It seems that most sermons related to the disciples highlight their flaws. Peter was always talking when he should be listening. James and John thought that incinerating an inhospitable Samaritan village would be a good idea. The incurable pessimism of Thomas eroded his faith. And then of course there was the big blunder of Peter in denying Christ.
All of these shortcomings needing work parallel issues that we also struggle with, and therefore they provide good sermon material.
The Other Side
What is easy to miss regarding the lives of the disciples as they followed Jesus in His earthly ministry is the fact that they never disobeyed Jesus once.
Someone might point to the Garden of Gethsemane where He told them to pray, and instead they napped. However, in that case Jesus Himself acknowledged that their intentions were to obey but their flesh was weak.
The fact is that when Jesus told them to do something, they invariably did it. When He sent them out two by two to minister, He told them what to take and instructed them regarding how to conduct their ministry. We don’t read about Andrew deciding in opposition to the directions of Jesus to take an extra cloak. From all accounts they did exactly what He directed them to do—always.
A Remarkable Example
A graphic manifestation of their obedience to Christ can be observed when after the feeling of the five thousand He commands them to get into a boat and go to the other side. It was evening when they started out. They hit a contrary wind and some heavy waves, but they kept rowing. Here they are in the middle of this rather large lake in the middle of a stormy night, straining at the oars, continuing to do just what Jesus told them to do.
When Jesus catches up with them it is the fourth watch of the night. That would be between 3am and 6am. They were still in the middle of the lake. What did Jesus find? Did they decide that they should turn around and row with the wind? Did they decide to stop rowing, put out an anchor and wait until morning? No. Jesus found them continuing to row toward the other side just as He had instructed them. We are talking about at least six hours of rowing and probably more. And this was heavy duty rowing against a headwind!!! Though some of these guys were hardened fishermen, Levi the tax collector probably did not have too many callouses on his hands, and yet he also was straining at the oars. Have you ever rowed for more than a couple of hours? For most of us our rowing experience can be measured in minutes. These guys were no doubt totally exhausted, but they rowed on just as Jesus told them. And that is what they were doing in the wee hours just before sun up when Jesus encountered them.
The disciples might have had their faults, but one of them was not disobedience. They always did what Jesus told them to do.
Ya Gotta Love These Guys
In a previous post I discussed John 14:21, 14:23, and 15:10, all of which indicate that love is predicated on obedience. This is a jarring concept to those in our society since our culture asserts that love, certainly the love of God for us, is an absolute. Nonetheless, these verses teach otherwise.
It helps us to understand this larger love for the obedient as we reflect on what the response of Jesus might have been as He encountered these disciples who had done just what He commanded despite the darkness, the headwind, the waves, their exhaustion, and the absence of Jesus to monitor their obedience. His heart must have brimmed with love as He observed their obedience, their commitment to Him, even under the most adverse circumstances.
Perhaps some might argue that His heart would have brimmed with the same love had He encountered them docking the boat on the shore from which they had left, having decided that the wind was too strong, the task too demanding, and therefore opting for disobedience to the command of Jesus rather than faithfulness.
I would disagree. The verses above would indicate otherwise, but also human nature, that nature that is created in the image of God, would suggest otherwise also.
It might be further argued that we as humans might love these obedient disciples more than ones that had been disobedient, but that reflects our human depravity. God would do better. I believe just the opposite is true, that God’s greater love for those who obey His commandments rather than constituting a moral failure constitutes that which is morally and scripturally right.
However, this conclusion leads us to ponder how this greater love for the obedient can be reconciled with the command of Jesus to love our enemies. If God loves His enemies by sending the rain and sunshine as Scripture teaches, then wouldn’t He love the disobedient as well? I will seek to answer that question in the next post.