Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The 12th Man

by Pastor Bill Heffelfinger

It’s football season.  And in every stadium around the country, the teams are putting 11 men on the field in a physical game of combat.  But, the home team always has an advantage.  They always have “The Twelfth Man.” Every fan believes that even if they never touch the field, they are the difference maker.

Does anybody remember how many disciples Jesus chose? Twelve. This is not a coincidence, okay? It's not an accident. No other rabbi had 12 disciples. All other rabbis had disciples. No other rabbi we know of had 12 disciples. Nobody would have. It was too presumptuous. When Jesus chose 12 disciples, he was making a claim. It was a really clear claim, and it was a very dangerous claim. It was part of what got him killed.

He was saying to all of Israel (he was saying to Rome, for that matter) that what God began so long ago with the 12 sons of Jacob, with the 12 tribes that have been lost, that have been broken, that everybody aches to see restored, God is now beginning again, redeeming, recreating through Jesus. This is one of the most audacious acts of Jesus' whole ministry. It's the number 12. He chooses 12 disciples. He says, "Take a look at these 12 guys. These are the 12 tribes. This is the whole people of God, God's redeemed community on earth. God's dream is beginning again with me and these 12 guys."

The disciples loved being the Twelve. It was like, "We're it!" Individually, they didn't look like much. There was Peter the denier, Judas the betrayer, Thomas the doubter. Individually, they looked a lot more like Snow White and the seven dwarfs, but together, they were the Twelve. They loved being the Twelve. That's why they argued about who was the greatest. "We're the Twelve. It's all starting again in us!" Now at the end of the gospel, there's the crucifixion, the resurrection. Jesus is going to send them out, but Matthew says there are only 11. In other words, they're not whole anymore. They're not perfect anymore. This is a wrong number. There are not enough. They are not ready.

Dale Bruner, who is a great New Testament scholar, writes this: "The number 'eleven' limps; it is not perfect like twelve. […] The church that Jesus sends into the world is 'elevenish,' imperfect, fallible." Inadequate. Jesus did not say, "First let's get enough numbers." He doesn't say, "First let's get enough faith." He says, "You go. We'll work on the numbers thing, and we'll work on the faith thing while you're doing the obedience thing. You will learn as you go, but I'm going to send you out ready or not. I'm going to send you out ready or not!"

The truth is this is not just true of the disciples. This is the theme throughout the Bible. In the Bible when God calls somebody to do something, as far as I know, nobody ever responds by saying, "I'm ready! Good timing! You came to me at just the right moment when my tank is all filled up, and I'm adequately prepared." Over and over again, God says to Moses, "I want you to go to Pharaoh and say, 'Let my people go.'" Moses says, "Really? Oh Lord, I have never been eloquent. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."

God comes to Gideon and says, "I want you to liberate my people." Gideon says, "But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." God comes to Abraham. "I want to begin a new community in you." Abraham says, "Will a son be born to a man 100 years old? There's like no pharmaceutical help involved here at all? I don't think so." God comes to Jeremiah. Jeremiah says, "Ah, sovereign Lord, I'm only a child. I don't think so."

Have you ever gone skydiving? Or maybe bungee jumping? I haven't had the chance to do either, but I really want to do so. But, one thing I know, when I'm 10-15,000 feet in the air, and the door to the plane opens, and they ask me, "Are you ready?" there is zero chance I'm going to be "ready" to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and hope a giant tablecloth is going to prevent me from face-planting at 100 mph. Or, when bungee jumping, there is zero chance that I'll be "ready" to jump from a bridge or any other tall contraption and hope this giant rubber band doesn't snap. But, I'll jump. I'm a thrill seeker. I'll jump.

Jesus takes his friends up a mountain one time, and they're staring off a cliff. There are not enough of them. The ones who are there don't have enough faith. It doesn't matter. The reason is not that they're ready; the reason is Jesus is ready. Because when you go…you have to go even though you don't feel ready. You have to risk. You have to try. You have to share. You have to give. You have to connect. You have to trust.

The reason you do it is not that you feel ready. It's because you won't be alone. See, we're "elevenish." We always are. I was thinking about this. Do some of you remember who won the Super Bowl in 2014? The Seattle Seahawks. They won the Super Bowl, and they had a secret weapon. They say they have the loudest fans in the NFL. Nobody wants to go to Seattle to play. They actually set a Guinness World Record of 136.7 decibels in their stadium.

One hundred decibels of sound will create hearing loss. One hundred and thirty decibels is like being within a football field of a jet takeoff. They cranked up to 136.7 decibels. They called their fans the "twelfth man." They actually put a flag up in their stadium to the twelfth man. They say, "We never would have won without the twelfth man." Jesus says, "Don't worry about only 11. You're forgetting the twelfth man: me. I'll be with you."

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