Periodically, one of those messages makes its way into my in-box. "My score is 67%" the subject line reads. I open it and discover a brainteaser quiz (a.k.a. trick questions). A typical question says, "You only have a match when you enter a dark and cold room. You come across an oil lamp, an oil heater, and a candle. Which do you light first?" I find those quizzes irresistible, even though I seldom do well.
My score discourages me because I think I know the (obvious) answer when the right answer is something unexpected. That same "are you sure that's the right answer" reaction happened to me not long ago when I was asked this question: "In the New Testament, how many apostles are identified by name?" (I will tell you now my answer was not even close.)
The obvious answer – the first answer I got wrong - was "twelve." Jesus commissioned twelve men to send out as His special representatives, to be His apostles (Matt. 10:2-4):
1. Simon (Peter)
2. Andrew (Peter's brother)
3. James, the son of Zebedee
4. John, the son of Zebedee
6. Bartholomew (Nathanael)
8. Matthew (Levi)
9. James, the son of Alphaeus
10. Thaddaeus (Judas, the son of James)
11. Simon the Zealot
12. Judas Iscariot.
However, the answer of "twelve" leaves out Matthias. He took the place of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26) after Judas committed suicide. Unfortunately, "thirteen" is not the right answer, either. The book of Acts also identifies both Paul and Barnabas as apostles (Acts 14:14). The count is up to fifteen, but we have yet to complete the list. Several places in the New Testament record James, the brother of Jesus, as an apostle, including the passage of I Corinthians 15:7.
As trick questions go, this one ranks right up with the trickiest. Even "sixteen" is not the right answer and I never got that close. As far as I know, the correct answer is "seventeen." The name of the last apostle to put on the list is Jesus.
I know. I didn't believe it either. When I heard the answer and the scripture reference, I wasted no time in reading it for myself. Hebrews 3:1 (ESV) states, "Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession." Yet, when we hold the definition of an apostle up to Jesus, we see that the title easily applies to Him. An apostle is defined as one sent out as a special representative. In John 6:57 (ESV), Jesus said, "As the living Father sent me…" Everyone else on the list was an apostle of Jesus. Jesus is The Apostle of the Living God.
While you and I are not named as apostles in the Bible, that definition can also apply to us. Jesus sends us out as special representatives to people in our spheres of influence. You've probably heard that our lives are the only Bible that some people will ever read. Well, you may also be the only apostle some people ever meet. We may never have the opportunity to speak a word of kindness to anyone but a neighbor's child or to comfort anyone other than a coworker, but the Holy Spirit can use the smallest act to reach into eternity. For those times, and for those people, we can be God's special representatives that turn their hearts toward Him. And, when God asks, "Will you go for me?" it's not a trick question.
(The answer to the first trick question: Everyone would light the match first. Did you get it right?)