I want to begin studying some of the deeper things of God with you but before I do that I want to make sure we are firmly established in the faith. We will look @ our foundational doctrinal beliefs from Hebrews 6:1~2 but while what we believe is important ~ & it is important that we understand why we believe what we do~ the very first thing that is needed is our commitment to not just be believers in Jesus, but to be His disciples.
We have looked @ some aspects of discipleship before but today I want to consider why we, in the west, find discipleship so hard, what Jesus disciples understood about discipleship that we do not, & what made all the difference.
In the west we think of Jesus & His disciples as we would a teacher & his students & so we miss the point completely because that is not the relationship of a Rabbi & his disciples. The whole idea of discipleship was to conform the student to the image & likeness of his master. They were to walk like him, talk like him & ultimately think like him. This is what the scriptures mean when they say things like: For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; Romans 8:29 When we talk about the authority of the believer, when we talk about doing the works that Jesus did & doing the greater works [John 14:12], when we talk about being overcomers, it is all based on the assumption that we are being conformed into the image & likeness of Jesus Christ.
Only those who are being conformed into His image can do what Jesus did, speak with His authority & know His will. And now you know why so much of Christianity is powerless & without authority. We have a lot of believers, baby Christians, but very few who are willing to become disciples & do the hard work required of a disciple ~ & it is hard work. The Holy Spirit will help us but He will not do for us that which we are meant to do for ourselves. If belief was all that was needed then there would have been no need for any of the Epistles but we have the Epistles to correct errors in people's thinking & behaviour because mankind is always looking for the easy way, the shortcut, the quick fix. You will not find it in discipleship.
Jesus followed the Old Testament pattern. Just as Elijah called Elisha [1 Kings 19:19] Jesus called Peter & James & John, Andrew, Philip, Matthew, Bartholomew, Thomas, James bar Alpheus, Simon, Jude & Judas Iscariot. And each of those 12 men understood what was required of them. Just as Elisha left his farm & his parents so too did these men walk away from their life's work & their families to become a disciple.
So too have you been called for " No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6:44 Now consider: what have you given up to be a disciple of Jesus? What are you hanging on to that should have been let go of ? See we have a very distorted view of discipleship. We think we can have Jesus & the world. Jesus is the app that makes our lives run more smoothly. And right there, we fall.
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
See, the rabbi/disciple bond ran deep. It was often deeper & tighter than family bonds but here's the crunch: it was a relationship wherein the disciple ministered to his rabbi. He ran his errands. He cooked his food. He did the washing. He cleaned his house because we are to Humble [ourselves] in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt [us]. James 4:10 Before we can walk in the power & authority of Christ, before we can walk in His glory, God has to show us that He can trust us: He can trust us in the small things so that He can trust us with the big things.
Why was this how disciples were trained? I would suggest to you it is because ...Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. [1 Corinthians 8:1] Love was the defining bond between a rabbi & his disciples. This is why Peter's denial cut so deep, why Judas betrayal was considered so outrageous. The bond between a rabbi & his disciples over~rode all other relationships. It was built & founded on mutual love.
We have all known Christians with a lot of head knowledge & very little patience with actual people. This is not the way of discipleship. This is why Jesus had his disciples with him 24/7. Some things can't be learned except through the osmosis of relationship. Day by day Jesus modeled the way of life lived by a lover of God. Day by day the disciples saw what it was to walk with God, empowered by His Holy Spirit. This is why Paul says: Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1
Today one way Jesus disciples us is through His Holy Spirit. This is an excellent reason for developing a close relationship with the Holy Spirit that we might say with David:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23~24
Or Psalm 51:10
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me...
So what was different in Jesus day?
Firstly the whole culture ~ & I do not just mean it was a middle~eastern culture as opposed to a western culture. I mean it was a God~centric culture surrounded by paganism. Every adult Jewish male, including Jesus, wore phylacteries containing passages from Exodus 13:1–10, 11–16; Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21. These were actually meant to be quite small [about the size of a penny]but some of the pharisees made theirs bigger & Jesus didn't think much of it: "But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments....Matthew 23:5 They wore tallit [the tassels] on the 4 corners of their outer garment. They prayed 3 times a day. They sacrificed @ the temple. They kept the feasts ~ as an entire people. Even today, when Shabbat begins, everything shuts.
They were a people who knew their scriptures. They could & did, argue, debate, discuss the meaning & application of their scriptures. How often do you see Christians informally discussing the scriptures when they gather together? I would guess not often. We discuss the weather, ourselves, news events, and unfortunately, & far too often, other people. We confine discussion of the bible to church & bible study but that is not how it was in Jesus day. I am going to leave aside Haverim [the close spiritual friend who will become as Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17] quite simply because I do not have time to discuss it in depth.
At different times we have discussed how what we call the Lord's prayer is based on the Jewish Amidah, about renewing our minds & taking every thought captive. It is here where the Jewish believer of Jesus day differs from the Christian of today: Paul taught Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; 1 Thessalonians 5:17 & we go, Oh! That's quite impossible. If it were impossible Paul would not have said it. Our problem is we do not understand what Paul meant. So what did he mean?
Have you seen the movie Fiddler on the Roof? At one point someone asks the Rabbi, Is there a blessing for the sewing machine? & the Rabbi replies:There's a blessing for everything!
In Jesus day Jewish life was saturated in prayer ~ & it is simplier than you might think. It does involve a radical rethinking of how we approach daily life but it has the ability to transform our minds & alter our thinking. Deuteronomy 8:10 gives a command to bless God lest the people be tempted to think their prosperity is from their own efforts. To bless, in Hebrew thinking, is to praise. We do this when we say Grace before a meal. We thank God for providing our daily bread. Grace is a brakah ~ a short prayer of praise for God's goodness to us. Brakah were an integral part of every Jew's prayer life. The first one would be said as soon as you awoke.
Blessed are you, oh lord our God, King of the Universe for returning my soul to me for yet another day.
If you apply your thinking this short prayer could be easily followed by any number of others:
Blessed are you, oh lord our God, King of the Universe for : the rooster that woke me
: clothes to wear
: food to eat
: a spouse to love...
On & on it goes because Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17
Praying like this changes our attitude. It makes us very aware of all the good things in our lives that we take for granted ~ like using the toilet. Yes, there is a blessing for this, but as anyone who has a disability in this area can testify it is a true blessing to be able to use the toilet! It stops our grumbling & focus our attention on ...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8
Praying like this not only saturates our lives in prayer, it creates in us an attitude of gratitude & an abiding awareness of the presence of God, His closeness, His love, His care for us. It helps us to understand that God's attitude towards us is always one of love, of desiring fellowship, of rejoicing over us. If you want to know just how critical our attitude is, consider what happened when the Israelites began grumbling & mummered against Moses. Gratitude opens our hearts for blessing. There is always something to be thankful for, always someway we can see the Hand of God moving in our lives.
Is this easy? Nope. Cultivating this mindset means being very intentional in our thought life. Most of us don't pay all that much attention to our stray thoughts or to our daydreaming. Our thoughts ramble through our minds willy~nilly & all too often they veer into rehashing an old argument or stewing over how somebody wronged us, or overlooked us, or how unappreciated we are: me, me, me. Finding things to bless God for changes our focus completely. Everything becomes God. We become more positive about life in general & far more grateful for all the good things that are showered upon us without our deserving or even asking.
We have forgotten that the Christian life is one of discipline because we find it so hard to hold in tension all the various things Scripture has to say. There is Grace, the unmerited favour of God towards us, but there is also I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1Corinthians 9:27 There is faith & works, there is the being still & knowing am God & there is contending for the faith but if we are to have the single eye, if we are to love God with evrything in us then we need to learn how to focus our attention on the one thing that truly matters: Jesus Christ, the author & finisher of our faith.