There is an old story, well-worn preacher’ story, a legend of Jesus after his ascension. I have not been able to source it; it has been attributed to everyone from William Barclay to one of the Church Fathers. But it tells of an imaginary conversation between Jesus and the angel Gabriel. It runs something like this:
After Jesus ascended to heaven, the angel Gabriel approached Him. Seeing the holes in his wrists and feet and the wound in his side, Gabriel said, “Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there.”
“And,” continued Gabriel, “do they know all about how you loved them and what you did for them?”
“Oh, no,” said Jesus, “not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know.” Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what have you done, to let everyone know about your love for them?”
Jesus said, “Well, I called some men to walk along with me as I did the Father’s will.” Gabriel said, “Oh, I know all about them – the fishermen, the tax-collector, that revolutionary. What of them?”
Jesus said, “I taught them about the kingdom of God. I taught them about faith and prayer. They all saw my miracles and heard me teach to the multitudes. They will take over and carry on my work now. I’ve asked them to tell other people about Me. Those who are told will in turn tell still other people about Me, and My story will be spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. Ultimately, all humanity will have heard about My life and what I have done.”
There was a long pause during which Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He knew well what poor stuff men were made of. Finally, he asked tentatively, “But what if they grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? What if people just don’t tell others about you? Haven’t you made any other plans?”
And Jesus answered, “I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them.”
Where would you begin to recruit a team to alter the course of history? Think about who we might choose if you were in Jesus’ position. Maybe the intellectuals—scholars, theologians, the best educated minds to be able to unfold the Scriptures. Or perhaps we would go for those who were powerful—the wealthy, the well-connected, who could help grease the wheels for his ministry. If we put it in modern day terms, we would certainly pick some who were good with public relations, who could help market the movement.
That’s how human wisdom works. But when Jesus chose the 12—the men who would carry his message and his authority, the men he was counting on—he didn’t choose a single rabbi. He didn’t choose a scribe. Or a Sadducee. Or a priest. Not one of these men came from the religious establishment.
That was all part of the plan. Jesus was not looking for extraordinary talent, though I am sure he saw the potential in each of these men. He was not looking for religious superiority, those each of these men was certainly a devout Jew.
He wanted ordinary people. People with hopes and dreams and lives of their own. But people willing to leave that behind and follow him. He wanted ordinary people just like you and me. As Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, “God must have loved the common man – he made so many of them.”
Two thousand and some odd years later, that is still the Lord’s plan. It’s spelled out clearly in Acts 1:8: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Whether we are talking about the 12 or the 120 who formed the nucleus of the Jerusalem congregation or the church that meets in Liberty, Texas, he still calls us to the same task: to come follow him—be a disciple—and then to tell others about him. It’s the same thing he says in the Great Commission. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19) It doesn’t require any special talent or ability on our part, any more than it did of the thick-headed, stubborn, selfish apostles. Quite the opposite, in fact: it demands that we rely on one other than ourselves, as he promises in the same place: I am with you always.
He is counting on us as we count on him. There is no backup plan