another king

…they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also… and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. Acts 17:6-8

You are living under tyranny. Brainwashed into trusting the systems put in place around you, you are convinced that the way you are living is “normal” and “natural” and even “necessary,” meanwhile oblivious to your progressing self-destruction. You are a willing subject of a totalitarian regime that steals not only your money and freedom but also your humanity and identity. You sit by, applauding your emperors, blind to their nakedness; boasting of your health, insensate to your cancer; admiring your wealth, ignorant of your destitution.

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Revelation 3:17

Then, probably without invitation, some people come along and start speaking to you of another kingdom–another king. At first these messengers come across as mild and perfectly harmless. They are not exceptionally charming, connected, or well-spoken. They never announce themselves. You simply find them in your life, by your side, still there when the others have left. Sometimes they whisper in your ear, sometimes they shout through your window. They often seem physically afflicted and in need, but they pay no mind, though without an ounce of self-delusion. They simply do not believe in the systems and norms of the world anymore. They do not even seem to trust their own perception or opinions. You soon begin to feel that they understand something you don’t.

…we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men… to the present hour, we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. 1 Corinthians 4:9-13

The stories your strange friends tell you about their king strike you as even more unfathomable. This king is a conqueror without an army, a master of nature who hungers and thirsts, a virgin friend to prostitutes, and a penniless friend to white-collar thieves. He answers questions with questions. He defies authority and practices courtesy. He is abrasive. He is meek. It seems that no one in the world understands him.

There was again division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said [of Jesus], “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” John 10:19-21

Finally, you find out that this supposed king, when he was still young, was brought to court by some religious zealots and sentenced to a humiliating death by the political powers who strutted the earth in his day. You would normally expect that the premature death of the leader of such a young movement would be its end. Yet your friends talk about his death as if it accomplished a purpose of extreme importance, as if the king himself planned the whole thing, even. You would like to brush this off as self-deception, but every piece of the story also seems to indicate that this king was in fact witnessed alive, walking and talking, three days after his burial, and many more times afterward.

Jesus answered [Pilate], “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:11

This king is clearly like none you have ever heard of, nor is his kingdom one you can find on a map. For the strangest reason, in light of what you have heard about him, everything you once cherished as admirable and rich now begins to appear to you rather cheap and pointless, actually. You find yourself thinking that your emperors are really quite powerless, your gold really quite dull, your lovers really quite boring.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 4:8

You find yourself in terribly difficult position. You are straddling the precipice. You have seen through the pomp and emptiness of your entire world, your entire basis for understanding the universe. All your former thoughts of safety, wellness, self-control, pride in your country or family–all were illusions. Nothing more than mirages of water in a desert of pure sand.

You have heard talk of revolution. You have been told about another king. You have heard him single you out by name, as it were. You realize that to join in will mean utter upheaval. Your friends won’t get it, your family won’t like it, your bosses won’t tolerate it. All your plans must change.

But you can’t get this other king out of your head.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:45-46

What will you choose?

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class is in session

I will never forget my fourth grade teacher. He taught in a way that increased my love for reading and made me and each of my classmates feel uniquely special to him. My appreciation for him has grown over the years as I have come to better understand the unique difficulties of teaching. I think just about everyone can relate to knowing the impact a good teacher can have on his or her students. Teachers, whether in the classroom, the church, or informally in life, can open our minds to things that no one else can.

Every January, my youth pastor asks all the junior and senior high schoolers in our church to choose “target words” to focus throughout the year – love, discipline, humility, etc. This time I chose “disciple” as a concept to explore and mature in this year. Thinking about discipleship over the past five months has taught me not only about myself as a disciple, but Christ as teacher. He said, “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers… Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah” (Matthew 23:8-10). That statement is amazing – indeed, the great part of the Christian life, whether you are a child in the faith or the apostle Paul, is simply sitting at Jesus’ feet saying, “teach me.”

Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30 KJV). Jesus is a gentle teacher. He knows our weaknesses, and the ways even our good intentions can get messed up. He forgives, and forgives again, and forgives again. He never stops saying, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” His nail-pierced hands are always stretched out to welcome and embrace the sinners who come to him.

He is gentle, but uncompromising. He says “my burden is light”; he also says “take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 14:33). That’s like a holocaust victim saying “walk into your gas chamber.” He says, “be free” (John 8:36); he also says “be a slave” (Mark 10:43-44). He promises “life to the full” (John 10:10), along with daily death (Luke 9:23). If we are to be his students – his disciples – we must open the textbook, examine the coursework, and understand his methods.

He turns our whole paradigm for life on its head. He, the author of the Torah, did not go to people who cared about the Torah. He went to people like prostitutes and lepers, people without a shred of hope in regard to morality or keeping commandments, people overwhelmed in every way by the evil of humans, in both other people and themselves. He taught that the most precious thing in life, the only significant reality worth living for, is something you cannot see. It involves a way of life that will cost you pain and rejection, even from the people you love the most. He said that our hatred of sin ought to be so great that we consider physical maiming preferable to a single glance that offends God. He said to be unafraid of terrorists and murderers, but terrified by the anger of God against sin; and he said the same God whose anger burns so fiercely against sin feels such great love for forgiven sinners, and identifies himself with them so closely, that he calls them his children and asks them to call him their father. He preached Judgment Day, and he preached love, forgiveness, and mercy.

He is like no other teacher who has ever lived, and yet he is more than a teacher. Many have claimed to be teachers; a few have claimed to be saviors; none have claimed to be God. He is all three. He came to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), because all of us, like prostitutes and lepers, have absolutely no hope in regard to morality and keeping commandments. We need his lessons; even more desperately, we need his salvation.

I know his salvation, therefore I say, “Lord, teach me” (see 2 Corinthians 4:13-14). He answers – through his Word, through my experiences, through his people, even through my failures, as amazing as that is – and I praise him for that.

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life! Psalm 119:33-40

what it means to be a disciple

A disciple of Christ is one who intentionally and relentlessly pursues Christ. Disciples seek to know him more deeply, to love him more fully, and to witness to him more profoundly with their lives, every day. Disciples hold nothing back. They submit it all – time, money, plans, family, friends, talents, comforts, desires, needs, sickness, health, present, future, body, soul, everything – to the will of their Lord. He is the author and finisher of their faith. He is their “all in all.”

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Luke 14:25-35

Characteristics of disciples:

1. singular trust
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” John 14:1

Disciples do not trust in the vanity of this world. They do not trust the devil who accuses them, the world which tempts them, or their own flesh which lures them. They do not trust their own opinions, or their own interpretations of life. They do not trust their own righteousness or moral efforts. Their trust is in one place, and one place only: their Savior.

2. unattached to the world; wholly attached to Jesus
“…set apart for the gospel of God…” Romans 1:1

Disciples do not seek to gain the world, for their citizenship is already secure in heaven. They do not want what the world wants or fear what the world fears. To them, ambition, money, and worldly success only pale in comparison with the joy, peace, and satisfaction of knowing Christ.

3. sacrificial love
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
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 9:23

In order to love like Jesus, disciples give up their rights for the sake of others. They don’t insist on what they want, but humbly and quietly sacrifice their desires and needs so that other will benefit. They do this because of the way Jesus has loved them, giving up all his rights for their sake and taking up his cross for them.

4. a passion for the poor, oppressed, and lost
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14
Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

Jesus spent the great majority of his time on earth with sick people, societal outcasts, nobodies, and the poor. He preached about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, and he demanded that his followers give up everything they owned in order to follow him. Christ’s disciples compassionately and intentionally seek out the poor, the oppressed, and the lost in order to provide for their physical needs, love them, and tell them the gospel of Jesus, the “man familiar with suffering” who is nonetheless “making all things new.”

5. sharing the love of Christ and making other disciples; being “salt and light”
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.” Matthew 28:18-20

Disciples know that Jesus is in charge of the universe and their lives; they know he loves them and will never leave them. Therefore, they go. They go and they take his message with them.

 

Jesus warned us: count the cost. The road will not be easy. It will be marked with suffering and identified by sacrifice. It will require daily struggle, daily repentance, and daily surrender. But it will be the journey of a lifetime. It will conquer the universe.