Tuesday, 7 August 2007

IFES World Assembly: Following Jesus

Having returned from Canada, and Belgium, before I run off to Cheltenham I've translated my notes from Jacques Buchhold's exposition at World Assembly, which I'd posted in French at the time. Many of us were struck by his talk, and it wove in with my thoughts from the conference on being in Christ - a truth I need to study more. So without further ado:

Luke 9.51 is a key moment in Jesus' ministry: Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. From that moment on, the rest of the gospel happens en route to Jerusalem, for his death. So these passages are consecrated to the preparations for going to Jerusalem. They speak to us of what is involved in following Jesus. How then do we understand these texts (Luke 9)? Jesus defines following [Jacques neatly invented a new French word suivance here!], faced with 3 men who asked to follow him.

Three facts about Jesus' following in Luke: it's frequent, striking (e.g. 9.57-62 - note v.60 opposes all the thought of the time) and unique. Unique because this term (to follow Jesus) isn't used after the gospels in the NT, apart from one time in Revelation. Why? Well in fact, it's because Jesus used a pre-existing model, of following. He wasn't some sort of extraterrestrial arriving into Palistine from who-knows-where! No, he took a well-known model of the time: that of a theologian.

Following the Rabbi Jesus
"Rabbi." "My Master." A Rabbi would teach in a house, which served as a school - with his disciples doing the shopping, chores, etc. Often also they would walk, as on a pilgrimage. With the disciples following. Never at the side of the Master.

In this passage the 2nd and 3rd men call Jesus Rabbi (Master), and another, Doctor: evidently Jesus appeared to them to have the role of a dean of theology! That's why he gets questions about divorce, resurrection, the Sabbath - the questions debated at the time. It's in this context that we must understand the text.

v.57 is a request to be such a disciple. That's why he must leave home and family. And that also explains why the theme disappears in the the NT - Jesus cannot now be physically followed! But is there more than that?

To become a disciple was not something requested: the call came from the Master, and the response was to be immediate obedience. It was not the disciples who signed up to study at the school of theology. Jesus chose them. And what people he chose! So Jesus didn't put up with the superficial voluntary manner of these men who were asking to be disciples. It is HE who defines the conditions of following. And such strictness is beyond the rabbinic model. He is more than a rabbi. He incarnates himself in this model, but he is more than it.

Following the prophet Jesus
There are many things here which are like the call of Elisha. But Jesus is more than a prophet. It's probably Elisha's call to which Jesus refers in v.62 - Elisha burnt his oxen as a sacrifice: no going back! He knew that afterwards, he would have no need of them. It's not by chance that all this discussion takes place in the walk to Jerusalem. Jesus knew what it meant to take this path. There was no turning back. But Jesus didn't allow himself to be boxed into a model - neither that of a Rabbi, nor that of a prophet. He was more than a prophet...

Following the Saviour Jesus
There is more to following here than to follow a prophet. Jesus wasn't lifted up into heaven like Elijah whom Elisha followed, but lifted up on a cross. He came as servant. v.51 "He set his face" isn't a Greek expression, of the language in which Luke writes competantly, but a semitic one. It's found in Isaiah 50.7, a description of the servant. Jesus knew that he was the Servant. These men thought they'd sign themselves up to follow him to Jerusalem in victory! But he was setting his face to go and die. To take up your cross and follow is not an evangelical appeal at the end of a meeting. It's a call to those who would follow him to Jerusalem.

This Servant, who is more than a Rabbi, more than a prophet: who is he that he demands such strict following?

Is he mad? [If we grasped what following he was demanding here, there'd be fewer people wanting to claim they followed his teachings. They'd be left with the question above: who is this man? I think that's what Jacques got at here - didn't take notes.]

To follow Jesus has dimensions much deeper than ethics. Love, belonging, identity,... It's a question of life or death. The good news is that we are no longer called to walk behind Jesus. We are in Jesus. Not in his school but in the family. No longer servants, but friends. Jesus has become our identity. He has torn us away from our status in Adam, freed us from the regime of the law into the regime of grace and the Holy Spirit. No longer in Adam. Following has given way to faith in Jesus - with obedience by the Spirit. Now when I pray to God, it's on familiar terms [tutoyer, calling him tu, not vous, or in old English, thou not you. Tu and thou are terms of familiarity. In German, du, and Dutch, je] Think, now when you pray, it is a man who hears you in heaven - and he's coming back.

We have so much more than the disciples. We are in Jesus, and we have the Spirit.

Application of Jesus' following:

1) The principle of incarnation in the world - Jesus' taking the model of Rabbi. (NB. In saying Jesus gives this incarnation principle, what Jesus did does not act as our absolute model - e.g., Paul doesn't use Jesus as the model of singleness, in his teaching on relationships, when he could have done so.)

2) Exclusive obedience - Jesus is shaped by the word of God in his understanding of his ministry - as with a prophet.

3) But above all, there is one way in which the NT recalls us to follow Jesus. (1 Peter 2.) That is in accepting the rejection of the world. We are called to accept the way of the cross.

Further thoughts from Mo.

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