Can you name at least 8 of the 12 disciples? Do you know who was martyred first? Which disciple lives to a ripe old age? Did you know that there are two sets of brothers in Jesus’ inner circle?
I first became fascinated by the disciples when I read about conversations that Jesus had with Andrew and Thomas in a wonderful book by Simon J. Kistemaker called “ The Conversations of Jesus.”
I am an Ordinary Person
It awakened in me a desire to know more about the disciples, and what followed was a short, intense study on four disciples I did not know much about, i.e. Andrew, Nathaniel, Thomas and Phillip. What fascinated me was how they were essentially just ordinary humans like you and me who had their lives changed by an extraordinary Jesus. I often feel ordinary. Even invisible in the world around me, and somehow that thought of the ordinary becoming extraordinary appeals to me. So when you come across a title that says: “Twelve Ordinary Men,” you know I am going to read it.
During the reading of this book, I was going through a season of being highly circumspect about my life and my faith. I was clinging to one important promise:
The Lord will supply what is imperfect or lacking in your faith.
It came from Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians in 1 Thes 3:10 and although I felt that my faith was imperfect and lacked completeness, and therefore disqualified me as a servant of the Lord, I also believed that the Lord would build my faith.
The Lord used this book to show me how Jesus seemed to deliberately choose these men for their ordinariness. They were not by nature, highly qualified individuals, but sinners, sanctified to be used of God, like you and me, with a nature like ours (James 5:17). He showed me that the ordinary, imperfect in us is exactly what the Lord needs to build an extraordinary life.
Jesus makes us extraordinary!
It is simply this: His strength made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). After this book, I understood:
It is not: God PLUS Me, or Me PLUS God.
It is: God IN Me that makes my life extraordinary.
These twelve men changed the known world with their evangelism. These were not famous men, nor even men of means. Most of them were hardworking, ordinary people, a little rough around the edges, with flawed characteristics and oh so relatable! Getting to know all twelve helped me understand their purpose as a whole and as individuals. If you know even a little about the disciples, this book will not disappoint you, and you will gain a better understanding of these men that followed Jesus.
Although much of the book concentrates on Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip and Judas Iscariot (because more biblical information is available on their conversations, actions and words), the other Apostles are also dealt with. Since less information is available on the others and we will only really get to know them in heaven, MacArthur fills in their lives with some speculation and educated guesses on his part, admitting that the true details are not known. Nevertheless, the book is full of interesting discoveries and historical references that make one’s understanding of these men fill out from skeletal to flesh and blood.
What becomes apparent in the reading is that these twelve are much like us, called by God, saved and then taught and sent out, each according to his/her own character, skill and personality to be used by God to great effect wherever He places us. God can take what is weak and ugly in each of us and use it for His glory.
I loved getting to know the personalities, identifying with more than a few of them and realising that Jesus can and will use anyone who is willing to be loved, shaped, and transformed into a faithful follower.
Some of the disciples had visible ministries, while others quietly worked out the assignment Jesus gave them. A great reminder that the same is true today: sometimes, we just have to work with what God has put in our hands to do right now. Most of us will not have the notoriety of a Peter, James or John, but that does not minimise the importance of what Jesus has called us to do.
I did this book as a personal bible study, but it will be a fantastic book to do in a small group. MacArthur has an easy writing style that is not particularly scholarly, and I know that you can get accompanying workbooks and even audiobooks for this title.
However, I will say that although one learns so much about the disciples, we all tend not to think about what we have learned and how it would apply to our lives. It is fascinating to know the disciples, but if this does not translate into personal wisdom, what is the point of all this knowledge. We have to ask “So what?” and “Now what?” after reading this book.
The important question to ask is: if Jesus chose ordinary men – a fisherman, tax collector, political zealot – and turned their weaknesses to strength, what could Jesus do in my life if I surrender to His influence?
The book is a fascinating account of how Jesus called, mentored and trained the disciples, pouring His life into the men around Him in a purposeful manner. These men needed to be taught. But, unfortunately, their shortcomings and human failings overshadowed their potential, and only the wisdom of Jesus, investing His life into them, could bring it forth. It holds many practical applications for those of us who long to mentor and influence others, but these gems will have to be mined out of the book yourself.
I highly recommend this book and leave you with this scripture from the Message:
“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 The Message.)