Monday, October 28, 2013

Beginnings - John 1:20-51 (Part 4) - The Faith of the First Disciples

What did their faith look like? At first glance, the faith of the five disciples seems unnaturally sudden and mature. They believe in Jesus on a moment’s notice, and they express their faith in terms that seem more appropriate to an established Christian.

In this passage Jesus is called not only the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Israel, but also the Son of God and the Lamb of God – names that express some of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity, the Incarnation and the Atonement. The speed and maturity that seem to characterize the five disciples is really just a superficial appearance. What seemed to be an instant faith really had been building for some time and under the teaching of John the Baptist, they were longing for its fulfillment. They were a prepared group of men looking for the Messiah. They probably had seen the baptism of Jesus and the remarkable signs that came from heaven. The impression that Jesus made on them when they met tended to confirm John’s testimony about the Christ. The appearance of maturity in the faith of the five is equally superficial. The name Lamb of God was given to Jesus by John, not them. It was the name that the preacher of repentance had learned by reflection or special revelation to give to the Christ.

Even John barely comprehended what that name signified. He was just a student trying to understand his lesson. What John barely understood, the men he introduced to Jesus did not understand at all. The title Son of God was given to Jesus by one of the five disciples as well as John the Baptist, but their understanding of that term fell far short of the fullness of its meaning. They were using this title as a synonym for the Christ. The disciples spoke these titles in a way that we would expect from beginners in a new faith. They recognized in Jesus the Divine Prophet, King, Son of Old Testament prophecy; and the value of their faith did not lay in its maturity or accuracy. The beauty of their faith, however imperfect, is that it brought them into contact and close fellowship with Jesus. As they followed Him, they would see greater things than when they first believed.  One great truth after another would take its place in the firmament of their minds, like the stars appearing in the evening sky as daylight fades away.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Beginnings - John 1:20-51 (Part 3) - The Character of the First Disciples

When the first disciples met Jesus, they found exactly what they were hungering for.  The fact that these men had almost certainly all been disciples of John the Baptist points to their moral desire. Only the most spiritually hungry would be disciples of John. If John’s followers were at all like John, they were people who hungered and thirsted after real righteousness and were sick of the righteousness that was then in vogue. They longed for a relationship with God beyond that of pharisaic superstition and pretention. They had prayed fervently for the reviving of true religion and the coming of the divine Kingdom. They longed for the coming of the Messianic King who would separate the wheat from the chaff and make everything right. These were the sentiments of those who had the honor to be the first disciples of Christ.

Simon, best known of the twelve by the name of Peter is introduced to us here through the prophetic insight of Jesus as the man of rock. When Andrew brought Peter into the presence of his future Lord, Jesus looked at him and said, “you shall be called Cephas” (Greek Petros) which means rock. Jesus discerned in Peter latent capacities of faith and devotion that would become the foundation of ultimate strength and power.

The gospel writer does not tell us much about the character of Philip, but his words and actions suggest that he was an earnest inquirer after truth. He was acquainted with the scriptural truths about the coming Messiah. When we observe how Philip won Nathanael over to the same faith, we recognize his generous and sympathetic spirit. Later he would demonstrate the same spirit when he became the bearer of the request of some devout Greeks who asked permission to see Jesus. 

This passage gives us more detail about Nathanael than the rest of the scriptures combined. We have it on the highest authority that Nathanael was a man of great moral excellence. No sooner had Jesus seen him than He exclaimed, “““Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.””(John 1:47). The words suggest the idea of one whose heart was pure and in whom there was no double-mindedness, impure motive, pride, or unholy passion: a man of gentle, meditative spirit, in whose mind heaven lay reflected like the blue sky in a still lake on a calm summer day. He was a man with strong devotional habits. He had been spending time with God under a fig tree just before he met Jesus. When we look at the deep impression the words of Jesus made on Nathanael, it seems that when Jesus said, “I saw you under the fig tree”, Nathanael understood Jesus to be saying, “I saw into your heart and was with you under that fig tree and I pronounce you a true Israelite”.

Nathanael saw the statement by Jesus as evidence of supernatural knowledge causing him to immediately exclaim, “Teacher, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” – King of that realm in which you say that I am a citizen. It is interesting that this disciple with such insight into Christ originally was hesitant about receiving Jesus as the Christ. When Philip told him that he had found the Messiah, he had asked incredulously, “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?”  It seems strange to find such prejudice in one so meek and amiable; and yet, on reflection we see that is quite characteristic. Nathanael’s prejudice against Nazareth didn’t come from pride, as was the case of the people of Judea who despised the Galileans, but from humility. He was a Galilean himself, and as much an object of Jewish contempt as any Nazarene. His inward thought was, “Surely the Messiah could never come from among a poor and despised people like us – from Nazareth or any other Galilean town or village!” He timidly allowed his mind to be biased by current opinion. This is a fault common to sincere people who defer too much to human authority. While Nathanael was not without fault, he came to Jesus as one who wanted those faults removed. He came and he saw. This openness to conviction is the mark of moral integrity. The person of integrity does not dogmatize, but investigates. Such was the character of the men who first believed in Jesus.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Beginnings - John 1:20-51 (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my paraphrase of AB Bruce's classic: The Training of the 12.
These five men are all natives of Galilee drawn to the banks of the Jordan by the teaching of a remarkable man tasked to be the forerunner of Christ. John the Baptist had spent his youth in the desert as a hermit, living on locusts and wild honey and wearing camel’s hair clothing. He now appeared among men as a prophet of God. His message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In a short time, people came from the surrounding regions to see and hear him. Most of those who came to hear his preaching left just as quickly, but a few were deeply impressed, and, confessing their sins, were baptized in the waters of the Jordan. Of those baptized, a small number formed themselves into a circle of disciples around John the Baptist. At least two, and probably all of the five who met here Jesus were  originally followers of John. Their conversations with John the Baptist had awakened  a desire to see Jesus and had prepared them for believing in Him. In his communications to the people around him, John made frequent allusions to the One who would come after him. He spoke of the coming One in language designed to awaken great expectations. He called himself a mere voice in the wilderness, crying, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” Another time he said, “I baptize with water; but there is one coming after me whose shoe lace I am unworthy to untie.” This great one was none other than the Messiah, the Son of God, and the King of Israel. John’s preaching was designed to result in exactly what happened: the disciples of John leaving him and going over to Jesus. This passage lets us see that  transition at its very beginning. It does not appear that these men immediately left John’s company at this time to become regular followers of Jesus. But a relationship is now beginning which will eventually become discipleship. The bride is introduced to the Bridegroom and the marriage will come in due season to the joy of the Bridegroom’s friend.

It is amazing how easily and simply the mystic bride, as represented by these five disciples, becomes acquainted with her heavenly Bridegroom! The account of their meeting is so simple that it would only be spoiled by a commentary. There are no formal introductions: they all introduce each other. John the Baptist did not formally introduce even John and Andrew to Jesus; they just introduced themselves. When John saw Jesus and said, “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” it was the involuntary utterance of one absorbed in his own thoughts, rather than the deliberate speech of a person directing his disciples to leave and go over to Jesus. The two disciples, on the other hand, were not obeying an order, but were simply following the dictates of the feelings awakened within them by everything they had heard John say about Jesus. It was natural for them to seek out the One in whom they were so profoundly interested. All they really needed to know was that this was Jesus. They were as anxious to see the Messianic King as the world would be to see a popular celebrity.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beginnings - John 1:20-51

This is the beginning of my paraphrase of AB Bruce's classic: The Training of the 12.

This section of John’s gospel is one of small beginnings that have grown to greatness. Here we see the infant church in its cradle, the earliest blossoms of Christian faith, and the humble launch of the mighty empire of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even large and powerful movements are obscure at their launch. This was very true at the start of the movement we call Christianity. This meeting of Jesus with five humble men: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael and another unnamed disciple looked like a very insignificant event when viewed from the lens of world history. The event at first glance seems too trivial to make its way into the gospel narrative. We don’t see any formal call to the great office of apostleship, or even to the beginning of uninterrupted discipleship. The most we see here is the start of an acquaintance with and faith in Jesus on the part of a few individuals who eventually would become his constant companions and ultimately His apostles. Interestingly, there is no mention of these events in the other three Gospels. Really, the events seem so small and trivial that the question is not, why did the other gospel writers not mention them? But, why did John think it worthwhile to relate such small, minute incidents, especially in such close proximity to the grand and inspiring passage with which he begins his Gospel? Upon reflection we realize that events that may seem insignificant to us may be very important to the feelings of the person who personally experienced them.

What if John was the unnamed fifth person who became acquainted with Jesus on that day? That would make a huge difference between his perspective and that of the other Gospel writers. If they knew of this incident at all, they would only know them second hand. If John was present, it would not be surprising that he remembered with such vivid emotion when he first saw the Word who became flesh. John would have considered the smallest details of that meeting to be unspeakably precious. First meetings are as sacred as last ones, especially first meetings followed by momentous history and containing prophetic omens of the future. There were plenty of such omens in connection with the first meeting between Jesus and the five disciples. John the Baptist had been the first to give Jesus the name “Lamb of God” – a term exactly descriptive of Jesus’ earthly mission and destiny. Nathanael’s doubting question, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” was an ominous indication of the future unbelief awaiting the Messiah. This whole episode must have been an incredibly happy omen to the aged apostle who recorded it. In light of all of this, we ought to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the study of this simple passage with the attitude of people who make pilgrimages to sacred places because this ground is holy. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Curriculum of Jesus

Over the past several months I have been reading the A.B. Bruce Classic: The Training of the Twelve  with several friends. This book is a masterpiece, but it is a tough read because of the writing style common in theological books of the nineteenth century. I think many today are missing out on the gems in this book. To that end, I plan to paraphrase sections of the book in this space over the next few weeks. I will do my best to capture the thoughts of the author while updating the language. I appreciate your feedback.

For today, I will merely list what Bruce says are the main areas that Jesus focused on as he trained the twelve in fulfillment of his promise to take common fishermen and make them fishers of men. He taught these things primarily by having people be with Him and by relying on the training of experience and the future teaching of Holy Spirit.These are the topics:

1.                   The nature of the Kingdom
2.                   Prayer
3.                   Freedom and true holiness
4.                   His own person (Jesus)
5.                   The cross & importance of His death
6.                   Humility
7.                   Self-Sacrifice
8.                   The leaven of Pharisaism and Sadduceeism
9.                   The mission of the Holy Spirit (the comforter)

How does this list correlate with yours? The first five would be on my list. I was struck while reading the book, with the amount of energy Jesus put into focusing on humility. I am also realizing that if we are serious about obeying the great commission and teaching people to obey Jesus, we might stray into Pharisaic legalism. So I see the value of number eight. I also was struck by how much Jesus relied on the future ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples. It's a pretty good list of topics and one that will impact me as I seek to invest in the next generation of Kingdom Leaders.

Monday, October 7, 2013

When doubts filled my mind...

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.”(Psalms 94:19 NLT)

“He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”” (Luke 24:38–39 NIV)

“We are the people he watches over, the sheep under his care. Oh, that you would listen to his voice today!”(Psalms 95:7 NLT)

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:14–17 NIV)

Jesus fulfills the longings of the Psalmist's heart. When the Psalmist had doubts filling his mind, the Lord comforted him giving renewed hope and cheer. When the disciples were mourning the death of Jesus, He came to them and showed them His hands and feet giving them faith, hope and love.
 Jesus epitomized God's shepherding Heart. He is the good shepherd.

All that I long for - every legitimate desire is fulfilled in person of Jesus. He is everything. He will infuse me with hope. He will shepherd me and I can be sure that I will hear His voice and be given every opportunity to follow Him.

Lord, help me to follow you when doubts fill my mind.