I'm sure you've been debating as some have already articulated to me this morning, whether or not I would continue this series in Luke or bring you something that I've come across in my vacation time. But I really want to move through Luke as rapidly as we can, and so we're going to continue our series on the apostles, "Common Men with an Uncommon Calling." You can open your Bible to Luke chapter 6. We're going to jump right in.
This is not particularly profound or theological, but it is the truth of God's Word about these men. It is practical, it is personal, it is encouraging, I think, to all of us to look at the lives of these wonderful apostles.
The thing that strikes me and I've sort of hinted at it going through the series... We're half-way through and we now start on the second six, having completed the first six; Peter, James, John, Andrew, and then moving into group two, Philip and Bartholomew, also called Nathanael. We now pick up the story of Matthew and Thomas, the last two in group two and then the final four which ends with Judas Iscariot. So we're half-way through. The rest will take a little less time, however, since there's less said about them, with the exception of Judas.
There are a number of things that stand out, obviously the commonness of these men. But against that background I think it's important for us to be reminded that when the Messiah came, one would have a right to assume that the religious establishment of Israel would have embraced Him. After all, it was the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the chief priests and the priests and the scribes and the local rulers of the synagogue who constituted the religious establishment. They were the ones who were the students of the Old Testament. They were the ones who were the scholars, the scholastics, the interpreter of Scripture...the interpreters of Scripture.
It would have been a fair assumption that when Jesus came He would have chosen certain to be His shaliac, that word I used a few weeks ago to describe an official representative, which is what an apostle is. That in choosing official representatives to carry on the work of His kingdom, to preach the gospel, He would have selected some from those who were the prepared students of the Old Testament, those who were the literate, the educated, the theological astute. But the fact of the matter is, none of the twelve was chosen from among the group afore mentioned. There wasn't a priest, or a scribe, or a ruler of a synagogue, or a Pharisee, or a Sadducee among the twelve.
In fact, there wasn't anybody in the religious establishment. In fact, we can't reconstruct any particular religious identification for any of the apostles, other than that they were believers in God, had some knowledge of the Old Testament and were looking for the Messiah. It turns out that this group of Galileans... Eleven out of the twelve were Galileans. It's likely that Judas was not, but he also did not come from Jerusalem. You might have thought that the apostles would have been selected from the environs of Jerusalem where they were exposed to the most intense Judaism. But they were all, with the exception of Judas, from Galilee which was in the north, which was predominantly rural, lots of towns and villages, lots of farming going on up there and very little education. They were not the elite, they were the commonest of the common, they were fishermen and they were farmers, common men.
And that's the way it's always been in God's economy. He has disdained the religious institution, the elite. And were Jesus to come today and select apostles, He would have to ignore the institution of Christianity, which is fraught with apostasy and rejection of the truth. Though all the promises of God through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, promises reiterated through David, promises repeated to the prophets, were given to the people Israel and should have been keenly understood by the religious students of the time, by the religious leaders, Israel's religion was so corrupt and it had been corrupted by the leaders, they were the blind leading the blind, that when the Messiah came they couldn't see Him as the Messiah, they rather saw Him as an imposter, they saw Him as an intruder. They saw Him as an enemy. And from the very outset, immediately sought a way to have Jesus murdered.
Amazing that the religious establishment treated Him the way they did. It all culminates when we get to the end of the story as the chief priests and all those who were in the religious leadership of Judaism led the crowd in a cry for His blood. So when it came time for Jesus to select His apostles, He had to look away from the establishment and He did that to choose the commonest of the common.
It tells us in Luke 6:12 that it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray. He was at this time in His Galilean ministry. He spent the whole night in prayer to God. He had probably been ministering, I suppose, around a year and a half. He knew there was about a year and a half to go until His death. It was time for Him to select His apostles, so He called His disciples to Him. He had many, many disciples, followers, learners and out of them He chose twelve of them, some He had already identified but here's the official calling. He named them as apostles, that is, official representatives, those who would officially carry on the preaching of the gospel after He had gone back to heaven. They were granted, as we know and we'll see later in the gospel of Luke, the power to cast out demons and power to do miracles in order to attest to the validity of their message. These common men are identified as Simon, who was called Peter, Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot. Interesting fellow, we'll learn more about next time. Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor. The commonest of the common.
There was one category that the Lord ignored all together, and that was the category of the self-righteous. Whether they were among the religious elite, or whether they were just common folks sitting in the local synagogues, the one group of people that Jesus could not work with, could not establish a relationship with were the self-righteous. Those were the people who thought they were right with God, they had earned their way into a relationship with God. They had earned their salvation, their justification, their acceptance by obeying laws that had been framed up by Judaism and by engaging themselves in certain ceremonies. They were the self-righteous.
And ultimately it was the self-righteous crowd led by the self-righteous leaders that called for the death of Jesus. It wasn't that they didn't believe in His miracles. There is, on the pages of the gospel record no denial of Jesus' miracles. They couldn't deny them, they were too many and too frequent and too visible. There was no denial that He could cast out demons. So there was no real denial of His power over nature or His power over the supernatural world.
What irritated them was not that; they could have lived with that. There was no denial that He could walk on water, that He could make bread to feed a massive crowd of tens of thousands of people. There was no question about those things. And that would have been fine.
But the one thing they couldn't tolerate was being called sinners. They would not acknowledge themselves as the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed. They would not come to a true assessment of their spiritual condition. They were smugly self-righteous. And when Jesus came, like John came, preaching repentance and saying they were sinners, wretched, poor, blind, prisoners, oppressed, needing forgiveness and cleansing, they could not and would not tolerate that and for that message they hated Him and vilified Him and ultimately executed Him.
You will remember that when He went into His own synagogue in Nazareth, He preached one sermon there among His own people in His own town, which would mean that He was preaching to His neighbors and friends and extended family with whom He had grown up as a boy and a young man. After one sermon that exposed their sin, they tried to throw Him off a cliff and kill Him. And, of course, leading the parade of hostility against Jesus were the most self-righteous of all, the religious leaders who sought to find a way to destroy Jesus. And they worked on it until finally they were able to pull it off.
As we have been going through the book of Luke, we are already exposed to this growing hostility that culminates in the death of Christ. So when it comes time for Him to choose His apostles, He chooses the commonest of the common. That's suitable to the Lord. That is by His design. God always receives the glory when there is no human explanation for the work that is done. And as we remember in 1 Corinthians, He chooses not many noble, not many mighty, the base, the common, the lowly, in order that the excellency may not be of us but of Him who works in us.
And so, we meet these very common men called to the astonishing uncommon calling, the highest calling any human being on the earth has ever had, to preach the gospel as an official representative of Christ. There were only twelve men and one of them, Judas, was a traitor. He was replaced by Matthias, the first chapter of Acts. There was another added later, namely Paul. That's it. That is a very elite group of men, eyewitnesses to Christ and His resurrection, given this unique calling. If God calls the commonest of the common to the highest of callings, we can be assured He will call us the commonest of the common to the lesser calling for His glory. And He does that all the time.
I remember as a boy in an unforgettable, indelible story I heard my father tell when he was preaching one time. There was an evangelist in Chicago by the name of Mel Trotter. Some of you may recognize the name. Mel Trotter was a drunk. He was inebriated all the time. He was a slobbering, gutter drunk in Chicago. He was such a terrible man, so destitute, so degraded that he didn't feed his family and he had a young baby daughter. And according to the story of Trotter, the baby died of malnutrition because he didn't provide food. All the money was consumed in alcohol. And he was such a degraded person that prior to the funeral, when the little body of his baby was in the casket at the funeral home, he stole into the place before the service, took the body, lifted it up, took all the clothes off and took them to a bar to exchange it for a drink.
One can hardly imagine degradation any lower than that. And yet it was Mel Trotter that got picked up, cleaned up and turned into an evangelist. This is the work of God. This is what God does. He doesn't need the great and the mighty and the powerful and the wealthy. He can work with a lot less than that. And this treasure, as we remember from 2 Corinthians, is found in clay pots and when the treasure is found in clay pots, it's very clear where the power lies. It's not in the pot. It's in the glory of the treasure.
Now let's look at the next in the list, as I said, Matthew. I don't want to say a lot about Matthew because we've already gone through his conversion back in chapter 5:27 to 32. When we did that, we discussed at length Matthew. I need to say a little bit about Matthew, however, because if anybody buys this series on tape they're going to wonder why we left Matthew out. And we don't want to leave him out so we're going to include him.
Matthew is such a familiar name. Lots of men are named Matthew. And that is a familiar name. It's even a familiar last name in the English speaking world, a very, very common name. And we would assume that because the name is so common, we might know a lot about Matthew. And then realizing, as well, Matthew wrote this lengthy gospel, we could assume that we would there learn a lot about Matthew. The fact of the matter is, we know very little about Matthew, very little. One thing we know, for sure, is that Matthew was very humble, very, very humble, very self-effacing, very much in the background. In his entire gospel he says nothing about himself except two sentences.
Turn to Matthew 9, only two sentences, nothing else. And this is an indication of his humility, to write this entire tome, this great gospel, and make only two comments regarding yourself, is a testimony to humility. And the comments are simple. Verse 9 of Matthew 9, "As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting in the tax office and He said to him, 'Follow Me,' and he rose and followed Him." That's it. That's all Matthew says about himself. And the only thing beyond that we know is what Luke records in chapter 5. And you remember this, "After that," recording the same incident, Luke tells us, "Jesus noticed a tax gatherer named Levi." He was named Matthew and Levi. Many of the apostles, of course, had two names. "And this one was sitting in the tax office. He said to him, 'Follow Me,' and he left everything behind and rose and began to follow Him." There's the same basic testimony of the conversion and call of Matthew Levi.
And so, even though he wrote the first gospel and even though the name is well-known, that's really all we know. We only know just two sentences or so about his conversion; and then what followed his conversion, he gave a big reception, according to Luke 5, for Jesus. He was so thrilled to have found the Messiah, put his simple faith in the Messiah that he called for a big reception, a big banquet in his house. And he had a big house because he was a successful extortioner. And there was a great crowd of tax gatherers and other people. Matthew himself says there were tax gatherers and sinners, because that would be the only kind of people who would associate with a tax gatherer. And so, all the riff-raff, all the petty criminals, and all the petty thieves, and all the thugs, and all the prostitutes and that ilk would be reclining at the table. They were all invited to Matthew's house to meet Jesus. And Jesus and the apostles, according to Matthew's own account were there eating with these sinners.
Verse 30 of Luke 5 says, "The Pharisees and scribes began grumbling at His disciples saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with the tax gatherers and sinners?' And Jesus answered and said to them,’ and this is sarcasm, “'It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.'" You think you're well, but I can't help you, I can only help those who know their sick.
Verse 32: that famous statement of Jesus, "I have not come to call the righteous," sarcasm again, "but sinners to repent." He can't do anything for self-righteous people. He can't do anything for people who think they're well and don't know they're sick and don't know they're sinners, won't acknowledge that.
That's really all we know about Matthew. What is amazing about it is if you go back to Matthew 9 and just take Matthew's account since we already looked at Luke's account in detail. What Matthew is writing he's writing thirty years after the fact, 30 years after his conversion he wrote this gospel. And as he looks back he remembers that Jesus came along and saw him there, sitting in the tax office. It had been thirty years since he sat in the tax office, but it probably even to this day, thirty years later, was a stunning reality to him, that Jesus would call as an apostle a tax collector.
Now why was that so strange? Because tax collectors were the most despised people in Israel; they were the most hated and vilified people among the Jewish society. They were hated more than occupying soldiers. They were hated more than Roman rulers or Herodians. Why? Because they bought tax franchises from the Romans and then they extorted taxes from the people to feed the coffers of Rome and to pad their own pockets. And they strong-armed the money out of the people with the use of thugs. They were despicable, absolutely despicable. Traitors, social pariah, the rankest of the rank, religious outcasts, they were forbidden to enter the synagogue. They couldn't even go into the local place of worship with the others they were so despicable.
There was a...an account in Luke's gospel about a publican and a sinner. And the publican, you remember, was at a distance. They had to keep their distance from any group, particularly a religious group meeting in a synagogue. In fact, the Jewish Talmud said, "It is righteous to lie and deceive a tax collector," because essentially you were evading the criminal and extortioner.
What they did essentially is they had a certain amount to collect for Rome and anything else they could collect, they kept for themselves. There were two kinds of tax collectors, as I told you a few months ago. One was called a great mokus and the other was a little mokus. The great mokus was a regional guy who was behind the scenes who hired people to collect...to actually collect the taxes and they were stationed at crossroads and points of contact with the people throughout the towns and cities and villages. Matthew was a little mokus. He was the face-to-face tax collector. He was the one the people saw, the people resented, the people hated. They hated him because he had linked up with the Gentiles and in that sense he had blasphemed God and abandoned his people. They hated him because he was an extortioner. They hated him because he was part of an idolatrous operation, because the Romans were idolaters. It was the worst of the worst. Nobody in their right mind would ever choose a tax collector for any position. If he couldn't go in a synagogue, if he couldn't go in the temple and worship, how in the world could he be the apostle of the Messiah? And so it must have been a stunning reality to Matthew all his life that Jesus chose him.
And he gives his own testimony. When Jesus said, "Follow Me," he rose and followed Him. And you can be sure that the piranha that were under Matthew were consuming each other in an effort to take his place. And once he stepped out of that little booth, he could never go back.
Well what was it? I mean, what was it then in a man like that, that caused him to drop everything? You would think he was a materialist, you’d think he was the worst of the worst, he was a criminal. You'd think religion wasn't that important to him if he would link up with idolatrous Romans. I mean, you would think that if he was the worst of the worst of the worst, why in the world would he walk away from that and follow Jesus not knowing what the future held?
The best answer I can give you for that is that Matthew was a Jew and whatever his tortured soul may have experienced because of the profession that he had chosen to be in, down deep inside he was a Jew who knew the Old Testament. We know he knew the Old Testament because in his gospel, the gospel of Matthew, he quotes the Old Testament ninety-nine times. That is more times than Mark, Luke and John combined. He had tremendous familiarity with the Old Testament. He may have had to sort of pursue his understanding of the Old Testament on his own, since he couldn't go to the synagogue which means he couldn't go and hear the exposition of the Scripture, so perhaps he was a student on his own. And he quotes... By the way, the Old Testament is divided for the Jews into three parts, the law, the prophets and the hagiographa, the holy writings; and he quotes out of the law, out of the prophets and out of the holy writings. So he knew all the sections of the Old Testament, was very familiar with it. Therefore he knew and understood messianic prophecy. That comes through as well in his gospel.
He believed in the true God. He knew the record of God's revelation, called the Old Testament. He understood the coming of Messiah. So that when Jesus came, he knew about Jesus because sitting on the crossroads in a tax booth he would have heard information all the time about this miracle worker who was banishing disease from Palestine and casting demons out of people and doing miracles. And the reputation of Jesus had grown greatly. And when Jesus showed up and called him to follow Him, there was at least enough faith in Jesus as the Messiah, or as the prophet of God to drop everything and follow.
So down in his sort of ambivalent heart, there was a love for his God, in spite of his association with Rome. And he certainly was outcast from the Jewish system, but he had a heart for God and an openness for the truth and a desire to follow this prophet of God who might well be his Messiah.
His faith is indicated and his joy is indicated in the fact that after following Jesus, he called this banquet in his house. And Matthew 9:10 says: "It happened that He was reclining” Jesus was, “at the table in the house. Behold many tax gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples." That's the only people Matthew could associate with so he called all the riff-raff together to introduce them to Jesus. And this is what the Pharisees couldn't handle and they said to His disciples, "Why is your teacher eating with tax gatherers and sinners?" They were so ugly in their self-righteousness. They would not associate with these people, thinking themselves to be too holy. And then Jesus says to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire compassion and not sacrifice, I do not come to call the righteous but sinners." Your lack of compassion toward these very needy people is indicative of the fact that your sacrifice means nothing to Me.
So we know this about Matthew, he knew the Old Testament, believed in God, he looked for the Messiah. He dropped everything when he met Him, followed Jesus and immediately in the joy of his new-found relationship, embraced the outcasts of his world and introduced them to Jesus. That's really all we know. But really, it's enough to tell us that the Lord picks the rankest sometimes for the highest callings, the Mel Trotters of the world, if you will.
Now that brings us to the next familiar name. Matthew, by the way, was, according to tradition, burned at the stake for his faith in Christ.
The next name is Thomas. Now when I say that, what's the first word you think of? Doubt. Isn't that interesting? I mean, that's universal. We even call people "Doubting Thomases," don't we. I mean, that's not a fair deal for Thomas, poor guy. He's really gotten bad press. He was a better man than history has allowed him to be perceived as. He's the last name in group two, that second group of Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas. They were close to each other. I told you there are four lists of the apostles. They always appear in those lists, 12 names, Peter at the first, and then group one, group two, and group three. They never move out of their group, so these are sort of companion groups. And the last one in this companion group was Thomas.
And I think what is fair to say about Thomas, and I want to embellish it a little bit, is that Thomas was a negative person. Negative people are a pain, aren't they? As Thomas Hardy said, "They can find the manure in every meadow." They just go through life with this dour, negative approach to everything and they are the pessimists. They are the great advocates of Murphy's Law, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. They just live like that. They anticipate the worst all the time.
Well that was Thomas. But that... There's more to him than just that. His name was Thomas and he's identified as Thomas, called Didymus, which means "the twin." So he had a twin brother, or a twin sister we don't meet in the Scriptures.
Thomas appears in the narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but his real characterization appears in John's gospel. His name appears in the other places, but the character of Thomas which is much more elucidated for us than Matthew's, is found in John's gospel. And I want to...I want to help Thomas become more to you than perhaps just the doubter. So let's turn to John and look at a couple of very direct simple passages, starting in John chapter 11. And I want you to get to know and appreciate Thomas. In fact, maybe in the next few months if you have a little baby boy you'll want to name him Thomas and you won't find in that any kind of stigma.
It is true that Thomas could only look into the darkest corners of life. He could only anticipate the worst of everything. But he was more than that. And there... There is some wonderfully redeeming elements of his character. The account in chapter 11 is very familiar to us, about Lazarus. There was a family in the little town of Bethany, which is just a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem on the east. I've been there a number of times. In Bethany there was a little family, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, they were brothers and sister...or sisters and brother. Jesus had gotten to know them, loved them with a very special affection, which is noted here in the story, and stayed with them and they provided lodging for Him as well as food and they were beloved to Him.
Jesus had been in Jerusalem. But in verse 39 of chapter 10 it says, "They were seeking again to seize Him and He eluded their grasp and He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing and He was staying there." He went way out by Aenon near the Jordan River because they were trying to kill Him in Jerusalem. It wasn't the time for Him to die, it wasn't God's schedule and so Jesus, avoiding death at the hands of the religious leaders, left Jerusalem where He had been. And so they were out there by the Jordan in a place of safety.
"And a certain man,” verse 1 of chapter 11, “Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister, Martha,” and it... “the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair...” her brother Lazarus was sick. “The sisters therefore sent to Him," which indicates how intimate they were with Jesus and the apostles. They knew where they were sort of hiding. "And they sent a message to Him saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.'" This indicates the special affection that Jesus had for Lazarus, and he was sick. "When Jesus heard it, He said, 'This sickness is not unto death,'" that is, not permanent, "'but for the glory of God and the Son of Man may be glorified by it.'" This is not a sickness that is going to result in death in the permanent sense that we understand death. This is a sickness that has as its purpose the glory of God and the glory of the Son of God.
Now Jesus also loved Martha and her sister, as well as Lazarus. "When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days longer in the place where He was." Somebody might think that He would say, "Well let's go quickly while he's sick and we'll heal him." But Jesus didn't, He stayed a couple of extra days because He wanted Lazarus to be dead so that He could go and display His glory in a resurrection.
And after the two days had passed, Jesus, of course, with supernatural knowledge, knew the situation, He said to His disciples, "Let's go to Judea again."
"The disciples said to Him, 'Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You and are You going there again?'" And here's the attitude of the disciples, "We don't want to go back there. We're going to go back there and we're all going to get stoned. This is not the time. I mean, we came out here because the imminent reality of death was hanging over our heads. Now You're telling us we're going to go back?"
Jesus' answer is interesting. He gives them an illustration. "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he doesn't stumble because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles because the light is not in him." See, what they're saying is, we're going back and you know what? We're liable to get killed. We're liable to go back there...we don't know what we're walking into. We're going back in there and they want to stone You and they want to kill us, and we're going to go right back into that.
And Jesus says to them in very illustrative language, He says, "Look, people do their work in the daylight because in the daylight you can see the things the way they really are. So you do your work in the daylight. If you're trying to do your work in the dark, you don't know what you're doing, you're going to stumble, you're going to fall, because you don't have any light." And what He means to say is, "I'm in the light, this is the day of My work, this is the day of the work that God has given Me to do. I go back in full light. There's not any darkness, there's not any mystery about what's going to happen. I'm going back fully aware, fully in the light and in the purpose of God. You have nothing to fear." Which is another way of saying everything is crystal clear to Me and to God as to the purpose and nothing will befall us that isn't intended by God. You don't need to fear as if we're walking into some black night and we don't know what's going to happen. It's not how it is.
So He said to the disciples this to calm them down. They didn't want to go back and die. And He said to them in verse 11, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep," which is a gentle way to refer to his death. "But I go that I may awaken him out of sleep."
"The disciples therefore said to Him, 'Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he'll recover. He'll wake up." What are You going to go back there for? If he's just asleep, he'll wake up. Maybe if his sleep is induced by his illness, we ought to just pray that he'll get better. But let's not go back.
Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought he was speaking of literal sleep. And then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead." He didn't want to use that word, as indicated earlier when He said his sickness is not unto death, but He finally had to use it to make it clear to them that this man was dead, not in a permanent sense, but he was dead.
And then in verse 15, "I'm glad for your sakes that I was not there so that you may believe." You need another lesson in My power because here you are afraid we're going to go back, and I'm out of control, I can't control the Jews. We're going back into some dark night and we're liable to be the victims of their plotting. I'm glad that it happened this way, I'm glad so that I can go back and raise him from the dead and show you My power.
Let's go. End of verse 15, let's go.
Well, the disciples don't want to go. But look at Thomas, verse 16, here we meet Thomas. "Thomas therefore, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go.'" Now Thomas is a strong guy. They're floundering in fear. We don't want to go. We don't want to go. We don't know what's going to happen. He says, "Let us also go that we may die with Him." Now that is pessimistic and that's Thomas. But, you know, you have to admit, that's heroic pessimism, right? Do you understand how hard it is to be a pessimist? That has got to be a miserable way to live. I mean, if you're an optimist you would say, "Hey, let's go, everything will work out." Right? Let's go. We'll figure a way, the Lord will figure a way. We'll be fine. But if you're a pessimist you say, "We're going to die, He's going to die and we're going to die. But let's have the courage to go and die." I mean, if you're a negative person, that's how it is. He could see nothing but disaster and he grimly determined to die.
Easy for the optimist to be loyal. Easy for the optimist to be loyal. Why? Because an optimist always expects the best. Much harder for a pessimist to be loyal because he always expects the worst. This is heroic pessimism. This is real courage. He was a man of courage.
I'll tell you something else about him. He was devoted to Christ. You know, he may have... He may have been the equal to John. We think about loving Jesus and intimacy with Jesus, we think of John who was always near Jesus. But, you know, Thomas didn't want to live without Jesus and for Thomas, if He's going to die, I'll die. I don't want to live without Him. If He's going to go, I'm going to go. Guys, suck it up, let's go and die. That's the best, isn't it? Better to die and be with Him, right? Than to be left. That was the one great fear he had.
I think he was the strength of the rest of the apostles. I think they all sort of got their act together and said, "Okay, let's go and die." And he had a deep devotion to Christ. He was resolved that he would go and die with his Lord, never forsake Him, fearlessly. He had no illusions. He saw the jaws of death opening ready to swallow him. And that was okay, great courage. And he would rather die than be left behind and separated from his Lord.
He had a profound love for the Lord. It shows up again in John 14; John 14, this again, a very familiar portion of Scripture. The upper room discourse, the night of the Passover, Jesus’ night of meeting with His disciples and Judas betrays Him that night, as you know. Judas has been dismissed, as recorded in chapter 13 and now in chapter 14 the disciples are troubled, the apostles are troubled. Very troubled because Jesus has told them that one of them is betraying Him, they're moving in on the cross. They know the Lord is going to leave. He had even told Peter he's going to deny Him. And there's a tremendous troubling among the apostles. So Jesus says in verse 1, "Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me. I am going, but in My Father's house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I'll come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I'm going."
Jesus says, I've got to go and I'm going to go and prepare a place for you and then I'm going to come and get you to take you to the place I've prepared. In verse 5 Thomas speaks. Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we don't know where You're going. How do we know the way?" This is just a few days later and again we see his pessimism. "You're leaving, we'll never get there. We don't know how to get there. How are we supposed to get there? It was a better plan for us to die with You because then there's no separation. We'll just go and we'll die and then we'll all be together. But if You just go, how are we ever going to find You? We don't know how to get there."
This is a man with deep love. This is a man with a relationship with Christ that was so strong that he didn't ever want to be severed from Him. And his heart is really broken as he speaks. He's shattered. The thought of losing Christ paralyzes him. He had become so associated and attached to Jesus in these years that he would be glad to die with Christ, but he certainly didn't want to live without Him. I like that, don't you? Just let me die, just don't leave me, just don't go without me because I don't know how to get there.
And Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me." Whatever... Whatever I do I'll always be the way for you, always be the life for you, I'll always be the truth for you.
This was just overwhelming for Thomas, who would eagerly die with Christ, rather than be separated from Him. Well, his worst fears came to pass. Jesus died and he didn't. We pick up the next picture in John 20. This is very familiar. Jesus died. What happened to Thomas? Well when Jesus died the disciples were in deep sorrow, deep, deep, deep sorrow. But they all got together to sort of lick each other's wounds. They all met. But verse 24 of John 20 says, "Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus was not with them." That's too bad because Jesus came, you remember? After His resurrection He appeared to His disciples. Thomas wasn't there. Why wasn't he there? Oh, he's just... He's so negative, so pessimistic, he's just absolutely destroyed and he's off somewhere wallowing in his misery. I mean, he could only see the worst of everything. And now his worst fear had been realized, Jesus was gone and he was sure he would never see Him again, he would never find the way to get where Jesus was.
Why didn't Jesus just let him die with Him? But He didn't and Thomas felt alone, betrayed, rejected, forsaken. It was over. The one he so deeply loved and trusted and wished to die with had left him, torn his heart out, just torn his heart out. And he really didn't want to socialize. Can you identify with that? A broken heart, shattered, devastated, crushed, he just wanted to be alone. He just couldn't take the banter. He just didn't want to be in a crowd.
You know, in a sense, the other disciples, they didn't believe in the resurrection either till Jesus showed up, right? Remember on the road to Emmaus they were walking along and two of the disciples, they were miserable because Jesus had been killed and there was Jesus who appeared to them and finally identified Himself as alive. And then when He shows up in the upper room where the disciples are gathered, then they believed. But up until that point they didn't believe either. But what you see with Thomas, whatever may have been the sorrow of the other eleven, the sorrow of the other ten now, Judas is gone, whatever might have been the sorrow of the other ten, the sorrow of Thomas was greater.
I've always felt that Thomas had a love for the Lord that was something beyond the rest so that his whole world ended, in effect, when Jesus died. There was just nothing left. The last thing he wanted to do was just hang around his old friends. He was just shattered with sorrow and loneliness and consequently he didn't go when they met. And guess who showed up? Jesus, and Thomas wasn't there. Oh they all knew he wasn't there, of course, so the other disciples were saying to Thomas, verse 25, "We've seen the Lord." And you can imagine, I mean, they were ecstatic, they were out of their minds, they were exuberant. "We've seen the Lord. We've seen the Lord."
And what does Thomas say? He's just a hopeless pessimist. He said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." It's just... He just can't quite get to the point where he believes his friends who tell the truth. He can't, he was just that kind of guy. All he could see was the bad side of everything. This was too good to be true.
Well after eight days his ragged grief had eased a bit, maybe. And so His disciples were inside and Thomas was with them. The next time they met the disciples probably said to him, "You better be there because He might show up again." Sure enough, Jesus came, the door having been shut, and stood in their midst. What that tells you is that He was in supernatural form, He just came through the wall and said, "Peace be with you." I can understand why He said that. It would be a tremendous amount of agitation if you were in the room and somebody came through the wall. And He looked right at Thomas, "Reach here your finger and see My hands, reach here your hand and put it in My side and be not unbelieving but believing."
Isn't the Lord gentle with him? He errs because he's just kind of wired that way. But it's the erring of a profound love. It's the grief and broken-heartedness and uncertainty and doubt of a shattered heart. Nobody could feel the way Thomas felt unless he loved Jesus the way Thomas loved Him. And then Thomas says what is probably the greatest statement ever to come from the lips of the apostles, verse 28, "My Lord and my God.” “My Lord and my God." Let the people who deny the deity of Christ meet Thomas. His melancholy, comfortless, negative, moody tendency forever was banished in the appearance of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is tender with him. He understands doubt. He understands uncertainty. He understands pessimism. But again it's a heroic kind of pessimism because it’s willing to die, because it loves profoundly. I mean, the evidence of the depth of his love is the depth of his despair, isn't it, when he's separated from his Lord.
Well, the great testimony of Thomas, "My Lord and my God." And in that moment he was transformed into a great evangelist and there is some history to indicate that he may well have taken the gospel as far as India. There is in India the Bar Toma Church, sons of Thomas, who trace their origin to him. Tradition says, because he would not deny the faith and would not cease preaching, a spear was run through him and he was executed. So in the end his doubt became certainty and so certain of his reunion with Christ was he that he took a spear and finally gave his life to have the reunion that he must have longed for all those years between Christ's ascension and his own death. God can do amazing things with the raw material, can't He? A despised tax collector and a moody, negative, melancholy, but heroic pessimist. Let's pray.
Father, we thank You for Thomas, Matthew, and we're so grateful again in being reminded that You can use the lowly and the common, the flawed. You can use a despised man, degraded man. You can use a negative, pessimistic doubter. You can turn them into heroes, evangelists, world changers and never would anyone give them the credit. You get all the glory. Thank You for what You can do with us. We're just like them. Some of us are Peters, brash and bold and self-confident. Some of us are James and John, sons of thunder. Some of us are like Philip, Nathanael, thoughtful, believing. And some are like Thomas, doubting, questioning, wondering, fearing and yet loving deeply. And for all the different kinds of men and women that You use the purpose is the same, that the gospel may be extended to the ends of the earth and that the glory may belong to You. That's why, as Paul said, You even used him, the chief of sinners, and the glory is Yours. We're encouraged by these lives, encouraged to see You can use us even with our own failings to Your glory. We thank You in Christ's name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.