This is post 4 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 4: The “Taxi Squad” (James the Younger, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas/Matthias)
PROVIDENCE Presbyterian Church
Our Heavenly Father, the Christian faith is abounding in joy, overflowing with praise, and filled with power. But the Christian faith, we must always remember, begins in sacrifice. The incredibly costly sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. And then, later on, the very costly sacrifice of the original disciples. Amazingly enough, oh, God, out of that sequence of sacrifice, there comes not only the Easter joy but the promise of resurrection. Resurrection for Christ, resurrection for His disciples, ah, even resurrection for us in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I have a quote up on the screen before you from Ed Kappus. Ed Kappus says, “God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called.” Now, if you go ask him about that, he is going to tell you that that is not really his quote. But if you push him on it, he cannot begin to tell you where it came from, how he came by it or what it means in terms of his own personal journey. But I will tell you because he is totally ignorant of where it comes from.
I arbitrarily attribute it to him. So by default, it belongs to Ed Kappus—”God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”—that’s the whole story of the Bible when you really get down to brass tacks. I would submit to you that nobody in the Bible is qualified.
- Noah—he got drunk. He behaved in a lewd, lascivious manner.
- Abraham—he doubted God. He lied about his wife. He committed adultery.
- Isaac—learned how to sin from his father, did the same with Rebecca, lied to Abimelech.
- Jacob—deceived his father, stole the birthright from his brother and reared a bunch of immoral kids.
- Joseph—looked down on his brothers though he was the youngest of the lot, treated them imperiously. He was—there is no other way to say it—absolutely 100% obnoxious.
- Moses—murderer—twice tried to steal God’s glory, wound up being prohibited from entering the promised land.
- Aaron—chosen to be the high priest, and winds up actually leading God’s people in the worship of the golden idol and the accompanying orgy.
- Joshua—paid no attention to what God instructed him to do with regards to the Gibeonites, and as a result, the Gibeonites haunted the people of Israel for generations thereafter.
- Gideon—had no confidence in himself and almost no confidence in God’s power and plan.
- Samson—filled with a lustful love for a wretched woman.
- David—the all-time leading ladies man, adulterer, murderer, lousy father, hands so bloody God wouldn’t permit him to build the temple.
- Solomon—supposedly endowed with great wisdom which he almost never used wisely.
- Elijah—handled rather well a band of Pagan priests and ran like a scared rabbit from a deceitful woman, Jezebel.
- Ezekiel—crusty, brash, brusque, cruel, tough-talking old priest. Anything but the image of the priest.
- Isaiah—put his trust in an earthly king, not in God.
- Hosea—married a prostitute.
- Habakkuk—constantly questioned God’s plans and directives.
- Jonah—defied God, took a short trip in a big fish.
- Paul—persecuted and murdered Christians.
- John Mark—a quivering coward in the service of Christ.
- Timothy—downright ashamed of his Lord.
Listen, I could go on and on and on, but this is the story of the Bible. God does not call the qualified. Instead, God qualifies the called. And certainly, the disciples are ultimate proof, perhaps, of that fact.
And so we are going to come today to look at the last set of those original disciples. I choose to call them the taxi squad. Now, we are borrowing lingo from football. And so we had the A-team that was the starting three. And then we had the very, very capable backups, the B-team. Now we come to the taxi squad. Those are the folks who don’t even dress out. But they’re there in practice, slogging through practice, slugging away, trying to keep things in place, always ready for the call to step in. And that, in essence, is what we have in the taxi squad. Now, I have chosen to include in the taxi squad Judas Iscariot because Judas, to be perfectly frank, could fit either B-team or taxi squad. But he does present us with a unique problem. Many people simply write Judas off, declare him to have forfeited his right to be one of the 12, and so they never include him therein. I do—because you dare not forget—Jesus called him.
So I want us to begin today with Judas, taking a little bit more time in looking at Judas. The name is forever disgraced. No self-respecting parent would ever name a child Judas. The other disciples are all called saints. Saint Peter, Saint Andrew, Saint James, Saint John, Saint Simon, on and on. No one ever says Saint Judas. The name forever disgraced. What I want to do, however, is at least to give Judas as fair a hearing as we possibly can. And in order to do that, I want to sort of create the atmosphere of a trial. I want to put Judas on trial for just a few moments. I want to make the case for the prosecution, I want to make the case for the defense, and then I want to render a verdict.
The case for the prosecution—I would offer three pieces of evidence. Exhibit A—30 pieces of silver. That 30 pieces of silver was not an overwhelming amount of money. It was, in fact, the price of a good slave. It was, to put it in other terms, about 120 days’ worth of wages—20 weeks. And so Judas, in essence, got five months’ worth of wages for five hours of work. Not an overwhelming amount of money, but it is quite clear that he was motivated by his greed. If you think otherwise, then let me encourage you to read John 12. There, we are told about an incident where Jesus was visiting in the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany and Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a very precious oil. And at that point, Judas says, “What a shame. That ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Now, listen to what John writes at that point—very telling words. “Judas did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. As the keeper of the moneybag, he used to help himself to what was put in it. Judas was constantly hearing Jesus say, ‘You cannot serve both God and money.’ And yet in spite of that, his own personal greed encouraged him to put his faith both in God and in his bank account. His crime was motivated by his greed.”
The second piece of evidence I would offer is Exhibit B—the sop of honor. Now, in order to understand the sop of honor, it is very important for you at this point to understand what happened at the last supper. Leonardo da Vinci, to the contrary, notwithstanding, Jesus and His disciples were not sitting up behind a long table. They were actually reclining, the Bible tells us, at a triclinium, a three-sided table. And the way the three-sided table worked, the places on the left-hand side of the triclinium were reserved for the key people at the dinner. Always the first place was reserved for the—I’ve actually got that backwards, don’t I? I’m so sorry—the first place was reserved for the one who was the owner or the primary arranger for the triclinium. In this case, we know from the scriptures that the disciple John was the one who made the arrangements. This meal was arranged, we are told, by Peter and John, John making the primary arrangements for the meal. The next position, the second position on that side of the triclinium was reserved for the host. In this case, Jesus is the host. He makes that absolutely clear. This is His supper—His Passover meal. The third position at the triclinium is reserved for the guest of honor, the one who is being honored by this occasion. And the guest of honor always receives from the host at some point during the meal what is called the sop of honor. The host breaks off a piece of bread, dips it in the wine and as an act of honoring, offers it to the person reclining right next to him—the guest of honor. Jesus gave to Judas the sop of honor. Judas was the guest of honor at this meal. In the Middle East, even to this day, if two people share food together, they are regarded as being one. And you cannot transgress that friendship once it has been established by the sharing of food. And so Judas, in turning away from Jesus, at the very point where Jesus is honoring him, Judas has committed an horrendous sin—he has violated the friendship which Jesus established with him. There is no greater sin in the Middle East today than the violation of that kind of friendship. The sop of honor was given to Judas.
The third piece of evidence—Exhibit C—is a hangman’s noose. Judas got up from the table and slipped away, and the Bible says it was night, it was dark. Trish and I encountered this painting last fall in the cathedral in Dubrovnik in Croatia. Absolutely captivated us because you can see Jesus and the disciples are gathered about that table. They are focused on Jesus and on one another, and Judas, shrouded in black, is slipping out the back and no one is even aware he is gone. He violated the relationship with his Savior. Little wonder he went out and hanged himself. Guilt ate him alive. He knew he was guilty, and the hangman’s noose is proof. The prosecution rests.
The case for the defense—several factors need to be remembered. Number one: Judas, we are told, is called Iscariot. Ish Kerioth. Kerioth was a little village near Jerusalem in Judea. Judas from Kerioth—Judas Iscariot. He was therefore the only one of the original 12 who was a Judean. All of the others were Galileans. And remember, please, there was no love lost between the Galileans and the Judeans. And so Judas, on the very first moment, was the odd man out. He was always on the edge, never completely absorbed into the company of the Galileans. You know what happens to people who are on the outside who feel that they are discriminated against, who are constantly engaged in a struggle to try to be included. Eventually, they become bitter and disillusioned. I submit to you that Judas, because he was the outsider, was emotionally unable to do anything other than swim against the stream. In the second place, because of what I’ve just cited, I would submit to you that Judas was the disciple who tried harder. You see, one reaction to discrimination or to being on the outside is to try harder to excel or to become superior. Judas quite clearly did that. In fact, he rose to a position of responsibility among the 12. Yes, he was the treasurer of the group. Jesus obviously appointed him to that responsible position, trusted him with that position and thus was acknowledging his potential. One of the great questions that always is posed is, did Jesus know from the very beginning what Judas was going to do? And if so, then why would He choose him? Why would He set him up for that? Here’s the real question. Jesus called Judas not because He knew what he would do but because He knew what he could do. Jesus called Judas because of his potential just like He called the others. Not a one of them was worthy of the call. He called Judas in spite of what He knew because He wanted the opportunity to see if He could turn Judas around. That’s the business that Jesus is in. He said, “I came to seek and to save the lost.” That’s all He knows how to do. That’s what He was trying to do with Judas. And in fact, it is that very fact that led Judas, I think, to try harder.
Now, Judas believed and hoped that Jesus was going to be the, quote, “promised Messiah.” Now, Judas believed that the Messiah was going to be a military conqueror throwing out the Romans. Well, you see, he wasn’t alone in that. All of the disciples believed the same thing to greater or lesser degree. They voiced it repeatedly. Jesus was forever trying to say to them, “Listen, you got it all wrong. I’m not going to be a Messiah who leads a conquering army. I’m going to be a Messiah who dies on a cross. You got to get the point.” And they never could get it. Well, Judas, trying harder, decided, “Well, maybe He needs a little help in this. How do we do that? Let’s stage a mock betrayal. Let’s put Jesus in a position where He is forced to respond with His miraculous supernatural power I’ve seen in Him, and then He can become the Messiah.” And so Judas who always tried harder actually put a plan in place.
Now, to bolster that, I would use the same three pieces of evidence the prosecution used. First of all—30 pieces of silver. If Judas was really greedy, the Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead, they would’ve been willing to pay anything. Why didn’t he barter for more? He just took their offer. If he was really greedy, why didn’t he push for more money? Why did he just settle for what really was not a significant amount of money at all? It was because it was a symbol. The sop of honor—is it not possible that Judas, sitting at that triclinium table and knowing that Jesus has made him the guest of honor, could easily have thought to himself, “Jesus knows what’s going to happen. He has already said at the dinner someone’s going to betray me”? Jesus was, in essence, by honoring Judas, saying to him, “Go ahead with your plan.” And in fact, a little later on, He actually says to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” And so Judas might well have understood that Jesus was, in fact, approving what he was doing.
The hangman’s noose—It was only later when Judas realized that the plan had backfired, that the Jesus he really truly loved and served was going to be mercilessly murdered that, in profound remorse, he went out to hang himself. I want to remind you that Origen, one of the great early Christian fathers, said, “When Judas learned what would happen to Jesus, he went out immediately and hanged himself so that he might go to Hades, the land of the dead, where he could then meet Jesus and seek His forgiveness.” The defense rests. So what’s the verdict? The verdict, only God knows.
I do think we can make a preliminary verdict. And for that, I take the words of Simon Peter. In Acts 1, Simon Peter delivers a speech about Judas. I want you to notice something. Simon Peter never says a negative word about Judas himself. He doesn’t heap scorn upon him. He does not speak bitterly about the sequence of events that Judas triggered. He says nothing at all that is not positive about Judas. He simply says the facts. And then he says Judas went to his own place. I submit to you, that is the preliminary verdict. Judas went to his own place. That is the most that any of us can say about anyone at the point of judgment. They go to their own place. In other words, here is the picture of God’s judgment. When we stand before God, God is going to say to us, “You may go to your own place. I give you your heart’s desire.” Well, if our heart’s desire is focused on anything but God, then we will turn away from God, and we will go away from God to spend eternity in our own place.
But if, on the other hand, our heart’s desire is God, then at that moment, God will say, “I give you your heart’s desire,” and we will then enter into the place which Jesus has prepared for us where we shall spend eternity with him. The fact of the matter is, we do not know what happened to Judas because, you see, if just suppose in the last moment, with the noose about his neck, as he prepares to jump from the rock and leave himself suspended between heaven and earth, suppose at that moment, like the thief on the cross, he whispered a prayer of repentance and regret, if that is what happened, then the very first drop of blood to fall from the body of Jesus carried the forgiveness of Judas. But we don’t know. Only God knows. We can’t control what happened to Judas. We can control what happens to us. Ask yourself, “What is truly my heart’s desire in life?” Because after death, at judgment, that, whatever it is, is what you will receive.
James the Younger
Now we move to the other members of the taxi squad. James the Younger—that’s what I call him—in the Bible, he is described by a Greek word which can mean younger, little or less. And depending on what translation you have, you will discover that he is described by all three of those words. He is, however, the patron saint of the unrecognized. He is the only one of all the disciples who, in the New Testament, is both inaudible and invisible. Only his name is mentioned.
I choose to call him the Younger. You see, the less or the little are actually derogatory terms. And Jesus and His disciples use nicknames rather handily. We’ve talked about that. But never were those nicknames derogatory. And so I believe that they called him James the Younger. Why? Because there was another James in the 12, James, the son of Zebedee. That James, I believe, was older chronologically. And so, therefore, this was James the Younger. The only other thing we know about him is, he is described as being the son of Alphaeus. That means he was the brother of Matthew. Matthew and James the Younger were sons of Alphaeus. Their mother was Mary, the wife of Clopas or Alphaeus. That’s two versions of the same name. And so they were, in fact, not only brothers, but they were cousins of Jesus. And so James the Younger was a kinsman of the Savior. And he was called not because of his ability or his qualifications, not because he was front and center in the company of the disciples but because of the potential Jesus saw in him.
Now, we know only a little about what happened to James the Younger. One of the wonderful traditions that is actually quite sound indicates that, of all of the 12, he was the one who was most known for the power and the consistency of his praying. As a matter of fact, the tradition says that, by the time he got older, his knees from kneeling in prayer looked like the hooves of a camel. Have you ever seen the hooves of a camel? Let me tell you, that’s ugly. Tough, cracked, crusty. And according to the tradition, the people around him jokingly referred to him as “old camel’s knees”. James the Younger, empowered by Pentecost and setting out in this wonderful strategy that the disciples had of taking the gospel of Christ to the whole world—James the Younger headed west across the north side of the Mediterranean ultimately reaching Spain.
You can go, to this day, to the city of Santiago de Compostela. Santiago is Saint James. Iago in Spanish is James. Saint James of the band of the Apostles Compostela. There is a magnificent shrine there to James the Younger, and he is attributed with planting the gospel in Spain. There are some folks who say that he made it as far as the British isles. But there is not a significant tradition in that regard. What we do know is this. Ultimately, he ran afoul of the enemies of the faith. He was stoned and dismembered. All of his limbs were stripped away. And he then died.
Then we move to the man who had three names. Most frequently, he is referred to as Thaddeus—Although you need to understand that his actual name was Judas, the son of James. After the betrayal of Iscariot, this Judas is referred to either by his nicknames—and he had two of them; I’ll come to that in a moment—or by the name “Judas not Iscariot”. In the history of the church, he’s never referred to as Judas. Instead, the church traditionally has shortened his name so that he is now known as Saint Jude. The children’s hospital in Memphis is named for him.
And that leads me to his nicknames. Once the name Judas became so discredited, he was then called by his nicknames, Thaddeus and Lebbeus. Both of those names appear in the New Testament. Thaddeus means “mama’s boy”. Literally, it means “the mother’s heart”. It was usually assigned to one who was the youngest child in the family because somehow moms always take a special shine to the youngest. The name “Lebbeus” means heart child which is usually designated for one who has a kind, loving, tender-hearted spirit. So we can be absolutely certain that Thaddeus was young, the youngest in his family and that he had this wondrously loving, tendered spirit. Who was he? We do not know for sure. There is one tradition which I don’t know how much weight to put into it, but I’ll share it with you anyway. There is one tradition which indicates that he was, in fact—it says his name is Judas, the son of James. That James is not qualified by any other identifying remarks. And therefore, this tradition says that Thaddeus was actually the son of James the Older, the son of Zebedee. Zebedee, we know, is an old man. That meant that James, his older son—James and John—his older son James might well have been 40 years of age. It is quite conceivable that a son of his, Judas, the son of James, would have been about 20. It would’ve meant that he was the youngest of the disciples. Little wonder perhaps that they nicknamed him “mama’s boy”.
What happened to Thaddeus is that, after Pentecost and the empowerment, he moved northeast primarily to the region that we know today as Kurdish Iraq. There, there was a city and a kingdom called “Edessa”. On the other side of the Black Sea is “Odessa”. On the southern side of the Black Sea, Edessa. The king there was Abgar. Thaddeus converted Abgar, and eventually, Abgar’s whole kingdom became Christian. Thaddeus is ruled responsible for that amazing work. And there is still, if you read the news today, a very heavy Christian influence in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Thaddeus, later on, traveled to Persia, Iran, crossed the border into Persia. There, he hooked up with his friend from the disciples, Simon the Zealot. They did amazing work in Persia. And there, the two of them were put to death. Thaddeus was executed by being clubbed to death in the presence of his good friend, Simon.
Simon the Zealot
And that leads me to Simon the Zealot—Simon is sometimes referred to in the Bible as Simon the Cananaean. That doesn’t have anything to do with Cana. It doesn’t have anything to do with Canaan. The word Canaanean is an anglicized version of the Hebrew word for Zealot. Simon Zealotes, that’s the Greek word for Zealot, or the Hebrew word Canaanean, Simon the Zealot. The Zealots were the extreme party in the political scene of that day. Their whole purpose in life was to kill every Roman they could get their hands on. They wanted Rome out of their land, and their method of operation was political assassination.
All of them carried a dagger. In fact, they were sometimes called the “Sicarii” which means dagger—“the fellowship of the dagger”. They would go into a crowd, find a Roman official, slip the dagger in between his ribs, and then disappear into the mass. They were the extreme revolutionaries. Their existence continued past the time of Jesus so that in 70 AD when the Romans finally swept in to destroy what we know today as Israel, the Zealots retreated to what had been at one time the palace of Herod the Great, high atop a magnificent knoll set over against the dead sea. It is called Masada. Today, if you go to Israel, you can go to the top of Masada. And there, in 70 AD, the Romans besieged the final party of Zealots. And Eleazar, the leader of the Zealots at that time, declared that never would they allow themselves to be captives of the Romans. And so Eleazar ordered all of the men in the company of the Zealots to kill their wives and their children and then to commit suicide. And thus ended the siege at Masada. To this very day, that sheer determination inspires the Israeli military. And when new recruits become a part of the Israeli defense forces, they are taken to the top of Masada and there are sworn into the armed services. Simon the Zealot was indeed a revolutionary. He was Jesus’ most daring choice. And when you stop to think of putting Simon the Zealot in the same group with Matthew, the Roman publican—the traitor to his people, you have two people who would just as soon kill each other as look at each other.
And Jesus transformed them into two of His world-changing Apostles. It’s an amazing story. And what is even more amazing is that Simon the Zealot took that zeal and turned it to building the church of Jesus Christ. Simon the Zealot first headed to Babylon. Today, it is the city of Baghdad. There, he planted the witness of Christ. Then he headed west across North Africa, across Libya and Tunisia and Morocco and Algiers. There are some who say he made it to the British Isles. We do not know. We do know that he’d made it through North Africa. He then returned to Persia, Iran, where he joined his friend Thaddeus in the great work that was done there. He had to watch his young friend Thaddeus executed, and then he was sawn asunder, alive.
Matthias—No picture of Matthias. Ken Wyatt chose to paint the replacement for Judas as the Apostle Paul. Interesting. No picture of Matthias, and maybe that’s just as well. We don’t know anything about Matthias. We only know how he was chosen. Peter made a little speech Acts 1, talked about Judas, and then he said, “It’s important that we replace him. There have to be 12. There were the 12 tribes of Israel. Now there are going to be the 12 Apostles who build the new Israel. The choice has got to be a person who is an eyewitness to the resurrection, a person who has been with us through this whole journey.”—remember there were a number of disciples beside just the original 12. “And it’s got to be a person chosen by the Lord for the Lord is gone.” And so they chose to allow God to speak by casting lots. A random selection trusting that the spirit of God, which now had empowered them and was going to send them forth into the world—that the spirit of God would lead them to choose the one whom God wished to replace Judas.
The lot fell to Matthias. We know nothing else about him. Except what we do know is this—that, in the dispersal of the Apostles to the world, he headed north and then turned east way out in the eastern region beyond the Black Sea to a region then called Cappadocia. It was a wild and wooly place. There were, in fact, tribes of cannibals living in Cappadocia. Matthias labored tirelessly in Cappadocia and won many of those cannibalistic people to faith in Jesus Christ. And then in 61 AD, he met his end. He was stoned and then beheaded.
Discipleship for Jesus Christ can be very costly. Back in the first century, there was a Roman coin. It had a large inscription on it. The inscription portrayed two oxen. One ox was facing toward an altar. The other ox facing toward a plow. The altar—the symbol of a brief moment of sacrifice. The plow—symbolizing a long furrow of service. At the bottom of the coin inscribed the words, “Ready for either.” Certainly, that coin was a description of the sons of Zebedee. James facing the altar. The first of the disciples to be martyred just a few short years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. James—the first to die. The brief moment of sacrifice.
His brother John, the long furrow of service, serving until he was nearly 100 years of age, dying just about the time that the century turned. “Ready for either.” There is a sense in which all of the disciples could carry that same epitaph. But I would probably change it instead to say of the other disciples, “Ready for both,” because, you see, for all of the rest of them, there was a long period of service. For some longer than others, but there was a long period of service in every instance followed by a moment of sacrifice. Costly but also rewarding. Their names are still remembered. Do you know that there are more cities or colleges, more cathedrals, more churches, more ships, more hospitals, more orphanages named after the 12 than any other set of names put together in all of the world?
Do you know that more children in world history have been named after one of the 12 than any other set of names in any culture at any time? Their names are remembered. One of these days, you and I are going to go to heaven. And I can hardly wait because the Book of Revelation tells us that, when we reach the gate, we will look on either side of the gate at the great foundation stones of heaven and on each stone, the name of one of the 12. And we will then walk in through the gates to be taken to stand before the inestimable throne of God’s grace. And there, we will look first to one side to see 12 smaller thrones, the patriarchs of the Old Testament, and then 12 smaller thrones here and seated there, the 12 disciples.
And we shall see them face to face and then shall turn to behold in front of us the face of our Savior. And He will say, “Because I paid the price, the glory is yours.”
12 amazing men.
A noble band, a chosen few on whom the Spirit came.
12 valiant saints. Their hope they knew and mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant’s brandish steel, the lion’s gory mane.
They bowed their necks the death to feel. Who follows in their train?
God bless you. Go in peace.