Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Jesus We Follow: an introduction to Discipleship ~ Ganeida

In the district of Galilee, Israel, there was an obscure hamlet called Nazareth.  It was built on the side of a hill overlooking a beautiful basin shaped valley. The area had been invaded, abandoned & resettled until in Jesus time it was so despised Nathaniel queried, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? John 1:43

Nazareth was at the *Back of Beyond*, Hicksville Incorporated, a township of Gentiles, farmers & tradies; a blue collar region far from the centres of culture & learning & at least 70 miles of rough journeying from the capitol, Jerusalem. In many ways it was like our own island: a small, mixed population living quietly in obscurity but perfectly suited to keeping God’s chosen Messiah from unwanted attention while Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people Luke 2:52.

Interestingly it was also a fundamentalist community.  More famous Jewish teachers came out of Galilee than anywhere else in Israel.  They had great reverence for scripture & a desire to faithfully keep Torah. The historian Ray Vander Laan says: This translated into vibrant religious communities, devoted to strong families, their country, whose synagogues echoed the debate & discussions about keeping the Torah.  They resisted the pagan influences of Hellenism far more than did their Judean counterparts.  When the great revolt against the pagan Romans & their collaborators finally occurred, it began among the Galileans.  

Nazareth had its own synagogue, which is important to note because Jewish schools were attached to the local synagogue. 

From birth Jesus would have watched his mother light the shabbat candles each Friday night while reciting the prayer:  Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the Holy Shabbat.

By 5 He would have been in school learning to read & write the Torah & memorising it by heart. At 13 He would have been considered capable of keeping the commandments.  At 15 He would have begun the study of rabbinic interpretation of the Torah until at 20 He began to pursue a vocation.  Not until 30 would He have been allowed the authority to teach others.
The relationship between a student & their teacher was very intense, very personal.  The goal was not to see how much the student could learn then repeat back again like much of our Hellenised western education. The goal was to train the student to be as much like his teacher as possible.  To this end emphasis was put on 2 things: saying & doing.

Learning the Torah by heart was so that it could be meditated upon & not forgotten.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Joshua 1:8

Now the Hebrew word Hagah does translate literally into our English word meditate but it does not mean the same thing.  Basically it means to mutter, to growl.  The idea is that of a hungry lion roaring desperately for food.

Then comes the doing.  The 2 things go together. You repeat the Torah so you don’t forget to do what it says.
In Jesus day there were 2 main types of teachers: those who could only teach accepted interpretations of the Torah ~ & those who could give a new interpretation & teach with authority. The 2nd group was very, very small.  Jesus taught with authority. Matthew 7:28~29

The last thing I want to show you is the yoke.  When a teacher invited someone to study under them it was called Taking the Yoke of Torah so when Jesus says For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light in Matthew 11:30 He is referring to the yoke of Torah ~ the living of one’s life to the glory of God.
I have gone to the time & trouble to explain the basics of discipleship so that you have a better understanding of what Jesus meant & what His disciples understood Him to mean when He called each of them to Follow Me.

You also need to understand Acts4:13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus; does not mean they were completely uneducated.  They would have learnt the basics otherwise how else could they keep the Torah? Interestingly one of the Greek words used is idiōtēs ~ idiots. It was a term used of people who did not take an interest in or contribute to the public arena; nobodies only interested in their own affairs.  They were not academically smart men, academically trained men but they were discipled men because they were easily recognised as having been with Jesus.

Come with me to Matthew 4:19 because I want to look at what we have learnt about discipleship in the light of Jesus call to Andrew & Peter to Follow Me.

18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.
21 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.

There are several things in this account.  Jesus was not some random rabbi popping out of the wild blue yonder to invite people who didn’t know Him & were not known by Him to drop everything & follow Him.  No.  If all 4 gospels are read together it becomes apparent that Andrew & Peter, James & John knew who Jesus was, even that John the Baptist called Him the prophesied Messiah, & were known by Him.
A rabbi considered the person’s character & commitment carefully before issuing the call to  discipleship.  This initial call was not to full time discipleship.
If you read John’s gospel you discover that Andrew was already a disciple of John’s. Remember Jesus & John were cousins. If anyone knew who Jesus was, it was John. It was because of John’s testimony that Andrew followed Him, then having spent time with Jesus brought his brother Peter to Him.

I love this story because in their excitement at thinking they had found the Messiah they were curious but I’m pretty sure they would also have been fairly cautious.  They were Jews. They did know the scriptures. Yet Jesus does not try to convince them of anything.  The invitation is to Come & see ~ in other words to consider for yourselves the truth of the matter.
Psalm 34:8 says  Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
Many, many people reject Jesus out of hand without having considered for themselves the validity of His claims yet the invitation has always been Come & see for yourself.

It is after this initial introduction that the call to follow is given. This is where so much trouble occurs.  The disciples were not sent into the world to make converts.  They were sent to makes disciples: people who would set aside everything to become like their master.

Paul says to imitate him as he imitates Christ 1 Corinthians 11:1.  Christianity has a lot of converts but few disciples. When the church has believers who neither know the Word of God nor obey it then we have exactly the situation Paul comments on in Romans 2:24 ~
No wonder the Scriptures say, "The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you."

So what did Andrew & Peter, James & John, Nathaniel & Philip, those very first disciples, understand by Jesus call to follow Him.

Firstly these are the traditional Jewish words used by a rabbi to call a disciple.  They understood they were being asked to come under the Yoke of Torah & learn what the Torah meant & how to apply it in their daily lives according to Jesus.

Matthew 5:7 "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.  I need to be very careful here because we are not under the law in the same way that the Jews were under the law. We are under grace.  We have a new & better covenant.  At the same time Scripture says:

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. Ezekiel 36:26
'I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7

We have spoken much about the Holy Spirit, His presence & work in our lives.  It is He who gives us the new heart, the tender responsive heart, a heart that desires to obey out of love. This is part of the new covenant.  The old testament believers were totally reliant on their own efforts to follow the Torah.  We are not.  We have the Holy Spirit to help us.  What’s more Jesus effectively combined all the law & the prophets into just 2 commands: love God; love your neighbour.  Everything else is a commentary on these two.

 Romans 5:5 says  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  God Himself has given us all the love we need through His Holy Spirit.  Without the Holy Spirit we can only love as any person might love but God’s love is like his shalom: a part of His character. The Hebrew word is hesed & almost impossible to translate so you will see it translated variously as lovingkindness, mercy, loyalty, dependability, kindness, compassion. It is a quality that is sacrificial & wishes the best for another, the idea expressed in Romans 2:4 Don't you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can't you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

It is not something one feels.  It is how one acts ~ & it does not overlook wrongdoing. That may seem harsh but it is not.  Consider how you teach a child what will hurt him & how to avoid that. You may have to remove something, set boundaries even punish but whatever is done is done with the best interests of the child in mind.  So it is with God. In Jewish theology it contributes to the repairing of the world. This idea is expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:18~19

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

Just as in Jesus day many follow Him at a distance, reluctant to take on the full yoke of discipleship but discipleship is the point. Jesus said: Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher. Luke 6:40

Our teacher is the Holy Spirit & He wants to make us like Jesus.  He will guide us, correct us & empower us if we let Him but we will grieve Him & quench Him if we resist Him. 

The invitation is Come & see but +eventually a choice must be made & then the command is Follow Me. The only question left is are you one of those prepared to leave everything & follow at Jesus back just as closely as you can or are you content to follow at a distance seeing from afar but never partaking of the fullness of life in Christ?

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