Since early February, I have been preaching a biographical series on the 12 disciples at my home church in Wichita, KS. We have been sketching their lives throughout the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles when able. I have used such resources as William Barclay’s The Master’s Men, A.B. Bruce’s The Training of the Twelve, and John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men.
Early on, it wasn’t too challenging to gather enough preaching material for disciples like Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip and Nathanael.
My next sermon will overview Thomas, who supplies a fair amount of preaching material in the Gospel of John and from there I will preach about Matthew, who also has plenty of narrative ground to cover in the Gospel he penned. So, that is 8 of the 12 disciples.
Other than 1 of the remaining 4 disciples – Judas Iscariot – the other 3 are as obscure as they get: James the less (or the little), James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus (or Lebbaeus or Judas, son of James), and Simon the Zealot.
So, here are the questions I will attempt to deal with in today’s post: if these 12 men are the early leaders of the church who lead the initial charge of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and will one day rule from thrones in heaven (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; Revelation 21:14), why do we know very little about 3 of them? Shouldn’t all of them get equal treatment from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? It seems from the reading the Gospels that Jesus only really needed 9 disciples.
In short, I don’t know the answer to these questions, because the Bible does not supply it. But, I will speculate.
Could it be that they aren’t referred to much because they were ordinary? It is true that each of these disciples were ordinary, because they were uneducated simple-minded men who came from small towns and embraced blue-collar vocations. But at least 9 of the disciples might have reached “celebrity status” in the early church.
But the reality of the universal church is that most of us pastors are ordinary. Most pastors in the U.S.A. lead congregations of 100 or less. Most of us will never know each other, because most of us won’t write best-selling books, have blog or video posts that go viral, or speak at national conferences.
Perhaps God didn’t want to set an expectation that all of us need to selfishly aspire to be Peter, James or John. Perhaps we need to be content with being faithfully obscure like James the less, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddeus.