It’s a question I’ve been asked a number of times….
What’s the difference between a disciple and an apostle?
And which one am I, if either?
A good simple way to remember it is….the word “disciple” refers to a learner or follower, and the word “apostle” means “one who is sent out.”
While Jesus was on earth, His twelve followers were called disciples.
The twelve disciples followed Jesus Christ, learned from Him, and were trained by Him.
And after His resurrection and ascension, Jesus then sent the disciples out to be His witnesses by the power of the Holy Spirit. They were then his apostles.
This seems pretty straight forward, and for most of us, it’s an easy general rule to understand how the two words are used. The exception comes in some places were the words are used interchangeably in seemingly incorrect places, like in our reading today.
In today’s reading, Jesus is right at the beginning of his earthly ministry, and he is being followed by a large group of disciples, but then he calls a specific group of them by name, twelve in number, and he calls them his apostles.
It’s one of several places in scripture where the words seem to be used incorrectly. These twelve have not been sent out yet, so why are they referred to here as apostles. Likewise later, groups of men are sent out two by two, seventy in number, and when they return they are still referred to as disciples, not apostles.
Some have come to the conclusion that the twelve are called apostles because they were extraordinary, and special, and that in all of history there have been only 14 apostles. (the original 12, plus Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot – who was not really an apostle because he was not sent out at all- and the apostle Paul who was called directly by Jesus after his ascension.)
You may think this, but it’s not the case. Though out history Jesus’ disciples and apostles have come in all shapes and sizes, and at all different times, and are simply ordinary men and women whom God uses in an extraordinary manner.
Among the original twelve were fishermen, tax collectors, revolutionaries, and other regular guys. And the Gospels record the constant failings, struggles, and doubts of these men who followed Jesus.
It is also clear that when Jesus unveils his Great Commission he clarifies that they were not unique. This is what he told them when he appeared to them after the resurrection:
Matthew 28:18-20 New International Version (NIV)
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So it was at this moment, with this commission, that the original disciples became apostles, and what were they first and foremost to do….
Go make more disciples. And when those disciples go out to make more disciples themselves, as they are commanded to do, they themselves become apostles.
And so that is how we sort out some of the confusion that comes with the use of the words disciple and apostle in the New Testament.
The non-believer, the “yet-to-beleiver” is neither a disciple nor an apostle. But as soon as a person accept Christ, and begin to learn what that means, they are his disciple. Ever person who is born again in Him in this room is a disciple.
And that’s a big deal. It’s not just those twelve guys in the past. You and I are Jesus’ disciples.
When we come to the table to share in communion, we join all the disciples from the very beginning at the table with Jesus.
And when you fully accepts that truth, and understand what God expects of you, you also realize that He wants you as His apostle.
For the Christ follower, the words disciple and apostle can and are used interchangeably, because we are always learning and following, but we are also sent out.
That will manifest in different ways, for different people, based on the gifts that God has given you. But all Christ followers are ultimately ministers for Him.
And that’s what we’re going to be talking about this morning.
The biblical truth that after witnessing Jesus, the Holy Spirit transforms His disciples and apostles into powerful men and women of God will turn the world upside down to God’s glory.
And we will see what gave the original disciples and apostles such incredible power. The fact that each of them had “been with Jesus”?
Mark 3:1-19 [From the NLT – New Living Translation]
We’ll start with the first few verses:
1 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. Would he heal the man’s hand on the Sabbath? If he did, they planned to condemn him. 3 Jesus said to the man, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Is it legal to do good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing harm? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. 5 He looked around at them angrily, because he was deeply disturbed by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Reach out your hand.” The man reached out his hand, and it became normal again! 6 At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to discuss plans for killing Jesus.
This section concluded what had begun in chapter two. Jesus was out getting started with his mission, and right from the get-go, he was put under heavy scrutiny.
It seems that everything Jesus did made the religious Jews angry. Every word and every work was placed under a microscope, and it was clear from the very start what they wanted. Jesus dead.
Let’s recap. The religious leaders thus far are mad because Jesus forgave a man’s sins. Even worse than that he ate a meal with sinners, he refused to honor their rituals, and because He allowed His disciples to pick and eat grain on the Sabbath, it seems Jesus was refusing to play by their rules and they so they despised Him, and feared Him.
And then right after Jesus and His men had passed through the wheat fields and had their confrontation with the the Pharisees, they have followed Jesus to the synagogue, looking for some way to trap Him, discredit Him and destroy His ministry. In fact, as we will see here, they will stop at nothing to see that happen.
But Jesus, of course, knows this.
He knows this because he can see into our hearts.
The Pharisees here have one of the most problematic types hearts when it comes to our relationship with God: a hardened heart.
The Greek word for “hardness” is the word “porosis”. It was the name of a type of marble used in the ancient world. And so what’s being said here is that Jesus knew that their hearts were as hard and as unyielding as a piece of marble.
The word “porosis” also came to be used to mean “covered with a callus”.
So we can say the hardened heart, is a spiritually callused one.
The callused heart will get to the place where it will not hear the voice of God. The callused heart will not respond to the call of the Lord.
Now, if you are hear this morning and have never been saved, there is a danger that your heart might become too hardened. Every time you say no to Jesus, you’re heart hardens a little more. God can still break through the most difficult cases, but in time you may not be even able to let him.
So the bible tells us to come to Him while our hearts are still tender. We are to come while we still can.
But there are those who are saved that can have hearts that become hard too. You can also get to the place where you refuse to listen to the voice of the Spirit.
You can find yourself no longer compassionate, or loving, or forgiving.
Instead you find yourself living in fear, and resentment, and judgment.
That is not the heart Christ wants us to have.
A.W. Tozer used to tell the story of the governor of a mid-western state who disguised himself and went into prison for a day to learn of the conditions. While speaking with a likable young convict, he felt a strong desire to pardon him.
“What would you do”, he asked casually, “if the governor were to offer you a pardon?”
The convict said, “The first thing I’d do is cut the throat of the judge who sent me here.”
The governor was deeply saddened as he broke off the conversation and left. The convict, of course, stayed in his cell.
Rather than except the grace that was right in front him and extend it to others he had allowed his heart to become hard, and so he could not be helped.
If these Pharisees in today reading had opened their hearts, Jesus could have reached them He could have helped them see the error in their ways.
They very likely deep down had a heart for God, but their heart was so hard and callused that God simply could not get in.
Jesus is calling every last one of us, but only some will follow. Only some can he really work with, because they are open to his leading.
There is a sorting out process.
And it’s essential that when Jesus comes calling, our hearts be open, and we are willing to go with Him
7 Jesus and his disciples went out to the lake, followed by a huge crowd from all over Galilee, Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far away as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him for themselves. 9 Jesus instructed his disciples to bring around a boat and to have it ready in case he was crowded off the beach. 10 There had been many healings that day. As a result, many sick people were crowding around him, trying to touch him. 11 And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him, they would fall down in front of him shrieking, “You are the Son of God!” 12 But Jesus strictly warned them not to say who he was. 13 Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. 14 Then he selected twelve of them to be his regular companions, calling them apostles. He sent them out to preach, 15 and he gave them authority to cast out demons. 16 These are the names of the twelve he chose: Simon (he renamed him Peter), 17 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder” ), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the Zealot ), 19 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).
So here is that part with the disciples/apostles. He has his group of followers, learners, but he further sorts them out here.
Everyone who trusts and follows Christ, and does not have a hardened heart, and is open to learn from Him, and go where he leads is a disciple of Jesus.
There were many people like that in the with Jesus on this day at the lake.
But Jesus goes up to the mountain and picks only a few to send out.
They have been following up to this point, and I’m sure that more than a few think are ready for the next level.
But only Jesus knows their hearts. He know which one he can use.
Jesus can interchange the words disciple and apostle, because he really knows us. He knows those that will stay back and those who will go out.
In this case he says it clearly about the twelve, “They were to accompany him (as disciples), and he would send them out to preach (after he ascended into heaven). Except for Judas, who betrayed Jesus and didn’t live to see sent out with the others.
In those he would send out, He knew what he’s looking for. And in this case, he know way in advance.
It wasn’t education. It wasn’t good looks, or the ability to speak well.
It was the quality of their hearts, and what they had to offer him.
And they all had something to offer.
·Simon – This is his Hebrew name. It means “a rock or stone”. Jesus changes his name to “Peter”. This is a Greek name and it also means “rock or stone” in the Greek. Peter was the leader of the group. He was a fisherman with a family. He was outspoken and opinionated. He failed the Lord in a very public manner, and more than once, but he humbled himself and was restored. He was used of the Lord is a mighty way in the early church.
· James – He was a fisherman. He was a member of the Lord’s inner circle. James, Peter and John were singled out for a special time of ministry three times: when the daughter of Jairus was raised from the dead; when Jesus was transfigured; and when Jesus went a little farther into Gethsemane to pray. James was a great leader in the early church, serving as its first Pastor. He was the first of the Apostles to be put to death for his faith in the Lord.
· John – He was the brother of James, also a member of that inner circle. John was known as the “Beloved Disciple”. He was a mighty influence in the early church, writing several books of the New Testament. John was the only Apostle not put to death for his faith, but he was persecuted, imprisoned and banished to a desert island.
These two brothers were nicknamed “the sons of thunder” by the Lord Jesus. This name fits because they were known to be quick tempers, even wanting to pray down fire on a village that refused to receive the Lord Jesus. They asked Jesus for a place of special prominence in Jesus’ Kingdom.
· Andrew – He was the brother of Peter. He had been a fisherman before he came to Christ and every time he appears in the Gospel record, he is bringing someone to Jesus. He is the bible’s first powerful evangelist, and lifelong witness for the Lord Who saved him.
·Philip – Not much is known about Philip. We do know that Philip immediately goes to tell Nathaniel also known as Bartholomew about Jesus
·Bartholomew – He is also known as Nathaniel. was a man of honesty and deep religious conviction.
·Matthew – Matthew was a Jew named Levi. He had been a tax collector for Rome. He was a controversial choice and was no doubt despised by many of the people. But, the Lord called him, saved him and changed his life.
·Thomas – This man is sometimes condemned as a doubter, but we do know that he was loyal to Jesus, even to the point of being willing to die with Him. He was the only disciple not cowering in fear in the upper room on the day Jesus rose from the dead, And although he did want evidence, he was willing to accept the truth when it was revealed to him
·James the son of Alphaeus – Of this man there has been much speculation but we don’t know very much. We do know that his mother was at the cross when Jesus was crucified.
·Thaddaeus – Of Thaddeus we only know he dropped everything and followed Jesus.
Simon the Zealot- Simon was a revolutionary. He was a Jew sworn to the over throw of the Roman government. He was probably idealistic, proud, radical, outspoken, fiery and fearless.
·Judas Iscariot – Judas was the only disciple to come from Judea. He was the treasurer of the group, but he was a thief and a miser. He would eventually betray Jesus into the hands of the Jews for thirty pieces of silver. He never took hold of his role as apostle. He died by suicide. He had fooled everyone, except Jesus.
Which is a valuable lesson. He teaches us that it is possible to look saved and act saved and not be saved at all.
What’s important in all of this is that Jesus looked inside all of these men and said, I can use them. In Judas case, Jesus knew he would be a pawn of the devil, but God had used people who were against him before.
The key thing I hope you see is that were regular folks just like us.
At various times and in various ways these men lacked spiritual understanding. They lacked humility. They lacked faith. They lacked commitment. They lacked power. These men were always getting into trouble; missing the point or Christ’s teachings; lashing out at people who were different; saying the wrong thing; walking away from their commitment to Jesus; and many other failures and problems.
And yet in spite of their weaknesses, the Lord used these men to turn the world upside down for His glory. If He can use them, surely He can use us too! That should give us so much hope.
Jesus took twelve ordinary men, and of them. eleven by His grace He did something extraordinary. He wants to do the same thing in you and me!
If you have never trusted Jesus as your Savior, you need to know that Jesus does not need you to perfect, but he also does not desire you to be lost. If you will come to Jesus, confess you sins and receive Him into your heart, He will save you and prepare you for Heaven. He will make you a disciple.
And if you are saved, if you are already His disciple, the Lord may be ready today to use you in an even greater fashion. The apostolic commission is before us all.
I started by saying that the words disciple and apostle can be confusing. We may not know who is what and who is not.
It doesn’t matter.
God has it sorted out.
And If He can use the ragtag group of men he picked as his first disciples and apostles, then surely He can use you and I.
He’s ready to. He just want to know if we are prepared to drop our nets and follow and serve Him….today.