God’s People, part 173: Bar Alphaeus

Read Mark 3:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the zealot), and Judas (son of James).”  (Acts 1:13, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

james-son-of-alphaeusPart 173: Bar Alphaeus. The identity of the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus, is a bit of a mystery. There has been a lot of speculation around who he actually was and what sort of role he might have played in the spreading of the Christian faith. With that said, there is no doubt that he is listed as among the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:15).

Aside from being listed in the Gospels as one of the twelve, nothing else is mentioned of him, making him an elusive character both in historical terms as well as in trying to sit and write a devotion about him. Early Christian tradition equates him with James the Younger (aka James the Less). Thus, this particular James is also the son of one of the women (also named Mary) who was a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:40).

This James is not to be confused with James, son of Zebedee (aka James the Greater), nor is he to be confused with James the Just, half-brother of Jesus Christ. Whoever this James was, he was traditionally understood to be distinct from those two apostles. There is a possibility that he was the brother of Levi, son of Alphaeus (see Mark 2:14), the tax collector who became more commonly known as Matthew.

Again, not a lot is known about James, son of Alphaeus, as he is only listed in the Gospels as one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. All we have to go on, outside of the Gospels, are the traditions of the early Church Fathers. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-235 AD), for instance, claimed that James, son of Alphaeus, was stoned to death while preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem in two of his works, On the Twelve Apostles of Christ and On the Seventy Apostles of Christ.

The documents alone do not prove that James, son of Alphaeus truly died in the place or the manner that Hippolytus claims, and it is uncertain whether the aforementioned writings were actually written by him. Still, as to James the Lesser’s ministry and martyrdom, they are all we really have to go on. Regardless, what it shows is that James, son of Alphaeus may have been proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Jews in Jerusalem, just as James, son of Zebedee and James the Just (Jesus’ half-brother) were doing.

While all this can ever be is speculation, what is not speculation is that Jesus’ teachings and miraculous deeds lived on through his disciples. After he resurrected and ascended to the Father, Jesus’ disciples went on to carry the Jesus movement further. Despite their flaws, that faith would eventually overtake the very empire that sought to snuff it out by crucifying our Lord and Savior.

That movement is still very much alive today and, like the earliest disciples, the church is not without its flaws. The challenge for us is to evaluate our own faith and our own relationship with our Lord Jesus. Do you believe he is Lord? Do you believe that redemption and salvation rests solely in Jesus Christ and has been given to you? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent to us, is transforming you and leading you out to boldly witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ? If so, then be challenged to further God’s Kingdom on earth just as it is in heaven.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you really want to experience God, go and make disciples.” – Francis Chan

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your sacrifice for me. Use me as a holy and living sacrifice for your glory, so that more may come to know and serve you. Amen.

Episode 68 | From Ash, part 6: Confession Time

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-kxvg4-adbce0

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the need to jump out from the ash and into action, serving Christ  and Christ’s Kingdom. This message is based on Philippians 3:4b-14.

EPISODE NOTES:

A LOOK BACK: Ekklēsia

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well.

So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

God’s People, part 172: Thomas

Read John 20:24-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.’”  (John 11:16, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

HidingCaveofStThomas2010
Rev. Todd praying in “The Hiding Cave of St. Thomas” in Chennai, India back in January of 2010. The Apostle Thomas was believed to be in hiding there on “Little Mount”, prior to being caught and martyred.

Part 172: Thomas. The Apostle Thomas often gets a bad rap as a result of one moment of disbelief. Called to be one of the Twelve, it is rather unfair for him to be given the disparaging nickname of “Doubting Thomas.” We don’t know too much about him prior to his time with Jesus, but we do know that he had the nickname of Didymos (Greek) or Didymus (Latin) or Twin. This probably is an indication that Thomas had a Twin brother; however, there is no way to be certain about that.

It is in the Gospel According to John that we gather the most information on Thomas. Upon being told that Lazarus had died and that Jesus was planning to head down to Bethany, near Jerusalem, to visit with Lazarus’ sisters, the disciples protested for fear that Jesus would get himself captured and killed. This was toward the end of Jesus’ ministry and it was known to them all that the religious leaders, Herodians and scribes were looking to arrest Jesus and have him killed.

In that moment, it was Thomas who said to the rest of the disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus” (John 11:16, NLT). For someone who often gets painted as a doubter and “wishy-washy”, this is a pretty bold statement of loyalty to Jesus and his mission. It is clear that Thomas believed they were going to all suffer the same consequence of Jesus and he, loyal to his master, was seemingly ready to suffer those consequences. At least in that moment, as later on in the Garden of Gethsemane, Thomas flees for his life just like the rest of the disciples.

While Thomas did not always get Jesus, and while he did not always understand the things Jesus taught and said, he was always engaging with Jesus and sought to have a deeper understanding. For instance, in John 14, Jesus was explaining that he was not going to be with the disciples much longer. Speaking in riddles, Jesus begins to talk about going to away to his father’s house to prepare a place for the disciples.

Most of the disciples sat quietly, dumbfounded and confused by Jesus’ exposition. The only exceptions are Thomas and, subsequently, Philip. When Jesus stated that the disciples knew the way to where Jesus was going, Thomas responded, “No, we don’t know Lord. We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” To that, Jesus famously answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:5-7, NLT).

Like all of the disciples, Thomas did not quite understand just what kind of “Messiah” Jesus was. For him, and the others, Jesus was the Messiah who would conquer the Romans by force and restore Israel to her rightful place as God’s Kingdom on Earth. Thomas, along with the other disciples, was mistaken. Jesus was not a conqueror king and God’s Kingdom was far more than Israel had ever amounted to. No earthly kingdom could compare to God’s Kingdom and, as shown through the disciples’ confusion, God’s Kingdom was far different than anything the world could ever understand or accept.

So, that brings us to the moment that Thomas will be forever remembered for. When Jesus was crucified and died, Thomas was devastated as were the other disciples. He was ready to fight alongside of Jesus, even to the death; however, Jesus never fought. Instead, he willingly gave himself up, was tortured, crucified, and now he was dead. There was nothing that any of them could do to change that and they all were in a hair’s breadth of being caught by the officials and crucified themselves.

So, when Thomas is told that Jesus had resurrected, he did not believe. It was not a moment of doubt; rather, it was a moment of grief-driven disbelief. Yet, unlike the rest of the disciples who had actually placed their hands into the wounds of Christ, Thomas never even had to. The second Jesus appeared to him, he fell to his knees and proclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” Instantly, in that moment, Thomas knew who Christ was and professed it fearlessly with conviction.

That same Thomas went on to travel one of the furthest distances of any of the Apostles. He followed the Spice Route to India and established one of the oldest in Kerala, India. From there he traveled across expansive India, proclaiming the Gospel everywhere he went until he was martyred in what is now Chennai, India, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Thomas was no feeble-minded doubter, but a person who wrestled with the complexities of being human.

We do no less and, I think, our willingness to judge and label Thomas a doubter says more about us than it does about him. We should, like Thomas, be willing to ask probing questions and to seek answers. Like Thomas, we should wrestle with our unbelief and come to terms with who we are in Christ. Like Thomas, we should profess Christ as our Lord and our God and follow him to the ends of the earth, if that is where he is calling us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It’s not your doubts that brings you down, but how you respond to them.

PRAYER
My Lord and my God, I humbly seek you out in my life and in all that I do. Remind me the way to you and to your Kingdom and guide me toward it. Amen.

Episode 67 | From Ash, part 5: Sally Forth

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-uqk7g-ad0566

In this episode, Rev. Todd discusses the need to jump out from the ash and into action, serving Christ  and Christ’s Kingdom. This message is based on Philippians 3:4b-14.

EPISODE NOTES:

God’s People, part 171: Matthew

Read Matthew 9:9-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’”  (Mark 2:15-17, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesus-matthewPart 171: Matthew. When we think of tax collectors today, we probably think nothing more about them than that they are a person doing their job. Granted, thinking about the tax collector is different than thinking about the taxes themselves. No one, throughout all of history, has ever enjoyed paying their taxes. With that said, most of us do not personally despise the person working behind the desk at town hall, taking checks and handing out receipts.

The same thing is true when I go to my accountant to claim my file my income taxes. Sure, I may not always be happy that I owe “x” amount of dollars to the state and federal government; however, I do not personally despise my accountant for giving me the news and setting up the payments. I am sure accountants have to deal with angry people when they find out said bad news; however, I would imagine few (if any) are wishing or plotting the deaths of their accountants. Nor are they doing that for the person at town hall.

In Jesus’ day, the tax collector WAS DESPISED. They were seen as absolute traitors to their country and to their people. Why, you might ask? Because, properly speaking, they were working for the Roman Empire. Before we even go there, let me state that again: they were JEWS working for the Roman Empire to collect the imperial tax that was owed Caesar. To understand this on a deeper level, we have to understand that Israel was NOT ROMAN.

The Jews built an alliance with the Romans when during their revolt against the Seleucid Dynasty. Once the Jews won freedom from the Seleucid Empire under the leadership of the Judas Maccabeus, they established the Hasmonean Dynasty which lasted for 128 years. Toward the end of that time, a civil war broke out between supporters of the Hasmonean Dynasty and those that felt there should be no king, but that the nation should be a theocracy ruled by a council of clergy. As such, those wishing for a theocracy turned to Rome for help against the Hasmonean King and his army.

Rome saw this invite as a golden opportunity to come in and seize control of the land, which was strategic for them and, in essence, gave them control of the entire Mediterranean Sea. The rest is a long, but brutal history of oppression by the Romans that started with TAXATION. They at first taxed the people for their support and then, as they conquered all of Judea, they seized control and imposed more taxes upon them. Rome was no longer an ally; rather, Rome was sovereign and Judea was its subject, a province in the expansive Empire.

So, Jews had much disdain for anyone who aligned themselves with the empire. Tax collectors were the worst of the worst when it came to that. Not only were they fellow Jews working to collect what was due Rome, but they were also robbing their own people blind and getting rich off of it. They would charge their own people more than what they owed and kept the difference for themselves. If anyone refused to pay, they had them arrested. They were traitors.

So, when Jesus approached Levi the Tax Collector, this is who he approached. He approached a person who was viewed by everyone as a traitor to his own people and, ultimately, a traitor to God. Yet, Jesus not only approached him, but he invited him to leave behind his life of sin and to follow him. What’s more, he wipes the slate clean and renames him Matthew. No longer is he Levi the tax collector. Now he is Matthew, the disciple of Christ. And that disciple went on to become an apostle and, by tradition, the author of one of the most beloved Gospels in the New Testament.

Matthew reminds us that, no matter how much we’ve sinned and how far from God we might find ourselves, that there is a life for us in Christ. There is no sin too great, and no sinner too wicked for Christ to invite into fellowship and followership. Conversely, it should also remind us who are Christians the same exact thing! There is no sin too great, and no sinner too wicked, for us to invite into the life of the Church. After all, we’ve all been invited in, haven’t we? If we, who are sinners, can be included, then anyone can be included. Let us, as the church not forget the unconditional, radical, transformative love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Go [to God] as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell; and you shall then find favor in His sight and know that He justifies the ungodly.” – John Wesley in Justification by Faith

PRAYER
Lord, truly I am unworthy of the grace you have given me. Let your grace shine through me in a way that magnifies your glory to all the world. Amen.

God’s People, part 170: Bartholomew

Read Acts 1:12-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Here are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (also called Peter), then Andrew (Peter’s brother), James (son of Zebedee), John (James’s brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew (the tax collector), James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).”  (Matthew 10:2-4, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 170: Bartholomew. In the last devotion, we spoke of Nathanael who at first was skeptical with regard toward Jesus ’identity. Jesus was from Nazareth, a tiny Galilean village with maybe a 150 people living in it. What good could possibly come from that little village, which was made up of known troublemakers at odds with the political and religious institutions of their day? If God was going to send the Messiah, it was far more likely that God would stick to what had been prophesied and have him come from King David’s hometown of Bethlehem. What’s more, the Messiah would come from a people who could gain the support of the religious and political establishment, and someone from Nazareth was the least likely to do that.

As was mentioned, Nathanael was only ever mentioned about in the Gospel of John; however, Philip is mentioned in all four Gospels. In John’s Gospel, which is the latest of the four Gospels to be written, Philip is close to and paired with Nathanael. In the Synoptic Gospels (e.g. Mark, Matthew, and Luke), Philip is close to and often paired with Bartholomew. On top of that fact, Bartholomew is never mentioned in the Gospel of John, but is only present in the Synoptic Gospels.

What does this tell us? This tells us that it is possible, perhaps even probable, that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the exact same person. What we do know is that Nathanael is a Hebrew name meaning, “God has given.” We also know that John’s Gospel originated from a Jewish disciple of Jesus’ known as “the Beloved Disciple”, who may or may not have been the Apostle John. It was completed in the 90s CE by a Jewish Christian community originally founded by that disciple. We know they’re Jewish by the intra-Jewish dialogue found throughout John’s Gospel and through the the Johannine writings altogether (e.g. Gospel of John, the letters of John, and Revelation).

The name for Bartholomew is Aramaic for bar Talmai, or son of Talmai. In the Synoptic Gospels we do not know Bartholomew’s first name, only that he is the son of Talmai. In the Gospel of John, we do not know who Nathanael is the son of, just that his name is Nathanael. It is possible, reasonable even, to draw the conclusion that the two are one and the same person, especially when we see that they are both linked with the Apostle Philip.

We do not know much beyond that regarding Bartholomew. We know that, given John’s account, he was skeptical at first of Jesus; however, his skepticism didn’t last long. Once Jesus revealed himself to Bartholomew, he became one of the twelve and was among those who even witnessed Jesus’ ascension following his resurrection. What’s more, Bartholomew went on to preach the Good News in India and, eventually, in Armenia where he was martyred. Current scholarship, however, does not believe he made it to Armenia, but that he was martyred in India. According to ancient tradition, Bartholomew was martyred for his faith by being flayed (aka skinned) alive, hung upside down, and beheaded.

As grisly as that is, it begs of us this question: how unwavering is our faith? Do we believe that Christ is who he said he is? Are we so convinced that we’re willing to risk it all to bring Christ’s Gospel to the lost, the hurt, and the broken? Christ expects no less of us and, no matter where our skepticism may or may not lie, Bartholomew’s faith gives us hope that we, too, can grow in our faith and make an impactful difference for God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Martyr, in Greek, means witness. Let us witness to the love, the grace, the resurrection and the life found in Jesus Christ.

PRAYER
Lord, I submit myself to your will. Reign in me your love, grace, resurrection and life. Amen.

A biweekly devotional