15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus...
Matthew is known as the tax collector...and that is often about it. How did he become a tax collector and why? My dad is an accountant here in Canada and I know that it is not nearly the same as being a tax collector in the Middle East in Jesus’ time, but I have seen that it takes a head that understands and remembers numbers, incredible organization (why I received none of that in my genetics, I will never understand), the ability to observe even the finest details (reading the fine print, reading between the lines...knowing when a person is holding something back...just knowing people), a working knowledge of the law (tax laws, mostly, but tid bits, here and there, of other law-ish things helps too) and the lack of “doormat”-ishness. I wasn’t sure how else to say that a person in business has to be able to encourage people to pay up. Otherwise, the bills just won’t get paid. No wonder Matthew was able to write such a detailed account of Jesus’ time in ministry and he was able to write it in such a way that maybe, just maybe it would convince the law-bound Jewish people that the long-awaited Messiah had come!
In Jesus’ time, a tax collector was highly disliked by the people from whom the tax monies were collected. The common Jews longed for a day when they would, once again, be an independent country, no longer ruled by the Romans. This dislike created a vast rift between the so-called common Jews and the Jews who decided to make money at their expense by working in cahoots with the Romans. Those chosen to do this work needed to be somewhat educated (counting, reading and understanding laws would, likely, have been required).
These tax collectors would have needed to be people that the Romans could trust. Younger sons of the higher class, maybe? Those who might not have their consciences piqued by taking money from the lower class citizens (as one who grew up separate from the common masses might not be). And that trait, that bit of mercenary, the ability to steel themselves against the pleading of a father, a husband, a widow who just wants to be able to keep the children fed...that trait could make a country call their countrymen sinners, lowest of the low.
One article I found talked about how the tax collectors would often pay their “supervisor” the money owed and then collect taxes from the people within their jurisdiction (some articles talked about Matthew collecting taxes from business people and, not necessarily, from private citizens...though I am not sure that there would have been much separation of such things back then...no corporations, just people making a living). And once the debt was paid to the supervisor, there were no rules as to how much the tax collector could demand from the people...another good reason to call tax collectors sinners.
How is it that God spoke into this man’s heart so deeply, so thoroughly that two little words would cause a man to leave a life of wealth and prosperity...a career that would be in demand forever...to live a life of poverty and uncertainty? “He said to him, ‘Follow me!’ So, leaving everything behind, [Matthew] got up and began to follow Him.” (Luke 5:27b-28).
Follow me. Follow Jesus. Leaving everything behind. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...” Just like Matthew did. He threw off wealth, he threw off materialism, he threw off cheating and greed and lying. He left it all behind and took up a new race; race to freedom and life.
We do not know much about Thomas, but the poor guy is known by believers and unbelievers everywhere. The term “doubting Thomas” is a fairly well known sarcastic jab towards someone who is skeptical about something...about anything.
Poor Thomas, had such courage and determination as shown in John 11:16 that says, “Then Thomas (called “twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go so that we may die with Him.” Here he was the motivational speaker that encouraged his fellow speakers to follow Jesus even when His plan seemed unusual. They were going to see Lazarus after his death (at first they all misunderstood that Lazarus was sleeping a healing sleep...so a visit from Jesus would be unnecessary; then they understood that Lazarus was actually dead...so they thought a visit was still unnecessary). But Thomas, for some reason, felt it important enough to Jesus that they should all go mourn together...that where ever Jesus went, whatever Jesus went through, they should support Him and go together.
Sadly, though not unusually for we humans who so often give more weight to the negative, Thomas is remembered for his doubting; for needing physical proof of Jesus’ resurrection to life. Though thinking it through a little more thoroughly these last few days, I am not sure that his doubts were such a bad idea. How many people have I heard of that are so skeptical of the resurrection of Jesus? How many times have I heard people wonder if Jesus was just a ghost?? But here, Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, a man who spent three whole years of his life seeing Jesus every day, hearing his voice, working side by side, brushing shoulders and hands...probably even exchanging man-hugs (though I like to think that Jesus would be a pretty good hugger and not one bit afraid of people thinking badly of him if he hugged a friend)...this disciple doubted that it was Jesus back from the dead, physically raised from the grave. Thomas needed touch as proof...just like many people, even now, ask for physical proof of Jesus. It never ceases to amaze me how completely the grace of God seeks to embrace all people, no matter where our doubts arise, God addresses them through scripture. A beautiful witness to a God who loves every nuance of His creation!!
James of Alphaeus
Very little is known about James of Alphaeus. He was also known as “James the Less” or “James the Younger” as recorded in Mark 15:40. There are those who wonder if he is the brother of Matthew, since his father is also named as an Alphaeus, though there are no indications in Scripture that this is so (maybe the name Alphaeus was as common as the name Mary...just didn’t catch on as well).
Some articles I encountered offered the idea that it was the stature of James that brought about the name “the Lesser”. Also no scriptural support for this idea.
What is more important is that James decided to follow Jesus; that he, like Matthew, left everything to follow a man that embodied a hope for more. The nation of Israel was waiting for rescue and Jesus was the hope of many people then, just as He is our hope now!!
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 6:15b-16
Due to his wealth as a tax collector, and the fact that it would've been impossible to get his job back once he'd given it up - I think Matthew gave up by far the most of the disciples in order to follow Jesus. There was no going back if this didn't work out. And he was such a humble man. Even though he wrote an entire book in the NT, he never mentions himself except a brief note about his conversion. That's it. Because of Luke we know that Matthew was so excited about meeting Jesus that he threw a big party so that his friends - other sinners like him - could meet Jesus. Love it!
Thomas - though always pessimistic and seeing things on the negative side, he was intensely loyal. MacArthur pointed out that it's easy for the optimists to be loyal, but it's so much harder for the pessimists. And he was loyal, wanting to go and die with Jesus. A heroic loyalty. MacArthur also noted (and I think it makes sense) that Thomas' intense love for Jesus resulted in intense grief - his worst nightmare had come true: Jesus had died without him. He couldn't even be with the other disciples, he was wallowing in his misery.
Though we know virtually nothing about James from the Bible, historical tradition tells us that he went to Persia (modern Iran) to preach the gospel where he was crucified for his faithfulness to Christ. He was influential enough to bring about his own martyrdom.
I liked this quote....
So there isn't anything that we know about them. And the reason for that is that the men aren't the issue. We don't need, apparently the Lord knew, a biography of these men. It was enough to know that they were chosen by the Lord, empowered by the Spirit, and carried the gospel to the world of their day. And they just sort of disappear. And the Scripture always keeps the focus on the power of Christ and the power of the Word. They preach the Word filled with the Spirit and that's what you need to know. The vessel is not the issue, the Master is. So in a sense, James the son of Alphaeus was like the rest of the Apostles, he was harnessed to the Master's chariot, a slave of love. He lived only for His glory and died without leaving any earthly record. But believe me, there is a heavenly record. He right now shines in heaven. His name right now is on the foundation of one of the gates that lead into the New Jerusalem.
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