Shall we follow Jesus, or listen to learned men?


Everywhere I go from Nairobi to New York people are out looking for people or houses of peace. Following Jesus’ example and instructions they are out looking for people who welcome the message and the messenger, and open the door for the gospel to enter their relational world.

Searching for people of peace is just about a universal practice among movement pioneers around the world.

Unfortunately some learned men have discovered this practice and are now raising concerns. I guess that’s their job. They are questioning whether it’s legitimate to follow Jesus’ missionary practices today.

Can we really rip out Jesus' example from its first century context and apply it today?

I’m tempted to say, why don’t you just try it and see? But maybe it’s time to explain a little more. I may never convince the learned men, but at least we’ll be clearer about why we do what we do.

Let’s start with, should we follow Jesus missionary practice today? I can hear you say, of course we should follow Jesus’s example! Well, when was the last time you spat in the dirt, formed it into mud and spread it on someone’s eyes? When was the last time you paid your taxes by removing a coin from the gut of a fish you’d just caught? When you go on mission do you always walk and refuse to take any money with you?

Some of what Jesus did was appropriate to his context. Some of his actions were never meant to be followed woodenly. Look at the instructions he gave, now compare them with his encounter with the woman at the well, or with Zacchaeus, or the demoniac. Jesus didn’t always obey his own instructions. Every encounter is different.

So let’s agree, Jesus instructions and example are not to be followed blindly. What matters are the principles. Why else did the Gospel writers preserve these instructions and examples in such detail? Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus' instructions to his disciples on mission.

Luke, for instance, places the instructions to the Seventy (Luke 10:1-12) at the beginning of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem Much of Luke’s gospel is taken up with Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-19:28). At the end of the journey Jesus enters the house of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Luke is giving us the pattern of how Jesus (and the disciples he trained) entered a town and found a house of peace. In the story of Zacchaeus, Luke shows how Jesus applied his own instructions. Luke is saying, this is typical of what Jesus did and how he trained his disciples on mission. No two examples are exactly the same, but there is a pattern and we need to learn from it.

Luke knows what his is doing. He can’t record everything Jesus did, he selects the most important material for us to know. We are to watch and learn from Jesus’ example. That’s why he devotes so much space to explaining the mission practice of Jesus and his disciples.

Luke shows us what Jesus did and what he trained his followers to do. And just in case we missed it, he shows us again in the book of Acts. Compelled by the Holy Spirit, Peter enters the house of Cornelius, applying the same principles that Jesus modelled and taught (Acts 10). It’s so important that Luke repeats this story three times.

Paul applied these same principles in his mission. He knows the stories about Jesus and the accounts of Jesus’ teaching that eventually formed the Gospels. Paul applies what he has learned from Jesus to his own ministry.

I’m not going to tell you what those principles were. I’m going to give you an assignment.

Read Luke 10:1-12; Luke 19:1-10; Acts 10.

  1. Make two lists: a. What did the messenger do? b. What did the person of peace do?
  2. What do you learn from Jesus’ instructions and the examples?
  3. Distill the principles.
  4. Go and do likewise.

That’s the best answer to learned men who question whether you should follow Jesus’ example.