RESTORING THE JERUSALEM CHURCH?

It intrigues me how many different groups of people who all refer to themselves as Christians, who wish to have nothing to do with each other since they believe the others are heretics in their thinking, all share the goal of restoring the Jerusalem church. Each of the groups emphasizes different things in the story of Acts 2 about the church in Jerusalem. Some point to the speaking in tongues and sons and daughters prophesying, old men dreaming dreams and young men seeing visions. Others point to whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Others point to the fact they were told as believers in Christ to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Some emphasize it was in the name of Jesus Christ. Some point to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some look closely at Peter’s admonition to “Save yourselves from the crooked generation.” Others point to the fact the church had all things in common and thus argue that if we restore the church we will not have private property but have all together. Others point to the fact that they were meeting daily from house to house eating together and praising God and declare that the restored church should have daily meetings in homes where we share the meals together.

A worthwhile question for anyone who says we need to restore the Jerusalem church today is, “Which part are you wishing to restore?” We tend to base our thinking on that one chapter of Acts 2, but have you considered that the only people added to the church on that day were Jews or proselytes? If you aren’t a Jew, circumcised in accord with the law, you couldn’t have gotten in. If you keep reading it becomes obvious that even though Jesus told them to begin in Jerusalem, then go to Judea, then Samaria and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. But it took persecution to get them out of Jerusalem. In Acts 6 they already had problems with Grecian speaking widows being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Do you want to restore that part? It took almost ten years for them to reach out to gentiles with the gospel and that took two miracles to bring about. God had to send an angel to speak to Cornelius to send for Peter and then send a miracle to Peter to convince him to go. Even then the Jerusalem Christians hearing of Peter going were upset that he went into the home of a Gentile and he had to defend himself. When the gospel began to be spread in a mighty way to the Gentiles and Paul, Barnabas and later Silas and Timothy established churches in every city, it was Christians from Jerusalem that came to upset the churches telling them if they really wanted to be right with God they had to be circumcised and obey the Old Law. Is that what we want to restore?

When Paul followed the charge of the Jerusalem elders and apostles and remembered the poor among the Gentile churches, collecting money from them, even when some were in very poor condition themselves, to give to the poor among the church in Jerusalem, the reception from the elders was great. But immediately they warned Paul that there were many thousands of the Jews who had become Christians BUT THEY WERE ALL STILL ZEALOUS FOR THE LAW. They warned him to convince these people that what they had heard about his preaching among the Gentiles that they didn’t have to observe the law and the Jews among them didn’t have to observe the law, he should make a vow and pay some others way who made a vow and make an offering in the temple so that these Jewish Christians would know that what they had heard wasn’t true. For some reason, Paul went along with them. I agree with J.W. McGarvey’s commentary that he made a mistake and that God intervened to make certain he didn’t make the offering that was planned. Paul was attacked inside the temple and nearly beaten to death, being rescued by the Roman authorities. Even then some of the Jews made a vow to neither eat nor drink until they had killed him. They convinced these religious, law-abiding Jews to lie to the Roman authorities to get them to bring Paul down so they could kill him. It was only through Paul’s nephew who heard the plan and revealed it to the authorities that Paul was rescued and sent to Caesarea. Here is my question, where were all these thousands of Jewish Christian’s in Jerusalem who had been brought aid by Paul from the Gentile churches when Paul was being beaten, threatened and plots being made to execute him? Did none of them know anything about it? Did they cower in fear? Did they secretly hope he would be executed? Or were some of them among the crowd who attacked him in the first place. One thing we never read is how the church in Jerusalem came to his aid in any way whatsoever.

Now, tell me one more time what it is about the Jerusalem church that we need to restore today? About the only thing that impresses me much is that they continued steadfastly in the apostles teaching, in fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayer.

My prayer is that we will become more and more determined to be like Jesus who built the church than any congregation of the first century who had all kinds of problems of their own.

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ARE YOU SURE THAT’S GOSPEL

Jesus was by far the greatest gospel preacher of all times. His message of good news changed lives for the better everywhere he went. Strangely, no matter how good the news, how many were healed, or how many dead were raised, there were always questions about his being the Christ and some turned away because he just wasn’t what they expected. In Matthew 11:1-6 Jesus had been instructing the twelve when some disciples of John came to him. John was now in prison and likely wondering why Jesus hadn’t come to rescue him. So he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” John had been one of the most powerful witnesses of Jesus as the Christ of anyone. He called him the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world and said he must increase while I must decrease. He reluctantly baptized him and heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” But now he is in prison, for preaching the truth to Herod and he begins to question it all.

Listen to Jesus response. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy and cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Jesus in his response went back to Isaiah’s prophecy of what the Christ would do and walked down each segment to say, I’m doing all the prophet said I would do. But doing what God had promised by the prophet didn’t seem to be enough for so many people, including John. They had ideas of their own. Many had developed from misunderstandings of the very Old Testament prophesies of Jesus coming. I suspect John expected his message to be with more fire like his and many that John wrote about in John 6 just thought his message was too hard, so people left.

The word gospel simply means “good news” but it is a very specific good news about Jesus Christ. Mark even begins his whole story of the life of Jesus, calling it the gospel of Jesus. Paul once epitomized the gospel in I Corinthians 15:1-5 as being the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” If one simply looked at the different things Jesus said with the word gospel it would involve the kingdom of Christ that he was establishing over which he would reign as king and that anyone could enter by means of being born again of the water and the Spirit. As he sent the disciples on the limited commission to preach the gospel he told them to heal the sick, cast out demons and to preach that they needed to repent and believe the gospel for the kingdom was near.

Paul made two extremely strong statements with regard to the gospel that is very significant. In Romans 1:16 he said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, As it is written the Just shall live by faith.” It is in the power of the gospel of Christ that people are saved, not the newest fad, best new coffee bar, greatest music in town, or in attacking every other group as not having the truth like you do. Too often we end up preaching far more of ourselves than of Jesus.

The other powerful text on the subject is in Galatians 1:8-9. Paul had just warned that some were turning away from the grace of Christ to a different gospel, that wasn’t another at all. “Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than what I preached to you, let them be accursed. As I said before, so I now say again, if anyone preaches any gospel to you that what you have received, let him be accursed.” It should stand out that changing the message of the gospel to modernize it, make it fit our culture or make it a little easier that does not continue to preach the very heart of the message leads to being totally set apart from God, godliness, and heaven. That is pretty serious business. It would be a good idea both for the preacher and the hearer to check out what they are hearing and see just how much gospel of Jesus is involved.

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SEEING GOD

If you had the ability of a great artist to paint a portrait of another person and it looks so much like them that it was sometimes difficult to distinguish the painting from the person, and you set out to paint God in the way you visualized him, what would God look like? I suspect that most people who have any concept of God at all, have drawn in their minds a picture of Him. You’ve likely heard the joke of a child who was working hard on a painting and the teacher asked him what he was painting. The child responded that he was painting a picture of God. The teacher said, “No one knows what God looks like.” The little boy said, “They will when I finish this picture.” Throughout the Old Testament, there was a tremendous amount of fear that if they ever saw God it would mean their death since no one could see God and live. God had a presence in the holiest place of the tabernacle and later in the temple. The only person that could ever enter this area where God’s presence was, was the high priest and that one time a year with the sacrifices that were prescribed and dressed in the exact manner that God demanded. It was unusual that Moses longed to see the face of God and pleaded with the Father for that opportunity. God blessed him by allowing him to see his back as he was going away from him, but not to look into his face.

The intriguing thing about all of that is that Jesus in the Great Sermon on the Mount very near the beginning declared, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” In John’s gospel account it is recorded that “No one has ever seen God at any time, but the only Son of God who is at his side, he has explained him (or revealed him).” So, how can we see God today if no one has seen him at any time?

Besides that, in Isaiah 6 the prophet was in the temple and he saw God high and lifted up with the seraphim flying around him saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.” Isaiah was so troubled by what he saw that the cried out, “Woe is me, for I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah thought his death was imminent since he had seen this vision of God. God sent an angel from the throne to take a coal of fire from the altar and to touch his lips with the fire to take away the sin from Isaiah. Then God cried, “Who will go for us and who can we send?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I, send me.” Later in the Book of Revelation chapter four John was caught up into heaven and saw the great throne room of God and God sitting upon his throne.

So, how can it be that some are said to see God and even promised that if we have a pure heart we will be able to see God and it still is declared that no one has ever seen God? We could add to this the picture in Ezekiel chapter one when he also saw the throne of God being carried on a huge vehicle that had wheels within wheels able to turn in all directions at one time.

Certainly, Jesus is called God in John 1:1-2 when it says, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God and without him, nothing was made that was made.” In Colossians 2:9 it says that “In him dwells all the fullness of deity in bodily form.” So when one saw Jesus in his human body he was seeing God. Add to that one other point that may give us some insight into the whole question. In John 4:23-24 Jesus had been talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He had first asked her for a drink of water to which she responded by saying, what are you a Jew, doing asking me, a Samaritan woman for a drink? Jesus responded by saying, If you knew who I was you would be asking me for living water. The water you drink here only takes care of your thirst for a short time then you have to have more. But the water that I give springs up in you to everlasting life and those who drink of it never thirst again. He was talking about the Holy Spirit that he would give to remove spiritual thirst from us. She said, Lord, give me some of that water so I won’t have to come here to draw water again. Jesus told her to go call her husband. She said, “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus said, “You are right in saying you have no husband. You have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband. She was amazed and perceived that Jesus was a prophet. So, she asked him to answer a religious question for her. Was Jerusalem the right place to worship God or was it there on Mt. Gerizim as the Samaritans said? Jesus told her it was Jerusalem but the time was upon them when it wouldn’t matter where they worshiped since God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth for the Father seeks such to worship him.

God is Spirit. It isn’t the case that He is A spirit, but that he is spirit. He is a spirit being without a body or form, just as the Holy Spirit is a spirit being and just as Jesus was before being born into the human family through Mary. All three personalities of God are eternal. There are many times in the Bible when God is pictured to us as having physical characteristics such as when he walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam or when it says that God’s hand is not shortened nor his ear heaven that he can’t act or hear. We are told that the eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the good and the evil. When such language is used it is called anthropomorphism. It is giving God, a Spirit being, the properties of a physical being to help us understand better. But God is spirit, thus we can’t see him as we would look at our wife or children. Our viewing of God is either God taking some form for us to see or it is from the pure heart of a person that sees God as the Loving, grace-filled, compassionate one who is our Father in heaven and whose love and grace toward us is so great he willingly paid the price for our sins through Christ on the cross so we can be with him for eternity.

In our hearts we see God and the visual image I have of God determines to a huge degree how we react to everything He teaches us. Do I see him as a loving Father or as a strict judge waiting for me to mess up so he can condemn me forever? He longs to be seen as “Our Father in heaven.” It is vital for me to have the right picture of God to live for him for life.

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A PLACE OF REFUGE

Do you have a place of refuge when you need it? Certainly, it is true that “God is our refuge and strength.” But He often uses people to provide his refuge for those in trouble. When God was preparing to give the Promised Land to the Israelites, he told Moses to lay out cities of refuge in all the different areas where they would be living. As soon as Joshua led the Israelites into their new homeland and they began to be settled he set up these cities of refuge with three on the other side of the Jordan for those two and a half tribes that stayed there and then the others in the areas where the rest would be living. The whole point of these cities was to have them in close enough proximity to the people that one could get there when they needed it. These cities were for one particular need. It was to protect a person who had killed a fellow Israelite without intending or planning to do so. God had given the family both the right and responsibility to have an avenger of blood in the family so that if someone killed one of their family members, the avenger of blood was to go out and avenge the one who had been killed as a representative of the family. Its intent was to carry out the law that “Whoever sheds a person’s blood, by men shall his blood be shed.” Instead of having a nationwide police force God gave each family the right to avenge their own at that time.

But there was the concern that in such a law, one who was working with another person and in the course of the work an accident occurred and one was killed, that the one who killed them accidentally would be avenged for the blood when they had no ill intent at all but was just working them. It also had to do with when two people were in an argument and one hit another and they died, but the one who hit him wasn’t trying to kill him at all. It was just a disagreement that had both angry and frustrated but no one desired to kill the other. In such cases, the one who had killed the other without intent or premeditation was to flee to the closest city of refuge before the avenger of blood could catch them. They were to be accepted into the city and tried there for what had happened and if they were found innocent of murder they would be protected from the avenger of blood. They were required to stay in that city until the priest there died and then they could go home without being harmed.

Certainly, we live in a very different time and situation. Families don’t have such a responsibility to avenge the loss of a family member anymore. We live in a time when the law has set up police and armies that are there to take care of punishing an evildoer who with intent kills a part of the family. God’s law now is that we are not to avenge ourselves but to give place to wrath so that God will take care of avenging anyone who does the wrong. He does so by means of the civil authorities as described in Romans 13:1-5.

But the point I would like to emphasize is that people at all times, especially in times of stress, hurt, fear and loneliness still need a place of refuge. Obviously, one primary place God wants us all to come to is to Him in prayer. In Philippians 4:6 Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” A prayer is a powerful place of refuge for every hurting, struggling person. At the same time, we often need a place or person to go to in this life and world. As the child who was frightened in the night and when they cried out for their mother to come, was told to pray and God would be there to help them. The child said, “I know God will help me but I need someone with flesh to help me too.” God usually works through people to carry out many of His works in the world. Most of us know someone in our life that we know will be there and care for us if we run into problems we don’t know what to do with.

But I suspect that the reason the counseling industry has become so large is that people are looking for someone who will listen, care and encourage them in their life struggles. I know some situations need a professional who can diagnose and provide the guidance needed. But I also know there are tons of times people simply need someone who will lovingly care about them and listen intently to their hurts and problems and pray with them. There are times when advice is needed. But many times it isn’t advice they need, but a friend who cares and has time to encourage.

I believe God intended the home to be such a place of refuge in life. I also believe that God’s plan is for the church to show that love, compassion, and involvement so that hurting people feel loved, wanted and needed in the hours in which they are hurting. Think about the church where you worship. How could you help it to become more of a place of refuge for hurting people all around us? Remember 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 that God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others with the same comfort God has given us.

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ARE YOU THIRSTY

Have you ever had a time when you were so thirsty that you thought you were going to die if you didn’t get something to drink right away? When Jesus said to the disciples, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” he was speaking of that kind of thirst. It wasn’t just that I need a drink of water but the idea that if I don’t have water soon it will be too late. He wants us to have such a deep longing for righteousness, that we don’t feel we can survive if we don’t get it soon.

Later in John 7:37-39 Jesus was at the Feast of the Tabernacles in Jerusalem. It was the last and great day of the festival when Jesus stood up and with a loud voice began to speak to the people. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this, he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths was a time to remember God’s care for the Israelites during their forty years in the desert. He had on different occasions to assist them with water, either by curing its bitterness or by bringing water out of a rock so all the people and their animals could drink. At this feast, the men were required to come if they lived within twenty miles of Jerusalem and each morning they would come to the temple with olive branches to remind them of those days. The priest would take a pitcher holding about 2 pints and walk down to the pool of Siloam and bring back the pitcher full of water to be poured out at the altar. There were songs being sung from the Psalms and readings from Isaiah taking place. It may have been during all of this that Jesus stood up and loudly offered living water to those who believed in him.

In many ways, it sounds like the same promise he made to the woman at the well described in John 4. He first asked her for a drink and she questioned why as a Jew he would ask her for water. Jesus said, “If you knew who I was you would ask me and I would give you living water.” She was confused about how he could give such living water when he didn’t even have a bucket to put the water in. He told her that those who drank of this water were soon thirsty again but if one drank of the water he gave they would never thirst again but it would become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

It was available for those who were thirsty and those who believed in Him as the Messiah or Son of God. Notice the picture of the water becoming an overflowing well inside them to supply drink to those around them. We might well have read this many times and reached all kinds of conclusions of what Jesus was talking about had John not supplied the answer by saying, He was speaking of the Holy Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to later receive. John also explained that this gift of the Spirit wasn’t yet available but would be after Jesus was glorified. It is powerful to see that John refers to the Spirit as “Whom”, not some kind of influence in our lives. He is one of the persons who is called God in the Bible along with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit had always been involved in the lives of God’s people. Even in the creation, the Spirit hovered over the waters. But there was a special gift of the Spirit to be given after Jesus was glorified and it is that gift that Jesus is now speaking of. Later in John’s account of the gospel, he will speak more about the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide them and be with them. Jesus was glorified in his resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 1:21-23).

Jesus’ promises about the coming Holy Spirit involved both the overwhelming of the Spirit in baptismal form as foretold by Joel the prophet so that He would guide them into all truth and bring to their memory all the things Jesus had said and done among them. He would prepare them to preach and teach the word in such a way to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come. But he also promised that the Spirit who had been with them all along would be in you. On the Day of Pentecost, described in Acts 2 the baptism of the Spirit came on the apostles and they spoke in languages they had never learned before of the wonderful works of God. They told the crowd how they had taken and crucified the very Son of God who was sent to be their savior. They were cut to their hearts by the message and cried out, “what shall we do?” Peter told them to repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the promise is for you and for your children and as many as the Lord our God shall call. 3,000 people were baptized that day and received that gift of the Holy Spirit to be in them. The promise that the Holy Spirit would be in those who are following Jesus was an amazing blessing that resulted in our bodies becoming the temple of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us and bears the fruit of the Spirit in us all the time.

One other marvelous thing about our receiving the Spirit as a gift from God is that the Spirit in us is to flow out of us to bless the people around us all the time. Having the Spirit should change who we are and what we do in life. People should be able to see that something is going on in our lives that is beyond their explanation. The spiritual person doesn’t become a selfish person thinking only of their needs, wants or desires. Their lives turn toward others and ways to bless their lives.

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GRACE AND GODLINESS

Grace is truly amazing. It shines out as the very blessing of God that demonstrates his love and compassion for people. Without grace, no one would be saved from their sins. If we receive what we deserve we would all be lost since the wages of sin is death and the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23). Put beside that the fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and you see how vital it is for us to have grace from God. It is also extremely important for us to understand what grace really is and what it does for us.

Probably no Scripture gives a clearer picture of grace than Ephesians 2 that begins with the point that we were all once dead in our trespasses and sin. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

While grace can be defined as Unearned or unmerited favor, a gift, a thing of beauty, poise or kindness, it has more shades of meaning than any definition can cover. It is God dealing with us according to our needs rather than what we deserve. Grace isn’t just something that God has toward us but something we are to learn to practice toward others. The Book of 2 Peter ends with the challenge for us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have no means by which we can earn or deserve our salvation. I remember hearing a man pray some years ago, “Lord, if we merit, may we inherit the glory of heaven.” It sounds good in that it rimes, but it is totally wrong. If we get what we merit we will be lost forever. But God’s grace that brings salvation has appeared to all people (Titus 2:11).

Grace not only gives us initial salvation but it is constantly available in our lives for God so that we can remain in his favor all the time. But, notice this reality. As wonderful as God’s grace is, it is not a license to go on living the same sinful life I’ve lived before being saved. Too often in reading Ephesians the second chapter we stop reading too soon. Verses 8-9 are powerful in pointing out that we are saved by grace through faith. But the rest of the chapter gives great insight into what is involved in living by grace. In verse ten, he said, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Good works won’t save us. But if we are saved we will practice good works. God formed and made us as his children for us to do good works for him. He even prepared these good works in advance for us to do.

In the second half of Ephesians two, he showed that grace that brings salvation also tears down walls between people. God is our peace who took the two groups, Jews and Gentiles and tore down the wall between them so that in Christ they could become one. He took away the law and its commandments to give a New Covenant that invites all people, everywhere to come to him for a new life. He reconciled us to each other and to him in one body by the cross, putting to death the hostility that had been there between them he came and preached peace to you who were afar off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access to the Father in one Spirit.

If I claim grace for salvation but refuse the grace to reconcile me to people who are different from me then I am missing the point of where grace was meant to lead. You can’t reject people because of their race, color or background while still clinging to the grace of God for salvation. Grace is intended to flow from God to us and to flow through us to others around us. To simply cry out for grace for me individually and not offer it to others misses the point entirely. It is certainly out of this heart of grace that God calls on us as his people to have a ministry of reconciliation, preaching his message of reconciliation, while we are reconciled to God ourselves and plead with others to be reconciled to God today, since Christ who knew no sin, became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Praise God for his amazing grace. Thank God he has shared grace with us so we can share it with others all of our lives and become family with people of all backgrounds in the body of Jesus.

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WHAT IN THE WORLD

Do you ever when reading the stories of Jesus life and ministr in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, run across those statements Jesus made and think to yourself, “What in the world did he mean by that?” I was talking with a new Christian a few days ago and I had recommended to them that a good place to start in their Bible reading was the Gospel of Mark. They had been reading and came across some things that Jesus said that just blew their minds and it just didn’t seem to fit what they thought Jesus taught. Jesus certainly was as unique as a teacher as in any other aspect of his life on earth. He often said things that seemed hard to the people who heard him and still seem difficult to us as well.

In Luke 14 Jesus told several stories that had to do with the nature of his kingdom. After those, he began a discussion on what it means to be a disciple of his. The word “disciple” means to be a learner or student, but not in the sense we usually think of the student in our time. Probably our closest word to describe the disciple is the word, “apprentice” that shows a person in training for a job. They not only learn the information provided but learn the techniques of the trainer. They are learning as much or more by watching the person training them than any instruction being given. Jesus calls us, not just to sit in classes where we learn things he said and did, but to be an apprentice of his that is committed to knowing and imitating him in our daily lives. So, his teaching about what is involved in being a disciple is vitally important to us.

Three times in this segment Jesus makes the statement if anyone comes after me and does not do some things they cannot be my disciple. The challenge is that the three things mentioned are not a simple or easy task. The first one is, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” What in the world did he mean? Surely, Jesus doesn’t want us to hate anyone. He is one who loves and teaches us to love, God, our neighbor and our brothers and sisters in him. Surely there is something in this that gets below the surface. Jesus often used very graphic language and hyperbole to make the point stand out and be remembered. He isn’t teaching us to hate those who are closest to us in life in the sense of despising them. His point is that our love and devotion to him ought to be so strong that any other love, by comparison, would seem like hate. Our love for God is to be with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He isn’t wanting us to divide these up and determine what it means to love God in different ways. It is to make the point that we are to love God with everything in us. Our love and loyalty to Jesus should go deeper and further than our love for parents, children, spouse or siblings. Matthew’s account of this same lesson didn’t use the word hate but said, “If a person loves father or mother more than me they cannot be my disciple.” No relationship in all the world should be strong enough to pull us away from Jesus and following him. We are to seek his kingdom and righteousness first before anything else in the world.

His second absolute statement was, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” I sincerely doubt that we can grasp the way this statement would have come across to the people of that day. Carrying your cross meant you were headed to death by execution. We tend to read it and it is so far away from us that we naturally spiritualize it and see it as following Jesus. But Jesus point, which would have been far more familiar to them was that unless we are willing to die with him on the cross we can’t be his disciple. Paul gave a tremendous illustration of this point in Galatians 2:20 when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in him that loved me and gave himself up for me.” Later in Galatians 6:14 he said, “God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of the Lord Jesus, by which the world is crucified for me and, I to the world.” Taking up our cross means that we are dying to our old way of life and being born again into a new life in relationship with Jesus. We turn from the old ways of life to be new in him. “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

A few verses later in Luke 14 Jesus offered the third such statement. “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple.” Again we are moved to ask, What in the world does he mean? Must we become beggars to follow Jesus? Can we not have any possessions and be a disciple? His point is that everything we own or talent we possess in life is His. We sign the deed of our possessions over to him when we give our lives to him. Remember Jesus stories about the kingdom when he said one who found a treasure in a field and went and sold all he had to purchase the field and then a man was searching for beautiful pearls when he found one pearl of great price. He went and sold all he had to purchase that pearl with tremendous joy. When we find the kingdom of Christ, it means so much to us that we are ready to lay everything we have on the altar of God to have the kingdom. Now the truth is that what we give up for him he returns to us so that we can use them in his service all our lives. But the title belongs to Jesus. We are his and what we have is his. If I try to hold things in life back from him and my commitment to him, I end up losing him in the process.

Being a follower of Jesus is demanding, but the price we pay for the benefit of being his disciple is extremely small in comparison. We give up a dollar to posses a million more as his servant

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