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.
What do you do with sections of Scripture that just seem like they are just long lists of people or places, when they seem boring or just plain irrelevant to your life or are just detailed for you to care?
The lists in the bible contain some gems! You just need to take the time to look for them.
In this list we have here in Nehemiah 3 we have a record of all those who responded to the call by Nehemiah in 2:17&20 to rise and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, detailing what they contributed to the rebuilding project and where they worked.
So, what gems are there in this list?
1. God sees everything
The very fact that all these people’s names are here all recorded for us underlines what elsewhere Scripture explicitly teaches – that God sees everything. God sees, He looks for obedience and service (that’s the majority of this list), and God sees disobedience/unwillingness (see vs 5). Our lives and how we live them really matter! The details of our lives matter to God and so it should matter to us. How we respond to the Gospel, how we spend our days is all recorded in God’s books (Revelation 20:12) because God is looking to reward us for obedience and faithfulness with that which He has entrusted to us.
2. Kingdom advance is a community thing!
God’s plan to restore Jerusalem was not a private project of Nehemiah’s. No God mobilised a whole host of diverse people to work together, to literally work alongside one another. In this one chapter the phrases ‘next to him’ or ‘after him’ are mentioned 27x in just 32 verses! The big idea is that this was a joint effort, the purposes of God was achieved in community, partnering with others.
3. Know what’s your responsibility
Verse 28 says of the priests repaired a portion of the wall ‘each opposite his own house’. So often we are waiting for someone to do what we have seen needs doing! “Who’s going to reach those children/mom’s/school’s…..?”, “Who is going to gather the young adults?”, “There isn’t great pastoral care in this church!”, “Who’s going to fix that tap at the church building or door that’s banging…?”
If you have seen something, if you have been sensitised to a gap in your church’s ministry to people may I suggest that maybe you now have a responsibility, a mandate from God to do something about it! Serve where God shows you need, where God sensitises you to things others might not have seen, take responsibility for your portion, a portion of the wall, something you can say over; “I’ve got this, you can count on me!”
4. Don’t ever think we graduate from serving
In verse 5 we read that the novels ‘would not stoop to serve their Lord’. This is not a good situation. It appears as though this group of people thought that helping with the rebuilding project was beneath them, it wasn’t for them. Serving, getting stuck-in in practical ways is something we should never graduate from. After all we serve Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and give His life for us… May we always be like Jesus.
5. Serving in families
In verse 12 we read about Shallum who repaired the wall, ‘he and his daughters’. May we be like this guy and his daughters, families on mission together, serving God as family units! Parents that might mean supporting your child as they want to serve on sound, or set-up or children’s ministry, dropping them off early fetching late to enable them to serve. Children that means sacrificing time with mom or dad sometimes so that they can minister to people or take responsibility, it might mean sharing your home with others who are being ministered to through a Community Group or something of the sort… Let’s be such families that live not just for one another in the family unit but seek to encourage and support one another as we serve God with all of our unique talents and abilities.
So there they are, five little gems in this passage. Did you uncover any more as you read? Never disregard any section of Scripture but ask God to show you the gems.
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you (2 Thessalonians 3:1)
The Apostolic gift lifts local eyes from considering only the local church and personal issues to see the broader need, and in so doing the worldwide mission of Jesus remains in focus always. The apostle Paul has addressed local questions that the believers had amongst themselves, but now he calls them to join him in Jesus’ mission to the whole world.
Paul asked these young believers to pray that the gospel ‘would run and be glorified’. He is asking them to pray that the gospel would advance and that it would be honoured (3:1). The gospel advances through local churches, through preaching, through the lives of all believers living out their transformation and sharing Jesus.
What do you pray about? Only local, personal things or are you prayers about the gospel speeding ahead, spreading out all across the world. I urge you from Scripture to widen the scope of your prayers if that’s needed, to care about church planting, and the gospel’s advance reaching to all unreached people of the world.
He also asked them to pray that people would respond wholeheartedly to the gospel, that lives would be transformed (as had happened in Thessalonica) by the gospel (3:1).
2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.
In Paul’s mind, gospel advance was linked to danger and oppression. So he asked them to pray that we may be delivered from wicked & evil men (3:2) and yet even as he is praying he knows, the Lord is faithful, he knows, he is confident that God will establish them and guard you against the evil one.
So he closes praying that the Lord would ‘direct their hearts’ (3:5). Only God can lead and direct us at a heart-level so that we end up loving God more and becoming more and more robust/steadfast like Jesus.
This little section starts with Paul asking them to pray, and ends with Paul praying for them! May our prayers for one another criss-cross like this, us praying for others and others praying for us – partnering in prayer knowing that prayer is the power God’s given us to open and shut doors.