Why God relates to us differently

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”  “Nothing,” they answered.  He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”  Luke 22:35-36 (NIV)

This is a curious passage of scripture, one which could make someone who is familiar with the nature and teaching of Jesus to do a double take.  What in the world is Jesus talking about here?

This advice seems contrary to everything we know about Jesus from both His teachings and His dealings with His disciples.  It appears to contradict His many exhortations to faith in God’s provision and to trust in God’s protection.  The very idea of now being told to essentially lookout for oneself after the comfort of experiencing God’s miraculous interventions seems ludicrous.

But the reality is, Jesus’ manner in relating to His disciples is about to change.  He is preparing them for His impending arrest, crucifixion and death.  In the next breath He tells them: “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me.’” (vs. 37)

This change in the rules of the game ushered in a very difficult time for the disciples.  No one suffered more than poor Peter.  First he took Jesus’ advice about the sword too literally.  At Jesus’ arrest he overstepped the will of the Lord and wielding his sword cut off a man’s ear.  Jesus had to rebuke him saying “No more of this!” and healed the man.  Then Peter ended up denying Christ three times and going out into the night weeping bitterly. (vs. 47-62)

Having read the end of the story however, we know it all turned out alright.  The grave could not hold Jesus and He was resurrected from the dead.  He appeared repeatedly to His disciples over a period of 40 days before ascending into heaven.  Peter was restored and his commission to serve Christ reaffirmed. (John 21:15-19) During that time Jesus gave all the disciples further instructions about life in the new reality and how to extend His kingdom throughout the entire earth. (Acts 1:1-11)

But what else can we learn from this rule-changing passage?  If you have not yet noticed, Jesus’ manner in how He relates to us also goes through changes.  There are seasons in our lives when He changes the rules of the game just like He did with His disciples.  It can be no less unsettling for us as it was with them.

One pattern that emerges from a study of the scriptures has to do with the spiritual maturing process.  God’s relationship with us, like a father with his children, changes as we grow through different spiritual growth stages – from childhood through young adulthood and eventually into parenthood.  That is why the Apostle John describes the different phases of spiritual maturity in terms of being children, young men and fathers. (1 John 2:12-14)  He tells us that while spiritual children are nurtured; young men are battle hardened and fathers are seasoned nurturers.

Spiritual growth stages do not necessarily correspond to a person’s chronological age.  The stage we are in is more about our mindset and understanding of God’s ways than age.  There are chronologically young men and women who are fathers and mothers in the faith by virtue of their spiritual maturity.  And by the same token, there are older men and women who are still children or young adults in their faith.

Necessary adjustments in moving from one stage to another are almost always accompanied by confusion, disillusionment and false starts.  Change is difficult. God’s expectations of us increase as we move from one stage to another.  We naturally miss the nurturing of spiritual childhood when the manna fell every day from heaven and miracles abounded.  We may not like the spiritual battles we now find ourselves fighting that we never faced before crossing theJordan into young adulthood.  Or now as a spiritual father or mother, we may miss the independence of young adulthood and the thrill of the front line action.  We may not like the limitations of being the responsible one having to nurture and train others.

We can however gain encouragement in this regard from Jesus’ preparatory dialogue with His disciples.  First, the transition from one spiritual growth stage to another is meant to be eased and strengthened by recalling God’s faithfulness in the past.  Jesus challenges His men as He challenges us, to consider that in the previous stage there was never any lack.  Second, the shift from one stage to another is always prefaced with a “But now…”  God’s intention is to give us clues that He is changing the rules of the game.  We may not understand it and we may not like it; but He is committed to working with us, as He was with Peter, to see us through to the next stage. 

I think the crux of this entire process has much to do with paying attention to the “but now” clues.  That obviously requires spiritual sensitivity and a greater and greater dependence upon God.  Being more dependent upon Him while being less nurtured seems a contradiction.  But the dependence is now more for wisdom than for coddling.  Paul’s advice seems appropriate here. “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20) 

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