Chosenness & Selectivity

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 

Mark 9:2

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. 

Mark 9:30-31

In Mark 9 we see Jesus choose to be exclusive on two back-to-back occasions. First, only Peter, James and John were invited up the mountain to see Jesus transfigured before them. Then, Jesus intentionally tried to avoid the crowds who needed ministry because “he was teaching his disciples.”

Peter, James, and John were Jesus’s inner circle. They were the ones Jesus wanted with Him when His soul was in turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Mark 14:32-33). Jesus repeatedly picked these three men out from the rest of the twelve disciples.

Jesus also was unapologetic about choosing the twelve over the crowds. When Jesus wanted to spend extra time on discipleship, teaching the twelve disciples the deeper things of the Kingdom of God, Jesus didn’t mind intentionally avoiding the crowds.

This theme of “intentional chosenness” demonstrated by Jesus continues a theme we see throughout the Old Testament as God chose Israel as His chosen people. One of God’s main strategies throughout the Bible is to choose a small number of people in order that they might absorb the DNA of the Kingdom and then bless the rest of the world with it.

But this selectivity on the part of Jesus flies in the face of our sense of democratic equality. Shouldn’t everyone have been invited up the mountain with Jesus? How is that fair? Shouldn’t they at least vote on who gets to see Jesus transfigured?

And why would Jesus go incognito in trying to avoid people who are genuinely in need? Why did the disciples get an “unfair” amount of time with Him? Shouldn’t Jesus have made Himself more available to the poor huddled masses?

The truth is that good leadership demands that we pick and choose who to pour our lives into. We have to admit our limitations of time, energy, and resources. So the best leaders are selective. The point is multiplication. Invest in a few who will then, in turn, invest in a few, and the chain reaction impacts more people than one person could have otherwise.

So what looks like unfair selectivity and favoritism on the surface is actually powerful wisdom on display. If Jesus had spread Himself “equally” to everyone, no one would have had the depth needed to carry the DNA of the Kingdom after Jesus was gone.

In our culture we rightly champion equality because it is the closest approximation we can muster to the love and servanthood that is found in the Kingdom of God. But sometimes the unintended by-product is that this good principle of equality gets applied in ways that actually does more harm than good. Everyone should be treated with the same amount of love and respect, but that doesn’t mean we give our time and energy to everyone in the same way.

When it comes to good leadership, there are times we must employ “intentional selectivity” with our time and a kind of “purposeful chosenness” with people. “Equality” cannot be the driving principle behind how we spend our time. “Investment” needs to be the driving principle. We need to ask ourselves, “Who can we pour our lives into in such a way that it multiplies the work and impact of the Kingdom of God?”

Expensive Miracles

Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Mark 8:13-21

Jesus was warning the disciples against a worldview that put politics at the center (yeast of Herod) and a worldview that put religion at the center (yeast of the Pharisees). The yeast of Herod doesn’t want faith to come into the public square (Matthew 14:3-5). The yeast of the Pharisees was a form of godliness with no power (2 Timothy 3:5; Matthew 22:29).

But the disciples had minds that were still set on the wisdom of the world and not the wisdom of God. They thought Jesus was talking about the fact that they only had one loaf of bread and forgot to bring more.

Aware of this, Jesus reveals to us His expectations of the disciples. The disciples were there when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fed 5000. They were also there when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fed 4000. And because they had seen and experienced these miracles, Jesus expected a change in the way they processed things. Jesus expected those miracles to change their thinking, their faith, and their reasoning. He expected them to see now with different eyes and hear with different ears and, at the very least, remember what God can do with a little bread.

Bill Johnson says it this way, “Miracles are expensive because they require change. Miracles that are just observed and applauded but haven’t shifted my perspective have not had their full impact. They are supposed to actually change the way I deal with the situations of my life.

Once we’ve seen miracles happen right in front of us, we lose the right not to believe it can happen again. Once we’ve seen people healed right in front of us, once we’ve seen people delivered from demonic oppression, once we’ve seen God supernaturally provide, we can’t go back to standard western Christianity. Jesus, having shown us our inheritance in the Kingdom of God, now expects us to think differently about how we do church and about how problems get solved.

Jesus expected the disciples to look at that one loaf of bread differently. Since they had seen the miracles of feeding the 5000 and feeding the 4000, He expected them to look at that one loaf of bread and see the potential for abundance rather than scarcity. He expected them to have eyes of faith, hearts that were softened, and ears that could hear what the Spirit was doing.

The apostle Paul said it this way to the Corinthians:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom…

1 Corinthians 2:4-7

Paul had shifted from human wisdom to God’s wisdom. He wasn’t interested in using reasoning that was common to the kingdoms of this world. He wanted to use reasoning that was common to the Kingdom of God. He wanted their faith to rest on the fact that the message of the gospel came with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. His desire was to declare God’s wisdom, not the so-called wisdom of the current culture that he was in. Paul had seen too much, he had experienced too much, to go back to thinking with human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. He had seen too much not to expect God’s demonstration of power.

As Bill Johnson said, miracles are expensive. Once they are happening in our midst, we can’t go back to business as usual. Jesus expects more. He expects that they change how we operate in the world, that they change how we think and reason. If they don’t, we become like the Pharisees who saw so many of Jesus’s miracles and walked away with hardened hearts.

Unnatural Wind

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 

Matthew 14:32

Jesus had just multiplied the fish and the loaves and then sent his disciples ahead of him on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed behind and spent time with the Father. Then, in the middle of the night, Jesus walks out to them on the water. The wind was already blowing hard by the time Jesus walks out to them.

Once they realize it is Jesus, Peter tells Jesus to invite him out on the water, and Jesus does. Peter walks to him on the water for a few steps but then, seeing the wind, gets afraid. Jesus equates this fear with a lack of faith and escorts Peter back to the boat.

What I had never noticed before is that as soon as Peter and Jesus get in the boat, the wind dies down. If this was a natural storm, the wind wouldn’t just die down as soon as they step into the boat. We can’t know for sure, but this leads me to believe that the wind Peter was so afraid of was not natural. I believe it is possible that the wind was intentionally stirred up by the enemy in order to prevent the emergence of a boat full of faith-filled water-walkers.

I believe the enemy stirred up the wind to attack Peter’s faith (and anyone else who would dare step out in faith). I believe God allowed the wind as a test of Peter’s faith. The enemy was rooting against Peter, not wanting him to even attempt getting out of the boat. The Lord was rooting for Peter, wanting him to overcome his fear by faith.

This wouldn’t be the first time an unnatural wind came against Jesus and the disciples. A short time ago, Jesus was sleeping in the boat when a storm hits. The disciples freak out in fear. Jesus wakes up and speaks to the wind the same way he had previously only spoken to demons. Notice the similarity between how Jesus casts the demon out of the man in the synagogue and how Jesus commands the storm to be quiet.

And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” After throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of him.

Mark 1:25-26

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Mark 4:39

The language used in both the deliverance and the calming of the storm is the same. Jesus rebukes both the demon and the wind. Jesus’s command is the same word, “Quiet!” I believe it’s possible that this indicates, when Jesus calms the storm, He was not just rebuking the wind but the demonic force behind the wind. He was commanding the enemy to stop using natural forces in ways that they shouldn’t be used.

So what does all of this mean?

It means that sometimes the storm is just a natural storm that we have to learn to navigate. But sometimes the storm is a targeted attack of the enemy meant to destroy your faith and keep you in the boat. Sometimes the enemy sends things at you that are meant to cause fear and keep you hunkered down. The last thing the enemy wants you to do is get out of the boat. And if you do get out of the boat, he doesn’t want you spending any time out there walking on water with Jesus.

The enemy will also sometimes reduce the wind as soon as you retreat to the boat. He wants you to feel safe and secure in that boat so that you never step out in faith again. We have to remember that when Jesus rebukes the wind, He’s enforcing the peace of the Kingdom. However, when the enemy reduces the wind, he’s just messing with your heart and mind. He’s trying to bring a false comfort, a false peace to lure you into passivity.

Don’t believe it. Jesus alone is the calmer of the storms.

So where do you need to get back out of the boat? Don’t let the fear from last time prevent you from stepping out again this time.

Normal Christianity

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues,proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Matthew 4:23-25

Imagine that you’ve never heard anything about Jesus. So you open the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and you read all the way through it. What would you encounter there? A Jesus who just preached sermons? A list of “dos” and “don’ts?” No.

If you weren’t contaminated by western culture’s preconceived notions of Jesus, you’d encounter a Jesus who proclaimed a message about a new kind of kingdom on the earth. You’d also encounter a Jesus who was constantly healing people everywhere he went. You might expect that followers of Jesus would heal people everywhere they went.

Physical healing was central to Jesus’s ministry. So was setting free those who were bound by demonic darkness. These were not side ministries for Jesus. They were two out of the three main ways that Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom of God coming to earth. The third was His teaching/preaching about the Kingdom.

Jesus did not come to bring a disembodied gospel. Jesus came in a physical body and cared about physical bodies. It wasn’t about spiritual truths that help us escape the world. It was about the truth that His Kingdom came to transform this world, including physical bodies. Jesus did not bring a Gnostic gospel. He brought an embodied one.

Over and over again we see that healing physical sickness was central to the Kingdom of God. Besides story after story of Jesus encountering an individual and healing them, we get passages of scripture that seem to summarize mass healings as if there were too many to name. And we learn that this healing ministry wasn’t a side show. It was central to the fulfillment of prophecy about the coming Messiah.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.” [Isaiah 53:4]

Matthew 8:16-17

When Jesus wanted to assure John the Baptist that He was, in fact, the Messiah, the message Jesus sent to John was all about healing. Healing physical sickness was one of the main signs that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies about the coming Messiah.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Matthew 11:2-5

Physical healing wasn’t just something Jesus did on the side. It was one of the main things Jesus did with His limited time here on earth. It was central to demonstrating that God’s Kingdom had invaded the kingdom of this world. The light was breaking through the darkness.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

Matthew 9:35-36

It was also something He empowered His disciples to do. In other words, healing wasn’t just a ministry of the Messiah. It was something expected of every disciple of Jesus. Seeing people get healed by the power of God and seeing demons get cast out of people was always meant to be “normal Christianity.”

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “… As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

Matthew 10:1, 5-8

Healing the sick was something Jesus did everywhere He went. Healings were physical demonstrations of the truth of His Kingdom. They were evidence that He really was the Messiah and the Kingdom of God really was being inaugurated on the earth.

And the early followers of Jesus picked up this mantle and continued to carry it. They continued to proclaim the message of the Kingdom and continued to demonstrate the Kingdom through healings, deliverance, signs, wonders, and miracles. We see this reality all throughout the book of Acts.

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

Acts 2:43

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

Acts 5:12-16

The prayer of the early believers was, “…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). They simply wanted to continue the ministry of Jesus. They wanted to boldly proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and then demonstrate the Kingdom through signs and wonders. This was “normal Christianity.”

In the West, many churches have denounced physical healing and deliverance ministry. Or, if it is believed at all, we have relegated them to side ministries. How could something so central to the gospel, so central to the Kingdom, so central to Jesus and the early church get shoved aside? Church, we have to do better than this!

Our culture is tired of hearing about Jesus and the gospel. They are crying out, “Show me! Prove it! Demonstrate it!” And two of the primary ways Christians are meant to demonstrate the Kingdom of God coming to earth is through physical healing and deliverance. It was never meant to be a “special” ministry reserved for “elite” Christians or the “crazy charismatic” Christians. This was meant to be normal Christianity.

Normal Christianity looks like every church member praying for their co-workers and seeing them get healed right there in the office. Normal Christianity looks like having dinner with neighbors and, for dessert, praying and seeing them set free from the demonic oppression they’ve experienced for years. Normal Christianity looks like delivering a prophetic word to your boss that then shapes the future of your company. Normal Christianity looks like getting a word of knowledge for the person in front of you at Walmart, giving the word, and then leading them to give their life to Jesus. Normal Christianity looks like getting a prophetic dream for a family member that ends up encouraging them about their true identity.

Normal Christianity looks like every person in the church doing this all week long so that it becomes such a regular occurrence that there is no need for any fanfare about it. There’s no arguing over the legitimacy of these things because everyone experiences them daily. There’s no need to debate when it is just normal life. This is normal Christianity.

We need to return to the Bible’s definition of normal Christianity once again!

The Chosen

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

John 1:35-36, 40-42

There have been many attempts to capture what Jesus and His disciples were like on film. Most of them either don’t get the story right or don’t get Jesus right. Either they manipulate the story to make Jesus seem more relatable or they keep the story and Jesus comes across as stiff and robotic.

But last night I watched in wonder at one of the best retellings of the gospel stories that I’ve ever seen. The Chosen, created by Dallas Jenkins, is a multi-season TV show about the life of those who knew Jesus best. In the midst of getting to know them, we discover Jesus.

I can’t quite describe what it is like to watch this show. I’ve only seen the first five episodes, but I find that two things are happening inside of me as I watch this masterful production. First, I feel like I am getting to know old friends that I’ve only read about. The life of Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, Thomas and Mary Magdalene come alive. Their life stories weave together and begin to coalesce around Jesus. I found myself knowing these characters, after decades of studying the Bible, and yet discovering them afresh. Aspects of their life and personality come alive in a way that brings new insight into scripture. This same thing happened when I spent a semester studying and living in Jerusalem. After that experience I could never read the Bible the same way again. The same is happening as I watch The Chosen.

The second thing that happens as I watch The Chosen is an almost visceral response to Jesus. As I watch Jesus speak and interact with his disciples, his mother, and the nearby children, I find myself getting emotional. The thought that keeps coming to mind is, “This is the Jesus I know and love! This is the Jesus who invited me to follow Him. This is the Jesus I gave my life to! This is the Jesus I interact with in prayer! This is Him!”

On multiple occasions during certain episodes, I had to stop watching and just worship. Tears welled up in my eyes and I lifted my hands to the heavens in prayer and praise. I am reminded all over again about who this Jesus really is and why He is worth leaving everything behind in order to follow Him. As I’ve watched, a burning desire for others to know this Jesus has stirred inside me.

I can’t think of a better way to prepare for Easter than to watch The Chosen. Please watch it! You won’t regret it!

Tradition and Command

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

Matthew 15:1-3

The Pharisees were upset with the disciples for breaking tradition, but Jesus was upset with the Pharisees for breaking the command of God for the sake of their traditions. How often does the church break God’s command in order to follow our traditions?

Tradition itself isn’t bad. Tradition can help us keep a pattern of discipleship over time. It can help us to remember things we would otherwise forget. It can help us to hold fast to truth in the midst of changing culture. But if we’re not careful, it can also be used as an obedient-looking cover for our disobedience.

Do our church services have to look the way they do right now? Which part is us following God’s command and which is just us following tradition? Are there different ways to follow God’s command that don’t look like what we’re used to?

It is human nature to get comfortable and resist change. Change itself is uncomfortable. And with so much around us changing so quickly, more change just feels like chaos sometimes. But if we don’t stay open to change in the church, we can fall prey to one of the oldest tactics of the enemy. We can get fooled into thinking that holding to our tradition is the same as holding to God’s command. And over time, we can begin to use our tradition as a means to resist God’s commands.

Father, forgive us! Give us eyes to see and ears to hear where we’ve traded in obedience for tradition. Help us to have the willingness and humility to embrace change even when it’s uncomfortable! Thank you, Lord.