Taking up one’s cross . . .
SBU prof’s new book examines how to follow Jesus
By Scott Lamb
August 23, 2005
BOLIVAR – What does it mean to follow Christ in today’s world? How can we be disciples of someone who lived 2,000 years ago? Why do the Gospels each emphasize contrasting pictures of Jesus?
Rodney Reeves, professor of Biblical Studies at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, is the author of a recently published book that answers these questions. A Genuine Faith: How to Follow Jesus Today examines each of the four Gospels, bringing to light their unique understanding of discipleship.
“My own desire to take seriously the call of following Jesus led me to the Gospels,” Reeves said.
Another source of inspiration for the book is his personal experience in pastoral ministry. He finds in the Gospels a powerful antidote to clueless Christianity.
“You pastor a church and you begin to discover that people don’t know how to live out the Christian life,” Reeves noted, adding that many Christians know they are saved, but lack a deeper understanding of how to follow Jesus. That is where taking a fresh look at the Gospels can be of great benefit.
“In the four gospels we have a single Christology, but we have four views of Jesus,” said Reeves. “I think we are content with going to Paul who lays it out so well, but the Gospel stories were also written both for evangelism and discipleship.”
Reeves desires for pastors to press on with these texts, bringing out the implications for how we are to follow Jesus in our own day.
So, how does Reeves understand each of the Gospels?
According to Matthew, we see Jesus is willing to make disciples of anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear. Furthermore, greatness in God’s kingdom is not viewed the same as greatness in the world.
“Littleness defines greatness in the kingdom of Christ,” Reeves said.
Matthew also reveals Jesus’ preparation of the disciples for his eventual departure. When Jesus said, “Lo I am with you always …,” he knew the vast majority of Christians would become disciples without seeing him in person on earth.
The Gospel of Mark reveals Jesus as one who risked everything for God.
“He believed in the reign of God,” said Reeves, “and He ploughed deep fields of faith among shallow disciples.”
Retelling the parable of the soils, Reeves shows how Jesus wants us to personalize the soils through self-examination. Is my heart shallow soil? Do weeds choke out my faith? Is my soil good, ready for a bountiful harvest? Certainly the parable communicates truth pertaining to both conversion and discipleship.
Luke shows Jesus reversing the curse, inaugurating the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed. Although many of his enemies thought him a lunatic, Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God had come.
Provoking the wrath of the religious leaders, Jesus feasted alongside spiritual and social outcasts. In a particularly memorable quote, Reeves writes, “This is grace, that Jesus would stoop so low to save the least, the last, and the lost.”
Indeed, sinners need to be changed by grace through repentance and faith. Luke depicts Jesus as willing to “get his hands dirty” in meeting sinners where they are. In doing so, He ushers in the perpetual year of Jubilee for his followers.
In turning to John’s Gospel, Reeves spends a chapter bringing fresh insight to the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. Reeves calls her “The Ideal Evangelist” because upon her understanding of who Jesus is, she ran home and told all her townsmen about Jesus. “I kept coming back to the primary motivation that compels us to share our faith and hope: love,” Reeves said, noting that the woman spilled forth the news about Christ as her heart overflowed with love for Christ.
Also in John, the nobleman whose son was healed by Christ reveals a picture of the ideal believer. Jesus sent the man home with a promise of healing for the son.
“It was a faith journey. It took a leap of faith to come to Jesus. It required even more to believe without seeing results,” he said. Both the Samaritan woman and the nobleman provide living pictures of what it means to follow Jesus.
These are just a few of the Gospel stories Reeves uses in crafting this challenging book. He really drives home the point that, “We must read the Gospels holistically, not just jumping into them and reading a story and learning a quick life lesson from it.” Continual reflection upon the Gospel stories in their own context will bring a clear understanding of what it means to follow Jesus today.
“I hope that when they finish my book, they turn with fresh enthusiasm to the Gospels, seeing Jesus and following him with their life,” Reeves said.
A Genuine Faith will give you an opportunity to witness the glory of the Savior. You will be led down a delightful path of instruction in how to follow Jesus today. (Scott Lamb is pastor, Providence Baptist Church, St. Louis.)