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15. The disciples

15-6 The Twelve Disciples As Children

Yet the Lord was so positive about those dear men. A nice picture of the Lord's perception of the disciples is found in the way He said that the little boy who came to Him, responding to His call (Mt. 18:2) represented the " little ones" who believed in Him (Mt. 18:6). 'Little ones' is a title of the disciples in Zech. 13:7; Mt. 18:3; Jn. 21:5; and it is disciples not literal children who have Angels in Heaven (Mt. 18:10). The context in Mt. 18:11,12 speaks of the spiritually weak, implying the 'little ones' were spiritually little as well. Christ's talking to them while he knew they were asleep in Gethsemane and the gentle " sleep on now" , spoken to them whilst they were asleep (Mk. 14:41,42), sounds as if He was consciously treating them as children- especially fitting, given their spiritually low state then. His father-like care for them is seen also in His promise in Jn. 14:18 RVmg. that He would not leave them “orphans”, but He would come to them. The disciples were not orphans- because they had a true and real Father-figure, in the Lord Jesus. But the disciples were the Lord's children. John records in his Gospel only once how Jesus described His disciples at the Passover meal as “My little children” (Jn. 13:33). The Lord Jesus was acting as the father of the family, instructing his children as to meaning of the Passover. But the same phrase occurs seven times in 1 John. He had dwelt upon that phrase of the Lord’s, and it clearly came to mean so much to him. Our child-father relationship with the Lord Jesus likewise needs sustained meditation. In this sense, the Lord Jesus was manifesting the Father, and thus leading the disciples to the Father through Him. 

Yet despite this discouragement, our Lord overcame by the totality of His personal dedication to the goal ahead of Him. His commitment ultimately did not depend upon the inspiration of His fellows, and His endurance of the loneliness of the cross is the supreme example to us in this.  

The infinite encouragement to us in our weakness is that Christ derived such comfort and strength from men of such limited spiritual perception.  His fondness for them is indicated by the tears of Mary moving him to weep too (Jn. 11:33). And an essay in unquestioning loyalty to the Lord and Master is found in Lk. 22:49: " When they which were about him saw what would follow (i.e. arrest and attack), they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" . That grim faced band of men standing in a protective circle  around their Lord knew that they had no chance of victory against the mob with Judas, armed to the teeth as they were. Yet they were willing, to a man, to heroically sacrifice their lives- the inevitable result of starting a fight- as a token of loyalty to a man who humanly speaking was a lost cause, and whose demise seemed so unexpected to them compared to their hopes of a glorious Kingdom being established there and then. 

Christ's love for us, His Father's spiritual house, was typified by His being likened to  the poor slave under the Law who perpetually dedicated himself to serve his master's house. An extension of this idea is revealed by a connection between the Lord saying " Ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always" (Mt. 26:11) and Dt. 15:11 " For the poor shall never cease out of the land" . Thus Jesus is associating himself with the " poor man...of thy brethren" of Dt. 15:7. Note how Jesus calls himself a " poor man" , especially on the cross: Ps. 34:6; 35:10; 37:14; 40:17; 69:29,33; 70:5; 86:1; 109:22; 113:7 cp. 2 Cor. 8:9- an impressive list. Christ exercised the rights of the poor to glean in the cornfield on the Sabbath (Lk. 6:1); Dt. 15:7 warned the Israelites not to be hard hearted and refuse help to such a poor brother. Christ is alluding to this passage by saying that the disciples should not be hard hearted by stopping Mary give her rich ointment to Him, the poor. The following Dt. 15:12-17 is also concerning Jesus. Thus Jesus was spiritually poor and hungry, and was so grateful for Mary's encouragement. The command to " open thine hand wide" unto the poor brother (Dt. 15:8) is possibly picked up in Mt. 25:35-37, where Jesus tells the unworthy that when He was poor, hungry and naked they did not feed Him. Apart from referring to His manifestation in his poor brethren, it is quite likely that he was referring to a sense of spiritual poverty / need in His life, which apparently needed His followers to help. If He could derive help from the disciples with all their limitations, surely He can see the travail of His soul in us and be satisfied, or encouraged (Is. 53:11,12). 

The Lord’s Patience

The Lord’s patience with the disciples as children, His awareness of their limitations, His gentleness, His changing of His expectations of them according to their weaknesses, all provides powerful comfort to the latter day disciple. So many times He didn’t correct their evidently wrong ideas, as one doesn't with children, but patiently worked with them to bring them to truth. His approach to demons is the most common single example. When He had them go with Him unto Lazarus, they mistakenly thought He meant ‘let us go and die too’ (Jn. 11:12-16)- and yet He graciously didn’t correct them, but let events take their course. And we can take a lesson from this, in how we relate to others we may see to be ‘in error’. It’s not really about direct confrontation, which ends up proving us right and them wrong, without actually bringing them to a personal conviction of the truth in question. 

Put together the following passages:

- The disciples’ return to Galilee after the resurrection was a result of their lack of faith (Jn. 16:31,32)

- But the Lord went before them, as a shepherd goes before His sheep, into Galilee (Mt. 28:7). Even in their weakness of faith, He was still their shepherd, they were still His sheep, and He led them even then.

- The Lord told them to go to Galilee (Mt. 28:10). He accepted their lower level of faith. And He worked through that and led them through it. 

The return to Galilee is seen in an even worse light once we reflect on the circumstances surrounding the first calling of the disciples, nearly four years earlier. John’s Gospel implies that they were called at Bethany; whereas the other Gospels say they were called whilst fishing at the sea of Galilee. This is usually, and correctly, harmonized by concluding that they were called as John says in Bethany, but they then returned to their fishing in Galilee, and the Lord went there to call them again. So returning to their fishing in Galilee had already been shown to them as being a running away from the call of their Lord. And yet still they did it. And yet John’s inspired record is so positive; he speaks as if the disciples were called at Bethany and unwaveringly responded immediately. The point that they actually lost their intensity and returned home is gently omitted from specific mention. And even then, He saw them as more ‘converted’ than they were. He had asked them earlier to be converted and become as children (Mt. 18:3); but there by the lakeside, where they were still not believing nor understanding properly, He calls out to them with the very same Greek word: “Children, have ye any meat?” (Jn. 21:5). Considering that they were not literally children, this was a strange and purposeful form of address to them. Although they still hadn’t fully converted, the Lord counted them as if they had. And likewise He counts us as more spiritually developed than we are; and bids us do the same in our relations with His brethren. Indeed it seems to me that when John in his letters addresses the believers as “little children” (1 Jn. 2:13,18), he may not necessarily have in mind young people or immature believers, but may simply be using the form of address which he had recorded Jesus using- for all believers.

The disciples are described as sleeping for sorrow, not believing for joy (Lk. 24:41). Both their unbelief and their sorrow and failure to support the Lord in His time of need are not really excusable by either sorrow nor joy. And yet the Lord generously imputes these excuses to His men, such is His love for them. They are described as being “glad” when they saw the risen Lord (Jn. 20:20). Yet actually they didn’t believe at that time- for Lk. 24:41 generously says that they “believed not for joy”. And they assumed that Jesus was a phantom, not the actual, concrete, bodily Jesus. Placing the records together doesn’t give a very positive image of the disciples at this time. And yet the record is so positive about them. The confused women are commended by the Angels for ‘seeking the Lord’ (Mt. 28:5)- even though that seeking was deep in their subconscious. Yet the record notices that even incipient faith and understanding in those women, and counts it to them. Would that we would be so generous in our perception of others. Indeed, the generosity of the Father and Son to humanity is awesome- so eager are they for our repentance. God so pleads for Israel to return to Him in Hosea and Isaiah that He almost takes the blame onto Himself, cooing over His people as having been tossed and afflicted- when it was His own judgment of them that caused it. And I think this explains the difficulty of Acts 3:17-19, where Peter appeals to the Jews to repent, because they had murdered the Lord Jesus " in ignorance" . The Lord's own parables explained that they did what they did with open eyes- " this is the heir, come let us kill him!" . Yet in God's passionate desire for their repentance, He appears to view their awful sin in the most gracious possible light.