Roy Halladay is the kind of athlete that other players just want to be around. For many years now he has served as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching staff and he is consistently one of the top players in the game. He has achieved his success not only by having innate talent, but also (and primarily, I’m sure!) by working very, very hard. He drives himself relentlessly, training both his body and his mind so he can do his absolute best all the time. He expects no less. Other players on the team love to spend time with him. Just being near him and observing how he trains himself is valuable for other players. Many of the Jays would testify that being near him, watching him and copying him has made them better athletes. That’s often the way it is, isn’t it? Solomon knew this and said, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” We become like those around us.
I’ve been asked to speak a couple of times in the next few weeks on the book of Acts and I’ve been reading the book in my times of Bible study. Acts has long been my favorite New Testament book. I love it for its history, describing the earliest days of the church, and its theology, showing how early Christians began to work out Christian theology. There is something pure and inspiring in the early church and its something we’ve been trying to recapture ever since.
Whenever I read through Acts there are certain stories, passages or phrases that stop me every time. One of these is in the fourth chapter. Acts 4:13 reads like this: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Hauled before the Jewish Council, John and Peter were asked by what power they had healed a lame beggar. Peter, though only a fisherman in a time of great rhetoric, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and went straight to the cross and to the gospel, speaking boldly and confidently. This left the religious authorities perplexed. How was it that ordinary, uneducated, common men could know so much and do so many great things. How could they speak with such authority? It seems it was right here that one of them had a little burst of inspiration and suddenly recognized that these men were two of Jesus’ disciples. They had gotten rid of Jesus, but now here were His followers, healing in His name and teaching men about their Master. Here they were speaking on behalf of Jesus. Matthew Henry says, “When they understood that they had been with Jesus, had been conversant with him, attendant on him, and trained up under him, they knew what to impute their boldness to; nay, their boldness in divine things was enough to show with whom they had had their education.” The authorities looked at these men and realized they had been with Jesus. This explained their behavior. Suddenly it all made sense. They weren’t happy.
I find that phrase such a challenge and such an inspiration. “They had been with Jesus.” It is inspiring to know that the source of the disciples’ boldness and confidence was not anything in themselves, but was a direct result of the time they had spent with Jesus. By living with Him and communing with Him, they became like Him. It was inevitable. For three years they sat at His feet, followed Him from town to town, and acted as His deputies. For three years He trained them and for three years they became increasingly like Him. They walked with the wise and became wise.
It is easy to be jealous of those disciples. There isn’t much most Christians wouldn’t give to be able to spend three years with Jesus. We can only imagine how that would change us, mold us, shape us. But there is reason to rejoice, nonetheless. God has given us His Word that we might learn to live as He would have us live. The Bible is perfectly sufficient for all matters of the Christian life. We, too, can be with Jesus by communing with Him in the Word. And this is the challenge for us. If we wish to be like Jesus, we need first to be with Jesus. Listen to Matthew Henry once more. “Those that have been with Jesus, in converse and communion with him, have been attending on his word, praying in his name, and celebrating the memorials of his death and resurrection, should conduct themselves, in every thing, so that those who converse with them may take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus; and this makes them so holy, and heavenly, and spiritual, and cheerful; this has raised them so much above this world, and filled them with another. One may know that they have been in the mount by the shining of their faces.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones says something similar. “May we all learn the lesson of this old incident. Let us meet with this Jesus and listen to Him, and soon we, too, will become phenomena. We will become men and women who are enigmas to everybody else.”
Have you met with Jesus? This is the challenge for us. We are to study the Word and to learn from it, immersing ourselves in it, so that people will look at us and hear us speak and see and hear something other-worldly. They will only be able to conclude, “They have been with Jesus!”