Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: When the Rabbi Says “Go”

Omrit, Herod’s temple to Caesar

The lesson begins at what is probably the northern temple to Caesar built by Herod. Caesar claimed to be a “son of god.” If the site is that temple, then the Damascus Road is likely nearby — the main road to Damascus where Paul was called by Jesus.

“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” RVL says “taxes” is a poor translation for “tribute.” Tribute acknowledges the superiority of Caesar.

The Zealots refused, while the Pharisees cited Nehemiah, who said God gave Babylon power to rule Judea. If God gave rule to Roman, then Jews should pay tribute (compare Paul’s similar conclusions in Rom 13).

Jesus asks for a coin. The fact that they had a coin shows that they’d already acquiesced in using Caesar’s money. The inscription says, “A worshiped son of a worshiped god,” referring to Caesar. Jesus says render unto Caesar what’s Caesar’s, and to God what’s God’s. Caesar isn’t God, but it is his money because God gave him authority. (JFG: And the money, being idolatrous, is inappropriate for temple use, but perfectly suitable for payment to an idolatrous government. It’s a joke!)

A talmid is consumed with a deep passion to be like his rabbi in his walk with God. It’s about not only his teachings but also how he lives his life — because this is a path toward God.

Eremos Topos

Eremos Topos: means a solitary or uninhabited place, and RVL takes us to just such a place above Magadan, a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, not very far from Bethsaida. Jesus was there and told his apostles to go across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida without him.

Jesus went to Eremos Topos to pray (which includes the idea of worship in Hebrew). A storm arose, and “Jesus watched them all night” even though they had to row against the wind all night.

At about 4 in the morning, Jesus went to them, walking on the water. The scriptures say, “He was going to walk on by.” It’s a joke. Jesus intended to walk all the way past them!

Peter wanted to be like Jesus so much so that he wanted to walk on water, too. He was willing to risk drowning to be like Jesus! To be like a rabbi who walks on water, you have to get out the boat! But he saw the wind and became afraid, and so began to sink.

Jesus said, “O you of little faith. Why did you doubt?” Whom did Peter doubt? Jesus? Jesus was still standing on the water. Peter doubted himself. To be the disciple Jesus wants us to be, we have to have confidence in ourselves.

“Whoever is in Jesus must walk as Jesus walked.”


They then go to Scythopolis, 12 miles from Nazareth and on the road to Jerusalem from there. Amazing that Jesus sent teachers from the humble fishing village of Bethsaida to the rich, comfortable city of Scythopolis!

We can’t help but be impressed by Scythopolis, a Greek city of great architecture, because we’re impressed by what people do. We walk past a mountain God made and don’t notice it. We Americans would be far more comfortable in the luxuriant Greek city than the humble Jewish fishing village — because we share a culture of “It’s all about me.”

Jesus took kids from a tiny fishing village, who didn’t cut it in beth midrash, and took them to the world of the Greeks. They succeeded because they didn’t buy into the values of the big, beautiful city.

Discussion questions

What’s the significance to us of Jesus’ teaching to “render unto Caesar”?

[Pay taxes, even though we disagree with how they are spent, even if spent to support idolatry or other evil]

[See God’s hand in history and realize that he’ll ultimately bring justice. We are not called to rebellion but to make disciples.]

What’s the significance to us of Jesus’ teaching to “render unto God”?

Why did the Jews so hate publicans (tax collectors for the Romans)?

Why did Jesus call Matthew, a publican, as a talmid?

How might fishing be good preparation for discipleship?

Why were the apostles so much more effective that we are?

(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 andteaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What did Jesus mean by “make disciples”?

Other than bringing people to faith and baptizing them, what is required to “make disciples”?

What are some ways for doing this?

Consider what the Jews considered to be appropriate ways to follow God in the First Century —

Zealots sought to follow God by rebelling against Rome — to help bring about the golden age promised to follow the exile.

Saul/Paul sought to follow God by persecuting Christians, who were diluting the purity of Judaism and inviting Gentiles in without requiring obedience to all the Torah.

Pharisees followed God by scrupulous obedience to the Law.

Sadducees followed God by denying the resurrection and working with the Romans to rule Judea. The best path to peace is to collaborate!

What Christians today are like each of these groups?

The Lord’s Prayer is a roadmap to discipleship.

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 2

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 3

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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2 Responses to Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: When the Rabbi Says “Go”

  1. Jerry Starling says:

    "One day, Jesus became my teacher." This is what Sasha (Alexander Propochuck, Ukrainian Evangelist) said as he described his journey to faith.

    Growing up in Communist schools, he frequently heard the Bible 'trashed' as full of myths and lies. As a 14 year old boy, he wondered where he could get a Bible, for he wanted to read this book the authorities hated so much. When he was a man, one day his wife came home with a Bible and left it lying around. He picked it up, let it fall open where it would, and began reading in the Book of Proverbs.

    Immediately, he said, "This book speaks to my heart." He began to read the Bible voraciously, and it was during this time that he said, "Then one day, Jesus became my teacher."

    The missionary to whom he was speaking was curious. "What do you mean by that, Sasha?"

    Sasha answered that he read where Jesus said to love your enemies and do good to them. He said, "So, I made a list of my enemies and began to pray for them and try to treat them better." He was amazed that in a short time, his enemies had become his friends – including his mother-in-law, who was at the top of his list.

    It was two years after this that he was baptized soon after he met the missionary. Yet, Jesus had been his teacher for all of those years.

    This is the sequence Jesus gives: first, make disciples. Then, baptize the disciples and teach them to do what Jesus has commanded us. In our haste to baptize people, we often neglect to help them become disciples of Jesus.

    How do I form a personal relationship with Jesus? Fall in love with Him so much that you want to be exactly like Him. Become His disciple. Trust Him with all of your heart. Walk as He walked. Love as He loved. Listen to Him at all times as you live your daily life. The relationship will grow – and you will glow with the light of His presence in your heart.

  2. Larry Short says:

    Wow, if Jesus can make a mother-in-law go from worst enemy to friend, there's power in HIs words!

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