I think I am probably not alone is assuming much about the twelve. I mean when one reads the Gospels isn’t there a common notion or sense that these men walked with Jesus day and night for the better part of three years, weren’t they, at least in several instances, slow on the uptake? How many sermons have we heard about poor, stupid, slow Peter? Oh Peter, always messing up. Isn’t there at least a flavor of condescension, maybe even bordering on mockery, inherent in these commentaries?
Just recently as I read how James and John, via their mother, which is a commentary in and of itself, tried to secure a place on either side of Jesus when He was to come in His kingdom. [Matthew 20:20-24] Not surprisingly the other ten we’re “indignant”. Let’s be plain, they were p.o.’d. And one can understand why. So much for team unity right before the big game. Jesus and the boys are on their way to Jerusalem for the last time. He just told them in no uncertain terms what was going to happen to Him. So the sons of Zebedee take the opportunity to secure a position for themselves in the coming kingdom. Nice touch. I became indignant just reading about this transaction.
However, as I was writing out my own commentary I was struck by a thought. Were these men regenerate? Were they born anew? It is simple question. Have you ever asked the question, “When were the twelve converted, born again?” It is actually an important question. For our answer dictates how we perceive them , how we understand them, how we choose to treat them.
In the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus describes in some detail the concept of being “born again”. [John 3:1-21] A concept for which this “teacher of Israel” had not clue. Jesus states in verses 6-8…
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
I can understand why Nicodemus had trouble following Jesus. Where else in Scripture can one find this concept prior to this occasion? My point, however, is that Jesus uses the phrase “born of the Spirit” twice in this passage in defining what it is to be born again. Of course, later the Book of Acts and Paul’s epistles give us more clarity as to what it is to be “born of the Spirit”. The question is when were the disciples “born of the Spirit”?
Walking, talking, watching, following Jesus night and day for three years must have been remarkable and carried with it some obvious advantages. We all wish we could have done the same. However, that experience was no substitute for being “born of the Spirit”. There are references in the Gospels to the Holy Spirit becoming active in the lives of the disciples and each and every reference includes the teaching that Jesus would have to leave before the Holy Spirit came to them. Further, power to give effect to the charge they had been entrusted with would only be supplied by the Holy Spirit. Jesus ordered them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them. In short, the twelve were not born again until after the death and resurrection of Jesus. How could they be, Jesus had yet to pay the price for their sin. One of them, Judas, would never be born again.
So while we may look askance at some of their slowness to understand and their vulnerability to selfish endeavor, they were mere men of the flesh. They had no more power to carry out the directives of Jesus, from the standpoint of personal holiness, than anyone else in the world. Would we, before we came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, before we were born anew, have done better? Even after being born again, do we stack up well against these men who left everything to follow Jesus, even before they were “born of the Spirit”?
It is with a new sense of grace and mercy that I hold these twelve men. I look forward to seeing them again tomorrow as I break open the Gospels once again. However, this time I will come with a different heart. I will be kind. I invite you to come with me…