Thomas, the Questioner

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

I know, I know, we often say “doubting Thomas” because Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to the disciples just after Jesus was resurrected. Though the eleven witnesses reported all that they experienced, Thomas would not believe.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my fingers into his side, I will not believe it.” John 20:25

A week later, Jesus appeared again. This time, Thomas was with them. They all needed God’s peace, but especially Thomas. Through locked doors, Jesus came among them a second time.

“Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27

Seeing Jesus’ face and hearing Jesus’ voice was all Thomas needed. Scripture doesn’t say, but I believe Thomas fell to his knees before his master when he said,

“My Lord and my God!” John 20:28

Jesus has a word for us in 2020.

[Thomas,]Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

Whether we have personal struggles or joint struggles like this coronavirus, Jesus says, “Peace be with you” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

We can find a previous time when Thomas questioned. Jesus drew the disciples together for a few final precious hours of last teaching—things like humility as he washed their feet and the challenge to love one another, a prime way to show that they were his disciples. He let them know one would betray him and specifically tells Peter that he will deny him. 

Then we hear those encouraging words from Jesus that we can once again apply to our day.

“Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” John 14:1

The antidote for a troubled heart? Trust.

Jesus tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them (heaven) and that they know the way (belief). It is here that Thomas has another recorded question.

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:5-6

Without Thomas’ question, we may have never had that powerful verse in Scripture. Questions can show doubt, but they can also bring understanding. Thank you for asking, Thomas. This answer has been quoted many times through out the centuries.

Stepping back a bit further, we find Jesus heading toward Bethany for what will be the raising of Lazarus. It will mean going closer to Jerusalem, dangerous territory for Jesus with the hostile Temple leaders only a breath away. Although Thomas may be somewhat pessimistic, he makes the very bold statement,

“Let us also go that we may die with him.” John 11:16

It is believed that Thomas was eventually martyred with a spear in India.  

~ Joyce ~

 

Matthew, the Tax Collector

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

On to Matthew. I’ve spent the last four years studying the Gospel that bears his name. I’m glad to announce that I have finally finished my first draft of his story—around 92,000 words! Now to the tedious task of editing.

I’ve tried to devise a possible scenario as to why this good Jewish boy, who knew the ancient Scriptures well, would become a tax collector, knowing full well that he would be despised and rejected by his fellow Jews. The scenario also had to include his sins and his “sinner” companions.

Yet, when Jesus approached Matthew at his tax collecting booth, he simply said,

“Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

          

Undoubtedly, Matthew previously had opportunities to hear Jesus teach by the sea shore or hear people talking about his miracles. Some kind of experiences had to lead up to the moment when Jesus said, “Follow me,” and Matthew was ready to leave his old life and follow Jesus.

We read no direct words from Matthew, but we do have the brief story in Matthew 9:9-13 when Matthew had a dinner at his house with Jesus as the guest of honor.

What guests did Matthew invite? Why the only friends he had, other tax collectors and “sinners” like himself. He wanted to tell his friends just as the other disciples had done when they first came to Jesus.

I’m reminded of my son’s story in his late teens. He had an amazing turn-around. One of the first things he did was to go to a party where his “friends” were. Like Matthew, his friends were like he had been, not tax collectors, but definitely “sinners.”

My heart sank. But, when he came home, he excitedly told me about getting one of his friends over in a corner and sharing with him the transformation in his life. Instead of “partying,” he was witnessing!

One telling statement in Matthew’s dinner account was this;

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does you teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners?'” Matthew 9:11

Unfortunately, none of the disciples spoke up for Matthew. They must have thought the same thing as the Pharisees. Jesus had to speak for them. That led me to think that Matthew  had to overcome his past, not only with the Pharisees and the people, but likely with his fellow disciples as well.

Jesus came to the rescue yo respond to the Pharisees.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means; ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13

Taking lambs to the altar was mostly what these stringent teachers of the law knew. Sacrifice. Mercy? Not so much so.

Though we don’t hear Matthew’s spoken words in the Scripture, we have his written words where he tells the life of Christ in the book of Matthew.

Legend has it that he was martyred while ministering in Ethiopia.

~ Joyce ~

Nathaniel, a True Israelite

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

We are still near the Jordan River where John the Baptist has been baptizing and calling listeners to repentance. 

When Andrew and John (Peter’s brother)  see the Baptist nod toward Jesus and declare him to be the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Andrew and John follow Jesus.

We learned last week that Jesus finds Philip and he, too, becomes a follower. Philip in turn finds his friend, Nathaniel.

Nathaniel’s name means “God has given.” Truly, God had given Nathaniel a desire to study the Holy Scriptures including the prophesies  that pertain to the Promised One. We first see Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree. It was very common to get away from the stifle of small houses and sit under the broad, cooling branches of a fig tree.

        

Philip finds his friend sitting under the tree and excitedly tells Nathaniel,

“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” John 1:45

Nathaniel is from Cana and evidently there is a bit of a rivalry between Cana and Nazareth. Nathaniel’s first recorded words are,

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” John 1;46

This is a bit humorous in that both towns are very small and rather insignificant. At least Nazareth was at a cross road along trade routes, and Cana is off by itself, but you know how rivalry can be.

Philip doesn’t argue with him; he merely says,

“Come and see.” John 1:46

Reluctantly, Nathaniel gets up and follows Philip. When Jesus sees Nathaniel approaching, he says of him,

“Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” John 1:47

Though prejudiced, Jesus knew Nathaniel’s heart. He wasn’t tainted by hypocrisy. His heart was circumcised; he knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah and looked toward that hope.

“How do you know me?” Nathaniel asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathaniel answered, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:48-51

This reminds us of Jacob’s dream with angels ascending and descending on a ladder, but in Jesus’ comment, he is the ladder.

It is interesting that three days later, Jesus goes to Cana where he performs his first miracle. No doubt Nathaniel stands nearby witnessing this confirmation of following Christ. How like our Lord to give affirmation when we step out in faith.

In all the groupings of disciples, Nathaniel is listed as Bartholomew (son of Tolmai or Bar Tolmai).

Various reports have Nathaniel ministering in Turkey and/or Persia and India, and particularly in Armenia where he was likely martyred.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Philip – the Organizer

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Now, we look at the next four disciples who are grouped together, beginning with Philip.

Don’t confuse Philip the apostle with Philip the deacon. Two different men.

We first see Philip in the area of the Jordan River listening to John the Baptist. Andrew and John have begun to follow Jesus.

The next day, Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” John 1:43

This is the first time we hear those famous words from Jesus, “Follow me.” Philip had a willing, receptive heart and was even ready to go back to Galilee and share the good news with his friend Nathaniel. Philip told Nathaniel,

“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” John 1:45

It’s obvious that Philip has been a student of the Law. We’ll hear more of that discussion when we study Nathaniel next week.

The next time we hear from Philip is at the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus says to Philip,

“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” John 6:5

John lets us know that Jesus said that to test him. Perhaps Philip tends to the material needs of the disciples, arranges for meals, the organizer, or as the author John MacArthur says, “the bean counter.”

Philip is already busy figuring and counting. He says,

“Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” John 6:6

Imagine Philip’s surprise when Jesus eventually multiplies the little that Andrew came up with!

       

Much later, when Jesus and the disciples walk into Jerusalem in a triumphal entry, many Jews from around the world are there to celebrate Passover. Some Greeks approach Philip asking to see Jesus. Philip seems to have trouble knowing if this is acceptable and runs to Andrew. The two of them go to Jesus to report the request. Of course, Jesus offers any to come to him and reminds them they are here to serve.

The last time we hear from Philip is at the last supper. Jesus has just said,

“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:7

Then Philip turns right around and says,

“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” John 14:8

Jesus is pretty frustrated with this. Isn’t that what he was just telling them? You’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father?

Makes you wonder how patient the Lord has to be with us. We pray; we study, we go to church, and do good deeds, and yet we act like we are clueless. Still, the Lord can take us, warts and all, and use us for His glory.

Philip, like the others, did come to understand the cross, the resurrection, the command to go, make disciples. He won many to the Lord in Asia Minor and was martyred by stoning eight years later. 

~ Joyce ~

 

John, the Apostle of Love

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

And now we look at James’ brother, John. Early on, John is every bit as much of a rugged fisherman with a hot temper and lack of love. He is ready, along with James, to “call down fire from heaven” on some disagreeable Samaritans.

The one time we hear a quote by John is in the gospel of Mark and Luke. Jesus has healed a mute boy with seizures. Later, some of the disciples discuss who is greater among them. Jesus gives another lesson in servitude and humility. It doesn’t seem to compute. John says,

“Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Mark 9:38

Jesus explains to him that believing in Him and doing something in His name is a good thing. Jesus continually works with the disciples to overcome their intolerant, elitist attitudes. By the time John writes his own gospel, he has been humbled. In fact, he is the only one who relates the incident of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

John is enamored with truth. He speaks of it 25 times in his gospel and another 20 times in his three epistles. Things are very cut and dried, black and white for John.  He writes about: light and dark, life and death, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, fruit and fruitlessness, love and hate, obedience and disobedience, and on goes the list. John takes in Jesus’ words—

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

But John learns to balance truth with love.

           

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

God loved. God gave. If we believe, we receive.

John alone quotes Jesus’ words—

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34

In his first letter, John says,

We love because he first loved us. I John 4:19

It is John who follows Jesus from his arrest in the garden to the trial at Caiaphas’ house. While the other disciples flee, it is John who stands by Mary at the cross and it is John whom Jesus asks to care for his mother.

In his later years, John is banned to the isle of Patmos where he receives the vision of latter times on earth and in heaven. He writes the Revelation we have in our Bibles. Aside from Luke and Paul, John wrote more of the New Testament than any other. He is the last of the twelve apostles to die.

Let us say and live, along with John, “We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:19

~ Joyce ~

James, a Fiery Disciple

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

James and John, the sons of Zebedee—that’s how we are most often introduced to James and his brother. With James being first, he is likely the older brother.

Also likely is the prominence of their father, Zebedee. He had a lucrative fishing business that afforded him hired servants to help. Perhaps Zebedee had an aggressive temperament that rubbed off on his sons for Jesus nicknamed them “Boanerges,” sons of thunder.

When Jesus was ready to go to Jerusalem for the last time, he planned to go the unconventional route through Samaria. Jesus asked James to go ahead and make arrangements for them to stay overnight as they traveled.

James and John traveled to one town to inquire, but the leaders there refused to help. James angrily reported back to Jesus and asked,

“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven?” Luke 9:54

           

Jesus had never shown anything but goodwill to the Samaritans. He healed the Samaritan leper and commended his gratefulness. He helped the Samaritan woman at the well to receive the water of life and he made a Samaritan the hero of one of his best known parables.

No, calling down fire on this community wouldn’t do.

Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. Luke 9:56

Simple alternative.

Thunderous or not, the brothers, along with Peter, were a part of the inner circle that were singled out at times to go with Jesus. They were taken into the house of Jairus when Jesus raised his daughter to life. Jesus took them up the mountain where he was transfigured. The inner circle went farther into the Garden of Gethsemane with him before the arrest.

The only other time we hear James voice is when he and John make a request of Jesus.

“Let one of us sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.”

Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can.” Mark 10:37-39

Jesus tells them that they will indeed go through much, but it is not for him to grant who will sit beside him. When this stirs up resentment with the other disciples, Jesus realizes he must once again share with all twelve the need to have a servant heart rather than to lord it over others.

Being a fiery disciple can mean you are passionate and enthusiastic, but taken to the extreme, one can become mean, hot-headed, and self-centered.

Evidently, James channeled that fire to be an effective disciple. Fourteen years after Jesus death, Herod Agrippa was in control.

He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. Acts 12:2

James was the first apostle to have a martyr’s death and the only one of the twelve whose death is recorded in Scripture. “With the sword” means he was beheaded.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

Andrew, a Quiet Witness

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Now, as promised, we explore other disciples. What do we know about Andrew? Very little. Let’s start with what we do know.

He’s often referred to as Peter’s brother. Isn’t that the way it is when you have one aggressive brother? The other tends to stand in the shadows. That doesn’t mean that quiet ones are any less important.

Andrew was, after all, one of the first disciples to follow John the Baptist. He sought after truth and found it in John’s message of repentance and belief.

But John the Baptist made it clear that,

“… after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.” Matthew 3:11

Being a disciple of John, Andrew possibly witnessed the baptism of Jesus and heard the voice of God declaring,

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

The next day, when Jesus passed by, John the Baptist said,

“Look, the Lamb of God.” Matthew 1:36

Andrew and John (the disciple) followed Jesus and spent time from the tenth hour (4:00 PM) on into the evening.  When they returned to Capernaum,

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon [later named Peter] and tell him, “We have found the Messiah, (that is, the Christ).” Matthew 1:41

That’s the first quote we get from Andrew. The first witness. The first missionary!

One day, after a miraculous boat-load catch of fish, Peter was so overwhelmed that he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Then, Jesus said to Simon, “From now on you will catch men.” Matthew 5:8,10

Later on, when Jesus returned to Capernaum, he saw Andrew and Simon by the sea, casting their nets.

“Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19

The only other time the words of Andrew were recorded was at the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus and the disciples discussed how to feed this huge group. Andrew went into action behind the scenes. Apparently, he had been asking around to see if anyone had food. Instead of talking about it, he had quietly been working in the background.

         

Andrew spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” John 6:9

At least he brought the boy to Jesus. And look what Jesus did with that little lunch!

Another time some Greeks asked Philip if they could see Jesus. Philip first consulted with Andrew and together they led them to Jesus.

Do you see the common thread. Andrew worked at bringing people to Jesus—first his brother, then the boy with his lunch, and later he brought the Greeks to Jesus.

Andrew is known as the patron saint of Russia and Scotland.

A Roman governor had him crucified near Athens because Andrew had led the governor’s wife to the Lord and she refused to recant. Even on his cross, he continued to exhort passersby to turn to Christ for salvation. What a legacy!

Quiet witnesses matter.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

 

The Twelve Disciples

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Perhaps when you were young, you learned the little tune that named the twelve disciples. If not, or if you’ve forgotten it, Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us a list, pretty much in the same order. 

Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus; Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot. Matthew 10:2-4

By far, the one we hear about most is Simon whom Jesus later names Peter. I’ve already written several blogs about this very dynamic character who tops the list. While he doesn’t always show himself to be the “rock,” he certainly is a work in progress. 

When Jesus walked on the water, Peter said,

“Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Matthew 14:28 

Rather adventurous, right?

Then there was the time when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter speaks for the group,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16 

Well done, Peter! The very basis of our faith! Or as Jesus said,

“…on this rock I will build my church…” Matthew 16:18 

But then, Jesus began to explain to them that he must suffer many things at the hands of the Jerusalem leaders, be killed, and on the third day be raised again. 

Peter pops back with,

“Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Matthew 16:22

His audacious boldness has gone too far. Jesus smacks back with,

“Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23

       

Six days later, Jesus takes the inner circle of Peter, James and John up the mountain where he is transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appear as well. Not knowing what to say in these truly awe inspiring moments, Peter feels compelled to say something—anything.

“Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Matthew 17:4

God Himself intervenes through a cloud of bright light.

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! Matthew 17:5

In a study about gifts, I learned a powerful lesson; when taken to the extreme, our gifts can become a negative. 

We hear the voice of this bold disciple other times as well, but through the questions he asks and the denials he makes, this pebble of a man becomes the rock Jesus destined him to be.

Eventually, Peter is a faithful leader and the preacher who brought thousands to the Lord.

Whether we’re quiet or bold in personality, may we, like Peter, learn and grow through the rough edges of life to be what God has called us to be.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Wondering

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

I’m looking out at the clear blue sky and bright sun as it shines over the waters in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The sun rays are creating a myriad of sparkling diamonds dancing across the gulf. It reminds me of the thousands of characters who have walked across the pages of history in our Bible.

I’m still working on my book about Matthew—89,000 words at this point. I’ve thought about many of the people who crossed Jesus’ path, but particularly the disciples with whom He spent much time.

We know the disciples were in the boat and on the shore or in the towns and in the upper room when life happened with Jesus, but what did they say? How did they react?

We can read many comments and incidents that involved Peter, but we hear only one or two sentences from a few disciples and nothing at all from others.

Some of the one-liners spoken from these men are positive, some questioning, and a few are quite negative.

We will look at some of these statements in the coming weeks and try to glean what we can of each man and his personality.

As I thought about these few comments, the thought occurred to me; what if only one or two things I have said were written down for posterity? How would I be remembered?

Do you have someone you haven’t seen for several years? Maybe a childhood friend with whom you’ve lost contact. Maybe a school teacher or a buddy from college. Do you remember one thing that person said? Or one thing they did that stuck with you?

One of my roommates in college was a Physical Education major. She had a thing about “table tennis.” You were absolutely not to call it “ping-pong.” To this day, I have a hard time saying “ping-pong.”

      

I played with a little curly-haired blonde in one of the many cities I lived when I was growing up. We were about six years old. Mary had the unique “gift” of being able to walk on her toes. She would push her big toes forward while the others tucked underneath. That’s all I remember about her.

Of course, we likely remember more important words and actions, whether inspirational or negative.   

So what sticks with people about me? What will they remember that I said or something I did?

What will people remember about you?

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. Proverbs 12:25

A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Kind of makes you want to go back and erase some of the things you said or did, doesn’t it? Well, of course we can’t do that, but we can be more mindful of our words and actions now and how they affect others.

We’ll take a look at the words some of the disciples said.

So you see, I’m still wondering. (See Making Scripture Real)

~ Joyce ~

Make Scripture Real

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Years ago, when the Lord called me to write, I was engaged in a group Bible study of the gospel of Matthew. As I read each lesson, I found myself lingering over each character that came along, wondering what the rest of their story might be.

Sometimes a whole incident was told in two verses. I wanted to say, “Whoa, who is this leper? What did he do for a living?  What was the initial separation like for he and his wife and children knowing that they could never see each other or touch each other again?

Then Jesus healed him! Jesus even touched this unclean leper. Amazing. Oh the gratitude he must have felt. Did his family know about Jesus? Were they cautious, even afraid to accept him back in the household?

I found myself asking questions and thinking about the characters Jesus met all along the way. I wanted readers of Scripture to wonder as well. For I found that asking questions leads you to seek answers.

We might not always get it exactly right, but as we dig into other similar passages or Bible notes, these characters can come to mean more to us. They become the real people they were.

Let’s take John the Baptist for instance. Matthew tells us,

John the Baptist came preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Don’t jump over the phrase that tells of his two-part message—the call for repentance and the message that heaven is near. In other words, the Savior is coming.

This is he who was spoken of  through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for him.’ “ Matthew 3:1-2

So, John knows the ancient writings of the prophets all the way back to Isaiah and he equates the “voice” as himself  and the “Lord” as the Messiah, the coming-soon Messiah.

      

We read a little farther and discover that John wears camel-hair clothing with a leather belt and eats locusts and wild honey—a desert man for sure. That gives us a glimpse of the ruggedness of this man.

People went to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and from the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Matthew 3:5-6

Clearly he was effective, in spite of his desert-man ways. Again, a two-part result—confession of sin and the commitment of baptism. Thus, he was known as John the Baptizer or John the Baptist.

In the first chapter of Luke, we find out about his miracle-boy birth. 

My point is, we must read slowly, think through the pieces we are given, and look for other references that will give greater insight.

Then wonder…

What took place when he was out there in the desert during his preparation years? How did the Spirit reveal so much to him? Was it similar to Jesus desert experience? What do we learn when we’re in  those wandering “desert” times? Hmm.

~ Joyce ~