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Serving Jesus through discipleship

Archive for the tag “Galilee”

The Faith to Follow


Jesus Walks on the Sea

Jesus Walks on the Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a rabbi, Jesus prepared His disciples for everything. The way used to prepare His disciples was that they followed Him everywhere. They lived with Him, they watched as He met with friends, acquaintances, officials and enemies. It was the disciple’s (singular: talmid; plural: talmidim) responsibility to watch everything that the rabbi did in order to emulate him. The disciples consuming passion was to be like his rabbi.

An example of this can be found in Matthew 14:22 – 33 where Jesus walks across the sea of Galilee. You will recall that when Peter discovered that it was his rabbi walking on the lake, he said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.” Do you believe that Peter thought he could walk on water? Peter, after all, was a fisherman. He had been in and around the sea all his life and every time he got in the water he sank like a stone. Yet, he wanted to be like his rabbi so much that he was willing to risk drowning to walk on water like his rabbi. So when Jesus said to Peter, “Come”, he had the temerity to get out of the boat. Peter actually succeeded in walking on the surface of the sea. But, seeing the wind and the waves, he became afraid and began to sink. He cried out to Jesus to save him. Jesus reached out His hand, took hole of Peter and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Who did Peter lose faith in? He was walking on the water; he did it! Did he lose faith in Jesus? I submit that is not the faith that Jesus was talking about. After seeing that he could walk on water, Peter’s faith should have increased. I submit that Peter lost faith in himself. He did not trust that he, a lowly fisherman, could have the ability to walk on water. And so he began to sink.

I believe that we are like that. God has promised that His power is perfected in our weakness. So why don’t we see displays of God’s power in our daily lives. It is because we are even too afraid to get out of the boat. We have been called. Jesus has told us “Come”. Still we are too afraid of the embarrassment of failure, or even more of success. What will people think of me if I behave in this manner?

“Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Think about this. The Jews in Galilee generally had access to the Scriptures only in their local synagogue, so they memorized Scripture throughout their lifetimes because they were determined to know and live by the word of God and pass on their faith to their children. They were intensely spiritual people, and even those who did not advance to further study and interpretation of the Torah and the Prophets already had memorized far more Scripture than most Christians know today.

Because of technology, we do not need to memorize Scripture. We can carry printed versions of scripture with us. We can put the Bible on our smart phones so that it is with us all the time. We do need to be familiar enough with Scripture so that we know what it says and where to find it. We have all had that moment where a certain passage applies and we can’t find it. Remember, Satan deceived Eve by questioning the word of God; “Has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” He also tempted Jesus by misapplying Scripture. Keep in mind God’s command to Joshua, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

Remember also the words of Jesus in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” You can say, “I will not be a disciple of Jesus.” But Jesus believes in you and your potential to be His disciple. That is why He chose you!

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Living by the Word


Jesus came to people who knew the Scriptures. They expended great effort to study and memorize the text, to debate its meaning, to teach it to other people, and – above else – to obey it. As you take a closer look at Jesus Ministry, consider how essential the text was to all that He did and said.

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Tes...

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. Most likely originated in Egypt. Also part of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P. oxy. 2) Currently housed in: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the Jews in Galilee, knowing and obeying the Scriptures was as essential to life as food and water. They memorized significant portions of Scripture in synagogue schools. They heard it read aloud during synagogue prayers and when the rabbis read and discussed it. After all, how could one rightly interpret and obey God‘s commands without knowing the text? How could one walk with God without knowing what He said? Not to know the text was unthinkable!

A study of the Gospel of Matthew reveals that in that book alone, Jesus quoted the Hebrew Scriptures at least thirty-eight times. Read the following passages and notice how easily the text flowed from His lips as He spoke: Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43, 9:10-13, 12:1-8. Could Jesus have shared the Scriptures effectively if He had not memorized them?

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish then but to fulfill them.” In the statement, Jesus used technical rabbinic terminology. Abolish meant to interpret Scripture so that it would not be obeyed as God desired. Fulfill meant to interpret Scripture so that it would be obeyed as God intended. So when Jesus used these terms, His audience would have heard Him say, “I did not come to misinterpret Scriptureso you would not keep it correctly. I came to interpret it so that you will know how to keep it correctly.”

Jesus came from a community that knew the Scriptures, and He expected His disciples to follow His example and become like Him. He expects no less from His followers today. Yet many of us do not know much about the text He knew and loved, and we have memorized even less of it.

How can we do what Jesus commands if we do not know His word?

Is it time to dedicate yourself to knowing your Bible and using it as the foundation for your life and witness? How will you begin?

How would memorizing Scripture reinforce your desire to live by its truth in your daily life?

If you are serious about being a disciple, ask God to fill you with His Spirit and give you a desire to become more like Jesus who knew and loved the Word of God.

The prophet Jeremiah memorized so much scripture that he literally could not stop mentioning God or speaking His name. How passionately do you want God’s word to burn within you. A good place to startmight be to memorize the following:

But if I say, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,” His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. – Jeremiah 20:9

Pray for the same love for the word as Jeremiah had!

Profile of a Rabbi


English: Rabbis Brown and Mayer talking with R...

English: Rabbis Brown and Mayer talking with Rabbi Aharon Feldman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Jesus day, a rabbi was not the head of a formal religious community or a synagogue as we think of a rabbi today. Instead, rabbi was an honored termof respect given to one who interpreted and taught the Hebrew Bible. Rabbi meant “my superior” or “my master” and came from a Hebrew root meaning “great” or “many”. Disciples and others used this term to refer to great scholars and teachers of the Scriptures who were also known as “sages”. After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, rabbi became a formal title for sage.

Rabbis played an important role in the Jewish spiritual culture because there were no formal seminaries at the time of Jesus. Each rabbi taught his disciples how the Torah should be interpreted and obeyed, and his disciples willingly submitted to that interpretation. A rabbi then was an honored teacher who was well versed in the text of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was highly respected for his knowledge, interpretation, and teaching of Scripture as well as for his personal righteousness. Following a rabbi required a deep commitment on the part of the disciple who would live with and follow the rabbi day in and day out for years in order to learn to be like him and live in obedience to God as the rabbi did.

For the Galileans, walking with God took priority over everything. So a rabbi and his disciples were highly respected by others in the community. A family or extended family group usually provided housing and food for a rabbi and his disciples. Because of the high respect for the study of the Torah, and the fact that the rabbi was leading other people to the kingdom of heaven and the life to come, each disciple was expected to honor his rabbi even more than his own father. It is difficult for Christians today to imagine such love and commitment to a human teacher, but that was the norm in Galilee.

All teaching by the early rabbis attempted to explain, interpret, and apply some portion of the Hebrew Bible. To the audience, the validity of the teaching depended on the rabbis ability to use a variety of passages in new and creative ways to illustrate the teaching with parable or metaphor, and to ground the teaching in text. whether they wanted to or not, people who heard Jesus teach recognized that He taught with authority.

In fact, Jesus best fit the type of rabbi believed to have s’mikhah, the authority to make new interpretations of the Torah. Most of the teachers of the law could only teach accepted interpretations. Teachers with authority, however, could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments.

Educated as a Rabbi

The Mishnah describes the educational process for a young Jewish boy during Jesus time.

At five years old [one is fit] for the Scripture, at ten years the Mishnah [oral Torah interpretations], at thirteen for [the fulfilling of the commandments], at fifteen the Talmud [making rabbinic interpretations], at eighteen the bride chamber, at twenty pursuing a vocation, at thirty for authority [able to teach others].

This passage clearly describes the education of a n exceptional student, because few students became teachers. It also indicates the centrality of the Hebrew text in the education of Jews in Galilee. A comparison of this description to Jesus’ life shows that He closely followed the customs of his time and place.

Why Galilee?


Sea of galilee, near Capernaum

Sea of galilee, near Capernaum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After being tempted by Satan for forty days, Jesus returned to civilization and discovered that John the Baptist had been taken into custody. Upon hearing this, He withdrew into Galilee; leaving Nazareth He settle in Capernaum, which is by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

We know that Jesus came, not to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans but to the Jews. His message included healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons. When the Canaanite woman approached Him near Tyre and Sidon, He admonished her saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

When Jesus’ message was not received, He denounced the cities that he was in and described a horrible fate for them.

Knowing that the people in the land of Galilee were religious people and that Jesus’ message to them was repent, What do you think His message to us would be today?


The Call of Christ


By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2: 3-6

These verses out of 1 John clearly identify the need for discipleship. If you don’t agree with me on that, I’ll have more on that later. For now I want to answer the question “Why did Jesus choose His disciples and start His ministry in the region of Galilee? What was it that captured his attention above all other places in Israel?

Cities in Contrast

Some of the cities in the region of Galilee are Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Jezreel, Scythopolis and others. Let’s first take a look at Scythopolis in southern Galilee. Scythopolis was a city about 15 miles from Nazareth. It was a city of temples, stadiums, theaters, and university. It was a city of wide streets, sewers and running water. Yet Jesus didn’t choose any of His disciples from here.

A first century insula

In contrast, Jesus recruited His disciples from a small fishing village in northern Galilee called Bethsaida. This is the area that Jewish religious folks lived in the first century. People that were passionate about following God. Passionate about obedience. Passionate about the text of Scripture. Bethsaida in contrast had narrow dirt roads if any streets at all, no running water, no temples, no theaters and no university. The people lived in large family units called insulas, a Latin word for island. An insula could be compared to an apartment building today. Most of the lower and middle class people lived in insulas. It was from this village that Jesus chose five of His disciples: Peter, Andrew, John, James and Phillip.

The Building Blocks of Discipleship

  • Community

There were several building blocks for discipleship in Jesus day. The first was Community. The common people of that day relied on each other. Imagine, if you can, an extended family unit (brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, etc.) living in an insula. They ate together, worked together, played together and worshiped together. Their life with God was a community life! Coming from this type of background, it was only natural that the people wanting to be disciples would live with their rabbi in a community of disciples. But not every person living in the community was a disciple.

  • Scripture

The synagogue was a central part of the lives of the people living in Galilee in the first century. It was a community gathering place. A place to worship, a place to come and hear the rabbis teach. It was the place where the Torah (the books of the Law) and the Tanakh (the books of the prophets and the writings) were kept and taught. The Tanakh, as the Bible today, was considered the very words of God and was revered and loved on a par with God. The second building block of discipleship then is Scripture! In order to obey the law one must know the law. The better you know the law, the more likely you are to correctly apply and obey that law.

  • Beit Sefer

An important part of the synagogue was the school (beit sefer, literally, ‘house of knowledge’). This is where the children came to learn to read and write. Obviously, the text they used was the text of Scripture. So by the time that the children were 11 or twelve years old, they could recite large parts of the Torah. They had studies it, they knew how to interpret it and they knew how to apply it.

Upon finishing beit sefer, most children started working at the family business if they were boys and the girls would start learning to become a good wife and mother.

Some of the children (men typically), after finishing beit sefer, if they had the ability and the passion, would continue their scriptural education at beth midrash (literally ‘house of interpretation’). It was here that the Tanakh was learned. By the end of this part of their education, the student could recite large parts of the Tanakh. It was at this time that the really passionate could become what was called a talmid (tal MEED) or disciple. It is important to know the connotation of the word talmid. A talmid is a person who wants to be what the rabbi is! This person wants to be like the rabbi at any cost. He has an all consuming passion to be like the rabbi. He would give up everything to follow his rabbi.

The Cost of Discipleship

As a Christian, are you willing to be a talmid? Is your passion for Christ such that you are willing to give up everything to follow him? (Does this sound familiar?) I will bet that the required scriptural knowledge in most of us is severely lacking and thus preventing us from becoming a disciple.

After acquiring the building blocks of discipleship, the aspiring talmid searched for a rabbi that was willing to disciple the student. The talmid lived with the rabbi, studied under the rabbi, observed all that the rabbi did in order to become like him. Usually this required committing the entire scriptural text to memory, being able to correctly interpret and apply it. This required an unbelievable level of commitment and passion.

Most people, could not find a rabbi willing to accept them as talmid. Once you did find a rabbi willing to accept you, you could still be rejected because you did not possess the requisite level of passion.

Jesus, unlike other rabbis, chose ordinary people, fishermen, tax collectors, etc. to be His disciples. Many of the people that Jesus called were rejected by other rabbis. Many more were not willing to pay the price to become like Him. The price? Self denial, total devotion. This is what the rabbi asks of us. Have you come to know Jesus? (read 1 John 2:3-6). The only way that we can get to know Jesus is by His words. Where are His words? The Bible!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses ; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time ; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. – The Gospel of John

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