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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 your life?

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 of God.

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