(November 15, 2022) Richard Winter suggests we reflect on some numbers…
Numbers? Why numbers, you wonder? Well, numbers come up in life in general, don’t they? –
- Grades at school.
- Dollars in the bank.
- Your FICO score.
- KPL in your car.
- Your age.
Numbers are even important to us in our relationships. Relationships with people and institutions; who loves us, cares for us; who we can rely on and trust; how many really ‘follow’ us on Facebook, Instagram, and such.
In reflecting about numbers, think also of these ones – the world population is now about 8 billion and is still growing year by year. Of this number, sadly not even 10% are saved, Bible-believing Christians!
- And among those millions of true Christians, here’s another sad reflection… the varying degrees of intimacy and closeness with the Lord!
The number of Christians who have failed to develop an intimate relationship with their Lord, read their Bibles, know and trust God’s word, and to reach out to unsaved friends, neighbours and contacts sharing their testimony and the gospel is shameful!
Some Bible numbers
There’s something about numbers that’s important to God. Scripture speaks specifically about numbers so we should examine what they mean and ask why are they there.
Actually they’re everywhere in the Bible. To catch your eye I’ll use numbers (1,2,3…) instead of words (one, two, three…) and, without opening the subject up, merely mention a few examples here…
- 1 x 1 census listing
- 2 trumpets
- 3 days of burial
- 7 days of creation
- 7 years to build Solomon’s temple
- 7 churches in Revelations
- 10 lepers healed
- 10 lost coins
- 12 tribes of Israel
- 12 disciples
- 12 apostles
- 40 days of rain and a flood
- 40 years in the wilderness
- 40 days fasting
- 70 times of forgiveness.
But I would draw 1 Corinthians 15:4-7 to your attention – ‘… Jesus was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas,[Peter] and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James…’
Aspects of Christianity
Now that scripture is 4 verses with significant numbers –
- 3 x days
- 1 x Peter
- 12 x apostles
- 500 x believers
- 1 x James.
Let’s reflect on the 500 first… Now that’s the large number of people who saw Jesus after His resurrection. There may have been others that we don’t know about, but we know that this 500 were brothers and sisters in Christ – in other words they were believers! They had several things in common!
And what did those believers have in common that we – believers in Jesus, brothers and sisters of the church of 2022 – should also have?
In simple terms, the following 5 aspects of Christianity…
a) You believe Jesus is your personal Saviour.
b) You believe that you are saved by faith.
c) You believe you now have a guarantee for eternal life.
d) You believe His instructions, His teachings and follow them.
e) You are willing to share them with others so they can have what you have.
Let me encourage you to reflect a little further on that verse’s numbers and discover what I’m terming 5 Concentric Circles. These are like a measuring gauge that demonstrate our commitment to Jesus, our love for what He has done for us, and our desire to share the good news with others – our neighbours.
1. Circle of Faith
The term ‘five hundred brethren’ denotes that these people were all believers and formed a large circle of faith. Such circles exist today!
Many people today believe in Jesus – they have the eternal question of life worked out ie ‘What do I have to do to be saved?’ Alas many have stayed at that location throughout history… they have never moved on in Christ, just circled around Jesus!
Can you – dare you, will you – go deeper and be more intimate with Jesus? If so, there is a smaller circle that focuses on another number and we can call this the –
2. Circle of Service
Remember the incident of Jesus telling the story of the man attacked on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:25-37)? Jesus, the Good Samaritan, emphasised putting the 2 great commandments into operation –
(i) Love God with all your heart and mind and soul.
(ii) Love your neighbour as yourself.
Verse 25CJV (Complete Jewish Bible) reads, ‘An expert in [the] Torah stood up to try and trap him.’ It was a trick question about gaining eternal life and in response to the second part of Jesus’ answer, wanting to justify himself, this ‘expert’ had pompously asked, ‘And who is my “neighbour”?’
Sadly that second emphasis of Jesus – ‘Who is my neighbour?’ – is still being asked by many Christians today!
Luke 10:1-2 tells of Jesus’ heart to that question when He choose 72 other servants to go into areas where He hadn’t yet been to bless many ‘neighbours’ and serve Him. As you think on this, consider the following…
- Obviously, this group was more intimate with Jesus than the later larger crowd of 500.
- They were ready and willing for the task appointed them.
- They were sent out in complimentary pairs (2 x 36).
- They were fully instructed as to where to go, what to say, and what to do (Luke 10:2-11).
- When they returned, they had much to rejoice over in their report! (Luke 10:17).
Dear reader: Everyone is your neighbour so you too should be a sent one!
- Sadly, in every local church there is only that small fraction from the general membership which has a ‘servant’s heart.’ Quite some time ago research came up with the 80/20 rule which simply says 20% of the church will do 80% of the work!
Reflection here: It is good to belong in the Circle of Faith, but even much better to belong in the Circle of Service. If you have been truly saved for some time, are you now in God’s service? After all, we were saved by God to serve Him!
3. Circle of Fellowship
This is even closer than the first two circles: narrowing down from large to smaller, from 500 to 72, now we consider 12… those Jesus chose to become His closest friends (even Judas who would later betray Him).
Jesus needed companions not only for fellowship but also co-labourers who would toil faithfully with Him in the work of the ministry. Here we see the formula of this circle: Faith + Service = Fellowship!
In every local church there exists such a special group of believers – a much smaller number than 500 or 72, but nonetheless a more spiritually mature group – who unselfishly and zealously labour for the Lord in and out of the local church.
But note – even of the 12 whom Jesus had chosen, there were 3 who had an even closer relationship with Him! There was a smaller, much more intimate group, which had 3 years of fellowship with the master, a small inner circle…
4. Circle of Privilege
The 3 I talk about here are Peter, James and John, so obviously hand-picked by the Lord Himself from among His 12 best friends.
And why did Jesus personally prefer these 3 men? Perhaps it was due to their special fitness in a spiritual sense and their closeness to Him. It was necessary that Jesus’ deity was clear and unquestioned by all three due to the roles they’d be involved in after His resurrection and all that would happen as the early church spread and grew, needing teaching and confirmations of truth.
A vital aspect of their own spiritual journey was when Jesus took them along on very critical occasions to witness His power and glory… and His dark hours, such as being at the –
(a) House of Jairus (Mark 5:37ff)
Where He reversed the death of Jarius’ daughter and proved His deity.
(b) Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2ff)
Where He demonstrated His greater glory, joined by the prophets Moses and Elijah.
(c) Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33ff)
Where He prayed and sorrowed about His upcoming crucifixion and death as the Saviour of humankind.
These 3, chosen from among the 12, were witnesses who saw the bigger picture as it were! Theirs was the privilege of ‘inner circle knowing’ and grasping the reality of who Jesus was.
Church reality: There is always an inner core who do and see things differently – they grasp the mission and the methods and labour in the ministry more clearly than others.
5. Circle of Love
And lastly, from even the inner core, was one who was even closer still, one who lived and worked in the inner circle of love – the beloved disciple, John (John 15:13).
This apostle humbly spoke of himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 15:13)… that priceless agapaō love. Although one doesn’t read in the gospels of John verbally declaring his love for Jesus, he himself knew that he was so loved by Jesus – as the scripture just quoted states – and he would use ‘love’ more than 100 times in writing his three epistles and his gospel!
[A person in love will bravely face any danger for the sake of his beloved one, like a husband for a wife, a parent for a child. How much do we love Jesus?]
This disciple whom Jesus loved was present at the big events recorded in scripture, Jesus’ –
- Lord’s Supper
- Gethsemane arrest
No wonder he was singled out from among the Inner Circle of Privilege he shared with Peter and James!
John did not only believe, serve, fellowship, and stay so close to Jesus in His crucial moments, but he truly loved the Lord Jesus to the very end!
Dictionary definition of the title of this article – It’s all About the Numbers – is ‘When someone is playing the numbers game, you think that they are concentrating on the aspects of something.’
So… I ask you to concrete on the 5 circles of the believer’s life –
- Faith (the 500)
- Service (the 72)
- Fellowship (the 12)
- Privilege (the 3)
- Love (the 1).
I’ve called these circles concentric, a word denoting circles, arcs, or other shapes which share the same centre, the larger often completely surrounding the smaller.
Whether a 500 or a 1, let Jesus be centred!
The centre of Christianity is Jesus Christ Himself! And the Christian life is one of centring on Jesus, then growing spiritually and in maturity in Jesus, serving Him in whatever capacity of service we are called to. Of moving from the awareness and belief in Jesus as Saviour to an intimate loving and active relationship with Him.
- Are we maturing into absolute intimacy with Jesus… or are we standing on the edge of faith believing we have the eternal insurance program all worked out and that’s enough?
Which of the circles do we belong to? Good intentions now will not become a reality if our relationship with the Lord is not truly right. So what do we do with the numbers – Numbers 101, as it were. Where are we in the circles of relationship and intimacy mentioned above?
To simplify it, whether you’re among the circle of 500 plus, 72, 12, 3, or the 1 circle… Jesus is calling us to come and get closer, and do what He asks of us. To ‘love God with all your heart mind and soul and love your neighbour as yourself!’
Which translated into modern speak says: Go share what you know and don’t be miserable about it!
Dr Richard Winter pastors The Connection Church, Huntington Beach, California. Link: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com
Thanks for this fresh and challenging insight. In my home fellowship we sing the song Jesus be the Centre… the message of which is very much in tune with your meditation.