Practising The Way Of Jesus: An Introduction (Max Cross)

This last week I heard a call to action for those who would say they follow Jesus and are fed up with being Sunday only Christians. Our very own Bishop Christopher contextualized a Charles de Foucauld quote and challenged us when he said: “Absence of risk is a sure sign of mediocrity, and Christians are not called to be mediocre.” It is a call to being a radical apprentice of Jesus, and those words have haunted me. Radical may conjure up images of those who would misrepresent the love of God. However in reality to live a radical life is the call on those who would call themselves Christians to love God and love people, it is the opposite of a mediocre life. It is a call to sell out to Jesus, and it comes at a time when we are about to look at just what that means. What does it mean to practice the way of life Jesus lived? To be with Jesus, to become like Jesus and to do what Jesus did. To live this way means we need to be transformed, from the inside out, to be radically changed. A challenging and scary idea, after all is this kind of deep, authentic radical change of character even possible? The answer is yes, not through our own power but through God’s Spirit in us. Join us this weekend as we continue to step out into the greatest of journeys into a radical life with Jesus.

Exodus 20:1-17

Mark 8:34-37

These notes are my speaking notes and are provided as an accompaniment to the recording. Please accept that they are not intended to be a published grammatically correct essay. I do hope and pray however they help you move towards Jesus.

Now onto the content…

As you may have read on the news sheet last week I was sat in a meeting in the diocese. My expectations were not high as I sat there asking myself, “is this simply going to be yet another meeting, like all the rest?” Not that these meetings are not useful, but to be real honest I have gone to these meetings month in month out in the hope that we really would see a revolution in the life of God’s church, yet progress, if there is any seems to be at a snail’s pace. So I sat there somewhat unexpectant.

Then Bishop Christopher said in his opening remarks:

“Absence of risk is a sure sign of mediocrity, and Christians are not called to be mediocre.”

Suddenly a light went on in my heart as he called us from the mundane into life and life to the full. As he reminded us of the call of Jesus.

I imagine like me you also have been to meeting after meeting over the years. Perhaps you to have been to service after service wondering when this life to the full was going to appear. Perhaps now you may even think it isn’t going to change, or that you indeed are now beyond that type of change.

Well if that is you I am here to say if Jesus promises life and life to the full, then he is able to deliver on that for you. Whatever age you are, wherever you are in life he loves you so much he can deliver on that promise.

It is my experience that being a church goer is annoying, frustrating and can lead to a feeling of being mediocre. Whereas what we are about to discover is that risking becoming a disciple of Jesus brings light, energy and fulfillment, whatever stage of life we are at.

In this mini-series that we are calling, practising the way of Jesus we are going to begin to look at what it means to have that life to the full and how we might play our part in receiving it.  

Some Background

You know being a follower of God has always been a radical call to live life differently than those who do not seek God. We see that in the Ten Commandments which are a call for Israel to live their lives differently to the nations around them.  

You shall have no other gods before me. ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

That is a call to be different to the idol worshipping nations amongst them.

Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.

That is a call to be different to those who are working people to the bone. A call to live a radical life.

Then thousands of years later a rabbi called Jesus said come follow me into a new radical life.

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’

We sit this side of the resurrection and we see Jesus as Lord and Saviour and so sometimes we miss what this call to be a disciple really is. You see there were no Christians when Jesus called on people to follow him there were only disciples of the teacher Jesus. But oh what a call, and they would have known what a call it truly was.

If you were a child at that time, to be a disciple of a rabbi would have been the ultimate goal in life. However it was only a goal that the elite would reach.

Children began their study at age 5 in Beth Sefer or what we would call primary school. The teaching focused on memorisation of the Torah, what we know as the first five books of the Old Testament.

At age twelve most students would stop and stay at home to help or learn the family trade. The best students however continued their study in Beth Midrash or secondary school. They studied the prophets in addition to Torah.

After this the best of the best students sought permission to study with a famous rabbi often leaving home to literally follow him. These students were called talmidim (tale-ma-deem) or what we translate as disciples or apprentices. These talmidim were devoted to their rabbi and noted everything he did or said.

Their whole goal in life was:

To be with their teacher, to become like their teacher and to do what  their teacher did.

It was only the elite that ever made it this far. The Oxford and Cambridge of their world if you will. It was only the elite that had any chance to become like their teacher, like their rabbi. Which is why they were willing to risk everything to leave a mediocre life and become a rabbi themselves.

Yet amongst this world of the elite our rabbi Jesus says.

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “

‘Whoever wants to be my [talmidim] must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Whoever. Anyone up for this? You don’t have to be elite. You don’t have to be wealthy or super intelligent. You just have to pick up your cross and follow me, says Jesus.

So what does it take to pick up our cross and  follow Jesus? Well that is what we are going to discover over the next few weeks. But here are the headlines.

To Be With Jesus

To be an apprentice to Jesus is to desire to be with him. To follow him around if you will, spending time in his presence. His call is to come and follow, not to stay at a distance.

Next week we are going to discover that Jesus said:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. …If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Remain or abide in Jesus and you are unstoppable. So our first part of becoming an apprentice is to remain in Jesus. We are going to find out what that means next week.

To Become Like Jesus

Then we are going to look at what it means to become like our rabbi Jesus. What some traditions of the church call spiritual formation and what the rabbis called their yoke. Of course this is a journey, we don’t suddenly decide to become like Jesus and have it happen over night. But it is possible to become more like Jesus. And it is possible to move towards that goal whatever stage of life we are in.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:29-30)

The question here for us is, what is forming who we are? Because something is. It might be our experiences of the world, it might be our parents or family, even if they are no longer alive. It might be the expectations of the world, our children, our neighbours. It could be many things. Perhaps a good questions to ask ourselves is

Am I more like Jesus this year than I was a year ago?

What are becoming, and what are we allowing to inform that journey. Is it the teachings and yoke of Jesus or is it something or someone else?

To Do What Jesus Did

So having nailed spending time with Jesus and becoming like Jesus that simply leaves doing what Jesus did.

What did Jesus do?

He prayed, he taught, he healed the sick, he preached the gospel, he brought peace, he sought justice, he prophesied. And he stood up against all sorts of corruption and evil.

Hold a moment you might say whilst I want to spend time with Jesus and become like Jesus, I am not Jesus, I can’t do that.

Well that would be OK had Jesus not said.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these. (John 14:12)

Eventually as an apprentice you want to be able to do what the teacher does. Your rabbi said you would do what he did. That you would see his kingdom come.

The Big Idea

So that is it but I slightly undersold what we are doing because today is really an introduction to the introductions.  

Because as we look at spending time with Jesus, becoming like Jesus and doing what Jesus did over the next few weeks all I can really do is introduce you to the practices of Jesus beneath each area. Then over the next few years we will journey together with Jesus to understand what it truly means to be one of his Talmadim, one of his apprentices.

But for me the big idea today is for you and I to ask ourselves is Jesus just a hobby or is there more? Because Jesus as a hobby is frustrating and breeds medocity, but Jesus as our Lord and rabbi is life to the full. It’s the difference between saying we are a Christian and being one of his disciples.

Did you know that 61% of people in Bedhampton say they are Christian. That is somewhere around 6000 people. 56% of those people say they are Church of England Christians, that something like 3360 people. I don’t see them here in this Church of England Christian community worshipping their Lord this morning.

Now I don’t judge them for that, I am just concerned that they and indeed some of us are living lives of frustration and mediocrity when life to the full is within our grasp. If only they, if only we would risk stepping fully into that life of being a disciple.

The bulk of what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus is summed up in his Sermon on the Mount which you can read in Matthew chapters 5,6 and 7.

We have covered some of that as we read Matthew together and we will cover more later this year. But don’t let that stop you from reading it again now, because it is gold dust. It’s living life teaching from our Lord. But before he teaches his yoke, he says this in 5.19:

…whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Then after he finishes he says in 7.24:

‘…everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man…

Disciples of Jesus practice being with him, practice becoming like him and practice doing what he did.

Hear this: you are loved and saved because of the grace of Jesus. No amount of trying harder is going to get you anymore loved or anymore saved.

But if you want that life and life to the full, if you want to lose the frustration and mediocrity, I invite you to join me on a journey of practings the way of Jesus. A journey we step into the next stage of in these coming weeks as we ask ourselves. Is Jesus just a hobby, or is he everything?