Mar 4

Rev Gav

What barriers prevent us from coming to Jesus?

Rev Gav connects two gospel stories that are all about removing the barriers between us and God.

This week was challenging for me, both on a personal level, and theologically too. It was one of those weeks where, despite there being a great deal of angst and stress, there was a sense of God’s Spirit speaking to me and stirring my heart. Two Bible passages struck a chord with me and both left me asking the question, ‘Why?’ The first Bible reading was the calling of the disciples Peter and Andrew — two fishermen who dropped everything to follow Jesus. Why did they do that? And the second was Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, making a whip and driving the money changers and sellers out of the temple. Again, why? At first glance, these two Bible readings appear to be disconnected, but they both point to a deeper connected truth, and one I hope to explain. By the way, if you want to go and read them, they are found in Matthew 4:18-22 and John 2:13-22.

Jesus was a rabbi — the top of the ladder in terms of itinerant preachers and teachers. To become a rabbi you had to excel as an apprentice to your own rabbi, and in first century Palestine, you would jump at the chance to be the apprentice of a rabbi for there was no greater honour. It took years of study and learning to even stand a chance of being chosen, and then you would have to undergo the most rigorous selection process imaginable. Finally, once you had been chosen to be an apprentice, you understudied  your rabbi for years, hoping that one day, you too would make the grade and become a rabbi, therefore  you can see why two fishermen who had not previously ‘made the grade’ would unhesitatingly leave their nets behind. It would be the equivalent of Bill Gates walking into a downtown High School and asking a sixteen year old if they wanted to be his apprentice and have an all-expenses paid, full scholarship to his own private business school. Put it this way, you wouldn’t go home and think about it!

But Jesus didn’t stop there and he was no ordinary rabbi. He called everyone and anyone to ‘follow him’ and to become his apprentice or disciple. All barriers to becoming a rabbi’s disciple had been dropped and the entry-requirements were no longer required. Jesus proclaimed a new way of being a rabbi’s disciple and called anyone who would listen to join this way — “whoever has ears let them hear”. And it is no wonder that those who didn’t make the grade were the first to respond to this message, those who were marginalised, poor, and struggling. What a blessing and honour to be invited to follow rabbi Jesus and adopt a new way of life found in him. The message of this rabbi was that, “the kingdom of heaven has come,” and it had come in and through Him.

And so what of the second Bible reading, the one where Jesus, entering the temple in Jerusalem, drives out the animals and their traders and turns over tables, spilling the money from the money changers?

First we need to understand that the temple in Jerusalem was the locus of the Jewish religion and the meeting place of humans and God. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the temple in the religious culture, and to meet with God, you had to make offerings and to do this you had to change your money, imprinted with the heads of Roman emperors, for temple currency, and then with that currency, purchase your animals for sacrifice. You would be ‘stung’ twice, first at the exchange, and then at the hiked prices for the offerings. And what did these things represent to rabbi Jesus as he entered, what was effectively ‘his’ house? Barriers. These things were barriers between the people and God, and as we have already learned, rabbi Jesus was proclaiming a new way, where all barriers had been dropped and the entry-fee waived.

The violence of Jesus in the story is a reminder of how important this barrier removal was and is to God. Jesus did not simply ask them all to move on, or enter a discussion with them about the various merits of the temple exchange and sacrificial system. No, he actually took the time to make a whip of cords before shouting and driving them out. Remember, Jesus was, in their eyes, a prominent Jewish rabbi who had a recognised authority under God. No wonder they conceded and acquiesced to his protest.

Today, us Christians are all apprentices of Jesus and follow his way, and we learn from him that we must remove all barriers that prevent ourselves or others coming to God. Rabbi Jesus himself became the temple where people can meet with God, and we must ask ourselves what barriers are in place that prevent people following the way of Jesus and becoming his apprentices?

I once worked with a group of Jesus followers who blessed the wider community through running a community centre and café. A woman called Sue heard about the project from a friend, and although she wasn’t a Christian, came along to the café to see what it was all about. She had some catering experience, and after a few visits and meeting the team, she liked what we were doing and asked if she could ‘join in’ and volunteer in the café. Each morning the team would gather in the kitchen to pray for the project and for each other, and after a few weeks Sue asked for prayer, and a few weeks after that, Sue prayed out loud to Jesus. It struck me that Sue had never been in a church building, had never been on a course, never said a ‘sinners prayer’, and she probably did not have a theory of the atonement! Yet, she was ‘getting it’. She had become an apprentice of Jesus, begun modelling what Jesus did, and begun her journey with God.

As an Anglican church leader, I am very struck by how we expect people to walk through the doors of a church building and act and behave in a very different environment to that with which they are familiar. Have we developed a ‘church culture’ to which we expect others to subscribe? Jesus seemed to do most of his preaching and teaching out of the Jewish synagogue and in the places where people worked and gathered, inviting them to live out their apprenticeship in the world. Today, as you read this, and as you head into the coming week, let us commit to the way of Jesus, and pray that we might be shown what barriers need to be removed that prevent ourselves or others from following God.

Amen.

Andrew Radley Mar 5 18:13pm

Amen

Lisa-Dawn Johnston Mar 5 20:24pm

Barriers are an awful distraction that keep us separated from God…
Sometimes they are pleasurable, other times incredibly painful and devastating. Same effect.

© fab.church