Monday, February 21, 2011

Lesson 7: Judas Iscariot, Matthias

Read Luke 22:1-6; Acts 1:15-26

Video blog (by Mike)

Flip of the Coin (by Richard)

Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles (Acts 1:26).

On first reading, this is another one of those verses, the ones I wish were not in the Bible, like the story about the bears running out of the woods to eat the teenagers that taunted Elisha.

Some argue that "lots" means "votes" but this is worst kind of Biblical interpretation, disrespectful to God's Word itself and to you, the reader. Why? It's very dangerous to try so hard to "explain away" something that is God-breathed. Any impartial review of the use of the word "lot" would lead us to the conclusion that it means "lot"; the eleven remaining disciples, in effect, flipped a coin to decide between Joseph and Matthias for the position made available by the suicide of Judas Iscariot.

It is difficult to take ourselves out of our own environment and prejudice, but it's good, honest work and sometimes yields great bounty. For example, did you know that "casting lots" was not only a part of Jewish culture, but that is was commanded by God?
  • David divided priests by lot (1 Chronicles 24:5).

  • Canaan was divided by lot (Joshua 16:1-10).

  • Jonathan was found in contempt of his father Saul by lot (1 Samuel 14:41-42).

  • Achan was found guilty of covetousness by lot (Joshua 7:16-18).
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD (Proverbs 16:33).
The Jewish people used lots to determine an outcome when a decision was required between apparently equal alternatives. The apostles followed this cultural precedent:
  1. Required: "Therefore it is necessary to choose ... " (Acts 1:21a).

  2. Equal : "The men have been with us the whole time" (Acts 1:21b).
Notice that they did not abandon their reasonable or spiritual sensibilities; this is the key to the making sense of our initial recoil to the verses.
  1. Reasonable: They had criteria that made sense (Acts 1:21-23).

  2. Spiritual: "They prayed" (Acts 1:24a).
What seemed so odd at first glance now makes perfect sense. Let's put this model to a sanity test:

I am afforded an opportunity to work in more than one ministry...
  1. I think through the alternatives and come up with criteria for measuring them one against another.

  2. I include others I trust in the decision making process.

  3. I exclude some choices based on what I've considered so far.

  4. I examine my motives.

  5. I ask for God's help.
If we deconstruct the selection of Matthias in Acts 1, we find an excellent model for discerning between equal choices. If I follow their lead and still end up with two equally great choices, then I'm okay with flipping a coin, our cultural equivalent to the casting of lots. I'll choose to be grateful to God for this bounty:
  1. More than one great choice

  2. People I trust to help me in life decisions

  3. God's willingness to expose my motives

  4. God's willingness to act

  5. God's availability through prayer
Is there a decision you need to make right now?
Are there steps you're leaving out of the decision making process?
Are you grateful to have more than one great choice?

Study Questions

Feel free to answer any or all questions in the comment section below for interaction with fellow participants~Thx

1. Do you know anyone who was a follower of Jesus and then, after a time, betrayed the very Lord he/she had pledged to follow? Have you ever thought about forsaking Christ?

2. Was Judas ever really a Christian? Defend your answer.

3. God knows ahead of time those who are truly His and those who are not (John 13:21). Does that mean a person is no longer responsible for his choices since God has already decided his fate?

4. Matthias is picked to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:24-26). Following Matthias's appointment, the Scriptures are interestingly silent as regards him. What do you think his story might have been?

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Lesson 6: James the Less, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot

Read Matthew 10:1-4; Acts 1:9-14

Video blog (by Mike)

Dagger Man (by Richard)

15,000 experienced Roman soldiers, the 10th Legion, advanced on about 1,000 Jewish nationalists with little military experience at Masada. It would take the Romans more than 2 years to conquer Masada. When they did they found that all but 7 of the Jews committed suicide rather than be subject to Roman tyranny. This famous ancient story, well supported by archaeological evidence, gives us insight into one of the men Jesus called.

Of the twelve men Jesus called, at least one, Simon, was a Jewish nationalist with a violent streak, that is, a zealot (Luke 6:16). Zealots resorted to violence to support their cause of taking down the occupying army. They were also called Sicarii, literally "dagger men", because of their fondness for the sica, a Roman dagger.

Simon was a very serious man who was very passionate about his beliefs, even if it cost him his life or his freedom. As with the other disciples we've considered, Simon's greatest weakness would become his strength for Jesus. Isn't it remarkable how even our poor choices are turned to good by God when He restores us to the spiritual beings we are intended to be? Simon, once called by Jesus, turns from being a misguided, violent insurgent into a Jesus-guided, wholly immersed advocate of an entirely different kingdom.

Is it any wonder that just touching the hem of Jesus' garment will heal? Confronting who Jesus is will transform you into a spiritual being with a cause that you are already equipped to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Do you know passionate people? Is there passion focused on spiritual things? If not, how close might they be to righting their own ship once they're confronted with the person of Jesus in their life?

Do you see how easily Jesus would change a passion for family, sports or advocacy into zeal for His kingdom? When you see passion, look for Jesus.

(Picture above in public domain: HERE)

Study Questions

Feel free to answer any or all questions in the comment section below for interaction with fellow participants~Thx

1. Are you (or were you) a primary person in your work situation (ie. owner, boss, manager, etc.) or are you (were you) a secondary/support person and what are (were) your responsibilities in your role?

2. James the Less is referred to as such and it could be for a number of reasons. Do you think that maybe because his stature, position and ministry as one of the Twelve was less important and that’s why not much is said about him in the Scriptures?

3. Do you know anybody who goes by three names? What are the three names? (Thaddaeus: Three names for the same guy. "Thaddaeus" in Mark 3:18; "Lebbaeus" in Matthew 10:3, the King James Version; "Judas" in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13.)

4. Do you think there is ever a time where violence is appropriate in either defending or promoting a religion?

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Lesson 5: Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas

Read John 1:45-51; Luke 5:27-28; John 20:24-29

Video blog (by Mike)

Trump To Trumpet (by Richard)

Hindi is the most common language, that is, the unifying language of India. Indians speak hundreds of dialects that are specific to their geographic and cultural region but educated Indians also speak Hindi, enabling them to trade and travel at will without a language barrier. Greek was the equivalent language of Jesus' time, a lingering effect of the former Greek empire.

Speaking Greek granted Matthew access to the educated Romans and speaking Hebrew, his native tongue, resulted in access to the Jews of Capernaum. He leveraged his linguistic prowess by choosing to help the Roman government collect taxes from his own countrymen. Matthew would not have been an employee, he was a contractor working for a percentage of the taxes he collected. If he didn't collect taxes, he didn't eat, that is, his position was 100% commission-based. Most of us shy away from these jobs because of the need for predictable income; this makes sense because our bills are generally predictable.

If you imagine a position today that has no base salary, requires you to be multi-lingual and requires you to be a very strong negotiator on your own behalf, then you are seeing Matthew's vocation. I imagine Matthew today as a customs agent working in import/export, subject to the same kinds of temptations and benefits. It's important to see that he was likely clever, money-motivated and despised. Why?

There is a stark contrast between Matthew before and after his first encounter with Jesus. Unlike the rich, young ruler who was unable to walk away from lifestyle, Matthew immediately turns to follow Jesus. Keep in mind that most men have their productivity and self-esteem so intertwined that they cannot separate them; Matthew would have been even more like this to choose such a production-oriented profession and to choose it despite the fact that it resulted in being despised by his own neighbors. This further illustrates the dramatic change Matthew embraces when Jesus calls him.

Matthew risks his professional and personal reputations by inviting both fellow tax collectors and sinners to a feast to share in his new discovery, Jesus. In effect, he is burning bridges to his profession by including the publicans and flying in the face of those who despise him by inviting those they most despise.

Once again, we see the theme repeated from our study of Peter, James and John: Our greatest weakness may also be our greatest strength. How? Matthew is a man totally engrossed in his profession (tunnel vision) and willing to take great risks for great rewards (entrepreneurial) no matter what anyone around him thinks (independent). If we flip these Trump traits over and look at their manifestations after Matthew meets Jesus, we see this:
  • A man who turns his tunnel vision on Jesus by instantly becoming a disciple or follower

  • A man who takes great risks by following Jesus and leaving his old life behind

  • A man who thinks independently, inviting his professional friends and "sinners" to hear Jesus despite public opinion
Once again we witness great strength exhibited in weakness if we look deeply enough. In fact, this theme recurs in our study of Men Jesus Called. Would you wear Jesus' lens and begin to think of traits you do not like in your family, friends or co-workers as desirable traits turned upside down? Wouldn't this view circumvent judging social outcasts like Matthew in favor of their potential in Christ to be a brother like Matthew? Meeting Jesus is the key, but aren't you more likely to love a neighbor like Matthew if you value them properly? Take the trait you least admire in one other person and imagine that person following Jesus using the flip side of that trait. What is the trait and what is its flip side?

Study Questions

Feel free to answer any or all questions in the comment section below for interaction with fellow participants~Thx

1. Have you ever written somebody off after you found out about their past or place of upbringing?

2. Jesus “saw” Bartholomew prior to their meeting (John 1:48). Would you make any changes in your behavior if you knew Christ was watching?

3. The Bible says Matthew “left everything behind” to follow Christ (Luke 5:28). What do you think it means to “leave everything behind”?

4. Thomas needs to see Jesus alive to believe it (John 20:25). Are you the kind of person that would have believed without seeing? Why or why not?

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