We are at the point that Jesus’ ministry is monumental. It’s hard for us to imagine how big the crowds are and how many people are pressing in on Jesus. He’s known by people to be a prophet who speaks with authority. The crowds come because He proves capable of miraculous healing, perhaps greater than any prophet in history.
In these few verses (12-19), we see three major elements of the ministry of Jesus.
The first element is Jesus’ ministry of prayer. The second is Jesus preparing to build His church with the choosing of His Apostles. And, the third is Jesus ministering to an extremely large number of people.
In this passage, nobody speaks. We have a description of a 24-hour period. It is amazing to see what is accomplished in only 24 hours.
Ministry of Prayer
Luke picks up the account close to the time of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand in the synagogue. Luke writes, “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.”
Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus prays. But, we can speculate what topics Jesus may pray about all night. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come, and His will to be done. Because that is what He teaches His disciples, we can expect this is what He prays. There are many aspects of His ministry that He needs to pray for God’s will to be done and for His kingdom to come.
Choosing the 12
Many people follow Jesus as a Teacher. Verse 17 tells us that there is a large crowd of disciples. Picture trying to teach a large crowd of disciples. Jesus cannot teach them all in depth. He needs to focus on a small group of disciples. In the morning, Jesus will select twelve from the crowd of disciples to become His Apostles. The Apostles form the foundation of His church. Jesus needs to ask God for much wisdom and guidance to select twelve men from the large crowd.
“I pray Your will be done. Give me wisdom in selecting the twelve. Strengthen them. Guide them. Keep them pure.”
Another aspect of His ministry needing much prayer is the opposition to His teaching. In addition to a large crowd of disciples, Jesus has a crowd of scribes and Pharisees following Him and challenging His every word and deed. If we had people following us around to try to make us fail, we would spend an evening in prayer.
“I pray Your will be done with those who oppose Your kingdom. Help Me persevere in times of opposition.”
As Jesus selects His Apostles, He knows one will betray Him. Two Messianic Psalms speak of Judas. Psalm 55:13 says that the one who betrays the Messiah will be His “companion and familiar friend.” Psalm 41:9 is very clear. It says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 at the Last Supper as tells the twelve that one will betray Him. Let’s remember, Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies.
“I pray for the one who will betray Me. Help Me to love and trust him. Help me to be pure in My thoughts. Your will be done with My betrayer.”
We have no idea what it is like to have hundreds and hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, coming to see us. They seek healing. They want to listen to Him speak. They travel for days to be in His presence.
“Father, there are too many people. I need Your help. Give me wisdom. I pray for Your healing touch to flow through me. Give me the strength to continue when I grow weary.”
We can only speculate what Jesus prays. There is no lack of stress in His ministry. He has a crowd of disciples. He needs to choose twelve Apostles, knowing one is His betrayer. There is formidable opposition to His ministry. And there is the multitude.
Jesus knows that apart from His Father, He can do nothing.
Follow the example of Jesus and pray diligently
We need to recognize that apart from our heavenly Father, we can do nothing.
Listen to this quote, “If man is man and God is God, to live without prayer is not merely an awful thing; it is an infinitely foolish thing.” —Phillips Brooks (1835–1893)
There is much that can be said about prayer, but let’s focus on a few of the more important.
First, prayer is an act of faith. When we pray, we are showing God that we believe the Bible, His Word, to be true. God’s word tells us that we need to bring our requests to God. We are to cry out to Him. In doing this, we are showing we have faith that He is our help.
If we believe that God is the source of all we need, it only makes sense that we go to Him in prayer. It takes humility to pray and depend on God. Praying in humble dependence also indicates that we are genuinely convinced of God’s wisdom, love, goodness, and power – indeed, all of the attributes that make up His excellent character. When we don’t pray, aren’t we saying, “I got this”?
Another important aspect of praying is to be real with God. C. S. Lewis says that the prayer before all prayers ought to be,“May it be the real I who speaks.” God is not fooled by our saying one thing and meaning another. God is not impressed by lofty prayers. God sees the heart, and it is best we pray from the heart. If we have trouble trusting God, tell Him, and ask for faith. When it comes to prayer, sincerity is the name of the game.
Prayer is speaking to God. In the extremely rare occasions in the Bible, when God speaks directly to people, it is never called prayer. The number of times God speaks to people audibly in the Bible is extremely rare. If we want to hear God speak, then we need to read the Bible. God’s Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Word of God. God answers all of our questions in the Bible.
Some might say, “God’s going to do what He is going to do anyhow. Why pray?” God ordains prayer as part of accomplishing His will. He expects us to pray, and from our prayers, God acts. Our prayer is part of His sovereign plan. God desires to bless us, and He ordains prayer as part of the method for us to obtain His blessings. Jesus often teaches that prayer is to ask God in order to receive from Him.
Lastly, let’s think carefully about our prayer requests. Too often, we bring God a laundry list of things to God and ask Him to make our life more convenient. We need to pray according to the will of God. Jesus instructs us to ask God for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done.
Pray for our acceptance of God’s will. Let me share an example.
“Lord, I pray for Your kingdom to come and let it be in my heart. All that You do is good, holy, and righteous. As You bring about Your kingdom, I will encounter the pleasant and the unpleasant. I will face health and sickness. Help me, Lord, to receive Your good plan with gladness and a thankful heart. Help me to trust You in difficulty. Help me to receive goodness with grace and humility. Make me an example to those You put in my path. If Your plan is to place someone in my life that will bring me challenges, help me to show love, and to be forgiving. Root out bitterness in my heart. I pray for Your kingdom to come, let it begin with me. Make me like my Savior. In His name I pray.”
Jesus spends time in prayer. We need to follow His example and spend time in prayer.
Ministry of Discipleship
Jesus finishes praying. And when the day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.
We won’t spend a lot of time going through these names. Some are familiar, and we know almost nothing about a few. Every time the apostles are listed, Peter’s name comes first signifying him as the leader of the twelve. As we read the book of Acts, we see Peter is very prominent in the church.
According to Acts 4:13, the Sanhedrin council perceives Peter and John as “uneducated and unlearned.” Many theologians’ commentaries echo the opinion of the Sanhedrin. Some also say that these men are very poor and without wealth.
I hesitate to share the opinion of many commentaries. Peter and his fellow fishermen own a fishing business on the lake. There is no reason for us to think they are not successful. Matthew’s (Levi) dining table is big enough to fit a crowd. Simon the Zealot, a political agitator seeking to rid Israel of the Romans, is likely well connected politically. We don’t know much about the other men. But, Scripture doesn’t give us the liberty to downplay their education or to count them among the poor.
What we do know is that they are not part of the religious leaders. Most likely, the Sanhedrin think they are unlearned because they are not part of their school. They are Galileans. The apostles prove they are learned because they write well, and they teach the church.
These are not ordinary men. But, they are not extraordinary. What makes them extraordinary is that they are chosen by Jesus. Jesus prays and then chooses these men to be His apostles.
Jesus calls them apostles, which means in Greek, a delegate, or one that is sent. Jesus intends His apostles to be His delegates to the world. Jesus entrusts His ministry to them. He will eat, sleep, and travel with them as He pours out His life into the twelve. Jesus is building His church. He is the Cornerstone and they are the stones of the foundation (Ephesians 2:20).
The early church continually devotes themselves to the apostle’s teaching and submit to their leadership (Acts 2:42). The church lays a collection at the feet of the Apostles for distribution to people in need (Acts 4:35). The apostles oversee the growing church. They send a delegation to Samaria when a church is planted (Acts 8:14). They talk with Peter about Cornelius’s conversion. They council to discuss the salvation of Gentiles and the matters of the Mosaic Covenant (Acts 15:6).
The New Jerusalem wall has twelve foundation stones, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14). The twelfth name is not Judas Iscariot, but Matthias, chosen by lot by the other apostles to fulfill the Scripture, “let another man take his office” (Acts 1:20-26).
What should we think about Judas Iscariot? The presence of Judas Iscariot among the apostles should give us pause.
We know that Jesus’ selection of Judas is deliberate and to fulfill God’s prophetic sovereign plan of betrayal and crucifixion. But, there is more to learn. Jesus warns us that there will be wheat with the tares (Matthew 13:25-40). The Bible warns us not to put our faith in men (1 Corinthians 1:11-13). False teachers will lead us astray (Galatians 3:1-3).
The most important truth we learn from the naming of the twelve is Jesus’ commitment to the His church. He chooses twelve men to carry on in His place. Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples, before He ascends into heaven, is to make disciples throughout the whole world. The apostles build the church, the bride of Christ.
Follow the example of Jesus and engage in discipleship
We can follow the example of Jesus by engaging in discipleship.
Here we are, 2000 years later and around 5,500 miles from the place Jesus gives the Great Commission. We are His disciples. It’s amazing to ponder because we can trace our existence as disciples, all the way back to Jesus’ night of prayer on the mountainside. Why are we disciples? Because Jesus prayed.
Just as we can trace our lineage back to Adam and Eve, we can trace the lineage of our being a disciple back to one of the apostles, and then Jesus (it gives me goosebumps). We are present in spirit when Jesus chooses the twelve.
Jesus calls us to engage in discipleship. If Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we need to engage in discipleship. Discipleship is simply teaching people how to live as a Christian. There are two parts of discipleship. One is being a disciple; the other is to disciple others.
Every Christian is a disciple. Being a disciple means learning what the Bible says about being a follower of Jesus. The goal of our church is to make and nurture disciples of Jesus. Our church exists to make new disciples with evangelism and to nurture and grow people so they can disciple others.
Every Christian is responsible to disciple others. We are commanded to make disciples. Jesus tells us that we are to see ourselves as a branch on a vine. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. We receive our nourishment from the vine, but as a branch, we need to bear fruit. The fruit is that we disciple others. God prunes the branches that do not bear fruit (John 15).
The responsibility of a new Christian is to grow and learn. Grow in knowledge and holiness, because in time, God expects every Christian to make disciples.
Here are a few self-evaluation questions.
- Where am I as a disciple? There are no lone rangers. Where am I in the discipling process? Am I learning from someone how to grow? What am I doing to grow or teach?
- Am I fit to disciple? Do others look at how I live as a Christian and want to learn from me? (Nobody’s perfect, but am I trying?) Who can I count as someone I disciple?
- What is my discipleship plan? Do I have a plan? Where do I want to be in a year from now? What steps do I need to take in order to get there?
We are to pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done. The kingdom of God comes about through the Great Commission, making disciples of all the nations. Let’s intentionally engage in discipleship.
Ministry to all People
After choosing the twelve, Jesus comes off the mountain with the disciples and stands on a level place. Before Him is a large crowd of disciples and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.
Let’s try to wrap our minds around the magnitude of His ministry. Geographically, the people come from an area equivalent of from here (Plainfield, NH) to Boston, MA. They have no cars. There are few places to lodge.
The crowd is a multitude. It is a populace, meaning it is the general population. There are Jews and Greeks from all walks of life. There are Roman soldiers, seafarers, farmers, and shepherds from the hills of Judea. They are young and old; rich and poor.
Ask any person, “Why are you here today?” and they will reply with one word, “Jesus.”
Jesus is a prophet of God who heals blindness, paralytics, leprosy, and the coronavirus. They don’t hear about Jesus through the radio or internet, but through word of mouth.
Luke tells us the reasons why they come. They want to hear Jesus teach. They desire to be healed and set free from demon possession.
The apostles now have a new job. They must manage the crowds. People are pressing in to touch Jesus. As they do, healing power comes from Him.
It’s good to place ourselves in Scripture accounts. Imagine seeing people healed one after another. There is a collective gasp of awe from the crowd as a cripple gets up and walks. Maybe they clap and shout as someone with a fever rises from a stretcher. The crowd stands back as someone writhes on the ground with demon possession and they watch them suddenly set free.
Eventually, we don’t know how long it takes, Jesus heals them all; all who are Jewish, black, white, Asian, or Roman. Jesus ministers to the infant, teen, middle-aged, and elderly. He heals the rich, the poor, the seafarer from Sidon, and the Judean shepherd. All of them.
Follow the example of Jesus and minister to all people
How do we apply this in our lives? Obviously, our ministry is not like Jesus. Healing power doesn’t flow through us.
Today, it’s just the opposite, if people touch us, they might get sick. (Where are the so-called faith healers? Why aren’t they going to the hospitals?)
We are not miracle-working Messiahs. But, we can look to Jesus’ example of ministering to all people. What we see in Jesus’ ministry is His willingness to minister to people from all walks of life.
Jesus is ministering to Jews and Gentiles. Some of the people He touches are people that others do not like, perhaps even hate. We’ve seen people trying to get items in the grocery store. We can imagine what they are like trying to get to Jesus to be cured.
There are annoying and obnoxious people in the crowd. There are people pushing others out of the way to get to Jesus. People will cut in line. Some people smell like fish or manure. There are Roman occupiers and Jewish militants. Some wear rags and others have fine linen. Jesus loves them all!
We need to love all people. Let’s think carefully about being selective of who we minister to and the people we leave out. Perhaps we leave people out and don’t even know we are guilty of doing so. Let’s look beyond politics and minister to all people. Let’s reach out to the lower-caste of society and not be hasty to minister only to people who have money (and vice versa!). The gospel is for every tribe and tongue and people from every walk of life.
Let’s be like Jesus and be sure to minister to all people, those we like, and those we don’t.
Jesus sets a beautiful example of ministry. He faithfully prays to God. He trusts God will hear His prayers.
He actively engages in discipleship. He is very intent on Growing God’s kingdom through equipping and enabling others to take His place. He leaves a legacy of people who follow in His footsteps.
Lastly, Jesus ministers to all people, and we need to do the same.
Let’s follow the example of Jesus for the sake of glorifying Him and for our joy.