A complete stranger appears at your place of work, performs a very impressive miracle and then asks you to leave your job, your possessions, and your family – and to follow him wherever he goes. Is that plausible? Is it likely? Is it even a wise course of action?
Those of us who remember Sunday School days may have this story etched in our memories. We may still be rather bemused why a group of hard-working professionals simultaneously handed in their notice and started to hang out with a ‘random’ stranger. But if we compare today’s chapter with others in the gospels, we realise that there is more to the story than meets the eye. (See John 1:40 onwards and John 2:1-12.)
For a start, Andrew and, perhaps John or Phillip were previously disciples of John the Baptist and had already committed themselves to seeking and promoting the Kingdom of God. This would also have meant that their brothers Peter, James, and Nathaniel were also either involved or at least well-acquainted with both John’s ministry and with his teaching that Messiah was to come very soon. And when Jesus did arrive, John the Baptist pointed him out to them and encouraged some of his own disciples to follow Jesus from that time onwards.
Also, before the miracle of the fish occurred (Luke 5), these named disciples had spent a few days with Jesus and had come to some degree of faith, leading to them spending even more time with him. A little later, they accompanied Jesus to a family wedding – where he did his first miracle of the water into wine – and learned more about him in a relaxed social setting.
By the time Jesus had arrived at the shore of Lake Gennesaret, these guys knew him pretty well as a teacher of profound truths, a performer of amazing miracles and a man of perfect sinless character. There was little doubt in their minds that this really WAS the Messiah whom they had so eagerly sought all their lives. And now, after a hard night’s work at their fishing trade, they stood wearily on the lake shore in the morning… and He came to meet them, bringing a huge crowd of listeners with him.
Jesus asked for the one of the boats to take him out from the shore, partly to avoid the pressing of the crowd and partly to provide exceptionally good acoustics for his teaching. The real fun started when he had finished talking. “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch” (v4), he said to Peter. The Big Fisherman sighed, thought about a response… and then thought again! Here was a carpenter giving fishing lessons to a pro, but Peter swallowed his pride as he realised the true identity of the one issuing the orders.
We see that the Carpenter really did know best. A major miracle, affecting the most fundamental part of these guy’s lives and livelihoods, facilitated that tough journey of the call of Jesus from their heads to their hearts. Once there, it affected their wills and so touched every aspect of their lives: they left everything to follow him.
Does this teach us anything about discipleship methods today? Many things, I think. One of which was the fact that Jesus was completely real with his would-be followers in every normal action of their shared lives. After the first few days spent with him, there were no more surprises, since they were aware of the person who was calling them. His knowledge of his Father in Heaven, his power, his pure character and love, and his deep insight into spiritual truths – these became transparent and obvious to them. And living and walking with him made every day an adventure from that point onwards.
The final couple of verses of the chapter sum up, in many ways, the entire life of this embryo new church: “New wine must be poured into new wineskins” (v38). The way they now lived and spoke, drawing more and more disciples to them and to him, was a unique, new way of ‘containing’ the life of the Spirit. Old wineskins are never any good for living (new) wine, and a continuous transferring into new wineskins, day after day, and year after year, is required if this life is to go on. Think about how this practically might affect your church situation today.
NUMBERS 15 and 16
God seems to write off the next 40 years as though they didn’t exist and spoke about the offerings that would be made from the first produce of Canaan. It is noteworthy that, of all the offerings available to obtain forgiveness, not one was sufficient to deal with intentional sin – such a sinner was cut off from the nation without mercy. Are you glad you are under the new Covenant?
“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18). This is not today’s reading, but it nicely sums up what was starting to go wrong in the nation. Having rejected God’s command to enter the Promised Land, they had no mission left – no vision from the Lord for their future. For everyone over the age of twenty, all they had to look forward to was a life going around in circles – literally – with no goals, no purpose and no challenge. Such a state of mind is hazardous to mental health and to social order; when nothing really matters, anything goes! For many people in our own society, that is the case too. Even more sadly, for many Christians in inward-looking churches without a missional and growth vision, such life is completely demoralising to their faith and to their walk with God; church degenerates into a self-perpetuating ritual, zeal decays and relationships slowly unravel.
The effect upon Israel at that time was catastrophic: Moses was a powerful anointed leader, appointed by the Lord to rule over the nation. Yet, through no fault of his own, he had no orders for the next 40 years and no positive way to exercise leadership, except in a maintenance mode. Before long, maintenance without progress will create widespread dissatisfaction; others will look on and think “I can do that job better than he can” – which is what happened in Korah’s mind. He was a Levite who was privileged to serve around the tabernacle – one of the people who carried the most holy objects from God’s house. He became arrogant, gathered the support of similarly disaffected people, and incited a leadership challenge. It is uncanny how disaffected people in the church today seem to gravitate towards one another and instinctively forge informal alliances against the God-given leadership. Rebellion may be as passive as simply refusing to give financially to the church, or gossiping about the leaders, or adopting the Absalom technique of stealing away the hearts of other believers (2 Samuel 15:1-6). But whatever form the rebellion takes, it is offensive to the Lord and deadly to the rebel! Bitterness, unforgiveness and independence are a toxic cocktail; drinking it, slowly kills you and many others around you.
Staggeringly, Dathan and Abiram twisted the facts to the extent of claiming that Moses had led Israel “out of a land flowing with milk and honey” – i.e. Egypt! When you commit yourself to rebel against the Lord and his servants, truth is a casualty. Not all miracles are health-giving, as Korah and his followers discovered in Numbers 16. In order to save the nation, the Lord did some miracles of judgment against all the rebels and their families, demonstrating who he was and deterring any others who might also have put their lives in danger.