The Difference Between Expectation and Hope

It is often that our best intentions become totally wrecked.

It reminds me of this great line, in this great movie:

Sometimes the wreckage is catastrophic and devastating. The man, in Acts 3, couldn’t walk, and had to be carried every day to a place where he could plead for money from those who came to pray.Aftermath of Redemption

Sometimes the wreckage is astounding and beautiful. Two men, going to pray, couldn’t offer this lame many any money, but they could offer him a power that would fully restore his legs.

And sometimes the catastrophes and the beautiful things intersect.

One of the greatest questions of faith I have now — right now — is if our faith in God limits what God can do, or even what God will do. Does my faith stand at the intersection of my own wreckage, because if it does, then my every situation is mired in hopelessness. (Please pardon my honesty, but I felt it necessary to share that with you.)

I wonder if this passage answers that question. But even when I think I’m on the cusp of an acceptable answer, it slips through my fingers like sand. An overwhelming, chart-stopping faith often seems to be out of my reach.

My pursuit for an answer made me rewatch a particular scene in The X-Files, a scene that, at least, hinted such an answer is possible.

It was  episode twenty-two of season three, called “Quagmire.” Fox Mulder and his partner Dana Scully searched for a hard-to-find lake monster. Scully, ever the scientific mind, questioned Mulder, “You really expect to find this thing, don’t you Mulder?”

Mulder replied to her condescending question with this line: “I know the difference between expectation and hope. Seek and ye shall find, Scully.”

Maybe it’s just that simple.

In Acts 3 we find the difference between expectation and hope, and what happens when there is faith — not that a healing can happen, but that a healing will happen. I’m challenged every time I read this this story. I encourage you to read it yourself, before you proceed with this post. And feel free to find the other posts from Acts in the menu.

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Acts 3:1-26 (The Commentary)

Luke reported in Acts 2:43 that the apostles performed many wonders and miraculous signs. Of all those, Luke highlighted this one. There must be good reason.

Following the description of the community of believers which emerged after Peter’s sermon, Peter and John went to the temple at the Jewish time of afternoon prayer as observant Jews. They went to the place Jesus had declared would soon be abolished.

As Peter and John approached the temple gate, they noticed a lame man there, begging for alms. The lame man was at the entrance to the temple when it would be most crowded — at prayer time. He obviously couldn’t walk inside, but neither was he even allowed inside. His physical condition prohibited him from participating in the rituals of temple life.

We should probably recall, though, Jesus’ words, that people like this lame man were to be full participants in the kingdom, specifically because of his physical condition.

The lame man expected money from Peter and John — yes, expected — because he expected money from everyone. It was a common occurrence for those coming to pray to give alms, publicly, before they entered the temple area. Yet the two apostles had no money, because they shared everything with other disciples. So Peter, instead of giving him money, offered the lame man his fully restored health, restored “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”

The man was healed immediately. In fact, Luke used seven verbs to describe the reaction of this man to his healing: jump, walk, walking, jumping, praising, walking, praising. This was (is?) the response of a person healed, and rescued, from the depths of shame and disease. And a viewing public noticed.

It seemed that Peter and John didn’t want the attention, and tried to move to another place in the temple, but while they walked, the now-healed man literally clung to Peter and John. All three of them were followed, and Peter, like he did earlier, needed to explain to the gathered crowd what they had just witnessed.¹

Peter then made a direct connection between the man’s healing and Jesus’ resurrection. Not one to hold back any punches, though, Peter then implicated the crowd for killing the Author of life, even though they had acted in ignorance.

Then Peter told the crowd that the power to heal the lame man came from “faith in the name of Jesus,” and “through the faith that comes through him.” Notice, though, that neither Peter, nor Luke, was clear whose faith was responsible for the healing – the lame man’s or Peter’s — the “him” doesn’t clearly refer to any particular person.

Remarkably, though, Peter called this crowd to repentance, not just from sin (what sin, if they acted in ignorance?), but to God. The crowd was living in an extended time of mercy, but Jesus would return from heaven, as the linchpin effort by God to restore all things

If they did not repent, though, they would be completely cut off from their own people. Notice that there is no mention of hell, or some eternal punishment.

So, a time of prayer, a lame man healed, a gathered crowd, and words of repentance, all very different occurrences from the original intention to come and pray. This entire moment at the temple, was electric. And it was just getting just getting started.

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A Few Discussion Questions

  • Do you know someone who has been healed, especially someone who has been healed miraculously? If you are using this in a group setting, share that with your group.
  • Read Acts 3:1-10.
    • Read Acts 2:43. Why is this description included in Acts?
    • Of all the miracles, then, why is the healing of the lame man highlighted?
    • Where were the apostles when this happened? Why were they there? If the Mosaic Law had been cancelled with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the temple rendered useless, why did Jesus’ disciples continue to go to the temple at the Jewish time of prayer?
    • Why was the lame man there, again? Why didn’t the apostles have money?
  • What was the physical response of the man who was healed, from Acts 3? Why did Luke make sure we knew this man’s specific actions?
    • Is a physical response of our own spiritual or physical salvation a natural occurrence? Should it be? Every time we worship? Why or why not? (Read Acts 2:5-12 before you answer.)
    • How do we celebrate our salvation, then? And how often? Does our celebration matter to others? Did this man’s salvation matter to others?
    • Do we ever have the right to criticize, or question, the way someone celebrates their salvation? Why or why not?
  • Read Acts 3:11-16.
    • Peter’s speech was addressed to whom? Same crowd, or different, than Acts 2? Why does that matter?
    • How did Peter describe Jesus? And how did he describe the crowd’s relationship to Jesus? Why?
    • Whose faith was responsible for the lame man’s healing? Why didn’t Luke, or Peter, make this more specific?
    • Do you need faith to be healed of something extraordinary? Is faith measurable? Explain.
    • Is faith enough to be healed? Explain. (Read Luke 7:11-17 before you answer.)
  • Read Acts 3:17-23.
    • Why would these people need to repent, if they acted in ignorance for killing Jesus (v 17, 19)?
    • Does God pardon ignorance? Why does your answer to that question matter?
    • In v 21 we find that Jesus’ return would also prompt the restoration of everything. What does that mean?
    • What was the penalty for not repenting (v 23)? What does that mean, anyway?
    • Peter mentioned baptism in Acts 2, to that particular crowd, but didn’t mention that this crowd, in Acts 3, needed to be baptized? Why not?
  • So, again, of all the miracles the apostles performed, why did Luke highlight this one?
  • How important is Peter’s speech for us today?
  • What’s the difference between expectation and hope?

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A Prayer

Father, you desire to restore everything. All things. People. Creation. The lame. The broken. The outcast. The power of the resurrected Jesus, though, is the power that makes that restoration possible even now. Even in my broken life. Even in my broken relationships. Even for those I know who are sick. Even in my broken heart.

I pray for a faith, today, that is enough to believe in the miraculous. I pray for that now, God, that you help my unbelief. Lord Jesus, it is faith in your name that heals, and I need healing, now … healing from anxiety, from self-confidence, from pain, from disappointment. I am the lame man at the temple gates, begging for things that won’t satisfy. Father, I commit my healing to your hands, in the name of Jesus.

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¹This second speech by Peter is a little different from the first one he gave. True, both speeches emphasized repentance and the release of sins, but there are some notable differences. For instance, after healing the lame man, Peter made no appeal for his listeners to have faith in Jesus’ name. Nor did he make an appeal for them to be baptized. In the first three chapters of Acts, Peter talked to two different crowds, and in both of his speeches, he gave both crowds two different “instructions” on “how” to repent — he mentioned baptism in the name of Jesus his first speech, but didn’t mention it at all in his second speech. Nor did Peter even mention the Holy Spirit after healing the lame man.

²Isa 62:1-565:1766:22.

How To Empty the Cross of Its Power

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours … (1 Corinthians 1:2; NIV84)

So Paul began his letter to the Corinthian church this way.

Written from the city of Ephesus, three years or so after he left Corinth, he began this letter with this solid claim:

Believers are different — “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”

And believers form their own culture, around Jesus — “called to be holy, together, with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Yet Corinth was an overwhelming city, with its own culture, and the believers were bringing the culture of the city into the church.

In Paul’s time, it was a Roman colony, enjoying Roman privileges and Roman government and Roman buildings. It had 90,000 people, and hosted an athletic festival second only to the Olympics. It had two ports, each of which faced both east and west, and connected it to both sides of the Roman empire. And it was wealthy, due, in large part, to its extensive slave trade. The temple of the Roman goddess Aphrodite alone had over 1,000 religious prostitutes, to celebrate, worship, and beseech the goddess for fertility and success.

It was stable, wealthy, and entertaining. And it’s values were a drug to the believers who lived there.

Because very quickly in this letter, we see the root of all Paul will write in the following chapters.

The Corinthian church was divided. And all subsequent issues stem from this unhealthy division. In Corinth, the believers were divided along the lines of their teachers, both Paul and Apollos.

Apollos, we’ve learned from reading Acts, was a student of Priscilla and Aquila, and who came to Corinth after Paul left. Whatever his intention while there, divisions arose, and believers picked sides — picked teachers.

Yet Paul doesn’t condemn Apollos. The division of the church was not his fault. In fact, Paul said that Apollos “watered” what Paul “planted.”

These divisions were so sharp that Paul addressed them first, though. It may be unusual to us, but Corinth fashioned itself as a city that enjoyed the presentations of famous philosophers and teachers. Remember, there were no comforts of modern entertainment. Listening to great orators was in fashion, and the believers abandoned their transformed lives, to turn the church into a cultural counterpart to what the city of Corinth offered.

Is it safe to say that we do the same? Do we mimic, in our own churches, the divisions found in our culture? Or celebrate it? Absolutely. We are human, and we sin.

But when we do, we abandon the message of the cross, just like the Corinthian believers. And like the Corinthian church, we divide, and castigate people over mere opinions, as if our intellect and passion can offer anything to the message of the cross!

But isn’t it possible for people to disagree, and still be united?

Yes. But only because we recognize our transformations, and others, because of the message of the cross.

I want to include a 10 minute clip here of Rick Atchley, who is the preaching minister for The Hills Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Texas. His illustration, regarding divisions over petty opinions, is memorable, and convicting. If you have time, please watch this today.

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For the Corinthians, Paul was only concerned about the message of the cross.

But what is the message of the cross?

Here are Paul’s words, from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The message of the cross is a transformed life. It is how God takes the weak and the poor, and resurrects them into a transformed life, so that others will see God through that transformation.

The message of the cross is not tribal warfare. It is not focused on opinions or ideas or traditions. Those things completely reject the message of the cross, and prove, to the world, that the message of the cross is not capable of any sort of transformation.

Believers in Corinth were living and acting like their surrounding culture. And for Paul, who spent around 18 months of his life there, this was a hurtful report. They had emptied the cross of its power, by their divisions over “words of human wisdom.” Here are his words:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17, NIV84)

If we are united around anything other than the message of the cross, then we are turning our backs on our own call to be different. We’ve accepted the spirit of the world, rather than the spirit of God. Here, again, are Paul’s words:

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12; NIV84)

God offered the Corinthian believers unlimited access to his work in the world, yet they refused it for their opinions and divisions.

He offers the same to us, too.

The Corinthians, though, exchanged the truth of God for the opinions of people, and the church, as a whole, suffered. Paul’s letter to these believers will attempt to weld their factions back together.

And he will do so with the message of the cross. Here’s what he wrote, at the close of our reading today.

Together you are God’s holy temple, and God will destroy anyone who destroys his temple.

Don’t fool yourselves! If any of you think you are wise in the things of this world, you will have to become foolish before you can be truly wise. This is because God considers the wisdom of this world to be foolish. It is just as the Scriptures say, “God catches the wise when they try to outsmart him.” The Scriptures also say, “The Lord knows that the plans made by wise people are useless.” So stop bragging about what anyone has done. Paul and Apollos and Peter all belong to you. In fact, everything is yours, including the world, life, death, the present, and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:17-23; CEV)

The image of God destroying those who divide his temple is powerful.

God cares deeply that believers are united around the message of the cross, because any other identity only empties the cross of its power. When that happens, we only tell the world around us that we are better at fashioning unity than God is.

Wow.

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As always, each morning, and my time of reading, is a personal journey with God. What I write, here, is what I believe God speaks to me, in this particular setting.

I make no claim to supreme authority, but feel moved, by God’s spirit, to share, here, what the passage speaks to me. Thank you for indulging my opinions, but, by all means, don’t follow them. Follow Jesus. Embrace the message of the cross, and that message only.

We Just Aren’t That Special (Day Twenty-Two)

Today’s reading has hit me hard.

Today is day twenty-two of reading through the New Testament in 90 days. It’s been an intriguing journey for me. Spending twenty-two straight days in the gospels has opened my eyes to Jesus. I hope it has done the same for you.

Today’s reading is Luke 16 through Luke 18.

And, for the most part, Jesus is teaching his disciples some rough stuff. And, again, I feel that American Christianity has been all too willing to turn a blind eye to it.

To give us some perspective, Luke, in his narrative style, places Jesus turning and speaking to the disciples, and then to the Pharisees, and sometimes to the crowds, almost in succession.

It’s an interesting style, especially since Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, is now on his way to Jerusalem. He teaches one group, only to teach against the other group, all while “walking.”

It’s important to know that, too. Jesus is teaching his disciples to follow him, while they literally follow him to his death in Jerusalem. While he knows this way will lead to suffering and death, he teaches the same to his disciples, as they all walk this way together.

Here’s what I learned today, through these three chapters:

I am not that special.

Look closely at these teachings. Jesus is doing something here that I just didn’t see coming.

In Luke 16, there is the “parable of the shrewd manager.” It’s a tough read, but there is a great truth here. Jesus encourages his disciples to be as shrewd when their Lord comes, as the manager was when he was approached by his lord. This is serious business, and Jesus just tells them to be ready to accept truth when it shows up.

But commending this manager because of his crafty response to being fired can be tricky. Look, though, how this story is framed. It comes after Jesus answers the Pharisees’ claims that he eats with sinners (15:2), and before Luke’s claim that the Pharisees love money (16:14).

Jesus is making a rather serious point, here, even in a very interesting story. While the manager of the parable “gives away” money (even by reducing various amounts owed), Jesus is essentially saying that possessions and money matter very little. We shouldn’t be attached to it. It’s just stuff.

Here’s how The Message interprets this Luke 16:8, 9:

Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.

The way of the disciple, then, is to not be attached to stuff. When we are, when we are enslaved by our own pursuit of more stuff, we are committing idolatry. Seriously. The next iPhone, the next bit of clothing, the next car, the next home, the next travel destination, the next Groupon deal. If that’s what we want, then we really want very, very little. We want something that will always leave us empty. We want an idol.

We should rather be willing to part with all of it. And we should concentrate our attention on the bare essentials, so we can fully experience life.

Next, in Luke 16, we find the story of “the rich man and Lazarus.” The rich, wealthy man ignored the diseased Lazarus. The only attendants to Lazarus, in this story, were the dogs, who would come to lick his sores (16:21)

The wealthy man dies, and finds himself in Hades, while Lazarus dies, and finds angels, not dogs, caring for him.

But the wealthy man is in torment. And he still hasn’t learned his lesson. While in this torment, he still sees Lazarus as a lesser person, as a servant — he asks that Lazarus bring water to cool his tongue. He would’ve given the same command to his own servants, while he was alive.

(And by the way, this story isn’t about the afterlife. Don’t rob this story of its power by trying to figure out what happens when we die.)

So Lazarus is in the presence of the divine. The wealthy man is in extreme agony. And yet the wealthy man wants Lazarus to come to him. Yet, this wealthy man, and his brothers, were taught, their entire lives, through Moses and the Prophets, to have a different view of their wealth and possessions — to see them only as ways to care for others.

In life, this wealthy man ignored Lazarus’ constant pleas for help. Even though he was taught better.

Wealth, then — stuff, possessions, and money — is only useful for how it can bless others. Jesus is making this crystal clear.

Jesus ends this story with a pretty cool addendum, too: even one who was resurrected from the dead couldn’t change the minds of this wealthy family. They would still hoard their possessions at the expense of others.

And they couldn’t even fathom all that Jesus said with that statement.

Then Luke 17 comes. Jesus turns back to his disciples. And this is where my heart started to hurt.

Jesus ends this brief section with a comment about “unworthy servants” (17:10). But look what these unworthy servants are called to do:

  • To not use the kingdom as a vehicle for controversy. (17:1, 2). Make no demands on piety, like the Pharisees.
  • Forgive completely, without demand for personal justice (17:4).
  • See faith as a gift, not as a right (17:6).
Jesus just tells his disciples that they aren’t that special. Instead, disciples willing endure self-sacrifice.

Be humble. Forgive every offense. Accept the gift of faith as a gift, not as a right. And do them all without expecting anything in return.

The requirements of discipleship should never be seen as a guarantee for special rank or position in the lives of people. Disciples just do what they’re asked.

Man, that’s tough. Especially for someone, like me, who is a minister. I’m just not that special. My intersection in the lives of people, even if I am used as a blessing in their lives, is not a special calling.

I should not expect fame. I should not expect notoriety. I shouldn’t even expect a special parking place. And none of us in ministry should ever expect those things. If we do, we are doing all of this for the wrong reasons. Nor will we be following the way of a disciple of Jesus.

Think the man in Hades.

But even for those who aren’t ministers, it’s still the same. And Luke uses the healing of ten lepers to hammer this point home.

Faith can be easy to have. It took faith for all of ten of those lepers to be healed.

But gratitude is harder to find. Only one returned to praise and thank Jesus.

We’ve. All. Been. Healed. And our healing is a gift that should require us to give thanks, rather than to receive thanks, regardless of who we are, or what we do.

Oh, and that leper that returned? He was a Samaritan. An outsider.

And Jesus wasn’t even finished, as if we haven’t been squeezed enough.

Discipleship requires us to recognize the apparent, real, here-it-is kingdom of God. It’s among us. And we must give it all for this kingdom.

There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our pleasures (17:27).

There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our relationships (17:27).

There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our possession, investments, and stuff (17:28).

If we are disciples, we must lighten our load. We aren’t special. We willingly follow a path that leads to sacrifice.

And we can’t follow by thinking of our own holiness, or by the stuff in the grip of our hands.

And he tells them this, as they continue to follow him to his death, in Jerusalem, by the way.

All I can say with today’s reading is what the disciples said in 16:5:

“Increase my faith.”

The Illegitimate Son (Day Twelve)

Today is day twelve in our ninety-day reading of the New Testament. Today we are reading Mark 4 through Mark 6.

And today’s reading is all about reaction.

Check out Flint Lockwood’s reaction to falling hamburgers in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It’s priceless.

If Mark is placing Jesus in the role of a hero and a conqueror, (see yesterday’s post) then he does that well in today’s readings. Four of the most prominent miracles Jesus performs in Mark are written one after the other, from Mark 4:35 through Mark 5:43. Let’s talk about those briefly.

But before we do, I want to draw your attention to a passage in Mark 3, where the reaction to Jesus really begins.

In Mark 3:31-35, Jesus has already grown familiar with the reaction of the official populations where he preaches. Earlier in the chapter, after healing the hand of a man, he is found to be angered by the questions about the Sabbath.

Yes, angered. Read Mark 3:5.

The plot, then, in Mark is hatched to kill Jesus. So Jesus leaves, withdraws, knowing that these sorts of reactions would precipitate his death, and he must leave. It’s not time for him to die.

So when we see Jesus entering a home, in 3:20, his family has reached their limit with Jesus’ behavior and reputation. They are upset. And they go after Jesus, to “take charge of him.” Even his own family believes he is crazy. The language here indicates that maybe they expected him to resist their efforts.

They not only believed Jesus to be out of his mind, but they were also afraid of him.

So Mark records these four miracles, where Jesus calms a storm, heals a man possessed by a demon, inadvertently healed a woman who touched his cloak, and resurrected Jairus’ daughter. Mark wants us to see Jesus, again, as a man of action.

He is unstoppable.

And yet, he can’t convince everyone that he is, in fact, the Son of God.

This Son of God was sleeping in the boat when the storm began on the sea. The indignance of the disciples turns quickly into fear. They want Jesus’ power to save them, yet when he exhibits that power, they become terrified (3:41).

Upon docking, they find a man possessed, living among the tombs, with supernatural strength. Ostracized from his community, he never slept, and cut himself repeatedly with rocks.

They find this man caked in his own dried blood.

Yet this possessed man, filled with demons, knew exactly Jesus’ identity. The demons called themselves Legion, and once they saw Jesus, they forced the man to his knees, and then called Jesus the “Son of the Most High God.” They called Jesus by his name.

It’s interesting to me that the demons knew more of Jesus’ identity than his own disciples. Their (the demons) reaction sort of reminds me of Flint Lockwood’s reaction in the clip above, around 1:25. They are just overwhelmed.

The woman, suffering from a hemorrhage, only wanted to touch Jesus, in Mark 5:28. Her experience of Jesus was formed by her suffering. She didn’t care about Jesus’ family. She didn’t care that he was the Son of God. She only knew Jesus could heal her.

And Jairus, a ruler of the local Jewish synagogue, wanted healing for his daughter, who died as Jesus spoke to the woman with the hemorrhage. Jesus resurrected the little girl, in the midst of mourners, and Mark tells us she was twelve years old.

Which is the exact amount of time the woman had dealt with her hemorrhaging. The woman suffered with her affliction as long as the little girl had been alive. In one moment, Jesus healed the woman and resurrected the girl, erasing twelve years of pain for one, and reclaiming the womanhood of the other. And the crowds were again amazed.

That is profound. Those not closest to Jesus were amazed. Yet those who knew him intimately were filled with doubt.

This brings us, then, to the crux of these reaction stories. Jesus goes to his hometown, to Nazareth, in 6:1, and taught in the synagogue, to the (again) amazement of those who heard him.

But many there were not convinced that a simple carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon, could be filled with so much wisdom.

Moreover, Jesus is identified in Mark as the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph. The fact that Jesus wasn’t identified as the son of his father was probably due to a persistent rumor in his hometown that Jesus was an illegitimate child.

Jesus never seemed to have shaken such an image. Even as man, they couldn’t wait to bring this rumor back to his attention.

Mark steamrolls these four miracles right into Jesus’ hometown. Surely people will believe Jesus is the Son of God. Surely. Mark is amazed himself at the doubters.

Regardless of what he did, though, Jesus would always be seen as the boy whose parentage would forever be in dispute.

And if anyone ever doubts God’s work in your life because your own past, then consider yourself in good company.

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You can find all previous posts here. Thanks for reading!

A Very Different Life (Day Four)

This is day four of a summer reading journey through the New Testament. You can begin today by getting the schedule here. Today’s reading is Matthew 10 through Matthew 12.

The first thought I had, today, was while reading Matthew 10, where Jesus calls the twelve disciples, naming them, and then giving them very intense instructions.

Matthew doesn’t give us much personal information on these twelve men. Most of what we know of them comes from other gospels. Matthew doesn’t seem to have much time for that, and instead focuses on their future mission, more so than their past identities.

But just a casual reading through Matthew 10 is almost frightening. Jesus tells them they will “raise the dead,” that they will go out “like sheep among wolves,” that they will be handed over to “local councils” where they will be beaten and flogged and arrested. They will be hated, and will endure multiple persecutions. Families will be divided because of their mission, and, ultimately, they will be accused of following the prince of demons.

Would you agree to this?

Which begs the next question: who would willingly agree to this?

Our simple little children’s song, which names the twelve apostles, is nice and sweet. Perhaps we should add a second verse that includes the horror of their calling.

Though Matthew doesn’t tell us much about these men, we do know that a few were fishermen. Consider the life they left.

Fishermen, in the Roman world, were part of a state-controlled enterprise. They paid large amounts of revenue back to the state, which would then pay revenue back to the Roman Empire. Every person in the chain of taxation received their due share. Ancient records indicate these rulers, from the Herods, to the Caesars, were incredibly wealthy, due, in great part, to the taxes paid by smaller industries in varying regions. Fishing was but one of those industries.

Yet there were probably guilds, or cooperatives, where groups of family fishing industries could withstand, together, the local taxes imposed. It is safe to assume that Peter, Andrew, James, and John were part of something like this.

Had they remained in their profession, their lives would have remained incredibly controlled, ordered, and predictable. They would have been bound by the seasons of the year, and dependent upon weather. They would have known which months would be best, and which months would be wet and rainy. They would have attended guild meetings, to battle price-fixing. They would have made agreements with local tax-collectors concerning their revenue. They would have either bought their own boats, or leased them from the government-controlled harbors. And they may have made enough money to hire a servant or two along the way.

In other words, they would have been businessmen for life. And without a great amount of social mobility, they would have never done anything different. Add to this the fact that, through the Jewish education, they were, for the most part, already overlooked for a rabbinical position. They weren’t intelligent enough, according to those schooling standards, to become a Jewish rabbi, and were sent back home, and back to the family business, by the time they were twelve-years-old.

So Jesus offers them something different. The substance of their lives is no longer about money and business, but about something far greater, and far more terrifying. They will travel, speak, be abused, neglected, hungry, arrested, beaten, and divisive. They were called to exchange comfort and predictability for a far greater mission. This is when they become fishers of men.

It is a very different life.

There is one more consideration, though. Matthew never tells us, at the end of Matthew 10, that they actually begin this mission. We assume they do, because we see these twelve disciples again in Matthew 12. Matthew leaves this calling open, and he does so on purpose.

He is telling every reader of his gospel that this is the mission for every one of Jesus’ followers. Not just these twelve.

Which means this is the same mission for both me and you.

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Thanks for reading. Click here for a list of all the blogs through these ninety days.