Big Idea: Jesus chooses nobodies to be with him, and then to serve like he did.
The most extraordinary thing happened earlier this year.
Scott Foster, a 36-year-old accountant, hadn’t played a hockey game against serious competition in over a decade, but because of his background as a goalie for Western Michigan University, he’d been designated as an “emergency goalie” for the Chicago Blackhawks, an honor that usually just results in free food in the press box.
When rookie goalie Collin Delia — himself substituting for regular injured goalie Anton Forsburg — was injured in the 3rd period, Foster was called into service. He literally walked down from the stands, put on his gear, and took to the ice.
“The initial shock happened when I had to dress and then I think you just kind of black out after that,” Foster said. “I don’t think I heard anything other than ‘Put your helmet on.’”
Whatever mental zone Foster entered as he took the ice, it worked. He stopped all seven shots attempted, earned the team belt (an honor reserved for the game’s best player), and set social media ablaze with tweets and posts from fans and analysts who could not believe he had never played professionally before.
“This is something that no one can ever take away from me,” Foster said. “It’s something that I can go home and tell my kids.”
Imagine getting tapped on the shoulder for a life-changing assignment, one for which you’re not ready.
That’s exactly what has happened to all of those who trust and follow Jesus.
You’re in a series right now on the famous 3:16 verses of the New Testament. I’m not sure that today’s 3:16 is very famous. Mark 3:16 says: “He appointed the twelve…” and then it proceeds to list the names. I’ve seen famous verses before, and that ain’t one of them!
Peter asked me to speak on this passage with the topic of choosing wisely. I’m actually happy to do so, because this passage displays God’s wisdom to us in his choice of people. Let me explain.
The apostle Paul says something surprising in Ephesians 3:10:
…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Here’s what I think that verse means.
When God wants to show his wisdom to angels, he doesn’t point at the one hundred billion or so galaxies that exist. He doesn’t point to the Swiss Alps or to the ocean depths. He doesn’t point to the human genome or to the development of a baby from an embryo to a crying baby. No, he points to the church. When God wants to show off his wisdom to angels and demons, he points to churches like this one.
That blows my mind. We don’t look like much. Why would God point to us when we’re so flawed? That’s exactly why he points to us. If he can take a bunch of nobodies and create something beautiful, then that displays his wisdom. God displays his wisdom by taking nobodies and making something beautiful out of those nobodies.
That’s what we see in this passage. Let’s take a look at what we learn about how Jesus chose these twelve apostles. It will teach us a lot about how he works with us today as well.
Jesus Chooses Nobodies
In verses 16 to 19 we read the names of the twelve that Jesus chose to be his apostles. These twelve are Jesus’ closest disciples and friends from this point on.
What’s interesting is that Mark doesn’t mention the basis for why he chose these twelve. Why these particular people? There’s nothing remarkable about them.
They’re not the highest and the noblest and the best. They’re not the most educated, the most highly skilled, the most gifted, humanly speaking. The truth is, they basically are distinguished by one thing, that is they are ordinary. They have that in common… Not one of them is renowned for scholarship. Not one of them is renowned for erudition. None of them had a track record as an orator or some kind of theologian. They were outsiders, total outsiders from the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. They didn’t have any particular natural talents. They don’t appear to have any particular intellectual talents. They weren’t highly educated. They were, on the other hand, prone to mistakes and misjudgments and misunderstandings and bad attitudes and lapses of faith and bitter failure and argumentativeness and no more so than their leader, Peter. And Jesus remarked that they were slow learners, they were spiritually dense. They were blockheads. (John MacArthur)
They’re so ordinary that seven out of the twelve are never mentioned again in the book of Mark. This is the only time they’re mentioned. How would you like that? They enter stage left and exit stage right in this passage. They just disappear.
Look at the list and you’ll realize what a motley crew this was. Four were uneducated fisherman. Then you’ve got a Zealot — a political radical who wore a dagger in case he had the chance to kill an unsuspecting Roman soldier. On the other extreme, you’ve got a tax collector, someone who had sold out to the Romans and collected taxes for them.
You’ve got twelve nondescript, ordinary people who would normally have nothing to do with each other, and God says, “You’ll do.”
That’s just like God. Paul later writes:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Talk about choosing wisely. That’s how God works. He chooses the most unlikely people so that, when they do something, he gets all the glory.
Here’s what this means for you in choosing wisely. If you think God could never use you, think again. God loves to use the most unlikely people. Never think that God won’t use you. Never think that your weaknesses are a barrier to him. If you hear God’s call, answer, because he loves to use people just like you.
Jesus Chooses Nobodies to Be With Him
I don’t know what you think of Enneagram, but I’ve discovered that I’m an Enneagram 3. If that means nothing to you, let me read you a description of what this means:
Enneagram Threes are likely to value achievement and want to be the best. As a result, efficiency, results, recognition and image are very important to them. Threes strive for success in their chosen field and tend to be highly flexible and willing to adapt to achieve their goals…They have a sense of self-worth that is built on what the Three does, rather than who they are.
That means I been each day wanting to get something done. I measure my worth by what I do. I wake up with my engines revving. One of the hardest things for me to do is nothing.
That means that I am waiting for instructions in this passage from Jesus.
And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might… (Mark 3:13-14)
I want to fill in the rest of the sentence: so that they could do things for him; so that they could serve and preach and teach and heal. I want to fill it in with a long list of activities.
But that’s not what the passage says, at least not yet. “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him.” Before they do anything else, they must accompany him. They must learn to be with their Master, watching him and modeling his behavior.
This is a pattern repeated throughout the entire Bible. People don’t learn from reading manuals or listening to lectures. People learn from others. In this case, the best way for them to learn was to spend time with Jesus.
When I began church planting, I knew nothing. I remember phoning a church planter in Seattle and asking for his advice. I peppered him with questions for a long time about all the ins and outs of church planting. At the end, though, he said words that I will never forget: church planting is the overflow of your relationship with Jesus. That’s it. I mean, it gets more complicated than that sometimes. There are lots of things to do, lots of things to work on. But all of them are an overflow of your relationship with Jesus. Spend time with him. Learn from him. Everything flows from that.
I’ve noticed that the people I respect most, the people who are holiest, have one thing in common: they spend time with Jesus. They’ve developed the regular discipline of spending time with him. They read the Bible. They don’t just read it for information; they encounter God through his Word. They pray. They have an ongoing conversation with God about every detail of their lives. They spend time with Jesus.
You can tell, too. Jared Wilson describes the life of a pastor I know, someone whose sermons always strike me. There’s something different about them. I think Jared puts his finger on the difference in this man’s life.
My friend Ray is the most Jesusy guy I know. Half of him seems to exist in the spiritual ether at all times. He simultaneously radiates a warmth, a gentleness, a sweetness, and an incredible strength. He reminds me of what Jesus in person must be like.
Once upon a time, when Ray and I pastored churches in the same city, we started a group for pastors to gather and share stories and be encouraged by the gospel. One day there were about four of us in Ray’s study, and Ray suddenly suddenly said, “Let me tell you about my friend Jesus.” And he started telling us about Jesus, and it became very clear that Ray actually knows Jesus. Like, he actually hangs out with him. And as Ray started describing his friend Jesus to us, the room changed. It got smaller and bigger at the same time. The air seemed to get sweeter, more breathable. I can’t rightly say what happened, but my friend David, who was also there, confirmed he’d had the same experience. All I could figure was that we were somehow encountering a deeper sense of the presence of Jesus Christ, all because our Jesusy friend Ray was introducing us to him.
I want to be Jesusy like that. In my heart of hearts, I don’t care about being seen as a big deal, about having a lot of recognition or a lot of stuff or even a lot of “spiritual experiences.” What I want is to truly know Jesus, to be actual friends with Jesus. And I know Ray would not say he got that way by happenstance. I know he’d say he got that way by God’s grace, by the power of the Spirit. But I know Ray experienced that grace and power by listening to God and spilling his guts. He’d gotten off the treadmill of routine religion and found the rhythms of the kingdom. And it made him good friends with Jesus. (The Imperfect Disciple)
Do you want to be used by God to impact the lives of others? There’s no shortcut. Get to know your friend Jesus. Spend time with him. Read the Word in an effort to get to know him. Pray.
There’s nothing worth more than this in any case. Out of sheer love, Jesus left heaven and became a man so that he would live as one of us, and offer his life as a substitute for our sins. Out of love he gave everything so that we could be forgiven, accepted, and empowered. Why would we not want to spend time with him? When we see what he’s done for us, there is truly no greater privilege than that we get to spend time with him.
Jesus chooses nobodies to be with him. There’s one more wise choice to make, besides following Jesus and spending time with him.
Jesus Calls Us to Serve Like He Did
Finally we read, “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15).
I love the twofold description of the ministry that the entrusted to the apostles: to preach the good news of the gospel, and to go to war against the demonic in the world. We have the privilege of announcing the gospel — the good news of what Jesus has done — and, in his power, to oppose the work of Satan. But this only comes after spending time with him. The greatest thing we can do with our lives is to announce the good news of the gospel to other people.
Here’s the heart of this passage: Jesus chooses nobodies to be with him, and then to serve like he did. Answer his call, even if you’re a nobody. Spend time with him. And then pass on the gospel. If you do this, your life will count more than you know.
You don’t have to be extraordinary. You can be quite normal. You can be a nobody. And your life will count for eternity — not because you are great, but because you’ve spent time with Jesus, and because you share the good news of what he’s done for you. Could anything be better than that?
So Lord, may this be the case. Thank you that you use nobodies like us. Thank you that we can spend time with you and become more like you. Thank you that you use us to serve just as you did.
Use our lives, not because we’re great, but because you’re great. We pray this in your mighty name. Amen.