From Galilee to Jerusalem
Brothers—you sons of Abraham, and also you God-fearing Gentiles—this message of salvation has been sent to us! The people in Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the one the prophets had spoken about. Instead, they condemned him, and in doing this they fulfilled the prophets’ words that are read every Sabbath. They found no legal reason to execute him, but they asked Pilate to have him killed anyway. “When they had done all that the prophecies said about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead! And over a period of many days, he appeared to those who had gone with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to the people of Israel. Acts 13:26-31 NLT (emphasis mine)
This passage near the end of one of Paul’s Sabbath synagogue lessons contains a subtle message which is easily overlooked given his evangelistic thrust at the moment. Paul was in Antioch Pisidia at the time. His customary pattern was to attend the synagogue service and attempt to reach the Jews with the gospel of the Kingdom. However, as he neared the end of what we have recorded for this occasion, he shared a timeless truth that could easily slip by any of us without much afterthought. In accentuating the point that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, Paul affirms that Jesus did in fact show himself to the disciples. Jesus had allowed himself to be seen by those “who had gone with him from Galilee to Jerusalem.” Furthermore, these very persons than became his witnesses.
The KJV of the Bible says that Jesus was “seen” by those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Greek for this word gives the sense that Jesus allowed himself to be seen by these men. I believe there is a much deeper meaning and message here than simply noting that the disciples had visual contact with Jesus after his resurrection. There was a condition in play here that enabled these disciples to have this experience with the Lord. The Word says that they were the very ones who had gone with him, accompanied him, followed him, from Galilee to Jerusalem. These were the ones who having heard the call got up, left everything, and followed Christ all the way to Jerusalem embracing all that entailed. I just want to emphasize that it was disciples who had this experience, a post-resurrection manifestation, with Jesus.
We need to be careful here in how we discern and understand the biblical concept of disciple. The trend down through the centuries has always been to differentiate “classes” of Christians. For example, most church goers consider themselves part of the great base of Christians who fundamentally live decent lives, have a take it or leave it attendance record, but don’t have a strong personal devotional life in Christ. Beyond this base would be a smaller segment of the church comprised of persons whose relationship with God includes serious prayer and Bible reading and who avidly attend all the meetings. And then there is the cream of the crop, a class of believers who are totally sold out to Christ and incorporate their relationship with him in every aspect of their lives. Others would define this last class as “super” Christians and allow that only the especially called and “anointed” were capable of this kind of devotion to Christ.
The idea or practice of a super-class of believers can be traced to the 3rd century with its origin in the Monastic movement. In this beginning, a minority of Christians self-sequestered in different ways in an effort to pursue the depths of spirituality they felt could not be found in the institutional church. This movement was basically their attempt to counter the growing secularization of the church, a condition which started shortly after Emperor Constantine outlawed persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Although Monasticism progressed through various phases and nuances of spiritual expression, those involved were always considered the epitome of the Christian life. Thus, we are endowed today with a distorted and unbiblical spiritual stratification within the church. We look to the spiritually elite satisfying ourselves that the church is healthy and well-headed while simultaneously excusing our lukewarm devotion to Christ.
The truth is, there is no such thing as a tiered spirituality or classification of believers within the faith. The fact that this has been promulgated, allowed and accepted is evidence of a lack of biblical discipline and teaching within the church and has served to besmirch its standing in the public’s eye as well as devastating its witness of Christ. To be a believer in Jesus Christ means, by all biblical definitions, to be a follower of him, to be his disciple. Consider the response of fishermen by the Lake of Gennesaret:
…they left everything and followed Jesus. (Lk 5:11NLT)
Or consider the response of a hated tax collector:
Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. (Lk 5:27,28)
There is only one righteous response anyone can make when Jesus issues the call, forsake all and follow as his disciple. Citing Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his venerable book, The Cost of Discipleship…
The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.
Considering the single tier reality of Christianity and commenting on Martin Luther’s decision to leave the Monastic order, Bonhoeffer said this:
He showed him through the Scriptures that the following of Christ is not the achievement or merit of a select few, but the divine command to all Christians without distinction. When he spoke of grace, Luther always implied as a corollary that it cost him his own life, the life which was now for the first time subjected to the absolute obedience of Christ.
The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.
From the time of Jesus’ birth, his destiny by the will of the Father was set; he was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Although Jesus traveled throughout Judea, Samaria and Galilee during the course of his ministry, his direction and purpose was always a hill outside the gates of the city called Golgotha, where he bore his cross dying thereon for our eternal salvation. In a very real sense, from the time of his incarnation, Jesus was on a course for Jerusalem. Those who accompanied Jesus, those to whom he appeared after his resurrection, were the very ones who answered the call:
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (Lk 9:232 NKJV)
Answering the call of Jesus is tantamount to taking up his pilgrimage. It means accompanying Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. This pilgrimage is a spiritual journey wherein disciples experience the reality of the cross as a matter of everyday life. It is a journey wherein one dies to everything of self and the world. Life is no longer about ordering our own lives but rather about surrendering everything to Jesus trusting him to steer our lives through whatever experiences will lead us into the full stature of his life. It means facing and responding to all trials and tribulations in a manner that results in less of us and more of Christ in us. Accompanying Jesus to Jerusalem brings this passage from one of his sermons to mind:
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. (LK 6:40 NKJV)
Matthew Henry, the renown 18th century minister and author, in his popular commentary reflected thusly on this verse:
Christ’s followers cannot expect better treatment in the world than their Master had. Let them not promise themselves more honour or pleasure in the world than Christ had, nor aim at the worldly pomp and grandeur which he was never ambitious of, but always declined, nor affect that power in secular things which he would not assume; but every one that would show himself perfect, an established disciple, let him be as his Master—dead to the world, and every thing in it, as his Master is; let him live a life of labour and self-denial as his Master doth, and make himself a servant of all; let him stoop, and let him toil, and do all the good he can, and then he will be a complete disciple.
When Jesus showed himself to those who accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem, he established them as authentic witnesses, those who could with authority declare to others what they had seen and heard. They were equipped to proclaim the resurrection life of Christ. After the disciples began to teach and preach, they were arraigned before the Jewish authorities. When these religious leaders “… saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
When the church separates biblical discipleship from the call of Christ, it basically denudes the gospel of its power to covert and conform others to the fullness of this new life in Christ. Jesus is still appearing to those, who like him, have faces set as flint toward Jerusalem.
And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, strengthen, confirm, and ground you. (1 Pe 5:10 LSB)