Matthew & Thomas

We have been discussing the Lord’s Men, particularly the twelve disciples these past few weeks. The question has been through this study is what kind of men does the Lord use. The Lord can use people like Peter who is dynamic, always willing to take the risk, the one who will go first, and often talks a better game than he plays. He uses the quiet and humble unassuming who quietly behind the scenes led people to Jesus. He uses the bold and brash, task oriented, charge towards the goal and never step back like James, and He uses the quiet and meditative, truth seeking people of love like John. The Lord uses people who have a small focus and a poor grasp of the vision like Philip and the faithful, yet prejudiced person like Bartholomew. If we packaged them all together we see that the Lord uses people just like us.

The world seems to have an inherent admiration for the few against the many. Here we have Jesus training twelve men of questionable qualifications to go out and turn the world upside down with the message of the coming Kingdom of God. To preach the good news message of a Messiah and Savior that could free man from the penalty of sin. Their message went against every other religion in the world and was is direct opposition to the Jewish faith. Yet because of what they accomplished we are here today still spreading that message.

Because of people’s admiration of the underdog that just won’t give up, whether they win or lose, history looks favorably upon them.

The Charge of the Light Brigade was a British disaster but the cavalry was so admired that Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote the famous poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” 670 light British cavalry charged against a well-entrenched Russian Artillery force. It was a futile effort from the start and the British Cavalrymen men knew it but in obedience to their commanders they exercised the charge and achieved their goal only to have to make a fast retreat. They suffered 278 causalities and lost 335 horses. Though they reached the Russian artillery it was hardly a victory.

At the battle of Gettysburg General Robert E Lee ordered a final assault upon the Union center on the third day of battle. The battle plan for the South was to have an artillery assault followed by an infantry assault on the union center. This was to take place early in the day but due to difficulties the attack did not commence until 2 PM. The South did reach the Union lines but were repulsed quickly. The south suffered 2700 in casualties and the North 1500. It was the bloodiest day in American history and led to the eventual defeat of the Confederacy in 1964.

Gideon battled the Midianites and the Amalekites in the book of Judges Chapter 7. Gideon had an army of 32,000 men and the Lord God said that he had too many. 22,000 of them left the battle and with 10,000 left the Lord said he still had too many. Gideon reduced his forces to 300 men to fight the battle. Gideon was against a force that we read in Judges 7:12. “Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” When Gideon and the 300 broke their pitcher and blew their horn shouting, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” The Midianites and the Amalekites became confused and frightened and killed each other.

Because of a foolish sin King Saul lost his position as the King of Israel. Israel which was about to face in battle the Philistines and now had no king to lead them. Neither did they have weapons to fight with because there were no blacksmiths in Israel. In all of Israel there were only two swords. Saul’s and his son Jonathan. As many of the army of Israel was fleeing Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few.” So Johnathan and his armor bearer climbed up the hill to the Philistine camp. Johnathan killed twenty of the Philistines and there became a great confusion in the camp and they ended up killing each other.

In the Charge of the Light Brigade and Pickett’s Charge the few fought valiantly and bravely but lost. History remembers them with fondness and honor for their courage. Gideon and the 300 and Jonathan and his armor bearer who fought the enemies of the Lord were few as well. But they each put their trust in the Lord and He gave them the victory. With just a few faithful God can overrun an immense enemy.

We have thus far talked about the first group of disciples, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Then we joined group two, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas. Last week we spoke of Phillip and Bartholomew and today we are going to look at Matthew and Thomas.

Matthew is most known to us as the tax collector. The tax collector, or publican as they were called were the most despised of the Jews. Taxation in Judah and Samaria was collected and placed into the Imperial Treasury. The taxes in Judah were in the charge of Herod Antipas who was the Jewish King at the time. The Romans of the province did not administer the collection of taxes as long as King Herod paid the tribute to the Romans from the taxes he collected. But this tribute went to the Roman Empire and therefore it was a tax levied by the Romans.

The taxes were collected by the Publicans, of which there was two kinds. There were the chief publicans and the ordinary publicans. The ordinary publicans were the lowest class of tax collectors in the system. Matthew was an ordinary Publican. The Publicans were despised by the Jews because of their imposition, rapine and extortion. Most fell into the temptation to extract more than was necessary and beyond the requirements of the Romans was all profit for themselves. They were generally men of great greed and of little heart as in truth they were thieves stealing from their fellow countrymen.

It was while Matthew was busy working his tax booth that Jesus came by, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.” (Matthew 9:9) Matthew was also known as Levi, so he must have been from the tribe of the Levites. Perhaps he came from a devote family and must have been well versed in the Scriptures. In the gospel that Matthew wrote more Old Testament Scriptures are quoted than in any other gospel. It is one thing to be aware of the Scriptures but Matthew knew the Scriptures.

Matthew is the second disciple that Jesus directly said to follow Him. Having a knowledge of the Scriptures and a belief in the coming Messiah Matthew must have been ready. For Matthew by himself it is not impossible for him to want to change. Certainly a Publican was a chief of the sinners of the day but then we read in Luke 18 about the Pharisee and the Publican in prayer. The Pharisee exalted himself in prayer and the Publican was humble of heart. Jesus noted that and He justified the Publican for his humility. (Luke 18:9-14) Perhaps Matthew had had enough of his sinful life and was looking for a way out. How many of us have been in that place? How many today are in that place now and do not know where to seek relief? We don’t know Matthew might have been near his breaking point and then at the right moment Jesus arrives. Matthew got up from his tax collecting booth and followed Jesus.

Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew had careers that they could have gone back to but Matthew could not ever go back to his career as a tax collector. Someone else would have been appointed to that position and it would have been easy for that to have happened because it was a financially rewarding position. The authorities would never have reappointed Matthew because he chose to follow that radical known as Jesus. They would no longer ever trust him again.

Like so many others Matthew who had found the Messiah wanted to tell his friends. And his friends were as he, tax collectors and sinners. Matthew invited Jesus to come to his house for a feast. The Scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus and His disciples eating with all these tax collectors and sinners and they were greatly displeased. They questioned Jesus why would He eat with sinners? And He answered, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” ((Mark 2:17)

Matthew had a heart for the lost, a heart for the rift raft of the day, because he was one. Matthew knew what it was like to feel so guilty for the life one is leading and not knowing how to escape or be forgiven of the evil they had done. But then he found Jesus, and he knew who Jesus was, the King. All through the gospel that Matthew wrote he presented Jesus as the King.

Tradition tells us that Matthew preached the gospel until he died in the year 90 AD. It is said that he went to Ethiopia during the reign of Domitian. Western tradition holds that Matthew was martyred by the sword. The sword is the accepted method of his death as in Christian iconography Matthew is pictured with his gospel in one hand and the sword in the other. For this reason the sword is accepted as his symbol of martyrdom.

Our next personality is Thomas, who is best known as doubting Thomas. As we look a little closer at Thomas we may find that opinion alone is unjust.

We only get a glimpse of Thomas in three Scriptures and they are in the gospel of John. The first time is in John Chapter 11. Jesus and His disciples were on the far side of the Jordan River teaching when they received a message that Lazarus was sick. A few days later another message came from Martha and Mary that Lazarus had died. It was now that Jesus had decided that he should go to Jerusalem and the disciple did not want Him to because the Jews there were trying to kill Him. But Jesus had to go because His hour was drawing near and now because Lazarus had died. Jesus was happy that Lazarus had died because now He could perform a sign that would cause many to believe.

The disciples knew that if Jesus went to Jerusalem He would be put to death and that they might also face death. This drew a response form Thomas, “Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16) We see an unsatisfying love here in Thomas. Thomas loved Jesus so much that he could not imagine life without Him near. Thomas loved Jesus so much that he would rather go to Jerusalem and die with Him than live without Him. We not only see a great love but also a great courage. Thomas could not only not live without Jesus but he had the courage to die with Jesus.

We next see Thomas in John Chapter 14. In This discourse we find Jesus comforting His disciples because the time draws even nearer when He would be leaving them. Because of the teaching that Jesus had taught from the beginning He made this statement, “And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas immediately replies, “we no not where to go or how” (John 14:5) Again we see the special love of Thomas that he cannot bear to be apart from His Lord and Master. Thomas cannot bear the thought of separation from Jesus and wanted to know how to go with Him. It is here we find that well known verse that Jesus answers with. “AI am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) Thomas, like John, had a tremendous capacity for love.

In John Chapter 20 we see Thomas for one more time. When the other disciples had seen Jesus after the resurrection Thomas was not with them. It was said he was off alone in a fit of depression because of the death of his Lord. But when he returned the other disciples reported to him that they had seen Jesus. And that is where Thomas makes that statement that he is most known for. “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” (John 120:25) From this statement the world would view Thomas as a doubter but we see in him pessimism as well. Why would Thomas be doubtful, why would he be pessimistic? We have all been in the dump of depression. Are we always so willing to let go of all that self-pity and see through the cloud of pessimism that blurs our thinking? How often do we say things when in that state that we really do not believe?

Eight days later Jesus came walking through the door, not the doorway but the door. Can you imagine the reaction to that! And in that amazing moment the eyes of Thomas saw his Lord and Savior. Jesus said to him, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” But Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) What a marvelous believing confession!

Thomas may have labored in the preaching of the gospel in what is now today modern Iran and Iraq. Tradition places him in India. Indian Christians from the west coast Kerala area claim they were evangelized by Thomas, who was later speared to death near Madras on the east coast. Mount St. Thomas, close to Madras is associated with his name.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, May 25,2014

Durant Bible College

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