It is an incontrovertible fact that some Christians seem to experience a much closer intimacy with God than others. They appear to enjoy a reverent familiarity with Him that is foreign to us. Is it a matter of favoritism or caprice on the part of God? Or do such people qualify in some way for that desirable intimacy? Are there secrets we may discover that would admit us to a similar intimacy (J. Oswald Sanders, Enjoying Intimacy with God, 12)?
We’ve been looking at Betty and the woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus (Mark 14:3-9) and asking, are these women unique? Is their all-encompassing, passionate love for Jesus Christ unique to them? If not, how can I bask in his love in the way that they seem to? As Sanders acknowledges above, these levels of intimacy cause us to question ourselves and may lead to self-doubt. Sanders goes on to say:
Both Scripture and experience teach that it is we, not God, who determines the degree of intimacy with Him that we enjoy. We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be .
REALLY?! I have something to do with the extent of my relationship with God? Oh, I know he is the one that revealed himself to me by the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart as a youngster, as I read about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures, and through the proclamations at my church. I always wanted more of Him, and waited and waited. I didn’t know I actually had the power of choice in deepening that relationship. Oh, I knew I needed to obey and complete the list of do’s and don’ts that Christians are challenged to follow. I worked at that, but admittedly there was not a deepening of “intimacy with Jesus” as I worked so hard at doing the right things.
Sanders continues: True, there are times when we would like to know a deeper intimacy, but when it comes to the point, we are not prepared to pay the price involved…so we settle for a less demanding level of Christian living.
Everything in our Christian life and service flows from our relationship with God…but when our communion with Him is close and real, it is gloriously possible to experience a growing intimacy (12).
What biblical examples and insights are there to help us understand this more fully? Is it really our choice? What about Jesus’ relationships with the disciples and others Jesus chose? Was there any difference in the depth of relationship each had with Jesus? He chose each one to follow him; certainly they would all have a similar depth of relationship, wouldn’t they? Let’s look…
1. Outer Circle – The Seventy
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them… (Luke 10:1,2).
He gave them instructions before sending them out. He spent limited time with them. The seventy-two returned with joy… and told the Lord the results they experienced. Jesus was “full of joy” and began praising the Father for what he had done in the lives of these seventy-two.
2. Intermediate Circle – The Twelve disciples
Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them… (Luke 6:12-13).
When Jesus had called the twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure disease and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2).
Jesus spent considerable time with the disciples during his earthly ministry. He taught them privately and involved them in his ministry. They traveled with him and watched him in private and public settings. They knew Jesus better than the seventy-two. They were willing to pay the price of three years away from their normal employment to travel with Jesus. They likely saw more of Jesus’ miracles, including healing, demonic outcasts, and new life through the good news of the gospel than the seventy-two.
3. Inner Circle – James, John and Peter
Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them (Mark 9:2). They saw His glory up close!
He (Jesus) did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John… into the home of Jairus when Jesus raised his daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37). They saw His power up close!
They went to a place called Gethsemane and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ (Mark 14:32-34). They saw His pain up close.
Jesus revealed himself more intimately to these three disciples. These men did not always respond the way Jesus hoped they would, yet they were willing to pay the price of a closer communion with Jesus. Jesus knew their heart and revealed the glory and the pain of his life as few others knew.
Could any of the twelve been in the inner circle? Was their relationship with Jesus the result of their own choices, the result of their level of response to Jesus’ love and training?
Did temperament exclude the other disciples? Who could compare to volatile Peter and brash James and John? If perfection was a criteria, then wouldn’t Peter the denier and James and John the place-seekers have been excluded?
But wait, isn’t there one more circle?
We will explore that in Intimate Circle, my next post