Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:3b “. . .and Bartholomew;. . .”
Simon the Leader, Andrew the Usher, James the Thunderbolt, John the Beloved, and Philip the Analyst, are followed by Bartholomew, whose given name was Nathanael. Bartholomew, meaning son of Tolmai, was his surname. Nathanael Bartholomew’s life is summarized in three words: cynic, genuine, grateful.
First, Bartholomew was a cynic. He tended to have a bit of a barb on his tongue. When Philip announced the arrival of Messiah, Bartholomew responded with sarcasm, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (JN 1:46 NAS).
Being from Cana (JN 21:2), eight miles from Nazareth, Bartholomew fell victim to the rivalry that exists between closely located towns. In my Cape Girardeau basketball days, our fanaticism to win was intensified when we played arch-rivals Jackson, Sikeston, and Poplar Bluff. I vividly remember Coach Garrett saying, “If we lose every other game of the year, it’ll be okay if we beat Poplar Bluff.”
Cynicism, Bartholomew’s flaw, can be a powerful communication tool. It helps people view things in unexpected ways, from angles not considered before. For their insightful joking, cynics are rewarded by our laughs or sense of surprise.
Due to the attention cynicism elicits, a cynic is tempted over time to use it more. If not careful, the cynic can easily drop below the line of propriety, letting his attitude degenerate into something worse than simple cynicism. Sarcasm can deteriorate into a negative, bitter, and critical spirit toward everything. All of life goes sour. Beware the barb of cynicism; it can become a hook that drags us down.
Second, Bartholomew was genuine. Though initially cynical, Bartholomew did have enough intellectual integrity to investigate the claims of Christ firsthand.
When Philip said, “Come and see,” Bartholomew came and saw. As he approached Jesus, our Master paid a huge tribute to Bartholomew. “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (JN 1:47). What a compliment–an Israelite indeed–Bartholomew was the kind of person God wants His people to be. No guile–Bartholomew was true blue, harboring no deceit, no trickery, no hypocrisy.
Phoniness and duplicity were absent from him. He was frank and honest, always above board, retaining no hidden motives. What you see is what you get.
Bartholomew was authentic, the real deal, but still a sinner. Though a truly fine man, he was wise enough to recognize something vital was lacking in his life.
He needed to be forgiven of his sins and to enter into a personal relationship with God. Bartholomew realized he needed more in the spiritual realm, and he discovered it in the only place it can be found, in the person of Jesus Christ.
When confronted with Christ, Bartholomew immediately acknowledged, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (JN 1:49 NAS). By calling Jesus “Rabbi,” Bartholomew said, from then on Jesus would be his Teacher about life; he would henceforth look solely to Jesus to learn the ways of God.
By calling Jesus “Son of God,” Bartholomew admitted Jesus had a special, unique relationship with the Father. Jesus was the promised one, the one Israel had long looked for, the one who was to come down from Heaven to Earth, the one who would be our only hope to be forgiven of sin and to know the living God.
By calling Jesus “King of Israel,” Bartholomew placed himself, an Israelite, under Christ’s authority. He submitted himself to Jesus as Lord. Bartholomew’s life was no longer his own, he was henceforth a slave lovingly yielded to Jesus.
Faced with the claims of Jesus on his life, Bartholomew gladly and immediately believed. By this act of accepting and surrendering to Jesus, Bartholomew proved he was true and genuine, harboring no guile. However moral or religious a person might be, anyone who refuses to accept Jesus is living in rebellion against God. Jesus is the only way to the Father that the Father accepts as legitimate.
It is not our role to determine which religion is right, as if mere mortals have the right to dictate to God, to choose as if picking items on a smorgasbord. Jesus, by His resurrection from the dead, proved Himself to be the only way to the Father. All other approaches are manmade schemes, and thus unacceptable to God.
Bartholomew succeeded in locating the only way to God because he was genuine, having a true desire to find and know God’s truth. Unfortunately, instead of seeking out the truths and ways of God, people often build walls of prejudice to hide behind. Rather than taking time to do painstaking research, people prefer a superficial theology of sound bites: Christianity is irrelevant, the Bible is outdated, church people hurt me, I knew a preacher who fell into sin, church members are hypocrites, they’re interested only in numbers, they don’t care about me, all they want is my money. These are all smokescreens. The real issue is, people fear to investigate, to come and see Jesus as Bartholomew did, because they might like what they find, and would then have to grapple with giving up a pet sin they love.
Christians, never doubt this truth, we have what prechristians want. They usually do not realize this, and are letting petty substitutes displace the substantial reality they actually desire. We believers must be genuine, making the meaningful and significant Christian life so attractive that sinners, in order to embrace it, are willing to relinquish little, petty, pet sins they cling to. Be winsome to win some.
Jesus, radiating through a believer’s life, is still attractive and appealing. Lord Peterborough, a deist, visited Archbishop Fenelon to debate him. The dear saint did not argue, and showed such a loving, endearing demeanor that the deist said, “If I stay here much longer I shall become a Christian in spite of myself.”
At the end of the nineteenth century, Huxley, a well known agnostic, was impressed by a simple man who consistently displayed a radiant Christian faith. One day Huxley requested of the man, “Tell me simply what your Christian faith means to you, and why you are a Christian.” The man replied, “You could demolish my arguments. I’m not clever enough to argue with you.” Huxley countered, “I don’t want to argue. Just tell me simply what this Christ means to you.” The man told how precious was his faith and trust in Jesus. The famous agnostic, with tears in his eyes, said, “I would give my right hand if only I could believe that.”
We have what they want. May we be genuine enough to display a beautiful Christ. And may prechristians be genuine enough to honestly investigate His claims. R.A. Torrey, atheist turned preacher, encouraged agnostics to offer this prayer, “God, if You exist, give me light, and I will follow it wherever it leads.”
Third, Bartholomew was grateful. In three lists of the Twelve (MT 10:3, MK 3:18; Lk 6:14), his name is linked with the one who led him to Christ. Being joined to Christ made Bartholomew tender toward Philip. They were friends before they met Jesus, and their bond seemed only to tighten after they came to Him.
Believers usually hold a deep, lifelong sense of gratitude for the one who brought them to Jesus. Nothing will endear us to another human being faster than our being the one who brings them their first knowledge of the precious Savior.
About twenty years ago, I had the privilege of leading to Christ an elderly man named Orie Fritts. Weeks later, he was standing near me as I shook hands with people after church. Once the crowd passed, I turned to him and said, “Orie, can I help you with something?” “Nope,” he replied, “I just like standing close to the man who led me to Jesus.” Ah, that will fire up a preacher, and anyone else. What Orie felt for me has to have been what Bartholomew felt for Philip.
Right now, take a moment to re-live the moment of your conversion. Who introduced you to the Savior? For me, it was my dad. Thank God for that person and then ask the Lord to use you soon in a similar capacity for someone else.
Cynic, genuine, grateful–and then the end. According to tradition, in Armenia Bartholomew prayed for a king’s daughter, who was healed. As a result, the king and many others became believers in Jesus, but the pagan priests of idolatry were enraged. They convinced the king’s brother to have Bartholomew arrested. They quickly skinned him alive and finally ended the flaying by beheading him.
Thus violently ended the life of a man of gentle devotion. To the end, his cynicism remained muted, under control. He stayed genuine, true blue. Though the end was horrific, he was grateful for having been given a life worth living.