Of the several prayers recorded of the Lord Jesus Christ, a number seem to point us to specific aspects in His fife. At His transfiguration it was as He prayed that the fashion of His countenance was changed; in His high-priestly prayer special features are brought to our attention; and again in the garden His submission to the will of His Father is surely the prominent feature portrayed.
The prayer of Luke 6. 12 also bears the hallmark of speciality. It is this prayer which is notable for its duration—all night—and for its character— prayer to or o/God. We are aware that opinions differ as to which is the correct preposition to use here, but we leave the scholars to their reasonings, and note from each there is a lesson as to the example given by the Lord Jesus.
But first, the duration of the prayer. How different from that needed to pray His model prayer given to His disciples, and even His own in public! Here He was in the privacy of the mountain fastnesses, where, alone with His Father, time was secondary. In private we need to cultivate a sense of timelessness, whereas in public brevity is far more urgent a need.
Now second, the character of the prayer. That which was before the mind of our blessed Lord was a choice of “companions” (reverently speaking) for the remainder of His earthly sojourn—yes, and to some extent for a future day, for did He not say to them “Ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”?, Matt. 19. 28.
These prepositions bring before us two characteristics of our Lord: (i) Dependence, as the Obedient One; and (ii) Acquiescence, as the Holy One. He would do nothing selfishly, but in all things He desired the absolute knowledge of His Father’s approval. In this the character of the prayer answers to the preposition “to”. He prayed to God about the matter. Then again, He did not engage in unintelligent prayer. It was the prayer “of’ God, brought about by the habit of constant communion with God and meditation upon His ways. There was no doubtful tag attached to this prayer, “if it be thy will”, or suchlike empty phrases which we often use in prayer, almost as “vain repetitions”. No, here was purposeful prayer in the knowledge—as dependent Man— of the divine will.
Having spent such a season, the Lord Jesus, conscious of the full approval and indeed co-operation of His Father, now goes forward to choose from among those who followed Him twelve to be with Him and to go forth to preach.
What infinite grace is seen here. The Lord Jesus looking for companionship from among men! That lonely One who walked through this world was no ascetic, except as men hid their faces from Him. He came eating and drinking, He came unto His own, and His own received Him not, but as many as received Him, to them gave He the authority to become the children of God. To be with Him was not only companionship, but learning. As those who were with Him, they are called disciples. They were yoked with Him and learned of Him. Blessed discipleship! Having learned of Him, they are sent forth (note the order!) to preach. In this service they are no longer called disciples, but apostles, and how remarkable that each one of the twelve, including the traitor, is sent to preach the kingdom of heaven and of God.
Twelve is the number of perfect government, and here was the King sending the emissaries of His kingdom to announce it. Who are these men whom the Lord chose in such a way? Were they specialists in any degree? A glance at the lists given us does not suggest so. They were ordinary folk going about their daily occupation, yet they heard the Master’s call—and followed. The lists are found in Matthew 10, Mark 3, Luke 6, and Acts 1.
We notice similarities in each list, as well as differences. For instance, the twelve names can be divided into three groups of four. In the first group are those whom the Lord chose to take into positions of special privilege, plus Andrew. In the second we find those who are mentioned in other places in Scripture, whilst in the third are those of whom we read very little if anything more, with the exception of Judas Iscariot.
A further glance will show that Simon (Peter after restoration) always heads the list, and that Judas Iscariot always concludes it until he goes to his own place. Two others retain their positions throughout, Philip at the head of the second group, and James the son of Alphaeus at the head of the third. Further, in John’s Gospel Philip and Andrew are connected on at least three occasions, and Peter and John more particularly in Acts. Mark 6. 7 tells us that the Lord began to send them out two and two, but does not say whether this is according to the list given elsewhere or not.
Tradition tells us that many went to distant lands, Bartholomew (otherwise thought to be the Nathaniel of John 1) as far as to India. It also tells us that Peter suffered crucifixion, but head downwards at his own request. It says his wife also suffered much with him. We leave tradition to its own comments.
Peter always appears to head the list where groups are found. He is vivacious, impetuous, and always out to be doing, self-confident to the extreme in not knowing his own weakness, or his Master’s will at times. He was the first to preach to the Jews after the resurrection, and also to the Gentiles, thus using the keys given him to open the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. A winsome character, and not to be over criticized for his weaknesses.
James, often mentioned first of the two brothers (perhaps the elder of them) is little spoken of, but his faithfulness cost him his life, Acts 12. 2.
John, Peter’s complement, is the quiet contemplating character, whose influence and leadership is felt among the apostles not from the forward position, but in reticently coming alongside to help when needed. He is never spoken of as preaching, but was with Peter as he did so.
Andrew and Philip are seen together bringing others to Jesus on three occasions in John’s gospel. They seem to have been personal workers.
Bartholomew, if he is indeed Nathaniel, is another of a quiet contemplative spirit, but he dispensationally, John 1. 48-51, as against John Christologically. Little otherwise is said of him, except that he was with the fishing expedition in John 21.
Thomas, often called the doubter, but having qualities which rise above this: “Let us also go, that we may die with him”; “My Lord and my God”.
Matthew brings his colleagues to the Lord Jesus by giving them a feast. A man whose very business, despised as it was, moulded his thought under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to write of his King! He is also called Levi.
James, the son of Alphaeus, is little known, usually distinguished from the author of the Epistle bearing his name, and from the James who spoke at the council at Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.
Lebbaeus, and Simon the Zealot are the silent, retiring characters of whom very little is said in other parts of Scripture. Lebbaeus is also called Judas in two of the lists. Some think he was the one who wrote the Epistle of Jude; if so, he is one who exhorted to contend earnestly for the faith, and to keep yourselves in the love of God. He is also thought to be the Judas who questioned the Lord in John 14. 22.
Judas Iscariot, the only disciple to be chosen from Judaea (from which also our Lord came) is one to whom much was given—to go and preach (which he did), and to carry the bag. He was even the Lord’s “familiar friend”, Psa. 41. 9. Yet poor Judas is so different in character. He seems to find much to be disgruntled about, even to finally betraying his Lord. The Lord said of him, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?”, John 6. 71.
We have briefly looked together at a few of the characteristics found among this little band of men of whom the Lord said “I call you not servants … but … friends”, John 15. 15. What an answer to that night in prayer and communion with God, the complement of which surely is His high-priestly prayer in John 17, in which He says, “those that thou gavest me … none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled”. How this magnifies His grace, that He chose the one who was to open the gate for His exodus, by means of a felon’s death, to bring salvation to each one who will receive it from Him.
He, in His infinite grace, had kept them through the Father’s name. But not only had He kept them; there is a sense in which He enjoyed them. Amidst all the opposition He received from the rulers, and the rest, here was a little group, those of whom He said, ye “persevered with me in my temptations” j.n.d. How He cherished that! There was an occasion when many went back, and He turned to the little group with “Will ye also go away?”. Here Peter’s reply must have thrilled His soul, John 6. 68-69.
Perhaps someone may be thinking there is nothing practical in the foregoing. We look again, because the practical is not always such as is immediately obvious from what is said. We note the different kinds of persons which the Lord chose, and how they reacted—some outgoing, some reticent, some contemplative, some disposed to hospitality, to writing, to preaching, to personal contact, and as we meditate upon their dispositions how much more we see. Yet the Lord chose each, not to change a Peter into a John, but to take them each up separately, to sanctify them, and to make them meet for the Master’s use.
What more practical lesson than this? Peter had to learn it, “Lord, and what shall this man do? … What is that to thee? follow thou me”, John 21. 21-22. Hence we learn the apostle’s word, “to his own master he standeth or falleth”, Rom. 14. 4. May we have the grace to learn of the Father from the Son, and serve the Lord as He directs: “What is that in thine hand?”, Exod. 4. 2. Leave mere human ideas, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in sanctified service, to receive in that day the Lord’s “Well done”.