Did Jesus intend to invite a 13th Disciple? Pt 1.

I have been studying Mark’s gospel, in my morning devotions.  I have found some really enriching treasures as I make my way through the book.  I’ll admit right now, that, in the past, I have consciously avoided reading Mark, figuring that Mathew and Luke have all that and more. If you are shaking your head in disgrace at me, I deserve it. I know it is wrong headed and misguided, and I’m just trying to be honest about my former thoughts.  Let me take a moment to right this wrong!

I want to proclaim right now that Mark’s gospel is full of mirth, insight, and, for me, unexpected beauty.  My plea is that you will make Mark, often cited as the chronologically first Gospel, a regular part of your bible reading.

Mark’s gospel has inspired more than one of my ideas for an article, because it is full of quirky facets.  Reading it has been fun, as well as transformative.  I have found in Mark, an earthy, masculine, stern Jesus, who makes no compromises and always has a swift rebuke.  He rebuffs Peter, one of his closest friends and the mouthpiece of the 12, with the same harsh words Mathew and Luke’s gospel record him using against Satan. Suffice it to say that I commend the Gospel of Mark, and, if you, like me, had set it aside, I think it deserves another look.

All that by way of preface, I’m now prepared to share with you what I consider to be a colossal find! When reading the account of the rich, young ruler, I noticed that Jesus bade him 1) take up his cross and 2) follow me. I was stunned by the implications. This is an amazing discovery! Don’t think so? Hear’s why you’re wrong; in the other gospels, the only time Jesus ever commanded anyone to take up their cross and follow Him was when He was speaking to one of his 12 Disciples! Ka-boom!

Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” And again in Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke tells us in verse 18 of this chapter that, “Once when Jesus was praying in private and only his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” So, we know that Jesus only invited the 12 Disciples to “take up the cross, and follow me”.

Exhilarating! It wasn’t just any old follower that Jesus said these words to. It wasn’t some member of the rabble, an unknown face in the multitude, or some common saying of our Lord’s. This was next level stuff. It represented a dimension of Jesus ‘following’ that few had ascribed to. Taking up the cross and following Jesus, was a command he gave to his closest followers, his 12 Disciples, whom he had hand picked. “Now wait just a cotton picking minute,” some of you astute Bible scholars may be screaming at your monitors. In Mark 8:34-38, only 2 chapters earlier, Jesus called “the people” to Himself and said “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

This seems to contradict the special nature of the call to “take up your cross and follow me.” It seems to render what I’ve been saying not so spectacular after all. If Jesus reserved the call to take up the cross and follow him for his hand selected disciples, then why does Mark 8:34 tell us he called “the people” to himself? Great question! Here’s another great question, why does it use the term ‘the people’ rather than ‘the multitudes’, as it does in the beginning of the chapter? The solution may be found in the fact that “the people” were in Bethsaida.

What does that have to do with anything? Well, for starters, Bethsaida was the location of the lonely, far flung, sparsely peopled, desolate place where Jesus did the Feeding of the Four Thousand. (Jesus did large scale miracles like this, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand, in wide open spaces, out of towns. In fact, Jesus lead the blind man out of town, before he healed him. Why does Jesus take the trouble to walk this poor blind man all the way out of town, prior to doing the miracle?) Bethsaida, to this day, leaves very little archaeological evidence of having ever been a large, people inhabited town. Historically, it is located on the Northeast side of the Sea of Galilee, but, owing to the lack of 1st century pot shards, etc, there is some debate among scholars. The absence of evidence that a lot of people lived there, shows that Bethsaida was more of a settlement than a city.

At any rate, there were far fewer in the crowd constituting “the people” than there were among “the multitude”, perhaps only scores. Maybe not even that many. So, Jesus’ 12 Disciples most likely constituted a large cohort of the assembled listeners. In fact, having “the people” around, may have been Jesus’ way of collecting witnesses against the Disciples, when he gave them the “take up the cross and follow me” directive. Perhaps “the people” acted as unbiased outsiders, who could attest to the stringent nature of the community of those who consider themselves a disciple.
Or, maybe “the people” (remember this is likely a small group) mentioned were particularly committed to Jesus. Maybe they loved him, and believed on him. Maybe they were among the Four Thousand, and knew Jesus to be a great Prophet. Could it be that Jesus knew they were especially close followers, not quite on a par with his 12 Disciples, and wanted to make them completely clear on what it takes to be a real disciple?

Maybe I haven’t convinced you just how special it was when Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me”. Or maybe, you think I’m on to something radically important. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, no one can deny that Jesus was inviting the rich young ruler to a life shattering depth of commitment, which included sacrificing all wealth, status, distance from the poor, and self sufficiency. Matt Skinner, writing at WorkingPreacher.com, has some really focused insights on Jesus’ call to the rich, young ruler.

This might be as a good a place as any to mention that none of the gospel refer to him explicitly as “the rich, young ruler”.  Ka-boom!  That’s just a title we compiled for him, from the combined descriptions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  So, that might mean that many of my original preconcieved notions are based on  an amalgam description, which the Bible doesn’t even explicitly use.

In the next part I will dissect this passage, and give my insights and remarks. Hopefully, you will see this ho-hum story, we’ve all heard a million times, through new eyes. I was shaken, exhilarated, challenged, offended and humbled by this ground breaking interaction between the Lord and this pious, spiritually hungry, God fearing Jew, the rich, young ruler. Once again, God has blessed me by using His holy Word to impart virtue and grace onto me, and I can only invite you to be a part of what God has done for me.

Bottom line; He deserves a second look.  Follow the link below to take an in depth examination of the rich, young, ruler.  Join me, will you?
Part 2

Your personal savior?

Some evangelicals of this day like to describe their union with Christ as having a “personal savior”.  The problem, of course, is that they also own a personal computer, manage a personal life, and reserve certain amenities for themselves as their own personal pleasures.  And, herein lies the rub.  If we imagine Jesus, or more generically, our salvation, as something we own, manage, or see it as something “about us”, then God can’t own us.  However deeply committed to this flawed thinking you may be, I invite you now to dispense with it.

You may be thinking, “No real Christian, at least none I have ever known, consciously regards Christ as a possession.”  Exactly!  No Christian would ever think this consciously.  This thinking operates on a sub-conscious level, and is therefore all the more insidious.

I do not say that you are aware that you think this way.  If a christian’s relationship to his “personal savior” is much the same as to his personal computer, he is in a bad way.  See, this same Christian goes to his personal computer to do his work, enjoy his intellectual or social pursuits, or, for simple entertainment.  He does these things at his leisure, according to his desire, and without regard to any responsibility he may or may not have to the personal computer.  Many of us go to the Lord (our personal savior) with the exact same attitude.  We look to Christ as we look to the virus cleaner on our PC, something of great value and necessity, to be used at need (then dispensed with) and forgotten until the next emergency.

For 5 reasons the “personal Jesus” idea needs to hang it up, I commend to you the following blog.  It is excellent!

As long as it is convenient (or, I feel like it) I will pray to my own personal savior.  As long as it doesn’t cost me anything I don’t wish to go without, I will stand up for God’s truth.  As long as it doesn’t conflict with my social pursuits or affect my status, I will confess the name of Jesus.  After all, He is MY personal savior.  But, oh boy, when I’m in a scrape, I can pray with the best of ’em.  He’s my personal savior.  This thinking is juxtaposed to Paul’s assertion that we ought to be “slaves of Christ.”

Slave.  Does that word offend you?

There is a way in which familiarity breeds contempt.  The all too human temptation to minimize or de-claw God, is just as alive in the Christian church as it was on the pagan alters.  Humans want a safe, predictable, servile deity, to whom they can pray and placate with dervishes and lip service.  None of the Greek poets ever once conceived that the pagan gods would want to know if their worshipers were sincere, only that they were prompt, pious, and paid the proper temple fees.

Humans invent gods, to make The God, more tolerable.  We do not love goodness, nearly so much as we suppose.  What we actually love is convenience.  (Thankfully, it is inconvenient to live in a world totally dominated by our evil desires.  This is why we get as close as we possibly can, without going over that precarious line that would totally cripple society.  Having some sin in our society lets us get things done, but too much would be the end of civilization.)  We create petty Gods, because we are petty.  We created Cupid,  because we ourselves are possessed of obscene cupidity. We want the gods to bless our crops, keep us safe, save our souls, and, beyond that, stay out of the way.  The god we seem to like the most, is called the “Life Force”.  The Life Force gives us all the personal and intellectual benefits of having a deity who creates the world and loves us unconditionally, without all the pesky nonsense of morality, judgement, or lordship.

Dr. Peter Kreeft argues that the gods of our society are really the canaanite deities reborn.  These are Molech, upon whose alter we sacrifice our children, babies and unborn; Ashtereth, a fertility goddess whose easy sexuality we drool over during every film, sitcom, and magazine; and, of course, Mammon.  Who can serve two masters?  No one!

The God of the Bible sees through the religious detritus, and commends us to worship him in “spirit and in truth”.  Mere sacrifice does not assuage his wrath.  No muttered mantras or rehearsed prayers will forestall His promised judgment.  He is not one to be managed, minimized, or pacified with trinkets.  And that is why He is not the kind of God we’d invent. No one asks for the kind of God which He is.  (Not, of course, at first)  The kind of God He is, is like a taste which one develops over time.

When I was a child I hated green beans, peas, and broccoli, all foods I enjoy as an adult.  They didn’t change.  I changed.  I grew up.  Now that I am a man, my tastes have matured and developed.  I can stand, somewhat, the intense savor of the salt of holiness.

Oh, sure, we like certain of His attributes, for instance, His love and His mercy.  But, we like much less His steady demands on our time and insistence on our moral behavior.  We like even less His pressure to conform our hearts and minds to that of His son.  Our hearts shout back at Him, “But, why should I have to change?  Why can’t you take me as I am?”  Frankly, it is offensive to us. Frankly, that is what He means it to be.

So I ask you to consider: When you say that Jesus is your personal savior, do you mean that what He did on Calvary He did for you.  Do you mean that He is the God you serve? Do you mean that you have accepted Him?  Do you mean that Jesus is going to take you to heaven?  Do you mean that His demands on you are perfectly natural, and you delight in His commands?

Our reformed brothers like to say, “God saved me,” rather than, “I accepted Jesus into my heart”.  It violates their sensibilities to put oneself in the driver seat, and render Jesus as a passive participant.  The phrase “God saved me,” expresses that He is the active doer, rather than the one being accepted.  And, on this point, I have to agree with them.  God is not in need of our acceptance, nor is He a passive party to my justification.  Jesus is Lord regardless of whether or not we obey Him.  God is praiseworthy, even when He is not being praised.  He is admirable, even when no one is admiring Him.  God is God.  You don’t accept or reject Him, He accepts or rejects you.  And, He doesn’t come to you with hat in hand hoping you will choose to do His will.  He is no supplicant.  But, He is humble, gentle, and lowly of spirit.  That God saved me proves He is humble, a proud God would have nothing to do with one such as I.

If, the statement is true that, “I accepted Jesus into my heart.”  It is a far lower, baser, and less complete truth than, “God saved me.”