The Twelve: A Summer Worship Series on the First Apostles

“Then turning to his disciples, Jesus said to them privately,Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

–Luke 10:23-24, NRSV

The lives of the apostles deeply intrigue us.  For Christianity’s faithful, these historic figures are pioneers, heroes, and saints, models for the faith and firsthand knowledge of Christ.  They walked with Jesus, saw his miracles, wondered at his conversations, and reflected deeply on his teaching.  They sat at the Last Supper table, grew weary in the Garden of Gethsemane, witnessed the crucifixion, and marveled at the resurrection.  Their future unknown, they were empowered at Pentecost and grew into the leaders of the fledgling Church.  Beyond the Book of Acts, their stories remain a mystery, sparking the imagination, and leading to the birth of legends and oral traditions.  These figures are the stones in the historic foundation of the Christian faith, inspiring and compelling us to share the story of the Crucified and Risen Christ to future generations.

6/14    Second Sunday after Pentecost

In the Gospel of John, Andrew is the first named disciple.  Beginning with his brother, Peter, Andrew could be considered the great “inviter,” one who was always bringing people to Jesus including the boy with loaves and fishes (John 6) and later, along with Philip, the Greeks who wished to come and see Jesus (John 12).   In the dispersion of the apostles, it is believed that Andrew journeyed to Asia Minor, Macedonia, and then to Greece where he was martyred in the city of Patras. Our text will be John 1:35-42.

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6/21    Third Sunday after Pentecost

In the legacy of the apostles, no one’s influence is like that of Peter.  His discipleship in the Gospels paints a picture of an imperfect person whose flaws are eclipsed by an eagerness and willingness to believe.  As the rock on which the Church was built, Peter would later serve in Jerusalem, Samaria, Antioch, and eventually Rome where he would be executed on an upside-down cross. Our text will be Matthew 26:30-35, 69-75.

Peter, Anthony van Dyck

6/28    Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

James, the brother of John, represents the ministry of the apostles in the early days of Jerusalem.  While little is said of his individual contribution, his death is a harbinger of the fate of the rest of the apostles.  When Herod takes James’ life suddenly (Acts 12:1-2), his ministry is complete and his martyrdom alone among the disciples is recorded in the New Testament. James, son of Zebedee, is also known as “James the Greater.” Our Scripture reading will be Mark 10:35-45.

James the Great, Caravaggio

7/5      Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

In the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6), Jesus comes to Philip and asks, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  The incredulous Philip responds, “Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  The path of the apostle Philip is unclear from the beginning because of confusion between the deacon and the apostle in the New Testament of the same name.  Tradition holds that Philip’s ministry developed in Asia Minor and perhaps into Greece. Join us as we take a look at Philip through the lens of John 6:1-13.

Philip, Kenneth Wyatt

7/12    Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

James son of Alphaeus and also known as “James the Lesser” is only mentioned in lists of the disciples and in Mark 15 as the son of one of the Mary’s who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion.  Because of the paucity of information available about this elusive apostle, tradition holds that he served as a missionary to North Africa before meeting his end as a martyr in Armenia. Our text will be Mark 15:33-41.

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7/19    Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

If a Zealot were among the twelve disciples, one can imagine the debates and conflicts in terms of political worldviews that existed among the followers as they processed the implications of Jesus’ teaching.  A particularly strong disparity would have existed between a Zealot and a tax collector such as Matthew, with the one radically opposing Roman rule while the other was making a career of assimilating into the system of Roman rule.  Perhaps Simon read his own ideology into his understanding of Jesus’ teaching, looking to Jesus as a revolutionary come to overthrow the Roman yoke.  Historically, it is understood that Simon spent time in North Africa and may have perished in Persia. Our text will be Luke 6:12-25.

Simon the Zealot, Kenneth Wyatt

7/26    Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

His question in the first chapter of John’s Gospel gives us a glimpse into Nathaniel’s personality: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”—an honest, if cheeky question.  Beyond this passage, little more is said of him outside of his name appearing in the list of disciples who were fishing following Jesus’ crucifixion (John 21).  Legend accords that he traveled north to Asia Minor and then east to India before meeting his most unpleasant end (skinned alive) in Armenia. Our text will be John 1:43-51. He is also often known by his other name, Bartholomew.

Bartholomew, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

8/2      Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Among the apostles, Matthew stands out for two reasons: his unconditional response when called to be a disciple of Jesus and his writing of a Gospel aiding Jewish Christians in understanding how the Old Testament points to Jesus as Messiah.  When a seeming enemy walks away from his vocation to embrace a new order, our curiosity is piqued, especially when the person leaves behind potentially a great deal of wealth.  Jesus himself remarked on the difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom of heaven.  Since Matthew likely engaged in a series of tax abuses against the Jews in occupied Palestine, that he would forsake stability to participate in an itinerant life of faith is even more radical.  It is likely that Matthew served in the area around the Caspian Sea and perished somewhere in Persia. Our focus will be on Matthew 9:9-13.

Matthew, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

8/9      Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Forever known as the one who doubted Christ’s resurrection, Thomas had the disadvantage of being the only apostle not present when the resurrected Jesus appeared (John 20:24).  Thomas’ dilemma is redeemed when he utters one of the most Christological confessions of all the apostles, “My Lord and My God!” (20:28).  The ministry tradition of Thomas records him going beyond the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire. Our text will be John 20:19-29.

Thomas, Peter Paul Rubens

8/16    Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

The brother of James the Greater appears to be the youngest of the disciples, the last apostle to die, and an important link from the teaching of the apostles to the generations that followed through the rule of faith.  The ministry of John centered in the region of Ephesus where he was entrusted with the care of Mary the mother of Jesus (John 19:26-27).  A Gospel, three New Testament epistles, and the book of Revelation written in his name.  With the death of John, the original apostles came to an end. Our text will be Mark 9:33-41.

John, Kenneth Wyatt

8/23    Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Another apostle about whom little is known, is Jude (also known as Thaddeus).  His name bears the root meaning of “God be praised,” and was an immensely popular name in first-century Palestine.  In fact, it was so popular that three members of twelve disciples bear a form of it (Jude, Judas Iscariot, and Judas Thomas).  Not to be confused with the author of the brief epistle of Jude found in the last part of the New Testament, the apostle Jude bears the tradition of his missionary activities around the city of Edessa in Syria and beyond into Mesopotamia and Persia. Our text will be John 14:18-24.

Jude, Anthony van Dyck

8/30    Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Eastern Orthodox Icon

Matthias is forever known as the one elected to take the place of Judas Iscariot.  His biography, including his early discipleship days and his ministry beyond Acts is shrouded with ambiguity.  His activities concentrate in Scythia, now Kazakhstan, with his death likely near modern Georgia. Our text will be Acts 1:15-26.

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