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Which Disciple are you Most Like, part 8: Simon and Thomas

This week I want to talk about Simon and Thomas. The more I study the disciples, the more I realize the mysteries that surround them and the more questions I can’t wait to have answered when I get to meet Christ face to face.

Simon:

The fact that I listed him here means you now know as much about Simon as I do. There is very little in the Bible about Simon. He did have 2 nicknames, Zelotes and Canaanite. All we can gather from those two names is that Simon was part of the Zealot party and was a Canaanite. He is mentioned only a few times in the Bible and only as part of a list, never with any back story.

But I would like to speak a little about Zelotes, or Zealot. The Zealots were a fanatical party that significantly opposed Rome. They were not fond of Jewish Roman sympathizers, which makes Simon working together with Matthew, a Jewish Roman sympathizer, so interesting. This shows that Jesus chooses people from all walks of life, wherever they are.

One other strange thing about the Zealots is that they typically sided with the Pharisees, whom Jesus typically was at odds with. Zealots had a history of passion. They were passionate about upholding the commandments in the Torah, especially those which dealt with idolatry.

One of the most famous groups of Zealots were the Sicarii. They were a violent group of Zealots that tried to expel the Roman government and any sympathizers. There is no indication that Simon was a member of the Sicarii, but if he indeed was a Zealot, he would have had a very passionate and legalistic view of the commandments

Other than that, we know nothing. There is also very little tradition about him. The only tradition holds that he preached in Egypt and was martyred there.

Thomas:

Thomas is the last of the original twelve that I will discuss. Everyone knows Thomas as “Doubting Thomas” because of doubting whether it was really Christ in front of him. He is really known as Thomas Didymus.

Thomas was pessimistic yet loyal. In John 11:16 we see Thomas say,

John 11:16 – Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

There are only 3 real references to Thomas in the gospels. The first comes when Jesus was traveling out of town and Thomas joined Him. Next we see Thomas in the upper room where he asked Jesus how to get to the place where Jesus is going to prepare for us. This is where Jesus says the very popular phrase,

John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Of course, we know that by God’s grace we have access to the eternal, Almighty God.

Thomas’ final appearance is seen after Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus joined the disciples (minus Thomas) in the upper room. Later they told Thomas what they saw and Thomas didn’t believe them. A week later, as the believers were hiding in the upper room again, that Jesus appeared and proved Himself to Thomas.

Tradition offers that Thomas went to Persia and died a martyr.

What Thomas teaches us is that as we struggle with seeing God in our daily walk in life, God will show up in our lives to show us He is there.

So which disciple are you most like? I find that I associate best with Philip. Philip was able to reason, as he was the one who figured out how much it would cost to feed the 5,000. I also associate with Philip in that he would go into groups of people that would most likely be written off and share Jesus with them. In his day, it was the Gentile crowd. I enjoy seeing Christ shared in groups of people who would never hear about Him.

So how about you?

Leave a comment and tell me what you chose.

Which Disciple are you Most Like, part 7: Matthew & Philip

After last week’s study on the two Judases, I am hoping this week is much easier study, but in doing my initial research, I am not thinking so. This week we will look at both Matthew and Philip.

Matthew:

Matthew, like all the rest of the apostles, has an interesting story to tell us. There is nothing written about Matthew prior to his decision to join Jesus other than he was a publican (some versions say he was a tax collector) and he was the son of Alpheus.

When Jesus sees Matthew, he was sitting in a tax collector’s booth along the main highway. Doing this job meant that he was collecting the duties on the imported goods brought by farmers and caravans. In the Roman system, Matthew would have paid all these taxes ahead of time and then collected the money from the people to reimburse himself. This is definitely a system filled with corruption. For example, using today’s money as a tool, if he would have paid $500 to the Roman government before collecting, he would have had to have made that $500 back plus whatever his financial needs for his family are. That means that the farmers and merchants were being overtaxed by the local collectors. Most tax collectors extorted extra money in order to profit off their time in the booth.

Another interesting point about these Jewish publicans is that they were Jewish collaborators. The Jews did not like tax collectors. They were one of the most hated people in all of the empire. Jews felt that all their money should go to support the community and God and not be used to line the pockets of the Roman empire. This meant that not only was Matthew hated because he was a tax collector, but he was a JEWISH TAX COLLECTOR! This meant that one of their own was extorting money from other Jews for profit. He was a Jewish agent of Rome.

Matthew was hated among his own people!

There are accounts of Jews not allowing Jewish publicans to marry Jewish women or even worship in synagogue.

But God…

Jesus walked by and simply said, “Follow me” and that changed everything for Matthew.

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

On that same day that he chose to follow Christ, Matthew held a huge party at his home and invited several other tax collectors so that they could meet Jesus as well. In one day, Matthew went from a hated tax collector to a loved soul collector.

While it might seem damaging to Jesus’ credibility to bring Matthew on board, Jesus was very intelligent in His decision. Publicans were known for the record keeping. They had to be. At any time the Roman government could come along and ask for the records of the day. They needed to capture all the details.

This is what made the gospel of Matthew so important. Matthew was able to answer questions about the Messiah in a way that only he could do, by presenting the little details about the stories.

Matthew left a very comfortable life for a life of uncertainty. He abandoned all the pleasures that he had amassed so that he could follow the true Messiah.

After Jesus’ ascension there is little written about Matthew. We know that he wrote the book of Matthew about 25-30 years after the crucifixion, but tradition holds that he went out, as the other apostles did, and spread the Good News of the gospel. At some point he went into Ethiopia and was martyred there.

The big thing we learn from Matthew is that God can use anyone. It doesn’t matter how sinful we are. It doesn’t matter how hated we are. It doesn’t matter how hard our heart is. God can call and use anyone.

Philip:

There are at least 3, and most likely 4, men named Philip in the Bible. The first two were Herod the Great’s two sons that he had through different wives. The other two were instrumental in Christ’s mission. Sometimes people say the other two are the same person, and for that I am not quite sold yet. I can understand both sides of the argument for or against, so I will write this as if they were two separate people. They go by different terms: Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist.

Philip the Evangelist is assumed to have been one of the 72 that Jesus had sent out on missionary journey, although that is not mentioned in the Bible.

Luke 10:1 – After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

We know that Philip the Evangelist was one of the 7 deacons serving in Jerusalem

Acts 6:5 – This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.

When the great persecution came, Philip the Evangelist left Jerusalem and became an evangelist to Samaria.

Acts 8:5-12 – Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

After the church in Samaria was started, the Holy Spirit led Philip the Evangelist to the Ethiopian eunuch ad brought him to know Christ. Directly after baptizing the Ethiopian, God used Philip the Evangelist to preach in towns from Azotus to Caesarea.

Acts 8:40 – Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Twenty years later, Philip the Evangelist is mentioned again in Acts 21:8-9.

Acts 21:8-9 – Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

He is still in Caesarea where Paul and Luke stayed with him. Philip the Evangelist had 4 unmarried daughters who all had the gift of prophecy.

That is the final time we hear about Philip the Evangelist.

Philip the Apostle, on the other hand, has a little different trajectory. He was a Galilean and a disciple of John the Baptist’s. Philip is the one who told Nathanael about Jesus. There is little description about Philip the Apostle in the Bible, but there are a lot of interactions between Jesus and Philip.

Philip, after bringing Nathanael to Jesus next turned his sights on some Gentiles.

John 12:20-22 – Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Philip was also the one who determined how much money it would take to feed the 5,000. Then Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. This is when Jesus replies,

John 14:9 – Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

We finally see Philip in Jerusalem to pray after Jesus’ ascension. Tradition goes on to state that Philip went to Turkey to become a missionary and was martyred in Hierapolis.

Which Disciple are you Most Like, part 4: John

John is another one of those people in the Bible that can be confusing. There is more than one John in the Bible. The John of Jesus’ disciples was James the Elder’s younger brother and a son of Zebedee and Salome.

John wrote 5 of the books of the New Testament and was known as the Beloved Disciple. In his books he spoke more of love than in any other book in the New Testament. Unlike his brother, James the Elder, who was the first to die among the disciples, John was the last to die. Some say he was martyred while others say he died a natural death. He was, during the time of Domitian, exiled to Isle of Patmos.

John, along with Peter and his brother, comprised the inner circle of Jesus’ ministry. Those 3 men saw miracles that the other disciples didn’t.

Matthew 17:1 – After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

One of the things the inner circle witnessed that the other disciples didn’t include Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah. That is something I wish I would have been a fly on the wall for! He and Peter are also the first two disciples to see the empty tomb.

James & John came from a more well-off family than most of the other disciples. They father had hired servants for the fishing business.

Mark 1:20 – Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

This might have fed into their ambition and desire during Jesus’ ministry. For example, in Mark 9 we see John forbidding a man to drive out demons in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t one of the twelve disciples. Needless to say, Jesus rebuked him for that.

Later we see both James & John wanting to call down fire to destroy a Samaritan village because they didn’t welcome Jesus. And yet again, Jesus rebuked them.

Even later we see that, at the request of their mom, they requested to be seated on Jesus right and left sides in heaven. This caused some discord among the brothers and the rest of the twelve.

Matthew 20:20-24 – Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”  “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.  Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, 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 by my Father.”  When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.

But John matured very well.

His proximity to and discipling by Jesus taught him love. He left his explosive temper behind. He was humbled and dropped his need for human ambition. He left everything but Jesus and His command to love.

John’s gospel is the only to record the washing of the disciples’ feet.

John 13:4-5 – so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

I believe this might have been the turning point in the humbling of John.

Jesus had so much confidence in John that, during the crucifixion, Jesus turned to John and told him to care for his mother. John took this task very seriously.

John 19:25-27 – Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

John’s early ambition melted away for humility and compassion.

Eventually, according to historical evidence, John was exiled to Patmos. According to Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher and naturalist, Patmos was an island about 30 miles wide. Other literary evidence shows that Patmos was an island that worshipped Apollo and had fishing villages on it.

Cassius Dio, a Roman historian, outlined how long John might have been exiled. It last up until Domitian’s death, at which point Emperor “Nerva released all who were on trial for high treason and restored the exiles.”

Eusebius, a Christian historian from the second century, adds “the sentences of Domitian were annulled, and the Roman Senate decreed the return of those who had been unjustly banished and the restoration of their property…the Apostle John, after his banishment to the island, took up his abode at Ephesus.”

According to church tradition, Travels of St. John in Patmos was written by the same Prochorus that is listed in Acts 6:5. It is an apocryphal writing that was translated in the 17th century and is very interesting reading, although I don’t put much stock in apocryphal writings as it is also seen as pseudopigrapha. Basically, apocryphal means it goes beyond the revelation given in the infallible Bible and cannot be proven through Scripture and pseudopigrapha means it is outright false. The reason Prochorus’ Travels is in this group is because it cannot be proven to be from Prochorus and there is no earlier text than the 5th century, which makes it a wonder if an earlier text exists. But it does give some accurate history of the island of Patmos around the time of John’s exile.

There are examples of miracles that John performed on Patmos written in the book that, to this day, are celebrated at various churches on the island.

Going back to the canon of Scripture, John has a lot to teach us. There is no one in Scripture that has more to teach us about either love or truth than John (except for Jesus, of course).

3 John 4 – I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

He gave his strongest condemnation against those who perverted the truth, especially those who claimed to be believers.

1 John 2:4 – Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.

Not only truth, but love he preached. He even called himself the “one whom Jesus loved.” His entire first epistle is to believers “whom I love in truth” and he exhorts them to “love one another” as they walk in the commands of Jesus.

John teaches us a lot about the relationship between love and truth. Zeal for the truth must always be balanced by a love for people. Without love, zeal for truth turns to judgmentalism. On the flip side of that, love without care of the truth become simple sentimentality. As John matured, he learned the importance of both.

The next thing we learn from John is that humility needs to win out over personal ambition. While confidence is an important quality to have, if it is not tempered by grace and compassion then we become smug and unapproachable. Jesus took the time to rebuke John when his confidence got in the way of his testimony.

John is an amazing character study when looking at how God trains up people and prepares them for the ministries for which they are called.

Next time I will start looking at the rest of the apostles, those who we don’t hear as much about.

 

 

 

Which Disciple are you Most Like – Part 2, Peter

Last week I started a series on the disciples. Most people can name quite a few of them, but only a couple of the disciples resonate with us because they are the most popular.

This week I would like to look at Peter, probably the most well-known of the disciples.

Peter was a fisherman that lived in the town of Bethsaida. He was part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples and did evangelistic work among the Jews as far as Babylon.

Mark 1:16 – As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

Peter had many different names. During the time of Christ, the common language was Greek, so Peter’s Greek name was Simon. The language Peter grew up with was Hebrew, and his Hebrew name was Cephas. Translated into English, Simon and Cephas both mean “rock.”

Galatians 2:9 – James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.

Peter was a working man. A fisherman by trade, he was married. He was born right around the turn from BCE to AD and he lived somewhere around 65-70 years. The typical Galilean fisherman was salt of the earth. Jospehus, the Roman historian, describes the Galileans as “…quick to temper and given to quarrelling and they were very chivalrous men.” The Talmud explains Galileans as “more anxious for honor than gain, quick-tempered, impulsive, emotional, easily aroused by an appeal to adventure, loyal to the end.”

Honestly, the Talmud makes Peter sound like Bilbo Baggins from the Lord of the Rings.

Fishermen in Peter’s day were rough around the edges. They often swore and dressed shabbily. Many have described them as a “man’s man.”

Then his life changed.

He was still the shabby, quick-tempered fisherman, but Jesus called his name.

Luke 5:10-11 – Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

At that moment, Peter stepped up as the leader of the group (next to Jesus, of course).

He turned into the most well-known disciple, and the one that is typically listed first. He was also part of Jesus’ inner circle.

But that didn’t mean he was without his problems. I believe Jesus called Peter to show all of humanity how the individual mess-ups that we make don’t mean God doesn’t love us any less.

Peter made a lot of mistakes!

One minute he is walking on water by faith and the next he is sinking in his doubts.

He wanted to know how much he needed to forgive someone who sinned against him.

He wanted to know the reward for following Christ.

He was also the one who denied Christ several times.

Every time he fell, he would come back stronger, understanding Christ a little more each time. He was the first to call Jesus the Messiah.

Mark 8:29 – “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

After Jesus left this earth, Peter turned from disciple to apostle. As a disciple is a “follower of” Christ, an apostle is “sent” by Christ. Peter was the first to preach on the day of Pentecost and was the first to proclaim the Good News to a Gentile. He suffered a lot for the glory of Christ. He was persecuted, beaten, and jailed. But he rejoiced at his suffering.

Acts 5:41 – The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

One more interesting note about Peter is that many believe the Gospel of Mark was actually written by Peter. John Mark was a companion of Peter’s later in life and dictated much of what he said. I don’t know for sure if this is true or not, but as I reread the Gospel of Mark, you can get a true sense that it was an eyewitness account. This makes you believe that the gospel is the life of Christ shared through the lens of Peter written by Mark. Some of the personal stories, like the transfiguration, are told in the first-person, which Mark never would have been at.

In the end, Peter died for the message of the cross and the gospel of Christ. Leading up to Peter’s crucifixion, almost all the apostles were martyred.

Church historian, Tertullian, as well as Origen and Eusebius say that Peter was stretched out by his hands, dressed as a prisoner, and taken where no one wanted to go, thus possibly fulfilling a prophecy by Jesus.

John 21: 18-19 – Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

The historical evidence shows that Peter was crucified upside down during the reign of Nero. When condemned to death, Peter requested to be crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to die the same way Jesus died.

Arrogant fisherman to humble fisher of men.

 

Which Disciple Are You Most Like – Part 1, Introduction

A few days ago I was scrolling through LinkedIn and came across someone asking the question, “Which disciple are you most like?”

I didn’t know how to answer.

You come to know the temperament and attitude of a couple of them based on stories that directly revolve around Christ, but there were 12 disciples and I really only “knew” about 4-5 of them.

I decided to research the disciples. I started with the New Testament and went out from there. There is a lot of information from archaeologists and Bible historians. There is also a lot of written and oral tradition that come to bear in this study as well.

Since this is not a scholarly paper I will not be citing my references (in modified Turabian format as Bible scholars seem to like). I am using many of my books from seminary as well the Bible the support my information. Don’t worry, neither Google nor Wikipedia were used as sources.

Over the next 12 posts, I will give you a little information about each of the disciples and then I will tell you who I feel I am most like. It would be really cool if you commented on here with who you are most like and why you think that.

There were 12 original disciples. They are the foundation of the church. In Revelation 21:14, the Bible says the twelve walls of the foundations of New Jerusalem will have the names of the 12 disciples. These 12 men were his closest disciples. After Jesus’ resurrection, He commissioned these same men to carry the gospel message to the world.

These men were not perfect. They had attitudes and tempers. They doubted. They betrayed. They were not the religious elite. Not one was a scholar or rabbi.

They were ordinary.

God chose these ordinary men.

Today there are over a billion professing Christians in the world and they can all trace their roots back to this original group of 12 men.

I like how J.D. Greear says it in a sermon I once heard from him:

“What was it about them? And as I begin to study about these people, what I found out about them was if you were picking teams, you would not have picked them! If you were sitting in a room and going ok, “we’re going to start a movement that is going to turn the world upside down. Who do you want to start with, this group? ABSOLUTELY NOT.” They were cheating tax collectors, they were salty fishermen. They had no creativity. They had no strategy! They had no education, no formal training. None of them had seminary degrees. None of them had preached sermons. They weren’t professional ministers. They had no influence. They had no relevance. Oh God help us.

They had no money. They had no power. They had no facilities. They didn’t even have a start up kit.”

Never has a larger assignment been given to a less qualified group of people!

But here is what they did have:

  • They trusted God and did what He said.

When you think about the context of that statement alone, it is a pretty radical concept. Today, in modern day America if we say we are trusting God and doing what He says then we are probably choosing Chick Fil-A over McDonald’s or we are going to work for Hobby Lobby instead of Whole Foods Market.

In their day, it was dangerous!

What is the first thing Jesus told them to do?

He told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait. What happened in Jerusalem? Well, 40 days earlier the people of Jerusalem made it painfully clear what they thought of Jesus and his followers as the crowds screamed “CRUCIFY!” at the top of their lungs.

Basically, Jesus just told them to go back to the place where their leader had been murdered.

  • They had a passion that unified them.

Today’s church has passion. There are even entire conferences called Passion. But many times our passions are divided, not unifying. These disciples unified around one thing, spreading the gospel across the world.

  • They were in prayer because of their desperation.

Think about it. Up until this point they had Jesus right there with them to talk to, bounce ideas off of, and learn from. Now, they had to go to prayer. This must have left a desperate hole in their hearts and that led to significant prayer.

  • They had the power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s presence was still with them, even in His physical absence. This gave them the power they needed to turn the world upside down.

So over the next 12 weeks I will break down each of the disciples and then tell you which one I believe I am most like. Yep, I am keeping the surprise until the end.

So enjoy as we dig through the Bible and outside sources to learn a little more about each of the disciples together. Next week, Peter.

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