Did Jesus intend to invite the 13th Disciple? Pt.3

Jesus is out on the road or “on the way” as another translation puts it.  This phrase indicates that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified.  In fact, Mark uses this phrase again just a few sentences later (10:32) when Jesus tells his fearful 12 Disciples that he will be betrayed and given over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned, and handed over to the gentiles for execution. This tete-a-tete with the rich, young ruler interrupts Jesus’ dutiful march to Calvary.  The sorrowful presents himself, kneels, and asks how to get to Heaven.  The irony of course is not lost to us, that Jesus is en route to be crucified, thereby putting to death the very sins that keep us from enjoying peace with God.  This would be a great opportunity to expound the scriptures, explain the need for a God-man to die as a substitutionary atonement.  But, Jesus does not go into a lengthy theological discussion about how he will be crucified, and his blood will atone for the sins of his people, and His resurrection would secure eternal life for all those who believe.  Instead of theology, he offers a cross.  Instead of an explanation he prescribesHe demands discipleship.  He is going to his cross, and he wants the ruler to take up his own cross.  He does not make a demand of the ruler, which he is not willing to undertake himself.  “No servant is above his master,” he told his disciples on the night of his betrayal.  I expect everyone of you to die on a cross, just as I am going to die on mine.

Jesus invited this young ruler to empty himself of glory, wealth, and acclaim, making himself of no account.  He says to him, “take a step down and see what its like on the bottom.  Maybe you’ll find eternal life among the beggars.  Maybe God will change your heart towards those that depend on him every moment for their daily bread.”  Jesus himself, once stepped down out of a position of indescribable glory, adoration, authority, security, and perfect love.  He laid down his rights, privilege, royal titles, courtiers and all the vestiges of his exalted place.  Incredibly, He did this to live and die among us, the poor, the blind, the maimed, the naked, the sick the demon harassed, the dead and decaying corpses of people who were intended to be God’s walking image on the earth.

This account has me really worried about myself.  I am pretty rich compared to most of the world.  Every american lives with unbelievable privilege compared to even our neighbors to the south and in the Caribbean.  If you have shoes you are richer than most of the people in the world.  If you have access to clean drinking water, and public transportation, you are richer than %75 of the world.  If you have hot and cold running water in your home, access to a car or bus, and access to some form of communication device (payphone, cell, computer, telegraph) then you are in the top %95 percentile of earth’s wealthiest.  We can’t even hope to know what real poverty looks like, and that makes us like the rich young ruler.  Again, I say, I am getting worried for myself.

Are you starting to sweat a little bit? Not so sure of yourself now that you realize you are one of the rich, are you? Well, are you one of the rich or not? If you are reading this on any type of screen, rest assured that you are the Rich Man.

 

Any attempt to abolish the severity, and alarmingly challenging nature of this passage must be bridled.  This passage is not meant to be explained away, or even understood. It is meant to stand in stark contrast with our money loving culture.  It is meant to trip us, watch us fall, and it anticipates us seeing something from the vantage point of our knees. This, heretofore, invisible something can only be perceived as we kneel in holy reverence to the Good Teacher, the one who defies our glib categories and feeble theological frameworks, and humbly accept his offer to take up our cross and follow him.

I have to confess that I am left with way more questions than answers.  I only hope that I now have better questions.  I believe having open ended questions leaves room in our hearts for God to speak.  Let’s not be too sure of our theology, like Job’s 3 friends whom God rebuked.  But, rather let’s model our hearts after the father of the demon afflicted child, who in Mark 9:24 (NLT) cries out “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”  No one who approached Jesus with all the answers ever walked away from the interaction satisfied or feeling proud. Those that approach Jesus needy and beggarly have the best chance of leaving his presence satisfied and enriched.

I leave you with these words from Andy Stanley’s sermon “When Gracie met Truthy” from the series “Christian“. In fact, I give my unreserved recommendation to this entire series of messages. Watch them, they are really powerful.

“When you open the New Testament, and you ask “How did Jesus Love?” At times it was messy, at times it was inconsistent, confusing, unfair. We are trying to hang onto the tension that Jesus has when he loves. …Whenever you open the scriptures and take seriously the teachings of Jesus there’s a tension. He at times seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to hold everybody accountable. At times he seems harsh, at times he is kind, at times he points out sin, and at times its like he ignores sin altogether.” “…We are all tempted to want to resolve that tension, but if you resolve it you give up something important. Its what drove people crazy about Jesus, but he was comfortable with it. He was able to minister through it, and we dare not walk away from it. …Oh my goodness is it messy, and at times it is inconsistent, …and it leaves people thinking ‘I wonder what they (Christians) are really about. What do they really believe?” -Andy Stanley Quotes from His sermon “When Gracie met Truthy”

Check out Part 1 and Part 2

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