Yesterday was a snow day, and I escaped to my bedroom for some time to study for my next book. I came across some really great stuff that will help me develop my characters, and also develop some of the internal conflicts I know I want to address. One document in particular blew my mind. It was about the path a Jewish boy takes in education, that begins when he is six or seven, and culminates in a discipleship. I was very intrigued!
Did you know that there were several phases to a Jewish boy’s education? The first step was called the bet sefer, which compares to our elementary education phase. It lasts until the student is twelve or thirteen and centers primarily on memorization and understanding of several key parts of scripture. Namely, the Torah, Shema, Halell, Creation and Levitical Law. These selections were Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Psalms 113-118 ( I bet they breathed a sigh of relief, seeing it stopped before 119!), Genesis 1-5, and Leviticus 1-8. After spending many years focusing on these key parts of scripture, they graduated into Beth Midrash – secondary school. In this part of their education, students learned to apply and debate the scriptures. The most promising of students then went on to Talmidim. That is, they selected a teacher who’s understanding and scriptural application they agreed with, and asked to become his disciple. The teacher would carefully examine the educational and spiritual history of the student before either accepting him as a Talmud or rejecting him. A rabbi could also choose a student based on his credentials, but this was rare.
Jesus blows my mind! He solicited the discipleship of 12 men who would have had this educational background and might possibly have not been selected by another teacher. He invited them to “come, follow me.” He was saying, in effect, “I see great potential in you! Come be my disciple!”
The disciple was not just an enthusiastic member of a band of traveling misfits. It was expected that when a young man took on discipleship, he would abandon himself to the life of his teacher. My favorite explanation was this: “To become a disciple, it was expected that a Talmud would, with a passion and zeal, give up any and all of their preconceived notions on how to live and embrace their rabbi’s way as the best way to honor God.” **
The disciple would purposefully abandon his own understanding, his own thoughts, and agree that his teacher’s understanding was best. They would intentionally abandon their right to autonomy and agree to the submission and subordinance of their rabbi. That’s an extreme dedication!
With all of this new revelation, I began to wonder about the modern church and what kind of disciples we are. Is the Word we are following and preaching full of our own understanding, or is it the wisdom and knowledge revealed by the Spirit. Not any spirit, for we are told to test the spirits to see if they are from God. Are we following the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, or have we received a false gospel and called it good because it doesn’t challenge us to live a life worthy of the call we have received? Are we striving toward holiness? Our great teacher, Jesus, said, “Be holy, as I am holy.” Are we dedicated to His way of life? Are we loving? Are we full of truth? Are we the light of the world? Are we shamelessly pursuing God in a world that has all but rejected him? Are we dedicated to prayer? How do we respond to brokenness? Are we quoting His words, choosing them over our own? Do we even know His words?
Jesus did not come to rewrite the Gospel, he came to uphold and fulfill it. Are we like him in this respect? Do we acknowledge the law as good? Do we confront sin, and encourage holiness? Obviously, I’ve been very concerned lately about the perversion of grace. Jesus created grace, but he did not spit on the law in the process. He did not encourage believers to give in to their sinful nature because of their seeming inability to abstain. He preached, “Go and sin no more.” Do we believe our Rabbi, and have we abandoned our popular sermons for His truth?
I see a dangerous precedent being set in the church, and it is grievous. To accept the sinful nature is to deny the power of God within us. Jesus, being fully man, lived out a life of holiness because of the Spirit in him. This same spirit we have today! Will we never stumble? No, we might still. But this is different than embracing the darkness within. The Word tells us that light expels darkness! With Jesus in us, the darkness will flee. We will embrace either one or the other. Our Teacher was a force to be reckoned with. Are we?
A few treasures I take away from this: the disciple was first a student of the Word. He meditated on it day and night, and much of it by heart. He also spent hours expounding on it, and listening to the contributions of others. He did not accept everything he heard, but he did not hold so tightly to his own understanding that his mind could not be changed. After achieving Talmidim, his thoughts, words and actions were no longer his own. He was led by his teacher in all things. His ultimate goal was to become just like his teacher. He was in a constant state of inquiry. “What does this mean to you, and therefore, to me?”
I wonder, dear friend, are we really disciples? Are we allowing Jesus to make his thoughts our own? Are we searching him out through his Word, that is alive and active, or are we learning about him through secondary means? Do we have fellowship with His Spirit, and are we walking closely with Him daily? Have we accepted his superior Lordship and acquiesced to His will in all things? Are we really disciples?