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 ~

 

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 ~

 

David Honors a Second Time

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Do you remember how David waved a piece of Saul’s robe in the air showing how close he had come without killing Saul? Saul became milk toast. 

That didn’t stop him from continue pursuing David. David found out about it and decided to try again.

This time, David and a friend went sneaking into Saul’s camp by night, 

and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. I Samuel 26:7

David’s friend offered to plunge the spear into Saul, but David would have none of it. He talked, as before, of not laying a hand on God’s anointed one. Instead, he ordered his friend to bring Saul’s spear and his water jug.

The next morning, David called out to Saul’s guard, Abner, and chastised him.

“… you and your men deserve to die, because you did not guard your master, the Lord’s anointed. Look around you. Where are the king’s spear and water jug that were near his head? I Samuel 26:16

Saul recognized David’s voice and called in a voice dripping with sugar,

“Is that your voice David my son?” I Samuel 26:17

David questioned Saul again as to why he is pursuing him when he has done nothing to deserve this treatment. Saul promised not to do it again, but David didn’t buy it.

As I Samuel closes, Saul is in a fierce battle with the Philistines. They have killed his sons and are about to capture Saul as well. He commands his armor bearer to take his sword and kill him rather than be done in by the enemy. The armor bearer refuses, so Saul takes his own life.

We can choose many ways to find application to our lives from these tragic events. Let’s focus on our callings from God.

It was very clear and memorable to David that the Lord had anointed him to be the next king. He knew that anointing had come to Saul as well. Even though Saul did not carry it out well, the anointing was to be honored in David’s mind.

How has the Lord anointed you? Likely you are not called to be a king or queen or even a president or ambassador, but God does place callings on all our lives and expects obedience.

I felt strongly His call to write 20 years ago. It has taken me a long time to get books to the printing stage. Others seem so adept at marketing and spitting out books every year.

At times, I feel so inadequate. Weeks go by or, in this year, months go by and I don’t get anything written on the next book.  Then, I come back to the call, even the anointing I felt. Like David, I must honor that calling.

What is your calling? Something you have sensed that He has called you to do. May we honor that calling in this new year.

~ Joyce ~

Time for Resolutions

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

It’s a new year. Time for resolutions! Let me share a simple, practical resolution I have made.

Last month, I reached the final stages of packing for the big move to our new house. I pulled out two wire-type racks like the ones in an oven, but these were smaller. I had them standing up, leaning against some paper bags in the cabinet. 

Now these wire shelves were a constant aggravation, frequently falling over. When I pulled them out to pack them, my daughter asked, “What are they for?”

For the first time, I stopped to consider what they were used for. Too little for the oven. No, not for the grill set. I hadn’t used them for the twelve years we had lived in this house. Why had I put them in such a usable location? And what in the world were they for?

It finally dawned on me that they were for our old microwave, but we never opted to use them. Further more, we had to purchase a new microwave three years ago and it wasn’t built to use the racks. Why, oh why did I fight with these racks all these years?

I promptly took them to the recycle place. They would not mess with me for one more day!

Well, this got me to thinking. What else sub-consciously brings me aggravation for no good reason?

After we moved, I became aware that the Kroger bag I was using in a new bathroom waste can kept sliding down in the can farther and pulling away from the sides. I tossed things in and they slipped between the bag and the can. “Okay,” I said to myself, “I’m not going to keep being bothered by this little bag. I found a pack of larger liners and, voila! No frustration!

So, you see, I’m on a mission to become aware of things, even little things, that bring aggravation or frustration and promptly fix the problem instead of letting it fester.

Perhaps we need to watch for this in more weighty issues as well. We can easily become anxious about an incident or relationship. Instead of dealing with it head on, we can allow it to build and smolder for lengthy periods of time.

It’s good to heed Paul’s words to the Philippians.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7

Anyway, I share my simple, but practical resolution. Perhaps you’ll discover something you need to work on to bring about a better year for you.

We’ll get back to David next week and see how he’s making it in the run from King Saul. (Talk about frustration!)

Meanwhile—

Happy New Year!

~ Joyce ~

 

The Angels’ Song for 2020

 

Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

Before we put away the decorations and “de-ornament” the tree, let’s take a last look at a carol that we don’t sing as often—”It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”. 

My first thought was, What came at midnight? I discovered that it was the song. What song? The angel’s song, of course. Now we don’t know that Jesus’ birth was at midnight, but it was at night.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Luke 2:8

The carol pictures these angels coming close to the earth from their heavenly reign to sing this song, accompanied by their harps. Small harps were quite common for accompanying the psalms. Remember, David was a harp player!

We read in Revelation about John’s vision of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders falling down before the Lamb (Jesus).

Each one had a harp…. Revelation 5:8

             

It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold.

“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men from heavens all gracious King!” The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.

Of all the music in the world, I can’t imagine that any other would be more glorious than this very one with all the heavenly host of angels joining in. Their exact text was….

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

          

The song is two-fold—our praise to God and His peace to us. What a song to carry with us!

In another verse, the author, Edmund H. Sears, wrote of the crushing loads, toil, and pain we bear in this life. Each of us have experienced our unique share of loads this year, but the carol compels us to look for the the ways the Lord has lifted us and carried us during the hard times and to remember the peace, the rest that He brought us in spite of those difficult times.

Look at your year. Think of the angels’ song.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow;

Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.  

As we look toward a new year, let us carry the two-fold angels’ song with us—our praise to God, His peace to us; to us on whom His favor rests. Not to everyone, only those who call upon Him and believe in Him.

Inhale His peace, exhale anxiety. Inhale His peace, exhale worry. Inhale His peace, exhale confusion. Inhale His peace, exhale ______ . You fill in the blank. Stopping to literally do this exercise about four times brings amazing calm and causes our focus to be on Him, not self.

Carry the angels’ song with you all year. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’

Blessings to you as you move into 2020.

~ Joyce ~