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The Apostles

A Case Study in Conversion

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The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4 Acts 2:1-4 1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
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) transformed the apostles of Jesus Christ from a group of ordinary men into some of the most remarkable and dynamic leaders the world has ever known. To appreciate the magnitude of their transformation, we need to take a closer look at the same men before they received God’s Spirit.

The four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—provide us with insight into their lives. We see no indication that any of the 12 apostles had an exceptional education or any position of influence. They were common men, regarded as “uneducated and untrained” by the rulers and religious authorities of that time (Acts 4:13 Acts 4:13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
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Matthew was a tax collector, a member of one of the despised professions of his day (Matthew 9:9 Matthew 9:9And as Jesus passed forth from there, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said to him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
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; Matthew 18:17 Matthew 18:17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be to you as an heathen man and a publican.
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). Peter, his brother Andrew and two other brothers, James and John, were partners in a modest fishing enterprise (Matthew 4:18-22 Matthew 4:18-22 18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19 And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. 21 And going on from there, he saw other two brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. 22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
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; Luke 5:1-10 Luke 5:1-10 1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed on him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. 3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. 4 Now when he had left speaking, he said to Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5 And Simon answering said to him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at your word I will let down the net. 6 And when they had this done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net broke. 7 And they beckoned to their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: 10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, Fear not; from now on you shall catch men.
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). Along with Philip, they lived in the town of Bethsaida in the northern province of Galilee (John 1:44 John 1:44Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
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). The only special thing about them was that they were disciples—students and followers—of Jesus Christ.

Even more striking is their lack of spiritual comprehension during their time of training. Their minds were still controlled by their fleshly nature. Their thinking and behavior were “carnal”—that is, of the flesh (Romans 8:5-7 Romans 8:5-7 5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
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). Jesus rebuked them for their lack of belief and hardness of heart (Mark 16:14 Mark 16:14Afterward he appeared to the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
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).

Their attitudes and behavior during that time illustrate that even living in the presence of Jesus Christ while He was on earth —personally hearing Him teach and seeing His example—was not sufficient to transform their thinking from carnal to spiritual.

Jesus sternly chastised James and John for their attitude toward some who had rejected Jesus: “But they [the Samaritans] did not receive Him…And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them’ ” (Luke 9:53-57 Luke 9:53-57 53 And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, will you that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? 55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, You know not what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. 57 And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said to him, Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.
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). John would later become known as “the apostle of love”—quite a turnaround for a man who had suggested the annihilation of a village!

The disciples were selfish. They argued among themselves as to who would be the greatest (Mark 9:33-34 Mark 9:33-34 33 And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that you disputed among yourselves by the way? 34 But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.
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; Luke 22:24 Luke 22:24And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
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). James and John, along with their mother, even tried to finagle Jesus into awarding them the two most prominent positions in His Kingdom (Mark 10:35-37 Mark 10:35-37 35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to him, saying, Master, we would that you should do for us whatever we shall desire. 36 And he said to them, What would you that I should do for you? 37 They said to him, Grant to us that we may sit, one on your right hand, and the other on your left hand, in your glory.
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; Matthew 20:20-21 Matthew 20:20-21 20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. 21 And he said to her, What will you? She said to him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on your right hand, and the other on the left, in your kingdom.
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).

Like any other people, each of the disciples greatly overestimated his faithfulness and loyalty to Christ. “Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” ’…Peter said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ But he spoke more vehemently, ‘If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And they all said likewise” (Mark 14:27-31 Mark 14:27-31 27 And Jesus said to them, All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. 28 But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee. 29 But Peter said to him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. 30 And Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, you shall deny me thrice. 31 But he spoke the more vehemently, If I should die with you, I will not deny you in any wise. Likewise also said they all.
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As they spoke those words, the disciples believed they would loyally do as they had said. Yet within hours they all abandoned Jesus to suffer alone (Mark 14:50 Mark 14:50And they all forsook him, and fled.
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). Peter even cursed and swore that he had never even known Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75 Matthew 26:69-75 69 Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came to him, saying, You also were with Jesus of Galilee. 70 But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what you say. 71 And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said to them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. 72 And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. 73 And after a while came to him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely you also are one of them; for your speech denudes you. 74 Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said to him, Before the cock crow, you shall deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
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; Luke 22:54-62 Luke 22:54-62 54 Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest’s house. And Peter followed afar off. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked on him, and said, This man was also with him. 57 And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not. 58 And after a little while another saw him, and said, You are also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not. 59 And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with him: for he is a Galilaean. 60 And Peter said, Man, I know not what you say. And immediately, while he yet spoke, the cock crew. 61 And the Lord turned, and looked on Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, Before the cock crow, you shall deny me thrice. 62 And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.
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).

After Jesus was resurrected, He appeared to His gathered disciples, except for Thomas, who was not present. Upon hearing about this, Thomas was so skeptical that he commented, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25 John 20:25The other disciples therefore said to him, We have seen the LORD. But he said to them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
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). Jesus later appeared and provided Thomas with the precise proof he requested (John 20:26-29 John 20:26-29 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the middle, and said, Peace be to you. 27 Then said he to Thomas, Reach here your finger, and behold my hands; and reach here your hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said to him, My LORD and my God. 29 Jesus said to him, Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
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).

Later still, Peter and six of the other apostles decided it was time to resume their former work as fishermen (John 21:2-3 John 21:2-3 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, I go a fishing. They say to him, We also go with you. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
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). They had actually met with the risen Christ, but their limited perspective still blinded them to the significance of Jesus’ sayings and what He intended for them. That same blindness is a part of all human beings until God opens their understanding to see what He really says in His Word.

These were the men Jesus chose to carry His gospel to every nation. As yet they had not received God’s Spirit. They were as powerless as any other human being would be to fulfill their intentions and commitments to faithfully serve their Savior. It was impossible for them to be the special servants of Christ on their own strength.

Now we can understand Jesus’ remark when His disciples asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” His answer: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26 Matthew 19:25-26 25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? 26 But Jesus beheld them, and said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
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