About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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Following Jesus
 Means More Than Following Jesus

"Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at a tax collector's booth.  'Follow me', Jesus said ". (Matthew 9:9)  Matthew was an Israeli who worked for the Roman Empire as a tax collector.  To hold this position he would have been well educated in finance and Roman tax laws.  The common practice among Roman tax collectors back then was to extort those from whom they collected taxes.  Matthew would have sat at his booth along the road going in and out of Capernaum and collected goods and produce taxes from those passing by.  Along with the tax, he would have demanded extra payment that he would pocket for himself.  Those who refused to pay the extra funds would be turned over to the authorities as tax evaders. 


Matthew would have extorted anyone passing by, including his fellow Israelis.  Men like Peter, James, and John, probably paid Matthew excise taxes as they transported fish back into town.  Peter and other Jews would have hated Matthew, not just because he extorted them, but because they viewed him as a traitor who worked for an anti-Semitic Roman regime.    


Another guy Jesus asked to follow Him was Simon the Zealot. (Acts 1:3)  No, this wasn't Simon Peter the fisherman.  This Simon was a Zealot.  Zealots were Israeli revolutionary nationalists, who from time to time would take up arms to fight Rome and traitors like Matthew in an attempt to gain Israeli independence.   


Think this through with me.  Jesus called twelve men to join Him in ministry.  Consider just four of these men.  There was Matthew, a Jewish traitor and extortionist.  There was Simon, an armed revolutionary nationalist.  There was Judas, a thief; and of course, there was Peter, a no nonsense fishing industrialist. 


Little is said about how these guys interacted with each other, although we do know they had their share of arguments.  Luke 22:24 records one argument, but I'm sure there were many more.  I can't imagine how many times Jesus would have stepped in to calm things down.  Attempting to keep unity and peace among these guys must have tested Jesus' patience to the limits. 


Let your imagination wander a bit.  Do you really think that Simon the revolutionary nationalist would be buddies with Matthew the Roman sympathizer extortionist?  Without a doubt, Simon would have been tempted to pull out his sword and slice Matthew's head off at the slightest of a whim. These two guys would have been at each others throats, and here they were being asked to work together as teammates. 


Think of Peter, a hardnosed businessman in an important and lucrative sector of the Galilean economy.  Do you really think that Peter would naturally associate with Judas, a known, lowdown, slacker of a thief?  Jesus might well have broken up a few fist fights between these two guys.   


Don't you think that Matthew, the financier and extortionist, would be a bit envious of Judas being the treasurer of the group?  The mere thought of Jesus letting Judas carry the money bag must have driven Peter nuts.  I can picture Matthew, Peter, and Judas, having it out with each other on a daily basis.  Did Jesus let them take the odd blow, or did He step in at the risk of being knocked around Himself?  Remember, Jesus called these guys from the streets of Galilee.  They weren't sanctified, Holy Spirit led, believers.


Imagine God as being the general manager of a baseball team and Jesus being the bench coach.  As in baseball, General Manager God chose the players for Jesus to coach. (John 17:6)  General managers would jump at the chance to trade players with God.  He'd trade His skilled players for players other managers didn't want.  Coaches would scratch their heads in bewilderment when they viewed the lack of chemistry on Team Jesus.  Chemistry eludes the best of teams, including Team Jesus, as seen back then and today as well. 


Jesus understood the nature of human relationships.  He knew what He was getting Himself into when He called these guys to join Him in ministry.  For this reason He prayed that His followers, including you and I, would dwell together in unity. (John 17:11 and 20)  I'm sure Jesus' prayers are more effective than mine, but I'm still waiting for the miraculous answer to this prayer.    


There's a New Testament truth at play here.  When Jesus calls us to join Him, in all practicalities He's calling us to be joined to others on His team.  Herein lays the problem with chemistry.  We have no problem with Jesus.  It's just our teammates that we're not always fond of.  Whatever the case, the Apostle Paul pointed out the Biblical truth.  "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -  whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free". (1 Corinthians 12:13)  In other words, we're all immersed and fitted together into one body -  whether extortionist, traitor, thief, industrialist, Pentecostal, Baptist, black, white, rich, poor, hip, old fashion, Canadian, German, American, or, whoever and whatever.  The simple fact is that when we join up with Jesus we join up with others.  To the degree in which we can serve Jesus together in Biblical based harmony is the degree to which we are effective in ministry.  Matthew was stuck with Simon.  Peter was stuck with Judas until he jumped ship, and sorry to say, "You're stuck with me".  So, following Jesus means more than simply following Jesus. 



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