Light of the World
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends" (John 15:13-15).
This booklet brings us face to face again with John the Baptist and the people who were the friends and disciples of Jesus, those closest to Him during His public ministry. As we study the life of our Savior, we discover that only a few people were intimately associated with Him, yet He had a wide friendship with thousands of spiritually hungry men, women, and children who found peace and security in His presence. These people from all classes of society were attracted to Jesus. His understanding of their problems and His sympathetic interest in their welfare touched them deeply. He proved Himself to be a friend in time of need, and they became strongly attached to Him.
Closest to Christ, forming the "inner circle," were the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to a fellowship of love and sacrifice. The account of their noble lives of service is one of the most thrilling chapters in the Bible story. We turn, now, to the inspired pages and take a quick look at these twelve faithful friends of Christ.
Continuing our story of the Savior's life, we see him returning from His temptation in the wilderness of Judea to the Jordan River, where John the Baptist is preaching. He arrives at a time when the Baptist's work is under investigation by the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews. This body of seventy elders had sent a delegation of rabbis from Jerusalem to investigate John's work and to question him about the source of authority for his work.
QUESTIONS DO THE RABBIS ASK?
"Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I am not the Christ.' They asked him, 'Then who are you? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' He answered, 'No.' Finally they said, 'Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?' " (John 1:19-22).
When the rabbis arrived, the usual crowd had gathered at the banks of the Jordan to listen to John preach. There was a marked contrast between the prophet of the wilderness and the delegates from the city. John was dressed in a coarse garment made from camel's hair. But the great men from Jerusalem were clothed in rich robes. The Sanhedrin had not given John permission to carry on his work, and his independence annoyed them. They were offended and wanted an explanation. Then, also being wary, they thought that perhaps John might be a prophet sent from God, so they questioned him carefully concerning his mission. In reply, John indicated that his work fulfilled an important prophecy of the Old Testament:
"John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'I am the voice of one calling in the desert, "Make straight the way for the Lord" ' " (John 1:23).
John made it plain that he was not the Christ. Neither was he an Old Testament prophet raised from the dead (see John 1:20, 21). He said that he was the "voice" that Isaiah had predicted would come to announce the coming of the Messiah. The rabbis then pressed John with further questions and insinuated that he had no right to baptize.
"Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?' " (John 1:24, 25).
By the words "the Prophet," they referred to Moses. The Jews believed that some day Moses would be raised from the dead and transported to heaven. They did not know that he had already been raised from the grave and was even then in heaven (see Jude 9; Matthew 17:1-3). They also believed that before the Messiah's coming, Elijah would appear in person. But John denied that he was either Moses or Elijah. He said that he was merely a "voice." Later, during His public ministry, Jesus referred to John the Baptist by saying:
"And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come" (Matthew 11:14).
John came with the power of Elijah to do a work of reformation similar to Elijah's (see 1 Kings 17, 18). Had the Jews accepted John's work, a reformation similar to that of Elijah's time would have taken place again in Israel. But the Jews rejected John's message, so he could not fully accomplish the mission that he had been sent to perform.
In the prophecy of Malachi 4:5, 6, we are told that in the last days a work of reform similar to Elijah's will take place in Christendom prior to the second coming of Jesus (see Revelation 14:6-12).
STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT DOES JOHN MAKE?
" 'I baptize with water,' John replied, 'but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie' " (John 1:26, 27).
Imagine the amazement of the priests and rulers as they heard these words. Christ was standing among them! But He was not distinguishable to the rabbis or to the multitude. "But among you stands one you do not know," John said. They had never seen Christ, so they did not recognize Him in the crowd. This occasion afforded a wonderful opportunity for the rabbis to make further inquiry of John concerning Christ, but they did not.
The following day John saw Jesus again and pointed Him out to the people as the Savior of Israel, saying:
"Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me' " (John 1:29, 30).
But now the rabbis were gone. If they had stayed one day longer and searched out Jesus, they would have found "the Lamb of God."
On the next day John again publicly acknowledged Jesus to be the Lamb of God. He pointed Christ out to his disciples and clearly identified him.
"The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, 'Look, the Lamb of God!' " (John 1:35, 36).
When John referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God, he was moved by the Spirit of God, and probably did not fully understand his own words. Jesus had come as the Lamb of God to die for the sins of the world. But few of the Jews really understood the meaning of His mission of sacrifice. To many of them, the sacrificial offerings of lambs and goats were just so many gifts by which they might appease the wrath of an offended God. Jesus came as God's Lamb to atone for the sins of the whole world and to reconcile men and women to the Father. His love and sacrifice were to be the means of redemption and the keynote of all Christian service.
DID TWO OF JOHN'S DISCIPLES DO?
"When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus" (John 1:37).
One of these two was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, and the other is not named. Turning away from John the Baptist, they eagerly followed the Savior. They wanted to talk with Him and question Him, but they were timid. There was something about Christ that attracted them, yet they were awed by His presence. Then Jesus turned and spoke to them:
"Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, 'What do you want?' They said, 'Rabbi' (which means Teacher), 'where are you staying?' 'Come,' he replied, 'and you will see.' So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour" (John 1:38, 39).
Notice, they asked, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" The one dominating thought in their minds was "Jesus." The Savior invited them to the place where He had found temporary lodging, and there they spent the remainder of the day together. Alone with Jesus, they sat at His feet and listened to His words. What they saw and what they heard convinced them that He was indeed the Messiah. The Old Testament Scriptures had new meaning for them after this interview. Their hearts were won over, and they decided to follow Jesus and support His cause. Deeply impressed, they became the first fruits of His ministry, His first two disciples.
Like Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and learned from Him, these two men took the position of learners and, because they were willing to be taught, the Master Teacher flooded their minds with heavenly light. So should we be willing to learn of Him.
DID ANDREW BRING TO CHRIST?
"Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas' (which, when translated, is Peter)" (John 1:40-42).
NOTE: Both Cephas (Aramaic) and Peter (Greek) mean a "rock" or "stone."
Apparently Peter had heard John the Baptist preach about Christ, and he was anxious to see and hear Israel's Messiah. So Andrew "brought him to Jesus." Of the two brothers, Peter was destined to do a greater work, yet Andrew was the humble instrument that God used to win him. If Christians would only bring their relatives to Jesus, many precious jewels would be won. Perhaps you could win a soul to Christ by encouraging a relative or friend to study this Bible course.
Christ identified Peter at once. "You are Simon son of John," he said. Then he gave him a new name. "You will be called Cephas (which, when translated, is Peter)." Yes, Peter was like his namea stone, a rolling stoneimpulsive, ambitious, self confident. But association with Christ would change all that, and Peter was destined to become one of the greatest of the apostles.
NEXT JOINED THE DISCIPLES?
Nathanael is not listed among the twelve disciples in Mark 3:13-19 or in Luke 6:12-16, but in these passages the name of Bartholomew is associated with Philip. Since it was Philip who introduced Nathanael to Jesus after finding him praying for light under a fig tree, there is reason to believe that Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person. One thing is certainwhen Nathanael found Christ, he readily accepted Him as the Messiah. Jesus recognized in Nathanael a righteous character and said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false" (John 1:47). To be honest and have nothing in you that is false is a great help in understanding spiritual truth. These attributes are essential if we are to discover Christ in our personal experience
CALL DID JESUS GIVE BY THE SEA?
When Jesus called the four disciples by the sea, He had already begun His public ministry in Galilee. But up until this time none of the disciples, so far as we know, had united their interests with Him as full time ministers and teachers. Now Jesus called them to lay down their fishing nets and follow Him. "I will make you fishers of men," He said. And He was true to His word, for the disciples became successful teachers and evangelists. Through their labors in later years, the whole known world was stirred by the Christian message.
WAS NEXT CALLED TO DISCIPLESHIP?
Levi Matthew was a tax collector and as such he was a Roman official. He was probably well to do. His Jewish countrymen hated him because he served a foreign power, but Christ had a purpose in calling Matthew to be His disciple. The exclusiveness of Jewish religious and social life had to be broken down if Jesus was to set up His spiritual kingdom. Jesus came to teach that true-hearted men and women of all races and classes of society may be His friends and followers, if they are willing to accept the conditions of discipleship. So Matthew was accepted into the circle of Christ's closest followers, and he was deeply touched by this call to love and service.
"Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and "sinners"?' Jesus answered them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance' " (Luke 5:29-32).
The tax collectors must have been pleased that Christ had chosen one from among their number to be one of His disciples. A great interest was created among them, but the religious leaders from the sect of the Pharisees criticized Jesus and His disciples for associating with tax collectors and sinners. They were of the opinion that the tax collectors and the Gentiles were morally diseased, so Jesus met them on their own ground. "If you think the tax collectors are sick," He said, "then as a spiritual Physician, I will heal them. I will work for the people that you think need spiritual help. Since you do not feel any need, I cannot help you."
Those who are proud and self sufficient cannot receive spiritual help from Christ. But those who cry out to Him for mercy will receive it. The simple, trustful soul who hears the call to service will, like Matthew, rise up, leave all, and follow Jesus.
ORDINATION OF THE TWELVE DISCIPLES
"Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelvedesignating them apostlesthat they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him" (Mark 3:13-19).
We do not know exactly how or when Christ called Thomas, nor James, the son of Alphaeus (also called "James the younger" Mark 15:40), nor Thaddaeus (also called Lebbaeus and Judas), nor Simon the Canaanite, nor Judas Iscariot. But these five men joined Christ and the other sevenAndrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, and Matthewto make up the original company of leaders in the Christian church. (See Matthew 10:1-5; Luke 6:13-16; 9:1.)
The ordination of these twelve friends and disciples of Christ took place on a mountainside near the Sea of Galilee. It must have been a solemn and joyful occasionand very important. Actually, this ordination service was the first step in the organization of the Christian church. Here are seven vital facts to keep in mind about these dedicated men:
1. Their office was the most important to which human beings have ever been called, and their reward will be proportionally great (see Matthew 19:27, 28).
2. They had the privilege of being intimately associated with God's only begotten Son in the redemption of a lost world (see John 17:1-9).
3. With Christ, the apostles and prophets were the foundation stones of the Christian church in the same sense that the twelve patriarchs were the representatives of ancient Israel (see Ephesians 2:19-22; Revelation 21:10-12, 14).
4. At least eight of the books of the New Testament were written by men chosen from among the twelve disciplesthe Gospels of Matthew and John, also First and Second Peter, First, Second and Third John, and Revelation.
5. At the time of Pentecost and for many years thereafter, these men, filled with the Holy Spirit, conducted the most powerful missionary movement in the history of the Christian church. You can read their story in the book of Acts in the New Testament.
6. It is commonly believed that all the disciples except John (and excluding Judas, the traitor) died as martyrs for Jesus. James, the brother of John, was killed with the sword. It is thought by some that Peter was crucified head down, and that John was exiled. We know very little of the others except what tradition tells us.
7. In life and in death, these men were an example for all future disciples and ministers of the church of Christ.
DISCIPLES TRANSFORMED IN CHARACTER
"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).
The apostles were brought into such close personal contact with Jesus as He worked for the people, that in a few short years they became more and more like Him in character and in methods of labor. They revealed the force and power of His character in their own lives. It was this that made them great. And it was this that brought such experiences as Pentecost (see Acts 2). When the time came for their life records to close, they were as great in death as they had been in life. They were the true friends of Christ to the last, and their influence will live through eternity.
To us today, Christ gives the same invitation that He gave to the fishermen of Galilee. His words, "Follow me" are as truly for us as they were for the first disciples. No matter how imperfect or sinful we may be, if we will give our hearts to God, He will forgive our sins, take us into partnership with Himself, and use us as His co-workers to tell the wonderful story of redemption. If we are willing to be taught by Christ, we may become His mature disciples and be workers together with God (see 2 Corinthians 6:1).
From this point in our story, we will follow the events in Christ's life as they relate to different phases of His ministry. For example, we have gathered together His miracles, His parables, and His teachings and placed them in separate booklets to make the narrative clearer and more meaningful. When we come to the final scenes of his ministry, we will resume the chronological order of the story of His life.
manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall