Have you ever wondered why Jesus had 12 disciples? Why 12? Aren’t three good friends sufficient? If Jesus would have asked me before He picked the disciples, I would have said, “Pick three: Peter, James and John.” Good thing Jesus prayed before he chose the twelve. So why did he pick twelve? I believe Jesus picked each of them because he needed them.
How come we don’t know much about the disciples beside the big three? I am sure you have puzzled over this as well. What do you know about Thaddeus, Bartholomew, Philip and Nathaniel?
What about Thomas? We call him “Doubting Thomas” but that is actually a misnomer. He would better be qualified by the terms “thoughtful” and “courageous.” His name actually means “twin,” but we don’t know anything about his sibling. What we do know is that Thomas asked the difficult questions. When Jesus told the disciples about mansions He would be building in heaven, Thomas asks the all-important question: “How do we get there” (John 14:5)? All of them were thinking, “Where is Jesus going? And how can we follow Him?” But only Thomas had the guts to actually verbalize it, and Jesus answers with one of His most famous sayings: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). What an answer.
After Jesus died the disciples were so scared they too might be executed by the angry mob that they went into hiding and made sure to bolt the door. Only Thomas wasn’t there. Maybe he needed to mourn alone. Maybe he went back to Gethsemane to pray. We don’t know. But when he meets the disciples again they tell him Jesus had appeared to them. A dead man alive? It didn’t make sense. The disciples didn’t believe a group of women who claimed they found the tomb empty, either. Even when Jesus appeared to the 10 disciples (Judas Iscariot had hung himself and Thomas was away) in the locked room, they thought He was a spirit (Luke 24:37). They didn’t even believe Jesus himself at first! Only after Jesus told them to touch His scars did they believe Him (Luke 24:39). Thomas and the other disciples had the same question, but only Thomas was brave enough to ask it. To go against the crowd and to ask the tough questions, this is Thomas. Jesus needs young people like that today as well.
Andrew’s role among the 12 was the sidekick. He is usually referred to as the brother of Peter, as if he needed an introduction. Actually Andrew had come to Jesus first. He had been a follower of John the Baptist, but when John introduced Jesus as “Savior of the World,” Andrew immediately followed Jesus (John 1:40). Andrew then brought Peter to Jesus and said, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). And Andrew continues to bring people to Jesus. There is the little boy with the loaves and the fishes (John 6:8,9) and a group of Greek Jews who wanted to speak to Jesus (John 12:20- 23). Who did Peter bring to Jesus? Shouldn’t it be the other way around—Andrew the important one and Peter the low man on the totem pole? But Andrew doesn’t complain. He remains humble and uses his gifts of bringing people to Jesus. Playing second fiddle doesn’t mean you are second rate. Some of you are not the first to stretch your hand for the leading role in the school play and prefer to be in the background. Jesus needs the humble servants just as much as the vocal ones.
The stories of the other disciples are just as interesting. There is the timid Philip. We wouldn’t call him the most ambitious of the group. In the pack we also find the mysterious Bartholomew, who probably went by the name of Nathaniel. He was direct, a bit cynical, honest and not very diplomatic. There is also Judas, the son of James. For a Jew the name Judas was a popular and brave name, in memory of a Jewish hero called Judas Maccabeus. But after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, no Christian wanted to have the name Judas anymore.
When we list the 12, we also often miss James. Not James, the brother of John, but James whose father was Alphaeus. He is so silent that he is a good representative of the many Christians who never receive praise, but do much good for the people around them.
Jesus also invited two politicians into his circle: the rebel Simon and the supporter of the Roman Empire, Matthew. Simon had been part of an organization that killed Roman soldiers using guerilla warfare. We can be sure that he knew how to use a sword. Matthew was on the opposite end. He sold himself to the Romans in exchange for lots of cash. As a tax collector he charged people exorbitant amounts of money so he could be wealthy. But the money came with a price. Family, friends and the religious establishment viewed him as a traitor. We don’t know if Simon and Matthew had heated debates, but we know that Jesus called them both into His group of disciples. He needed them both. They show us that we as people can have opposite views, but when Jesus calls us we drop the sword and the wallet. We now serve His cause instead of our own.
Jesus didn’t pick a uniform group. He didn’t just pick the athletic, the practical, the leader or the academic. He chose each disciple for who they were. Their character and their gifts and talents were unique and each one was needed. Jesus still needs every man and woman today. You might be quiet or talkative, thoughtful or carefree, but you bring your unique contribution to his circle of followers.
Paul compared the Christian community to a human body (I Cor. 12:12-27). Imagine getting out of bed and realizing that your feet decided to change into an extra set of eyes. Or what if your nose felt useless and transformed itself into a second mouth. Unthinkable! “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (I Cor. 12:18). Paul uses this image of a body to illustrate the spiritual gifts.
This article originally appeared in Youth Ministry Accent, 2010.