Jesus said Come, Follow Me!
Chapter 8 Ė Being a True Follower
Acts 13:27, "For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him (also 1 Thess 2:15)."
Something was very wrong within the Jewish leadership. They read the scriptures every Sabbath day and studied them extensively, yet did not recognize the actual promised/foretold appearance of Godís own Son. Many refused to recognize Jesus and received Him not, and ultimately killed Him. They knew what the prophets had said, yet lacked understanding or comprehension (awareness/discernment) of the fulfillment of these God given prophesies. They could not see them being lived out in front of their very eyes in the persons of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. They knew Jesus was extraordinary (special, astonishing, notable, remarkable, amazing, unique, Jn 1:14), but refused to believe. Some suppressed the reality of who Christ was because they had no use for Him. Not only did they refuse to recognize Jesus, but they didnít KNOW (understand, grasp, appreciate, comprehend, relate to) God (Jer 4:22, Mt 11:27, Lk 10:22, 1 Jn 3:1). These men approached God through human reasoning which was man-centered rather than truly seeking Him through the Holy Spirit and submission (Ps 34:18, 51:17, Is 57:15, 66:2). How could men who memorized whole books of the Old Testament; who meticulously studied to the letter each scripture; who earned doctorate degrees in religious learning; who heard Christís gracious Words (teachings/doctrines) and witnessed His incredible miracles (Jn 12:37), have been so naÔve and so completely wrong? Clearly, they sought God through their own reasoning which was corrupted by manís very nature. They expected Christ to arise from within their accepted group and endorse their ideals, but he came in a way unexpected, yielded to the Fatherís will Ė He was an outsider. Because they did not KNOW God, they did not know what to look for in Christ (Jn 1:10, 15:21, 16:3). Because they were not submitted to God, they could not yield to Christ (Jn 5:40, Rm 10:3). Rather than give place to Jesus, they sought their own place in self exaltation Ė the way of the flesh, not faith (Rm 9:32). They should have been looking for the love, compassion, and submission to Godís purposes. Manís purposes did not line up with Godís will. Rather than repent and turn to God (Christís message, the gospel), religious man chose to continue the rebellion (see Chapter One, Is 65:2, Jer 6:16). They always erred Ė in the heart (Ps 95:10, Is 29:13, Mt 15:8, Mk 7:6, Heb 3:10).
Jesus once sent out His disciples, instructing them to preach the gospel and to heal, cleanse, deliver, and raise the dead - and without charge (Mt 10:8). These were the things Christ had been doing and His disciples were now "following" after Jesusí example. Jesus told them that they would be as sheep in the midst of wolves (Mt 10:16, Lk 10:2-3, 12). Who were these wolves? Perhaps people who hated God? No, they were the "religious" groups who would deliver Christís disciples up to their councils (committees) and scourge them in their synagogues/religious buildings (Mt 10:17, 24:9, Mk 13:9, Lk 12:11-12, 21:12). Matthew 23:34, "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city." Jesus also said they would cast true followers out of their religious buildings/groups (Jn 16:2). How could those who claimed to love God do such things? Religious man often misrepresents God to the world (Is 48:1). Which would you consider the greatest affront, someone who disagrees with you and tells others or someone who says they agree with you and then totally misrepresents and mischaracterizes you to others?
This chapter will consider how individuals act in a group and the errors that often result. A group could be defined as a set (small or very large) of individuals with common beliefs/ideas/interest that meet or assemble regularly for a common purpose. A modern day group could be a bible study group at a particular religious organization (building, popularly called a church); or all the persons (members) that meet at the religious building (i.e. church); or the whole denomination/organization that governs the religious building and many others (whom they are associated with or a part of).
The author has defined "the religious" as those who seek God manís way (Pv 14:12, 16:25, 21:2). Of course they consider their way to be Godís way Ė how could it not be? Romans 10:3, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." The religious Jews certainly considered themselves to be in Godís will even as they were persecuting and killing His Son. Ephesians 5:17, "Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is." You will KNOW Godís will when you concede (give up) your own will to Him! It is possible to be very religious and not know God at all. It is possible to labor in the name of Christ, but not KNOW Him (Rev 2:3-4). Jesus had once told a group of religious men: John 5:42, "But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you." They certainly thought they did. It is possible to confess Christ, yet live a daily life opposed to Him. It is possible to cling to the darkness (Is 5:18), yet confess to be in the light (Jn 3:19). For this reason, the popular Christian messages of today are very Laodicean. The Laodicean church (assembly) is one that is worldly and materially wealthy and they actually equate this to godliness. Christ said they are poor (have nothing of value), sinful (naked), deceived (blind) Ė and were thus wretched and miserable Ė they canít truly see their need for Him (Rev 3:17) Ė they have re-defined Christ (to their liking). They certainly do not see themselves this way Ė with humbleness comes submission. When one truly sees the things they do that oppose God, one will forsake such things in repentance and seek forgiveness. Jesus further said they are lukewarm and will be vomited out of His mouth (Rev 3:15-16). This is a strong rebuke. Lukewarm to Godís will? Ė they do not see it this way and thatís the blindness. Consider what Paul said about associating with God (religious observances), yet living in rebellion as described in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12; also Jude 1:5. Let us examine the Jewish religious system that was in place at the time of Christ and then compare similarities with the popular Christian messages and actions of today.
Whenever there are groups of religious people who are seeking (perhaps a misnomer) God through the devices of man (man-centered, fleshly, prideful) there is bound to be blindness and confusion (Eph 2:3, Jer 7:19, Hos 10:13). Those who walk through human reasoning with fleshly intent, apart from the Spirit, are opposed to God (Rm 8:5-8, Is 55:8-9). All human effort apart from the divine influence of God, is basically for selfish reasons Ė perhaps mixed with good works for appearance sake. The Holy Spirit is not subject to the fallacies of human reasoning and we must submit and be led (1 Jn 5:9). Thatís our role, to "surrender all" and "follow." There is a very real destructive (damaging, hurtful) phenomenon associated with groups of people, which might be termed "group loyalty." These are negative group behaviors that manifests in the leaders as well as the participants of a group and manifest in common group thought or mannerisms. The nine main symptoms of religious "group loyalty" are defined as follows:
All of these group traits/characteristics have been proven over and over throughout the history of man. Within a group there is almost always a charismatic individual, team core or authority that tends to dominate the group and steer its direction. Small groups may be part of larger groups which in turn may be part of even larger groups. Religious groups always assume they have divine purpose/commission thereby justifying their means. The problem with these groups is that there never seems to be honest and sincere individual or group self examinations given Godís Word (Ps 139:23-24, 2 Cor 13:5) and true submission to God (Mt 5:5). Those within a group rarely see their errors or shortcomings that those without the group see clearly (i.e. Pilate saw Ė Mk 15:10-11, Js 3:16). Errors tend to go uncorrected and thus become future truth within the group. Correction is viewed as negative and only brings defensive reactions (Pv 15:10). Groups rarely admit wrong/fault because it is humbling and goes against the fallen nature of the flesh. Sin and transgression are not viewed as such (a mockery, Pv 14:9). The group led by man will always seek to further itís will and conform that which is outside the group to the groupís position/view. In other words, the organizations of man will do the leading and not the following. This is exaltation and not humbleness.
When the group is fleshly and operating in the will of man it is being led of the devil (Rm 8:8). The group will always reflect the nature of itís master/Lord (Rev 2:9). Recall that the devil persuaded man to disobey God (ye shall not surely die) to become like God (ye shall be as gods, Ez 28:2, 6-9) Ė to have his own will. When man seeks his will, he rejects Godís will Ė the flesh and the Spirit will not agree and you cannot serve two masters (Rm 8:1, 4, 13, 9:8, Gal 5:17, 6:8, Mt 6:24). Romans 8:5, "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the fleshÖ." When man seeks his will, he is easily overcome by Satan because he has submitted to him (1 Pt 5:8). Satan is very convincing to those who seek self (thatís what he did Ė his rebellion). The works of the flesh are doorways for the devil (Gal 5:19-21) Ė neither give place to the devil (Eph 4:27). If a group seems very worldly, then it has been overcome by the world (1 Jn 5:4). He that loves the world Ė the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and pride of life is not of the Father (1 Jn 2:15-17). To befriend the world is to be an enemy of God (Js 4:4). You cannot love the world in an expectation to further Godís purposes (draw men to Him). Galatians 5:16, 25, "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
We must submit to God and resist the devil (Js 4:7). We can only be led to perform Godís will when we submit fully to Him. We have no ability in and of ourselves to correctly perform Godís will Ė this is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. When we are not submitted to God, then we are exalted in self. Romans 8:14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." For they that are after the Spirit do mind the things of the Spirit (Rm 8:5). The group led by the Spirit will be conforming to Christís image (obedience to the Father) and will reflect Godís nature. These produce the fruits of righteousness (Php 1:11, Gal 5:22-23, Eph 5:9). This group is seeking righteousness and holiness through Christ and not the religious things of man (buildings, programs, entertainments, multiplication, icons, ceremonies, etc.).
The Will of Man
We are told in scripture that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son (Jn 3:16) that through Christ, God might reconcile man to Himself (Rm 5:10, 2 Cor 5:18, Eph 1:10, 2:15-18). How did rebellious mankind receive such a gift? Matthew 2:1-3, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." The wise men (non-Jews) rejoiced with exceedingly great joy (Mt 2:10) about Christís arrival and came to worship. The Jews were troubled and sought to kill (Mt 2:14). Herod would later slaughter all the male children two years old and under in the region in an attempt to kill Jesus (Mt 2:16). Psalms 2:2-3, "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." Such arrogance and exaltation of manís will to further manís purposes (rebellion)! John 1:11, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." This verse summarizes the rebellious religious group(s) dealings with Christ throughout His earthly walk. The religious Jews sought to kill Jesus from the onset. Jesus was destined to rule (Mt 2:6), but rebellious man said, "we will not have this man reign over us (Lk 19:14)." In the midst of such rebellion, there will always be a minority of individuals who truly seek Godís purposes and are led of His Spirit - read Lk 2:22-38. In the end, the rebellious will be dealt with: Luke 19:27, "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."
The Jewish religious mindset (customs, traditions, doctrines, etc.) was clearly established by the time John the Baptist came upon the scene (some years later) preparing the way for Christ (Mk 1:2, Jn 1:7, 15). This religious group considered themselves very godly, but were deceived/blind (See Chapter Seven). John lived in the wilderness (Lk 1:80) and was unconnected (outside) to this religious group (unknown). No doubt, God intentionally kept John from the majority view, such that Godís truth would come forth unaltered (not tainted) by manís teachings. John was sent of God (Jn 1:6) and his message was from God (Lk 3:2), but was an untaught truth and minority doctrine (voice crying in the wilderness, Mt 3:3, Mk 1:3, Lk 3:4, Jn 1:23). John was totally independent of the religious group and was sustained by God (Mt 3:4, Mk 1:6) and his forums/baptisms were conducted in the wilderness Ė outside the group (Mt 3:1, 13, Mk 1:4-5, 9, Jn 3:3). The religious leaders had no use for John or his message (they rejected it), but had to tread carefully because the people saw John as a prophet sent from God (Mt 21:25, Mk 11:30-33, Lk 7:29-30). In His earthly state (as a man), Jesus was also sent to the wilderness to seek the Father and learn reliance upon Him (Is 7:14-15, Heb 5:8-9). Mark 1:12-13, "And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him." When Jesus came upon the scene, His Words and works (fruit) revealed that He was the Christ Ė but had to be spiritually discerned. John 10:41, "And many resorted unto him, and said, John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true." Jesus chastened the religious leaders concerning their rejection of John: Matthew 21:32, "For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him." The religious men just continued in their error refusing to humble themselves Ė obstinate (Ps 78:8, Rm 2:5, 8). They didnít KNOW Godís ways (Jer 5:3-4). This is a very negative and common group behavior. To be obstinate is to be "set in your ways." This is a hardening of the heart. Often the elderly are referred to as "set in their ways." Perhaps after a lifetime of self, the heart hardens such that there is no more yielding (Pv 3:5-7). Jesus once corrected the Sadducees of their doctrinal error (Mt 22:23-33), yet they still adhered to it in the time of the Apostle Paul (Acts 23:6-9). They didnít receive the correction or change, but continued in the error. They stubbornly clinged to it. Groups rarely yield on pet doctrines Ė they are stiffnecked. God counsels: Deuteronomy 10:16, "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked (also Col 2:11)." Consider your ways and turn to Him. The group may never change, but individuals certainly can Ė think about it.
Jesus came to offer life and hope Ė the light (Is 9:2, Lk 1:79, Jn 1:4). The religious Jews did not desire any change (Jn 3:19, Jer 6:10). John 8:31-34, "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." They didnít see their need for any deliverance or freedom (Jer 2:35). Jesus tried to explain their corrupt nature to them, but was not well received (Jn 8:37-47). Later, under conviction of their wrongs they lashed out at Jesus: John 8:48, "Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" Christ had revealed their very natures and then they opened their mouths and confirmed it Ė yet would not see their wrong nor turn Ė obstinately tenacious. The truth hurts, especially when one is not willing to change.
For those religious ones who stubbornly (pertinaciously, obstinately, tenaciously, stiffneckedly, persistently) cling to their belief in exoneration (pardon, clemency, absolution, amnesty) from such righteous rebuke by nature of their religiosity (less than true faith), consider this example from the Jews prior to their exile (captivity) in Babylon. Most of these impudent and hardhearted people were killed by the sword, pestilence and famine by Godís decree (Jer 27:6-8, 34:17, Ez 6:11-12, 7:15). Jeremiah 26:2-3, "Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORDíS house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORDíS house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word: If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings (also Jer 36:6-7)." Notice, all these people worshipped in the Lordís house Ė they were very religious! Notice, that Godís truth had not been told in the Lordís house, and Jeremiah was to tell Godís Word plainly no matter how unpopular it would be received! Notice, the people, although religious, walked in an evil way! God sent a man with Godís message to tell these religious ones to repent of their evil doings such that God may repent of the evil which He was going to bring upon these religious folks. They didnít listen or repent and God brought the evil (Jer 29:17-19! They were judged according to their ways without pity (Ez 7:3-4, 8-9, 27). You can be very religious and still have a heart far from God Ė we must have eyes to see this. Will you repent? One day wrath and lamentations may find you (See Chapter Ten).
We discussed in Chapter Two how Jesus came full of love, grace and compassion. He spoke truth, healed, nurtured, fed and delivered. Jesus totally obeyed God and did all things well. What was manís response to all this? Christ was mocked, belittled, derided, wrongfully accused, spied upon, demeaned, taken advantage of, constantly under threat of bodily harm, misrepresented, beaten, falsely accused, betrayed, forsaken, and killed (Ps 35:15-16, 20-21, Mk 10:34). Please do not think that manís rebellion against Godís purposes has ceased in this religious world in which we live today. Remember, you can profess Christ, yet not KNOW Him (Mt 7:22-23). The Jews professed God and were very religious, but did not follow. Many today profess God and are very religious, but do not follow. Oh, such a religious world! I dare say if Christ came again with His same message (in a modern context), he would be crucified again by religious man. Manís rebellious attitude toward God has not changed one bit - if only you had eyes to see. It is possible to construct a god of your own making (your opinion, conformed to your image of what he should be) and yet be totally different from the true Lord described in scripture. You may never know you have done this until you take His Word to heart and seek Him.
Pressure of Conformity
There will always be peer pressure within the group to uphold the groupís position even when your heart says differently. We are to conform to the image of Christ, yet the group would conform us to itís image. We must stop fearing man (Col 3:23-24, 1 Thess 1:4) and put our trust in Christ (Nah 1:7, Gal 1:10). Psalm 118:6, "The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? (also Ps 56:4, 11, 118:6, 8, Heb 13:6)" AND Proverb 29:25, "The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe (also Ps 27:1)." Perhaps you have heard the term, "peer pressure." The group will surely bring pressure to bear on the individual Ė pressure to conform to the group.
John 3:1-2, "There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." Nicodemus clearly recognized that Jesus was sent of God. However, he feared more what the others might think of his dissension (disagreement - disloyalty) of the groupís position regarding Christ. Therefore he came to Jesus by night Ė in secret. Men such as Nicodemus were summed up later in this gospel: John 12:42-43, "Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." The chief rulers "self censored" themselves for fear of the denomination (Pharisees). They erred exceedingly by not confessing Christ ĖRead Matthew 10:33 and Luke 12:9. Nicodemus would later defend Jesus before the chief Priests and Pharisees by stating: John 7:50-52, "Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth? They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." Nicodemus had rose above his self imposed censorship and the position of the religious group, thus revealing his changing heart. Whenever one speaks against the group, one takes great risk of being ostracized and demonized by it. This fear keeps many suppressed by the group, and is to their own condemnation. These religious leaders would not even consider that Jesus was correct Ė they stood to lose too much. They rationalized their position with little evidence (few facts). Apparently Jesusí gracious Words ultimately had a positive (longsuffering) affect on Nicodemus - Read John 19:39-40 concerning Nicodemusís additional new found boldness. Does your loyalty or fear of the group keep you self censored with perhaps the perception of unanimity within the group? Are you more concerned with living the truth or group acceptance (popularity, peer pressure)? Isnít it so much easier to compromise a bit? There is no reproach in compromise Ė nor is there a witness (of Jesus). Christ never compromised, but He suffered much reproach. No doubt, that many a person has been asked (required) to leave a religious gathering because of a bold stand on the truth of Christís gospel (Php 1:29). Most may seem troubled by some aspects of the group, but go along anyway Ė like the current of the stream. When one truly catches a glimpse of Jesus, one will fight against the current of this worldly stream as one strives for the light. One quickly realizes that the ability is in Godís mercy and grace and not in oneís own strength Ė we are weak, but He is strong (Ex 20:6). When there is a will (to seek God with all your heart), God will provide a way Ė "the way." For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them (Hos 14:9).
Jesus once healed a blind man Ė a tremendous miracle of love. The religious Jews were not so excited, because this event occurred on the Sabbath Ė a violation of their derived doctrines concerning the Sabbath (Illusion of morality). They could not look beyond their perception of the Sabbath (doctrines) to see the true Christ incarnate. A religious inquiry was held concerning the matter. The religious clearly considered Jesus an outsider to their group Ė a rival. John 9:16, "Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them." God intentionally confounds the religious mind. Jesus was separating the wheat from the tares. Those who would hear and believe and those who would not. Psalms 35:4, "Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt." These religious men were always looking for fault in Christ. They rationalized that Jesus could not be of God because He violated one of the religious groupís rules. After all, they represented God (illusion of morality). They never even considered the fact that their rules left no room for love, compassion or thankfulness Ė or that they could be wrong (Jn 7:22-24). Some tried to stereotype Jesus as evil, however due to this notable miracle of kindness others were not so sure (needed convincing). Therefore an attempt was made to discredit Jesus by questioning the previously-blind manís parents. John 9:20-23, "His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him." How sad that such a wonderful miracle was performed on their son, yet their fear of nonconformity to the group (synagogue) was greater than their joy for their son (or thankfulness to Jesus?). Once again these leaders discredited Jesus: John 9:24, "Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner." They attempted to transform this loving miracle of God into a grievious violation toward God Ė a twisting of intent. Psalms 35:12, "They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul (also Ps 109:5)." They mischaracterized Jesus, but still considered themselves to represent God (illusion of morality). They wanted the man who was healed to condemn the healer. The man then boldly defended Christ (Jn 9:25, 30-33) only to be stereotyped and ostracized himself (Jn 9:28). John 9:34, "They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out (of the synagogue)." Touched by God, yet rejected by man Ė a familiar event. Jesus said we would suffer reproach for "following" Him (Mt 10:22, Lk 6:22). Are you willing to suffer such reproach? Will you rise above the crowd? Jesus said that they called Him Beelzabub and His followers would be called worse (Mt 10:25). The blind man was kicked out of the religious organization, yet found a true Lord and Savior Ė kind of a paradox isnít it? He lost his religiosity, but found a true touch of God Ė all for Christís namesake. Donít discount the fact that the same happens today. Blessed are those who follow!
When the groupís practices are brought into doubt, rationalization is often sought to confirm the group and relegate (downgrade, reduce, lessen) or eliminate the threat. How could so many people in the religious institution (group) be wrong and this one individual be right? - have you ever heard that one before (majority rule)? John 7:25-27, "Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill? But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is." The people considered strongly that Jesus might be the Christ due to His gracious Words (Mt 7:28, 13:54, 22:33, Mk 1:22, 6:2, 9:15, 10:24, 11:18, Lk 2:47, 4:15, 32, Jn 7:46) and mighty miracles (Mk 1:27, 2:12, 5:42, 7:37, 16:8, Lk 4:36, 5:26, 7:16, 8:56, 9:43). Yet many also rationalized their rejection of Jesus through their own opinions. Does anybody really know for sure (a fact) that this Jesus is the Christ? After all: Matthew 13:55-57, "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house." The people would later state: John 6:42, "And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?" Often people (groups) will overlook obvious truth to justify their complacency or positions of how they think things should be done/fulfilled. Who would dare question the institution? Jesus did mighty miracles, but did not come in a way (manner) that the group thought He should have. How could the very Christ actually have come from a family and be known and yet come from heaven also? The human mind does have its limitations. How dare this man be anything more than a carpenterís son Ė the groupís expectation. God always confounds the wise in heart (1 Cor 1:27). Psalms 35:26, "Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me." Does the message line up with Godís Word and draw you to Him? We must discern through the Spirit and the Word. Just who is doing the leading in your group? Where are you going? Man is leading to religiosity (buildings, programs, membership growth, religious works, hearing, etc.); the Holy Spirit is leading to God (righteousness, holiness, faith, love, doing). Man builds "ME" up; the Spirit tears "ME" down. Man seeks Godís blessings; the Spirit leads us to Godís will. Many will serve God feignedly (insincere, act as if, in a false manner); We must serve with a whole heart (Jer 3:10).
John 7:37-44, "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? So there was a division among the people because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him." Christ gracious Words proved His divinity (spoke Godís Words, was Godís Son). The group continued to rationalize, yet with incomplete information. They considered Him to be from Nazareth (Galilee) with no notable ancestry (Mt 2:22-23). Out of Galilee? God will never make things "cut and dry (logical and easy)" for the flesh. He will always be approached through faith (Rm 1:17, Heb 11:6), which "bypasses" the flesh and human reasoning. Christ was actually born in Bethlehem and was of the lineage of David, but they presumed they had the complete facts (Mt 2:1). Jesus didnít come to defensively prove who He is. Jesus came to "BE" who He is - as submitted to the Father. Jesus lived the example and if you couldnít ascertain who He was through the example then you would not know. Christ sought to glorify the Father, not Himself. Jesus submits to the Father; man submits to Christ; woman submits to man Ė Godís divine order (1 Cor 11:3). Our strength is our submission. The flesh will never understand this Ė it makes no sense (1 Cor 2:14). The lack of submission is rebellion Ė an exaltation. Do you find yourself justifying your opinions (rebellion) or do you submit to Godís order? Do you question or obey? Arrogance/conceit (self exaltation) gains place/position on earth; humbleness gains greatness in heaven (Mt 18:1-4). Consequently, the worldís values are opposed (disparate, dissimilar) to Godís will. We must die to the ways of the world and be reborn with Godís nature Ė otherwise we will not see/enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3, 5).
John 7:12-13, "And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people. Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews." Jesus was the talk of the town, but no one dared talk openly in town. One might risk receiving rebuke (reproach) or be isolated from the group. Continuing error within a group is often due to self censorship resulting from fear of the group. Those who said Jesus was a good man did not feel firm enough in their belief to confess Him and thus they remained blind. When our faith is resolute, then our actions will follow. Doubt (unbelief) will keep us quite. Unbelief is a condemning sin (Heb 3:19). The group is usually firm in its resolve because they find security in their numbers. Standing against such a group requires boldness from above and the Holy Spirit provides such boldness for those who will stand (Acts 1:87, 4:31) Ė in faith. Rather than change the group, you are more likely to find yourself put out of the group. Either way you are a witness. Consider that Jesus, His Apostles and all the prophets faced such opposition from religious groups. We now build upon such a foundation with Jesus as the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20).
Illusion of Morality
Religious groups always consider themselves as representing God. When one comes who does not support their prized doctrines and traditions, it can only be assumed that he is not in Godís will. Matthew 12:9-14, "And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him." This group had no concern about the man with the withered hand. They only sought to accuse Christ of violating their flawed perception of Godís will (man seeking God through manís will). They were filled with madness (Lk 6:11). Jesus shamed them greatly with righteous rebuke. Christ revealed their uncaring (heartless, indifferent, callous) natures and wrong perceptions of Godís true will. These men did not respond well to correction and thus revealed their true hearts. The entrappers became the entrapees. This group had hearts full of bitterness, hatred and pride. Jesus came to heal, but these sought to kill (Ex 20:13, Deut 5:17, Mt 5:21-22). You be the judge Ė oh religious man. They defended their doctrines of the Sabbath religiously, but didnít apply the same zeal concerning the law of not killing (Mt 5:21-22). Jesus once said: John 7:19, "Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?" Jesus had also said: John 8:40, "But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham." These religious men were hypocrites (Mt 22:18, 23:13, 15, 25, 27, 29, Lk 11:44)! Seeking the will of the flesh blinds. Seeking the Spirit through the Word will open our eyes to Godís truth (See Chapter Six).
Jesus went about the villages and taught in the synagogues (meeting places, Mt 9:35). Jesus had compassion and saw the people as sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36). How can this be? The religious Jews had built a tremendous bureaucracy. They considered themselves to firmly represent God and to be His authority and teachers. The scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees definitely considered themselves to be the leaders (shepherds). Jesus said pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would send laborers (Mt 9:37-38). How can this be? The religious Jews were laboring tirelessly in their (manís) endeavors. The religious group always presumes they are representing Godís will. Apparently this is not necessarily the reality and there is much blindness. Often men labor in their will and opinions for their purposes. We must be sent of God for His purposes. Jesus said these men were not placed by God (Mt 15:13). Godís truth is found in our submission and obedience (eyes that can see). We must learn that our way is not Godís way. We are not just considering Jesusí opinion of the matter, but rather Godís assessment that His sheep were not being led or taught in accordance with His purposes. Obviously religious man would have disagreed and pointed to all their religious works and good, yet misperceived intentions. Is it really any different today? Religious men will rarely admit fault (their systems, ways, doctrines, methods, attitudes, etc.) and if they do they will qualify/justify their wrongs by saying that God understands based upon whatever reasoning they put forth. Often these religious will say, but not do (Mt 21:30, 23:3). We must acknowledge (see, admit, realize, take responsibility for, confess) our error and not continue in it, but rather repent (forsake) and conform to Godís Word Ė to have a contrite heart! This seems easy enough, but pride, envy, tenacity (clinging too, stubbornly/obstinacy), ulterior motives and tradition will make it impossible for some. Acts 13:41, "Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you."
John 7:43-49, "So there was a division among the people because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him. Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him? The officers answered, Never man spake like this man. Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed. Clearly Christís gracious Words are starting to break up the collective rationalization and pressure for conformity. The leadership immediately questions the groupís conformity (compliance and obedience). Notice that they clung to their interpretations of the law as being supremely representative of God. They equated follow Christ as disobeying God. Many a religious man will intimidate others with threat of sacrilege for not following their (manís) religious ways. A follower must read and know Godís Word. The Spirit will unfold the truth and you must walk therein. This may not always sit well with the practices of the religious group.
The religious leaders feared Jesus (Mk 11:18) and were greatly concerned that Jesus would take away their place (Jn 11:48) and threaten the complacency of the religious group. They said that Jesus deceived, stirred up, and perverted the people (Lk 7:12, 23:5, 14). John 7:31-32, "And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done? The Pharisees heard that the people murmured such things concerning him; and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take him." These religious leaders were determined to stop Jesus from influencing the group and thus threatening their positions and control (Is 9:2).
Different groups such as the Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed on various doctrines such as the resurrection of the dead (much the same as denominations today). Even though these groups disagreed and constantly bickered (disputed, quarreled, debated, squabbled, Acts 23:6-8), they still were part of the overall religious system (mindset) that was in place and they tolerated each other (Mt 16:1, 22:15-16, 34). Jesus came from outside their system and they all had no tolerance for Him (Mt 21:45-46, 22:15-16, 34, 26:3-4, 15, 27:1, Mk 3:6, 12:13, Lk 11:54, 19:47, 22:2, Jn 8:6). Jesus spoke the truth (which they claimed to believe) and this shed light on their darkness. John 15:25, "But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause (also Acts 13:28)." Truly they had no justifiable reason to hate Jesus Ė He was the embodiment (personification, quintessence, perfect example, ideal) of truth, love and righteousness. Psalms 35:7, "For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul (also Ps 35:19)." When the light shines on your darkness, you can repent (grieve and forsake); continue therein (with whatever justifications); or put out the light (eliminate the conviction, Ps 37:2). One requires humbleness which goes against the will of the flesh. The other two rise up in pride and aide the cause of self.
Jesus often exposed the error of the religious leaders. Mark 11:15-18, "And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine." Christ message was positively affecting the people, and the religious leaders were losing their hold. They sought to kill Him to preserve their group and remove the pressure on themselves to explain the unexplainable. Christ did not come to conform to the group and tell it what it wanted to hear Ė no smooth non-offensive messages. He served God fully with a great zeal (Ps 69:9, Jn 2:17). Standing for Godís truth in this fallen world will not gain you popularity, but will certainly bring reproach. Perhaps we should consider much more closely the messages of those popular ones who preach to big crowds in huge churches and are on television and write best selling books (Col 2:8). How does one find such mass appeal if they truly preach the way of the cross (death to the self - Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34, Lk 9:23, Rm 6:6, 12, Eph 4:22, Col 3:8-9)?
Jesus performed an unbelievable (incredible) miracle in raising Lazarus to life who had been dead four days Ė proving absolutely that He is the resurrection, and the life (Jn 11:25); the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). The religious Jews could only see Jesus as a rival due to their jealousy, envy, self interest and insecurity. John 11:47-50, "Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." Notice that these men want to destroy Jesus to protect their interest (loss of position) and reputations (having the answers, leadership ability, control); and the complacency (content as is) of the group. They feared the miracles would lead men unto Him (which was the intent). The miracles testified that Jesus is the Son of God, but the religious discredited undeniable proofs (collective rationalization, illusion of invulnerability). Is it any wonder God gives such men over to blindness? John 11:53-54, "Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples." Emmanuel, "God with us," was no longer safe around the religious who claimed to worship Him (Jn 7:1, 11:7-8). Groups that follow the flesh can be very irrational, yet finding no fault with themselves
John 12:9-11, "Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesusí sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus." This miracle bore witness of the Words Christ spoke. Rather than consider the merit and source of the miracle, these men could only think of their selfish interest. Men were starting to leave the darkness and come to the light. Jesus was drawing people to God, but these religious men were pulling them away and they were willing to violate the very law of God to do it. They had often accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath, yet what does the law say: "Thou shalt not kill (Ex 20:13)" Ė a double standard. John 5:16, "And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day." John 12:17-19, "The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him." The "light" was shining brightly, but the religious wanted to put the light out. Jesus had suffered much at the hands of the religious, but His witness was undeniable. A true witness of Christ (follower) will always be upsetting to a religious man because their light will reveal hypocrisy and love of darkness. This is very uncomfortable to those living in the flesh (yet in denial).
Mark 14:1-2, "After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people." The religious leaders sought to kill by trickery and false accusation. Christís message was turning the hearts of the people (group). As the religious were preparing to celebrate the passover, they were scheming (devious, underhanded, conniving) to kill the very embodiment of all the symbology of the passover. Such a great disconnect between religious man and God! Jesus said, "the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners" (Mk 14:41) Ė These men thought themselves righteous - something worth pondering.
When Jesus came, He was immediately considered a rival and a threat by the religious leaders and thus their group (Ps 69:4). This envy, jealousy and self-seeking drove their blindness to Godís truth (Rm 11:7-10). Christ did not have their religious training or attend their schools (Mt 13:54, Mk 6:2, Jn 7:15); Jesus did not rise through their ranks; He did not have the pedigree that they desired; nor did Jesus follow their traditions (Mt 12:1-14, 15:1-14) or endorse their behavior and doctrines (Mt 16:11-12). Jesus pointed out their errors (Mt 6:1-18, 21:12-13 & Chap 23, Mk 11:15-18, 12:38-40, Lk 12:1, 20:46-47). Jesus put these learned men to shame and this did not set well (Mt 22:15-34, Mk 12:13-27, 35-37, Lk 13:11-17, 20:20-40, Jn 8:3-11). Rather than receive correction, these religious men set about to discredit Jesus (Lk 11:53-54, 20:20). If one can negatively portray (smear, slur, character assassination) the messenger then the message will have less impact. Jesus had once said "woe unto you scribes and Pharisees" and then listed their hypocrisies/failings (Mt 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27, 29, Lk 11:44, also Mt 6:2, 5, 7, 16). Were they all guilty? - Perhaps to some degree or another. Jesus was pointing out that their behaviors were a group trait (mannerisms, characteristics, ideals, ways) which was commonly practiced. They saw no fault or wrong, yet Jesus said (speaking the Fatherís Words, Jn 12:49), Woe!
Matthew 12:22-24, "Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." This compassionate miracle revealed Christís identity to the people and they were undoubtedly amazed. The leaders of the religious group ignored clear evidence of Christís unique works (of the Father) and refused to see their own error in opposing Him. The peopleís hearts were turning to Christ, so the leaders demonized Him Ė literally (Mk 3:22). They cast down His good name Ė and also blasphemed the Holy Spirit (equating the Spirit to the devil, Mt 12:31). They saw Jesus as a adversary (challenger, opponent) and a threat to their group and were thus blinded to His light. Rather than come to the light, they chose to remain in darkness (Jn 3:19-20). John 10:20-21, "And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him (also Jn 7:20)? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?" Can you see how God is shaking up this religious group such that the true "believers" will fall out? There is a remnant, the lost sheep, that Christ is come to recover Ė those who believe. We can also conclude from this discussion that Jesus was speaking Godís truth with no desire to fit-in and be popular with the group. Not many religious speakers today would like to be referred to as being the devil or as being "crazy." Thus they seek popularity and crowds. The truth was working its results Ė separating those who sought the light from those who loved the darkness (Is 5:18). Christ Words were convicting and not the smooth messages of today. Consider how difficult it must have been for Christ to stand virtually alone (He did have the Father, Jn 8:29) against a religious nation with a rebellious mindset. Jesus was the peacemaker (Ps 85:8, Rm 5:1, Eph 2:14-15, Col 1:20).
Jesus once asked these religious men: John 10:32, "Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?" Jesus gave them some good advice: John 14:11, "Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very worksí sake." Why should one so worthy be so despised? It should also be noted that these scholarly (learned, intellectual, educated, studious) religious men had also accused John the Baptist of having a devil (Mt 11:18). How could the religious group have been so wrong (Is 9:16)? On other occasions they accused Jesus of blasphemy (Mt 26:65, Lk 5:21, Jn 10:33, 36). They condemned themselves by their very words (Mt 12:37). In "the Judgment," Christís righteousness will be undeniable and without question; conversly, these religions menís words and thoughts will reveal their darkness with no need of justification.
After Christís death, the religious leaders said: Matthew 27:63, "Saying, Sir (to Pilate), we remember that that deceiver (imposter) said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again." These learned prideful religious men never acknowledged their error and came to the startling conclusion that Jesus Christ, Godís own son, Savior of the world, was a fake/phony. The purposes (deliverance from sin; reconciliation through submission; leading to conformity and righteousness; daily practice and application of faith; obedience to the Spirit; etc.) of the true Christ of the Bible may shock many religious today if they would only read this Word. Some religious leaders have made out the true Jesus to be a fake/phony through their explaining away of His Word and redefining of His gospel (i.e. this isnít suppose to be literal, Its only symbolic, that was only for the Jews, I believeÖ, this really meansÖ, we all sin, etc.).
Illusions of Invulnerability
John 5:16, "And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day." Christ tried to show these religious men their hypocrisy. They persecuted Jesus over a perceived violation of the law regarding the Sabbath, yet they thought to kill in their hearts Ė a violation of the law regarding "shalt not kill." They hated in their hearts (Lv 19:17, Mt 5:21-22). John 7:22-24, "Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." These menís reasoning was selectively applied. They rose above the law to keep their ideals, yet could not perceive their own error in such. These religious men were willing to kill (Ex 20:13), blaspheme (Ex 20:7) and bear false witness (Ex 20:16, 23:1, Ps 35:11, Mt 26:60) to get their way and considered their cause more important than the means.
The religious had negated the will of God through their many traditions. Matthew 15:1-6, "Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition." The traditions of the elders were nothing more than the commandments of men Ė which they equated as necessary in serving God (Illusion of Morality). This religious group said that one could make an offering (gift Ė dedicated to the service of God) to the religious institution and be free of obligation to their parents (providing for needs when old or distressed) Ė an offset. So those who deprived parents of needed resources by stating they are a gift (religious vow) were free from their obligation to their parents Ė thus voiding Godís intent through the appearance of serving God. We are not bound to the commandments (traditions) of men, but rather to those of God. Manís traditions often violate Godís will (example Ė see Chapter Seven, Christ (Mass), A Worldly Holiday). Do you change the intent of Godís Word through your opinions or cherished doctrines (Is 5:21)? Have your traditions been elevated to requirements? Does your outward appearance mask your true heart?
Diotrephes was the leader of a Christian assembly (3 John). The Holy Spirit was not leading this group because Diotrephes loved to have the preeminence (dominance, supremacy, 3 Jn 1:9). He was lording over (control) the group with selfish intent (Mt 20:25-28, Mk 10:42-45). He would not even receive the Apostle John, whom Jesus loved (Jn 13:23). John said: 3 Jn 1:10, "Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church." Diotrephes was the mindguard who stereotyped all perceived rivals and exerted great pressure on the group members to conform (will be cast out). John further said concerning him: 3 Jn 1:11, "Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God." Any group or leader that will surpress the truth of Godís Word and will Lord over others is that which is evil Ė beware. True leaders will always live by example Ė please consider. 1 Peter 5:3, "Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." When man is leading, the Spirit isnít! Your actions are superior to your words!
Popular With the Group?
When Jesus came, He strickly set about to do the will of the Father. Christ never sought popularity within the established religious groups. He often taught in their synagogues (religious buildings) seeking the lost sheep (those who would receive Him, Mt 15:24). John 18:20, "Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing." How was Christís message and works received in these various synagogues? Jesus once entered a synagogue and taught, revealing the fulfillment of a prophecy concerning Himself Ė He came to do Godís will in the volume of the book written concerning Himself (Ps 40:7-8, Heb 10:7). The religious group then proceeded to lead Him to the brow of a hill in order to cast Him down headlong (Lk 4:16-30). On another occasion, Jesus taught and healed a man with a withered hand (and on the Sabbath). The Jews then plotted to kill Him (Mt 12:9-14, Mk 3:1-6, Lk 6:6-11). Jesus also taught in a synagogue and healed a woman and was strongly rebuked by the ruler of the synagogue (Lk 13:10-17). Jesus frequently taught in the synagogues and the people were truly amazed and astonished, but were full of unbelief (Mt 13:54-58, Mk 1:21-28, 6:2-6, Lk 4:31-37). Christ also taught in the temple. On one occasion: John 8:59, "Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by." At another time: John 10:31, "Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him." God guarded Christ until the time of His purposes (Ps 40:14). Jesus revealed great truths of Godís Word in a synagogue which challenged the flesh (secular understanding). Afterward, many of His disciples followed Him no more (Jn 6:59-69). Jesus only spoke the Words of the Father and did the Fatherís works, yet this gained Him no popularity or place in the religious group Ė He became a great reproach to them (Ps 109:25). Will a true man of God find popularity within the very religious world of today? Will a message that denies the flesh be received? Will such a message sell religious books or gain television audience (contributions)? The flesh wants to be exalted, but the Word of God tears the flesh down and places it into subjection. Many religious men today preach popular messages which exalt themselves to gain fame (renown, reputation, distinction, eminance, prominance, notoriety). How could they preach a message that will destroy the thing they seek (Jn 5:44)? To "follow" Christ is to die to such things. We must seek the glory of Him who sent us (Jn 7:18) in conforming to Christ. Jesus deserves to receive glory, does He?
We discussed in Chapter Three (Paul Follows the Path of the Cross) how Paul was raised in the strictest sect of the religious group (Acts 22:3, 26:5). He was zealous for the ideals of his group and defended them vigorously (Gal 1:14). He was a self appointed mindguard (defender) of the group and persecuted those who threatened the group with a vengeance (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2, 22:4, 19-20, 26:10-11). Acts 26:9, "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." On his way to Damascus to continue his supposed defense of God (illusion of morality), Paul had a very real and spectacular encounter with Jesus, whom he persecuted Ė Paul saw the light (Acts 9:3-4, 22:6). Paul was physically blinded for a time after this encounter. He was blind, yet he began to see (Jn 9:39). Paul was confronted with truth that he could no longer rationalize away (Acts 9:4-6, 22:6-16, 26:13-18). He had to do the unthinkable Ė leave the group, which had been his life. Paul became a "follower of Christ." Ė he forsook all and found new life in Christ. It was later said of Paul: Galatians 1:23 "But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed." Once Paul left the group, he became a target of the group and was stereotyped and persecuted just as he had done. Paul tried to reason with those within the group, but they just were not receiving what he had to say (illusions of Invulnerability, collective rationalization, pressure of conformity - blindness). As with Jesus, so it was with Paul Ė in both cases a remnant was gleaned along "The Way." Christ said we would be hated of all men (Lk 21:17). Why the hatred? Because "followers testify of it and its evil works Ė they are lights (Jn 7:7). Paul was hated, persecuted, whipped, stoned, imprisoned, and killed (Acts 9:16). Paul fought the good fight and God was glorified in it (2 Tm 4:7).
The author was once associated with several different religious organizations (some belonging to denominations) where there was a routine ritual practiced that was termed "being slain in/by the spirit." This is a very common practice in "charismatic/pentecostal" type groups. For those unfamiliar with this practice, the author will attempt to explain it. During every religious service, at some point, usually toward the end, an altar call would be extended to the gathering from the preacher. People would come forward for prayer. The preacher would then "lay hands" on each individual and pray (1 Tm 5:22). Usually some sort of anointing oil would be used. During this time, many who were being prayed for would fall backward, when touched, in a sort of semi-conscious state and lie prostrate (powerless) on the floor. Some fell softly, but others rather violently. This was said to be the power of the God and these were said to be "getting ministered to by the Lord." There were men standing behind them who were called "catchers" who would catch these folks as they fell backward so they would not slam into the floor Ė similar to being ushers. Fabric sheets were placed over ladies who wore dresses to avoid embarrassing/revealing situations. This was a regular and very coordinated event. If the desired results were not accomplished on the one being prayed for, then other members would be called to gather around the individual and pray. The more (quantity) people who were slain (supposedly under the power of the Lord), the more God was said to be moving. The preacher might announce, "I can feel Godís presence." Now the author always felt somewhat uncomfortable with this practice, but assumed it was of the Lord (illusion of morality). This was happening in front of his eyes (collective rationalization). Everyone was doing it (unanimity) and it was endorsed by so many religious organizations and leaders and TV networks (illusions of invulnerability, collective rationalization). To question the practice would be to question God. These religious organizations would often criticize other religious organizations or individuals who did not do such things or believe as they did (excessive stereotyping). On rare occasions the author would go forward for such prayer, but only after praying that God would not let anything happen if it was not of Him. He was never "slain in the spirit," but was pushed on very hard by a couple of seemingly irritated preachers. The author began to really doubt this whole thing, but said nothing - not even to family (self censorship). Many were kept in-line by having their faith questioned if they were not touched by God in some special way (Pressure for Conformity). The author eventually talked to others who had similar experiences of being pushed and some said they fell backward because they thought they were suppose to and others also questioned the practice (illusion of Unanimity). Light started to shine on the authorís understanding as he read Godís Word, and found himself becoming a critic of this practice. Most just conformed to the group position. Its so hard to see clearly when you are in the midst of such error Ė there is a blindness. Nowhere is this practice found in the Bible. There just are no examples Ė a couple of verses were once sighted, but were taken way out of context. It had also been apparent for some time that the same individuals were always going forward for prayer and being "slain in the spirit." These always seemed to have never ending problems in their lives Ė real defeat. Some would be laid out immoveable with no control of themselves for whole services. These were considered by the group to be very spiritual Ė in tune with God. Some took to dancing in the isles. The author started seeing this as possibly demonic and began wondering what spirit was at play. 1 Corinthians 14:32, "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." This practice also put God in the place of being a constant servant. The author questioned the preacher and was told by him to read several books (written by men and their reasoning) which were basically unscriptural endorsements of the practice. The author was not shown anything out of the Bible Ė only told of experiences others had or of great past revivals. Religious organizational members were dispatched to talk to the author (pressure for conformity, mindguards). The author and his family then walked away from all this. It does take great courage to defy the majority and break with the group. However, when you seek Godís truth, there is great deliverance. This global group was always seeking a special touch from God (in the flesh). They wanted signs and wonders and were always looking for a big revival (Mt 12:38-39, Lk 11:29-30, 32, Jn 4:48). They just donít understand that our life is found in God as we live for Him daily in faith. We walk as Christ walked and ever day is exciting as His Spirit leads. We must take great joy in Christís Word and this gives life. Our life is not found in such fleshly experiences. They miss out on just dying to self and being led daily. God is sovereign and can touch us in special ways, but is not controlled by the will of man Ė and certainly not routinely.
How could small to very large groups of people routinely (regularly, habitually, common place) practice a ritual that is not even found (described) in the Bible and treat it as if it were the biblical norm? How could such an unrecorded practice be equated with Godís very presence? It happens all the time and concerning so many things. People find comfort in numbers. People do not question group practices. The vast acceptance of the practice within the group makes it difficult for an individual to see clearly. Being "slain in the spirit" is a fleshly experience. Where did it originate? This is difficult to say, but in modern times it has been propagated by the television healing evangelistic type preachers and their books. These type men once roamed the country with their healing services and traveling gospel shows and this was a part of it. The author will state that many of the individuals that he knew who practiced these things later encountered great difficulties in their lives. Some were divorced having families torn apart, some developed bad medical conditions, some lost faith, and some experienced failed businesses.
No doubt, these same types of group reasoning (errors) discussed throughout this chapter are being committed in religious institutions today. One may be asked to sign a doctrinal statement in order to join (become a member of) a religious gathering in todayís religious organization. This is stating that you agree with the groups positions/opinions and that you will support and uphold them. Does this not tie the Holy Spiritís hands? Ė grieve Him not (Eph 4:30, 1 Thess 5:19)! God does not want a signed paper, He desires a commitment of the heart Ė a giving of oneís life as evidenced through oneís actions (faith) Ė A CHANGE - a yielding to His direction daily (Mt 6:34). We have discussed within this book how modern day religious groups (organizations, denominations or individuals) often ignor clear violations of Godís Word through worldly celebrations (Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.); fleshly attractions (rock and roll bands, plays, programs, activities); use of images (crosses, physical representations of God, Is 42:8); and participation (with priority) in daily ungodly conversations or entertainments (television, movies, sports). These things (idols, worldliness Ė Eph 5:5) that oppose Godís will are often rationalized away and never seen in the true light of Godís Word Ė ignorance is bliss! These are the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19) and focus oneís attention off of God and onto the world. The devil told Christ that he would give Him the whole world if He would worship him (Mt 4:8-9). The devil tells man that he will give him the world (things of the flesh, self-gratification) if man will worship him (take on his nature, focus on self and the world). How did Christ respond? Matthew 4:10, "Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." How will you respond? All one has to do is read the Old Testament to completely/fully understand Godís great displeasure in those who do idolatry or practice the evil ways of the surrounding culture (Lv 18:3-5, 27-28, 20:22-23). Most seem to think Godís view of such has changed through Christ. Most live as though Jesus brought license/freedom to do the very things that are abominable to God. Worse, the religious group becomes as the world (Rm 12:2) and seeks acceptance within the world and rationalizes all this as bringing people to Christ. For example, during the writing of this chapter, the author read several signs advertising Easter egg hunts at local religious institutions. This would be the Old Testament equivalent of Israel practicing elements of Baal worship (mixing with their worship of God) so that they could bring Baal worshippers to the Lord Ė we cannot reach them any other way. Would God honor such? Is not the opposite effect the reality? These practices become burned in the hearts of the children and thus later become a normal ritual within the group Ė a mindset and deep seated tradition (of the elders). Suddenly, to oppose the ritual (even though you have clear biblical authority or mandate) is to question the ideals of the group and this will be a great offense to the group. For a follower Ė the world is crucified unto us, and we to the world (Gal 6:14). To a worldling there are other considerations (commitments of the heart).
We opened up this chapter by mentioning the ekklesia (ek-klay-seeí-ah) in Laodicea. An ekklesia is a group (assembly, gathering). The modern word "church" was used for the translation of this Greek word, ekklesia. This was not the best translation since "church" actually means "Lordís House" (i.e. place of worship) and tends to denote a building or facility, which is how most people view it today. The true body of Christ has always been people and never facilities. Christ didnít die for the buildings! Therefore, the ekklesia of Laodicea was a group of individuals who professed Christ and displayed a certain group ideal (principle, belief) which was expressed in their actions. The author firmly believes that the ekklesia of the Laodiceans had characteristics that best represents the majority popular form of Christianity practiced today Ė with definite facets of the other six churches mentioned in Revelation (i.e. lost first love, worldliness, etc.). This Laodicean mindset transcends religious denominational boundaries and fits well with American popular culture Ė too well! Seven representative groups (assemblies) are mentioned by Christ in the book of Revelation and these are discussed in Chapter Ten. This discussion will be limited to that of the Laodiceans. Jesus tells us this group believes they are rich, since they are increased with goods, and have need of nothing (Rev 3:17). Todayís Christianity builds huge buildings (temples) complete with all the amenities and goods that money can buy. The bigger the building, the greater their faith (Is this really faith?). These are built for the comfort and desires of their members Ė the good things in life. After all, Godís people deserve the best, and God is there to serve them. The buildings are in fact worshipped. The religious build buildings, but should build (disciple) individuals as temples for the Holy Ghost. The parking lots are full of up-scale cars and late model sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Huge crowds are drawn in through many of the worldly, yet very entertaining programs. Programs abound for the communityís needs. The speakers are the best money can "hire" Ė ten shekels and a suit of clothes (Jdg 17:10, 2 Sam 18:11). Inspiring "positive thinking" motivational, non-offensive type self-help messages come forth (based on the good book and some human psychology, Col 2:8) Ė 1 Cor 2:5, Ps 12:2-3! These religious leaders make a very comfortable living telling people what they want to hear (2 Tm 4:3). Perhaps if they were a bit more honest about their heartís desires, they might be upper level corporate managers or CEOs (this is what some compare with to justify their hire Ė worldly worth). These gatherings Rock-and-Roll (they prefer the term contemorary) for Jesus Ė yeah! Most members are materially very well off (but donít necessarily see themselves as such). There may be television broadcasts and radio spots to spread their groupís version of "the good news" and solicit new members. They are always looking for new schemes to draw bigger crowds or expand the facilities. Good works are practiced, but make your check out to the church Ė for tax purposes of course (Lk 6:35). They will "sound the trumpet" concerning their good works, for they have no secrets (Mt 6:1-4). Many in the group will shop special Christian stores which are filled with books on any topic (amazing diversity of conflicting ideals and doctrines) the itching ear wants to hear (2 Tm 4:3) Ė all the latest fads. Most of these books are very appealing to the flesh and what it wants to hear Ė bless me for "I Am" special. These best-seller books probably get more attention and consideration than the Bible Ė particularly the movies. You can also buy all your worldly music in Christian flavors. This group attributes their material success and huge crowds to right standing before God Ė in His good graces, blessed Ė absolutely in His will (illusion of morality). They identify with Christ, but walk according to the course of this world (Eph 2:2-3) Ė very odd! The things that are highly esteemed among men are often an abomination to God (Lk 16:15). Jesus said they are poor (Rev 3:17)! How can this be? All the things that this group values and seeks after are eternally worthless. They have been overcome by the world and donít even see it (1 Jn 5:4-5). They refuse to see it! Jesus said they are blind! They do not understand the true gospel. They should have a heart toward God and live their faith in obedience to Him everyday. Itís not about facilities, entertainments, self help and material goods. They should be the reproach of this fallen world, not the envy! This group is totally deceived and living for SELF. Jesus said they are naked! They are full of sin, iniquity, transgressions, and rebellion. Thus they are wretched and miserable Ė if only they knew Ė such deception they are under. They are lukewarm (Rev 3:16-17) with their powerless form of godliness (2 Tm 3:5) Ė they are very religious though, and it keeps them content. Anyone who tries to correct this group meets stiff opposition from the group Ė their eyes hypnotize, but their tongue is full of venom. They cannot see their wrong Ė do numbers lie? Jesus has not given up on them and many will come to see (eyes opened) after a bit of shaking and sorting through "great tribulation (Is 29:24, Dan 11:35)." Judah required tribulation and Babylonian exile to see their wrongs (see their need and fully repent, Dan 12:10) Ė and this was Godís mercy. The tribulation will be a great time of trial and testing for those who have not faithfully kept Christís commands (Dan 11:35, Rev 3:10, 22:7, 12, 14). This will be a time to decide whom you will serve, God or the world (Rev 14:7). This is detailed in Chapter Ten.
Recall that the Laodicean church sees themselves as rich, but Jesus sees them as poor (Rev 3:17). Conversely, the Smyrna church sees themselves as poor, yet Jesus sees them as rich. Revelation 2:9, "I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan." Their tribulation (suffering for Christ) and poverty (not seeking the things of the world) makes them rich! The modern Laodicean church could never willingly accept such a thought of suffering or sacrifice (Rev 12:11). They view suffering as Godís wrath, which they are not subject to. They have re-defined God (conformed) to their image Ė an unconditional love god who only blesses and serves. Revelation 2:26, "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations." Are we truly overcoming and keeping Christís works? If you try and talk to one from this group they are likely to put their fingers in their ears and run about saying, "not appointed unto Godís wrath." The wrath of God is for those who have taken the mark of the beast (Rev 16:1-2) as opposed to Godís seal (keeping His commands, Rev 20:4-5) Ė this is the method of separation between men (the good and the bad), not a pre-tribulation rapture. The false prophets have spoken/appealed to their flesh and ignorance is bliss!
Throughout history religious men have been persecuted and killed others for not conforming to a religious groupís practices. Examples might be issues such as infant baptism, worship of religious icons (statues, images) or denominational authority (nonconformity to an exalted man, supposed religious monopoly on truth). The ends seem to always justify the means.
Being a Follower
The problem with many is that they do not accept Jesus for who He is and submit to His will accordingly (obey Christís commandments, 1 Jn 5:2). Jesus came to the Jews in a way that was unexpected and with a purpose that was not understood (Acts 1:6) - and Christ was summarily rejected by them. Religious groups often have their perceptions on what they think Jesus should be rather than comforming to His Word and who He is (Jn 12:48). Often this is a Jesus conformed to their ideals and opinions (the groupís or denominations) rather than the Christ of the Bible. Jesus came to lead us back to God Ė to reconcile - bring repentance, deliver from sin, recover that which was lost (Mt 9:13, 18:11, Mk 2:17, Lk 5:32, 15:4, Eph 2:14-17). In order for Jesus to lead, we must follow. To be a follower of Christ, we must yield our will to Him. Please take a moment and consider the fullness of that statement. Following is submitting to, yielding, obeying, being directed, an emptying of self, and trusting. Jesus said we are to build our lives upon the foundation of His Word Ė for Christ is our foundation (1 Cor 3:11). Matthew 7:24-25, "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. (also Lk 6:47-48, Rm 2:13)" These hear and then do (Js 1:22). The problem is that many (religious) will be attentive to hear Christís sayings, and may agree with them, but they do not do them (Ez 33:32, Rm 2:8-9). Matthew 7:26-27, "And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it (also Lk 6:49)." This group that "does not" is destined for sure failure (Mt 21:30). John 14:24, "He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me." In order to truly follow Christís Words (Jn 14:15, 15:10) we must put them before our eyes always (in our hearts). Psalms 119:11, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (also Ps 18:30, 119:89, 105). Godís will is that we live within His Word. To give us the ability to live within His Word and to understand it, Jesus sent the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost (Jn 1:33, 14:16, 26, Rm 5:5). The Spirit will always lead us to obey the Word Ė He bears witness (Jn 15:26, 16:8) and teaches (1 Cor 2:12-13, 1 Jn 2:27). Only through the Spirit do we understand the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:10) and have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). The Spirit gives us power to overcome (Lk 24:49, Jn 1:12, Acts 1:8). Psalms 15:1-2, "LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart." How do we find ourselves in Godís will? By offering Him our will!
Ephesians 5:1-2, "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour." Chapter Five of the book of Ephesians has some very wise words concerning what following is and isnít. We were once children of darkness (flesh), but now are called to the light. Let us walk (actually do or practice) in the light (Eph 5:8).
Perhaps you are in a "religious" group a couple of days of the week and maybe you somewhat alter/adjust your regular behavior to conform to their standards Ė you know become religious Ė the religious shuffle. Then maybe you are in the "popular culture" group the rest of the week and are almost a different person altogether. Maybe these two groups are becoming more similar all the time with little need for major behavioral adjustments. Perhaps there is some pretense (hypocrisy) in your life that you have given little conscious thought to. Possibly you are a bit obstinate/unyielding in your ways? Maybe God just gets His time and you get yours? A compromise of the dual wills. Are you a "follower" of Christ or of the world? Your conversation (way of life) conforms to one or the other Ė you are assuredly being led, but by who? Maybe you are just religious Ė you know, donít want to go to hell. Can you honestly examine your heart to see whom/what prevails Ė Jesus or the world (Ps 26:2). In this religious world, we need to decide through the Spirit, what is truly worthwhile (meaningful, commendable, and praiseworthy) Ė not from manís perspective, but from Godís. Everyone has an opinion, letís seek for the truth. The time has come to stop being religious/worldly and start being real for Jesus! The time has come to step out of the groups and into the true body of Christ. We are placed in the body by the Holy Spirit as He determines the need (1 Cor 12). Jesus is the Head (Eph 1:20-23, 4:15, Col 1:18, 2:10), so you must put aside all your aspirations and be led. Perhaps you think you must approach God through man (religious buildings. organizations, preachers, ceremony, ritual, etc.)? Please note: When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was split from top to bottom (Mt 27:51). The barrier between God and man was removed (Eph 2:14) for those who truly seek Him. We no longer approach God through imperfect man (human High Priest, Levitical priesthood). We now have direct access to Christ (Rm 5:1-2, Eph 2:18, 3:12, 1 Tm 2:5, Heb 4:14-16). With one quick rip, all the religiosity of man was done away with. Man did not KNOW God nor understand His will and turned Godís way into manís way. The scribes (religious authorities, denominational boards/councils) no longer determine doctrines, the Spirit leads. Now we have Christ as our head and His Spirit to lead. This does not mean that true men of God do not teach others. This means that men do not Lord over others to conform them to their ways. True believers do assemble to encourage, exhort, teach, etc., but God operates outside the will of man (manís methods, system) through His Spirit. God is not franchised, but is within reach of those who humble themselves and seek Him (Acts 17:27).
Following is not placing religious bumper stickers on your car; having religious paraphernalia on your desk at work; reading religious books; mission trips to the beach; listening to Christian rock; Religious service at the institution, etc. We live in a time of great deception. All is not as it appears. You need to get Godís Word, get alone and let the Spirit start to teach. Stop looking for your answers in man! As the Spirit teaches, you must obey and apply. A Spirit-led man (pastor/believer) will confirm this truth. A good healthy self examination of your life in light of Godís Word is an excellent start (Ps 19:12). If you are not willing to change, then what's the point? Pray that God will reveal your iniquity so that you may grieve and repent (forsake, Ps 51:3-4, 17, Joel 2:13-14). Seek Him (Ps 145:18) - Turn fully to God with a whole heart (Hos 10:12). Make Jesus your foremost desire (1 Chr 16:10). Pray often. This is the start of a relationship Ė a wonderful one! We have Christís life as our example of how we are to live Ė start walking as He walked (1 Jn 2:6). Following is living by example every single day with your mind constantly upon Christ. No more fakery or facades Ė no more shuffle. The Spirit leads us to conform to Christís example, but the way is very narrow. Psalms 23:4, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Life is not easy by design Ė much trial and testing Ė purification by fire. Faith will see you through. Faith through Christ will reconcile (Col 1:20). When the trials come, where do you run? This is a very good indicator.
We serve and follow Christ when times are good and when times are bad. A true measure of your faith is how you hold up when things are falling apart around you. Rest assured such will be a trial. You must be willing to fully commit yourself into Godís hands no matter what (1 Pt 4:19). Its easy to serve in the good times, but to whom/what do you turn when things are bad? Can you honestly praise God when self is being denied? Jesus must be Lord of every aspect of your life! If you think all this is optional, then you do not KNOW Him. This is the problem, the religious did not KNOW God. Religious man does not KNOW God. Those who KNOW Him will follow Ė no doubt. Jesus has provided forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus has sent His Spirit. Jesus lived the example (as a man). Let us submit, follow and do likewise.
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