What Can The First Century Tell Us About Following Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus? Especially in the 21st Century. We can’t exactly follow him on social media. He’s not tweeting proverbs or snap-chatting with people he’s healed. Can’t Facebook follow, or friend him.

For the answer, we have to go back to the 1st Century and look at rabbis, disciples, and the relationship between them.

Rabbis

Jesus was a rabbi, though the official title didn’t appear until the rise of Rabbinic Judaism after the Temple was destroyed in 70AD (Luke 7:40; 12:13; 19:39; 20:27-28; Matthew 22: 35-36; 19:16). It usually meant Great One or My Master.

Rabbis traveled from place to place, depending on the hospitality of people and meeting in private homes. It was a great honor to have a rabbi in your home. They would also visit local synagogues because Scripture was often taught and discussed there. A synagogue was more of a community center than a church.

In the Learning Under Jesus series, I wrote about a method rabbis used called remez or hint to teach. They used a part of a passage and assumed the audience’s knowledge of the Scripture would help them deduce a fuller understanding. Knowing this will bring your Bible study to life when you cross-reference.

The rabbi had to possess a great understanding of Scripture. The method also shows the level of Scriptural literacy the average Jew had. Here’s a test for you, finish this verse, “Seek first the Kingdom of God…

How’d you do? I know it because it’s a personal life verse of mine. I’m confident I would be stumped too, depending on the verse.

Parables were also a common teaching tool, using similar themes geared towards what people knew.

Rabbis invited people to learn to keep the Torah. It was called “taking the yoke of the Torah”, and high-level rabbis generally had different interpretations of it. It’ll give you a new light to look at Matthew 11:29 with.

Rabbis had one task in particular, ‘to fulfill the Torah’. It meant to interpret the Scripture so it would be obeyed correctly. The incorrect interpretation was considered destroying the Torah. Jesus came to complete it (being the Messiah) and shows how to correctly keep it (since he was God, he’d know).

The Talmidim (Disciples)

To follow a rabbi meant total commitment, so it’s to be expected that Jesus wants that from us. Disciples spent their time listening and observing the rabbi to know how to understand and apply Scripture.

We’re approaching in the Learning Under Jesus series where Jesus chooses the 12 core disciples and teaches them how to act in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not like a school where you graduate and get a piece of paper; it’s a transformative life change. Being like the rabbi is the major focus of the disciple. Listening, questioning, answering his questions and following him wherever he goes, despite sometimes not knowing where he was going.

Sound familiar to your Christian life?

It hasn’t changed today, everything in life still comes second to being like our rabbi, Jesus. We have to know his teachings, how to do what he would do. However, we have an advantage his disciples didn’t have until after Jesus ascended to Heaven; the power and counsel of the Holy Spirit.

Then under that power, 120 disciples grew the church.

How to follow Jesus? Make being like him a priority by understanding his teachings and doing like he would. You’ll fail, I’ll fail, the disciples failed epically; but we’ll learn and grow. It’s possible, it’s inevitable.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2

Recommended Reading

https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/rabbi-and-talmidim (My source material)

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith

Follow Me; Learning Under Jesus

Note: This series is written as a first-person narrative in order to present Jesus in the context he walked with the unknown disciple that narrates presenting my thoughts and sparking more thoughts with his questions. Enjoy.

We were almost to Capernaum, walking beside the Sea of Galilee. I looked over the water as the waves ran up to the shore and crashed. In the distance, boats were pulled up to the shore, or just off of it.

We drew closer, and I could see two people throwing a net over the side of one. They looked familiar. Jesus was also watching them, a smile growing.

It was Simon and Andrew, the fishermen that went to hear John the Baptist. I was with Andrew when he met Jesus, though he went back to fishing with Peter after traveling with us for awhile. We stopped at the water’s edge.

I jerked in surprise when Jesus’ voice rang across the water, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.

I didn’t expect that. Most teachers waited for students to come to them. Very few picked their own disciples, it was almost unheard of. To follow Jesus meant we would go where he went, doing what he said.

They didn’t hesitate, leaving their nets and the boat on the shore, they came and joined us. Not far from their boat was another on the water’s edge.

An old man was in it with what looked to be his sons. It was Zebedee, James, and John. They listened to John the Baptist too.

Again Jesus’ voice rang out, startling me, calling them to come follow him. While they were climbing out of the boat, I thought of the commitment they were making. Leaving family and a job was a rare thing.

Generally, people who were inclined to follow a rabbi did so in their teens and twenties. Even rabbis were usually part-time teachers.

Following Jesus, now, that requires commitment, maybe even leaving everything behind if he calls for that.

Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20

High Impact Christianity; The Church Making A Difference

What happens when someone stands up and stands out? They get attention, sometimes it isn’t good attention either. Why keep going forward? Sometimes you may not even be a victim, you could just be acting like a jerk. Why don’t we look like the early church and how we can start right now? This is the questions we’ll deal with today.

You’re Not Alone

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” 1 Peter 4: 12-14 NIV

It’s even in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:11, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Paul writes in Romans 8:17 that we’re heirs that share in the inheritance with Christ, His glory, and also his suffering. Why?

Because of who we represent. In Matthew 10:24-25, Jesus reminded them of how he was scorned. He was called demon-possessed, and illegitimate, people tried to stone him to death, and he was betrayed, beaten, and died a painful death.

Comforting, huh? Especially when he says in verse 38, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” It can get uncomfortable to say the least. What does he know about being uncomfortable? Imagine Bill Gates walking away from his assets and wealth, moving to Wichita, Kansas without a dime to his name to help people under a new name. He doesn’t have his resources or reputation, and will die a “nobody”.

Jesus understood, and there is comfort in this, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:28-32

There is hope in this, he stepped out of Heaven to provide a way to bring us to Heaven, and returned to Heaven himself. We are heirs inheriting the Kingdom of God. We have a down payment that is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:14) who Jesus provided (John 14:16-17). The Spirit has many roles: comforter, counselor, helper, intercessor, advocate, and strengthener that is there to help. We’re not alone in our trials and suffering.

What Suffering For Jesus Isn’t

There is a line, though, on whether you’re being persecuted because of Jesus or because you’re a jerk.

“But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or any sort of criminal, or as a mischief-maker (a meddler) in the affairs of others [infringing on their rights].” 1 Peter 4:15 AMP

Cloaking a bad attitude, self-righteousness, and condemnation in the name of Jesus doesn’t make you legitimate. Killing or hurting others in the name of Jesus is so far from what he taught, it isn’t even funny.

Yes, we can have a bad day and snap. The point is apologize, ask for forgiveness, and don’t do it again. Don’t overlook bad behavior, nor condone it; however, it’s not our place to condemn the person either. We all were facing condemnation until we choose to follow the one who took the hit for us. Forgive others freely because we’ve been forgiven. Actions won’t change until someone’s heart–their inner being–is changed.

Even living by Christ’s example, there will be some push back.

“But if [one is ill-treated and suffers] as a Christian [which he is contemptuously called], let him not be ashamed, but give glory to God that he is [deemed worthy to suffer] in this name.” 1 Peter 4:16 AMP

When Peter wrote this, he was probably remembering when the Sanhedrin arrested him, beat him, and told him to keep his mouth shut (Acts 5:41). It can make people uncomfortable to see something different. Until we learn about it, it’s unpredictable, which is worrisome. When someone is uncomfortable they retreat, try to make whatever is making them uneasy retreat, or they learn more about it. I’m for the third option.

Why Don’t Churches Look More Like the Early Church?

In 130AD, the Epistle (letter) to Diognetes was written. Here is an excerpt from it:

“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life…” “…They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.” “…To sum up all in one word–what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.”

Check your life in comparison with these that were living their faith rather than just spending a morning in church. They were the church and they brought it wherever they went. Aristides wrote “They observe scrupulously the commandment of their Messiah; they live honestly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them.”

Do you truly follow your Lord?

What Do We Do?

When Jesus walked the earth, he walked in the will of God. Look at John 5:19, “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Then in verse 30, from the Amplified he makes it applicable to us.

I am able to do nothing from Myself [independently, of My own accord—but only as I am taught by God and as I get His orders]. Even as I hear, I judge [I decide as I am bidden to decide. As the voice comes to Me, so I give a decision], and My judgment is right (just, righteous), because I do not seek or consult My own will [I have no desire to do what is pleasing to Myself, My own aim, My own purpose] but only the will and pleasure of the Father Who sent Me.

Christ did what God the Father said, Christ-followers do what God the Son said. Does that mean you have to memorize the Bible and do everything in it? No, that’s missing the primary principle.

Jesus leaned on God for strength; he was a mortal man when he walked the earth, not a superman. He surrendered his desires to God and made God’s desires his own. What does God desire?

It’s found in the Great Commission in Matthew 28: 19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What does that mean in practical application? “Seeking first the Kingdom of God…”, the tagline for my blog and personal priority. This is done by the “Golden Rule”, doing for others as you would have them do for you and pursuing Him and Them. Why?

Because his desire is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). I was once astray, lost, and he brought me back. He wants us to bring others back as well. FirstNLR has it summed up like this, “Every Soul Matters To God.” Because of that, they should matter to us.

I’ve covered much more than I expected. Look to see what you need to change in your life, then surrender it to God to live life as a high-impact Christian. Just remember Galatians 6:9 NIV, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”