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  • Writer's picturePastor Mark Porterfield

(not another) list of names...

Remember back before the days of streaming and recorded television? You know, back when you were forced to watch the commercials. And do you remember that time you were left with an enormous cliff hanger to your favorite show only to be greeted by yet another truck commercial? If you're like me you were eager to get back to the action, and the commercials just seemed like they would never stop.

"Not another one!" was our refrain.

It's a pain and a little bit more than annoying to have an exciting story, game, or news announcement interrupted by yet another commercial, is it not? We are eager to get back to the good stuff!

I find that much of the Bible is engaging and exciting to read. But on occasion I hit a wall within the story that reminds me of those endless commercials that used to interrupt my favorite shows. Usually these interruptions come in the form of a list of names.

Not only are they most often very confusing, they usually feel unbearably long. Start reading the history books in the Old Testament and before long you'll be saying it with me... "Not another one!"

Then turn the page into the New Testament. Being eager to get to the climax of this long old story you've been reading and you're greeted with yet another list of names in Matthew 1!

Truth is, these genealogies and lists may seem dry and uninteresting to us, but with some work you can discover that they are loaded with meaning (credit to the Holy Spirit for that).

Since beginning to study the Bible in earnest about 10 years ago, I have found much joy in excavating the meaning behind some of these lists of names. And today we run into a new one for me.

For the past few weeks and through the rest of September we are in a worship series about Peter's development as a disciple as his story unfolds. In preparing for this series, I have been studying all the references to Peter in Mark's Gospel. And when I got to Mark 3:16, I had a "not another one" moment.

These are the twelve he chose: Simon (whom he named Peter), James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him). Mark 3:16-19

In a time when writing was a literal pain-staking, time-consuming, costly process, it's worth our attention to pause and ask - what makes this list so important?

Well there is the obvious answer - that this list sets for the early church the primary witnesses to Jesus' life. So if you needed to have a first person account of one of these stories, you could go to one of these guys. Further, the list makes an argument for the authority of these first 12 disciples/apostles as they begin to build the 1st century church.

While this list is doing nothing less than these things, it must be doing something more. And here's why: the story itself does these same things, if not better. Maybe not in list form, but the story gives you way more primary witnesses to the life and work of Jesus Christ than this list does. The story also gives better evidence to the authority of the apostles than simply listing them as apostles.

So what is that extra bit of meaning behind this list?

Interestingly, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this list but with varying amounts of detail. However, Mark - who is known for his fast-paced and urgent writing style - is the only one that includes what might be seemingly the most useless part of this list - that James and John were nicknamed by Jesus the "Sons of Thunder."

Why does our fastest gospel writer slow down to include such a seemingly silly detail? Is it so that the early church could be clear on which James and John we are talking about? Well, it doesn't seem so because they've already been called the "sons of Zebedee." Plus, Matthew and Luke seem to be comfortable with their level of specificity without the nickname.

Mark is signaling to us that there is a lesson here that is more than just the obvious. This list is more than just a record of Jesus' first disciples. To get at that bit of "more," I make this observation - Mark was very specific that the nickname was given by Jesus, and Jesus did not give this nickname to anyone else. So apparently Jesus was close enough to James and John to give them this nickname, and they must have been playful enough to have earned it. So by including this personal detail about John and James, Mark is drawing our attention to the human characters that the first disciples were (and the human character that Jesus was).

Here's the point: this is not just another historical list of names. It's a list of real people.

The lesson of this list is that disciples are varied in character, in personality, and in gifting. In other words, there is no certain prescription for what a disciple looks like. They might be a tax collector, or a fisherman. They might be thunderous or quiet. They might be left-brained or right-brained. They might be old or young. They might be Peter or James or John or Andrew, and so on.

And here's what's great. This means that you are not just another disciple! You are the very specific disciple, with your unique mix of personality and skills, that Jesus needs to work his plan among your family, your workplace, and your communities. Think of it this way - Jesus gave this sweet nickname to James and John. What nickname is Jesus giving you?

There's no such thing as a cookie-cutter disciple. Each of us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, make up a beautiful tapestry we call the body of Christ. Paul said it this way:

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4-5

Here's another list that's not just another list - our church membership role. It's full of individuals that are uniquely equipped for the ministry that Christ has set before each of us. Are you faithful to that ministry, or are you hiding from it? Are you trying too hard to look like someone else when what God wants is for you to be yourself? He's made you that way after all, and He did it for a purpose.

You are never just another disciple. Be the disciple that Jesus has made you to be.

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