless, Jesus had disciples and friends who were women, they were just not numbered among the twelve. Jesus even held up a little child at one point and said to a crowd, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me,” and at another point he said “Let the children come to me, do not stop them, for the Kingdom of Heaven is there’s.” Jesus had many follow him.
There has been a fair amount of interest these past weeks, leading up to the presidential inauguration, in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Lincoln called TEAM OF RIVALS. Our new president says he has studied how President Lincoln chose his advisors and who they were. It is good to study presidents, but all will do well to also look at the team that Jesus built: blue collar, white collar, nationalists, materialists, wealthy people, poor people, antagonistic people, agreeable people. What a band of brothers in Christ! Today I am suggesting that Jesus is still building his team of followers, learners, and messengers and that he hopes to include you and me. The Gospel writers’ aims were to describe what was necessary for people to believe that Jesus was Messiah; so much biographical and dialogical information about the Twelve is not printed in Scripture. But of the Twelve, it seems that he chose a passionately impulsive man to be one of his chief advisors: Peter. Are you like Peter? Do you see yourself- or do your peers see you- as a leader in business, a master tradesperson or home organizer, a passionate activist, or a fine provider? Jesus still needs people like Peter to be his hands and heart in the world. The work of Peter is alive and well through leaders in the church around the world, and perhaps through you!
Since the Bible tells us that God loves us, and the hymn for the young told us since we were small that Jesus loves us, the question of the hour is “Do you love Him?” One time I did a children’s sermon and asked how many children had pets. For those who did, I asked if they loved their pet. Without exception they did. Then I asked how many cleaned up after their pet, and a few hands went down. I asked how many fed their pet every day and a few more went down. I asked how many held their pets each day or stayed by them when they got hurt or sick. More hands went down. So I said, “How would your pet know that you loved him or her?” And there was no answer. If you were monitored for a month, not at Christmas or Easter, but an “off” month, could a person from another country put in their report about you that, from what he observed, you loved your Lord? Or would it be hard to say? John the disciple was said to be the one that Jesus loved. Some have tried to make too much of this. Jesus loved all of his disciples, but one author, John MacArthur, suggests that John was not soft, but on the contrary, a strong and faithful man in whom Jesus built unshakable trust. He trusted his mother to him at the cross. Can Jesus place unshakable trust in you? Did Jesus in prayer— at camp, in worship, on a retreat—let you know that you were loved? You may be “hopefully devoted” to Jesus because of such a realization. You too are a disciple of Jesus.
Who invited you to come to church? Who introduced you to Jesus? That person was an Andrew to you: someone who introduced you to Jesus and the church. You too can be an Andrew disciple if you invite others to church or to know Jesus. Jesus needs people to “know him and make him known.” You can be such a person for the Master. Another disciple was Thomas the doubter, and doubting Thomases still fill church pews. But some of them, like Thomas, have experiences that answer their prayers and cry “I believe! Help Thou, my unbelief!” There is room at the table for you. Likewise, Matthew was a tax collector, so there were many who despised him in his work. Joseph Scriven wrote soothing words for Matthew and for you, if you feel like people do not like you. He wrote: “What a friend I have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear; what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer…Do thy friends despise forsake thee, take it to the Lord in prayer. In his arms he’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.”
Jesus also saw something in James, the Son of Zebedee; he was one of the first asked to drop his fishing net and follow Jesus to catch men; as we know from our day, our invitations to men, women, youth, and children invite them to be part of the Kingdom. Are you the first one people ask to fill a position? Then Jesus needs someone with your charisma. Put it to work for him! If on the other hand, you are like a child or an inquisitive student, then you are like Philip. Jesus needs you to also become part of his team of rivals. But be ready! When Jesus was asked questions, he sometimes answered them with other questions! He was always teaching, with his answers and with his questions.
Finally, are you here today and say you’re a Christian, but others don’t know you very well? You could be like Nathaniel, also called Bartholomew, and Jesus needs you too. Come and see what he is like! Thaddeus, also called Lebbaeus Thaddeus, may have been a gentle one. Jesus needs gentle ones! Simon the strong-willed one, James the one who rarely got noticed, and Judas Iscariot the one who was there to fulfill part of God’s plan for the world all had a role. What is your role in Jesus’ ministry? He wants you, everyone one of you, to be one of those who love him, challenge him, need him, and proclaim him. Jesus did not stop at twelve (the number that he hoped would indicate to faithful Jews that what he was creating was a New Jerusalem.) He invited others to follow him too; he still does. To quote the words of Cecil Frances Alexander, no matter our lot in life, “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild restless sea, day by day his sweet voice soundeth: saying ‘Christian, follow me.’” Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner January 25, 2009