Have you ever considered that when Jesus ascended to heaven, all He left behind to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth were twelve young misfits (minus Judas), a few women, and an odd centurion or two? Let’s briefly set aside the Sovereignty of God, His foresight, and high-atmosphere theology to consider the implications of the disciples’ failure. Imagine that the Gospel hinged on twelve men.
The importance of the Jesus’ atonement as part of God’s marvelous plan to reconcile His fallen creation into a right relationship with Himself is almost beyond measure. Jesus is the only door to which mankind can be reconciled with the Father.1 Consider the popular Bible verse John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Christ did not die willy-nilly; He died for our sins and offers salvation to those who believe.2 But if we are saved through faith in Christ, what would have happened if the disciples failed and the knowledge of the Gospel did not spread? If the answer is a damned world, then the gravity God’s plan of redemption hinging on these twelve disciples is enormous.
Let’s think about these disciples. Their leader is this guy named Peter. Peter was so committed to the Gospel that he lied to a servant girl about even knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:29). The rest of his crew weren’t exactly le crème de la crème either. For the most part we’re talking about a group of uneducated teenagers who clearly had a lot less going on in their lives than the average Harvard student, given their willingness to just jump out of their fishing boats one day to follow Jesus. Of course we also have Matthew – the tax collector – and we all know that nobody has more sway within a brutally oppressed Jewish population than a tax collector. The women who followed Jesus and witnessed the Resurrection were not viewed as credible witnesses in the first-century world. Moreover, this small group of people was tasked with sharing the Gospel in a world that quite literally killed people for doing so.
How could these guys possibly succeed? How could God trust the future of the Gospel to small group of seemingly inconsequential people?
At this point one could object to the notion that the Gospel did not “hinge on twelve men.” God is sovereign. There is no risk because He is omniscient and even if they were to fail God could reveal the Gospel through dreams or by other means. This all true, but misses the point. The idea is that, in some respect, the spread of the Gospel was dependent on a select handful of everyday men and women and that against all earthly odds God was able to “take the foolish things to confound the wise and the weak things to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:7). The point again is not that the Gospel absolutely hinged on twelve men but rather that to the extent that it did, God was faithful in giving them what they needed in order to fulfill their callings.
What about me? What about our own callings and their colossal expectations?
At Harvard there is immense pressure to succeed and the responsibility can seem unbearable. Some of us have agonized over every test and assignment since third grade in order to get here. Some of us come from poor backgrounds and have disabled parents or large families to help take care of. Many of us have passions and visions that continue to drive us to spend nearly every waking hour doing some sort of activity that gets us closer to that goal. Most of us feel that, given our unique gifts and world-class education, we have to succeed. Success looks different from person to person. It may mean “changing the world” through non-profit work, medical breakthroughs, or politics. Or it could mean making a lot of money or rising to the top of our profession. Whatever the exact source of the pressure and the precise form “success” may take, it rings true that many Harvardians feel the heavy weight that big things are expected of them and that they ought to succeed in whatever tasks they are given or risk being a failure.
For Christians, things can become even more complicated. On one hand, we find comfort in trusting in God’s sovereignty. We also know that God will not love us less if we bomb our LSAT or if two years of experiments turn out to be a wash. With that said, it can still be hard not to feel anxiety over laboring in our callings. The fear of letting ourselves down, our peers down, our family down, and God down can be suffocating.
For those who struggle under such weights: I speak to you. Whether you feel called to be a doctor, a missionary, an academic, or even a U.S. president, I guarantee that there is lot less hinging on your efforts and abilities than those of the Twelve. It is quite likely that you are more qualified to teach economics, start up a non-profit providing clean drinking water to people in the developing world, or simply to be a light in a fallen world, than to build the foundation of a world-wide religion whose founder was recently publically humiliated and executed.
Whatever God has called you to it is probably less vital than the very survival of the Gospel to which the early church was entrusted with. The early Church did not succeed because they got into the right internships or because they were wealthier, more strategic, or placed higher on a standardized test. They succeeded because God chose them, called them, and blessed their work. Trust in God, know that He is good, and that you will not be put to shame. Whether it’s tomorrow’s final or this summer’s competitive internship, try to realize the stakes are not as high as they seem. So relax. It’s not like the salvation of the world hinges on your next exam.
Daniel Lowery ’16 is a Government concentrator living in Dudley House. He is a big fan of beards, Jesus, powerlifting, ballet, and freedom.
- For example, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6) and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Also see 1 John 5:11-12. ↩
- For example “but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). Also see Isaiah 53:4-5; John 1:12; Acts 13:39; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:38; Romans 5:1-8; Romans 10:9-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:9. ↩