Book Review: 12 Ordinary Men

Book by John MacArthur

Review by Stephen Rodgers

In Twelve Ordinary Men, Pastor MacArthur does more than simply attempt to lay out a Biblical analysis of Jesus’ disciples. While an exegesis of their attitudes and actions is certainly found between the covers, he also traces God’s plan to perform His work through these oh-so-flawed agents; a plan made all the more remarkable and divine due to the utterly lacking nature of the disciples themselves.

Think about it for a moment: if you wanted to turn the world on its ear, and you were to pick twelve men to help you do it, and if you had any strategic sense or managerial talent…you would systematically AVOID picking the type of men that Jesus picked! Fishermen. A socially-reviled tax collector. A terrorist. These are not the sort of vocations and backgrounds that one imagines when one pictures the kingdom of heaven being advanced here on earth. But these are precisely the remarkable men that Jesus picked: men who were remarkable precisely of their complete ordinariness.

I had the privilege of actually attending Grace Community Church when Pastor MacArthur was going through the list of the twelve disciples from the gospel of Luke, so I thought I knew what to expect. I can remember sitting in the pews while he would say something like “Everything we know about Thomas comes from three passages in the gospel of John;” of course, it would then take two to three weeks to completely expound upon those verses! So I was prepared for a detailed analysis of the lives of these men. And yet, I had completely forgotten the first three rules of hermeneutics: context, context, context.

Don’t get me wrong: the details are there. You’ll learn more about the disciples, particularly Peter, Andrew, James and John than you ever thought you could know. You’ll understand why Nathanael would have been a terrible poker player. You’ll come to realize that an unremarked-upon miracle of Jesus’ ministry is that Simon never killed Matthew. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with Thomas, the completely misunderstood disciple who arguably loved Christ more than any of them.

But ultimately, the disciples are not the point. To paraphrase a different Pastor John, “life is not about them either.” Rather, it is through them that we understand how Jesus made himself known to mankind, how he taught us, how we should (and shouldn’t) respond, what we should abandon, and who we should love. You see, this is a book about the contrast between the frail, unremarkable, relatively uneducated, powerless, socially stunted, flawed, sinful, and emotional disciples of Christ…and what can happen when the power of God gets a hold of just a dozen men like that.

And it should make us wonder what would happen if we let God get a hold of us like that too.

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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