April 13, 2009

Ordinary Joes, Part 11 - Simon, the Right-Winger

The eleventh in our list of the apostles of Jesus is a man by the name of Simon, the zealot. He is only mentioned four times in the New Testament (Matthew 10, Mark 3, Luke 6, and Acts 1) … and each time it is with this not-so-flattering nickname attached. Why was he called “the zealot”? Probably not because he was the most evangelistically aggressive, or most holy among the apostles. Probably not, in other words, because of his zeal for Jesus … but because of his previous zeal for the nation of Israel.

Not long after the death and resurrection of Jesus, an official political party formed in Israel … known as the Zealots.*  Really it was part political party, part militia. For their platform was complete and entire independence from Roman rule, by means of force if necessary. They were the ultimate right-wingers. Not content to work for change by means of diplomacy, prayer, civil disobedience, or example … they took to the swords – not in self-defense, mind you – but in an attempted coup against Roman authority. In fact, they eventually became a little over-zealous in their revolutionary tactics: resorting, not just to military advance, but to murder and pillage.

In the days of Jesus’ ministry (and Simon’s early discipleship), the Zealots, as an official political party, had not yet come into being. But the seeds of revolution and violence were apparently already being sown; and the term “zealot” (small ‘z’) was apparently already in use to describe men of such convictions. So it was, in all probability, for this reason that Simon was known to his fellow apostles as “the zealot.” He was defined by his involvement in political unrest. This was his background, his passion, his life’s meaning. He probably went to the secret meetings. Perhaps he carried a dagger under his belt in case it all went down. He was what would be called today a ‘crazed right-winger.’

Now, understanding that we all have different political views; admitting that, in many areas, I lean toward the right-hand side of the political aisle; and allowing for the fact that we do not know what it is like to live under a truly oppressive governmental regime … we should still stand back from men like these, I think, and wonder if they might do more harm than good. Secret meetings? Daggers? Revolution? These certainly weren’t the means that Jesus used (or uses) to free men and women from oppression! And yet, out of the midst of the weapons stock-piles, and from those secret meetings, Jesus called a man named Simon to be a part of a different kind of kingdom, and a different kind of revolution. O yes, Simon was going to turn the world upside down … but with a different kind of sword, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17).

Tradition says that Simon took that sword all the way to the British Isles, where he was crucified for preaching Jesus.*  What a turnaround Jesus made in Simon’s life! The over-zealous Israeli nationalist dies on pagan, gentile, barbarian, foreign soil … for Jesus’ sake. So what is it that you are so zealous about? And will people, someday in the future, look back at those things and wonder if they didn’t do you more harm than good? Maybe it’s time to lay down whatever tools, or meetings, or plans, or ideals that have thus far defined you … and become zealous about Jesus, and about eternal souls.

*My information on the Zealots, and on Simon's ministry and death in Britain comes from John MacArthur's Twelve Ordinary Men, 174-178.

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