Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: Preview, Part 2

rabbijesusThe following are additional excerpts from Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, with a few reflections at the end by me. (Buy the book!)


Chapter 4 explains the meaning of “disciple.” We think it means learner or student, but there was much more to it than that.

Modern Christians have sometimes been confused about what discipleship is, equating it with “discipline.” Of course discipline is vital to the spiritual life. … But the overall goal of discipleship is not simply to grow in self-discipline, but to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

(page 58)

Disciples were expected to be more loyal to their rabbis than to their earthly fathers. And disciples were expected to serve their rabbis, sometimes in menial ways.

An Eastern view of discipleship seems far more in keeping with the gospel. … [This view] recognizes that Jesus lived transparently in front of his disciples in order to teach them how to live. They, in turn, were to live transparently before others, humbly teaching them the way of Christ. This approach involves not just information but transformation. God’s goal isn’t simply to fill the world with people who believe the right things. It is to fill the world with people who shine with the brilliance of Christ.

(page 64)


This and the previous post are but a sampling from the first third of the book, but hopefully it’s enough to show how much our faith can be enriched through the study of the Jewish roots of Christianity. We really need to get away from the notion that Jesus was a blue-eyed, Western, Anglo whom God placed in Palestine. He was a Jew. He looked like a Jew. He was deeply observant of the Torah, and he was a rabbi who was accepted as a rabbi.

His “disciples” weren’t mere students. They were devoted followers who studied everything about him so they could be just like him — in every way possible. When Jesus told us to go and make “disciples,” he didn’t mean great students or masters of discipline. He meant people who would emulate his teaching and his life. And this is precisely what we see his apostles doing in Acts.

(John 13:15-17)  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

(Eph 5:1-2)  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

To Western ears, Paul’s declarations sound arrogant —

(1 Cor 11:1)  Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

(Phil 3:17)  Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

But this is how rabbis taught. It’s how we should teach — and if we can’t teach that with a straight face, we need to work on our own discipleship.

And Paul taught the next generation of leaders to do the same —

(1 Tim 4:12-16)  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

(Titus 2:7-8)  In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Now, take a step back. Jesus concluded his ministry saying,

(Mat 28:19-20)  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We are to make disciples. And we are to teach what Jesus taught. And just what did Jesus teach on acts of worship? Or church organization? Or elder re-affirmation? Why, then, is it that our teaching is often based entirely on inferences drawn on silences and examples arising after Jesus’ death? Why isn’t our teaching centered on the commands of Jesus himself?

And if we find a discrepancy between Paul’s teaching and Jesus’, we have surely misunderstood Paul. Paul wasn’t a great legislator, building new rules on top of what Jesus had only begun. Rather, Paul was an interpreter of Jesus, explaining Jesus’ teachings to the very different Gentile cultures in which he ministered — but with roots deeply planted in the words of Jesus and the prophets who went before.

Jesus taught faith and faithfulness, grace and mercy, ethics and morality. He taught love for our neighbors and the poor. And he taught baptism and the coming of the Spirit. But he didn’t preach a constitution of church governance or 5 acts of worship. We have seriously misunderstood what Christianity is all about.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: Preview, Part 2

  1. Neal Roe says:

    "1 Tim 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching." Why don't we follow this verse as Paul wrote it? Public reading from the "Scripture" here would have meant the Tanakh/ Old testament. When we do it is often out of context and to prove points of law from the New Testament rather than attempting to see the character of G-d. Most recently it was used as a "corporate leadership guide implementing top down goverance rather than the servant leadership that Jesus taught.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    I would say that there are very few real disciples in today’s church if real transformation is the key. Very few are willing to die to themselves; very few would be willing face torture or persecution on behalf of Jesus. The reasons are simple. It is very easy to be religious and to keep up appearances. The power of the gospel is lost when church members can subscribe to all the “right” doctrinal positions follow all the prescribed religious acts but have little to no story of personal transformation. Though most are sincere, our churches are filled with empty religion and meaningless dogma. I constantly here about our religious heritage and how we must give respect and in many cases maintain the institutions. God will not ask us about our religious heritage when we get to heaven. Well I am sorry but our mission is not to maintain the institutions we have built over the last 100 years it is to make disciples of all people including ourselves. In a recent research project using statistical research analysis average church members were surveyed about being transformed. Here are some of the questions.
    What specific area of sin are you working to overcome right now? How are you letting Jesus help you to overcome this sin?
    In the areas of Love, Joy Peace, Patience, Kindness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self Control are you specifically seeking to let God transform you?
    When was the last time you really feel that a significant transformation occurred in your life due to your faith in Jesus?
    How do you seek to let Jesus transform you on an on-going basis?
    Now only 17% could even answer the first question reasonably. Then only 23% could answer the second one. If that doesn’t tell you something about the results of our teaching and where we spend our time and energy spiritually and religiously I don’t know what would.

  3. Dear Jay,

    I just wanted to say thanks for your excellent post and summary of our chapter on discipleship. (And thanks for your great references about being an example! I wish I would have included more of them!)

    I don't think there has been any insight from Jesus' Jewishness more important in my life than understanding our calling is as disciples. If readers only take one point out of the book, I hope it is this one.

    Blessings –

    Lois Tverberg

  4. dusty chris says:

    This is a great book. I has so many rich insights. I recommend it. I has a very 'Ray Vanderlaan' feel to it.

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