Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Acceptance of Eleven and the Disillusionment of One

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"When they had seen Him ascending into Heaven, and had believed, and had received the power He sent upon them from Heaven, they went to every race of men. And they taught these things and were called Apostles."
-- Justin Martyr c.160

The life of the 12 Apostles following the Pentecost was one of miraculous amazement. Taking on the responsibility of leadership to the first generation of Christians certainly could not have been an anticipated task but rather one of submission to the Will of God. Their evangelism was to begin quickly and spread passionately. To say "it will take some time for evangelism to occur" was not a common saying of the 12 recorded in the Holy Gospels.

We are told their very first act was to expediently name St. Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot the Betrayer so that the number of 12 Apostles could be restored which also correlated to the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Much can be learned from the personalities and lives led by the original 12 selected personally by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

St. Peter through his strengths and weaknesses is an example to us of the struggle faith possesses and lack of understanding that each of the Apostles faced during the Lord's Ministry. Peter, the fisherman with no known advanced scholarly training in the Torah, anticipated the Messiah with expectations of a great and mighty sudden deliverance.

Yet, the Lord Jesus Christ said, "You shall be called Cephas" (John 1:42). A name not for who he was but for what he was to become in the history of the Church. A name St. Peter would have to strive to represent. St. Peter was a ready spokesman for the Apostles, often in misunderstanding, and often rebuked by the Lord. The Lord seemed to constantly be teaching St. Peter restraint.

Why would St. Peter later become referred to as a link to the foundation of the early Church, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church" (Matthew 16:17,18)?

Was St. Peter disillusioned as to the Lord's Mission on earth? We are told St. Peter sank while trying to walk on water, refused to have his feet washed by the Lord and denied the Lord three times. The Lord had to continually affirm St. Peter while on earth. The Lord rebuked him in front of an entire army of soldiers when St. Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus in His defense.

But rather than express anger at the Lord for His humiliating rebuke, St. Peter with an open heart would write later of his learning from this, "Christ, also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth'; Who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously" (I Peter 2:21-23).

From the beginning we are told St. Peter's heart was immediately opened as he confessed of unworthiness and fear upon his initial meeting of the Lord, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). St. Peter's faithful heart was so open to the Lord he would make the transition of Galilean fisherman to confessor, from a weak denier to fiery preacher, ardent missionary, renowned bishop, and willing, steadfast martyr.

St. Andrew also grew up along the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. He was Simon Peter's brother and also a fisherman. Many Biblical scholars believe St. Andrew to be the first disciple of St. John the Baptist thus being filled with many glorious expectations of the coming of the Messiah. The Holy Gospel of St. John states that St. Andrew was the first (along with an unnamed other) to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, when St. John the Baptist simply said, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:35). St. Andrew was blessed as the first to hear the Lord called the "Lamb of God." We know that St. Andrew's heart was open and obedient when the Lord Jesus Christ told he and his brother "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Quietly, without a single word St. Andrew left behind his fishing nets and obeyed.

St. James the son of Zebedee was also a fisherman along the Sea of Galilee. It is believed that because he was referred to as the "son of Zebedee" his father must have been of some reputation and wealth in the region. It is known he possessed hired servants which supports this. St. James when called by the Lord left behind his father without a glance backwards such was his heart for the Lord.

His legacy for his open heart was to become the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the Holy Bible (Acts 12:2). Further he is always named among the first three apostles called in the lists of the 12 Apostles in the Holy Gospels.

St. John the brother to James was like his brother in that both were known for their fiery temperament. St. John's favorite word must have been "witness". It is recorded in his Holy Gospel approximately seventy times (the witness of St. John the Baptist, the witness of the Apostles, the witness of the Lord Jesus Christ, the witness of the Holy Spirit). He was known to be a thunderous defender of the truth which correlates to how the word witness was used.

The word witness further was an expression and symbolized his love of truth. It has been said of Biblical scholars that not only was St. John leaning upon the Lord Jesus Christ's shoulder because of his enduring love of the Lord but even more than this, because he desired to hear every word of truth that came from the Lord's mouth.

St. Jerome said in his commentary on the Holy Book of Galatians that the elder apostle, St. John carried this phrase on his lips at all times, "My little children love one another." When asked why he always said this, St. John responded "It is the Lord's command, and if this alone be done, it is enough."

St. Phillip was to become an early evangelizer in encouraging a skeptical Nathaniel "Come and see" (John 1:45,46). Though literal in his interpretations often uncomprehending the Lord's mysterious works and miracles, his heart was a loyal and earnest one. His loyalty to the Lord would give this apostle a seat of honor gathered in the Upper Room the Day of Pentecost.

With an open heart he would overcome his human tendencies that so often impaired his early faith and tradition would teach us that St. Philip was used greatly in the spread of the Holy Gospel in the early Church and for his loyalty would be among the first of the Apostles to receive the crown of martyrdom. He was living proof that "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (I Corinthians 1:27-29).

St. Bartholomew was most probably St. Philip's closest companion. In the Holy Gospel of St. John 21:2 we are told he originated from a small town, Cana of Galilee. It was obvious St. Bartholomew was knowledgeable in the Holy Scriptures by St. Philip telling him "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote" (John 1:45). Yet even with his great learning of Holy Scripture we know he was a man of prejudice as his reply to learning that Jesus was from Nazareth was "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" This response did not occur out of Biblical interpretation but rather bigotry associated with the town of Nazareth.

St. Bartholomew left us an example of how to deal with this emotional feeling of superiority. When St. Philip told him to come and see, he confronted this feeling and went and saw. His heart was opened to the facts and objectively listened to the Lord Jesus Christ's teachings and the rest gave him forever a place in Biblical history.

St. Thomas' heart was also opened to the Lord through his dedication and commitment. We are told that when the Lord was determined to visit the tomb of Lazarus, to the frustration of the disciples, he was the only disciple to say, "Let us also go, that we may die with You" (John 11:16). St. Thomas was willing to travel with the Lord despite threats to his own life as well as the Lord and if necessary to die beside the Lord.

For his love and dedication the Lord gave to all generations of faithful this most treasured story regarding St. Thomas. Even though St. Thomas' faith was such that he was willing to die beside the Lord more courage and faith were needed to believe in the Glorious Resurrection. St. Thomas was not present to witness the appearance of the Lord, the Day of Resurrection and when he later joined the other disciples the 10 told of the momentous appearance.

To the 10's astonishment, St. Thomas could not get beyond his grief and loss of the Lord's death and believe in the Glorious Resurrection. In the week following this the Lord Jesus Christ would appear to doubting St. Thomas and show Himself, "Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand and place it in My side; do not be faithless, but believing" (John 20:25,27). St. Thomas lack of faith would come to do more for our faith than the disciples who witnessed his exclamation, "My Lord and My God!" The Lord Jesus Christ responded, "Blessed are those who have not seen but believed" (John 20:28,29).

St. Matthew was a despised tax collector, a publican. None of the 12 was considered a worse sinner than St. Matthew. Yet with an open heart we know he became among the humblest of the 12. Although he was the author of the Holy Gospel which bears his name, his name is only mentioned twice within it. One time when he records his calling and the other lists his name simply among the 12. He kept himself in the background of his narrative of the Lord Jesus Christ's life. He was humble and also thoughtful of his companions.

"Now it happened as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples" (Matthew 9:10). He so believed in the Lord Jesus Christ that one of the first actions he took was to invite other tax collections and socially unacceptable people he was associated with to hear the Word of God. Through St. Matthew, the Lord Jesus Christ's mission was made clear, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Luke 5:29-32).

St. Thaddeus was hardly more than a name in the Holy Gospels as is St. James the son of Alphaeus. Further this James does not appear in any stories of the Apostles in the Holy Book of Acts. St. Simon the Zealot does not have descriptive denotation in the Holy Gospels as well. It is not concurred among scholars whether his zealousness was for the Holy Scriptures or for resistance towards the oppressive Roman occupation of Palestine. All three men were ordinary men, rulers and masters of no one, elevated to an extraordinary calling by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

And the last of the original chosen among the 12 was Judas Iscariot. He did not originate in Galilee as the others, but was from Kerioth in Judea. Perhaps he felt an outsider among the disciples as he truly was an outsider of the region of Galilee. Judas was given a position of importance among the group, the treasurer maybe to make him feel a sense of belonging and importance. At the Last Supper he would have a further distinction, to sit close to the Lord, close enough for the Lord Jesus Christ to hand him a morsel of bread dipped in a common dish as a sign that he was the traitor. Prior, to his turning away from the Lord we know he served the "ministry and apostleship" (Acts 1:25). So what happened?

Judas left everything behind to follow the Lord as did the other 11. He did not make the fateful turn away from the Lord until late in His ministry. What could have made an Apostle who walked and talked with the Lord do such a thing? Many believe greed yet 30 pieces of silver was only the price of a slave, it could not make a man extremely wealthy. Certainly the forces of Satan were to account for the betrayal. But more than this was the disillusionment which led to the total forsaking of the Lord.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, was expected by many of that day to lead an insurrection against the strong Roman Empire, to put down the oppressing armies never to rise again. His disillusionment led to his disappointment of this not happening, which was the contributing factor that led to betrayal. Most probably Judas did not fully understand what the result of the betrayal would encompass, leading to an agonizing death of crucifixion for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Judas' horrible death though does indeed coincide with the horrible deed in which he did. He did not seek true forgiveness for his deeds. He seemed to be merely sorry for what he had done. Confessing and attempting to return the 30 pieces of silver was a beginning, yet his heart was not open to the Lord as his remorse led to the taking of his own life by hanging. Judas did not cry out to the Lord for mercy as did the thief on the right side of the Lord's Holy Cross. How does disillusionment such as Judas' enter into someone's life?

The lesson of the Apostles' lives teaches us all to live with a faithful and open heart. Open hearts which seek mercy do not expect but accept. Open hearts constantly seek forgiveness. Judas' expectations led to doubt and disillusionment. The other 11 accepted His Ministry with an open heart. In thinking we know more than the Lord and what He should do in our lives is hypocrisy. A faith based on expectations can bear no fruit.

Judas is a blatant example of the fruitlessness of hypocrisy as the branch spoken of in the Holy Gospel of St. John 15:6 that does not abide within the True Vine. The branch which bears not fruit, is cut off, and thrown into the fire to be evermore destroyed. Judas was so skillful in his hypocrisy that even the other 11 apostles did not suspect him a traitor.

Judas disillusionment gave way to spiritual betrayal. His life is an example to us of our need of constant self-examination, repentance, and confession. There have always been Judases in life, those who turn away from the Lord for selfish, self-seeking reasons. He was given the highest place of privilege, that distinction of being among the Lord's chosen 12. He lost that privilege for a handful of coins he did not really want. All Judas really did was buy his way to eternal darkness.

Twelve simple men: 11 whose lives were remarkable, one whose was a tragedy. A distinctive difference in the categories was openness of heart.

Following the Apostles Fast, we are brought to reverence with their powerful witness of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. But more than this, with open hearts the lives the 11 led will forever be examples to us all of their extraordinary accomplishments.

Truly everything is foreordained, yet man is responsible for all his actions. The lives led by the Apostles teach us much about divine sovereignty and human choice.

May we all guard against the disillusionments of life and with an open heart accept Godliness within the choices we make.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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