We tend to think of the Apostles in glowing terms. But they were sinners just as we are, relying on their Lord for the grace needed to persevere in faith. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of Luke’s gospel to teach on the true character of Christ’s Apostles.
Hear the Word of God from Luke 6:12–16:
Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.
This short passage describes a momentous event in the ministry of Jesus when He selected the men who would later be known as those who turned the world upside down. What you’ve just heard is the Word of God. Receive it with the fullness of the authority that attends it. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, we beseech You for Your help. We ask that You will give us understanding of the text that we have heard and that the text may find its home within our hearts. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Philip: Not Just Another Calculating Person
Previously, we looked at Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, as well as James and John. Now, we’re going to look first at Philip. The New Testament doesn’t give us a lot of information about Philip, but he is introduced early in the gospel of John. We are told that he came to Nathaniel, who was also called Bartholomew, and said, “We have found the one of whom Moses and the prophets spoke.” Philip, in bearing witness to Jesus, made his confession of faith in his conviction that Jesus was the One who had been prophesied through the Old Testament Law and the Prophets, that He was the Messiah.
Later, we see Philip again approaching Jesus during the feeding of the five thousand. Philip calculated the expense that would be involved in buying provisions to feed that vast multitude. Some people, I believe, have unfairly and unjustly dismissed Philip as just another calculating person because he should’ve realized that Jesus had the power to feed every one of those five thousand people without having to buy an enormous amount of food. That’s tremendously unfair since it was a statement made in passing and certainly is not characteristic of Philip and his whole life.
Another thing we need to know is that Philip the Apostle is not to be confused with Philip the deacon and evangelist, who is found throughout the book of Acts. The latter is the one who met the Ethiopian and explained Isaiah 53 to him. He is a different person altogether.
One of the most important moments in Jesus’ life comes in the upper room when Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Philip was saying: “We’ve seen all these wonderful things that You’ve done. We’ve witnessed the turning of the water into wine, the walking on water, the calming of the sea, the raising of Lazarus, and all the rest of these wonderful miracles, but there’s one more thing we want. Show us the Father, and then we’ll be completely satisfied.” If there was ever a time when Jesus seemed to be exasperated with one of His Apostles or disciples, it was this occasion. He said to Philip: “How long have I been with you, and you still don’t know Me? Don’t you understand, Philip, that he who has seen Me has seen the Father?” What a powerful statement Jesus made regarding the significance of His incarnation: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Like many of the disciples, Philip became a missionary to other lands after Jesus’ resurrection and the day of Pentecost. Tradition tells us that the missionary outreach of Philip carried all the way to ancient Gaul, or France. He also spent much time in Turkey where he was despised by the pagan priests and martyred in the year AD 54. He was doubly martyred, if that’s possible. First, he was stoned almost to the point of death, and then they finished the job by crucifying him.
Bartholomew: A Guileless Israelite
The second Apostle we want to look at briefly is Bartholomew. He is also called Nathaniel in the Gospel According to John. As I mentioned previously, it was Nathaniel or Bartholomew to whom Philip said, “We have found the one of whom is prophesied by the Law of Moses and the Prophets.” Nathaniel was intrigued by that announcement, and he said: “Where is he? Where did he come from?” Philip answered, “He came from Nazareth.” Nathaniel laughed: “Are you kidding? Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, He made this strange announcement: “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” The gospels do not tell us a lot about Nathaniel, but Jesus’ pronouncement at that point is profound. What a description of a person’s character: “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” He was a guileless person. Wouldn’t you love to have that on your tombstone: “This was a person without any deception, dishonesty, or manipulation. He was utterly guileless.”
When Nathaniel heard this pronouncement, he was shocked. He said: “How in the world did You know that? You don’t even know me.” Jesus said, “I saw you under the tree over there, and I knew you even before then.” Nathaniel was so impressed by Jesus’ display of supernatural knowledge that he immediately exclaimed, “You’re the Son of God; You’re the King of Israel!” It wasn’t just Peter who made a great confession of faith among the disciples and Apostles. The first time we heard: “You’re the Son of God” was from Philip. Then Nathaniel also proclaimed, “You are the Son of God and the King of Israel.”
The Scriptures don’t speak much more of this guileless Israelite. From the testimony of church history and tradition, we are told that Nathaniel also became a missionary and started the first Christian church in Armenia. His ministry, however, caused conflict with the local, pagan priests because they didn’t like what he taught. Philip taught such things as the sanctity of life and marriage, long before Chick-fil-A faced the same kind of negative reaction.
Isn’t it interesting that in our culture, if you believe in the sanctity of life and marriage, two things instituted by God in creation, you risk being accused of a hate crime? That’s how far we have come, but we understand the heart of man and how desperately wicked we are in our fallen humanity. This is the kind of problem that Nathaniel ran into in Armenia. So, he too was martyred. He was killed in AD 70 by having his skin flayed with whips, that is, being whipped so severely that most of his skin came off, and then he was crucified.
Matthew: The Tax Collector
We examined Matthew earlier in the gospel of Luke. Also known as Levi, he was the tax collector whom Jesus called away from his business. Shortly afterward, Matthew threw a party for Jesus and the rest of His tax collector friends that created such hostility from the Pharisees that they began to seek ways to do away with Jesus.
Saint Matthew’s greatest claim to fame is that he wrote the gospel bearing his name. Of the four Gospels, his contains the most references to the Old Testament because he clearly wrote his gospel for a Jewish audience.
Matthew also became a missionary. According to ancient tradition, he took the gospel to Ethiopia and was one of the first to visit and establish a church in Africa. He also got into problems with the local, pagan priests and was beheaded in AD 60 as a martyr to the faith.
Thomas: Was He Really a “Doubting Thomas”?
The last Apostle we will look at now is Thomas, who is known in infamy as the skeptic of the resurrection and called “doubting Thomas.” He’s also called “Thomas, one of the twins.” If we look at the other references to Thomas in the New Testament, however, we see that it’s unfair to consider him as simply a skeptic. When things became difficult during the last days of Jesus’ life and He told His disciples that He would be arrested, suffer, and die, most of the disciples wanted no part of it. Thomas was the one who said, “We will go with you, and we will die with you.” He stepped up and was willing to accompany Jesus to the point of death. That didn’t happen, but of all the disciples, perhaps he was the most zealous for Jesus at this point.
After he saw his Savior executed, taken down from the cross, and buried, Thomas would not believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead when his friends told him. I think it was to protect his own faith. He was so hurt by the loss of Jesus and so devastated by His execution that he wouldn’t allow himself to believe anymore. His faith had hit a wall, and there was no more room for hope in this man. So, he challenged the rest of those who were giddy in their excitement about the resurrection. He said, “You guys can believe that, but unless I put my finger in the wounds in his hands and my hand in the side where the spear pierced him, I will not believe.”
After the resurrection, when the disciples were gathered in the upper room, Jesus appeared in their midst and looked at Thomas, saying, “Put your finger in My hand, and your hand in My side.” That was the offer Jesus made to Thomas. The Scriptures don’t tell us if he took Jesus up on the offer and touched the risen Christ. I doubt very much that he did, though he said that’s what it would take to convince him. The presence of Jesus with His outspread hands was more than enough to convince him. Thomas, while on his knees, gave the highest profession of faith among Jesus’ disciples when he looked at him and said, “My Lord and my God.”
There are other occasions when human beings bowed before angels or had people bow down before them, as Paul had experienced on his missionary journeys. In every case where someone who was not God was treated as God, the worshiper was rebuked. For example, the angels would not receive worship from human beings. Paul and Silas refused to accept worship from people in their adulation. But when Thomas said, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus didn’t say to him: “I’m not God; I’m God’s representative. I’m the firstborn of all creation, but I’m not the eternal, self-existent, second person of the Trinity.” No, Jesus received worship from Thomas.
Later, Thomas became a missionary to India and suffered martyrdom in AD 70, being killed with a spear. However, his confession, “My Lord and my God,” rings down through the ages, even to this day.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.