Friday, November 16, 2018

Discipling Through Devotionals (3)

Call of the Four
Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11

Disciple making is a process that begins simply with the development of relationships. In the case of Jesus’ disciples, their relationship with Him began quite a while before they made the final decision to drop their nets[1] and to follow Him…and even then, that commitment was tried and tested on several occasions right up to Jesus’ death and resurrection![2]

As far as Andrew, perhaps John, and Simon Peter were concerned, this relationship began shortly after Jesus’ baptism and temptation and before Jesus began His public ministry (cf. John 1:35-42) with a simple invitation to “come and see”. John the Baptist was baptising at Bethany beyond the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. Every Jew would have understood the significance of this location as it was the same area where Joshua[3] crossed the Jordan after the generation of the unfaithful had died during the 40 year long wilderness wandering period. Messiah fever was high at the time John made his first appearance and his call to repentance would have been interpreted in terms of a preparation for some form of renewal or reconstruction of the nation[4]. So we can only imagine what must have been going through the minds of those who heard John preach! No wonder they were flocking to him to be washed clean in preparation for God’s intervention!

We know that Andrew, Simon’s brother was a follower of John the Baptist[5]. After hearing the witness of the Baptist regarding the Spirit anointing Jesus and his identification of Jesus as the “Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world”[6], they met with Jesus and spent a few hours with Him. We don’t know what they talked about, but something was said that convinced Andrew that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah because he immediately left to find Simon, his brother. If Simon was not a follower of John the Baptist (there is no indication in the text that he was) then this “finding” would have involved a three or more day trip back and forth to Galilee!

Andrew told his brother that they had found the Messiah and Simon immediately went with him to meet Jesus. The first meeting is interesting as it involved the giving of a name or a nickname[7]. Names were always significant in the culture at the time as with many African cultures still today.[8] At this point one would have expected Simon to respond with some statement of gratitude or surprise or perhaps the question why? But strangely and perhaps uncharacteristically, Simon said nothing and he did nothing. He obviously did not drop everything to follow Jesus as the next time the two met, Simon was still fishing.[9]

The second meeting with Jesus went a little deeper. In Mark 1:16-18 Jesus’ challenge was no longer simply “come and see”; He now called them to “come follow Me and I will show you how to fish for people”.[10] Simon, Andrew, James, and John immediately followed Jesus and for a time watched Him fish for people. They heard Him teach and preach, they saw Him heal and perform exorcisms, they witnessed His compassion for people, and they heard Him challenge them to “pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send more labourers into the harvest field.”

And yet, in Luke 5:1-11 we find them fishing for fish once again. We don’t really know why Simon Peter appeared to be reluctant to follow Jesus. Perhaps he was not fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Many had made that claim before and had met with a rather sticky end (cf. Acts 5:36-37). Or perhaps he was concerned that he would not be able to adequately provide for his family. Or perhaps he was fearful that he was not disciple making material and that he would fail.

In this account of the miraculous draught of fishes, Jesus touched on all of Simon’s possible fears. After having used Simon’s boat as a makeshift pulpit, Jesus told the seasoned fisherman to launch out for a catch. Luke filled in the background to this story by telling us that they had been fishing all night long[11] and that they had not caught as much as a single fin. So it is not surprising that at first Simon objected to the Lord’s suggestion. What exactly changed his mind we do not know, but they did launch out and we know what happened…the nets filled to breaking point and Simon had an “aha!” moment.

In this single event, Jesus addressed all of Simon’s concerns. He demonstrated quite clearly that He had power over the created order and was not a mere carpenter/stonemason/itinerant preacher and teacher – He was the Messiah and there was no longer any reason to doubt that. Secondly, He proved to Simon that He could provide exceedingly abundantly more than he and his wife would need. No need to fret about finances or food in the future! And finally, He dispelled the fear of failure by telling Simon Peter that He would make him what he needed to be…there need be no fear as he would receive personal, one-on-one, on the job training.

It is Jesus Who makes disciple makers…they do not make themselves. No one need ever be afraid, as Jesus will make us the kind of people we need to be and He has promised to complete the good work He began in us! All we need to do is walk as He walked…follow His lead…learn and imitate what He did in the Gospels…be attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as He was…and stay connected to the Father through constant prayer. [12]

[1] See Matthew 19:27 - Dropping their nets and following Jesus for the fishermen meant leaving behind a lucrative business. We would do well to remember that Simon Peter owned his own boat (Luke 5:3) as well as his own home (Luke 4:38 - more like a compound where family members and often those of the same trade lived together in a shared space called an insula), had business partners (Luke 5:10), and perhaps even hired hands (Mark 1:2).
[2] See John 21:3 where Simon Peter apparently decided to return to his old vocation.
[3] The name יֵשׁוּעַ “Yeshua” (Jesus) is a late form of the Biblical Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ “Yehoshua” (Joshua).
[4] Joshua had called for a cleansing of the nation in this same area and renewal of the covenant.
[5] There is another unnamed disciple many scholars believe to have been John, the beloved disciple.
[6] The allusion to the Passover Lamb of the Exodus would hardly have gone unnoticed.
[7] The name Simon had been revived during the Maccabean period and may have carried overtones of national renewal. Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church, Markus Bockmuehl, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 21. In this passage, Jesus tells Simon that he will be called Cephas (Kephah), an Aramaic word meaning stone or rock – in Greek it is Petros and in English Peter.
[8] Two quick examples would be the change from Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel.
[9] Rule #1 for making disciples is always build real relationships with unbelievers over time. People generally do not respond the first time we meet them! Disciple making is a process.
[10] This process of ever increasing commitment is important to the disciple maker. It begins with the disciple maker showing the disciple how to do the work of the ministry while the disciple passively watches. But this must move on to where the disciple actively begins to help and slowly take over under supervision until he or she is able to do the work on his or her own. The best way to train others to make disciples is through modelling, to demonstrate first hand the model we find in the Gospels.
[11] In that part of the world, those in the know always did net fishing at night, as they knew the fish would move into the deeper cooler depths once the sun started to bake on the surface.
[12] This devotion was largely taken from an unpublished paper of mine, entitled Breakfast on the Beach: The Making of Simon Peter, © 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Discipling through Devotionals (2)

Jesus’ Temptation in the Desert
Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13

Satan’s question to Jesus, “If You are the Son of God” like every other temptation is simply a variation of his first question to Eve, “Did God really say?”[1] Of course Jesus is the Son! God had just said so at Jesus’ baptism. Satan’s main aim, then as now, is “to break the bond of obedient trust that lies at the heart of (our) relationship with the Father”.[2]

In order to truly understand what was happening here in the temptation narrative we have to grasp the truth with regard to Jesus’ Humanity. Dann Spader explained this well when he wrote: “By adding humanity, (Jesus) chose temporarily to restrict the full expression of His deity. Never less than God, He chose to live His life never more than man.”[3] Why is this so important? Because when Jesus resisted and rebuked Satan, He did not do so as God, even though He never ceased to be fully God at any point in time. No, Jesus defeated every temptation because throughout the ordeal He remained an obedient and trusting Son completely surrendered to the will of His Father. He was thrust out into the wilderness equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit and with the Word of God hidden in His heart. In keeping with His character, Jesus no doubt spent the forty days and forty nights in constant contact with the Father in prayer. That is how He managed to stand and remain faithful during His time of trial. And all who are in Jesus have access to those same three resources!

There are a few interesting similarities between Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the wilderness and Israel’s 40 years’ wilderness wanderings. Not only do both events take place after a crossing through water[4], not only do both events occur by the leading of God, not only do both events take place in a desert area, not only are both periods of testing (Deuteronomy 8:2), but the very words Jesus used to silence the tempter are all found in the book of Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16; 6:13). The lesson seems clear: whereas Israel repeatedly failed to be obedient to God, Jesus, as the True Israel, did not.[5]

It seems logical that the first temptation involved food, as Jesus had not eaten anything throughout this period. However, it is not simply a meal Satan challenged Jesus to produce if He was God’s Son…it was very specifically bread. According to Gallaty, the “sages and teachers of Israel believed that the people would be able to identify the Messiah through His miraculous provision of bread. They looked at the example of Joseph, a messianic figure, and how he provided bread for Israel during a time of famine. Moses, the redeemer of Israel, also helped to sustain the people by calling upon God to provide bread in the wilderness.”[6] Later Jesus did, indeed, provide bread, but at the right time according to His Father’s will and that time He did not create bread from stones, but, as it were, from nothing.

The second temptation (Luke inverts this order in his account) appears to be linked to the first in that it once again challenges the Father’s ability or willingness to provide for His people, in Jesus’ case protection, in Israel’s water (cf. Exodus 17:1-7; Deuteronomy 6:16).[7] Note that Satan is well versed in the Scriptures and he is able to quote verses out of context in a way that is contradictory to the rest of God’s revelation. There is a definite line between irresponsible recklessness (so-called, fate) and faith.

But it is the third temptation (2nd in Luke) where Satan overplays his hand, as it were. It was a temptation to abandon the plan of the Father that would ultimately lead to the cross and to embrace a short cut to global dominion, namely to bow down and worship the “ruler of this world” (cf. John 14:30). Here Jesus stood firm as far as His mission was concerned. This temptation repeated itself years later when Simon Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from following through on His intention to go to Jerusalem to be crucified (cf. Matthew 16:21-23). At this point Jesus taught His disciples the true cost of discipleship: God and His will always must come first. We also see echoes of this temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) as well as on the cross (Matthew 27:39-43) where Jesus once again was presented with the option of avoiding death on the cross.

In many ways, Jesus’ initial victory over Satan in these temptations laid the foundations for His future victories. From this point on, Jesus would plunder Satan’s household, which He could do because He had already bound “the strong man” in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 12:29).[8]

But perhaps the greatest lesson for us to learn as followers of Jesus is His consistent and contextual use of God’s Word to triumph over the tempter. Jesus knew the Word and used it in an appropriate manner. Scripture will not contradict itself and we can learn much of how not to use God’s Word by looking at how Satan twisted it in a way that on the surface looked right, but when examined failed to gain the support of the whole of Scripture. In this Jesus is a model for us to imitate. Remember, Jesus faced the tempter as a human being who was expected to submit to and obey God and His Word.

Finally, these temptation passages remind us that Jesus is our sympathetic High Priest, tempted in every way we are, yet without sin (cf. Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15-16; 5:7-10). He adopted a fully human position in resisting Satan, relying on God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s Presence, even when seemingly absent.

We too can be free from Satan’s tyranny if we, like Jesus humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, submitting to His rule and guidance, and knowing and obeying His Word above any and every sensory pleasure.

[1] Biblical scholars through the ages have commented on the parallels between Jesus’ temptation and that of our first parents. Although Jesus faced three temptations and Adam and Eve only one, the same basic principles are addressed: sensory gratification, trust in God and His Word, and the desire for greater things. Paul also refers to Jesus as the 2nd Adam.
[2] Interpreting the Gospel Narratives: Scenes, People, and Theology, Timothy Wiarda, B&H Academic, Nashville, TN, 2010, 217.
[3] 4 Chair Discipling: Growing a Movement of Disciple-Makers, Dann Spader, Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL, 2014, 24.
[4] See Paul’s interesting take on the Exodus in 1 Corinthians 10:1-15.
[5] Gallaty, 92, 220; Wiarda, 220.
[6] The Forgotten Jesus, Robby Gallaty, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2017, 93. Gallaty cites a Jewish Commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes in defense of his claim: “As the first redeemer was, so shall the latter Redeemer be…Just as the first redeemer caused the manna to come down, as it is written [in Exodus 16:4], ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you,’ so too will the latter redeemer cause manna to come down, as it is stated [in Psalm 72:16], ‘May there be abundance of grain in the earth on top of the mountains.’”
[7] Note that the test, according to Moses was simply this: “Is the Lord here with us or not?” Many believers succumb to this same temptation when going through a trial period by demanding that God give them an indication that He is present through a sign of some sorts.
[8] There are no recorded demonic manifestations in the OT. However, after the temptation narrative there are demonic manifestation left, right, and center. This is because the binding of satan and the end of his reign of the “god of this world’ had begun. The climactic triumph over the dark forces took place at the cross (cf. Colossians 2:14-15) and we, as the Church, continue the work of plundering hell (Matthew 16:18)...but the binding appears to have begun in the wilderness.

Discipling through Devotionals

J-Life, the African organisation Louise and I work with in the training of disciple makers, recently asked us if we would be willing to write devotionals for a new year long study through the life and ministry of Jesus. We already have a 60 Day Study that helps disciples and disciple makers systematically work through the four Gospels, paying particular attention to the methodology employed by Jesus in the formation of His disciples. But this is a more in depth study and, I believe, will be a great tool in the hands of those who wish to go deeper with their own disciples.

I will be posting my sections here as I complete them. This is my first.

Jesus’ Baptism by John the Baptist
Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23a

John the Baptist rightly objected to Jesus’ request to be baptised by Him. Whereas John’s baptism of the nation of Israel was a baptism of repentance to prepare them for the coming of their Lord[1], the baptism of Jesus was on a completely different level. It was, to use Jesus’ own words, “to fulfil all righteousness”. What does this mean?

Matthew seems to indicate that Jesus intentionally left Galilee to be baptised by John in the Jordan.[2] We know that Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10), so we may safely assume that His baptism had a very specific purpose.[3] Given the affirming statement from the Father as Jesus came up from the waters regarding His Messianic identity and therefore His Messianic role, one may safely conclude that the baptism was a rite of inauguration.[4]

In the Old Testament, the Aaronic Priests were ordained to bear the sins of Israel before God, especially the High Priest who would bear the sins of the people until the Day of Atonement when he transferred them to the so-called scapegoat (Leviticus 16). As the ultimate sin bearer and as the one who would through His sacrifice of Himself as a pure and spotless offering for atonement for sin and thus fulfil all righteousness, Jesus would necessarily have needed to be ordained into this ministry. Even though His mother, Mary, was related to Elizabeth who was from the priestly line of Aaron, and therefore indirectly Jesus was of the priestly line as well[5], all the priests had to undergo a baptism of sorts – a ritual washing so as to be “right” with God prior to taking office (Levites had to be thirty years of age, the same age as Jesus according to Luke. cf. Numbers 4:3, Luke 3:23). After being washed, they were anointed with oil (Exodus 29:1-7). Kings and Prophets were also anointed with oil to signify the Presence of God in their lives.

Jesus was King by right of His birth as David’s descendent. But He was inaugurated into the role of Priest by ritual washing and into the role of Prophet by anointing, not with oil, but with what the oil represented, the Holy Spirit Himself. (Isaiah 11:2; 1 Samuel 16:13; see also John 3:34 and Hebrews 1:9)

The imagery behind the practice of ceremonial washings and baptisms is more than likely an image of the passage from lifelessness to life (cf. Colossians 2:12). At Creation it is only after the dry land emerges from the watery chaos that life becomes possible (Genesis 1:9-10). After the flood, life resumes only once the dry land reappears from the waters.[6] It is only once the Israelites have passed through the Red Sea that they are able to live as a free nation. Likewise, passing through the Jordan signals an end to the nomadic wilderness wanderings and the beginning of new life in the Promised Land. The same is true for the returning exiles (cf. Isaiah 43:16).

For these reasons, it may very well be that when Jesus “came up out of the water”, the action indicated an end to the lifelessness of the cursed creation and the beginning of new life and the new creation. It certainly would have struck the Israelites as heralding the end of a long period of oppression. Indeed, the phrase, “the heavens being torn open” [7] appears to be an allusion to a request for God to tear open the heavens and come down to help the Exiles (cf. Isaiah 64:1 – in Hebrew text 63:19b[8]).

Should this be the case, the affirming voice indicated that Jesus was the forerunner of freedom from slavery and exile, in His case, the more serious global slavery to sin and exile from the Presence of God.

Most scholars would agree that the statement, “You are My beloved Son. I am pleased with You” is a stringing together of three different Old Testament passages.[9]

1.     Psalm 2:7 – “You are My Son” – Jesus is identified as the Messianic King
2.     Isaiah 42:1 – “Who pleases Me” – Jesus is identified as the Just Servant King
3.     Genesis 22:2 – “”Whom you love so much” – Jesus is identified as the supreme Substitutionary Sacrifice[10]

When the heavens were opened, the Gospel narratives state simply that the Spirit descended on Jesus “like a dove”. Why a dove? There are two main reasons for this. The first comes from Creation where the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:2). The second comes from the account of Noah (Genesis 8:8-12).[11] In both cases, the dove (or a bird-like figure) hovers over waters that cover what is necessary for life. As soon as dry land appears, life may begin or resume. The dove appears to be at once a creation and recreation motif. The message would then be that Jesus is the one who will usher in the new creation.

Jesus received the power of the Holy Spirit prior to the start of His ministry. It is only after the Holy Spirit came upon Him in power at His baptism that Jesus’ ministry began. Likewise, He told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit and then they would be empowered to be His witnesses. And likewise, we need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit so that we might be equipped to do the work of the ministry (cf. Acts 13:1-4a)

[1] cf. Isaiah 40:3 in context, especially verse 9 and compare with preparatory instructions found in Exodus 19:9-10
[2] baptisthenai - Aorist 1 Infinitive Passive “to be baptized” (purpose clause)
[3] This is a lesson for us as followers of Jesus – as Jesus sought to know the Father’s will through the deep study of God’s Word, constant contact with the Father through prayer, and a daily dependence on the leading of the Holy Spirit, so we too ought to discern the will of the Father for our lives and our ministries.
[4] Jesus received clarity with regard to His identity at baptism. As a human being, He more than likely gradually discovered His identity through communion with the Father in prayer and the study of the Word. It seems that He knew His identity as the Son from an early age, at least age twelve when we read His first recorded statement regarding God as His Father (Luke 2:49). But Jesus was also very aware of God’s timing for His life and His baptism was no exception. He went to John to be baptised and was affirmed by the Father as the Son and anointed by the Spirit to do the work He had been sent to do.
[5] His mother, Mary, was connected to the Aaronic priesthood as we read that her “relative” (συγγενίς) Elizabeth (Luke 1:36), wife of Zechariah and mother to John the Baptist was of the Aaronic line (Luke 1:5).
[6] It is interesting to note that the Early Church saw a connection between baptism and the water receding after the flood account (cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21).
[7] skizomenous tous ouranos (Mark 1:10)
[8] cf. Isaiah 63:15-19 especially “Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you, as though we had never been known as Your people.”
[9] “There are several strong reasons for attending to OT allusions when exegeting Gospel texts. To begin with, Jesus lived and taught in a Jewish milieu that was steeped in the OT, and the Gospels themselves were written by authors who shared this world of scriptural thought and language. In addition, simple observation reveals how much the Gospels draw from the OT: direct citations, language echoes, references to figures, events, and prophecies, and, pervading everything, a scripturally formed perception of God and the world. This massive presence demands our attention. Finally, if our convictions about the Bible as God’s Word lead us to value the ultimate unity and harmony of biblical theology, we will be eager to explore that connections linking one part of Scripture to another. Precisely because these reasons for pursuing OT allusions are so compelling, however, we must take extra care to integrate our exploration of these intertextual elements with a reading of Gospel narratives that remains firmly scene-based and story sensitive, without letting our focus on one vital exegetical factor crowd out another.” Interpreting Gospel Narratives: Scenes, People, and Theology, Timothy Wiarda, B&H Academic, Nashville, TN, 2010, 117-118.

[10] Interpreting Gospel Narratives: Scenes, People, and Theology, Timothy Wiarda, B&H Academic, Nashville, TN, 2010, 118-119. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Ann Spangler, Lois Tverberg, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2018, 48-49
[11] “Although Noah’s dove is seemingly nowhere mentioned or even alluded to in the Bible outside of Genesis 8, the image of a dove with an olive branch in its beak has appropriately become a sign of peace: the storm is over.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Eds Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman III, IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 1998, p 216