It was June 22, 1941, Corporal Frans Hasel was sitting on his bed that morning thinking. "One more thing I have to do now," he said to himself. He'd put it off long enough. Rumors had it that Hitler was about to invade Russia. He hurried out of his room and down to the Carpenter Shop in town. He walked in and asked the guy if he would cut him a piece of wood in trade for some soap and chocolate, being that money was so scarce during the war. The man agreed and Frans asked for a piece of paper and drew the design out that he wanted cut. To the man it looked like a piece of bracket used to support shelves. While Frans was waiting by the window, the man of the shop went in back and cut out the board. When he was done he brought the strange object back and gave it to Frans. After glancing both ways to make sure no one was watching Frans headed off to his office.
Frans, a Seventh-day Adventist was drafted into the German Army under Hitler in World War II. He left behind four children and his lovely wife, who lived in Frankfort, Germany. Even throughout the six years of war Frans and his family stayed faithful to their beliefs.
Back in his office, he sat down and pulled out his pocket knife and began whittling on the angles piece of wood until all the edges were nicely rounded. Then he took his black shoe polish and began blackening the wood until it was gleaming in the light from his office. After he was done he carefully slipped it under a stack of papers in his desk so no one would find it.
He then headed off towards the cobbler of his unit. There he met up with a man named Walter and asked if he would, since was coming, make him a holster for his revolver. Walter replied, "Yes, come by and pick it up tomorrow." The next day Frans picked up his new holster. It was black and very sturdily built. He slipped his revolver into it, a perfect fit.
That night, Frans was in his office. This was the time to do it. He slipped on his new gun and holster and snuck out to the edge of town where he had noticed a small lake there before. As he was walking toward the edge of the lake he heard some of the guards talking. In a panic he jumped behind a bush. The guards came walking over to the edge of the lake and peered around with the flashlight. Convinced it was an animal they meandered off a safe distance from Frans. Frans quietly stood up and unbuttoned his holster and pulled out his gun. With a strong throw, he threw it far out into the lake. Of course it made a big splash, attracting the guards back to the edge of the lake. Again peering out into the darkness with their flashlight they found nothing. Terrified, Frans knew that he was going to get caught. One of the men stood within an arm's length from Frans. He prayed a silent prayer, "Lord help me not to get caught. If I get caught now I will be lost." But finding nothing and assuming it was a fish, the guards headed off. Relieved, Frans went back to his sleeping quarters.
When he got back, he pulled the angled piece of wood out of his desk and slipped in into his holster and button the flap. This was the only weapon he was going to use in the war. That night as he lay in bed, fear crept over him. He couldn't get the incident that happened days before out of his head. A soldier walked into the kitchen with a fifty pound bag of butter. Everyone wondered where he got the butter. The soldier told them that he traded his gun for it. He was only a nice town kid, after all. When word got out to the major, the soldier was executed that same day. Frans knew how serious it was to get rid of his weapon and he did this because he didn't want to kill anybody. So, now he had to put all of his faith into the Lord. In the six years of war, Frans was protected and out of twelve hundred people in the pioneer unit, only seven were left and three were uninjured including Frans.
How was Frans this faithful to God? "Whosoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whosever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." Luke 16:10. Frans had a life of being faithful in the little things. He prepared himself for big events by staying faithful in the little things. For example, throughout the war he didn't eat pork or drink any wine that the other men were doing. And by staying faithful in the little things helped hi in the bigger ones.
There were men like that in the Bible. I'm sure most of you know them. There was Daniel. He stayed faithful in the little things, like eating healthfully, and when time came and he was told to worship the king, he remained faithful to God and prayed only to Him. There was Noah. People made fun of Noah for a hundred and twenty years, and he still stayed faithful to God, and God carried him and his family through that terrible time. There was Abraham who faithfully walked with God for years. So when the big test came to sacrifice his own son he barely hesitated and stayed true and faithful to God. We all need to be faithful and stick to our beliefs because the end is coming and we want to be ready to stand for God when the big test comes. Now, how do we stay faithful in the little things?
(Josh Fine is a member of our Pathfinder Club, an organization for Coeds between the ages of ten and sixteen.)
As I read the book where Josh took this story, A Thousand Shall Fall by Frans Hasel, I continually asked myself would I have stood for Jesus as faithfully as he did? Almost every page in that book, I would ask myself, "Would I have done that?" Another question that posed itself was, "How does one reach the point of that kind of faith? How does one follow Jesus, no matter what? How does one have the faith to throw his only weapon in the water, and to rely on a stick of wood and on Jesus? The answer is this: I need to be covered in His dust. The explanation of this answer is longer than the answer.
Turn with me to the book of Matthew chapter 4. We're going to get there in a little while. To understand what takes place in this text, it is helpful to understand the Hebrew education system. Josephus, the great Jewish historian writes, "Above all, we pride ourselves on the education of our children." One rabbi said, "Under the age of six we do not receive a child. But from six upwards, accept him and stuff him with Torah like an ox." According to tradition, a drop of honey is placed on the first page the child is to learn to read; he kisses it, thus beginning an association of pleasantness which is expected to last throughout life as his education continues.
Hebrew education was divided into stages. The first stage is called Beth-Safar. This was for kids aged 5 or 6 to age 10. During this time, the children would memorize the Torah. You remember, the Torah consists of the first five books of the Scriptures; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. We make our kids learn the books of the Bible. They learned the five books by heart. WOW! "But my kids can't do that!" you say. "You don't understand. Things must have been different." Well, they were, a little. How many of your kids remember the words to the songs on their favorite CDs? Or what the different levels are on their favorite Game Boy Game? "Oh, they've memorized what is important to them." To them, the Scriptures were the most important thing. It is not a matter of ability, it is a matter of what we think is important.
The next stage of Jewish education is called Beth-Talmud. This is for those aged 10-14, basically about the same as our Pathfinder Club. Here, they would memorize the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Daniel, all the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. so the by the end of age fourteen they had the whole Old Testament memorized. Can you imagine knowing the Scriptures that well? During this time, they would also learn the art of questions and answers. Western education, what we're used to, concentrates on the exchange of information. We're in the information age. "What is 2+2?" It is not a trick question. The answer is 4. But in Hebrew education, if a rabbi said to his student, "What is 2+2?" The student would think for a second and he'd answer back with a question. "What is 25% of 16?" Which is still 4. Then the teacher would know that the student had processed the information. Not only was memorizing an answer, but knew what the answer meant, and how to ask a question back. Jesus was at this stage when His parents lost Him in the temple. And, there He is found talking with the rabbis in a series of questions and questions and answers and questions. He is questioning them on Scriptures; back and forth. They are amazed at how he can process information and questions them.
The next stage of Hebrew education was only for the best of the best. These were for those who applied to Harvard or Yale. This happened at age fourteen. If you didn't do well in Beth-Talmud, forget getting into Harvard or Beth-Midrash. Beth-Midrash was for those aged fourteen and above, and they were to start to study the oral and the written laws, all the things the rabbi had written and said, they were beginning to memorize and process and they would have passionate discussions about it. This is where they studied the oral and written law. This is where you would discuss what different rabbis said about the law and how they interpreted it. Somebody might say, "Well, rabbi so-and-so said that to honor the Sabbath you could only walk as far as the local synagogue on Sabbath." And somebody else would say, "Well, but rather rabbi So-and So says that you can walk twice that far so you are able to get back home." But then somebody else would say, "Rabbi So-And-So says you can't walk to the edge of your village unless you're going to a synagogue in another village." They would get passionate about which rabbi interpreted the law the best. They got passionate about it because these were the things of God. In fact, that is how their worship services went. They didn't just come and listen to a preacher get up here and spout off, they listened to him read the scripture and then they would passionately ask questions back and forth, and get heated about it, because these were the things they loved to talk about. They believed the highest form of worship was study.
You can see that each rabbi said something different. Each rabbi had their own way of interpreting or living out the Torah. Each one had their own added commandments and regulations. In fact, a rabbi's own particular interpretation of the Torah was called that rabbi's "Yolk." When you studied with a rabbi, you would take their yolk or their interpretation of the Torah upon you. But Jesus said, "My yolk is easy. I'm not about endless rules and regulations!" So when Jesus came among us as a rabbi, He didn't just pull these phrases out of thin air. This was how rabbis spoke. "Hey, my yoke is easy. Take it upon you. My burden is light."
So Rabbis would have discussions with their students, they would take a particular command, like the Sabbath, and might ask, "What does it mean to honor the Sabbath?" And a student might answer, "I think it means to sit around and do nothing and have a boring day." This student is, of course, wrong. So the rabbi would say to the student very passionately, "No! That's not what it means. You have abolished Torah!" But if a student answered, "It means that we spend a day that we are reminded that we are no longer slaves, that we were brought up from the kingdom of darkness, that we are redeemed by the blood of the lamb. And we take one day a week to remind ourselves that our worth does not come from making bricks but from the one who made us." At this point the rabbi would say "Yes, my student! You have fulfilled Torah!" Jesus came and said, "I did not come to abolish the Law, I came to fulfill it, to show you what it really means to keep the law, to show you what it looks like lived out in flesh and blood."
This is what took place at Beth-Midrash. This is the position that every good Jewish boy wanted to be in. To become a rabbi, or a teacher, was the highest honor to be had. If it were that way today, our teachers would be paid a whole lot more. So, at age 14, you would go to a local rabbi, one you highly respected, one whose yolk you wanted to take upon you. So you would say to the Rabbi, "I want to become your disciple." Then the rabbi would begin to quiz you and find out how well you knew Torah. He might say, "Give me in the book of Habakkuk the four references to Deuteronomy, in order." And you'd better have them just like that. Or he might engage you in what are called "Remezes." He would quote to you a verse on the subject he was talking on, and you would not have the Scriptures in front of you. You would have to realize, "Is he actually referring to the verses following the one he quoted, or the verses before?" And you would have to figure it out based on the context. "Does he really mean this verse instead of that verse?" And then you would answer him with another remez and the rabbi would have to figure it out. "Did you mean the verse before or after that?" You're supposed to know the Scriptures so well that you could figure it out. Does it sound complicated? It was! If they had done this in Seminary, I would still be there.
Have you noticed that sometimes, when Jesus preached, the leaders wanted to kill Him. Now, I've preached plenty of duds in my time, but to my knowledge, no one wanted to kill me! Have you ever looked at what Jesus said and wondered, "Why did they get so upset about that!" What was so offensive? Sometimes, Jesus spoke to the rabbis in Remezes. If you look back at what He said, like in Matthew 15, He quotes Isaiah 29, but if the leaders listened to the quote and thought about what the next few verses said, they would know that they had been nailed. They would hope that the common bystanders would not be educated enough to know what Jesus was really accusing them of. That is why it is helpful to read the context of the Scripture that Jesus quotes.
Now, if the rabbi, of whom you wanted to be the disciple of, believed that you had what it takes, he would say, "Come, take my yoke upon you." This was the highest honor in the days of Jesus. So, somewhere around the age of 14, you would leave everything; Parents, Synagogue, Community, the family business, and devote your life to following this rabbi everywhere. The goal of a disciple was to be exactly like his rabbi. You would spend your whole day following the rabbi everywhere. Every detail of the rabbi's life was copied, even down to how he chewed his food. You were interested. "I want to look like him. I want to be like him, every step f the way." That is the detail to which a disciple wished to be like his rabbi.
There is a phrase in the Mishna that says, "May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi." The idea was that if you followed behind your rabbi on the dusty roads, you would get covered in his dust. Meaning, you were following his so closely to be so much like him that you are glorified to be covered with the dust he left behind. That is how close a disciple wanted to be to his rabbi.
Now, if you're going along the road with your rabbi, the rabbi's job is to teach you, and to test you. He might quiz you along the way and he might decide that you know the Torah really well, but there's something about you. Maybe your character, habits of something, where he says, "You're never going to be just like me." And you knew the bad news was coming. You are about to be expelled. To be expelled was horrible. He'd try to be nice about it. "It's obvious you know the Scriptures very well, but go and have some children. Maybe they will become rabbis. Go and ply your trade." In other words, "Go back to the family business. Your father is a fisherman, go learn to fish. Go ply your trade."
Now, with all this in mind, look at Matthew 4:18. As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
Why are they fishermen? They didn't make the cut! They were not good enough. They were learning to ply their trade. A rabbi had not taken them on. Jesus goes to the losers, the rejects, the misfits, and He calls them! That's rather humbling. Now I know why I'm here. He goes to the losers. He says, "I want you to do it."
Now, let's continue. Matthew 4:19-20. "Come, follow Me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed Him.
Have you ever wondered about this text? These guys just drop everything and followed Him at a few words from this Rabbi. Jesus is a rabbi and He's calling disciples. They are not good enough and yet a rabbi wants them! He thinks that they can actually be like Him! He thinks that they can do it! And so of course they drop what they are doing and they follow the Rabbi. I thin it is interesting. They're fisherman. Jesus take their talent that they already have and changes their use. "I'm going to make you fishers of men." How many times did Jesus use their seamanship? Let's go get in your boats. These guys knew how to operate boats. Jesus takes the talents He has given us and maybe uses them for something else. He says, "Use them this way. Follow Me." This also adds some insight as to why, after the crucifixion, some of the disciples went fishing. They weren't just going out to relax. Their Rabbi was dead. They had not protected him. They were not good enough to make the cut. They had let Him down. They went back to ply their trade. "We're not good enough to be disciples."
Our text gets more exciting. Matthew 4:21-22. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.
If they are in the boat with their father, they are probably learning the trade. They are plying their trade. And they leave their father, their trade, their lives, and follow Jesus! Have you ever wondered why the Bible says nothing about Zebedee filing for Chapter 11? He's lost his employees. Have you ever wondered why he is not saying, "Hey, you boys, get back here. Your work's not done. Where do you think your going?" No! He leaves his nets too. He runs home! Can you imagine Zebedee coming home? "Dear, the boys are gone!" "Really? Did they get their chores done? Where did they go?" "Dear, a rabbi thought they were good enough!" Can you imagine Zebedee walking through town the next day? "Yea, my boys are not here because a rabbi came calling and they left. My boys have taken on the yoke of the rabbi Yeshua from Nazareth so that they might be covered in His dust." In all of rabbinic history, only two rabbis ever went calling disciples. Disciples were the ones looking for rabbis. Jesus was only one of two that we know of who ever went out looking for students. We don't know the other one. Guess what, He's still doing it. He is still calling us, the misfits of this world. He has called us to be fishers of men! Wow! Does He actually think you can do it? He wouldn't have called you unless He thought you could be like Him!
We know from customs and history that at least several of these disciples would have been in their mid to late teens, some as early as fourteen. Jesus calls teenage rejects to be his disciples. With all this in mind, turn to Matthew 16. Here, Jesus has escaped the Jewish multitudes for a while. He wants to spend time teaching His disciples to be like Him. So He takes them on a journey.
Matthew 16:13. When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philipi, He asked His disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
It is so easy to loose much of the significance of this text. All you have to do is breeze over the name of the place that they went, "Caesarea Philippi." Jewish boys never, never, ever went to Caesarea Philippi! Parents would say, "We don't go there!" Caesarea Philippi was known as the center of pagan worship. Jesus led these young men on this twenty-six mile hike to a place they were not allowed to go. It sort of sounds like a Tuttle- hike to me. I don't remember any Pathfinder hikes being twenty six miles, but we do get covered in your dust. Remember, it is a Rabbi's goal to help his disciples to become just like Him. They want to become like Jesus. And Jesus brings them here for a reason. This is a place where they would witness some of the most disgusting "acts of worship" ever propitiated to a pagan god. Worse than anything you've seen on TV, and I don't care what you've watched. Worse things happened in Caesarea Phillipi. Temples to pagan gods lined the streets. There are merely ruins there now. You see a couple niches carved in the side of the mountain to hold idols. Actually, the mountain was the central attraction. It had a rather interesting name. It was called, "THE ROCK." The central feature of The Rock is a huge cave opening. Inside, can be found one of the main sources of the Jordan River. Greek legend has this cave as the birth place of the God, "Pan." This great hole in the rock was thought to be the place where evil spirits would come into the land of the living or go back to Hell. So people would perform grotesque worship rituals before this opening to appease the evil spirits. Baal was placed before the entrance to help guard crops against the evil spirits. This cave also had an interesting name as well: "THE GATES OF HELL."
With this imagery as the backdrop of what Jesus said, look again at Matthew 16.
Matthew 16:13-16 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Phillipi, Can you picture Him waving His arms out at all these things? He asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" "In the midst of all these dead gods, Who do they say I am?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah; or one of the prophets."
"But what about you?" He asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." "You're not like all these dead idols. You're the Son of the living God."
Yes! Peter got it right! As they looked at all the dead, stone, images, Peter saw the Son of the Living God!
Look at Matthew 16:17-18. Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
Wow! "Peter, your name means "pebble." You don't need to worry about the church being built on you. You can't handle that stress. You don't have to bear the burden of My new church. Over there, we have what men call "The Rock." But it is not the True Rock. My church isn't going to be built on that. I am the Rock. As long as you rely upon my strength, the Gates of Hell will not prevail against you! These debased people worshiping these false Gods in this disgusting manner can be reached by the likes of you as long as you rely on the likes of Me. The Gates of Hell cannot stop them from following me. You can go and make disciples of such people just like I made disciples out of you."
Jesus says in Matthew 28:19, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations. Remember, Jesus is trying to teach them to be like Him. He's going everywhere. He's not just going to one group of people. He's going to every kind of group of people you can thing of. "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
This is Jesus calling you, just as he called the teenagers long ago, to be His disciple. He is calling you to leave your old life behind, all the things you think are great and wonderful, leave them behind because Jesus' way is better. So much more. He'll take the talents that you have and use them to be fishers of men. How do you become a person of great faith like Josh described in the opening story? By learning how to be just like your rabbi, Jesus Christ. By standing for Him, using His solid rock strength. By doing as He says, knowing that the Gates of Hell have no power against Him, and He is between you and them. By following Jesus so closely that you are covered in His dust!
Josh fine reads closing statement from Ellen G. White: Education, P.57:
"The greatest want of the world is the want of men--men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle is to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall."
Sources: Sermon by Rob Bell, Youth Specialties Convention, Tampa 2001 The Works of Josephus What the Jews Believe, by Rabbi Philip Bernstein Desire of Ages, by Ellen G. White Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary
Hymn of Praise: #618, Stand Up! Stand Up for Jesus! Scripture: Matthew 4:18-22 Hymn of Response: #249, Praise Him, Praise Him
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last updated 1/28/2003 by Bob Beckett.