This is post 3 of 4 in the series “EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE DISCIPLES ... AND THEN SOME"
- Christianity’s Founding Fathers
- The A Team (Peter, James, John)
- The B Team (Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Bartholomew)
- The “Taxi Squad” (James the Younger, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas/Matthias)
Everything You Need to Know About The Disciples . . . And Then Some, Part 3: The B Team (Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Bartholomew)
PROVIDENCE Presbyterian Church
Our gracious heavenly Father we come together here in the name of Jesus Christ. As we study intentionally the lives of those original apostles, we pray that we may see through the lens of their lives—the Christ they loved, served and so faithfully obeyed. Our heavenly Father, may we indeed find ways in our own lives as disciples of Jesus Christ to follow in their train. Amen.
Never have so few done so much. Never—Never. It’s an amazing thing in the world in which we live that we always have great admiration for the few who go against the many even though almost always the few lose. But there is something heroic in our minds about those who are few in number running against staggering odds, even though in most instances the odds overwhelm them. There are any number of examples to which we can point.
One of my favorite poems from Alfred, Lord Tennyson is called “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. It was written on the occasion of the Battle of Balaclava, which was a part of the Crimean War in the mid-19th century. On October the 25th, 1854, at Balaclava, 600 plus Light Brigade soldiers from the British Army launched an attack across an open range against a heavily fortified force from Russia. They were slaughtered. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem in their memory. And for all of the years since, certainly, anyone who has British ties or forebears knows that The Charge of the Light Brigade remains an inspiring element in the British consciousness. That so few would have the courage and the sense of duty to go after so many even though they lost.
Listen to the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
“Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.”
‘Forward the Light Brigade.
Charge for the guns,’ he said.
And into the valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to the right of them,
Cannon to the left of them,
Cannon in front of them.
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.”
Heroes in the minds of the world, but they lost.
Another example: What we know as Pickett’s Charge, the Battle of Gettysburg.
General George Pickett was in charge of a company of soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg. There were three generals arrayed against the Union Army. The Union Army had the high ground, Cemetery Ridge. They were heavily fortified, supported by an enormous artillery. And the Confederate soldiers were out-manned and out-gunned. It was at that point that General Lee delivered the order that the forces were to charge Cemetery Ridge. The command was relayed to General Pickett by General Lee subordinate, Longstreet.
Longstreet recognized what the command meant. And he was so overwhelmed with emotion that when he appeared before General George Pickett, he could not even speak. Finally, Pickett said to him, “Sir, are we to move forward?” And Longstreet, knowing that inevitably in the next moments, the flower of the Southern Army would be slaughtered, simply nodded his head. And General Pickett’s forces stormed the slopes of Cemetery Ridge, and the men were cut down like grass before a scythe.
And yet when one speaks of heroism, if one is knowledgeable about the civil war, then Pickett’s Charge rises to the forefront. There is something heroic about the few going against the many even though they usually lose.
What is so amazing about the 12 is what God could do with just a few. You see those 12 were engaged not just in a battle against the entrenched political and military forces of the world of that day, they were also engaged in a battle against the forces of darkness, against the power of evil, against the demonic systems that exist in the world. They were going after what the Bible calls both the powers and the principalities—just a handful of them. They launch a charge.
And what is so amazing in addition to the pure heroism and courage that they possessed, these ordinary people, with nothing to commend them, won the greatest victory the world has ever seen.
Here’s one of the operating principles for this study together. Jesus picked a handful of people, frightfully, ordinary, totally, totally unqualified for the responsibilities which were theirs. And Jesus very carefully, strategically chose each one on the basis, not of what was immediately obvious in them, but what He saw in them potentially. And He then bound them together and trained them and molded them in such a way that that great potential wound up being realized.
And so even though prior to the resurrection and Pentecost, this was about as motley a crew of folks that you could ever imagine, after the resurrection and after the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they were transformed, and they became the small force that ultimately turned the world upside down. There is a tradition—it’s actually fairly accurate, though I would not swear to the location although you can visit the location today in the Holy Land—way up on the slope of the Mount of Olives, dug into the Mount of Olives, there is a large cave. It is called the Cave of Eleona—E-L-E-O-N-A—the cave of Eleona.
The tradition tells us that after Pentecost, as all of the disciples were there in Jerusalem beginning now to experience the true power that Christ had promised to them, that they gathered together in the cave at Eleona. And there, they remembered the vision that Christ had given them to go into all the world, not just the immediate surroundings, to go into all the world, baptizing, teaching and building the Kingdom of God on earth.
And the tradition tells us that there in the cave at Eleona, the 12—by this time, Judas is gone, replaced by Mathias. There, the 12 divvied up the world—made assignments as to which disciple would head in which direction so that they would in fact cover the world. It was a strategic undertaking. And if you doubt that it occurred, which I don’t—I don’t know if it took place in that cave or not. But if that such a meeting took place, had to have been because when you know what happened to the disciples after that, you realize how strategically they moved out in every direction from Jerusalem out into the whole world.
Today, we are going to look at what I call the B Team, the five who are immediately under the A Team, Peter, James and John. Remember I have chosen to delineate the teams on the basis of their access to, contact with and time spent with Jesus, that He poured himself, especially into the A Team. And they became critical for the early days of the church. The next level, the B Team, all of whom we know nowhere near as well as we know Peter, James and John. But all of whom after Pentecost, as we shall see, became world-changing leaders. And they started with virtually nothing. So you have your outline there. We are going to move through each of the five in succession. The first is Andrew.
Andrew is widely regarded, tradition tells us, as being the most physically imposing of the 12 disciples. He was considerably stronger, taller and more forceful physically than his brother, Peter. But in terms of his spirit, he was the ultimate example of what it means to play second fiddle. He was so secure in himself that he did not need to be on the A Team. He was all right being on the B Team. And he saw his whole role in life as being that of introducing others to Jesus Christ. He saw where the real power is, and he longed only to bring other people into contact with this Christ.
It begins at the very beginning of the story because, you see, Andrew is the very first of the disciples called by Jesus. The very first one. You can read his story in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. We are going to look at that right now. There in the first chapter of John, we are told that Andrew and another person were disciples of John the Baptist. You remember earlier, we talked about the fact that these Galilean fishermen were serious about their faith. They didn’t have a lot of other knowledge, but they were very serious about their faith. And they learned about the preaching of John the Baptist down in the Jordanian Valley, across the valley from the region of Judea. And so they actually left—a group of them actually left Galilee. They put their fishing nets aside for a time and went down and became followers of John the Baptist. Andrew was one of those. I suggested to you earlier that the other disciple mentioned in this passage might well have been John, but I’m going to make the case for you today and let you have it. The Fox News puts it, “We report, you decide.” I’m going to report and let you decide that perhaps that other disciple was Philip. But we’ll come to that again in a few moments.
In any case, Andrew certainly was there, one of the disciples of John the Baptist. “The next day”—I’m picking up the reading here in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The passage is on your outline.—”The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.'” Mind you, he has been preaching and predicting the Lamb of God, the coming Messiah. That’s what he’s all about. He’s the forerunner. He knows that. He is preparing the way. And suddenly, Jesus passes by and he points at him, and he says, “There is the Lamb of God.” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Dropped John the Baptist like a hot brick because after all, John had prepared them for that. He had told them that the Lamb of God was coming. And so they followed Jesus.
Turning around, Jesus saw them following and said, “What do you want?” And they said, “Rabbi,” which means teacher, “Where are you staying?” And Jesus replied, “Come and you will see.” This is a wonderful little detail. So they went, and they saw where He was staying. And they spent that day with Him, spent the whole day in the presence of Jesus. It was about the 10th hour. Remember how hours counted. The ninth hour when Jesus died on the cross was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. So the 10th hour was what time?—4 o’clock. They stayed with Him until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing that Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ That is the Christ. And Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at Simon and said, ‘You are Simon, son of John, but you will be called Cephas,'” which when translated is “Peter” or “the rock”. First thing Andrew did was to go find his brother. And do see what happened? By introducing his brother to Jesus, Andrew immediately had to fade into the background.
John the Baptist had set the example. He faded into the background in favor of Jesus. Andrew saw that, understood it. And so he brings Simon to Jesus, and he steps back. It’s as if he were saying the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” He knew that his brother, this forceful personality, was a born leader. Andrew was not. And so he willingly stepped back and let Peter take the stage. It’s an amazing example. Now, you will see later on that there came a point in time where Andrew played his own first fiddle.
But there were two other instances where we encounter Andrew in scripture. One is at the feeding of the 5,000. Remember they had this huge crowd of people. And Jesus says to Philip—and by the way, you’re going to see in just a few moments when we come to Philip. Philip and Andrew are almost always linked. Why? Well, because they were obviously good friends, both were fishermen, both were from Bethsaida. Both now lived in Capernaum. My guess is that Philip was one of those employed by the Zebedee Fishing Operation. But in any case, they were close friends. That’s why I think it’s quite possible that it was Philip and Andrew who were there as disciples of John the Baptist. We’ll see that again in a moment.
In any case, at the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus turns to Philip, and He says, “How are we going to feed all these people?” And Philip says, “I’d take a fortune to do that.” And at that point, we’re told Andrew comes forward with a little boy and he says, “Lord, I know this isn’t much, but I’ve got this little boy, and he’s got some loaves and fish—Here he is.” He introduces a little boy to Jesus. And then he steps back and watches what Jesus does. Jesus feeds the whole crowd. Catch the importance of occasionally stepping back and letting someone else be on the frontlines, upfront, visible, getting all the glory.
There’s a third instance where we encounter Andrew, and Philip is involved again. It is between Palm Sunday and Passover. A group of Greeks who were in Jerusalem had been hearing all about Jesus. I mean, the place was buzzing with news about Jesus that last week. And so they approached Philip. We’ll see why in just a moment—they approached Philip and they said, “Sir, we would see Jesus”. And Philip is hesitant. That’s kind of Philip’s nature. But Philip is hesitant. I mean, these are Gentiles for heaven’s sake. He doesn’t know that he wants to take them to Jesus. So he finds his friend Andrew, and he says, “Andrew, what we ought to do about these Greeks who want to see Jesus?” Andrew says, “Not a problem.” And Andrew took the Greeks to Jesus, the Gentiles, introduce them and then step back. And they encountered the reality of Christ. And there in the Passover week, you get a hint of what the church is going to be like. That the church is going to be bigger than just the people of Israel, that the bounds are now broken. Jesus has welcomed these Gentiles into His presence because Andrew was willing to introduce them.
Remember that I said at the cave at Eleona, wherever it took place, there was a strategic meeting. Peter, you remember from his end story last week. Peter headed north and then west, ultimately to Rome. John headed north, a little west, and then back to Ephesus, Asia Minor. James never really got out of the region of Jerusalem. He was the first martyred. He was killed there. Andrew went north. He went north to Asia Minor first, on beyond the Black Sea, to what was called the region of Scythia. It is now what we know today as Russia. And there, there were savage tribes, and Andrew worked miracles among those savage tribes and planted the faith in Russia. To this very day, Andrew is regarded as the patron saint of Russia. He then came back down and headed west into Greece. He encountered enmity at Thessalonica. He was arrested. He was thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. He was terribly mauled, but he managed to survive. He then moved on to Achaia, which is very close to Athens.
And there, he encountered the wife of the governor of Achaia. The governor’s name was Aegeates, A-E-G-E-A-T-E-S, Aegeates. His wife, Maximillia, was stricken with illness, and Andrew healed her. The governor was furious. He was very much under pagan influence, and he resented the intrusion of the Christian faith. And he especially resented his wife, having been converted. And along with her conversion, came a change in her personal standards, habits and practices. What was even worse, Andrew then proceeded to convert Aegeates’ brother, Stratocles. That was too much. Aegeates had Andrew arrested. He was severely beaten, and then he was ordered to be crucified. But the governor took an especially sadistic approach. He ordered Andrew to be crucified on an X-shaped cross, not nailed, but tied to the cross hands and feet. That way he would linger longer in his suffering. He wanted him to hang on that cross for a period of days to serve as an example to the people. And then he assumed that the wild animals and the wild dogs would simply eat the body from the cross. That was his intent.
Andrew was affixed to that X-shaped cross. And he began to transform that cross into a pulpit. He preached for one day and a night and another day and a night. Hanging there, having been beaten within an inch of his life, without any nourishment, whatever, he continued to preach.
And numbers of people were won to the faith. So much so that an enormous crowd formed. They became angry that Aegeates had ordered this crucifixion and a near riot occurred. They stormed the palace and demanded that Andrew be released from that cross. The governor finally relented. But by the time the order was forthcoming, Andrew had died. The governor’s wife, Maximillia, and the governor’s brother came and removed the body of Andrew from the cross and buried him. In 327, a number of years later, King Constantine ordered Andrew’s body exhumed and brought and reburied in Constantinople, what we know today as Istanbul.
In the seventh or eighth century in that region, a monk from that part of the world named Regulus, took some of the bone remains of Andrew and sailed west. He landed on the coast of Fife in Scotland. He then built an enormous cathedral in which to house these relics of Andrew. That cathedral you can see to this day in ruins in the town of St. Andrews in Scotland. Saint Andrew then became the patron saint, not only of Russia, not only of Greece, but also of Scotland. And the X of the cross, you will see in the Scottish flag. You will also see that X in the Union Jack, the flag of Great Britain. The cross of Saint Andrew is in that flag. Saint Andrew always took a step back, but then after Pentecost, he stepped forward. And when he did, amazing things happened.
We’re going to continue to read in the first chapter of John, picking up right where I left off a moment ago. “The next day, Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip”—that’s why you can argue that maybe this other disciple was Philip—we know now that Philip was there in the company of John the Baptist. And the very first person, after Andrew, that Jesus actually went after was Philip. “Finding Philip, He said to him, ‘Follow me.'” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip then found Nathaniel and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law about whom the prophets also wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.” “Nazareth,” Nathaniel replies. “Can anything good come from there?”—We’ll come to him in a moment.
Philip—Philip, interestingly enough, has a Greek name. He’s the only one—Peter you can say has a Greek nickname. Philip has a Greek name. It means lover of horses, interestingly enough, though, he was a fisherman. We have no earthly idea why that was the case, except he was from Bethsaida. And remember there was a heavy Greek influence in that part of Galilee. And so Philip has a Greek name, which to my way of thinking is exactly why the Greeks came to him during Holy Week. They recognized his name. They said, “That’s a good Greek boy. We can go ask him about this Jesus.”
Philip was very practical. I would suggest to you that Philip was the commissary officer for the 12. That he was responsible for all the provisions and supplies. Judas Iscariot, we know was the treasurer. Philip being a practical-oriented fellow was responsible for providing all of the supplies that they needed as they made this three-year camping trip together. And so Philip is very practical. That’s why when you get to the feeding of the 5,000, who does Jesus turn to and say, “How are we going to feed these people?” He turns to the commissary officer, and he says, “You got enough stuck away to feed all these people?” “Heavens no.”
But here’s what I want you to see. Philip is the first one sought by Jesus. Andrew, remember came to Jesus. Philip is the first one Jesus went after deliberately, and Philip then, in turn, goes after his friend, Nathaniel Bartholomew—that’s the way it works! And all of us are capable of precisely the same action. That’s what Jesus wanted to happen. And He knew that if it would happen that way, that these handful would turn the world upside down. And so it was. Philip, however, was a bit hesitant about a lot of things. And later on, for example—you can read about it in John 14—Jesus and His disciples were in the upper room. He’s teaching them and talking to them and some amazing teachings there. And you read that in the Gospel of John. And suddenly, old Philip says, “Lord, I’ve been listening to this for a long time. Just show me the Father. That’s all I need. Just do that. That’s enough.”
You see, he was a very practical man. He didn’t want high-flown lessons. He didn’t want high-flown theories. He just said, “Show me the Father.” Very simple, clear, straightforward. And in response, Jesus delivers one of the most sublime teachings ever. He said to Philip, “The Father and I are one. When you see me, you see the Father.” What an amazing moment. Philip was a leader who was slow to lead. He had this sort of practical streak, this hesitancy. He didn’t want to bring the boy to Jesus. He didn’t want to bring the Greeks to Jesus. He was a leader, but he really wasn’t until after Pentecost. It was Philip’s task to go north to Asia Minor. He took his sister, Mariamne, a deeply devoted follower of Jesus Christ. He also linked up with his good friend, Nathaniel Bartholomew. The two of them went to Asia Minor together. Mariamne went along. The ministry of preaching and miracle-working that Philip performed there was quite extraordinary.
Parenthesis—There’s another Philip in the book of Acts. Philip the deacon—not the same person—be sure you keep those two separate. This is Philip the Apostle. His work in Asia Minor was absolutely extraordinary so much so that enmity from the pagans in that part of the world arose against him. Ultimately, he was arrested. He was severely beaten. He was pierced through his ankles and through his thighs. And then he was hung by those piercings upside down against a pillar until he died. His sister, Mariamne was executed with him. Nathaniel Bartholomew ultimately took possession of the two bodies and buried them in the City of Hierapolis in what is today Turkey. Philip became a powerful force for the faith.
The tradition tells us that he was actually the best looking of the 12. And isn’t it interesting that Kenneth Wyatt portrays him that way? He was an extraordinary man. Nathaniel Bartholomew—why the two names? We’re going to discover that a lot of these guys had nicknames. I suggest many of them given to them by Jesus or certainly by the company of the 12. Bartholomew is how he is known in the first three Gospels. Nathaniel is how he is known in the Gospel of John. I submit to you that his name was Nathaniel. And that Bartholomew was one of two things. Some scholars say it was short for bar tolmai. Tolmai was the name that was not terribly common but at least existed in that part of the world at that time. And so his name would have been bar tolmai of the man Tolmai.
Jerome, however, in the fourth century declared that Bartholomew was actually a form of bar talmai, T-A-L-M-A-I. If you go back to the Book of Samuel, you discover that Talmai had a daughter who married King David and was the mother of Absalom. And so if that’s true, then Bartholomew was a descendant of King David. In other words, he was royalty. Now, what I would suggest to you is that he was called Bartholomew as a nickname. It would be like calling somebody a prince or princess. That it was a term of endearment or affection—an acknowledgment that he had this royal lineage centuries ago, but that he was really just one of us. Nathaniel, then being his first name, Bartholomew, I believe, being his second name or perhaps even his nickname.
In any case, look again at 1 John. We’re going to pick it up there. Remember the first thing that Philip does is to go find his friend Nathaniel. Now Nathaniel lives in Cana, which is right between Capernaum and Nazareth. And he is also a fisherman. Probably works with Philip and with the other guys down on the Sea of Galilee. But he lives in Cana. Nathaniel immediately responds to Philip saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” You see, Cana was not very far from Nazareth. And the people in Cana looked down on the people in Nazareth. It was a hick town. And so everybody joked about the people who lived in Nazareth, including Nathaniel. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Come on, who are you kidding? The Messiah for heaven sake.” “Come and see,” says Philip to his friend.
When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” There is the highest compliment Jesus ever paid to any of the 12. And He paid it to Nathaniel. “How do you know me?” Nathaniel says. “I just walked up.” We’re going to come back to what Jesus said to him in just a moment. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” The fig tree. In those days, people who were serious about their faith always had a big tree in the yard. It provided shade, miserable, hot in that part of the world. And so they would meditate—they would pray—they would study the scriptures. They couldn’t stay in the house. It was too hot. So they would go out under a fig tree, which provided the most shade. And they would sit under that fig tree and read the Word of God and pray.
And so Jesus says to Nathaniel, “I saw you sitting under your fig tree.” And Nathaniel declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” The first one to say it. John the Baptist had called him the “Lamb of God”. That was important enough. This is the first time someone calls him the Son of God. Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree, but you shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth. You will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.”
That would have blown Nathaniel away because, you see, Jesus was saying to him, “I saw you sitting under the fig tree, and I know what you were reading. You were reading Genesis 28. Chapter 28, where we have the vision that we call Jacob’s ladder, where Jacob sees the vision at Bethel, the angels ascending and descending on the ladder.” And Jesus says, “You’re going to see things that go way beyond what you’ve just read about in the Book of Genesis.” And what is more, when Jesus said to him, “Here is a true Israelite,” Jacob later on in his life returned to Bethel, and there, God changed his name to Israel. Jacob became Israel.
He is saying to Nathaniel, “Out of Israel, there came a great nation. Now, out of the new Israel, there will come an even greater nation. I declare you to be a true Israelite because you are not like Jacob.” Jacob, remember, cheated his brother to get the birthright. Jacob was filled with deceit. Jesus says to Nathaniel, “Here is a true Jacob. One who has no deceit. One who has no falsehood. One who is pure as the driven snow.” So here is this remarkable man with a wonderful name or nickname, who has this incredible call, and then displays this remarkable spirit. After Pentecost, Bartholomew, who’s just a bit player in the Gospels becomes a heavy hitter under the power of the spirit.
He first went, remember, with his friend Philip and Mariamne to Asia Minor. After Philip died—and Philip was probably the second of the disciples to be put to death. It came about eight years after the death of James. That would mean 22 years about after Jesus. He went with Philip, did an amazing work in Asia Minor. And then he headed north and east. He traveled through the region that we know today as all of those stans, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Kurdistan and all of those stans across the band of what used to be the Southern Edge of the Soviet Union, all the way to Northern India. And there he established the church. Ultimately from that vantage point, and then we’ll see Thomas in the South of India that became the springboard for the church to the Orient.
Bartholomew then returned to Eastern Europe, what we know as Armenia. There, he healed the king of a disease. The king converted to Christianity. Bartholomew was widely celebrated and still is in the country and region of Armenia. But the pagan priests in that part of the world were terribly resentful. They persuaded the king’s brother to seize Nathaniel Bartholomew. First, he was beaten and then—hold on tight—he was skinned alive. And even though he was still living, he was then beheaded. And so this true Israelite, this man with this incredible spirit, took the gospel to the far east and paid perhaps the heaviest price of them all. So that at the end, the best looking of the 12 was hideous to behold.
His real name is Levi—Matthew is a nickname. A nickname I suggest given to him by Jesus. The name Matthew is Gift of God. Here’s Levi’s story. Remember the name Levi from the Old Testament. Those who are the Levites among the tribes of Israel were the priests. That is the line in which Levi found himself at this point in his life. He was in the line of the priests of God, but he departed from that 100%. He became a publican. He even in his gospel refers to himself as Matthew the Publican. But what we do know is this, he, in order to assume the responsibility that he did that is collecting—extorting really—taxes from the people for Rome and for himself, he became an incredibly wealthy man. He was driven by the pursuit of the Almighty shackle. He was extraordinarily motivated by greed, and he became a rather wealthy man.
But in order to accomplish that, he had to swear down a curse on his previous life. To enlist with the Romans, he had, first of all, to curse his family. He had to turn away from his family and align himself with the citizens of Rome. The second thing that he had to do was to curse his country. He was a traitor because he was extorting his very own people for the sake of the occupying army. The third thing he had to do was to curse his faith. He was in the line of the priests, and he had to turn away from that, curse that line and pursue his own personal agenda, the pursuit of wealth. And he was apparently successful. How do we know that?
Well, if you look at the Gospel of Luke—we’re going to be looking at the 5th chapter down at the 27th verse. “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth.”—This is in Capernaum—”Follow me,” Jesus said. Levi got up. And for the second time in his life left everything and followed Jesus. The first time he left all of his heritage, all of his family, his country, everything and followed the Caesar. This time, he left all of that and followed Jesus. An amazing transformation occurs right there. Listen to what happens next. “Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.” You know he was a wealthy man. Only a huge place could have accommodated the kind of party being described here. And who was there? The outcast, the traders, the ones who were the anathema in the eyes of the people of Israel. And who’s the guest of honor? Jesus. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect, complained to His disciples. “Why does he eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus delivers to them His one-line job description. Jesus said, “It’s not for the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Here is what He says. “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” It is at the home of this gift from God, this one who was so consumed by greed, who is transformed by the power of Christ.
Now, remember what I said—two things—He is in the line of Levi. He had to have had all of the training to be a priest. It would have occurred. He knew the Old Testament like the back of his hand. And so his gospel is written for the Jewish people. He takes the prophecies of the Old Testament and fulfills them in Jesus himself and makes it absolutely clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy. Second postscript: remember when I said he was greedy? He was shaped by money in his early life? Listen to how the transformation occurred. The Gospel of Matthew has Jesus talking about money and the evil of money more than all of the other gospels put together. He laid his greed aside and followed the teachings of Jesus and became his nickname, the Gift of God.
Matthew headed south, first to what we call today Saudi Arabia. And then he crossed over the Red Sea into Ethiopia. Did some amazing work there. One of the oldest forms of the Christian church actually arose out of Ethiopia and Southern Egypt, what we know today as the Coptic Church. Matthew was a very heavy influence in planting the seed of the faith in that region. But Matthew became the third to die in Ethiopia. He was beheaded with a sword. And so the Gift of God, the one who laid aside everything twice, became the great hero of the Christian faith.
Thomas is called Didymus. If you’ll turn to the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John—we’re going to look at that in a moment. Thomas’s nickname is Didymus, D-I-D-Y-M-U-S. It means the twin. Now, why was he called a twin? Nowhere is there mention of the other half of his twinship? If there were twins, usually at that point in time in history, both were always named together, at least alluded to. There is no reference anywhere to that. There actually was a tradition. And I will tell you that I maybe hope that this was true. There was an early tradition that decreed that Thomas was the disciple who looked the most like Jesus. And so the other disciples referred to him jokingly as the twin.
Thomas, a man who was cursed by the name history has given him, totally wrong. We call him doubting Thomas. And, oh my gosh, what dreadful misnomer. Thomas was not a doubter. And we are foolish to think that he was. He was a deeply devoted follower. And I think you’re going to see that in these next few moments. Thomas, for example, when Jesus was closing in on the end of His life, He went to Jerusalem. They tried to kill him. He escaped back to the region around the Jordan Valley, and there he was waiting until the time was right to return to Jerusalem. And He got word that Lazarus was dead. He then says, “I’m going to go to Bethany to Lazarus. The disciples immediately say, “Lord, you can’t do that. They’re going to kill you.”
Thomas steps to the fore and says, “Let us go with Him that we might die with Him.”—what incredible courage. He knew that there was that chance. And yet he called the others and obviously inspired them because then the company did, in fact, return and Lazarus was raised from the dead. And then again in John 14. At this teaching time before the crucifixion, Jesus in the upper room with His disciples—and He says to His disciples—one of the teachings is, “I am the way to the Father, and you know where I’m going.” And Thomas, who is always first in terms of the intellectual grip on what’s going on—Thomas says, “Lord, how can we know the Way? You are already telling us you’re going to be gone? How can we know the Way?”
And Jesus then delivers that incredible teaching. He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” It was the searching intellective Thomas that brought forth that marvelous Word from Christ. And then in John 20, it says—we’re going to begin at 24. “Now Thomas, called Didymus, one of the 12, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.” This is the first Easter evening. “The other disciples said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.'” Now people have said, “Where in the world was Thomas? Why wasn’t he there?” Let me tell you why. I think he wasn’t there. I do in my mind and heart like to think that maybe he was not only the disciple who looked most like Jesus but maybe also was so deeply tied emotionally to Jesus. And when Jesus died, he was totally devastated. And a strong man usually wants to suffer alone.
And so he withdrew in his heartbreak, in his agony. And so he missed the appearance on that first Easter. They said, “We have seen the Lord.” And I’m sure that what they also said to him. I mean, “We know it. He was there. We touched Him.” And it’s not doubt. Thomas says, “Oh, I want to do that too. I want to touch Him. I want to feel the one who is my Savior. And then I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt.” It’s not a question of doubt. It’s a question of claiming the experience that the others have already had. And what happens eight days later? You can read there.
Jesus comes back to the same place. He walks through the locked door, right into the room, and He doesn’t mess with the other disciples. He goes right straight to Thomas, and He says, “Put your hand there. Give me your hand. You feel that. And Thomas cries, “My Lord and my God.” It was on the strength of that confession of faith that Thomas headed south. He traveled through Persia, what we know today as Iran. There is a wonderful tradition, which says that while he was in Persia, Thomas actually converted to faith in Christ. The wise man. That tradition lives in that part of the world to this very day.
He then traveled on the southern route all the way to India. There, he founded the church, the church that is still strong in India to this very day. If you travel in India, you will find so many churches named St. Thomas. It was there—you can see it in Wyatt’s picture—It was there. One day, Thomas was at prayer, kneeling down, his hands folded, eyes closed, praying as he did so often. And his enemies took a huge lance and ran it right into his exposed side, leaving a gash, a span wide and deep. What’s a span? Thumb. The little finger. Thomas had said in the upper room. “Let me touch your side.” And Thomas died with a wound in exactly the same spot.
The B-Team who changed the world, who follows in their train.
God bless you. Go in peace.