Christianity 201

May 24, 2020

For the Twelve, Answering the Call Came with Risk

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed…

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.)

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have suggested that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.

 



May 5, 2020

Lessons from a List: The Twelve Disciples

I’m told that there are gifted preachers who make the genealogies relevant and engaging. We often rush through those, but they are part of God-inspired scripture and full of applications we can miss.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I often recite the names of the books of the Bible, but this time around I was compiling lists of the twelve students of Rabbi Jesus and mentally rearranging them into various sub-categories.

I say ‘students’ or ‘apprentices’ in order to skip over the semantics of ‘disciple’ versus ‘apostle.’ There were actually many disciples beyond these twelve.

NIV.Mark3.14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

NIV.Luke 6.13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

While I don’t like putting people in boxes, let’s look closer at the list:

Inner Circle (Peter, James and John) – In this group of three we see a leadership position assumed by Peter, possibly because of his age and marital status, but also the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and John. To function, the church needs core leadership, and even a core-within-a-core.

Brothers (James and John; Andrew and Peter) – No one hates nepotism more than I, but the history of the church, religious organizations, and perhaps even your local church is filled with family histories. Sometimes subsequent generations lack the zeal of those previous, and even within generations, some siblings are more attuned to the purpose, or perhaps carve out a different world. Is not the entire Bible story arc a story which begins with God’s loving promises to Abraham’s family?

Gospel Authors (John and Matthew) – Asked to name the disciples, many an outsider to Christianity will say, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” But only two of the gospels were written by disciples and only three disciples contributed to our modern day Bibles, the other being Peter whose two epistles appear near the end of the New Testament. This however does not preclude that Peter and the others contributed information to Mark’s account and Luke’s account. In an age where print-on-demand is commonplace and everybody has a book to sell on their website, it’s interesting that those closest to the action — the twelve students of Jesus — didn’t pursue publishing; or at the very least, in terms of Luke 1:1 (where we’re told that many wrote accounts) their writing didn’t make the final canon of scripture.

Unlikely Choices (Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot) – I am sure there were cries of, “What is he doing here?” or “What are they doing here.” The inclusion of Matthew (a sellout to the Roman tax farming system) and Simon (a political activist) would pave the way for the Apostle Paul (a persecutor of Christians), and pave the way for the inclusion of Gentile believers (gasp!). Sometimes we have difficulty accepting that those who have genuinely met Jesus and decided to follow Him are actually capable of leaving their former life behind.

Disappointments in the Later Chapters (Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, Thomas’ doubt) – Much has been written about Peter and Judas, but as I compiled this, I thought it strange that Thomas is not usually listed in their category. One website described him as “naturally cynical” and skepticism is a still a disease in our day. Why wasn’t he there when the others were gathered and Jesus appeared? My guess is that he was out shopping around his resumé looking for another job. Despite the familiarity of the Peter and Judas narratives, it’s worth noting that elsewhere in scripture there is an emphasis on finishing well. (See this comparison from II Kings in a very early edition of this devotional.) After years with Jesus, how could Judas betray and Peter disavow himself of any connection? Or how could Thomas not be satisfied with the testimony of the other ten disciples? Also, Thomas makes a particular proof requirement of the risen Christ that has sparked many discussions about the nature of Christ’s glorified body and the nature of ours in the age to come.

People with the Same Name (James and James, Simon and Simon (Peter), Judas and Judas) – In a world where people stand out and stake their individual identity it’s often difficult for people to be in a school classroom where there are four Jennifers and five Jasons (among the most popular names in the 1980s.) I include this here because, well, you know who you are! Also, it’s no wonder that the other Judas is often listed as Thaddeus; I would have done the same!

Those Outside the Spotlight (Phillip, Nathanael (Bartholomew), the other James, the other Simon, the other Judas) – You probably know the reference to “Judas, not Iscariot,” and perhaps have heard a sermon that referenced Nathanael as a man of integrity (NLT) in whom there was “no guile.” (KJV). But the list of twelve is rounded out by some whose contributions are minimal. And how would you like to remembered in history as “James the Lesser” or “James the Less?” (Debate continues as to whether or not this was the brother of Jesus who wrote the Book of James. My understanding is that he was not but was the son of Alphaeus.) Nonetheless, these men also were taught by Jesus and served alongside the others, and like ten of the twelve, tradition is that they died martyr’s deaths for their adherence to the Christ story.

Not Listed – In this list we find the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the other Mary, the other other Mary (a popular name, they must have been Catholic), Clopas, John Mark (who was quite young at this point) and the two nominated to replace Judas. On the latter event we’re told:

NIV.Acts.1.21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

Despite verse 21, one website dared to suggest Matthias had not been a witness to the life of Christ, but the text speaks otherwise. That did however make me think of Paul, whose Damascus Road experience is in the minds of many readers, a direct encounter with Christ. He describes himself as a man abnormally born, which is not a statement of physiology, but that he was simply elsewhere when the controversial Rabbi was teaching and performing miracles in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany. Check out our look at his life from a few days ago.

Then there were the perhaps secret followers such as Nicodemus (aka Nick at Nite) and Joseph, who in offering to bury the body of Christ in his tomb was acting as a type of patron of which there might have been many.

…So where do you fit in this list? As a disciple of Jesus, where would your profile land? Perhaps you’re in a unique category not listed here or perhaps God is waiting to use you in a category that hasn’t been invented yet!


For more on the twelve, check out this article from October 2019.

February 9, 2016

On Being a True Servant

Today we’re paying a first-time visit to a writer whose blog was bookmarked in my computer, but I don’t believe we’ve ever featured here. Tanya Nemley blogs at God Speaks I Listen and you may click the title below to read this at its source, complete with graphics.

Are You a Servant of God?

John 12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

I decided to write about the subject of being a servant of Jesus Christ. Why… you might ask? Because I feel that I need and maybe we all need to remember why we remain on the earth after our salvation experience. To put it simply…we are now working for God!

A servant is a…helper, follower and supporter of an important person, one who performs duties for a person in charge, a personal attendant, worker, hired help, steward, hireling, underling, an assistant.

We are not to be the one in charge but a servant to the one in charge. We are not supposed to out there making a big name for ourselves but making a name for the one we serve. Our whole Christian walk is not about us and what we can get out of God. It’s about what God can get out of us. This is for our benefit in our eternal life with Him. Some may ask… why don’t we just go to heaven after we get saved? We are servants after salvation and we assist in leading others to Jesus.

Mark 10:44-45 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

There is a word in the above scripture verse that really quickened me down in my spirit and that word is “even”. Even Jesus who is the Son of Almighty God served. He knew His place and duty down here on earth. He knew He had a job to do for Father God. We all have a job to do for God.

The older I get and the more I pray and study God’s word I am coming to realize my purpose for my existence and reason for my earthly stay. Excuse me for putting it this way…I want to work my butt off for God! Now that I know who I am and what my whole life is about I KNOW what I need and want to do. My life is dedicated to serving my husband, my 6 kids, my parents, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

I need people to see Jesus in my life and the only way to show them is to do what He did:

John 13: 12-15 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

servant heartBeing a good servant means being keenly aware of the one that you are serving. Without knowing who’s in charge one might begin to take control of things. They might take over authority. They could abuse power that they don’t really have. Worse yet they may get puffed up and accept credit for any successes.

Paul makes it clear who he is as he makes these statements several times in the bible…” Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”.

John the Baptist made this statement:

Act 13:25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

See people will try to follow you because John said “who do you suppose that I am.” He knew that they what they were thinking about him and that they might want to follow him. But John was a Worker and was trying to complete his job here on earth. He could have taken a little credit here and told these men to come and join his group but instead he told them of the master… his employer. He humbled himself by saying he was unworthy to even tie His employers shoes. What a servant John was!

Jesus mother Mary said this:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:18

What a woman of God! There was no doubt that she knew what she was!

The bible says we must be a servant and the Holy Spirit will help us accomplish this task all day every day. God WILL honor you us serving. We will be rewarded too.

Don’t follow anyone who is looking for praise and adoration, but stick around with those with a humble and giving spirit. You don’t even need a lot of discernment for this…you will just know the difference between who wants to be served and who is serving.

I’m seeing a vision right now: I see Jesus high and lifted up and there is a very long line of people standing in front of Him.   They have servant’s outfits on with a towel on one arm and the other behind their back. They are saying…. “What can I do for you my Lord?” Jesus says something to each one and they leave Him. I asked Jesus what did He say to them and He said He told them to obey the word. He said He has told everyone what to do already. He said everyone was born with gifts and talents and then when we accept Him as Lord and Savior the Holy Spirit has been leading us from day one. We must obey God.

Checklist for our job as a servant of God:

  1. We all have a gifts and talents naturally given to us by God. Think about yours.
  2. The bible gives us clear instruction in what we are to do for the kingdom. If we don’t know what to do start by finding out what the bible says we should do.
  3. Walk with God so you will find it much easier to hear Gods voice when He by way of the Holy Spirit gives you direct orders for His divine purpose or mission.
  4. Make sure you are always prepared and ready to serve. Know your word, have tracks and bibles available, have your testimony ready and be prepared to share it, have a sharp eye for those divine appointments…in other words look for opportunities kingdom work.
  5. Make sure your house is in order. Have you ever seen a beautician with her hair looking busted and she wants to do your hair? We represent the King of Kings. You don’t need a Louis Vuitton handbag to witness to someone but a clean, humble, willing and dedicated heart.
  6. Be willing to do dirty work. God may not start you at the top. He may want to see if you’ll be faithful with smaller task until He sees that He can trust you.
  7. Let love be your motivation in all that you do for Him. Have love for Him and love for others.

Looking back over the past day, week, month year(s) can you really say what you’ve done for the Lord? Maybe a little, a lot or nothing at all. We need to take our Christianity seriously. Being a servant is what a Christian is and who a Christian is. I pray this blog today will cause one to ponder and make adjustment if necessary. God bless you!