THE CALL OF THE DISCIPLES
Reading: Matthew ch. 10
The very thought of the return of Christ quickens our hearts and makes us joyful in the prospect; but at the same time it gives us cause for sober reflection, for we realise that the next great event will be that we shall have to stand before Him whom we have met together to remember, as our Judge. That day will decide the destiny of countless multitudes of men and women of all ages who have been resurrected to stand before the Judge of the earth, Him to whom God has committed all judgment. We sometimes sing: “The watchers in the mountain, Proclaim the Bridegroom near: Go. meet him as he cometh, With joy if yet with fear.” Yes, there is always that fear because we all realise that our lives cannot be entirely as we would have them. In the very nature of things it is impossible for us to live perfect lives. Try as we will, we constantly do those things which are out of harmony with the divine mind, and it may be that after a time we commence to worry unduly regarding the future. We may even get despondent and discouraged in regard to our life in the Truth.
Now our presence around these emblems indicates that we cach one have a sense of our responsibility in regard to this meeting for the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup in remembrance of the sacrifice of our Lord; and that being so, surely as a result of our attendance around these emblems it is possible for us to get a balanced outlook in regard to our lives in the Truth; to obtain comfort in the Truth as well as waning, from a consideration of the character of Him whom we have met to remember. Jesus was tempted in all points as we are and yet without sin, and therefore he can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
Now the chapter we have read from the record by Matthew, chap. 10, opens with a reference to the call of the twelve disciples. In the record by Luke, chap. 6, the apostle is more informative. V 12: “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day hc called unto him his disciples; and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles.” The fact that Jesus spent all night in prayer, and then the next morning selected his twelve apostles, must mean that he consulted the Father concerning the choice which he was to make; and what a powerful lesson there is there for us. If the Master himself found it necessary to consult his Father in such a matter, how much more necessary that we should do so. There are other incidents in the Scriptures which show that Christ was constantly in touch with the Father in prayer. We have our problems and our difficulties, we plan things in this life, we have our trials and setbacks, there are the everyday affairs of our daily lives. In all these things we should ask God’s help and guidance in regard to them. Writing to the Philippians chap. 4:6 the apostle Paul exhorts us: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” This is not just a privilege that we have—although it is a great privilege—but prayer is a necessity if we are to attain unto eternal life. We remember the Proverb: “Acknowledge him in all your ways and He will direct your steps.”
Having made the matter the subject of prayer for divine guidance, whom did Jesus select? Remember he was choosing twelve men to be his apostles, who were destined to rule with Christ in the future Kingdom which would be set up on earth. Did he choose prominent or wealthy Jews? Did he make choice from the rulers of the people? No, he chose twelve ordinary individuals, for the most part fishermen—in that day one of the most humble of occupations. It has been the divine principle down the ages: “To this man will I look, even to him that is of a humble and contrite spirit, and who trembleth at my word.” For this reason, not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called, but God has chosen the foolish things, that is in the eyes of the world, weak things, base things, things which are despised by the world; those are the things God has chosen in order that no flesh should glory in His presence. The world at large would despise and ridicule such men as Jesus chose to be his companions, and who were later destined to go forth to preach the gospel, as a result of which those early ecclesias were established in the first century. Supposing we had to make the choice, what sort of men should we have chosen? Perhaps it is difficult to answer that question, but probably we should have chosen such characters after the disposition of the apostle John, gentle and loving, because we should consider that kind of character to be more in keeping with the things of the Spirit. Yet Jesus chose diverse characters. Peter, impetuous but loyal and ardent, quite a different character from John. James the son of Alphaeous; if he was indeed the writer of the epistle which bears his name, it shows a man with depth of character and thought and a very practical individual. Then there was Thomas, who would not believe unless he could see with his eyes. Matthew, of that hated class the tax gathereror publican. We do not know much about the others, but we do know that within three and a half years Jesus had welded them together into one band with the exception of Judas, and everyone of them suffered a martyr’s death for Christ’s sake. That gives us thought. We look around this morning at our ecclesia, and we realise that each one of us has been called in the divine purpose to a place in His Kingdom; but we are not all alike. We are as diverse the one from the other as were the twelve apostles. Our dispositions are different, our worldly tastes and aims are different, and yet we meet together in this way week by week, a united body of brethren and sisters, rejoicing in the same hope, welded together in the bonds of love and truth. It helps us to view one another in a different light if we reflect upon this matter. There are some we are naturally drawn to, that we naturally like more than others; and there are some that perhaps irritate us; their characters clash with ours sometimes. Very often we fall out with some, and feuds grow if they are not suppressed at the start. So there is this natural working of the flesh in regard to one another if we are not careful to rule our lives by the precepts of Christ and manifest that spirit which Christ manifested. We are helped in our endeavour to overcome these promptings of the flesh the one toward the other, if we can realise that the brother or sister that we cannot always get on with, has been called to the Truth exactly as we have been, and that God has seen in them, as He has seen in us, something which can be developed if we allow it to be developed, which will be worthy of perpetuation throughout the ages of eternity. Let us then endeavour to get this personal touch in regard to each other in our association with the things of the Truth.
Look again at the twelve with their diverse characters; how was it that Jesus was enabled to unite them as he did?—by word, by example, by patience and by sympathy? It is comforting to realise that these men were as we are. We think of Peter’s weakness in denying Christ. Have we ever denied Christ? We think of the disciples’ fear when in the boat, although Jesus was with them. Have we ever been fearful in our lives in the Truth? We think of them arguing right at the very time when Christ was about to lay down his life for the sins of the people, arguing as to which should be the greatest. Then we think of the time when Jesus was arrested and how they all forsook him and fled. Should we have been any different had we been in those circumstances? Yet in spite of those manifest weaknesses the divine record in John testifies that “When Jesus knew that his hour was come, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” That was the secret; and Paul was latermovect to say that it was the love of Christ which constrained him in regard to his faithful service. It was the love of Christ for his disciples which drew them close to him and united them as one body in Christ. And it is the same love which will constrain us and will unite us if we let the spirit of Christ actuate our lives. It is the same Jesus whom we serve, whom we have come to remember this morning in the partaking of these emblems; and it is recorded that “he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself unto him.” If only we can individually grasp this truth, it will not only help to comfort us and give us perhaps a different outlook in regard to the future, but it will spur us to greater efforts in our desire to serve Jesus. It will help us to realise also that he is not displeased because we slip from time to time. The flesh is weak. It was so in the case of the apostles and Jesus did not condemn them for their weakness. He was sympathetic toward them, he helped them, and so it is with us. That thought will give us greater confidence and hope in the day about to dawn when we shall have to face Jesus at the Judgment Seat. And so if we get this mind it will enable us to think in more positive terms. Instead of being weighed down by a consideration of our faults, we shall begin to think of works that we have done for Christ’s sake; perhaps a word of cheer to another, perhaps a letter written, perhaps a visit made to somebody who has been sick, or even perhaps as mentioned by Jesus himself at the end of this chapter, a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple. Gradually the love of Christ will constrain us to walk more and more in the light of God’s Word, knowing that through the mediation of Jesus his blood cleanseth us from all sin. It will help us so much in our daily lives in the Truth if we can get this personal touch in regard to Jesus, to realise that he regards each one of us, that he is sad when we neglect him or when we are unfaithful to him; on the other hand, that he is glad when we are striving to overcome, that he helps us although the help is unseen, that he intercedes for us before the throne of grace more earnestly then we can ever know or will realise until the day when we are admitted into his glorious presence in the Kingdom. Think of his solicitude for his disciples in the days of his ministry, and that same solicitude is extended toward us. Think again of the care and gentleness and sympathy and kindness which the Master extended toward his disciples manifested in such expressions: “Let not your heart be troubled”—that was just before Jesus went forward to his death. “Fear not, little flock”; “Why are ye troubled?” And then to one and all, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden”; and “He calleth his own sheep by name.” We are the sheep of God and Jesus knows us each one by name. That encourages us and enables us to face the future with a greater confidence and a realisation that we are indeed members of the Household of Christ.
On the other hand, Jesus did not hesitate to rebuke when the need arose. “Could ye not watch with me one hour?”“0 fools and slow of heart to believe.”“0 ye of little faith”, and to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” But it was all done in love, and they realised that Jesus was only speaking for their own good, and with patience and sympathy drawing them to him. This is our elder Brother, the one that we have to meet in the day of account; and so when wespeak of the early return of Christ and realise that the day of judgment is at hand, it takes away a lot of the fear when we remember the wonderful position that we occupy as his brethren and sisters, and that the same love which was extended toward his disciples is extended toward each one of us and will persist until the day of account. If in that day we are turned away, it will be entirely our own fault because during the days of our probation we have neglected that love which was extended to us and have followed after the things of the world. In that unrepentant frame of mind Jesus cannot accept us in the day of account. Let us take comfort from the words he addressed to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Now whilst we comfort ourselves with these thoughts we must also get a balance. We must realise that if we truly reciprocate the love of Christ that will mean that we are doing our best in service to him. “If ye love me keep my commandments.” We must remember that love alone in the day of account will not of itself draw us into the Kingdom. There must be service as well, but if the love is there the service will follow. If there is no service it is because there has been no love. If we love God and Jesus we shall endeavour to keep the commandments.
This 10th chapter of Matthew contained much instruction for the apostles, and we ourselves can derive much profit from a study of it. They were sent out to preach. Whilst the particular bearing of this incident does not apply to us, the principle is the same. We have to preach the Word in season and out of season, and so we read in v. 32 “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” It is a matter of individual examination; we shall know whether we are hiding our light under a bushel or whether we are warning this generation as did Noah of the impending judgements and God’s wonderful plan of salvation. There are different methods of doing this. Some brethren follow one idea; they even go from door to door and talk about the Truth; some believe in open-air speaking; others have different methods; but the real principle of it all lies in our individual effort in the quiet manifestation of the spirit of the Truth in our daily lives, and the seeking and seizing of every opportunity to let our lights shine before men that God’s great Name may be glorified. in that respect we all have opportunities and it is for us to see that in these last days we do indeed make it known to our friends and neighbours, our business acquaintances, wherever we go—that Christ is about to be manifested and God’s great salvation will be revealed through him. If we keep quiet we are hiding our light under a bushel, and that indicates that we are not fully conscious of that love of Christ which should constrain us to show faithful service in regard to his commands. V. 16: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” That applies to us today. We must not return evil for evil; we have to keep separate from the world. If we are smitten on one cheek we have to offer the other also. But they were required to be as wise as serpents, and we have to be also; in other words the disciples were not to seek persecution, but to use wisdom in avoiding it. V.23: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another; for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come.” The lesson lies here. Although we are called to salvation, although Jesus loves us, yet we are not delivered from the results of our faithful preaching of the Truth and our faithful living of the Truth before other people. Therefore we suffer their taunts and their sneers because they will not have the Word of God, although that does not affect us much in these days. There is an air of laxity all around, an air of indifference—”do not interfere with me and I will not interfere with you”, and if we are not careful we shall be lulled into a sense of keeping quiet when we should speak out, and we may mix more freely with those who surround us instead of keeping separate. But in our lives in the Truth, whether in business or among our acquaintances, if we keep the Truth ever to the front we shall find that we keep separate because they will not desire our company. Paul said: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.” Faithfulness in manifesting the Truth will in some measure bring upon us the results of that warning by Christ in v. 22 “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” In that respect he said it was sufficientfor the disciple that he should be as his Master; “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” Finally v. 38 “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Here is something that we have to do ourselves. We cannot carry a cross by proxy, norcan we pay others to carry it forus. We each have a cross of some sort and we have to bear it for Christ’s sake. Its weight and awkwardness depends upon God’s wisdom and love as to what is necessary in our individual cases, but carry it we must. Yet we are never tried above that which we are able to bear, and the divine counsel is, “Cast thy burden on the Lord and he will sustain thee.”
Let us take comfort from these few thoughts; let us follow the example of the Lord who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame; and the joy to which we stand related is something which our hearts now cannot fully appreciate. But what a wonderful prospect it is, to be among that great multitude which one day will be manifested, who having been made perfect through suffering will fill the earth with God’s glory and righteousness; to be among that number of whom Jesus has said he will confess before his Father and the holy angels. Let us then hold fast, be more diligent and watchful and very soon the order of our lives will be interrupted with those stirring words, “The Lord is come.” Then if in the days of our opportunity we have tried to reciprocate the love of Christ toward us, we shall go to meet him with joy though tempered with fear, but the uppermost feeling will be one of relief that the days of our probation are over and that Christ has brought us through. We shall then enter into that glorious reward which will be the lot of all those who have put their trust in him.
—F. C. Wood.