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 ~

 

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 ~

 

 

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 ~

 

God’s Provisions for David

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

David is still moving from one hiding place to another. (See David, on the Run) Such a task to keep 400 men together, yet hidden.

All the while, both Israelite tribes and non-Israelites wished to gain favor with King Saul and were ready to tell of David’s whereabouts.

At one point, both Saul and David were circling the same mountain in the Desert of Maon.

Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” I Samuel 23:26-27

So Saul stopped his pursuit of David  and went off to to face the Philistines. What an example of God’s provision. Just in time—a monumental distraction!

After the Philistine interruption had passed, Saul heard that David had moved to the desert of En Gedi, so Saul gathered 3ooo chosen men to tract down David. Maybe Saul didn’t know that David only had about 400 men or maybe he did know and was determined to totally wipe him out. 

Along the way, Saul passed several caves. Evidently, he pulled away from his men to do what we all have to do through the day.

            

Saul went in to relieve himself. I Samuel 23:3

(Even kings have to do this.) In God’s divine providence, Saul chose the very cave in which David and his men were hiding. David saw that Saul had entered the cave alone.

David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. I Samuel 24:5

I am astonished that he was able to do this—unheard and unnoticed. Again, the Lord protected him.

When David showed the piece of robe to his men, they couldn’t believe it. They protested, “What? You had him in the palm of your hand and you just cut off a piece of his robe?” They were ready to go after Saul, but David said no.

“Why?” we might ask. When he had this madman right there, he could have put a spear through him and ended the rat race of being chased and constantly running. After all, Saul was bent on killing him. Why wouldn’t David beat him to it?

“The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed.” I Samuel 24:6

I can just picture the men looking at one another like, “What does he mean? Why did he let him get away!”

What would you have done?

Next week we’ll pull apart the meaning of “the Lord’s anointed” and see what amazing thing David did next.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

David, on the Run!

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

When someone throws a spear at you while you’re quietly playing the harp for him, you know it’s time to run. (See, Watch Out, David!)

Saul decides to send men to David’s house to watch and then kill him the next morning. Saul’s daughter, Michal, who is also David’s wife, finds out about the plan. She warns David,

“If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” I Samuel 19:11

Micah lets David down through the window and off he goes to begin a lengthy time of escape.

David runs to Samuel, the prophet, who first anointed him to be the next king, but David is far away from being king. When Saul discovers David’s whereabouts, he sends men to pursue him.

David finds Jonathan, Saul’s son. They have become friends, but Jonathan can’t believe his father would be so cruel as to pursue David. Later, when Saul throws a spear at Jonathan, he realizes his father has gone mad. He continues to pledge friendship to David.

David escapes to a priest at Nod and receives bread and the spear that belonged to Goliath. He flees to Gath, but becomes suspect of the the king there, so off to the cave of Adullam. David’s prayer is found in Psalm 142 where he pleads with God for help.

“I cry to you Lord; you are my refuge.” Psalm 142:5

He is able to gather a motley crew of men around him.

All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader, about four hundred men. I Samuel 22:2

The prophet Gad tells David to go back to Judah, so David flees to the forest of Hereth.

Meanwhile, Saul discovers that David has been to the priest at Nod and sends for the priest. All eighty-five priests come and are chastised for rebelling against Saul. They defend David which sends Saul into a tailspin.  He demands that his men kill all the priests. When they refuse, Saul commands Doeg the Edomite to do the dirty work plus kill the whole town of Nod.

One son of a priest escapes and tells David what has happened. David promises protection. Meanwhile, he discovers that the Philistines are about to overtake the town of Keilah. He inquires of the Lord if he should go into battle for them and receives word to go.

As you can see, David is on the run, but he continues to show signs of leadership. He is resourceful and discerning; he attracts an army of men, continues to defend his people, and seeks God’s strength and purpose in his life.

There’s more running to do, but let’s think about our own running. Maybe not from an enemy, but we often do a lot of running here and there, accomplishing tasks, pleasing people, keeping schedules, tending to messes and on and on.

What lessons can we learn as we go? Lessons of resourcefulness and discernment? Opportunities to seek God’s guidance and further purposes in our lives?

Grow us, Lord—even when we’re on the run.

~ Joyce ~

The Power of the Sling

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

At last, David is down on the plain with his staff in hand along with five smooth stones in his pouch and a sling shot in his other hand, facing the giant man, Goliath. (See Is David Up for the Task?)

Meanwhile, the Philistine with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him.

Goliath sees that this challenger only has a staff. No armor, no sword.

He said to David, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!”

Does David back down? Is he intimidated by the course talk of the giant? Absolutely not! Remember, David has been prepared for this day in so many ways. His faith is beyond strong. Listen to him bravely declaring that faith.

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”

Then David lays out for Goliath what is about to happen. 

“This day the Lord will hand you over to me and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.”

Oops, we kind of leave out that part in the children’s version. This isn’t just “trash talk.” David firmly believes that God will have the victory.

“Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by spear or sword that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

         

Goliath moves forward while David runs forward, grabbing one of his stones and flinging it with the sling. With all Goliath’s battle gear, there’s only one small spot for David to aim—Goliath’s forehead.

The stone sank into his forehead and he fell face down on the ground. I Samuel 17:41-49

Mission accomplished and with only one stone!

I found an interesting piece of history in the book of Judges. At one time, the Benjamites were about to be engaged in a battle. They mobilized 26,000 swordsmen from one area and 700 from another. From this huge group,

700 were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. Judges 20:16

I bet that’s a new one for you! Why bring that up? Remember, David was from the tribe of Benjamin. It looks as though sling shooting was a distinguishing skill in the lineage of the Benjamites. (I don’t know if he was left handed though.)

It just reminds me that God is in all the details of preparation. Look for Him in the details of your life.

~ Joyce ~

What’s Next for David?

Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

David pleased King Saul with the soothing sounds of his harp. (See Preparation Put to Use) David made frequent trips to the palace to ease Saul’s tormented mind.

Later, Saul and his soldiers have moved about fifteen miles west near the Philistine border. Israel has had constant contentions with the Philistines and they certainly have big time trouble brewing now. The Philistines are on one hill and the Israelites on another hill with a wide valley between them.

Each morning, both sides come out ready to do battle, when a nine foot man named Goliath struts out with his bronze helmet and coat of bronze scale armor weighing 5,000 shekels (about 125 pounds.) Picture this massive man with bronze greaves on his legs, a bronze javelin slung on his back, and a spear. The iron point of his spear alone weighs 15 pounds.

He shouts to the ranks of Israel,

“Why do you come out and line up for battle? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” I Samuel 17:8-9

Saul and his men are “dismayed and terrified.” Everyday they listen to the pompous rhetoric from this giant of a man, but no one is brave enough to challenge him.

Now among the soldiers are David’s three oldest brothers. Remember them? Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah. Meanwhile, David still attends his father’s sheep. From time to time, Jesse sends David to the battle lines to take food for his brothers and bring back word on how things are going.

During one of these visits, David leaves the food with the keeper of supplies and runs over to where the men have lined up for battle. Just then, Goliath steps forward as he has done for forty days and shouts his usual defiance. The soldiers suddenly retreat because they are all afraid of Goliath.

David is appalled. He asks,

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” I Samuel 17:26

Do you remember that I told you to watch later for oldest brother, Eliab, to appear again? Well, here he is. He’s been watching David talking to the soldiers and nosing around. Eliab “burns with anger” at David.

“Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” I Samuel 17:28

Can’t you hear the jealousy, bitterness, even hatred in Eliab’s words? Likewise, can’t you see the roll of David’s eyes and an accented huff as he responds?

“Now what have I done? Can’t I even speak?” I Samuel 17:29

Next week, we’ll see that David is not to be deterred by a jealous brother’s comments nor the haughty words of a Philistine giant.

~ Joyce ~