A Christian Guide to Luke by R. David Pogge

Chapter 4

Disciples and Apostles

Luke 5 - 6

There is a difference between a disciple and an apostle. A disciple is a student or follower. An apostle is a special disciple.

Section 4.1 - The First Disciples

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret [the Sea of Galilee], the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. [Luke 5:1-11]

In this case, Jesus gained disciples by preaching first and working a miracle second. That might seem backward. Why not do the miracle first to get attention and credibility before preaching? Peter healed a lame beggar in chapter 3 of Acts before preaching, so the order doesn’t seem to matter. What is significant is that in no case was anyone converted on the basis of a miracle alone. The fact that someone can mystify you with a magic trick is not a good reason to believe what that person says. What the person says has to be consistent with the Holy Scriptures for you to put your trust in that person.

Peter did not follow Jesus because Peter was exceptionally righteous. Peter recognized his sinful nature. We don’t know exactly what sinful things he had done before meeting Jesus, but Jesus no doubt did, and it didn’t matter to Jesus. What mattered to Jesus is that He knew Peter would repent and reform his ways.

James and John were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder,” presumably because of their violent temper, so we can safely assume they weren’t choir boys, either. Jesus attracted followers who recognized their sins and their need of a savior.

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

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 5:27-32]

Peter, James, and John were fishermen. That isn’t the noblest profession—but it isn’t a profession to be ashamed of, either. Fishing is hard, honest work. The same could not be said about tax collecting. Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt in Jesus’ day. But Levi (better known as Matthew) also decided to give up everything to follow Jesus.

Jesus recognized the difference between “the righteous” and “sinners.” Since there is so much confusion on this point, we need to take a little detour to talk about righteousness.

Section 4.2 - A Call to Righteousness

People who want to excuse sin often quote these two verses out of context:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: [Romans 3:10, KJV]

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; [Isaiah 64:6, KJV]

It is true, there is “not one” righteous man—there are too many righteous men to list them all! Here is an abbreviated list:

This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. [Genesis 6:9]

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. [Luke 2:25]

… Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. [Mark 6:20]

… he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— [2 Peter 2:7-8]

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. [James 5:16]

For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. [Matthew 13:17, KJV]

A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked. [Psalm 37:16, KJV]

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. [Psalm 37:25, KJV]

There are lots more verses like these, talking about righteous people, so clearly the doctrine that nobody is righteous must be false.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. [1 John 3:7]

He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord. [Ezekiel 18:9]

The Bible is perfectly clear—you can be righteous. To be righteous you have to keep God’s laws. But people who aren’t righteous, and want to excuse their unrighteousness, claim that it is impossible to keep God’s laws. They twist verses like Romans 3:10 and Isaiah 64:6 to excuse their failures. Let’s look at both verses in context.

In the midst of Paul’s proclamation to the Romans that Jews aren’t intrinsically better than Gentiles, he says,

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
  there is no one who understands;
  there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
  they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
  not even one.” [Romans 3:9-12]

To prove there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles Paul quotes the opening verses of Psalm 14.

The fool says in his heart,
  “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
  there is no one who does good.
The LORD looks down from heaven
  on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
  any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
  there is no one who does good,
  not even one. [Psalm 14:1-3]

Paul’s point is that anyone, Jew or Gentile, who acts as if “there is no God,” is not righteous. Paul did not tell the Romans that nobody can be righteous. In fact, the letter to the Romans is filled with exhortations to be righteous. This is clear if you read the whole epistle to the Romans; not just one verse taken out of context.

When Isaiah made the remark about righteousness being like filthy rags, he was confessing the sins of a society that had fallen into apostasy. He was praying on behalf of the people who “continue to sin against [those who gladly do right].” Here’s what Isaiah said in context:

You [,God,] come to the help of those who gladly do right,
  who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
  you were angry.
  How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
  and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
  and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
  or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
  and have given us over to our sins. [Isaiah 64:5-7]

People don’t use this passage to prove that nobody prays (“No one calls on your name”); but many use it to prove nobody is righteous.

Isaiah says that when we continue to sin, we have become unrighteous, covered in filthy rags.  He isn’t saying that good deeds are filthy rags, as some teachers say.

When Isaiah says “all our righteous acts,” he is being sarcastic. The “righteous acts” they are doing are things God expressly prohibits. As the subsequent verses say, they are being “righteous” by sacrificing to idols in gardens, burning incense on brick (not stone) altars to foreign gods, consulting mediums to contact the dead in graveyards, eating unclean food, and sacrificing to idols on mountains. And then they have the gall to claim to be holier than God!

Isaiah tells them what God thinks about their “righteous acts,” which really are filthy and disgusting.  Isaiah quotes God as saying,

All day long I have held out my hands
  to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
  pursuing their own imaginations—
a people who continually provoke me
  to my very face,
offering sacrifices in gardens
  and burning incense on altars of brick;
who sit among the graves
  and spend their nights keeping secret vigil;
who eat the flesh of pigs,
  and whose pots hold broth of impure meat;
who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me,
  for I am too sacred for you!’
Such people are smoke in my nostrils,
  a fire that keeps burning all day.
“See, it stands written before me:
  I will not keep silent but will pay back in full;
  I will pay it back into their laps—
both your sins and the sins of your ancestors,”
  says the LORD.
“Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains
  and defied me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
  the full payment for their former deeds.” [Isaiah 65:2-7]

Section 4.3 - Twelve Apostles

After Jesus had assembled a group of followers, He selected twelve of them for special service.

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, [Levi] Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. [Luke 6:12-16]

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. [Luke 9:1-6]

The twelve apostles were to drive out demons and cure diseases. That's easy to understand. But what did Jesus mean when He told them to “proclaim the kingdom of God.” Did that mean to preach the nearness of the Second Coming and the need to get ready for judgment? Or did it mean to preach a message of love, peace, and safety because we are no longer under the law but under grace? We can’t tell from this passage; but we will be able to tell from what Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount, the stories about Jesus, His parables and the teachings of Jesus we will read in the next four chapters.

Whatever message Jesus asked them to preach, He expected it to be unwelcome in some towns. When that happened, he told the apostles to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against that city.

Despite the expected rejection, He wanted them to trust Him completely, and not rely upon a staff, bag, bread, money, or extra shirt.

Section 4.4 - Seventy-two (?) Disciples

The twelve apostles weren’t the only ones Jesus sent out to witness for Him. He sent some of His other disciples, too.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two [some manuscripts say seventy] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. [Luke 10:1]

Because there is a discrepancy in manuscripts, I don’t know exactly how many disciples Jesus sent out. It doesn’t really matter to me if Jesus sent out seventy-two (by twos) or seventy (two-by-two). I personally think there were seventy because God loves the number seventy. Joseph was mourned by the Egyptians seventy days. 1 Jacob had seventy descendents. 2 The Israelites camped at Elim where there were seventy palm trees 3 (and twelve springs). The Israelites had seventy elders. 4 God struck down seventy people from Beth Shemesh because they looked into the Ark. 5 Tyre was punished for seventy years. 6 Judah spent seventy years in captivity in Babylon. 7 Psalm 90:10 says a normal lifetime is seventy years. There is the famous seventy weeks prophecy in Daniel 9 which specified the year when Jesus would be anointed, which Jesus hinted about when he told Peter to forgive seventy times seven times. 8 God loves to use the numbers seven, twelve, forty, and seventy. The number seventy-two appears nowhere else in the Bible. So, it seems more likely to me that He sent out seventy disciples. But since the King James Version was translated from a manuscript that said seventy-two, that number has been accepted traditionally, so that is the number I will use.

Section 4.5 - How to Witness

Jesus gave specific instructions to the seventy-two disciples about how to witness.

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” [Luke 10:2-16]

Jesus sent them out to the places He was about to go to prepare people to receive His message. The seventy-two were his “advance men” in modern terms. If we are to prepare people in advance of Jesus’ Second Coming, we should probably follow the same advice. So, let’s assemble Jesus’ advice into a bullet list.

Jesus’ Advice for Advance Men
Luke 10:2-16

  • Pray for help.
  • Be aware of the danger.
  • Depend on God to support you.
  • Don’t get distracted.
  • Be friendly.
  • Accept hospitality.
  • Don’t leave too soon.
  • Heal the sick.
  • Preach, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
  • Curse those who don’t accept the message.

Some of that advice might be hard to take. We have no problem praying for assistance when we go out evangelizing. We do realize that we are as vulnerable as lambs among wolves.

When it comes to not taking a purse, bag, or sandals, the advice starts to get tougher. We can’t go anywhere today without a credit card. Foreign missionaries often go to a third-world country without much financial support, depending entirely upon God, and (from the reports I’ve heard) it works for them. If I went barefoot to Manhattan and tried to evangelize, I doubt I would last long, or have much success—but I think the underlying principle still applies. Depend on God, not material possessions.

In Jesus’ day, it wasn’t unusual to invite a stranger to stay in your home for an extended period of time. Today, in America, that doesn’t happen much, so it might not be possible to do exactly that in our culture. We can, however, deconstruct the advice and see how to rebuild something similar today.

Led by the Spirit, we can find a local person who would be likely to help us in our evangelism. With a friendly greeting, such as “Peace to this house!” we can gauge that person’s reaction. If the reaction is negative, offer peace to someone else instead.

Once a suitable local associate is found, stick with him. Eat with him. Spend long periods of time with him. Depend upon him. You and he should both realize that you are doing important work, and he needs to support you. You are partners, working together to bring the message of salvation to the place he lives.

Be a good guest. Make friends. Unless you are a doctor, you can’t heal the sick—but you can do as much good as you can in other ways. Missionaries sometimes begin by digging a well so that the local people don’t have to walk miles to get water. Depending upon the situation, there might be other things you can do to lessen physical suffering. Don’t limit yourself to physical suffering. You might not be able to heal physical diseases, but you do have the balm which will heal a sin-sick soul. Don’t hesitate to apply it liberally.

As important as it is to save people from the problems of this world, you must not lose sight of why you are there in the first place. You are to save them from the destruction to come. The message Jesus tells you to give is, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Everyone who doesn’t accept Jesus as king, and live according to His rules, will be condemned to destruction on Judgment Day. You need to make a choice, and you need to make it now!

That has never been a very popular message, and it is as likely to be rejected today as it ever was. Jesus very clearly told the seventy-two what to do if it was rejected. Luke 10:2-17 consists of 16 verses. In the first eight verses Jesus told the seventy-two how to present the message. In the last eight verses Jesus told them how to curse people who don’t accept the message. Devoting 50% of the instructions to how to curse people might seem somewhat surprising; but who are we to tell Jesus how to evangelize?

Over the years I have attended several seminars on how to hold an evangelistic campaign. Not one of the leaders of those seminars has ever said to curse people who don’t accept Jesus at the end of an evangelistic campaign; but they have all emphasized the importance of calling for a decision. It isn’t enough to present the message without getting a commitment because if the commitment isn’t made during the campaign, it might never be made. Perhaps the curses called down upon those who didn’t accept Jesus’ message were, in that culture, more of a last-ditch appeal than the vengeance it seems to be in our culture.

That being said, did the seventy-two take Jesus’ advice? and did it work?

The seventy-two [some manuscripts say seventy] returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10:17-20]

Jesus’ method worked then. Is there any reason to believe that it won’t work today? Do modern-day theological experts who suggest a different approach have more credibility than Jesus? Could people who suggest a different approach than the one Jesus used be some of those false teachers Jesus, Peter, and Paul warned us about? 9

Jesus tempered His praise with a call for humility, and recognition of what is really important. He didn’t want the seventy-two to get overconfident because of their success. He didn’t want them to be glad that demons submit to them, because that is a momentary victory. He wanted them (and us) to realize that the eternal victory is much more important. Eternal victory is the prize to be sought. It is more important than any minor victory or defeat we experience here on Earth.

Not everyone recognizes what is truly important.

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” [Luke 10:21-24]

Those disciples had just experienced the power of God first-hand. Demons had submitted to them! The disciples knew they hadn’t done it through their own power. They discovered that the simple message they presented was incomprehensible to people who thought they knew it all. The disciples were blessed because they saw and understood things that kings failed to appreciate. They were blessed because they realized how feeble the power of demons, snakes and scorpions was compared to the power God had given them. They had not been blessed because they were smarter or stronger than other men. They were blessed because they trusted and obeyed God.

Back to Chapter 3 Table of Contents On to Chapter 5

Footnotes:

1 Genesis 50:3
2 Exodus 1:5
3 Exodus 15:27
4 Exodus 24:1, Ezekiel 8:11
5 1 Samuel 6:19
6 Isaiah 23:15-17
7 2 Chronicles 36:21, Jeremiah 25:11, Zechariah 1:12
8 Matthew 18:21-22
9 Matthew 7:15, 2 Peter 2, 1 Timothy 1:3