On your Mark
Spiritual stem cells
… Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of
Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot ... (Mark 3:18, NIV)
Jesus called twelve disciples to be His apostles. Mark lists
the first three as Peter, James and John; and the last as Judas Iscariot. In
between are eight others.
The New Testament gives us four different listings for the
Twelve, and there are some variances in the order. In Matthew 10 and Luke 6,
Simon and Andrew are listed first and second, James and John third and fourth
— two sets of brothers. In Mark 3 and Acts 1, Andrew is listed fourth
rather than second.
Could it be that Andrew made less an impact in the life of
the Early Church than James and John, and therefore is placed fourth rather
than second in two of the lists? Or, could it be that Mark, in his gospel, and
Luke, when writing Acts, desired to give prominence to the first apostle
martyred, James (Acts 12)? Or, maybe Matthew and Luke felt it better to place
the two sets of brothers together?
We simply don’t know.
We do know in all four listings of the Twelve that Peter is
always first, Philip is always fifth, James the son of Alphaeus is always
ninth, and Judas Iscariot is always last.
Within the three groupings of four, the names are always the
same — except Thaddaeus in the last group is identified by Luke in his
Gospel and Acts as Judas son of James (probably later in life Thaddaeus dropped
the name of Judas so as not to be identified with the betrayer, Judas
Iscariot). There is no one from numbers 5 through 8 ever listed in the grouping
of the first or last four names. No one from the first four names or the last
four names is ever found in another grouping.
This may suggest that Jesus subdivided the Twelve into three
groups. We know also that later He sent them out two by two (Mark 6:7) —
thereby dividing them even further into six groups.
What are we to make of this?
I suspect we underrate the importance of smallness. Jesus
poured himself into a few. He organized them in such a way as to promote
effective relationship building. He also knew it was a stretch for Matthew the
tax collector and Simon the Zealot to link together in the common cause of
following Him. Perhaps too much closeness would have negated their growth
— so Jesus wisely put them in different groupings: Matthew with the
second group of four, and Simon the Zealot with the third group.
The contemporary church may too often focus only on crowds
and numbers. Surely, it is good that the Kingdom grow extensively; but it will
only do so if it grows first intensively.
Jesus devoted the vast majority of His time to a few. They
were His “stem cells” for the growth of the Church.
Almost every day I recall a prayer prayed over me when I
began as pastor of a then very small church: “Lord, help them to lay
foundations strong enough to bear the weight You will later place on them.”
You must take time to build strong foundations — as
Jesus did with the Twelve. Are you significantly investing time, prayer,
resources and training in the handful of people the Lord has put closely in
The Lord wants to replicate His life through you even as He
did through His first followers.
A prayer of response:
Lord Jesus, You knew each of the Twelve, and You know me as well. You placed them next to others even as You place me alongside the people in my life. Draw me nearer, Lord, to You — not so that I can be ahead of someone else, but so that I can be closer to You.
GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies
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