Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: An Unlikely Disciple

RVL shows the group a stone sheepfold. Shepherds would sleep in the opening so the sheep would have climb over him to leave and wolves would have to go through him to attack the sheep.

Jesus said,

(John 10:7-10)  Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

RVL then shows the group an ancient stable, with manure on the ground and a stone manger.  It was small and cramped and smelly. This, he says is the sort of stable Jesus was born in. No hay on the ground. It was as humble a beginning as one could imagine.

Paul had to leave Iconium because people from Antioch Pisidia stirred up trouble. Think of Paul as a rabbi out making disciples as Jesus did — with Paul becoming more and more like Jesus as he traveled on his missionary journeys.

RVL has the group walk through the rural countryside, along the path Paul would have taken from Iconium. He tells an ancient myth about Zeus and Hermes.

The two gods entered a city in this part of the world, disguised as poor travelers. The villagers refused to offer them any hospitality — all but an old man and woman, who invited them in and served them a meal of the last food in their house.

The gods then destroyed the village — all but the old couple. They asked the couple what blessing they wanted, and they said only that they should die together.

The gods gave them a long life, and then rather than letting them die, changed them into two linden trees — native to the area.

The group finally get to Lystra, a Roman military colony, populated by Lyconians, a 150-mile walk from Antioch — where Paul traveled to after leaving Iconium.

Paul entered the city and healed a lame man. The people declared that they must be Zeus and Hermes! The gods have come down in human form once again! The priest of Zeus wanted to make sacrifices to them!

The missionaries were distraught, declaring they were mere men, but men prepared to teach the crowd about Jesus. But some Jews were there from Antioch Pisidia, and they persuaded the crowd to stone Paul. They were likely taken to the edge of a cliff, bound and gagged. They would have been given a chance to confess, and then the accusers would have pushed Paul over the cliff, and each person would then have thrown a stone to kill him.

They dragged him out of town, thinking him dead. Paul then gets up and goes back into the city to preach!

(Acts 14:20)  But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

Now, that’s some serious courage!

There was a young Jewish woman there who had a son by a Greek man. When he was born, she would have taken him to the rabbi to be blessed, and he’d have done so. But because he was 1/2 Greek, the rabbi would not have circumcised him. The baby was born of a forbidden marriage and so couldn’t be considered Jewish — he was a mamzer and couldn’t go to synagogue, couldn’t marry a Jewess, and would have been excluded from Jewish life. He was an outsider, despite his faith.

When Paul preached that the Gentiles were welcomed into the Kingdom and didn’t have to become Jews, he would have celebrated!

This boy was Timothy, and Paul called him to follow him and become a disciple. He would no longer be a mamzer. Rather, he’d help tear down the wall between Jews and Greeks.

Timothy would later become the leading minister (rabbi) in Ephesus, one of the Empire’s largest cities and churches.

We’re all Timothies. We’re all outsiders because we’re all sinners.

Therefore, we should look for mamzers. Look for the outsider, the people who don’t fit in and who are rejected. Jesus loves them especially.

QUESTIONS:

Who are the mamzers in today’s society? Who do many churches consider “unclean”?

[homosexuals, illegal aliens … ]

What about in other countries?

[In some countries, orphans are mamzer, as they nation is so embarrassed to admit the problem the nation is unwilling to deal with it, leaving orphans to scavenge for food in garbage piles or prostitute themselves]

How does the church break down the wall of separation? How are they to be admitted into God’s kingdom? How does the church reach out to mamzers?

What is the lesson we should gather from the circumstances of Jesus’ birth?

[Not to judge by birth. That God humbled himself as far as possible — so we should do the same.]

What is the lesson we learn from Jesus being the “gate” to the sheepfold?

[That he divides the saved from the lost. That he protects us from death. That he was willing to die for our safety.]

What does Jesus mean by saying that he is the “Good Shepherd”?

(John 10:14-18)  “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Read Eze 34 in full. If Jesus’ listeners recognized Jesus’ allusion to this passage, what would they think Jesus is saying about them?

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