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In our last Podcast, we talked about the secrets in a resume. Because the Bible contains so much information about certain people, it is pretty easy to metaphorically build a resume for a Biblical character. This exercise can reveal things we may have never really considered. Let’s look at the Apostle Paul. There is a lot written about him personally.
Paul is Amazing
The Apostle Paul is probably the most amazing disciple in the entire New Testament. Not only does he go from being the number one persecutor of the church to the number one promoter of the church, he goes on to pen three quarters of the the New Testament scripture. He is the author of no less than 13 letters to various people and churches.
Paul was pretty prolific! So too were others who accompanied him such John Mark; who goes on to write the Gospel of Mark, and Luke, a physician. Luke is the writer of both the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke. Both these men were close associates of Paul and accompanied him on many of his missionary journeys. Beginning with Luke’s writings, let’s gather information about Paul’s life with which we can build a handsome and respectable resume for Paul.
The first time we ever meet Paul is at the end of Acts 7. It’a not a great first meeting. It occurs during the stoning of Stephen where Paul was still known as the Pharisee, Saul. We join the assault just after the crowd has been whipped into a frenzy by the preaching of Stephen.
Acts 7:57 – 8:1
“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”
A Young Man
In terms of church history, theologians tell us the stoning of Stephen happened about 35 AD. This would put it roughly three years after the birth of the church. This passage tells us, Saul was still a young man. He has some type of authority because he is “giving approval” to the stoning of Stephen and the murderers are laying their clothes at the feet of this “young man” as he stands back giving approval.
Saul is obviously filled with a deep hatred and bitter contempt for this new religion. It’s difficult to imagine a hatred so intense and so evil that it compels someone to actually participate in an organized effort to kill, murder and destroy a people who’s entire motivation is love. Have you ever wondered what drove Saul to this breaking point? Why was he compelled to do such a thing?
The Good News is, the next time we meet Saul, he has a little “come to Jesus” moment! On a dusty Damascus road, Jesus appears to him in brilliant light and knocks some sense into him. In fact, Jesus knocks the Saul out of him so far, he changes his name to Paul… and the rest is history!
Paul’s Conversion Three Times
Luke tells the story of Saul’s conversion in the book of Acts, three times. Let’s glean some details about Paul’s life from each of these then move on to discovering some other nuggets about Paul from the epistles. Our first conversion story is told in Acts 9.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Saul, apparently has so much clout with the leaders back in Jerusalem, he could ask for, and receive, certain letters of passage. We assume these letters provided the necessary authority; empowering Saul to enter Damascus and collect any wayward Jew who professed Christ and either kill the individual or take them back as a prisoner for questioning or punishment.
During Saul’s encounter with Jesus, he is struck blind. He is told to wait in Damascus. Next, God uses a disciple named Ananias to reach out to Saul. His initial hesitancy is understandable.
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
Ananias heard “many reports” about the problems Saul created with his basically “unchecked authority” to do whatever he wanted. How did he get so much power at such a young age? Paul actually tells us in Acts 22. This happens when Luke re-tells Paul’s conversion story for the second time. This time, it is Paul himself speaking to a bunch of angry Jews back in Jerusalem.
“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”
When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
A Split with Gamaliel
In this account, we gain some new bullet points for Paul’s resume. He is a Jew. He was born in Tarsus. He was actually brought up in Jerusalem and was blessed to be taught by one of the most prominent Rabbi’s in all of Jewish history named Gamaliel. According to John McArthur, Gamaliel was so loved and respected, some fondly called him, “The Beauty of the Law.” Paul wasn’t just trained in the Law… he was “thoroughly trained” or as the NASB says, “strictly trained.” He was so zealous for God, he persecuted the church and attacked the followers of Christ because he saw them as blasphemers.
Now, there is something very interesting about Saul’s attitude regarding the Christians which stands in stark contrast from that of Gamaliel. From other scriptures, we know Gamaliel was a “centrist” and maybe even an appeaser regarding the Church. After the Apostles are arrested in Acts 5, he crafts wise counsel, preventing serious persecution. Strangely, Saul does not imitate the patient character traits of his teacher. Despite being trained by Gamaliel, Saul seems to have missed imitating Gamaliel’s patient heart. Something must have happened to Saul to drive him over the edge of reason to possess such a radically differing view than this sage advisor regarding the Church! What happened to Saul to make him so bitter and so angry?
Zealous and Agressive
In Acts 22, we also learn that Saul was “zealous for the law.” This word “zealous” is an interesting word. In those days, there existed, in Israel, a pseudo-political group called “The Zealots.” They were a radical bunch of Jews who were basically… terrorists to Rome. Paul’s choice of the word “zealous,” might give us a little additional insight into the depth of his hatred for the church since most people, of his day, would associate this word with that radical group. He absolutely hated Christians.
We read the final account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 26. He is explaining the miraculous event to King Agrippa.
“The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.”
Once again, we see Paul places great importance on the fact that he has lived the strictest life in Judaism, even from childhood. His life in the Jewish faith eventually leads him to achieve the rank of Pharisee. A Pharisee was one of Israel’s highest religious and political leaders who ruled over the people. Apparently, Saul’s power was strongly centered in Jerusalem.
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”
Paul was convinced, by his interpretation of the Bible, that he must oppose the name of Christ. Beginning in Jerusalem, the seat of his power, he “votes” to begin his campaign of punishment and death. He travels great distances and goes from Synagogue to Synagogue in this campaign. He says he was “obsessed.” His mission even carried him to foreign cities.
A Jewish Crusade
What we learn from these three conversion stories is intense. We are basically looking at a Jewish version of the Crusades. If people were unwilling to change their religious views they were killed! And, it all began when an angry mob laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As we move away from the three conversion stories in the Book of Acts, other rich tidbits await discovery in the rest of Acts and the Epistles. Let’s organize these revelations into categories as opposed to chronological appearance as we work our way toward Philemon.
Here are some things we learn about Paul’s heritage.
Paul was born a Roman Citizen. We discover this in…
“The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered.
Then the commander said, “I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.”
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.
This is huge! To be “born” a citizen in Rome during that time entitled you to a number of important rights you would not normally enjoy. What else can we learn?
Top of His Class
Paul was a “Super Jew.” He had been strictly trained from birth and was so good at keeping the commandments he could call himself “blameless.” We put this together from a variety of places.
I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors
I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Wow, talk about your basic over achiever! Young Saul was quite the student and certainly gained quite a bit of recognition. I’ll bet he had a lot of trophies on the wall!
Paul’s Besetting Sin
Now, like all of us, Paul had his own besetting sins. After his conversion, he readily admitted he was not perfect. In fact, he is actually specific about the sin he struggled with.
“For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.”
Coveting is a form of greed. A person who struggles with coveting has an extraordinary desire to possess things or achieve rank. This is a particularly insidious sin because it easily masquerades as “success.” Achievement and the things which come with it are considered good and honorable in most cultures; every parent wants their child to do well in life. But when the desire to succeed is taken to an extreme, it can become the deadly sin of covetousness. You want stuff. You crave stuff. In order to feed this sin, you must have at least a little wealth. Certainly, a young man at the top of his class and the top of his game politically would have had a decent income, not to mention the family wealth which would have provided such a prestigious education. Paul eludes to this fact in…
“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity…”
When Saul meets Jesus on the Damascus road, everything changes. He is struck blind but actually begins to see the worthlessness of his possessions and pride. He gives up everything.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
Clearly, there was a time in Paul’s life when he was doing pretty well financially. You don’t move to Jerusalem and study under Gamaliel for free! If Paul had never moved to Jerusalem, he would have never achieved the things in life he achieved. Especially politically.
A Persecutor of Christians
But, his greatest sin, he persecuted Christians to their deaths.
I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify.
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem.
Eventually, Saul is humbled by a face to face meeting with the risen Christ!
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Saul met Jesus! How would you like to have that one on your resume? Now this is not just a little invitation to church. Jesus calls him into Apostleship.
1 Corinthians 9:1
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?
Paul Becomes an Apostle
And, not only did Jesus invite him to follow him as an apostle, Paul was the very last person in all of history to be invited.
1 Corinthians 15:7-9
“Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
This is how Saul goes from number one persecutor to number one promoter of the church. What did Jesus see in Saul that the distressed disciples of Damascus could not see? Why would Jesus reach out to such a vile and dangerous man? Well, because that’s what Jesus does. He looks at people and sees what they can become, not what they are. He looked at Saul and loved him enough to lead him, in dramatic fashion, to the truth of the Gospel.
Paul’s Resume – A Recap
Now that we have gathered so much information about the beloved Apostle, let’s put together his resume and see if we can see what Jesus saw.
Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia as a Roman citizen. Being circumcised on the eighth day, even from birth, he was raised in the strictest training of the Law. He was probably brought up in a wealthy environment which could support the education his family wanted for him. He moved to Jerusalem, probably at a young age, because he identifies that city, as the city where he was “brought up.” He studied under one of the greatest Rabbis in the history of Israel, Gamaliel and advanced faster and better than any other students around him. This would have most certainly attracted the attention of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, while also feeding an arrogance and over confidence in Saul’s heart. I’ll bet the Jerusalem leadership kept a close and eye on this budding young superstar. They surely thought, he could be destined for greatness!
But, this upwardly mobile young man struggled with one particular sin. He was covetous and he could not see it. He loved his stuff and wanted more. His overweening desire for success led him to even greater ambitions. Taking advantage of his position and achievements, he was eventually ordained into the priesthood as a Pharisee, a ruler of the people of Israel; what a crowning achievement. From his perspective, he has led an absolutely faultless and blameless life. Momma must have been so proud.
Then, one day, he begins hearing rumors of an iterate preacher going about Galilee preaching the word of God but having no connection with the Jewish leadership. As the news continues to build about Jesus, some even begin to claim he may be the promised Messiah the Old Testament scriptures foretold. This naturally peeked young Saul’s curiosity. He knew the scriptures well. Could it be time for the messiah to arrive? I’ll bet he began some super deep bible study and the conclusions he reached absolutely stunned him.
Now let’s stop right here and get some solid historical bearings which may have escaped our grasp. When Saul began his persecution of Christians, Acts tells us he was still a “young man.” The murderers of Stephen laid their coats at his feet. And not just a young man, a young Pharisee. Saul had to have been studying in Jerusalem during the years of Jesus ministry. He most certainly was aware of the same things Nicodemus, Ananias and even Ciaphas were aware of. He was part of the “in” crowd. It would be quite naive, on our part, to ignore this fact. Saul was there during the earthly ministry of Jesus. He was at the height of his career. The things unfolding around him from the time of John the Baptist to the crucifixion of Christ were not outside his purview. He would have known about most, if not all of the things going on regarding Jesus of Nazareth.
Saul Before Stephen
If you are like me, you tend to see Saul as a character that suddenly shows up in Acts 7 and had absolutely no existence before that time. That’s silly. Why do we overlook the incredible fact of where Saul of Tarsus appears on a timeline. Frankly, he probably heard Jesus speak! I believe he even met Jesus.
From the time of the resurrection until the stoning of Stephen, a cauldron of hatred stored in Saul’s heart simmered, steamed and ultimately boiled over. This new “cult” had to go. Too many people were believing the lie. 3000 had joined the brain washed masses on the day of Pentecost alone, and thousands more after that. The poison of the Christians had even spread to distant Damascus! It had to be stopped. Christianity could blossom too easily there in the absence of the Jerusalem leadership. Saul asks for and obtains permission to stop the plague in its tracks by going to Damascus with murderous intentions. That fateful trip brings him face to face with Jesus and his life is changed for an eternity.
Our covetous young man gives up everything including his new mission to massacre Christians, obeys the Gospel and immediately begins to preach that Jesus is indeed the Christ! Now, can we stop here for just a moment and make an observation? This is the picture of a proper conversion.
When Saul is confronted with the truth of the Gospel, he quickly and completely obeys everything he is told to do by Ananias in order that his sins should be washed away. There is no debate. There is no negotiation. There is no discussion about whether or not baptism is necessary. He just obeys. And, it is only after he obeys the gospel that his life and mission radically changes.
Now, isn’t that the whole point of “conversion?” Lives truly do change. In every conversion, this is exactly what we should see. Everyone who comes to Christ should see significant changes in the way they have been living their lives. Saul’s conversion stands a model for us.
The Last Apostle
Saul becomes Paul and is invited into Apostleship. In fact, he is the very last person in all of history to become an apostle. The office of “Apostle” is a very particular office in the church and was only offered by and conferred upon an individual by Jesus himself. The qualifications for apostleship are enumerated in Acts 1. Let’s read them.
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
To be an apostle, a person had to have been around from the time of John the Baptist to the time of the ascension. They must have been a witness to the resurrection. This certainly prevents anyone from claiming Apostleship in this century, doesn’t it? This is an additional reason why I think Saul must have been closely familiar with Jesus ministry in and around Jerusalem. To be an apostle, you had to have been there. Now, there is also one other interesting characteristic common in the call to Apostleship. This is amazing, listen!
Come Follow Me
When we study this out carefully, we discover a particular phrase Jesus used when he called each of the twelve. He always said, “Come follow me.” This, of course, implies something obvious. The call to apostleship had to happen sometime before the death of Jesus on the cross. And the only people who ever received that specific command to “Come follow me,” were the initial twelve apostles. While it is true Jesus used this phrase at other times in a general sense, did you know that He never used that “come follow me” phrase as a command directed at any other people than an apostle?
Well, except one!
It’s the one person in all of scripture who’s resume matches Paul’s exactly and, as it turns out, he is the only other person in all of scripture to whom Jesus commanded, “Come follow me.” And, interestingly, He is the only person in all of scripture of whom it says, “Jesus loved him.”
Yes, I am still talking about Saul of Tarsus, but we know him better as The Rich Young Ruler!
In our next Podcast, I want to pull all of this together and talk about what caused Saul to become so bitter. What drove him over the edge of reason?Enjoy!
If you were asked to boil down the Gospel message into just one word, what would that word be? Most people would probably say, “The heart of the Gospel is love!”
In fact, the word love and its derivatives is one of the most used words in the entire Bible. And, there is no greater persons in whom we see love demonstrated than Jesus Christ and God the Father. Jesus laid down his life for us well before we ever knew him, and “God is love,” according to the apostle John. Having someone to love and being loved are two of mankind’s greatest needs and God graciously provides His love for us on us in a variety of ways. And of course, love is a two way street.
If you are a disciple of Christ, you have returned the love God gives by obeying his commands and dedicating your life to the cause of Christ. Christians love Christ! When we look through the Gospels we find many other people who loved Jesus too. Mary and Martha come to mind; Mary Magdalene for sure. When we look for the people Jesus loved, we might recall the intensely emotional event at Lazarus’ tomb. Everyone saw his love for Lazarus because, “Jesus wept.” The Bible says, “Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus.” We also have the humorous veiled references John makes about himself in his Gospel as “the one whom Jesus loved.” We also have abundant societal references to Christ’s love. “Jesus loves the little children,” as the song goes. And of course let’s not forget, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Without question, Jesus has a heart of love.
But, did you know there is only one specific individual in the entire Bible where it explicitly says, “Jesus loved him?” Who’s that and how would you like to be that guy? Only one individual… in all of scripture… is singled out as being the specific object of Christ’s love! Do you know who that was? It’s not Lazarus!
Introducing the Rich Young Ruler
This is one of my favorite characters in all the Bible – The Rich Young Ruler. So, why does the Bible say in Mark 10:21, “Jesus looked at him and loved him?” The answer is found in this young man’s resume. You know, there’s a lot of information in a resume. So, let’s do a little review of this fellows’.
We meet this guy in no less than three Gospels and as it turns out, there are a ton of interesting facts established which eventually point to a stunning revelation. By the end of this podcast, I think you will agree, this is a most impressive resume indeed.
The story of The Rich Young Ruler appears in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. God evidently wants us to notice this guy. Let’s read about him from the Mark 10 account.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
A Tragic Beginning?
What a seemingly sad story; a man runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees. His heart is obviously burning with a question. It’s the same question you and I should probably ask if we could meet with Jesus for just one minute. “Lord, will I get to go to Heaven?” Truth be told, there is absolutely no other question which is more important to every human heart. Everyone, from the depths of their soul, wants to know if they will be “OK” when everything is over and the final curtain falls. We all long to know that someday, somehow, everything will be all right and we will be counted worthy of heaven. All other questions we might want to ask the Son of God, pale in comparison to this one vital question. This question speaks to the entire purpose of the Bible, the entire purpose of the Christian faith and the very reason for Christ’s sojourn to the earth. He loves us and wants all men to be saved.
Let’s look at the other accounts of this man’s quest and glean some facts about his character and credentials.We see this fellow running to Jesus and falling on his knees. Why would he be running? Why would he fall on his knees? I think this speaks about the content of the young man’s heart. He was excited. He was eager. He was expectant. He was urgent. By falling on his knees we get the sense that he understands who Jesus might be. He seems to understand; this iterate preacher possesses power from God that heretofore has never been seen in Israel.
Now, I have heard some commentators suggest that this “falling on the knees” is a bit of mockery or a flair for dramatics. I don’t buy that. I believe this is a sincere, hungry, heartfelt outreach to, what this man perceived as an incredibly important religious figure. In fact, I think this guy may have been motivated by some discovery he has made from the scriptures. He may have just concluded that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah! This would certainly explain the dramatic entrance.
Building Our Resume
Here are the facts we have at hand. Our Matthew 19 scripture initially calls this person a man and says that he “came up to Jesus.” In verse 22, it provides a bit more detail and calls him “a young man.” Mark tells us he is a “man” and he “falls on his knees.” Luke offers greater detail when the good Doctor tells us he is “a certain ruler.” When we harmonize all three gospel accounts, we come up with the title by which this excited young man is most well know and most aptly describes him, “The Rich Young Ruler.”
So, the facts are… he is young. He is a male. We know he is a ruler of some sort. We know he has a question for Jesus and we surmise it is something which is burning in his heart because of the way he approaches Jesus.
In all three accounts, the question is the same. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a religious question. It appears as if this young man thinks his salvation is based on good works. The object of his desire is the hope of heaven. What more does this tell us about the young man?
Well, he’s religious. He has his mind set on spiritual matters. He seeks an answer to this religious question from a person he perhaps sees as a pretty important authority in Palestine. Why not go to the temple and ask the priests or the teachers of the law? Maybe he did, but it is now in front of Jesus where he poses the same question. By this, we know he holds Jesus in high regard involving spiritual and eternal matters; at least as high as the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. He recognized Jesus’ credentials. He calls him “Good teacher.”
Jesus response seems enigmatic.
“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone!”
You don’t always get what you want!
Wow! Not really a very direct answer to your burning question, right? I’ll bet that hurt. How would you feel if you walked up to your favorite religious leader, asked a sincere question and was immediately corrected about something you said? That’s exactly what just happened – how embarrassing. This guy is still on his knees with a crowd surrounding him and he is corrected by the man he came to for help.
I suspect Jesus quickly replied so as not to leave him hanging too long.
Mark and Luke say: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
These are Jewish commandments. This confirms our suspensions that this is a young Jewish man. And not just any ol’ Jewish fellow; he is a really good Jew! Now, even though Jesus had never met him before, he said, “You know the commandments.” Isn’t that interesting?
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
This is a bold and confident statement! He never neglected a commandment? This young man was a dedicated, serious, God fearing, God obeying young man who must have been raised in a pretty solid household. This is not just a young street urchin sliding up to Jesus to get an autograph or a selfie with the savior. This is a young man who has, up to this moment, dedicated his life to obeying the Old Testament, to the best of his ability. He is what we might call, “a serious seeker.” At this point, don’t you think Jesus should just say, “Awesome, you have done well. You believe in me so you are good to go!”
Well, that’s not what happens.
Next comes that stunning statement made about no other individual in the the entire Bible. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Right here, I imagine a long pensive pause as Jesus looks through this young man’s eyes and into his soul, preparing to deliver what will be a devastating response.
“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Going Away Sad
Because we know what happens next, we know how appropriate, poignant and piercing this command is. It is aimed directly at the idols of this man’s life. This response directly addresses some very specific sin; our friend is exposed as a covetous sinner! He loves his money and his stuff!
“At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus knew exactly which buttons to push. He knew exactly what was keeping this man from his heart’s desire. The price seemed infinite. And with this realization… our friend hangs his head and goes away sad. What a tragic and woeful end to what he anticipated might be the meeting of a lifetime. What he had hoped might be the crowning achievement of his religious career turns into a crushing blow. His final decision… to walk away. And thus ends the story of the Rich Young Ruler.
But not from Jesus perspective!
Jesus sees things differently.
You see, there is a reason Jesus looked at him with love. Did you notice something curious about Jesus’ attitude? Was he surprised? No. Was he offended? No. Was he angry? No. If we were to characterize Jesus’ attitude, we might call it “hope.” He even tells him what to do after he dumps all his junk… “Come follow me.” That’s actually a pretty faithful statement, isn’t it?
From Jesus perspective, this encounter is not yet over. Standing with the now dumbfounded disciples, Jesus continues to discuss the situation. It is within these comments we glean even more information about the Rich Young Ruler.
The story continues nearly word for word in all three Gospels. Let’s read Mark’s.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
So after our dejected young man exists stage left, there is some more discussion about the situation the disciples just witnessed and Jesus’ comments fill them with amazement. “It is hard to enter the kingdom of God. It is especially hard for the rich to enter the kingdom.” According to Luke, the young man is apparently still in view, probably sulking away in the distance ,when Jesus says all this to the disciples.
A Profound Prediction of Hope
Then he makes a profound prediction of hope.
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
What are you saying Jesus? Is there still a hope left for this guy?
You know, how many times have we quoted, “With God, all things are possible” and never realized it’s about a guy who has just had his entire hope shattered!
Later, Matthew adds, in verse 30, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
What’s this? Jesus is making a comparison… but, about what?
The comparison is between the Rich Young Ruler and the Apostles. They had left everything; which is exactly what Jesus told the young man to do. But that’s not the comparative issue. The comparative issue is between people who are first, namely the Apostles, and people who are last, namely the Rich Young Ruler. Jesus knows something about this man that the Apostles do not yet know and they will not know for the foreseeable future. As I’ve said, “The secret is all wrapped up in the young man’s resume.”
A Stunning Review of the Resume!
Here’s what we know so far.
This man is rich. This man is young. He is an Israelite, and not just an Israelite, he’s kept the commandments since he was a boy. He has a deep desire for the Kingdom of God. He bases his salvation on works. He struggles with the sin of covetousness and greed, which is a form of idolatry. He probably has a lot of possessions. He is told to get rid of them. He is told by Jesus to “Come follow me.” He is the only man of which the Bible specifically and explicitly says, “Jesus loved him,” and yet he is never mentioned again. He goes away sad because he does not receive the counsel or answer to he thought he would receive.
Why would Jesus look at him and love him? Why would Jesus tell him to “come follow me?” Why would Jesus put this man in the comparative position of last and say only God could make some things happen? What did Jesus see in this man that the Apostles did not see?
You know, a person’s resume can sure speak volumes about them. When you’re looking for someone to fill a position on your team, a resume is the thing you will probably come back to when all of the interviews are over. You spread the resumes out on the conference table and you begin to compare them. Sometimes you find some common qualities which may be useful. You never find two different resume’s which match perfectly.
But guess what, this is exactly what happens with the Rich Young Ruler’s resume! There is another person who’s resume matches his to a “T” and Jesus, compelled by love reaches out to this guy in just as dramatic a fashion.
If you know your Bible, you know who I’m talking about. Yeah! The Rich Young Ruler is the Apostle Paul! Let’s talk about Paul’s resume, next!Enjoy!
Now, let’s look at… possibly… the most neglected statement of The Great Commission. After Jesus issues his four crisp commands, comes the magnificent and stunning conclusion.
Let’s read the entirety of The Great Commission again… it’s been a while since we’ve heard it.
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.”
The Greatest Promise Ever Made
Jesus concludes his commission with an amazing and wonderful promise… “And surely I am with you always until the very end of the age.”
There are no words to adequately describe the implications and impact of these final words. Jesus’ promise permeates through the rest of the New Testament. For the last two millennia, The Promise has changed millions of hearts and lives and will continue to do so until the very end of time. Majestic and marvelous, The Promise secures a Christian’s future in the eternal Kingdom of God. It is a promise of comfort and a bond of sonship. It is intimate and loving. It is truly beyond earthly comprehension. Jesus promises to be with us always, until the very end of the age.
The Promise was Predicted
And, by the way, this is exactly what he said he would do, way back in John 14. This came at the time of The Last Supper, as he shares his heart with the apostles he loves. Let’s listen in….Click here to read the rest of this post.
The fourth command of The Great Commission is, in its complete sentence form, “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” In my mind, this is the most amazing part of the Great Commission. It is absolutely brilliant.
In adding this fourth command to the other three commands of The Great Commission, Jesus has just insured that the Biblical Plan of Salvation will continue on throughout all generations. Let’s break it down and see what else we can discover.
The first word is, “teach.” This means sending information, passing knowledge, communicating enlightenment. It’s a drawing toward knowledge and wisdom.
Now, carefully notice. The apostles were not told to “teach the people everything.” They were told, “Teach them to ‘obey’ everything.” This is interesting. Jesus introduces obedience. Obedience is a response and it is always intrinsically linked to a command. Without a command, there is nothing to obey. This is why we say, “The Great Commission must be obeyed.” There are a series of commands contained in it. As a result, obedience becomes a critical part of the salvation experience because, the scriptures elsewhere teach us that we can not have a relationship with God, if we are unwilling to obey him. More about that in a moment.
Now, obviously… the things Jesus is commanding us to obey extend way beyond the first three commands of The Great Commission. He said, “Teach them to obey everything, I have commanded you.”
That’s a mighty tall order, wouldn’t you say. What was he talking about? “Love your enemies?” “Love your neighbor as yourself?” “Seek first the Kingdom?” “Give?” Yes, yes, yes and yes. But, in the context of The Great Commission, we must ask, “What has he just taught the apostles to obey?” Well… the first three commands! Go, make and baptize!
When Jesus says, “Teach them to obey everything,” that by definition, includes everything he has just finished saying. And, they should teach it exactly the same way he taught them. No one has ever been given a license or the authority to change anything in the Biblical Plan of Salvation.
Have you ever played the game “Telephone?” It’s a fun game, even for adults. The game is played by getting 15 or 20 other people together. The leader whispers a fairly complex sentence into the first person’s ear. The first person then whispers it into the second person’s ear and the message gets passed on from mouth to ear for twenty generations. It can be quite hilarious when we hear the final presentation of the original sentence. Things can really change and get messed up! When a message gets passed down from generation to generation people have a tendency to change things. But this process can’t happen with The Great Commission because we have the instructions… the original message… clearly presented in the New Testament.Click here to read the rest of this post.
As we continue our mini-series about The Great Commission, we now examine the third command, Baptize. So, just how do we cover this topic after coming off of a forty lesson, in-depth series, about water baptism? Can there possibly be anything new to discuss regarding this topic? I think so. And I think you’re going to be surprised when you see this one! Let me explain.
A Quick Review
We have already established, baptism as the third command of The Great Commission and at the risk of belaboring the point, I will once again, for the benefit of newcomers, remind us; since it is a command, it is not optional on our part. It must be obeyed by both the baptizer and the one being baptized. In other words, as a person who makes disciples, I have no choice in the matter. I must baptize my student. That is cast in stone and I do not have the right, ability, or authority to change it. That’s what Jesus told us to do. Likewise, the student has no choice in the matter, if they want to be a disciple of this particular Master, Jesus. I’m sorry but it’s just not optional. As we have stated many times, baptism can not be a work of human effort because it is a command of Christ.
Just like the first two commands of The Great Commission, this third command, the command to baptize, can be expressed as a complete sentence. The sentence contains a subject, the plural form of that “implied you,” meaning “you all” specifically “you apostles.” The verb is “baptize.” The direct object of the sentence, “them,” is the “who” to baptize. So, the complete sentence would be, “You baptize them.” If you are from the south, that would be, “Y’all baptize ‘em.”
The Narrow Road
Now, here is where things get interesting. I’m gonna bet this is probably something you have never heard before. We understand who was to do the baptizing. It was initially done by the Apostles who taught others to do it and so on. We understand what baptism is, an immersion in water. But, when Jesus adds that little direct object, “them,” something with significant ramifications occurs. Let’s walk through this carefully.Click here to read the rest of this post.
The second command of The Great Commission is to “Make Disciples.” It should probably go without saying that this seemingly small command is absolutely loaded with potential! Let’s get started.
Here is the complete command in context.
“Make disciples of all nations.” Short sentence, right?
The verb is “make.” The direct object… or what to make… is “disciples.” Make disciples. But we’re missing a subject. A complete sentence must have a noun which makes up the subject of the sentence. And believe it or not, “Make disciples,” is technically a complete sentence. So, where’s the noun? What is the subject of the sentence? Think back to 7th grade English. Remember, this was a fun one. The subject is the implied, “You.” If we were going to say the complete and full sentence it would be, “You make disciples.” The purpose of the sentence is an imperative. It is a command.
The plural “you,” Jesus is referring to, are the remaining eleven disciples… the apostles. It is to them exclusively he is saying, “You make.” We have no indication there is anyone else present. The commands are given to a very select group of men; the men he has been training for the last three years. The men who have walked closely with him daily. So, “You make,” would be the command in its simplest form. Let’s talk about this part of the full sentence before we get to the “what…” of the sentence.
The definition of “make”
Jesus command is directed to the apostles and he tells them to “make” something. Making something implies effort, it requires an activity. Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, offers over 60 definitions for the word, “make.” Here are just a few.
To compel; to constrain. To create; to cause to exist; to form from nothing. To bring into any state or condition; to constitute.
The word “make” means the act of creating something new which did not previously exist. It also implies a deliberate effort is activated toward that goal. In order for this to happen, the person performing the effort must have a goal in mind and we should understand they have some sort of motivation to achieve the goal for which they are producing the effort. There is some driving force behind their desire to be productive.Click here to read the rest of this post.
Welcome to A Faith that Obeys where we are rethinking the traditional plan of salvation. This traditional plan, which is also called the Modern Plan, is a fairly new invention and has tragically replaced the Biblical Plan of Salvation. When we study the Bible and see how people were “Born Again” in the first century, then compare that to how people become Christians today, there are some stark differences. Things have changed. Our goal is to identify the Biblical “steps to salvation” and support you in your efforts to learn what God desires in order to correctly follow them so you may have full assurance that you are walking on the correct path in your relationship with God.
Our series about biblical obedience in water baptism is now complete but obedience does not begin or end with that event. There are other things to consider. As we begin this next phase of our studies, I suspect you are about to hear something you have never heard before and it may be a little shocking. Let’s dive in!
The Four Crisp Commands of The Great Commission
There are four crisp commands contained in The Great Commission. They provide the final marching orders for the eleven apostles given by Jesus at the time of his ascension into heaven, over 2000 years ago. These commands are clear, unambiguous, simple, yet potent. They embody the culmination of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry. They are designed to launch and propel a movement destined to last for generations to come. Let’s read this amazing mandate.
It’s found in…Click here to read the rest of this post.
Wow! It’s hard to believe but we are finally finished with our long series on baptism. I wanted to take some time to reflect and review what we have learned and speak a little bit about the series in general.
If you recall, we began this extremely detailed series of lessons about Christian water baptism, way back in “Podcast 012 – The Proponents.” In that podcast we identified two groups involved in the argument about whether or not water baptism is a necessary part of the conversion process. This is a really old and sometimes contentious debate. My goal was to approach this topic from a different perspective offering a paradigm shift which, I think, is long overdue.
A Paradigm Shift on the Baptism Argument
My argument is pretty simple. Baptism is a command of God and we must obey God’s commands… if we want to be his child. Isn’t that what “Jesus is Lord,” means? If we will not have a Lord, can we have a savior?. We must obey what Jesus has asked us to do in The Great Commission. And, water baptism is part of the Great Commission.Click here to read the rest of this post.
Welcome to A Faith that Obeys Podcast. This is the last scripture in our lengthy series about baptism and, it is quite a scripture. This story is found in the Old Testament, so you might wonder how an Old Testament scripture could be related to a New Testament baptism. Surprisingly, this scripture is very popular for the pro-baptism proponent and is used to prove that water baptism is connected to the washing away of sin. Let’s read it and see what we can discover.
2 Kings 5:1-14
Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
A Foreshadow of Baptism
Well, I don’t really suppose there is much to discuss here. It is pretty obvious that Naaman washes himself and the leprosy goes away. This appears to be a foreshadowing of what will happen in baptism and it seems, on the surface, like a pretty good scripture to use in support of the claim that baptism washes away sin. I can certainly understand the “foreshadowing” nature of the claim but, I also see some problems.Click here to read the rest of this post.