“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”Jesus, John 15:5
Jesus, it must be remembered, restricted nine-tenths of his ministry to twelve Jews because it was the only way to redeem all Americans.
– Eugene Peterson, Traveling Light
12One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.Luke 6:12-16
Jesus again goes out by himself to be with his Father and pray. In this instance, he prays all night, reflecting the seriousness of the undertaking in selecting from among his many disciples to appoint the apostles.
Disciples are best understood as learners and apprentices, while apostles are given full power and authority to teach and heal. This decision – and Jesus’ intense seeking of the Father’s will – is one of the most important of his ministry. He is essentially appointing the small group that will be responsible for carrying on his ministry once he is gone; these are the seeds that will reproduce to spread Jesus’ gospel to the ends of the earth.
As noted in the Eugene Peterson excerpt above, Jesus chose to invest the majority of his time in a small group that would reproduce to generate exponential growth in followers of Jesus over time. The math of Jesus’ model can be contrasted to more volume-oriented, but potentially non-reproducing, “transactional” evangelism that does not emphasize devoted follow through in discipleship. If someone participates in leading ten people to Christ each year for ten years, there will be perhaps 100 Christians at the end of this period if the root of the gospel has truly taken hold. For someone who leads one person a year to Christ and then invests deeply in discipling them to become fruitful, reproducing followers of Jesus, the math is quite different. After ten years, there will be 1,024 disciples of Jesus, assuming that each disciple follows in leading and discipling one person per year thereafter (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024). Of course, we are dependent always on the Spirit’s work exceedingly above our own in opening eyes, ears and hearts to perceive and receive the gift of faith, meaning this example states a principle without an intended precision of outcome implied in any of the numbers used to exemplify the principle.
It is not overstatement to say that the reason we are reading and discussing Jesus here is a result of the Spirit’s work through the first apostles and their spiritual children. While our words and deeds should make our faith visible to all and we should seek to widely share Jesus’ good news, in asking his followers to, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus is asking us to adopt his example of discipleship as the primary means of investing our lives in others.
As the apostles are listed, our friend Peter is first on the list. Yes, the man who told Jesus, “away from me, I am a sinful man,” on the deck of his boat after the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5. It is hard to conceive the transformation we can undergo and the fruit the Spirit can yield through us if we choose to truly follow and obey the teaching of Jesus. May the Lord give us grace and perseverance to do so wholeheartedly.
“Now then, my sons, listen to wisdom; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily in my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.”Proverbs 8:32-36
“Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”Psalm 20:6, 7