We live in a world that wants to define who you are. But when we choose to follow Christ we chose to identify with Him. All barriers come down when Jesus is Lord.
Consider the group Jesus entrusted with the future of His mission:
He didn’t call the twelve because they were best friends. As a matter of fact, up until he called them they didn’t socialize much. Peter, Andrew, James and John knew each other. They grew up together. James and John were brothers; Peter and Andrew were brothers. The four of them fished together.
And they probably knew Matthew. He was a tax collector in the small town of Capernaum. In small towns everyone knows everyone; and everyone’s business is everyone’s business. Matthew represented the occupation of Rome. He may have even collected their taxes. We don’t know.
Even if Matthew didn’t collect the taxes of the sons of Zebedee and the sons of Jonah, they must have known each other enough to develop a professional disdain for one other. Businessmen didn’t like tax collectors and tax collectors often defrauded businessmen for personal profit.
Add to the mix, the man Luke calls “Simon, the zealot.” and you start seeing a very competitive bunch of guys. His view of Rome was the opposite of Matthew’s. Matthew served Rome; Simon wanted to overthrow Rome. Like most zealous Jewish citizens, he hated tax collectors.
Eleven of the disciples grew up in Galilee, but one grew up in Judea in a little town called “Kerioth”. We know him by his given name coupled with his surname: Judas “man of Kerioth” or Judas Iscariot. He was a thief who volunteered to be the treasurer of the little band of brothers. He is a reminder that you can be close to the things of Christ and still be hardened by sin. He never really identified with Christ.
Then there is the man we know as Philip. Philip is a Greek name. Since all of the apostles were Jewish he must have had a Hebrew name. But it is never given. His family may have been Hellenistic Jews, who adopted Greek language and culture and customs. He very well may have harbored some unique sensibilities from the rest of the group, especially Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector.
Nathaniel was a small-town boy from Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle.
Then there was Thomas who is also called “Didymus” which means twin. We never meet his brother. He was the “Eeyore” of the group. His claim to fame was missing church on Resurrection Sunday so he was the only one who did not see Jesus that day. He swore he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless he actually saw and touched the nail prints and wounds on Jesus’ body. We often call him “doubting Thomas”.
Then there was James the son of Alphaeus, sometimes called James the less. We know more about his mother than we do about him. Her name was Mary. She was a prominent follower of Jesus, an eyewitness to the crucifixion. She joined Mary Magdalene and Salome bringing spices to the tomb to anoint his body after Sabbath was over.
And finally, there is the other Judas, not Iscariot. He is called Thaddaeus by Matthew and Mark. It is not a compliment. Thaddaeus means “Momma’s boy”. You can fill in those blanks.
These twelve were not best friends. They were not a monolithic collection of like-minded theologians, chosen for their intellect or friendship or influence. They were chosen because they were common men. They had very little regard for one another. In fact, They competed with one another. The bible says they argued as to which of them was the greatest.
They were a loosely connected group of untrained, uneducated common men whose only hope was the power of God operating in and through them. There was not one rabbi among them, not one scribe or priest, no Pharisee or Sadducee, not one elite official or person of status.
Their identity was in Christ and only Christ. Their transformation was being with Christ and their message was all about Jesus Christ.
It reminds us of Paul’s observation: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” -1 Corinthians 1:26-27
He is still doing that today. It is called the church.