How can we experience more of God? Can we see prayers answered more frequently – like Elijah? Can we hear God’s voice – like Samuel? Can we see miracles – like the early church? Can we experience God working through us – like Gideon? Can we be part of miracles – like the Apostles? Can we see people in this community coming to faith in Jesus – like they did in Ephesus or Corinth or Rome? What about revival – a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit – like has happened in various places around the world?
Is it possible that people in this community could hear stories – or have first-hand experience – of God at work in Mornington?
I want us to study the pathway the twelve disciples walked, under Jesus’ leadership, because there are some ordinary people who got to experience God in the most extraordinary ways. How did Jesus lead them to the point where He promised that they would do the things that He had done and even greater things (John 14:12)?. And they did. They saw miracles. They saw vast numbers converted and the gospel spread throughout the known world. They started as fishermen or tax-collectors or whatever and they finished up accused of having turned the world up-side-down. How did that happen?
In John 14:12 Jesus actually said, “Whoever believes in me will do the things I have done and even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.” Whoever believes! You and me.
Let’s start the story before the apostles even come on the scene. Jesus would lead them into this relationship in which they would experience God but how did God prepare Jesus and what was His experience of God like? Only a person who is experiencing God can lead others to experience God.
In a way, this is a question for anyone who wants to help others experience God. How can we experience God so that we can help others experience God?
Let’s briefly consider Jesus life before His ministry: All we really know about are His upbringing, His baptism and His temptation.
As a baby, Jesus was presented in the Temple and at the end of that incident, Luke says…
Luke 2:40 The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.
The greatest influence on Jewish children in this period was their mothers. The mother was responsible for teaching smaller children. Then, later He would have worked alongside His father. Jesus had very godly parents. If you remember as far back as Christmas, we talked about the godliness and faith of both Mary and Joseph. Both were willing to be obedient to God even though it would be costly. They were godly, prayerful, law-abiding people. At eight days old, Jesus was circumcised. When the time of purification came (i.e. the purification of Mary after having given birth) Jesus was presented in the temple. We can assume that Mary in particular, but Joseph as well, trained Jesus to know the scriptures and to honour God.
Most boys were also educated in the synagogue school where they would be taught the scriptures and the traditions of the elders. Those who wanted further education would join one of the Rabbis. Jesus would have been surrounded by scriptural teaching but it appears that He didn’t become the disciple of a rabbi.
John 7:15 The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
He had no formal, rabbinic education but He had learning that amazed them. Where did that come from?
About the only thing we do know about Jesus’ childhood is the trip to the temple in Jerusalem when He was twelve years old when He got lost for three days. But He wasn’t lost. He was in the temple “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions” (Lk 2:46).
Jesus was the learner in this situation – listening, asking questions. Don’t get the impression that Jesus was teaching the teachers. He was the learner, although we are told that “everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.” If He was giving answers then they must have been asking Him questions as well – maybe not because they wanted to learn from Him but because asking questions was one of the primary teaching methods. And they were astounded at His understanding.
Jesus was already experiencing God. He was being taught by God and being given wisdom by God. In fact, that incident ends with another statement about His growth: He went back to Nazareth with His parents and was obedient to them and He grew in stature, in wisdom and in favour with God and with people. He was growing physically; intellectually and in wisdom; He was growing spiritually (in favour with God) and He was growing socially – growing in relating to people.
Jesus wasn’t just gifted with all these things. He grew in them. How did He grow? The godly example of his parents and their biblical teaching, probably biblical teaching in the synagogue, certainly an enquiring mind and a deep hunger for truth and wisdom, and a teachable spirit – a willingness to learn. And the Holy Spirit – the teacher, the transformer. Jesus was willing to be moulded by the Spirit of God.
If we want to be followers of Jesus and we want to experience God is similar ways, we must consider those same things: having mentors; looking to godly people to learn from them; studying the scriptures; asking questions; searching for truth and for wisdom and being teachable; being humble, being willing to learn, a desire to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit –and to be shaped and transformed by Him. If we want to experience God, let’s have the same sort of hunger for God.
The next incident in His life, that we know about, was His baptism. READ Matthew 3:13-4:11.
John preached a baptism of repentance. So when people saw Jesus being baptised, they would assume He was repenting. They would assume that He went into that water confessing His sins and choosing to turn from His wicked ways to live a new life. How humbling would that be? He had no sins! He didn’t need to repent – to turn. And yet He let everyone believe he was a sinner.
John said, “This shouldn’t happen. I should be baptised by you. I am the one who needs to repent.” But Jesus said, “No. This is the right thing to do.”
He didn’t need to be baptised but Jesus humbly identified with sinners – just as He would do again on the Cross. He took our sin on Himself.
As He came up out of the water, He had a profound experience of God. Heaven opened. The Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove. The voice of God rang out: This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. What an unbelievable moment that must have been for Jesus. What an affirmation: the coming of the Holy Spirit – surely not for the first time but certainly coming at this starting point of Jesus’ ministry – and the declaration of the love and the delight of God.
But that would not have happened without the humble obedience of baptism. Experiencing God is not just about sitting around and being blessed. For Jesus it was preceded by costly action. Who experiences God? The hungry. Remember we talked about the seekers. And the humble; the obedient. We talked about those who have submitted themselves to God.
Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He was there forty days. This was a time of great testing. After forty day of fasting, Jesus was physically hungry. He was drawn by temptations to do all sorts of things that would have been wrong. And yet He stood firm. All that previous training in the scriptures paid off as He reminded Himself of what God said and what God wanted – as He stood firm on what was true.
But what happened for the rest of those forty days? Surely this was a time of prayer and listening – time with God in preparation for the ministry. I can’t imagine Jesus going through this testing without also being in fervent prayer. Or approaching His ministry without fervent prayer.
But did God answer? Or was it a barren time? Was it a time of being sustained by God; receiving guidance and understanding and courage for His ministry? We are not told. We do know that in the context of the temptations, the Holy Spirit was bringing God’s word to His attention and to His understanding. The passage in Matthew concludes by saying that angels ministered to Him.
Again, He experienced the grace of God but not by sitting around in comfort. It happened in the context of being willing to be led by the Spirit and being willing to sacrifice and suffer; being willing to stand firm and resist temptation; being willing to submit to the authority of God’s word.
This was the man who was going to lead others into an experience of God but, before He could do that, He had to walk with God Himself. That walk was demanding and costly but also hugely rewarding. Jesus knew His Father intimately and Jesus experienced His Father in profound ways. Clearly this wasn’t just so that He could have wonderful experiences. The experiences of God were preparing and growing and testing Him. But also encouraging and affirming Him. His experiences of God were preparation for His ministry. They weren’t about Him at all. They were about Him being able to serve and to give to others.
I am conscious that there are at least two dangers in our theme of experiencing God. The first is that it can be very selfish. There are many Christians who simply want to have experiences of God for their own blessing. Jesus demonstrates the opposite.
The second danger is that people’s understanding of truth can be based on their experiences rather than on God’s word. Experience can be very deceptive. There are people who believe all sorts of weird things just because of some experience they had. But look at Jesus’ deep hunger to understand the word of God, and His willingness to stand firm on the word of God despite being offered all sorts of experiences. He could have had His hunger satisfied through a spectacular miracle; He could have become king over all the world; He could have jumped off the pinnacle of the temple and been spectacularly rescued mid-fall as angels caught Him. He could have had the devoted following of all those who witnessed that event and then adored Him. He turned all of those experiences down for the sake of the truth of God’s word.
As a result, He experienced God. He grew in wisdom. He knew God loved Him and that God was pleased with Him. He was strengthened and protected by God. And consequently, God was able to use Him. Because he turned down selfish experience, there would be far more experiences of God in the future.
Some people will say, “Oh yeah! Experiencing God, that sounds exciting. As long as it doesn’t cost me anything! Just give me the blessings”
Do you want to be someone God can work through? What if there is a cost? As we look at the apostles in future weeks, will we see these same things – that yes they had amazing experiences of God but there was also the need to learn and to grow and to have a hunger for the truth of God’s word? Will we find that they too had to learn humility and had to endure testing and cultivate a relationship with God? Will we find that they, like Jesus, experienced a work of God in their own lives; that they grew in wisdom and understand and in favour with God and with people; that they too knew the love of God and heard God say that He was pleased with them; that they too knew the presence of God and the protection of God in times of testing and that they too knew ultimate victory because of God?
In other words, are there truths here that we can learn from because they are also the pattern for modern Christians? Jesus was the greatest spiritual director. He grew in His relationship with God and He led the apostles into an incredible relationship with God. Let us follow their example.