Who was Thaddaeus??

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.    Mark 9:33-34

Anybody here ever heard of Thaddaeus in the Bible?  Who was he?  What do you remember most about him?

Nothing! Even though he was a chosen disciple of Jesus, other than being in the list of the disciples [Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18], his name is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament.  What we know about him is what he didn’t do: here was a guy who was left behind when Jesus raised the little girl from death; left behind at the Mount of Transfiguration; left behind in the Garden of Gethsemane – he was always one of those who was left behind.

Yeah, Peter, James, and John got to go with Jesus, but never Thaddaeus!  Even Andrew is mentioned a couple of times, and of course Judas had the honor of carrying the band’s purse.  But Thaddaeus – you never hear about him.  In fact, apparently he is the patron saint of lost causes.

Imagine being Thaddaeus in the midst of this argument over who is the greatest among the disciples!  He KNOWS it won’t be him.  And there’s Peter, James, and John – quietly so Jesus doesn’t hear – arguing along the way, listing off all their privileges and privileged experiences with Jesus, while Thaddaeus apparently can list nothing and probably feeling more and more miserable about it.  Perhaps he jumped on the bandwagon – say, of Peter – that if  he identified with Peter, perhaps some of the glory of Peter might shine on him.

There are some who think that Thaddaeus was the nickname for Jude – you know, that very last, very small letter, after all the other letters by Paul, James, Peter, and John were finished, just before the book of Revelation; and that his letter was really a sort of condensed reworking of Peter’s first letter.  If he is Jude, then perhaps he is the “Judas (not Iscariot)” who gets to ask the one question in his whole career at the Last Supper in John 14(:22).

When people are arguing about who is the greater – or, on the flip side of the coin, inferring who isn’t worth anything – it is hard not to become involved.  It is hard not become a little jealous and feel a little left out.  Why couldn’t Jesus have rotated some of these privileged experiences – doesn’t He know that it is dangerous to play favorites?  If only Peter would give everyone else a chance and not always jump in, often with the wrong answer.  If only John would stop sucking up to Jesus.  And what did James have that Thaddaeus didn’t?  James’ only distinction in the Gospels was that he wanted to call down destruction upon the opponents of Jesus – why would Jesus allow someone with such a violent temperament be such a trusted member of the inner circle??

In discussing the passage where Jesus tells His disciples to be humble and sit at the lowest place when invited to a feast – so that when the host comes along, he might invite them to “go up higher” – a commentator pointed out that what Jesus never mentioned was: What if the host never invited you to “go up higher”?  What if your place before God and man was indeed at the foot of the table – or perhaps not even at the table at all?  Perhaps there is no room left at the main table, so we would have to sit at a table in the corner – could you handle that?

How did Thaddaeus handle being one of those disciples who was left at the foot of the table and who apparently was never told “to go up higher”?  I guess we will have to wait until we get to heaven to ask him – if by then anybody would really care.

“To be first, you must be last of all and servant of all.”  That’s what Jesus said.  That’s really a powerful saying – as long as it applies to someone else.  Oh, yes, we can think of a couple of people who could surely use the message of the lessons today…

But Jesus isn’t talking to SOMEONE ELSE – He’s talking to you and me. Look over again the Epistle for this morning [James 3:16-4:6]. James nails it right on the head:

(16) For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice…(4:1) What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (2) You want something but don’t get it. You character assassin and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.

How many times have you not been in the position of being Thaddaeus?  How many times have you had to wrestle with envy and jealousy?  Others get more income than you…  Others have better luck than you…  Others have more talent…  Others get more privileges…  Others get listened to…  Others….  Others….  Others….
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Then selfish ambition raises its ugly head – I’m going to put them in their place, so I’ll work behind the scenes, go from person to person, sowing seeds of discontent, sowing seeds of character assassination; and fighting, rejecting and rebelling; quarreling, cursing and ridiculing.

Everyone of us fits somewhere in this picture – a lot more than we would like to admit.  The lessons for today are very uncomfortable.  But they are most necessary.  We must come to terms with the fact that we really are sinners, we must meet face-to-face with the reality that we NEED a Savior.  It means, perhaps for the first time in our lives, realizing that we DO NOT BELONG at the table, much less at the foot of the table of our Lord.  It means that we realize we have no rights at all before God.

It has been said that repentance is the admission of reality – and that depression is the discovery of reality.  It is no fun looking at some lessons that confront us with such reality, whether they are Biblical lessons of today, or the lessons that come from the school of hard knocks.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us to despair.  Within the lessons is also a most wonderful offer of hope – if you want it.  There is hope to be had – if you find yourself desperate enough to need it – but it is a hope that has its greatest power only when you have reached desperate need.  Because only then in true humility do your realize just what Jesus is offering, and the fullness of the cost of that offering.

Only as we cry out in pain as the sharp edge of reality rubs against us do we discover a most wonderful joy.  Although we have no right to sit at the table, today we have entered doors that were not locked against us.  Although we have no right to sit at the table, we find no barriers here between us and the Lord.  Compared with the great volume of saints who have had greater faith and greater privilege, we realize that there could be no room at the table for us, and then we discover that the Host Himself has left the head of the table – the very throne of heaven – to make room, to make a place for us, and that He Himself will come and take us to that place with Himself.

Only when we discover that we have no rights, no compelling reason why we should ever be allowed to sit at the table with Jesus at all, much less at the foot of the table, it is then that we discover the extraordinary significance that Jesus was “delivered into the hands of men who will [not just character assassinate but] kill Him, and after three days He would rise from the dead.”

When we look at ourselves and the dirty dealings that we have done to other people, the destruction that we have wreaked in so many areas of our lives, the mess of some of the relationships that have been left in our wake, and then look at the cross – doesn’t it amaze you?  What is worse is to consider sometimes the way that we have treated the One Who has so loved us, the One Who has come to be literally here in Person, standing with us every day, always by our side, always ready to face everything and anything with us in each day.  Yet we have ignored Him, refused to listen to Him, rebelled against what He has asked us to do, treated Him like insignificant dirt.

But there, on that cross back in ancient Judea, just outside the city of Jerusalem, at a time and place that was very real, God the Son really did suffer, and He really did die for you and me.

No, not how many times have you felt like Thaddaeus, rather how many times have you been Thaddaeus – just this invisible, unknown among all the people surrounding you.  And yet, that didn’t stop Jesus from calling Thaddaeus to be one of His own, nor, for that matter, it didn’t stop Jesus from looking at you and saying, “It is for you I died.”  I think I understand more today what my dad used to say, when he talked about how even if he made it just inside the doors of heaven before they slammed them closed, he still would be utterly delighted.  I understand that.  The fact that Jesus would have you and me at all at His table is enough.

And He does – you and me – together you and me! – He has us both at His table, right here and right now.  He is not afraid to step out of His place of honor at the head of the feast, the throne of heaven, and come all the way down to this table, to pull out a chair – or a pew – and seat us here for His Supper.  He doesn’t send an angel to do this – He has come here Himself where two or three are gathered together.  He is here and therefore this is the head of the table, the head of the feast, where now He – the Host of Honor – gives His very Self to each one of us, one by one – every single one.

You know, I think I can understand why seemingly forgotten Thaddaeus would later go and give his life to talk about this Jesus, the Jesus Who has placed such value on a nobody like him.  As we come to this table, we discover that here too no one is too insignificant, no one is forgotten.  He has given His Word; He had given Himself, He gives Himself so that every single one of us is assured and guaranteed that we have a place of honor at the great marriage feast of heaven.  So come and discover again the great value that the Jesus of the cross and the resurrection and of eternal life has placed upon you.

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