"Penitent Peter" painted by Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck, 1617-1618
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”--Mark 12:30
One of the more intriguing passages in Scripture is found in the fourth chapter of the New Testament book of The Acts of the Apostles. Two of Jesus’ Twelve, Peter and John, have been arrested subsequent to the crucifixion of their rabbi for preaching publicly that He had been raised from the dead. The ruling Jewish council, including the high priest Annas, grilled the two apostles about their impertinent proclamation. But Peter and John did not back down. Verse 13 of the chapter noted that the courage of these two men was evident to all present, a courage all that more remarkable given the fact that they were fishermen without an advanced education. Given their ordinary background, Peter and John astonished this gathering of the religious elite. Then the author of the account, Luke, dropped the line that jumps right off the page: the Jewish leaders “took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
How did they reach this conclusion? What was it about Peter and John that made it clear they had been in the company of Jesus? Did their Galilean accent give them away, as it had the night of Jesus’ trial when Peter denied knowing his Lord three times? (Matthew 26:73) Or perhaps some present remembered seeing these men in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested? (John 18:26) Maybe the way they talked, dressed or looked set them apart. Certainly the fearlessness of their preaching would have reminded the Jewish religious leaders of the man from Nazareth who would not deviate from His teaching in spite of their opposition. But I think it is even more than that.
Throughout my life, I have met certain people at certain times and in certain places who simply exuded the spirit of Jesus. While I was in their presence, I just knew that they knew my Lord with an intimacy and an authenticity that was refreshingly and uniquely real. I haven’t always met these people in church. In fact, I wouldn’t classify these people as religious in the typical sense. They didn’t use a lot of “Christian lingo” to explain their relationship with Jesus. Nor was I drawn so much to a pattern of behavior that seemed good or the keeping of a consistent set of “holy” rules. It was their heart for the Lord that was different, that set them apart from others, even some people who regularly attended church.
I have always believed that the Lord is way more interested in the disposition of our hearts toward Him than in anything we can do for Him. The very end of the Sermon on the Mount illustrates this point in a starkly sobering fashion. Jesus explained that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father. And what is the Father’s will? Apparently, it isn’t prophesying, driving out demons, performing miracles or doing any other religious activities. Instead, in this story, the ones welcomed by the Father are the ones He knew. (Matthew 7:21-23) That criterion seems odd, right? The Lord knows everyone, doesn’t He? In Hebrew, the word yada means to know someone intimately, as Adam “knew” Eve sexually and she bore Cain. (Genesis 4:1) Knowing God and being known by Him requires relational intimacy.
Another episode from the ministry of Jesus drives this truth home. In the tenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, we read the story of two sisters, friends of Jesus, who interacted with Him in their home. Martha was busy doing a lot of things to extend hospitality to Jesus, an important Middle Eastern value to uphold. Meanwhile, her sister Mary is doing nothing other than sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. When Martha protested and insinuated that Jesus didn’t care that she was doing all of the work, Jesus challenged her to realize that the anxiety driving her preparations had actually distracted her from the only necessary activity, a posture of the heart which Mary had adopted.
Is it still true that the only really necessary thing for a disciple of Jesus is to sit at his feet and listen to Him? If so, how do I do that? Sitting at His feet displays a position of humility and dependence in relation to the Lord. I know that I need Him and I cannot make it without Him. Listening to Him surely means to allow the Holy Spirit to remind me of the Truth of the Word (Jesus) in His Word, the Scripture, as I read it. (John 16:13-15) It also means to listen to others who have devoted their hearts to the Lord within the Body of Christ. Mary’s priority speaks more of a heart given fully to the Lord in love than it does about any sort of religious activity she might have performed for whatever reason apart from the affections of her heart. Yes, we serve and act out of our love for the Lord. Tending to that love, however, is always the mandate.
Famously, Jesus boiled down all of the Old Testament commandments to just two, the first of which began this reflection. What does it mean to love God with all of my heart and all of my soul and all of my mind and all of my strength? People who hunger to live this way are the ones who show they walk in the company of Jesus, like Peter and John. Ironically, they almost always are unaware that others recognize His presence in them. I have noticed these “marks” in the lives of such people:
They love Jesus extravagantly because they know how much He has forgiven them. (Luke 7:47)
They are alert to the Lord’s activity, filled with the Holy Spirit, watching for Him to come at any moment into any situation with triumphant power and love. (Matthew 25:1-13)
They long to see Jesus, the first love of their lives. (2 Timothy 4:8)
They are only too aware that they fall short of loving the Lord with all of their heart, but they hunger and thirst for that kind of love nonetheless. (Matthew 5:6)
Alternatively, the Scripture is full of warnings that our heart for the Lord can easily be sidetracked by “the worries of this life or the deceitfulness of wealth.” (Matthew 13:22) In Jesus’ story of the wedding feast (at the end of the age), many who were invited “paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.” (Matthew 22:5) How many of us just don’t care, our relationship with the Lord just doesn’t figure too prominently in the pantheon of our daily preoccupations?
I want to be a Jesus person. Maybe I don’t have a lot going for me and I am pretty ordinary. I’m not the brightest bulb in the box. But I want to sit at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him. I just want to be with Him! How about you?
Heavenly Father, thank You for the people in our lives who have displayed the spirit of Jesus. They have pointed the way to You; You have given them to us as precious guides along the path of life. In the midst of all of the noise, confusion and chaos of life, we want to sit at Your feet and hear Your voice. We want to give our hearts fully and completely to You. Help us to love You more dearly each new day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.