Six days after Peter’s revelation about WHO Jesus was and Jesus’ announcement about WHAT He had come to the earth to do, Jesus went up a mountain and took with Him just three; Peter, James and John.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider the different layers of relationship around Jesus; because the layers we see around Jesus are the same layers we see in our lives and church.
Proxemics is the study of the different concentric layers of relationship that we all have and which exist in any group of people.
Looking at those around Jesus I see the four layers of relationship described in proxemic theory as ‘spaces’;
- Public Space: (Crowds) Jesus often had a crowd with Him comprised of both expectantly inquisitive people & those in opposition to Jesus. These people knew of Jesus, were intrigued by Jesus, or they opposed Jesus. But, these people hadn’t yet committed their lives to Jesus in faith.
- Social Space:(Church) By the time Jesus ascends to heaven, there is a defined group, a community of faith of about 120 people in the upper room (Acts 1:15). Their faith in Jesus had established new secondary relationships with one another – this is the embryonic pre-Pentecost church, a community of faith in Jesus.
- Personal Space: (Community Group) Within that community of faith, Jesus had 12 who were with Him on a deeper level – the disciples. He had chosen them (Mark 2:13-20). So within the followers of Jesus, there was this small group, a subset of the whole community of faith. Jesus wanted these 12 to be in a special and close relationship with Him so that He could share his life and teachings more deeply. They lived with Jesus 24/7; they walked with Him daily; they shared meals & experiences – they shared life on a deeper level. Their relationship to Him brought them also into a deeper relationship as a small group of followers centred around Jesus.
- Intimate Space: (Trios) Four times in Mark’s Gospel Peter, James & John are found to be with Jesus in a setting the wider group didn’t share in;
- Peter along with James and John are the only ones to witnesses Jesus raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37)
- Peter ends up having the revelation of Jesus’ as the Messiah (Mark 8:29)
- Peter witnesses the Transfiguration with James and John (Mark 9:2-13)
- And Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost to preach at what was the genesis moment of the church (Acts 2:14).
- James was one of that first group of disciples and part of Jesus’ inner circle. James was martyred for His faith by Herod (Acts 12:2)
- John also part of that inner-circle in his own Gospel describes himself as one that Jesus loved four times (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:20)
- John seemed to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:6 & Galatians 2:9) before moving to Ephesus and becoming the last of the 12 apostles still to be alive in the late first century.
In our passage today, we see how this inner-circle in Jesus’ ‘intimate space’ got to see more of Jesus than anyone else. Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, and He begins to glow with a radiance reminiscent of Moses’ face, which shone after encountering God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-30).
Jesus unapologetically interacted with the people in these four spaces differently. Jesus revealed more of Himself, explained more to his twelve than the wider group and then even shared even more to his tighter group of three.
Jesus responds to our willingness.
Jesus responds to willingness. Peter is an example of someone who just always seems willing. He always seems to be asking questions, pressing in to know more, see more. I believe that Jesus was drawn to that willing eagerness and responded to it and showed Peter more as a result.
Likewise, John had a special relationship with Jesus. Was it that he listened more than the others, made sure he was close by to Jesus? Jesus seems to have responded to John attentiveness, and so John writes of himself that he was a favourite of Jesus’ (see texts above). John testified about Jesus’ existence in his epistle from those personal experiences with Jesus;
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
Jesus had these four layers of relationship/spaces with those around Him, and the closer people were to Jesus, the more intentional or willing they were to spend time with Jesus, the more He revealed Himself to them and the more they, in turn, did for Him with their lives!
So what does this have to do with us and our followership of Jesus?
- God wants to move all people from the CROWD to the COMMUNITY:
This is the mission of the church and of every follower of Christ, to share the good news about Jesus with everyone we know so that they can move from spectators to believers and followers. [Who is there in your life who might be interested in Jesus as a man but is yet to believe in Him as God? Pray for them now, and keep asking God the Holy Spirit to give you opportunities to point them to life-giving faith and relationship with Jesus.]
- The Gospel always creates a COMMUNITY of faith, the church:
Our journey’s of faith lead us into a community; God’s family brought into relationship with one another through our common relationship to Jesus. A diverse new people who once had not been a people at all, but now through God’s choosing are the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10). I love how those thousands who were saved on the day of Pentecost were saved and added (Acts 2:41), they became a community of faith that was not just devoted to Jesus but to one another sharing life and their possessions (Acts 2:42-47)! We were not made for walking alone. There is no such thing as biblical Christianity without commitment to a local church.
“There is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.” – Keller
“Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence better than scattered individuals.” – Dallas Willard
“You must be deeply involved in the church, in Christian community, with strong relationships of love and accountability. Only if you are part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve and love Jesus will you ever get to know Him and grow into His likeness.” – Keller
- Healthy Church communities will have three of the different ‘spaces’ Jesus had around Him within each congregation:
Each of the three spaces within a church community plays a different role in the life of any Christ-follower.
- The whole church gathered (social space) for worship, sacraments, prayer & preaching has a significant role in catalysing faith, community and corporate vision.
- Small groups of 6-20 (personal space) gathered around God’s word, prayer, care, fellowship and for mission ensures that everyone in the church is caught up in life-giving relationships that spur them on in their faith and give them contexts in which to serve and bless others too.
- And finally, even smaller groups of 2-4 Christ-followers meeting (intimate space ‘TRIOs’ in RRC) allows for greater intimacy and intentionality. Peter, James & John’s experience with Jesus should provoke us to want what they had!
The pattern I see in the Gospels is like one big parable. The parables Jesus told, bemused the crowds but to those who pressed in with faith and intentionality – Jesus revealed more!
Those who intentionally pressed in became a community of faith (the church). Yet, there were those who pressed in, even more, and Jesus formed them into a small group to whom He revealed even more.
And then there was Jesus’ inner-circle, the TRIO of Peter, James & John to whom Jesus revealed the most. They experienced more of Jesus than anyone else, and correspondingly also accomplished amazing things for Jesus.
This is like a parable to you and I. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stay just in the CROWD. But instead to be added to the COMMUNITY (the church).
More than that, I believe Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stop there with some connection to the COMMUNITY.
Instead, Jesus wants us to join ourselves to a SMALL GROUP (Community Group in RRC) so that we can grow close to some fellow Christ-followers whose relationships with one another are all centred around Jesus Christ.
And for those who truly wish to grow in God, to press in even further adding themselves to an even smaller group – a TRIO. Two to four same-sex Christ-followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church.
Oh, that more people would want to move from merely being in the CROWD of admirers around Jesus to the COMMUNITY. And that they wouldn’t be satisfied to belong just to the wider church community but that they would press in towards greater connection in the personal and intimate spaces, and as a result would encounter more of Jesus and accomplish more for Jesus!
How are you responding to the parable of the spaces?
Jesus’ parables bemused and offended some and drew others in. And those who pressed in more got more, got closer had more revealed to them and as a result did more for God with their lives.
We live in a self-saturated age. This whole blog has been about relationships, a community of faith that all flows from the Gospel. This global pandemic, when we are restricted from meetings, can be a healthy moment for self-reflection.
How am I responding? Have I believed the lie that my relationship with Jesus is just a personal thing when in Scripture, that is never the case?
The Gospel creates community, and those who press in more to Jesus and to the community get more & do more for God.
So I challenge you. If you are a Christ-follower, don’t be satisfied to be part of the CROWD of onlookers, or even just being an isolated attendee in the COMMUNITY of the church.
Press in, join a small group and pray for an intimate band of friends (TRIO) who like Peter, James and John end up seeing more and doing more than they could ever have imagined! You will never regret that decision. Amen.
Consider this for a moment. Apart from a mother in the throws of child-birth or the patient receiving some excruciatingly painful physiotherapy – people do not normally need to be encouraged to keep breathing.
That’s because Breathing is essential to life. Any kid who has tried to hold out on their parents request or instruction by holding their breath – goes red fairly promptly and then gasps again for as they resume breathing again. We breathe continually because it is essential for physical life.
And yet our connection with God our Father in prayer, or with the Holy Spirit for His enabling power in some situation is really as essential as breathing. So;
- We pray because we know we can call out to our Father & because we know He loves to answer (see Psalm 18)
- We pray because we know that we have the Holy Spirit as our Helper, who is ever-present & ready to respond.
- We pray because we know Jesus ever lives to pray with us and on our behalf, making intercession to the Father for us
- We pray because we know that we don’t have the resources, wisdom or capacity we need in any given scenario and we know that God does
- We pray because, when we pray, we are humbled & helped and God is exalted as the all-sufficient, loving God.
“Prayer is weakness leaning on omnipotence.” W. S. Bowd
Colossians 4:2-5 urges us strongly to be consistently diligent in prayer. We are urged to saturate our prayers with thankfulness, to be watchful in prayer, to be alert and to keep awake, to be vigilant in our prayers and vigilant enough to pray. So, be vigilant (to pray) remembering that you have an enemy who wants to stop you from praying wants to disconnect you from God. Be also vigilant in your prayers, be consistent, don’t be caught off your guard having been prayer less, and lastly be alert regarding HOW you pray or even WHAT you pray for.
I urge you to take this opportunity to reflect on your life rhythms and patterns and ask yourself whether your prayer life can be described in this sort of way. If so, then the encouragement of Scripture is to keep being consistent in this diligence. And if not, then I urge you to make some changes in order to make constant communication with God your life-pattern.
Consider: what does ‘being watchful’ in prayer mean?
Lastly, note how prayer unlocks mission! Prayer unlocks Gospel advance and kingdom breakthrough. That is where this appeal from the apostle Paul comes from. Make it a life-habit to not only pray about personal needs or those of close loved ones, but pray in ways that release mission and cause Gospel and Kingdom advance. Your prayers unlock situations for churches and ministries, open doors and release things. So pray, and keep being diligent in prayer.
In Reconciliation Road Church we have the following prayer meetings you could commit yourself to (apart from your own personal prayers times):
- Men’s Prayer Meeting (Tues 5:45am-6:30am)
- RRC Prayer Meeting (Thurs 10am-11am)
- RRC Prayer Meeting (Thurs 5:30pm-6:30pm)
- RRC Prayer Meeting (Sun 8:20am-8:40am)
- RRC Prayer Meeting (Sun 4:45pm-17h10pm)
Paul and his team eventually send Timothy to Thessalonica to establish and exhort the Thessalonians in their faith in Jesus so that ‘no one would be moved by these afflictions’. (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3)
On his return to Paul in Athens Timothy brought back a good report of the Thessalonians faith, love and also their warm friendship and longing to meet again (1 Thessalonians 3:6).
This report comforted Paul and his team and provoked them to thanksgiving and more fervent prayer (night & day) for the Thessalonians that their faith might be firmly established.
What can we learn from this?
The Gospel forms new relationships that didn’t previously exist (1 Peter 2:10)!
Paul is worried, eager to hear news, wanted to come visit, was hindered, prayed, sent Timothy, then was relieved and prayed day and night – all for a group of people he didn’t know prior to their salvation and whom he only spent a month with. But in that time God joined their hearts and true spiritual friendship formed so that they really cared for each other.
God established a heart level partnership between Paul’s team and this church, these believers so that the church longed to see Paul and team again and they were eager to see them and hear from them and wanted to see them built up and encouraged in their faith.
God does this at an individual level when we get joined to individuals in our church who come alongside us or whom God uses us to come alongside to establish and encourage them in their faith.
God does this at a church level when we as a church have people that speak into the life of the church, pray for and care for a church that is not theirs but is a church community of faith that they care for and love.
Over the years, as Oasis, we have had many people like that who have prayed for, loved and cared for Oasis Church even though they have been from somewhere else and have only visited or been with us for a short time – God has joined them to us in partnership & prayer…
We thank God for every Frontier Year Project person who’s ever invested in the life of our church, we thank God for Craig & Shannon Botha and their investment in our church, for Ray & Sue Lowe who love Oasis, for Lois who has advocated for us for so many years and prayed continuously, for Gerry & Donna too for their love and generosity & the whole of Centre Street Church for their partnership, for Common Ground Church & GodFirst Rosebank for their exceeding generosity and the many other Advance churches that have partnered with Oasis Church, for local churches who have supported and prayed for Oasis, for the Waldron family who made us their home and carry us in their hearts…………. I know I have missed out on many but the point is made.
We have been joined together with others in partnership and prayer as a local church, it’s what we see in the New Testament and its been our experience.
May we partner with others! As individuals, may God use us to exhort and establish and encourage others in the faith, may God join our hearts in prayer and partnership for their growth and benefit, and may God keep using us more and more as a local church to plant and strengthen other local churches all over South Africa!