They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Up on a Mountain to Pray – Mt. Arbel

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place where he prayed” – Mark 1:35

Mt. Arbel, Galilee, Israel – This high mountain, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, affords one of the most breathtaking views of the area that Jesus spent most of his public ministry in. Josephus tells us that there were over 200 towns and villages around the lake called the Sea of Galilee during Jesus’ day. Almost all the people living there earned their living by farming or fishing. From the top of Mt. Arbel, you have a panoramic view of the whole area where Jesus walked and lived. You can see Capernaum, Bethsaida (where the Jordan River empties into the lake), the Mt. of Beatitudes, Korazin, and the Decapolis (home of the demoniac). A lot of Jewish history is also in this mountain. Herod the Great came here and killed hundreds of Galilean Zealots that were hiding in the steep cliffs on Mt. Arbel to crush their rebellion against his authority. The mountain is a landmark in the area and can be seen from almost anywhere for miles in any direction.

Our group of disciples came to this mountain and climbed it to learn about all the geographical places and to also learn another fascinating lesson abut the relationship between a rabbi and his talmidim (disciples). At the base of the mountain is the small fishing village of Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene. We left early in the morning, at daybreak from Magdala, and made the arduous ascent through the cliffs, to the summit. It was very tough physically and at one point we had to climb vertically and cling to metal pegs that were driven into the cliffs. Once on top however, the view was breathtaking. We could imagine Jesus and his disciples as they moved from village to village around the lake. While we were on top, we heard the following story about the relationship that a Jewish Rabbi had with his talmidim:

Rabbis were passionately committed to the young men that they had chosen as their disciples. They felt totally responsible for their physical and spiritual growth and well being. It was a common practice for a rabbi to get up early in the morning, well before light and make a very strenuous climb to a place where they could overlook where their disciples were sleeping. The harder the climb for the rabbi, the more it emphasized his commitment to his flock. After reaching his observation point, the rabbi would look below and begin to earnestly pray to God on behalf of his disciples. He would pray large portions of the text out loud and ask God to make those scriptures come alive in the hearts of those young men under his tutelage. It was a very gratifying experience for the teacher as he pleaded to God on behalf of his unsuspecting students below.

After just making this tough climb ourselves, we could feel the commitment and the sacrifice that the rabbi had for his talmidim. He was willing to do the hard work it took to make sure that they became just like him and were instructed correctly. We then read the Mark Passage and saw that our Rabbi Jesus also got up early in the morning and went out to pray for his disciples.

Who are your disciples? According to Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus instructed us to go and make disciples and to teach them to do everything that He had taught us. Are you earnestly praying for them and their walk with Jesus? If we are to become like Jesus, we will have to have disciples and we will have to commit to praying for them. It will take a high level of commitment on our part. Mt. Arbel burned in my spirit the need to be a man that lives and prays the text and that is actively pursuing someone to train to walk in the footsteps of our Rabbi, Jesus.

Behold the Man


'Ecce Homo' - Antonio Ciseri

'Ecce Homo' - Antonio Ciseri

When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
John 19:5

This well recognized and famous painting of Jesus with Pontius Pilate was done by Italian artist Antonio Ciseri in the mid 1800’s. The title of the painting is, “Ecce Homo” in Latin, which means, “Behold the Man”. Those were the words of Pontius Pilate as he spoke to the crowd in John 19:5,  immediately before he sent Jesus to be crucified. With this wonderful painting and it’s title as a backdrop, here are some thoughts that may shed some light on the age old question of, “Who are we and what are we doing here?

Jesus’ disciples and followers came to know Jesus the man; first as their Rabbi, Master, and Teacher and following His death and resurrection, as their Savior. They walked and studied the man day and night for over three years. They knew him intimately and absorbed His teachings and character into their own personalities. They did not understand that He was eventually going to die for them and be resurrected as their Savior. Their gift of salvation came at the end of their journey.  For every believer since the resurrection, that process has been reversed. Now, we first encounter Him by faith and take Him as our resurrected Savior and only later, if at all, do we come to know him as a man and our Rabbi, Master, and Teacher. Because of this reversal it is easy for the death and resurrection to overshadow our need to  learn from and about our Rabbi, Jesus. It requires only a simple faith to receive His salvation, but to know him as Rabbi and Teacher takes work. Salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9), but discipleship is a walk (1 John 2;4-6). But, shouldn’t His rabbinical teaching ministry be as important to us as his death and resurrection? We cannot ignore or minimize either His death or His life. The Bible requires of us not only to have faith in Jesus, but also the faith (or faithfulness) of Jesus. We can’t just accept him as Savior, we must also learn to walk as Jesus walked.

Pilate said to the crowd, “Behold the Man”. What about the man, Jesus? What about His thirty three years on earth and the three and a half years of His public ministry before His death and resurrection? Shouldn’t we take the teachings of His life and the scriptures that He studied as seriously as we count on His redeeming death and resurrection? Dwight Pryor says concerning Jesus, “His mission as the ‘Son of Man’ was to be lifted up on a cross for the world. His mission as a ‘Man’ was to raise up many disciples”. We are supposed to become His disciples, His students. We all know the Great Commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20, that we are to go and make disciples. But, the burning question is, “How can we make our own disciples if we have never been a student, ourselves?”

It is safe to say that Jesus wants to be our rabbi and mentor just as badly as He wants to be our Messiah and Savior. How do we “Behold the Man”? There is no way around the hard work and discipline of becoming a disciple. To get to know Him, we have to spend time in His Word. To study God’s Word is the highest form of worship. We learn the truth about the man, Jesus by studying his very words to us. John 8:31 says, “To those Jews who had believed in Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to (continue in) my teachings, your really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’” It is our personal and corporate responsibility to know that truth, the truth that will set us free. Our churches are full each week of people who have taken Christ as their savior and have put their faith in Him as their resurrected Lord. But, they don’t know much about the man, Jesus and what He taught and how He lived. How can they imitate Him if they don’t know what He did and said? People must be challenged and exhorted to do the hard work of discipleship, to “Behold the Man!” Only then will they know the truth and have purpose and know who they are and what they are doing here!

Jesus-A Jewish Rabbi: Part 2

Jesus was often called rabbi by His peers in the stories of the New Testament. In fact, the Gospels record that Jesus was called, ”Rabbi” on sixteen different occasions. What was a rabbi and how did you become one? In our first segment we began our discussion of the Jewish educational system. We learned that the heart of that system were the principles taught at home by the family and especially the father. The father was responsible to teach his son Torah and to teach him a craft as well as almost everything else in life. When the child became old enough to attend a formal school setting, he went to the school that was attached to the local synagogue. There were four levels of school available to the children of the Galilee in Jesus’ day. Let’s take a look at these.

  1. Bet Sepher – literally means “The House of the Book” (Torah). This was for boys and girls both and was from age 5-10. Children would be trained by the local Torah teacher. The class always began with the Book of Leviticus and the students began to memorize the Torah and incorporate math and other subjects all centered around “The Book”. Other passages of Scripture that were studied were the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21) and the creation story in Genesis 1-5. By the age of 10, most students had all or huge parts of the first five books of the Bible committed to memory. Remember that they had no text books. Usually there was only one copy of each book of the Bible available in the synagogue. Memorization was done by orally repeating the word over and over, with the teacher leading the recitation. Girls only completed this level of learning. From this age on, they would be training to be a housewife and would be married shortly after. A wonderful tradition that was practiced a little bit later in Jewish history graphically shows the importance the parents placed on this first stage of learning. On the first day of school, when the student went to meet his new teacher and classmates, the parents would wrap their child in a prayer shawl like a scroll.
  2. Bet Talmud – literally means, “House of Learning”. If a young man had done well on his memorization of the Torah in Bet Sepher, he would be able to move on to this level. He would expand his Torah study and begin to study the other Old Testament Books. Also, they began studying the Oral Law (Mishnah) at this age. It is interesting to note that before 70 A.D. in Jerusalem alone, their were 480 synagogues that had both the Bet Sepher and Bet Talmud schools. This was usually the last level that most young men would complete. By the age of fourteen or fifteen, they would begin to learn a trade from their father. Most of Jesus’ disciples had finished this level and were now learning a trade (e.g. in Matthew 4:18-22, James and John were learning the fishing trade from their father, Zebedee. Peter and Andrew were also fishing in the same passage.) Only the best and brightest would be able to move on to the next level of learning.
  3. Bet Midrash – literally means “House of Study”. At approximately age fifteen, if you had demonstrated great ability in your previous studies, you could now begin to study under some of the great teachers of the law. Theses academies were conducted by the greatest teachers of the time such as Hillel, Shammai, Akeba, and Gamaliel. After completing this very advanced level, you could ask to be a student of and travel with one of these great teachers.
  4. Talmidim – literally means “disciple”. If you were accepted as a disciple of one of these rabbis, you were called one of his “Talmidim”. From this point on, you would travel with your wise teacher, desperately trying to become just like him. The idea was not to just know what your teacher knew, but to be what your teacher was. You would leave home and be gone for 30 days at a time. Talmidim that were married had to have written permission from their wives to travel for this length of time. While you were traveling out in the real world, you watched and imitated your rabbi and learned how to react in every situation. This training period usually lasted for fifteen years, after which you would then become a rabbi yourself and have your own Talmidim. During your apprenticeship, you were required to have a trade and weren’t allowed to be paid for any religious teaching. All the great rabbis were also woodcutters (Hillel), surveyors (Shammai), blacksmiths, etc. or leather workers, such as Paul (Acts 18:3).

When you think about the story of Jesus in the Gospels, his training probably fit into this pattern. Although the Bible doesn’t give us any specifics of his early life, it certainly gives us some hints. In Luke 2:40 it says that as Jesus grew up He was filled with wisdom. Also, in Luke 2:41-52, it tell the story of Jesus going as a young man to the Temple during the Passover Festival. Jesus went into the temple courts and sat among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone was amazed at His understanding and His questions and answers. Verse 52 says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.” In His human form, He was obviously one of the best and brightest. Also, He first appeared in His public ministry at age 30, which would suggest that he had completed His training as a talmidim and was now ready to make his own disciples. We also know that he was a “tekton” by trade (a craftsman who builds – NIV translates as “carpenter”).

From this educational training came the rabbinical system that Jesus was identified with. He was called rabbi in part because He had completed the training and was recognized as one of the very best in His knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In our next lesson, we will look at the different levels or hierarchy of rabbis and the authority they carried in the community.

Jesus-A Jewish Rabbi: Part One

Jesus & the Disciples

Jesus & the Disciples

In the Gospels we see Jesus called “Rabbi” by six different groups of people; His disciples, a lawyer, a rich man, a Pharisee, a Sadducee and “the crowd”. What was a rabbi and how did you become one? What was the educational system like and the lifestyle that would produce these great Jewish teachers? First of all, the word “Rabbi” means, “My Master” or literally “My Great One”. It came from the word “RAV” that means great or honored one and was used by slaves to their master or servant to his lord. The word “Ravi” means “my” master or “my” boss. To discover how someone would become a Rabbi in Jesus day we need to look at the lifestyle and educational system that would have produced them. What was the educational system like in the first century in the Galilee?

The heart of all Jewish education was the home. The home was the center of learning. Education took place in the home. Any other education was just an extension of the principles taught at home. Although both parents shared in this task, the father bore the chief responsibility for the instruction of the children. The father was the main instrument in the learning process. The Talmud states, “The father is bound in respect of his son to circumcise….teach him Torah, take a wife for him, and teach him a craft” (Kiddushin 29a). This is such an important point! The heart of Jewish education was a child seeing his family, especially the father, in action in life situations. Abraham Heschel, a well known Jewish writer, gave this famous quote, “What we need more than anything else is not text books, but text people. It is the personality of the teacher which is the text that the pupils read; the text they will never forget”. The foundation for Jesus’ education would have definitely been his father, Joseph’s example – in addition to his heavenly Father.

At this point in the study, it is helpful to make some comparisons between Western (Greek) and Eastern (Hebrew) thinking in education. The object and aim of the Hebrew system was, “the knowledge of God”. The object and aim of the Greek system was, ”know thyself”. These two aims are poles apart. The Hebrew system started with God; ”The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, or knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10). Man can never know himself, unless he first learns of God and is submissive to His will. The Greek system, on the other hand, starts from the knowledge of man as he seeks to understand God through man’s higher nature. To the Jew, the ideal of holiness and separation was the key to knowing God. All education was directed to this end; be holy, be different, be set apart from the other heathen nations. In contrast, the Greek world did not understand education to be tied to a holiness of life. Teaching involved the transfer of knowledge in intellectual areas such as art, music, or athletics. The Greek teacher aimed at developing the talent and potentials of his student. In Greek society only the wealthy and leisure classes were educated. Our English words school and scholar come from the Greek word, ”Scholazo”, which means to have leisure, or to have spare time, or to have nothing to do. Conversely, Jewish education was for all people and concerned the whole person.

In summary, the Greeks learned in order to comprehend, the Hebrews learned in order to revere. To a Jew, wisdom was what you did, not what you knew. It was action and behavior, not the nine points of theology. Jesus took his disciples out into life to teach them how to act. He demonstrated personally, and as they acted and reacted he taught them the truth. It was not “to know”, but ,”to experience”. In our next segment, we will look at the actual Jewish educational system during the time of Jesus and see how that shaped His style of teaching and made Him a rabbi in the eyes of His constituents.

When the Rabbi says, “Come” and When the Rabbi says, ”Go”

”Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” – Matthew 4:19-20
”Go make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19-20
“You will be my witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” – Acts 1:8

Paul in Ephesus

Paul in Ephesus; Acts 19

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus called twelve disciples to follow and learn from Him. He spent three years teaching them to be just like Him. They followed him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and watched him do everything; from simple, mundane things, to healing sick people and even raising the dead.

When the end of this three year training period had ended and Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, His call to His disciples changed. He had finished teaching them to be like Him and now they were ready to go out on their own to spread the gospel that they had witnessed for those three years. And, they went! These eleven former trainees went literally to the ends of the earth to spread the good news about their rabbi. Jesus didn’t spread the gospel; he had his disciples do it! They went to far away, pagan cities such as Ephesus, Pergamum, Collosae, Corinth, Athens, and Rome to carry on the training that they had received from their rabbi.

One striking example, that I had never noticed before, that shows how Jesus’ followers tried to be just like their rabbi is found in the book of Acts in the 19th and 20th chapters. The story is of Paul, in the city of Ephesus, and says in verse 19:7 that Paul had about twelve disciples, and in 20:31 that he taught those disciples for about three years! That is following the outline pretty closely!

We don’t often think about why we have Christianity in America in the twenty-first century. It is because of the discipleship training model of Jesus and his disciples’ determination to follow their rabbi’s instructions down to the last jot and tittle. Those eleven men (and women) followers changed the world forever because of their training and their commitment to their rabbi and His message. We are being challenged by Jesus in the same way today. He asks us to follow Him and to go and make disciples. Are you up to the challenge?

All of Life is Sacred

Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof talking to God about his lame horse

Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof talking to God about his lame horse

Note: This is a wonderful and revealing rabbinical story, describing how the Jewish people look at life as it relates to God.

Your Last Hour

There was a rabbi who had three students. One day he posed them a question: “If you had just one hour remaining in your lifetime, what would you do in that one hour?” The first one read and studied, then answered the question: “I would spend that hour studying the Torah.” The second student closed his eyes, then answered the question,” I would spend that hour in the ecstasy of prayer.” The third one looked at the rabbi, then answered the question: “ I would spend that hour loving and being with my family.” The rabbi looked at his students, stroked his beard, and smiled; “Each of you has given a deep and holy answer.” But the students turned to the rabbi and asked him his question back.”What would you do in your last hour?” “Me? I would spend that hour doing what I’d been doing already, for all of life is sacred.”

This little story wonderfully illustrates the differences between an Eastern and Western mindset and the importance that religious activities play in our thinking and how we view it’s role in our daily lives. To the Hebrew mind there was no distinction between the sacred and secular areas of life. They saw all of life as belonging to God and all of it under his domain. All the circumstances of life came not by chance, but were controlled by the hand of a God that was intimately involved in their lives.

Prayer was the means by which the Jewish people stayed in tune with the concept that all of life was sacred. They uttered short sentence type prayers throughout the day, talking to God about every aspect of life. They had over 100 blessings that they could recite for every circumstance to thank God for everything from providing food to being able to go to the bathroom. They found the divine in the commonplace events of life, such as seeing a rainbow or hearing thunder. When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”, this was what he was talking about.

This concept is hard for the Westerner to grasp. We have separated our religious life from our secular life. We are “in church” on Sunday morning and then go about our secular lives the rest of the week. If we talk about God during the week, we usually have a study or meeting to do it in. We have distinguished between clergy and lay people and the clergy are the only ones to think about religious things on a full time basis. We have sacred institutions and secular institutions and we spend time in both of them. Our prayers and thoughts towards God tend to be more compartmentalized to a prayer time or Bible study.

In the days ahead, try being more spontaneous in your thoughts toward God. Thank him for every event in life, good or bad, with a simple sentence prayer. See if it doesn’t make you more in tune with his daily provision for your life. Follow Paul’s advice in Colossians 3:17 when he said, “And whatever you are doing, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”