O Christ, Who Called the Twelve

This Sunday we get the great privilege of singing a great hymn by one of my favorite 20th century hymn writers, Herman G. Steumpfle, Jr. For decades he was on the faculty at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, PA. This hymn, O Christ, Who Called the Twelve, teaches about Christ and His call the Apostles and applies this to our lives. Every stanza has the same structure; the first four lines proclaim a truth about Christ and the last four lines ask God for that truth to bear fruit in our lives.

The hymn is fitting for this Sunday because the Gospel reading is about the calling of the disciples and Jesus’ early ministry. Here’s the second half of this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mark 4:18-25

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.


Here’s stanza 1 of the hymn:
O Christ, who called the Twelve

To Rise and follow You,

Forsaking old familiar ways

For ventures bold and new:

Grant us to hear Your call

To risk security

And, bound in heart and will to You,

Find perfect liberty.


It says in the Gospel reading that Peter, Andrew, James, and John immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. They gave up the jobs in which they were skilled, steady incomes and the regular routines of life in order to follow Jesus. This is the kind of dedication that our Lord demands, as He says in Luke 14:

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Today our Lord calls to us as well, not to become apostles, but to believe in the one He sent. Hear the Word from 1st John 3

23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

We are called to believe. We are called to a life of faith. This is how we have “perfect liberty”. Our liberty comes from being slaves to God rather than slaves to sin, as St. Paul says in Romans 6

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Stanza 2

O Christ, who taught the Twelve

The truth for ages sealed,

Whose words and works awakened faith,

The ways of God revealed:

Instruct us now we pray,

By Your empowering Word.

True teacher, be for all who seek

Their light, their life, their Lord.

Jesus spent much of ministry teaching his Apostles and the crowds around Him. When we sing this hymn on Sunday morning, we will be singing it as the people of God who have been gathered to be instructing in God’s Holy Word. This instruction is so important that God has given us the office of the pastor to teach us the truth of God’s Word. In 2nd Timothy chapter 4, Paul instructs Timothy and all pastors to preach the Word.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

The Word does awaken faith in us because it is a living, active Word.

Isaiah 55:11

11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

John 1:14

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.


Stanza 3

O Christ, who led the Twelve

Among the desolate

And broke as bread of life for all

Your love compassionate:

Lead us along the ways

Where hope has nearly died

And help us climb the lonely hills

Where love is crucified.

This has to be one of the most beautifully written hymn stanzas in our hymnal.  Jesus did much of His ministry among the despised of society; the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners and outcasts. He came for the purpose of healing sinners, atoning for their sins, and bringing them life. He willingly gave His own life, was broken and beaten and killed, so that we may have life. Now we are called to love the outcast, the hopeless, and all who are in need of a Savior, even when it means climbing the “lonely hills where love is crucified.” This stanza ties together much Scriptural teaching. Here are just a few references that relate.

John 6:35

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Matthew 26:26

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

Matthew 9:35,36

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9:11-13

11And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Stanza 4

O Christ, who sent the Twelve

On roads they’d never trod

To serve, to suffer, teach, proclaim

The nearer reign of God

Send us on ways where faith

Transcends timidity,

Where love informs and hope sustains

Both life and ministry.

Again, I don’t want anyone to leave worship this Sunday thinking that they must change their careers and move to a new location in order to “really” serve God. If you wish to serve God by doing those things, then by all means do them, but we called not to a life of arbitrary change, but to a life of faith that changes our hearts. We are called to “ways where faith transcends timidity”. The stanza speaks of the twelve traveling “roads they’d never trod”. The road we’ve never trod may be sharing our faith with our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family. Our road never trod may be a renewed dedication to helping the poor and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Above all, we are called to a life of faith, where we are sustained by the forgiveness of sins, the love of God, and the hope of eternal life.


Stanza 5

O Christ, th’apostles’ Lord,

The martyr’s strength and song,

The crucified and risen King

To whom the saints belong:

Though generations pass,

Our tribute still we bring,

Our hymns a sacrifice of praise,

Our lives an offering.

The first half of this stanza really echoes Philippians 2

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Our strength does not come from our own dedication or abilities, but our strength comes only from our Lord Jesus Christ, who has defeated death and made us His own. In response, we live our entire lives as an act of worship, as it says in Romans 12:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.


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