Date: November 10, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: The Gospel according to Luke
Scripture: Luke 6:12–6:16
Earlier in the service, we had the blessing of confessing together from the Apostles’ Creed. As Baptists, we believe that Scripture alone is authoritative in the life of the church, and the Apostles’ Creed is certainly not on par with Scripture. And yet, while we affirm the sole primacy of Scripture, we also recognize that the Creed is a clear and ancient summary of the truth Scripture teaches. That’s why we occasionally read from the Creed together – not because we believe the Creed is inspired, but rather because we believe that the Creed faithfully summarizes the faith once for all delivered to the saints. This is very instructive. Christians of different denominations may disagree – and in many ways, rightfully so – on various issues and practices, but all believers are united in our confession of the truth summarized in the Apostles’ Creed.
But that church-wide affirmation of the Creed raises an interesting question that connects with our passage this morning. The question is this – why is the confession called the Apostles’ Creed? The Apostles actually did not write the Creed, so why is named after the Apostles? Why not the Gospel Creed or something like that? Why make reference to the Apostles?
The answer takes us to our passage here in Luke 6, where we find one of the four NT lists of the Twelve apostles. And as we study this passage today, perhaps the most important point to note is the connection between the apostles and the Lord Jesus himself. The apostles are not significant because of who they are – they’re actually rather ordinary men. No, the apostles are significant because of who they represent – the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, we know the apostles only because Jesus himself selected and appointed them as witnesses to his life and ministry.
And witness is the key term, even the reason why the Creed bears the Apostles’ name. These twelve men were the authorized messengers to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted the testimony of his life and ministry. They were not called to be mini-kings of the church, and they certainly weren’t called to pass on some kind of lordly office from one generation to the next. No, the apostles were witnesses. They saw the Lord’s baptism, they saw him walk on water and break the loaves, they heard his teaching, they saw him head to the cross, they witnessed his resurrection, and then most importantly, the apostles preached what they witnessed. They preached the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, beginning first in Jerusalem and then spreading out over the known world. But at the heart of that apostolic ministry was always this focus on the Lord Jesus himself, this essential calling of passing on what they had witnessed in Jesus’ life.
And that is what I want to stress to us this morning. We should care about the apostles and their ministry because we care about the ministry and authority of Jesus Christ. Or to say it another way, we should seek to follow the apostles’ teaching because they communicate to us the teaching and truth of Jesus’ gospel. And so, with that connection in mind, I’d like us to look closely at this passage about the apostles in order to note three truths about the Lord Jesus. And in the end, my hope is that these truths will serve to increase our confidence in the Scriptures as the apostolic revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Humility of the Lord
The first truth is found in v12, where we see the Humility of the Lord. You may remember that Jesus has just endured a series of conflicts. It started back in chapter 5, as the religious leaders doubted Jesus’ claim to authority. It continued as those same leaders began to dog Jesus’ disciples with questions. And then it reached something of a climax in v11 here in chapter 6. The religious leaders conclude that Jesus is an outright threat they must deal with, and by deal with, they mean kill him. By the time we get to v12, we know that things are intense for Jesus. The doubts turned to questions, the questions became opposition, and that opposition is now trending in a lethal direction. Jesus faces intense conflict.
But that is what makes v12 so instructive. In the face of this rising opposition, notice what Jesus does. He prays, v12 – “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” This is actually a consistent theme of Jesus’ ministry. At key moments all through Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus praying to his Father. It happened at Jesus’ baptism is Luke 3. It happened at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, Luke 5. It will occur at Jesus’ transfiguration, Luke 9. And most powerful of all, it will occur in Gethsemane, as Jesus faces death, Luke 22. Time and time again, when the intensity or significance of ministry rises, what do we find the Lord of Glory doing? Not boasting. Not serving in his own strength. Not blasting his opponents. Not despairing. We find the Lord praying to his Father.
Now, I will be the first to admit that the Trinitarian reality of the Son praying to the Father stretches my understanding. Why does the Son, who fully shares the Fathers’ nature, need to pray? How does such a prayer work within the Triune Godhead? I don’t know exactly, but that shouldn’t stop us from marveling at the Son’s humility and example. Even though he is God in the Flesh, the Lord Jesus humbles himself before the Father in prayer. Even though at this moment in Luke 6 Jesus holds all things together, he still displays the humility of dependence on his Father. Brothers and sisters, this is the Savior who receives heaven’s praises in Revelation 5. This is the Son who has no beginning and no end. This is the One who fulfills every promise of redemptive history. And even still, this same Jesus humbles himself in prayer.
This is part of his glory. The Lord Jesus is so mighty, so strong, so glorious that he gladly humbles himself before his Father. That’s true strength, brothers and sisters. It’s not the ability to endure everything on your own. True strength is the willingness to depend on God alone, who gives strength to those who trust him. And that’s the example the Lord Jesus sets for us here. We may not understand completely how such humility works between the Eternal Father and his only begotten Son, but that shouldn’t stop us from marveling at the Son’s humility expressed in his prayer.
Brothers and sisters, this may sound simple, but I hope the simplicity doesn’t mean you’ll dismiss this. If the Lord Jesus’ life was marked by such humble prayer, how much more should our lives do the same? I know Jesus’ mission was not primarily to set an example for how we should live. His primary mission was to shed his blood and lay down his life for the salvation of his people. His primary mission was to save. But that doesn’t exclude the reality that the Lord Jesus did often set the example for how we ought to walk. 1 Peter 2.21 – “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Or 1 John 2.6 – “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
So before we even get to the apostles, let’s pay attention to the Lord, and specifically let’s pay attention to his humility in prayer. In times of trouble, prayer is a divinely given means of strength and support. In times of uncertainty, prayer is a God-ordained means of providing insight. And in times of struggle, prayer is one of the Father’s remedies to strengthen faith. Now, that’s not to say that one moment of prayer automatically solves every problem. As Luke’s Gospel shows us, even Jesus prayed in an ongoing way. But that is the example here, brothers and sisters. Jesus prayed and kept praying. He prayed consistently, and his example calls us to do the same.
You know, a wise older saint once described his prayer life with the word labor. This brother prayed faithfully, and yet he described it as laboring in prayer. I find that very helpful. There is a workman-like quality to a rich prayer life. The individual moments may not feel like much, but you know what – most individual work days don’t feel like much, do they? But what do you do? You keep punching in and doing the work. You keep getting up and laboring in prayer.
And maybe that will help you this morning, brothers and sisters. Listen, most Christians, myself included, have far too mystical a view of prayer. But when you listen to the saints of old who were rich in prayer, what you find is not tales of mystical insight but rather testimony of faithful labor. You pray, and you keep praying. And you do it all as an expression of humility before God. The Christian who labors in prayer is a Christian whose life exudes humility. “I am not sufficient for this, Father. I need your grace. I need your wisdom. Would you provide what I need?”
So once again, before we even get to the apostles, we should note the humility of the Lord in prayer. And from his example we should be encouraged to press on with the labor of humbling ourselves before the heavenly Father.
The Sovereignty of the Lord
The second truth about Jesus comes in v13, where we see the Sovereignty of the Lord. It is only after his night of prayer on the mountain that Jesus begins to select his apostles. The humility is not finished, is it? Not only does Jesus pray in response to opposition, he also prays before choosing his apostles. It’s a living illustration of what Jesus would say in John 8 – “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” We can’t say this enough, and we can’t rejoice in it enough, since our salvation rests upon this truth. The Lord Jesus is humble. He depends on the Father, even when appointing his apostles.
But what should get our attention as we transition to v13 is the absolute sovereignty of Jesus. Look again at the text, and listen to how clearly Jesus’ sovereign choice drives this moment, v13 – “And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.” Now, before we jump to the apostles, notice that Jesus has a number of disciples following him at this point. This is encouraging. Remember, there is growing opposition to Jesus, and that opposition is increasingly hostile. And yet, in the face of that hostile opposition, there are still those who hear and believe the truth. There are still those who follow Jesus. There are still those willing to endure the cost of discipleship.
What a needed reminder, that Jesus himself endured opposition but that opposition did not derail his ministry! As Jesus will say, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, and we see a precursor to that here in v13. In the face of opposition, there are those who follow the Master.
But it is the sovereignty of Jesus that draws our attention in v13. From this group of disciples, Jesus chooses twelve whom he names apostles. Note that word choose. That is a term of authority, a term of sovereignty. It is Jesus who initiates this appointment, and it is Jesus’ word that calls out his apostles. The apostles are not self-made ministers who just happened to be insightful enough to see the truth about Jesus and then offer up their lives to his service. That’s not the case at all. The apostles exist because Jesus chose them. The apostles are appointed because Jesus called them and made them his representatives.
And that takes us back to what we noted at the outset of the sermon. Apostleship is an expression of Jesus’ sovereign authority. To understand the ministry of these men, we must understand this point. The Apostles did not make themselves, and they did not serve for themselves. They were appointed by Jesus, and the entire point of their apostolic office was directed to the Lord Jesus. The apostles were called to preserve and pass the testimony of Jesus’ life and ministry. In other words, the apostles were servants of Christ for the sake of the gospel. Again, this is foundational. The apostles were not mini-kings or exalted overlords of the church. The apostles were Jesus’ sovereignly chosen servants to proclaim his gospel.
Now, before we go deeper with the apostles, I do want to pause here and highlight a very encouraging takeaway from this scene. V13 should remind that Jesus’ sovereignty is always exercised for the good of his church. Sovereignty is a powerful word – both in that it gets people’s attention, and in that it communicates power. To be sovereign is to have no rivals, so sovereignty is a big, powerful truth. And yet, how is the Lord Jesus exercising his sovereignty here? For the good of his church. For the wellbeing of his people. Do you see it? With sovereignty, Jesus chooses his apostles, who will then proclaim and pass down the gospel to the church, even to you and me. It’s all for the church’s sake.
And that is what I would stress to us this morning as we reflect on v13. We are a church that rejoices in the sovereign authority of Jesus Christ, but I pray we are a church that always understands the pastoral heart Jesus displays in exercising his sovereignty. Jesus has unlimited power and authority, and yet, he always uses that power for the good of his people. That’s the kind of king Jesus came to be. He’s a shepherd-king, really – a lord uses his sovereignty to call his sheep, protect them, care for them, and even provide for their life to the very end of the age.
I hope you’re encouraged by this today. What a merciful and compassionate Lord Jesus Christ is to his church. The gates of hell will not prevail because our sovereign King uses his authority to preserve the truth and preserve us in the truth. And that’s good news, brothers and sisters.
The Messengers of the Lord
This note on sovereignty does bring us to vv14-16, where we see our third truth – the Messengers of the Lord. Beginning in v14, Luke records the names of the twelve apostles. This is one of four apostolic lists in the NT. Every list begins with Peter, and every list ends with Judas, except in Acts 1 because Judas is already dead. Now, there is a lot we could say about the apostles as a group, and there is considerable detail we could draw out about some of the individual apostles. For example, it is staggering to consider that Peter, who denied the Lord, would become something of the spokesman for the apostles, appearing first in every list. That’s some powerful hope for any disciple who has fallen and concluded he is beyond service to Christ. Peter would say otherwise.
It is also striking to consider that Matthew a tax collector and Simon the Zealot are both included among the apostles. Zealots didn’t like tax collectors, and sometimes they were hostile about that. And yet, Jesus brings enemies together, which of course reminds us that the gospel reconciles sinners to God and to one another. The church should be a place where enemies become brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s a lot of detail we could draw out about these men.
But for the sake of time, I would like to focus on two words that capture what you might call the paradox of the apostles. The apostles were unique, and the apostles were ordinary. Unique and ordinary – both of those words apply to the Twelve.
Consider, first of all, that the apostles were unique. To be an apostle, you had to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ earthly ministry, specifically his death and resurrection. Later, Paul would be called an apostle, but his apostleship was based on a personal, post-resurrection revelation of Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul calls himself an apostle who was untimely born. His witness to Christ came later. But by and large, to be an apostle, you had to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry.
And from this we should note that the office of apostle has not continued in the life of the church today. The apostles served a unique purpose during the first generation of the church’s life. This is why Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that we read earlier, that the apostles, along with the prophets, serve as the foundation for the church, with Christ himself as the cornerstone. The apostles were uniquely necessary during the founding days of the church. Their eyewitness testimony preserved and passed on the gospel message, and that function was complete once the NT writings were finished. And that means there are no apostles today. The purpose of the office has been fulfilled.
But we also see here the apostles’ uniqueness in their number. Jesus chooses twelve apostles, which, you well know, is a significant number in redemptive history. There were twelve tribes of Israel in the OT, and by selecting twelve apostles, Jesus signals that he is building a new people of God, the church. Understand, this is a massive claim on Jesus’ part. As the faithful Son of God, Jesus is the True Israel. He is the Promised Seed of Abraham, and the One in whom the old covenant is fulfilled. And now, in that role as the founder of a new covenant, Jesus is bringing together a new people for God, a new covenant people who are defined not by ethnicity but by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is why the apostles play such a pivotal role in Acts 2 at the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out on the church. Their role is foundational in Jesus’ work of building the new covenant people of God.
When you put these things together, you can see, very clearly I hope, that the apostles were unique in redemptive history. They were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry, they were foundational in the establishment of Jesus’ church, and even their number signals the significance of the work Jesus is now doing – the work of building a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people for God’s own possession. They apostles, then, were unique.
But at the same time, when you look at this list in Luke 6, we should also notice that the apostles are rather ordinary men. Think about it. Here is a group made up of fishermen, a tax collector, and then several guys we don’t really know much about. These were not the attention-grabbing, power brokers of Jesus’ day. These were not the religious elite or the culturally sophisticated. No, these were everyday men. Before the Lord’s call, you wouldn’t have picked these men as your key leaders in a movement to change the world. In fact, apart from Jesus’ choice, there is nothing to set these men apart. These are ordinary, everyday guys.
And that, brothers and sisters, is actually very important for us to embrace. What sets the twelve apart is the sovereign call and grace of Christ. It’s an expression of the earth-shattering good news of the kingdom of God. It is not the wise and powerful who have access to God’s kingdom. It’s the lowly, the ordinary, the everyday. It’s the humble that God delights to call to himself – not because the humble are inherently better, but because the humble so clearly show the world that the glory belongs to God and God alone.
In other words, brothers and sisters, the ordinary nature of the apostles should remind us that service to Christ is not based on our status or our natural abilities. It rests on the call and grace of the Lord Jesus. If you’re a Christian today, then the Lord Jesus has called you to himself, and he has gifted you with what you need to be his servant in the world. Sure, you’re not an apostle, but every disciple is sent out by Christ to bear witness to the good news. Every disciple is sent out by the Lord Jesus to be his light in a dark and dying world. And that includes you and me, brothers and sisters.
For the believers here this morning, I would encourage you to ask the Lord to open your eyes to the ministry he is already calling you to do. To be a disciple is to be called and gifted to serve the Master. If you belong to him, then he has work for you to do. Have you asked him where that work is, and how you should go about doing it? Have you asked him to show you the disciple-making opportunities he’s put in your path? That’s our work, brothers and sisters. And it starts in our church, in our homes, and in our workplaces. You may think you’re just an ordinary Christian that belongs to an ordinary church in an ordinary town. But as the apostles remind us, it’s the ordinary whom God delights to use.
Instead of thinking that the ministry of the gospel is for all those other Christians, let’s embrace the truth that the ministry is our work to do together. And then by faith, let’s serve together because on one level, all believers are messengers of the Lord.
As we close this morning, I hope we’ve seen how the apostles are significant because of their connection with the Lord Jesus. They are his messengers, called and sent out by his sovereign will, to preserve and proclaim his gospel in that foundational era of the early church. But here at the end, I want to conclude by also helping us see the connection between the apostles and us. If the apostles are significant, unique, and foundational, then what is their connection with us, Christians who live some 2,000 years later?
And the answer is the Scriptures. The way we stand in line with the apostles is by standing firm on the inspired Word of God. The apostles were the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, and their mission was to proclaim what they had seen. And that proclamation has been recorded for us in the New Testament. To read the NT is to listen to the apostolic testimony about Jesus Christ. Whether its the Gospels or one of Paul’s letters, whether its 1 Peter of 1 John – the NT is Christ’s authoritative word to his church, handed down to us through the Lord’s apostles.
You know, you’ll sometimes hear people talk about being red-letter Christians – that is, Christians who pay attention only to the words of Jesus printed in red in the NT. That might sound really devout, but it’s honestly pretty foolish. There is no distinction between the words of Jesus in the Gospels and the words of his apostles in the epistles. Every word in the NT is the authoritative word of Christ, and that’s because the apostles are the Lord’s authorized messengers. We as the church today honor the authority of Christ by submitting to his Word, which has come to us through the ministry of the Lord’s apostles. Let’s be done with silly distinctions between Jesus and Paul, as though they were two different sources. Paul and Peter and John speak with authority because they deliver to us the word of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
And so, brothers and sisters, I end with the exhortation that I so often give, and it’s the one I will keep giving, Lord willing, because it is the lifeblood of Jesus’ church. Give yourself to the life-giving task of knowing God’s Word. Feed on the Scriptures, and as you do, remember that you are not reading the words of self-appointed men who acted on their own authority. No, you are reading the word of God, the word of Christ, recorded and preserved for us by the prophets and the apostles. That Word is the lifeblood of the church. And brothers and sisters, it’s the lifeblood for you and me. Take up and read, and receive in Scripture the life-giving authority of the Lord Jesus. Amen.