Archive for November, 2015

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed The World? Part 11 (Simon, the Zealot)

Clemson vs. South Carolina is a passionate rivalry in any sport. Clemson and Carolina fans would hate each other’s chess teams if either school had chess teams and the NCAA had chess as a sanctioned sport. Most of it is in good-natured fun among friends whose allegiances between the two schools differ. There are those on both sides that are give the rivalry a bad name such as those fans who on national television throw water bottles and flip the bird at a Clemson player as stops at the back of the end zone after scoring a touchdown this past Saturday in Columbia. I have seen people fights after games in Clemson between fans. However, for the most people the rivalry is among gentlemen and gentle women. Like this past Saturday, with exception of the things I mentioned. This past Saturday was very calm after the game. Gamecock fans were proud that their team finally played their best game of the season even though they lost and Clemson fans were simply happy that the Tigers had escaped with a victory and remained unbeaten. Fans of both teams generally walked away talking to each other without anger. A sense of relief was evident on both sides. However, there are those fools on both sides that take the rivalry too seriously and make it distasteful for all. Some might call these fringe Clemson and fringe Carolina fans the zealots of the rivalry. Living in house divided myself, I have learned to make the rivalry fun rather than bitter. My wife is a Carolina fan while I am a lifelong Clemson fan. By being exposed to each other’s allegiances and in the interest of preserving our relationship, we see the other’s passion for their team and respect it. It gives new perspective. But, like I said before, there are those on both sides that make it into something that it should not be – destructive. These are what we call the zealots. Those that can see only orange or those that can see only garnet. For these fans, there is no middle ground. There is no compromise. It is either all Clemson or nothing. It is either all Carolina or nothing. They would as soon get in a fight with you than compliment the other’s team. It’s crazy. Most of these types have no association with the school except through their sports teams. But for these it is an all consuming identification. If you say something about Clemson, you are saying something about me and my value as a person or if you say something about the Gamecocks you are saying something about the kind of person I am. Zealots. Destructive. All consuming. That leads us to today’s subject disciple. No Simon wasn’t a Clemson or South Carolina fan, but he and his brethren were Israel zealots. They gave us the word, zealot.

Simon, the Zealot, one of the little-known followers called the Canaanite or Zelotes, lived in Galilee. In two places, in the King James Version, he is called a Canaanite (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18). However in the other two places he is called Simon Zelotes (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). The New Testament gives us practically nothing on him personally except that it says he was a Zealot. The Zealots were fanatical Jewish Nationalists who had heroic disregard for the suffering involved and the struggle for what they regarded as the purity of their faith. The Zealots were crazed with hatred for the Romans. It was this hate for Rome that destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Josephus says the Zealots were reckless persons, zealous in good practices and extravagant and reckless in the worst kind of actions. They were guerilla warriors. Popping in to cause destruction where they knew Romans or Roman soldiers would be. Today, we would call them religious motivated terrorists. Their actions were intended to strike fear in their Roman occupiers and weaken their authority in Jerusalem. Sound familiar to anything that you know today?

From this background, we see that Simon was a fanatical nationalist, a man devoted to the Law, a man with bitter hatred for anyone who dared to compromise with Rome. As a Zealot, he would have seen the Jewish religious ruling elite as a bunch of sell out to the foreign pagans of Rome. Sound familiar to anything that you know of today? They longed for the day when Israel was its own nation and longed for it to return to what it saw as its religiously pure roots. Never mind that Israel throughout its history was imperfect and went through cycles of obedience and disobedience to the Lord. However, they saw those days as Israel controlling its own destiny and if they could get back to those days they would be able to return Israel to its roots. However, they chose violence to achieve those ends against a force that was far greater than they. The vast majority of Jews did not care for their Roman occupiers or their sell-out local religious elite rulers. However, most just saw this world as “this is what we have to deal with so let’s make the best of it” or “as long as I can make a living for me and my family I can deal with it” mentality. Not too much unlike most Americans today.

Yet, Simon clearly emerged as a man of faith. He encountered this Jesus Christ and was forever changed by Him. He abandoned all his hatred for the faith that he showed toward his Master and the love that he was willing to share with the rest of the disciples and especially Matthew, the Roman tax collector. Simon, the Zealot, the man who once would have killed in loyalty to his ideal of religious and political Israel, became the man who saw that we must win men’s hearts to Christ and we cannot do that through violence and hatred.

Simon is so topical for today’s world and we have much to learn from him. From Simon, we see several things that we can learn in this world in which we live today that is full or similarly zealous nationalists and religious fanatics. The first thing we learn from him is that hate is not the answer to anything. The second thing we learn is that even the most hated person is made in the image of God and deserves the grace offered in Jesus Christ. Finally, we learn from Simon that if we use our passions appropriately for the kingdom we can be of great use to the kingdom.

First, earlier we were talking about the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry, but let’s get real right now. Football is one thing but let’s talk about Muslim terrorist and even abortion clinic bombers who do so in the name of Christ falsely. Hate never accomplished anything. It is a sure fire bet that when Simon the Zealot met Matthew, the former Roman tax collection franchise owner, there may have been distrust and even some stares of indignation and maybe even other disciples having to hold Simon back from Matthew. Hate never change anything. It only polarizes. The only thing that the zealots accomplished was to hasten the total destruction of Israel from 66AD and concluding with sacking of Jerusalem in 70AD. They accomplished the opposite what they wanted. The Romans grew increasingly militaristic in Palestine as the result of the zealots and eventually grew tired of the nice little arrangement that they had with the Jewish religious authorities and completely crushed Israel after 100s of years. Israel was no more. What do you think the Muslim terrorists of today are accomplishing with their violence. It will my friends lead to the destruction of the Islamic nations by the combined Western world eventually. Certainly they have money and oil, but we have technology and years and years of developing the craft of all out war. It is coming in our lifetime. We are tolerating their random acts of violence now but patience is growing thin among the western industrialized nations. Racial violence here in the United States in Northern or Western cities never accomplishes anything but burned out buildings and even greater unemployment. Institutionalized racism never accomplished anything but hampering the growth of the South for decades and even centuries. Hate destroys. Hate polarizes. Hate accomplishes the opposite of what it sets out to accomplish. Bomb Paris. Accomplish nothing but having people hate Muslims rather than embrace their ideology. Bomb an abortion clinic. Accomplish nothing but polarize mainstream Americans against Christians. Get riled up over Starbucks coffee cups. Accomplish nothing but looking silly when there are major social issues that we should be addressing as Christians. Black Lives Matter calling for the destruction of white society accomplishes nothing but creating distrust of blacks and further reactionary oppression. Burning down buildings in the name of racial equality does nothing but validate white people’s opinions of entitlement among black people. White people killing black people just because they are black accomplishes nothing but breeding more hate and more children who think such things are right. Hate accomplishes nothing.

Second, we learn that Jesus cut through all of that. He showed us that we are all children of God who need the grace that he offers. All of us are sinners in need of intervention. No matter if you are Muslim or call yourself Christian. We all need Jesus no matter if you are black or white. We all need Jesus if your wear garnet or orange. We all need Jesus whether you are Yankee or a Southerner. Not one of us deserves heaven. None of us have the franchise only Jesus does. We need him. Simon came to see that he and Matthew were not that much different. Just two guys with problems. Just two guys who are really just trying to get by. Maybe if we took a lesson from Simon and Matthew maybe we would get to know a Muslim and lead them to the one and only way to the Father in Jesus. Maybe we would get to know an abortion clinic operator and love them to the point that they walk away from the violence that they do to the unborn. Maybe we befriend the girl going to the clinic and lead her away from the decision to he decision of life. The love of Christ changed Simon full of hate to Simon the spreader of the gospel.

Finally, Jesus saw passion in Simon. He wanted that passion on his team. He wanted a guy that once He understood the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ that he would be awesome in spreading the gospel. If we were just as passionate about spreading the gospel as we are about the Gamecocks or Tigers, imagine where the church would be. Imagine if we were as passionate about showing love to our neighbors and talking to them about Jesus Christ as we are about talking about the game this past Saturday in Columbia, would we not be better off as the church of Christ. What if we worried about people’s eternal destinies as much as where our teams are in the national rankings, where would the church be then! I bet you Simon was as passionate as Peter about Jesus. I bet he worked hard to make sure people knew what Jesus had done for him and how knowing Jesus changed his life. I bet Simon shared his salvation story every chance he got. He was passionate about Christ I bet just as much as he was previously passionate about getting rid of the Roman pagans. Jesus took his passion and directed it after the right things, the kingdom of God and the salvation of souls. Maybe, you and I should examine the things that we are passionate about and redirect them to the things that are holy and that are about salvation. Simon is our example. Jesus is the team we should be pulling for. Maybe one day we can see Clemson Tiger fans and Carolina Gamecock fans more passionate about Jesus Christ than they are about their football teams. Maybe we can see black and white people passionate about the same thing, Jesus Christ. Maybe we can all get there with the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts! Amen and Amen.

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed the World? Part 10 (Thaddeus)

Thaddeus (also referred to as Saint Jude in the Catholic church) is believed to have been the nickname or surname of Judas. There is some confusion as to whether Thaddeus was the brother or son of James but it is known that they were related. Thaddeus was not a leader of the twelve disciples and he is not mentioned often throughout The Bible. He is believed to have brought the gospel message of Jesus Christ to Armenia and it is believed that he was martyred there while evangelizing. Although there is no general consensus among Christian scholars and researchers, there are a number of scholars who believe it is Thaddeus, equally well-known as Jude, who wrote the next to last book of the New Testament, the Book of Jude. I think that the lack of valid evidence otherwise would lead us to believe that Jude (Thaddeus) was the author of this book. Therefore, his book gives us a look at this apostle who helped change the world.

The book of Jude is a General Epistle (Apostolic Letter). The author is Jude the brother of James, both of who are half-brothers of Jesus Christ. Jude wrote it circa 75 A.D. The purpose of this book is to address false teachings and to illustrate a contrast between the error of heresy and the truth of Jesus Christ. Jude consists of only one chapter.

• In verses 1- 16, Jude identifies himself and quickly delves into the dilemma of false teachings. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed” (vs. 4), heresy was obviously seeping into the region, disturbing the churches, and deceiving believers. He begins by illustrating similarities between false teachers and condemned individuals from the Old Testament citing Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

• Verses 17-25, Jude urges Christians to “remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 17). He was referring to all of the apostles and disciples in the past, which had warned about false teachers and prophets that were coming to deceive. His advice is to focus on Jesus Christ and to watch out for each other so that no one is misled into error.

• Those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are secure in salvation, not by their own good deeds, because no one is good enough to do that, but believers are secure by the vicarious work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It is only by, “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (vs. 24-25).

From the Apostle Jude, we must answer the question that we have asked throughout this series of blogs (What can we learn from him?). I think that there are several things. First, we learn from the man himself that we do not have to be well-known to know and preach the gospel. Second, we learn from the book some attribute to him that we must understand our faith and not be led astray by false teaching. In the end, the conclusion that we draw is that Jude teaches us to focus on Jesus. It’s the message that matters!

The first thing that we see from Jude is that he was a man that was passionate enough about the gospel to go be a missionary in Armenia. He was not the flashiest of the apostles. He is not the most popular of the apostles. He was just a guy who came to an understanding of what Jesus meant and what Jesus taught and took it to heart. He was a worker in the harvest. He did not gain wide acclaim as some of the other apostles. He just did the work of the kingdom. In that, we see what we can learn. Let us check our motives for our service to the gospel message. Are we doing this to get people to pat us on the back? Are we doing this so we can see how many followers we can gather? Or are we doing this to give glory to Jesus Christ? The message must be the most important thing. We must be willing to sacrifice our ego-driven needs for self-affirmation and make the message the thing! We must make Jesus Christ the star of the show not ourselves. When I think of Jude, I compare some of the more famous evangelists of our day today and those evangelists who lead their flocks in relative obscurity on the grand scale. My kind of rule of thumb on what the motives are is when you think of an evangelist today even on the local and regional level, do you see their face plastered all over their church’s or organization’s website or is it hard to tell who is evangelist is when you look at their website. To me, that leads the question, who is more humble. If an evangelist feels the need to have their face everywhere on their website and materials, who are we trying to promote here? Is it the evangelist or the message? At my church, there is no more tireless an evangelist than my senior pastor, Pastor Jeff Hickman. But nowhere will you see his face plastered all over our website or church materials. Jeff is a tireless worker in the field and the message is the thing with him. He has often told me that if it came down to it about the survival of LifeSong Church as the church that spreads the gospel in our community in a real and tangible way, he would walk away from it, if it meant the message would live on. We could say the same thing about Christian authors. If you are writing Christian books to make a name for yourself and so you will have a private jet and a big fine mansion for yourself and your family members, what is your message really about? We need workers who care about the message more than they care about their name. Jude shows us that even if thousands of years later people are not even sure who you were that is the message that matters not our fame. May we have more Judes in our midst in today’s world where Jesus is needed more than ever.

The final thing is that Jude understood the message and it pairs up with the relative anonymity of his life. He warns in his epistle against false teaching. Those who twist the gospel into something that it is not. He reminds us to keep the message clear about who we are as sinners in the eyes of God and what Jesus means to us. It is only through Jesus that we come blameless before the Lord. We cannot do enough good deeds to make the cut. We cannot be good enough. We are humbled by this fact. No matter how we try to be good Christians and live a certain way, we are all utter failures at it and we must rely totally on the grace that Jesus Christ gave us at the cross. False teachings will take it more than that. Somehow false teachings will twist the message into either following a person, doing certain deeds, and saying the right things, hanging with the right people. But it is all meaningless because we are fallen sinners. One sin does us in. And we are sinners to the core. Jude gets it. He expresses it in that we only have Jesus to rely on not ourselves. We are up the creek without a paddle without Jesus. His message is to keep our focus on Jesus as laypeople and as preachers. Anything different from that is heresy. We must keep our eyes on Jesus and his message. We must keep our eyes on the cross. The cross is what redeems us not our actions. The cross makes us clean. The cross gives us new life. In that, it humbles us. When we get that message and know our destiny outside of Jesus at the cross, we are laid low. We become humble. We are utterly thankful for the cross. We serve because of what Jesus did at the cross. We overflow with joy because of the cross. We carry the message of the cross out of the overflow. When we get it like Jude does, we do not care about our name in lights. We care about the message. We spread it. We defend it. We love it. We get it. It is the message that matters.

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed the World? Part 9 (James, the son of Alphaeus)

James (son of Alphaeus) One of the 12 Apostles. He is named in the list of Apostles in Matthew 10:1-3, Mark 3:14-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13. His mother’s name was Mary and she was one of the women who went to the tomb of Jesus, and found that it had been opened. James was also called “James the Less” and “James the Younger.” Because the Apostle Matthew also is the son of a man named Alphaeus, it has been thought that he and James were brothers. But the two were never referred to as brothers, whereas Peter and Andrew, and James (the other disciple named James) and John, were consistently referred to as being brothers. Nothing else is known about James except he was among those who went to the upper room to pray after the Ascension of Jesus. James was a native of Capernaum (located on the northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee in Israel.) It is believed that he was from the Jewish tribe of Levi, however, this is not certain. Not much is known about the latter ministry of this apostle, however, Aziz S. Atiya, in his History of Eastern Christianity says,” The seeds of Syrian Christianity had been sown in Jerusalem during the Apostolic age and the contention has been made that the first bishop of the Syrian church was none other than St. James of the Twelve Apostles, identified as ‘St. James the Less’.” It has also been said that James (son of Alphaeus) was stoned in Jerusalem for preaching Christ. However, these facts are not known with certainty.

James was hand-picked by Jesus Christ to be a disciple. He was present with the 11 apostles in the upper room of Jerusalem after Christ ascended to heaven. He may have been the first disciple to see the risen Savior. Although his accomplishments remain unknown to us today, James may simply have been overshadowed by the more prominent apostles. Even still, being named among the twelve was no small achievement. However, we know so little of the post-Pentecost life of James the Younger.

Let us visit that question again as we have in each of the blogs in this series on Jesus’ disciples. What can we learn from a man we know so little about, if anything?

I admit that starting this blog I felt as though I could not answer this question. However, when you least expect it, the Holy Spirit can give inspiration when it is needed most. The guidance He gave me was this. There are several things that we can learn from James, Son of Alphaeus, or James, the Younger. First, that he was among the named disciples of Jesus Christ means that Jesus saw something in him that was important to the church’s future. The second thing we learn is that just because James the Younger was not as famous as some of the other disciples, it does not mean that his sacrifices were no less significant. Finally, I think we learn from James the Younger that the church needs those unsung heroes of the faith like James the Younger.

He was named as a disciple of Jesus Christ in every list in the gospels. He was part of the twelve. That means he was there. He was part of the traveling band of Jesus in whom Jesus invested three years of intense discipleship. He is not as popular as Peter, or John or Matthew. But he was there. It means that Jesus hand picked him to be a part of the group that Jesus would teach and demonstrate and lead so that they would be the ones that would spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. He was there at the Sermon on the Mount. He was there when Jesus cleansed the Temple. He was there when Peter declared with full belief that Jesus was the Son of the living God, the Messiah. He was there in the upper room before and after the crucifixion. He was there when he and all the other disciples fled and abandoned Jesus in the Garden. He was in the upper room fearing for his life during the days between the crucifixion and the resurrection. He was there when Jesus appeared to them after He arose from the dead. He was there when He saw that Jesus was no ghost but a real man resurrected from the dead who ate food with he and the other disciples. He was among those who had shame for abandoning Jesus. He was among those that felt complete and utter joy at the resurrected Christ. It is commonly accepted that all of the disciples accept John were killed while in the prime of their lives and while spreading the gospel message. James the Younger is commonly accepted to have received this same fate. Just because we do not know him as well as Peter, just because he did not “get the press” that other disciples got does not mean that Jesus invested in him any less. He was a disciple. Jesus picked him. Each of us is picked by Jesus to be a disciple. We may not have a place of prominence in the kingdom always but we are part of the team. We may not be the star quarterback but we are on the team. Nothing is a throwaway with Jesus. He didn’t say “Oh, James the Younger, I didn’t see you standing there. Hey, why don’t you come along too.” No, Jesus picked him for a specific purpose. Just as a star quarterback is nothing without his offensive line, so too it is within the body of Christ. We need everyone on the team, not just the ones for the flashy, public positions. Each of us has something that Christ sees in us that is important for the future advancement of his kingdom through the church.

Just because we don’t know much about James the Younger, it does not mean that he sacrificed any less than the other disciples. We might assume that maybe he was a lukewarm follower of Christ. We might assume that because we hear nothing much of him after Pentecost maybe he just gave up and when back home and started his pre-ministry life over again. The fact that we have early church historians mentioned that James the Younger died preaching the gospel tells me that he made the same sacrifices as the more popular apostles. He carried the message. He carried on the work. It kind of reminds you of a rural country United Methodist preacher serving in quiet anonymity while there are some of these new wave of megachurches that are sweeping the nation that are regional or national celebrities. Both are serving the Lord and expanding the kingdom. One does it in a small, rural farm town whereas another does it on a bigger stage. Is the small town United Methodist Church preacher any less effective for the kingdom than the big-time megachurch preacher? Who measures the effectiveness we have for the kingdom of God. Each one of us as pastors, as regular church members, are called to spread the gospel. We are all called to sacrifice for the message of Jesus Christ. We are all called to serve the Lord. Just because we don’t get the glitzy job in the kingdom does not mean we invest ourselves any less in it. In James the Younger, we see maybe someone who was less charismatic as other disciples but one who toiled for the kingdom nonetheless. He gave it all just like the others. Let us be like James and not look at whether we are being made popular by our acts of service and the decision maker as to whether we do them. We do them because it is about the kingdom. The volunteer at church that changes the air filters on the HVAC units at the church is key to the kingdom just as is the senior pastor. Without changing filters, the electricity bill goes up and there are more repairs needed and even early replacement of the whole system. That means less money for ministry that really matters. We all preach in our own way for the kingdom. We all make sacrifices for the expansion of the kingdom. Just because no one else sees you do does not mean it is any less important. Who are we doing it for any way?

Finally, in James the Younger, we see an unsung hero of the faith. He toiled the ground for Jesus Christ in relative obscurity. One may get more press and has to worry about his ego getting in the way of shepherding a large flock and the other may sometimes see his self as toiling away with no one noticing and he must not allow jealousy to creep into his thinking. We all have jobs to do and God will assign us where we go. It is not up to us to decide whether the church we are called to lead is to our liking or not. It is not up to us as whether God calls us to planted in the perfect church that matches our sweet spot. It is not up to us whether we stay on the staff of a large church or he calls us to save an old and dying church or to plant a brand new church from scratch. We do not choose where God sends us and how much press we get when we get there. We are simply to serve Him where He sends us. We are to fight Satan whether we are seen doing it or not. We work for the audience of One. We sacrifice for Him not for others. We toil for Him not for others. We lay down our life for Him not for others. We do all this because we love our Lord and it does not matter whether you are on television or not for having done so. We need those that love on other people not because they want to get their name in the paper. They help out a fellow man because it’s the right thing to do not to achieve some Man of the Year award. They invest in other people so that they can grow into mature Christ followers not because they want to be seen as some great mentor at the church. We need the guys, and gals, who simply love the Lord and don’t care about the press they get. We need the guys and gals that would rather have no press at all so that they can continue doing the work of the Lord without it becoming about them. This is what I see in James the Younger. A foot soldier in the battle fully committed to the victory and not about whether he was the one who plants the victory flag on the conquered soil. We need churches full of team players who want to win the championship and do not care who gets glory for it. We need churches that celebrate the victories of others because it means the church is making a dent in a dark world instead of talking behind their back because it was not you in the spotlight. James the Younger just walked the path that Jesus gave him and he was thankful to be a part of the Jesus team. He did the tasks that fell to him. He did them to the glory of God. He did not care if there was a church named after him or a book of the Bible named after him. He just wanted to see people come to know the saving grace of God as expressed through His Son Jesus Christ. That’s what mattered to him. Everything else, including fame, was secondary.

May we be a church full of James the Youngers. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed the World? Part 8 (Thomas)

Thomas was one of Jesus Christ’s 12 apostles, specially chosen to spread the gospel after the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. The Apostle Thomas was not present when the risen Jesus first appeared to the disciples. When told by the others, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas replied that he would not believe it unless he could actually touch Jesus’ wounds. Jesus later presented himself to the apostles and invited Thomas to inspect his wounds. Thomas was also present with the other disciples at the Sea of Galilee when Jesus appeared to them again.
Although it is not used in the Bible, the nickname “Doubting Thomas” was given to this disciple because of his disbelief about the resurrection. People who are skeptical are sometimes referred to as a “Doubting Thomas.” After the resurrection of the Lord Christ Jesus, Thomas went to Babylon; it is believed that he established the first Christian church there. Thomas is also known to have gone to Persia and from there he went to India and preached the Gospel making many converts. It is believed that Thomas arrived in India no later than 49 AD. It is also believed that the apostle Thomas evangelized as far as China, and while in India, he suffered martyrdom by being run through with a lance/spear in India by pagan priests who saw his message as a threat to their way of life. The apostle Thomas is said to have been a fearless evangelist and a great builder of churches.
What can we learn from Thomas today? First, we learn that the even the closest disciples of Jesus Christ, these 12 men, were sometimes quite clueless. Second, I think that it is important that we understand that the Christian faith welcomes close-up examination and questions. Finally, we see that as a result of learning more and going deeper into our faith in Christ, we grow some much closer to Him and it allows us to do great things for Him. We learn that knowledge and deeper understanding of our faith is not dangerous but a necessary part of growing in Christ.

The first thing we notice is that Thomas doubted the resurrection. He was clueless even after he had been around Jesus for about 3 years. He had witnessed miracle after miracle. He had heard Jesus speak of the kingdom of God with great authority. He had heard Jesus say that He and the Father were one. He had heard Jesus confirm Peter’s statement that He was the Messiah. He was there for it all. Yet, even after all that evidence right before his eyes, he would not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. He must have been a very practical guys. You know the type. The guy that understands how things work. A guy that could diagnose problems and give answers based on the facts. The guy that always seemed to have a logical solution to things. He simply understood the nature of things. He understood how the world worked. And, well, people rising from the dead, the most permanent and unchangeable state of being known to man, was just not there for him. It would not have made any sense to this guy who was the logical process kind of guy. Are we not that way sometimes as Christ followers? We pray timid prayers because we don’t really believe that God can move in a certain situation. We may pray because that is the Christian socially acceptable thing to do. But do you really believe in the miraculous power of God? We cop out and cover our disbelief by saying that “whatever your will is God…” Where is our faith? How big is your God? We have seen him do miracles in our lives, in the life of our fellowship, in the life of our church? Do you have the faith of a mustard seed to believe that God can do anything? Or are you like Thomas who deep down just doesn’t believe that God can effect real changes in our temporal plane of existence. You think that God is no longer in the miracle business. You may even be one that tries to explain away Jesus’ miracles as somehow unique natural events with a logical explanation. As a result, you just don’t believe in God miraculously curing somehow with Stage 4 Cancer because of the faith and the prayers of fervent Christ followers. Are you a clueless Thomas or do you have a big faith in a big God who can do miracles even today?
The second thing that I take away from Thomas is that Jesus welcomed his examination of His body. This is so very true of our faith as well. Jesus welcomed questions and our faith built on this Son of God is the same way. Ours is a logical faith and through facts and history we can get you 95% of the way to the cross through overcoming your skepticism. The last 5%, rhetorically speaking, takes faith. However, we can get you most of the way to the cross through reason. A reasonable faith is one that Believing in something BECAUSE of the evidence. We hold a reasonable faith when we believe in something because it is the most reasonable conclusion from the evidence that exists. The Bible repeatedly makes evidential claims. It offers eyewitness accounts of historical events that can be verified archeologically, prophetically and even scientifically. We, as Christians are called to hold a reasonable faith that is grounded in this way. Even the resurrection is said to have been witnessed by thousands of people before Jesus ascended into heaven. The fact that Jesus is referenced in extrabiblical sources verifies that He existed. The fact that each of the New Testament books were written within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses who could have refuted the claims adds credence to our faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Jesus’ enemies and the apostles’ enemies could have certainly refuted their testimony but that never happened and the stories were never and still have never been definitively disputed. Even the Scriptures themselves invite us to investigate. According to Pleaseconvinceme.com, “the God of the Bible does not call his children to obey blindly. The Bible itself serves as a piece of evidence, the testimony of eyewitnesses who provide us with reasons to believe. That’s why the scriptures repeatedly call us to have a “reasoned” belief in Jesus. Scripture tells us:

1. We should value reason so that we won’t be like “unreasoning animals” (Jude 4, 10)

2. We should love God with our “mind” as well as our heart and soul (Matthew 22:37-38)

3. We should remember that Jesus said that the miracles He performed were offered as evidence so we would “know and understand” that the Father was in Him and He was in the Father (John 10:37-38)

4. We should remember that God provided “proof” for all of us by raising Jesus from the grave (Acts 17:30-31)

5. We should remember that Jesus did not hesitate to provide additional “convincing proofs” (evidence) to the disciples, even after He had been resurrected from the tomb (Acts 1:2-3)

6. We should remember that Paul regularly “reasoned” with people as he provided evidence from the Scriptures and testified as an eyewitness to the resurrection (Acts 17:2-3)

7. We should use our minds to “examine everything” carefully (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)

8. We should resist the temptation to have blind faith, and should instead “test the spirits” to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1)

9. We should examine what we believe until we are “fully convinced” (Romans 14:5, 2 Timothy 1:8-12, 2 Timothy 3:14)

When we use our minds, investigate the evidence and become convinced, something wonderful happens; we have the courage to defend what we believe. Jesus gave us more than enough evidence to believe that He was who he said he was, and He never asked us to believe blindly. When Jesus asked us to have faith in Him, he asked us to accept what he said on the basis of the evidence that He gave us. The Christian faith is a reasonable faith. As Jesus invited Thomas to examine the evidence of the reality of the resurrection, He, too, invites you to investigate, to grow in your faith as a result of the examination. Do not fear asking questions, like Thomas, it will actually turn out to deepen your faith, like Thomas.
That last sentence of the previous paragraph leads us to our final point. It is our well grounded faith in Jesus that allows us to march boldly into the world and share our faith. Thomas went on to spread the gospel, some believe, as far as what it now modern day western China. Wow. A fisherman from Galilee preached the gospel in Persia, in India and maybe even in western China. That’s a pretty big jump from a guy who was just an average joe fisherman in Galilee. That’s a pretty big jump from a doubter to a man that willingly gave his life in the advancement of the gospel into non-Jewish lands who had never even heard of Moses much less Jesus. From his inquisitive mind asking the questions he needed answers to, he became convinced of the reasonableness of the Christian faith. He became convinced that Jesus Christ was the only way to the Father in heaven. Because of the knowledge he acquired about his faith in Jesus, he was able to defend his faith against the arguments of all the man-made religions he encountered in Persia, India, and China. He was able to convince others of the rightness of his claim that Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God and who is the only way to the Father. In this day, many Christians have conceded that it is OK to believe in other faiths. Why? Because we don’t want to put the work to understand our faith. We would rather say that all roads lead to heaven than to cause conflict. We don’t want the conflict because we are unable to defend our faith because we haven’t really tried to understand it. We are for the most part shallow Christians who do not understand why we believe what we believe. Let us begin asking questions about our faith rather than blindly believing it and thus cannot defend it. Jesus welcomes your questions. He WANTS you to question. Just look at all the evidence just presented about how our faith is one that invites and demands you to question it. The only way you can defend your faith is to get answers to your questions. Christ is not afraid of your questions. Ask them. There is a world out there that has warped Jesus into something that He is not. There are those out there that have perverted Christianity into something it is not. There are those who try to defeat Christianity with what seem like logical arguments but are not. However, you and I sit quietly by because we do not understand our faith. Ask questions. Many of us have caused Christianity to drift away from its core just to be accepted by today’s society because we do not understand our faith. We sometimes do not stand up for our faith on potent social issues because we do not understand our faith. Ask questions. Read the Bible. Understand. Understand. Understand. Look at Thomas. He goes from a doubter of the resurrection to one of the greatest evangelists of the Christian faith. Tell me how that happened. He got answers to the questions that plagued him. Through those questions, he developed a well-grounded, reasonable understanding of our faith. That rock-solid understanding of the theology of our faith is what we need more of today. Ask questions. Get answers. Become a powerful spokesman for our faith through your reasoned understanding of the Christian faith.
Amen and amen.

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed the World? Part 7 (Bartholomew)

I have a friend who lives in California, Christina Carey, who said something to me back when Elena and I were living in Livermore, CA that has stuck with me since then. It was over five years ago when she said this statement and it still resonates with me to this day. During a meeting at the church that Christina, Elena and I attended in Livermore (Livermore Alive Community Church) about evangelism, Christina laid down this gem. She likened sharing the gospel to teaching someone to play basketball. There are those of us who are there to hand them the basketball the first time. There are those who teach the person how to dribble. There are those who teach the person how to be a part of an offense and defense on the court. There are those that teach the person how to shoot. Those who teach how to drive to the basket and there are those who teach the person how to slam dunk the basketball in the goal. She said when you think of it, we all play a part in someone coming to Christ. Some of us introduce the concept of Christ to others. Some of us lead people to a more complete understanding of Christ and what he did. And sometimes, we are the ones that are there for the slam dunk, that moment when someone accepts Christ as their Savior. For the one who is lucky enough to be there when someone accepts Christ as their Savior, they must give thanks to all those who had planted seeds in that person’s life previously. Without those previous encounters with the gospel, there would be no slam dunk (salvation) moment. Even though the one who is there at the moment of salvation gets to experience that joy, it is to be shared with those who planted the seed but didn’t get the slam dunk moment. It is this concept of encountering people with the gospel that leads me to speak of Bartholomew today.

What if Philip had not shared the gospel with Bartholomew? We might have had only 11 disciples or there would have been a longer period of time before the 12th guy was picked. Philip was unashamed. He shared the gospel. Nathaniel, also known as Bartholomew, was one of the 12 original apostles of Jesus Christ. Little is written about him the Gospels and book of Acts. Most Bible scholars believe Nathaniel and Bartholomew were the same person. The name Bartholomew is a family designation, meaning “son of Tolmai.” Nathaniel means “gift of God.” In the synoptic Gospels, the name Bartholomew always follows Philip in lists of the Twelve. In the Gospel of John, Bartholomew is not mentioned at all; Nathanael is listed instead, after Philip. John also describes Nathanael’s call by Philip. The two may have been friends, for Nathanael scoffs, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46, NIV) Seeing the two men approach, Jesus calls Nathanael a “true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false,” then reveals that he saw Nathanael sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him. Nathanael responds to Jesus’ vision by proclaiming him the Son of God, the King of Israel. Church tradition says Nathaniel carried a translation of Matthew’s Gospel to northern India. Legend claims he was crucified upside down in Albania.

As we have in this series on the disciples, we must ask the question again. What can we learn from this man, Bartholomew? What can we carry away from him that we can use in our lives today? First, we learn that Bartholomew responded to the gospel immediately and overcame his skepticism. Second, we learn that we are called to share the gospel regardless of the response we receive. In Bartholomew, we see a man who responded to the gospel that was shared with him and it radically changed his life. He went on to become a great man of faith that was willing to die, and did, to share the message of Jesus Christ.

The first thing that I think that we can learn from Bartholomew is that we were all skeptical of this Jesus thing before we came to Christ. A lot of people accept that Jesus Christ lived and breathed and that he in fact existed. However, non-believers find it hard to accept that He was God in the flesh. Some like to see Him as this peace-loving, 1960’s flower child type. He loves everyone. Never condemns. Never judges. He will accept anything and everything you do. He was that lenient and tolerant. Some see him as this political revolutionary that gave his life for the cause of liberation from social injustice. Some see him as this radical rabbi philosopher that introduced a counter-cultural way of living that treasures peace over war, love over hate. But for him to be the Son of God. People are skeptical. Bartholomew was just like you and me before we encountered Christ. In John 1:46, we see Bart’s skepticism. Nothing good could ever come from Nazareth. He was skeptical of the Messiah coming from a podunk, cultural backwater town like Nazareth. He used that as his excuse for dismissing Jesus as the Messiah. He didn’t really believe there was a Messiah. He did not believe after all this time and history of oppression from other nations since the fall of the David/Solomon empire. To him, there was no Messiah. It was just a fairy tale for the hard-core Jewish believers. Some today, before they encounter Christ, think the Christian faith is just a fairy tale for the masses. Karl Marx, the father of socialist political and economic theory, called religion the opiate of the people. Many today in the 21st century dismiss Jesus as an opium of a bygone era. They like the ideas of peace, love, and dove of Jesus but that is as far as they will take him. Yet, in our world today, after years of removing Christ from society still are searching for the meaning of life. We seek it in materialism. We seek it in self-help books. We seek it in serial relationships where we shed relationships for the next one that will give us that perfect high. That perfect opiate of the people. You may take away religion from the public square but people are still searching for the meaning of life. The question of why we are here dominates our thoughts when we have time for it in our busy lives of acquiring toys. We are wired by our Creator to wonder why we are here. We are wired to seek Him. We may be misguided in what we follow but we come up with ultimately unsatisfactory answers when we seek something other than our Almighty Creator. We become cynical of promised Messiahs. We find it hard to believe that God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to be our Savior, to make us right with our Creator. But there is that God-designed hole in us that only He can fill. We can cynically dismiss Jesus as the answer but there is still the hole in our soul. It may be fashionable to dismiss Jesus now, but we still have the hole that only He was designed to fill. People are hungry for the meaning of life. As our world becomes increasingly complex and seems increasingly to be succumbing to anarchy, people are more desperate than ever to find meaning for their lives and to find meaning for our world. People, though they have their cynicism like Bartholomew, are ready for the real thing that is Jesus even though they don’t know and would not say it. They are looking for something to fill the void. Bart found it in Jesus. He overcame his skepticism about that long-awaited Messiah that he thought would never come and encountered the real Messiah. When he encountered the real Messiah, the real gospel, the real message, he shed his cloak of cynicism and followed the real answer. Aren’t many people today who are cynical about Christ simply have not been told about the real Jesus. Most have been told about the religion of Christianity but not the Christ of Chrisitanity. Why? Because no one has taken the time to get to know them and share the news of the real Jesus with them. In the absence of real knowledge, people will believe what they want to believe about Christianity. Why aren’t we telling them about the real Jesus? What are we afraid of? Philip shared the gospel with his friend, Bart, and Bart encountered Christ. Bart became a follower of Christ. Bart became a foot soldier in the expansion of God’s kingdom through the early church. What if we do not share the gospel? How much do we hate people to condemn them to hell without having shared the gospel with them? Philip was unafraid and through his sharing, Bartholomew became one of the great men of the Christian faith.

That idea leads us to the second thing that we can learn from Bartholomew. Are we short-circuiting someone’s path to the cross if we do not seize our divine appointments to share the gospel? Why is it that we are so intimidated by sharing the gospel with others? Why do we listen to that small voice in our heads that tells us not to share the gospel? Each of us knows in our hearts of opportunities that were divine appointments to share the gospel and we missed them. We shied away from the opportunity that we know was there. We listen to the voice of Satan in our heads where he says that you are not qualified. You are going to be rejected. He says what are you going to do if they respond positively to the call to Christ? He says what are you going to say then? We put huge amounts of pressure on ourselves under Satan lies that we have to close the deal if we start sharing. We think too, under Satan’s influence, that we have to have all the answers to Christian theological questions that many, if not most of us, are not equipped to answer. But yet, we forget that the Gospel is simple. We are imperfect sinners and will be judged by a holy and perfect God. In that light, we stand no chance. We need intervention. We have it in Jesus Christ. Through accepting Him as our Savior, we escape the penalty of hell that we deserve and He changes us from the inside out each day after we accept His grace. We all have our own stories of how accepting Christ as our Savior has radically changed our lives. Those stories are things that cannot be disputed or challenged. Sure, there are those who will reject the gospel message that we share, but we are not called to save, only the Holy Spirit can do that. We are called to share the gospel. What happens on the receiving end is not our concern. There is a statistic that I read in one of my evangelism classes in seminary that stated that those who accept Christ as their Savior typically have at least 8 encounters with the gospel message before they accept Christ as their Savior. Take the pressure off yourself. Share the gospel. You are part of the process of being one of those points of contact with the gospel. In some encounters, you will simply be planting seeds and will be rejected. You have planted the seed though. That’s part of the game plan. Sometimes, you will be the one there at the slam dunk moment of salvation. Regardless of whether you are there to give out the basketball or whether you are there at the slam dunk, we play our part and share the gospel. Some toil the ground. Some plant the seeds. Some water the seed in the soil. Some nurture the plant as it grows. Some are there to harvest the fruit of the plant. We must be unafraid to share the gospel, and our own gospel story. Let us not short-circuit the process by shying away from our divinely arranged appointments to share our faith. Who knows, you may be encountering someone with the gospel that will go on to be a great pastor, a great Christian author, or a great leader in the local body of Christ. Let us be unafraid to cut through the cynicism of today’s people and encounter them with the rich and real Jesus Christ. They want something to fill that Christ-sized hole in their soul that was created to be there by God. Share the good news. Be unafraid. Be bold. Eternity hangs in the balance.

Let us be Philip and share the gospel with our next Bartholomew. Who knows? That person may just well become an awesome follower of Christ. Carpe diem! Seize the day that the Lord has made for you to share your faith with a non-believer!

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed The World? Part 6 (Philip)

We all have that practical friend. The one that bottom lines everything. The one that can figure out what things are going to cost. The cool calculating one we would call them. The one that can cut through emotion and see what has to be done. This type of person is usually someone that others can count on to get things done. These are the people may not be great leaders in their own right but they are the ones that leaders must have. They are the doers and foot soldiers that leaders count on to execute the vision that the leader has. That pragmatism, that cut through to the details, that is what leads us to the Apostle Philip today.

The interesting thing about Philip, one of the Twelve, is that he was personally reached by Jesus himself. While Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, and Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, no one brought Philip to Jesus. Instead, Jesus came right to him. John’s Gospel tells us, “The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow Me’ ” (John 1:43). Normally God reaches people through people, but this was an exception to the rule. We don’t know a lot about Philip. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us no details about him. All the vignettes of Philip appear in the Gospel of John. But from that Gospel, we discover that he was a completely different kind of person than Peter, Andrew, James, or John. He is often paired with Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew), whom he brought to Jesus. It also would appear from John’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand that Philip may have been in charge of the supplies and food, the road manager of sorts. He was the kind of guy who was practical, always thinking about the bottom line. And on this occasion, Jesus, trying to stretch Philip’s faith, posed a question to him as the crowd gathered: “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5). Philip responded, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (verse 7). Philip didn’t do so well on that test. He wasn’t the first to have the most faith, but he was a follower of Jesus who was used by God.

And according to church history, Philip laid his life down for Christ, being stoned to death after reaching many with the gospel. There is no confirmation of how he died. One legend has it that he was stoned to death while another has it that he was crucified. Regardless, Philip died in service to His Master, that much is commonly accepted. It would mean that he became a leader in his own right under the tutelage of Jesus and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

So again, as we have in the past five parts of this series, we ask the question. What can we learn from the life of Philip, certainly one of the lesser known Apostles, but an apostle nonetheless. First, I think we learn that Jesus has use for the practical, pragmatic types in his kingdom. Second, you don’t have to be a well-spoken, charismatic person to convince others to come to Christ. Finally, we learn that through Christ, regardless of our personality type, we can become leaders and influencers for Christ. In Phillip, we see how Jesus can stretch us beyond what we could ever imagine we could do on our own.

I think the first thing that we learn from Phillip is that God has designed each one of with specific talents that Jesus can use in his church. Phillip was the supply master of sorts for the group for why else would Jesus have specifically asked Phillip as to how they were going to feed the 5,000. Philip had that role within the group. He was the one that made sure everything got done. He was the roadie for the band. He probably was the advance man for this evangelistic crusade. Because of Jesus’ direct question to him on this point, I imagine Jesus often sent Phillip ahead to the next town to make sure that the team had all the supplies they needed for Jesus’ visit to that town. This thought is supported by the fact that several Greeks approached Philip about seeking an appointment with Jesus. This shows that Jesus and the rest of the disciples were not around and that Philip was ahead of them. He was the go-to guy, I bet, when Jesus needed something done and done right. Every church needs a group of Philips. Those people who fervently love the Lord and want to do something about it. They want to do the detailed work of the kingdom. These are the people that leaders in the church count on to execute the vision. They are like the offensive line of a great offense on a football team. They toil often in anonymity. They take great pride in their work keeping the defensive line off their quarterback and running backs. They take pride in giving the quarterback enough time to get passes downfield to their receivers. But without their work, there is no great offense. It does not matter if your quarterback, running backs, and receivers are highly touted and have amazing speed and great skill, it all falls apart if there is no talent on the offensive line. If running backs are being hit in the backfield, if quarterbacks are being sacked before they can ever get a pass off, it doesn’t matter how much skill the skill players have. It is the same way in the church, there are those who have great vision and these are typically the elders of your church. However, if they do not have people that they can count on to actually execute the vision, it all falls apart rather quickly. The church needs the doers as well as the leaders. Philip was a doer. His pragmatic approach sometimes caused him not to see the big picture though and it was up to Jesus to show him what’s beyond the details. Jesus’ instruction in feeding the 5,000 was an attempt to get Philip to see that it was going to take a miracle to feed these people. It was a teaching moment. But, the point is, Jesus chose Philip to be part of the disciples because he saw a needed talent for the church, the practical get-things-done guy that He could later develop into something greater.

The second thing that I think is noticeable about Philip is that he was an evangelist without even realizing it at first. He shows us we all have the ability to bring people to the cross just by being ourselves. Philip knew Nathaniel (a/k/a Bartholomew) the skeptic to Jesus. Through the action of the Holy Spirit and the prodding of Philip, Nathaniel meets Jesus and accepts Him as his Savior. Nathaniel becomes a disciple and a follower of Jesus. We sometimes think that only our preacher can lead people to Christ. But when you think about it, probably about only 5-10% of the people sitting in your church have been led to Christ directly by your preacher. It is you and I the day-to-day Christians that lead the most people to Christ. Sure, we need full-time pastors who challenge us, grow us, disciple us and send us out. That is what they are to do is to fuel us up and send us out in the harvest. It is just the normal average every day Joe Christian that is out there showing people the way to the cross. As we have stated, Philip was a practical sort. We have said that he was the details kind of guy. He probably didn’t see himself as an evangelist when he brought Nathaniel to Jesus. He was just bring a friend, a skeptical one at that, to meet with Jesus and have a discussion with him. It was to Philip a non-threatening thing. It was just Philip bringing a friend to Jesus to talk. That’s inspiration to us. We always make sharing the gospel this gigantic and difficult thing. Philip shows us that if we just use our relationships, our spheres of influence, as our starting point of sharing the gospel it is amazing the impact we can have. Just think of it. If you influence one of our friends to come meet Jesus, that person creates another circle of influence in which people are drawn to Jesus. There was an old L’Oreal hair color commercial where the premise what two friends would tell two friends about the product and the two friends telling two friends became astronomical in number. Philip wasn’t aware of all that. He was just telling a good friend about Jesus. It was non-threatening. We start with the people we know and we go from there. The multiplication of friends telling friends about the eternal glory found in Jesus Christ. That’s astronomical. Philip shows us that sharing the gospel should not be scary. Start with the people you know that need to know Jesus. Talk to them. Walk with them. Live life with them. See your opportunities and use them to speak of the change that Jesus Christ has brought in your life. Philip did just that. So can we!

Finally, in feeding the 5,000, Jesus knew what He was going to do. He knew that He was going to perform a miracle that only God through His Son here on earth could do. However, He purposely asked Philip the question about feeding them to get Philip to see beyond the details and the pragmatism and see the greater miracle of God. He wanted Philip to see clearly that it was humanly impossible to feed these people with the money they had or the supplies that they had with them or was available to them anywhere within walking distance. He wanted Philip to grasp the miracle. He wanted Philip to see beyond depending on ourselves and what we can do. Sure, Jesus brought Philip on board because he was a go-to guy but He also saw a guy that could be grown into an evangelist and leader of men. Jesus wanted Philip to see the miracle and see that sometimes we simply have to depend on God for what we need and not on our own skills. In our annual Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway at church, we always set high goals for the number for turkeys and meal fixings that we will giveaway in the community, and God always has a way of when we think things are the bleakest that we must depend on Him to make it happen. Each and every year, Elena and I worry about the numbers game of the giveaway and each and every year God shows us that it is He who makes it happen and not us. He always shows out through the generosity that He influences. He always knocks the numbers out of the park in ways that make us know that it was He that did it and not us. That is what Jesus was doing with Philip. Jesus was growing Philip into a man, though with practical get-it-done skills, that wholly depends on God. Philip goes on after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to become a leader and an evangelist. He became a man that grew beyond pragmatism into a visionary leader. He became so sold out for Christ that he gave his life for Christ. Through Christ, we can become things that we could never thought we’d be. He can stretch us outside our comfort zone into that place where we must depend wholly on Him working through us to perform miracles in our lives and in the lives of others. When we surrender our comfort zone and let Jesus push us to where He wants and we see that it is only through Him that we can do it, that is when we are most useful to Him. See the miracle that Jesus can do in you. Step beyond your comfort zone into the zone of miracles in Jesus. He can take you and make you into something you don’t believe there is any way for you to do. He can take you to that place and will make sure you can. He is with you. He will provide you the time, the talents, and the resources you need to reach far beyond what you can see right now. Jesus did it for Philip. He became something greater than He was because of Jesus alone, not because of any of His efforts. He can do the same for you.

Step out! Become what Jesus intended for you to be which is so far beyond what you can imagine right now! Amen and Amen.

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed The World? Part 5 (James, Son of Zebedee)

These guys changed the world. Fishermen mostly. Just regular guys. Some of these guys are well-known to us. They wrote books of the New Testament. Now, we start to look at the disciples that were part of this band of ordinary men who changed the world that were less well-known. What can we learn from their lives? Some of them are hardly mentioned in the New Testament other than being in the list of disciples. What do we know about them and what can we take away? With James, I think it is about maturity. When we are immature, we are impetuous and don’t think things through but as we get older we learn wisdom and we learn about what’s really important. Let’s see how this applies to one of the “sons of thunder.”

The Apostle John’s brother, James, sometimes referred to as James, the Greater (to differentiate him from the other apostle named James, son of Alphaeus, often referred to as James, The Less), is less well-known than Peter, John, and Matthew. Yet, the apostle James was honored with a favored position by Jesus Christ, as one of three men in his inner circle. The others were James’ brother John and Simon Peter. When Jesus called the brothers, James and John were fishermen with their father Zebedee on the Sea of Galilee. They immediately left their father and their business to follow the young rabbi. James was probably the older of the two brothers because he is always mentioned first. Three times James, John, and Peter were invited by Jesus to witness events no one else saw: the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:37-47), the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3), and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37).

But James was not above making mistakes. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the place. This earned them the nickname “Boanerges,” or “sons of thunder.” The mother of James and John also overstepped her bounds, asking Jesus to grant her sons special positions in his kingdom. James’ zeal for Jesus resulted in his being the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. He was killed with the sword on order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D., in a general persecution of the early church. Two other men named James appear in the New Testament: James, the son of Alphaeus, another apostle; and James, the brother of the Lord, a leader in the Jerusalem church and author of the book of James.

Here are some of the key passages where James, Son of Zebedee, was mentioned

Luke 9:52-56
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (NIV)

Mark 10:35-40
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (NIV)

Matthew 17:1-3
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (NIV)

Acts 12:1-2
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. (NIV)

What does all this mean? What can we learn from this man’s life that we can use today in our lives some 20 centuries later? I think the first thing that we can learn from James is that we do not know everything when we meet Jesus and that we mature as we grow in our relationship with Christ. The second thing we can learn is that as we mature in Christ we are given greater levels of trust in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Finally, we learn that as we mature in Christ we consider it a privilege to sacrifice for Him.

When we think about James and John, his brother, we think first about how completely clueless that they were at times, during Jesus’ earthly ministry. In Luke 9 and Mark 10, we see these two wishing to reign down fire from heaven for those who rejected Jesus and we see them jockeying for positions of honor with Jesus. Man, this is so us when we are babies in Christ. We have so much to learn. We often as Christ-followers make fun of how clueless the disciples were at times. We have the advantage of 2,000 years of church history and we know how this story turns out. However, when we are immature in Christ, we are just as foolish as James was. As James, along with his brother, thought Jesus should reign down fire from heaven on those who rejected Jesus, we often, as new Christians, only see things in black and white shades. Often we are black and white about things as newly minted Christ followers. We think that those who don’t get it are lesser than us because we do get it. We forget that, when we are new Christians, that it was just a short time before that we were just like the people that we are condemning for their cluelessness. We were in the darkness and have just recently come into the light. We are very zealous and passionate when we are first following Christ. We buy the bracelets, the T-shirts. We devour any of the latest books by the coolest Christian authors. I am not saying that this is bad. I am saying that it is part of the process of growing up in Christ. We are just beginning to learn about these new shoes we are wearing. We are like newborn babies trying to figure out how our bodies work. Sometimes, we get it wrong. Sometimes, we just don’t understand. Sometimes, we are misguided. We sometimes, like James and John, measure the depth of our spirituality by how much access we have to pastor at our church. We think that if we are close to the preacher, we must be doing something better than others who are not.

It is important for us to have spiritual mentors when we are in this stage of development. We do not want to stay here. Not understanding. Getting it wrong. Relying on feelings. We want to become Christians who make life choices through reasonable understanding of Scripture not someone who reacts purely on emotion. Being a Christian is about making mind choices, about understanding Scripture, about learning to live a new and different way such that it becomes second nature to us. So many of us live life stuck as Christian babies, we rely on feelings alone. We are like the drug addict seeking another high. We think that warm-fuzzy feeling we get at really moving church services is what being a Christian is supposed to be about. We seek that high and are disappointed when we don’t feel spiritual the rest of the week. We want to live in the Jesus-high. We want that soul-felt emotion that makes us cry and makes us want to change our lives. We cannot stay there. It is just untenable to live life on an emotional high. Being a Christian, sure has those moments of intense emotion where we feel closer to God than ever. However, being a Christian, is more about living in the day-to-day where we have to make life choices that reflect our faith. It’s not sexy like the emotional high but it the real stuff of being a Christian. I think we see James mature from being a son of thunder to something more. We must do the same in our walk with Christ.

From these impetuous moments in the life of James, we see him later become part of the what scholars call the inner circle of Jesus. James, John, and Peter were the three of the twelve that Jesus trusted the most. They were able to witness things that the others did not as we see in the scripture references above. As we mature in Christ, we become more and more understanding of what this Christian walk thing is all about. As Christ becomes greater in us, our need for ego soothing becomes less. As we mature in Christ, we no longer make things about us. When that happens, Christ will trust us more and more as we grow in our relationship with Him. He will trust us more. He will give us more responsibility. He will call upon us to do more, and to be more. He will let us go deeper and deeper with him. As we go deeper with Christ, we become more attune to the work that Jesus is doing. We can see the miracles more clearly. We can see Jesus as the Son of God more clearly. As we mature in Christ, our eyes are opened to the things of the kingdom that we could not see before. James became part of the inner circle of Christ after being rebuked by Jesus for wanting a place of honor at His side. This reminds us that as we mature in Christ, we are going to make mistakes and that we must learn from them. Jesus will rebuke us. But, Jesus will not abandon us just because in our spiritual immaturity that we make mistakes. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is leading us to the place He wants to take us. He wants us to be in His inner circle where He can trust us, where He can have an intimate relationship with us. Just as a child growing into adulthood is at times both emotionally, mentally, and physically challenging, so is growing up in Christ. But if we want to grow into a mature Christ follower, it is a necessary process. Let us not stay spiritual babies. Let us grow up in Christ so that we have intimate, inner circle relationships with Him.

Finally, we see in James, a man who was once impetuous, a man who matured, and we now see a man who risked it all for Christ. James was martyred somewhere around 44 AD. To have been martyred for Christ means that he was causing an impact. Herod Agrippa had James killed. The only reason that this happened was that James was an on-fire apostle of Jesus Christ. He was causing a stir for Christ. He laid it all on the line for the Christ that he knew so well and saw risen. That is the maturity that we see in James. He grew up! No longer did he care about his place by Jesus’ side. He died for Christ. He no longer wanted to reign down fire on those who rejected Jesus. He worked to get people to hear. He shared the gospel with the very people that he used to want to reign down fire upon. He made kingdom impact not because he was trying to make a name for himself. He worked tirelessly for the kingdom because of his deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ as the Risen Savior! There was once a saying that rolled around the Christian world that said, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” For James, the answer was yes. He was beheaded for Christ’s sake. He had become such a thorn in Herod Agrippa’s reign that he had James killed by the sword. James was willing to die for Jesus. He was willing to put his life on the line for Jesus. That is the question and the challenge for you and me. In today’s world, here in the US, we may get marginalized for being Christians at times. But we really don’t suffer yet like people do in other parts of the world. Here, we attend church without fear. We pick our church based on what it does for us. We pick the trendy church and when it doesn’t work for us, we move onto the next one. What if being a Christian in the United States would really cost you something? How many of us will have the strength of James to gladly die by the sword. James came a long way in those three years with Jesus that propelled him to be such an evangelist that it cost him his life. Are we going to step up for Christ when it counts? When it will cost us something? When it will cost us that promotion? When it will cost us our job? When it will cost us our very lives? How much do you and I love Jesus when it counts? When it requires sacrifice? Let us be like James when that time comes!

In James we see a man, a human being, just like you and me. We don’t know everything when we meet Jesus and accept Him as our Savior. We must grow and mature. We make mistakes in our maturation in Christ. It is painful at times, but from our mistakes we learn, grow, and mature. As we mature, Jesus trusts us more and more. He invites us to go deeper and deeper as we mature. He invites us to be all-in with him. He invites us to be like James who grew up to the point that he laid it all on the line for Jesus because He loved His Savior THAT much. Help us to grow up and be like James!

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed The World? Part 4 (Andrew)

Siblings. Most of us have them. Sometimes, it rough having a big brother or big sister when you are the youngest. I had my own trials and tribulations with my older and only other sibling. I can see it in my own children, my two daughters, Meghan and Taylor. Meghan is the eldest. Taylor is the youngest. Meghan is five and half years older than Taylor. Although these girls love each other to the nth degree, they have their rivalries. Because Meghan was the oldest, she had already done a lot of things when it came time for Taylor to do them. When Taylor moved up to middle school, Meghan had already been there and done that. So, Taylor often had teacher’s say to her, “Oh, you are Meghan’s little sister.” Younger siblings, such as myself and Taylor, have to live in the shadow of their older siblings having blazed that trail already. In a lot of cases, growing up, I would get that, “Oh, you are Ralph’s little brother.” Younger siblings have to work hard to create their own identity. It is maybe the reason that younger siblings are the ones who are the comedic clowns of their families just so that they can have their own identity. Although my girls don’t struggle with this (each have their own leadership skills), there are some families where the older sibling is like this super leader and everyone follows them and that younger sibling seems to get left in the dust. The younger sibling struggles to live up to the wild popularity and leadership abilities. There are families where the younger sibling is held up to measure against this wonderful older sibling. Why can’t you be more like your older brother or your older sister? These things can cause family strife. Today, we look at the younger brother of Peter. How would you like to have had that job – being the younger brother of Peter – one of the two most influential leaders of the Christian faith along with Paul?

The Apostle Andrew abandoned John the Baptist to become the first follower of Jesus of Nazareth, but John didn’t mind. He knew his mission was to point people to the Messiah. Like many of us, Andrew lived in the shadow of his more famous sibling, Simon Peter. Andrew led Peter to Christ, then stepped into the background as his boisterous brother became a leader among the apostles and in the early church. The Gospels don’t tell us a great deal about Andrew, but we can read between the lines and find a person who thirsted for truth and found it in the living water of Jesus Christ. There are several things that we can learn from Andrew. First, we can learn that we can lead others to Christ and have great impact though we might not become famous for it. Second, in Andrew we see that our relationship with God has to be the most important thing in our lives. Finally, in Andrew, he displays a constant hunger for more in His relationship with God. He was never satisfied with sitting still. Even though he may have lived in the shadow of his more charismatic brother, Andrew points us toward that we should always be hungry for a greater closeness with God.

The first thing that you will notice about Andrew. He was the first disciple of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist pushed him toward Jesus. He basically told Andrew that Jesus is the guy you have been looking for, not me. Now, go follow Him. So, in Andrew, we see a man that was already a deeply spiritual man. He sought after God. He was not content to just exist in the fishing trade in the family business. He wanted to learn more about God. He became a disciple of John the Baptist. I assume that he found His salvation in God while being a disciple of John the Baptist. After being sent forth to follow Jesus and spending the day with Him, Andrew quickly found his brother Simon (later called Peter) and told him “We have found the Messiah.” (John 1:41, NIV) He brought Simon to meet Jesus. And…the rest is history. Andrew led his big brother to Christ and it was Peter that later proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God, the Messiah. Although failing Jesus during his trial and crucifixion (like most of the disciples), Peter went on to become an amazing preacher and an amazing leader in the early church. What if Andrew had not introduced Peter to Jesus? Man, the church would have been sorely lacking in passion and willingness to do what it took to spread the gospel. Andrew led his big brother to Christ, then, he kind of sinks into the background. I think there is a lesion here for us. When we lead people to Christ, we may be leading the next Peter to Christ. We may be leading the next Billy Graham to Christ. We may be leading the next amazing man of God to Christ. They may well outstrip us in their abilities and their influence in the kingdom here on earth. But what if…What if we did not share the gospel with them? They may not find Christ if it were not for our influence. Let us not be jealous of the amazing transformation that comes to someone else that we have led to the cross. Let us celebrate that they found Christ. Let us continue to work in the trenches and share the gospel with whomever we meet, because you just never know. That next person we share the gospel with could be the next David Platt (the amazing leader of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Church and wonderful preacher and amazing author). They could be the next great leader of the Christian faith. We share the gospel. We influence others with our Christian walk. We show them the way to the cross, to Jesus Christ. For me, those people were Virgil and Debbie Whitted. Their influence on my life led me to the cross. Maybe, if it were not for them sharing the gospel in real and practical ways, I never meet Jesus Christ or at least the meeting may have been delayed. If it were not for this precious couple and their love of Jesus Christ, I would not be sitting here right now writing this blog. I would not be where I am in my walk with Christ where I am right now. Are Virgil and Debbie Whitted famous? No, they are not but that’s not the point to them. It is sharing the gospel. It is leading others to the cross. I think of many others that quietly do the work of the kingdom like Bill Cashion, one of my favorite professors from seminary and the father of my senior pastor’s wife. He has spent most of his life as a missionary to South America and as a local Southern Baptist preacher. What an amazing man of God he is! Countless thousands have come to the cross because of his faithfulness. I think of my dad, a man who spent his entire career shepherding small flocks of Christ followers in rural United Methodist churches in South Carolina tirelessly. I am certain there are many men and women walking around the state of South Carolina and other places that my dad pointed to the cross. I think of my wife, Elena, who came to Christ just six years ago but through her compassion and love has influenced many in our church and maybe just maybe caused someone to think about the cross. Are these people famous? No, they are not. But they are tireless workers in God’s kingdom. When we concentrate on giving God glory for everything, we do His work and whether we reach any fame as a result of it is entirely secondary. That’s one thing we learn from Andrew.

The next thing that we learn from Andrew is that our relationship with God has to be the most important thing in our lives. Andrew was part of a family business. The sons of Jonah were fisherman. It was the family business. However, Andrew sought after God. He made his relationship with God more important than anything. He was a follower of John the Baptist because his message of repentance resonated with Him. He learned much about a right relationship with God from John the Baptist, I would be willing to bet. After being sent forth to Jesus, Andrew spent the whole day with Him. When he gets back to the shore where his brother, Peter, is, what is the first thing he says, “I have found the Messiah!” Not, how’s the fishing today, but rather I have found the Messiah. Here lately, there is this program floating around on Facebook that searches all your posts and then comes back with the most frequent words that you have used on Facebook. That’s when you see what it is important to us. The most important thing to Andrew was not the mundane day-to-day stuff, it was that he had met the Messiah. How are you and I about prioritizing Jesus in our lives? Is he the most important thing? Is it God, family, church? Where does God and church land in your life? Is God and church somewhere after Monday Night Football in the list of priorities? There is an old saying in Christian circles that says, “Show me your checkbook and I will show you what you worship?” Is it your job? Is it your entertainment? Is it your church? How’s the fishing or I have found the Messiah? Andrew teaches us about the priorities that we should have in life – I have found the Messiah!

The final thing that I think we learn from Andrew is the hunger that he has for knowing God. He was so hungry for a real deep relationship with God that he became a disciple of John the Baptist. He went out of his way to do that. He went from Bethsaida to where John was at. He followed him. He learned from him. I bet there were many nights of sitting around the campfire with John the Baptist discussing what is our relationship with God supposed to be like. When John the Baptist said for him to go follow Jesus, John must have known how hungry Andrew was. We find our answers in Jesus Christ. Andrew followed Christ because he knew that He was the Messiah and he wanted to know more. He wanted to grow deeper and deeper in his relationship with Jesus. It was Andrew that recognizes the power of Jesus. So much so, he was the one who brought the little boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus (John 6:8-13). His thirst for knowledge of God made him recognize the power and nature of Jesus Christ. So many of us sit in church on Sunday and think that is our relationship with God. Our Bibles sit on the shelf gathering dust. We do not have time for small group. We are satisfied with being spiritual babies. What we learn from Andrew is that we can never sit still. We must keep progressing in our relationship with God. We need to go deeper. In prayer. In Bible study. In meditation on God’s Word. In fellowship with other believers. In being mentored and challenged by more mature believers. In service to the kingdom. In sharing our testimony with others. In sharing the gospel.

From Andrew, we learn that we must tireless even if we do not make a name for ourselves. We work for an audience of one not for our fellow man. We must do the work of the kingdom for the glory of God not for man. We must make the giving of glory to God the most important thing in our lives. That’s the priority. That’s the hunger that should drive us each one every day.

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed The World? Part 3 (Matthew)

For the last two days, we have discussed the disciples, Peter and John. Each of these men were significant in the Christian faith. Each were amazing leaders of the faith. Each were authors of New Testament books. Now, we move on to some of the lesser known of Jesus’ disciples. Today, let’s talk about Matthew. Matthew was a dishonest tax collector driven by greed, until Jesus Christ chose him as a disciple.

We first meet Matthew in Capernaum, in his tax booth on the main highway. He was collecting duties on imported goods brought by farmers, merchants, and caravans. Under the Roman Empire’s system, Matthew would have paid all the taxes in advance, then collected from the citizens and travelers to reimburse himself. Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt because they extorted far and above what was owed, to ensure their personal profit. Because their decisions were enforced by Roman soldiers, no one dared object. Matthew was named Levi before his call by Jesus. We don’t know whether Jesus gave him the name Matthew or whether he changed it himself, but it is a shortening of the name Mattathias, which means “the gift of God.”

On the same day Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Matthew threw a great farewell feast in his home in Capernaum, inviting his friends so they could meet Jesus too. From that time on, instead of collecting tax money, Matthew collected souls for Christ. Despite his sinful past, Matthew was uniquely qualified to be a disciple. He was an accurate record keeper and keen observer of people. He captured the smallest details. For those who want the rich details of much of Jesus ministry, the Gospel of Matthew is the one to read. As said previously, his eye for detail came from his past as a tax collector. Tax collectors in those days, if they were to be rich needed a keen eye. They needed to have the ability to understand the business climate of their district. They needed to know what the occupation of every man was. They needed the ability to dig deeper into the details. They needed to be observers of facial expressions to know when people were lying to them. They understood the battle not to pay taxes. He knew all the tricks of the trade of avoiding taxes. Because of this experience, the necessary skills of a first century tax collector served him well when he wrote the Gospel of Matthew some 20 years later. This keen memory developed through years of tax collecting, his ability to remember and write down details all previously used for greed were now so beautifully used to record the life and times of Jesus Christ. By surface appearances, it was scandalous and offensive for Jesus to pick a tax collector as one of his closest followers, since they were widely hated by the Jews. Yet of the four Gospel writers, Matthew presented Jesus to the Jews as their hoped-for Messiah, tailoring his account to answer their questions. His gospel is a treatise on Jesus being the Messiah. He takes every chance to show what Jesus did in life to fulfill Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. As we stand here 9 plus chapters into his gospel, we know that this fact is true.

Matthew displayed one of the most radically changed lives in the Bible in response to an invitation from Jesus. He did not hesitate, he did not look back. He left behind a life of wealth and security for poverty and uncertainty. He abandoned the pleasures of this world for the promise of eternal life. The remainder of Matthew’s life is uncertain. Tradition says he preached for 15 years in Jerusalem following the death and resurrection of Jesus, then went out on the mission field to other countries. Legend has it that he died as a martyr in the cause of Christ while in African Ethiopia. His post-crucifixion life is less known that those of other Apostles but his Gospel is an essential part of the Christian faith. We may not know of all the details of his life after the cross, but we do know that his was a life changed forever by Jesus Christ. He may not be as popular Peter or John in the post-crucifixion Christian world, but we know that he did not go backwards. He kept pushing forward serving His Master until his death.

What can we learn from Matthew that we can use and apply in our lives today in the 21st century? There are several things. First, your past is not a disqualifier from following Jesus. Second, the talents that we have can be used by God. Finally, our ugly, sordid past can become part of our testimony of the power of Jesus Christ to change lives.

Matthew was a hated man in Jewish society in the first century. He was a greedy tax collector. The Romans would auction off districts to third party contractor tax collectors. It was a brilliant plan. It allowed them to use the local infrastructure and local people to get their taxes collected instead of having to build a tax collection infrastructure themselves. It was less expensive and allowed the empire to expand quickly. It also ensured a high rate of tax collection. Just brilliant. The franchise cost was set high so that these third party tax collectors would have an incentive to recoup their investment. It was also brilliant to that the Romans told these guys that whatever you collect over and above what we require of you, it’s yours to help you recoup your franchise cost and act as an incentive (because after recouping their investment, their excess collections would be pure profit to the franchisee). Those Romans, man, they were shrewd! Thus, this is Matthew’s story. He was certainly extremely aggressive and probably ruthless in collecting taxes for Rome. With Roman soldiers there to enforce his greed, he had great power to ruin the lives of many and he probably did. The Roman tax burden was great and became greater and greater over the years as Rome pampered itself in excess. Thus, this grew discontent in Palestine. This heavy burden of taxes on a people that was once a mighty kingdom of their own under David and Solomon. Matthew would have been despised but he probably took solace from being hated by the fact that he had money. In Jewish society, he was considered a sinner and was outcast. Thus, he would have been excluded from pretty much all of Jewish activities, Jewish festivals, and particularly Jewish worship. He would have had to settle for hanging out with other outcasts and those labeled unworthy of mainstream Jewish society. But Jesus saw through all of that. He saw a man that wanted more than his current life was offering. The lifestyle of the rich was vapid and empty to Matthew. He was searching. Living in Capernaum, he had most assuredly heard of this new, radical rabbi named Jesus. So, when Jesus called him, he did not hesitate. His heart was ready for Jesus. Jesus did not care about his past. That is the thing we take hold of right there. Jesus does not care about your past either. It does not matter what you have done. There is nothing that you have done in your past that excludes you from Christ’s kingdom. All you must do is repent of your sins. Walk away from your old life and live life anew in Christ. We leave our past behind when we lay our past at the cross and ask Jesus us to forgive us for who we are and what we have been. When we repent of our sins and ask Jesus to take over our life, nothing is too far gone. Murderers can be redeemed. Adulterers can be redeemed. Homosexuals can be redeemed. Lovers of money can be redeemed. Prostitutes can be redeemed. Whores can be redeemed. Embezzlers can be redeemed. Thieves can be redeemed. Slanderers and gossipers can be redeemed. Liars can be redeemed. You and I can be redeemed no matter what our past is that brought us to the cross. To Jesus, once we accept Him as our Savior, the only thing that matters is the path beyond the cross.

In Matthew, we see that he was natural born talent for details and accuracy. Some of us are born that way. I can identify with Matthew in that regard. In my writings in seminary, it was never a matter of not being able to put together a paper with enough length to meet the standards set by my professor. My problem was always writing too much. I would have to cut out things in my papers to get them under the maximum allowed by the professors in my various courses. They would always complain that I got too detailed at times. Matthew was that kind of guy. Keen eye for details. All of it sunk it. Everything was absorbed by Matthew and later deciphered. All of it was important and in the reviewing of the details the meat, that main idea, would fall out for Matthew. If you didn’t record all the details, for Matthew, you might miss the main idea! That eye for detail. That distillation of the main idea from all the detail was what God used. God gave Matthew this talent so that one day he could use it for the kingdom. And boy did he! The Gospel of Matthew is a literary masterpiece. It is awash in the details of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And because of the details, Matthew masterfully demonstrates to his original Jewish audience that Jesus is, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah. He proves it point by point from the details. If he had glossed over the details, the power of his proofs of Jesus’ Messiahship would not have been as convincing to his readers. That fact is so awesome to me. God can use no matter what talent you have for the kingdom. He can use your gifts, my gifts, all of it for the glory of the kingdom. If you have the gift of hospitality and compassion like my wife, he can use it. If you have the gift of mercy, say as a nurse or doctor, he can use it. If you have the gift of having a meticulous mind, say as an accountant, he can use it. If you can build things, like a carpenter or contractor, He can use it. If you have the gift of being comfortable in crowds or the gift of speaking to people you do not know, He can use it. If you have the gift of … insert whatever your talent is in this space … he can use it. Matthew is proof that He can use it.

Finally, in Matthew, we can see that our past before meeting Jesus can speak loudly of the power of the cross and Jesus’ ability to change lives from the inside out. Does you past include things that you are not proud of? Jesus can change it. There are so many people that I have known over the years that speak loudly of the power of changed lives through Jesus. Former drug addicts becoming powerful preachers of the gospel. Former alcoholics becoming great servants of Christ. The power of the cross changes people. Thank God for the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out. Our past can become our testimony. No matter how ugly it may be. We can use our past to demonstrate the power of a changed life through Jesus Christ. Matthew’s testimony I bet was powerful to hear. A former greed driven individual who thought gouging others for money would make him happy. His testimony of wild parties and the excesses of new found wealth were probably part of his testimony. His testimony probably included how empty all of it made him feel. His testimony probably included how he wanted out of that life but society pigeon-holed him into staying in his own empty prison of life. Then came Jesus. Jesus saw his heart. Jesus said follow me. He knew that there was something special about this Jesus guy so he followed Him. Life changed forever with that decision. Matthew became a changed man. He became convinced of who Jesus was and was forever changed by it. In the absence of Jesus’ call, we would not even know who Matthew was. He would have died in his wealth and his vapid empty life, unknown, unhappy, and condemned by sin. We would have never heard of him. But with Jesus, Matthew became a powerful voice for God. His testimony is laid out in this gospel. That’s what we can take away here too. Our past is part of who we are. The power of our testimony is our past. The testimony of Jesus radically changing our lives. From self-destruction to life-giving. From self-loathing to being awash in the confidence of Jesus’ love. From greed to giving. From self-centeredness to selflessness. From condemnation to salvation. These are your and my stories. Stories that speak powerfully of the power of the cross. Amazing grace. Changed lives. Past left behind into newness of life but yet remembering that past as evidence of how knowing Jesus changes us. Wow, wow, wow! Good stuff!

Father, oh father, thank you for sending your Son to open our eyes. Thank you for seeing what we can be instead of what we are. Thank you for redeeming our past. Thank you for making us new. Thank you for using everything about us in your redemptive power to change us and use us in changing the world. These guys changed the world through Your Power. You can do it through us too. Amen and amen.

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed The World? Part 2
The Apostle John

At my last post, we introduced the gang that changed the world and then we specifically looked at Peter. John the Apostle is thought to have been a disciple of John the Baptist before meeting Jesus (John 1:35). Although John is not specifically identified as a disciple of John the Baptist, his habit of not naming himself is set in the context of John 1:35-40 when he cites only Andrew. This is seen by many Bible scholars as the first incident of John’s omitting of his own name, which is continued throughout his gospel and is attributed to his humility. Though nothing is specifically said about it, John, with his brother James and friends Peter and Andrew, had traveled from Bethsaida to the Jordan, a distance of some 75 miles (John 1:44). This indicated the interest all of them had in the messianic kingdom that John the Baptist’s ministry represented.

John the Apostle was the Lord’s half-cousin, his mother Salome being Mary’s sister (compare Matthew 27:56, Mark 16:1, and John 19:25). He was one of two disciples with John the Baptist when he proclaimed Jesus as God’s Lamb. He and Andrew became the Master’s original disciples (John 1:35-39).

John the Apostle was a faithful disciple of Jesus during His early Judean ministry (John 2:1-4:54). He and the others then returned home, and to their fishing business, where they worked as partners with John’s father Zebedee until Jesus came and called them to permanent discipleship (Mark 1:19-20, Luke 5:7, 10).

John the Apostle was a subordinate disciple during Christ’s ministry. This may have had to do with his age. Since it is believed that he wrote Revelation in the late 90’s possibly some 50 years after Jesus’s death, he quite possibly could have been a teenager during Jesus’ ministry on earth. He was likely the last surviving apostle (Revelation 1:9-10). Reflecting his secondary position as a disciple, John is mentioned after his brother James in each disciple listing (Mark 3:13-16). Matthew 10:2 and Luke 6:14 list Andrew before John. Knowing the brothers’ dispositions, Jesus nicknamed both “Boanerges” which is translated into English as “The Sons of Thunder” revealed ambitious, (Mark 10:35-37), and intolerant natures (Luke 9:51-54). Jesus may have used this as a comical reference to them after the incident in Luke 9:54, where John and James asked Jesus rained down fire from heaven on those who rejected Jesus. It may have been one of those nicknames that you gain when you make a bonehead move and your friends call you a nickname commemorating the bonehead move for years to come. Jesus did have a sense of humor you know.

John the Apostle was a classical servant of Christ. Despite his obvious human failings and sins, John enjoyed an affinity of kindred minds with Jesus that led to him being called “the beloved disciple” by others in the group (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2). He felt so comfortable with Jesus that he put his head on the Master’s chest to inquire about the betrayer (John 13:25). This may have something to do with John most likely being a teenager when he was a part of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus was not only training him up to be a disciple but he was most likely something of a father figure to John as well. While the others may have been fully grown men, John was most likely just coming of age and needed the tutoring on life that Jesus gave him. The others would quite possibly have seen that and called him the disciple that Jesus loved…like a son.

John the Apostle was a disciple who obviously developed spiritual understanding during Christ’s ministry. This is seen in two ways: first, he braved danger by entering the High Priest’s residence during Christ’s trial (John 18:15). His ability to enter the house, then to bring Peter in, means that John’s family had access to the High Priest. With this easy access, his family must have been well-known in the Temple. The family were fishermen by trade. But this access to the Temple in Jerusalem must mean that the family did rather well at it and could afford to travel to the Temple frequently. Thus, it is highly likely that John was, maybe not formally educated to be a priest, but had studied and understood the Old Testament better than most. Second, when he joined Peter in the tomb, John saw the meaning of the careful arrangement of grave clothes, and immediately believed in Christ’s resurrection (John 20:8-9). This spiritual insight may account for John’s listing as second only to Peter when the apostles gathered in the Upper Room after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:13).

John the Apostle was a great apostolic leader in Acts. He helped preach the Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:7-8), accompanied Peter when they healed the lame man (Acts 3:1-10), was jailed with Peter (Acts 4:1-3), was with Peter when they reported to their brothers (Acts 4:23), and Peter and John were sent by the other apostles to investigate the Samaritan revival (Acts 8:14). This key verse reflects the equilibrium in apostolic leadership. Peter and John were sent, meaning the other apostles trusted them. Peter and John were sent by the others, meaning they went as emissaries of, and with the authority of, the whole.

John the Apostle was a brilliant author of christological teaching. John isn’t mentioned by name in Acts after the visit to Samaria (Acts 8:17), but he continued to exercise significant church leadership. Paul called him a pillar of the church (Galatians 2:9). His most lasting contribution to God’s work came in the five books that bear his name, including the magnificent Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, not only a literary masterpiece but as the centerpiece of Christian theology concerning Christ’s return and his restoring of His Father’s kingdom on earth.

What do we learn from the Apostle John that we can take away and use today in the 21st century? There are two things I think that we can use. The first and most obvious thing is, if you subscribe to the theory that John was a teenager while Jesus was leading his earthly ministry (which I do based on the timing of when he wrote Revelation), that it does not matter how old you are that you can be of great service to Jesus (either if you are very young or very old). The second thing is you can have such a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus that he entrusts you with significant tasks.

The thing to me that is most striking is that John was noted often as the disciple that Jesus loved. It was an odd reference to me anytime I read it until I did a little logical thinking about it and a little research. To me, I always wondered, well didn’t Jesus love the other disciples too? Sure, he did, so why was John singled out in this way. It just makes sense to me that John was a teenage disciple at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is commonly accepted among the most critical of biblical scholars that Revelation was written no earlier than 90AD and no later than 100AD. So, it’s simple math. If it is also commonly accepted that Jesus was crucified somewhere between 26AD-30AD, and John was there to see it, then he must have been pretty young to have lived all the way to 90AD-100AD. He had to have been a young guy when Jesus roamed the earth. This speaks volumes to me in this fact alone, both for the very young and the very old. So often, we write teenagers off as being impetuous and not being deep spiritually. However, there is no law that says that a teenager cannot have a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus Christ that produces wisdom, leadership, and passion for Jesus. A teenager that is sold out for Jesus can bring life and vigor to a band of believers that is well-needed. A teenager sold out to Christ can bring a newness of life to us believers. A teenager sold out to Christ can bring the fun back to being a Christian. I can just imagine John being a teenager pulling pranks on the other disciples like teenagers often do. I can imagine Jesus rolling in laughter at another John prank. I can also see the disciples taking loving advantage of his lack of experience much to the laughter of all including Jesus. I can also see John blowing the other guys away with some profound question about something they had just grown to take for granted. Jesus did not see John’s age as a barrier to being part of the group that he was disciple into world-changers. Jesus saw the heart of the man. He saw the heart of this young man. He saw the heart of this teenager. He took this young man under his wing because he saw the talents of this young man. He saw and developed him at close range. It was, I bet, from those late night sitting by the campfire one on one conversations when Jesus was tutoring this young man into adulthood that the seeds of the Gospel of John and other books of the New Testament were planted. At the same token, Jesus seeing no barrier, in John’s youth, Jesus can also see no barrier in your age now for service to Him. Here, I am at age 53, in transition from secular employment to full-time ministry. I sometimes think, hey, Mark, it’s too late for you to go into the ministry. This relationship that Jesus had with John shows me that age whether young or old is no barrier for Jesus to call us into His service. From Jesus’ choosing of teenage John, we can see that age (too young or too old) can never be an excuse for not following God’s call on our lives. Do not listen to Satan tell you that it is. Jesus calls us to ministry when He thinks we are ready. He calls us to ministry when it makes us so uncomfortable that we cannot do anything else. Age is not a factor. Moses was an old man by the time he began leading his people out of Egypt. Neither too young or too old. If you have been pondering if you are too young or too old to serve Jesus in a more comprehensive way, believe Jesus not Satan. If Jesus has put it on your heart that it is time. It is time! No matter what time it is!

The second thing that you notice about John, I wander to the cross on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. John, the only one of the disciples at Golgotha. He is there with Jesus’ mother, Mary. He was there with Jesus to the bitter end. No matter what. He was faithful to the bitter end. He must have loved Jesus with every ounce of who he was. The older disciples scattered. But here was this young guy there to the bitter and ugly and painful end. From the cross, we hear Jesus entrust his own mother to this young man. We may not think of this as big deal in our world of self-sufficiency and splintered families today. But this WAS a big deal. Jesus as the oldest son of his mother, according to Jewish custom, was responsible for the welfare of his mother (since it is evident of the lack of references to Jesus’ earthly dad during his earthly ministry, it is commonly assumed that Joseph was dead). In the absence of her husband, it fell to Jesus as the oldest male son to take care of his mother since women had little rights to property and even fewer options for a livelihood. As the oldest son, it was his responsibility to ensure her well-being after Joseph’s death. Now, on the cross, he entrusts his mother’s care not to the next eldest son (which we assume to be James) but to teenage John. Woman behold your son. Son behold your mother. Jesus was telling his mother that John was so important to Him that she should from this point forward treat him like her own son. More powerful though was the command to John to behold his mother. He was telling John that he should treat Mary as he would treat his own mother. Take care of her. Make sure she has what she needs. Make sure she is secure. Jesus was passing his duty as the eldest son to John. Wow, what John must have felt at this. He was so close over these past few years with Jesus that Jesus trusted him with the care and responsibility of His own mother. What an honor! We gloss over this command sometimes in reading the crucifixion account but it is an oh so huge statement. It is not just filler dialogue. It is important. It shows how close John and Jesus were. Like I said before, Jesus was most likely almost an earthly father figure to John. Take care of Jesus’ mom! It is a high honor that is being bestowed upon John by his dear friend, Jesus. It reminds us that when we are close with Jesus and we abide in Him, He will trust us with much. When we sit at His feet by the campfire and hang on His every word, when we are passionate about who He is, when we abide in Him, when we lay our head on His chest, He will trust us with much. Jesus will honor those who honor Him. Let us never forget that much is given by Jesus to those who abide in Him. Stay clean and close to Jesus and He will honor that!

Father help us to learn that it is never too late to serve you. No matter the stage in life we find ourselves it is never too late. As long as we are faithful and abide in Him, He will lead us. He will take care of us. When we abide in Him, He will trust us with much and when we abide in Him, He will honor us with much trust. Let us be people who trust in You so deeply, Lord, that we know that you will take care of us if we step out into ministry. Lord, let us be a people who hang on your every word and follow wherever you lead. It’s never too late. We are never too young or too old to serve. We trust that you will honor our love for you that is expressed in our trust in you when we step out into service of expanding your kingdom. Let us be not like Mike but like John. Amen and Amen.