Tag Archives: Apostles

God’s People, part 177: Matthias

Read Acts 1:12-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.”  (Act 2:1, 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.

MatthiasPart 177: Matthias. When looking to secure the future of a movement, one would hardly be inclined to leave it up to “chance”. One would, no doubt, do everything in his or her power to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that all things were in order. If a leader in the movement died, one would choose among the people a worthy replacement for that position. Nothing, if at all possible, would be left to chance.

Yet, when one pays close attention to what the Apostles did at the beginning of Acts, he or she will notice that the Apostles left the replacement of Judas up to the drawing of lots. Judas had killed himself due to the dishonor he felt in his betrayal of Jesus. Too guilty to continue on, Judas tragically took his own life. Need to replace him, the 11 remaining Apostles nominated two men out of 120 of Jesus’ disciples who had assembled to meet.

Yes, that is right, Jesus had far more than just 12 disciples. The 12 were Jesus’ inner circle whom he mentored to continue the movement on without him. From that can be gathered this fact: Jesus knew that he would not always be around to lead his disciples and, as a matter of fact, that was never his plan. From the time he called the 12 until the time he died and resurrected, Jesus had been preparing his disciples to be the Apostles who would carry his mission and ministry forward.

Out of those 2 men, Joseph Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias were nominated. Then to make the final decision, they drew lots. “Wait,” one might think, “they left the fate of Jesus’ mission and ministry up to chance?” The answer is, no. They did not; rather, they left the decision up to God. They trusted that whoever won out in the casting of lots was being selected by God. That was a sign of their faith and, clearly, something that Jesus must have conveyed to them along the way. It was not their decision, it was God’s.

As for Matthias, he was among those who had followed Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. He was, more than likely, among disciples who witnessed the resurrected Lord before he ascended. It is clear from Scripture that he did not witness the Lord ascend; however, he was among the 12 Apostles who received the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room in Jerusalem during Pentecost.

Not much more is known about him. Aside from that brief mention in the Acts of the Apostles, Matthias disappears off of the page without a trace and into legend. According to Greek tradition, Matthias planted the faith around Cappadocia and the region of the Caspian Sea. According to Nicephorus, he first preached the Gospel in Judaea and then in Aethiopia (modern-day Georgia) where he was stoned to death. According to Coptic tradition, Matthias brought to to The City of Cannibals in Aethiopia.

In another tradition, he traveled to the barbarians and “meat-eaters” in Ethiopia. Again, another tradition has Matthias being stoned to death in Jerusalem. Making a long and disjointed story short, no one really knows what became of Matthias following his being selected as Apostle. Chances are that, regardless of where he took the Good News to, he was likely martyred for doing so.

All of this should challenge us in the following ways. First, how goes it with your faith? Do you have faith in God enough to leave major decisions up to him? Sometimes you may, sometimes you may not? This was clearly the case with the Apostles as well. Sometimes they cast lots seeking God’s will, other times they vied for their own will and way of doing things.

Second, do you take the time to discern what God’s will is for you and/or those around you? Do you prayerfully consider God in your decisions and do you follow God regardless of the cost. Matthias and the other eleven Apostles came to understand Jesus Christ as the Lord and they followed him to the ends of the earth, forsaking all else for the sake of the Gospel. That is what we are all called to do. Reflect on this and challenge yourself to grow deeper in your faith and more faithful in your response to God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” ­— Saint Peter in The Act of the Apostles 2:36, New Living Translation

PRAYER
Lord, grow me deeper in my faith and more faithful in my response to you. Apart from you this is not possible, but with you all things are possible. Amen.

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.

Dying for Both Sides

Read Galatians 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:31)

saint-paul-the-apostle-07In the Bible, there is a man named Saul who was born in the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia. He was well educated and rose up to be a scholar of the Torah, a Pharisee, and a zealous defender of the Jewish faith. When a new sect of Judaism broke out claiming that a Nazarene rabbi by the name of Yeshua bar Joseph was the messiah and that Gentiles should be included in the Jewish covenant, he lashed out against the group, having many of them arrested. According to Acts, one was even killed.

With that said, this Saul encountered the risen Yeshua, you may know him by his Greek name Jesus, somewhere in or around Damascus, which is a city in Syria. This experience transformed Saul into a follower of Jesus. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that, following the encounter with Christ, he went into Arabia for a while and then came back to Damascus. After three years he went to Jerusalem and met with Jesus’ brother James, and his disciples Peter and John.

To make a long story short, Jesus’ brother James and Paul didn’t really get along…at all. Peter and John weren’t too crazy about Paul either. James believed that in order for Gentiles (non-Jews) to become a follower of Christ they had to first become Jewish, since Jesus was a Jew. Paul thought this was ludicrous, seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as the opening up of the covenant to Gentiles. If they had faith in Jesus who was likened to a Gentile on the cross (being under God’s curse as the Torah claims of anyone hung on a tree), then they would be brought into the Jewish covenant despite not being circumcised or being bound to any one of the Jewish laws.

Though they struck a deal and Paul left thinking he had their blessing to go and preach the Gospel as he felt Jesus had called him to do, James, Peter and John never really accepted Paul’s vision. We find out from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and in Acts, that James and his followers were counteracting Paul’s Gospel message and causing people to question this “self-proclaimed apostle” who had never been an eye-witness of Jesus. This angered Paul, as anyone would imagine, but it did not stop him from trying.

Paul had been gathering up a collection for the church in Jerusalem and he was going to bring that collection to them, hoping to reconcile their differences if it cost him his very life. Paul was afraid it would. His last written words, written to the church in Rome (a community he had never met), ask for prayers that the non-believing Jews won’t attack him (as he was a heretic in their eyes having abandoned his Pharisaic Judaism for this new messianic Judaism) and that the church in Jerusalem would accept his offering. Unfortunately, his prayers were not answered.

Paul was arrested, and eventually died, trying to get both sides (his and James’) to be unified, even if different, in the cause of Christ. Today, like then, the church is split on many fronts and we seem to get stuck on one side or the other. We fail to see Christ in the midst of our differences. Like Paul, we are called to see Christ in those who believe differently than us. We are called to find the balance of reconciliation, even while remaining true to what we firmly believe. There are many contentious issues dividing the church, yet there is still ONE Lord! Rather than deeming each other heretics, let us have the grace and the humility to see that Christ is indeed working in, through, and in spite of us all! Remember, he Gospel calls us to be a people who are unified in LOVE, even if divided by difference.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” – Jay Weatherill

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you even in those who think and believe differently than me. Humble me, I pray. Amen.