The True Nature of Apostolic Ministry
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 6:12–6:16
The True Nature of Apostolic Ministry
February 5, 2017
As we turn our attention to the study of God’s Word this morning, we’re going to continue what we started last Sunday—Jesus’ appointment of the Twelve apostles. We were looking carefully at Luke Chapter 6, which told us that Jesus called his disciples to himself; he summoned them in verse 13. And he chose from them—from that larger group of disciples— twelve, whom he named apostles. Last week we talked about how Jesus labored through the previous night in prayer, having sensed the direction of divine providence—that God intended to pour a new foundation for a new temple for the people of God. This temple is not to be constructed with stone and mortar. It’s not to be layered with silver and gold on the outside. It’s not to be ordained with ornate sculpting or embroidered fabrics. This temple, from its foundation all the way, is a temple made with people, with souls, all of them new creations in Christ. The foundation God poured, started right there in Luke 6, is the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Ephesians 2:20, with Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
And the foundation has endured. That foundation has stood firm against every attack. It’s weathered every storm throughout many centuries. It’s repelled every foe that would come against it. And for all of those who would build their lives on this foundation, and no other, they’ll never be disappointed in that. It’s the heart of wisdom and the fear of the Lord to build your life on this apostolic foundation. It’s just as Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine”—that is those words were spoken and written through his holy apostles.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25)
Christ began to lay that foundation of bedrock by summoning his disciples and then choosing from their number these twelve men, naming them to be his apostles. And as we said last week, this is the first hint of a change in the program. From the offer of kingdom of God to Jews, which they rejected by rejecting Jesus as their Messiah—through Israel’s rejection, God’s salvific program has shifted its focus to Gentile salvation. It’s not to say no Jews can be united to Christ and join the church—they are. The church is a body that hosts both Jew and Gentile, both of them united in Christ. But that required a new foundation to be poured, a new body of believers to be formed on that foundation. It’s a foundation and a body that we know as the Church and it has united Jew and Gentile together in one body.
Today, we’re going to stop and get a closer look at the nature of this foundation. That’s going to take us into the nature of apostolic ministry. I’m going to put my professor hat on this morning, or maybe a better word picture is that we’re all going to put our building inspector hats on and go down deep, sort through the spider webs, and look at that foundation, get a really good look to see what it’s made of, what it consists of because there are many today—through various methods, various means, various teachings, various doctrines—many today who would try to move us off of this sure foundation, and then encourage us to build on some other foundation whether it’s the shifting sands of culture, whether it’s the subjective impressions of our own thoughts and feelings, maybe even the opinions that are offered in the traditions of men. Rather than building with good material, with gold and silver and precious stones, many would have us build with what’s quick and easy—wood, hay and stubble—which which does not survive the fire. We’re not going to do that. The fear of the Lord compels us to examine the nature of our foundation very closely, and to follow the blueprints and the lead of the wise master builder so that our building is faithful to the design, so our building is faithful to the plan. Because if it is, we stand on the same foundation that was set here in Luke Chapter 6, formed there in Jesus’ ministry and settled in the New Testament. The better we understand the nature of our foundation, the more motivated each one of us is going to be auger in, to anchor deeply into it. And the deeper we go, the stronger our building is going to be, the more sure our lives are going to be, the more fruitful we’re going to be.
So, let’s get some clarity this morning. I’ve got three points for this morning and I’ve put them in the form of question. First question: What does the word “apostle” actually mean? At the most basic level, the word “apostle” simply means “one who is sent out.” The verb apostelo in classical Greek referred to ships that were fitted, prepared, ready to set sail, often on a commercial enterprise, but more commonly, they were fitted and prepared and equipped to set sail on a military expedition. They were sailing for a purpose. That’s not a bad way to think about the apostles. They were men who were fitted and equipped and sent out as on a military expedition for purpose in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the term “apostle” came to signify someone who acted as an authoritative representative. You might think of him like a delegate or an emissary or an envoy. Better, in our modern parlance in time of nation-states, we might think of an ambassador, someone who represents his country of origin in a foreign land. All of us are like ambassadors that way for Christ—we are sent here, we are in a foreign land, we are citizens of another kingdom, citizens of heaven, but we are ambassadors of Jesus Christ here on foreign soil. This ambassador represents his country of origin and he acts with delegated authority. That’s the idea here.
That’s the same image Paul used in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” It’s an interesting way of putting it. God is the one making the appeal—be reconciled to God. God is calling you to be reconciled to himself and he does so through Christ, his first representative—capital “R” Representative. And then Christ works through his authoritative representative, the ambassador Paul. The key concepts in that definition are the ideas or concepts of authority and representation. With regard to Christ in particular, the Twelve and then the apostle Paul—they acted with delegated authority from Christ himself. They represented Christ. When they spoke, it’s as if Christ is speaking. That’s how the early Christians were how to regard them, as authoritative representatives, ambassadors of Christ Jesus himself.
All right, so that’s just a basic definition of the word “apostle,” some of the concepts there. Now, let’s take some time here to figure out who actually was authorized to speak as authoritative representatives of Jesus Christ. So here’s a second question: Biblically, who are the apostles? Why are they? We started with the Twelve and they’re listed in the text there, Luke 6:14 to 16. We have Simon, called Peter, and Andrew his brother. We’ve got James and John, Philip, Bartholomew, also known as Nathanial. We’ve got Matthew and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus. We’ve got Simon who is called the Zealot, Judas the son of James and then also Judas Iscariot. You can find the same list in Matthew 10 and Mark 3. In Matthew 10:3 there are two different names used for James, the son of Alphaeus—Lebbaeus and Thaddeaus—but I just don’t want you to be confused by that. There are sometimes nicknames that are applied to these guys. Okay, so we’ll talk about that more next time.
There’s also another list of the Twelve. And that’s in Acts 1:13. That’s a list that has not twelve names, but eleven names. The one name missing in Acts 1 is Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. I want you to turn over to that passage in Acts 1:13 because we need to see this text. It’s a very important text about the unique nature of this group. The reason for the list of apostles in Acts 1:13 is that there was a need to replace Judas. The apostles realized that Judas’ apostasy meant the full number of the twelve was now incomplete. Jesus intended twelve. They were at eleven and he intended to remedy the situation through them. Let’s start, if you’re in Acts Chapter 1—well, let’s just start back in verse 12.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the room, where they were staying. Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
The list stops there because Judas Iscariot is gone.
All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. (Now this man [Judas] acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out [Well, that’s a great Sunday school picture right there for the kids]. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’
You can stop there for a second. Those citations, as it says there, both come from the Psalms. The first from Psalm 69:25 and the second from Psalm 109, verse 8. We can’t get into a full exposition of this text, but it’s important, at least, to read the context for the first reference, Psalm 69:25. And we need to see how Peter and his fellow apostles were thinking this through, how they’re reasoning at this point, how they came to understand the need to replace Judas Iscariot so they could bring their full number back up to twelve. You can turn over to Psalm 69 if you like, but at least listen because I’m going to start reading right now. Listen to what David wrote in Psalm 69:25 to 28. This is the context. He says:
May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents. For they persecute him whom you have struck down, and they recount the pain of those you have wounded. Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
That’s an imprecatory section of that Psalm. And that clause there that says, “They persecute him whom you have struck down”—isn’t that interesting? “They persecute him whom you have struck down.” We hear echoes of that in Isaiah 53:10, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” In Isaiah 53:10 and also right here in Psalm 69, God is the one who caused Jesus to be crucified. It’s not for his own sins. Jesus didn’t die for any sins he had because he had no sins. He’s the pure Lamb, the spotless sacrifice, but he died for our sins. Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” So God sovereignly decreed and he ordained the death of Jesus Christ, but woe to the men who crucified him. It’s a sobering thought. No sinful man had the right to persecute the Sin-Bearer. Why? Because he was innocent. There was no reason any of us should have laid a hand on him, and that’s what Psalm 69:25 to 28 is describing. It’s the very heart of apostasy—to persecute the innocent. And that’s why David prayed for God’s just judgment to fall upon the apostate. Verse 27, “No acquittal.” Don’t acquit him. Remember his sins, in effect. The very final verse there, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.”
Listen, that persecution of the innocent describes Judas to a T. What happened to Judas? What he chose to do with Christ—that revealed his true heart. It represented the fact that though Judas was among the apostles for a time, though he followed along with them for a season, he didn’t remain with them, did he? That’s because he was never really of them. While their hearts were driven by a desire, a love for Jesus Christ, his heart was desirous of money. He had a different motivation. On the surface for a while, even a couple of years, he looked just like they did. He participated in the same things, he prayed the prayers, he broke bread with them, he was in the presence of Jesus Christ and he “Amen-ed” all the teaching. What was in his heart? His heart was driven by a different motivation, and it took time to reveal that. As they say, “Time and truth go hand in hand.”
That’s exactly what the apostle John described in 1 John 2:19, the very heart of apostasy, which he saw manifest in Judas and then uses that experience to then instruct new believers. He say, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” What’s he teaching there? Discernment. You know what our church in this country lacks more than almost anything? Discernment. They don’t know how to discern a believer from an unbeliever; true from false; truth from error. This foundational text is intended to give us discernment about those who confess to be Christians. They may even attend church, they may even identify with us as Christians. Listen, but if they do not remain with us, if they do not stay connected with apostolic doctrine, what does John say? They were never of us. So it happened among the Twelve—I mean that inner circle of disciples who were connected visually—could touch him—to Jesus Christ, they could hear his teaching with their own ears, see him with their own eyes, touch him with their own hands—if it happened among them, well, we need to know it will happen in our midst as well. We need to be discerning.
So Peter and the other apostles—Acts Chapter 1—came to recognize that Judas was never among them, he was never one of them. He never truly belonged to Jesus Christ, and yet, they also realized that Jesus didn’t intend to keep the number at eleven. Jesus wanted the number at twelve—not thirteen, not eighteen—twelve. That’s clear when, by the way, Judas had departed from their midst and he was not among them there in the upper room when Jesus taught. Jesus said to the elven remaining apostles in Luke 22:28, “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials. And I assign to you, as my Father has assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table and my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” So Jesus there assigned them in Luke Chapter 22 assigned them to sit on thrones judging and judging, not the eleven tribes of Israel, but the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus intended twelve apostles. And he spoke those words to the eleven—Judas being out of their midst. So he intended twelve apostles—one apostle for each throne. One apostle to judge each one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and that means the vacancy in the group of the twelve left open due to apostasy had to be filled.
So, back to Acts Chapter 1. There’s Peter—he’s among those early disciples—the 120 inActs 1:15—and it’s time to fill the vacancy. Peter and his fellow apostles have come to recognize Judas’ apostasy predicted in the Scripture, and it was also the prescription predicted in the Scripture, the prescription to replace him. That’s the quotation that comes from Psalm 109 verse 8. “May his days be few and may another take his office.” Wow, I would have never recognized that in Scripture in Psalm 109. I’ve done a lot of reading there and I’ve never thought, “Hey, that means fill the vacancy left by Judas.” Why don’t we recognize that? Well, first of all, you’re not an apostle, so don’t be too hard on yourself. More importantly, though, what we need to recognize is that so often what we cannot see in Scripture has nothing to do with the lack of clarity in Scripture. Rather, it has to do with our own dullness. What seems for us so hard to see—that actually betrays our lack of familiarity with the Bible, the shallowness of our understanding of the Bible. And even when we do read and understand, it also reveals the slowness of our hearts to believe.
And again, I don’t want you to be too hard on yourself because Jesus said the same thing about some of his other disciples—ones who are much closer to the action than we are. In Luke 24:25, after his resurrection, remember that he found those two disciples, and they were walking mournfully, despondently in doubt and despair, walking on the Emmaus road. And he didn’t say, “There, there, I understand. The Bible is so hard to understand and believe. I excuse this.” He didn’t say that at all. You know what he did? He rebuked them. He said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was is not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” But even after rebuking them, he is so gracious to follow up with teaching. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
Now look, if Jesus interpreted the Scriptures for these two relatively unknown disciples, we can safely assume that he provided the same understanding for his chosen apostles, don’t you think? So Peter stood up among the 120 and told them what they’d all come to understand together—that Judas’ apostasy revealed an unacceptably vacancy among the twelve—Psalm 69:25—and that another was to take his office—Psalm 109:8. The word “office” comes from the Hebrew and into the Greek as word episcope, which refers to a position of oversight. We get our word “bishop” from the word episcope. And Peter recognized in that verse, in that Psalm about Messianic betrayal through a false malicious witness, that the episcope that was occupied by the apostate Judas needed to be filled with another man. So they needed bring the full number of apostles back to twelve, and they sought the Lord’s will in that matter. Look at verse 21 in Acts Chapter 1 when Peter is speaking:
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry an apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
So that’s how it happened. Just so you know, that’s not a case for gambling, by the way—casting lots. That was the last time that they cast lots. The casting of lots for them was kind of like drawing straws. It was intended to take the human element out of the decision and to let God reveal his decision through that act. But you’ll notice after the Holy Spirit came in Acts Chapter 2, he fell among the apostles, the members of the early church. According to Jesus’ promise, the Spirit directed them in all the will of the Lord; there was no need to cast lots ever again.
From this point on and throughout the rest of the New Testament, these men are the Twelve. The ones listed there in Acts 1:13, plus Matthias added to their number in verse 26. The apostles asked the Lord to reveal the one whom he had chosen, and the Lord revealed his choice of Matthias. It’s noteworthy that when those apostles die, you need to understand, there was no succession plan. There was no need to replace them. And we see that in Acts Chapter 12 verses 1 and 2 when Herod killed James. Notice the apostles did not attempt to replace him. There was no attempt in the early church to replace any of the other apostles, most of whom died as martyrs. The early church recognized this group—this Twelve—as a unique and exclusive group of men selected by the Lord and exclusive to the apostleship. Judas departed through apostasy. He never truly belonged to the Twelve and so they sought the Lord’s will about filling the vacancy. Once the vacancy was filled by Matthias, there was no succession plan followed, okay?
So, who were the apostles? We start with the Twelve, and then you ask immediately, “What about Paul?” I mean there are quite a few letters in the New Testament where he’s written about himself, calling himself, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.” Where does he fit in? Is he a lesser apostle? Maybe like big “A” apostles for the Twelve and then he’s got a little “a.” Or maybe like a footnote next to his name or an asterisk? Where does he fit in? Paul is a special case, as he himself acknowledged. We find the unique story of his conversion and his calling to a unique apostleship in Acts Chapter 9. If you want to read about that later, Acts Chapter 9 is the place to go. And Jesus told Ananias, one of the early believers who was going to minister to Paul in that early condition. Ananias was concerned because Paul was not called “Paul” then; he was called “Saul.” And he was the persecutor of the Church. Ananias was scared, and Jesus visited Ananias and said, “[Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” So, he’s a special case. He’s a unique servant of the Lord, a unique apostle. He was called to be an apostle, but not as one of the Twelve. We don’t need to ask Matthias to scoot over on that twelfth throne and give Paul some room to judge one of the tribes of Israel because that’s not going to happen. Paul was not part of that select group.
And it’s noteworthy that because of that, Paul often had to defend his apostleship. His apostleship was often under attack as if he were not one of the Twelve and, therefore, not authorized by Christ to be an apostle. He knows himself he did not qualify to be one of those twelve apostles, Acts 1:21 to 22. He was not there from the very beginning all the way up until that day—he knows that. And he acknowledged that, actually, in 1 Corinthians 8, that he knew he was the odd man out. There actually is an asterisk next to his name, and its in 1 Corinthians 15. Christ showed himself to his disciples and his apostles after his resurrection and it says that “he appeared”—Paul’s writing this by the way—“He appeared to Peter and then to the twelve,” and then, 1 Corinthians 15:8, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, [Jesus] appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” So he recognizes he’s one a different qualification, so to speak. And yet, Jesus did appear to him—he affirms that. He says he is the least, but he is of the apostles. So he is still affirming his apostleship, there. He knows he’s unworthy to be called an apostle, but called he was. Paul recognized the distinction, even though he also affirms he is equal in authority, that he occupied the same office of apostle, so he is a big “A” apostle, not a little “a” apostle. He’s like the Twelve, a first order apostle, you might say, because like them, Christ had called and commissioned him directly and directly to apostleship.
Not only that, but Christ gifted Paul in the same way he gifted the rest of the Twelve with the same array of gifts at his disposal. And when he defended his apostleship in 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, he told the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” So Paul is saying, “I’m on the same level as the Twelve. Don’t make a distinction on that basis, as if there is some lesser authority in my ministry than in theirs. It’s on the same level.” In fact, when Paul visited Jerusalem, he told the Galatians, the apostles there also recognized his apostleship. They recognized in Galatians 2:8 that just as Peter had been appointed an apostle to the Jews, Paul was appointed as an apostle to the Gentiles. And his ministry was primarily to the Gentiles. Just as Peter’s was primarily to the Jews but also included some Gentiles, Paul’s was primarily to the Gentiles but also included some Jews. Then he says this in Galatians 2:9: “When James”—that is, James the brother of the Lord, not James, brother of John—“and Cephas” [who is also Peter] “and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived”—that is, recognized, acknowledged—“the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
So again, back to the question, who are the apostles? We’ve got the Twelve; now we’ve got the apostle Paul. Is there anyone else? Apostles in the New Testament? You have probably come across the word “apostle” in your Bible reading attached to several other names in the New Testament, several instances of other people called apostles in the New Testament, apart from the Twelve, apart from Paul. You’ve got James, the Lord’s brother, Silas and Barnabas, Epaphroditus, some companions of Titus. “Apostle” in some sense is attached to their names as well. What about them? Those men, I don’t have time to go through every text with you in detail, but those men are not apostles in the same sense that the Twelve and Paul are apostles. And you might say, Paul and the Twelve—big “A” apostles; these other guys—little “a” apostles. That’s how you might think about it.
Some actually do teach they’re all apostles, they’re all of the same type, all of the same caliber, all of the same authority and on the same level. They don’t make any necessary biblical distinctions among any of them. In some cases, those people come to those kind of conclusions due to ignorance. Sometimes it’s due to their discipleship in the faith—their early discipleship is among a group that teaches they’re all the same. In other cases, there are those who want to blur the lines and they do so intentionally. They erase distinctions because they’ve actually got an agenda. And their agenda is to assert that the apostolic ministry and that gift continues right now to this day and that there are contemporary apostles. You might think of the Mormon Church whose followers claim they have apostles right now sitting over there in Salt Lake, Utah. Those who espouse modern-day apostles have an interest in blending all of these apostles together in the New Testament, making no distinctions, putting them all on the same level of authority and giftedness as the Twelve and apostle Paul, and that’s not true at all. When Paul wrote about the signs of an apostle, 2 Corinthians 12:12, “Signs and wonders and mighty works”—he was referring to that small, very exclusive group as himself and the Twelve—that’s it.
What about those other men? Just to go through them briefly, Paul referred to James, the Lord’s brother, as an apostle slightly in Galatians 1:19. He gave testimony of his apostleship, and he said in verse 16, after he was called, he said, “I did not consult with anybody, I didn’t go up to Jerusalem to get their affirmation or validation from those who were apostles before me.” And even though he saw Peter briefly, over a span of 15 days, he says in verse 19, “I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” So after the death of the apostles James in Acts 12:2, this James in Galatians 1:19, James—not the brother of John, one of the sons of Zebedee—but James the brother of the Lord, became the chief spokesman for all that group of apostles and elders in Jerusalem. The apostles were still authoritative. Peter was the foremost of them all, but the spokesman for the Jerusalem Church—that was James, the Lord’s brother. He was a powerful elder, a strong elder. He became prominent among the apostles, among the Twelve. He was in close, intimate association of the apostles as a fellow-elder in the church of Jerusalem, but he was not an apostle—one of the Twelve. He clearly didn’t qualify. He was not a believer in his half-brother, Jesus, when Jesus was in his earthly ministry. It wasn’t until after Jesus was raised from the dead that he believed and repented. He clearly didn’t qualify, but he was numbered among the apostles then because it was natural to refer to James in the same breath of the apostles; he represented the authority of the church in Jerusalem. Everyone recognized, though, James as a key elder and then the Twelve apostles.
What about Barnabas and Silas? Again, both of those men were associated with the apostle Paul. So there is a very real sense, a very practical sense in which they were partners in his apostolic ministry and yet not apostles. Not only that, but all of them were sent out—that’s the key term—they were sent out by the local church in Antioch. And in that sense— that they are sent out from Antioch church—the apostles of the churches werer small “a” apostles, again. Several more men—Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25 and the brothers who were with Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:23—the Greek word “apostle” is used of them as well. The ESV rightly translates that word “apostle” there as messenger, not as apostle, lest you are confused. Because clearly in context, Epaphroditus and the brothers that came with Titus—they’re all messengers of local churches—apostles in that sense, not in the sense of being commissioned by Christ. Epaphroditus was the apostle of the Philippian Church sent to minister to Paul’s need while he was in need. The brothers with Titus were also sent by local churches.
So we’ve taken time to help you understand that because you need to understand there are those today who want to blur all of those distinctions. They don’t read their Bibles carefully either by habit or by will. Sometimes, they even have an agenda and the agenda is to turn your attention away from the authority that is written in Scripture and turn to their authority and I don’t want you to be deceived by that. There’s actually a group called the New Apostolic Reformation led by people like Mike Bickle, who came from a failed Kansas City Prophet’s Group—he’s rejuvenated his ministry in the International House of Prayer joined in with C. Peter Wagner and the New Apostolic Reformation and they are now making people apostles. In fact, if we as a church wanted to recognize me or the elders as apostles, all we’ve got to do is send them a little money and then we become apostles, too. Listen, that’s just deceit and trickery and trying to take people’s attention away from the Word of God. The apostolic foundation we rest on and grow from—and turn it to men—we can’t do that.
But we’ve taken time to identify these men because you need to know that when Paul tells us that Christ gave to the Church the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers—Ephesians 4:11—when it comes to the apostles, there is a restricted number of apostles. There is no continuing as the Charismatic Church would have you believe. There’s no continuing five-fold ministry of the church, including modern-day apostles and modern-day prophets. That’s not true. Christ does not appoint contemporary apostles. That’s Mormonism; it’s not Christianity. The office of apostle, the apostolic gift belonged to a group of thirteen men, the Twelve and the apostle Paul. Okay, you got that? Good.
Let’s go on. Third question—this is important, this part here. I want you to really listen in here. What do the apostles do? What is the nature of an apostolic ministry? We’ve taken time to define that word. We’ve delimited their number. Now let’s find out about the true nature of apostolic ministry. What did Christ give them for? What were they to do? Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:20 that this newly revealed institution called the church—it’s built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. It’s made up of Jews and Gentiles where Jews remain Jews, ethnically; Gentiles remain Gentiles, ethnically—but there’s something deeper that unites them together, deeper than language, deeper than culture, deeper than social customs and all of that. Deeper than blood. It’s the fact of their being spiritually united in one body with Christ himself as the head, and they manifest that spiritual reality by meeting together as a single assembly, local assemblies. And what binds them together is this proclamation of the apostles’ doctrine. You might want to take a look for yourself. Just turn over to Ephesians Chapter 3 starting in verse 1. In this third chapter of Ephesians, Paul has told them this whole structure is built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. It grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And Christ, the Ephesians, both Jew and Gentile in the Ephesus church—they’re all being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. That’s how he ends Chapter 2. Now look at Ephesians 3:1:
For this reason, I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it is now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.
You see, he has just told you what the mystery is. He has just revealed it. He’s unpacked it. Verse 7:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me [here it is again], though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Isn’t that awesome? He says, “To the least of all the saints.” And let’s not say, “Hey, I’m probably worse than Paul.” No we’re not. He says right there he’s the least of all the saints. Let’s take him at his word. Let’s let him have that place, okay? But listen, if we discover what made him the least of all the saints, it gives great hope to us Gentiles. No matter how far we have wandered from the grace of God, no matter how much we have spurned his truth and his grace and his kindness, there is hope for us. The apostles sent to us Gentiles is safe from far, far worse. There’s hope for us. So he says:
This grace was given [to me] to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Who are those? Angelic beings, holy angels and even fallen angels. This was according to the eternal purpose he has realized in Christ Jesus, our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
Just draw your attention to a couple things in that section. First of all, notice in verse 5 the mystery of the church. It was revealed to the holy apostles of Christ and the New Testament prophets by the Holy Spirit. It was revealed to them. They’re the ones who learned and came to understand. Second of all, notice the revelation of this mystery—namely that Jews and Gentiles are united together in Christ in one body—that revelation is what puts on display in verse 10 what Paul calls the “manifest wisdom of God”—that God would, in his wisdom, unite such disparate bodies of people. The audience before whom this display is made is not a human audience; it’s an angelic audience. Holy angels, fallen angels—they are all watching this display of God’s glory. And we find in the New Testament that the angels are present right now looking into what’s going on in this church, rejoicing to see our good order in Jesus Christ. There are hints of that all through the New Testament. This is way beyond us, isn’t it? It’s on a whole different level. I’d like to preach a whole other sermon, but I’m not going to. I’m going to go back to what I actually prepared here.
So, what part did the apostles play in the formation of this church, in establishing this new institution that Jew and Gentile would come together in, they would manifest the wisdom of God? What was their role? If we put it plainly and simply, the role of the apostles and, therefore, the nature of the apostolic ministry was to lay a foundation of truth, which had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit and this means that the role of the apostles was a revelatory role and also an instructive role. It was revealed to them and then they taught it. They not only spoke what was revealed to them, but then they taught the implications of it. This is a teaching role. The apostles laid down a foundation of doctrine, which had been revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. And that’s why the two places in the New Testament that list the offices—1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11—the apostles are named first before any of the other offices. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul says, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.” Same thing in Ephesians 4:11: it was Christ who “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” It’s very simple in the structure, all built on the foundation of the apostles. And the order, which is actually a numbered ordering of those gifts and those offices in 1 Corinthians 12:28—a numbering indicates the priority of the apostolic ministry. It’s very important.
As we’ve seen in Ephesians 2:20, Christ has chosen them to form the foundation of the church with himself as the cornerstone as this entire edifice. The apostles are first in priority because they’re the most foundational and fundamental. Do you know why? Because without them, there’d be no structure or form to the church. I mean, think about it, without the authoritative revelation of the apostolic ministry, what would be the basis of any subsequent ministry in the church? What would be the standard by which any of it’s judged? How would the churches—the early churches, who had local church prophets showing up in their midst— how would any of those churches test the revelations of those New Testament prophets in the early the church setting? What gospel would the evangelists preach? What would pastors and teachers use to instruct the church in the faith if not for the apostolic doctrine that was laid down? The nature of the apostolic ministry is to set the foundation for all subsequent ministry. But the foundation then that is set by the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists and the pastors and teachers then build up out of that. The evangelists then anchor people into that foundation. Pastors and teachers shepherd them or build them up from up. That’s why it’s so important—this nature of the apostolic ministry.
In fact, I want you to turn over to 1 Corinthians Chapter 2. You need to see the significance of the apostolic role in establishing the foundation of the church—1 Corinthians 2:1 to 5. In the beginning of that section, Paul uses his own apostolic ministry as an illustration for the Corinthians. The Corinthians were a people, not unlike us, who were kind of prone to being impressed with the gifts and abilities of men. They looked at the men and thought, “Wow, what an impressive guy. He’s got great rhetorical skill. He’s clever in his arguments. He’s humorous in his illustrations. He’s got philosophical erudition and he’s an amazing, amazing guy.” And Paul wants them to see, “Hey, it’s not about the man.” He says, “Look, in my own ministry, I am getting rid of all that stuff. All that stuff that you’ve come to be impressed by, I’m going to throw it all away.” He isintentional about downplaying his own skills and abilities—which were many, by the way—to emphasize instead the plain truth of the Gospel. He was very careful not to package the message in a way that would impress the Corinthians because he didn’t want their faith to rest in the wisdom of men, which is vacant and empty and powerless. Instead, he wanted their faith to rest in the power of God. So get the human instrument out of the way; focus on the message, the power of God and the gospel. But he’s quick to add, “It’s not as if the ministry I’m conducting and the truth I’m conveying lacks wisdom. It’s just not wisdom that’s worldly defined. It’s not a wisdom that looks anything like the prevailing wisdom and philosophies of men. I’m trying to turn you away from so-called-wisdom—falsely called—and I want you to turn and look at what is true wisdom.” Look at verses 6 to 9:
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. But as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Paul describes there two sources of wisdom—one from the men of this age and the other from the eternal God, and Paul’s job is to communicate. I like the NAS translation. Here he is conveying to them in verse 7, “God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory.” Again, there’s that word “mystery.” It doesn’t mean something that’s esoteric or mysterious. It not something you have to go through 30 degrees before you get to the 32nd degree and get your special underwear and all that stuff—anything esoteric or gnostic. “Mystery” refers to something that God kept hidden until Christ came, and once Christ came, the shutters opened, the light shined forth. When you see the word “mystery” in the New Testament, it’s shorthand to refer to all New Testament truth. We call it the New Testament. They didn’t, though. From their vantage point, there’s just Scripture, which was already written. What’s going on in their midst is called “God’s wisdom in a mystery.” Okay? Most of the New Testament had not been written at this point, or circulated, so that’s what they called it.
Notice that last line that we just read—“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” I’ve heard a lot of people quote from that verse, a lot of sermons even quoting it as a reference to heaven. Well, you know the entirety of the New Testament has a lot to say about heaven, but that verse is not only isolated about truth about heaven. The verse is primarily referring to the Gospel, the mystery which was hidden in ages past and now is being revealed in Christ. This is referring to the Gospel and all its implications. This is Paul’s way of speaking about the revelation we have come to know as the New Testament. The doctrine of heaven is certainly contained in that revelation, but there is a whole lot more, isn’t there? So, let’s not make that mistake as we’re referring to this verse. The nature of the ministry of the apostles and prophets was to make that mystery known. It was to proclaim it, to teach it and to be authoritative in their teaching as well, to hold people to it.
Paul continues, verse 10, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” Who is the “us” in that sentence? It’s not you and me. He is talking about himself. When Paul the Apostle is speaking in the first person plural about the foundational truth revealed in and through his apostolic ministry, who is the “us?” Primarily, it’s referring to himself and the Twelve, most certainly. But Paul is also referring to those who participated in the apostolic ministry, laying that foundation of the church. So you’ve got the Jerusalem elders, who ministered alongside the Twelve—that would include James, the Lord’s brother, one of the key elders, chief spokesman of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15—a very important man. Then in Paul’s own ministry, his apostleship to the Gentiles, he’s also referring to men like Barnabas and Silas, even Apollos, a man mighty in the Scriptures. He’s also referring to, as it says in Ephesians 2:20, “the apostles and the prophets.” There are New Testament prophets who were in the local church who were getting revelation specific to that church consistent with apostolic doctrine, but helpful for that local church before there was a New Testament canon. So he is talking about them as well. Revelatory ministry coming through them—that’s the “us.”
Then Paul in his own ministry, his apostleship to the Gentiles—he says, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” The bathos of God—I like that word bathos—that’s the Greek word for depths. “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” That’s a sound argument. Verse 12, “Now we”—there’s the first person plural again—“we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit who is from God.” So that spirit of God, who plumbs the very depths of God, comprehends all the infinitude of God, is now there in Paul and the apostles. First person plural—“we”—Paul himself an apostle, the Twelve, those men who assisted him in that formative foundational apostolic ministry, men with a revelatory gift.
Hold your finger in 1 Corinthians 2. We’re going to right back. But turn over to John 14. I want to show you some unique promises of Christ that connect here to this text—promises that Christ made to his apostles. And there are actually two sections I want you to see. Again, they’re often taken out of context as well, and in a very subjective way we tend to apply things directly to ourselves so quickly. Christians today can sometimes go directly from the printed word on the page and then immediately to application. They don’t take the time to make sound observations, to come to a faithful interpretation before thinking through all of those implications for themselves. But we’re going to fix all of that today right. Okay, you ready? First look at the passage John 14:25 to 26. Jesus speaks to his disciples, his apostles—and remember Judas is gone. So he is speaking to the eleven here, and he says:
These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Folks, that’s not a promise that we’re going to magically remember the Bible when we’re talking to unbelievers. We—different from them—we have to study and memorize and work hard. Those verses also are not talking about the Holy Spirit’s intimate ministry to us to provide individualized guidance. The Spirit does illuminate the Word for us. He does guide and direct us, but it’s through study. It’s through understanding the Scripture. It’s through right interpretation and good observations. The text is not about the Holy Spirit in his ministry directly to us, but indirectly to us. That promise is for the apostles. Jesus spoke these words to his apostles to give them assurance about the Spirit’s help in accomplishing the apostolic ministry that he had called and chosen and named them to do, and to accomplish all that he taught them during his earthly ministry. Much of which, by his own words, they were too dull to understand, too hard of heart to believe, too weak in faith to catch it to see the significance of it. The promise here is that all that Jesus had taught, which they had somehow forgotten—they needn’t worry because the Holy Spirit is going to guarantee perfect accuracy in their remembrance. He’s telling them, “This isn’t up to you as mere men, as imperfect men, to do this work on your own.” The guarantee of accuracy in laying the doctrinal foundation of the church is a divine guarantee by God the Spirit, by Christ himself.
Turn a page or two to John Chapter 16 verses 12 to 15. Again, John 16—still the upper room discourse. Even though it’s called the upper room discourse, they’ve left the upper room by this point. They’re walking through the vineyards through John 15. They’re on their way to the Mount of Olives in John 16 where Jesus would be betrayed into the hands of the Jewish leaders by Judas. And Jesus told his apostles in John 16:12:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
That sounds a lot like what we just read in 1 Corinthians 2, doesn’t it? That’s because it’s talking about the same thing. Both passages are about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in and through the apostles to lay down the accurate, reliable, infallible doctrinal foundation upon which the church would be built. There is no warrant whatsoever for Christians today to apply these verses directly to themselves. Absolutely no legitimate basis for taking these verses to mean that the Holy Spirit gives each one of us special private revelation, individual to ourselves. These two passages are not about that at all. They’re about Christ sending the Holy Spirit to guarantee the accuracy of the foundation that he was laying through the ministry of the apostles. Do you want to know how to apply this to your life—John 14, John 16? Pick up your Bible and read it and know and study it and cherish it. Appreciate your Bible because of the reliability of this bedrock of revelation that we have received through the ministry of the apostles.
So those words are to us, but indirectly, not directly. And don’t ever disrespect what we’ve been given by looking elsewhere for the voice of God. Don’t listen for it in your head. Don’t listen for it in that still small voice blowing through the wind or whatever. Don’t look for it in self-proclaimed, self-styled prophets. Don’t look for it in nature, the shapes of the clouds or whatever. His voice is in his Word. Only in his Word. People say this—I hear it all the time—“We don’t want to put God in a box.” Well, that’s true, but with this qualification: When God has confined his voice to the written word, we insult him by looking elsewhere, even if we think we are being large-hearted and magnanimous by never putting God in a box. What if God himself has put himself in a box saying, “I want you to look here and no other place.” Listen, when God boxes himself in and tells us he is like this and not like that, we need to take him as he is, not as we or others may want him to be. We need to accept him on his terms.
Okay, turn back to 1 Corinthians 2 and let’s look at verse 12 and finish up with that passage with all this in mind. We’re going to round out our understanding about the true nature of apostolic ministry with these last verses. Here’s how we participate in the ministry of the apostles. In verses 12 to 13, Paul says:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. [Who’s he talking about? Apostles, those involved in the apostolic ministry.] And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
Did you catch that? Do you see where we show up in this passage? If we are among those who are spiritual, then we become participants in the apostolic ministry. How? By being teachable, by being humble to listen and to learn. The apostles received the Spirit of God so they would remember the words of Christ, so they would receive further instruction from Christ, which he was not able to cover during his earthly ministry, which they could not have understood until his resurrection. And by the Spirit—guaranteed by Christ and by the Spirit—the apostles were able to remember, to understand and then convey divine revelation contained in the written New Testament. They remembered, understood, communicated that revelation perfectly, flawlessly, infallibly and they are to impart those truths to spiritual people. Who’s that? Let’s finish the chapter in verses 14 and following.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
There is a distinction there, isn’t there, between the natural man and the spiritual man, between the unregenerate man and the regenerate man? The unbeliever is a fool in his folly, unable to accept, agree with and embrace the truth revealed through the apostles by the Spirit. But the believer has eyes to see and ears to hear. He has a heart to receive the apostolic truth that’s revealed through the apostles by the Holy Spirit. And there at the end when Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ,” again, he’s referring to himself, the holy apostles, the Twelve, those who participated in the early days of the church, the apostolic ministry of laying that foundation. But by extension, you know what? We have the mind of Christ as well. You know how? Not directly, not like they did. We have the mind of Christ because we hold in our hands copies of that apostolic revelation. And the same Spirit who spoke through them is dwelling within us to connect us to this truth.
Many people own Bibles and hold Bibles. But if they are not spiritual people—that is, regenerate people, they can’t understand it. I owned a Bible for many years—never understood it. It seemed like a code book full of riddles. I thought somewhere in here there’s got to be gold buried in the Middle East and I’m going to find it. That’s the only motivation I had to read my Bible. You laugh, but I was a weird kid. As spiritual people, those regenerated by the Spirit, converted to Christ by faith, united to Christ and his church by the Spirit—as spiritual people, we participate in the apostolic ministry by embracing what they taught. And that’s what I’m doing here Sunday after Sunday and all through the week—interpreting spiritual truths to those of you who are spiritual. As Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Listen, those who know the voice of the Great Shepherd of the sheep—they’re the ones who listen to those who proclaim the words of the Great Shepherd of the sheep, right? Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And that’s why we are going to stay firm in our commitment here at Grace Church to keep teaching what the apostles taught, to keep going back to the foundation of doctrine that they laid for us that’s written down here in the New Testament. To do that is to build according to the divine blueprint and to follow the plan of the Master Builder, to build with gold and silver and precious stones. You’re being formed into a precious temple of God by the Spirit, and I dare not teach anything else. You’ve got to hold us accountable to that—that we teach always and only what’s in this foundation, build always and only according to his holy word. Amen.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we are so grateful for this great foundation of the apostolic ministry. We’re grateful for divine truth, the very depths of God given by the Holy Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets, Christ himself being the cornerstone of that truth. We’re thankful that you have given us a reliable word—the New Testament—that we can trust. We ask that you would help direct our eyes to that truth and let us never take our eyes off of it. Let us never be distracted by inner voices, feelings, sentimentality, bad books, bad theology, false prophets, those who are filled with subjectivism and would turn us away to listen to what God told them yesterday. We pray Father, that you would keep our eyes directly on this word. Help us to be sanctified in it and through it. Change our lives and let us see that the words of men have nothing to say to us, but the Word of God is the very power of God to salvation. We rejoice in that great Gospel—the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and it’s for t